by Dani Sheldon
Disclaimer, warnings, etc.: see part 1
Xena removed her chakram, placing it on the seat of a chair next to her sword and various knives, and began stripping off her uncomfortable, sodden garments.
Gabrielle had already shed her damp clothes and had changed into a loose fitting wool robe provided by Adwen. She sat peering out from their second story window at the glistening inner courtyard, well lit by lanterns. Adwen’s house was large and constructed in a traditional design, living areas on the ground floor, bedrooms on the second and a small courtyard at the center.
“I didn’t picture his home being this…” Gabrielle trailed off, searching for the word.
“Nice?” Xena offered.
“I guess that’s it, ” the Bard replied after a moment. “I visualized something much more rustic.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him you thought he was a bumpkin.”
Gabrielle turned to give the warrior a disapproving look and caught a brief glimpse of her naked form before Xena slipped on her robe. The Bard’s expression altered into an appreciative smile, one that did not go unnoticed.
“Let’s not get distracted,” the warrior said, smiling.
“Easy for you to say,“ Gabrielle told her with a frustrated sigh.
“Not as easy as you think,” Xena assured her. “It’s time for the second item on your wish list. I hope you don’t mind that we’re going out of order…”
“Not at all,” the Bard answered emphatically. “I need to warm up.”
“Then let’s go,” Xena replied, slipping on some household sandals and heading towards the door. She slipped a dagger in the folds of the robe with her customary precaution.
Gabrielle looked at her ruefully, following her onto the balcony and down the stone stairs. A covered walkway on the lower level protected them from the rain as they strolled along in the general direction they’d been given earlier.
Gabrielle and Xena exchanged looks, Xena’s brow raised to its maximum, as a young male servant intercepted them, gesturing for the two to follow. They trailed after him, through a door with an ornately carved leaping dolphin at the center, and stepped onto the cobalt and white tile floor, surrounding the round, sunken bath inside. The lean, black haired man gestured toward several towels neatly folded on a bench against the wall, then at a large bar of soap next to several small vials, and last at the sponges beside the steaming water. He withdrew, never having spoken a word, and shut the door.
“Chatty fellow,” Xena said, staring wide eyed at the opulent bath.
Gabrielle, seemingly transfixed, did not reply.
“Are we waiting for something?” the warrior asked.
“I don’t think so,” Gabrielle replied, trying to recover her surprise at the grandeur of the surroundings.
“Then the last one in, is a one-legged Spartan,” Xena exclaimed with delight.
The Bard grinned, racing to beat her companion into the water.
“You know what I was thinking?” Xena asked musingly.
“What?” Gabrielle asked from where she sat on the other side of the large sudsy tub. She had both arms stretched out along the edge, with her head back and eyes closed.
“You should decide what we do from here on out,” the warrior replied, squirting water with her fist.
Gabrielle’s sea green eyes opened and she lifted her head high enough to meet Xena’s earnest gaze.
“What we do?” the Bard asked, seeking clarification as she sat up and grabbed the sponge that floated nearby.
“I think that you were about to discover your true path before everything went to Tartarus in Rome and I want to regain that, if possible,” Xena answered, stilling her hand.
“I just want us to be together,” Gabrielle stated as if it were that simple.
“Of course we’ll be together,” the warrior reassured her. “I’m talking about you fulfilling your dreams, traveling and telling stories, staying someplace that you can write them down, or continuing to journey and fight for the greater good. It’s up to you.”
“Wait a minute,” Gabrielle stated with disbelief. “Did you sandwich an offer to settle down in all that verbiage?”
“I guess I did,” Xena replied. She realized that she was willing to do whatever it would take to make Gabrielle happy.
“Let’s wait until we’re back in Amphipolis to make a decision like that,” the Bard said with an uncertain grin and shake of her head.
“This is exactly what I’m talking about… do you even want to return to Amphipolis?” Xena asked. “We never even talked about it, I just bullied you along as I so often do.”
“You don’t bully me, Xena.”
“Don’t I?” the warrior demanded.
“Well, you did just now,” Gabrielle replied with a smirk.
“I’m serious, Gabrielle,” Xena said, sounding exasperated.
“All right, but what about you?” Gabrielle asked. “What about your true path?”
“I can follow that no matter where we are,” Xena said with certainty.
“So I’m just supposed to do whatever it is I please, and drag you along?” the Bard asked, still unconvinced.
“That’s exactly what I’ve done to you.”
“You’re being way too simplistic. If I didn’t want to be with you wherever you went, I could have left. You never took away my freedom of choice,” the Bard replied.
Xena sighed. “I’m twelve years older than you, Gabrielle, and, not to diminish what you’ve been through, but that has allowed me a multitude of experiences you haven’t had. I’ve had the opportunity to learn what I need and want from life through trial and error. Being with me and doing what I want, I don’t think that you’ve had the same sort of freedom to do that. You deserve the same opportunity,” the warrior explained.
“Is that what you think has happened these last few years? I’ve been blindly tagging along?” the Bard asked. “You’ve given me the opportunity to see and do things that I never thought I’d be able to do in my lifetime. More experiences won’t necessarily make me better and what makes you think it would be any different just because I lead?”
It would be your choice, not mine. That would make it different,” Xena replied.
They both sat soaking in silence until Gabrielle spoke. “Maybe we should talk about this more tomorrow. We certainly don’t need to make any decisions tonight.”
“All right,” Xena agreed. “I think we should tell Adwen that we’d rather go to bed when we’re done here, Bard. You look pretty worn-out.”
“I hope he doesn’t think we’re being rude for staying in here so long,” Gabrielle said as if only just now recalling they were his guests.
“Don’t worry about that, I think he realizes that we’ve been through a lot and understands,” Xena said. “Now hand me that sponge, I never got your back.”
Gabrielle handed her the sponge with a diffident smile and turned her back to the warrior.
“Someone’s stolen our dirty clothes!” Xena exclaimed with mock horror as they re-entered their room.
The Bard simply rolled her eyes.
“What’s that?” the warrior asked, walking over to the small table near the window.
“Smells like dinner to me,” Gabrielle answered. “There’s a note.”
“What’s it say?” Xena asked, as she sampled what looked to be roast lamb.
Gabrielle picked up the note and read. “I figured you two would be awhile and being an old man, I turned in. Left some clothes and took yours to be cleaned if that’s possible. Ha. Hope this meal is sufficient. If you need anything else, help yourself or just tell Bunny...”
“Bunny?” Xena asked with a laugh, leaning over the Bard’s shoulder to read for herself.
“That’s what it says,” Gabrielle said, elbowing Xena in the ribs before continuing. “…And he’ll take care of you. Sleep well and see you in the morning. Adwen.”
“Do you think that was Bunny at the bath?” Xena asked, amused. “He didn’t really act like a bunny.”
“You’re terrible,” Gabrielle declared.
Xena gave her a false pout that Gabrielle leaned over and kissed away.
The warrior stared at her. “That’s no way to curb terrible behavior,” she warned.
“I’ll take the risk,” Gabrielle replied with a grin. “Now, I think our meal’s getting cold.”
“You’re right,” Xena concurred, moving to sit down while sliding out the chair next to her for the Bard.
Gabrielle walked out of the small adjoining room and made it only as far as the bed of piled rugs and soft sheepskins. She lay down, politely covering a yawn while pulling a soft wool blanket over herself. “I’m just going to close my eyes for a minute,” she mumbled.
The warrior, savoring the last swallow of wine from her cup, stood with a stretch and went to take her own turn at cleaning up for bed. The Bard didn’t stir when Xena returned, took off her robe and climbed under the blanket. She drew the small quiescent blond close, kissed the back of her neck and relished the feeling of being indoors in a comfortable bed. I really owe Adwen one, was her final thought as she dozed off.
“Come back up here,” Gabrielle said, trying to catch her breath while reaching for the warrior.
Xena kissed her way up the Bard’s trembling body and lay on her side facing Gabrielle, propping her head with one hand and using the other to pull the blankets up to cover them both.
“Now I know why I’m so much younger,” Gabrielle said, returning from the empyreal.
“Why’s that?” Xena asked, laying her hand on the Bard’s flat stomach.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and released it. “So I can keep up with an certain amorous warrior,” she replied.
“And if I ever catch you two together, I’ll skin them alive,” Xena rumbled with mock ferocity.
Gabrielle shook her head and tugged on the warrior’s hand until she got the picture. Xena rolled onto her belly, sliding over to drape herself half on Gabrielle and nuzzled the Bard’s neck.
“I could go back to sleep.” Xena said smiling, her voice muffled by Gabrielle’s shoulder.
“Well, since you’ve left it up to me to decide what were doing from here on, I say we take Adwen up on his offer to stay a few days and you do just that,” the Bard said, idly stroking Xena’s back.
Gabrielle thought perhaps she had fallen asleep, but after awhile the warrior mumbled, “Why not?”
The Bard dressed in the wool chiton that fit her best. It was much different from her normal garb, but at least it was dyed a pleasant deep green. She slipped on her sandals with an indulgent glance at her companion, amazed that the warrior was actually still sleeping. As silently as possible she exited their room to look for late morning sustenance and to visit with their host. By this time, Gabrielle was certain that he must think them unbearably rude.
The rain was gone and the sun shone with a particular clarity in its aftermath as Gabrielle crossed the small inner courtyard, admiring well tended plants here and there, buds poised to burst forth at any moment.
“There she is!” came a bellow. Adwen sat with his dark haired servant at a small table looking over what appeared to be some ledgers. “You see Bunny, my plan worked, they had to come out for food eventually,” he exclaimed with a laugh.
“I’m sorry we’ve been such rude guests.” Gabrielle apologized as she reached the table.
“Not at all. Sit down please,” Adwen said, gesturing at a chair. “Are you hungry?”
“Actually I am,” the Bard replied, smiling as she sat down.
“Put these away, won’t you?” he instructed Bunny pointing at the ledgers. “And bring us something to eat, I’m tired of counting sheep.”
“I’d be more than happy to help,” Gabrielle offered as she half stood.
Bunny shook his head at her, gesturing with both hands for her to stay put. He piled up all the books from the table, and disappeared inside through the kitchen door with just a slight limp.
“There’s something unusual about him,” the bard said after he’d left.
“You’re right. There is,” Adwen replied. ”Like myself he was captured by the Persians, but he suffered far worse at their hands. Where I escaped, he was made a slave, and they cut his tongue out so he could not tell his master’s secrets.”
“That’s horrible!” Gabrielle exclaimed. “How did you save him?”
“Let’s just say that there was a time that I didn’t miss a chance to hunt down those who had harmed me,” Adwen said fiercely. “After I’d killed his master, I found him cowering like a rabbit in the grass and I couldn’t get him to understand that he was free to go. After I got used to the idea that he was going to follow me no matter what, I brought him home. My daughter Aia named him Bunny, after I told her the tale. It stuck, the poor fellow,” he finished with a chuckle.
Gabrielle leaned forward with interest. “You said that you were also a captive of the Persians?” she asked.
Adwen stroked his long mustache with thumb and finger. “It’s true, I was captured by Persians from my home in Egypt. My people were slaughtered, or like me they were enslaved.”
“How old were you?”
“I was eight,” he replied. “That wasn’t the end of it though. The Persians who captured me ran afoul of some Norseman, who slew the lot of them and took me as a thrall,” he continued with a laugh his eyes lighting with amusement. “When their ship ran aground in Britannia, they were slain and I was taken in by the Cymry.”
“Nothing but bad luck came to those who tried to harm you, ” Gabrielle commented in amazement.
“It certainly seemed that way though the Cymry did me no harm. They placed me with a kind couple that treated me as their son.”
“You know, I knew that I recognized your accent from Britannia,” she exclaimed, smiling.
“Then you’ve been there?” he asked with astonishment. “You have to tell me about that.”
Gabrielle looked down, distressed and sorry that she’d mentioned it. “I don’t talk about it.”
Bunny appeared with an enormous selection of cheeses, fruits, meats, and wine. He arranged it on the table, working to squeeze it all on the small surface, and returned inside. Adwen poured their cups to the brim, each of them focused on sampling the foods and the awkward moment passed.
“How did you end up back in Greece?” Gabrielle asked. She was feeling quite sated and a bit tipsy to boot.
“I was attempting to return to my homeland,” Adwen said, pushing his chair back from the table a bit. “I learned my charioteer, smithing and siege skills as a lad with the Cymry and, as I journeyed I used them to make a living. I seemed to have a knack for it. Eventually I ended up in Greece and met up with your warrior, the then very different Conqueror, and here I stayed,” he said lifting his hand and gesturing at the house around him.
“Somehow I don’t picture that Xena in a place like this,” Gabrielle said ruefully, glancing around at the beautiful courtyard.
“You may be right. The Xena I knew was too restless to stay in one place for long. There was always more land to conquer or another battle to fight, but I grew steadily weary of the killing and death. It seemed like there was blood everywhere that I looked. Eventually I completely lost my stomach for fighting and Xena let me leave her army, alive…” He shook his head as if he still couldn’t believe it and stated, “I was always grateful for that, because I had sworn a blood oath to serve the Conqueror until death.” Adwen took a draught of wine.
“She would have put you to death for following your conscience.” Gabrielle said, almost as if to herself.
Adwen gave her a remorseful glance and the Bard looked pensive.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that she was ever like that, and I forget that her past was so dark, because I choose to focus on the fact that she now fights for the greater good,” Gabrielle stated. She saw the disbelieving expression on Adwen’s face. “I’m not so naive that I don’t know exactly what kinds of atrocities that she’s committed. But, if you could just see how much good she has done for so many people. …I’ve forgiven her and I’ve spent years convincing her to forgive herself.” She gripped her wine cup with both hands.
“I’ve heard tales, no doubt stemming from you Bard, and I believe that she has changed as well,” Adwen said quickly. “ And someone who can weave a tale as you do is anything but naïve.” He leaned forward to pat her shoulder.
Gabrielle ran a hand through her short blond hair and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I just get tired of the assumption that I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into by involving myself with the former Destroyer of Nations. I’m not some ignorant young damsel, for Artemis’s sake,” she said, taking a drink from her cup.
They each gazed around the courtyard, watching as a small brown finch hopped here and there, pecking at unseen morsels.
“So, how did you end up here?” Gabrielle eventually asked.
“My wife, Gaia,” Adwen replied, his expression reverent. “I met her in Doriscus during the festival of Dionysus. After only exchanging a few words with her next to the well, I knew that she was the woman for me. She had extraordinarily red hair and the loveliest green eyes,” he said smiling at Gabrielle. “Not at all unlike your own.”
“And how did you manage to win her heart?”
“I made her laugh when I tripped over and broke her water jug.” Adwen replied. “I think she felt sorry for me, a one armed oaf, and pestered her father until he agreed to let her marry me. This house, the land, sheep, cattle and everything that I have now were his.”
The Bard couldn’t help but laugh. “I don’t think a one armed oaf is what she saw.”
“No?” Adwen asked.
Gabrielle looked at him. “No, I think she saw a beautiful person with potential, trying to seek out the greater good and leave behind the darkness.”
“I think you’re confusing me with Xena,” he said depreciatingly.
“What happened to your wife?” Gabrielle asked.
Adwen opened his mouth as if to speak and shook his head.
“I’m sorry, you don’t have to talk about it.”
“Another time perhaps,” he said, wiping at his eyes.
“You said I was confusing you with Xena. Has she changed a lot since you last saw her?” Gabrielle asked, leaving the subject behind.
Adwen cleared his throat. “Seeing her now, I can’t imagine her as the brutal warlord I once knew,” he replied, regaining his composure. “I hardly recognize her.”
“You know, sometimes I don’t either.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean she’s different now too, towards me, since… since Rome,” she replied.
Adwen refilled both their cups, shaking out the last drops from the empty bottle. “Since the crucifixion?”
“Yes,” Gabrielle replied. “But I guess I’m different too,” she added, somberly.
“Not sure I follow you,” he said, sounding confused.
Gabrielle sipped from her wine. “Xena has actually begun to communicate with me about the more difficult emotional topics... things that we used to just bury and hope went away. She also seems much more attentive to my wants -- what I want to do and where I want to go. I have never seen her so affectionate either. Everything is much more intense between us now, even the…” The Bard stopped, suddenly when she realized exactly what she was about to blurt.
“Sex?” Adwen asked with a helpful grin.
Gabrielle blushed and squirmed in her seat. “Maybe,” she managed to get out in a small voice.
“Everything that you’ve mentioned seem like good things to me. You’ve found someone that puts your needs first. What’s the problem?” Adwen asked.
“It’s not so much of a problem but . . . I mean . . . ” Gabrielle looked exasperated. “It’s just that it’s not like her. It’s as if she’s trying to be someone else but I want Xena to be just like she was before,” she blurted out.
Adwen hesitated a second. “Don’t you think it’s only natural, the experiences you’ve gone through would change not only you, but Xena as well?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you? You both just went through an immensely traumatic event. You died and I imagine she thinks that it was her fault. Doesn’t it seem logical that she’d want to protect you and make sure you never, ever doubt her devotion to you?” he stated softly.
“She’s always done that and I don’t need her to prove her devotion or anything else to me,” Gabrielle said almost irritably.
“Have you talked to her about this?” he asked.
“What would I say ‘Hey, Xena, I love what you do to me but’ . . .” Her eyes grew big as Adwen caught the slip. “I could really use some water,” Gabrielle stated, terribly embarrassed and suddenly feeling the effects of the strong wine.
“Bunny, bring some water!” Adwen yelled.
“What?” he asked.
“That just sounded bizarre,” she was at last able to say. She calmed down and brought her thoughts back to their conversation, mulling it over in her mind.
Bunny brought a pitcher of water and filled a glass for the bard, which she promptly drank. He filled it again, leaving the pitcher with a flourish and disappeared for only a moment, soon returning with a new amphora of wine and refreshing their assortment of food.
“Thank you.” Adwen told him as he left, prying at the sealed amphora one handed.
Gabrielle started to close her eyes, reclining back in her chair.
“Need a hand?” Xena drawled, startling them both.
“Sure,” Adwen replied, handing the uncooperative bottle to Xena.
“Gabrielle,” Xena drawled, giving her a dazzling smile and stooping to place a lingering kiss on her cheek.
The Bard grabbed her water and took a long swallow. That, she thought, is going to take some getting used to. The warrior was like a lodestone to the flustered woman as she claimed the chair beside her.
“Are you getting her drunk?” the warrior asked. She had dressed in a dusky purple chiton that gave her an allure that armor could not, but her eyes held not an iota of warmth as she gazed at her former engineer.
“I’m getting drunk, Gabrielle’s just keeping me company,” Adwen said, laughing uneasily. “You still know how to use that voice and those eyes of yours to put the fear of Zeus into a man.”
“I haven’t forgotten any of my other skills either,” Xena said, meeting his eyes as she handed him the open amphora.
“I don’t doubt that,” Adwen assured her. “Did you rest well?” He poured a cup of wine and passed it to her.
“Absolutely, it’s been a long time since we’ve had it this good.” Xena replied, taking an appreciative sip.
“Xena’s right, I can’t recall when I have felt this safe or rested,” the Bard added, frowning a bit in annoyance at the warrior’s over-protective behavior.
“We were trying to hold out until Doriscus,” Xena added, looking at Gabrielle’s expression and realizing what she had done wrong. I better get a grip on that domineering attitude, she chided herself. The warrior repeatedly nudged the Bard’s leg under the table to get her attention.
When an exasperated sigh, Gabrielle glanced at her. Xena crooked her eyebrows with her best sheepish expression.
“Doriscus is a fair journey from here and obviously fate brought our paths together,” Adwen replied.
“Fate, how so?” Gabrielle asked distractedly. She rolled her eyes, but added a small diminutive smile that told Xena that she was off the hook for now.
“I hoped to ask for your help tonight in dealing with a problem that has developed while I was away,” he said frowning.
Xena, now forgiven, grabbed an apple, tossing it in her hand. “What problem?” she asked, taking a bite.
“Apparently a band of sheep thieves has made several raids on my herds while I was in Sestus at my daughter’s wedding. I’m not so concerned about the missing sheep, but one of my herdsmen had a son who foolishly tried to stop the men and was killed,” he rumbled.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the Bard stated, giving the warrior an imploring glance.
Xena saw exactly what Gabrielle wanted and she turned to Adwen. “To tell the truth my friend, we were thinking of taking you up on that offer to stay a little while. At least we would earn our keep if we helped catch these thieves,” she stated, winking at Gabrielle.
His frown faded. “Good, you’ve lightened my heart this day,” the older man replied, obviously relieved.
The courtyard was dark except for a few scattered lanterns.
“I’ve been breeding sheep’s all these years,” Adwen stated, holding his cup a bit unsteadily.
“Sheep’s?” Xena sputtered.
They both guffawed and Adwen pounded the table.
“You’re too much,” Adwen said. “Actually it’s like you’ve become so much more. It brings joy to my heart to see you so happy.”
Xena inclined her head at Gabrielle. “It’s because of her,” the warrior gushed drunkenly. The Bard was slumped in her chair under a blanket, eyes closed and breathing heavily.
“Gabrielle’s a delight,” Adwen assured her.
“She is,” Xena agreed. “One I should take to bed.”
“I certainly wouldn’t hesitate,” Adwen stated, slurring his words only slightly.
“And that would be your last living act,” she assured him with a feral smirk.
“As I am all too aware warrior.”
Xena muffled a yawn with her hand. “So when do we head out?”
“Not tomorrow, not after tonight!” he exclaimed. “Plus I have a few other responsibilities to attend to… let’s say, first light the morning after?”
“We can spend tomorrow getting ready,” the warrior assured him, standing.
Adwen rose with a stretch and they looked at one another appraisingly. He wrapped his one arm around her with an amazingly powerful grip. Xena bear hugged him in return, not to be outdone.
“You two take some time for yourselves too,” he said next to her ear and then stepped back.
“We will,” she replied, moved by his kindness.
“Sleep well,” he said, strolling a bit unevenly away from her.
After a short distance Adwen began reciting in a lovely, albeit drunken, bass voice. “Blessed is he who escapes the storm at sea, who comes home to his harbor. Blessed is he who emerges from under affliction. In various ways one man outraces another in the race for wealth and power. Ten thousand men possess ten thousand hopes. A few bear fruit in happiness; the others go awry. But he who garners day by day the good of life, he is happiest. Blessed is he.”
His voice faded until a smiling Xena couldn’t tell if he had stopped speaking or he was too far away.
Gabrielle raised her head. “Euripides,” she muttered sleepily.
“Are you ready for bed?” the warrior asked.
“Definitely,” Gabrielle replied, standing with a stretch and a groan.
Xena draped the blanket around her shoulders. “Did you have too much wine?”
“Me too,” Xena admitted.
The Bard glanced at her sympathetically.
“Good thing we get to sleep in tomorrow,” the warrior said, placing an arm around Gabrielle’s waist. The two strolled arm in arm, across the courtyard, to the stairs and up to their room.