A Solstice Celebration
A Solstice Celebration
By midday everyone was starting to get hungry.
"We can't let you buy all of us something to eat. It'd cost you a small fortune." Buffy protested when Gabrielle suggested they stop at one of the taverns for lunch.
"Not a problem." Aphrodite said as shiny new gold dinars appeared out of thin air to drop into her hand.
"Isn't that illegal? Making money just ... appear like that?" Buffy asked uneasily. "What if we get arrested?"
Aphrodite laughed out loud. "Like they're really going to arrest the Goddess of Love, or her friends! Besides, mine are pure gold, not the half gold, half who-knows-what ordinary dinars made of. Anyway, they have my likeness on them. They should be worth ten times what other dinars are."
All eleven of them crowded into one of the upper class taverns. One which boasted a separate dining area away from the patrons who only wanted to drink and find temporary companionship.
Dawn wasn't sure if they'd let her in since she was "under age" until Gabrielle told here there was no such thing as an age limit in ancient Greece.
"Cool!" Was her response. "Can I have some wine, then?"
"No, you can't." Buffy said. "You're still too young as far as I'm concerned."
They found a table where they all could sit, and Aphrodite told the landlord to start bringing food until they stopped eating.
"Got to see your money first." He said. "Too many visitors with too little money."
Aphrodite gave him three of the coins. After testing one with his teeth, and discovering it was much softer than the dinars he was used to, and therefore contained more gold, he ordered four of his best barmaids to wait on them only.
The meal consisted of roast pig, venison, carrots, dates, pomegrantes, grapes, oranges, nut bread, and sweet wine for the adults. Grapes were specially pressed into juice for Dawn. Aphrodite was the only one who didn't eat, but sipped on the wine just to be sociable.
"I don't think I have EVER eaten so much at one time!" Xander said as he reached for the last of the nut bread.
"Yes, I noticed."Anya agreed. "Now you will get fat and I will have to be on top when we have sex so you won't squash me."
Leaving the tavern, Gabrielle asked them, "Is there anything any of you want to do in particular?"
"I could use a nap." Willow said.
"That's not be a bad idea." Gabrielle said. "The festival lasts until sun-up tomorrow, and if we want to enjoy the night's celebration, maybe a short nap might be just the thing."
"You're kidding!" Dawn exclaimed. "A Nap? What are we? Five years old?"
"You could always come along with me for a while." Aphrodite offered. "I don't take naps."
"Really?! Buffy? Can I? Please?"
"Dawn, I don't know."
"Oh, come on," Aphrodite said, "She'll be fine. I mean, what can happen? I'm a goddess!"
"Yeah, a LOVE goddess." Xena interrupted. "You're sure you won't let her get into any ... trouble?"
"My word of honor! Buffy, I'll take good care of her. It's not everyday a young woman from so far away gets to hang with the Goddess of Love."
Buffy looked at the rest of them. "So, guys, what do you think? Should I let her?"
“What can it hurt?”
"I think she'll be okay."
Still a little reluctant, Buffy hesitantly agreed. "But you have her back at sunset. I don't want her wandering around after dark without us."
"Oh! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" Dawn shouted as she hugged Buffy's neck. "I'll be good. I promise!"
Buffy gave Aphrodite a pointed look. "I don't have anything to worry about, do I?"
"Not a thing. Come on Dawn, let me show you where I live."
And in a bright flash of light, Aphrodite and Dawn disappeared.
"Don't worry," Gabrielle said. "She may act a little strange sometimes, but when it comes down to it, Aphrodite is one of the good ones."
"So what about that nap?" Willow asked.
"Gabrielle," Lila interrupted, " I think Sarah and I are going to go back home. Neither one of us has felt well the past couple of days."
"Lila! Why didn't you say something this morning? You two shouldn't have come if you weren't feeling up to it."
"I hoped we would be all right, but instead it seems like we're getting worse."
"Do you want me to go back with you?"
"No, of course not, Gabrielle. You stay with your friends and enjoy the celebration. We'll be okay."
"The least I can do is walk you back to the stable."
"We'll be OK!" Lila insisted. "Go find a decent inn somewhere and take that nap. It's a long time until sun-up."
As they watched Lila and Sarah walking back toward the stable, Xander and Anya pulled Buffy aside.
"Do you think Gabrielle would mind if Anya and I went back to Sunnydale?"
"Why do you want to leave? We'll only be here until tomorrow morning."
"I'm bored." Anya answered. "I'd rather be at the magic shop, making hard earned money."
Xander shrugged his shoulders. "Me, too. This is all okay, but it's not great."
"I don't know if she'd mind or not. But if you want to go, you'll have to be the ones to ask her. I'm not doing your dirty work for you." Buffy answered, a little irritated.
"Okay." Anya said. "Gabrielle, it's boring here. We want to go home."
Caught off guard by Anya's directness, Gabrielle replied, "Yeah, sure. If you want to. Don't want you here if you'd rather be someplace else."
Anya gave Buffy a smug smile and said, "That was easy. Willow would you mind? We're in a hurry."
Willow looked at Buffy with a questioning look on her face. Buffy nodded with a resigned look on her face, letting her know it was okay to send them back to Sunnydale.
Willow recited the spell backwards, being careful to mention only Anya and Xander's names. Ten seconds later only their clothes were left laying on the dirt roadway.
Gabrielle picked up the clothes and shook the dust out of them. As she started in the direction Lila and Sarah went, she said, "I shouldn't be too long, I'm going to get these clothes back to them before they leave."
"We'll just walk around for a while until you get back." Xena yelled after her.
"What about the nap?" Willow asked Buffy. "I was really looking forward to thirty or forty winks."
"Well you can take one." Buffy said.
"I don't want to take one by myself!" Willow wailed.
Taking her by the hand, Tara said, "Come on, Sweetie, I'll take a nap with you."
"We don't have any money." Willow said.
"Here," Xena said, handing her a dinar. "This should cover it."
"Well, thanks. I guess we'll see everyone in a few hours."
"You two behave now," Buffy said.
"Oh, she'll be good." Tara said a sly smile on her face. "She always is."
The two witches re-entered the tavern hand in hand.
"So, what do you want to do?" Xena asked Buffy.
"Don't know. I guess we could walk around some, window shop some of the booths."
"Okay, I guess Gabrielle will find us."
For a while, the two warriors walked up and down the streets, looking at what was for sale, but not really interested in buying.
"You know, Xena, I get the distinct feeling we're being followed."
"We are. Five or six as near as I can make out."
"Any idea who they might be?"
Xena shook her head. "Could be anybody. But more than likely bandits, or possibly some wannabe warlord looking to make a reputation."
"Well, if there's going to be trouble, maybe we should find an empty alley somewhere so innocent bystanders won't be in the way."
"My thoughts exactly."
After a short time they turned down a less crowded street, and then found a blind alley.
"Good." Xena said. "Only one way in and one out."
"Can't sneak up on us. We think a lot a like, have you ever noticed that?"
"I guess that's the warrior in us -- always use the best strategy."
They walked to the end of the alley, inspecting it to make sure there would be no unpleasant surprises. The roofs were high enough no one would jump down on them, and no windows.
The placed themselves about ten feet from the end and five feet apart, to make sure they had plenty of room to move around.
Then six men turned down the alley and walked toward them, one in the lead.
"You know," Xena said. "If you'd rather, I could call Aphrodite, and she could turn them into love-sick puppies."
"What a disgusting thought! No ... I'm good."
"Xena!" The leader yelled out. "I've been waiting a long time for this opportunity."
Neither woman spoke.
"I don't know who your friend is, but I know a couple of warlords who could use another harem slave."
Neither woman spoke.
Becoming a little nervous, he yelled out again. "You're gonna die! You know that, don't you?"
Buffy spoke to the man. "Excuse me, but there's something I'm not quite clear on -- you DO know this is the Warrior Princess, don't you?"
"I know who she is, and I've been waiting to kill her ever since she destroyed half my army five years ago. She's gonna PAY!"
Buffy looked back at Xena, who shrugged her shoulders.
"Sorry!" Xena yelled out, "Are you sure you have the right person? I don't seem to remember you."
The man screamed out in frustration. "I'm Justabul the Terrible!"
"Sorry." Xena said again.
"It doesn't matter! You're STILL gonna die!"
"By the way," Xena said, "Before we get started here, there's something all of you might want to know."
Still growling, Justabul said, "What is it?"
"My friend here is Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. With the emphasis on the Slayer part."
"A what? I never heard of a vampire, OR a Buffy!"
"Surely you've heard of the Bacchae? Where she comes from they're called vampires. And she kills them -- regularly."
There was a murmur among Justabul's men.
"When this is all over with, any of you still living will be able to tell your grandchildren you fought, and barely escaped with your lives, against the Warrior Princess and the Vampire Slayer." Xena concluded.
Justabul the Terrible screamed at the top of his lungs, drew his sword and charged, the rest of his men following.
Xena pulled her sword and swung it around, making sure Buffy was out of range. Buffy just allowed her Slayer instincts to take over, waiting for the first of the charging horde to get to her.
The first to reach Xena was Justabul, screeching and swinging his sword in wild arcs, trying to hit any part of her he could.
Buffy jumped up high enough to avoid a sword and kicked the man in the head. As he fell, Buffy snagged his sword out of mid air and used it to disarm the second man.
Xena couldn't help but laugh at Justabul as he was ineffectually swinging his sword.
"Come on!" Xena teased. "It's no wonder half your army was lost if they fought like you do!"
At the same time she side kicked another in the midsection and he flew into the man just behind him, and they both went down.
The next one to attack Buffy was wielding a battle axe. He swung it around his head and then aimed it at Buffy's neck. She blocked it with the sword, but it went flying from her hands. Before he could take another swing, Buffy grabbed him by one arm and flung him twelve feet through the air, where he hit eight feet above the ground against the wall. He was out before he hit the ground.
Xena had finally disarmed Justabul, and after two quick punches in the face, he was unconscious.
Buffy made two more jumping, spinning kicks and two more attackers fell unconscious with broken jaws and missing teeth.
Then all of a sudden, it was quiet and still. Four attackers were out cold and two had run off.
"Impressive." Xena said. "I keep forgetting how strong you really are."
"Me too sometimes. I keep expecting them to jump back up. I guess that's what happens when all you fight are demons and vamps."
"We do make a good team, don't you think?"
"I do. Another time and another place -- who knows what could've happen."
"Well, I don't know about you, but I could use a little something to drink. Ale or wine?"
"Some nice, cool water would be good."
"I'm sure we can find some of that, somewhere."
By the time they made their way back to the tavern, the sun had set and torches and lamps were lit. Just as they got there, Willow and Tara were coming out of the tavern.
"Hi." Willow said. "What have you two been up to?"
"Nothing much. I guess I don't have to ask about you. Get any REAL sleep?"
Willow and Tara exchanged smiles but neither said anything.
"I don't suppose it would do any good to ask if either one of you has seen Gabrielle." Xena said.
Both witches shook their heads.
"That reminds me," Buffy said. "What about Aphrodite? She said she'd have Dawn back before dark."
"You don't have to worry about Aphrodite." Gabrielle said as she walked up.
"And just where have YOU been?" Xena asked.
"I decided to ride half way back with Lila and Sarah. I just wanted to make sure they got away okay. With all the strangers in town for the festival, you never know."
"Sounds like good sense to me." Buffy answered. "But I'm still concerned about Dawn."
"She's fine, believe me. I know that sometimes Aphrodite acts a little odd. And sometimes she can be irresponsible. But when it comes right down to it, she's the only god I would really trust."
Buffy took a breath, "Well, if you say she's okay . . . ."
Then there was a flash of light and Dawn and the Goddess of Love were in front of them.
Buffy's mouth dropped open -- Except for her darker hair, Dawn was almost the identical twin of Aphrodite. She was wearing the same revealing "bikini" with sheer, pink fabric barely covering her. Her hair was up and entwined with jewels. And her face was, in Buffy's opinion, way over-made up.
"Wha - what happened to YOU?" She finally got out.
"Well, she certainly couldn't be seen with the Love Goddess dressed like a lowly peasant, now could she?" Aphrodite answered cheerily.
"Buffy! It was so GREAT! First we went to Mt Olympus where she lives. It is SO beautiful there! And then we went to Rome to see the Coliseum. And then to Athens to see the Parthenon! And then we went to Valhalla to see Odin and the Valkyries."
"Oh, Xena," Aphrodite cut it, "Odin says he's not mad any more. Any time you want to visit, you're more than welcome."
"That's good to know."
"Odin?" Buffy asked.
"I'll tell you about it sometime."
"And the best part," Dawn went on, "Is that Aphrodite said I can have all this, including the jewels!"
"Dawn, you know we can't take anything back with us." Buffy reminded her.
"But she said I could!"
"You can't, Dawny, Willow said. “That's just the way it works."
"Not quite." Aphrodite said. "Willow, you're a powerful witch, but, no offense, but you're ONLY a witch. While I, on the other hand, am a god. And if I say she can take it back with her, it goes back with her."
"Oh, yeah. Sure. I didn't mean anything, I just didn't know . . . ."
"We're sorry," Tara added. "You're not mad are you?"
Aphrodite laughed. "Mad? Why would I be mad? You girls take things so SERIOUSLY!"
"Well," Willow said a little timidly, "Since you're not mad or anything, do you think maybe you could show us a few spells . . . or something?"
"No. I couldn't do that."
"Oh. That's okay. I understand."
"No, I don't think you do. It's not because I don't want to, it's just that . . . . Well, let me tell you a little story. Back a few thousand years ago, when I was still a new goddess, I ran into a very powerful sorcerer. And to tell you the truth, he scared me. So naturally, I went to Hera, my mother. And this is what she told me -- Sorcerers and sorceresses, wizards and witches to you, get their powers from channeling the mystic powers. But the mystic powers are created each time one of us gods uses OUR magic. So there is all this magical residue just floating around for those of you with the Gift to harness. So you see, if it wasn't for us gods, there wouldn't be witches and wizards."
"I never knew that." Gabrielle said.
"Me neither." Xena added.
"Most people don't. We gods don't discuss our powers with mortals. There's no reason to. We just do the magic and let you worship us."
"So I get to keep my new clothes?" Dawn asked. "AND the jewels?"
"I guess so." Buffy answered. "Of course, some of those jewels will have to go to pay Anya back."
"I know, but I get to keep the rest."
"Not changing the subject or anything," Tara said, "But is there any more of the celebration?"
"Only the best part." Gabrielle said. "Just before midnight, all the lights are put out, and there is a procession of hooded priests with candles. They represent the death of the old year. And then a man and a woman with a newborn babe passes. And they represent the birth of the new year. Then as the torches are relit, the young children join the parade, then the older ones, then the young men and women, and finally, just about everyone else. Sometimes things can really get wild."
"I didn't think things could get any wilder." Buffy said.
"They certainly can. Of course, before the Fall harvest there are a lot of new babies born."
"I wonder why." Xena said sarcastically. Buffy looked at her as if there was something she wasn't telling her.
"But since the procession won't start for a while, I wouldn't mind eating some supper first." Gabrielle said.
All agreed, so once again they all filed back into the tavern, and using more of Aphrodite's dinars, ate another large meal.
"Well, everyone, this is where I have to leave." Aphrodite said, "My work is about to start. But I'll be sure to see you before you go." And she flashed out in a bright pink light.
Again, Buffy felt like there was something she should know about but wasn't being told.
"They should be starting any time now." Gabrielle told them. "They probably will be passing by here in a very short time."
As promised, just before anyone got restless, all the torches and lamps were extinguished. Slowly, in pairs, twelve hooded figures carrying a single candle each made their way past the crowd gathered on each side of the avenue. Not far behind was a solitary bell-ringer, tolling each step. As he passed, the torches were being relit and music was starting.
Behind the bell-ringer were the youngest children of the town.
"Look, Buffy!" Dawn laughed. "They're naked!"
"Those poor children! They must be freezing!"
"They're fine." Gabrielle said. "They're used to the cold, and besides, they all had a little wine to help ward off the cold."
"They're drunk?" Buffy exclaimed, a little shocked.
Before Gabrielle could answer, Buffy saw that all the children were naked, regardless of age. But only when she saw the young men and women throwing off their clothes to join the parade did she try to pull Dawn away from the street so she wouldn't be exposed to the adult nudity.
"I think it's time we went home." Buffy said as more men and women joined the parade.
"Is there something wrong?" Gabrielle asked. "I didn't mean to offend you, or any of you. I thought you knew what this was all about."
"No, we're not offended, I don't think. It's just that where we came from, public nudity isn't particularly encouraged." Buffy said. "You've been to Sunnydale a few times. I'm sure you didn't see any naked people running around."
"No. But I was never there during any of your celebrations. I'm really sorry. But believe me, Poteidaians DON'T run around naked all the time. Only during the Winter Solstice."
"Now you know why she said there are so many babies born in late summer." Xena said.
"I keep forgetting how different our cultures are." Buffy said, hoping that Gabrielle wouldn't feel like she did anything wrong by not telling them about it.
"Did you ever run around naked?" Dawn asked Gabrielle.
"No, I never did. Xena came along before that happened. I was betrothed to Perdicus, and during the next Solstice we were to consummate our pledge to each other, but instead I left with Xena."
"Left WITH me? Seems like I remember it a little differently."
"Okay. I sneaked away in the middle of the night to follow her. But, whatever, I left before the Solstice, so I never did it."
"Gabrielle, you wouldn't mind if we went back home now, would you? I don't think any of us have any reason to strip down, and I'm not real keen on watching a bunch of naked people getting drunk and doing it."
"I suppose you're right. In fact, I'd just as soon go on back to Lila's myself. It's not the same without someone to . . . well, you know. Oh, Willow, before you go, will look at this charm?"
Gabrielle took out the charm Willow had give her with the chant written on the back, and handed it to Willow.
Willow looked at it, then said. "I can't read it either. And it's in English, too. That's really weird."
"So I guess there's no way to make it work?" Gabrielle asked.
"Sure there is. If you have a piece of paper I can write it down for you."
"We don't have paper here." Xena said. "We use animal skins - parchment."
"That'll work, too."
Gabrielle got a piece of parchment from the tavern and a quill pen and ink.
As Willow wrote down the magic words that would cause her identical charm to glow, Tara was amazed.
"You do realize you're writing Greek, and ancient Greek at that, don't you?" she said.
"Yeah! It's so cool! When we get back, I'm going to see about taking a class to learn to read and write in Greek."
"Well, I guess this is good bye for a while." Gabrielle said. "I'm really glad you all came. I'm just sorry about the . . . ."
"No. No sorrys. We had a great time!" Buffy told her. "We're all very glad we came. This is something none of us will ever forget."
"I'm glad, then. I guess you can just leave from here. No need to go back to the farm."
"I guess not. Tell Lila and Sarah we said thanks for the hospitality, and maybe we'll see them again soon."
"We're not leaving before we say goodbye to Aphrodite, are we?" Dawn asked.
"Well, if she's busy . . . ." Buffy started to say.
"She isn't, not yet." Xena said. Then yelled out "Aphrodite! They're leaving!"
Immediately, The Love Goddess appeared.
"You're going already?"
"Yeah." Buffy replied. "Not real big on the naked bods. And besides, we're all tired and ready to go home."
"Okay. But before you do. . . ."
The Goddess of Love waved her hand in a circle and a golden shower of sparkles surrounded Buffy, Willow and Tara. And instead of the peasant clothes they had been wearing, they were now dressed in silks and furs, with jeweled earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and rings.
"Just a little something to remember me by. Gotta go!" And with a quick hug for each of them, she flashed out again.
"And you can take them with you." Dawn reminded them.
After the final hugs and promises to keep in touch, Willow began to recite the spell that brought them there, backwards. After the last word, they found themselves back in Buffy's living room.
After finding the light switch, they took turns admiring the new clothes and jewelry they were wearing, and pretending they had a better time than they really did.
"Are you going to tell Xander and Anya what they missed out on?" Dawn asked.
"No. They didn't miss much as far as I'm concerned."
"What about all the naked men and women running around?"
"There were naked women there?" Willow asked. "Where?"
"You didn't see them?" Tara asked.
"Of course not. All I ever see is you."