"Um... oh. Yes."
"How about... that one?" Amy shifted her hand and pointed at yet another bright speck in the sky above them. River leaned into her to squint along the line of her arm.
"Ah, Neptolus. Yes, I've been there too," River laughed.
Amy pouted for a moment before relaxing back into the soft warm grass that cradled her and River. The purple stalks glowed just enough that she could make out River's face, gazing up at the stars. "No fair," Amy said petulantly. "You've been everywhere."
"Well, not quite," River said, but Amy could hear the smirk in her voice.
"What's Neptolus like?" Amy demanded. "Did you go there with the Doctor?"
"No, I do travel without him sometimes, you know," River pointed out.
"Oh, good," Amy said, shifting into a more comfortable position. "Then you can tell me about it without spoilers!" She settled back, content to wait for a story, and closed her eyes. After a moment, when River hadn't said anything, they popped back open. "Riverrr," she said, turning to face the other woman. "C'mon, please?"
"Just... trying to decide where to start," River said, and took a deep breath. "Well. Once upon a time, then, twenty years ago and about two thousand years from now, there lived a beautiful princess."
"Ooh, are you a princess, River? Does the Doctor know he married into royalty... or is going to marry into royalty, or — "
"Who's telling the story, Amy?" River chided gently. "Now. This beautiful princess was the last in a long line of warrior queens whose genealogy stretched into the earliest records of her planet's history. In all that time, they had lost and regained their ancestral homeland several times over. It had been sacked and burnt, reclaimed, rebuilt, until the next time. When our story starts, the beautiful princess was rebuilding her city again and digging up all sorts of interesting things in the process."
"And you were the archaeologist in charge, eh? How exciting." Amy poked River in the ribs, giggling when she squeaked. "Hey, I was wondering, couldn't you just go back in time to do your research, though?"
"That," River drawled, "would be cheating. And I wasn't so much part of the field crew on Neptolus as I was, ah, an uninvited guest, shall we say. The beautiful princess wasn't really fond of outsiders — not that can I blame her, given their history," River added fairly. "So Antiopa, for that was the princess's name — "
"Antiopa?" Amy interrupted. "Isn't that a character from Greek mythology?"
River nodded; Amy could just make out the movement in the soft violet glow of the grass. "Yes, it turned out the entire planet was populated by a space shuttle created by some technologically advanced Ancient Ancient Greek civilization. Amazing, really, how many myths and customs lasted that long. Not that it matters to the story."
Amy winced. "Sorry. I'll stop interrupting," she promised.
"I very much doubt you could even if you wanted to," River said, squeezing Amy's hand quickly to take the sting out of her words. Amy's palm tingled and she curled her fingers to capture the sensation, but River was already continuing her story, her hands mapping indistinct figures in the air above her.
"Antiopa had a grand vision of what she wanted the rebuilt city, and most importantly her new palace, to look like. The only problem was, it turned out the site she'd chosen was right on top of what had been their traditional burial grounds a few centuries earlier. Tools and artefacts and death masks all over the place, my goodness, couldn't have it! And that," she smiled, "is where I came in." River paused, possibly waiting for Amy to ask another question. But Amy kept quiet, enthralled by the idea of learning about River's 'real job.'
"Neptolus, you see, was the fabled home of an artefact of great power... or at least great beauty. The Dagger of Peleus — yes, again with the Greek myth, interesting, eh? Anyways, the dagger was described as silver worked with gold — very nice — and inlaid with blue stones, rather like sapphires, only not from Earth, of course. Supposed to have all sort of mythical properties. It disappeared from history and rumour a few centuries before Antiopa's rule. And with that team of amateurs tossing grave goods around willy-nilly — honestly, and I thought nineteenth-century Earth was bad — well, if the dagger was going to show up, I wanted to be there."
"Shouldn't you have left it there? If it was part of their history?" Amy asked. "I mean, if you even found it. You did find it, didn't you?"
"I didn't find it, actually, no," River admitted.
Amy sat up in dismay. "Well, that's a rubbish story," she protested. "You went looking for a myth and didn't find it?"
River reached out and drew Amy back down to rest her head on River's shoulder. "Not every story can be a fairytale, Amelia," she said. "But you haven't heard the end of this one yet."
Amy brushed River's unruly curls away from her face. "I'll be good," she muttered.
River chuckled, but didn't comment, just continued with her story. "As I said, I didn't find the dagger myself. In fact, Antiopa found it while supervising the dig — really she just liked getting her hands dirty," River confided. Amy smiled at the mental image of a beautiful princess digging in the dirt, then frowned. River had sounded not only impressed, but... fond? How well had she known this Antiopa, Amy wondered.
"Antiopa recognized the dagger, of course," River said. "It figured prominently in many of their histories and myths, and oral tradition was particularly important to Neptolus's monarchy. Lots of bards singing about great battles and all that. She didn't tell anyone what she'd found, though. Started thinking about how she could use it to inspire her citizens. They'd just lived through a war, remember, and the rebuilding efforts weren't moving as fast as they would have liked. So Antiopa hid the dagger, thinking she'd stage a discovery somewhere useful — groundbreaking on a new temple, probably — and paint it as a sign the gods approved of her rule." River shook her head in admiration. "Always two steps ahead, that girl."
Something squirmed uncomfortably in Amy's stomach. "How do you know all this?" she asked. "All of Antiopa's plans. If she didn't tell anyone about the dagger..."
"Oh, she told me." River stretched, resettling her arm around Amy's shoulders. "She told me quite a few things, in fact. But that's for later in the story."
"Of course it is," Amy groaned.
"Would you like me to stop, then?" River asked lightly. "You can take a turn. Tell me about growing up in — Leadworth, was it? What exciting things happened to you there?"
"No, no, River, don't stop," Amy said hurriedly. Rolling over, she propped her chin on her hands and gazed hopefully into River's eyes. "Please, please finish your story. I want to hear everything."
"Well, if you're sure..." Amy nodded frantically and River relented. Smiling, she went on. "Antiopa kept the dagger with her almost constantly. She wore it on her belt during the day, the hilt wrapped with wire to disguise it, and at night she kept it at her bedside. I watched her for days, trying to work out how to get past her defenses. Eventually I decided that there was only one possibility." She paused dramatically; Amy glared. "I would have to seduce her."
"You what?" Amy yelped.
"Seduced her," River replied calmly. "It wasn't a difficult job, believe me. The sun there puts out a type of radiation that causes fascinating skin and hair colouration. Antiopa was fair, but her hair was this incredible dark, dark red... no, I've done much worse things in pursuit of my goals, believe me."
"But — I thought — you and the Doctor," Amy sputtered.
River laughed. "Oh, Amy. Do you honestly think I'd spend all my time sitting at home, waiting for him to show up? I'm really not the housewife type. Not that I'm saying we're married, that is." She winked, plainly enjoying Amy's bemusement.
"So you're..." Amy wasn't sure how to fill in the blank.
"Not from the twenty-first century," River finished unhelpfully. "I wasn't from Neptolus, either, and Antiopa said she'd never met anyone quite like me. I gatecrashed one of their formal balls, and she was so taken she couldn't bring herself to throw me out. I was very persuasive," River added, but Amy was too busy processing thoughts of River seducing an alien princess to respond. "It only took me two days to, ah, gain access to her bedchamber at night, but I wasn't in any hurry to leave. I was rather enjoying myself, aside from having to watch those incompetents practically ruin the sites they were excavating. I had to take some of the other artefacts they found just to save them from themselves!"
Amy shook her head. "River, you're incorrigible," she pronounced.
"Flattery will get you everywhere, Amy dear," River shot back. "So things were going along very nicely on Neptolus until, well, I may have overreached a bit," she admitted. "Someone noticed there was some unofficial digging going on and I had to do a midnight bunk — left Antiopa sleeping, grabbed the dagger, and ran." She sighed. "Too bad, really, I'd have loved to see her palace completed. I don't think I'll be welcome there for a generation or two, though, and by then who knows if it'll still be standing. The dagger was just as beautiful as I'd heard, though. And the other artefacts were nice mementos."
"Do you still have them?" Amy asked.
"Oh, no, they're long gone. The dagger went to a private collector after a rather rowdy auction, and the others I sold to one of my favourite museums in the thirty-fourth century. I go back and visit sometimes, but the proceeds padded my research fund by quite a bit."
"But, River," Amy burst out. "You made that woman fall in love with you and then you stole one of her most important cultural artefacts! Don't you feel bad?" She bit her lip, feeling suddenly very young, and hoped nervously that she hadn't made River angry.
River shook her head slowly. "Not at all. You remember those blue stones I mentioned, on the dagger's hilt?"
Amy nodded. "Sapphires," she murmured.
"They weren't really sapphires, no," River corrected her. "They were Renalltha water crystals. After centuries underground without a telepathic link to control them, they were starting to unbalance the planet's hydrologic cycle. I had to get them off planet or else the seas literally would have boiled away. No help for it. And if I managed to make a profit, well. I did save an entire planet, after all."
Not waiting for a reply, she climbed to her feet gracefully and took a moment to brush glowing stalks of grass off her trousers and shirt. Amy sat up, clasping her knees to her chest. She was startled when River's voice drifted down to her from the shadows above.
"Besides," River said, "it's not like I didn't give Antiopa anything in return. I left her some incredible memories." She crouched down easily, bringing her face back into the light. Running her fingers though Amy's hair, she drew out several grass stems and tossed them aside. "And after all," she said softly, "we all lived happily ever after." Cupping Amy's cheek, she leaned in and kissed her gently.
Amy's eyes fluttered closed as River's lips touched her own. When she opened them again, River was just a blur in the distance, striding back the way they'd come. Amy pressed her fingers to her lips and breathed in the scent of the alien world for a moment. Then she scrambled to her feet and set out after River.
Next time, she thought, maybe she'd ask for a bedtime story.