by StarWarrior (Rie)
This tale is the third part of a story started in Who Has the Right?
The three stories stand alone, but are part of a much larger story.
The standard disclaimer. The characters of Xena and Gabrielle, belong
to Universal. No copyright infringement is intended, and this all came
from my brain, it is not taken from any literary source or any other source
whatsoever. No one gets the blame for my stories except me.
"And what do we have here?" A giant of a man stood over the still body of a young man. He squinted at the abused body. "Running away from life huh?" He knelt by the body and felt the pulse was strong. He lifted the man into his arms and headed for his home.
Makarios winced in pain. He lifted his head amazed. He was in a cabin, but not his own. What had he done? How had he ended up here? He remembered running in fear and then a long darkness. He put his head in his hands and let the tears come. The rage burned bright. Had he killed again? "Why couldn't it have been me? Why am I still alive?" He cried out loud. "I don't deserve to live!"
He jumped to his feet. Lifting his hands from his eyes, and turning towards the sound in shock. A tall dark skinned man with wild black hair and sharp white teeth stood in the doorway. As Makarios watched the man stepped inside.
"Who does deserve to live?" He repeated the question.
"Huh?" Makarios asked. Confusion and wonder flitting like warring tribes across his face. "What kind of question is that?" He managed to sputter.
Firelight sparkled in dark black eyes. The man laughed heartily. "Direct." He answered bluntly as he laid his burden down. Continuing to speak as he shrugged out of his vest. "You know you don't deserve to live, but does that mean anyone does?"
Makarios stared unabashedly, The man was tall, perhaps the tallest man he'd ever seen. That deer he had dropped so casually was huge.
The man quirked an eyebrow at Makarios. "No comment?" A smile graced his face, somehow adding to the sense of unreality Makarios felt. "That's okay." He had a soft voice. "I'll comment for both of us. No one deserves to live. Perhaps that's why our lived are but a single grain of sand. Yet each grain is needed to make up a beach. As each of us no matter how undeserving are important. And we each have our own story. How about sharing your story with me?"
His voice carried with it an echo of command. Makarios was loathe to speak, but somehow managed to ask, "Who are you?"
"Who I am is not nearly as important as who you are?" The man handed Makarios a cup and sat on the big chair in front of the fireplace. "I was not lost in the woods looking for death you were." He sipped his drink. "What kind of man are you? Are you the type of man that turns his back on family and friends? Or perhaps the kind that enjoys killing little children and innocents? Or better yet perhaps you are one of those who take great pleasure in the beating of those weaker than themselves." He had warmed up to his subject. "Or better yet, perhaps the type - "
"Stop!" Makarios screamed in agony. "I am not those things!"
"No?" The man sipped his drink.
"No." Makarios whispered the word painfully. A sudden ache ripped through his chest. He looked unseeing into his cup. Images from the past few years rose to confront him. "No. The word escaped from behind his tightly sealed lips. Tortured eyes rose to look at the tall, calm man staring into the fire, "I am. I am those things." Tears fell from his eyes. The realization that had made him flee his own cabin just now sinking fully in. He had become that which he hated. "What am I to do?" He turned accusing eyes on his benefactor. "You should have left me to die!" He hissed.
"It was not your destiny."
"Destiny!" He exclaimed angrily. "Not my destiny! And what is my destiny? I suppose you know what it is?" Then just as sudden the anger left and he stared despondently into the flames. "I suppose it was my destiny to become evil? The very evil I despise."
"It was, if you so chose it." The man lifted one eyebrow. "But if you choose a different path today then the evil falls away no one but you can decide. What destiny do you want to have?"
"I can go back?" Hope lifted his heart. "See my family and friends?"
"You can go where you choose. Be whatever you desire. It is no one else's choice. Right the wrongs you have done continue your acts of vengeance, find ways to atone by punishing yourself, go to your family and ask forgiveness, or maybe you should just " He lifted his eyes to Makarios. "No it's not for me to decide there are many choices to be considered and it is you who must do the consideration and deciding." The big man had long since finished his drink and now sat contemplating the flames.
Makarios watched as the man spoke. He wondered briefly at the strangeness of the cabin and the big man, but realized that it all felt right. The cabin was one large room. A table and fire pit for cooking in one corner. A second fireplace and two big chairs in another corner and in the corner where he slept three sets of beds built with a bed on top and one below. The fourth corner was screened off, perhaps the big man's own sleeping area? He sipped his drink, enjoying the sweet honey like flavor. His hazel eyes darkened as he contemplated his past. He had wronged so many. Would he be able to find forgiveness? He thought of his sister and wondered if she had gone on to marry did she miss him? Our parents! Oh no! Tears sprang unbidden to the surface as he remembered beating his father. He'll never want to see me again, let alone forgive me! His hand tightened around the mug. Oh, Zeus I was so stupid! He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. What am I going to do? I'm lost so very lost. Why couldn't I have died? If I had everything would be resolved and I would be free.
As if he could read Makarios' mind the other man chose now to speak again. "No," he shook his head. "No. You wouldn't be free not with all that you have done still hanging unresolved over your head.
Makarios blanched. Too true. He was heading for Tartarus he deserved it. He couldn't bear to live an eternity without his beloved Ilena. Oh please let me live to right the wrongs I have done! "What am I to do?" He asked again.
"Look within yourself." The man rose to his feet. "Hungry? I go to dress the deer and make me a thick steak."
Makarios placed the now empty mug on the floor and lay back on the bed. Look within myself. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Xena swelled with pride as she watched the young Amazon Queen. She enjoyed watching the woman talk, especially when she was bartering for something she really wanted.
"Four and a half dinars? That's way too much. The absolute highest I can go is three dinars. Four? That's the lowest your willing to go? Never mind." The young woman turned to go, hand held high in a dismissive attitude. "Sorry, that's out of my league."
Xena fought to keep the smile from her face. She'd have given in two dinars ago.
"Wait!" The shopkeeper called after the slow moving woman, sighing with relief as she turned and looked at him questioningly. "Three and a half." He said in defeat. "Any lower and you might as well be stealing it."
Gabrielle grinned and returned to the stall. "I think I might be able to scrap together another half a dinar." She began rummaging through her bag.
Xena's smile surfaced. She knew Gabrielle had plenty of dinars. She'd given them to the young woman over two hours ago.
"Oh, wait one minute." Gabrielle smiled apologetically at the shopkeeper. "It looks like I really can't buy it." She shrugged apologetically. "This is all I have." She held out the three dinars. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time." She cast her eyes downward and turned to leave.
The shopkeeper narrowed his eyes and with a quick glance around stopped her. "Here miss," He shoved the trinket into her hands. As long as you don't tell anyone what you paid for it it's yours for three dinars."
A wide smile broke over Gabrielle's face. "Why thank you!! I won't tell a soul." She crossed her heart and handed him the three dinars. "Bless you." She skipped off.
Xena rose from the wall she'd been leaning on and once more followed where her lover led. Content to stay in the background and ensure Gabrielle's safety and enjoyment of the bazaar.
"Xena I had so much fun! Thank you for bringing me here. I know how much you hate crowds!" Gabrielle beamed at the older woman, before shoveling another piece of bread into her mouth.
Xena gave her friend a half smile. "It's the least I could do for you Gabrielle." Xena's eyes softened. "After all in our line of work you don't get that many pleasures."
The bard caressed the warrior with her eyes. "Being with you is pleasure enough, anything else is a bonus." She said just loud enough for Xena to hear.
Xena's face glowed in response, but made no comment.
"Excuse me." A small woman interrupted the two lovers. "Are you Xena?" She asked timidly.
Xena raised one eyebrow. "Yes."
"Oh thank the gods I found you." The woman breathed a sigh of relief. "You don't know me, but..." She glanced around the tavern. "Can I sit a moment?"
"Thank-you." She sat next to Gabrielle, almost apologetically. "I really am sorry to intrude, but I am at a loss as to what to do and I have no one else to turn to." Her voice was full of sorrow. "I almost feel as though I know you." She glanced at Gabrielle. "Actually I feel as though I know both of you." She shuddered. "She described you both so well." Her voice trailed off.
Xena looked at Gabrielle, who was staring back at her with a puzzled look on her face.
"Who did?" Gabrielle voiced the question for both of them.
"Why it was..." The woman looked at Xena. "...your mother." She stuttered slightly nervous despite all the good things she had heard about the warrior.
"My mother!" Xena said shocked by the answer.
"Cyrene?" Gabrielle questioned more quietly. "Why ever would she tell you to look us up?"
The woman licked her lips nervously. "Because I stayed in Amphipolis...at her inn. At first I was quite ill an...and...d she used to come to my room to see if I needed anything. After my healing I felt as though I knew her. I...I...I...didn't kn...know she was your mother at that time. So I trusted her with my story." She swallowed hard, and biting her lip admitted. "If I had known she was your mother I probably wouldn't have trusted her and would've left without paying anymore than I already had paid." She blanched at the look on the warrior's face, but quickly continued her story. "I told her I needed help and explained what happened. She told me not to worry about it. She said concentrate on regaining my strength and paying off my bill and time would give me the answer as to where to turn for aid. So I agreed to help her run the inn, until I paid off my debt." She rubbed her forehead. "She was a generous mistress and I was able to pay my debt in only a few months."
Xena's eyes were cold as ice. She hated to hear her mother might have suffered for her sake. She forced her feelings aside. "Well if mother thought you should seek us out, perhaps you would share your story with us."
Gabrielle bit back a smile. The way Xena said it, it was almost a command. She let Xena see the mirth hidden in her eyes and a warm glow spread inside as her lover returned her gaze, before turning to the strange woman seated next to her.
"I'm looking for my brother." The woman began.
"Excuse me." Gabrielle interrupted. "Before you begin your tale do you think it would be too much trouble to tell us who you are?"
The woman paled slightly. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to insult you by withholding my name."
"It's no big deal." The bard brushed the woman's worry aside with a wave of her hand. Ignoring Xena's sudden change of expression. The warrior woman leaned forward and placed her elbow on the table.
"What is your name?" Suddenly it seemed very important to Xena.
The woman twisted her hands nervously, refusing to look either woman in the face. "Themis."
"Wha-!" Gabrielle exclaimed in shock.
Xena frowned. "As in goddess of justice?" Her lip curled in a nasty snarl. "Am I supposed to believe that?"
"Xena!" Gabrielle hissed.
The woman sat fists curled tight, head hung low. "No." She said softly. "It's a cruel joke my parents played on me."
"Oh." Gabrielle sighed the word. Her relief evident in the way she sagged back against her seat.
Xena raised one brow. "So are you trying to live up to your name? Is that why you are here?"
"No." She bit her lower lip. "Actually living down my name has been my problem." She took a deep breath. "I am here on behalf of my brother." She hurried on before her courage failed her. "He is out to kill you and I want to ask for a boon for his life." She looked up at the warrior who had suddenly gone still. "I beg of you do not kill him, he's not himself...ever since his family died...he used to be a gentle soul...please don't kill him." Stricken eyes looked pleadingly at Xena and the warrior turned uneasily away .
Gabrielle paled. "Can you describe your brother to us?"
The woman already pale nearly fainted. She swayed in her seat. "Am I already too late?"
"How are we supposed to know unless you describe him." Xena threw the words at her. Anger at being unable to control the situation bringing out her dark side.
Gabrielle reached out and laid a soothing hand on her friend's hand. Both knew the woman had to be talking about Gabrielle's unknown assailant. Gabrielle knew it tormented Xena that he still roamed free...able to strike again when they least expected it and anyone who threatened her bard did not deserve to live. Xena curled her fingers up clasping the hand acknowledging the bond.
Themis wet her lower lip and swallowed her fear. "I can only describe the man I knew not the man he has become." She raised her eyes briefly taking in the clasped hands and lowered them to rest on the scarred tabletop. "He stands near your height warrior...I would say he weighed thirty stones...all of it muscle from working the land...he loved to till the ground...hazel eyes and black hair...curly black not straight and limp like my own." A wistful tone entered her voice. "There was always laughter in his voice. No matter the situation he found a way to make us laugh and forget the troubles...until Ilena died." She paused and drank of the ale placed before her. "The light fell from his eyes and he grew cold. The laughter died...I never heard him laugh again."
"How did she die?" Gabrielle asked, remembering the words the man had told her.
Themis eyes grew distant as in her mind she traveled back to that fateful day. The tavern faded from her vision and she spoke of what she saw. "It was a beautiful summer day. Almost fair day, Makarios - my brother and I were out checking the grain." She glanced at Xena worried by the coldness of her stare. "We heard a noise and looked to the trade road. Hundreds of soldiers were filing past. Some on horses , some were walking. In front was a woman like I had never seen before." Her voice took on a wondrous tone. "Dressed in black leather, brass shining in the sun, and a long cape flowing over her back, she sat like royalty, on a large light colored horse...it made a magnificent picture and I was frozen in place.
Makarios swore and ran toward home. I was shaken form my reverie and turned to follow. I heard the warrior woman barking orders to continue the march." She stopped and took another sip. "To this day I can still hear her words; 'There will be no raiding of such a small village. We need nothing from them and we have nothing to fear from them. There is nothing to gain, and far to go before the evening light fades.' It didn't help matters." She shrugged. "I often wondered if you knew...a dozen men stayed behind and thought they would have some fun..."
Xena pulled her hand free of Gabrielle's. So it was her fault. Gabrielle reached over and grabbed Xena's hand back and looked angrily into the warrior's face. Xena flinched. Was Gabrielle's anger because she sought to escape or because of what they were hearing? Gabrielle's face softened...she could read the warrior like a scroll sometimes...and now was one of those times. She leaned over and whispered in her ear. "It wasn't your fault."
Xena quirked her lips and her eyes softened as they gazed into the concerned green ones of her lover, before turning to look at Themis. Inwardly she flinched at the name. Justice...who has the right...it reverberated through her body. "I remember that village. It was a small farming community not too far from the Fortress of Gal."
"I killed the men that disobeyed my order." Her ice were like ice. Her stomach roiled with the memories of the torture she had inflicted on the twelve men before they were allowed to die. She hadn't known they'd killed, only that they'd stayed behind to have fun.
"So my brother's tormentors have already been punished and yet he still roams the world looking to punish." This time she looked straight at Xena. "He does still roam the world?"
"As far as I know he still does." She replied sardonically.
"Will you help me find him before he does something he'll regret."
"It's too late for that." Xena glanced at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle looked at Themis. A melancholy air in her voice as she explained. "A couple of months ago a man...sounds like your brother...attacked and kidnapped me. He was rather brutal." She hesitated as she remembered the feeling of helplessness that had overcome her when she had first woken up and realized what had happened. Xena squeezed her hand reassuringly and she continued. "In the midst of a tirade he become very agitated and ran out of his cabin into the woods and that was the last time we I saw him."
"And I never saw him." Xena's voice left no doubt as to what condition he would have been in if she had seen him.
Themis clutched her hands in sudden fear. If Xena was ready to kill her brother, how could she hope to find him and bring him home. All her hopes rested on these two women who could call for justice and demand his death. She bit her lip in hopes of staving off the tears that threatened to fall. They had the right to demand his death how could she ask them to help her find him and bring him home?
Despite the lump in her throat and the ache in her chest at the thought of the man that had harmed Gabrielle and lived, Xena felt the woman's pain. Perhaps it was her devotion to her brother, it reminded her of her own relationship with her own dear Lyceus, perhaps it was she was becoming an old mush brain, thanks to a certain bard but whatever the reason she knew that they would help this woman find her brother.
Gabrielle grinned. She had been watching her lover's face and knew a decision had been made. She loved it when they were on the road helping others. "Xena?"
Xena nodded and tilted her eyebrows in Themis' direction. Gabrielle grinned and leaned forward. "Would you like some help finding your brother?" She whispered in a soto voce.
Themis looked up startled. Eyes wide and mouth hanging open.
Xena smirked. Reached out and tapped her chin. "You're going to catch flies that way." There was a slight lilt to her voice that surprised the young woman.
She swallowed convulsively. "You'd do that? After what he's done? You'd really help me?"
Gabrielle thought back to when he held her captive yes he deserved a chance. She smiled warmly. "I would." She turned to look into Xena's eyes and her smile widened. "She would too." She tilted her head as she turned back to Themis and asked. "Did you have a plan in mind?"
She shrugged. "No."
Gabrielle turned back to Xena.
Xena rolled her eyes. Why is it always me that has to find a plan? "Why don't we spend the night here and in the morning head towards that cabin where he held you captive?" She suggested. "He might still be in that vicinity."
"Good plan." Gabrielle nodded enthusiastically.
"I'll wait out in the woods." Themis hastened to stand. Surprised when Xena's strong hand pushed her back down. "No." She said firmly. "You travel with us, you stay where we stay. There is a cot in our room you can use it."
Gabrielle squeezed her warrior's hand knowingly. "Come on. Xena will pay for our meals while we get cleaned up." She rose to her feet and took the woman's protesting arm in hers and hurried off to the baths.
Dawn came too quickly for Gabrielle, who protested with a slight whimper when Xena withdrew from her bed. Xena smiled and leaned down to give the younger woman a quick kiss, before preparing for their departure.
Gabrielle sighed as Xena's warm lips left her own, but stayed curled on her side. She opened her eyes just enough to watch as the raven haired beauty dressed and left. Gabrielle debated joining her lover in her morning exercise she needed the practice. Besides she loved sparring with Xena and watching her practice was pure poetry. Her eyes fell on Themis still asleep across the room and she knew her place was in the room. Decision made she closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep.
Xena left Argo packed and ready for the road in front of the inn. She felt good. Her workout had gotten most of the kinks out and her frustration at this whole situation. She smiled at the innkeeper's young daughter and thanked his wife for the tray of food that had been prepared for her still sleeping companions. As she climbed the steps tray in hand she wandered how alert Gabrielle would be. She paused at the door to work open the handle and then kicked it wide with her foot.
Gabrielle flew out of bed, hand reaching for her staff as she leaped, letting her hand drop without lifting it as she recognized the laughter from the figure in the door. "Xena!" She scolded. "You scared me half to death! Oh food." Her stomach growled. "I am hungry." Her eyes lit expectantly as Xena placed the tray on the table and turned to face Themis.
Themis was sitting blinking her eyes, "Huh? What?" She rubbed at her eyes. Fear causing her to pull back as she recognized Xena in front of her.
"Breakfast time." Xena stated.
Themis looked surprised. "Oh, but " She flinched at the hardness in the warrior's voice.
"Just eat." Xena said tiredly not certain why this woman was forever acting like she was going to eat her. And as if to make a point, she looked at Gabrielle who had dug in with no hesitation.
Gabrielle paused mid bite. "Oh. Ya." She frowned at her own lack of manners. "There's plenty." She looked at Xena who smiled and patted her stomach. Gabrielle grinned. "Xena already ate and there's no way I can eat all this."
"Hurry up." Xena said. "Argo is all set to go. I'll be downstairs."
Themis watched the warrior go. "She scares me." She admitted.
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows and stared thoughtfully at the door. "Ya," She admitted. "She can be scary." Grinning at the younger woman she continued talking, "but you don't have to worry." She handed her a bowl of porridge. "She's on your side." Gabrielle took a sip of the tea, nodding in satisfaction as the other woman began slowly, almost hesitantly to eat her breakfast.
"Why do you travel with her?" Themis asked as the two finished eating.
Gabrielle twisted her lips into a half smile. "The million dinar question." She shook her head sadly. "If I had a dinar for everytime I've been asked that I'd be a very rich bard."
Themis started to gather her few belongings. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked. It's none of my business." Her face was red. When had she learned to be so rude?
"You're right." Gabrielle replied, looking at Themis thoughtfully. "I tell you what." Gabrielle paused in her preparations. "Once we're on the road I'll answer you question for question. Deal?"
Themis turned and looked warily at the honey haired woman in front of her. How much could it hurt? This woman bard if Cyrene was to be believed she liked to talk maybe I could learn from her ramblings and what could she possibly ask me? And I really do want to know more about Xena. Has she really changed? The mother knew so little and this strange pairing Would the warrior really help her? Or was it just a way to get close enough to her brother to kill him? She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, wet her lips and spoke. "Okay, it's a deal."
"Good." Gabrielle's smile lit the room. "Now let's get out of here before Xena comes looking for us."
Themis jumped off the bed. Too frightened to ask what Xena might do if she had to come back to the room to get them. Gabrielle chuckled. Her lover's bad reputation certainly came in handy sometimes.
Gabrielle continued smiling all morning. Her smile was still in place as she paced slowly beside Argo. They were moving slower than normal because Themis wasn't as used to walking. It had turned out to be a beautiful day. The sun was shining. The grass was soft on her feet and the pale blue sky with puffy white clouds floating slowly y capped the day. The breeze was just perfect. It was blowing just enough to cool her down. She slowed her step to match that of their new companion, grinning inwardly as she watched the wind blow her warrior's raven mane off her shoulders. She trod on silently for a few minutes, giving Themis a chance to become accustomed to her presence by her side. Finally she spoke. "Ready to play?" She asked. She was burning with curiosity.
"Hmm, I guess so." Themis played worriedly with her lower lip. "Who starts?"
"Oh," Themis glanced sideways at Gabrielle. I might as well take the plunge. She shrugged. "Can I ask the question I asked you this morning? Or is that off limits?"
Gabrielle managed a resigned look. Inward she smiled. She had anticipated this and was prepared. I answer her and no way will she keep back any part of her story. "If you really want to." She continued speaking as soon as Themis nodded. "Okay then. Let me think for a minute." She looked at her lover and smiled. Not that she needed to think of an answer. The answer had been in her from the first moment she had ever set eyes on Xena it had taken her time to learn it, but it had always been there.
She looked back at Themis and the other woman was shocked by the love in Gabrielle's eyes. Her words rang truer than any Themis had ever heard as Gabrielle pronounced, "Today it's because I love her. She is my best friend. I can say anything do whatever I want, and she will always be there for me." She paused and threw her shoulders back proudly.
Her eyes fell on her lover's back again and she pursed her lips before wetting them with her tongue. "But that's not what you want to know. You wanted to know why I followed her." She took a deep breath and smiled widely. "Smell the air. Feel the life all around you. Hear the animals. Stop for a second and just take it all in " She followed her own advice. Closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Wonderful isn't it?" She grinned giddy just remembering. "She gave all this to me. And when she gave it to me, she didn't even know me!" She laughed outloud this time. The expression on Themis' face unforgettable. "No I am not joking. I am deadly serious."
She nodded her head towards the warrior. "Slavers had attacked a group of us while we were out at the fields. We ran, but they chased us to a meadow on the outskirts of town. She came out of no where and saved us all." She stopped and her eyes grew cold and dark as she remembered that fateful day, and the strange woman that attacked a force of twenty and laughed when she did it.
She began talking again and this time Themis could tell that Gabrielle was lost in the memory and had forgotten she had an audience. The younger woman stayed quiet hoping to learn enough to make sense of the travelers. "She was dressed only in a dirty white shift and she had no weapons There was an uncanny glow in her piercing blue eyes. Her first act was to stop a man the Warlord's Lieutenant from whipping me he wanted to use me as an example to the others. She just appeared behind him and halted his hand with her own. She then beat him and some of the others we pitched in and I managed to hit a few, but I caused no permanent damage, all the men I hit got back up again." She laughed ruefully. "Most of them right away." She looked over at Themis and her eyes sobered. "She had no weapons, no armor, and yet she risked her life for us a group of people she had never even met." A shudder ran through her body and she pinched at her eyes.
"And her thanks?" Gabrielle's eyes again caught Themis' eyes. "My people ordered her to leave we're grateful but move on. After she'd saved all of us! I was mortified. Yet she never complained - just accepted it as if it was exactly what she had expected. She said it was what she had planned all along and nightfall but a few candlemarks away." Gabrielle tapped her chest. "But I saw the sorrow and the pain in her eyes. I argued. But they wouldn't listen. I begged her to take me with her, but she wouldn't listen." She shrugged and stared into the distance.
"I followed, because I couldn't not. She was so wonderful and yet they couldn't see it I realized she didn't see it either I needed to find out why? Why she let them hurt her when she was so much more then them. I needed to stop her from being so all alone it hurt me to see that she'll never be alone again as long as I live." She stopped talking and silence broken only by the sounds of birds in the air and animals rustling in the woods descended on the small party.
Xena stiffened slightly. Her excellent hearing had allowed her to listen and now her emotions were as taut as a well strung bow and they threatened to spill over. She forced her body to maintain a relaxed posture. How blind I was. To think my bard had seen into me that early always wondered why she followed. Humph, I wondered what made her stay when I treated her as rotten as I could trying to get her to leave I never did get it until recently love. I can't believe she really loves me I am lucky. Suddenly her ears perked up. Gabrielle was speaking again.
" what was it that brought you to Cyrene's inn?"
Xena forced her self not to react to the question. Gabrielle was a smart one. She chuckled silently. That simple question should give an answer to most of their questions. She slowed Argo. This was one story she needed to hear.
"Oh, I hadn't expected that question." Themis admitted. She walked on silently for a few minutes.
Gabrielle cleared her throat and reached a hand concerned by the silence. "Do you want to change your mind? Is it too much?"
The gentle concern the reassuring touch decided the young woman. "No. I was merely trying to decide where the story began. I don't mind sharing it with you " her voice trailed away and she nervously looked toward the tall warrior on the golden horse.
Gabrielle smiled. She could tell by the way Xena was riding that she was listening. "Oh don't worry about her. She'll assume we're telling stories to each other. It's how I normally pass the day."
Themis gave a small hesitant smile. "Okay." She took a deep breath. "I guess it began when Makarios disappeared." She flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Several months after Ilene died he was still in mourning. Nothing held his attention. Father tried to snap him out of it but instead Makarios fought with Father. He actually lashed out at him and father refused to hit him back. Makarios stomped away calling him a coward it broke father's spirit."
Tears came to her eyes. "You need to understand before Marcarios was the gentlest of souls. He wouldn't hunt or kill even the farm animals he only ate meat if someone prepared it left on his own he would only eat vegetables, cheese and bread." A tear fell. "But after he hit father he was constantly at the tavern fighting he was out of control I never saw anyone change so much in my life it was like he was two different people." Her steps slowed as she relived her past. "He stopped coming to the fields." She shuddered.
"Whenever we saw him he was cursing her name." She nodded at Xena. "He would rant for hours about the need for justice and call on others to help him search for it. Someone needs to put a stop to her murdering rampages and see that justice is served. Someone told him that he should do it. Eventually bolstered by a lot of drink and fool talk he agreed. He actually came home and cleaned himself up. He told father he was going to go set things right. I listened. 'Who else has more of a right?' he asked father, and explained that it was not only his right because of the loss of family, but his duty to see that no others were made to suffer as he was. And then he left not even a good bye for mother or I." She shook her head.
"I heard afterwards that he had told one of his old friends that justice wouldn't be served until she was dead and in Tarturus. Mother grew ill fretting over his welfare until she could no longer stand. Father broods and my own fiancee left me. He said my family was cursed and had been since the Warrior Princess walked past the farm." Her tears were falling steady now. "I knew then that if ever I was to have a normal life I would need to search out my brother and set things right." She shrugged. "Perhaps to my name has something to do with it. After all people do expect a lot more from one named for a goddess." She sighed. "With nothing left for me at home I decided I might as well seek out my brother and try to bring him home again." She paused remembering the day she left. Her father hadn't even blinked. He just sat there accepting it and told her to hurry before there was no home to return to."
Gabrielle prodded her to continue her tale.
She smiled sadly. "I no sooner left my village than I heard tales of the warrior princess and how she no longer rode with an army. One such tale had her defending Amphiboles against Lord Draco's army. I decided that would be a good place to begin my journey. She smiled ruefully. "Unfortunately I was not a seasoned traveler and began my travels unprepared for life on the road. My supplies ran out rather quickly and my bedding was to thin and held the water when it rained and boy did it rain. I got soaked and could not get a fire going the wood was too wet my hands too cold I sat and shivered through the night and when dawn arrived I started once again for Amphiboles. By the time evening had arrived I was shaking and sniffling I struggled on to the village collapsing in the doorway." She sighed.
"When I woke up I was in a room and clean. A woman sat resting in a chair by the bed. She woke as soon as I moved. She told me it was her inn and not to worry, just to get well." I must have passed out. The next time I woke up it was dark and a single candle left the room in shadows. This time there were noises coming from below and a different woman one closer to my age sat in the chair. She made me drink a potion and I fell asleep again. The third time I woke up it was morning and the older woman was back. She smiled at me and I felt so safe." Themis shook her head. "I don't know why. But I really felt safe. She well you already know the rest of it."
Gabrielle grinned. "Ya, I know what you mean." She leaned closer to the younger woman. "Personally I think it's the eyes the whole family has the most wonderful blue eyes." She spoke in a soft teasing voice trying to break the melancholy spell cast over the small party by the two depressing stories. "I think the eyes have the power to hypnotize." She raised an eyebrow. "I think they should have a sign declaring them lethal weapons."
Themis smiled through her tears. She truly felt better. Cyrene had been right. Gabrielle was sweet and maybe that meant she was right about Xena too but she still scares me.
Xena reminded herself to breath. She swirled her tongue around her teeth. So another family destroyed by the Great Warrior Princess. Gaia I wish I could run away from myself, my past. This whole mess was my fault - again! A young woman dead before her time, her child unborn, her husband crazed by the loss, a young woman's dreams shattered and all because I wanted to take another village. How am I supposed to set this right. She maintained her stoic look and turned to face the other two. Their haggard faces told her it was past time for a break.
She sighed and slid off Argo. "Hungry?" She cocked an eyebrow at Gabrielle, relieved to see an answering smile. Inward she sang. Gabrielle doesn't mind, she still loves me.
Gabrielle saw the pain in Xena's eyes and her heart skipped a beat. My poor warrior she smiled and her eyes shone with the love she felt. "Starving." She replied stepping closer and squeezing Xena's arm, she fastened her eyes onto pale blue ones and continued. "You take Argo for water. I will get lunch ready."
Xena gazed back and felt a weight lifting from her chest. She knows me too well. And yet she still loves me. Her blue eyes took on a soft glow and she nodded, handing Gabrielle the saddlebags, fingers intertwining briefly before she turned to go.
Gabrielle sat down under a large Oak and opened the bag. "Let's see what we have here, apples, cheese, bread, and dried meat." She placed the meat back in the pack. That would be for dinner.
Themis sat beside Gabrielle watching Xena at the water. "Do you think she really did it?"
"Huh?" Gabrielle asked puzzled.
"Killed the men, the ones that raped and killed Ilena.
Gabrielle's eyes flashed angrily. "If she says she killed them, then she killed them." And I wonder she took a moment to watch the warrior taking care of her horse how much she made them suffer before allowing their punishment to end? Did she even know that they had raped and killed? Or was it only that they had disobeyed her orders? Gabrielle sighed softly. "I wonder if she'll ever finish paying for her past." The words came out a soft whisper barely audible and shaking herself out of her reverie she handed Themis her lunch and settled down to eat her own as she watched Xena walk up the path.
As Themis watched and listened to Gabrielle she realized that Cyrene was wrong. The bard didn't follow her daughter because of the stories she gathered, or because she craved the excitement it was because she truly loved the warrior. It was in everything she did. The way her body tensed whenever Xena wasn't near, the way her eyes softened when they spotted her. Her voice even changed when she mentioned her name. And the glow in Gabrielle's eyes, it was the same glow she used to see in Makarios' eyes whenever he spotted Ilena. She smothered a sigh. Did Xena deserve such love? I want that kind. She ate her food not even tasting it. Gods, but I am jealous of them the same way I was jealous of Ilena and Makarios. I didn't feel that way when I looked at Johanes and I wanted oh please don't let my jealousy get them killed too I know it was my fault that Ilena died. She leaned back against the tree and closed her eyes. Shuddering inward at the sudden knowledge and pain that it was all her fault. How could she ever atone for the pain she caused one careless prayer a solitary tear trailed down her cheek. She wiped it angrily away. Through slitted eyes she watched as Xena returned and accepted her food from Gabrielle. She flinched as Xena's hand lingered noticeably on Gabrielle's fingers, her eyes touching the smiling bard in a caress that might as well been a physical caress. Life was unfair
"Thanks." Came the husky voice. Themis maintained her false sleep, better to give the two privacy whenever she could.
Gabrielle let out a shuddering breath. The way Xena said it the word thanks took on a whole new meaning. "Anytime " She breathed the word, her eyes crinkling as Xena's reaction caused a ripple of desire to rip through her body.
Xena's eyes widened, her nostrils flared as Gabrielle's scent filled them. She flicked her tongue over her upper lip. Desire wanting her to take her bard and forget about lunch, but they had an obligation, and sighing she cast a glance at Themis. The woman appeared to be sleeping, a half eaten apple in one hand, but Xena wasn't fooled. She grinned. It would serve the young woman right if she gave in to her desires and took Gabrielle right in front of her. "Anytime?" She raised one eyebrow and rolled her tongue.
Gabrielle breathed faster. Her eyes fastened to the sky-blue ones that looked laughingly down at her. She nodded her head slowly, maintaining eye contact with her lover. "Anytime." She repeated.
Xena crouched down in front of her lover and smiled ferily, in her warlord days she would have given Themis a show, but not today never with Gabrielle. "I'd love to take you up on that offer, but" she tilted her head in the direction of their companion. "We are on a mission."
"I know." Gabrielle's eyes darkened with desire. "It doesn't stop the wanting." Her eyes traveled over Xena's body and her breath quickened.
"Or the need." Xena leaned closer and breathed the words into Gabrielle's ear.
The bard shivered in delight. "Nothing ever will." She wrapped her arms around Xena and kissed her soundly. "Now eat that sandwich or else."
Xena felt the tension from hearing Themis' story lessen, even as her desire swelled. She kissed Gabrielle.
Gabrielle returned the kiss, letting go to scoot over and patted the ground next to her.
Xena obliged her lover by settling against the tree and taking a bite out of her sandwich of cheese. Gabrielle laid her head in Xena's lap. Xena contented herself with stroking her lover's hair as she ate her lunch. The warrior began going over the past few days events, recalling all Gabrielle had told her about her capture and making plans as to where they should go and how best to handle the tricky situation.
"Where are we heading?"
Gabrielle's voice broke into Xena's thoughts and she frowned. It was uncanny how she did that. More and more it's as though she were reading my mind. "That's what I was just thinking about." She traced the younger woman's lips with her finger. "I think maybe we should head back to Detriech's tavern." Her hand continued to wander over Gabrielle's face
"Two reasons. One he still owes us a week's worth of free room and board. The second reason it's where it all began and the cabin you were held prisoner in wasn't that far away."
Gabrielle's lips curved into a smile. Xena began tracing the soft fullness, marveling silently at the vast beauty of the young woman. "Good plan." Gabrielle forced her mind to stay focused on the subject on hand and not on what Xena was doing to her. "I hope Makarios is okay maybe Detriech has seen him?" As she uttered the last words she grasped Xena's finger with her lips, sucking it into her mouth. Her whole face tingled from Xena's touch and she needed to feel to taste her lover again. She licked at Xena's finger before pulling it deep into her mouth. She slid her tongue along the finger and mewed softly as Xena withdrew it.
Xena bent her head and kissed the lips that had so recently caused the fire that constantly smoldered beneath her surface to flare wildly. She pressed her tongue against their rich fullness, thrusting in as they parted to grant her entry. Gently she pulled Gabrielle up drawing her closer to her. Their bodies intertwining as Gabrielle placed her arms around the warrior's neck and their tongues played tag. Xena drew back, breathing raggedly. "If we don't stop now my bard, young Themis will get an education she may not be prepared for."
Gabrielle's breast heaved in time with Xena's ragged breath. She breathed a painful sigh, regret filled her eyes, and she fought to control herself. "Til tonight?" She pleaded with her eyes, leaning in to flick her tongue in Xena's ear and murmer, "Right?"
Xena moaned into Gabrielle's hand, pressing her the warm body against hers, "We'll have company." She warned her lover.
Xena's eyes lit up. She knew from the way the bard spoke that they'd be getting very little sleep tonight. She rose to her feet dragging Gabrielle uptight with her. "Come." She said loudly. "It's time to get back on the road." She lifted the saddlebags from their resting place and strode toward Argo. After securing the bags she turned smiling to Themis. "Would you like to ride?
"Me?" Themis pointed to herself, shocked by the question.
"Yes. You." Xena grinned. "Gabrielle and I are used to being on the road. You're not. You also admitted that you were recently very ill." She shrugged. "And you look a little tired." Not many could resist that smile, "Argo's very gentle."
Themis looked from warrior to bard. She had enjoyed the few rides she'd had and she was tired. "You don't mind?"
Mind! Gabrielle had a hard time not shouting for joy. Mind that her lover chose to walk by her side instead of on Argo?! She bit back the joy. "No, I don't like riding myself." She gestured toward Argo. "Be my guest."
Laughter danced in Xena's eyes. "Come here." She ordered, taking the woman by the hand when she complied. "Argo." She held Themis' hand out. "Friend." She stated. "Gentle. Protect." She patted Argo's nose. "Good girl." She turned to her new companion. "Okay, up you go." She turned to Gabrielle. "Come on." She stepped in front of Argo. "We walk in front."
Gabrielle allowed her surprise to show. "But "
Xena pursed her lips together, lifted one eyebrow, and cocked her head sideways. "If we are attacked and I am back there," She yanked her finger over her shoulder, "What do you think would happen?"
"Ah, good point." Gabrielle replied soberly, before stomping her staff at the ground to show her frustration. "Let's go." She stepped onto the road.
Xena stepped next to her and Argo followed dociley behind like an overgrown puppy.
Time passed slowly as the miles slipped away, but eventually dusk arrived. The countryside grew rougher as they found themselves in the foothills not far from the cabin where Gabrielle had been held captive.
Gabrielle groaned. "Xena are we almost there?"
The bard stopped. "How close is almost?" Her feet were killing her. She couldn't believe new boots could cause so many problems.
Xena chuckled. "Around a few more bends not too far." She kept moving, wanting to be away before her bard realized where they were. As Argo ambled past the blonde woman Themis turned in the saddle, biting her lip worriedly. Had they fought? Her parents had often fought.
Gabrielle bit back a swear and ran to catch up to Xena. "Hey!" She protested.
Xena looked down amusement dancing across her face. She had thought of a way to keep her friend occupied "What?"
Gabrielle frowned. "You could have stopped."
"Nope." One eyebrow lifted. "I'm in a hurry." Her lip curled upward. "Someone promised me a sleepless night."
Gabrielle blushed. "Oh." She glanced back at Themis. "In that case why are we moving so slow?" She started walking faster, her discomfort forgotten.
Xena breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn't wanted the bard to force the issue of checking at that cabin for him. She could do that while they rested at Detriech's tavern.
Their arrival didn't go unnoticed. Xena watched warily as a boy slipped away from his friends and rushed to report. She only hoped he was rushing to report to Detriech. Her hand went to her chakram and her eyes darted about instinctively looking for safe passage in case the worst were to happen.
Xena left Argo standing loosely at the rail in front of Detriech's tavern, and motioned for both of her companions to follow behind.
Detriech stood waiting. He smiled in relief at the young storyteller's health. "Xena, Gabrielle. It's good to see you." He rubbed his hands nervously on the towel he carried tucked into his apron. "I've had my boys watching for your return." He swallowed uneasily, and glanced at the young woman that had followed them in. She looked somehow familiar, but he knew he'd never laid eyes on her before. "How long will you be staying?"
"As long as it takes to get some answers." Xena replied dryly.
The tavernkeeper blanched.. He had been extremely worried when the warrior had not returned. He'd feared that the young blonde had been killed and the warrior would come back for vengeance on him. It had been the truth that he had the boys watching but that was so he would know when to flee. When Allain had come with word that the warrior returned with her companion and another he had been relieved. Now he wasn't sure if he'd made an error.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at her love. "Det," She spoke warmly. "It's good to see you." She liked the rotund man. He reminded her of Salmoneous. "I'm starved. Do you have any of that special stew of yours?"
Detriech smiled. "Actually I have better than just the stew." He glanced at Xena. "I can give you a nice juicy steak to go with the stew." He waved a hand at the empty room. "Sit." He turned toward the back and hollered for his son.
"Three meals, one port and two ciders." Gabrielle said quietly as she followed Xena to the back of the room. Themis following like a shadow.
"It can wait." Xena flashed Gabrielle a smile. "Let's eat. Then you can get Themis settled in while I take care of Argo." And do a little scouting on my own. She added silently.
Gabrielle slid onto the bench next to Xena, smiling reassuringly at Themis. The girl was really much too shy. She pointed at the bench across from her and nodded as Themis sat down.
"No. Absolutely not!" Detriech slammed his hand down. "The deal was for one room and food for you and that warrior of yours. Nothing about a third person or a second room." He shook his head emphatically.
"True." Gabrielle admitted, trying a new tactic. "but look at it from our viewpoint. You and I know we won't be staying here for a full week and it's very doubtful that we will ever come this way again. So, while what I am suggesting does change the agreement, I think you'll agree, that in the long run you still get the better deal." After a brief pause to look into the tavern owner's face she hastened to press her point. "See if Xena and I were to spend a whole week here you would have to give a room up for seven nights and feed us forty two meals. Now if the three of us were to spend two nights here you would lose two rooms for two nights sort of like losing one room for four nights. And as to food feeding three women for three days instead of two for seven would equal only twenty-seven meals which means you save fifteen meals. She finished speaking with a smile and cocked her head to one side. "So deal?"
The large man frowned, much as he'd like to he couldn't find a hole in her argument. Besides he groused to himself. The inn is half empty. "Okay, you win." He threw his hands up in disgust. "Take the room I showed you last time and the one right next to it."
Yes! Gabrielle shouted inwardly. Outwardly she smiled a polite thanks and dragging Themis practically ran up the stairs. Stopping half way up she shouted to Detriech to tell Xena where they were.
Xena stepped into the tavern warily. It had been a long day and all she wanted was to escape into her bard's arms. A glance around the dim room all it took to confirm what her senses already told her. Gabrielle was no where to be found. She made her way to the bar and glared until Detriech came over.
Detriech paled at the look from the warrior, and hastened to tell her that her friends were upstairs. She snagged a bottle of port for herself and took two steps at a time. If Gabrielle were asleep at least she could relax with a drink while watching her beloved sleep.
Gabrielle lay under the covers smiling. It didn't matter how tired she was, she wanted to feel her lover's body against hers. She heard the steps and knew it was Xena at the door. She could almost picture the warrior steeling herself for disappointment. Laughter welled up inside of Gabrielle.
Xena pushed the door open and stepped silently over the threshold, closing the door behind her. Her eyes flitted first to the empty bed and then over to Gabrielle widening in concern because Themis was missing. "Damn! Gabrielle!"
"Xena." Gabrielle stretched, causing the blanket to fall revealing her naked breasts to the warriors sight.
Xena's breath quickened with desire, but she hesitated.
"She has her own room." Gabrielle explained, knowing the reason for her warrior's hesitation.
Xena's eyes lit up. She grabbed a chair and propped it under the door, before slowly stalking the naked bard. Her armor falling where she walked until at last she stood by the bed and not taking her eyes from the strawberry blonde laying seductively in front of her peeled her leathers off. "Gaia, but I've needed you." She murmured into Gabrielle's mouth as she molded her body to her lover's before claiming the soft lips for herself.
Dawn came much to early. The warrior had all she could do not to moan at the sunlight drifting across the room. Gabrielle remained wrapped comfortably around her. She glanced at the little woman and a smile tugged at her face. Her arms tightened reflexively. Her body reacting to the warmth of her love in a dangerous way. She stroked the red gold hair and wondered if she should take the time to love Gabrielle, or if she should let the woman sleep. Sudden shift of the bard's hand told her the decision had been taken away from her. She sighed and breathed a good morning into the hair her head rested on. Smiling as Gabrielle snuggled closer, her hand rubbing sensuously up and down Xena's belly. Xena arched her back in enjoyment. There was no better way to start the morning.
Xena tugged her boot on and glanced at the sleeping bard. No where to go, I might as well let her sleep. She brushed her lover's forehead lightly with her lips and tucked the blanket around the still naked form before heading for the door.
Xena pushed the barn door open and stepped inside, waiting at the door until her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light. Argo winnied in delight at the scent of her Mistress. Xena smiled and patted the horse. "Good morning, girl." She stooped to check her hoofs, "Looks like you need some cleaning." She talked to the horse as she worked, cleaning her hooves and then brushing her down, before feeding her. Argo set for whatever the day might bring, Xena decided to take a walk around town, before doing her morning exercises. Not that the town was that big but it definitely paid to know where everything and everybody was.
Pausing to let a small boy pass with a goat in tow Xena had to smile. The smile turned to a frown as she noted two older boys picking on the youngster. Two long strides and she was standing behind the youth. Not a word was spoken but both boys paled and quickly went on their way. The boy in front of Xena squared his shoulders and continued on his way not realizing the warrior had been there. Xena smiled softly, perhaps now that the youth had a touch of confidence he would be able to hold his own against the bullies. She continued on her way. Coming across an old woman hauling water. "Grandmother," She lifted the bucket from the gnarled hands. "Let me help."
"Bless you child." The old woman responded. "It's not very far." She moved toward her home. "My you are a strong one." Her eyes took in the lithe warrior woman before her. Traveling through? Or are you staying? "
Xena laughed. "No need to fear me Grandmother. I have no army waiting to plunder your village."
"Hee, hee." She shook her head. "No dear." She rested a hand on Xena's arm. "More like I was hoping a warrior like you respecting your elders and all could make things easier around here."
Xena frowned. "Are things bad?" She glanced around. "The village seems peaceful enough."
"Oh it is today, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. In my life I've never seen peace last long."
"Oh." Xena continued to look around, slightly shocked by the woman. Stay? In one place. She'd never considered it truth tell she'd never been asked. Most villages even those she'd been good to had breathed with relief when she left. "Actually I am looking for someone."
Xena's face couldn't hide her surprise this time.
The woman laughed. "Child, if you can't be blunt when you get to be my age then you might as well pack it in."
Xena laughed, but spoke with concern. "Grandmother I do wish you'd be more careful if I wasn't in my youth I would have taken offense at that remark perhaps even done something I would regret today." She followed the woman into her home and laid the bucket of water on the table. "Promise me you'll think before speaking."
"No." The old woman patted Xena on the arm. "I'm much too old to do that." Her eyes crinkled as she smiled at Xena. "Now who are you looking for? I know everybody."
Xena grinned. "His name is Makarios. He's not from this village, but I have reason to believe he's known here."
"No, the name is unfamiliar. I am sorry child. Would you like a tea before you go?"
"No Grandmother. Thank you anyway." Xena turned toward the door.
"Wait. There is a man that's been hanging around here for the past year I think he has a cabin in the woods. I don't know his name. But Detriech should be able to help. The man buys supplies from him."
Xena smiled. "Thank you grandmother." She kissed the woman's cheek. "And if ever anyone comes by to bother you, tell them you are a friend of Xena's they'll know what that means."
"What a nice girl." The lady touched her cheek. "Such good manners. I wish my son had married a girl like her."
Xena hurried back to the tavern. Her exercise forgotten in her rush to settle this problem once and for all.
Xena smiled as she strode through the door, Gabrielle was in sight and eating. Themis was watching in fascination at the amount of food the slightly older woman was eating. Detriech was watching in resigned fascination from behind the bar.
Xena moved purposely toward the bar. "Hi." She looked into the gray eyes of Detriech and grinned at the slight sign of fear she saw there. She couldn't help but enjoy the twang of power she felt when people cringed just at the sight of her even when it was someone she had never harmed.
"Morning." Detriech's voice trembled slightly. What could the warrior want. She'd eaten at first light. He waited for her to make the first move.
Xena glanced at the bard and her companion before turning to face the tavern owner. "I'm looking for someone." She raised one brow. "And I'm told you know him."
Detriech swallowed his fear. "I told you before I have a good network. Do you have a name or a description for me?"
"I do," Xena lifted one corner of her mouth. "He's tall, dark skinned, curly, black hair and hazel eyes. But I am not going to pay for this information."
He paled. She's after Gabrielle's kidnapper my gods she thinks it's one of my people. He balked. A hard look entered his eyes. He'd be damned if he'd hand one of them over to be killed. Makarios the woodsman it must be him no I won't tell her.
Xena watched impassively as first fear, then acknowledgment and determination flitted across the man's face. He knows who I'm looking for. She sighed. "Did I say I wanted to kill someone?" What was it with these people always assume the worst?
"No." He managed to squeak the word out. "But you are planning to and I won't be a party to it."
Xena reached across the counter and lifted him off his feet with one hand. "Whatever I am planning is none of your business. Just give me the information I need." She held him aloft.
Gabrielle hurried across the room. "Xena!" she admonished the older woman slapping her arm. "Tell him you're sorry." She wagged a finger in the warrior's face. "He's our friend." Xena lowered him, but maintained her hold. Gabrielle turned to the shaking man. "Sometimes she gets carried away." She turned back to Xena. "Well?"
Xena glared angrily at her lover, let go of the innkeeper, and crossed her arms. "He made me angry."
"What did you do?" Gabrielle asked exasperation in her voice, as she looked back at Detriech.
"Spit it out man! I haven't got all day." Gabrielle tapped her foot impatiently.
"She wants to kill one of my customers and I won't tell her how to find him." He blurted the words out.
Gabrielle laughed. "Foolish man." She turned to the warrior. "Do you think you could have explained the situation to him a little nicer? Then maybe he would have answered you honestly and we could have avoided this little mishap."
Xena refused to move. She'd done nothing wrong.
"Argh!" Gabrielle threw her hands up in the air and cried. "I give up! Am I surrounded by stubborn fools?" She turned to look at Themis. "Do you see what I have to put up with? Is it any wonder that I am not insane?" She turned back to the frightened man. "Look! Xena is not out to kill anyone I would have thought that was obvious from our behavior last time we were here. We are trying to find her brother." She pointed at Themis. "If you know him it could save us a long time."
"Makarios is your brother?" He asked surprised. "I thought the warrior-" He clamped his mouth shut.
Themis joined the others at the bar. "It's okay." She smiled gently. "He told you that she killed our family." She shook her head sadly. "She didn't, but he thinks she did." Sad eyes looked at the man and he shuddered. "Can you help us find my brother?"
So that was why she looked so familiar. Now that he knew what he was looking at it was obvious. The same shaped face. Same eyes and lips. The hair though his was so curly and hers straight and shiny. "Yes." He glanced at Xena. Perhaps he had misjudged the warrior. "I'm sorry."
Xena acknowledged the apology with a nod of her head, but made no comment. Content to stand and let her bard talk for her.
"I can give you general directions to his cabin but I haven't seen him since just before you arrived last time." He paused, his eyes got thoughtful. "There is another choice." He played with his mustache. Perhaps he mused. "There lives somewhere in the woods nearby a man, some say he is a wise man I truly don't know, but perhaps he can be of some help. Only problem is no one knows where he lives. If he wants to see you he does." He shrugged. "I can't tell you more than that."
Xena cocked her head at the bard. "Better than nothing."
"Let's do it."
"Do what?" Themis asked bewildered.
Gabrielle bit her lip to stifle her laughter. "Get lost in the woods." Her laughing eyes met Xena's. As if that were possible.
"On purpose." Xena smiled. Her good humor returned. "We leave in the morning. Too late to go now." Her eyes danced as she let them fall on her lover's face.
Gabrielle blushed. She lowered her eyes and shuddered at the sudden blast of heat that came from deep within. She nodded in agreement.
The fog settled over the land like a thick cotton blanket. The dampness woke Xena. She extricated herself from Gabrielle's arms. She shivered silently. Thanked her bard for having gathered excess wood the night before and began the task of rebuilding the fire, before heating some water and brewing one of her famous teas for the still sleeping women.
Gabrielle woke slowly and shivering from the chill reached for her lover. Nothing. What the? She opened her eyes and sat up in surprise. "Xena?" She rose and walked to the fire and knelt before the tall woman. "Hey, what's up."
Xena caressed Gabrielle's cheek. "Nothing. It was cold. I thought I'd get a fire going." She pulled the bard up and sat her next to herself, handing her the cup. "And then I guess I was just enjoying the night air and the stars. " She placed her arm around her lover and pulled her close.
The fog stole the warmth from her body. Themis shivered and looked enviously towards the two women cuddling. Morning was still a long way off, but she was so cold.
Xena noticed the movement and stood up, pouring a cup of her well steeped tea. "Here," she held out the mug. "this'll put the fire back in your veins."
Themis blinked the sleep out of her eyes and rising walked toward the warrior. Her hand shook slightly as she accepted the mug. "Thanks."
Xena frowned. "Sit here." She pointed to the log and reaching behind her pulled a cloak out of her bag.
"Oh, no." Themis held out her hands to ward off the warrior. "I couldn't."
Xena pressed the garment around Themis' shoulders. "Yes, you can. I won't have you getting sick out here." She smiled as Gabrielle opened her blanket and she slipped inside the warm cover.
Themis shook from the cold and accepted the warrior's words with another murmer of thanks, enjoying the return of warmth.
Xena frowned at the young woman. "Drink that tea well it's hot." She ordered. "It'll do your insides no good cold."
Themis nodded. Cautiously she sipped at the strange smelling concoction. A delighted smile spread across her face that equaled the spreading warmth within. "This is good." She declared sipping more as her aches started to disappear. "How?" She began, "What is it?"
Xena rolled her tongue around her teeth. "It's a few different herbs, honey, lemon, and a drop of anise." She finally replied.
"Making good teas is just one of her many skills." Gabrielle embraced her lover. "Xena is a healer."
"Oh." Themis sipped her drink. The more she watched and learned the less she understood. She let her thoughts wander to better days and prayed to Demeter for her brother's safe return.
Gabrielle watched the changing expressions on Themis' face. "Themis." She smiled gently. "We will find him." While talking to the younger woman Gabrielle let her hand wander over her lover's strong thigh. Taking comfort in the warm skin and loving response.
"I know." The younger woman replied and realized with a start that it was true. She did believe they would find him it was how they would find him that scared her. She lifted her eyes to look at Gabrielle. "It's not knowing if he'll be alive or " Tears filled her eyes and she looked back at the fire. Glad for the night's darkness, she looked into her drink startled by the tear that fell into the cooling liquid. Sighing at her own stupidity she drained the contents. Enjoying the hot warmth that chased the cold away. She yawned.
Xena forced her face to remain neutral as Gabrielle's hand hidden by the blanket found it's way along her inner thigh. She gave Gabrielle a sly smile, before turning to Themis. "Go to bed." She nodded toward the blankets.
Themis startled by the voice jumped and turned red. "Sorry, I just got lost in thought." She admitted.
Xena grinned her bard's hand had moved closer and she felt her body react accordingly.
"S'okay." Gabrielle smiled reassuringly, as her hand slipped inside Xena's clothing. "But Xena's right it's late and we all ought to turn in if we intend to find your brother tomorrow."
Xena remained seated. Her mind focused on the sensations that single hand was causing. She grinned as Gabrielle's actions belayed her need for sleep. Finally unable to wait longer she lifted the bard onto her lap and captured the sweet mouth with her own. "I think it's past your bedtime." She murmured as she nipped her ear. "Come on." She rose to her feet, lips still nuzzling Gabrielle's neck.
Gabrielle's only response was to move her attention from Xena's thigh to her neck.
Xena laid her lover down on their blankets, "And now my bard," She whispered hotly into her ear. "It's time for sleep." Gabrielle's eyes opened wide and Xena kissed each one. "As much as I'd like nothing more than to continue this activity feel how I ache for you." She placed her bard's hand between her thighs. "We can't." She removed the hand, from it's resting place and lifting it to her mouth she drew one finger in, sucked gently, kissing it as she let it out and moved on to the next finger. "There's way too much danger in these woods." She punctuated each word with a kiss. Gabrielle moaned. Xena drew back breathlessly, pulling her love into her arms as she lay down. "Just rest." She murmured, patting the silky red gold hair
"You are a tease." Gabrielle pouted.
"Me?" Xena's chest rose and fell with her laughter. "Look who started it." She caressed the bard's cheek. "You know what the rule is " She pressed her finger against Gabrielle's lips. "Now be quiet and go to sleep." She smiled as Gabrielle kissed her finger before snuggling down. She loved the feel of the younger woman pressed so lovingly against her side. She checked the night sounds. All normal she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
Xena paused mid-trail. Something was niggling at the back of her head. She knew these woods, but why? She stared into the distance her eyebrows furrowed with worry. Why couldn't she remember?
"Xena?" Gabrielle stopped walking and held her staff in a defensive pose, looking nervously into the woods. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Xena frowned at her lover. "Sorry." She glanced toward Argo. The warsteed stood patiently waiting nothing bothering her. It has to be my imagination. "There's nothing wrong."
Gabrielle looked uncertainly at Xena. It wasn't like her to react to nothing. "You sure?" If she didn't know better she would think the warrior was spooked. "You look a little " Her voice trailed off.
Xena frowned. She looked at Themis resting on Argo one arm draped around the reins the other dangling on Argo's neck, absently patting the horse. She looked back at Gabrielle. "It's " she let out a breath. "I've been here before, but I don't remember it's more like something within recognizes these woods, but " she gnawed at her lip, "for the life of me I can't remember."
"Oh." Gabrielle looked worried. Xena always remembered. This was getting scary. "Did you come through here with your army?" She tired to prod Xena's memory.
"No." Her eyes grew distant as she tried to recall when she might have traveled here. She thought of that first year of wandering where had she gone? Could it have been to here? She willed herself to be still feeling the earth around her. That first year or two were a little hazy, but her heart knew. It was then that she had trod these woods. Before stumbling half dead into the Amazons she had been here, but why was she unable to remember it?
"Foe or friend?" A voice rang out.
Xena moved too swiftly for Gabrielle to see. Her sword was in her hand, eyes scanning the tree lines. "Friend if you wish. Foe if you are fool enough to attack."
"Oh no." The voice responded. "It is for you to decide."
Xena glared angrily at the tree by Argo's head. She had pinpointed the voice and knew there was no way to save Themis if the man chose to kill her. She watched helpless as the man dropped from the tree.
"Gabrielle," Xena motioned for her friend to stay behind her. Her eyes on the man in front of her. She took a single step forward. "If I lower my weapon how do I know you won't harm our friend?" She motioned toward Themis.
The man chuckled. "Harm comes in many forms and normally from enemies. If harm is to come to this one it will be because you chose it."
The warrior within argued to stand and fight, but Xena knew that if she chose to fight Themis would die. With a heavy heart she sheathed her sword and motioned for Gabrielle to lower her staff. "Friends. We chose to be friends." Her heart thudded painfully and Gabrielle stepped closer placing her hand on the small of Xena's back.
Another chuckle the man bowed low. "Then, friend. May I invite you to dinner?" There was a lilt in his voice. "The meat has just been caught, the vegetables are fresh grown, and it has been awhile since anyone dropped by." He cocked an eyebrow at Xena.
She in turn turned to Gabrielle, who smiled encouragingly. "As friends," she emphasized the word. "we accept." She waved her arm. "Lead on." She let loose a shrill whistle and Argo answering her call pushed past the startled man, trotting to her mistress. "Good girl." She ignored the man and rubbed Argo's neck. "Are you okay?" She asked Themis. A smile in her eyes as she heard Gabrielle's low murmur, "Show off." At Themis' nod she again glanced at the man who had warily joined them.
Xena was content to walk in the background while the other three talked. She had a lot to contemplate. She felt as though she were on the edge of some great discovery. She half listened to the conversation flowing back to her. That this stranger was a warrior there was no doubt. But listening to him talk he sounded like a philosopher.
"Ah, but I have not disagreed with you. I merely stated that my name had no more importance than your own name." The stranger said laughingly.
"Names are very important." Insisted the bard. "Names have a power all there own."
"How very astute of you." He glanced back at the warrior woman in wonder. For her to keep company with such as this was interesting to say the least. "So you are a namer."
"Huh?" It was Gabrielle's turn to look confused.
"Never mind. Little one. In time you will understand." He paused at the edge of a small glade. "Welcome to my home." He waved all three women into the clearing.
Xena paused as she came abreast of the man. What had he meant by calling Gabrielle a namer? She started to ask him, but he raised a finger to her lip. "Later." He whispered.
"Oh! It's beautiful!" The bard exclaimed.
Xena stepped forward. There stood a small stone house with a wooden stable and a corral off to the left was a large garden and a stream meandered by the back, a small pond nestled in the crook at the southern edge of the clearing. Xena frowned. It seemed somehow familiar.
A man stepped out of the house.
Themis screamed and ran forward. "Makarios!"
Xena startled grabbed at her sword, but never drew it.
The man paused mid-step and turned to Xena. "Tch, tch." He wagged a finger at Xena. "You did say friends."
Xena hesitated. Everything in her said keep the sword handy. She looked at Gabrielle, fear had turned the bard's face a pale white. She swore and let her sword drop back into it's sheath. Two long steps took her to Gabrielle's side. "You're safe .I won't let anyone harm you." She wrapped her arms around her friend and felt the bard melt into her. She turned angry eyes onto their guide. "Friends you said. He tried to kill her."
"But didn't." The man said strolling toward the cabin.
"Are you okay?"
"I am now." Gabrielle's trembling had stopped as soon as Xena's protective arms had pulled her close. She stood with her head laid upon her lovers breast, arms around her waist. "It was just the shock of seeing him." She laughed. "I mean he is the reason we are out in these woods."
Too true. Xena maintained her battle alert state and I refuse to believe that this is all coincidence. She kept that thought to herself. "Are you ready to face him yet?"
"With you by my side I am ready to face anything." She grinned up at her friend.
Stepping into the house with her bard tucked safely against her left side, Xena stared through hooded eyes of ice blue at the curly haired man. "Makarios." She spat the name as if it were dung in her mouth. Rage at the thought of what he had inflicted on Gabrielle welled up inside her. Her nostrils flared as she fought to temper her anger. She wanted nothing more than to draw her sword or better yet just beat him until he cried for mercy her darkside fought for control, but she'd promised Gabrielle. She looked away and her eyes fell on Themis. Her face wet with tears of joy she had her brother back. Her heart lurched. She brought her eyes back to Makarios, let him glimpse the veiled threat before closing her anger away.
Makarios paled before the warrior princess. A month ago he would have been pleased to see her. Welcomed his own death but today he wanted to live and looking into her eyes he knew he was alive on her generosity. He bit the inside of his cheek and looked at the small woman he had tried to kill. She was trembling...he felt a stab of pain she feared him, yet she managed to look him in the eye. Sorrow filled him and tears sprang to his eyes. Hatred for himself welled up. He deserved the warrior's wrath. He took a deep breathe and let it out slowly. ""I'm sorry." Simply said, but from the heart.
Gabrielle's heart pounded. She wanted to turn and run. She didn't need to be reminded of the helplessness she had felt tied to a chair in his home. She felt Xena's heart close to her own and it calmed her. No one could harm her she smiled and looked into the eyes of Themis' brother and gasped. His eyes had changed they were not filled with hate the black iciness was missing. She felt her fear dissolve. She stood up straighter. Felt Xena's grasp tightened and turned a reassuring gaze to her lover. She had known in her heart that this man wasn't a killer and now her belief had been vindicated. She accepted his apology gracefully and turned to their host. "I believe you said something about dinner." She heard Themis' audible breathe of relief.
Xena remained tense. Her love was too kind. Only her excellent self control allowed her to eat at all. She spent most of the meal trading uneasy glances with Makarios and listening to Themis' unending prattle about their home and what he needed to know before going there. Gohds but she's worse than Gabrielle ever was! She wanted to check on Argo, but had no intention of leaving her bard alone with these people no matter how much she appeared to be enjoying herself.
Gabrielle aware of the tension pouring from her friend felt a pang of sympathy. As soon as she'd eaten enough she turned to her companion. "Want to go check on Argo with me?" She smiled.
Xena swallowed her surprise and flashed a small smile, rising as she did so.
Gabrielle rose and grasped the warrior's hand. "We'll be back in a few minutes." Together they stepped through the door.
Makarios watched as they left pain in his eyes. He looked down at the food in his plate and suddenly felt ill. He pushed the food aside and lifted the port to his lips.
Themis' eyes filled with tears. "It'll be all right." She spoke softly, more to herself than her brother.
Their companion looked from brother to sister and sadly shook his head. "Things don't heal themselves. Leaving a situation alone doesn't heal it. If I am not mistaken a confrontation or two is in order." He rose. "And I must check on garden."
"How could you travel with her?"
"She's not what we thought she's so much more." Themis looked away from her brother. It pained her to see him hurting. "Her mother saved my life."
"Her mother?" He asked surprised.
"When I left to search for you " She lowered her eyes. "I left ill prepared. I got sick. Most people would have thrown me into the streets. Her mother took me in, kept me despite my running out of money, she nursed me herself." She looked up, saw her brother's look of disbelief and hurried to finish her tale. "When I was healthy enough she asked me why I girl such as myself was out in troubled times with no protector. When I confessed I was searching for you. She suggested I seek out her daughter and her companion. She claimed that if any could help me they could, and would. I agreed then she told me who her daughter was."
The air around them was still and time seemed to slow as Makarios pondered all she said. "Yet you still sought her out, went with her willingly?"
"Before I made my way to the inn I had started to hear stories." She swallowed. "Stories that Cyrene said were true." She looked toward the doorway. "She's changed. She's a good person. She deserves to live."
Hazel eyes looked unbelievingly into hazel eyes. Anger flaring in his darker ones. "How can you say that knowing Ilene is dead because of her?"
Sadly she shook her head. "Ilene is dead because of men that disobeyed orders. Men the Warrior Princess executed for their disobedience."
"What?!" He exclaimed.
Themis merely nodded.
"How do you know that?"
"She told me and she doesn't lie."
"How can you be so sure?"
Once outside the door Gabrielle turned and hugged Xena. "I love you."
Xena looking down at the woman, "I know." She left her arms behind Gabrielle's back. "But what brought that on?"
"I just thought you needed to hear it." She traced Xena's lips with one finger. "You seemed so tense. I know you didn't enjoy that meal." She smiled. "And it was a very good meal."
Xena swallowed the lump that was starting to form. "You realize that you are turning me into an old mush ball." There was laughter in her eyes. "How can I be at ease knowing that man tried to kill you?"
"Come on." Gabrielle tugged at her friend. "We should discuss this away from the doorway."
Xena allowed herself to be led to the barn and sat on a bale of hay, Gabrielle stood before her. She placed her arms behind the smaller woman's back and pulled her close. "Should I repeat my question?"
"No." Gabrielle placed her hand lovingly onto Xena's cheek, taking comfort in the warm softness. "If I can forgive him you should."
Xena's grip tightened. "He almost stole my life you if it had been reversed would you have forgiven him so easy?"
Gabrielle's eyes filled with tears. "Oh no, love, not easily at all." She placed her other hand on Xena's other cheek and turned the beloved face to her own. "But I am here. With you. He couldn't do it." She spoke in a gentle whisper. "In the end he couldn't kill me. As much as he wanted to he couldn't do it and he ran screaming into the night. I ache for him."
"You ache for him?" Xena looked surprised.
"To have had what we have and to lose it so violently, and without a chance to say goodbye I think It's enough to drive one insane don't you?"
Xena's grip tightened and she lay her head on her lover's shoulder. "Yes." Inward she cringed. Everyday it's what I fear.
"So can we not forgive him?"
"When put so succulently how can I not?" She smiled through unshed tears.
Gabrielle moved to touch her eyelids. "Why?"
"Just the thought of losing you." Xena replied honestly.
"Beloved, I am here." She took the face in both hands and leaning forward pressed her lips first against her lovers eyes and then to her lips. "I am staying here."
Xena returned the kiss. Her hands pulling Gabrielle closer. The strawberry blonde hair cascading into her eyes. Using her face Xena nuzzled the hair back. Drinking in the breath of her lover with each small nip. "I need you." She murmured the words and felt an answering murmur as the bard gripped her head and tilted her face to meet her lips. Delicious soft lips that still tasted of the strawberries eaten for desert. She licked and nipped her way across the sweet mouth pulling the smaller woman onto her lap.
Gabrielle pulled back. She looked into dazzling blue eyes and smiled. "I hope you know how much I love you." She said breathlessly. Xena grinned as she lifted the bard up and rising looked around the barn for a good spot to lay her precious bundle. "I know." She replied as she bent her head to kiss the bard as she paused in front of a small hayloft gauging the distance needed to clear the opening. She smiled. "Trust me?" She whispered.
"With my life." Came the reply.
With a small chuckle her grip on the small woman changed, she took a few steps back, rocked back on her heels for a half a second before running forward and leaping into the air. Laughing outloud as Gabrielle's grip tightened. She landed them safely in the loft and immediately dropped to one knee lowering her precious cargo and smoothing back her hair. A glint of suppressed desire in her eyes.
"Now that was you being a show off." Gabrielle laughed. One shaking hand reaching to caress the warrior's face.
"But only for you." Xena kissed the hand. "Do you mind?"
"No." Gabrielle grinned at the laughing face. "I must admit I love it everytime you do that even if I never get used to it."
Xena laughed. "Maybe I should do it more often." She laid next to the bard, turning sideways to face her. Her fingers trailed seductively along the smaller woman's body delighting in the way she arched her back for her.
"I don't think they're coming back." Makarios said.
"Maybe they decided to sleep in the barn." Themis suggested.
"We can't just assume that." The nameless one said. "It's danger in not knowing where your friends are, for if you do not know where friends are, how can you tell if an enemy comes? It's my barn. I will check." The door opened. He stopped where he stood.
Xena stepped in. She let one eyebrow rise sardonically. "Sorry it took so long." Gabrielle stepped sheepishly in behind her friend. Bits of hay still clung to her top. "Hi." She smiled slightly embarrassed.
The two walked over to the fireplace and sat, Xena in one of the oversized chairs and Gabrielle resting on the floor her back against her warrior friend.
The other three attempted to closed their gaping mouths and nameless sat back down.
Xena maintained her stoic look but inward was grinning. They had control and she intended to use it to her advantage. "So what's the plan now?" She tilted her head. Her eyes rested on Nameless.
The giant man laughed. "I? I have no plans. I intend to continue doing that which I started a millennia ago gardening and hunting and contemplating the ways of the universe." He looked at each of the four mortals in his home. "As to what the four of you intend " he brought his attention back to the raven haired beauty. "Surely that is up to Themis. Was it not to her you promised safe passage and the return of her brother?"
Xena smiled darkly. "So for a millennia huh? And does that make you a god?" She really hated when gods interfered with her life.
"No." A half laugh emitted sadly from the large man. "A lonely human one doomed to spend an eternity in loneliness."
The four in the room looked at one another surprise on all four faces. It was Gabrielle who spoke next. "Please won't you tell us your story?"
The man looked at the lithe, red-gold figure sitting curled at the feet of her lover; such a sweet young thing, so innocent but not naive there was a strength in her he did not understand. Up at her lover; such hardness, such darkness, had she truly overcome it? Found her way? It had taken him centuries to change. He turned his gaze upon the young man he'd found in the woods. The hate had only just begun to grip him when he'd captured the girl. What was she that she'd so easily turned not one but two dark souls? And last but not least he turned to smile softly at poor misguided Themis a sweet child, but so afraid to truly live she needed a wise hand to cajole her into living life. He looked down at his hands. Dark, knarled by age and overwork, what did he have to offer long time ago he'd tried to live with others, but it was too hard watching them age and slowly die, while he remained never changing he sat lost in memories while the others watched and waited.
Themis finally rose from her seat and moved to stand next to the giant man. Tentatively she reached out a hand. "Are you okay?" She asked staring into his eyes. Dark eyes, full of pain turned to look at her. She felt her heart stop and then start pounding just a little faster than before.
"Fine." He smiled gently and took a deep breath. "I don't normally tell my story. It tends to cause me nothing but grief." He looked from one to another and continued. "Normally it means leaving my home and wandering until people forget and I can resettle." His eyes came to rest on the warrior woman and he grinned. She was poised for battle. Definitely a true child of war. He looked into her eyes and felt a connection that she to acknowledged. He tore his eyes away and looked instead into the flames, better to burn in there then have all his life bared before her, which he knew it would be if he continued to look into those eyes. "I think perhaps to you four I shall tell my story. If I am wrong " His voice trailed off and the four waited patiently. Not a one dared to move, not even Themis who still stood with her hand resting comfortably on his arm.
My story begins in a world and a time long forgotten. A world where your gods where but a child's imagination. I lived a happy life at least as much as any child could ever be happy with restrictions placed on them by loving parents. There was no real reason for me to turn to evil but I did. I reveled in harming others. By the age of ten I knew all the ways to torture a small helpless animal dragging out death I wondered what it would be like to do it on a person. I grew quite good at cutting people down with both my words and my weapons. At twelve years of age I was larger than most grown men and twice as mean. My tribe began to fear me I enjoyed the power I wielded. My own parents did not know what to do with me. My tribe was a peace loving tribe, but I loved the taste of fear and the smell of blood. I grew to be our best hunter, yet none wanted to hunt with me for I was also the cruelest of hunters. There was talk that perhaps I was a changeling. I child of the evil ones. It took six men to subdue me when they finally came to throw me out of the tribe and two of them where dead before I was captured. They took me into the desert and left me tied " He paused and took a sip off his drink. It still hurt all these years later his parents just stood by watching even if intellectually he knew he deserved it it still hurt.
He glanced around the room. He saw pain and sorrow, but not condemnation. Perhaps this was the right ones to tell. Perhaps he could finally rest. "But I didn't die. No. Another tribe found me and cut me loose. This tribe was a warrior tribe. I impressed them with my will to survive and they took me in. They thought I was a man and I let them think it. So at twelve I became a man. But I had learned from my experience. I observed more and kept my mouth closed. I found others who liked to inflict pain and cultivated their friendship. I watched the elders and the chief to learn how to be a leader." He smiled. "And I became the leader by the age of eighteen. I had my own wives, my own animals, and I became the new leader. By the third week of my leadership my old tribe was no more. I continued to conquer and destroy wherever I could. Leading my people wherever fresh blood could be found. But I didn't look ahead. I didn't think that the others would tire of the shedding of blood how could I when I found it invigorating?"
Another pause to see how they were taking his tale. The young bard was now buried in her lover's arms, but the warrior was watching as stoically as ever. Makarios watched with an expression of horror and young Themis with sorrow written all over her face. He turned back to the flames. "One of my own sons contrived against me. He had me whipped to within an inch of my life I've often wondered if perhaps I made a mistake having his mother flogged in front of him." He shook his head. "No matter now. I staggered out into the desert and wandered more dead than alive for quite a few days. It was only my huge size that saved me this time. I fell into a riverbed. "Yes somehow I had managed to stagger out of the desert, but to where I had no idea. I drank deeply and slept half in the water. By the time I found another tribe I had become a half starved, half naked lunatic. Lucky for me they thought lunatics touched by a god and took me in to feed and nurture. However it was unlucky for them I still had not learned. I eventually took over that tribe too went in search of my old tribe, killing any who got in my way. Pretty much life went on that way until I ran into a man that talked of the new gods and the food of the gods. I decided I needed to have the food."
"Ambrosia." Xena stated her nostrils flaring and her chin tilted in disdain.
"Ambrosia." He nodded agreement. Silence fell as the significance of the single word hit home.
"So somehow you managed to get your hands on same, became immortal, and turned good?" Xena summed up disbelievingly.
"Not quite like that, but close." He tilted his head back and closed his eyes. "It took me a couple hundred years to realize how wrong I was I stopped torturing people first then slowly stopped killing them, unless they attacked me first." He stayed sitting with his head tilted back and his eyes closed. "You don't know what it's like. Watching the world change around you. Knowing that every living thing you see will die and you will still look the same as when they entered the world." He sighed. "It was a mistake I don't know how to correct. And the gods laughed " He fell silent then. It was their turn to talk he was done.
Gabrielle lifted her head from Xena's shoulder. She looked first to her lover. A gentle smile playing along her lips. If it weren't for ambrosia her love would not be here. She turned in Xena's arms and looked at the giant of a man. Her heart reached out and sorrow filled her eyes. "Did you ever love?" She whispered the question.
He heard, and he wet his lips. "It was love that changed me. I captured a man and his woman I believed they knew where my old tribe was they had the markings I remembered from my youth seventy years had passed. I was over one hundred years old and still I ached for revenge. They said they didn't know. I had him strung to a pole and whipped just enough to cause pain and then I raped his wife over and over in front of him. I told him this was to be their life until he confessed. Each time I raped her he cried out I love you and she returned his words until I cut out his tongue and still he tried to speak to her and still she responded so I cut out her tongue but they used their eyes to convey their love nothing I did stopped their love from shining through. I wanted love like that. I became enraged with jealousy I sought love everywhere, but couldn't find it truth is I wouldn't have known it if I had seen it."
Themis shuddered. She could feel his pain. She knew what it was to look on love and never to have love. She squeezed his arm and looked at him with a heart full of love. "It's never too late for love." She offered him what she had.
The others looked on in surprise. Makarios felt his heart leap into his throat. How could she? He made as if to stop her and she glared once angrily at him. He sat back down. He had no right to interfere, he lost that right when he abandoned his family.
The big man looked in shock at the slight woman at his side. "Child?" He said in wonder. "Did you not hear my tale? My life ran rivers of red far larger and more evil then anything your brother or Xena ever did. I am not worthy of love."
"Nonsense." She brushed his doubts aside. "They changed you changed true sorrow and a desire to stop the same spread of evil is all that matters and I see that you have undertaken that task throughout your long life."
"But you are so young." He continued to stare in awe that someone so beautiful could claim to find him desirable especially knowing how evil he'd been.
Xena grinned inwardly. Perhaps a love that was innocent was what every ex warlord needed. She rose to her feet and gently set Gabrielle on her feet. "Come on little one. I can tell when we're not needed." She cocked an eyebrow at the nameless one. "We will be sleeping in the barn tonight."
"Ah?" Makarios looked helplessly from his sister to the warrior and bard. No words came out.
Gabrielle glanced knowingly at Xena. Xena sighed. "You might as well join us."
Makarios wet his lips and nodded his head, rising to leave with the two.
"I believe we have a few issues to talk over anyway." Xena said as he reached the door, delighting in the way his face paled. "Ouch." She glared at the small woman beside her.
"There was no need to scare him." Gabrielle said as explanation for jabbing her friend in the arm.
"That hurt." Xena complained rubbing her arm.
"Well I learned when I hit you I'm the one rubbing my hand." She shrugged. "A jab is much more effective and less painful...at least to me." She smiled.
Xena shook her head. "I think it's only because you caught me off guard, don't think you'll get away with that again." She followed the man through the door and the three headed silently for the barn.
"I'm not worthy of your love."
"No one is worthy of love." Themis replied. "But we all crave it."
"I have not dared to hope nor to dream of love for a very long time."
"If you stop hoping life becomes like a barren field."
"You are so young."
"You have enough years for both of us."
"How did you get so wise?"
"I'm not." She spoke sadly. "I have loved and unwisely I have hurt people." She swallowed afraid. "Intentionally hurt, or unintentionally, does it matter?" She looked away.
He reached a hand out, captured her face and gently coerced her to turn it back towards him. "Do you truly wish it?" His hand trembled against her chin.
Her heart soared. Perhaps he could love her. She didn't trust her voice. She nodded her head. Tears in her eyes.
"Are you afraid?" He asked looking into her eyes.
"Yes." She nodded.
He let go of her chin and she cried out. He pulled her into his arms, cradling her gently. "We shall do nothing you do not want to do." He swallowed his eyes full of such tenderness that she had only dreamed of. "May I hold you?"
She nodded. Her insides were a tremble and she didn't understand. Ilene had been the only person that had ever caused her to feel so strange. She bit her lip and ran the tip of her tongue over her lips.
He caught his breath and lifted her off the floor to cradle her in the warmth of his arms. He rose from the table and sat at the chair so recently vacated by the warrior. "Comfortable?"
"Hmmm." Came the muffled reply as she burrowed in closer. She liked his smell. She felt safe.
The night wore on and the two stayed by the fire, content in a slow discovery.
"Ahm," Makarios hesitated in the doorway. Xena pushed past him. "We have the loft." She declared. "You can set yourself up in the corner over there." She pointed to an uninhabited stall.
"Okay." He nodded, but stayed in the doorway.
"And close the door." She said as she lit a candle turning to smile at Gabrielle as she placed the candle in it's iron case. "Want a boost up?"
"No, love." Gabrielle kissed her lover. "You need to clear the air." She placed her hands on either side of her lover and warned her. "Take it easy on him."
Xena leaned in to kiss her lover. "I'll play nice."
Gabrielle saw the twinkle in he eye and laughed. "Don't give him a heart attack. Just talk, but make it quick. I get lonely without you."
Xena's pulse raced. The thought of Gabrielle waiting in bed for her intoxicating. "I'll be as quick as possible." She pulled the bard to her and captured her lips in a long sensual kiss. The kiss a promise of what was to come Her tongue thrust between Gabrielle's lips and entered the sweet confines of her mouth.
Gabrielle's head began to spin. Her breasts were swelling, her nipples hardening and there was a quicksilver ache between her thighs. She protested as Xena pulled back.
"I think that should keep you while I take care of business." Xena said huskily. "Now hurry up that ladder." She let go of her lover an swatted her behind.
"You are a tease." Gabrielle declared, flouncing toward the ladder, turning as she placed one foot on the bottom rung. She flashed a sensual smile at Xena. "But I learned from you " She pulled her top off. "I'll be waiting for you." Her eyes danced with joy as she took in the sight of her lover, who stood gazing at her slender body with its high curves, her blue eyes smoldering with unquenched fire. She hurried up the ladder and lay at the top looking back at her lover as she strode toward Makarios, who had yet to move out of the doorway.
Xena paused in front of the man. This man had harmed her Gabrielle. She let the anger come forth. Ice filled her soul and her eyes turned dark with passion, piercing the man they looked at. He had a hard time breathing. Xena ran her tongue around her gums and tried to calm herself back down. He was sorry. He had found the error of his ways. He's no different then me. She closed her eyes briefly and the icy grip on her soul let go. She looked at the man. "You should be dead." She stated.
"I was crazed." He replied.
"I understand." She looked toward the loft. "But if you had succeeded you'd be dead now."
"I know." He looked at his feet. "I'd deserve to be."
"Just so you know."
He looked at the warrior puzzled. That was it? He was off the hook? Maybe his sister was right. "I know." He replied.
"Good." She turned away.
"Hey," he called and when she turned back. "I'm sorry."
"I know." She replied as she leapt into the air, landing in the loft.
"Show off." Gabrielle laughed. "Come here."
Xena grinned. "I intend to."
Makarios listened to the exchange and wondered if perhaps it wasn't warm enough for him to sleep outside.
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