Disclaimer:Xena, Gabrielle, Ares, Varia, Aphrodite and all other characters that have been previously mentioned on Xena are property of Ren. Pics. Any other characters are owned by me and are the property of my own twisted little mind. I own this story and it is copyrighted to me, thank you very much.
Content:This is an alternative story, but nothing explicit. Sorry, but that's just not my bag. If you're lookin for a good roll in the hay, its not to be found here. Read accordingly. There is an itsy bitsy amount of violence, but nothing too graphic.
On A Side Note:Due an overwhelming demand, basically every third person ordering me to do as such, I have implored the use of Beta Readers. Yes yes, so if there are any mistakes you can just blame them....JUST KIDDING. Thank you so much Pam and Barb. I really appreciate all your great and patience work
And I have made a vow to respond back this time.
And away we go...
It was cold. The salty sea breeze blew lightly on her ear, tickling it gently like a whisper. A shiver ran up the length of the bard's body. Gods, it was cold....so cold.
It had been almost one month to the day. One month ago that Xena had left her. Gabrielle let a small tear trickle down her cheek. The action made her laugh inwardly. I didn't know I had any tears left to cry. She had already shed a river.
Gabrielle had hoped that over time, it would get better. It had only gotten worse. They were still working out the dynamics of their new arrangement. Xena was dead, but she certainly wasn't gone.
Each day, periodically the warrior would pop up at Gabrielle's side. She had, as best the bard and warrior could determine, become some sort of ghost, stuck in a strange type of limbo between this world and the next. Although Xena frequently visited Gabrielle, she was not allowed to move freely. Had this been true, she'd spent entirely all her time with the Amazon.
No, instead she was to come and go erratically. Some days she was allowed passage over for hours, some days only minutes, some days not at all. Gabrielle feared those days. However, with Xena's fierce concentration, the visits seemed to be longer in duration. But, still there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it, and that simple fact frustrated the pair the most.
Xena was infuriated by the lack of control she possessed. It made her feel so helpless. When Xena had to return, she was trapped in a world of silence. She had only the sound of her own voice to keep her sane. But although she couldn't always be with her bard or hear her bard, she could always see her. Sometimes, especially at night, she would watch Gabrielle; she would be in so much pain. And, despite all her best efforts, there was nothing she could do. She was trapped by the bounds of her postmortem existence.
It was getting harder and harder for Gabrielle. She missed her warrior so much. Although Xena was there, it wasn't the same....it would never be. And Xena was forever trying to compensate. She'd apologize furiously, even though Gabrielle seriously doubted the sincerity. She would listen more intently. The warrior was much more open and understanding, as if trying to offset for the time she simply couldn't be there.
Another tear fell. Even their time together was forever changed. Certain ramifications came with Xena being a ghost. Xena could touch Gabrielle, Gabrielle could touch Xena. However it was not the same. There was a physical contact, but it wasn't of human flesh.
When Xena would reach for her bard or embrace Gabrielle, instead of the comforting feel of the warrior's leather scented skin, she felt this cold presence. It was unlike anything she'd experienced before and she was unable to put it into words. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't completely uncomfortable. All Gabrielle knew was that it was different...and she didn't like it.
And, when Gabrielle would try to touch Xena, she again felt the cold presence. Xena's physical form was very weak. The warrior had already told Gabrielle how hard she had to concentrate to maintain her appearance in the mortal realm. Gabrielle too had to sustain deep focus every time she moved to touch her companion. If she pressed too hard, her hand would simply slip through Xena like a thrown rock slicing through the water. And like the ripples caused by the rock, it would then cause Xena to lose her composure and the warrior would have to leave to regain her focus.
But it was the loss of intimacy that finally broke Gabrielle's soul.
And with Xena gone for part, if not most of the time, Gabrielle was terribly lonely. They were off to the Land of the Pharaohs, which was by no means a short trip. Another aspect of Xena's state was that she was apparently invisible to anyone besides the bard. This seemed logical; after all Ephiny had only been visible to Gabrielle when she had returned.
However, seeing a small blonde talking to the air as if it were a real person half of the time didn't inspire camaraderie with the crew. Most of the men kept their distance from the bard. The others simply thought it a kindness to sporadically exchange greetings with the crazy woman.
It seemed a common consensus with the crew that Gabrielle had gone quite insane. Sometimes the bard thought herself inclined to agree. Every few days she'd have to assure herself that she hadn't gone mad. That it was really Xena she was seeing, not some delusion made of her own mind.
Who knows, maybe I am crazy.
The thought simply added bad to worse and a floodgate of tears opened up. She desperately tried to banish her cries as she pulled the thick woolen blanket even further up her arms, so only a soft blonde head was visible to the stars.
Ever so slowly Gabrielle's heavy thoughts began to weigh down her tired mind and her eyelids began to gradually close shut. As the bard verged over to Morpheus's realm, she was sure she felt a cold hand stroking her hair...and a familiar Alto voice lulling her to sleep....
And two soft, cool lips kissing her gently.
Dawn came the next day; it always did. No matter how fierce the bard's wanting, another day rose again.
Gabrielle was pleasantly surprised by a cool arm resting over her shoulder. It was a first. During the night Xena usually drifted off eventually, leaving Gabrielle nothing but the stars to keep her company. Today was different. As the bard slowly turned her body she was met by her soul mate's piercing blue eyes staring intensely at her.
"Morning." Xena said in a jovial tone. She was very pleased with herself. It had been terribly difficult, but she had managed to spend the whole night at Gabrielle's side. Concentration was the key.
After she had lightly kissed the bard to sleep, Xena set upon her focus. Staying in this realm took almost all of her concentration. So she had closed her eyes and listened carefully to the sounds of the night, a slow serenade from nature's beautiful symphony.
Then, one by one, she began to block out each sound starting with the light chatter of the crew. Next she began to drown out the creak of the boat as it rode the waves, then the waves themselves. Xena continued on this track until only the sound of Gabrielle's breathing remained.
Xena inched closer to her bard and drank in the sweet melody of her partner's mortality. In and out. In and out. Gradually Xena became entranced. And within that trance she was able to maintain her presence at her bard's side.
"You're still here."
"Gabrielle, I'll always be here." She smiled while bringing up a hand to Gabrielle chest and placing a cool palm against the bard's heart.
"I know, but it's so much easier when I can see you. I don't always feel so alone." The bard's voice broke as it choked back tears.
"Gabrielle you'll never be alone."
"You say that, but you'll never know Xena. I am alone. All my family, all my friends, everything in this world I held dear is dead. I would have gone crazy if it wasn't for you Xena. Because when I had you beside me Xena, nothing else mattered. You are everything....or you were. Now you're gone too. And I am alone."
"I'm not gone Gabrielle. I'm sorry, I didn't want this, but...."
"Don't say you're sorry." Gabrielle aggressively interrupted. "Don't apologize Xena, you don't mean it. You're not sorry about this. You wanted this, if you didn't you would have never sacrificed yourself. You knew what would happen and yet you still did it. Don't give me empty words."
"I am sorry, please if..."
"Don't, please." Gabrielle's voice was again at the point of tears. "I'm sorry I got all excited, but let's just stop. I can't do this again. I'm not strong enough. All I know is that this morning I woke up and you were at my side. Today that's enough for me. I don't know what tomorrow holds, but today you're here. Let's just enjoy that...please."
Xena wasn't going to argue that. Her fights with Gabrielle had been getting worse and worse. It wasn't her companion's words that were so hard to take but rather her declining aggression. Before Xena had prayed for the day Gabrielle would slow her rage, but now it scared her more than anything. Gabrielle had been falling from positively furious to hopeless. There was very little fire left in her eyes.
Though Xena was suspicious of Gabrielle's very quick resolution and retreat, she decided to throw instinct to the wind.
Any content moment they could share was one Xena wouldn't trade for the known world. So she gave a light, compassionate smile, understanding her lover's desperation....it was one she felt as well. She again took Gabrielle in her arms and placed a soft kiss on her temple, quietly murmuring that everything would be ok.
Gabrielle happily entered the embrace, trying to drink in as much as possible of their limited intimacy. She was surprised that Xena was without suspicions when she ended the argument so quickly. True their squabbles were less and less, but still Gabrielle trusted Xena's instincts would alert her.
Yet it seems Xena was without them, and that suited Gabrielle just fine. She was fed up with the Fates dealing her a folding hand. She would take matters into her own.
Last night she had a dream; a vision. She now knew how she was going to do it. She was going to bring Xena back.
Now the only trick was keeping plans of Xena's own resurrection from her.
The warrior leaned over the ships railing, inhaling deeply. Her nostrils were assaulted with an all too familiar scent.
"Egypt." She lightly murmured, not realizing she had spoken aloud.
"What?" Her blonde companion asked from her seat on the deck.
"I said Egypt. We're very close, I can tell. We should reach shore in a few days."
"How do you know that?"
Xena simply smiled as she lightly tapped her nose.
"No way, Xena." Gabrielle scoffed in disbelief. "You can smell Egypt from all the way out here?"
"I'm sure you could too Gabrielle." She moved over to her sitting companion, stealing a seat beside her. "Gabrielle," Xena looked intensely at the bard. "Close your eyes."
"Xena, I'm not going to be able to do this."
"Gabrielle, please. Just close your eyes."
The bard had a hint of protest on her lips but quickly suppressed it and did as her warrior had asked. Her green orbs slowly shut, but her face still radiated skepticism. Xena placed a reassuring hand over Gabrielle's eyes and brought her lips a hairsbreadth away from her ear.
"Now inhale deeply." Xena gently commanded, her breath lightly tickling the outer rim of Gabrielle's ear. The bard immediately complied, letting her nostrils fill to full capacity.
"Take all the scents in. Slowly meld them together until they mesh into one distinct smell." Gabrielle released the breath, and inhaled and exhaled several more times trying to comply with Xena's instructions. The warrior watched as Gabrielle's face hardened in focus; it made her all the more beautiful.
"Ok, I'm there."
"Good." Xena confidently encouraged her. Displeased with her current position, the warrior decided to situate her self closer to the bard. She got up and moved behind the Gabrielle, resting her back against the ship's railing. Her legs came around, her knees touching Gabrielle's.
"Lean back." She instructed. Gabrielle quickly complied, letting her body rest on Xena's cool chest. She had to focus very assiduously, careful not to apply too much pressure knowing it would break Xena's concentration and appearance. It was a cool presence that only minimally resembled the contact they had once had...but somehow it was comforting.
Once they were both secure Xena brought her free arm around to circle Gabrielle's waist and leisurely descended her mouth upon the bard's opposite ear, giving it a playful kiss and nibble before voicing more instructions.
"Ok, now do the opposite of what I just told you to do. Take in that one great scent and slowly pull it apart into each of its respective smells."
Gabrielle raised a questioning eyebrow from under Xena's hand but did as she was told. She took in a deep breath and tried to dissect the scents. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. After several breaths it still smelled the same.
"Xena I can't do this." She muttered in defeat.
"Sure you can Gabrielle." Xena reassured her. "Try again, deep breath."
Gabrielle, again, did as she was told and took in a deep breath through her nose.
"Now hold it Gabrielle. Focus hard." The bard's nose crunched up in deep concentration. "Now release the breath and inhale again. Can't you smell the differences?" Gabrielle tried even harder, wanting to please her companion.
"Can you smell the salt of the sea, or the wet wood of the ship? Can you smell the dried meat of the sailor's mid day meal?" As Xena broke down the different scents, Gabrielle began to recognize them as well. She could separate them.
"Yeah, Xena. I can smell all that." She spoke with excitement.
"Good, love. Now, concentrate even harder. Can you smell the dry dust in the air, the light stench of the city? Come on Gabrielle, I know you can do it."
Gabrielle focused even deeper, trying harder and harder to separate the aromas. After several minutes she was ready to admit defeat, then suddenly the scents became clear. She could smell the land. She could smell Egypt.
"I can smell it Xena!!"
"Good job Gabrielle." Xena gave her proud congratulations.
Gabrielle was so overcome by the small success that she pulled away from Xena's arms, turning around to capture the warrior in a deep hug. However she had forgotten herself and her cautious touches. Gabrielle embraced her with such passion she broke right through Xena's physical appearance. Her arms sliced thru the warrior's body, grasping thin air.
Xena tried hard to fight it, but her concentration was broken. Her body slowly started to fade as she was called back to the other realm.
"Oh Xena, I'm so sorry...I didn't realize." Tears streamed down the bard's cheeks as she reacted with heightened emotion.
Xena was able to focus long enough to place a cool, quivering finger upon Gabrielle's lips, silencing her crying companion.
"It's okay Gabrielle. It was an accident."
Gabrielle desperately tried to fight the tears, but she couldn't stop them from falling. She felt an odd mix of emotion. She was upset; she was hurt. She was in pain; she was sorry. In the end, she merely hung her head in shame.
"Gabrielle," Xena called to her, but the bard's head remained obstinately bowed. "Gabrielle please look at me."
Knowing their limited time, the teary-eyed blonde raised her eyes to meet those of her soul mate.
"Don't worry. I promise I'll be back." She gave a secure smile as she gradually faded away to her silent prison.
Gabrielle watched her disappear, the bard's heart breaking all over again. Somehow the pain always felt new, but she was left with hope today. Xena's explosive confidence was having a mild effect on her. It was a small security that kept her heart from completely crumbling.
Besides now wasn't the time to fall apart, not when she was so close to Egypt.
And certainly not when she was so close to getting Xena back....alive.
Two days later they reached Egypt.
As Gabrielle took her first steps on land, she felt an instant calm wash over her. Maybe it was being on land, maybe it was being in Egypt, or maybe it was being closer to the execution of her plan. Either way, she felt much better.
The past two days had been terribly hard. Xena had yet to reappear after their earlier fiasco. Over and over Gabrielle had replayed the scenario in her mind, cursing herself for her carelessness. Questions burrowed in her mind. What if that's it? What if I never see Xena again?
But then Gabrielle would remember Xena's parting words ...I'll be back. She spoke with such confidence, such security that Gabrielle had no choice but to believe her. Xena would be back...she had to come back.
She exchanged quick goodbyes with the crew, none of which she'd become remotely close to, and went on her way. As she walked out of the harbor, Gabrielle drank in the sights of Egypt. It had been...well...a lifetime since she had last visited.
As she got deeper into the city, her throat began to clench in disgust at what she saw. When Gabrielle had last been in the Land of the Pharaohs, Egypt was thriving under the reign of Cleopatra. The streets were clean, the people seemed happy. The entire land seemed...enlightened.
Caesar Augustus, or as she knew him, Octavian had just taken control of Egypt when she had last been there. It was now very evident that Egypt was under new leadership. Without the strength and order of the Pharaohs, it seemed that the country had fallen into a state of disrepair.
It wasn't that the city wasn't magnificent. Egypt would always be that. But, of what Gabrielle had seen, it was missing something. The country and the people had always been on this other level in the bard's mind. It was in the air, it was in the way they carried themselves. It wasn't quite arrogance, rather a kind of pride. Pride in their country, pride in their history; pride in themselves.
As she walked down the main road, Gabrielle saw a boy out of the corner of her eye. By the bard's best guess he looked to be around 14 or 15. He stood there, glaring intently at her. Instead of shying away, Gabrielle returned his stare. As she saw deeper and deeper into his eyes, she was astounded at what she found....they were empty. As it seemed by the condition of the buildings and the roads, the pride Egypt has once held was gone.
And if she had more time to dwell on it, she would have. But as destiny would have it, Gabrielle didn't have the time to contemplate. She had more important things to attend to. First off, she needed to find proper lodging for the night.
The shadows were daunting as night was well ahead of her. Gabrielle continued on her search for an inn. She had already stopped at several places but they had refused her. It seemed since the Pax Romana, warriors weren't a very welcomed kind in the New Egypt. So on she went, walking down the empty road. Most of the other citizens had scattered about, returning to their respective homes for the evening.
Gabrielle honed her senses, perking up her warrior skills while pacing down the endless, vacant road. Silence accompanied her for several steps until she heard soft sounds. She listened harder until she was sure she could make out light footsteps.
The battling bard made a quick detour into a near alley. She slowly unsheathed her Sais from the side of her boots, carefully readying herself for an oncoming attack. Several minutes past as she stayed hidden in the alley. Gabrielle listened closely for the footsteps, but she could hear nothing. She kept silent for a few more moments, listening intently but hearing nothing. Then she slowly crept out from under the shadows. As she made this action, once again the footsteps appeared, this time coming steadily from behind her.
The Amazon was quite confused on how her opponent could have gotten behind her but dismissed the thoughts for a more appropriate time. Instead she turned, Sais drawn, ready to meet her attacker.
Gabrielle was adequately surprised when she came face to face with one Warrior Princess.
"Xena." Gabrielle let out a quick gasp of relief, before she dived in for a hug. But inches before contact, the blonde remembered herself and dropped her Sais, quickly pulling away.
"Oh gods Xena, I'm sorry. I almost did it again."
"Gabrielle, it's ok!"
"No it's not. I'm so sorry. Jus....I ....I haven't seen you in two days. I was getting so worried...I didn't know if....I mean if...." She was too ashamed to finish her sentence.
"Hey," Xena spoke, slowly lifting up the bard's chin with a chilly finger. "I promised I'd be back. I don't break my promises."
"You promised you'd never leave me." Gabrielle replied. There was no malice or anger in her tone. The bard spoke very matter-of-factly.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle." It was now Xena's turn to lower her head in shame.
Several awkward moments of silence passed between the two. Both were unsure what to say next, hoping the other to break the deafening stillness.
Gabrielle finally broke the stand off by bending down to grab her Sais, placing them back into the sides of her boots. She looked out, spotting a small inn a few minutes down the road. She gazed back at Xena and then turned towards her destination. The bard took several steps, listening to see if her Xena was following, but again only silence greeted her.
Xena had decided to stand her ground, not sure whether she should proceed or not. Although she desperately wanted to, she wasn't too sure Gabrielle would want to have her around right now. Lately their relationship had been so delicate, she didn't want to do any more irreparable damage.
The bard halted her steps, finally turning to her partner. She could she the turmoil and confusion in Xena's face. A surge of compassion rose within the small Amazon and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
"Well," she gave a light hearted giggle. "Are you coming?"
Xena's face lit up like a starry night sky as she practically sprinted to catch up to her love.
"Didn't I already tell you, where you go I'm at your side."
"Well it's nice to know you meant it." Gabrielle gave a sincere grin.
They walked silently down the path for several moments until Xena interrupted the stillness.
"So where are we going?" She asked.
"To find someplace to spend the night."
"Gabrielle, it's long past dark....shouldn't you have found a place sooner?" Xena spoke, trying very hard not to sound condescending.
"Xena, I've been looking all day to rent a room. No one will have me. They take one look at my Sais and my outfit and kick me out. They apparently don't like warriors too much around this area."
"Ahh," Xena said in understanding. "The Pax Romana, otherwise known as the great hypocrisy. Basically, a policy saying Romans can have swords and you can't."
"In its simplest form, yes." Gabrielle chimed in agreement. "It's strange though."
"Having people seeing me as a warrior. I mean, I know that persona of me has been brewing for quite some time. But still...it's hard. In spite of everything, I don't quite see myself that way."
"Well, what do you see?"
"I don't know. I think I like the title of Battling Bard. It sums up what I am the best. I know I do see a part of myself as a warrior. But deep down there is still that part of me that's a bard. There's still a Gabrielle who delights in the coming of each new day...whose soul ignites at the sight of an amber sunset. A part of me that still dreams. It hurts when people don't see that." She paused for a short moment. "Xena, what do you see?"
Xena took a minute to compose her answer, knowing the weight her response would have. Then, once she had the words to say, she looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes, losing herself in a glorious sea of green.
"When I look at you, I see everything I've ever aspired to be. I see such beauty and passion unmatched by any other person in the world. Yes, I do see a warrior in you that has blossomed over the past few years. But, I also see another person. One whose gentleness and compassion greatly outshine her more aggressive side."
"Gabrielle, when I look at you I see the most incredible person I've ever known." Xena finished.
The bard let out a very sincere sigh. In truth, she was without words at the moment. Xena had, once again, left her speechless. For someone who claims to be a bard that sure seems to happen often...oh who are you kidding Gabrielle...you love it!
Xena raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"Good answer?" She asked.
"Very good answer Warrior Princess. I just might have to keep you around after all." Gabrielle teased back.
"And I thank the gods for that everyday." Xena added a touch of sentiment before they continued on to their destination. "So is that where we're going?" She pointed to a rather seedy inn several hundred feet in front of them.
"Gabrielle, I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Me either Xena." The bard threw the Warrior Princess for a loop by quickly agreeing with her.
"So why are we going there?"
"Because the last inn I stopped at referred me here. Before the inn keeper so graciously threw me out of his establishment, he ever so kindly told me that they'd accept...how did he put it...oh yes my kind," She held up her fingers like quotations marks while saying the phrase. "Over at this inn. So it seems this is a last resort."
"I'm sorry Gabrielle." Xena said feeling instantly guilty for her lover's trouble. After all, they were her fault. If not for Xena, Gabrielle would have never strayed onto the path of violence...never had been crucified....never had been raped....she would have been happy without me.
The bard instantly recognized the lost look in Xena's eyes and was dismayed. Even still, she blamed herself for Gabrielle's mistakes. Xena had yet to realize that the Amazon had chosen her own path and was happy with doing so. She still blames herself.
"Xena," She interrupted the warrior's thoughts with a compassionate tone. "Please don't, I've made my choices and have accepted them. Don't try to bear the weight of my guilt. I've got strong shoulders," Gabrielle gave a coy smile. "I think I can handle it."
Xena was relieved at the friendly banter and followed Gabrielle into the inn. The warrior had been quick to notice a transformation in her lover's demeanor. It wasn't an obvious, but a very subtle change. Xena had yet to place a finger on it, but she could tell something was definitely different about Gabrielle.
The way she was carrying herself, the look on her face, something had changed. She seems so much....lighter. Her face had softened a bit and her posture was much more inviting. And her eyes, those beautiful pools of green, they looked so much more...alive.
Gabrielle seemed to have a light within her once again. Even in the last few minutes she'd seen Gabrielle smile more than in the last month. She seems much more hopeful. The warrior didn't know what had caused the change. All she knew is that she thanked the gods for it.
Alcohol and the stench of rancid meat assaulted the duo's senses as they entered the inn. It became apparent that the outside was actually the better half of the establishment. The inside was dark and damp. There was clutter and garbage everywhere. And scattered around were a myriad of different patrons, all very drunk.
In the corner was a trio of darker-skinned men singing terribly off key in a language the bard couldn't understand. At a table near the fire place was and a young man and a much older woman kissing each other as if they were gaining substance from one another's tongue. They must have had quite a bit more than just a few, Gabrielle thought to herself.
At the bar, a middle-aged woman was serving several men. She spied at Gabrielle suspiciously as she poured out more port to a thirsty drunkard.
"What can I do for ya blondie?" An annoyingly screeching voice sounded.
"Um...I'd like a room." Gabrielle spoke, but was drowned out by all the background noise the busy room was providing.
"WHAT?" The lady called out.
"I SAID I'D LIKE A ROOM." She called out over the racket. At hearing the sounds of a potential customer, the woman scurried over to where Gabrielle was standing. The bard was immediately overwhelmed by the stench radiating from the woman. Geez...hasn't anyone ever heard of a bath here?! She gave Gabrielle a big smile, displaying her teeth....or rather lack thereof.
"How many will be staying?"
"Tw...." The bard had to stop herself. This was her first time really traveling without her companion. And, although Xena was there....she wasn't really there. A quick tear swelled up in her eye, but Gabrielle fought it back furiously. "I'm sorry. I meant one."
From behind, Xena placed a soft hand on the Amazon's shoulder, offering her the support she greatly needed.
"Alright there blondie. That'll be three dinars a night. And that includes a hot meal prepared by yours truly and," The woman paused, giving Gabrielle a very long once over. "Whatever else you ...might...need." She finished giving the bard a not-so-subtle wink.
Behind her, Xena gave an involuntary growl at the woman's words. If only....
"Oh...that's..." Gabrielle stuttered to recover. "I appreciate the offer, but...um... three dinars for the room is fine. Thank you."
"Okay blondie, but if you change your mind I'll be down here waiting for ya."
"Not if you wanna keep what's left of your teeth." Xena muttered underneath her breath. Gabrielle heard her warrior's words and let out a short laugh. The innkeeper turned to her, but being as she could neither hear nor see Xena, she just gave Gabrielle an odd look.
"Never mind." Gabrielle addressed the innkeeper, handing her the three dinars before heading up the stairs. Midway up, she turned back to the woman. "Oh by the way, what do I do for a bath?"
"Bath?" The woman responded as if it were an altogether foreign concept. Who knows, maybe for her, it was. "Well, if you really need one you can always get water from out back and carry it up I guess."
"Thanks, I'll do that." Gabrielle headed up the stairs, but stopped again. "Good night."
"Good night." The innkeeper called back at her.
After the bard was out of sight the woman went back to her serving duties, all the while keeping a certain Amazon in mind.
Gods she was cute, she thought, but she was sure damn strange.
Gabrielle let the warm water sooth her aching body. The slippery suds cascaded over her salty skin.
The woman below, who Gabrielle found out was named Mara, had actually been quite helpful in getting a bath ready for her. Although, Gabrielle did suspect some ulterior motives. Rather than dwell on that, she was simply thankful for the help.
Xena had stayed up in the room, trying very hard not to let jealousy best her. After all, she knew there were no grounds for such emotions... still, she couldn't help herself.
But now Gabrielle was right before her, carefully bathing her beautiful body. Xena sat in a lonely chair in the corner, the shadows masking her expression.
The bard was well aware of Xena's stealthy gaze upon her and took pleasure in her companion's attention. I've still got her. Gabrielle decided to draw Xena in further...to tease her.
She began to slow her ministrations. Very leisurely she lathered her body, spending extra moments on certain special body parts.
Xena watched, her mouth dry. She realized what Gabrielle was trying to do...Xena, trying to do?!...You know she's doing it... very well in fact. Arousal swelled within her body and the passionate flame of desire was rekindled. It was a surreal feeling.
Since her death, Xena hadn't felt any emotions remotely close to sexual. The precious intimacy that the pair had shared all but disappeared. Xena had subconsciously suppressed her longings because they had made her feel guilty. Who am I to want her? Especially right now. The last thing Gabrielle needs is a horny dead warlord panting after her.
Yet somehow, tonight, it just felt incredibly right. As desire rose within her, Xena realized her feelings were different. They weren't of carnage or lust, or even of release. They were simply yearnings of love. Her emotion, her need, was pure. She wanted to be with her bard. She wanted the intimacy they had shared; the immaculate passion that had always been theirs.
She wanted Gabrielle.
The bard too was overcome with a longing, a need that ran deep into the crevices of her soul. She wanted Xena with every fiber of her being. Except it was more than a want, and more than a need. It was completely essential that she have her warrior...right now.
But cruel fate would not allow it.
The battling bard and her love were separated by the boundaries of this world and the next. Both their emotions were so raw, so intense, they would engulf Xena's physical presence forcing her away. Still, they were much too strong to be denied.
Gabrielle called to her Warrior Princess.
"Xena." A smoky tone echoed through the room.
At the sound of her name, Xena slowly descended from her chair to the side of Gabrielle's bath. Her eyes were fixed solely on her partner's desperate gaze. The tall woman bent her head down so that she was almost touching Gabrielle's mouth. The bard could feel Xena's breath lightly tickle her skin.
There they stood only hairsbreadth away, but it might as well have been a mile for all the good it would do them. Xena needed to touch Gabrielle. Gabrielle wanted to feel Xena. But they were trapped, imprisoned by the choices the warrior had made.
"Xena I need you." The urgency in her voice was heart wrenching.
"Gabrielle, I need you too."
Then, ever so slowly, Gabrielle began to move her hand over Xena's body. She never actually made contact with the Xena's skin, but at the same time she was caressing the warrior's soul. Xena, understanding the gesture, began her own journey lightly letting her lips travel Gabrielle's body. Though the soft lips never touched her glorious skin, the bard concentrated hard and she could almost feel Xena kissing her.
They went on like this for several hours, mirroring touches, sharing separate kisses. It was terribly restraining yet at the same time incredibly intimate. The entire time they kept each other's gaze, staring intently as green meshed into blue. And, as the hours wore down, they simultaneously reached the pinnacle of ecstasy...there...in each other's eyes.
After that Gabrielle got up from the tub, the heat long having left the water. Her fingers were pruned, her skin drenched, but she was terribly sated. Xena watched her lover waltz over to the bed and wanted so much to join her. But their late evening escapades had drained her of much of her energy. Instead she treaded over to Gabrielle as the woman lay down in bed. Xena placed a soft kiss on the Gabrielle full lips; the first contact they had the entire night.
"Good night Gabrielle."
"Good night Xena." Gabrielle replied as she fell slowly into the arms of Morpheus.
A silent pause passed by.
"I love you Gabrielle."
"I love you too Xena." She murmured unconsciously from her almost sleeping state.
The city was bustling as Gabrielle stepped onto the streets that morning. She wasn't surprised to wake up alone. After how drained she felt, she didn't even want to imagine Xena's energy level.
Last night had to be one of the most sensual experiences of her life. What the two had shared was something beyond sex. It was absolutely incredible and for the first time Gabrielle didn't dread the morning.
In fact, she woke today with a smile on her face.
As much as her bed called to her, eventually Gabrielle had kicked off the sheets and gotten ready to face the day. She'd gone down to meet Mara and thank her for her help with the bath water. Mara had given her a wide, practically toothless, grin and offered the bard breakfast. But somehow stale bread and moldy cheese simply didn't seem right for her diet.
So the bard had decided to skip breakfast and head right for town. She's had a lot to do and wasn't even sure where to start.
Out of the corner of her eye Gabrielle saw an orange flash of color. When she turned to see what had produced the vision, she saw a delectable orange. The bard knew she shouldn't.
"You can't waste the precious dinars Gabrielle." She scolded herself aloud unknowingly.
"Sure you can." Came a familiar voice from behind her. It was Xena.
"Good morning to you too."
"So," The Amazon paused. "How are you feeling?" The question obviously holding a double meaning.
"Absolutely wonderful. And yourself?" Xena asked with the same insecurity.
"I feel great."
"Last night was...." Xena was at a loss for words.
"Amazing." Gabrielle finished. It was the best word she could come up with; kind of an embarrassment for a so-called bard.
"So have one." Xena encouraged.
"Buy an orange."
"Xena, I shouldn't. I can't throw away the dinars."
"Gabrielle, buy one. If anyone deserves a little reward, it's you."
"It does look really good." The bard said, her will faltering.
"Go get it." Xena pushed her and Gabrielle finally gave in. She reached down to pick up the delicious fruit.
The duo was oblivious to the pair of eyes watching them...or rather Gabrielle from across the way.
The man stood, surrounded by his servants and guards. He had been observing the small blonde woman since she appeared in the market.
He lightly stroked his short beard, barely more than stubble. The woman looked so much like the one in the picture. Having never seen her with his own eyes he simply couldn't be sure.
Her back was covered in a giant tattoo of some sort of dragon. Father never mentioned any tattoos. But, the rest seemed to fit what he had heard of her. Smaller in height but very strong in stature. Very distinct abs...that sounds right. Blonde hair, stunning green eyes; it all seemed a perfect match.
He watched as the woman reached for an orange, picking it up. She then dug down into her coin purse, pulling out a very distinctive dinar. It's an Amazon coin...that's definitely her. The man's face lit up with excitement. I've found her!
"Is something the matter sir?" The large guard beside him asked. He had noticed his master's deep concentration on the small woman across the way. Maybe he wants her for a concubine? Either way, it was his job to protect and keep his master happy.
"No Tesfu." A slight smile began to form on his face. "That woman, she looks Greek, yes?"
Tesfu took a moment to look over the girl. Definitely Greek, he thought to himself.
"I believe so sir."
"What about an Amazon, Tesfu. Could she be an Amazon?" He asked with urgency.
Again Tesfu studied the woman. Her body was very tanned and toned. Atypical for most of the Greek women he had seen. Although he had never actually seen an Amazon, he'd read the stories of Gabrielle: The Battling Bard of Poteidaia. His master kept several copies of her scrolls in his library. And every once in while, during night patrol, he would sneak in and steal precious moments reading her beautiful works.
She described many of her adventures in Amazonia, the woman being an Amazon princess herself. And, she often described her Amazon compatriots. Judging by what he had read, Tesfu guessed this was what an Amazon might look like. Besides...anything to make him happy.
"Yes sir. She must be an Amazon." He spoke with false confidence.
"Perfect." He smiled at himself. "Get her."
Gabrielle pulled the orange up to her mouth, letting its sweet scent fill her nostrils.
The coins in her hand jiggled as she shook them, preparing to give them to the distracted vendor. Just as she got his attention, she found a heavy hand on her shoulder. Her first reaction was that it was Xena. But then the bard realized the feeling of the grip was too strong...too human. She turned around to face her assailant.
"Can I help you?"
Instead of an answer, he grabbed the wrist of her arm that was holding the orange.
"Hey, I was going to pay for that."
Xena's eyes watched intently as the situation unfolded. She saw several men begin to circle around them and an impending sense of doom began to descend. She instinctively reached back for her sword, readying for an attack. Then, after several moments, she realized how ridiculous her actions were. Good job Xena, there really going to be scared of an invisible ghost.
Gabrielle had no time to pay attention to Xena's actions, she was too busy with the wall of muscle in front of her.
"Could you please let go of me so I can pay this man. I was going to...see." Gabrielle said holding her dinars.
"Gabrielle," Xena's tone weary. "Be very careful. Something tells me these men aren't interested in your fruit."
Tesfu took a look at the dinars and instantly realized them to be Amazonian. This will make the master very pleased.
"You're coming with me." The brute commanded.
Gabrielle immediately pulled back from his grasp, quickly grabbing her Sais and preparing for an attack.
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Wanna bet?" He spoke with arrogance. "Men, get her."
Suddenly Gabrielle was ambushed from every side. Several men, of various sizes, grabbed at the bard. Gabrielle quickly stepped back.
"Come on boys, now let's be fair. One at a time."
The men looked at each other, as if deciding who should go first. After several moments of no actions, they all ended up charging her.
"Ah well." Gabrielle exclaimed as she kicked the biggest man in the groin and swept another's feet from other her.
Xena was left helpless in the background. She knew one day she'd have to accept this: Gabrielle being on her own and Xena not being able to help. But still, it was tearing her apart. Seeing her soul mate in danger and being powerless to do anything. A deep rage began to brew within her belly.
Gabrielle was oblivious to Xena's turmoil, all her attention focused on the ongoing battle. Another man charged for her, making the mistake of attacking low, leaving himself wide open. Gabrielle took the opportunity a hit him hard over the head with the blunt end of the Sai.
But as she completed the action, she failed to see the man behind her coming up with a long, sharp blade.
Xena saw him approach, but again was incapable of doing anything to stop the man. The only weapon she had was her voice. So she called out a warning to her partner.
"Gabrielle, look out! Behind you."
The bard heard her, but it was too late. She was able to slightly pull away, but the man's strike still man contact with her arm producing an adequate cut right below her shoulder.
"Gabrielle." Xena gasped as she saw the blood oozing from her lover's arm. The warrior found herself at the edge of tears. It wasn't the fact that Gabrielle was injured. The cut wasn't anything fatal. In fact, the wound was little more than a scratch. It was the simple fact that all Xena could do was watch it happen. She was frozen in her ghostly state. It was penalty for her actions.
The fighting would have gone for much longer but it was broken up as a man from across the street raced over, yelling loudly.
At hearing his master's command, he immediately dropped his weapons and turned to face him.
"What do you think you're doing?" The man spoke enraged. Tesfu reacted with confusion, isn't that what he wanted.
"You told me to get her sir." [her, sir."]
"Gods, Tesfu. I didn't mean attack her." He scolded the guard.
Gabrielle observed the strange situation. Although her attacker was much bigger and older, it seemed that this younger man was the leader of the troop. The man was only several inches taller then Gabrielle and very slim. He wore his hair cut very short and had a small goatee which seemed to be an attempt to make him look older. The bard guessed him to be no more than the age of twenty.
His features were unique. They weren't altogether unpleasing, actually they made him rather attractive. Although he was of darker skin, his face didn't look like those of the Egyptians Gabrielle had met. No, the man looked more as if he was from Nubia or Northern Ethiopia.
Xena was very suspicious of the entire situation, but after looking over the man carefully she decided he didn't seem much of a threat. Gabrielle seemed, at least for how, to be safe. But still, the whole scenario left the Warrior Princess uneasy.
The handsome young gentleman turned to Gabrielle.
"I'm very sorry Miss. Are you ok....oh by the gods, you're hurt." He gasped.
Tesfu cringed as he looked at the small woman's arm. Oh no, now I'm in trouble.
"Oh...this." Gabrielle turned to her arm, barely even realizing that she'd been cut. "Don't worry about this." Her eyes glanced over at the Tall man, seeing him flinch. "It's really nothing."
"Oh yes it is. I'll see the best healers have a look at it."
"Oh this," Gabrielle again looked at her arm. "I can sew this up myself."
"You must let me help." He persisted.
"Gabrielle." Xena interrupted. She'd tried to be silent, but finally had to speak. "Let him have it looked at. That blade didn't look too clean. We don't want it to get infected."
"Xena I really don't need it." The bard whispered through her teeth, trying to make her speech unnoticeable being as no one else could see or hear her companion.
Her eyes looked up to meet the warrior, seeing the sincere worry in her eyes. How could I ever deny that?
"Oh fine." Gabrielle admitted defeat to Xena.
"What did you say?" The man asked.
Gabrielle had forgotten he was still waiting for an answer.
"I'm sorry, I said fine. Let your healers look at it."
"Good. I'm so sorry about this."
"It's quite alright.....I'm sorry I didn't catch your name."
"Again I apologize," the man spoke with sincere regret. "My name in Yohanas." He extended a hand.
"Nice to meet you." She grasped the man's outstretched arm. "I'm Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle, the Battling Bard of Poteidaia?"
"The one and only." Gabrielle admitted, embarrassed at being recognized.
"Perfect!" He delighted. "I knew it was you."
Suddenly the bard was confused.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"Oh no, you don't know me." He answered matter-of-factly. "But I do you remember a man named Tekleu?"
The room was very grand. Rich tapestries hung down from the ceiling. Candles lit up the dark room.
Gabrielle sat in the center, on the floor, with her host Yohanas. The bard had tried to go back to the inn, but he would hear none of it. So she'd cordially accepted his hospitality.
She had expected a nice size home, but was brought back to something of a palace. Floors upon floors and rooms upon rooms, Gabrielle had only seen such splendor on rare occasions. Her first guess was that the man was royalty, however she was embarrassed to ask.
When they entered the home, Gabrielle found herself given soft bed and a warm bath. Only after making sure she was fully rested was her presence allowed downstairs. The servants had brought Gabrielle a change of clothing for the night.
It was a very simple, very comfortable garment. It was colored a soft beige and was soft as a newborn's skin. The clothing was a very breathable cotton which felt glorious against Gabrielle's tired skin. Around the neckline and the hem of the dress was a very elaborate trim. Its dark green color perfectly complemented her eyes. Inside the trim lay a pattern of intricate, geometric shapes. They mirrored the ones found on the center of the dress.
It was both fashionable and comfortable; Gabrielle definitely approved. I wonder if Xena likes it, she thought to herself.
The warrior had disappeared without warning sometime after the battle. When Gabrielle had turned around, her companion was gone. It had been a bit saddening but the bard had reasoned that, for now, it was probably for the best.
With Xena around, Gabrielle was constantly talking to, what the outside world perceived as air since the warrior was invisible to all others. And Gabrielle really didn't want to give out the impression of being insane, especially to such a gracious host. But I still miss her!
So now here she was, having just joined Yohanas in the dinning room....or at least that's what she thought it to be. However, there was no table for them to eat at, just a comfortable floor with a myriad of cushions.
The bard took her spot amidst a bit of confusion. Yohanas gave her a big smile and stood up to greet her.
"Ms. Gabrielle." He welcomed her, moving in to kiss her cheek. Gabrielle just stood, frozen, not sure how to react to sure a gesture. But, instead of kissing her, he simply pressed his cheek to hers, kissing the air. Then, he repeated the action on the other cheek and back once again on the original one. When he pulled away to sit down, Yohanas noticed the bewildered expression on his guest's face.
"Oh Ms. Gabrielle, you'll have to excuse me. My apologies, I forget myself sometimes. You see that is how my people greet one another. It is a custom."
"It's alright Yohanas." The Amazon joined her host in a hearty laugh. After the moment passed Gabrielle choose a spot on the cushioned floor. "Yohanas, who is your people?"
"Ah, my people are from the ancient land of Ethiopia."
"I thought as much." Gabrielle chimed in, pleased with having her suspicions confirmed.
"Are you hungry Ms. Gabrielle?"
"Yohanas, it's just Gabrielle. No Miss. And yes, I am hungry."
"Good," he smiled. "Then eat you shall. Have you ever had Ethiopian food?"
"No I haven't, but I'm willing to try anything." As if on cue, her stomach growled in agreement.
Yohanas laughed and clapped his hands in the air. Immediately a servant came in carrying what looked like a giant woven basket. She placed it down between the two and then walked off, back to the kitchen.
Gabrielle's host leaned forward, removing the lid from basket. From the top came rising steam and Gabrielle's eyes fell before a mountain of food.
"Oh it is." Yohanas encouraged.
Right before Gabrielle was about to dig in, another servant returned with two giant pans. Yohanas grabbed the tops off the other two and explained their contents while the servants still stood holding on to them
"Now this," he pointed to what Gabrielle thought was a large basket. "Is called a mesob. It's used to serve food. This is," he indicated what the first woman was holding. "Is wat. It's a very spicy, filling dish.
"What is it called?" Gabrielle asked, confused.
"Wat." He replied calmly.
"Yeh, that's what I asked."
"Huh?" Now Yohanas was confused.
"What is its name?"
"No," Gabrielle could feel frustration begin to build within her body. "What is the name of the dish?"
Gabrielle opened mouth to voice some of her aggravation, but she was stopped prematurely by the slave. The woman had bent down by Yohanas and began speaking in a foreign tone. Gabrielle was at a loss as to the conversation, but in the end it seemed the two had come to an understanding. Yohanas let out a hearty laugh; the bard just looked at him, bewildered.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle. My slave, Aida had brought your confusion to my attention. I wasn't very clear to you. This dish," He again pointed to the now infamous cuisine. "Is called W-A-T. That is its name...W-A-T."
"Ohhh." Gabrielle said, sheepishly. Her cheeks turned a pale crimson as she realized her mistake.
Yohanas was not able to contain his brewing laughter as he released a few giggles at the bard's embarrassment.
"Anyway...there is more food to be had." He pointed to another pot. "This is alecha. It is a vegetable dish."
He turned back to the mesob.
"Now in here is injera. It is like a type of bread. You take the dish you'd like," he pointed to the servant who poured a little wat onto the bread. Then he scrunched it with his hand, enclosing the wat into the center of a torn off piece of injera. "And enjoy. Now you try."
The bard surveyed the task in front of her, ready to conquer the mighty challenge.
"No utensils?" She asked, hoping he'd produce a fork or such.
"Just these." Yohanas smiled, waving his fingers.
"Alright then. I can do this." She spoke her thoughts aloud before diving into the intimidating meal.
She started slow, ripping a little corner of injera and taking in a dabble of wat. She lifted the food to her mouth and bit down anxiously. Gabrielle slowly chewed, letting the flavor explode onto her palette. It was wonderful.
"Hmmm." The bard smiled, trying to voice her pleasure.
"I'm glad you like it." Yohanas spoke, very pleased.
"It's very good." Gabrielle finally said after swallowing her first bite. He was right about it being spicy. It was very much so, but in a tremendous way. The textures and taste suited Gabrielle just fine and she inched in for more.
"Eat, eat." Yohanas encouraged.
The two ate their fill, enjoying a delicious meal with minimal conversation. Gabrielle was still very confused about her presence here. She had run through her mind over and over again searching for the name Tekleu, but still she drew a blank.
They rounded out their meal as a servant came again and prepared a hot drink for the two. Gabrielle watched as they steamed and roasted dark brown beans over a hot flame, adding water to it. When one of the women handed the bard a small mug containing the drink, she spied it wearily.
Steam rose from the dark brown liquid. It looked very much like tea but the scent was distinctly different.
"What is it?"
Yohanas took a slow sip before answering her.
"It's called coffee. It comes from providence in my country by the same name. Taste it."
Gabrielle looked suspiciously at the drink once again before taking a small sip.
"Hmm, I like." She announced after taking several moments to analyze the taste.
"I'm very pleased Ms...I mean Gabrielle."
They both drank their coffee in silence for a few minutes before Gabrielle could hold back her curiosity no longer. She didn't want to offend Yohanas or embarrass herself by asking who Tekleu was...but she also felt as if she was taking advantage of his hospitality.
"Yes." He looked up over his mug.
"I'm sorry, I've been thinking it over really hard and....I...." she stuttered. "I just don't remember a Tekleu...at all. I'm really sorry....could you tell me where I might know him from...maybe."
"Oh, I'm not surprised you don't remember." He spoke in an understanding tone.
Gabrielle let out a relieved breathe. Well I didn't offend him...at least I don't think I did.
"Gabrielle you only met him for a few minutes, but you changed his life."
"Yeah. Do you remember when you were in Egypt years ago? Back when the Romans were taking over the city...when Cleopatra was killed?"
"Yes, I do."
"My father, Tekleu, was a slave in Cleopatra's Palace taken from his homeland, Ethiopia."
Gabrielle simply nodded as he told his story, still completely in the dark as to the man's identity.
"Well, one night some of Caesar Augustus's soldiers snuck into the palace. My father was supposed to be on watch, but he hadn't seen them. Fortunately...or rather unfortunately, they caught the men. Well, with their capture the guards sought out to see who was responsible for their entrance."
"They thought my father had let them in when he had done no such thing. He wasn't trained as a warrior and they easily passed by him. The guards were about to kill him and they would have....had it not been for you." He paused.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, trying to remember back to her time in Egypt, back to that night.
"You appeared out of nowhere. He always said you looked like an angel, all dressed in white. You stopped them, telling them Cleopatra herself would deal with him. At first, terror once again took hold of my father's heart, thinking Cleopatra would serve him a much worse fate. But then you took his hand and led him outside."
"You told him to escape, to lead a happy life. But my father was scared, what if he was found out? You assured him that wouldn't happen. Again he was hesitant. You see, my father had been a slave most of his life...he didn't know anything else, he didn't have anything else. He couldn't have survived."
The situation became clearer in the bard's mind. Her memory haze slowly lifted as she began to remember that night.
"Gabrielle, you reached down in your pocket and retrieved five gold dinars and gave them to him. Back then it might not have seemed like much, but it was more than he'd ever had for himself. Before he left into the night, he promised to repay you. He meant it."
"I remember, Yohanas. Your father seemed like a great man."
"He was a very good man. I miss him." A somber mood invaded their discussion.
"When did he die?"
"Just a few months ago, but every morning...it feels like it just happened yesterday. The wound is still bleeding." He held back tears bravely.
"I know...I know all too well." Gabrielle moved closer to the man, trying to add comfort. She knew his pain; she felt his pain. "I know it seems like it will never it get better....but it will. The pain will never go away, but you get used it."
She wished she could give him more eloquent words or even ones more consoling, but she couldn't lie. Gabrielle knew the pain of losing someone close to you too well to dull it down. It was much too significant for that.
"I know I will....someday." He trailed off.
Me too...hopefully, Gabrielle thought as they indulged into a couple moments of their out self-pity and pain. Finally, the bard decided to resume the conversation.
"So how did you know that it was me? I mean, I only met your father for a few minutes. He remembered me well enough to identify me?"
"Gabrielle, I doubt anyone who has met you has trouble remembering you."
The bard flushed at his remarked. I don't know if I should take that as a compliment...or not.
"But you're right, that probably would have been the end of it, but you gave him Amazon dinars."
"Ohh." Gabrielle said in understanding.
Back then, against her will, the Amazons decided to mint their coins with the bard's face upon it with Queen Gabrielle of Poteidaia beneath her picture. Ephiny had found the color Gabrielle had turned when she first saw them absolutely hilarious. Yeh, she was laughing until I made them put her face on the other side!
Gabrielle had refused to use the coins on account of her embarrassment. Not only did they put her face on the coin, but they had used a picture drawn of her when she first became an Amazon Princess. The profile had long hair and made Gabrielle looked like she was twelve.
She'd practically been ready to throw them away when Xena finally stepped in. Being the voice of practicality, Xena reasoned that dinars were dinars and that they weren't going to get rid of them for such a petty reason.
"And besides," She commented with a coy smile. "I think you look kinda sexy."
Gabrielle had decided to keep them.
"So your face and name was on the coin. He vowed someday he would repay you a hundred times fold for your kindness. You were his motivation, Gabrielle. And with those five dinars, he created a fortune. He started out very small, but was eventually able to open his own exporting business. He would gather resources from Ethiopia and ship up the Nile to Egypt where he would sell some and the rest export to Rome and Greece and such."
"My father became, as you can see, as incredible rich man. He owns...owned stations in Ethiopia, Egypt, and in Rome. His dying wish was that I be sure find you...or your relatives to repay them for what you gave him."
"It was nothing Yohanas." The bard spoke modestly, a little overwhelmed by his words.
"Oh no Gabrielle, what you gave him....it was everything." He wore a sincere smile. "I want to show you something."
The bard followed him as Yohanas left the room. They headed down a long dark corridor that seemed never ending. Finally they reached a set of dark doors. They were made of a thick wood, stained to perfection. Two silver door handles gleamed in the moonlight coming in from an above window. Yohanas took a moment to look at Gabrielle before pushing the doors open.
Gabrielle walked in to find herself breathless. Before her were stacked thousands upon thousands of scrolls. The room was filled with the intoxicating scent of musky parchment. The Bard of Poteidaia was truly in heaven.
"I could happily spend the rest of my life here," she mused.
Yohanas just laughed as he motioned her over to a shelf of scrolls.
"Ever seen these?" He handed her several scrolls. As the bard opened them up and read them greedily, the words were strikingly familiar.
"Yours." He finished her sentences.
"Yeah. I mean some of the words are different, but these are my scrolls." She gaped, amazed.
"Oh Gabrielle, you had to have known that you're scrolls had been copied. They're all over the world. You're famous."
"Yeh...I mean..." She stuttered, trying to comprehend what she saw before her. "I knew that, yes. But, it's just kind of different. I mean this is the first time I have actually seen a physical copy of them. It's a little...overwhelming." Gabrielle explained.
"Well if you like that, you should definitely love this." He handed her an especially aged scroll. It was weathered and tethered; the parchment and ink faded from use. It was apparent that the scroll had been read many a time. "It was the pride of his entire collection."
Gabrielle gasped in absolute and utter shock. She had been overwhelmed before, now she was completely breathless.
"Where did you get this?" She whispered, her voice having left her.
"Whenever my father visited anywhere he would be certain to spend several days going through the local villages, seeing if anybody knew of you. One day, on one of his excursions, he took a break for a mid-afternoon meal. He stopped at an interestingly decorated establishment. Some inn dedicated to Xena the Warrior Princess and of course her companion Gabrielle Bard of Poteidaia."
"My father spoke with the owner of the inn, he claimed to have known you and your friend. They talked for hours, him telling stories of your escapades and my father eagerly listening. Finally, my father told his story and how he was searching for you. The man, almost at the point of tears, relayed to him that you were most likely dead."
"He was very distraught, but my father vowed not to lose hope. The man admired his spirit and said if he ever saw you, to send word back to the inn. My father agreed and thanked him for his time and insight. As a sign of gratitude, father handed the man a sack of coins. "
"The man adamantly refused them, but father could tell he needed them. Finally the man accepted but in exchange he gave my father this." He pointed to the scroll. "Is it yours?"
"Ye...yes. Yes it is. This, this is the first scroll I ever wrote on my travels with Xena." Gabrielle was moved almost to the point of tears and she didn't know why.
The scroll was a symbol of her life with Xena. It was a symbol of her innocence. It was a symbol of who she was.
"What was the man's name? The one who gave your father the scroll."
"Um...Ja...Jo...Jerkster...Joker...." He trailed off, trying to remember.
"Yeh, that's it. Did you know the man?"
"He was a great friend." Gabrielle let a tear slide down her cheek for another lost loved one. "Can I keep this?"
"Gabrielle, it's yours."
"Thank you Yohanas."
He bowed his head and smiled in response. When he rose, Yohanas began to walk over to the other side of the room.
"I want to show you one more thing." Gabrielle strolled over towards Yohanas, her green eyes still not lifting from the scroll she possessed in her hand. "You asked how I recognized you, well this is how."
Yohanas reached up to remove a sheet, obviously covering up some sort of painting or wall hanging. As the picture was brought to light, again, Gabrielle was amazed.
There before her was an almost life size portrait of her in full Amazon attire. Unlike the coins, this was a more recent rendition, portraying Gabrielle with her shortly sheered locks. The painting had the bard standing before her throne holding a sword in one hand and raising the other arm victoriously in the air.
"Father bought this off a trader in Greece. He recognized the face from the coin, knowing it was you. This picture," he looked over to Gabrielle. "Is how I knew who you were in the town square today."
"Wow." Was all the bard could come up with, feeling very overwhelmed by the entire situation.
"And now that I have found you, I can finally fulfill my father's last wish." He took a deep breath. "Gabrielle, anything and everything you want is yours. You say the word and you'll have it."
The blonde, who was still reeling from tonight's events slowly floated back to reality and realized the weight of Yohanas's words.
"I'm here to repay you. Anything you want, you'll have."
"Yohanas...I...what I did for your father, I didn't expect anything back. I'm thrilled he was able to do so much with it and I appreciate his gratitude, but I don't want anything. "
"Gabrielle, there has to be something you want. I promised him. If you don't let me do anything for you, how can he rest?"
"I'm sure your father's fine. Just letting me stay with you is more than generous."
"Please Gabrielle, there has to be something I can do for you." He pleaded with an incredible amount of urgency.
"Really Yohanas, there's no....." Gabrielle halted her words as a thought entered her mind.
Wait a minute, Yohanas knows the land, the people, and he has the resources. He could help me with my plan. Yohanas could help me get Xena back!
"Actually," She began again. "There is something you could help me with."
Her body welcomed the soft, comfortable cushion of a bed that awaited her only steps away. Gabrielle had tried to preserve some semblance of control by washing and changing, all the while eyeing that delicious bed.
Finally, when it was time to retreat, she couldn't hold back her enthusiasm. The bard sprinted and then, rather ungracefully, dove into the cozy bed. The cushions melded to her body and Gabrielle felt a gorgeous sinking feeling as she molded to the bed.
As she reached down to pull up the covers, she felt the familiar cotton material. The bed cover was made out of the same fabric as her earlier dress had been. The bard had asked her host what the blanket was called he'd replied very straightly that "it was a gabby."
Gabrielle had laughed at his supposed joke, but when he asked what she was laughing about it was clear the Amazon was alone in the ruse.
"That's a joke right...Gabrielle...gabby?" She'd asked.
"Ha, I'd never even thought of that."
How ironic, the bard mused as she snuggled down even deeper to her glorious bed. Ethiopia sure has come up with some weird names for their things.
Guilt was also heavy on Gabrielle's mind. She felt awkward accepting such splendor from a man she hardly knew. Especially since he thought it to be payment for a deed the small blonde couldn't even remember doing.
However, Gabrielle felt even worse about what she planned to do. She would be taking advantage of Yohanas's hospitality. The bard had to admit she really liked the man. He was smart, funny, handsome, and continually compassionate and caring. She admired him for that.
But now she would be using him. Neither he nor his father owed her anything, yet she was willing to collect on the iniquitous payment. Gabrielle's brow furrowed as the thoughts drifted into her mind.
On the other hand I'd be doing Yohanas a favor, I'd be letting him fulfill his father's last wish. I'd be releasing him from the debt and the guilt he must feel. This could be a good thing for everyone. She tried to convince herself. She tried to believe herself. But ultimately, the plan was selfish and would probably end in tragedy.
More than anything, the bard wished she cared.
But she couldn't. Gabrielle was so consumed with her need to get Xena back, little else mattered. She couldn't worry about using Yohanas; she had much more important things to think about...Xena.
And come morning Gabrielle would unleash her plan to get her Warrior Princess back.
With those thoughts in mind, the Battling Bard of Poteidaia fell gracefully into a smiling slumber.
Gabrielle awoke to a gloomy day. The sun wasn't even visible between the selfish, grey clouds. A light cool breeze had blew over the bard's skin, causing instant goosebumps from a semi conscious Gabrielle.
A long yawn echoed through the giant bedroom as the bard slowly brought her body to the same level of awareness. She lazily strode out of bed, hoisting her arms high above her head. Next she stretched her neck. She turned it to one side, than the next. Up and down. Up and down.
Through the neck stretches, Gabrielle got a pretty complete look of the whole room. Another gloomy detail reared its ugly head: no Xena.
It'd almost been a full 24 hours since she'd last seen her partner and Gabrielle felt an aching pit in her gut, like a sinking stone was lodged within. Xena being gone for so long wasn't unusual. In fact, it had happened several times in the last month. Xena had even disappeared for several days before, but somehow this was different.
Lately the Warrior Princess had been staying longer and her visits had become more and more frequent. It was enough to get Gabrielle's hopes up. Maybe this thing could be under control. Maybe Xena's found a way.
Deep down the bard still held that utter awe of her partner, that complete adoration. Even now, Gabrielle still believed Xena was capable of doing anything. The little girl from Poteidaia was still apart of her, buried inside her. That absolute faith in her partner was something she'd never lose.
But it was apparent that Xena didn't have it under control. She had as much power over the situation as Gabrielle did....that was a scary thought.
However today would help to change all that....or at least Gabrielle hoped it would. She had yet to tell Yohanas her plans. Waiting until morning seemed more conducive to the design.
"Well I can't go out looking like this." The bard scolded herself, looking at her disheveled state.
She quickly dressed and groomed herself. In the corner of her eye she spotted a bright color, demanding her attention....is that....as she turned her head, the bard was pleasantly surprised.
It seemed Yohanas was not above forcing his hospitality upon his guests, whether they liked it or not. Evidently someone had visited the bard while she lay asleep during the mid-morning hours. They had left a large tray filled with an array of delicious delectables.
The aroma-filled air hinted at freshly baked bread. There were several different cheeses. And, to Gabrielle's ultimate delight, there were a wide arrangement of different fruits. There were bananas, strawberries, pears, and in the center an absolutely glorious orange.
The bard debated for less than a second before reaching out for the centerpiece. As she grabbed the fruit, a small piece of papyrus fell to the ground. Gabrielle bent over to pick it up and opened the intricately folded papyrus. Before the bard read the contents, she simply mused at the feeling of the paper.
Papyrus was such a change from the musky, leather parchment she was used to. It had a crisper, new sensation, but somehow it lacked the feeling of permanency she experienced with parchment.
The thought came, then left and Gabrielle focused on the writing within the papyrus.
A small Amazon dropped this in the market yesterday. Somehow she forgot it.
She must have been distracted....by something.
"Hmmm. Something indeed." Gabrielle voiced before letting out a small giggle.
She quickly peeled her orange, biting into the fruit's sweet flesh. The bard was barely able to contain her audible pleasure. Gabrielle rapidly devoured the orange. Once finished, she washed her hands free of the fruit's sticky juices and headed to the door.
She looked just one last time over her shoulder, searching for her soul mate. Unfortunately, Gabrielle was greeted to an empty room.
Ah well, it's probably a lot easier this way. If Xena caught wind of Gabrielle plans to resurrect her she would surely do whatever was in her power to stop them. No, it's definitely better this way, she convinced herself.
With that Gabrielle turned around, facing the long empty hallway.
"Good morning Gabrielle." Yohanas greeted her warmly as the bard entered the room.
"And how are you Yohanas?" Gabrielle responded cordially, yet removed.
"Quite fine thank you. I have been anxiously awaiting your presence today. What is your request?"
Gabrielle took a deep breath. This is going to be difficult. Requesting Yohanas's help to revive my dead girlfriend is going to be a little hard to explain. She looked deeply into Yohanas's inviting eyes. They were so warm...so friendly....it'd been a while since Gabrielle had seen such kindness focused on her. Well, here goes nothing....or everything.
"Yohanas, what I have to ask of you is going to seem like an outlandish, crazy request. It might take me a while to explain, but eventually I hope to gain your talents in my quest."
"Of course Gabrielle. I am in your debt." He bowed his head, showing her physical respect. "What can I do for you?"
"Well...to begin with," Gabrielle bit the inside of her lip as she paused. "Tell me the story of the Chalice of Ma'at Ba."
"Ahhh, The Chalice of Ma'at Ba, what do you know of it? I only ask because the Chalice of Ma'at Ba is a lesser known tale of Egypt."
"Not much. I've only heard pieces of the story. Is it true that it can bring one back to life?" The bard asked, wide eyed, with a childlike hope.
"I will tell you what I know." He paused, preparing to begin the tale.
"Many years ago, in a time when the Pharaohs ruled Egypt and the land flourished, there lived a girl named Safiya. Safiya was one of the most beautiful women in Egypt. She was the daughter a rich merchant and lived in great splendor."
"The only thing that exceeded Safiya's outer beauty was her inner beauty. She possessed a truly kind heart, a rarity in any time. One day, as she walked through Thebes with her guards, she heard a loud scream."
"Safiya followed the cry and discovered a slave being brutalized. The boy looked to have already been beaten, but yet the master craved more. She arrived just in time to see the cruel man's knife come down, slicing off the slave's index finger."
"Now in Egypt that is a perfectly legal and moral form of punishment, yet it tore at Safiya's soul. She sent her guards over to save the slave, purchasing him immediately from his cruel master. She brought him back to her home and attended to him herself. Safiya cleaned his wounds and sat by his side as the fever overcame him. She sang soft lullabies and lightly brushed his forehead with cool water as he sweat uncontrollably."
"Eventually, the boy, named Naeem, healed and the day came when he was able to glimpse his savior. The moment their eyes met, it was true love. A love so deep, many still strive to understand it. Even the two lovers were at a loss to comprehend their feelings. But a love of that grandeur, it only needs to be accepted...nothing more."
Gabrielle nodded her head in absolute understanding.
"Time went on and their feelings grew, nurtured by knowledge and experience. Safiya and Naeem shared a love so pure even Osiris and Isis envied them. One day, as Safiya strolled through Thebes' main square she was spotted by a man named Omari... and so was sealed the lovers' tragic fate."
"As soon as Omari's eyes landed on Safiya's smooth silhouette, he was immediately taken by her beauty. He had to have her. The next day Omari approached Safiya's father with a proposal of marriage. Omari was a very prominent man, an advisor to the Pharaoh no less. It was an honor and privilege that he showed interest in his daughter. And so, Safiya's father was all too quick to accept his proposition, not knowing the repercussions that would follow."
"When Safiya learned of her betrothal, she was beside herself with grief. She ran to Naeem, telling of the cruel separation that awaited them. Naeem was enraged, his heart breaking. He could not be parted from Safiya for he loved her too much. There was only one way. So the next day as Omari came to collect Safiya, Naeem challenged him to Safiya's hand."
"Although Omari had no cause to credit the boy's challenge, he did not want to lose face in front of his new family. With his honor at stake, Omari accepted the challenge."
"The next day the two met, carrying no weapons but their fists. Safiya had reluctantly come to bear witness. She could not miss precious moments with Naeem, even if they were her last. She peered through half closed eye lids as the brutality ensued."
"It was never any real question as to the victor. Omari controlled the battle with his brute strength. Naeem fought with valor, but was simply no match for the seasoned warrior. He knew his fate...death. Naeem willingly accepted that. A life separated from his beloved was none at all, only misery. However, he did not intend for Safiya to spend hers trapped in the arms of the cruel Omari for he had a plan."
"The two had chosen to fight on a small plain. The edge of the plain stretched out to form a cliff, hanging right above the mighty Nile."
"Naeem looked over to the edge and could hear the rushing roar of the vibrant waters; he smiled as he felt death creep near to him. Naeem turned his head to look at his adored Safiya one last time. When their eyes met, for a moment time stopped. A lifetime of words passed between them without a single sound. I love you....I miss you....everything they'd ever wanted to say to each other, a silent conversation in simple second. There were no tears, no goodbyes; anything else would have superfluous to the moment."
"Naeem then turned away and rushed forward with all his might, tackling Omari and holding him tight as they both plummeted into the water....never to rise again."
Gabrielle gasped for breath as she reacted to the story. His words, it was as if Yohanas was telling the bard's own tale. The memories flooded, overwhelming her and causing Gabrielle to hyperventilate. Yohanas rushed to her side, consumed with worry.
"Gabrielle, are you alright?"
"I'm...I...I'm fine...Yo...Yohanas." She let her breath catch up with her. "I'm sorry I scared you."
"Maybe I should stop and you co...."
"No, no I'm fine." However the doubt was still obvious in his eyes. "Really! I'm ok, things just got a little...close there. But please, continue."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes...please." Her tone soaked in urgency.
"Alright." He paused, still hesitant, but Gabrielle's warming gaze coaxed him along until he finally continued.
"Safiya mourned Naeem fiercely. For weeks, she barely ate, she barely slept; she simply wept. All through the day and all through the night the soft sounds of her grief could be heard."
"And when she ran out of tears to shed, Safiya would go to the cliff and stare for hours down at the cruel Nile that had stolen her lover. When dusk would approach, her father's guards would come and take her home. And the next day she would repeat the cycle...and the next....and the next. Each day, she moved closer and closer to the edge."
"At last, she could take it no more. The uncertainty of the afterlife had become more inviting than the constant torture of life in this realm. Safiya jumped into the water's opening arms and let death consume her....or at least what she thought was death."
"Safiya awoke facing Osiris, god of the dead. She waited for him to weigh her soul, praying it be lifted, but instead Isis appeared. You see, they had taken pity on the lovers and planned to help them reunite. Isis knew the pain of being without one's beloved. She handed a golden chalice to Safiya which contained a silver colored liquid and began to explain."
"Instead of death, Safiya had been placed in a deep sleep and brought to the afterlife. Osiris would allow her passage into the afterlife until sunset so she could find Naeem. Once she found him, he was to drink from the cup Isis had given her, the Chalice of Ma'at Ba....the Chalice of True Life. In doing this, he would be restored and the two could live happily."
"Safiya thanked the gods heavily and set off to find her lover. However, the underworld is a strange and confusing place. She searched with great fervor, but time fought as her enemy. Finally, with sunset approaching, she found her Naeem."
"They embraced and rejoiced, allowing precious moments to slip by. Safiya had forgotten the chalice, too overwhelmed by the sight of Naeem. She smiled and looked into his eyes...but something was different, something was missing. There was a coldness about them. But Safiya denied the uneasy feeling, trying to explain it by some other manner....any other manner. It must be death that has changed him, she told herself."
"If only she had known. Safiya was all too right, for something was all too wrong. The man she had found was not that of her beloved Naeem. You see Set, Osiris's evil brother, had heard of the god's plans and decided to foil them. He approached Omari and explained what was to take place. Omari was furious at Osiris's favoritism, he being an advisor to the Pharaoh and all. Set sided with the man and transformed Omari's face to that of Naeem's and set him to wait for Safiya."
"From the corner of her eye Safiya saw the sun's quick descent and immediately remembered her purpose. She handed the chalice to Naeem and told him to drink. He grasped the cup and slowly brought it up to his lips and filled his mouth with the divine liquid."
"As he lifted the cup, Safiya noticed something....two hands....ten fingers...none missing. Her heart could no longer deny the truth...this was not Naeem. Safiya quickly seized the cup from Omari. Then, with a moment's hesitation, she brought him into a hard kiss. Omari melded to her mouth, thinking she was embracing Naeem. However, during the kiss, Safiya sucked the lifesaving liquid from his mouth and transferred it into hers. As the sun set, she swallowed it involuntarily sealing her fate."
"Safiya was returned to the land of the living...alone...her one chance at happiness destroyed. She stood at the cliff, chalice still in hand, and stared into the night sky, one last tear trickled down her cheek. She was doomed."
"I don't understand." Gabrielle interrupted.
"Gabrielle, the Chalice of Ma'at Ba would restore life to the dead. But to a mortal, a swallow from the divine chalice means immortality. So she is condemned to eternal life, separated forever from her love."
"That's the saddest thing I have ever heard." Gabrielle conveyed. Her face held a bleak expression, although she had no tears. For some reason they didn't seem appropriate. They weren't enough to display the sadness she felt. "Where is Safiya now?"
"She waits....in a cave that overlooks the place where Naeem fell, the last place she saw him...the last place she was ever truly alive. Some say she waits for death, although it will never come. Others say she waits for another, someone like her."
"Again, I don't understand."
"When Omari drank from the cup, he didn't take all of it. The chalice still contains a swallow of the divine substance. It seems so trivial, yet it's enough to change someone's life. Safiya waits for a love equal to hers, a love worthy of the Chalice of Ma'at Ba. And when she finds that, two people who share a love that could only be separated by death, she'll surrender the last life giving drops and retreat into the mists of eternity."
"Do you believe in it?"
"Of course." He said with alarming certainty. "I've heard stories of people who've sought out Safiya and the Chalice of Ma'at Ba. However, none possessed the profound love she is looking for." Yohanas pondered for a moment. "I wonder if a love that deep even exists."
"It does." Gabrielle murmured with mystery bound to her voice.
The story wasn't the exact tale she'd heard, but it had been very close. The Chalice of Ma'at Ba...the life giving drops. It could restore Xena...no, it will restore Xena, Gabrielle told herself as a plan began to finalize.
There was no other alternative, there was no other option; Gabrielle was going to retrieve the Chalice of Ma'at Ba and bring Xena back to life.
To be continued....
*There is actually an Ethiopian Dish called wat...I wasn't just making that up so it fit the joke.
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