Changes of Heart: Astonishment
by CN Winters
Disclaimers: These characters are not mine (well some are mine) but most belong to Mr. Tapert and Co. This is a story of heartbreak and moving forward. The two ex-love interest are women so if that bugs you then hit the highway. If you like it and wanna see this series continue make sure to email the authorÖmeÖcnwinters@hotmail.com
Itís a gloriously sunny day; not that one could tell by the dim in here.
Gabrielle sat at the bar in the dark tavern, her back to the barkeep and her eyes watching the patrons around her. Perhaps itís an unwritten rule in every drinking establishment that they have poor lighting and even poorer clientele. She was on the verge of taking a sip of her ale when she noticed a woman approaching her on the left with a crooked grin. She looked like a walking tree, as tall as Xena but not nearly as beautiful. A small scar ran down the right side of her cheek and her broad shoulders were protected by armor that looked like it hadnít seen polish in about three years. Oh boy Gabrielle sighed nervously to herself as the woman got closer and the smile got wider.
"Gotta name?" the woman asked cocking her head waiting for a reply.
A few seconds passed and Gabrielle added no more. Get a clue Adonis wannabe. The woman released a chuckle at Gabrielleís Ďhard to getí demeanor. "Why donít I buy you a drink? It will loosen you up Iím sure," she replied, running her fingertips down the bards arm.
"No thanks," Gabrielle said finally making eye contact. "I have one already. See?" the bard replied, showing her mug of ale before taking another sip.
Gabrielle didnít notice but a cloaked woman at the far end of the bar was taking the scene in with a great bit of interest but said nothing.
The admirer was starting to lose her patience however and her finger trail became a firm grasp on the bardís arm.
"Donít go acting like youíre too good for me missy or Iíll show you just how well suited I am for you." With that the woman tried to nuzzle against Gabrielleís ear but the bard reared back and hit her square in the forehead knocking the intruder a good four feet back.
"I donít want any trouble," Gabrielle announced. Damn it my head hurts. How in the hell does Xena do it so easy? Right. Sheís hard headed. Shake it off. Shake it off. "Iím not looking for a one night stand or happily ever after. Iím looking for . . . me. Thank you for the offer but Iím not interested."
The woman cracked her neck and menaced closer to Gabrielle. "Well thatís not good enough," she said getting closer.
Gabrielle held her ground, keeping an eye on the intruder but also staying aware of her surroundings. Stay focused Gabrielle. Even breaths. Be bold. The advice of Xena came to her mind - 60 percent of any battle is between the ears, the other is just muscle. Who ever can psyche the other will always be the winner. Gabrielle threw a cocky grin on her face, although at the moment she felt anything but confident. "Do I have to kill you? How about if I just beat the stuffing out of you instead?"
"Ooooo a gambling woman eh?" the admirer taunted.
Hey, thatís not a bad idea. "Yeah Iím a gambling woman. What do you say? Do you feel like youíre in a winning mood? Iíve got a proposition for you if you do," Gabrielle offered in a lusty tone, taking a step closer in challenge, teasing her, taunting her.
The admirer grinned. Knew she was just playing hard to get. "What do you have in mind beautiful?"
"Money," Gabrielle proclaimed with a wide grin. "Winner take all to the warrior left standing. How much do you have on you?"
"20 dinars," the woman answered.
"I can meet that bet," Gabrielle answered confidently. "So pick your weapon and your conditions."
"Oh no," the woman laughed heartily. "Iíll battle you but itís not your money I want when I win."
Oh lord. Could she leer and drool any more? How disgusting!. . . Okay. Think Gabrielle. Could you really go through with this if you lost? No you couldnít but that doesnít mean that youíre going to lose. Sure sheís big but you knocked her back with one headbutt. She obviously doesnít have your speed either. The bardís grin widened, "Okay," she replied confidently. "Iíll take that bet. 20 dinars vs. my . . . ahem . . . virtue," she teased with a wink. "Show me the money and weíll get it underway," Gabrielle instructed.
"I got it," the woman said defensively.
"Okay," Gabrielle said staying as cool as the Ganges. "Show it to me then."
"Well itís upstairs," the woman grunted, motion her head toward the rooms upstairs.
"Itís upstairs? I thought you said you had it?" Gabrielle toyed. All part of the game. All part of the game. "Anyway, doesnít matter where itís at right now. Later it will be in my hands so Iíll wait for you to get it," Gabrielle counted with a grin. "Unless of course youíre not a warrior of your word," she added in challenge.
That put the woman in motion. She stomped up the stairs and Gabrielle casually went back to her drink as all eyes on the tavern were on her. "Ahh . . . this is good ale," she told the barkeep in a friendly tone.
The cloaked figure came behind the bard and whispered, "Sheís gotta glass jaw. Go for the face."
Gabrielle recognized the voice but couldnít quite place it. She tried to turn to see who was giving her instructions but the clang of change purse next to her got her attention.
"You can count it if you like," the woman said.
"Thanks," Gabrielle answered. "Donít mind if I do."
Just as the woman said 20 shinny dinars were in the bag. Casually the bard tossed it back to her. "Shall we?" she asked with a grand gesture toward the door.
At this point the entire tavern had come to a stop Ė no one was eating, speaking or even moving for that matter. As the intruder made her way out Gabrielle followed close behind. Before they could clear the door, the tables began to rise spot by spot, following the women outside. THIS they had to see.
They walked outside, toward a weapons hut located adjacent to the tavern. "Mind if we try out a few weapons," the woman called over to the shopkeeper.
"No, be my guest," he said hoping to make a sale. He did start to wonder however if that was the intention when the bar patrons all followed behind them.
The woman then turned back to Gabrielle. "Since weíre going to be getting to know each other much better after this little duel perhaps we should be on a first name basis. Iím Gailes," she introduced gallantly.
I can play along. "Pleasure to meet your acquaintance . . . And Iím sure thatís all it will be . . . an acquaintance . . . With that aside letís get down to business. I made the challenge so you pick the weapons."
The woman could tell this little blonde was a queen at being evasive. After all this trouble, she STILL didnít have her name. Gailes noticed the sais on Gabrielleís boots so she opted for a more Ďtraditionalí and Ďold schoolí weapon, something she was sure the young woman would be unfamiliar with.
"Fighting staffs," she said firmly, taking one in her hand.
Gabrielle gave the largest of grins and went over to collect her weapon. She walked back into the street to meet her challenger but asked for a small moment to Ďget acquaintedí with the weapon.
"Take your time," Gailes answered, certain she had made the right choice. Her smile crept away more and more with each drill she watched the bard preformed, getting faster and faster as the weapon settled into her hands as if it were an extension of her body.
"By the way," the bard told her, coming to a stop. "My name is Gabrielle of Potiedaia."
"The amazon bard who travels with the warrior princess?" the woman asked, a sudden quake coming to her voice.
Is she starting to sweat? "Yep thatís the one . . . well at least I USED to travel with Xena but Iím on my own now . . . I must confess itís been a few years since I seriously picked up one of these," she said with all the confidence in the world. "But Iím sure Iíll get back into my groove. The staff was one of the first weapons I mastered incidentally. . .Good choice," she mocked. Gabrielle watched the woman give a hard swallow but say nothing. "Anytime youíre ready," she told Gailes.
Gailes took a deep breath to steady herself before taking an uncertain step toward Gabrielle. Thatís all the bard needed. She opened up with a yell deep from her diaphragm and rushed Gailes with blow after blow. Gailes tried for a sweep but Gabrielle on pure instinct jumped and avoided it. She chuckled loudly. "Not bad but you did it wrong," the bard teased.
Without adding more Gabrielle made two strikes and one sweep that promptly took Gailes on her backside. Gabrielle moved to give her a chance to stand and grinned down at her. "Thatís the proper way to sweep," the bard remarked egotistically.
The folks who gathered to watch the battle began to chuckle, especially the cloaked figure. Gailes confident facade began to unravel but instead of backing down, just the opposite occurred. She got angry. And when she got angrier she was unable to even strike Gabrielle, let alone do any damage. She got sloppy. At one point Gabrielle tried the turn and pivot move the amazons had shown her years before but as times past she nearly knocked herself in the head. Enough of getting fancy bard. Take her down. And with that, Gabrielle saw her opening and took it.
With Gailes trying to regain control of the staff, Gabrielle let loose and whacked her clean across the face. The warrior dropped the staff and wobbled back on her heels. A second later she fell backward, the force so great that the impact lifted the warriorís legs off the ground before they came crashing back to the dusty main street. She was out cold.
A cheer went around the crowd and the spectators began to throw their own dinars at Gabrielleís feet.
What?! Why are you-?! "Whatís going on?" she asked taking one of the on-lookers by the sleeve.
"Weíve waiting years to see someone put Gailes in her place," a man chuckled. "Congratulates sweetie. Youíre one helluva fighter," he chuckled. "Here," he added putting five dinars in her hand. "This is well worth it."
Group by group, the villagers made their way back to the tavern. Since a bet was a bet Gabrielle snatched Gailes change purse that was on her waist and filled the bag with the rest of the dinars sheíd earned from the townspeople. After she was finished she looked back at the unconscious woman. Gabrielle took 10 dinars from her pouch and closed them in the womanís hand.
"You might need an ale later to nurse that jaw," Gabrielle teased, although the woman couldnít hear a word. The bard wasnít about to leave her Ďpennilessí. Sheíd put up a good fight.
Gabrielle picked up the staff and gave it a few light tosses feeling the weight. The shopkeeper looked at her and grinned. Gabrielle returned the gesture and asked, "How much?"
"For you," he smiled, "Five dinars."
"Sold," the bard answered and handed over the coins. Thatís when Gabrielle noticed the reflection of the cloaked figure behind her in a shield that hung outside. Before the informant could move away Gabrielle went over to her.
"Your turn and pivot is off," the unknown figure told her.
Who are you? "Yeah," Gabrielle said slowly, trying to find out who the figure was behind the cloak, not quiet able to see. That voice - I know that voice. "Seems the problem lies with my-."
"Footing," the two said in harmony.
The cloak hood came down to reveal a woman with salt and pepper hair, perhaps in her early 50ís, maybe late 40ís. "After all these years I figured youíd have mastered that by now. But I can see you still nearly chuck yourself in the head," she laughed.
"It canít be . . . Is it really you?"
"Yes, Gabrielle itís me . . . But first things first, whatís your secret? How did you manage to stay so young?"
Sweet Aphrodite, the bard thought as her jaw fell and she gathered the woman into a tight embrace.
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