An Awakening - Part 16
by Hunter Ash
Ownership: Repeat after me: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, etc. I'm borrowing them for entertainment purposes, please don't bother to sue me, you wouldn't even get court costs.
Violence: less than a typical TV episode.
Subtext/Alt Sex: the story assumes a loving and sexual relationship between people of the same gender and of the opposite sex. If this offends you or is illegal for you then please leave. Come back when you are older, have an open mind, moved, or changed your laws.
Feedback: always welcome and responded to!
Storyline: Xena, Gabrielle, family and friends are traveling back from Northern Germania to Greece after a winter with the Northern Amazons and Vikings.
The story can stand on it's own but it is part of a series and you might want to catch some of the earlier parts to know exactly who is whom.
A Visit Home, an Awakening 1
Gabrielle's Awakening 1a- from Gabrielle's Point of View
An Awakening, Discovery, 2
Gabrielle's Discovery 2a- Gabrielle's POV
Amazon Bonding, Awakening 3
Gabrielle, Amazon Bonding 3a - Gabrielle's POV
Healing, Awakening 4
Trial of a Roman, Awakening 5
Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother; Awakening 6
Reunited, Awakening 7
Ides of March, Awakening 8
Children of Gods, Awakening 9
Even with Ares, Awakening 10
Settling with Brutus, Awakening 11
Darkness Awakening, Awakening 12
Amazons North, Awakening 13
Amazon Darkness, Awakening 14
The Wild Hunt, Awakening 15
**It has been four years since Julius Caesar was assassinated and it is still unclear who is the real power in Rome. With Brutus and Cassius dead, with no small help from Xena and myself, Gabrielle, it has fallen to Octavian and Antony, just as Xena had predicted. **
The bard looked up from her scroll as Xena stepped into her light. The warrior knelt down and grinned at her mate.
"How's it going?" the warrior asked.
"Ah, there's so much to write about when we were with Eddval. That insane Jarl Herrodr with that little Arab maniac sorcerer. Then there's everything that happened with the Northern Amazons," the bard complained.
"Let's see," she mused. "You mean traveling to the Northern Amazons to make amends for my past crimes and having them adopt Sasha as an Amazon; finding out Alti was still powerful; taking her on in the spiritual realm and the physical; nearly losing you in that battle? About your initiation into the tribe and losing Arja, the Queen? Things like that?"
Gabrielle smirked at her mate.
"Yeah, something like that. Don't forget you nearly died from all those wounds you took in that battle before you killed Alti. Then discovering your son had fallen in love with his Amazon escort and getting tossed out of the village in the middle of winter. What else? Oh yeah, one power hungry Law Speaker Amazon trying to kidnap Sasha because she's the daughter of a god and demi-god," Gabrielle counter listed.
"I am NOT a demi-god!" Xena muttered and Gabrielle grinned, her nose and eyes crinkling in amusement.
"Of course not, just because you're the daughter of two gods and Cyrene, all at the same time, not a demi-god at all. It's not complicated, no, not at all!" the bard teased.
"I just hope we don't come up against sorcery again, that was too weird for me," Xena complained.
"I didn't exactly have a good time either," Gabrielle frowned and then smiled when Xena's hand gently stroked her cheek.
"I'm sorry, I know it wasn't," the warrior said softly.
"In a way it worked out well," Gabrielle stated and wasn't surprised when Xena's eyebrows went up in question. "I finally conquered that damn blood darkness"
Xena smiled and sat down next to the bard, leaning against the tree. "Yep, and you were amazing! I'll never forget the sight of you in full bacchae craving, all those dead dogs, pregnant women chained to the walls, meant to be sacrificed and that little bastard sorcerer. I wasn't sure we could beat him for a moment there," the warrior admitted.
"Yeah, like you said then, team work. With Solan's amazing aim with a bow, you're aim with a chakram and help from your Valkyrie, we made it."
"You're forgetting your part in it, my love," Xena gently scolded. "You gave Solan the target, you gave me the target and you kept the dogs from attacking all of us when we were blind by jumping in the middle of them."
Gabrielle delighted the warrior by blushing. Xena laughed lightly and wrapped her arm around the bard's shoulders.
"I love you, Xena," Gabrielle said softly, laying her head on Xena's chest.
"I love you, Gabrielle," the warrior responded simply.
I feel very fortunate at times like this. Our small group has camped for the night and everything is set up. Solan is cooking dinner, a deer that Xena brought down earlier today. Ketli is playing with Sasha in the trees, he's almost as much at home in the trees as an Amazon and he keeps a very close eye on the precocious child.
I get to take this time to watch my friends and family. Hercules and Xena are discussing something and Iolaus is napping. I notice Xena's eyes always darting back and forth between Hercules and Sasha, always watching out for our daughter.
"Our daughter", sometimes that still feels strange to me. Not because Ares is her father, just the ache I have when I think about her birth and not being there. I can't even begin to describe the anger I'm feeling now that we know Ares had me captured and sold into slavery to stop me from being there. Even when I was fighting in the Arena I didn't feel this level of anger. It scares me, even more than the Bacchae side of myself.
When do we get a break? I'm almost 30 winters old. Twice the age past beginning marriage and children myself. Watching Solan and his new wife Reija reminds me of that. I don't understand myself, that's exactly the life I didn't want when I left home to follow Xena, now I'm wanting it and wondering if it's too late. We have a home in Amphipolis, both of us have good jobs and a family. When do we get to enjoy them?
I'm worried now that we know Ares was behind my being taken as a slave and what a nightmare that was for me that Xena won't rest until she's gotten back at him somehow. Even Hercules is boiling over with anger at the abuse I suffered and the fact that Iolaus was crippled because of those damned plans of his brother's.
I still have nightmares of that time. I don't talk to Xena about them much because I know she feels so guilty about not being there and protecting me or at least rescuing me. All those hours of training, learning to kill. Learning to do something I never thought I would be able to do. I remember every face very clearly. Their eyes haunt me. Xena was right, when you kill it changes everything. You can see the light in someone's eyes going out as they die. I know that I didn't have a choice but it doesn't help when the nightmares come. I know that each of those men and women would have killed me without a thought, that's what they were trying to do, all that prevented that was that I was better that day. I never told Xena about the women I was forced to kill in the Arena. Somehow, I just can't.
That one is hard to define. I've told her everything about Nikki, about having to become lovers to protect my body from the men of the gladiator school and for comfort; I've told her about the cravings when the bacchae side takes over; I've let her see what Dancer the gladiator can be like but I've never admitted to killing other female gladiators. I wonder why? Is it because I'm an Amazon and have sworn to protect women? Do I feel that I've somehow broken that vow? Is that why Artemis won't come to me? She came to us when she needed help saving the Amazons but she hasn't appeared to me since just after the Ides of March.
Oh good! Now Xena and Hercules are arm wrestling of all things! Reija is helping Solan with dinner and the kids are now exploring under some rocks.
Ketli Axe Hand, what names these Northerners come up with, tries to be such an adult now that he's almost a teenager but around Sasha he can revert to being a child that he never really had a chance to be.
Since revealing to us that she's somewhat telepathic, Sasha's potential god-skills haven't shown themselves, which is fine for Xena and me. The less different that she is from other kids the better. Both Xena and I remember what it felt like growing up feeling different and how difficult that could be. How painful the teasing from other kids can be.
It's been close to seven years since I followed Xena and I swear she doesn't look that much older than when I first saw her. A few differences here and there but nothing major. She's still so beautiful and deadly; she takes my breath away even after all these years.
We left Eddval Skull Splitter's steading four days ago and we are making good time on the horses in this spring weather. After leaving the Northern Amazon village in the middle of the Solstice Month, I thought we'd never get warm again. Fighting a river of ice, blinding snow, nearly being killed by arrows, that was more than I want to repeat. Only Xena got us through at the end.
I'm still enraged at Mattita, the Law Speaker of the Northern Amazons. Wanting to kill all of us and take Sasha because the child "might" have powers of the gods. I would be very tempted to cross that line in my soul about starting a fight with the intention of killing someone! I've only fought in self-defense but I almost believe I could kill her intentionally. I only hope that when I get a message from the tribe we find out that Otere and Yakut have managed to oust Mattita for her murderous plans.
It will be good to be back in Greece. I want to see Lila and Mother very badly. *
Xena smiled as she watched Gabrielle writing in one of the bard's scrolls. Her mate was deep in thought and sometimes it seemed that it wasn't pleasant, Xena could tell from Gabrielle's expressions.
The warrior caught Hercules looking at her as they sat under a tree, watching Sasha and Ketli playing.
"What?" she demanded.
"You're beautiful when you watch Gabrielle," he commented and grinned when she began blushing. "I don't know why it took you two so long to figure it out, everyone else knew."
"As if you can talk, big guy! How long did it take you to finally admit your feelings for Iolaus?" she countered with a smile.
"True enough. I guess sometimes we can't see what's right in front of us."
"I'll agree to that." Xena stretched her long body, her eyes darting around the camp, always alert. "I'll be glad to be home for awhile."
"Yeah, Iolaus and I have been on the move even more than you two. I want to get Ketli some education, Iolaus is great with most everything except numbers."
"Me too, I think the entire village of Amphipolis was raising Sasha," the warrior grinned. "She has a gift, everyone loves her immediately."
"I could think of worst gifts," Hercules grinned.
"Do you ever think about Zeus being your father?" the demi-god asked.
"Not a lot. You know how I feel about the gods. You grew up knowing that he was your father, good or bad. I never knew that until recently. I'm hoping we never have to deal with that," Xena shrugged.
"Not likely, you know. Secrets have a way of coming out, even among the Olympians," Hercules commented.
"I know, but only as a last resort. I've seen how thrilled Hera is with your existence, my friend." Xena grinned and the demi-god grinned with her.
"She seems to be calming down a little."
"I hope so, Herc, she's caused you enough trouble in your life."
"Dinner!" Solan suddenly called out, startling Iolaus out of his nap and causing Gabrielle to drop her quill. Both glared at the youth and, as if he could sense it, Solan grinned.
Xena cleared her throat to let the young girl know the warrior was there. The older woman wasn't surprised when Reija turned quickly and then just as quickly hid her face.
The warrior approached the young woman slowly; sitting down on the rock next to the river they were traveling along. The girl was trying to dry her eyes and conceal that she had been crying.
"You okay?" Xena asked simply.
"Yes, I don't know why I'm crying," Reija complained, finally giving up trying to hide her swollen and red eyes.
"Could be just your body going crazy. It happens when you're pregnant," Xena smiled.
"Yep, should have seen me when I was pregnant with Solan, I wasn't letting anyone know I was pregnant and I had all those raging emotions. My troops probably thought I had been cursed by the Furies," the warrior grinned. "Or maybe you're missing home?"
Xena hadn't expected the young woman to break down so suddenly and launch herself into the warrior's arms for comfort. The warrior quickly recovered and gently held the young teenager as Reija sobbed.
After a few minutes the sobs had been reduced to mere sniffles and Reija pulled back slightly.
"I'm sorry, I know I'm supposed to be strong."
"Don't apologize. You've never been outside of Amazon territory, have you?" Xena asked kindly.
"No, not at all," Reija confirmed.
"Now you're traveling all the way across the country from one end to the sea then to another sea. You're leaving home, your friends, your family, your tribe, your way of life, I'm not surprised you're a little down." Xena pointed out.
"My mother, Mattita, and I hadn't spoken in months before we left the village but it still hurts that she tried to kill me."
"I know. Adjusting to life outside the village won't be easy, Reija, but you'll find that you have a large family now."
"Thank you," Reija said simply, hugging the warrior again.
It's been seven days since we left Eddval's steading in the north and have stopped for a couple of days at a village along the river. We came upon a spring festival and we found a warm welcome among the Germanic tribes that make up the small village. I find my skills at tale weaving most welcome at night around the bonfires of their celebrations. I think these Vikings like story telling even more than my Greeks. They value their bards, whom they call Skalds, very highly here, relying on them for education, news, and entertainment. Skalds can even hold honored positions among royal courts up here, the nobles keeping skalds close to them so that their histories might be recorded. These Vikings have a passion to be remembered as heroes and such. I suppose that's one of the reasons I began traveling with Xena, I wanted to record her deeds for the world, especially when I realized that she was trying to change from the dark Warlord she had been into something else. I wanted the world to realize that.
The Vikings have a saying up here - Cattle die and kinsmen die, thyself soon will die; but fame will never fade for he that wins it.
They also say: from his weapons away no one should ever stir one step while in the field, for no one knows when you might have a sudden need of your sword.
One thing about these Goths, they love to fight, gamble, pursue love and challenge life.
In many ways my fellow Greeks would consider the Germans barbaric. Their clothing is much more simple, most cannot read a single word, most wouldn't know a simple number problem and yet, I find I admire them greatly. They have a complex religious system and they aren't as barbaric as Caesar made them out to be. They still rely on magic and superstition more than we of the South do but they also face a harsher life than we do.
They also treat women and children differently than the Southerners. Women are allowed to keep the property they enter into a marriage with in case there is a divorce. Something that is unheard of in our "civilized" society. Divorce is allowed if a wife is mistreated and she retains custody of any children. Children are not considered property unless they are children of slaves.
One thing that both societies have in common: slaves. It seems that neither society can exist right now without slaves, although Eddval's Steading did fine without slaves. Maybe he can influence the other families under his rule now that he has been made Jarl of the region.
Women are also allowed to have opinions, for the most part. Some are even allowed to be warriors. I understand that the Celts are even more even handed with their women and that they have more rights in society than our own Greek and Roman women have. Amazing, those we would consider barbaric are more advanced in dealing with its citizens.
Although I do find I would miss having my scrolls around me up here. Even ink would be a problem, let alone parchment. They view my writing ability as a rarity up here and sometimes with awe, as if I have a magical skill.
I guess in a way that is true on some levels for the Norse. Their basic writing system is called runes and it developed out of sacred symbols. Symbols that each have a power, a magic of their own, even their own sounds. Most everyone knows the basics of the runes and how to work them but those who are adept at the magical symbols are viewed with honor and respect and are viewed like we view our priests.
Xena looked over at the bard as she wrote in her scrolls and smiled. Gabrielle was almost unaware of the small crowd she was attracting by her writing. The warrior reflected that they didn't see much writing up here, let alone someone who wrote just to write down their thoughts, unaware that she was echoing the bard's very thoughts.
The warrior looked around, aware that she was fairly at ease, which was unusual in a large crowd. Normally, she was alert for everything and anything. Up here you had to be on your toes to avoid fights and minor arguments and stay out of the way of local politics. It felt nice not to be watching for assassins, Callisto, or Romans.
The warrior caught Gabrielle's eyes and smiled and got an answering smile that always warmed the warrior's heart. Then Sasha tearing through the area with several village children hot on her heels, laughing in a game of tag distracted Xena. A glance around showed Solan leaning against one of the logs with Reija between his legs, leaning back into his chest and the warrior shook her head. When did he grow up? He was only 15, no 16 summers. A man in all societies now, she knew, but she didn't feel old enough to have a son who was about to become a father.
She spotted Hercules and Iolaus involved in a drinking contest with some of the villagers with a lot of wagering going on. The warrior knew better than to bet on this contest, Iolaus could surprise most everyone by out-drinking men twice his size and Hercules' drinking capacity was legendary. She also knew the same could be said of the Vikings. Xena figured she might take even odds on a couple of the villagers and the Greeks.
Xena turned back to the man she was talking to, Saebjorn, a local rune worker and religious leader. She wasn't surprised when Gabrielle joined their table, her sharp ears picking up the conversation on runes.
"Wait a minute!" Gabrielle held up her hand and stopped Saebjorn again. "From the beginning please," she asked.
"When you have a need for the power of a rune, the worker goes out and finds a tree at dawn and asks permission to take a branch," Saebjorn began.
"Permission from who?" the bard asked.
"From the tree and the spirits of the land, the Disir. The branch is cut and then the rune worker cuts the staves, long bits of wood, and carves the runes on the staves. Then he or she must stain them," Saebjorn grinned.
"Stain them? With what?"
"Gabrielle," Xena growled slightly.
"What?" the curious bard asked.
"No, it is not a hidden secret as it once was," Saebjorn smiled. "The runes can be stained, imbued with energy, by many methods. It depends on what the working is that determines how they should be stained. Most times it is with the blood of the rune worker, that's why working rune magic is usually very personal or very wide spread."
"What do you mean?"
"Either you are working for yourself or for the entire community, not usually for any number in between," the magician tried to explain.
"I see, instead of helping someone with a love spell," the bard ventured.
"I would show the person how to work the love spell themselves and warn them against working spells in the first place," Saebjorn grinned.
"Why discourage them?" Gabrielle asked with a matching smile.
"Because spells never turn out how you want them," the Viking laughed.
"We have a saying, be careful what you ask for, you might get it," she joined in his laughter and Xena grinned with them.
Most of the time the warrior didn't pay a lot of attention to Gabrielle's conversations with other bards, knowing they were usually exchanging stories, which she would hear later. This time she was interested in the use of the runes and in Gabrielle's understanding of the northern cultures.
"Or I work a rune working for the community, good harvest, good cattle, stuff like that," Saebjorn continued.
"Can rune magic be used for evil?" the bard questioned.
"Yes," Saebjorn frowned in thought for a moment. "Magic is neither evil nor good, it simply is. It is how the energy is used that makes it evil or good. Like your Hades, our Goddess of the Underworld, Hella, isn't considered evil, she just is. She reigns over the Underworld where those who aren't worthy of Asgard end up and those who work against others end up in the River of Knives, not even reaching Hella's Halls."
"River of Knives?"
"I was told that it was probably a river so cold and filled with ice that it would feel like knives stabbing you. Hella's Halls aren't somewhere I want to end up," Xena commented. "Snakes fill the walls, poison drips from the doorways, other fun stuff like that."
Saebjorn grinned. "Yes, and Odin's Hall, Valhol, is made of shields and there is feasting and drinking all night and fighting all day. Each god and goddess have their own halls and their own followers join them after they die. Odin gets half of the honored slain and Freya the other half."
"The goddess of love and forests," Gabrielle remembered.
"Yes," Saebjorn confirmed.
"Back to the staining," she reminded him.
"Right, most times it's blood which connects the worker to the working. Other times it can be spit, a minor working. Sometimes it's... it's more personal."
Both women were surprised when the Viking began blushing. Xena suddenly understood but noticed that Gabrielle didn't.
"For a love spell or fertility, right?" Xena questioned, hoping the bard would figure it out without Saebjorn having to go into details.
"What?" Gabrielle then began blushing and Xena knew the bard finally got it. "Oh yeah, okay. Uh, how, uh, how then do you use the runes?"
"You understand ritual, ja?" he questioned.
"Yes," Gabrielle and Xena both answered.
"Chanting, prayers, and such. Sometimes the wood is burned to release the energy, sometimes buried. Most times the chanting is accompanied by the galdr stance and sound, the body position of the rune and its special sound."
Xena looked over and saw that several villagers had dropped out of the drinking contest, literally. Several were unconscious, curled up in their cloaks next to the fire. Iolaus was swaying heavily on his log with his eyes closed and the warrior didn't think that the small Greek would last much longer. That left Hercules and three Viking villagers left, still going strong.
Gabrielle and Saebjorn were deep in conversation about metre verse poetry and sound and the magical use of it when the bard looked over at Xena and frowned. The warrior was almost pale and staring at something past the fire.
Gabrielle quickly followed Xena's gaze and saw a figure watching them from across the large bonfire. The bard could make out that the figure was probably male from the general outline but not much else. A male figure in a large, floppy brimmed hat, dark cloak and leaning on a spear. She couldn't see his face clearly and couldn't determine age or much about him. Something tugged at the bard's memory but she couldn't quite grab it. She turned to Xena.
"What is it?" she questioned as Saebjorn got up from the small table to fill his drinking horn again.
"I need to stretch my legs for a moment, be right back," Xena mumbled as she stood up, never taking her eyes off of the figure.
Xena started by Gabrielle and was surprised when the bard reached out a hand and stopped her.
"I got it! My vision!" Gabrielle hissed quietly. "He's the one in my vision!"
"I don't doubt it, I knew who he was. Wait here," Xena ordered.
"No, wait here!" Xena snapped and pulled away from her mate and walked around the fire to the figure.
Xena approached the cloaked figure cautiously with her eyes quickly scanning the countryside, her eyes trying to pierce the darkness.
"Hail," she hesitated. "What do I call you?"
"Vakr is good for now," the tall figure answered easily.
"Vigilant, you know that's what they call me now," she countered.
"Yes, Ylsa," he answered and gestured to a log near the fire, inviting her to sit.
The warrior hesitated with her hand on her chakram, just inside her coat.
"I swear on the head of my son that I mean you no harm and I am not seeking a fight with you," the stranger vowed.
Xena nodded and sat down across the log, facing the stranger.
"What do you want, Vakr?" she asked.
"I owe you personal thanks for helping with that mess with Jarl Herrodr, you and your friend but I thought I'd approach you alone first. You can tell your friend thank you for me."
"And everything before?" she asked quietly.
"I don't know you, warrior. You are not the same woman who was here years before and I am not the same either."
"Odin, one thing I've learned over the years, gods don't change much!" she whispered fiercely.
"Xena, what changed you?" the Norse god countered.
The warrior's face softened and she looked deep into Odin's blue eye, suddenly realizing that he had a patch over his right eye. He watched her facial expressions and nodded, indicating Gabrielle.
"She happened to you, didn't she?" he asked.
"Yes, she is the reason," the warrior admitted.
"I've changed as well, Xena. Frigga and I are close again, I sacrificed my eye for the gift of prophecy and wisdom, and I've watched the changes in you whenever you're in the North."
Xena nodded, accepting the possibility that the god before her wasn't the same god she knew years before. She had to admit that she wasn't the same woman she had been then either.
"Hecate said that Sasha is predicted to have a future in the North and it's important to you, can you tell me anything about that?"
Odin shook his head sadly. "No, the Norns won't reveal what, just that she is important to us. I'm sorry, I know how frustrating that is."
"Thank you for your help in sending Grimhild, both times," Xena said.
"My pleasure," the god grinned. "Things have changed and will continue to change."
The Norse god stood and offered his hand. Xena hesitated a moment and took his arm in a warrior's grasp and then accepted his hug.
"You have turned into quite a woman, Xena," he said simply and pulled his hat lower over his face.
"You're turning into a decent god, Odin," she matched his grin and watched as he walked into the shadows.
Xena turned and spotted Gabrielle watching her intently and walked back to the table where the bard waited.
"Where's Saebjorn?" Xena asked.
"Headed for his hall. Who was that?"
"Odin," Xena answered simply.
"Odin? As in Odin, All Father God of all the Norse gods?" Gabrielle demanded in a fierce voice.
"Yup, the very same," Xena couldn't help but grin.
"What did he want with you?"
"To thank us both for stopping that idiot Herrodr from forming his own Wild Hunt," Xena explained, sitting next to her mate.
"No, he said he can't tell me about Sasha's future with the Norse people, just that she has one and it's important. I hate prophecy," the warrior complained.
"Of course you do, my love," the bard grinned.
They both looked over and watched the last two contestants of the drinking contest. One villager and Hercules, both finishing off another drinking horn at the same moment and both falling over dead drunk at the same moment. The spectators howled and stomped their feet, trying to wake up one or the other but finally had to give up and declare a draw.
Xena and Gabrielle both laughed loudly.
"He'll pay for that tomorrow!" Gabrielle predicted.
"No doubt! That mead packs quite a punch!" Xena grinned in agreement.
The bard leaned back into Xena's arms and moaned in pleasure as the warrior leaned down and kissed Gabrielle's neck.
"Let's head for our sleeping furs, little one," the warrior whispered huskily.
"Yes, my love," the bard agreed readily.
Gabrielle smiled and turned into Xena's embrace, when they reached their sleeping furs inside the local stable. Xena had set their furs up in the farthest corner of the building in an old stall which offered them a little privacy. Gabrielle's sharp ears could hear snores and breathing from others sleeping in the barn and smiled.
"What, little one?" Xena whispered.
"You tell me that you used to be quiet when making love, think you can be quiet again?" the bard teased and grinned when Xena began blushing.
"Okay, you!" Xena threatened as her lips began nuzzling Gabrielle's neck, "I admit that you can have me begging or screaming but I'm not the one usually shaking the rafters!" she whispered and was rewarded with her own teasing by Gabrielle smacking her on the arm and breaking out of the embrace.
The bard danced into the stalls and faced her mate in the faint light of the moonlight. Gabrielle smiled and pulled her coat off and let it drop at her feet and Xena felt her heartbeat increase at the look of playfulness in the bard's green eyes. The bard pulled her tunic over her head and Xena's breath caught in her chest at the sight of her half naked mate.
Xena entered the stall and went to her knees easily and let her lips and tongue begin to dance over the bard's ample breasts and nipples, her arms encircling her mate and pulling Gabrielle close to her.
The bard's whimper of arousal brought a flush to the warrior's entire body and she pulled Gabrielle down to her knees and the two lovers began dueling with their tongues and hands as clothing was pulled off or pushed aside.
"Gods, Xena, I love you so much!" Gabrielle whispered as Xena laid the bard onto the sleeping furs.
"I love you more than life itself, Gabrielle," the warrior whispered back and bent down to capture her bard's lips and show her soul mate how much she loved her.
The warrior pulled back slightly and was a little surprised when she saw Gabrielle's eyes were mostly yellow instead of her usual green and Xena could see the beginning of fangs on her bard.
"Yes, little one," Xena said easily.
The warrior was surprised at the speed and strength of her bard as Gabrielle flipped the warrior over onto the furs and the bard began kissing her roughly. Xena moaned and felt her body responding instantly. Xena started to pull the bard closer and felt herself growling as Gabrielle grabbed her wrists in one hand and held her arms over her head as the bard began nuzzling the warrior's neck. Gabrielle growled back and Xena's back arched as the bard's fingers began caressing her center, parting her sexual lips and playfully arousing the warrior even higher.
As the bard's fingers, tongue and lips began to drive her crazy, Xena felt her body beginning to tremble and tried to break the bard's hold on her wrists and moaned with frustration as Gabrielle's grip held. The bard pulled back slightly and looked into her mate's blue eyes.
"Yes!" Xena hissed and felt her whole body rise off of the furs as Gabrielle's fangs pierced her neck and the bard's fingers claimed her lower body.
There were several grumbles later from other occupants of the barn when cries broke the silence at the far end of the barn but no one complained much.
Xena says we're still in the flat part of northern Germania, which isn't saying much. We'll be hitting the large range of mountains soon enough. I'm just glad that we're traveling in the summer and not in the fall or spring when everything would be mud in the lowlands and snow in the mountains.
Of course, the rain for the last two days hasn't helped this theory.
We're following a large river and finding plenty of villages to find shelter in. They are much more open to strangers here, having the custom that anyone can find shelter from a storm or at any time during the winter. Of course, getting stuck in a strangers' home for five months during the snow season can cause quite a strain on hospitality, I have no doubt!
The countryside is so beautiful. The riverside is thick with trees, sometimes it's even hard to get through on horseback and the leaves are all different colors. The weather, besides the four days of rain, has been good with the chill being bearable even at night.
The only trouble we've had was from a small group of bandits that tried to rob us yesterday. *
Xena was leading the small band of travelers when she surprised them all by stopping and holding her hand up in a signal for them to stop. Gabrielle's hands went to her sais, Hercules to his war hammer, Iolaus for his sword, Solan for a dagger, Ketli for a small war axe, and Reija for her sword.
Xena's hand flashed towards her side and brought her chakram up at the same moment she yelled.
Everyone moved like a well-trained military unit. Gabrielle dived out of her saddle, grabbing Sasha from her horse and rolling to the ground, shielding the child in her arms and taking the heavy hit from the dirt road herself. Solan felt his wife's hand on his arm and rolled towards it, trusting her as they hit the ground together between the horses. Ketli jumped off his horse and ran to help Gabrielle shield Sasha. Hercules and Iolaus both hit the ground on their feet and were able to see Xena deflect several arrows with her chakram as they flew towards her chest.
Xena flipped over backwards off her horse with a war cry and landed her feet in a defensive position.
Solan and Reija gained their feet and Gabrielle stayed in a crouched position with Sasha behind her as her eyes scanned the trees.
"Move and you die!" a voice threatened in lower Germanic.
None of the Greeks and Amazons said anything as several figures moved out of the trees, each armed with bow and arrow and sword.
"Hand over your furs, your money and any jewelry," the leader ordered.
Xena glanced over her shoulder, assessing everyone's position and getting answering nods from the Greeks and Amazon. She saw Gabrielle reverse the sais in her hands into a throwing position and saw Reija whispering to Solan, his head cocked and listening for voices and noises.
The warrior turned to the bandit.
"Only one warning, leave now," she grinned.
"Maybe you didn't hear so well, foreigner. Hand everything over," he demanded again.
"Go join Hella!" Xena cursed as she let loose her chakram, cutting his bow in two.
Two bandits fell over clutching their chests; suddenly wondering about the strange weapons embedded in their chests and the small blond who had thrown them. It was their last thoughts.
Two other bandits rushed the group with swords drawn and were quickly taken out by Reija, Hercules and Iolaus. The leader, the only one left standing, suddenly turned very pale and decided to make a hasty retreat back into the trees.
Hercules and Iolaus stripped the unconscious bandits of their weapons, retrieved Gabrielle's sais for her and helped Sasha back up onto her horse. Everything was done within minutes.
"You know, that wasn't even a challenge," Xena complained.
"Yup," Hercules agreed with a grin.
Gabrielle and Iolaus shook their heads in amusement at their mates.
Now we head into the mountains. Mountains that seem darker and almost sinister as compared to my native Greek mountains. Even the Romans hate trying to hold these mountains. The people are fiercely independent and hard working and keep mostly to themselves. Fortunately we aren't heading into the deep mountains.
It's strange; I've actually found a place that Xena hasn't been in her travels. Somehow, even during her Warlord days she missed the deep Carpathian Mountains. She says that she saw no reason to concentrate her forces in the deep mountains when she could control the surrounding land below. Her army howling like the wind across the land they call the Steppes or down through the valley between Greece and northern Germania.
We've decided to camp early and start into the mountains in the morning. The trip from this point on gets harder and travel will go a little slower. I think we're all anxious to get home except Ketli, seems like he was born for the road. He never complains about being tired and takes in everything around him with an eagerness that is sometimes tiring. He reminds me of myself when I was a child, only he's getting to travel the world while I grew up only dreaming of it. Which was better, I wonder sometimes. I grew up with a loving family in a stable village and life that didn't understand me. Ketli grew up raised by the large family of Axel since Ketli was an orphan and then adopted by Hercules and Iolaus, the boy having bonded so deeply with them. Now he travels the world but I hear him tossing in his blankets sometimes with nightmares. Hercules says he hears the boy muttering and crying for his mother in his sleep. Hercules and Iolaus are wonderful fathers but the boy still misses his original family.
My nightmares are starting again about being taken as a slave. The rapes and the horror of the Arena are beginning to haunt my dreams again. We're not going through the same area where I was taken and Iolaus crippled but the closer we get to Roman territory the worse it gets. I know that Xena has noticed but she hasn't said anything other than comforting me at night, like I do her when the memories get too much. She's probably figured out what is bothering me anyway.
I know I should talk to her about it, if nothing else to keep her from worrying too much but it's so hard. I've never counted how many kills I had in the Arena but I could. I remember every face, almost every detail. I thought, I had hoped, that they would blur together after awhile like memories do sometimes but it seems I'm cursed by the Fates to see each fight clearly, even those long fights on that day we were taken in front of Caesar and I was crucified. It troubles me that I can kill so easily. I killed those two bandits without a second thought. What have I become? *
Hercules smiled as he handed Xena a mug of tea and sat down next to her in front of the fire. He glanced over at their sleeping mates, neither he or the warrior were surprised when Iolaus and Gabrielle both headed early for their sleeping furs. Neither the bard nor Greek warrior had been sleeping well.
"You okay?" he asked softly.
Xena glanced up at Solan and Reija huddled on the other side of the fire, wrapped in each other's arms and furs, watching the fire and basking the in the warmth of each other. Sasha was asleep between Xena's legs, her head resting on Xena's thigh, and Ketli was sharpening his hand axe near Solan and Reija.
"Yeah, just a little worried. Ever since we ran into that Roman garrison two days ago both Gabrielle and Iolaus' nightmares have been worse," she said simply.
"I know. It happens every time. I don't know what to do about it except try and comfort them."
"That's about all we can do. I don't think the Roman Empire is going to disappear anytime soon so we're going to keep running into soldiers," the warrior frowned.
"You were the Warlord, where do you see this thing with Octavian and Antony going?"
"Now that Antony is with Cleopatra all the time and they've already had a child? I heard the latest news from the Roman soldiers the other day," Xena pulled out her whetstone and began sharpening her sword.
Hercules knew it was the warrior's way of keeping her hands busy and giving her a focus when she was thinking, especially unpleasant thoughts.
"You're friends with Cleopatra, aren't you?" he asked.
"Yes, we helped her out with a problem a while back."
"Antony and Octavian are going to fight, aren't they?" the demi-god frowned.
"Yes, neither of them will be willing to settle for dividing the Empire. Octavian won't trust Antony and Antony will kill Octavian the first chance he gets," the former Conqueror of Nations commented.
"Why? Antony should be happy in Egypt and having that half of the world."
"He won't be satisfied with that. He's Roman, no matter how much he loves Cleopatra, he'll always be Roman and want Rome for himself. He's ruthless and bloodthirsty, even more than I was. Antony killed anyone related to anyone that might have been involved in the assassination of Caesar. He's quick to use that sword of his and he's tried to kill Octavian before."
"Really? I'm not surprised. When?"
"The Battle of Philippi. Octavian and his troops were set to take the worst of the battle and Antony had assassins infiltrated in Octavian's ranks. They were to kill Octavian during the battle and Antony would seize the victory and claim the Empire."
"That's when you helped them defeat Brutus and Cassius," Hercules reflected.
"Yes, I also kept Octavian off the battlefield. Seems he has a delicate stomach at times and was too sick to fight," the warrior grinned and Hercules shook his head with a grin, admiring the tactical mind of his friend.
"Antony planned on killing you and Gabrielle, didn't he?"
"Yes, the men he sent with both of us were supposed to kill us but they decided to be somewhere else when we left," Xena grinned.
"Do you think Cleopatra will call on you for help?"
"I hope not. I like Cleo and thinks she's one hell of a leader but I can't help her against Octavian."
"Is it because Antony slaughtered the Amazons or because you support Octavian?"
"I don't have any love for Rome, even after Caesar's death. No, we owe Antony for killing our family and friends," Xena's eyes narrowed in anger and Hercules remembered that face very well and was glad that it was no longer directed at him after all these years.
"I miss them too," he said softly, remembering finding Ephiny's body on the cross where Brutus had her crucified, the body of Solari, Ephiny's mate left for the carrion feeders. They never found the body of Xenon, Ephiny's Centaur son.
Xena's head snapped up at the sound of a small whimper. She started to get up and glanced down at the sleeping child in between her legs.
Hercules placed a hand on her arm. "I'll go to her, you take it easy."
Xena watched with a pained face as Hercules gently shook the bard slightly until the nightmare was broken and then drew her crying mate into his arms until Gabrielle fell back asleep.
Xena caught Reija's glance and the Amazon shrugged, also at a lost as to how to help the two Greeks ease their nightmares.
* Personal Entry
Oh Gods, I haven't been so scared in my life. Solan woke us up in the middle of the night calling for Xena and me. We found Reija in such pain, it scared us all. Severe stomach cramps, so bad that she couldn't straighten her legs out and kept throwing up.
Xena was able to use pressure points to relieve some of the pain while Hercules and Iolaus warmed water up for some herbs to help calm the muscles down. Solan, I didn't know how to help him, we both felt so helpless. He held Reija's head in his lap and let her squeeze his hands as the pain ripped through her. I tried cooling her down with a cool cloth but felt so frustrated.
Then Xena said the words that each of us already knew but refused to face. Reija was trying to lose the baby; her body was trying to reject the life growing in her. I know it's common with women, especially young girls in their first pregnancy, but that doesn't make it easier to live with. Even knowing that future children are possible after losing one doesn't help.
Solan was trying to be brave for both of them but he's such a caring young man. I knew he was devastated and Reija just cried in his arms. How can she face losing this child? Reija's given up everything she's ever known to be with Solan and this child was going to be her connection with her new life.
I found myself silently praying. I know Xena's not one for praying and asking help from the gods under almost any circumstances but I'm not that strong or stubborn. I called on Apollo, God of healing and medicine, and my father, for help.
We worked through the night, all of us. Ketli kept an eye on a dozing Sasha by the fire. Iolaus and Hercules took turns keeping water hot for compresses on Reija's womb and cool water for cloths on her forehead. Xena kept alternating pressure point massage and the herbal teas. I kept the compresses and cool cloths alternating and Solan kept holding her.
Finally at dawn Sasha's head popped up and she got up from Ketli's arms and approached our tired little circle. Hercules and Iolaus were almost asleep by the fire and Reija's pains had subsided. Sasha knelt down next to Reija and carefully placed her hand on Reija's womb for a moment and then smiled at us.
I know I must have looked confused because I know Xena did.
"The baby is okay," Sasha told us.
"You sure, Sasha?" Xena asked her.
"Yes," the child nodded.
Somehow she just knows things.
We spent the day resting. Reija's pains finally settled down to a dull ache, and most everyone slept the morning away. We've decided to camp here for a few days and let Reija's body rest. Hercules and Xena want to find a nearby village and get a small wagon for the travel the rest of the way. Reija is protesting, trying to be the strong Amazon she was raised to be, but everyone is outvoting her. The best thing for her and the baby is to take it easy from now on until we're sure she can carry the child the rest of the term.
I give thanks to Apollo and to Xena's skills and the love of family and friends.
"Is she going to be okay?" Gabrielle asked her warrior as they settled the young Amazon mother-to-be into the wagon that Hercules and Iolaus had purchased from a nearby village two days later.
Xena grinned as Reija rolled her eyes in frustration. It had been a difficult argument to get the Amazon to agree to ride in the wagon and take it easy, finally they had insisted on the life of her child and Reija had instantly given in, once she accepted it was best for the baby.
"I think so as long as we don't have to tie her down," she joked and laughed as Reija threw hay at the couple.
Iolaus, driving the wagon, looked back and grinned and clicked to the horses, setting the wagon into motion with Solan sitting beside him.
The rest of the family mounted their horses and began following behind.
"The rest of the journey isn't too hard until we reach the Greek mountains. We'll be out of these mountains and into the valley lands below shortly," Xena commented.
"Back into Roman territory," Gabrielle muttered, her jaw clenching.
"Want to talk about it?" the warrior asked simply.
"You already know about the nightmares," Gabrielle complained.
"No, Sasha says I don't know everything."
"What?" Gabrielle demanded quietly, glancing over at the child riding in front of Ketli.
"She says that there's something about your nightmares you haven't told me and it's slowly draining your strength," Xena explained, glancing out of the corner of her eye to her mate.
The warrior wasn't surprised to see the bard's clenched fists and jaw.
"She tell you what it was?"
"She didn't know, just that it was hurting you, my love."
"Xena..." Gabrielle hesitated; her eyebrows furrowed and face in a frown. "I need some time, I'll catch up."
Before Xena could respond the bard turned her horse and trotted off back the way they had come. Hercules and Iolaus turned with questioning faces and Reija with raised eyebrows. Ketli looked away and Xena had the feeling he had overheard their conversation.
The warrior shrugged off the questioning looks and moved her horse to the front of the wagon on point.
After half a candlemark Xena turned her horse with a curse and began trotting back the way they had come. Iolaus looked over at Hercules and the demi-god just shrugged.
"Will someone tell me what's going on?" Solan finally demanded.
Reija, Hercules and Iolaus all looked at each other, silently debating who was going to try and explain what they didn't understand yet.
Gabrielle wasn't surprised to hear a single horse approaching the small clearing where she had stopped. The bard held her sais in a defensive position until she saw for certain that it was her warrior, her Xena, approaching and then turned back to attacking the tree she was focused on.
The bard watched Xena get off her horse out of the corner of her eye as she buried the sais into the tree and spun on one heel into a kick that snapped a dead branch off the old and dead tree.
As Xena approached Gabrielle felt the anger energy disappear, leaving her suddenly tired. She sank to the ground and leaned her back against the tree. Xena squatted down in front of her bard, blue eyes seeking out green ones, filled with concern and love.
Gabrielle felt tears filling her eyes. "I know why Artemis won't come to me and maybe even Apollo," she whispered, dropping her eyes.
"What is it, little one?"
"I broke my vows as an Amazon and Queen," Gabrielle broke down as Xena held out her arms. The bard scampered into her mate's arms as tears ran down her face.
"What do you mean, Gabrielle?" Xena asked, shifting so her back was against the tree.
"I've killed women, sometimes they were young."
"You have no choice in the spirit realm. Alti had their spirits and they would have killed you and the other Amazons," Xena protested.
"No, not then. I know I didn't have a choice, even when I killed Cyane in the Spirit Realm and maybe not even when I killed Arja. This was different," the bard protested.
Xena frowned, trying to remember when the bard had come into battle with other females and couldn't think of any when they were together. Then Xena realized what the bard was probably talking about. The time when Gabrielle was away from her and didn't have choices in her life, especially over life and death.
"In the Arena?" Xena ventured and felt Gabrielle nod through her tears. "You didn't have a choice, Gabrielle!"
"I didn't protect females in need, I killed them!"
"They would have killed you easily if you hadn't fought back," Xena tried reasoning with her mate.
"I shouldn't have ever killed, Xena!" Gabrielle protested, sitting up, her face angry again. "That's not what I wanted! I should have died rather than take life!"
"No!" Xena grabbed Gabrielle's wrists, forcing the bard to look her in the eyes. "I would have died without you and probably Sasha too! You can't blame yourself for surviving!" the warrior insisted.
"I wasn't meant to be a warrior! I don't believe that was my path!" Gabrielle insisted.
"It might not have been, we don't know that. We know that Ares altered your destiny and he is going to pay for that! We don't know if you never would have killed." Xena could see and feel the pain radiating from her mate. "We know that traveling with me you would have faced that sooner or later. You know that saving people sometimes requires being a warrior and sometimes that means death."
"I might have had a choice in the matter," Gabrielle complained.
"That's the point!" Xena argued. "You didn't have a choice, it was either die or survive by killing. You had less choice than even a soldier in war, Gabrielle. No one can hold that against you."
"Artemis seems too! Wouldn't she have come to me when the Amazons died? What happens when we die?"
"What do you mean, little one?" Xena asked, letting go of her bard's wrists.
"I betrayed my vows, I'm not going to end up in the Elysian Fields with you!"
Once again the bard collapsed into tears in the warrior's arms. Xena felt tears flowing down her face as well as she held her beloved close.
"Gabrielle, I don't believe that! We'll find out what's going on with Artemis when we get to Greece. I don't believe that anything this side or the other can keep us apart. The Gods themselves blessed our joining. We will be together!"
"I don't want to be anywhere without you, even paradise," Gabrielle muttered.
"Nothing and no one is going to keep us apart. We'll figure out what is going on with Ares and Artemis, little one, I promise."
The land now is farmland and rich. The people are friendly but not as welcoming as the Goths and Germans. This area is traveled more and they are more accustomed to strangers coming and going and even troops passing through their small villages and towns.
We ran into another patrol today. A few minor questions and they always send us on our way once they know we are Greek and freeborn. Gods, I still get the shakes every time I see a Roman soldier and Iolaus went very pale as well. How in Hades do I get over this?
One advantage of having those scars across my shoulder from my Amazon tribal marking: the slave brand is no longer visible, the scars destroying the brand.
I must admit that I'm sleeping a little better since I talked with Xena and told her about my having killed women in the Arena. She tries to reassure me that that can't be the reason Artemis won't come to me but I don't know. Xena also thinks the gods are selfish, spoiled brats most of the time. Did Artemis come to me for help only because she needed Xena and me and then abandon me because of my broken vows?
The mountains were so beautiful but harsh. I'm glad to be in the valley for a while. Next it will be our mountains and then home. I'm tired and want to see my family and I know Xena is missing Amphipolis. Who ever would have thought that Xena would want to settle down?
Home will be good for a while. Solan and Reija to make their home and prepare for the baby; see Mom and Lila and see if she has any more kids herself; help Cyrene in the inn and tell stories, I do have some new ones to add now.
Even the bacchae thing has gotten easier, although Xena glares at me good-naturedly when Hercules and Iolaus tease her about her "love bites" after a full moon. I know I blush bright red but can't help it! Who ever thought that something that could be considered a curse could become something that is such an incredible sexual turn on for us? By eating rare meat the week before the moon and animal blood, I'm able to control the bacchae craving most of the time and only had to turn to Xena for more than just the blood every other month.
A life to build with my love, my Xena. *
Gabrielle pulled her horse close to the wagon and looked down at Reija playing in the back with Sasha. The young Amazon woman looked up and attempted a smile.
"Don't worry, Xena's mom is going to love you!" Gabrielle grinned, trying to reassure the young bride.
"Solan says that she didn't know about him until he was almost a teenager, now he's coming back a married man with a child of his own on the way, she might resent me!" Reija said softly.
Gabrielle looked over at the young man riding on a horse, Xena holding his reins.
"She'll love you, Reija," Gabrielle repeated. "Cyrene's had to adapt to a lot of changes over the years. She had given up and turned her back on Xena when Xena became a Warlord, then she trusted and accepted that Xena was trying to change," Gabrielle grinned. "She even accepted this tag-a-long annoying young kid who kept following her daughter and making a nuisance of herself."
"You? You weren't born an Amazon?" Reija asked.
"No, I was born a simple village girl in Greece, on the coast. Xena saved me and the other girls of the village from some slavers and I started following her and kept pestering her until we became friends and I actually started helping her with things."
"How did you become an Amazon?"
"We asked permission to cross Amazon land and the Amazons were attacked. I tried to shield an Amazon Princess with my body after she was hurt and she passed her caste onto me and I became Queen after her sister. Wasn't easy to be accepted though. I wasn't a warrior of any type and didn't want to be," Gabrielle explained as they rode along.
"But you're a warrior now," Reija protested.
"No, I don't think I'll ever get used to that. I was forced to learn to defend myself traveling with Xena and becoming an Amazon. I was very good with a staff and I was determined not to kill."
"I was forced to learn to fight or die at the hands of the Romans," Gabrielle lost her smile. "Solan didn't tell you any of this?"
"He said I should ask you about your past, that some of it might hurt you," Reija answered.
Gabrielle nodded, appreciating the young man's sensitive nature. "It does. I was taken as a slave by the Romans and sold into a gladiator school, I had to learn to fight or die. I survived."
"Oh Goddess Metsola," Reija muttered, even in the North they knew about the gladiator games and the cruelty of the Romans towards their slaves, criminals and gladiators, especially the women.
"I was able to gain my freedom and rejoined Xena, that's why I know how to fight but don't know if I'll ever get over it," Gabrielle explained.
"Do you think the villagers will accept me?" Reija asked in a small voice.
Gabrielle smiled, glad to be back to the original subject. "Yes, they all love Solan and Sasha and have taken to both of them. They'll be delighted to see him happy and with a wife. Xena's already plans on building a small cottage for both of you and the baby when we get back. I heard her and Hercules talking about plans last night over dinner."
Reija began blushing even more and Gabrielle laughed softly. This was something the girl was going to have to become accustomed to, kindness from parental figures, something Reija hadn't gotten from her own mother.
Cyrene was thrilled to see the small band arriving in Amphipolis. She spotted Joxer running to meet them from the blacksmith shop and glanced up as Torris stepped out of the inn behind her.
Cyrene took in the sight of the group carefully, sighing with relief that Xena, Gabrielle, and Solan looked well and Sasha was even bigger. Hercules and Iolaus were as handsome as ever and seemed unharmed and their adopted son looked taller.
Cyrene was very curious about the wagon Iolaus was driving with Solan in the seat, grinning from ear to ear.
Torris grinned and hugged his mom a quick hug and moved inside to prepare dinner.
The older woman smiled, now maybe things could settle down, she thought, saying a quick prayer of thanks to Hecate, Zeus and Hera in seeing her daughter and family home safe.
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