The story is mine and written by my demanding Muse for your entertainment, but the characters from Xena:Warrior Princess belong to MCA/Universal.
As with all Bards, hobbes would love to hear how you liked her story.
"Gabrielle, are the two of you alright? You were gone so long that we feared that Velasca had killed you. What happened?"
"Its along story, Ephiny. Right now, let us help out around here. Theres so much to do.", Gabrielle told her.
Ephiny leaned forward, speaking softly with her husky voice, "Gabrielle, we cant get our hands dirty, as much as wed like to. It would be considered unseemly. You are the true Queen, and Im the Queen in your absence. The best we can do is give advice and encouragement."
Gabrielle nodded wearily, understanding her view, but not liking it. She felt responsible for the damage. After allit was Velascas hatred for her that brought this destruction to the village, and the deaths of several good women warriors. Ephiny understood her feelings, and suggested that she and Xena may want to set up their campsite, and join them after a rest. They both looked travel worn.
Xena picked a spot nearby, and unloaded their gear to set up camp. Gabrielle started to help her, and was stopped by Xena.
"Gabrielle! You dont remember very well! You cant help me here, Im sorry. Just sit and look regal or something. Let me do this by myself.", she chided.
The Amazon Queen sighed with frustration. She felt completely useless. Exactly what was she allowed to do!? She felt like having a childish fit, but held on to her dignity. She fought back the tears, and sat down, her posture upright and proud.
Xena didnt know whether to laugh or give her a hug. Gabrielle had endured so much since she had been wounded by the log trap, and was probably at the end of her emotional strength. She needed a break away from everything, but it would have to wait for a little longer. Xena began humming to herself, as she set up camp. She had just began unsaddling Argo when she noticed that the bard had seemed more at ease. The strain on her features had given away to a sleepy expression. She continued humming softly, glad she could do this small thing for her friend.
Gabrielle woke to the gentle nudging from Xena. Her friend looked down at her, an indulgent smile on her face.
"Time to get up. they have a meal waiting for you, and it wouldnt look good if you let the food get cold.", she teased.
"I'm up. I'm up.", she said
Xena escorted her to the area set up near the center of the village. At the news that the Queen had returned, the Amazons that had been wounded came back to the village from the Centaur town. They cheered as Gabrielle made her appearance, glad to see her safe and well. She smiled at all of them, humbled by their acceptance of her. She took her place at the head of the large setting placed on the ground. She sat and her followers joined her. Gabrielle lifted her cup of wine, and nodded to Ephiny, giving her a show of approval.
The community of women treated this like a party, their feelings high-spirited.
"Gabrielle!", said Ephiny," You said you would tell us about Velasca. Nows a good time as any.", she suggested.
"Maybe I should have Xena tell it instead!", Gabrielle teased, but it backfired on her. The Amazons looked to the warrior in expectation. Xena looked at them in shock. All eyes were on her, fully believing that it was more in the order of a command than a jest. She smiled sickly and cleared her throat. Gabrielle opened her eyes wide, realizing what she had done. She shot her friend a look that spoke volumes of apology, but knew it was too late. They waited.
"Im not a bard, but I guess I could give it a try.", she started the story with halting words, unused to speaking like this. It was hard enough when she had to confess her crimes in that town in order to gain Callistos help.
She told how they found Callisto, and convinced her to help them out with the promise of ambrosia. How Velasca hunted them from place to place, and how finally, how Gabrielle led them to the rope bridge. Xena began getting into the tale and took a page from Gabrielle, she made the Amazon Queen the hero of the tale, exacting her revenge by changing the details. Now Gabrielle had a reputation to live up to. She finished with a flourish, explaining how Gabrielle forgave Callisto for her sins, and the Amazons cheered their Queen. Gabrielle blushed with embarrassment.
Now she knew how Xena felt when she embellished on her tales. She didnt want to feel bigger than life, to held up on a pedestal . She didnt deserve the looks of admiration and praise from the women around her. Xena had been the true hero. Xena winked at her, telling her that she wasnt too angry and she considered them even.
Ephiny saw the exchange and smiled. She knew very well what had probably gone on, but shed never voice her opinion. They deserved having a Queen with a reputation for fairness and bravery. She planned on bringing the Amazon Nation to peace, tired of the constant battles of the past. Their numbers were dwindling, and they were in danger of being engulfed by other cultures. Peace was their only hope. She and Gabrielle would talk about it later, making long term plans before she left.
The party lasted well into the night, no one wanting it to end. they drank and ate, and told stories of days gone by. Gabrielle was offered many toasts, which were beginning to hit her. Xena noticed the glassy look in her eyes and took the matter into her own hands. She helped the Amazon Queen to her feet and whispered in her ear to tell everyone good night.
"Gnight everyone", she said with a silly smile and a wave. Xena pulled her along, keeping a hand on her elbow, afraid shes take a tumble. Two attendants followed. It would be wrong if they left the care of their Queen to just the warrior. They offered to help prepare her bed, and were appalled that she would be sleeping on the ground in a bedroll. Xena swallowed a laugh, and allowed them to bring over cushions and blankets to their campsite. They set them up as best they could and turned to help Gabrielle undress.
Gabrielle didnt care for the silly custom, but allowed them to help her into a shift. She dismissed them and yawned mightily before crawling into bed. She wiggled against the unfamiliar comfort, and sighed.
"Are you comfy O Mighty Queen of the Amazons?", Xena teased. Gabrielle was so tired, the words were lost on her. All she could do was mumble a hm hm before drifting off.
Days passed, and the reconstruction of the village was well under way. Several new buildings were erected, and Gabrielle, Ephiny, and Xena were given quarters to sleep in during their stay.
Gabrielle spent all her free time with Ephiny, as they discussed the future. Xena kept busy with the rebuilding, grateful for something to do. She hated waiting around. She fell into bed at night, totally exhausted even to dream. She feared the time when her experiences would catch up to her, demanding to be faced. She knew it wouldnt be long before Gabrielle would also want to talk about it. But at the moment, she had peace.
The days passed quickly, and it came to the point when Gabrielle thought it was time to move on. She hunted down Xena in the new storage building, helping to lift a wall section into place. The warrior grunted from the weight she lifted, her muscles quivering from the strain. Gabrielle held her breath, as three others helped to secure it, giving the signal to Xena that it was safe to release it. She stepped away from the wall and looked at it critically. It wasnt exactly straight, but it would have to do.
"Xena, could we talk?", she said.
"Sure. What's up?"
"I think were about done here. The village is rebuilt and Ephiny and I made enough plans to last for years. Id like to leave tomorrow if thats OK with you."
Xena wasn't surprised, she knew it was nearly time. "Fine by me. See you later?"
Gabrielle nodded and gave her arm a quick squeeze before turning to go. Xena stared at her as she left, uneasy about this turn of events.
The Amazons gathered around, wishing them a safe journey. Gabrielle spent time with almost everyone, saying good-bye to one and all. She gave Ephiny a hug and gathered her staff and satchel. She waved one last time, and turned away, following Xena and Argo as they left the village.
They walked for almost an hour before the bard sighed heavily.
"Feeling a little sad?', her friend asked.
"Yeah, a little. I never realized how many friends I had made there, until now."
Xena remained quiet, mulling over how to ask, or even if she should. They had discussed it the night before she decided to hand the mask of the Queen to Ephiny, but not completely to her satisfaction. She had to wonder if this was what she really wanted.
"I would like...I need to know something, and its important that you answer from your head, not your heart. Can you do that for me?", Xena asked.
"I'll try, but you need to ask first. I'm in the dark right now.", she teased lightly.
"Is this what you really want? To travel with me I mean." , she asked uncertainly.
"Xena! Of course it is. Where else should I be? The Amazons dont need me as much as you do, and *you* are more important to me. Ephiny will make a great leader, and is much more suitable than I am. This is where I want to be."
"Are you sure? I don't think I could stand it if you really did this out of ...", she stopped suddenly, embarrassed.
"Out of pity or habit or any other reason other than the fact that I want this with all my heart?", she took hold of her friends arm, "Xena. I want this with everything within me, with no hesitations. For me, there is no other options. You told me how you felt, remember? You also told me while you were dead that I didnt have to say anything. I assumed you knew exactly how I felt. You are my home, and I cant imagine any place Id rather be than with you.", she smiled at her friends discomfort at the mushy sentiments, and put forth a lighter mood. "Besides, I cant very well leave you to your own cooking. Youd starve within a week.", she teased.
Xena smiled for the first time that day, and relaxed.
"Gabrielle, I think we need a vacation.", she said with a light-hearted tone.
"A vacation? And do what exactly?
"Oh, I dont know. We just need to have time to relax. Everything has happened so fast, that we havent had time to breathe, much less anything else. We need to splurge a little."
"Splurge? Xena, are you feeling OK? You don't have a fever or anything do you?, she asked with concern.
"Nooo! I just think you and I deserve to a break from it all. No people to rescue. No problems to solve. Just peace and quiet. What do you say?"
Gabrielle looked uncertain, but agreed. Xena smiled like a child on Solstice morning, and suddenly, the bard was glad for her idea. They did need to escape from it all. Maybe Xena was right and this might be their last chance for a long time. She felt a great weight fall from her shoulders, and her steps seemed lighter. She was looking forward to this.
They hashed it over, trying to make a decision on where to go. It had to be close by, or they would defeat the purpose. After suggestions from both, they settled on the coastal city of Mirrhea. It was well known for its open sandy beaches and mild weather. It would take about a week to get there, but they thought it would be worth the effort.
"You know, well have to earn some money before getting there. We dont have alot on hand. If we make stops at all the towns on the way...", Gabrielle suggested.
"...you can tell your tales. Maybe Ill place some wagers or something. Who knows, it might be fun just to do that too."
"Wagers. Like what?"
"You know. On skills and races or who knows what else. I usually try to avoid themits too much like boasting alot of the times, but it earns quite a bit of money if you win."
"What kind of bets have you placed in the past, Xena?
"Oh... things like horse racing, and arm wrestling, knife throwing, archery, drinking...all sorts of things."
"Archery? I don't think I've ever seen you use a bow before."
" I don't need one. My chakram does so much more than any arrow."
"I'll say. I never did ask where you got it."
"Is that a hint?", the warrior teased. Gabrielle grinned and practiced raising her eyebrow.
"I got it from one of my soldiers. He had fought in some war in the far east. He had seen someone using it, and tried to get the man to show him how to use it. The fool gave him a couple of quick lessons, and died for it. He lost it to me the same way.", she said with regret.
"You killed him for it.", Gabrielle guessed.
"Yes. I wanted it, and took it when he refused.", she became quiet for a long moment, then shook herself back to the present, "Anyway, I learned how to use it. It took a long time, and I had to wear mail gloves at first. If you catch it wrong, you can loose your fingers."
"I can imagine. That's why I don't ask for lessons with it."
"Chicken.", Xena teased.
"And proud of it. And it's *Queen* Chicken to you, Warrior *Princess*.", she quipped.
Xena tried to keep a serious face, but didnt really succeed. She gave her friend a mock bow with her head and laughed. They both chuckled at their silliness and continued down the road.
Xena watched as Gabrielle collected the coins that had been thrown in the basket in front of her. She had been telling her stories for several hours, and needed a break. She joined Xena at their table, and lifted her eyebrows gave her a quizzical look.
"What is that silly grin for?"
"You know. You said you'd wager about something. I want to see you do it."
"Oh, that. OK, if you insist.", she said with a playful whisper. She grabbed Gabrielle's coin bag, and removed several coins.
"I need money to bet with Gabrielle.", she said with a wicked grin.
Xena stood and headed for the side of the room with several men had been wagering about everything in sight. She just stood there, and listened for a little while.
"Five dinars on whether or not you can pin that spider by throwing your knife."
"That little thing? That's a fool's bet. No one could hit it from way over here!"
"Ill try.", Xena interrupted. Seven pairs of male eyes turned to look at her. Most looked up and down at least once, several with leers.
"Honey, if you can hit that spider from this line, Ill eat my shoe as well as give you five dinars!", he laughed and the men joined him. Xena smiled mockingly.
"Then show me your money, and tell the cook to get the pot ready!", she said at the same time she pulled out her dagger and tossed it at the wall. The men followed the path of the blade and watched it neatly cut the spider in half. Not a word was spoken as Xena walked up to the blowhard, and held out her hand. He placed the coins in her hand. She lifted one corner of her mouth in a crooked grin.
"Well done or rare?', she teased.
Gabrielle watched from a safe distance, not wanting to get involved with the bets, but close enough to see the action. On occasion, Xena allowed herself to loose small amounts, enough to keep the men betting, but she had made an impressive amount. The newest stupid bet involved tossing olives into a cup. The person who tossed in the most after ten tosses would win twenty-four dinars.
One of the men made an incredible seven into the cup throws. It was now Xenas turn. One toss after another, she launched them. After eight throws, she had tied him. Her ninth toss miss just barely, and she aimed carefully, as the men stood around quietly. She tossed the olive and watched it land in the cup. Those who had wanted her to win cheered, as the others moaned. Xena collected her money, and looked over at Gabrielle and winked. The bard had a sneaking feeling that Xena could have gotten all ten in.
One of the men followed the warrior's gaze, and looked at Gabrielle.
"She with you?"
"She doesn't look like a warrior."
"Shes not, and if you had been paying attention, you would have heard her stories earlier."
"A Bard, huh? Strange couple.", he commented before walking away. Xena rolled her eyes and joined her friend.
"Ready to leave? I think we have enough for our vacation now"
"OK, but can we get something to eat first? I'm starving."
"You and your hollow legs! Let's order it to go, we have to get out of here fast."
"Why is that?"
"I told the cook to deliver a boiled shoe to the idiot and I dont want to be here when he brings it to him!"
They sat under a tree, eating a cold meal of bread, cheese, and fruit.
"Xena, Ive decided that you are positively wicked. It would deserve you right if he came after you! Why did you do it?"
"I couldnt help myself. I feel great! I havent felt like this in a long time, and Im afraid my naughty side just came out."
"Ill say. I think I had better check my bedroll before I get in tonight, the gods only know what I might find.", she joked.
"Well, there goes that idea!", she said in a hurt tone.
"Xena! Just for thatyou can scrub the pots tonight. Maybe youll use up some of that excess energy of yours.", she said with a smack to the arm.
"Humph! Not likelywant to find a pond somewhere? Argo can use a drink soon.", her eyes twinkling with mischief.
"Oh no you dont! Not in this lifetime. You can find some other fool to have a water fight with. Its winter for Zeus sake! Why dont you find a small army to beat up or something.", Gabrielle said with exasperation.
"You're no fun. I guess I'll have to make my own fun.", she threatened.
"Why don't I like the sound of that?", the bard said sagely.
Xena just tried to look innocent.
They continued down the road, sunset still several hours away. Gabrielle walked behind her friend, not trusting the warrior for a moment. She wasnt sure she could withstand this side of Xena. Playful was one thing, but this was ridiculous! If she didnt know better, shed think Xena was drunk! But she knew that Xena rarely overindulged, because when she didshe was quietnot energetic.
Xena looked over her shoulder at Gabrielle and smiled knowingly. She really couldnt blame her, and if she were in her shoes, she wouldnt either. The warrior couldnt help herself. Gabrielles words had finally sunk in, in the middle of one of the stories she had told. She had listened to them and known them in her mind, but it had taken a little longer to feel them at gut level. Gabrielle truly wanted to stay by her side.
Until today, her experiences since her death had never been fully felt. She had been so busy dealing with her own feelings, that the other womans had been only perceived on a unconscious level. Xena had dealt with her regrets of the past, the unwillingness to live any longer, her encounter with Mlila, and the realization that Gabrielle needed her. It was her words that moved her.
Gabrielles pleas that she had heard on the other side had hit home. Her heart-felt words has begged her to come back, to return where she was needed. Xena didnt know until then that she had wanted just thatto be needed. Her life had value beyond her sword and strong arm, that her presence was a gift to another.
Until that moment, she hadnt recognized how selfish she had become. All she had wanted to do was end her pain, to forget the past and get her life over with. She knew she may never really rid herself of that, but she now knew it was there. Mlila said she had a destiny, and with Gabrielle by her side, pushing her along, she hoped to discover it.
Xena smiled and felt like celebrating. Poor Gabrielle! She was in the dark, and it was her fault. She didnt have the words to express herself, and just allowed her playful side to emerge. It was the best she could do.
"Xena! Will you stop looking at me like that! You're making me nervous.", she complained.
"Sorry, it's just that..."
"What? Xena, talk to me will you?"
"I should explain something, but as usual, I don't know how."
"Does it have anything to do with the silly mood you're in?"
"Yeah, it does. But I don't know how to say what I'm feeling. The emotions are just bubbling up inside, and I don't know how to express them."
"So instead, you drive me insane. Im glad you cleared that up.", she told her with a rolling of her eyes.
Xena stopped Argo and jumped down, a soft smile on her face, and then walked towards the wary bard.
"What are up to?"
"I decided to show you instead. Just hold still.", she said to a retreating Gabrielle. Her friend stopped, but was still suspicious. Xena drew closer, and before the bard knew what was happening, was lifted into a huge bear hug. Xena laughed and spun her around a few times before putting her down. The now dizzy Gabrielle grabbed her friends arm to keep from falling.
"OK, Youre in a happy mood I believe. Next time you feel this way, just say so. I dont like my world spinning round and round.", she teased.
"Oh, Gabrielle! Its more than just being happy. Im glad about everything right now. I feel like a kid again, and I had forgotten what thats like.
"You're not *that* old, Xena!"
"No, but I've carried so much inside, that I felt ancient. But today, I feel young, so watch out!"
"Should I buy you a doll at the next town, Xena?", Gabrielle teased.
Xena put her hands on her hips and attempted to look offended. Her look didnt appear very convincing, and only made Gabrielle laugh.
"OK. So maybe not a doll. How about a we pick up some sweets? We havent indulged for a long time. Something sweet and sticky and decadent. Hows that sound?"
"Perfect. I'll even let you pay."
They stood at the stall at the market, licking their fingers and giggling. The small container of honey sweetened cakes were well worth the eight dinars they spent. They saved half of them for later and packed them into a saddlebag. They walked around, not looking at anything special. Gabrielle spotted a stall that had a display of bangles and stepped in for a closer look. She smiled at the assortment, but knew she couldnt afford any.
"Can I let you see anything, miss?"
"No, thank you. I'm just looking."
Xena picked up an item, which surprised Gabrielle. Xena hated to shop.
"What are you looking at?", she asked.
"Xena held up the item. It was a carved cross. Gabrielle didn't get the meaning.
"When I died", she whispered," I found myself hanging on a cross, like the one Caesar had used to crucify me. It just brings back memories is all."
"Good or bad memories."
"Both. I learned something from each of them.", she said softly.
"Then buy it--for a reminder.", Gabrielle told her gently. Xena thought about and it and smiled.
"OK. For a reminder." *Thank you, Mlila. You must have made me see this, just for that reason*, Xena said silently.
Xena stopped and listened. Her whole body poised.
"Trouble?", asked Gabrielle.
"I dont know. Just be ready." They remained still, straining to hear what was approaching. a muted thunderous roar could be heard. Xena urged argo to the trees, and Gabrielle followed. Within seconds, a party of uniformed soldiers pounded by. Argo tried to shy, and Xena gripped her reins tightly. The dust raised by the horses made them choke.
"Where ever they're <cough> going, it's in a hurry!"
"Usually that means trouble."
"There goes our vacation! You cant resist following and finding out whats going on. I know you too well, Xena."
"You do at that. Climb up and let's go!"
For the hundredth time, Gabrielle wished she had a cushion to sit on when they galloped. Her butt was going to be tender this night, she just knew it. They had been following them for several miles at a full gallop. She didnt know how poor Argo could stand the pace, but she showed no sign of tiring.
Finally, to her happiness, Xena slowed down and stopped. The bard leaned to the side and looked around. Smoke rose from a tiny village, obviously burned by marauders. The soldiers arrived at the scene ahead of them.
"It looks like they're too late.", said Gabrielle.
"I know. Lets see if we can help the survivors.", she didnt wait for an answer, she knew Gabrielle was willing. She urged Argo towards the village, at a steady pace, not wanting to alarm anyone.
They entered the disaster area, and saw few survivors, mostly the old and very young.
"I think it was slavers, Gabrielle. Look at whos left. Young and old. Everyone that lived and was healthy was taken away."
"You there! The women on the horse.", a mans voice called out. They stopped and turned around. A soldier walked his way towards them.
"What are you doing? This is no place for sightseers. If you dont know anyone from here, I suggest moving on.", he ordered.
"We followed your men here. I thought we could help out."
"As you can see, its too late for these people. Weve been trying to track down these raiders all week. They keep dividing up, and we loose them."
"Could you use some help? Im sure I could track them down, Im fairly good at finding scum like this."
"I don't know if my commander would allow it. What's your name?", he asked.
"My name is Xena." The man stared at her and nodded.
"Let me talk to him. I'll get back to you.", he hurried off.
They dismounted and Gabrielle pulled out the medical bag. They divided up and helped those they could. Gabrielle found an elderly man, and spoke to him.
"Hi. My name is Gabrielle. What's yours?"
"Lathin. I'm afraid my arm is broken, and my leg isn't too good either."
Gabrielle looked at the blood that ran there, and decided that was her first priority. She took a knife and cut the material of his pants from the wound. She poured water onto it and dabbed away the dirt and excess blood. The bleeding wasnt too bad, and she bound the wound snuggly. Once done, she gently examined his arm. The break was minor, and she thought she could set it by herself. She found scrap wood and placed it beside her. She told Lathin to brace himself. She took the arm and pulled until the bone moved back into place. She then splintered his arm. he thanked her and she moved on.
The soldier returned and found Xena, helping out a woman with a head wound. She treated her a he gave his commanders answer.
"Hes willing to take your offer of help. He suggests you leave a trail of markers well provide so we can follow. *Dont* attempt to take them on. Just find them and well do the rest. Understood?
"Hmm..Would you mind if my friend stays with your army? Id travel faster alone."
"That would be fine. I'll have one of my men keep an eye on her if you'd like."
"Thank you. Ill let her know Im leaving. Ill be on my way shortly. Have those markers ready for me in a few minutes." He nodded and walked away.
Xena found Gabrielle and told her the plan.
"Just be careful. We still have a vacation to enjoy, and it's alot more fun when you're in one piece.
Xena followed the tracks leading away from the village. They couldnt travel too fastnot while dragging along captives. If they divided up, she planned on following the captives first. Maybe then the soldiers could free them.
She had the red cloth markers hanging from her saddle horn, and placed one ever time the trail grew faint. The tracks said she was only a few hours behind them, and she pushed Argo as fast as she could.
Xena hid her horse in a thick clump of trees and set off on foot. She sensed the raiders nearby, and didnt want to alert them. She made her way carefully through the trees, making her way slowly as she neared their camp. She hid behind a large bush, and looked into the camp.
She scanned the entire area, and only saw about eighteen marauders. The captives were held by thick ropes and tied to trees on the west side of the camp. As far as she could tell, they hadnt split up. Perhaps they thought the soldiers had given up the chase.
Xena knew it was too risky for her to fight her way in, and backed away from the camp. She would wait nearby for the troops, and join them in the attack.
Just before sundown, she heard approaching horses. Xena peeked from behind her hiding place, and saw the soldiers getting nearer. She had to stop them before the raiders heard them coming. She rushed out from behind the tree line, and ran up to them on foot.
They saw her coming, and stopped. *Good*, she thought as she got nearer. She walked up to the man who must have been the commander.
"Theyre not far away. Hide your men over there.", she said while pointing to the trees, " and Ill show you where they are. They all seem to be in one place. If done right, the raiders can be caught, and the captives freed."
"Whos in charge here? Funny, I thought it was me.", he commented humorlessly.
"Listen, if you want to get themlisten to me. If you want to bungle this, Ill turn around now and go fetch my friend. We had plans that we delayed in order to help. Its your choice.", she said coldly. The man became red from his indignation, but he kept a civil tongue.
"Very well. Sorinities, youre with us. Well go check out their camp." He got down from his horse and handed the reins to another. The troops made their way to where Xena had pointed. Xena led the commander and his lieutenant to the camp. She allowed them to take in everything on their own, and remained silent.
They retraced their steps, and went back to the hiding spot. "Alright, what's your plan?"
Sunrise was just around the corner, and Xena with the troop of soldiers quietly surrounded the raiders camp. This was the best possible time to attack. The raiders were either sound asleep or drowsy from their night watch. Xena glanced at the commander and nodded. He gave his hand signal and they attacked.
The sentries never had a chance to give warning because the men chosen to eliminate them attacked them first. They fell to the ground in dying heaps, not knowing what had hit them. The troopers hit hard and fast, stunning the raiders. The soldiers attacked the sleeping men and either captured them or killed them outright. The commander wanted the leaders captured, but it was hard to tell who was who. Within moment, the battle was ended.
The commander strolled through the raiders camp like a strutting peacock, pleased that it had gone so well. He turned to Xena.
"Thanks for your help. You may go now if you wish.", he said in a dismissing command. Xena pursed her lips and her eyes flashed with anger. The idiot deserved a good beating, but she reined in her need to throttle him and turned around.
She found her way to Argo and headed back to find Gabrielle.
Gabrielle woke tired and filthy. She had helped the wounded all day and well into the night. She borrowed a small tub and heated water for a bath. She had to wash up, feeling grungy and itchy. She heated the pails of water and filled the tub. She crawled in and sighed.
"Just been lounging around while I was gone, huh?", Xenas voice teased. Gabrielle head jerked upright and she twisted around to see her friend.
"That didn't take long. Did you find them?"
"Yep. The raiders are under arrest, and the captives are OK.
Theyll probably be here by tomorrow. if you hurry with your bath, we can get out of here. Im ready for that vacation.", she half-teased.
"So much for a leisurely bath. Give me a few minutes" Xena grunted and left the room.
"Gabrielle found Xena with Argo. Her hair was still damp, and she looked rushed, but she was ready.
"Let's go--and Xena? If anymore soldiers pass byignore them."
"Deal. Let's just hope nothing else happens on the way, like.."
"No! Dont even tempt the gods, Xena. Bite your tongue and get up on the horse, we got a sunny beach calling our names, and I dont intend to miss one single minute of it."
"Grouch.", Xena grumbled.
"I heard that." Xena just chuckled.
They managed to arrive at Mirrhea with just a few skirmishes with bandits and the like. The city was everything they had heard, and even the small inn they were staying at was clean and comfortable. After being on the road, it was like a dream.
The two of them were at the beach, trying their hand at fishing with the huge poles they had rented. They didnt have much luck, but they had fun trying. They spent their time talking, though not too deeply, Xenas reluctance for dimming the carefree mood the fault. Gabrielle gave up for the moment, and stuck to simple subjects.
"So when are we going to visit your mother, Xena. I think its about time you saw her.", Gabrielle said unexpectantly.
"I'm not sure it's a good time. Maybe someday.", she evaded.
"Xena! It's been almost two years. How long does it take to get the courage to see her?"
"Gabrielle! I'm not ready, so just leave it alone."
"Shes your mother for Gaeas sakenot your executioner. I bet she misses you as much as you miss her. Think about it."
"You dont understand. I hurt her badlybecoming a warlord. I shamed her, and she could barely stand me the last time I was there. Saving the village from Draco was my only redeeming factor I had then. She tried to understand me, but it was hard for her. Thats why I didnt stay long last time."
"Maybe, but Torres saw her when he went home. I bet he had alot of good things to say about you. And when you met after switching bodies with Callisto, she seemed happy enough to spend time with you. I bet shes come around since then. At least give it some serious thought."
Xena remained quiet for most of the afternoon, letting Gabrielles chatter fill the empty spaces of silence. She pulled in her line and put the pole down. She walked over to her friend.
"Alright, let's go."
"Tired of fishing? OK, what do you want to do next?", she said while pulling in her own line.
"Go to Amphipolis."
Gabrielle didnt know whether to kick herself or pat herself on the back. Their vacation had only lasted two days, but she was glad that Xena had chosen to visit her mother. She felt a *little* guilty, though. She had pushed this idea on her friend, and she could tell Xena had many misgivings about it already. Maybe some levity would help.
"You know, Ive been thinking.", she snuck a glance at Xenano response, "and I cant wait to meet your mother. I want to ask her all about your embarrassing childhood antics."
Xena's attention suddenly snapped alert.
"What? Gabrielle, I swear, if you do Ill...", she caught sight of Gabrielles huge grin, and pointed a long finger in a threatening manner and sent her a snarled look. Her friend laughed.
"Just you wait. You think Im strong willed? Wait until my mother drills you, then well see whos laughing.", she promised.
"Im not worried. If I can deal with you, she should be a snap.", she said with confidence.
They walked carefully over the plowed ground of the empty fields, trying to avoid twisted ankles. The ground was nearly frozen from the sudden cold spell, and patches of ice sat in between the deep ruts. Amphipolis was quiet, with no one was in sight. They made their way to the tavern owned by her mother.
As they entered the warm building, they loosened their cloaks, and looked around. Xena stood in place and looked for her mother, and saw her delivering a drink to a table near the back. She stood immobile, unsure how her unannounced visit would be received. She couldnt move, and just took in the sight of strong-willed woman that raised her.
Then, with uncanny ability, Cyrene felt her eyes on her and lifted her own to stare at her daughter. A mixture of emotions flashed across her face. Pain, happiness, resignation, and acceptance. She put down her tray and walked up to her child.
"Little one, come here.", she said and held out her arms. Xena released the breath she didnt know she was holding, and gratefully embraced her.
"Mother. It's good to see you."
"And its good to see you. Come in and sit down. You must be half frozen from the cold. Are you hungry? I can put together a hot meal for you and your friend.", she held up her hand, "No need for a formal introduction. Xena has written several times, and told me about you, Gabrielle. Why dont the two of you sit, Ill be back in a few minutes." They watched her enter the back room.
"Wrote about me? I wonder if she keeps her letters...", she wondered aloud.
"Dont make a big deal about it. I just told her about our traveling together. Im sure Torres filled her in, too. I didnt tell her a whole lot...", her mother returned with two platters, one which was double the size of the other. Xenas mother placed the larger of the two in front of Gabrielle. The bard stared at the two platters, then at her friend.
"Huh huh. Xena, you're a dead woman."
"...and she threw the baby right into the air, and clobbered two guards, then caught the baby. Next thing I knew, the baby was flying my way again. She kept care of Nemos, and that ended his little power play. Pandora stayed with the king to keep care of the little boy. I bet theyve gotten married by now."
"No wonder Vesta never asked you to watch her children, if thats how you played with them.", she said with a question in her voice.
"Mother, I did not toss her baby in the air...I just ...twirled him a little.", she confessed.
"Xena, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!", Gabrielle teased.
"He liked it! it's not like I did it to be mean or anything."
"Give it a rest!", she growled.
"The rest of what?", she quipped.
"Excuse me Mother, I have to beat someone. Ill just be a minute.", she said, but didnt really get up. Her mother laughed.
"Are you two always like this? Gabrielle, no offence, but Im glad you travel with her and not me. Well, I better get back to my customers. Ill talk to you later. Xena, the back room has a couple of beds. Go air the room out and make yourselves at home.", she ordered.
"Well, we have our orders. Hop to it soldier!", piped Gabrielle.
"Just you wait, Gabrielle."
"Hey! I'm lovin' every minute of it.", she quoted.
"I'm glad I came home."
"Me too. I like your mother. I can see where you got that stubborn streak."
"Strong. She hates the word 'stubborn'."
"I'll keep that in mind."
They leaned back on the beds, both lost in thought. Xenas mind went back to the time she first saw her mothers venomous hatred for what she had become, how the shame of her actions had driven her from her mothers heart. The regret she felt at the loss was almost too much to bear.
For Gabrielle, she thought about how much these two women where. Both proud and stubbornstrongand both avoid the subject of the past. Every time she even got close to mentioning it, they both changed the subject. It was going to be a long, hard road with these two. They were going to drive her insane with their actions. And to make it worse, they both had a dry sense of humor. She had to stare hard at her mother to tell if her leg was being pulled.
Gabrielle recalled the platter incident, and wondered wryly what else she had said. Her curiosity was screaming at her, but first she had to get a little revenge. Nothing came immediately to mind. Shed have to think about it. Her mind spun in wild circles, then it came to her.
*Perfect*, she thought.
The tavern was closed for the night, and Xena had fallen asleep. Gabrielle waited quietly for Cyrene to come to the back. The bard held her finger to her lips, and mimed that Xena was asleep. Her mother nodded and motioned her to follow her to another room.
"It's late. Couldn't you sleep?', she asked with concern.
"No. Can I be honest with you? Im dying of curiosity. What exactly has Xena told you about me? "
"Not alotby *your* standards, but by hersshe practically gushes."
"Oh, really? Come on! Tell me, Im dying to know. Anything I get from her is a battle, and youre my next best chance.", she said with a hushed plea.
"OK, but its not much. She told me how you met, and that you like to talkalot.", she said with a smile, " You are a bard, and you have an appetite that rivals a small army. thats why I gave you a large plate, in case you were wondering."
"I figured she was spilling secrets when I saw it.", she laughed.
"I know. I heard what you said to her, and Im wondering what my poor daughter has gotten herself into."
"Are we talking about the same person? Xena the wall. the woman who drives me crazy with her silences, and grumpiness, and a few other quirks that would drive anyone up a tree? *That* Xena?"
"I guess that was a bad choice of words. May I ask something of you, Gabrielle? Youve been together along time. How do you feel about herthe person she is now."
"I think shes the best friend Ive ever had, and I love her. But at the moment, I want to kill her. You want to help?"
"What's the plan?", she ask with a grin.
Gabrielle stood with the older woman behind the bar. They had gone over the plan carefully, and attempted to look serious as they heard Xena enter the room.
"...and you mix it how exactly?", Gabrielle asked.
"You add a little water to the mixture, not much, but enough to cut it, then you chill it. They never know the difference.", she answered.
Xena looked on in confusion. What was Gabrielle doing up so early? And what were they doing? She stepped closer. It looked as though Gabrielle was getting lessons in bartending.
"What's going on?", she said unable to figure it out.
The two of them looked uncomfortable, and slightly guilty. Xena looked back and forth between the two. Neither looked willing to answer.
"Gabrielle, tell me what's going on.", she said impatiently.
"Well..I..uh, your mother and I were..", she stuttered.
"Just talking.", said her mother.
"About what, exactly?"
"Oh..how to run a tavern. Thats all."she told her daughter, then in a stage whisper, "Tell her Gabrielle" The bard gave her a helpless look.
"Uh, Xena. I have something to tell you, but I..."
"Just spit it out. You're the bard, you can tell me."
"Well, your mother and I stayed up all night talking, and..."
"And what? tell mebecause this is too early in the morning for games."
"Ive decided to stay in Amphipolis and help your mother run the tavern. Shes like to semi-retire and I kinda like the idea of not traveling any more."
"What!?! Gabrielle, tell me youre kidding.", she said in shock. Her friend gave her an apologetic look, and Xena sat down, unable to believe what was happening. She closed her eyes, and willed herself to wake up, because this had to be a nightmare. Suddenly, laughter filled the room.
Xena opened her eyes, and saw her mother and best friend in near hysterics. They babbled in sputters, and all that Xena could understand was Gotcha! She then understood, it had been a joke, and one she saw no humor in. She stood up angrily, and stomped out of the building. The laughter died on their lips, and Gabrielle ran after her.
"Xena, wait!", she said as she ran up to her. She took her friends arm and pulled her to a stop.
"Xena, will you wait a minute! I know you dont like being made a fool of, but I just had to get even for yesterday."
"Just because I didnt tell you everything I wrote to my mother?", she said coldly.
"When you say it that way, I guess it was pretty petty of me. But, just for once, I wanted to get the better of you in something! I always feel like you dont completely respect me, because you know I cant best you at your level. So I took another route. Im sorry."
Xena didnt know what to think, but she felt the rage leave her. She had never thought about it before, but she could be right. How often had she shown Gabrielle that she was the weaker of the two? It must have been frustrating to know you were the underdog all the time. Gabrielle couldnt compete with her physical strength, so her weapon was words.
Xena frowned, and decided she was a humorless fool, complaining about being bested. She placed both hands on top of the bards shoulders.
"OK, you got me fair and square. But_if_you_ever..."
"I know, I know. I'm going to pay for it with a dunking or something."
"Worse. When we visit your mother, Ill tell her all about henbane incident."
"You wouldn't! Xena, that's a rotten way to blackmail someone."
"Hey! All's fair in love and pay backs. Remember that."
"I should have stuck to the idea of painting Argo pink.", Gabrielle muttered.
"Painting my horse?!"
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