Part X: A Solstice Surprise
by L. M. Townsend
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Argo, Virgil, Ephiny, Alti, Joxer, Eli, et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.)and the characterisations of Ares and Aphrodite, are the property of MCA, Universal, and Renaissance Pictures and anyone else who has a legal claim, and I thank them for their creation and for allowing me to live in their universe for a little bit. (Melysë and The Amazons belong to themselves and I dare any man to say different!) The stories are mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.
FLASHBACK ALERT! This story takes place between "Battle Cry" and "The Unveiled Truth". Sorry to give it to you out of order, but I guess that's how flashbacks work.
Subtext? Subtext? Well, yeah. There is. Some of it obviously implied, some blatant, though nothing graphic, and some of it's in the eye of the reader; WHILE THERE ARE NO GRAPHIC SEXUAL SCENES OF ANY KIND, (mainly because I believe what goes between two consenting adults in private is their business and no one else's, but also because one never knows who may stumble upon these humbles stories - like my mother!) there is kindness, affection, loyalty, mutual respect, friendship, and yes, lots and lots of love, so, if you read anything into any of the words or situations these characters find themselves in, then you have only yourself to thank/blame (depending upon your point of view!) If you have a bug up your butt about people of any persuasion loving each other and sharing their lives, then I pity you. I won't apologise for them, though, so if you have a problem with any of these stories, it's up to you to go and read something else. Remember, no one's holding a sword ( or a chakram) to your throat!
LANGUAGE: There is some "salty" language here, but nothing too tacky. I probably wouldn't talk this way in front of mother, though - I don't like the taste of soap.
*Spoiler Alert - several references to various episodes throughout the history of the show.
*Major Spoiler alerts for DREAMWORKER, ULYSSES, RETURN OF CALLISTO, ORPHAN OF WAR, MATERNAL INSTINCTS, THE DEBT, THE QUEST, A SOLSTICE CAROL, GABRIELLE'S HOPE, FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS, SACRIFICE, ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE, PARADISE FOUND, THE WAY, SEEDS OF FAITH, GOD FEARING CHILD, LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE, LIVIA, EVE, and MOTHERHOOD (This list encompasses the entire story to date. I realise that in some countries, the fifth season hasn't yet been aired.)
Violence: Oh, yeah - this is a story with Xena in it. Remember, she likes to fight.
OTHER: I guess at this point in the story, I should tell you, if you haven't already read the first parts, you might be get a little lost in this one. There really isn't much of a timeline I'm following (hey, they don't follow one on the show, either!) I'm not too disciplined that way (or in any other way, for that matter), but I've decided that it takes place after the end of the series. Just disregard anyone else who gets killed off on the series between now and then as magically resurrected - they do that on the show all the time, too. I've let the story evolve as it will, so blame the Muses, not their tool. Please keep in mind that any inconsistencies you might find are the product of changing my mind to improve my "vision" of the story.
This is just a bit of something that came to me - right in the middle of writing the original Part X - and by request from my favourite 7-year-old "Warrior Princess-in-training" - don't worry, she has her own version, minus any bits that are inappropriate for her age. Anyway, I had to write it down before I lost it, so here it is.
Thank-you to Becky Love for a lot of the great ideas I needed to finish this one (and many for the next one, on it's way. Enough, in fact, that I really must acknowledge her as fellow bard in the next few entries in the series.) Blessed be, Sister!
Feedback is very welcome. Please let me know if you like my stories. Constructive criticism and positive suggestions will be taken into consideration. Anything mean or nasty will be ignored (meaning if you hate it, please tell me so - gently.) You can e-mail me at QueenLaese@aol.com. Thank-you for reading.
Xena sat with Melysë, watching their youngest, Neiromei, tear open packages this Solstice morning.
"Romy, look at what Senticles brought you!" cried her older sister, Selenë, helping her. Xena chuckled, remembering another Solstice before Romy was born...
Xena dismissed the Amazon messenger, tucking the bit of parchment into her zona for later with a slight smile. She had seen the seal and knew this was from Melysë, Priestess-Queen of the Amazon Tribe she and Gabrielle had adopted as their own. They were camped ten days to the south of Aemetzainê, their Tribe's Territory, on their way to where it was rumoured Amazons from one of their sister tribes had been captured to be sold as slaves. The two had volunteered to go and check on the situation and initiate a rescue if the rumour turned out to be true. In truth, both had volunteered because they both missed their days on the road together.
She and Gabrielle had left the Aemetzainê Tribe three moons ago. They had made their way south, following a false trail, but had discovered new clues, leading them east. It seems that Amazons had been captured, by Scythians. The two Amazon queens were on their trail now and by tomorrow, Xena expected to catch up. So tonight was for planning. But with the arrival of Melysë's message, Xena would allow herself some distraction. Later, by the fire, she would read it and try to imagine Melysë's soft voice speaking the words to her. Gods, I miss her!
"Hey, Xena," Gabrielle emerged from the trees. "Was that from 'Lysë?"
Xena smiled, touching the parchment. "Yeah," she said, smiling.
"Anything you can share?" asked Gabrielle.
"Don't know," said Xena. "I was saving it."
"How can you do that?" demanded her best friend, hands on hips. She sat down in front of the fire, pulling the pot of stew towards her to stir. "If Virgil sent me a message, I'd be tearing in to it - what if it's important?"
"If it were an emergency, she'd have come herself," said Xena, grinning. "Remember, she can do that now."
"Oh, yeah," said Gabrielle, frowning at the wooden spoon from she which she was tasting the stew, then adding a pinch of something. "I guess it's just been so long since she's used her powers like that, I forgot."
"She hasn't had to use them - thank goodness," said Xena. "The Tribe has been at peace for a long time."
"Yeah, but what if some enemy heard the Warrior Queen had left on a mission and chose this time to attack?" said Gabrielle, troubled.
"'Ryn will handle it," said Xena, smiling fondly at the thought of her heart's daughter. "She's earned the title 'Warrior Princess'."
"That's true," said Gabrielle, smiling. "Still, aren't you curious?"
"Alright, you win," said Xena, plucking the parchment from her zona with a grin, and breaking the seal and slowly unrolling it. Gabrielle watched her soulmate's grin grow softer, her deep blue eyes become bluer still. well, nothing to share so far, she thought, smiling herself.
Suddenly, Xena's eyes widened and her smile faltered for a moment, then grew back into a wide grin - then disappeared altogether, as Xena looked up at Gabrielle, worried.
"We've got to get back there," said the Warrior Queen.
Queen Melysë stood, gazing out of her window at the falling snow. Solstice was approaching and she had been hoping that her fellow queens would have returned by now from rescuing their sisters from the Scythians. Oh, Goddess, please, bring them safely home, she prayed silently. She pulled her woolen cloak more tightly around her, shivering, but not from the cold, for her cottage was comfortable, snug and warm. Xena had seen to that before she left.
She hadn't wanted to send the message to Xena, had really wanted to use her powers to go herself, but she didn't dare now - she had to conserve her energy. Something like that should have been told in person, not by messenger - but I don't know when she'll be back, and she had to know.
Xena was up before the sun - as usual. It was cold and she could smell snow coming. Gabrielle was still huddled in her bedroll, fast asleep. Xena got up, re-starting the fire from last night and putting water on to heat for some tea. No sense in rousing her till the fire's built up, she thought. Gods, I hope Melysë is alright! She sounded okay in her message, but this can't be easy for her. I wonder which god interfered this time. This has Aphrodite's cheap perfumy smell all over it - but why? It just doesn't make any sense. No, even Aphrodite wouldn't do this - she loves 'Lysë, too. I just wish I were there...
Xena got the water boiling and made Gabrielle a cup of tea, then woke her soulmate, handing it to her. "Come on, we've got some Scythian butt to kick," said the Warrior Queen.
"And a priestess to get home to?" said Gabrielle, smiling at her soulmate. "Are you going to tell me what was in that message, Xena?"
"Later," said Xena, quietly. "I'm still trying to absorb it."
"Will you at least tell me if it's bad news?" said Gabrielle, grumpily - morning was not her favorite time of day.
"I still don't know," said Xena, frowning. "I mean, it's good news, but it might have bad repercussions. No that's not true, either. Gabrielle, I just can't talk about this now. We have to focus on the mission - and then get home."
With a sigh, Gabrielle left the relative warmth of her bedroll, folding it up and stowing it on her horse. Argo whinnied at her, puffs of steam emitting from her velvety nose. Gabrielle reached over and petted both horses.
"Yeah, I know," she said. "I want to be home, too. Won't be long now, though. Hang in there."
The Amazon Queens mounted their horses and rode toward the Scythian camp. They dismounted and hid in the clumps of scrub grass, watching the camp. They spotted the captive Amazons in cages, guarded by a half dozen Scythian sentries.
"Okay, here's the plan," said Xena. "We're gonna create a diversion, then release the Amazons to fight with us. That'll even up the odds a bit. There's about twenty Amazons down there and about a hundred Scythians. I'd say it's fairly even."
"Yeah, okay, what's the diversion?" said Gabrielle, scarcely taking her eyes off of her sisters in the cages.
"A little something I learned from Boadicea," said Xena grinning. "Which I've adapted to my own purposes."
Xena brought out a burlap sack which was wriggling. She stood, carefully watching the sentries, and let her chakram fly. It hit the wooden door to the kennels and released about fifty hounds. The Scythians scrambled about, trying desperately to contain the dogs, when Xena opened the sack, letting loose a dozen rabbits. The confused rabbits ran straight for the encampment, then, realising their mistake, turned and scattered, the hounds in close pursuit and the Scythians in pursuit of the hounds.
"Come on," said Xena, somersaulting into the camp, her sword clearing the way for Gabrielle to make her way to the cages, letting her sisters loose. The Amazons promptly grabbed weapons from the fallen soldiers and began fighting for their own freedom. Finally, Xena called a retreat, she and Gabrielle and the newly released Amazons escaping from the Scythians. They hid in the scrubby grass until their pursuers passed, then made haste to leave the area of danger.
The women made their way back towards their respective Tribes, the other Amazons somehow obtaining horses along the way. Xena pretended to assume that they had merely "tamed" the wild horses which roamed the area, though she found scattered evidence of horse armour and tack discarded behind them.
After reaching a safe distance, several days away from their former captors, Xena stopped for camp and announced that she and Gabrielle would ride on ahead.
"We have pressing business in Aemetzainê," said the Warrior Queen.
"Thank-you," said the Amazon leader, grasping first Xena's, then Gabrielle's forearm in a warrior's farewell.
Xena and Gabrielle rode at a furious pace. They camped at night, but Gabrielle could tell that Xena was anxiously resenting her body for requiring the delay of sleep.
"Come on, Xena, tell me what's going on!" she said, frustration evident in her voice as she plopped down on her bedroll. Silently, Xena handed her the parchment. Gabrielle looked at her soulmate. "Are...are you sure, Xena? I mean, I don't want to read it if it's private."
"You'll know soon, anyway, Gabrielle - just - skip over the 'mush' stuff, okay?" said Xena, smiling slightly. The warrior sat down on her own bedroll, pulling sword and sharpening stone out and attended to her weapon.
Gabrielle slowly unrolled the scroll and began to read.
I miss you terribly and want you home. Selenë hasn't stopped crying for you since you left and I know if 'Ryn were younger, she'd be doing the same. We all miss you and Gabrielle so much. I was relieved to get your message that you had found the trail of our sisters - the sooner you two 'kick Scythian butt' the sooner you'll be home. The girls and I are praying for your safe return to us, my heart. And Selenë has written a letter to Senticles telling him all she wants for Solstice is her "Xena-meia" home for the festival. And so do I.
Even now, as I write this to you, I'm remembering our last night before you left...
(Sensing "mushy stuff", Gabrielle tactfully skipped down to the next paragraph)
I know that a message like this isn't the best way to tell you, but I can't come myself now. I don't even know if I can write it...but you need to know this and you deserve to be the first to know. I don't know when you'll be back with me and by then, it may well be all too obvious. So, since I can hear your beautiful and well-loved voice telling me to "spit it out", here goes...
Melysë paced, nervously watching the snow fall. Oh, Xena, she thought. Just come home safe!
"Melysë, what are you doing?"
The priestess turned to see her oath-sister, Tai', standing in the doorway. She had just gotten Selenë to sleep.
"Just thinking," said Melysë.
"Hm, about what I can't guess," chuckled Tai'. "But you know she'll be home for Solstice."
"Oh, Goddess, I hope so!" said Melysë. "Selenë is convinced Senticles will bring them."
Gabrielle had told the child the story of her friend the toymaker, who had made it a Solstice tradition to slide down chimneys and deliver presents to good children. Selenë had taken it to heart and firmly believed that Senticles was still about the business of delivering toys to children on the longest night of the year, despite both Gabrielle's and Melysë's gentle attempts to dissuade her young daughter.
"What?" said Tai'.
"Goddess help me, but I could almost believe it too," said the priestess. "Even though I know that Senticles had a white beard almost five decades ago. He couldn't possibly still be alive."
"Don't be so sure," said Tai'. "I've seen stranger things in my time."
"Hm, you have a point," said Melysë. "And it is sort of a harmless fantasy. I just hope she's not too disappointed if things don't work out."
"If I know Xena, she'll be here," said Tai', chuckling. "Even if she does have to hitch a ride with Senticles."
Xena squinted up at the sky. The smell of snow still hung in the air, but the Warrior Queen knew it was still too cold for the stuff to fall yet. She pushed Gabrielle and the horses hard and herself even harder. Solstice was a week away and if the weather held, they'd be there in time for the Festival.
If the weather holds, thought Xena. I'll bet it's snowing in Aemetzainê. I wonder if the girls' cloaks are warm enough - that's silly! Melysë will make sure they're okay. Gods! This is starting to get to me. The sooner we're home, the better. The way I'm worrying, you'd think it was me who...no, don't go there, Warrior. Just go home...
The two travelled as fast as the horses allowed, but the snow finally caught up to them. Sheltering with the horses in a cave, Xena stood at the opening gazing at the blowing clumps of wet snow falling and drifting, while Gabrielle started a fire in the surprisingly dry cave. The ceiling was high enough so that they weren't "smoked" out and there was plenty of room for both horses to shelter with them, adding their warmth.
"Come on, Xena," said Gabrielle, wearily. "Come and sit down and eat something. We're okay here, we have supplies to last us until the storm blows over."
"Gabrielle, you don't understand," said Xena, quietly, shaking her head at the falling snow.
"What, you don't think I want to be with Virgil and the kids for Solstice?" said Gabrielle.
Xena, detecting the disappointment in her soulmate's voice, turned and joined Gabrielle in front of the fire. She smiled.
"I know you do, Gabrielle," said the warrior, gently. "And by the way, as much as I miss Melysë and the girls, there is no one I would rather spend Solstice with than my best friend."
Gabrielle looked up and smiled brightly. "Me, too," she said. "I wish the others were with us, as well, but at least we're together."
Melysë watched the snow-fall taper off. The Festival would be held after all, it seemed. Melysë looked up at the night sky. Solstice night coincides with the new moon this year, she thought. Not only the longest night of the year, but the darkest as well. There is some portent here, I know, but I'm just too tired to remember it. She sighed, donning her cloak, and went out to the Temple.
Xena paced the floor of the cave. Gabrielle was asleep, but Xena had too much nervous energy. She had given up sharpening her sword, her armour was clean and polished, Argo brushed and fed - she had even read through all of the scrolls Gabrielle had brought. Once again, she drew the parchment from her zona and brought it to her lips. If she stretched it, she could almost detect Melysë's scent wafting from the parchment and she smiled. Once again, she unrolled it and read Melysë's words, imagining her heart-mate's voice speaking them to her.
"Oh, it's definitely good news, after all, Gabrielle," she whispered, smiling at her sleeping soulmate. "And I'll find a way to get us to the rest of our family in time for Solstice - see if I don't."
Xena stepped outside of the cave, pulling her cloak more tightly around her.
"Ares," she called. She felt a displacement in the air and turned to see the god standing there, arms folded across his chest grinning in amusement.
"I was wondering how long it would take you," he said.
"Never mind that," said the Warrior Queen. "What's it gonna cost me to have this storm stop?"
"Ooh, are you asking me for a favour?" said Ares.
"Quit it, Ares - what's it gonna cost me?"
"Sorry, Xena, no can do," said Ares, shaking his head. "Demeter's behind this and as you know, I'm still not exactly the 'favourite son' of Olympus. Gods have a long time to hold grudges."
"Come on Ares, you've been on the outs with your family before," said Xena. "How bad can interfering with one little storm be?"
"No, Xena, you don't understand," said Ares. "I literally can't stop this storm - I don't have the power to interfere with Demeter. She's one of the older gods. And before you ask, I also can't zap you and your Bard to Aemetzainê. Now, if you want me to carry a message to Melysë, that I can do."
"Okay, Ares," said Xena, her deep blue eyes narrowing in thought. "How about this..."
Melysë greeted the sentry with a cup of hot tea. It was cold out and Melysë decided to set the watches for only two hours at a time so the sentries could have time to warm up in between.
"Your Majesty, Queen Gabrielle's consort and their children have arrived," said the sentry.
"Virgil is here?" said Melysë, smiling. "That's great. I'm so glad Ephiny will have them here for the festival. Put Virgil up in the male guest hut - and ask him if he wants the boys with him or in the House of Mothers. They're young enough. The girls can stay in the House of Maidens. Make certain he is treated as befits a Royal Consort. Remember our Bard's temper."
"Yes, Your Majesty," said the sentry, leaving to carry out the Queen's orders.
Melysë smiled. Xena's up to something, she thought. I can just feel it - this has her mark on it. For the first time in days, the priestess dared to hope that her fellow queens would stand with her at the Festival.
Xena whistled as she built up the fire. She looked over at Gabrielle and smiled. The Bard was frowning at a parchment and chewing on the end of her quill. Then she'd scratch something down, frown again and cross it out.
It was then Xena's sharp ears heard the sound. Grinning broadly, she stood up and went to the opening of the cave and looked out.
"Come on, Gabrielle, let's pack up - we're going home!"
"Huh? What? Xena, I know you have many skills but even you can't control the weather," said Gabrielle.
"Don't have to," said Xena, helping her pack up.
Gabrielle merely looked at Xena. Over the years, she had come to accept her soul-mate's "miracles" without much surprise. The real surprise, however was outside of the cave.
Melysë tucked Selenë into bed for the night. It was almost Solstice and the quiet little girl had grown more so as the day approached.
"Meia, do you think Senticles got my message?" she said.
Melysë thought for a moment before answering. "I don't know, Love," she said, sitting on the side of the bed. "I do know that Xena will do whatever she can to get here, but Sweetheart, try and understand, she may not."
"You could go and get her and tanti Gabrielle," said Selenë.
"Well, no Sweetheart, I can't - not now," said Melysë, her throat tightening. Goddess, please don't let her ask why! "Believe me, Little One, if it were possible, I would already have done so."
"Oh," said the child. "What about Aunt 'Dite? Or Tandos Ares? He likes us now. Wouldn't he help?"
"I've tried to call on them," said Melysë. "But they haven't answered - yet. You know how busy they are now. I'll keep trying, though, okay?"
"Okay, Meia," said Selenë, closing her eyes and drifting into sleep. Troubled, Melysë arose and left the room. She put on her cloak and went outside, gazing up at the stars and the tiny sliver of the Moon. Oh, Xena if you can hear my heart, please hurry! We have a little girl who desperately believes you'll be here - please, my Love, for her, please - be here.
The journey to Aemetzainê was swift. Gabrielle had never moved so fast. Her stomach thought about rebelling, but with the wind in her face, she didn't dare let her stomach have it's way. Instead, she concentrated on the miracle before her, smiling in wonder and happiness.
The trip - which would have taken another five days or so in good weather - lasted only two days and they arrived in Aemetzainê just as the Festival began. Gabrielle heard the drums first, and quickly took her horse to the stable. Xena, leading Argo, grinned at her.
"Go on - I'll take care of him," she said. Gabrielle flashed a smile at her and ran to the Feast area.
Xena watched her, chuckling. Wait'll she sees her Solstice gift! thought the warrior, as she turned and tended the horses.
Xena turned at the sound of the soft voice. There stood Melysë, dressed as the Priestess-Queen she was, resplendent and radiant, her dark green eyes shining, her smile for her warrior so brilliant it almost hurt to look at. Speaking of gifts... the warrior thought. Xena left the horses, swiftly wrapping her arms around the priestess, pulling her as close as she could.
"Oh, gods, I missed you," said the warrior.
"I missed you, too - so much," said Melysë, tears coming to her eyes as she returned the embrace with all of her strength.
"How did you know we were back?" said Xena, pulling slightly back to see her priestess's face, gently wiping the tears from dark eyes.
"I heard...sleigh bells," said Melysë, laughing. "And Selenë has said all along that Senticles would bring you. So - did he?"
"Yeah," said Xena, pulling her close again, revelling in her warm presence. "Yeah, he did - with some help from Ares. It seems many years ago, Zeus granted Senticles immortality. The only catch is that he has to stay out of sight, hidden in some cottage up north, except for Solstice Night. That's why we couldn't get back before now. Ares found him for us and gave him my message."
"Poor Senticles, though," said Melysë. "What a price to pay for immortality."
"He always was a bit of a loner anyway. He just stays up there, making all the toys he wants - Zeus apparently also granted him unlimited toy-material at his command - and then Solstice Night he goes all over the world, distributing the toys - oh, damn! I left the girls' Solstice gifts on the sleigh!"
Melysë laughed softly. "Xena, I assure you, you are all the gift they want this Solstice," she said, smiling. "And me, too, Love. I'm so glad you're home, safe. And Gabrielle must have already found Virgil and the kids by now - was that your doing, too?"
"Heh, yeah," said Xena chuckling. "Aphrodite helped there."
"Well, that explains why I couldn't reach either of them - they were too busy running your errands," Melysë scolded, playfully.
"Sorry," said Xena, grinning.
"No need - our goals were the same," said Melysë, laying her head on the warrior's shoulder. She saw the tip of the parchment sticking out from Xena's zona. "Hey, what's...oh. You got it, then?"
"Yeah, about that," said Xena, smiling and holding the priestess closer still. "How...er, when...um?"
"Must've happened right before you left - I performed the ritual a few days before, but sometimes, it takes a little while, you know?" said Melysë.
"Yeah, I know," said Xena, grinning. "So? Which is it this time?"
"A daughter, thank the Goddess," said Melysë, her heart squeezing - just a little - at the thought of her son, whom she'd had to give up so recently. "Speaking of daughters, Selenë really needs to see you, and I mean soon."
"Yeah, I know," said Xena. "I just wish I hadn't left those gifts...I hate not having anything to give her."
"I think one of those patented 'Warrior Queen' hugs is all she wants right now," said Melysë, at last releasing the warrior and taking her hand instead, leading her to where their girls sat near the dais, watching the Festival unfold. Selenë saw her first and leapt into Xena's arms. Tears welled in the warrior's eyes as she hugged first Selenë, then Arynë.
Melysë noticed Ephiny, Selenë's best friend and Gabrielle's eldest gathering dinars from her age mates, grinning. She slipped over to the girl unnoticed.
"What's this?" said the priestess, quietly.
Ephiny jumped, and looked guiltily up at her godsmother. "Uh, I sorta laid bets on Xena and Mother getting back here before Solstice Night was over," replied the girl, sheepishly.
"You bet on Xena? And your mother?" said Melysë quietly.
"Yeah - that they'd be here," said Ephiny.
"Well, as long as you bet they'd be here, then alright," said Melysë, smiling in amusement. "Give it all back Eph'."
"But, tanti, I thought you just said - " protested the girl.
"That's why I won't tell your mother," said Melysë. "Give it back."
"Oh, alright,' said the child grumbling, but obeying.
Melysë wandered back to her family. Xena was gazing wistfully at their girls as they danced, laughing. Wrapping her arms around her warrior, Melysë leaned up and whispered, "What are you thinking about, Love? You look so sad right now."
Xena smiled at her. "I was just sort of wishing Eve were here, too," she said. "We didn't part on the best of terms."
Melysë hugged her tighter, her healing touch embracing Xena. "I know," she said, softly.
"She said I was 'too aggressive' to be the defender of the Way of Love," said Xena, as Melysë tenderly wiped a rare tear from the warrior's eye. "Those people won't fight for themselves, though. They think Eli and their 'one god' will protect them. In this world, I've learned that's just not the case."
"I know," Melysë said again. "They have a nice philosophy, though. Too bad it's not realistic."
"Anyway, I just...miss her sometimes," said Xena. "I don't know why - she was a total stranger to me."
"She's still your daughter," said Melysë. "She'll come around. And when she does, we'll welcome her with a huge feast."
Xena chuckled. "Amazons," she said.
"Yeah, you love it," Melysë teased.
"I love you," said Xena.
"I love you, too," said Melysë, just as Gabrielle approached. "Where'd Virgil go?"
"Oh, he said the drums gave him a headache," said Gabrielle. "Actually, I think he's writing - again. But I want to thank-you for him being here with the kids - that meant a lot to me."
"I know," said Xena, as she and Melysë each put an arm around her, and Melysë thought of ways to keep Gabrielle with them in the Village, always.
They watched the dancers for a while, then gathered their sleepy little ones and took them home.
Selenë crawled into her bed then jumped. "Hey, what's this?" she cried, holding up two wrapped packages.
Melysë looked at Xena - who shrugged. "I don't know - open it," said the Warrior.
Selenë began tearing at the paper with abandon, as only a child on Solstice can and grinned.
"Look, meia," she held up two dolls, dressed like Xena and Gabrielle. "Bet Senticles brought it."
"Yeah, you'd be right," said Xena, shaking her head and smiling. "Open the other one."
"Look meia, it's you!" cried the child. "And there's a note, too!"
"Read it, Selenë," said Melysë, smiling at her puzzled warrior.
I got your message. I know how much you missed your Xena-meia and tanti Gabrielle. Now you will have them with you always - together with your mother. Always.
Selenë cuddled the dolls as she snuggled into her blankets. Melysë leaned down and kissed her goodnight, then Xena, stroking her hair and smiling. They left the sleeping child and went into the main room of the cottage.
"I don't get it," said Xena, sitting before the hearth as Melysë handed her a cup of mulled wine and sat with her.
"What? Senticles must have found the gifts and brought them - bet 'Ryn has hers, too," said Melysë.
"No, I mean the third doll - I only got her two, Gabrielle and me," said Xena. "I was going to have one made of you, too, but there wasn't time."
"Well, Senticles must have made it for her," said Melysë, snuggling.
"Yeah, probably," said Xena, being quickly distracted from the puzzle by her priestess's lips. "So, what do you want for Solstice, my Queen?"
Melysë merely smiled and showed her.
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