by Dani Sheldon
Disclaimer, warnings, etc.: see part 1
Salmakis sat fuming in his opulently carpeted tent, wondering how a simple scheme of funneling a few sheep from his employer’s ample herd, had placed all of his achievements in such peril. He had not lived to be a venerable fifty-one years old, by making a lot of blunders in life. Through his own cunning, he had even managed to attain a decent status in his village for a lowborn man, as his girth attested to.
He lifted the letter from Adwen off the table in front of him and skimmed it yet again, hoping that the contents might have changed. The message informed the merchant of his employer’s impending arrival and, worse, that he was traveling with a Bard. He wanted to give Salmakis ample time to spread the word that entertainment was on the way, a rare and precious commodity to the nomadic herdsmen.
But it couldn’t be just any Bard, oh no, nothing so simple, Salmakis thought. It had to be Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia. ‘Oh, and by the way,’ Adwen had added. ‘Xena, Lion of Amphipolis is also accompanying me to aid in the speedy resolution of our current troubles.’ As if I didn’t know that where you found the Bard of Poteidaia, you also found the Lion of Amphipolis snarling beside her, Salmakis continued to grumble to himself. Adwen could sometimes be manipulated, but Salmakis had no doubt that Xena, would sniff out his perfidy in seconds, if not sooner.
The blood vessels in his head began throbbing every time he read the letter but this time it was magnified ten fold by the excess of wine he had consumed the night before in an effort to drown his misery.
Adwen’s intent was to find and punish the band of thieves Salmakis had described in such vivid detail in his many letters. Of course the only problem was, there were no thieves. The merchant had hired what he thought were Roman army deserters to rustle a few sheep over the past year. The plan had worked splendidly until this last time. He worked himself into a red faced, frothing fury thinking about them killing that local shepherd boy who had been foolish enough to challenge them. He didn’t care that the boy was dead, only that it caused everything to go to Tartarus.
When he had confronted the Romans, explaining the predicament that they had placed him in, and that he would have no further need of their services, the treacherous serpents had turned the tables. They had assured him that if he didn’t provide ample dinars, not only Salmakis’ employer, but the local herdsmen would hear of his double dealings and ultimate responsibility for the murder of the boy.
This was when the merchant realized that he wasn’t dealing with a motley group of former legionaries, but had been ensnared by a Centurion and several of his closest principals who had been exiled in Greece. The Centurion had made it plain that Salmakis was now financially responsible for them, and that any balking would only be met with physical violence. The stockpile of money that the merchant had spent years to acquire was even now draining away from him like blood from a jugular wound. He had even considered cutting his own throat, before deciding that he would prefer to live and see the ground stained with Roman blood instead.
Salmakis had thought that his Gods forsaken luck could get no worse, when his servant announced that he had a visitor, none other than Marcellinus, the wolfish Centurion. The treacherous Roman blithely strolled into his sanctum, before the merchant could even make sense of this latest development.
“I told you not to be seen here,” the Merchant sputtered, jumping to his feet.
“Now is that any way to welcome your old friend?” he asked. Marcellinus stood tall and muscular in his local garb, his brown hair short, looking freshly cropped.
“You’re no friend of mine!” Salmakis exclaimed.
Before he could blink, Marcellinus had him by the throat. “I urge you to think carefully about how you address me,” he said, restricting the corpulent merchant’s airflow more with each syllable he enunciated.
Salmakis had barely gasped out an “all right” when the Centurion released him with a painful shove, sending him crashing to the floor.
The merchant eyed him, while rubbing at the angry red marks on his neck. He stood on trembling legs and slowly inched away from the ruffian.
“I understand that you’ve dug quite a hole for yourself with the deceits and half truths that you’ve been feeding your employer. By the way, don’t worry. He’s still several hours away and I’ll be long gone from here by the time he arrives. I’m surprised though… you never mentioned the company he was keeping.” He stalked the merchant across the room, menace in his every step.
The merchant snatched the letter off his desk, crumpling the paper in his fist. “What have you heard?” he demanded.
“Just that the infamous Xena and her little blond associate are going to be your guests today. Surprising really since they were crucified in Rome, yet they somehow managed to survive.” Marcellinus stopped just short of the fat man, who looked relieved when he saw that the dangerous glint was gone from the Centurion’s eye and that he looked almost sociable.
“Crucified?” Salmakis asked. “What are you talking about?”
“Not paying much attention to current events are we? No matter. Octavius, now Caesar Augustus, has offered quite a reward, if the rumors of their… resurrection are substantiated and they’re returned Rome,” he stated.
“You’re going to capture them and take them to Rome?”
“Or their heads and, if you want to be permanently rid of me, you’re going to help me,” he replied, fiddling absently with the hilt of his worn sword.
It was clear that Salmakis understood the veiled threat. “I want nothing more than to be out from under your yoke, but at what price?” he asked, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably.
“A relatively small one actually,” the Roman said, pausing. “Tomorrow morning, tell them that one of your people has discovered where the thieves are camped and lead them to the spot by the river where we nabbed that first bunch of filthy sheep for you. I’ll do the rest.” He sounded confident as he mentally counted all the gold that he would earn.
The merchant wondered if perhaps the Gods had not abandoned him after all. “It sounds easy enough, but how do I know that you’ll keep your word?”
“With Octavius being Caesar now, it’s a new day in Rome. If I return with even one of these wenches in tow, I can pretty much guarantee the restoration of my lands and titles that were seized when I… erred. When that happens, I’ll have no need of your squalid polis. I promise that I won’t even write,” Marcellinus said derisively. “Besides I hate the smell of sheep. You, this tent, this encampment, by Jupiter the entire country of Greece, reeks to high heaven of sheep.”
The merchant grimaced at the insult but started to believe that he just might escape with his head. “A lovely dream, but have you considered the hazards of trying to capture Xena?”
“I figure that I’ll give her a good once over and if she looks too troublesome, I’ll get her out of the picture somehow and simply settle for the Bard,” he said rubbing his chin. “I hear she’s a pacifist. Capturing her should be no trouble at all. But even if it is… all I need is her head.”
“Whoa now,” Adwen said, pulling back on Cethren’s reins. The large horse stopped immediately, spent from the long journey.
Xena and Gabrielle riding abreast a short distance behind, trotted up, and reined in beside him.
Their last half-mile ascended through winding hills and had now crested onto a broad plateau. Incessant bleating, which had been faintly audible a fair distance back, had reached a near crescendo upon reaching the upland. Puffy white sheep, like small clouds gone astray from the sky, milled in every direction, nibbling on the green grass that stretched until it met a distant stark ridge jutting up into the arcing blue sky.
Clustered in the center of the plateau, near a winding blue stream, were twenty or more tents, their cooking fires scattered with lazy smoke curling high into the sky. Horses grazed near haphazardly parked wagons and chariots. People could be seen here and there, tending to sheep and other daily chores.
Xena sniffed deeply. “I’d forgotten that wooly smell,” she said, sounding not at all nostalgic.
”I hadn’t,” Gabrielle muttered, remembering all the sheep that she had tended in her youth. Though it had been years, she still associated the smell of sheep with Poteidaia and cringed at those memories. “That’s an awfully large encampment.” She lifted her hand to shade her eyes so that she could see better.
“Some of them could be local villagers who have traveled to hear the bard,” Adwen said casually.
Gabrielle looked at him, her mount starting at the sharp movement. She patted its neck to sooth it.
“How would anyone know there was a bard on the way?” Xena asked, staring hard at her former engineer.
Adwen met her gaze. “Because I sent a runner to tell them.”
“Tell them, as in her name, Gabrielle of Poteidaia?” the warrior demanded.
“Of course. Do you realize how rare it is that these people get to hear a bard, let alone one of her caliber?” he asked animatedly.
“Adwen, I told you that we were trying to keep a low profile,” Xena stated.
“But I thought you meant ‘were,’ as in the past, not that you cared now,” he said, worrying his mustache with his lower lip.
“That’s what you assumed, you mean,” Xena snapped. Gabrielle realized that she needed to intervene before Xena throttled the old man, whom she was growing fond of.
“Xena, it’s just a bunch of shepherds and isolated villagers in the heart of Thrace,” Gabrielle said, trying to sooth her. “What could there be to worry about?”
The warrior grasped her saddle horn as an all too familiar wave of unease rolled over her at the thought of Gabrielle being in danger. She closed her eyes, trying to quash the urge to ride off with the blond Bard and not look back.
“I’m sorry,” Adwen muttered, slouching a bit in his saddle. “I should have thought to ask you.”
“What’s done is done.” The warrior sighed. Her expression was dark as she snapped her reins, directing her horse towards the encampment without another word.
“Xena, I…” Adwen began.
“Just let her go,” Gabrielle stated, gazing empathetically at the engineer. “Don’t worry, she’ll get over it.”
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” he berated himself.
“You’re being too hard on yourself, everybody makes mistakes.”
“What if something happens to one of you, because of it?”
The Bard shifted in her saddle, eager to catch up with Xena. “Let’s not take on the burden of troubles that haven’t even happened,” she replied. “By the sounds of it, I’m going to have to perform tonight and I’m beyond rusty. Can I count on your help?”
He perked up a bit. “Of course I’ll do anything I can,” he stated. “Though I’ve heard you spin a tale and I know that you’re anything but rusty.”
“Ha!” Gabrielle scoffed, urging her horse forward. “Come on or we’ll never catch up.”
Salmakis had made every arrangement that he could to cover up his deceptions and to pull off Marcellinus’ scheme on the morrow. He’d contacted several of his more trusted cohorts and copiously bribed anyone that he didn’t trust; the rest was left to the vagaries of the Gods. Despite all of his careful preparations, he still broke into a clammy sweat at the unmistakable cacophony of strangers approaching.
Several barking dogs and perhaps a dozen squealing children ran beside the three riders as they rode through the encampment. A murmur followed as the villagers, shepherds and their families became aware of their arrival. Adwen led them to the largest of the colorful felt tents, where the portly merchant waited with the best welcoming smile that he could muster on his face.
“Welcome, welcome!” Salmakis exclaimed, waving to his servants to take their horses as they dismounted. “I trust that you had a pleasant journey.”
Xena spoke a few short words to the young man about to take her reins and he remained behind, waiting with her mare as the others were lead away after having been divested of their baggage.
“We did indeed,” Adwen stated. “How are things going here?”
“Much better now that we have our sage leader here to help us in our time of need,” the merchant said, groveling. Sweat continued to pour down his brow as he dabbed it with a piece of cloth.
Xena frowned and Gabrielle raised an eyebrow as they exchanged a glance before joining Adwen, sharing their mutual amazement at the man’s obsequious demeanor.
“I’d like you to meet Xena of Amphipolis and Gabrielle of Poteidaia,” Adwen stated, gesturing towards the two women. “This is Salmakis of Pylos, the manager of my herds.”
Gabrielle stepped forward to shake his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said. Salmakis’ grasp was cold and damp, feeling more like a salamander than a hand to the Bard. Her face showed none of the distaste she felt, but she discreetly wiped her palm on her skirt as she stepped back.
“The pleasure is all mine,” Salmakis replied, still gushing as he turned to Xena.
The warrior crossed her arms and nodded, her dislike of the man already evident in her stiff posture.
Salmakis paled. “A pleasure as well,” he gasped, unable to meet Xena’s algid eyes.
The warrior’s instincts were on high alert but over what, she wasn’t quite certain yet.
Adwen, who hadn’t been looking at Xena, worriedly stepped forward. “Are you ill?” he asked, grabbing the merchant’s arm.
“I’ve had a touch of something,” Salmakis said.
“Perhaps you should lie down,” he suggested.
The merchant tried to pull himself together. “No, that would be unforgivable, I have yet to report to you, and I still must take you to your tents.”
“Has there been any further sign of the sheep thieves?” Xena drawled, looking around suspiciously.
“No, not recently,” Salmakis replied, looking around and hoping he hadn’t missed something he was supposed hide. “I have some scouts out looking for them and hope to hear back at any time.”
Adwen stroked his mustache, frowning. “Did you make preparations for our Bard?” he asked.
The merchant rubbed his hands together. “Of course!” he exclaimed. “Everyone is very excited and people have been coming in from miles around. We’ve put a few carts together for a stage and a veritable feast is being prepared for the banquet afterwards.”
“Show us to where we’ll be staying then,” Adwen stated. “You and I can discuss business at our leisure, but the Bard has some preparing to do.”
“Of course, how thoughtless of me,” Salmakis said, waving them to follow along as he scurried in front of them, already panting.
Salmakis’ servants with their belongings followed in their wake and Xena’s horse was led along behind.
Gabrielle fell into step next to Xena. “He gives me the creeps,” she whispered.
“You’re not the only one. He’s extremely nervous about something.”
“What do you think it is?” the Bard asked.
“I’m not sure, but I’m going to go look around a bit while you get ready for your performance,” the warrior replied.
Gabrielle glanced at Xena. “I don’t know if I like that.”
“I don’t know if I do either, but I want to take a look around with my own eyes, before we take him at his word,” Xena relied. “I definitely want you to stay on your toes while I’m gone.” She put a hand on the Bard’s shoulder, giving it an encouraging squeeze as Salmakis stopped at their tents.
“There you are finally,” Gabrielle said, rushing over to Xena as she entered the tent.
The warrior smiled. “I wasn’t gone that long, was I?” she asked, wrapping the worried Bard in her arms.
“Long enough. I was about to come looking for you,” Gabrielle replied, hugging her back. “You know trouble always happens when we split up.”
Xena gave her a comforting smile. “We won’t split up any more then, okay?” she promised. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
The tension seemed to leave Gabrielle’s shoulders as she pulled away. “Did you find anything out?” she asked.
Xena sighed. “Not really,” she replied, pouring a cup of wine from an amphora on a small table. “We’ll have to talk to Adwen and see what Salmakis had to say.” The warrior strolled to a pile of cushions, sighing heavily as she sat, savoring a sip of the fruity beverage.
The Bard began pacing the confines of the small tent. “I doubt that he’ll reveal much,” she said.
“As nervous as he is, I bet he reveals everything,” Xena replied with certainty, taking another sip from her cup.
Gabrielle didn’t reply, continuing to pace distractedly.
“Are you getting nervous about tonight, Gabrielle?”
“Getting?” the Bard asked in amazement, stopping to look at Xena. “It’s beyond ‘getting’ at this point.”
“It’s not the Athens academy, it’s just a bunch of isolated shepherds and villagers. Isn’t that what you said earlier?”
“It doesn’t matter who they are, it’s the getting up in front of a crowd. It’s been a long time,” Gabrielle stated.
Xena placed a couple of cushions in front of her. “Come over here and sit down,” she said, setting her cup aside.
The Bard walked over and sat cross-legged, facing her.
Xena reached forward, grabbing Gabrielle’s hands. “You’re just nervous my Bard and that’s all right. It shows everything’s working right,” she said, massaging Gabrielle’s palms with her thumbs. “Have you done everything that you can to get ready?”
“With this short of notice, yes.”
“Then worrying is plain silly,” she stated. “How long until you go on?”
“About an hour,” the Bard replied.
“Then let’s do some sparing. That will relax you.”
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “Not right now. I’ve got too much on my mind.”
“Gabrielle, this is at least the third time that you’ve put this off. You have to practice, your life may well depend on it and I won’t take that chance,” Xena stated, her insecurities about Gabrielle’s safety all coming to the fore.
“I know, Xena, and I will, just not now.” Gabrielle looked imploringly at the warrior who remained concerned but decided to let the Bard off the hook this last time.
“Fine, then let’s take a walk. You’ll feel better and we can do some more snooping,” Xena stated.
Gabrielle stood. “Oh all right.”
The grinning warrior jumped to her feet, dragging the reticent Bard across the tent and outside.
She slowed for a second and looked seriously at Gabrielle. “Don’t think this is the last time that I’m going to bring this up. We have to address it at some point.”
Gabrielle let out a loud sigh.
Xena watched a smiling Gabrielle, bow with a flourish to the raucous applauding crowd of shepherds and villagers, who were lustily begging for one more tale. The Bard, already on her second encore, laughed as she declined and walked down off the makeshift stage.
The warrior had already moved in close enough to keep an eye on things, but not so close that she intruded on the well wishers or those who simply wanted to have a few words with the Bard. A tall, muscular, clean-shaven man with close-cropped brown hair, who Xena noticed had been shamelessly ogling Gabrielle during her performance, made a beeline for her and managed to be one of the first at the Bard’s side. Gabrielle shook his proffered hand when he reached her and cocked her head to listen as he said something the warrior wasn’t quite close enough to hear. Gabrielle smiled and replied. He spoke again. It was evident that he was working very hard to impress her, smiling and doing his very best to monopolize Gabrielle, who finally politely shook her head ‘no’, and moved away. The Bard’s expression wasn’t quite as friendly or comfortable as her eyes skittered across the crowd until they found Xena’s, which caused her to relax a little.
To Tartarus with not intruding, Xena thought, forcing her way quickly through the crowd to stand darkly at Gabrielle’s elbow, as she greeted everyone else. The brown haired stranger was nowhere to be seen by then, which Xena decided, was very lucky for him.
When the press of villagers, shepherds and sundry others had finally dwindled, Xena asked, “What was that all about?”
“What was what all about?” Gabrielle said confusedly.
“The brown haired guy, right when you left the stage,” Xena clarified.
“Oh, just some creep,” the Bard said dismissively as they strolled past a crowd gathering around a bon fire. The group was passing around several amphoras of wine and laughing boisterously.
“What did he say?” the warrior asked, glowering as the group got more unruly.
“It was nothing, Xena.”
“I want to know what he said,” she demanded, halting in her tracks.
Gabrielle stopped a pace later and turned to face the warrior. “He said that he enjoyed the show and that he couldn’t believe that I was really the Bard of Poteidaia. I assured him that I was and he made some sort of offer,” she said uncertainly, trying to recall the verbiage. “I believe it was how well he could warm me… or was it my bed? Anyway, it was something utterly unclever like that.”
Xena responded lightly, despite wanting to track him down and slowly dismember him. “It wouldn’t be the first time that someone’s made you an offer like that. You’re a famous Bard, and after all this time, you’re going to have to get used to the fact that people know who you are, and love the stories you tell,” she said.
The Bard smiled, surprised that Xena wasn’t over-reacting. “I told him that position was filled,” she replied, her smile becoming a smirk.
“Really?” Xena asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“Afraid it is,” she said matter of factly, maintaining an imperious expression while looking at the warrior.
“A pity for me then.”
“That’s your position in perpetuity, warrior,” Gabrielle replied, smacking her in the arm. She was tired of the word play and preferred to use actions to reinforce how she really felt about her companion. She put her arms around the warrior and gazed into her eyes.
“What’s this all about?” Xena pulled the Bard in tighter.
“For making tonight special. You don’t know how nervous I was.”
Xena looked down at the Bard in disbelief. “You were superb, I couldn’t tell that you were nervous at all,” she said.
“Really?” the Bard asked.
“Of course, as well as beautiful… and sexy, too. If I didn’t already hold the position of Bard of Poteidaia bed warmer, I’d have angled for it tonight.”
The Bard met Xena’s intense gaze for a moment, but before she could respond, Xena quirked her brow, and gestured discreetly over her shoulder. Gabrielle turned to look and reluctantly separated from the warrior.
Adwen strode towards them, with a nervous, smiling Salmakis, trailing behind. “Come with us. We have a feast ready for the world renowned Bard of Poteidaia!” he exclaimed, giving Gabrielle a hug and linking their arms to escort her.
The Bard looked at Xena, who winked good-naturedly and gestured for her to go on. Gabrielle smiled, allowing Adwen to lead her to the feast.
Marcellinus wasn’t sure what had possessed him to confront the storyteller after her charismatic performance, other than being simply enthralled by her vivaciousness and firm nubile body.
Afterwards, observing the entire tableau unfold between the bard and the dark warrior from an exceedingly cautious distance, had also proved enlightening. Xena appeared unhappy about something and Marcellinus would have bet a large number of dinars that it was his words to the blond woman, though he was far too distant to hear what was said. The besotted look the warrior had given the blond was beyond priceless. He grinned, knowing that there was always some way to exploit a weakness like that.
The Centurion had also decided that his orders would include taking Gabrielle alive. I’ve got much better uses for her than severing her head, he mused as he backed away, keeping a sharp eye on everything. Slipping behind a tent out of their line of sight, he turned and jauntily strolled away.
“Are you ready Gabrielle?” Xena asked. “Tomorrow’s liable to start pretty early.”
She nodded and they said their good nights, strolling side by side away from the bonfires and crowds of people.
Adwen winked, waving from where he sat sipping wine while chatting amiably with some shepherd’s widow who had her eye on him. He’d so far politely resisted her most flagrant efforts at seduction.
“Someday I hope that Adwen tells us what happened to his wife,” the Bard mused as they walked along. “I think it would be good for him to talk about it.”
“I’m sure it would.”
“Why are we going this way, when our tent’s over there?” Gabrielle asked, pointing in almost the opposite direction.
“The moon’s out and I thought that you might like to take a ride.”
“I’ll make it worth your while,” Xena assured her.
Xena’s horse was waiting, already saddled and bridled where she’d tethered her earlier.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that you had this all planned,” Gabrielle said suspiciously.
Xena shrugged, double-checking the horse’s cinch and ensuring that it was tight.
“Where’s my plug?” the Bard demanded, looking around at the other horses.
Xena placed her foot in the stirrup and boosted herself up and onto the bay mare’s back. She reached down, offering Gabrielle a hand.
“Stoic warriors,” the Bard groused, grabbing her offered hand.
Xena pulled her up and behind. “Hold on tight,” she said.
Gabrielle clutched tightly around Xena’s waist as the horse launched forward, surprising the Bard.
“Xena!” she gasped.
“I told you to hold on,” the warrior yelled over her shoulder.
“Is this where you rode to today?” Gabrielle asked as they slowed, having reached the distant dark ridge.
‘’Mm-hm,” she replied, turning her head just slightly to be heard. “There’s a great spot a bit further, but if you want a view we have to climb.”
The Bard groaned. “ I don’t want a view tonight.”
Xena reached back, patting Gabrielle’s thigh and leaving her hand to rest on the Bard’s warm skin.
They dismounted, near a small copse of trees next to the stark moonlit ridge where the warrior unsaddled and tethered their horse. Gabrielle could hear the soothing sound of flowing water, from somewhere in the trees as Xena took her hand and led her between the tall silvery trunks.
The warrior had their campsite set up, next to a small glistening pool of water with a spring. She tossed down their saddlebags and went to light the fire that she’d all ready laid.
Gabrielle spun around admiring the trees before kneeling by the pool to run her fingers through the water. “That’s cold!” she yelped, shaking her hand.
“I think the snow melt from the ridge must feed it,” Xena said, adding wood to the flames that illuminated the friendly clearing.
Gabrielle turned away from the water. “So why did you go to all this effort?” she asked.
The warrior looked up from where she knelt at the fire. “I’d prefer us to keep our distance from that slithery Salmakis, especially while sleeping, and most of all because I wanted to share this beautiful place with you,” she replied. “Don’t you like it?”
“Of course I do,” the Bard said. She walked over to join Xena. “It’s just that after all this time, you never stop surprising me, especially lately.”
“Is that a good thing?” Xena asked, wondering if she’d done something wrong.
Gabrielle sat beside her. “It’s a magnificent thing and I’ve never had it so good. It’s just that sometimes I worry that it might end.”
“What do you mean, might end?” Xena asked, obviously concerned.
The Bard, still wound up from the evening, grabbed and played with a piece of firewood. “We seem to have a cyclic sort of relationship. Right now things are good, better than they’ve ever been. But that makes me worry that it may turn around and that you might shut me out again. It’s happened before but now it would be almost unbearable.”
“Gabrielle, I can’t promise that I’ll be perfect and that we’ll always agree, but I swear that I’ll never shut you out again. My vow after Amaro was to never take you for granted, and I’m going to keep that pledge. I’m just sorry that the things I’ve done in the past have made it hard for you to believe me,” the warrior replied, anguish evident in her eyes.
“I don’t doubt you, Xena. It’s just my quirky fear, like you have yours,” the Bard replied, more upbeat already. “Sometimes I just need a little reassurance.”
The warrior rubbed Gabrielle’s back. “You can have all the reassurance or whatever else you want.”
The Bard nodded, placing the piece of wood on the fire and watching as it ignited. “I’m sorry, I just feel so intense after a performance, ” she said.
Xena watched her a moment, beginning to realize why that was so. “I liked your new story about Baucis best tonight.”
“When you told of how the old couple are saved from the flood and then turned into trees, it was with so much empathy that I could actually feel it. It was a magical moment… I’m certain anyone lucky enough to have been here won’t soon forget.”
“That’s lovely… I’ll definitely have to include that story again,” she said, smiling.
They both gazed at the fire until Gabrielle uttered a deep, frustrated sigh.
The warrior slid close enough to lean against Gabrielle. “This always happens after you perform…”
“What are you talking about?” the Bard asked, placing an arm around Xena and trailing her fingers up the warriors back.
“I think you’re experiencing something like battle-lust,” Xena replied, enjoying the feel of Gabrielle’s hand.
“We should probably term it Bard-lust, but yes. After telling your stories to a crowd and triumphing, there’s the insatiable need to affirm life in the most visceral of ways.” The warrior raised her brow in a manner that could only be described as a leer.
Gabrielle scrunched her nose. “You make it sound so primal,” she stated.
Xena stood, tugging her to her feet. “And you don’t like primal?” she asked disbelievingly.
The Bard gazed at Xena with growing interest. “What about our rule of the road?”
“Are you concerned about the thieves?” Xena asked, holding Gabrielle’s hand.
“Nope, not with you around,” she replied, stepping close. Gabrielle kissed Xena’s chin, moving to nuzzle her jaw and then trail her lips over the warrior’s.
“After that, there are no rules,” Xena growled.
Gabrielle pulled Xena over to their bedding by her hand and unbuckled her sword, disarming the unresisting warrior. She leaned the weapon, followed by Xena’s Chakram and various daggers, against the saddlebags, within easy reach. “Lay down,” she ordered.
The grinning warrior complied, leaning back onto the soft pile of sheepskins and blankets as Gabrielle straddled her hips. The Bard leaned forward, giving Xena a sensual kiss that left her thoroughly breathless before she pulled away. The bereft warrior sat up reaching to tug her back for more of the same, but Gabrielle intercepted Xena’s questing hands with her own.
“Nope, none of that,” she admonished. “It’s Bard lust night, remember?”
Xena relaxed, lounging back again with a sybaritic smile. “Then I’m at your mercy,” she assured her.
“That’s more like it,” Gabrielle murmured, pausing to divest the warrior of her bracers. The Bard placed them beside Xena’s other weapons, and moved on.