Vacation in Paradise
OOC: This takes place shortly after the events depicted in the ‘Here I Stand’ thread. For the record, I would have called it ‘Holiday in Paradise’.
Artèmise Sarëquâlondë had never before been beyond the borders of the Eternal Republic. A lady aged in her early forties, and thus far at least resolutely single, the Xirniumite academic was well known within her own country for her inspired writings on feminism and gender inequality, having also gained some measure of international renown for her activism within the sphere of promoting women’s rights.
A recent lecture tour in Xirnium, however, by several prominent politicians of the Confederation of Peoples, had drawn Artèmise’s interest towards the Resurgent Dream. Certainly her curiosity was driven in no small part by the encounter that she had had with Beatrice Wake, one of the Danaan lecturers of the speaking tour. Artèmise now sat comfortably on the aisle seat of a transatlantic jet liner, excited and eager to visit this nation that she had heard so much about.
The International Airport in Wintermore
The Confederacy of the Resurgent Dream
Beatrice was waiting for her Xirniumite friend at the airport. She was dressed simply, in a pair of blue jeans and a tee shirt, and seemed to be in quite a good mood. Artèmise’s dark eyes came alight with cheerful animation at the sight of Beatrice, and (quickly pulling her luggage off the airplane terminal’s baggage carousel) she hurried to meet her. The lady greeted Beatrice warmly, quickly kissing her on both cheeks, which was not the easiest of feats to accomplish for one weighed down with luggage.
‘Hello!’ smiled the breathless Xirniumite, who wore a modest yet fashionable, charcoal-coloured skirted suit, its hem reaching to the mid calf.
‘Hi, Artèmise. I hope your trip went well,’ Beatrice said, returning the polite kisses.
‘Oh, it was fine. A little tiring,’ Artèmise confessed, and indeed the Xirniumite did appear to be a little weary from her journey. ‘How have you been?’
‘Well enough, I suppose. Let me help with some of that,’ Beatrice said, reaching for some of her luggage.
‘Pray don’t trouble yourself...’ began Artèmise embarrassedly, but Beatrice seemed insistent. ‘Thank you,’ she said finally, gratefully, and smiled.
‘It’s nice to have company. The Gandarans are deciding whether or not to keep me in their Congressional delegation this week,’ Beatrice said. ‘It’s been a bit rough.’
‘Oh yes, I heard. It was in the newspapers,’ indicated Artèmise, her face showing genuine concern.
‘It’s politics,’ Beatrice said dismissively as she headed for the exit.
‘Well what I read about didn’t seem much like politics to me,’ explained Artèmise, following the Danaan’s lead. Beatrice, after all, seemed to know where she was going. ‘It seemed more like plain nastiness.’
‘I don’t understand the distinction,’ Beatrice said with a small smirk.
‘Well, I hope their mean talk hasn’t gotten to you,’ Artèmise said, searching her friend’s eyes for meaning.
‘I’m fine,’ Beatrice said.
‘I missed you,’ Artèmise confessed guiltily, keen to change the subject.
‘Really?’ Beatrice asked, a bit nervously.
‘Didn’t you miss me?’ asked the Xirniumite in a light bantering tone, raising a slender eyebrow. Secretly, however, Artèmise longed to be told that she had, and would feel crushed if the opposite were so.
‘I did,’ Beatrice said.
Artèmise smiled broadly at this. ‘You’re just lovely, Beatrice,’ said the Xirniumite cheerfully.
‘So what do you want to do while you're here?’ Beatrice asked.
Artèmise frowned a little at this question, she had thought it would seem obvious enough to Beatrice that she had come to the Resurgent Dream to see more of her. ‘I’ve always wanted to visit the Marble City,’ she offered.
‘Oh, that sounds good. I can get you in,’ Beatrice said.
‘To see more than what’s open to the public?’ asked Artèmise doubtfully.
‘Oh, definitely,’ Beatrice continued.
‘That sounds really nice,’ Artèmise indicated with a smile. ‘I won’t get you into any trouble, will I?’ she clarified quickly.
‘Of course not. Why would you?’ Beatrice asked.
‘I don’t know. Maybe you aren’t supposed to bring friends or something,’ she said, vaguely. ‘Anyway, it sounds just lovely!’
‘I was thinking we could go to the beach too,’ Beatrice said.
Artèmise smiled at this. The beaches in Xirnium were not exactly the most popular locations to visit by holidaying people.
‘I’ll probably get all horribly sunburnt,’ joked the Xirniumite, commenting on her typically fair complexion. ‘The beach would be just splendid,’ she added warmly.
‘I’ll get to see you in a bathing suit, though,’ Beatrice said with a wink.
‘Oh, you know I’ll probably look really ugly in bathing suit, without the tan that everyone seems to have here,’ said Artèmise self-consciously.
‘I doubt that,’ Beatrice said.
Artèmise smiled. ‘I imagine that there are probably scores of people visiting the beaches here,’ she mused cryptically.
‘I imagine so,’ Beatrice said. ‘There might be a crowd.’
‘Hmm, but that’s not really the most intimate surrounding, is it?’ Artèmise noted more openly.
‘You sound like a teenager,’ Beatrice teased, nudging the Xirniumite a little.
‘So where are we going?’ asked Artèmise, smiling a little at the comment.
‘To my house,’ Beatrice said. ‘We’re going to be staying here in Wintermore most of the time.’
‘You will be at work a lot though, won’t you?’ Artèmise pointed out reasonably.
‘I’m waiting out the storm,’ Beatrice said.
‘Oh, good. So then I shall have you all to myself,’ Artèmise said with a grin.
‘You and hoards of eager beachgoers,’ Beatrice teased as she stepped outside. Even though it was February, the temperature was in the high sixties or low seventies Fahrenheit. The sun was bright in the sky, bearing down on the two women as they made for the parking deck.
‘Lovely weather,’ noted Artèmise. 'You must be so glad to be home, after winter in Xirnium.’
‘I was worried that you’d be too hot,’ Beatrice said.
‘You must think that I live in the arctic,’ smiled Artèmise. ‘It is much warmer here than I am used to, though.’
‘You pretty much do.’ Beatrice noted as she opened the rear door of her rather banal minivan for Artèmise’s luggage.
The two threw the baggage inside as best they could and Artèmise smiled, her face a little flushed. ‘I do not live in the arctic, I’ll have you know that Neúvenärta is south of the sixtieth parallel,’ she said proudly. Not all parts of Xirnium could boast this.
‘Uh-huh. Arctic,’ Beatrice repeated, getting the door for her.
‘Thank you!’ Artèmise remarked as she gingerly stepped inside, taking care with her conservative but stylish high heels.
Beatrice climbed in on the driver's side and started the car. ‘You look nice. You’re making me wish I'd dressed up.’
Artèmise’s heart skipped a beat at this compliment. ‘I think you’d look just adorable in a little black dress and stiletto heels,’ observed the Xirniumite playfully.
‘I don’t know if that counts as dressing up,’ Beatrice said as she hit the road. The area looked pretty urbanised. Artèmise could see various fast food restaurants, other roads and petrol stations along the roadside. There was also grass and flowers but hardly any real open country.
‘What did you have in mind, then?’ wondered the Xirniumite. The scenery seemed rather lacklustre to Artèmise, somewhat disappointing.
‘Like what you’re wearing,’ she said. ‘Would you like to stop and grab a bite?’
‘At a fast food restaurant?’ asked Artèmise doubtfully. As a Xirniumite, Artèmise had something of an engrained aversion for the mediocre.
‘So that’s a no?’ Beatrice verified.
‘I’m not really hungry,’ lied Artèmise.
‘Alright,’ Beatrice said, eventually driving her out to a modest two-story home in the suburbs. ‘I have the guest room all made up for you,’ she said as she started unloading.
‘I really should thank you once again for all the trouble that you’ve gone to…’ indicated Artèmise as she helped her friend unload the rest of the luggage.
The Xirniumite secretly hoped that the guest room was not upstairs, but reasoned that it most certainly was. And yet it wasn’t. The guest room was just off the downstairs hallway, right next to the master bedroom. Beatrice helped Artèmise unpack all of her things.
‘Why don’t you get settled in while I make some sandwiches and we can just relax and watch television for awhile?’
‘Yes, that would be nice.’
Beatrice left her with that, heading into the kitchen and puttering around. After a while Artèmise began to feel rather awkward and useless alone in her guest room, and called with a deliberately pleasant voice for whether Beatrice would like some help.
‘I’m about done,’ Beatrice called back. ‘You can get comfortable and join me in the den if you want.’
When the Xirniumite appeared in the den she had already changed from the clothes that she had worn for her plane trip, and now wore a fashionable knitted woollen jumper over a white silk blouse and a stylishly long skirt.
‘Even casual, you’re the height of fashion,’ Beatrice said, handing her a turkey club sandwich and gesturing for her to have a seat on the couch.
‘I try my best to stay current,’ confessed Artèmise as she thankfully accepted a sandwich and duly sat down. ‘It can be a real bother, though. Hemlines change every couple of months,’ she complained.
‘You don’t have to stay current for me,’ Beatrice said. ‘Jeans or shorts are fine around the house. I suppose I’m not quite the sophisticated Xirniumite lady.’
‘You’re charming, all the same,’ smiled Artèmise. ‘Anyway, I don’t think I even have any jeans or shorts. I think that I might have owned a jean skirt once…’ she mused.
‘You can borrow some of mine if you like,’ Beatrice said, reaching for the remote.
‘No, no... thank you, anyway,’ Artèmise said quickly.
‘Alright,’ Beatrice said, oddly disappointed.
‘This is a lovely sandwich,’ Artèmise complimented as she took a very small bite, mostly because she felt she had been a little insensitive towards the Danaan. ‘You know, I’m totally hopeless at preparing any kind of food myself.’
‘This is the closest I come to cooking,’ Beatrice said. ‘What would you like to watch?’
‘I don’t know, I don’t really watch much television,’ Artèmise explained.
Beatrice blushed slightly and turned it off. ‘We don’t have to.’
‘It’s okay, Beatrice, I don’t mind television,’ smiled Artèmise kindly. The Xirniumite had begun to notice that Beatrice seemed unusually sensitive about certain things. ‘I’ve rarely had the time, that’s all.’
Beatrice turned it back on and set the channel on a depiction of the life of Julius Caesar. She settled back next to Artèmise.
‘I’m sorry. I’m just a bit worried that some of the cultural differences will seem disappointing to you. It’s been a very long time since I've...’
‘A long time since you’ve what?’ pressed Artèmise gently. The Xirniumite was acutely aware of Beatrice’s close proximity, and likely the Danaan would be able to smell the heady scent of Artèmise’s expensive perfume (a floral concoction that left the lingering presence of gardenias).
‘Dated,’ Beatrice said.
‘I think you needn’t worry about cultural differences, Beatrice. I’m not concerned by cultural differences.’
‘You seemed a bit horrified at the idea of fast food and blue jeans,’ Beatrice noted.
Artèmise leant across and kissed the fretting Danaan daringly on the cheek. The kiss left a tiny smudge of scarlet lipstick. ‘And so what?’ asked Artèmise with a shrug of her slight shoulders.
‘Nothing,’ Beatrice said, smiling back.
Artèmise seemed quite satisfied.
The Resurgent Dream
Beatrice was only feigning interest in the Caesar program. It held no real interest for her. Eventually, she moved the channel back to the news where a young man was reporting over the most recent statements by the Dominion regarding the situation in Freethinkers. Beatrice couldn't help roll her eyes a little. "Ah, the old Dominion approach to diplomacy: If you say something with enough condescension, arrogance and self-righteousness, people will assume it makes sense. Oh, well, I doubt Nathicana cares much about the fact that there are real people being held in very real bondage in Freestian territory right now. Everything's abstract. People aren't people to her. Only states matter. I don't...How do people like that get so much respect?"
Beatrice settled back into the couch for a moment before tentatively placing a nicely muscled arm around Artemise's shoulder. "If only Eaton didn't think we had to be friends with everyone on earth. I barely understand why we get along with the Menelmacari, much less these people. They are, after all, an authoritarian fake empire."
The Resurgent Dream
Artèmise became somewhat rigid with awkwardness as the Danaan placed an arm around her, shifting slightly in her seat and crossing her legs at the ankle. “I suppose that there are economic and political concerns at stake that come before ideological conviction.” she shrugged.
Beatrice frowned a little and pulled her arm back. "Getting to ignore those is one of the best parts of being a backbencher though."
“No doubt.” replied Artemise. “Although I suppose you must miss the ability to directly formulate policy. I guess that is the cost of having more freedom for rhetoric.”
"Everything has a cost." Beatrice said before going on to say "I'm sorry." As she shook her head a little. "I guess you want to turn in. You did have a long flight. When you close the curtains in the guest room, it's as dark as night. I can show you around town tomorrow." Beatrice continued.
“Um, okay.” nodded Artemise, a little perplexed. “Sure, I think that would be best.”
"Is there anything you need?" Beatrice asked awkwardly and not without a note of regret.
The Xirniumite stood up and smoothed her skirt, feeling more confused. “No... I think I’ll be fine.” she explained.
"Alright." Beatrice sighed. "Sleep well."
Artemise showed herself out of the room, pausing for a moment at the door. “Err, goodnight.” she said, not quite sure if this was the right expression to use here.
"Good night." Beatrice replied. Artemise went to her room and disrobed, silently taking stock of her surroundings. The lady drifted into dreamless sleep almost as soon as she had climbed into bed and pulled the linen sheets over herself, waking with the first rays of sun the next day.
Artemise had always been something of a “morning person”, and usually felt cheerful and refreshed after having woken from sleep. Wearing a light nightdress, she ventured a little timidly on bare feet from her room, walking towards the noise. “Beatrice?”
"Good morning." Beatrice said from the kitchen where she was preparing breakfast. She was wearing a fashionable light skirt and an equally expensive designer blouse with medium heels. She gave a polite smile as Artemise entered the room.
Artemise smiled nervously and drew her nightdress a little tighter about herself, overly conscious of how she must look. The Xirniumite was not dressed, she had not yet put on any makeup and her hair was tousled from sleep.
“Good morning.” she said, brightly. “Um, I’m just going to have a shower.” she explained, the unspoken implication being that she was unsure where it was.
"It's right across the hall from your room." Beatrice told her with a nod in that general direction.
Artemise made a vague noise of thanks, still looking around the room, her dark eyes blinking. As she watched Beatrice cook she was struck once again with a feeling of usefulness. “Do you need any help? Can I make you some coffee?” she asked.
"If you want." Beatrice said, scrambling eggs over the stove as she spoke.
Artemise was pleased by this and setting about making coffee whilst trying her best not to get in Beatrice’s way. “How do you take it?”
"Black with two sugars." Beatrice answered.
Truth be told, Artemise was not particularly great at making coffee, but she did manage the task without it boiling over and spilling everywhere, which was something. She smiled proudly when she had finished. “I'll just go and have a shower.” she said, again.
"I'll set the table." Beatrice said.
As Artemise left the room, Beatrice did indeed set the table dutifully. She laid out plates and silverware for both of them and served sausage, eggs and the coffee which Artemise had made. She then sat down and placed her head miserably in her hands, sighing and reflecting to herself as the other woman showered.
Artemise showed fairly quickly, dressed, sprayed herself with scent, brushed her long hair, and otherwise made herself presentable in a reasonably short period of time, which turned out to be almost twenty minutes. When she returned to the kitchen she was wearing a well tailored, tight-fitting skirt, stylish light blouse (Artemise had decided to be daring and forgo the jumper), and fashionable high heels. Her coffee, of course, had long since gone quite cold, but she sipped it anyway with the most silly, cheerful smile and pretended it was warm. Beatrice ate her eggs and sausage and drank her own coffee.
“So did you sleep well?” asked Artemise, returning the cup to its saucer. Pretending to like cold coffee was not that difficult, but this breakfast would present something more of a problem. There was much too great a use of oil for Artemise’s liking, but such could not be helped. She nibbled on a sausage and smiled broadly.
"Well enough." Beatrice answered.
“I had a lovely sleep.” declared Artemise, undaunted. Now for the scrambled eggs, these could be dealt with mainly by scattering them around the plate with her fork, eating a few token mouthfuls for good measure.
“Thank you for cooking such a delightful breakfast.” Artemise added. None would ever call the Xirniumite impolite.
"I was just being hospitable." Beatrice answered.
This response confused Artemise a little, and she began to wonder if Beatrice might not be unhappy with her for some reason. Perhaps she had not made a good enough show of enjoying her breakfast. Artemise promptly cut up and devoured an entire sausage. “ I am grateful for you kindness, all the same.”
Beatrice smiled a little. "You're welcome."
Artemise was still unsure if all was well, Beatrice seemed somewhat reticent. Slipping a stockinged foot out of her shoe, she touched the Danaan on the ankle. “I just love your skirt, I’m really jealous.” spoke Artemise.
Beatrice smiled a little at the touch. She started to say something and then closed her mouth. She was used to being strong and decisive. She'd felt simply foolish over the last day, like she was being made a clown of.
“Is something bothering you, Beatrice?” frowned the Xirniumite. “I hope it isn't anything I've done...”
"No. Not at all." Beatrice lied.
Artemise withdrew her foot. “So then what’s wrong?” asked Artemise doubtfully.
"Nothing's wrong." Beatrice said, extending her own foot.
Artemise tried to force her misgivings out of her mind. “So what are we doing today?”
"Going to the Marble City." Beatrice said, withdrawing her foot again with a knowing sigh.
Artemise found that she wasn’t as enthusiastic today about going to the Marble City as had previously been. “That sounds nice.”
Artemise stood up from the table and took the dishes, saying something about how she would wash up.
"Thanks." Beatrice said, standing up herself.
“Maybe in the evening we might go to a dance.” said Artemise offhandedly as she scrubbed furiously at the plates, her voice desperately casual. “Do you like dancing?”
"I have two left feet." Beatrice said half-jokingly as she joined Artemise in the kitchen.
"Artemise, what are we doing?" Beatrice asked suddenly.
Artemise turned of the sink’s hot water tap and turned around, shaking her dripping hands. “Pardon?”
"Well, I spent an hour this morning trying to dress like a Xirniumite lady because you seemed not to like my casual wardrobe while at the same time making it look like a casual choice. You forced your way through a breakfast you hated. Our conversations are awkward as though we don't know what to say. We move together and then apart just as fast." Beatrice reached out and took Artemise's wet hand in hers. "We're forty year old women. We shouldn't do this like schoolgirls. I'm extremely interested in you romantically. That's a large part of why I invited you here. Are you interested in me?"
Artemise swallowed nervously. “Yes.” she breathed. The Xirniumite leant closer to her, even as her heart beat furiously in her breast.
Beatrice gently stepped forward, putting her arms around Artemise and pressing her lips to those of the Xirniumite woman, kissing her fiercely. Artemise allowed herself to be pressed back against the wall. Pulling her lips free with some effort, she trailed a line of feverish kisses down Beatrice’s throat. "Now no more awkwardness." Beatrice commanded. Artemise murmured something indistinctly, and then kissed her gently on her lips. "Good girl." Beatrice said with a teasing smile.
Artemise’s eyes smouldered with an urgent longing, and she ignored the joke. “Kiss me please, Beatrice.” she pleaded, tilting her head away and baring her slender neck.
Later that day…
Blinking languorously, Artèmise slowly opened her large, lustrous brown eyes and shifted slightly in bed, emitting a sigh of great contentment. She quietly murmured something and snuggled up to Beatrice, affectionately nuzzling her lover’s soft hair and the nape of her neck. Artèmise felt satisfied and comfortable, enjoying the luxurious feeling of fine, pure white linen sheets against her fair skin.
‘Did I fall asleep?’ Beatrice asked, opening her eyes groggily.
‘Yes. For a little bit, I think,’ said Artèmise with a contented little smile. Closing her eyes, she rested her head on Beatrice’s shoulder.
‘What time is it?’ Beatrice asked.
‘I don’t know… twelve?’ wondered the Xirniumite.
Artèmise reluctantly opened her eyes and half sat up, drawing part of the thin sheets around her slender figure. Glancing around, she saw that the bedroom was in quite an untidy mess, with a lamp overturned and various articles of clothing carelessly strewn about. Reaching over to a bedside table, she pulled away a slinky black skirt (hers, Artèmise noticed with a blushing smile) and read the time on the clock.
‘Half past one,’ she explained.
‘Do you still want to do something today?’ Beatrice asked her.
‘What exactly did you have in mind?’ asked Artèmise, brushing a few wayward strand of tousled hair out of the way as she lay down again.
‘I don’t know. It’s too late to go to the Marble City,’ Beatrice said. ‘We could go to the beach, or go for a walk, or play some tennis. What do you want to do?’
‘A nice walk sounds just lovely,’ murmured Artèmise, snuggling next to Beatrice.
‘What shall we wear?’ Beatrice asked.
The Xirniumite grinned distantly. ‘I thought what you had on before was really nice. You were really quite perfect as the discerningly elegant, fashion-conscious Xirniumite lady,’ said Artèmise.
‘I can be sophisticated when I have to be,’ Beatrice said.
‘So I noticed,’ smiled Artèmise.
‘It wouldn’t be comfortable to walk in,’ Beatrice added.
‘I suppose that it all depends on just how much walking you plan to do,’ mused Artèmise sleepily, as she closed her eyes again.
‘Enough to get a good workout,’ Beatrice said. ‘Maybe we could go for an actual hike.’
Artèmise opened her eyes with something comically akin to alarm. Quite content in her warm bed and having looked forward to spending the rest of the afternoon in languid idleness, the Xirniumite was not sure she liked the thought of a hard workout.
‘Why not?’ Beatrice asked. ‘It'll be fun.’
'By “hike”… you mean, like in the wilderness or on an actual mountain or something?’
‘Out by the lake,’ Beatrice said.
‘Oh, okay. I guess that sounds nice,’ replied Artèmise, a little unconvincingly.
‘Come on, lazy girl. You’ll have fun. Do you have the clothes for it?’ Beatrice continued.
‘Yes, I’m fairly certain I do,’ indicated Artèmise thoughtfully.
Beatrice rolled out of bed and started folding her original clothes before putting on a fairly simple hiking outfit consisting of jean-shorts, a tee shirt and boots. Artèmise remained in bed for a while, somewhat disinclined to leave its delicious warmth, and sat watching Beatrice quietly. Eventually she pulled away the sheets and went to her room, pausing briefly to pick up her hastily discarded items of clothing. Artèmise wore a thin, light shirt, somewhat skimpy shorts and practical walking shoes.
‘I finally got you to dress down,’ Beatrice teased as she took her in.
Artèmise smiled a little self-consciously to her friend as she fidgeted with a number of pretty pins to hold her long hair securely in place. ‘It’s a little hard to be fashionable when you’re exercising,’ she said in her defence.
'Well, I think you look ravishing,' Beatrice said, moving over to kiss her lightly on the lips.
Artèmise closed her eyes as Beatrice kissed her and smiled back appreciatively. ‘You look nice too,’ she said playfully, squeezing Beatrice’s hand.
Beatrice wrapped her arms around Artèmise and pulled her close, her hand slowly moving down her back as she kissed her again.
‘Mmm, that was nice. Would you rather we put off our hike until later?’ whispered Artèmise into the Danaan’s hair as their lips finally parted. She made a series of adoring kisses down the slender line of her friend’s throat, finishing with a gentle, longing bite.
‘No. Let’s go. We’re not teenagers, after all,’ Beatrice teased, letting her go.
‘You make me feel like a teenager,’ Artèmise replied playfully. ‘Okay then, let’s go,’ she said, deliberately trying to appear enthusiastic but not entirely without a touch of regret.
Beatrice headed for the car, holding the door open for Artèmise with a small smile. ‘You make me feel like a teenager too.’
‘I’ve really no idea why,’ admitted Artèmise as she sat down and clipped on her seatbelt. ‘But I’m glad, all the same,’ she added, and squeezed Beatrice’s hand.
Beatrice smiled and squeezed back as she took her seat, starting the engine. ‘It’s because I’m so hot.’
‘Oh, yes… I knew that. I know exactly why you make me feel like a teenager,’ smiled Artèmise archly.
‘So now you’re fishing for a compliment?’ Beatrice asked in a teasing tone as she started for the lake.
‘Oh, no. All you do is flatter me,’ pointed out Artèmise.
‘I’ll stop then,’ Beatrice said.
‘Not completely, I hope,’ smiled Artèmise. ‘So how far is the lake?’ asked the Xirniumite casually.
‘About twenty miles,’ Beatrice said. ‘We have some time to chat in the car.’
‘Wonderful,’ replied Artèmise cheerily.
‘So what would you like to talk about? Politics? International affairs?’ Beatrice asked.
Artèmise giggled a little at this; politics and international affairs were the last things on her mind. ‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Did you happen to see the news this morning? Any new developments regarding the Freethinkers and their decision to allow slave traders legal passage through their waters?’ she asked, talking about the first thing that came to her head.
‘The Menelmacari and Necrontyr did... something,’ Beatrice said. ‘The President, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of Defense have been briefed, along with the Leader of the Opposition and the relevant Shadow Secretaries.’
‘But not you?’ asked Artèmise with a friendly smile.
‘Not me,’ Beatrice said, lightly patting Artèmise’s leg.
‘Aw, my little Beatrice has been left out of the loop,’ teased Artèmise.
Beatrice playfully scowled at her. ‘Anyway, apparently things are somehow okay although the ban on trade remains and will remain as long as that law remains on the books.’
‘In my opinion, Menelmacari and Necrontyr involvement seems just to muddy the waters,’ shrugged Artèmise, intent that she should say something.
‘Xirnium is getting closer to Menelmacar and the Dominion, isn’t it?’ Beatrice asked.
'Yeah, I think so. I read that the Menelmacari were making overtures of some kind to the Gílda Government,' spoke Artèmise vaguely. ‘I haven't heard anything about the Dominion, though. Well, there was that whole thing with the trade bloc a while ago.’
Beatrice nodded a little. ‘What do you think of it?’
'Personally, I think they're all a little dangerous,' said Artèmise.
‘Oh?’ Beatrice asked.
‘Well, take the Menelmacari and Necrontyr,’ said Artèmise. ‘They’ve quite radically different political ideologies from our nations and have been known to undertake aggressive interventionism.’
Beatrice nodded a little. ‘So how would you characterise Gílda’s foreign policy?’
‘How would I characterise it? Well, I think that the Progressive Democrats have often been willing to cooperate with nations of fundamentally different character than that of true liberal democracies, all in the name of political and economic gain.’
‘And you disapprove?’ Beatrice asked.
‘I think that one should be principled in one’s foreign policy,’ Artèmise said evasively.
Beatrice nodded a little. ‘What do you think about the Abt Republic?’
‘But I want to hear what you think about all of this,’ Artèmise complained.
‘I think that we need to support Abt in its fight against the Sons of the Reformation is we want a stable and free Ambara,’ Beatrice said.
‘I didn’t mean about Abt,’ indicated Artèmise with an amused frown.
‘I think the Menelmacari and the Necrontyr aren’t as bad as you make them out to be,’ Beatrice said.
‘It was you who called them fake empires and autocracies,’ pointed out Artèmise reasonably.
‘No. I called the Dominion that.’ Beatrice said.
‘The Dominion, at least, is generally non-interventionist,’ said the Xirniumite in defence of Lady Nathicana’s government. Artèmise really just wanted to argue with Beatrice for the sake of it; irrespective of her own true views.
Beatrice smirked slightly. ‘But I’m not, sweetie. You know that.’
‘That’s not what I’m getting at,’ said Artèmise, a little annoyed at herself. ‘You said that nothing has changed concerning the Freethinkers, but that it’s all alright. Is that the kind of interventionism you support?’ she asked, giving voice to an argument before it had been coherently formed in her mind.
‘That isn’t what was said, for one thing,’ Beatrice pointed out. ‘And I wasn’t the one doing the saying, anyway, so I hardly see how it gets ascribed to me.’
Artèmise blushed brilliantly and fell silent.
‘You’re beautiful when you blush,’ Beatrice said.
Artèmise only reddened more deeply at this and felt her cheeks become very hot. ‘I would rather appear plain and not foolish,’ she mumbled.
‘You weren’t foolish. You just misunderstood my wording, is all,’ Beatrice said.
'Can we just change the subject, please?' asked Artèmise, looking out of the window to hide her obvious embarrassment.
‘Sure,’ Beatrice said. They drove in awkward silence for a while.
‘Well, do you enjoy music?’ she asked, turning back and glancing at the car’s radio.
‘Yeah,’ Beatrice said. ‘What kind do you like?’
‘Oh, anything. I don’t mind what I listen to,’ Artèmise explained. ‘Early romantic chamber music,’ she added when pressed.
Beatrice nodded and selected something on the radio. ‘Is this good?’
‘It’s okay,’ Artèmise nodded, smiling a little at the mid-eighteenth century violin sonata, from the late Baroque period. ‘We can always listen to something else, if you like.’
‘No. This is good.’ Beatrice said.
‘Tell me what you like,’ pressed Artèmise.
‘I was really never that interested in music. I’m alright with anything,’ Beatrice insisted.
Artèmise sighed. ‘You like to keep Beatrice all bottled up inside, don’t you?’ she asked thoughtfully.
‘I’m being honest,’ Beatrice said. ‘I really don’t have a music preference.’
‘Okay, sure. Maybe. Nonetheless, though, you must admit that you are pretty reticent,’ Artèmise repeated.
‘What is it that you want to know?’ Beatrice asked.
‘This isn’t an interrogation,’ Artèmise smiled.
‘I want to open up,’ Beatrice said.
‘Open up, then,’ said Artèmise.
‘You won’t tell me what you want to know!’ Beatrice said irritably.
‘What was your last girlfriend like?’ Artèmise asked suddenly and without any apparent consideration.
‘She left me over party realignment, of all things,’ Beatrice said. ‘She was a very... fierce woman. She had quite a temper, and wasn't keen on compromises. She had to have things her way.’
‘Where you with her for a long time?’ asked Artèmise.
‘Ten years,’ Beatrice answered. ‘I really loved her.’
‘Oh,’ said Artèmise, biting her lip thoughtfully. ‘Do you see her much now?’
‘Not since I resigned from Parliament,’ Beatrice said. ‘You have nothing to worry about, sweetie.’
Artèmise smiled weakly.
‘You seem upset,’ Beatrice said.
'Oh no. No, not at all,' Artèmise assured her.
‘I’m with you now. I'm really into you,' Beatrice said. ‘I’m not trying to hide anything. I just don’t tend to be very confessional.’
‘No, no, I understand. Actually, I’m sorry I brought it up now, you must think me quite a prying busybody,’ she said with a nervous laugh.
‘Yep,’ Beatrice said with a small smirk.
Artèmise blushed scarlet again. ‘Oh, you’re just mean,’ she said, hitting her playfully on the shoulder. Not very hard, though; Beatrice was driving, after all.
Beatrice laughed a little. ‘Here we are.’
They were parked in front of a small gate set in a grey, chain-link fence, too small for cars to go through. There was a small gravel car park off to one side, which was where Beatrice had stopped the car. The fence was, quite intentionally, mostly blocked from view by trees, bushes, vines, and other plant life. Beyond the small gate, there was just a dirt track going through light woods and the pure, still surface of a large lake on which the sun reflected brightly.
Beatrice got out, opened Artèmise’s door and offered her a hand. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’
Artèmise smiled politely and stepped out of the car, gratefully making use of Beatrice’s outstretched hand. ‘Yes, it’s very nice,’ she breathed.
Beatrice walked through the gate and along the path. The dirt trail moved through the light woods around the lake. It wasn’t a hard hike, although there was a bit of a climb as the ground on the other side of the lake was substantially higher than the ground by the gate. It looked like it would be about a five mile hike. Beatrice started into the light woods eagerly.
‘I’ve always liked to come out here to clear my mind.’
‘Oh, yes?’ asked Artèmise as she followed quickly behind her. Eight kilometres of winding, earth covered track through forest and hills seemed somewhat a long way to the sophisticated metropolitan, although she did grin at the task stoically.
‘Just nature’s beauty and my own bodily exertion. No worries about politics,’ Beatrice said. ‘It always leaves me feeling refreshed.’
‘I’ve always preferred to snuggle up in front of the fireplace with a quiet glass of wine and a nice book, myself, whenever I feel the need to unwind,’ replied Artèmise.
‘All my books are about politics or philosophy,’ Beatrice said with a wry grin. ‘And, if they’re not, I seem incapable of reading anything without importing political concerns.’
‘It sounds that what you need is a delightful escapist novel,’ mused Artèmise. ‘You can’t worry all the time.’
‘This is my delightful escapist novel.’ Beatrice said.
‘Well I can certainly appreciate the attractiveness that you see in it,’ Artèmise conceded. ‘The clear air has a sort of tonic quality, doesn’t it?’
‘It really does. I’m quite convinced that fresh air and exercise are the best stress relief to be had. Well, apart from the arms of a loving woman,’ Beatrice commented, smiling slightly at her lover.
Artèmise smiled back. Beatrice set quite a swift pace, and even though they had only been walking for a short while she could already feel her heat beating slightly faster in her breast.
‘So did I make all your worries disappear?’ asked Artèmise mischievously.
‘Mostly,’ Beatrice answered coyly.
‘But for the remainder you need to thoroughly wear yourself out,’ Artèmise observed with a somewhat arch tone of voice.
‘That was true with you too,’ Beatrice teased.
Artèmise blushed with affected modesty and even darted a quick look around to see if there was anyone who might have heard. In fact, the lake was quite abandoned today except for the two women. Beatrice paused and took Artèmise briefly in her arms, lightly kissing her on the lips.
‘I don’t need to relax after being with you, sweetie. I just wanted to share this with you.’
Artèmise felt all weak again in Beatrice’s arms and fondly kissed her back. ‘You’re such an adorable sweetheart, Beatrice’ smiled the Xirniumite.
‘I try,’ Beatrice answered, smiling faintly before resuming her hike.
‘I mean it,’ continued Artèmise as she walked after her. ‘You make me feel very special. You’re just lovely.’
‘Look who’s talking,’ Beatrice said as she looked Artèmise over.
‘See, that’s precisely what I mean,’ Artèmise said appreciatively.
‘Well, I did have selfish motives in asking you to come here with me,’ Beatrice confessed.
‘I get to see you get all sweaty in those tight little shorts,’ Beatrice said.
Artèmise blushed again, but less affectedly. ‘Oh, so it was really just a devious ploy all along,’ she teased, and pushed her friend lightly. Artèmise used the opportunity to pick up the pace and dart ahead of Beatrice.
Beatrice chased after her, laughing lightly as she caught up to the other woman and caught her by the waist. Artèmise made a play of resisting and trying to squirm out of Beatrice’s grip. Her breathing was a little shallow from her dash and her skin already a little damp from exertion. Beatrice pulled her back and hoisted her slender friend slightly off the ground, spinning around slowly and trying to hold back her giggles.
‘We’re supposed to be exercising, not playing like little children, silly,’ Artèmise scolded the Danaan playfully after she had put her back down. Quickly pressing her burning lips to Beatrice’s mouth, Artèmise gave her friend a fleeting yet fiery kiss before wriggling herself loose from the Danaan’s grip.
Artèmise marched forward briskly again, darting frequent glances over her shoulder. Beatrice started once more behind Artèmise, smiling lightly.
The Resurgent Dream
Beatrice let herself drift into silence for the next mile or so. She was enjoying nature and the simple presence of her companion and didn't feel much need for conversation. The woods weren't exactly wilderness. They were just a small patch of woods around a lake, otherwise surrounded by human habitation. Still, they were teeming with plant and animal life. The two women could hear birds singing just a short distance away and every now and again a small woodland critter would scurry across their path.
At one point, Beatrice paused to look at a squirrel in a tree. As soon as she turned towards it, the squirrel darted around to the other side of the tree and then froze. Smirking slightly, playfully, Beatrice stepped off the trail and looked at the squirrel from the other side. It scurried back to its original position. Beatrice laughed lightly, although she stepped back and let the creature climb to higher branches where it felt secure. "He's adorable, isn't he?" she asked Artemise cheerfully as she moved once more to follow the other woman along the trail.
Artèmise stopped trudging along the dirt trail and, still panting slightly, slowly came over to the tree to have a look at the bushy-tailed squirrel. She used the opportunity to regain her breath somewhat and wiped away part of the sweat from the back of her slender neck and shoulders, gently kneading the tired flesh. A number of strands of Artèmise’s long dark hair had come loose from their ornamental pins, and now clung damply to the side of her face and neck.
‘Oh yes, he’s just gorgeous,’ crooned the Xirniumite, her eyes widening a little in delight.
Beatrice followed the reddish brown squirrel with her eyes as he leaped agilely from one branch into the safety of a neighbouring tree, and then into another. Almost instantly, he had vanished back into the woods. ‘I have a soft spot for animals,’ she confessed.
‘Oh yes, I do too. But he was really cute!’ grinned Artèmise.
Beatrice nodded as little as she kept walking. ‘Do you have any pets?’
‘I have a little dog called Vändwen,’ explained Artèmise as she followed after her friend, her moistened eyes glittering affectionately. ‘He’s about seven years old.’
‘I’m sure he’s beautiful,’ Beatrice said.
‘He’s a cute little basset hound,’ replied Artèmise. ‘He has these short, stubby legs that he bumbles around in and big floppy ears that hang down adorably,’ she smiled.
Beatrice laughed a little. ‘That sounds so cute. Maybe I can meet him sometime?’
‘I hope so,’ said the Xirniumite, her eyes clouding thoughtfully. Artèmise had left her dog in the care of one of her close friends, but poignantly began to feel his absence now that she was reminded so vividly of him. Likely he would be missing her too, she reflected. ‘Do you have any pets?’
‘Unfortunately, no. Until recently, I wouldn’t have had the time to give a pet the attention it needed,’ Beatrice commented.
‘If I decide to stay here for long I’ll probably have to have him sent for,’ mused Artèmise cryptically, the hint of a bashful, secret smile curling the edges of her lips.
‘If you were going to be staying here that long, I’d assume you’d want to go home temporarily to get everything in order, rather than sending for things,’ Beatrice pointed out.
‘Oh yes, of course. I suppose that I would have to,’ agreed Artèmise with a nonchalant shrug.
‘I think that I might like that, though, if your stay were to be extended,’ Beatrice said.
‘Oh?’ asked Artèmise softly, her manner of speech unnaturally casual. She smiled shyly. ‘It’s really nice here, I might just extend may stay,’ she tantalised Beatrice.
Beatrice smiled, taking Artèmise’s hand in hers as she hiked, not speaking for a few minutes. Artèmise bit her lower lip and looked at her lover’s hand but didn’t say anything. She pretended to be quite absorbed in the natural beauty of the woodland.
‘I’m really happy I met you,’ Beatrice said at length.
‘So am I,’ whispered Artèmise as she squeezed her friend's hand. Beatrice squeezed back.
Artèmise stopped walking and leant in to kiss Beatrice appreciatively. She murmured something that might have been, ‘I love you’.
Beatrice wrapped her arms gently around Artèmise and returned her kiss. ‘I love you too, sweetheart.’
Artèmise leant her head on Beatrice’s shoulder and just let the Danaan hold her for a moment. Beatrice smiled as she held her lover. She gently rocked her back and forth for a moment.
Artèmise tenderly nuzzled Beatrice’s hair as a naughty grin curled her lips. ‘Do we really have to finish the rest of the walk?’
‘You’re insatiable. We just had at it not an hour ago,’ Beatrice teased.
Artèmise went pink. ‘Thank you, Beatrice, but I wasn’t thinking about that,’ she huffed irritably, but not entirely convincingly.
‘Oh?’ Beatrice teased.
‘Not in the least,’ she added primly.
Beatrice nodded, gently pulling back and gesturing for Artèmise to precede her. Artèmise dutifully complied, with something perhaps of a frown. As she moved forward, Beatrice playfully swatted her on the rump.
Artèmise snapped a look behind and giggled. ‘That’s very improper,’ she pointed out.
‘You deserved it,’ Beatrice said with a smirk as she resumed walking. ‘Besides, you liked it.’
Artèmise blushed, almost as though she had been an insubordinate student. ‘You just like to tease me.’
‘I’m not teasing you with anything you can’t have. But I want to finish the hike first,’ Beatrice explained.
‘No, I mean I didn’t deserve it all. I’ve been a very good girl. You just like to tease me,’ Artèmise explained patiently.
‘I know,’ Beatrice said.
‘I don’t think you know at all,’ Artèmise laughed, mocking her a little. ‘You’re just saying that you know.’
‘If you say so…’ Beatrice said.
‘Uh-huh, I do,’ she said with a nod of her head.
‘I love you, anyway,’ Beatrice said.
‘And now you’re trying to be all mawkishly slushy and sentimental,’ teased Artèmise, although the look in her eyes conveyed the deepest appreciation.
‘But you like that too,’ Beatrice informed her.
‘Maybe I’ve just read too many soppy romance novels,’ confessed Artèmise. ‘Oh, you won’t tell anyone, will you?’
‘What will you give me not to tell?’ Beatrice asked.
Artèmise gave her friend a single, timid kiss on the cheek. ‘What about that?’
‘That works,’ Beatrice said.
‘But how do I know that you will keep your word, and not renege on our bargain?’ asked Artèmise thoughtfully.
‘You don’t,’ Beatrice answered simply.
‘That’s not fair!’
Beatrice smirked faintly, saying nothing. Artèmise skipped over a log that had fallen between the path and hummed something indistinct. ‘What are you smiling about, my charming little darling?’
‘You,’ Beatrice said.
‘All good, I hope?’
‘Very good,’ Beatrice assured her.
‘Guess who I’m thinking about!’ Artèmise said as she closed her eyes.
‘Emma?’ Beatrice guessed.
Artèmise burst into a fit of giggling.
‘Did I guess right?’ Beatrice asked.
‘I’m afraid not,’ Artèmise apologised with a shake of her head.
‘I don’t know then,’ Beatrice teased.
‘She’s the dearest, loveliest creature in the world,’ Artèmise said, giving her a hint.
‘Yourself?’ Beatrice guessed.
‘No, silly. Ms Beatrice Wake!’
'You’re very sweet,’ Beatrice noted.
‘Not always,’ Artèmise said with a gleam in her eye.
‘Oh?’ Beatrice asked.
‘Indeed,’ she said, crossing her arms and pressing her breasts together.
‘When are you not sweet?’ she pressed.
Artèmise made a vague gesture. ‘I just want to tease you,’ she said. ‘Quite honestly, I’m not even sure what I’m talking about.’
‘Neither am I. We’re not making any kind of sense,’ Beatrice confessed.
‘You started it,’ Artèmise asserted. Beatrice just kissed her and kept hiking.
‘We should probably just spend less time talking and more time kissing,’ observed Artèmise with feigned seriousness.
‘I like kissing you,’ Beatrice noted.
‘I’ve noticed. You don’t seem able to stop yourself from doing it,’ replied Artèmise. ‘Oh, I don’t want you to stop,’ she added hurriedly.
‘I don’t want me to stop either,’ Beatrice commented.
‘Do you like it when I kiss you?’ she asked bashfully.
'Very much so,' Beatrice answered.
‘Why?’ asked Artèmise, biting her lip.
‘What a silly question,’ Beatrice observed.
‘You don’t know why,’ observed Artèmise with a delighted grin.
‘Of course I don't know,’ Beatrice said.
The Resurgent Dream
"It cheapens it to give reasons, I think." Beatrice said. "I like to think that I am somehow interested in some mysterious you-in-yourself behind all your particular traits. That doesn't really make any sense but I don't really want it to. I just want ... I don't know what I want. Do you understand the sentiment though?"
Beatrice smiled slightly as she leaned down to scratch an itch on her well-muscled leg. She straightened up and continued walking. They had gone quite some way now and the hike was becoming more strenuous as they began to move up here. Beatrice had a light sweat and was starting to slow and breathe a little heavier. The forest on either side of the path was a bit denser here and the sounds of birds singing and wildlife scampering through the branches and the undergrowth were more constant and more pronounced. Beatrice followed a small side path down a steep incline to the actual shore of the lake. There were a number of fallen logs here and Beatrice settled down on one to take a breather and look out over the lake. As she sat down, a previously unseen frog jumped off the log and splashed into the lake.
Artèmise replied that she certainly understood the sentiment, but that Beatrice had taken the question much more deeply than she had intended it. What had been meant in reference to pleasant sensations and the physical act of kissing itself had been interpreted as something more profound.
‘For instance, when you kiss me I like your gentle thoughtfulness, your insistence, your hint of possessiveness…’ she reflected dreamily. ‘I like how you make me feel breathless afterwards,’ she added, a bit more self-consciously.
Artèmise found this leg of the hike significantly more difficult than what had come before. Her skin was damp with perspiration and her breath was ragged. The Xirniumite was glad when Beatrice paused to rest a moment, and flopped down immediately beside her on the log.
The Resurgent Dream
"I like the intensity of your response." Beatrice said. "I like how quickly you get wholly into it. I like your commitment to the moment and the act." She smiled slightly, taking Artemise's hand in hers. "I also like to sit with you on dirty old logs and just hold your hand and look at the lake."