An Awakening - Part 25
by Frau Hunter Ash
(aka Dana Cooper-Kjarr)
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: very little actually - not even a good fight.
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. The sex can get a little graphic, but I hope not crude.
Feedback: always welcome and responded to!
Storyline: Xena and Gabrielle head North for Sasha's training, some time to relax and to see the pregnancy through.
The story can stand on its 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 * An Awakening, Discovery, 2 * Amazon Bonding, Awakening 3 * Healing, 4 * Trial of a Roman, 5 * Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother; 6 * Reunited, 7 * Ides of March, 8 * Children of Gods, 9 * Even with Ares, 10 * Settling with Brutus, 11 * Darkness Awakening, 12 * Amazons North, 13 * Amazon Darkness, 14 * The Wild Hunt, 15 * Bard Scrolls, 16 * A God's Twilight, 17 * Chakram, 18 * Death and Rain, 19 * Beowulf & Grendel, 20 * Nightstalkers, 21 * Blood Darkness, 22 * Aftermath, 23 * Here Comes Trouble, 24 *
We have arrived at the steading of Eddval; I still can't believe the names they give each other up here. The Germans are happy to see us, as always and it is good to see them. They have news that Hercules and Iolaus are due in a couple of moons, before the High summer.
It'll be really good to see them and to have someone from home around when I deliver this child. I'm at six moons along and definitely showing! I feel like I'm attempting to smuggle a melon under my skirt!
Gods, I would have loved to have been with Xena when she was pregnant with Sasha and then when she gave birth. I do give thanks that I'm with her now with mine. My back is killing me though! Xena says it's because I'm small but that being in such wonderful physical shape will help with the delivery.
Although we're glad to be among people who consider us family and would die to protect us, coming here wasn't totally joyful. We spent four moons looking for Kiryk, Solan's son with nothing to show for it.
Sweet Artemis, so much happened at once. I need to try and go over it once again for these scrolls. I know I haven't written about it enough since that horrible time when Callisto came back. I haven't had the heart to write about it but I guess I need to.
Seems like things went from messed up to worse in the matter of a day. After finding out the child I'm carrying wasn't a child of Bacchus, as I had feared, we ran into Meg. She accused me of seducing Joxer and running away with him. How weird is that?
I love Joxer like a brother but never more than that. I know he's loved me for years but I thought he had moved beyond the "head over heels" stage into an easy and comfortable stage between us. When Cyrene told me he had married Meg I was delighted. Yes, it felt strange that he wouldn't be there anymore but it also felt right that he moved on and I know he was more than attracted to Meg.
Several questions came up at once: who was with Joxer that looked and acted enough like me to convince him? Who wanted to break up Joxer and Meg and hurt me and Xena? How could they look like me? Where were they and what did they have planned for Joxer?
When we got to Amphipolous we got the answers. Our family was staked out in the main square of the village like goats staked out to bait wolves. Everyone was there, even Dex, our blacksmith friend, and Joxer.
Xena and I rode into the trap, as someone had planned, to try and free our family. Soldiers attacked us and that wasn't unexpected. Xena and I were holding our own pretty well until we heard that damned familiar scream.
How I hate that name! Somehow she had gotten free of the lava Xena and I sent her into with Valesca. She had taken my shape and pretended to be me to seduce Joxer away from Meg. Callisto fed him his ultimate dream of being with me in every way and promised a long future with "me". Then she tortured and beat him almost to death, all the time posing as me. It was too much for Joxer and his emotional state as well as his body was shattered by the time that bitch chained him to a post in Amphipolis.
Next part of her plan was simple: kill as many of our family members as she could while we watched. Archers sent arrows flying and Xena and I grabbed and shielded as many of the family as we could. I took an arrow in the thigh and Xena took a poisoned arrow in the side but still caught most of the arrows.
Gods, how can I write of this? She saved Kiryk but one of the arrows got past her and hit Solan in the chest. He was dead within moments, before Xena could even cut his chains.
I thought it couldn't get much worse than that. I was wrong.
I worked some of my healing gifts on Xena to fight the poison in her system. I didn't dare risk too much of my own energy because of my own wound and my pregnancy. This is all so new to me, I was still adjusting to the news I was pregnant.
Xena had just broken her fever when Callisto attacked again. This time she brought help in the form of the new God of War for the Greeks and Romans: Mars, son of Ares.
During the fight I was pinned to the bar with my own sais through my shoulders and my back injured. Xena opened her wounds again leaping from upstairs. Cyrene had several cracked ribs and a massive headache. Dex was knocked unconscious and then kicked in the head again. Torris took sword wounds in his ribs and his thigh. Reija was crippled when Callisto intentionally slashed the back of her knee.
The worst of it was when Mars and Callisto took Kiryk and Sasha and disappeared.
I was laid out flat on my back with my wounds and the fear that my child might have been in danger because of the blows to my back. Xena could barely stand upright herself and then Odin showed up.
Odin, along with several Northern gods and some Greek gods were willing to go to war against Mars to get Sasha back. Mars had planned on turning Sasha into a chaotic War Goddess, someone even more deadly and blood thirsty than Xena had been. Sasha would be a goddess with her mother's lust for power and blood. They were willing to stand against that.
Xena agreed to go with Odin while I stayed behind recovering from my wounds. Odin snuck back in the room and healed me. He wanted me to keep Callisto busy during the battle and get Sasha and Kiryk from her while they fought Mars.
Xena told me later that the battle was vicious and bloody. Odin and Xena came up with several ways to thin out Mars' troops and worked up a few surprises.
I went to Mars' space in Mount Olympus. I was told by Hermes that Callisto's plans were to kidnap me while Xena was fighting, she wanted to torture me, rape me and beat me senseless and turn me over to a brutal gladiatorial school again as a Roman slave.
Just the thought of that was enough to almost freeze me with fear. I knew I'd never last as a slave again and Xena would go crazy trying to find me.
I surprised Callisto by showing up on her doorstep. Somehow I managed to talk her into sending Sasha to Odin. I convinced her that the Northern gods wanted Sasha without Xena's permission and it would hurt Xena just as much as leaving her with Mars.
Callisto showed one of the few traces of humanity left to her insanity. She didn't want Sasha to turn into the monster that Xena had been. She didn't want to be responsible for Sasha destroying countless families like hers had been. Callisto didn't want to create another Xena or another Callisto.
I promised myself long ago to be honest in these private scrolls but I find myself having problems keeping that promise.
How can I write about what happened next?
Xena was busy with the fight, Northern gods and Greeks against Greeks and the Northern goddess Hella. It was quite a battle, enough to shake the earth and cause a volcanic eruption on one of the islands and cause several earthquakes throughout the land.
Callisto. My task was half done in getting Sasha away from her. Now I needed to get Kiryk free and keep her busy. Busy enough not to torture me and send me to slavery again. Or busy enough not to kill me out-right.
Odin promised that he would try and save me when the battle turned against Mars but couldn't guarantee anything.
I had to think fast with an insane goddess considering various ways of hurting me. I reacted without thinking and kissed her. Gods, can I write this? I seduced Callisto, my worst enemy other than Ares. An enemy who had been more dangerous than Ares ever thought about being.
She was surprised but enjoyed the idea of sex with me as an ultimate revenge against Xena, thinking she could still torture me later, and corrupt me was a kick for her. Maybe it is part of my inheritance from my father Apollo and that irresistible sexual energy he has that she gave into the feelings and let go of the control.
I lied about my relationship with Xena and convinced Callisto that I've strayed from Xena before and that's why I'm pregnant. She couldn't believe it but finally accepted it when she realized I am, in fact, pregnant.
She also revealed that she and the other gods can't watch me and Xena when we're sexual together. Aphrodite's gifting to us, so Callisto didn't know about my Bacchae side or the Spirit Realm journeys.
Having Callisto kiss and touch me was enough to sicken me, having that woman making love to me was maddening. Somehow I kept my anger from coming out as I touched her and seduced her. It didn't get below the belt-line, thank the gods! I'm not sure I could take that after the Bacchanalia and I'm not sure Xena could either, willing or not.
I was able finally to sink my fangs into her and begin drinking her blood. I willingly called my Bacchae self to the surface in order to drain Callisto to the point of death and change her into a blood hungry Bacchae.
I'm getting sick just remembering this and writing about it. My body wants to throw up, my hand is cramping, my head is aching and the baby is kicking up a storm.
I did get sick after turning her. I couldn't face keeping her blood in my system for long and threw most of it up.
I'm just praying that the blood of an insane chaotic goddess doesn't affect my child. It's bad enough that he or she might inherit my blood cravings, what could he inherit from Callisto's blood? I shudder at that thought!
Then things got confusing again.
Somehow Mars knew something was wrong and showed up. Callisto attacked him immediately. Xena and Zeus showed up and Zeus put his foot down. He declared that Mars couldn't touch Sasha, Xena, me or our families. He sent Callisto to the deepest ends of Tartarus and removed her Bacchae curse.
The thing remaining was where Kiryk was and Callisto wouldn't tell where she had sent him. Zeus couldn't track him because he's totally human and Mars didn't even ask what Callisto had done with him.
Then I had to face Xena with the fact that I seduced Callisto and that she had responded, that the sex hadn't gone far but far enough for me to sink fangs into her neck. Xena says she forgives me and understands but it hasn't been easy.
We went home and had to let our family know that we had lost Kiryk. Sasha was safe with us again but we had no idea where to look for Kiryk. A small little boy zapped somewhere away from his family by an insane goddess.
We didn't mention how I had managed to distract Callisto, thankfully.
Xena and I buried Solan and sent word to Joxer and Meg about Kiryk. Joxer still isn't talking to me. Xena and I then went looking for Kiryk, trying to figure out Callisto's warped mind and way of thinking. We've been everywhere in Greece in the last few moons and no sign of the boy.
Xena and I finally had to put our search on hold while we traveled North with Sasha for her training with the Northern gods.
How much stranger can it get? Sasha, the daughter of a god and demi-god, is about to come of age and the gods say her powers will develop and she'll go insane without training. Our daughter, our Sasha could be dangerous.
So here we are, I'm very pregnant, we still don't know where Kiryk is, Xena is unhappy with turning Sasha over to Odin and Freya and it gets worse.
Something is wrong with my relationship with Xena.
At first I thought it was our grief over Solan's death and worrying as to where Kiryk was. Then worrying about bringing Sasha north and my pregnancy. Now I'm not so sure.
We've made love a few times but something is off.
I think my time with Bacchus and Callisto is coming between us and I'm not sure how to fix that. Maybe I'm just over emotional because of the child, all the women say that's normal. Breaking into tears for no reason doesn't feel normal to me but Svenda, Eddval's new wife, just smiles and holds me and tells me it's normal.
I feel a distance between Xena and me. The last few moons I've managed to get by with only animal blood but the cravings are getting worse each time. I need that connection with Xena again for that damned Bacchae blood in my veins and I need her love for my sanity.
Gabrielle wasn't surprised that it took Xena well past dinner to seek her out. The bard had been feeling down and even more distant from Xena than ever. She knew that Xena was emotionally distant because they were getting close to having to let Sasha go but Gabrielle was still feeling down about it. The bard had slipped out of the large hall of Eddval's and began walking around the area inside the defensive log wall.
She merely nodded at the guards and those roaming around the area in the warm evening night that called to her. Gabrielle kept her hands inside her open cloak because she knew they were shaking.
Xena had barely noticed the bard during dinner; the warrior had been caught up in conversation with Alfhild, a priestess of Freya and Sasha. The discussion had been detailed and intense and normally Gabrielle would have been fascinated with the conversation but tonight she couldn't follow along and she felt disconnected.
It was almost a candle-mark past the last platter being passed around the long table that Xena had apparently looked around and noticed Gabrielle wasn't in the Hall. The bard felt Xena come up behind her and the warrior placed her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders.
"What's up, Little One," the warrior asked softly.
"Can we talk?" Gabrielle asked easily.
"Sure," the warrior answered just as easily but Gabrielle caught a touch of question and doubt in the answer and knew that Xena was probably picking up on her nervousness or tense body.
A few moments later Gabrielle led her warrior to the stable. The Steading of Eddval was large enough to have a stable for the livestock, unlike smaller holdings that usually had a building that was open on one side for summer care. The animals would be taken inside during the snow months for warmth, along with the humans.
The lack of privacy and sharing space with the cows, sheep and horses was something the bard wasn't sure she would ever get used to in the North.
Once inside the stable Xena held back as Gabrielle began to pace, her face troubled and Xena's concerned.
"What is it, Gabrielle," she asked.
"I need you to talk to me and I need you to be honest," Gabrielle said after a moment's hesitation.
"Okay," Xena's voice was cautious and Gabrielle was nervous. The warrior motioned for the bard to sit as she sat down on a hay bale herself. "What is it, Little One?"
"Do you still love me?" the bard asked softly.
Xena was stunned and blinked in surprise. "Of course I do! What's brought this on?"
"Do you believe I love you?" Gabrielle continued.
"Are you sure, Xena?" the bard fought back the tears that threatened to fill her eyes and she struggled to continue the conversation. "You barely touch me, my love."
"We've been a little stressed out," Xena frowned.
"It's more than that, there's a distance between us and I can feel it," Gabrielle responded softly.
Xena started to protest and stopped. Gabrielle wasn't a whining or nagging wife that complained her husband no longer loved her if he forgot to kiss her good morning. She owed her bard careful thought. Xena felt her jaw muscles tightening.
Finally the warrior couldn't take it and jumped to her feet and began pacing herself.
"What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of me sexually?" the bard asked softly.
"What do you mean?" Xena asked with a frown.
"What do you see?"
Xena didn't answer but continued frowning.
"Do you see me with Bacchus? With the others at the Bacchanalia or with Callisto?" Gabrielle suddenly demanded.
Xena looked like she had been hit with a cold fish upside the head and felt like it. She sat back down hard on the hay bale. Again she immediately wanted to deny those images but hesitated as Gabrielle's green eyes watched her closely.
"I don't know," Xena finally admitted. She was surprised when Gabrielle almost seemed relieved by the answer.
"Okay," the bard muttered. "Maybe we can talk through this. I can see Mattita with you in my head too."
Xena was stunned. She knew that Gabrielle's sexual abuse during the Bacchanalia wasn't the bard's fault but it was still hard to deal with. Especially when Alti had shown her a vision of Gabrielle enjoying the sexual arousal. It didn't help imagining Bacchus with the bard either.
Then Callisto! She wasn't sure which she hated more in the universe, Alti or Callisto. Okay, she thought, Alti. She felt hatred plus guilt for Callisto and some of that guilt lessened the hate. Maybe.
That didn't make the thought of Gabrielle being sexual with the insane blonde easier.
It surprised Xena that Gabrielle was having the same problems with the thought of the vampire Mattita feeding on the warrior. Xena knew she shouldn't have been surprised but she was.
Xena continued frowning, deep in thought.
Neither of them had been at fault in any of the incidents but it still was apparently coming between them.
Xena's eyes were bright when she looked back up at her bard.
"Okay, how do we fix it?" she demanded, equally of herself as well as of Gabrielle.
Gabrielle couldn't help but grin. "Typical warrior, if there's a problem, what's the immediate solution?"
Xena smirked back at her mate.
"I don't know," the bard admitted. "I know I love you more than life itself and that I need you."
"Back at you, Gabrielle," Xena said easily. "I know it hasn't been easy being pregnant and coming up here. I know your mom wanted you to stay in Greece."
"I know but my place is with you, always," Gabrielle said softly, taking Xena's hands in her own. "If we're going to lose Sasha for a couple of winters or more, then I belong here with you."
"Won't be easy letting her go," Xena agreed.
Both mates seemed lost in thought for a few moments.
Suddenly, Xena went to her knees in front of Gabrielle, who looked very surprised. The warrior moved slowly and pulled her sword out and laid it at the bard's feet. Next she laid her dagger and then her chakram.
Gabrielle's breath caught in her throat along with the lump from her heart.
How many years before had Xena done the exact same thing in her parents' barn?
"Gabrielle, I love you as I have never loved anyone or anything before," Xena said softly. "I will always love you and pledge my heart and soul to you. I also need you physically and I want that back between us."
Once again, a warrior's pledge to the bard and Gabrielle felt the emotions filling her eyes.
"I swear before all the gods that there is no one but you in my heart and soul and I desire no one but you," Gabrielle answered, a tear escaping her eyes. "I will love you forever, my love."
Xena smiled and picked up the dagger and looked at the bard with her eyebrows rose in question and Gabrielle smiled and nodded.
With quick strokes the warrior slit the palms of their left hands open once more, just like at their Amazon bonding ritual.
Both women closed their eyes as blood and energy began to mix as they clasped hands, drawing their blood bond closer again.
After a few moments Xena got up and grabbed a clean rag from a pile near the tool area and split it in two. She gently wrapped the bard's hand and let Gabrielle wrap hers.
Xena felt the heat beginning all over her body and could almost hear her heart pounding.
Gabrielle, feeling an equal level of arousal, could see the passion in the warrior's eyes as Xena began to reach for her and caught Xena's surprised look when Gabrielle held out her hand and stopped her mate.
"Not yet, my love," she said finally, trying to get her voice back without it cracking. "I want the past images totally gone. I want to take the next few days and drive you insane again. I want to come up behind you and run my hands up the inside of your thighs until I can hear your breathing increase. I want to nibble on your neck at night until you whimper and then go to sleep."
Xena sat back on her heels, her blue eyes intensely watching the bard closely.
"Okay, I get you," she answered and moved closer to Gabrielle. Her sharp eyes saw the flush on Gabrielle's face and caught the increase in the bard's pulse at her neck. She pulled the bard close for a kiss that was tender; soft and yet spoke volumes of what she wanted to do to Gabrielle. She pulled back after a moment and heard the small whimper from her mate.
"Turn about is fair play, Little One," she whispered and stood up before they both forgot about the plan to rekindle things between them. The warrior wasn't sure if things weren't already rekindled just having talked things out.
"How in Tartarus do you do that?" Gabrielle demanded, her breathing quick.
"I have many....."
"Arrrgggghhhh!" Xena laughed and ducked as Gabrielle threw hay at her mate.
For the next two days the Greeks found themselves behaving like lovesick teenagers who could barely keep their hands to themselves. More than once the bard felt the heat rising to her face as Svenda grinned at them both. The bard's plan for rekindling the spark between them was working, working so well that they were almost driven insane with desire for each other.
Then Sasha approached them and said that they needed to go for a ride that day and wouldn't say anything else.
"What do you mean, Sasha?" Xena questioned her rapidly growing daughter.
"We need to take a ride," the child had answered, a slightly puzzled look on her face as well.
"Which direction?" Gabrielle asked. She felt a little more comfortable with Sasha's vagueness than Xena did. Occasionally her own vision-dreams left her with little information and feeling confused.
"Any direction," Sasha answered, still vague and a distant look in her eyes.
"The gods want to talk," Xena deduced with a frown and Gabrielle touched the warrior's arm reassuringly.
It didn't matter that they all three agreed that this was the best thing for Sasha, it still wasn't going to be easy to let the child go this soon in her life. At 11 summers, Xena and Gabrielle both felt it was too soon.
The bard decided they would make the best of the ride and packed a picnic lunch and insisted she was still able to ride a horse over Xena's objections.
"I am not that helpless!" the bard had snapped.
Xena had caught the unconscious movement of Gabrielle's hand over her very large stomach and smiled and pulled the bard to her for a hug.
"No, but you're getting harder to hug," Xena teased and was pleased to see Gabrielle's momentary irritation turn to a blush as she playfully smacked Xena on the arm.
They settled on a spot near the river and Gabrielle and Sasha both tried their best to get Xena to relax and enjoy the lunch that the bard had packed for them but Xena was constantly glancing around impatiently.
Finally Gabrielle threw a piece of bread at her mate.
"Settle down, damnit!" she snapped. "Don't rush it."
Xena grinned and leaned back. "Sorry, guys."
"Expecting Odin to fly in from the sky on Sleipnir with a chorus of Valkyries shouting to the skies?" a voice asked simply, the humor thick.
Xena was on her feet with sword in hand and Gabrielle had sais in both hands. The bard couldn't quite get to her feet as fast as she once did so she had one arm moving Sasha behind her as they looked towards the source of the voice.
A beautiful woman in Viking clothing stepped out from behind a clump of trees and approached the Greeks easily. Xena, frowning, lowered her sword and Gabrielle sheathed her sais with a slight smile.
"Freya!" the bard exclaimed.
Gabrielle couldn't remember a lot about the time she was dead for five days in the North but she had vague memories of the time being made easier by Freya and so held a fondness for the goddess.
Sasha's eyes went wide at the sight of the Goddess. The last time she had seen the Northern Goddess of Love had been right after the battle with Grendel and the child had been tired, stressed and had been grieving over losing Gabrielle along with her mother. Now she got a good look at the most beautiful woman she had ever seen and her eyes kept going back to the massive necklace of amber, gold, silver and jet the goddess wore around her neck.
"Hello, Freya," Xena said simply, her eyes still unhappy.
"Let's sit, shall we?" Freya invited and Sasha's eyes lit up brightly at the sight of two large grey-stripped tabby cats emerging from the trees and following the goddess. They meowed and ran straight to the child; Sasha went to her knees and began petting the exotic animals as they in turn delighted in rubbing up against the child and purring loudly.
Xena's eyes went up at the sight of them and Gabrielle was grinning as well.
"We've heard of cats, especially among rich Romans. It's hard to get them out Egypt," Gabrielle mentioned.
"They are my favorites and you'll discover that Egypt doesn't have a total claim on them. These are bigger and stronger than the cats of Egypt and are native to the forests here. They are just very hard to see and even harder to catch," the goddess explained as Sasha laughed, delighted with her new friends.
Xena, who had seen cats in her travels, agreed that these were bigger. Almost the size of small herding dogs and they looked very strong and agile. The claws that showed as they danced in delight as Sasha petted them were almost the size of some of the other forest creatures.
"What do we talk about, Freya?" Xena asked, inviting the goddess to share their picnic with her hand. Gabrielle handed the goddess a drinking horn of good mead.
"When Sasha will come with me and when she can visit and some of what her training will consist of," Freya said easily.
"Freya, this isn't easy for us," Gabrielle said softly and Freya's face softened even more.
"I know and I understand," Freya responded. "But with her potential it has to be done. None of us can think of any alternatives, the only teacher strong enough to handle her and her training is on a small island off the island of Eire. She's stubborn and probably wouldn't let you visit the child."
Xena's growl was audible to everyone, even Sasha looked up from her new friends for a moment.
"Exactly!" Freya agreed. "Scathach might be an option for warrior training if that's where Sasha's talents lie but not now. It's either someone like Mars or me, Xena."
"I know, I know," the warrior grumbled, "doesn't mean I like it."
"What will Sasha be learning from you, Freya?" Gabrielle asked.
"She already has strong mental abilities, from seeing the future to empathic abilities. Sasha will have prophetic visions and she will have the ability to control people's bodies through her mind. She will be able to stop someone in mid-swing of a sword, or force them to even drop that sword, just by thinking about it."
Xena blinked in surprise and Gabrielle looked as stunned as she felt. The warrior quickly glanced over at her daughter and was pleased that the child wasn't paying attention to them. Sasha was playing with the cats with a twig and squealing with delight as they cats playfully swatted at the moving branch.
Xena and Gabrielle both agreed that might not be the exact knowledge someone should have before developing those abilities. It would be easy to get cocky or even arrogant with such powers. They had both seen something of that in Mars and his father Ares.
"She'll also be a natural at shamanism, like you," Freya continued. "And she's inherited that energy bolt throwing thing from your family."
Gabrielle grinned at that one: Zeus, Ares, and Xena had the ability, why not the child?
"Anything else?" Xena sounded tired and Gabrielle thought she probably was, it was a little overwhelming discovering your child was going to be a god and have awesome powers.
"She'll be able to read strong thoughts from people," Freya finished.
"Gods," Xena muttered.
"You'll teach her how to control these and not abuse them?" Gabrielle asked, her face reflecting her concern.
"As much as anyone can," Freya said simply.
"What will happen to her?" Gabrielle asked.
"She'll also be taught shamanism and when she had her powers pretty much under control she'll be offered the position of Spae-woman for Axel Skull Splitter's area until she's grown," Freya explained.
Xena's frown deepened. "She won't come back to Greece?"
"Are you going back to Greece?" Freya countered and the warrior looked over at her mate and Gabrielle shrugged.
"We haven't talked about it but I think Xena is wanting to settle somewhere and she knows I am. Neither of us care for Rome and its expanding power," Gabrielle said thoughtfully. "No matter where we go trouble finds us."
"Your mate is warrior born and you've learned you have a natural gifting for it as well, it happens," Freya shrugged. "The North might be friendlier to you both and you would see Sasha."
"Why won't she go back to Greece?" Xena asked again.
"You know the changes happening in your homeland, Xena," Freya said softly, watching Sasha laying face down on the grass and giggling as the cats playfully leaped over her and chased the twig in her hand. "How would they treat someone as psychic as she is going to be?"
Xena frowned. She knew that her mother kept her own worship of Hecate quiet from most everyone because of the hostility towards anything to do with Dark Goddesses and Dark Gods. Both Xena and Gabrielle had seen some village women stoned who were thought to be witches because they were psychic and it was getting worse.
"They'd demand that she be an oracle in a temple or kill her," Gabrielle answered, echoing Xena's thoughts.
"Yes, here those with giftings are still respected if the gifts aren't used for darkness," Freya responded.
"What happens when she's considered an adult?" Xena questioned.
"She becomes a Valkyrie, a hero, a wife," Freya shrugged. "The future isn't set in that regard. Most likely all of those."
"When do you take her?" Xena continued frowning.
"Now," the goddess answered softly. "She will be protected, loved and trained."
"When can we see her?" Gabrielle asked and Freya looked pained.
"At least one moon," she said in a low voice.
Xena didn't seem surprised. "Or longer, right? To give her time to adjust and get past the homesickness."
"Yes," Freya looked relieved that Xena understood.
The warrior growled her displeasure.
"Now?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Want me to wait three days and build up the anguish?" Freya asked gently.
Xena jumped to her feet and began pacing under the trees.
Sasha, catching the movement and her mom's mood, turned away from the cats and approached Freya and Gabrielle. She noticed the bard attempting to hold back tears.
"It's now, isn't it?" she asked simply.
"Yes, it'll be easier on everyone if it's sudden," Freya explained.
The child looked confused and with the frown on her face, looked very much like her Mom. Gabrielle held out her arms and Sasha's attempt at being an adult crumbled and she crawled into her mum's arms, attempting not to sniffle.
Gabrielle held the child and fought back her own tears. After a few moments she pulled Sasha back to look into the child's blue eyes.
"You heard what was said and what powers you could develop. Serious stuff, kid," the bard said gently. "You'll need help dealing with that stuff."
Sasha nodded unhappily and Gabrielle could hear Xena pacing and growling.
"You be smart and take advantage of everything that Freya and the others will teach you," Gabrielle continued.
"I will, I'll make you both proud of me!" Sasha declared.
"I know you will, you already have," Gabrielle said, almost choking. "I love you very much, Sasha. We'll be around waiting to see you."
"I love you too, Mum," Sasha whimpered and Gabrielle drew her into a hug again.
"Now, go talk to your mom," Gabrielle said simply and brushed away the tears as Sasha scampered to Xena.
Freya reached out and gently took two fresh tears onto her fingers and Gabrielle's eyes widened as they turned into two perfect pieces of amber. The goddess placed them in Gabrielle's hand with a sad smile.
Xena felt the familiar irritation that came with feeling helpless about anything. She hated that feeling, both of them. Sometimes it felt like she didn't have control over much in her life, especially lately.
She had heard Gabrielle talking with Sasha and heard the child approaching her. The warrior turned and took the child into her arms without a word, as mother and child cried softly. It was more than a few moments before Xena could look down at Sasha.
"You listen to Freya, okay?" she said softly. "She's good people for a god."
"I will," Sasha promised.
"Remember we love you and always will! You were the only thing that kept me going when I lost Gabrielle, this is hard for me."
"Me too, I'm nervous," Sasha admitted.
"You'll be great, Sash," Xena quickly hugged her child again as Freya and the cats walked up behind the child. The goddess placed her hands on Sasha's shoulders and Xena saw the momentary panic in the child's eyes.
"I love you, Sasha," she said softly and looked up into Freya's eyes.
Before Sasha could protest or break down totally, they were gone.
Warm arms enveloped the warrior as her strength faded and her strong front collapsed. Together two mothers cried.
We're both hurting so bad with Sasha gone. We didn't think it would hurt this bad but it does and always in the back of our minds is Kiryk. Where is that little boy? What hell did Callisto send him into? He's so small, younger than Callisto was when her family was killed. What if we can't find him soon, will he still remember us?
Trying to figure out Callisto's twisted mind isn't easy. She would send him somewhere that would hurt Xena as much as possible, but where? As a slave, never to be found among the thousands of slaves in the Empire? To the Arabs as a slave, a fate even worse than a Roman slave? To someone who will raise him as an enemy to Xena?
Gods, it gives me a headache even thinking about it. How do you protect your children?
Xena is one of the greatest warriors the world has seen and yet she couldn't stop Solan from dying. We're both fairly formidable opponents and we couldn't stop Callisto from crippling Reija and hurting Cyrene and Torris. I think about the child I'm going to have and become frightened.
When we learned that we are immortal I had a lot of thinking to do about that one. Part of those thoughts was relief, eventually those who had been affected by Xena's past would grow older and die and maybe we could move past that finally.
Then Callisto gets out of that damned lava. As a god, she'll never die and may haunt us for centuries. And Mars is a god, the new War God and we're not exactly on his good side either. Hades, we haven't even dealt with Anthony yet and his slaughter of my Amazons.
When does it end? Will we continue to make enemies that last for years as we go along? Will we be dealing with conflict and battles the rest of our lives, which could be forever?
What does the future hold for my child? A child of Xena, a demi-god and me, an immortal. We both have powers inherited from our parents who are gods and the child is from both of us, will that mean he or she will also be gifted and maybe immortal? What if he or she isn't? How hard will that be to watch a child grow up into an adult, have children of their own and then watch them die and you don't grow older? We were beginning to feel that with Solan before his death. He had turned into such a fine young man, married with a son of his own.
Xena certainly doesn't look old enough to have had an adult son.
How will our families deal with the immortality? How will the children of Torris and Lila explain Xena and me to their children? With people beginning to turn away from the gods, how will we, the children of gods, be received over time? I remember how hostile Asher, the Hebrew Zealot, was to any god other than his.
Gods, I'm tired all the time and getting grumpy. Xena just smiles and says that it gets worse the closer my time. My feet hurt, my back hurts, I can't walk anymore, I waddle!
The closeness between Xena and me is better. With Sasha leaving the plan to drive each other insane until we couldn't stand it any longer has been put on hold. Xena is either depressed and brooding or angry and brooding. The warriors she's been training have paid for it too and I smile as I write this. I've seen them coming in at the end of the day dragging their swords, exhaustion all over their faces.
Xena's fighting skills are well known up here as well and we're starting to get inquiries from other steadings about Xena training some of their warriors too. Jarl Axel says we always are welcome in his steading. They also want me to train them with daggers, sais and staves after I deliver the child. I know I surprise a lot of them with my fighting skills, being so much smaller than most of them.
It's coming up on my blood craving time and I'm starting to get really irritable. I've been working with rare meat all week, the women of the steading aren't surprised by the request for almost raw meat, seems they expect it out of pregnant women. That helps hide my Bacchae side. In some ways the Northerners are more superstitious than we're accustomed to and they really fear the vampiir, umpir, and werewolves up here. I'm not anxious to announce to everyone that I'm part "vampiir" and drink blood.
I don't know if I can get by on drinking just animal blood. It's hurting worse than usual this time.
Gods, it brings up all kinds of fears I don't want to face.
Is the blood hurting the baby? Seems that trying not to drink would hurt my child worse, I nearly died when I couldn't get blood a couple of times. Will he or she inherit this damned craving? I still feel guilty that I nearly took my own life but just thinking about having a child from Bacchus but I can understand how I got to that point. Xena says I may never get all my memories back from the Bacchanalia Bacchus tortured me with, especially if I did end up with Bacchus sexually. I suppose that's best, I'm not sure I could take those memories. The few that are there are bad enough to deal with.
Xena had a different way of dealing with her grief, anger, irritation and feeling of being helpless. She slashed at things with her sword, practiced fighting drills until she dropped, and worked the warriors she was training into exhaustion.
After several days most of the edge of the pain had worn down, much to the relief of her recruits, and Xena began to take a closer notice of her mate.
Neither one of them had been sleeping well; especially with Gabrielle being uncomfortable but the last few days were worse. Xena had attributed that to the grieving over losing Sasha but her sharp warrior eyes began to take in the bard's shaking hands, darting eyes, and request for rare/raw meat.
For some reason the bard's blood craving coincided with the moon turning full. Xena wasn't surprised by this, knowing that most rituals and spells were planned around the movement of the sun, the earth and especially the moon. She had almost lost Gabrielle to Bacchus the first time during the Harvest Full moon of the Fall season. Since the craving had surfaced, it became unbearable on full moons and it was getting close to a full moon.
With the recent distance between them and all the stress, the warrior decided this full moon shouldn't be torture for the bard and began planning.
"Come on, Little One," a voice whispered in the bard's ear and she moaned, pulling the blanket over her head.
Xena chuckled in Gabrielle's ear and a warm hand moved slowly under the bard's sleeping tunic, lightly playing over Gabrielle's large womb lovingly and then moving up along the bard's ribs.
The warrior felt Gabrielle's breath catch for a moment and her body shift slightly closer to Xena and the warrior grinned and began nuzzling Gabrielle's neck from behind.
"Hmmmm," the bard muttered softly.
Xena moved her hand slowly down Gabrielle's body, softly over her waist, now resembling something of its former shape with the bard on her side, and over hips that had expanded nicely to accept the child. The warrior always marveled at Gabrielle's body and how it felt to touch her mate. Xena frowned to herself for a moment, how could they have let something come between them, she wondered. What had happened to both of them wasn't their fault. Then again, Xena reflected, they were both human.
Gabrielle's body shifted slightly again and Xena knew the bard was somewhat more awake and her body was beginning to respond to the touch of the warrior.
As Xena's hand and fingers slipped between her legs from behind, Gabrielle twisted enough to capture Xena's lips with her own.
"Oh gods, you do know how to wake me up," the bard muttered as Xena's head dropped to the bard's neck once more. She gasped as Xena began stroking her, bringing her even more awake. Then the warrior bit down on the bard's neck and entered her at the same time and Gabrielle's body jerked and she clutched at the sleeping fur under her. She bit into her pillow as the familiar sensations rocked her body and Xena held onto her tightly.
After a few moments, she turned over and grinned at her mate's intense eyes.
"Good morning to you too," Gabrielle muttered and pulled Xena to her lips.
"After breakfast I have a surprise," Xena announced, her hand gently touching the bard's belly, feeling the baby kicking or punching lightly.
"Really? What kind of surprise?" the bard's voice took on the childish curiosity that Xena adored about her mate. Even after all the years together, Gabrielle still had an air of naiveté around her that Xena didn't think would ever go away. Even with everything they had been through, the bard could still only see the good in things first and always looked for peaceful solutions.
Xena grinned. "Not telling," she taunted and laughed at the bard's narrowing eyes. "Just pack some overnight clothes."
"We're going to another Steading?"
"Nope, and that's all I'm telling you!" Xena laughed and managed to crawl out from under the covers and jump over the bard on the sleeping bench. That was a feat that brought a smile to the bard's face again - jumping over her large belly wasn't easy, thank you.
After breakfast and helping out with morning chores around the steading Xena brought out a small wagon and grinned down at the bard. With exaggerated chivalry, the warrior leaped down and held out her hand for the bard to help Gabrielle onto the seat. The bard looked in the back and wasn't surprised to see several packs already there, including her travel pack.
She smiled and accepted Xena's help up into the seat. The bard blushed slightly as Svenda walked around the corner of the Hall and saw the Greeks. The Norse woman grinned brightly.
"Enjoy, you two!" she called and Gabrielle waved back as Xena climbed into the seat and took the reins.
"What about your warriors?" Gabrielle questioned as Xena started the small cart towards the main gate.
"They'll get along fine without me for a couple of days," Xena smiled.
The weather was good and Gabrielle fell into a comfortable silence as they rode along a rough wagon trail. At times she clung to both the seat and her warrior in order to stay on the wagon and Xena merely shrugged, as if apologizing for the rough road.
After a short ride further up into the woods and away from the local dwellings, they came to a small clearing and Gabrielle smiled at the sight of a small cabin at the edge of one of the tree lines.
"The hunting cabin where Sasha was born," she guessed.
"Yes," Xena smiled a slightly sad smile. "This is where Sasha was born and Eddval's wife Sasha died. I thought we could use a few days to ourselves."
Gabrielle smiled gratefully. "I'd like that, very much."
"I'm going to get us settled in and then I'm going to see if I can hunt some small game for dinner, sound good?" Xena asked easily.
Gabrielle wasn't fooled, she knew Xena was offering her animal blood and that her mate had figured out how close Gabrielle was to the most intense nights of the blood craving.
"That'd be good, if you brought some vegetables I can get those started later this afternoon," Gabrielle said, just as easily.
"Good," Xena agreed.
Both of them had acknowledged the blood craving coming upon the bard without talking about it. Gabrielle knew Xena must have noticed that she hadn't turned to the warrior for blood for several moons and wondered if Xena was going to offer it this time.
With long time travel experience, it didn't take long to settle into the cabin for the few days Xena had set aside for her and Gabrielle. It did take longer than usual for Gabrielle because she was beginning to tire easily and her back was aching after the wagon ride.
Gabrielle was grateful when Xena took most of the duties on herself and the warrior just grinned.
"I remember what it was like," she merely said.
"Wish I had been there," Gabrielle said wistfully.
"Me too, my love," Xena agreed. It had been one of the worst times of Xena's life. They didn't know where Gabrielle was for almost two Spring seasons. Taken as a slave by rogue Roman soldiers, those almost two years had been spent as a Gladiator and the bard had missed most of Xena's pregnancy and Sasha's birth.
The two travelers quickly settled into the cabin; Gabrielle had a fire going in the hearth and Xena was shaking out the bedding from the bed. The bard had been surprised to find that the bed was bigger than the usual sleeping benches the Vikings were fond of and Xena had explained that the cabin was used by other couples over the years when they wanted privacy. Gabrielle had grinned and then blushed as she thought about sharing that bed with Xena with no one else around.
The bard was pleased, she could feel the sexual spark between her and her mate again and was thankful.
Xena has surprised me with some quiet time together away from the Steading. She knows it's time for my blood craving and it's time for us to reconnect sexually. We've been playful with each other until we're beside ourselves with desire.
My wonderful wife has brought me to the same cabin where Sasha was born. I know she feels a bit of guilt around it because of the death of Sasha, Eddval's wife but I think it'll be good for us to be alone.
I'm as big as a stable now and it feels strange. Our son is really kicking up a storm lately, it's almost like he doesn't want me to get any sleep before he or she is born.
Xena has that old gentleness and light in her eyes when she looks at me and touches me. I'm glad I found the courage to talk to her about the problems between us sexually. I feel like we're back on the right track and not as scattered.
By evening Xena had already been hunting and returned while Gabrielle had set about cooking the vegetables and then preparing the two rabbits Xena had caught.
Neither of them said anything when Xena handed Gabrielle a familiar wine skin. They both knew what it continued and the bard noticed the warrior turn away to finish skinning the rabbits.
Even after years of dealing with her Bacchae side, Gabrielle still hated drinking the animal blood in front of Xena and felt guilty about having to do it. The bard had promised to work on accepting this part of herself but that was easier said than done, she found. She still thought of Bacchus and his blood running through her veins as evil and was having a hard time getting past it. Gabrielle felt her eyes change from their usual lovely green to a Bacchae yellow and her fangs instantly extended to full length, even the lower ones.
The bard stifled a whimper at how bad it was this moon, she normally didn't have two sets of fangs, upper and lower but when the craving was really unbearable she did, like now.
Even after finishing off the entire contents of the flask she could still feel the craving and spent several moments willing her fangs back into place. Gabrielle wasn't sure if her eyes had gone back to their normal color or not and knew she needed more. She needed her mate. Gabrielle needed human blood and the heightened sexual energy that went along with Bacchae feeding.
When Xena looked up from the rabbits to hand them over to Gabrielle for cooking, they both caught the warrior's hesitation and Gabrielle knew that her eyes were still yellow and Xena knew she was hurting.
"Gabrielle," Xena began but the bard merely shook her head and took the rabbits from her mate.
"After dinner, love," she said softly.
The dinner was good and reminded the bard of their many travels. Gabrielle was quiet but it was a comfortable silence between the two women.
Xena had cleaned up the plates quickly and settled in next to the fire. She pulled Gabrielle between her legs and the bard leaned back into Xena's arms with a contented sigh.
Xena felt Gabrielle relaxing and smiled to herself that the trip to the cabin was probably a very good idea. She had noticed that the bard hadn't come to her in the last several moons for help with the blood craving. Xena had thought it was because they were both grieving over losing Solan and trying to find Kiryck. Now she realized it was the distance their recent adventures had thrust between them.
Gabrielle had been right, there had been the images of the bard being tortured and then sexually abused in the warrior's head. Then, there were overwhelming images of Gabrielle sexual with Callisto. Xena scolded herself over and over again that Gabrielle hadn't been at fault in any of it but it didn't seem to help. It also didn't help that Callisto was so damned attractive and sensual in a warped sort of way. Xena knew that Gabrielle would never be attracted to Bacchus, the warrior wasn't sure of anyone who would outside a Bacchanalian drunken frenzy, but Callisto was a different matter. Callisto was desirable, the warrior had to admit and the images of Gabrielle with Callisto had thrown a cold bucket of water on any arousal between them for several moons.
The warrior cursed the images Gabrielle had been dealing with as well. Images of Xena being fed on and probably sexually abused by Matitta, their Amazon enemy turned vampire by Alti. Xena counted herself lucky in most regards with that mess: Gabrielle had saved her and the Northern Amazon village and she hadn't been turned into a full vampire as Alti and Matitta had planned.
She was also fortunate that she didn't remember much about the times Matitta had fed on her blood. Both Gabrielle and Xena knew what a vampire feeding could be like and how sexual it could get.
On the negative side, Xena knew that Gabrielle remembered a lot about the torture and sexual stimulation she had been forced to go through at the hands of Bacchus. It was not going to be easy to get totally around all those images and memories.
"I've got a question for you, love of my life," Xena said somewhat playfully.
"What, my love?" Gabrielle responded softly, pulling Xena's hand to her lips and beginning to kiss each finger and then the palm.
A flicker of her tongue across Xena's palm caused the warrior to flinch and catch her breath. It took the warrior a moment to continue the conversation.
"Well, I'm certainly up for a go around with those lovely fangs of yours, are you?"
Xena resisted laughing as she the blush spread over Gabrielle's body and the bard playfully hit her mate on the leg.
"Imp!" the bard laughed. "You know I am, why?"
"Well, given the current size of your womb, I'm not sure about positions."
Gabrielle knew that Xena was grinning from ear to ear at the opportunity to tease the bard.
"We've been driving each other crazy for several days and now you're worried about minor details?" the bard teased back.
"Nope, just curious," Xena laughed and began unlacing the bard's tunic.
"Well, how about I get the fangs out of the way?" Gabrielle suggested and ran her tongue over the inside of Xena's wrist, right at the sensitive nerve endings. The bard didn't miss the shudder which ran through her mate's body.
Xena felt her body twitch and shudder and was once again amazed at how the Bacchae magic could instantly turn her body into a mass of quivering need at just a touch. The warrior moaned and Gabrielle lightly nipped at Xena's wrists without sinking her fangs into the skin yet.
Xena could hear Gabrielle's breath become rapid as well and could feel the energy radiating from her mate. She pushed the bard out of her arms enough to pull Gabrielle's tunic off and then her own. Both mates groaned with the sensation of skin-to-skin as the bard settled back into Xena's arms.
Gabrielle whimpered as Xena's free hand found how aroused the bard already was when Xena began massaging Gabrielle's breast and nipples. One advantage of impending motherhood, she thought, sensitive and enlarged breasts that begged to be touched.
Xena also thought so and began nibbling on Gabrielle's neck at the same time.
Gabrielle moaned and sank her fangs into Xena's wrist.
To Xena it felt like a bolt of lightning shot through her body and she cried out. The warrior sank her own teeth into Gabrielle's neck feeling the bard's body jerk in reaction.
"Gods, don't stop, Little One," Xena muttered, clinging to her mate.
Gabrielle had no intention of stopping as her own body connected with Xena's and began to tremble as well.
Xena had no idea how long Gabrielle fed from her except that she was light-headed and wasn't sure how many times she had gone over that sexual edge as a Bacchae feeding could always bring out of her.
Xena managed to get her breath back as Gabrielle gently stroked the warrior's skin, the bard's eyes now her beautiful green shade again.
The warrior was lying on the fur next to the fire in Gabrielle's arms, the bard gently stroking the hair from Xena's forehead. Xena began running her hands over Gabrielle's body, lightly touching and sending shivers through the bard's body. She noticed the bard's breath begin to quicken and Gabrielle's pulse increase.
The warrior gently encouraged the bard over onto her side and curled up behind her mate, skin to skin and felt as well as heard Gabrielle moan with desire. Xena wrapped one arm under Gabrielle for easier access to her mate's lovely breasts and the other began dancing over the bard's hip and through Gabrielle's reddish blonde curls.
"Oh gods, Xena!" the bard gasped.
"Yes, my love," the warrior whispered in her mate's ears and moved her hand between Gabrielle's legs from behind.
"How do you know about these positions?" the bard managed to tease and then gasped when Xena entered her. Gabrielle's hands clenched at the fur under her. She could still taste Xena's blood on her lips and the feeling of Xena's breasts against her back was exquisite.
"Unfortunately you weren't there when I was pregnant with Sasha, but I was with Borias when I was pregnant with Solan," Xena whispered, beginning to set a rhythm with her mate. She wasn't sure if Gabrielle was paying attention to her answer or not. "We got pretty inventive there close to the end before he left me."
"Gods, you are incredible!" the bard moaned.
"Of course, Borias was incredible in the sleeping furs but nowhere near as talented as you are, Little One," Xena continued, pleased when Gabrielle began making little noises as her desire heightened.
"No one touches me like you do, Gabrielle," the warrior said softly. "I don't mean the fangs, either."
"Shut up, woman!" Gabrielle snapped, crying out and then biting her lip. "Xena!"
The warrior thrust a little deeper and harder and ran her thumb over the bard's clit, sending Gabrielle over the sexual edge she had been hovering at with a scream of Xena's name again. Xena felt the bard's muscles contracting and trying to hold on and thrust Xena out at the same time.
After a few moments she wrapped her arms around her mate.
Xena's eyebrows shot up in question as Gabrielle gasped and then the warrior grinned. The bard pulled Xena's hand onto her stomach and both grinned as the baby inside kicked or punched once again.
"I wish I had felt that with you," the bard said a little wistfully.
"Me too," Xena answered simply.
"I love you, Xena."
"I love you more than anything, Gabrielle."
"Let me show you how much, woman," the bard said softly in a husky voice and moved down the warrior's body. Xena turned on her side so Gabrielle could be more comfortable and then the warrior's thoughts became jumbled as the bard's talented fingers, lips and tongue began dancing all over her body, especially around her sex.
"Oh gods, Little One!" she heard herself crying out. "It's been so long, please!"
Gabrielle was more than willing to please her mate and added more fingers, depth and strength to her strokes. The bard was taking her time; she wanted this time to be everything they had been missing.
Xena moaned in frustration, her hands clenching into fists. Her body was trembling uncontrollably and she heard small whimpers escaping her throat. There had been a time when it was a struggle to get the warrior to vocalize her arousal and desire and only Gabrielle had ever gotten that out of her. Now it was natural to make those noises whenever Gabrielle touched her like this.
"Gabrielle!" Xena cried out and grabbed the fur under them.
"Begging, my love?" Gabrielle teased.
The bard moaned with her own passion and gladly returned her attention to pleasing the warrior. Once again the thought flew through the bard's mind that she could never get enough of her mate. She whimpered as she felt her own edge approaching and pulled Xena's clit lightly with her teeth and held on tightly to Xena's hips as the warrior screamed and bucked. Gabrielle refused to release her hold on her mate until Xena was a trembling mass in her arms and almost whimpering with the intensity of the orgasms that the bard pulled from her.
It was a quarter of a candle-mark before Xena really took in her surroundings and pulled a blanket over the bard and herself. Gabrielle was asleep in the warrior's arms and Xena's whole body felt like jelly.
"I love you, Gabrielle," she whispered softly. "I'm sorry about losing the connection with you."
The bard mumbled in her sleep and snuggled closer to her mate.
Xena grinned and held her arms open as she heard Gabrielle laugh with delight as Sasha yelled enthusiastically as she ran to hug her mom and then her mum.
It had been two moons since they had seen the teenager and Xena had been more than ready to see her daughter. Freya had shown up at the steading hidden under a cloak hood and had approached the warrior while she worked with the blacksmith. Xena had practically sprinted in order to find Gabrielle when Freya offered them the chance to see Sasha.
Xena stood back and looked her daughter over with a mother's critical eye and reluctantly thought to herself that Sasha looked good.
Sasha, her black hair now pulled back, looked healthy and happy. Xena felt a pang of pain at how much her daughter had grown. It felt like it had happened overnight and much too soon, especially for the warrior who had missed most of her son's growth.
Gabrielle, grateful to Freya for the magical transportation rather than having to ride a horse or wagon, continued to grin and sat down heavily into a chair. At eight moons into her pregnancy, the bard was more than anxious to get off her feet.
Sasha laughed and placed a goblet of apple cider in front of her Mum and a goblet of excellent ale on the table in front of a chair for her Mom.
The young girl was dressed in typical Viking style and the small hall they had been transported to was magnificent with silk tapestries, shields and beautiful paintings decorating the walls. A warm and welcoming fire filled a hearth of granite stones and gold was everywhere, it tinted the paintings, it was woven into the tapestries and the goblets were of gold. The table was beautifully carved with mythical beasts and scenes of Viking legends and gods. It, too, was inlaid with gold.
"Freya's Hall?" the bard asked as Xena sat down at the table as well.
"One room of it," Sasha asked.
"How's it going?" Xena asked, trying not to choke up.
"Freya says I'm doing well," the young girl answered easily. "I'm learning beyond the basics of trance that I learned from you and the Amazons. I'm also learning how to balance feelings, emotions and power in the middle of stress."
"Not easy to do," Xena commented.
"No, neither are the voices that's beginning to bother me," Sasha admitted.
"Voices?" Gabrielle questioned with a frown.
"Thoughts from others, I can pick up strong thoughts now. I'm learning how to block that, how to listen and how to tell them apart," Sasha explained as she sat across from her parents.
"Whoa," Gabrielle muttered.
Sasha smiled a rueful smile. "Yeah, it's not easy stuff."
Gabrielle and Xena both thought once again how much older Sasha seemed than her 12 summers.
"I miss you both," Sasha also admitted, her eyes beginning to mist over.
Xena resisted the urge to grab her daughter in a massive hug again, understanding that Sasha was struggling to be an "adult" in front of her moms right then.
"We miss you too, kid," Xena said simply and Sasha finally broke down a little and jumped up from the table into her mom's arms again. After a moment the young teenager sat back down as they both dried their eyes.
"How do you like Gabrielle's expanding waist-line?" Xena teased with a grin.
"Yeah yeah yeah," the bard muttered. "Just you wait, warrior."
Sasha joined in their grins. "The child is a boy, you know."
"What else do you see or know, Sash?" Gabrielle asked.
Sasha's eyes clouded over and became unfocused.
"You'll name him after a friend but one day he'll be called Robin. He'll be a good man and will revere the forest and the land," she said softly.
After a moment she blinked and shook her head.
"Sorry, that's it," she muttered.
"That's fine, Sash," Gabrielle grinned. "I'm not sure we should know the future of our families and children."
Xena, remembering being tormented by the vision of Solan with an arrow through his chest months before the actual event, agreed and nodded. She also caught a flash in her daughter's eyes and quickly glanced at her mate, she found Gabrielle looking down at her stomach, hands on her body protectively. The warrior knew the bard hadn't seen the concern rush through Sasha's eyes and face.
The next two candle-marks were spent in general talk, discussion of Sasha's training, the happenings around the Steading, and the message they had received that Hercules, Iolaus and Ketli would be delayed for another two moons.
After a while, Sasha's smile turned sad and she began to glance around.
"Time to go?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes, I'm sorry," the girl answered.
None of them were surprised when Freya appeared.
Gabrielle managed to hug Sasha without too much trouble with her current condition and watched with a sad smile as the young teen turned to hug her other mother.
Xena held her daughter tight, reluctant to let her go again.
"What is it?" she whispered.
"Can't tell, it's not clear. Danger of some kind," Sasha whispered back.
"What else is new?" Xena complained.
"Be close for the birth," the teen answered and then was out of her Mom's arms and dashed out of the room.
Xena was still frowning when Freya worked her magic and the Greeks found themselves back outside Axel's Hall.
Gods, I am tired of this! My back is killing me, I can't sleep, I can't get comfortable and everyone just smiles and tells me it's normal to feel like this. I want to scream in frustration.
I keep reminding myself that the pain is nothing like when I was poisoned on Caesar's orders at my wedding but that's not helping. That was so long ago and this is now. Now hurts!
I wish Sasha was here with us, I wish Hercules, Iolaus and Ketli were here. I wish this child was here already!
I still have another moon to go before our son is due.
Xena is adapting to not having Sasha around but it still hurts her. I see her eyes become pained when she watches the young girls listening to the older women as they work at their spinning. Watching them checking out the young men over dinner.
I miss Sasha too. I know the training is needed and Xena and I certainly couldn't handle everything that Sasha needs but it doesn't help.
I'm so tired and the pains are annoying. I've been having them off and on for a while - again I'm told that it's normal. I want to scream at the next woman that tells me that!
Xena watched Gabrielle as the bard worked a drop spindle, spinning raw wool. Her mate looked tired, uncomfortable and irritable. The warrior's blue eyes could tell that Gabrielle wasn't paying attention to the tales being woven by the women as they wove the wool into thread. Normally, the bard would be engrossed in the tales but not today and Xena could tell.
She walked up with a smile for her mate and Gabrielle smiled a tired smile back. The bard started to stand up but decided against it and Xena resisted grinning at how heavy Gabrielle's stomach now looked. With the bard's small frame the pregnancy seemed even more pronounced.
"Stay put," the warrior ordered and knelt down beside her mate.
"What's up?" Gabrielle asked.
"I'm going out with the hunters this morning. We should be back by tomorrow night, you going to be okay?" Xena asked, her face concerned. Even though it was still another moon before their son was due, the warrior wanted to stay close. Sasha's warning had her a little spooked.
"I'll be fine," the bard's voice was a little sharp but then her face softened. "We'll both be okay."
Xena smiled, remembering how irritable she was in the last couple of rounds of her pregnancy.
"Don't kill anyone before I get back?" she suggested and Gabrielle smiled back.
"I'll try not to," the bard promised.
Xena hugged Gabrielle as best she could, considering the bard's protruding stomach, and stood up.
The warrior frowned, still feeling uneasy.
"Go, I'll be fine!" Gabrielle grinned and then winched, her hands going to her belly.
"Pains?" Xena knelt down quickly by her bard.
"Nothing new," the bard said reassuringly.
"Okay, you sure you don't want me to stay?" the warrior questioned.
"No, I'm fine, love," Gabrielle said gently. "What can you do here? Watch me be grumpy?"
"I love you, Gabrielle," Xena said softly, kissing the top of her mate's head.
"I love you too, Xena," Gabrielle answered. "Now go."
Gabrielle watched Xena walk to the end of the hall to the doors with her own concerned face. She also felt unease with Xena leaving, even for a night but it seemed silly. Probably one of those emotional up and downs that everyone told her to expect with being pregnant.
It was just past the sun's high point of the sky when shouts came to the wall of the steading and passed along the guards inside and then to everyone.
Herkervar, Ivar the One Hand and Ketli Axe Hand, known to Xena and Gabrielle as Hercules, Iolaus and Ketli, were on the trail and heading their way.
Gabrielle looked up from peeling carrots and grinned. She wanted to jump up and rush out to see them at the gate but decided against it. Her back was still hurting and she hadn't seen her feet in forever.
The bard's pain was forgotten as the three travelers entered the hall among the clamor afforded visitors and homecoming family. Axel was laughing heartily, Svenda was offering a huge drinking horn as a welcome. The Greeks were well liked and loved among the steading and everyone wanted to greet them with hugs, laughter and drink.
Gabrielle waited, finally standing when they got closer to her end of the Hall. Her smile broke into laughter at the sight of their stunned faces as they took in her condition. Obviously Cyrene hadn't told their best friends about her condition when they had passed through Greece. Gabrielle knew very well where Xena got her wicked sense of humor and wished her mate was there at that moment to meet the males.
The bard had her own moment of surprise as she took in the tall Viking next to Hercules and Iolaus. Process of elimination told her this could only be Ketli and she could see the child he had once been in his face and eyes but standing before her was a young man. A very tall, handsome young man who reminded her of Beowulf.
Hercules shook his head in amazement at her pregnant condition as Iolaus tried to figure out how to hug her with his one arm and her very swollen belly.
The rest of the Vikings began pulling back to let them greet each other and catch up.
"Gabrielle, your family forgot to tell us something," Hercules laughed and confirmed the bard's suspicion.
"I can tell by your faces," she joined in his laughter and hugged him once Iolaus released her. "You forgot to send word that you were bringing a huge Viking along with you."
Ketli Axe Hand blushed beneath his smile and hugged her.
"You are beautiful, Gabrielle," he said in perfect Greek.
"And you've grown, Ketli Axe Hand," she countered and then winced, her hand immediately going to her stomach.
Instantly, all three males were attentive and concerned.
"Gabrielle?" Iolaus questioned.
"What is it?" Hercules asked and Ketli reached out to steady her.
"Just some pains, they told me to expect that," she said, trying to reassure them all. "I need to sit down."
"When are you due?" Iolaus asked as they all moved towards the chair the bard had vacated when they had entered the hall.
"Next moon," she responded, gritting her teeth through a sudden sharp pain.
"Are you early?" Hercules demanded.
"No, just uncomfortable, irritable and just want it over."
"You sound just like my wife before she delivered," Hercules laughed as the bard sat down.
She smiled at her adopted family and all three men thought to themselves how tired she looked. Wonderful with impending motherhood but tired.
"Where's Xena?" Ketli asked.
"Out with hunters for the night," the bard responded and accepted a drinking horn of cool water from one of the women as everyone began to settle back into their routine.
Another wince and Hercules looked more concerned.
"You sure you don't want to lay down for a bit?" he suggested.
Gabrielle started to snap that she was fine and held her tongue. She knew her friend and Xena's half brother was just concerned and the suggestion was a good one.
"Might be a good idea," she agreed and then squealed in surprise when the Greek demi-god reached down and swept the bard into his arms. "Hercules!"
He laughed and turned towards the benches lining the walls. "Quiet you! Which one is yours and Xena's?"
She laughed and pointed to the sleeping area she shared with Xena and found that one of the best men at her wedding was strong but also gentle as he carried her across the hall and placed her on the sleeping furs.
He further surprised her by gentle removing her short leather shoes and began massaging the bard's feet.
"Oh gods, that is wonderful!" she exclaimed, laying back onto the furs.
"I remember how much my wife used to complain how much her feet hurt at the end of her pregnancies," he explained.
She glanced over and saw Iolaus and Ketli talking with Axel near the hearth and looked back at Hercules.
"Do you miss them?" she asked softly.
"Very much so. I loved them very much," he answered, moving his hands up to rub her lower legs as well. "I love Iolaus deeply and believe that he's my true mate but I loved them very much."
"Ketli is huge!" she commented and was delighted with the pleased look on the adopted father's face.
"He's turned into quite a young man. We decided we should stay up here in the North for awhile until he decides what he wants to do with his life," the demi-god explained.
"He's well past a manhood ceremony, what does he want to do?"
"He's not really sure," he continued. "He's very gifted with sailing. That's one reason we wanted to come back up here. We're hoping he go out on the raiding next summer after spending the winter here and adjusting to Viking life again."
"What do you want for him?" Gabrielle asked as he sat down on the bench next to her, pulling one of her legs over his and continued rubbing her foot.
"I don't know," he admitted. "He was meant to be a Viking and we don't want to take his heritage from him. I'm not keen on the thought of him on a raiding ship but that's the life here."
"Xena and I are thinking of staying here for awhile too," Gabrielle commented. "Did Cyrene tell you about Sasha?"
"Yes, she and Torris filled us in on what's happened since we last saw you, including Solan's death and the kidnapping of Kiryk," he informed her. "She did not tell us about your pregnancy though!"
Gabrielle grinned. "I guess they wanted me to see the look on your faces."
He grinned back at her. "Good one," he agreed.
"How much did they tell you about Alti and Bacchus?" Gabrielle forced herself to ask.
Hercules lost his smile as Gabrielle's face tightened.
"Just that you both went through Hades fighting those two," he hedged and then sighed. "Cyrene told Iolaus and me that you were tortured."
"I was physically tortured and raped," she said softly.
"Gods, not again," he muttered, laying his hand against her cheek. Then the fear hit his eyes and he was surprised when Gabrielle nodded in understanding.
"That's just what I thought when I found I was pregnant, drove me right to a vial of poison," She continued. "Xena and some of the Gods stopped me. The Gods finally explained that Bacchus wasn't the father but that the Forest Spirits of the Siberian north had worked magic. The child is from Xena and me."
"Thank the gods!" he said softly.
"I agree," the bard smiled.
"I'll fill Iolaus and Ketli in that you and Xena are fine and we don't have to kill some guy somewhere," the demi-god grinned and was pleased when Gabrielle began blushing. "Now get some rest."
Gabrielle tried to keep from crying, she was glad the guys were there and especially grateful for their love, understanding and kindness.
He merely smiled and wiped one of the tears away.
"My wife used to do that too," he said softly and turned to join Iolaus and their adopted son.
Gabrielle felt a cold chill run over her body at the sight of Roman soldiers trotting with their javelins and shields at the ready.
The bard quickly took in a group of people, mostly men, standing under an awning. It felt warm and dusty and the air was stifling. The Romans were heading right for the group.
Gabrielle realized suddenly that the man at the head of the group, apparently conducting a meeting, a speech or teaching was Eli. The Hebrew mystic that had come seeking Xena's help in stopping the War God Kal from getting a magical chakram.
"No!" Gabrielle screamed as the Romans drew closer, some of the men on the outer edge of the group starting to turn at the sound of the rhythmic sound of pounding feet.
No one seemed to be able to see or hear Gabrielle, including Eli.
One of the men turning at the sound, she noted, was Asher, Eli's zealot brother.
"No!" she screamed again as the fanatic drew a sword along with several of the other men as they caught sight of the Roman soldiers.
The bard wanted to turn away but couldn't as the two groups met. Half of the men and few women gathered under the shade began to scatter, and Gabrielle kept shouting at Eli and Asher to join them but they didn't hear her.
"Asher! No! Come on!" Eli shouted at his brother.
"Go, get away, we'll hold them!" Asher shouted.
One of the men grabbed Eli's arm and began pulling him away as Asher met several soldiers, sword against javelins and shields.
Gabrielle blinked, trying to understand that the scene had abruptly changed.
She was now standing outside the dry city along a road. There were lots of people along the road, all waiting for something. No one talked loudly and no one seemed to want to move or leave.
Then she saw them. Roman soldiers surrounding several prisoners. The bard glanced in the other direction and saw more soldiers on top of a small hill, also waiting.
Gabrielle felt her heart stop. She knew what was waiting for those prisoners, she had been on the receiving end of Roman "justice" once and had died for it.
A quick twist of her head back to look at the prisoners confirmed what she already knew, Asher was among them. He was about to be nailed to a cross.
Gabrielle screamed and no one heard.
Gabrielle woke up with Svenda shaking her and talking to her gently.
"Its okay, Gabrielle," she kept saying. "Only a nightmare."
The bard blinked and nodded that she was finally awake and then cried out in pain, grabbing at her stomach again.
"Sweet Freya!" Svenda exclaimed loudly, causing the women to stop at their work and glance over. "Her water has broken!"
The hall became a flurry of activity at once.
Hercules, Iolaus and the other men moved back out of the way as the women rushed in to take over the situation.
Within moments screens had been brought from somewhere and established some privacy for the bard and the women helping. Word spread throughout the steading that the bard was giving birth and it was early. The men continued on with their few duties around the steading but stayed close to the main hall.
Axel, Hercules, Iolaus and Ketli tried to settle in next to the hearth and wait. Fingers and feet drummed nervously as they listened to the sounds behind the screens.
"How far apart are the pains?" a voice asked.
"How long have you been having pain?" another asked.
Moans were recognized as Gabrielle's voice.
Hercules, having been through births with his family before, tried to calm his nerves and wait patiently.
Xena gasped as a sudden pain hit her womb and then yelped as the earth was suddenly no longer under her feet.
A moment later and Xena screamed in frustration and pain as she hit the bottom of a cave opening, the first pain having distracted her from noticing where her feet were stepping. She looked around, barely able to see anything in the darkness; the only light was coming from above, from where she had fallen into what was obviously a cave. She was at the bottom of a cave and the entrance was like a well shaft.
The warrior tried to scamper out of the way but only managed to cover her head as logs and deadfall began raining down on her. The downed tree limbs and trees that had hidden the entrance to the cave were now falling on top of her. She screamed as a large log hit her legs and pinned her to the cave floor.
Xena tried to pull her legs out and growled in frustration, as the log wouldn't move. The lightning shooting from her legs hurt as they were probably broken and other parts of her body were hurting from the fall as well.
Then she remembered the pain that had distracted her.
"Gabrielle!" she screamed.
She began yelling for the other hunters.
"How long has it been?" Iolaus finally asked.
It was long past the nightly meal and most everyone had gone to their own sleeping furs.
"Eight candle marks," Axel commented, looking to the time candle kept on the mantle of the hearth.
"How long can this go on?" Ketli complained.
"A lot longer than this," Hercules responded.
A weak cry caused the young Viking to jump again.
"I sent a rider out to find the hunters," Axel informed the Greeks.
"Good, thank you," Hercules commented.
"I hope they find them soon," Iolaus muttered.
"Me too," Hercules said softly as another tired scream sounded from behind the screens.
Hercules snapped his head up and then moaned as the pain of a very stiff neck hit him. A quick glance around told him that it was just before dawn and the steading was starting to come to life.
He stood up and stretched, he could still hear movement behind the screens and moans of pain.
The Greek rushed forward as Svenda came out from behind the screens.
"How is she?" he asked.
"A difficult birth," she answered, looking even more tired than he felt. At least he had gotten a little bit of sleep, even if it was in a chair at the long table.
Iolaus and Ketli were still asleep, leaning over the same table.
"She's exhausted and the child won't come," Svenda complained.
"Hercules!" a voice unexpectedly filled his head. "Uncle Hercules!"
"Sasha?" he asked softly and wasn't surprised when Svenda looked at him, her face confused.
"Grab a horse," the voice ordered. "Xena is in trouble and only you can help. If Xena doesn't get back here we'll lose Mum!"
Hercules looked down at Svenda. "Freya and Sasha are going to guide me to Xena."
"Axel!" she shouted across the Hall. "Have the fastest horse we have ready!"
"Yes, my love!" he shouted back and dashed out of the Hall.
Hercules shook Iolaus awake.
"I'm going after Xena!" he explained while Iolaus was still trying to wake up.
"Okay," the Greek muttered.
It wasn't long before he was riding fast in the direction the voice, Sasha, told him to.
"Sasha," he spoke as the horse sped along the rough trail.
"I'm with you," Sasha's voiced responded.
"Where is Xena?" he asked.
"At the bottom of a cave, the hunters are having trouble getting her out," Sasha informed him. "Her legs are trapped under a huge fallen tree."
"She needs my strength," he commented.
"Yes, and Gabrielle needs Xena," Sasha confirmed.
"Why? How can she help where the other women can't? They have shamans, healers and the women have assisted at births before."
"The boy will be healthy but Gabrielle will have problems, they won't be able to stop the bleeding and she will die," Sasha answered.
"The pressure points," Hercules commented.
"Yes, only Xena knows enough to save Gabrielle," Sasha said.
Hercules urged the horse to move faster. He had seen women bleed to death in childbirth before.
Iolaus paced restlessly along the table as the sounds became more frantic behind the screen.
"Has the child finally turned?" a voice asked.
"Yes, thank the gods! Frigga, help us!" another voice responded and Iolaus added his own small prayer to the Greek gods.
"Herkervar!" Vikker shouted as he saw Hercules come into sight. "Ysla is trapped below!"
Hercules bounded off of the horse and over to the area where Vikker had pointed and looked down. He could see how Ysla/Xena had missed the deadfall; you had to be right on top of it to even see it now.
The Greek could see Xena at the bottom of the cave with several Vikings surrounding her, some with torches. A climbing rope had been dropped down to the floor.
Xena looked to be barely conscious and he could see a small pool of blood seeping out from under her legs into the torchlight.
"Herkervar! Thorryke shouted up, taking in the sight of Hercules.
"Tie the rope around the tree and have the horses pull it up," he called down.
"The tree is at an odd angle, it will rip her legs off," Thorryke shouted back. "And we can't get enough leverage down here."
"Alright, I'm coming down!" he shouted back.
"Hercules!" Xena blinked, spotted her half-brother and shouted. "Hurry! Gabrielle is in trouble!"
The Greek merely nodded and dropped into the dark hole, not bothering with the climbing rope.
He ignored the surprised looks on the faces of the Vikings as he stood up from the crouch he had landed in. Any other man would have broken both ankles.
The Greek demi-god knelt beside Xena and quickly looked her over.
"Just get this damned thing off of me!" she snapped, sweat dripping from her brow.
"Do my best," he promised.
The demi-god stood and took a position at one end of the tree. After several deep breaths he squatted slightly and grabbed the tree firmly.
"Get ready to pull her out," he instructed.
"You can't lift that!" Thorryke protested. "You'll kill yourself!"
"If I need to!" Hercules said and began to lift.
The Vikings and even Xena was amazed at the effort it took the Greek known for his strength. The muscles throughout his body stood out, veins pulsing, sweat pouring off his body as he struggled. His normally tanned skin became flush with the effort and everyone was convinced he was going to fail.
With a stubborn shout he finally heaved the tree up to knee level.
Thorryk quickly pulled the wounded Xena out from under the tree and Hercules dropped the tree and fell back against the cave wall. The men quickly looked over the warrior's legs.
"Both are broken, she can't ride," one announced.
"She can ride," Hercules said in a firm voice. He lifted the warrior up and moved her around until Xena was clinging to his neck from behind. "Hang on, Sis," he instructed.
"You got it!" she responded.
The trip up the rope and out of the cave was longer than it took both of them to get down and both were stretched to the end of their strength by the time Hercules reached the top. Vikker helped Xena up off Hercules' back and onto the ground.
Xena was breathing heavily and biting her lip in pain. They could all see the twist in one leg and a large gash in the other.
"She can't ride!" Vikker protested as the other Vikings began climbing the rope back up to the upper world.
"She has too or Gabrielle is dead," Hercules informed them.
"I knew she was in trouble," Xena muttered.
Vikker threw his hands up in frustration and went to a nearby dead tree and began breaking off branches for splints.
Once the rest of the hunters were above ground and the warrior's legs had been splinted, Hercules lifted her up onto the horse and grabbed another one for himself.
"Can you stay in the saddle or do you want me to ride behind you?" he asked.
"I'll ride, we have to travel fast!" Xena answered and turned her horse towards the Steading.
"Let's go then!" he urged.
"How did you know?" Xena asked as they began riding, trying to concentrate past the incredible pain.
"Sasha called to me and led me to you," he answered and smiled at her raised eyebrows.
"I knew she was in trouble but I got caught in that damned cave," she responded.
"She's been in labor since mid-point between high sun and sunset," he told her.
"She was still in labor when you left?" she demanded.
"Yes, Sasha says that the baby will be healthy but they won't be able to stop the bleeding," he explained.
"Damn!" Xena swore, urging her horse to move faster. She remembered the last of Alti's visions: Gabrielle sweating and screaming in pain.
Gabrielle screamed again. Someone wiped her forehead with a cool cloth and soothing voices encouraged her to relax between the pains. The bard was exhausted, she wasn't sure how long it had been going on but it felt like forever. She wanted to scream out of frustration but her voice was long gone. Gabrielle had no idea where she was finding the energy and the voice to scream with the pain.
"Xena," she whispered.
"Brie!" someone insisted that she pay attention and she wanted to strangle them.
"What!?" she snapped, gripping the piece of wood someone had thrust into her hands.
"The baby is almost here, push as hard as you can," Svenda instructed.
"What do you think I've " the end of her angry words were cut short by another scream.
Gabrielle wasn't sure she had ever felt anything like this before. Not even when she was poisoned by Cows' Bane, this was different and painful.
"The head!" someone said loudly and then Gabrielle screamed again.
Suddenly it was over and the bard collapsed into someone's arms behind her. Excited voices surrounded her and the gentle hands continued to wipe her forehead. After a few moments the woman behind her was raising the bard up slightly and Svenda was talking to her.
Gabrielle managed to open her eyes at the sound of the small cries.
"You have a son, Brie," Svenda was handing her a small bundle and Gabrielle let the tears of joy stream down her face as she took her son into her arms. "He is beautiful and healthy."
"Thank the gods," the bard said softly.
"Svenda," one of the women at the other end of the bed called Axel's wife away but Gabrielle barely noticed, she was entranced at the sight of the small creature in her arms.
"I wish Xena was here," she said softly to her son. He was crying but not screaming, almost seeming to listen to Gabrielle's voice. Like a typical new mother, Gabrielle checked that all fingers and toes were there and the limbs seemed intact and worked correctly. He had a shock of blonde hair that was full and thick.
The bard knew that she needed to feed him but she felt so tired. It was becoming impossible to even hold him. Gabrielle began to struggle against darkness trying to overcome her.
"Gabrielle!" Svenda yelled. "Stay awake! Stay with us!"
"Asher, his name is Asher," Gabrielle muttered, struggling to keep her eyes open and failing.
"How do we stop the bleeding?" a voice drifted to her but it seemed so far away.
Half way back to the Steading and that same darkness was crowding Xena as well. She yelped as a strong arm wrapped around her ribs and held her upright.
"Quiet," Hercules ordered and gently pulled her into his arms onto his horse. She growled as they began moving quickly again, this time Hercules holding her close.
"Goddamn legs!" she muttered.
"Your healing abilities will take care of them," he commented. "If you weren't mostly a goddess you would have lost both of those legs."
"Or died, I know that," she growled. "Just get me to Gabrielle."
"As fast as I can," he promised.
The guards saw them coming and Hercules was grateful that the gates were open for him and Xena. He took the horse right up to the doors of the hall and he slid off the horse with the warrior in his arms, landing heavily on the ground.
Fortunately the doors to the Hall were already standing open in the heat of the summer and the Greeks rushed in.
"Xena, Herc!" Iolaus called as they entered. "Thank the gods!"
The large Greek demi-god moved swiftly down the hall to the screens. Without waiting for someone to anticipate his moves, Hercules kicked one of the screens aside.
"Gabrielle," Xena whispered.
The bard was unconscious and Svenda and other women were working frantically trying to stop the bleeding from Gabrielle's womb with sea sponges and moss. The bard was deathly pale and her breath was rapid and shallow. The experienced warriors could both recognize the effects of blood loss.
Hercules sat Xena down on the bench bed next to her mate. Both of them tried to ignore the large amount of blood already soaked into the birthing blankets under the bard.
"Can you help?" Svenda demanded.
Xena heard a baby crying near but her attention was focused on her mate. She quickly gauged the amount of bleeding from what healer training she had acquired over the years and hit several points on Gabrielle's body.
She watched Svenda watching Gabrielle and after a few moments the Headwoman and healer nodded, sighing with relief.
"How long can you hold those on her?" the Headwoman questioned.
"Not long, I'll have to release them in a few moments, let the blood flow for a bit and then hit them again," Xena answered. "She won't bleed to death now but it'll take time to stop the bleeding this way. She's still going to lose some more blood."
"Raforta, keep the sponges and moss rotated," Svenda ordered one of the women. "Guorior, get bandages and fresh water for Ylsa's wounds and something to splint those legs."
The next few candle-marks were spent taking care of the Greek women. Xena had been right, it had taken time to stop the bleeding by using the pressure points but the bleeding had finally stopped.
Svenda ordered that the screens be kept up for the night while both women slept after the bedding was changed. Gabrielle was still unconscious and the Headwoman was worried she might not survive such a massive blood loss but Xena thought that the bard's god healing abilities would save her.
Hercules, Iolaus and Ketli peeked around one of the screens and smiled at the sight of Gabrielle, still groggy but awake, being held in Xena's arms, the bard's new son feeding at her breast.
"Thank the gods," Hercules muttered and Gabrielle managed to smile at him.
"Thank you, Herc," she whispered and Xena nodded gratefully.
"He's handsome," Ketli said softly. "His naming?"
"Asher, his name is Asher," Gabrielle smiled.
"All of you! Out!" Svenda said loudly and rushed the men away.
"Asher?" Xena questioned as Gabrielle shifted their son to the other breast. The warrior caught the happy expression leaving the bard's face.
"I had one of those vision dreams, Xena," Gabrielle started to explain. "Eli and Asher were somewhere in Palestine or Judea, I saw a Roman unit attack them and Asher was captured."
"Little One," Xena whispered. "We knew it was likely to happen with his fanaticism."
"I know, I know, I just didn't expect to see it," the bard complained. "I saw him being led to a cross, Xena."
Xena felt her jaw muscles tighten. She remembered how she felt watching Gabrielle being led to a Roman cross. The warrior had gone berserk and nearly ripped her hands off from her manacles.
"What about Eli?"
"I don't know, I just saw Asher at the end," her mate answered.
"Asher may not have been my favorite person in the word but I agree, he was loyal, brave, and a good man overall," the warrior responded.
"We'll see Eli again; I have a strong feeling on it."
After a few moments of both of them watching young Asher drifting off to sleep in his mother's arms, Gabrielle glanced up into Xena's eyes.
"What happened with your legs?"
"I felt a very sharp pain in my abdomen and missed stepping into a deadfall that happened to be over a very deep cave opening. Damned thing was almost like a mineshaft. The logs, fallen trees, and brush followed me down. One of the trees fell on my legs and trapped me."
"Pain?" the bard questioned.
"Yeah, I knew when you went into labor," Xena grinned. "The others couldn't get the thing off my legs until Hercules showed up."
"How did Hercules know where you were?"
"He says that he heard Sasha's voice telling him where to go," Xena smiled sadly.
"Sasha? Using her psychic powers?" Gabrielle tried to keep her voice down but there was a tone of surprise there and Xena heard it.
"Apparently, I'm just glad she and Freya were looking out for us," it was difficult to admit gratitude to a goddess and Gabrielle knew it. "Get some rest, my love. My legs will heal in a few days, you'll regain your strength and we have a son to raise and a daughter to visit."
"Okay," Gabrielle agreed sleepily.
Nearby, Hercules curled up with Iolaus in their sleeping furs, both muttering similar comments and sighing with relief that things finally seemed to have gone right for their favorite Greek couple and relatives.
Asher has made his way into the world a little early. I was in labor for almost a full circle of candle-marks. They tell me that I almost died from bleeding, fortunately I don't remember a lot of it. What I do know is that Xena saved my life once again.
I look over our lives and sit back in amazement at how rough it's been. At the same time I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's. Not as long as I'm with Xena. How many times have we died? How many times have we come close to dying? How much pain have we lived through?
On the other side of the coin: where would I have ever found a love like Xena and I have? So many good times as well. I love being with her so much and I see sides of her that no one would believe, maybe not even Cyrene.
Asher is sleeping now, I probably have half a candle-mark before the next round of feeding. I wish even more now that I had been there for the first part of Sasha's life. I have more than enough help with all the women of the steading and Xena but I'm still tired from losing so much blood.
Why does my life seem to revolve around blood? I need to drink blood every moon, now I nearly die from losing it giving birth to our son.
Asher, named after a man that thought Xena and I are condemned by his god to a horrible eternity. Because of our relationship and my need for blood condemns us in his eyes. At the same time I know we made a connection and we got him to think about his stubbornness. He understood the life of a reluctant slave.
Xena calls him brave and loyal, especially to his religion. I guess that's true. I do hope that we tamed some of that fanatical behavior of his though. At least the vision showed me that he and Eli were together.
I'm not sure why I insisted on naming our son Asher. The last time we saw Asher he tried to kill me with his sword because he caught me feeding from Xena's wrist after the fight with the War God Kal. The Hebrews have very strong views and actual laws about blood and I broke the main one. My relationship with Xena is also a stoning offense in their culture.
Why name my son after him? Maybe to honor Eli, a tolerant and peace loving mystic and teacher. I have the feeling that Eli is still alive and that we'll see him again. I truly pray we do, I liked Eli and his message. He reminds me of what I wanted for the world so many years ago, the difference is that he's working to make it happen while I fell from that path of peace. Xena and Eli both try to convince me that it wasn't my fault and probably not my path but it's difficult. I never wanted to kill. Before I truly knew what it was to kill and be in battle I thought I wanted to be like Xena. Then I realized I couldn't kill. Unfortunately that changed as well when I was thrown into a damned arena with a sword and shield and told to fight or die.
Xena keeps reminding me I did what so many thousands of others have done; I did whatever was necessary to survive. I learned to kill and I learned very well. Well enough to win my freedom from the Arena in Rome from Caesar himself.
Maybe Asher is a reminder of what I wanted for my life and for the world. No more senseless killing. Eli's brother ended up just where we knew he would, on a Roman cross as a criminal because he continued to follow his path of armed rebellion against Rome. I hope that he and Eli stayed close these last few years and that Eli's teaching gave Asher comfort. From the vision it appeared that Eli was being a teacher and Asher was listening or protecting him. Maybe the fanatic calmed down a bit.
Did Eli have something of the same effect that I had on Xena in helping her turn from a path of violence? I hope so, for Eli's sake. Both brothers loved each other very much and I hate to think that religion came between them.
We talked with Freya about maybe staying up here; I think I'd like that. It's such a hard decision though, Mom is getting older and we're not. Xena and I haven't talked about it but it was a bit of a shock seeing Ketli as a grown man and how much older Iolaus looks. A reality smack on the head.
Hercules is like Xena and me, immortal and it appears that we don't age. Iolaus is totally human and does and it's beginning to show.
I think it's beginning to hit Xena and me about our families. We're not going to get older but our family and friends are and eventually they're going to die. The only way we're going to die is if we're killed. How in Hades am I supposed to watch Lila grow old while I stay the same age? What kind of life is that? We'll go through eternity watching our families and friends grow old and die? Or do we move constantly, leaving our friends before they figure out we're not aging? Probably.
Given that Xena and I are both immortal and Asher is a child from both of us, does that mean he's going to be immortal as well? Will he have gifts like Sasha?
Gods, I'm tired and I think Asher is beginning to stir.
Xena grinned as she watched Sasha playing with Freya's cats in the same meadow they had been in before.
The Greek warrior and Northern Goddess leaned against a large oak tree and relished the coolness of the shade it offered. The sat in silence but Xena reflected that it was a comfortable quiet as Sasha giggled and romped with the huge cats.
After half a candle-mark Freya turned to the warrior.
"She is a remarkable child," she commented and smiled as Xena blushed with pride.
"That she is," Xena agreed. "How is her training going?"
"Very well. She does have a major stubborn streak that gets in the way sometimes," Freya grinned. "She must have gotten it from her father."
Xena's eyes narrowed in mock anger and then she grinned.
"Thank you for letting me see her," Xena said softly.
"I'm glad to see you and to give her a break," Freya smiled as the child gave up playing with the cats and threw herself on the grass at her mom's feet.
Both the goddess and Greek found the child's grin contagious.
"How's it going, kid?" Xena asked.
"Okay, I miss you and Mum but it's okay."
"Gabrielle misses you too," Xena smiled.
"Wish she could have come along," Sasha said wistfully.
"She's still tired from the birth and the complications," Xena explained again. Sasha had almost pouted when Xena had arrived in the meadow without the bard.
"She's okay, though," Sasha demanded.
"Yes, she'll be fine and Asher is doing great," Xena answered, hugging the child. "He's big, bigger than you were when you were born. He's got thick blonde hair and the greenest eyes."
"Excellent!" Sasha clapped in delight. "She named him Asher? She knows that Asher is dead, then?"
"You saw it? She saw it in a dream," Xena asked.
"Asher is dead. The Romans thought that Eli was getting too popular and attacked him while he was teaching. Asher tried to protect him and they were both captured," Sasha explained.
"What happened to them? Gabrielle thought Asher was going to a cross," Xena asked.
"Asher was crucified. They didn't want to execute Eli publicly, they were afraid of making him more of a martyr than his brother," Sasha continued explaining, her eyes slightly unfocused as she remembered her vision. "They sent Eli to the galleys."
"Oh gods," Xena muttered.
The galleys, Roman war ships. Powered by sail when the wind was right, powered by slaves when the wind wasn't right. Slaves chained to oars or below lower decks in darkness. An endless existence of brutality and pulling an oar, even worse than what Gabrielle had been through in the gladiator school.
Life expectancy wasn't long in the galleys.
"How do we find him?" Xena questioned and Sasha blinked, losing her concentration.
"Not for a long time, Mom," Sasha responded sadly.
Xena frowned. "Gabrielle has the feeling that we'd see him again."
"We will, but not for a long time," Sasha answered.
The warrior continued to frown.
"How are Hercules, Iolaus and Ketli?" Sasha asked bringing the smile back to Xena's face.
"Doing well, Ketli is grown and quite handsome. They are all extremely proud to be uncles," the warrior commented.
"You are all thinking of staying in the North," Freya joined the conversation and Xena nodded.
"Yes, none of us have talked about it much but I think Gabrielle wants to settle down, especially with Asher here," Xena agreed.
"So are Hercules and Iolaus," Freya smiled. "They want Ketli to choose his own path and give him the opportunity to settle with his Viking background."
"That would be good," Xena commented.
"Why not all of you settle down for a while?" Freya asked. "I know with your talent for getting into trouble that it might not last long but you might be able to grab a few years."
"You're encouraging," Xena complained with a smile.
She knew the goddess was right though. No matter how hard they tried, she and Gabrielle couldn't seem to take any time off. Everyone around them complained that they never seemed to slow down and sometimes Xena agreed that it felt like it.
Part of that was making up for her past, another part had been dealing with Ares.
Now that Ares was gone and Zeus had ordered Mars to stay out of their lives, Xena wondered if that part was now closed. There was always a pissed off Kal but he seemed content to stay in his native Arabic lands.
As for her past, as the world got older around them, the warrior figured that maybe her past would become just that, the past and so stay there. There would come a day when she and Gabrielle would have to change identities or pretend to be their own daughters or something.
Freya and Sasha watched the thoughts running over Xena's face expectantly. The warrior was unaware that she was echoing Gabrielle's earlier thoughts and those of Freya and Sasha.
Hercules had gone through a very long life without changing but the warrior knew the world was changing and belief in the gods was waning. There might even come a time when the Greek gods would fall out of favor and worship, just as the gods of the Assyrians, Persians and others had and just what was happening to the Egyptian gods.
Xena didn't think that they could continue on without meeting those changes. The warrior and Gabrielle mostly kept quiet about being the children of gods because most people wouldn't understand and be afraid or jealous. Others wouldn't believe and still others would want the opportunity to try and kill them to gain a reputation.
Telling someone you meet that you're immortal and not going to die was not an easy thing and difficult to form a friendship around.
Xena looked up at the Northern Goddess of Love and her own child and grinned, slightly embarrassed at having been lost in her thoughts.
"It won't end, will it?" she asked in a slightly tired voice.
"You are a born warrior, Xena," Freya responded as Sasha leaned into her Mom's arms, much like Gabrielle usually did. "Your fate will always come back to that, just as Gabrielle will be drawn to her writing and teaching. She'll also attract trouble, it does seem to follow you both."
"I'll admit I'm tired," Xena commented. "We've planned to stay here for a couple of winters while Sasha is going through the training and Asher's first couple of birthdays."
"I love you, Mom," Sasha said suddenly and hugged her mom tightly, causing the warrior to grin and hug her back. "I want you to stay up here."
"I do to, it's just that your grandma's going to need me and so does Reija," Xena said, wiping a tear away.
"Your brother's wife is taking over the inn more and more and Reija wishes to return to the Amazons now that no one can find Kiryk and she can't go looking herself," Freya informed the Greek.
Xena frowned, thinking about what Freya had just said. "Can you find Kiryk?"
The goddess lost her gentle smile and shook her head sadly. "No, I'm sorry. That strand of Fate is clouded and lost to the future."
Xena's eyes filled with tears, remembering Kiryk, holding him, changing him, feeding him, playing with him, loving him.
"How do I find him?" she asked.
"I don't know, honestly," Freya admitted. "Spend some time up here, take some time for you and Gabrielle to heal and raise Asher."
"I think so," Xena agreed.
Hercules grinned as Xena rode back through the gates and glanced over at the large tree next to the door of the main hall. She caught the smile on Gabrielle's face as the bard saw her mate.
He put down the iron he was working on with the blacksmith and walked over towards the bard as Xena rode up.
It was easy to see that both agreed that the bard looked better than she had in a moon.
"Hey, my love," Xena said easily and dropped down to the grass beside her mate.
"Hey," Gabrielle smiled and handed Asher over to the warrior and her smile got wider as Xena took the small infant.
Hercules joined them. "How's Sasha?" he asked.
"Doing good but upset with me because I didn't take Gabrielle and Asher with me this time," Xena grinned.
"Next time, I really want her to see Asher," Gabrielle promised.
"I made a stop on the way back," Xena said as Hercules sat down, wiping his brow off from the hard work of the blacksmith shop. "Freya dropped me off somewhere."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed slightly, Xena was being vague and her blue eyes were sparkling brightly with amusement. "Where and what have you been up to?"
"Jarl Axel's steading," Xena continued with her vague answers, she loved teasing her bard and making Gabrielle pull things out of her.
"And?" the bard demanded, not sure who she wanted to playfully whack; Xena for her mystery or Hercules for his smirking.
"Well, Herc and Ioluas are wanting to stay up here for at least a couple of winters and I know you're wanting to settle down for awhile, especially with Asher being so small and then there's Sasha's training," Xena continued.
"Jarl Axel has given us a good plot of land near here, part of Eddval's holding," Xena smiled at the bard's raised eyebrows. "I took a look at it on the way back. A good size small hall on the edge of a clearing, with a small river nearby. A good patch of land for farming and the meadow is perfect for a little cattle and sheep."
"You're asking us to settle down in our own place?" Gabrielle grinned.
"I thought maybe you, me, Herc and Iolaus could have a go at this settling down thing and raising Asher. I know Ketli is going out with the next raiding party and will be gone until Fall," Xena responded.
Hercules was grinning widely. "I think Iolaus would like that a lot and I know I would."
"So would I," Gabrielle agreed.
Xena joined their grins, looking very pleased as she held her new son.
"You said there's already a building on it?" Hercules asked.
"Two, actually," Xena continued. "A good sized one room hall and a stable with vegetable bins already built in. Wouldn't take much to turn the hall into a home, with private rooms."
"I'd like that!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"Let's talk to Iolaus and Eddval," Hercules suggested.
"Maybe we can get some peace?" Gabrielle asked.
"I hope so, my love," Xena said softly. "I hope so."
Gods, will we actually have a chance to settle down for a while? I truly hope so. I miss our home in Greece, it seems almost like we never really got a chance to make it a home. We had a couple of good seasons there and then everything went crazy again.
Is this going to be a down-side of being immortal? Going through life always facing a conflict? Xena and I will always be young and a challenge, no growing old gracefully or retiring. Even if we disappear and re-emerge somewhere else where they have forgotten Xena and Gabrielle, just our skills and youth will make us a target to some.
Then there's the fact that our relationship will make us a target in some places. What happens when we try and find Eli somewhere in the Roman Empire? We try to stay clear of Arabic and Hebrew lands as much as possible because of their laws and hatred of our kind of relationship. Even the fact that we carry weapons is a stoning offense in some places.
I've already written about how they feel about blood drinkers, not that I go around advertising that fact. Even the Vikings here don't know about that little part of me. So far we've managed to keep that private and I'm grateful for that. I still remember the looks on the faces of the Northern Amazons when they realized I'm part Bacchae, part vampire. Gods, that hurt so badly. Xena says they'll adapt and learn to trust me again - Otere does and she was even there when I was a full Bacchae in the Spirit Realm and killed Queen Arja. Yakut says that she understands but she was also a victim of the vampiir, the vampires, when we got to the village last time. It hasn't been the same between us. They fed on her like someone bleeding a cow or sheep, her own Amazon sisters who had been turned into vampires.
I think she's still having problems dealing with the fact that I NEED blood to survive as well once a month. She rationalizes it that I don't kill, I don't injure anyone and I don't attack them, Xena and I use it as part of our connection. Knowing what it's like to be fed on though and does put a wall up between us.
It'll be nice to not be on the move for a while. Asher is so small and helpless. He's got a great set of lungs on him, though. I'm smiling as I look over and watch him cooing softly in his bedding. I see a pained look come over Xena's face occasionally when she watches or holds him. I think it's his blonde hair and that he's male. I think he reminds of her Solan and how much we've lost when he was killed. Also how much Xena lost when she gave him up to be raised by the Centaurs. Solan wasn't even three candle-marks old when she gave him up.
I know that hurts her to this day. Being able to see Sasha a little more frequently than she did with Solan is helping with this partial loss in our lives. I miss having the kid around but we know it's best. How can two humans, even if we are immortal, raise a child that's destined to become a goddess? I know Xena would prefer to raise Sasha ourselves but we're already out of our range with her inherited skills.
Hades, we don't even know how to control our own. I don't know if I can call those bolts of light again. I think I was about to succeed when we fought Callisto and I don't know if Xena can throw lightning bolts like her father outside of the Spirit Realm.
I know I'm fairly empathic and can pick up on things, especially now that I'm older. Xena's a natural fighter, like her brother Ares. There are so many unanswered questions about our lives and our future.
I know, the only way to find the answers is to seek them out. I'm just hoping to take some time off for once.
If the gods are kind: no more poisoned grain, no more of Xena's past coming up to haunt us, no more monsters, no more Alti, no more Callisto, no more Bacchus, and let Velaska stay in the lava, and let our family stay healthy.
I ask for a few turns of the Wheel of the Year, please.
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