The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA , Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. I wrote this story at the urging of my muse; it should never be used for profit. Please do not copy or cite elsewhere without express permission of the author.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read elsewhere.
This story depicts a loving friendship between two consenting adult women If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
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The thug's sword descended toward Xena's unprotected back. She could not turn in time to avoid it. Xena thought of her unborn child and braced to take the blow as best she could.
Then, a short, blonde whirlwind intervened. Gabrielle! The Amazon Princess caught the big man's blade at the base of one sai and yanked it from his hand. He was a foot taller than the woman who had come between him and his intended victim, but that didn't matter now. Gabrielle whirled, leapt, and caught the brute full in the face with a vicious flying kick. He hurtled backward and hit the dirt -- senseless. She landed gracefully, sais at the ready, but there were no other attackers.
"That's the last of them," gasped Gabrielle.
She was breathing hard and her body glistened with sweat. She had just defeated four thieves who wanted a pair of fine horses, and probably something more, from the two women. The men must have thought them easy victims - a very pregnant, tall dark woman and a short, younger blonde. They had stepped out of the bushes to stop the horses and, to their surprise, found themselves immediately on the defensive.
Despite her advanced pregnancy, Xena had downed two thugs before her heaviness and lack of balance made her the target of the cowardly blind-side attack from which Gabrielle had saved her.
Xena beamed at her friend.
"Gabrielle, that was fantastic…" she began.
The Warrior Princess' companion gave a shy smile and replaced her sais in her boots. She did not reply.
Xena cut short her praise. Gabrielle seemed embarrassed. The young Amazon had truly earned her warrior title, but the more she demonstrated her skill, the less she wanted to talk about it. Xena sensed this and backed off.
"Guess they didn't have any Solstice spirit," remarked Gabrielle as she motioned toward the villains with her head.
Xena dreaded the effort of harnessing the men and taking them to the next village. She knew they might attack others, but she and Gabrielle had been on the road almost a week and they were weary to the bone. The "lion's share" of the job would fall to her small, tough companion. It often did these days. Gabrielle always worked without complaint, but Xena could see the strain showing on the younger woman's face.
"Let's just leave them and move on," Xena said quietly.
Gabrielle was too tired to argue. She collected the attackers' weapons and tossed them in a muddy ditch at the side of the road.
The women mounted their horses and rode toward Amphipolis.
They were headed home to celebrate the Solstice with Xena's mother, Cyrene. Xena wanted to share this special time of her pregnancy with the woman who bore her. Gabrielle looked forward to the warmth and kindness of her "adopted mother." Cyrene accepted her in a way her parents never could after she chose to leave Potidaea with Xena.
Xena and Gabrielle had argued for days over where to spend the Solstice. Xena wanted to take Gabrielle back to the Amazons to celebrate with her tribe. The Amazon Princess knew Xena missed her mother and finally convinced her that they would share the Solstice in Amphipolis, then travel to Amazon Territory the following week. Amazon celebrations lasted longer, so they stood to miss only a few festivities.
They made camp that night in a small stand of rocks, about three days' ride from Amphipolis. Gabrielle snared a rabbit. Xena rested against a log and sharpened her sword while Gabrielle prepared the meal. Soon, the aroma of a delicious stew filled the air.
The Warrior Princess smiled as she watched her friend, the Amazon Chef, kneeling by the fire to stir and taste the stew. The evening had turned cool, yet Gabrielle did not don a coat or blanket. Xena's smile faded when she again saw the brutal arrow scar on the young woman's left shoulder. It was one of many now marking Gabrielle's strong, taut body -- a body that had thrilled Xena so many nights...
"Those are not right; not for her," thought the tall, dark woman.
As if sensing Xena's contemplation, Gabrielle turned and gazed directly at her with such intensity that the Warrior Princess shuddered.
"Gabrielle, what is it?" Xena queried as her soulmate looked at her intensely.
"You know, Xena," Gabrielle emphasized dramatically with a wave of her stirring spoon, "you never did tell me what you wanted for Solstice."
Xena felt her mind and body relax. She breathed a sigh of relief.
"Whew! For a moment there, I thought you’d decided to become Ares’ chosen one. That was quite a look."
Gabrielle realized she might have teased too much.
"Sorry, Xena. I’m just trying to lighten up."
Gabrielle caught on to Xena’s diversion and added: "Don’t change the subject, Warrior Princess. Now what do you want for Solstice?"
Xena replied with a growl. "Listen, Amazon, I already said it – spending the day with you and my mother is my gift."
Gabrielle persisted, whining slightly.
"No fair, Xena. You’ll give me some wonderful present, then pat me on the head and tell me I’m your gift. It was lovely the first time, but now it makes me feel like a kid."
"But you are my gift, love." Xena meant it. Gabrielle knew she did, but pushed once more…
"Just a hint, please?"
"If I wasn’t a big, lumbering, pregnant bull, I’d sling you over my shoulder and show you just how much you mean to me. But, for now, you’ll just have to take my word, Gabrielle. You have given yourself to me. That’s a lifetime of gifts."
Gabrielle swallowed hard. It had taken years for Xena to reach the point where she could tell a companion how much she cared. And now she, Gabrielle, the nothing, invisible kid from Potidaea, was the one Xena cared about! The Amazon concentrated on the stew so Xena wouldn’t see the tears sparkling in her emerald eyes.
Gabrielle resolved to find the best gift she could ever give the Warrior Princess.
Xena looked up at the stars and wondered how she got so lucky. Through hardship and pain, Gabrielle had given her joy, pleasure, and, ultimately, a reason to go on each day.
Xena was determined to give Gabrielle the finest Solstice gift ever.
They ate dinner, then curled up together in their bedroll. The warmth and proximity of their bodies gave shelter from the chill night air. Gabrielle rolled over to face Xena, and kissed her soulmate with gentle passion.
Dawn came and they set out on the last stretch of their journey.
Xena hummed a Solstice carol as she rode Argo toward Amphipolis, toward home. Gabrielle listened, letting the clip-clop of her steed's hooves keep cadence. She loved her companion's beautiful voice and was grateful to hear her sing for pleasure, rather than to honor some fallen warrior.
As they approached the village of Antales, Gabrielle wracked her brain trying to think of the perfect Solstice gift for her soulmate. The festival was only two days away. She would do some last-minute shopping in the next town, or perhaps Amphipolis.
Xena was likewise engaged when she saw the cart blocking the road. Her instincts screamed caution and she reached back for her sword.
Gabrielle reined in beside the Warrior Princess. They circled the cart on horseback. Both women could see what looked like a wrapped figure resting in the dirty hay of the vehicle.
Xena kept watch. Gabrielle dismounted to investigate.
The Amazon Princess drew her sais as she came closer. She leaned over the cart's edge and carefully lifted the corner of a filthy blanket with the end of one sai.
What she saw beneath the blanket sickened the young woman. A small female lay curled on her side. Her face was chalk white and her lips were blue. She stared back at Gabrielle with wide, sightless eyes.
Gabrielle gasped. She almost jumped when Xena placed a strong hand on her shoulder and pulled her back from the ghastly apparition.
Xena reached toward the still figure, hoping, perhaps, to detect some sign of life. Then, her warrior sense took over and she stopped. The woman was obviously dead and she couldn't ascertain the cause. No use taking chances with a corpse. Xena refrained from touching the form, but leaned in for a closer look. Her heart began to beat rapidly.
"Gabrielle, don't touch a thing!" the Warrior Princess ordered tersely. "Let's move out -- now!"
"What is it?" asked the Amazon, trying to keep down the contents of her breakfast.
"Black fever," Xena remarked. She attempted to mask her concern, without success.
Gabrielle stepped back from the cart at Xena's command. Her hands shook as she replaced the sai in her boot scabbard.
"There's nothing we can do here. Let's ride out," Xena said with authority.
Gabrielle began to ask if they might bury the dead woman, but the sense of urgency in her companion's voice stopped her. She would trust Xena on this one.
The women turned away from the cart and walked toward their horses. A weak, mewling sound from the hay caused them to pause and turn about.
Before she realized what she was doing, and before Gabrielle could prevent it, Xena returned to the cart, reached in, and drew back the blanket that covered the corpse. Tucked against the woman, she saw a tiny bundle. It made faint noises and moved slightly.
"Xena, no…" Gabrielle's warning came too late.
The Warrior Princess lifted the bundle in her arms and unwrapped it. An infant, its eyes closed tightly, tried to cry. Another mewl was all it could muster.
"Is it the fever?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena shook her head. "No. Not yet."
The Warrior's mind raced. She had just ignored years of experience to hold a babe who probably had an illness that could kill them all, including her own unborn child.
"Xena, please let me take the baby," Gabrielle urged her friend, who seemed to be in a daze.
"It's too late," Xena told her companion. She shook her head and commanded herself to start thinking clearly. "Here's what I want you to do…" she began.
"No. Absolutely not." Gabrielle decided on a direct, stubborn approach. She reached for the infant, but Xena pulled the child back from Gabrielle's open arms.
"Gabrielle, you haven't even heard my idea," protested Xena.
"If it involves leaving you behind or staying away, then it's a bad idea. We're in this together, got it?" Gabrielle sounded downright tough.
Despite the danger, Xena had to smile at her friend's devotion and determination.
"We don't know if the child has the fever and won't know for awhile yet. Right now, it looks healthy enough, but hungry. We have to feed it." Xena felt a slight dampness in the child's wrappings. "And change it," she added.
"I'm listening." Gabrielle willed herself calm and hoped her voice would not betray her rising panic at her soulmate's situation. There was another life at risk… their child…
Xena explained that it might take at least a day for the Black Fever to develop. Meanwhile, Gabrielle had to avoid touching Xena or the baby so she would remain healthy to nurse them should the worst happen. If Xena caught the fever, Gabrielle would be their only hope.
Gabrielle gazed lovingly at the tall, dark woman. The Amazon's next words echoed another time when a poisoned dart felled her friend. Back then, Gabrielle had learned about "the greater good" as she fought to protect the Warrior Princess.
"You're not going to die, are you, Xena?" Gabrielle whispered. She wanted desperately to hold her lover.
A long-forgotten innocence and uncertainty filled the Bard's voice, catching Xena by surprise and tearing at her heart. Xena recognized this question from their past.
"I don't know, Gabrielle. I hope not."
Xena mounted Argo while holding the infant tightly in the crook of her arm. Gabrielle threw a torch into the hay and watched as flames licked up the sides of the cart.
"The gods take you to a happier place." The Amazon whispered a blessing for the woman whose body the fire now consumed.
The companions rode toward the village of Antales. They were two days from Amphipolis and the next day was Solstice eve, but their thoughts centered on the fever that might catch Xena any time now. They forgot gifts and celebrations in the peril of the moment.
Xena planned to send Gabrielle into the village to obtain the ingredients she would need to make medicines to fight the Black Fever. She would not enter the town herself, for fear of spreading the disease.
Gabrielle watched the Warrior Princess while they rode. Her friend seemed lost in thought, but there were no signs of fever.
At the village outskirts, Xena dismounted, while Gabrielle continued on. The child in Xena’s arms slept peacefully.
"…And don’t forget goat’s milk and something dry for him to wear…" Xena’s words carried to Gabrielle as she rode down the hill.
Xena tethered Argo loosely to a bush, then sat under a tree to wait for the Amazon’s return. She gazed at the infant in her arms. His breathing and temperature seemed normal.
"So far, so good, little one…" cooed the Warrior Princess. The babe stirred and began to whimper… Xena sang a soft lullaby and watched as Gabrielle disappeared toward the village.
An eerie silence greeted Gabrielle as she rode through the main street of Antales. No villagers manned the market stalls. She noted an absence of dogs or cats, or barnyard animals populating the road.
She halted her horse outside a tavern. The town’s stillness heightened her warrior senses. Something was really wrong here.
The Amazon dismounted and drew her sais as she approached the tavern entrance. She kicked open the door and peered inside. To her horror, she saw several bodies strewn about, most of them curled up on the floor. She knew they were dead without checking. The smell of death filled her nostrils and she backed out of the tavern as quickly as she could. She fought the temptation to leap on her horse and ride out at a gallop. Xena needed medicines. She would find them.
She walked up the street, investigating dwellings and huts, but saw no signs of life.
As Gabrielle approached what looked like a meeting hut, a lone figure stepped out of a doorway. The Amazon stopped, startled by the sudden appearance of another human being. Gabrielle saw an old woman, bent and stooped, with dulled eyes and purplish splotches on her face and neck. The elder wheezed as she spoke.
"Are you a healer?" asked the old woman.
"No," Gabrielle responded.
"Then ride out, girl. This town is dying of fever and our healer was among the first to pass on," the old woman said shakily. She looked as if she was about to fall. Gabrielle's immediate instinct was to aid the woman, but she knew better.
"I need some things before I leave. Please tell me where I can find the healer's hut. "
"It's at the end of this road, but you won't get anything there…"
"Because they have the medicines." As she said this, the old woman pointed behind Gabrielle. The Amazon turned and faced three tall, rough-looking men.
They drew their swords and stared at the small, muscular blonde. One of them licked his lips. Another spoke.
"Well, you certainly look better than the rest of the town, right now," he drawled. The other two leered at her. Gabrielle felt them taking her in, stripping her with their eyes. This meant trouble.
The Amazon did her best Xena imitation.
"You boys have something I need and I'm willing to pay for it, but I don't want trouble."
"Stupid move, Gabrielle, " she thought to herself, "that certainly didn't come across the way you intended. Where's the bard gift when you need it?"
"Oh, you'll pay, all right, pretty little thing - we'll get our dinar's worth before we finish with you." An evil grin accompanied his threat.
The three men advanced on her.
Gabrielle knew a smart woman would run as fast she could, jump on her horse, and ride like Hades out of there. She also knew that Xena and the baby were counting on her.
The blonde Amazon took a ready stance and prepared to fight for her life, and the lives of her soulmate and an infant stranger.
Xena sensed Gabrielle’s trouble. She felt the young woman’s fear in her own veins, as she had once in Chin when Gabrielle was in danger. Her soulmate had been gone too long.
"Village be damned," the Warrior Princess huffed as she secured the infant in some bushes. The child would be safe there for a short while and she could not take him into battle.
Xena mounted Argo and rode swiftly toward Antales.
Gabrielle fought like a tiger and would have defeated the thugs easily. However, a fourth goon came from the hut, holding a knife at a young girl’s throat. Momentarily distracted, Gabrielle failed to see the fifth attacker. He took her out from behind with a backbreaking blow from the flat of his sword.
She rolled forward with the blow and tried to come up to meet the next assault. A stinging kick from another of the men caught her in the shoulder and knocked her back to the ground. One of the men leapt on her and hit her hard across the face. She tasted blood.
The Amazon slammed her fist upward into his throat and he fell off with a painful gasp, but three of them pointed their swords down at her.
"You’re mine, Amazon slag!" snarled the man whose throat she’d bruised.
She released her sais as one sword came particularly close to her own throat. Gabrielle took a breath and looked for another opening to fight or flee.
Two of the thugs hauled her to her feet and pinned her arms behind her.
The apparent leader came up to her and slapped her again across the face. That hurt, but only served to anger her more. Her muscles rippled as she tried to pull free. The two men had to use all their strength just to hold her arms in place.
She looked directly at the thug holding the young girl hostage.
"You know, if she has the black fever, the longer you hold her, the more chance you have of getting it."
The coward released his hostage. She ran back to the hut and he headed for a trough to wash his hands and arms.
"These guys are plain stupid," Gabrielle thought. "Maybe I can just talk my way out of this one for a change."
"Bare her and tie her up," came the leader’s brutal order. "We’ll teach her a lesson, then enjoy ourselves before we kill what’s left of her." He uncurled a large whip from his belt.
While two men gripped the struggling Amazon, a third pulled his knife and reached for the straps of her top. Their eyes widened and their smiles broadened. This would be fun, until she died.
"You really don't want to do this," Gabrielle warned in a low, defiant voice. She fixed the leader with her deadly green-eyed gaze. Something in the blonde warrior's tone made the big man shudder despite his bravado.
"I've been exposed to the fever. It may be too late for you guys already," she whispered confidentially to the men holding her. One of them relaxed his grip slightly.
Gabrielle didn't waste the opportunity. With lightning speed, she thrust her knee upward into the groin of the man trying to cut off her top. He gasped in pain and doubled over.
The Amazon Warrior twisted away from the men holding her. She crushed an instep with a sharp downward stomp, then broke a jaw with a vicious reverse uppercut. She used her elbow to cave the other villain's ribcage. Being short had its advantages when it came to torso damage.
The thug running from the trough failed to hear the "whoosh" of half the dual chakram that killed him, neatly slicing his throat. The leader of the group died when part two of the chakram embedded itself in his chest. Xena's triumphant war cry filled the air as they crumpled.
"Xena, what are you doing here?" Gabrielle sounded slightly annoyed. "I had it under control."
"You know me. Never could resist a good fight," replied the Warrior Princess with a sparkle in her eye and a snarling grin. Something told her that her companion might be right, though. She had witnessed the Amazon's strength, speed, and intelligence as she extricated herself from that situation.
"Good job on those guys, by the way," complimented the tall, dark warrior.
"Thanks," Gabrielle responded. Xena's praise left the blonde smiling.
The Amazon repaired her top as best she could and retrieved her weapons.
The two women tied up the surviving thugs and threw them into a storage bin. Justice would have to wait. Xena applied her pressure point technique and "convinced" one thug to admit that they had tried to extort money and property from the villagers. In return, they promised to release the healer's materials to help fight the Black Fever. They had failed to deliver. A livid Warrior Princess wanted to kill them on the spot, but knew that was not for her to judge.
Xena told Gabrielle to remain outside while she entered the community hut. Already, many of the villagers gathered inside showed signs of illness. She knew her healing skills might save some of them. It was too late for others. She had to get the child then return to help these people.
Gabrielle saw Xena's concerned look when she exited the hut. "What do we do?" she asked her soulmate.
"I fetch the child, then we figure out how to stop this thing," came the reply. The Warrior Princess longed to hold her companion, but she could only smile at the young woman who appeared so brave, so noble, and so desirable in her willingness to make a difference.
"Gabrielle, I'm going to do everything I can to help this village." She motioned toward the healer's home. "You can assist with medicine making and supplies, but under no circumstances should you enter that hut or touch any of the villagers. Is that clear?"
The blonde swallowed hard and fought back tears. "I know what has to be done and I'll do it."
Xena instructed Gabrielle on what they would need from the healer's stock of medicinal herbs, oils, and elixirs. Then she set out on Argo to retrieve the child who had brought them to this situation.
Gabrielle searched the healer's supplies and gathered almost everything Xena required. As she worked, she prayed to Artemis to protect her lover from the fever.
Xena labored tirelessly throughout the day to organize treatment for the villagers. To her surprise, those still well enough to move helped set up a makeshift hospice to care for the fever’s victims.
"Must be the Solstice Spirit," the Warrior Princess mused to herself.
Gabrielle located various healing ingredients – willow bark, lavender, and thyme. All the while, she could not touch Xena or enter the hut to help. She felt frustrated and sick with worry at what might befall her companion.
"Is the greater good really worth this risk?" she asked aloud to no one as she clipped plants and pressed oils, following Xena’s instructions. Her concern extended to their unborn child. What if Xena survived, but something happened to the precious life she carried in her womb? What if neither survived? Gabrielle knew she would not want to remain among the living if that happened.
Xena asked one of the villagers about the infant. To her relief, she learned that the babe’s parents were still alive. They had journeyed to visit a sick relative, leaving the child in the care of another villager – one who had died of fever on the road. If the baby lived, Xena might reunite him with his parents – a small, but important blessing. This gave her hope and energy when she grew weary. Her back hurt; her ankles were swollen; and worry about catching the fever haunted her whenever she paused in her tasks.
That evening, Xena and Gabrielle stood apart in the road and gazed up at the stars and an extremely bright moon. Gabrielle brought food and shared it with her lover, at a distance. She had to argue with Xena to get her to stop long enough to rest, drink, and eat.
"You’re working yourself to death in there, Xena," grumbled the young woman as they observed the skies. "And you won’t let me help you."
"Gabrielle, you are helping me." The Warrior Princess heard the desperation in her friend’s voice and tried her best to comfort the woman standing next to her.
The Amazon sensed Xena’s weariness, her… aloneness… in this effort.
Xena could not evade Gabrielle as she closed the distance between them. She stood before the Warrior Princess. Xena stepped back. Gabrielle followed her.
"How much longer before we know?" Gabrielle demanded.
"I can’t tell. The baby is still well and the fever seems to be retreating in a few of the villagers. But two of them died today. The stronger ones fight it off, the weaker ones…" The rest of her statement was lost to the night.
By the moon’s glow, Gabrielle glimpsed her friend’s tired face and shoulders. When Xena reached around to rub a sore spot on her lower back, Gabrielle could restrain herself no longer.
"Gabrielle, don’t," Xena protested as the young woman moved toward her.
The Amazon would not be denied. She grasped Xena by the shoulders so tightly that the Warrior Princess winced. Gabrielle stood on tiptoe and kissed her lover, first on the cheek, then on the lips. Xena did not have a fever, but Gabrielle sensed another kind of heat.
Of course, the short blonde accomplished quite a feat, since Xena was "round with child." Gabrielle smiled at this description of her tough companion.
"How wonderfully odd. Even in the midst of death, Xena gives me happiness," she thought.
Xena simply surrendered and held the young woman as tightly as her condition would allow. She caught herself and tried to pull away.
"No, Gabrielle, no…" she began.
"We’ve already died together horribly," Gabrielle interrupted, recalling the pain of their crucifixion. "What more can the gods do to us?"
At this, she placed her large, strong hand gently on Xena’s swollen midsection and felt their child move.
"I’m going back in there to help and don’t tell me I can’t," the Amazon stated in a tone that brooked no argument.
"As you wish," Xena relented, her heart filled with joy and pain.
Gabrielle traded her Amazon garb for a simple skirt, blouse, and apron, then joined Xena in the hospice. Together with some of the healthier villagers, they worked throughout the night administering medicines, cool compresses, water, and other simple comforts. They cleaned up the aftermath nausea and diarrhea, and soothed feverish patients of every age. Some would not see the dawn.
In the early morning darkness, a bone-weary Xena napped while Gabrielle kept watch.
As she looked upon her drowsing companion, Gabrielle noticed that the Warrior Princess appeared younger, more relaxed. Pregnancy seemed to agree with her.
"By the gods, you are so beautiful," Gabrielle intoned in the direction of the sleeping woman who meant more to her than life itself.
A whimper interrupted her fantasy. It came from the young girl who had been held hostage by a thug just the morning before. Gabrielle moved quietly to the girl’s pallet. She was deep in fever, now – delirious and dehydrated. Xena had estimated that the child might not survive the night. The girl’s mother had died the previous day.
Gabrielle soaked a cloth cool in water into which she floated some lavender oil. She placed it on the girl’s forehead and tried to bring down her temperature.
A sudden pang of regret stabbed at Gabrielle like a fiery dagger. She gasped.
"If only you had stayed true to your path and followed Eli’s way of love," a small voice in the back of her mind accused, "you could heal this girl, these people."
Gabrielle felt as if she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. She wanted to run away from all this. Phantom pain shot through her hands and feet where the Romans had driven nails to fasten her to the cross.
The Amazon took a deep breath, rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, and tried to obliterate the unwelcome sensations. Then, she remembered her words to Xena as she held the paralyzed Warrior while they waited for the Romans to execute them:
"I had a choice -- to do nothing or save my friend. I chose the way of friendship. Xena, you brought out the best in me. Before I met you, no one saw me for what I was. I felt….invisible. But you saw all the things I could be. You saved me, Xena."
"I chose," Gabrielle whispered to the darkness. Still, she had to try.
The young woman rested her hand over the girl’s heart and focused her energy, emptying herself of all thought and desire as Eli had taught her. After several minutes, she sensed a brief surge of warmth and power.
The child opened her eyes and looked up at the young woman sitting by her pallet. "Mother?" she asked in a tiny voice.
Gabrielle gathered the girl in her arms and cradled her trembling body. The child began to whimper.
"Hush little one, I’m here," Gabrielle soothed as she gently rocked the youngster.
Gabrielle knew she was no good with lullabies. To distract the child, she began telling her the story of another Solstice.
"I sing of Senticles and King Silvus, of Analia and the Orphans," she narrated with quiet passion. She told of an old man’s bitterness, and how Xena and Senticles restored his faith and love on a long-ago Solstice eve.
Gabrielle and her young charge became so caught up in the adventure that they failed to notice others listening as well; some patients moved closer to better hear the story. The beauty of the tale and its teller captured their hearts and made them forget their illness for the moment.
Xena awoke just before dawn to the vision of Gabrielle surrounded by an attentive audience, holding a small child – all of them lost in her tales of the Warrior Princess.
The flickering lanterns cast a golden glow to the young woman’s face and shaggy blonde hair. Without her Amazon leathers and weapons, and caught up in her storytelling, Gabrielle became her younger, innocent self. A single tear trailed its way down Xena’s cheek.
The Bard had rediscovered her special gift as Solstice eve dawned.
The tide turned late on the afternoon of Solstice Eve. Aided by Xena's healing skills, the village of Antales defeated the Black Fever. The epidemic claimed six victims, but many more survived, including the infant that Xena found on the road to town, and the girl rescued by the blonde warrior, who now worshipped her hero -- Gabrielle, Amazon Bard of Potidaea.
Xena presented the infant boy to his parents on their return from a neighboring village. In their joy, they offered the Warrior Princess a special reward: a beautiful cradle that the babe's father had carved from the finest hardwood. They also gave Xena a warm sheepskin wrap for the child she would soon bring into the world.
At first, Xena planned to decline the gifts. But a sidelong glance and clearing of the throat from Gabrielle signaled: "Be gracious." The tall, dark, mother-to-be accepted her reward with a smile.
The sunset that evening turned the winter sky icy pink, then deep violet. It was breathtaking.
Then, dusk brought the biggest, brightest moon Gabrielle had ever seen.
Xena found her soulmate leaning against the rear wall of the community hut that had served as a makeshift hospice. The young woman appeared tired, but cheerful. She still wore the skirt and blouse that hid her muscular frame and made her look like a village girl.
Gabrielle did not hear Xena approach. She was busy stargazing.
The Warrior Princess touched the Amazon's shoulder. Gabrielle turned.
"Happy Solstice." Xena sounded lighter and more relaxed than she had in days.
"Same yourself," replied her Bard.
"I thought you could use these." The Warrior offered a package wrapped in rough cloth.
Gabrielle unwrapped her gift swiftly. Inside, she found a jar of ink and a stylus. She studied the special writing implement, pleased and (almost) speechless.
"The man I got it from says that stylus will outlast the best quill. We'll buy you some blank scrolls in Amphipolis."
Xena's gift conveyed recognition of her soulmate's special talent. The Bard wanted to laugh, cry, and sing all at once. Instead, she uttered a simple, heartfelt, "Thank you," then punched Xena in the shoulder, but not hard.
"Ouch! What was that for?" asked a surprised Warrior Princess rubbing her "injury."
"I don't have a gift for you…" Gabrielle began.
"Gabrielle, you are my gift..." Xena responded, but Gabrielle continued.
Gabrielle handed Xena a lamb, carved in dark wood, with exquisite detailing, down to the fleece on its back and the satisfied expression on its face .
"His mouth opens when you pull his tail, just like the one I had when I was a kid. You gave one to me on our first Solstice. Remember, Xena?"
"It's really for her," added the Bard, patting Xena's stomach and hoping she didn't wake the babe slumbering in there, or her companion would be up all night.
"And this is for you." She pulled a fine sharpening stone from her apron pocket and handed it to the tall woman. Then she stretched to place a gentle, reverent kiss on Xena's lips. The Warrior Princess responded in kind, deepening the kiss as if it could last forever, or at least until Gabrielle sighed and decided to come up for air.
By the moon's glow, Xena detected her companion's flushed cheeks and rapid respiration.
"Where did you…? When did you have time?" queried Xena with sincere delight.
"I, too, have many skills." Gabrielle shot her friend a wink and a smile.
"More than you know. Thank you, Gabrielle."
That night, Gabrielle lay beside her soulmate in their room at the village inn. Only the innkeeper was well enough by this time to staff his business, so amenities were scarce. But it felt good just to be under a roof, in a warm bed, with the woman she loved.
Xena snored softly. Gabrielle controlled the urge to giggle at this turn of events. More than once, the Warrior Princess had teased her about her snoring. Now, the boot was on the other foot.
Something compelled the Bard to rise and move to the window. She opened the shutter and leaned out into the night, breathing the cool, fresh air. The moon turned the landscape to silver. Gabrielle gasped at the scene's beauty.
"There is something more powerful than Ares, or Hera, or Zeus; stronger than Dahak or Michael… the most powerful, yet gentlest, force we know. We call it love." Gabrielle recited the beginning of her next tale to the glittering night sky.
Then, she heard a soft voice behind her.
"Gabrielle, it's cold over there. Come back to bed."
The Bard willingly returned to sleep beside her Warrior.
Another Solstice -- Postscript
This letter to Melinda Pappas was found among the personal papers of Dr. Janice Covington.
8 December 1946
Dearest Mel --
Please read and compare the following passages. I got to thinking about them during a recent lull in our activities brought on by torrential rains at the site here in Potidaea.
A Bard's Solstice in AmphipolisLooking from our window into the moonlight glow, I could see the lanterns of all the huts in the village and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I blew out the candle. I got into bed. I said some words to the close and sacred darkness, and then I slept-- in the loving arms of my Warrior.
Curiously, this end passage from Gabrielle's scroll, Another Solstice, bears a striking resemblance to the final lines of Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales:
Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending, smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.
Of course, Mr. Thomas wrote his story in Wales, some 19 to 20 centuries after Gabrielle recorded her Solstice tale. I do not know whether Thomas had exposure to ancient Greek literature or where else this wonderful writer may have picked up such similar phrasing.
Based on your recent translations of the Xena scrolls, we speculated that Gabrielle journeyed to Britannia (Wales in part) with Xena, the Warrior Princess of Amphipolis.
Mel, could there be a connection here we've overlooked? One that would confirm the Bard's visit to Britannia? I trust your translating skills to find that link for us among the other scrolls. Your thoughts?
Looking forward to our Christmas together. The dig goes well, but I miss you so much my love. Until Christmas, then.
Comments? Questions? Feedback gladly accepted, but be nice, be constructive.
Email me at: MsCL@ix.netcom.com
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