MYTH - part 3


by Anita Louise

copyright 3/98


Chapter Five

Gabrielle had placed a blanket over the woman. She had watched Kiera sleep for sometime then she decided to take a walk. She knew it had been a long ride and though the woman seemed to be in good shape it was evident she was spent. Getting back to the house and what awaited her could keep another moon. She was in no hurry, because the decision she had made would leave a
lasting mark on so many.

The forest was magnificent as usual and the colors and sounds were music to her ears. She knew what Kiera meant by saying, 'I love this Island, it holds all anyone would ever want.'

Sighing she whispered, "Except for the most important thing."

"Dunt tale mi, ye arr missin urr hert?" When she heard the unusual words she quickly turned to see who had made them. A woman, tan skinned and from her dress she surmised probably a native of the Island stood among the dense foliage. She wore a turban on her head and dangle earrings fell from each ear.

"Who are you?"

The woman smiled and said, "Taint impurtent, bett mi quasion ais."

Walking toward her Gabrielle said, "If I understood you correctly, you are asking if I am missing my love?"

Nodding the woman grinned and Gabrielle could see several teeth missing in front. She smiled and said, "Not that it's any business of yours whoever you are..."

The woman cut in and said, "Mi nam ais Sna."

"All right, Sna, you seem to have all the answers. And I don't feel like sharing at this moment."

The woman turned and ran away and Gabrielle called after her. Shrugging her shoulders she decided to go back to the hut and see if Kiera was still sleeping. The rustling sound caught her attention and she turned in the direction of the foliage and said, "All right, whoever is in there, come

A young man stepped into the open, he carried a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. "Didn't mean to frighten you Mistress, I was looking for Snane."

Thinking for a moment, all the time her eyes taking in every inch of his form. "Snane, that's what you call her, I wondered. There's no hunting around here." She was staring at his fingers on the bow.

He looked down and said, "Not hunting, this is in case I need to defend myself."

Smiling the Bard said, "One arrow, you must be a good marksman."

He smiled and said, "There is no one that can beat me."

Feeling courageous she stepped closer and said, "You and Snane must live near by. Why are your words so easy to understand and..."

He cut in and said, "That's because she would rather keep with the tradition of our people. I find it gets in the way many times."

"I'll say, tell me, what was she up to?"

He glanced around then said, "She came to invite you to our ceremony this night."

Seeming perplexed she asked, "Why? I don't even know you."

He held out a small leather pouch and said, "Take this, if you decide to come, just follow the trail, it will get you past the guards." Placing it in her right hand he turned and sauntered off.

She glanced down at the small bag, then tucked it between her breasts. She had started toward the hut when she heard the drums. Stopping to listen she was enchanted by the rhythm and before she knew it her feet had begun taking her toward the sound.

The moon's rays were making their way through the trees and she found that the path was easy to follow. Several times she was met by massive natives and they were not dressed as a welcoming committee. It didn't take her long to retrieve the pouch and show it. Grunting they waved her on.

The sound of the drums was getting closer and her heart seemed to pick up the beat. Stopping to lean against a tree she took several deep breaths and said, "Now what have you gone and gotten yourself into?" Though her body was fearful, she picked up her step and proceeded.

Walking into a clearing she could see villagers. They were dancing and chanting around a large fire. Many sat in a large circle and the sounds were giving her chills. She turned to leave and ran into Snane.

"Caint bi lefin."

Placing her hands on her hips she squared her shoulders and said, "Yeah, and who's going to stop me." Starting to walk past the woman she saw the flash and felt the pain as her knees buckled, she saw the ground coming up to meet her.


Xena walked into the cooking area, her eyes darting around. "Something I can help you with?"

Looking up she saw Salmanthron enter the room. She nodded her head and said, "Yeah, my friend."

He smiled and said, "She is where you would think. Each day she goes there and usually at the same time." He pointed his right hand toward a chair and said, "Come sit, I need to talk to you."

Thinking the man's words over in her mind she slowly walked toward him. Reaching out to pull the chair back she said, "Thank you and Jennah for helping us."

He nodded and said, "It is the least we could do for the Warrior Princess and her friend. After all, the battle at the falls saved our people. It is too bad one of the Golden Four had to perish."

Scowling at the man, Xena curtly said, "I won't tell you again, nothing special here, now the other three, that is a different story."

He shrugged his shoulders and said, "I want to talk with you about this."

He walked over to a wooden chest and retrieved a beautiful golden cup. It had an etching of a man putting a rope around an Ox's neck. Setting it on the table in front of her he said, "I was able to purchase this with the winnings."

She stared at the magnificent detail on it and said, "I know how much it was worth, so, I take it you made quite a few dinars off Ephiny and me arm wrestling." Nodding his head he said, "You know, if you ever get tired of what you are doing, I would be glad to set you and your friend up in a
little friendly competition."

"I'll just bet you would, I believe the name of the game is greed. No thanks, I am fine with what I do."

He watched her as she checked the cup from top to bottom then said, "I do have a question."

Raising an eyebrow she looked at him and asked, "And what is that?"

"Each time I have seen you, you have been with Ephiny. What happened to Gabrielle? When I met her all she could talk about was you, has something happened to her?"

Standing, Xena looked down at him and said, "Gabrielle is fine, and the rest is none of your business. I'm going to look for Ephiny."

Reaching out to grab her right arm he said, "Didn't mean to hit a tender spot. Ephiny will be fine, I still need to talk to you about this."

Jerking his hand away she said, "All right, I'll sit and listen and it had better be good. No more talk about Gabrielle and never touch me like that again!" The depth of her voice and the look in her eyes caused the man to fall back in his chair.

"I apologize. It is obvious you do not wish to talk about her. I have a deal for you."

"You need me or you would not be offering, so don't make it sound like you are giving me something."

He tapped the table with his finger tips and said, "The one your friend is missing may still be alive."

Reaching out she grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and said, "Then you had better tell me where she is or is this another of your little games?"

Shaking his head he said, "There were few that survived what happened there but, those that did were quickly taken to the mines."

Releasing her hold she leaned back in the chair and said, "Mines? What mines?"

He continued, "The mines at Laurium."

Xena glanced at the cup and said, "Does this have anything to do with it?"

"Yes, there is a lot more where this came from. The person that uncovers the treasures, that can be found there, will be a wealthy one."

Getting to her feet Xena said, "I'm not interested in making you rich. But I am interested in getting to Laurium."

He smiled up at her and said, "Ahh, but without me, you will not. I know the way and it is only I that can get you there."

Pausing she pondered the man's words then said, "I have need to talk to my friend, I will let you know what we decide."

He nodded and said, "Just don't take too long."

Reining the horse in, she stared down at the shambles that lay before her. It was the lone woman kneeling, that brought about the sensation she was feeling in her stomach. She was afraid she might be coming down with something and that is one thing she did not need. They had been at the
dwelling with Salmanthron and Jannah for many moons. Their hands had healed, it was Ephiny's mind that seemed to be tormented. She had never seen the woman in such throes before and didn't know how to handle it.

The thought that Epinon might be alive was a good one, but, it could also be a dead end. She dared not tell her friend because she could not stand to see her hurt again. She would try to think of something else. Maybe a trek with Salmanthon and his journey to recover the treasure might be a good one. She could try to get Ephiny's mind on other things and away from all this decimation.

Ephiny heard the horse whinny and looked up to see Xena. She waved at her and got to her feet. Watching the woman rein the horse toward her she sighed. It didn't seem long before Xena vaulted from the saddle and landed in front of her.

The two stared at one another then Xena said, "Missed you, Salmanthron said you might be here."

"I thought I would be back before now. I needed to make peace. I know you are wanting to get back and there are things I need to do at the village."

Reaching out she placed her right hand on Ephiny's left shoulder and said, "Right now, you are the important one, my thoughts are just that, thoughts. The village can wait."

Seeming confused Ephiny said, "What has happened?"

We can start back, walk with me. I have been given a proposition and it sounds like an interesting journey. After you hear me out, I want you to know, I will not make the journey unless you agree to go."

Nodding her head she followed the woman from the ruins. Glancing back once then catching up with Xena. Argo plodded behind them, seeming relieved to be without passengers. Ephiny listened to her friend and when Xena pointed to a fallen tree she walked beside her and said, "It's been awhile since we have really talked."

Xena dropped the reins and said, "Let's sit."

Ephiny was looking up at the sky and Xena was gazing at her as she said, "Are you going to be all right?"

Turning her attention to the woman, her light brown eyes reflecting her friend in them as she said, "I am ok. It will get better, each day I vow it will get better. I could never have made it, if you had not been there to be my strength. Thank you."

"Now I know what Gabrielle means when she says, 'you know how I get when you
go get mushy on me,' besides, you would do the same for me."

Xena stood and walked over to the saddle, taking the water skin loose she walked toward Ephiny. Sitting down she handed it to the woman and said, "Drink, your face is flushed."

Taking the skin she drank some of the water then handed it back to Xena and said, "I know you are worried about Gabrielle, and it is all right with me if we go back to the village. A trek for treasure just doesn't sound too inviting."

Looking despondent Xena said, "But I need you. It is a journey I cannot take by myself and Salmanthron is not to be trusted. It will do you good."

A surprised look on her face Ephiny said, "You really mean it. You really want me to go?"

Smiling, Xena said, "Of course. Wouldn't make the trip without you."

Ephiny's eyes were holding back tears as her jaw began to tremble. The woman looked so fragile at that moment and Xena reached out drawing her into an embrace. She felt the warmth of Ephiny's tears as they fell on her and whispered, "It's going to be all right, I promise, trust me."


Gabrielle opened her eyes and stared into the curious faces of the villagers. Sitting up she glanced around for Snane. She couldn't see her but she could see the young man she had spoken with earlier.

He approached her and said, "I see you are feeling better."

Starting to get up he sat as she turned to face him and said, "No thanks to Snane. What is with you people, so I changed my mind don't you know how to accept that?"

His face was stern as he said, "On this night, you can't go back. If you had made it past Snane, you would not have made it back to the hut alive."

"Look, I don't know what you are up to, but I want to go back." She started to move as he reached out and grasped her right arm and said, "Not possible. For now, enjoy the ceremony, your turn will come."

Removing his hand from her arm she said, "No thanks, I have better things to do."

The drums and voices were getting louder and she put her fingers in her ears trying to shut out the sounds but they stopped as suddenly as they started. She glanced around, and removing her fingers all she could hear was the snapping of the fire.

All eyes were focused on a large hut as the drums began to beat softly. She turned her attention in the direction and at that time a woman stepped out of the dwelling. Her mouth fell open when she saw the figure of Alexia. The woman was dressed in native costume, and didn't resemble the woman she left at Kiera's.

Slowly she started to walk toward Gabrielle, and as she neared, the Bard rose to her feet and said, "Alexia, what is going on?"

Smiling at the woman, Alexia said, "For you, tonight, I am the Magus."

Shaking her head Gabrielle said, "I don't understand."

Reaching out she placed her right hand on the Bard's cheek and said, "You are tormented and if you are willing, I believe our magic may help. Come join me."

She had grasped Gabrielle's left hand in hers and began to pull her toward the center. She hesitated, but for some reason, she followed Alexia. Several women were dancing around the fire but it was the one that stepped from the darkness carrying a large snake wrapped around her shoulders that sent shivers throughout the Bard.

She watched as the woman transferred it onto Alexia's shoulders. If there was one thing she hated it was snakes and to see one so close was giving her goose bumps. She turned to leave but found she was encircled by the villagers as they chanted in unison, "Gabrielle, Gabrielle."

Turning back she almost ran into Alexia as she put out her hands and said, "I don't know what you think you are doing, but I want to go back, now!"

The snake had wrapped itself around the woman several times, she held its head in her right hand and Gabrielle seemed to be mesmerized by its hissing.

Alexia gazed at her and said, "We are not here to harm you, but this night may help you. Tell me Gabrielle, what would you do to bring your friend back? Your torment lies within you."

Gabrielle answered, "I don't know what you mean."

Would you risk your life to make this happen?"

Nodding her head she said, "Yes, it is my fault."

Alexia replied, "Then it will be you that makes things right."

In a confused voice she cried, "How? I've searched my soul, tell me how?"

A woman stepped forward carrying a golden goblet in her left hand. Alexia looked at Gabrielle and said, "If you mean what you say, then you will drink the contents and your journey will begin."

Glancing around at the villagers she nodded and said, "All right, if it will set things right. I will do what must be done."

The woman handed the goblet to her as she raised it to her mouth and began to drink the sweet tasting liquid. When she had finished she handed it back and said, "Now what?"

Alexia replied, "They will take you to a hut and it is from there you will take your journey."

"Wait, how will I know, when it is over?"

"You will."

She felt the hands on her arms and felt the sensation of movement but that was all.


They had been traveling for several days and had stopped before dusk. Ephiny had set up camp. She was grateful for the chance to do something and keep busy. Salmanthron was just grateful to get down from his horse. Xena watched the man remove the tack from the horse and burro. He carried a lot of supplies on the animal and she was opposed to his bringing it but finally
gave in.

Her eyes wandered to the blond woman that was placing more pieces of wood on the fire. She admired Ephiny, and noticed each day the woman seemed to feel better. Patting Argo on the neck she turned and started walking toward her friend.

Ephiny looked up and said, "Have some tea made, sit, I'll get you some."

Smiling she sat and watched Ephiny pour the tea. She reached out and took the mug and said, "Thanks, I could use this. Actually, something a little stronger would be better."

Her eyes darted to the man that was kicking at his pack. Ephiny nodded and said, "Do we have to take him with us? He is just holding us back."

Taking a drink of the liquid she said, "He has the directions, but if he gets too annoying, I will figure something out."

Leaning back against a large rock Ephiny stretched out. "Feels good, my legs are crying for some rest."

With a slight smile on her face Xena said, "I'd be happy to rub them for you."

Ephiny answered, They will be fine, how about you?"

Finishing the tea she set the mug on the ground and said, "Fine, but we have a long way to go, I can't have you getting disabled on me." Before Ephiny could say anything Xena was kneeling by her and her hands had already started to remove the woman's boots.

"Xena, don't."

Pulling the last one off, she looked up at Ephiny and said, "Can't hear you, just relax, let me get the kinks out."

Watching her friend crawl slowly toward her, Ephiny said, "There is Salmanthron, what will he think?"

Gazing toward the man she said, "Can't you find anything else to do except watch us?"

He smiled and said, "But you two are so interesting."

Glowering at him she said, "Well I suggest you find something else to occupy yourself."

He got to his feet and took a water skin with him and left the camp. Ephiny never took her eyes off her friend as Xena's slender fingers began to work their magic on the woman's legs, Ephiny said, "He will not be happy."

Xena's eyes never strayed from what she was doing as she said, "He'll get over it. Now, if I touch a spot that bothers you, let me know."

Nodding her head she softly said, "I will."

Ephiny was amazed at the woman, she could be so lethal and at the same time her touch was so gentle and loving. She closed her eyes as her legs gave themselves to the woman's touch. When Xena's fingers found their way up the woman's thigh, Ephiny reached down and grabbed her hands. The woman's blue eyes seemed to ask many questions, as she spoke, "Is it tender?"

Ephiny uttered, "Yes, don't."

Xena's fingers were tracing circles on the smooth skin as she said, "Eph..."

Grimacing, Ephiny cried, "It's my foot, it's crawling up on me." Sliding her hands down the woman's legs she rested them on her feet. Her fingers massaged each foot as she said, "Feel better?"

Nodding her head she said, "Yes, much better. Did I ever tell you, you are one remarkable woman."

Smiling Xena answered, "Not in those words but it takes one to know one. Eph? Glancing up at Ephiny she could see she had gone to sleep. Smiling Xena crawled up to her and slowly eased her head down to the blanket she had placed there. From the serene look on the woman's face, Xena knew her legs weren't going to bother her for awhile.

She got up and walked over to Argo. The horse had been grazing and was happy to have her attention. Patting the horse she whispered, "Old friend, each day I find myself falling into her and I don't know what to do."

Argo nickered as she rubbed her head against Xena. Smiling, the woman said, "Thanks, I'll think about it."

Turning she walked back over to the fire and picked up a blanket then laid it over the woman. "Sleep well my friend." She picked up another blanket and walked from the area.



Chapter Six


He hid in the shrubbery watching the woman. She seemed agitated when she had walked among the tall trees. She had wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and was now sitting on the ground. She seemed to be troubled and he thought about going to her but changed his mind.

Xena was disturbed, each day she could sense old feelings begin to rise within her and she was now fighting a battle with her emotions. She knew she loved Gabrielle more than anyone presently in her life. Still she carried deep bonds for the blond Amazon who could stand beside her and fight the fight. A woman who never held anything back, she admired her for that, she spoke her feelings. Many people she knew, kept them hidden and eventually the feelings would grow and cause problems.

Clutching the blanket tighter, her mind drifted back to a time of youth and wonder.

"You know with each day, I grow stronger, won't be long I will be able to leave. You can get back to your life."

Xena stared at Ephiny and said, "I see your strength, and if you don't know by now, you have become a big part of my life."

The blond Amazon had been running a strand of leather through the rings in the halter top that barely covered her breasts. Pulling the last one through she turned and said, "There, what do you think?"

Xena had been attempting to roll a pallet as her eyes gazed up at the young woman. Ephiny was smiling toward her and she seemed speechless as she asked, "What is it? Have you lost your voice?"

Walking toward her, Xena said, "No, but the sight of you leaves me speechless."

Seeming embarrassed Ephiny walked toward the glow of the campfire. Pursing her lips, Xena turned and followed, "We have been almost inseparable for moons, don't tell me after all this time you are embarrassed by my words."

Gazing at Xena, she muttered, "It's just, I know you have things to do and I have been a hindrance."

Reaching out she placed her hands on Ephiny's shoulders and said, "Never, let me hear you say that. I have done and do what I want. I want to be with you."

Ephiny reached up and touched her arms as she replied, "Amazon customs are different than yours. Do you know what you are saying?"

Smiling Xena said, "I care about you and want you in my life, yes, I know what I am saying."

In a serious tone the Amazon said, "Like you, I have a life with friends and family, I don't know if I could give that up."

Laughing Xena said, "Give it up, I would never ask you to do that, I think this conversation is getting a little heavy don't you? Since you are feeling better, would you like to go with me to Athens?"

With a surprised look on her face Ephiny answered, " I would go with you anywhere but Athens, isn't that just a little dangerous?"

Shrugging her shoulders Xena replied, "It could be an adventure and surely you are up for that. After all you left your people and came onto our lands. I want you to go, it may be the last time we will spent together before..."

With a glow in her eyes Ephiny said, "I will go with you, but I may be a hindrance to you."

The young woman's blue eyes sparkled as she danced around and said, "You are my friend, we will leave as soon as I get things packed."

Ephiny could feel herself growing in the anticipation of the two of them taking off on this journey and Xena's excitement was also affecting her.

The travel was slow as the horse plodded along the path. Xena sat the animal regally. It was the blond that sat behind her that seemed to have a problem with the motion of the animal. "We've got to stop."

Pulling the horse up, she called back, "Whats the matter?"

Ephiny said, "Need to rest, we have been going for sometime and my legs are killing me as well as other parts."

Laughing, Xena threw her left leg up over the saddle horn and jumped to the ground. Reaching up she helped Ephiny down. As her feet touched she found herself in Xena's arms and said, "Thanks, I'm not as strong as I thought."

Supporting her over to a tree stump she helped the young woman down. Staring up at her Ephiny said, "I told you I would be a bother."

Turning to the horse she walked over and retrieved a water skin. Taking it to Ephiny she said, "Here, drink, and I'll hear no more of that bother stuff. It was time we rested, we will take it slower from now on."

After taking several sips Ephiny handed the skin to Xena and said, "You never told me what we were going to Athens for."

"I have heard that the woman called Cleopatra will be there. Some sort of meeting. They say she is the most beautiful woman of all the lands."

Ephiny smiled and said, "Can't be true."

Sitting down beside her Xena raised an eyebrow and said, "You doubt my word."

Shaking her head Ephiny replied, "If you haven't looked at yourself lately, there is no woman that can hold even a glimmer to you."

Leaning forward Xena pondered her friend's words then sat up straight and turned to look into Ephiny's eyes. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and when I gaze at you I see the most beautiful woman I have ever set my eyes on."

Reaching out to place her left hand on Xena's right shoulder Ephiny said, "You have rendered me speechless."

Reaching up to grasp her hand, Xena said, "As long as I know I have you, speechless or not. How about something to eat? I could go scare us up a rabbit."

"Sounds good to me, I'll get a fire going and put on some water for tea."

Getting to her feet Xena said, "Then get ready, cause we are going to have rabbit, that is, if you cook it."

Smiling Ephiny said, "Oh, I'll cook it but you can clean it." Her friends laughter echoed back to her as she ran from the area. Shaking her head she walked over to the horse and un-cinched the saddle taking it down. Then she unbridled the animal leaving it to graze. Turning her attention to the
saddle bag she took it from the back of the saddle and walked over to the tree stump.

Before long she had a cheery fire going and had placed a pot of water to warm. Xena hadn't returned and she was beginning to get worried. Deciding to go look for her friend she started in the direction she had seen her heading.

She had been searching for sometime and was just about to give up when she heard the voices. Slowly stepping up to a patch of thick foliage she reached out and separated several branches. Not far from where she stood was her friend. She was surrounded by three large men, they were brandishing swords and Xena wasn't moving.

"Give it up now girly!"

They were stocky and were the same height except for the one standing behind Xena, he was shorter. From their clothes she guessed they were similar to the ones she had encountered. Before she could do anything, Xena had struck out at the two in front of her. Her attack surprised them as they staggered and fell from the blows.

It was the man standing behind her that caused Ephiny to gasp, when she saw him throw a net over her friend. Xena fought at the tangled mass but wasn't having much luck. The man's left foot kicked out, hitting her behind her knees, sending the young woman to the ground. In a second, Ephiny let out a cry and was bounding through the air. As her body started toward the ground she struck out at the man's face. And as he fell back, she leaped, whirling in a circle sending her left leg across the side of his face and her right fist found its way to his soft stomach. The man crumbled to the ground as she reached down to take the net off her friend.

Xena sat and stared at the woman, it took her several minutes before she said, "Thanks, you are handy to have around."

Reaching down Ephiny grasped her right-hand and pulled her to her feet. Xena gazed at the fallen men and said, "Let's tie them up."

"Yeah, then what do we do with them?"

Laughing Xena replied, "Well it's a cinch we won't be inviting them to our evening meal."

Turning toward their camp Xena faltered as Ephiny reached out and grabbed her, "What's the matter?"

Staring down at her legs she answered, "That kick must have hurt something, it pains me when I walk."

"Then lean on me."

Shaking her head the young woman walked toward camp, limping, her head held high. Shaking her head Ephiny ran to catch up with her.

Walking into the camp site they were met by many soldiers. When the men saw them they stepped forward aggressively and Xena threw up her hands and said, "Peace, we are not your enemy."

As they stepped aside the two could see the back of a figure, a gray cloak adorned the form. They watched as the person turned toward them and as she reached up to brush the cloak back, they gasped. The woman was of tan skin, her hair was the color of Xena's, it was also long and luxurious. Her dark eyes were soft and warm and the pleasant voice she emitted made them both
feel at ease. She was magnificent and they were speechless. Holding out her right hand she said, "I take it this is your camp. I hope you don't mind my soldiers and me resting here. They call me Cleopatra."

Approaching the woman Xena took her hand and placed a kiss on the back of it as she said, "I am pleased to meet you."

The woman turned her gaze toward the blond that was giving her looks that could kill as Cleopatra said, "And your friend, the one who wishes to kill me at this moment?"

Xena glanced at her friend and motioned with her head to come over to them. Slowly she stepped closer and said, "She needn't speak for me, my name is Ephiny.

Cleopatra held out her hand toward Ephiny, and the woman reached out and grasped Cleopatra's arm and said, "Where I come from you greet another like this, not by some whimpy hand thing."

Xena had reached out and pulled her back as she said, "Forgive my friend, she doesn't realize you are royalty."

Laughing Cleopatra said, "It's a pleasant change, I see you are limping, let my servant ease the pain."

"That won't be necessary, we ran into a problem back in the forest, that's all."

Ephiny said, "Yeah, ran into some men who were looking for a little action, well they got it."

Waving toward her men the woman said, "Go see what she is speaking of, if they are there, bring them to me."

They nodded and left. Ephiny had noticed that they had laid out blankets and pillows as she said, "A drink would be good right about now. How about you Cleo?"

Smiling the woman answered, "I would love that, I'll have some goblets filled with the finest."

Xena had already jabbed Ephiny in the side as she said, "The finest?"

Walking onto the blanket the woman sat and leaned against several large pillows. She motioned for them to join her as she said, "Yes, I always travel well prepared. You will drink with me?

Ephiny grinned and said, "Oh, we would love to."

Cleopatra snapped her fingers as a small man hurried to her. She pointed to Xena and said, "She has hurt her legs, fix them."

He nodded and said, "If you will come with me, I have all we will need in the tent."

Hesitating for a moment she looked at Ephiny and the young woman said, "Go ahead, I'll keep Cleo company."

Standing, Xena stared at the two women and said, "That's what worries me. If you will excuse us, I need to speak with my friend."

Ephiny stared at her as Xena reached down and grabbed her right ear. Ephiny got to her feet as the woman pulled her toward the tent. After they had entered, she released the hold on Ephiny's ear and the young woman cursed, "Why did you do that?"

Looking very serious Xena answered, "Ephiny, Cleopatra is not just anyone, she is of royal blood. I have heard stories that she has had people beheaded for far less than what you have done."

Her friend was beginning to get riled as she said, "I'm not a child, and she didn't seem to mind. Sides, I didn't like the way she was looking at you."

Smiling Xena replied, "That is pretty obvious, she even gathered that. I don't want to be in here having Gods know what done to my legs, all the while knowing something might happen to you out there. I don't think I want to step from here and find my best friends head on something."

Ephiny's eyes widened as she said, "You really think she would do that? She seems so nice."

Shrugging her shoulders Xena said, "I don't know, I just know what I have heard. So promise me, you won't do anything to get her riled."

Nodding her head Ephiny said, "All right, if it will make you happy, just don't take all night in here with him. Actually, maybe I should stay."

Laughing Xena pushed her from the tent and said, "No, you go keep Cleopatra company and I'll join you soon."

Cleopatra looked up as Ephiny approached and said, "I hope everything is all right."

Walking onto the blanket she sat and said, "Xena was just a little concerned."

Cocking her head to the left Cleopatra said, "Concerned? Surely she didn't think I would try to take your affections while she was absent."

Feeling color beginning to creep up her neck Ephiny said, "No, she was afraid you might decide to lop off my head."

The woman seemed appalled as she said, "What would ever give her an idea like that?"

Ephiny was staring at her as she said, "You said something about taking my affections, if I heard you right, you are saying..."

The woman smiled and said, "It is very evident my dear. The way the two of you look at one another. Now, if you are telling me it is all in my mind then..."

Ephiny leaned forward and picked several grapes from a cluster that was laying in a bowl. "We are the best of friends and I would not welcome anyone making unwelcome advances toward her."

The woman leaned back against a pillow and said, "And if she makes the advance?"

Smiling as if she had the answer to the universe, the Amazon said, "She wouldn't."

A servant brought several goblets of drink and when he walked up to her she reached out and took one. Cleopatra watched her stare at the contents and said, "You sound so sure of yourself, would you be willing to make a wager?"

Taking a drink from the goblet and choking at the strong taste she answered, "Xena will not become some game. This is stout."

The woman took several drinks then said, "It is divine, I guess you are not used to drinking."

Squaring her shoulders Ephiny replied, "Oh, I just wasn't expecting the taste, its been a long trip and I was dry." She downed the drink and said, "I'll have another."

Cleopatra called for more as the two women enjoyed the drinks and each others company. Ephiny was feeling no pain and had laid her head down on one of the pillows as Cleopatra said, "Now, how about the wager? I'll wager my white stallion that I can get your friend to sleep with me."

Ephiny smiled giddily as she said, "And I, I don't have a horse or anything that would ever be equal to it."

The woman smiled and said, "If you win, you get my horse but if I win, I get to take you on to Athens with me."

Trying to keep her eyes open Ehpiny mumbled, "Yeah, like someone of royal blood would want me to tag along."

Leaning forward the woman placed a hand on Ephiny's shoulder and said, "You have me wrong, I don't want you to tag along. Someone with your fire and temperament will make a worthy conquest, I want you in my bed."

Mumbling the Amazon replied, "Yeah, whatever." She had passed out as Cleopatra leaned back against the pillows, a satisfied smile crossing her face.

Xena had been laying on her stomach as the man's fingers began to try and ease the pain from her legs. It hurt when he first started but whatever he was massaging into the skin was making them feel much better. Closing her eyes, and deciding to enjoy this, her thoughts drifted back to her friend.
Ephiny had such fire in her eyes, but, at the same time when she gazed at Xena, her look would be tender and caring. The hands on her legs began a different movement and she was startled at first. They were so rhythmic as they began to work their magic. The feeling was relaxing. She was about to drift off when she felt the hands begin to travel upward. Her senses fully awake she reached out and grasped a hand as she turned and said, "What do you think you're doing?"

She was surprised to see the beautiful face of Cleopatra staring down at her. The woman was smiling and her eyes held a glint of seduction in them. Sitting she looked around the tent as she said, "Cleopatra, what..."

The woman smiled and said, "You are feeling better. I didn't startle you did I?

Getting to her feet Xena stared at the woman and said, "Where you come from maybe it is all right to take certain privileges, but it's not all right with me. I know the power you wield but I will not be treated..."

Cleopatra smiled as she said, "I was merely trying to give you a little comfort."

"Yeah, well where I come from it's called a lot of things and comfort is not one of them.

The woman was wiping her hands on a towel as she said, "It was merely Egyptian oil, it contains healing powers and the back of your legs are deeply bruised. If I led you to believe anything else, it was not my intention."

Pondering the woman's words, Xena said, "Maybe I jumped before I should have, Ephiny is always telling me that. If I did, then I apologize. Where is Ephiny?"

"She was weary and has retired. I have had her taken to one of the tents. When you are ready, there is a place for you there also. Now, how about having a drink with me?

Nodding she followed the woman from the tent. After she had set she stared around the area. There wasn't much movement as most had retired and she was wanting to find Ephiny.

Cleopatra handed her a goblet and said, "Enjoy, it is from my private stock."

Waiting for the woman to sit, Xena leaned back against a large pillow. Cleopatra held her goblet out and said, "To new friends."

The port was good, and she told the woman that after she had emptied her goblet many times. Cleopatra only smiled at her and said, "You choose the word good, is that want you think?

Seeming perplexed Xena replied, "To me, good is-- well good."

"My dear, you should look into your knowledge of good. This is excellent and will leave you craving more. "

The two women had been drinking for what was left of the evening and Cleopatra was amazed at this young woman's capacity to drink the port and show little signs of intoxication.

Xena emptied her goblet as she said, "I think I have had enough, so if you will excuse me, I will retire."

She stared toward Cleopatra and was surprised to see the woman had passed out. She smiled as she staggered to her feet and went to search for Ephiny.

The next morning when Ephiny woke up she was surprised to find Xena sprawled across the ground. Getting to her feet she walked over to her and knelt beside the woman. Grasping at her own head, she wished the hammers inside would quit pounding. She had never had a headache like the one she was experiencing. She reached out and turned her friend onto her back. Xena
looked so peaceful, she hated to wake her. Sitting down she gazed at the woman as she slept. Finally she reached out and patted Xena's face and said, "Xena, it's morning, wake up."

She was just about to go find some water to dab on her when the woman opened one eye and stared up at Ephiny. "What hit me, I feel like the Athenian Army stampeded over my body."

Smiling the blond answered, "From the looks and smell of it I would say you tried to drink all the port in Egypt."

Ephiny helped the woman to her feet as Xena replied, "In case you haven't noticed, your breath is no picnic."

The two woman began to laugh as Ephiny said, "I drank too much last night, let's go check on Cleo."

Xena was giving her a look as she continued, "Cleopatra."

When the two walked from the tent they were surprised to see that Cleopatra's entourage was gone, and only two soldiers were left. They were standing by a beautiful white stallion. When they heard the two approaching one turned and said, "Good, you are awake."

Xena gazed around the area and said, "Where is everyone?"

The soldier replied, "They have gone on to Athens, we have stayed behind to take down the tent and present your friend with the stallion."

Xena frowned at Ephiny as the woman said, "Present me with a stallion, I don't understand."

Walking toward her the soldier said, "Cleopatra said to tell you that you know your friend better than she thought and you have won the horse."

Very confused at what the man was saying, Ephiny replied, "I don't know what you are talking about, so take your horse and tell Cleopatra, no thanks."

Xena watched the man as he walked back to the other one, then said, "What is this about your knowing me better than she thought and you won? What in Tartarus is he talking about?"

Shaking her head Ephiny said, "I have no idea."

Xena walked over to the campfire and said, "Looks like some tea left, want some?"

Smiling, her friend went to join her as she said, "As long as it is just tea."

The snapping of a twig brought her back to the present as she stood up and shouted out, "Come out whoever you are!"

It didn't take long before Salmanthron stepped into the clearing. He attempted to smile as he said, "It's just me, I was on my way back to camp and I saw you, didn't want to disturb you."

"Yeah, well you did a good job of it, so go on I'll be right behind you."

As she started back to the camp, and a sleeping friend, she remembered the two of them had decided to go back that day. Neither one ever spoke of their encounter with Cleopatra and it wasn't long after this that Ephiny disappeared. Walking back into camp she walked over to her friend and laid out her blanket beside the woman. It didn't take her long to lay down and
close her eyes. She knew tomorrow was going to be another lengthy day.

Chapter Seven

Opening her eyes, she began to slowly move her hands. Pushing herself into a sitting position she glanced around. Her head ached and she had no idea what she had recently drank all she knew was she had to get back to the hut and Kiera.

"Glad you finally decided to finally join us."

The voice was low and the minute she heard it Gabrielle knew it was Ares. She turned her head in the direction and could see the man leaning up against a tree. His hands were on his hips and he was staring down at her.

"Ares, what are you doing here? Haven't you Gods done enough?"

He laughed and said, "Ahh, I have every right to be on this journey."


The voice was melodic and warm as the words floated down to her, "Yes, Gabrielle, the journey that will free your mind, if you let it."

Getting to her feet she looked up and said, "I'd know that voice anywhere, Aphrodite, where are you?"

It didn't take long for the woman to appear, and she looked as radiant as she remembered. Her eyes darting to Ares then back to the woman, Gabrielle said, "What are you two doing here, I have to get back to the hut."

Aphrodite approached her and said, "You drank the potion, now you must take the journey."

Brushing off her pants, Gabrielle said, "I drank it because I had no choice, I played their game and now I just want to go back, so if you two will excuse me."

Ares stepped in front of her and said, "Sorry my pet, but you can only go forward."

Turning to look at the woman she said, "And you, what are you doing here?"

The woman smiled at her and said, "I will travel with you though you may not see me at all times, I will be there. I will be along to show you the way."

Glowering at the man she said, "And him?"

Ares smirked and said, "And I will also be there, to be a guide."

"Yeah, some guide, probably lead me right into danger."

He threw back his head and laughed as he disappeared and when she glanced toward Aphrodite, she too had vanished.

She looked around and could not see anything she was familiar with. Spying a path she decided to take it. As she took her first steps, she suddenly found herself falling through the air, her body out of control as it plummeted downward. Her cries echoing as she called out "Help Me!"

It was as if a hand reached out and placed itself beneath her because she began to float as her body eased itself to the ground. Staring up she could see a majestic mountain. It seemed to be surrounded by clouds and she knew that was where she had fallen from. Dropping to the ground she reached out and grabbed a handful of the dirt. It felt real as did the shaking her body
was doing. Placing her hands over her ears she cried, "I just want to go back!"

There was a whooshing sound as Aphrodite and Ares suddenly appeared. Ares had that all knowing smile on his face as he said, "Was quite a step. Ready for the rest?"

She didn't answer the man she just stared. Aphrodite finally said, "You've but to go on, face the past and look to the future."

"I don't know if my legs will carry me anymore, I feel all mushy inside."

The God of War walked up to her as he reached down and touched the side of her face with his right hand. She pulled her head away as he said, "You blame yourself, don't you want to find the truth? You must take the journey to get the answers to your own salvation."

Glancing past the man she could see an endless valley as she said, "I suppose the answers lie there?"

Aphrodite softly said, "Some of them, and I will be there, so don't be afraid."

Standing erect, Gabrielle said, "I'm not afraid, I'm scared out of my mind, but I will go on."

She had glanced backwards then said, "Don't relish the thought of trying to climb that."

There was no sound and she could see the two had disappeared again. Starting to walk forward, she muttered, "Having you two around is like having Joxer, not much help but a lot of trouble."

She had been walking for quite awhile and it didn't seem like there was an end to the valley. There were low lying clouds that seemed to reach down and grasp at the ground. They were everywhere and each time she approached one, it would vanish. She had just sat down on a boulder and was contemplating how she ended up in the mess she seemed to be in when she heard sounds. It was voices, people screaming and the sounds of men yelling. She felt chilled because she knew it was sounds of an army. Glancing around she could not see anything she might use to protect herself. For some reason several of the voices sounded familiar and she found herself creeping toward them.

There, just around the bend, she saw herself fighting with one of Draco's men. It was the day long ago when they had been taken by slavers. Cocking her head to one side she remembered how foolish she was to defy the man. But it was the yell and the marvelous woman that bounded through the air that had her in awe once more.

"If Xena had not saved you and the others, your fate would not be as it is now."

She could see Ares walking toward her and choosing to ignore him she stared back at what was happening. He was right, the woman saved them all that day.

"You are very astute, maybe you would have figured out your own way." Aphrodite's voice rang out as Ares scowled and said, "Hardly, unless you call giving her body to them so the others could go free."

She had been watching the two argue then turned her attention to that day. She could now see Xena sitting at a campfire and watched as she crept up on the woman. Ares whispered, "If she had sent you home, you would have a good life with family now."

Aphrodite cut in as she said, "Don't listen to him, Xena could see a lot of herself in you and at that time needed a friend in her life."

Ares walked up to Aphrodite and said, "That why Xena's mother shunned her? Her own people were going to stone her."

"Yes, but it was Gabrielle that saved her." Looking at the Bard she said, "If you had not entered Xena's life, she would be dead. The woman was not going to do anything to prevent what was happening. You gave her hope of a new life with a different direction."

Ares held out his right arm and pointed to the vision and said, "If you still wish this to have happened, you've but to go on."

Gabrielle replied, "It was the best day in my life, I was given the opportunity to seek my own destiny, I will go on."

As Gabrielle started toward the images, they vanished and all she could see was the continuing valley. She had been walking for miles and was feeling anguished as she said, "How do you always let yourself get talked into things, you have a brain, use it."

She had stopped when she sighted a thick loud descending toward her and as it went to engulf her she put her arms over her head. She found herself in a tavern, and the man that was sending foul breath into her face was a man she remembered.

"The words of Ares were all she could hear as they glided into her thoughts, "You gave up everything to follow the woman and what does she do, leave you in a tavern. She didn't care that there might be men there who would want your body because she was more interested in saving a village."

Gabrielle muttered, "You are right about one thing, she did save the village. And I can take care of myself."

He suddenly appeared and said, "Now, but then, it would have been like taking sweets from a child. And when she was injured, it was not you that cared for her, it was him." She could see Xena laying on a bed as a man tended to her wound. As Ares continued, " She had no thoughts of you, only of him and his children."

Aphrodite reached out and pulled the man back as she said, "You have to admit, she didn't know you all that well then. But, when she was finished, she chose to travel with you and not stay with them."

"That may be so, but, she almost got you killed because of it. Using you as a deterrent, then there was the chariot race." Smiling the man said, "Now, Xena was at her best but your being there divided her."

Gabrielle replied, "I know what you are doing and it won't work. Xena has taken a different path and she is trying to make up for a dark past. You will not get me to change my mind. I will go on."

The tavern dissappeared and the expansive land and clouds were back.

She was aware of the sounds and strained her eyes trying to see where they were coming from. There is was, the castle of King Sisyphus. And as the image begame clearer she could see herself and Xena.

"Another time Xena got you into a mess."

She knew it was Ares as she said, "It depends on what you call a mess, it was important to free Celesta. If Xena hadn't, all mankind would have faced a life of suffering."

Ares's words rang out, "Maybe you see it that way, but if Xena had not taken you there, you would not have met him."

Gabrielle stared at the handsome young man that was smiling at her. She could see the look in her eyes and for that moment she felt a loss.

Aphrodite's words warmly sifted into her thoughts, "You loved him, if you had not been with Xena, you never would have met him. He helped you to grow."

Ares smirked, "Yeah, if leaving her is what you call growing."

Gabrielle said, "I went on my own, no one coerced me into going. Each day with Xena, I am met with new challenges. I will never forget him."

Ares laughed as he said, "Well, it didn't last long did it. Haven't you noticed, nothing lasts for long when you are with Xena."

"It's not working Ares, Xena and I have lasted through all, so you are mistaken. And I will continue."

Aphrodite walked up to her and said, "Take my hand." Gabrielle placed a hand in the woman's and said, "Are you taking me back? I want to go back."

She smiled and said, "Your only way is forward, come with me."

There was a flash and she soon found herself standing in a cave. Knowing full well where she was Gabrielle said, "What do the Titan's have to do with it?"

Ares appeared and said, "Xena did not like the idea of you being so popular. After all you had the people worshiping you."

Aphrodite pushed him back and said, "For a while, but it was Xena that saved Gabrielle from their wrath."

Gabrielle watched the Goddess as she sat on a large rock and said, "Don't tell me you are tired? I thought Gods had never ending energy."

Ares stepped forward and said, "We do, but she gets melancholy once in awhile. Now, you must remember how jealous Xena became when she found you in bed with..."

Gabrielle cut in and said, "Nothing happened, we just slept."

Raising an eyebrow he said, "You knew that, but she didn't and she was becoming possessive. It was because of you, she almost got herself killed."

Aphrodite was standing as she said, "Don't listen to him, you both made mistakes here, but you never let them tarnish your friendship."

Nodding her head Gabrielle said, "You are right, and Xena had nothing to be jealous over, not at that time anyway. I'm ready to go on."

Gabrielle could now see a dreamscape in front of her. As she started toward it Ares reached out and stopped her as he said, "You don't want to go there, not after what happened."

Aphrodite grabbed his hand and removed it from the Bard as she said, "It was here, you found out just how much Xena cares for you. She risked her own life to retrieve you from Morpheus."

Sitting down on the ground Gabrielle said, "You are right, she risked everything for me. I wonder, did I even understand it all at the time. I do know I enjoyed throwing the punch."

Ares threw up his hands and said, "The old Xena would never have done that, see what you have caused, she risked all that she had for you, if you had not been there, she would not have had to go through that."

Aphrodite waved her right hand through the air as a vision in the square appeared. Xena was tossing a baby into the air as she fought the men who were trying to kill her. Ares looked at her and said, "See what I mean? If you were not with her, she would not have taken the baby, you've but to
look at her face, when you found it."

The vision of the two women creeping up on the bulrushes as the stared down at the baby and the look on Xena's face said it all. Gabrielle replied, "So, she didn't seem happy at that time, but she got over it." Glaring at the man she said, "You might as well give up Ares, you will not get me to change my mind about Xena."

He shrugged his shoulder and said, "Then perhaps this will give you cause to think." He waved his left hand through the air and she could now see a vision of herself telling Xena to be careful, as she said, "Is this what I think?"

He smiled and said, "She is always leaving you and she did it again, oh, I know she said it was to free a princess and it was part of it but the chance to see her beloved Marcus again was the main reason."

"Xena did what she thought best, I couldn't go with her because she was going to Trachis."

He grinned and said, "And you believed it, look, the two of them kissing, she isn't missing you but she is certainly enjoying his company. And where were you? Because of Xena, you have been thrown into prison and were going to be executed."

Aphropdite spoke, "Don't let him sidetrack you, Xena shared a past with this man, but it was you that slept by her each night."

The God of War paraded around as he said, "Look at you listening to her mumbling, the truth is, Xena is always leaving you, getting you into dangerous positions and having affections for certain men."

Gabrielle smiled as she said, "I have to admit it, you are beginning to give me doubts, but still I want to go on." She stared at Aphrodite who had been watching the two exchange words. The woman said, "Then close your eyes and your journey will continue.

The God of War reached down and grabbed a handful of the woman's hair as he raised her head and said, "Look, with each strike, with each blow she takes them because of you."

Screaming, the Bard cried, "No! Stop! How can you say because of me?"

The man answered, "Because if she had not gone back for you and you had not fallen from the horse, this would not have happened. So Xena's beating is your doing."

Gabrielle was on her knees as she looked up at Aphrodite. The woman shrugged her shoulders and said, "When he's right, he's right. The only thing you need to know is that it was here, Xena realized how important in her life you were to her. She could have slayed them all and freed you at the same time but she didn't. She surrendered and before she was struck down, the look she gave you said it all." Gabrielle could see it as if it was just happening as she said, "I would take it back if I could, all her pain and suffering."

Ares stepped forward and said, "You can, just say that you want it to all be undone, that you wish never to have met her."

Shaking her head Gabrielle replied, "I, I can't. To have never known Xena, I have learned so much in my travels with her, I could never wish her from my life."

Aphrodite reached out and helped her to her feet as she said, "Then, we must continue on the journey."

Ares growled as he said, "Not before she sees how much her friend really cares. This is the first, and as you know there will be more to follow."

Gabrielle could see herself entering the cell and at the same time she saw and felt the blow that Xena gave her as it sent her flying across the room. Turning to Aphrodite she said, "I don't want to see anymore of this, let's go."

In an instant she found herself in a cave and could see Hercules, Iolaus, Xena and herself talking. She looked at Aphrodite and asked, "Prometheus?"

The woman nodded as she said, "Yes, the closeness the two of you share grew stronger on this journey."

Ares replied, "Yes, but she left you once again to go with Hercules, As you know, the two of them share a very passionate past."

Scowling at the man Gabrielle said, "That's the operative word Ares, past. They are just friends now."

He laughed and said, "Maybe, but, you don't know where she spends a lot of her time and as for her thoughts, only a God knows the answer to that."

Aphrodite stared at him and said, "Oh stuff it! Xena and Gabrielle share a love that only you would try to soil. It was a journey to free Prometheus and Xena did not take Gabrielle because of the danger involved and she worried for her safety."

Gabrielle shivered as she said, "That one was a little too close, I was so afraid for her. The thought that if she cut him lose she would die did not set well with me."

The man said, "That is what you say now, but at the time, you did little to stop her."

Laughing Gabrielle said, "You should know by now, there is nothing that will stop Xena, that is, unless she wants to be stopped."

Aphrodite cut in, "This is beginning to get a little tiresome and we have a long way to go so quit arguing and let's continue."

The sound of drums and chanting took her into the Amazon Village. Before her eyes was Xena and Queen Melosa.

Ares whispered in her ear, "Another time you got Xena into a situation. She either challenged the Queen or watched them slay you because you didn't want to kill the Centaur."

"That's not entirely true, Xena didn't believe he was guilty and she fought to stop Queen Melosa from condemning him to death." She frowned at the God who seemed oblivious to her looks.

He said, "Try to deny it all you want, but it was you that saved the Amazon and it was you that was made Amazon Princess. If you had not been with Xena she would not have gotten into that part of it."

Aphrodite looked at him and said, "You don't know that, besides, it was the Centaurs Xena was trying to help."

He smiled and said, "Maybe I am showing you the wrong thing, how about this?"

Gabrielle could see Xena and Ephiny talking and the Bard said, "So, Ephiny and Xena are talking so what?"

He replied, "Look at their eyes, look at their body movements. These two share a past, a very close past and this meeting was explosive. Neither woman knew how to handle the situation and when Ephiny was told to take care of you it was the last thing she wanted."

Gabrielle bit her lower lip and said, "So, they have a past most people do. If Ephiny didn't care for me, and that is pretty obvious, I did not have the best thoughts toward her. I didn't even know she and Xena had a past. At least we tolerate one another now."

Ares seemed so sure of himself as he said, "There is another friend of Xena's she forgot to tell you about, and you met her when Xena went to help her and her friends out of prison."

Gabrielle said, "The Black Wolf, again you are right, I didn't know about her and the bond they had."

He laughed as he said, "Just another fact she forgot to tell you about. Another love in her past. Again you were exposed to danger because of her loyalty to others and her self-indulgence toward you."

Gabrielle replied, "I'm sure you have a wide past. Have you told everyone you are involved with about it?"

He smiled and said, "I believe we should travel on." In a flash they were speeding through heavy fog and Gabrielle was relieved to have her feet touch solid ground again. She found herself standing in a market place and she was sure it was in Troy.

Ares grinned as he said, "That's right it's Troy, another place where Xena left you yet again to go to someone else. Her friend, Helen, needed her and she went. As usual you tagged along but she was oblivious of you and your wants all she could see was the beautiful Helen and her problems. This left you to wander alone and run into your ex betrothed once more."

Aphrodite bit her fingernail off as she said, "Darn thing was too long anyway." The woman sighed as she said, "Sadly to say, he is right, she did do that. If Perdicus had not been there, what would have happened to you?"

Gabrielle looked at the two of them and said, "She went to help a friend that's all."

Ares strutted around as he said, "Yeah, a very beautiful friend from her past, a past without you in it. Still, you wait for her every word, when will you realize, she doesn't need you. You are so afraid to go out on your own."

Aphrodite spoke up as she said, "Not true Ares, Gabrielle left Xena when she went to The Academy Of The Performing Bards in Athens."

The God smiled wickedly as he said, "Yes, but when she told a story, it was about the Warrior Princess, so even though she left, she still carried thoughts of the woman. And in the end, she whimpered back to her and Xena took her back."

Gabrielle's hands began to shake as her blue green eyes shot fire at the God. It was then that Aphrodite stepped forward and said, "Temper, Gabrielle, it will do no good to strike out at him, he will just disappear. I think we have seen enough let us continue there is much more to see."

Ares scoffed, "Try as hard as you will, the truth is in front of your eyes, Xena leaves you every chance she gets and this time it is with a brother she detests. What does this say for you?"

Gabrielle was looking in the direction he was pointing and she could see Toris, Xena and herself deep in conversation. She looked back at the God and said, All right, so she took Toris, I understood."

He laughed and said, Not really, your feelings were hurt but you hid it well. Still when you thought Xena was in trouble you ran to help. I really believe the woman doesn't realize what a dedicated person she has. I've said it before, you need to quit living vicariously on Xena's triumphs and get
on with your life."

Gabrielle watched as she remembered the day and it was hard to admit but the man was right, she was jealous and upset that Xena chose her brother over her. The doubts were beginning to swirl around in her mind and she didn't like the feeling.

Aphrodite aproached her and said, "Sit with me, rest for a few minutes. We have as long as it takes so don't let Ares get you all mixed up. Xena loves you and you love her. The two of you will always have this regardless. True, sometimes, she gets a little careless but after all Xena was used to being by herself and ruling an army. She always came and went as she pleased I personally think she is adjusting well."

Gabrielle replied, "Gods, no offense to you but Gods, now people have to adjust to me what about all the adjusting I have done for her?"

Ares smiled as he said, "Now, you are finally getting it, shouldn't be long now."

Aphrodite frowned at him as she said, "Why don't you go find something to do, I need to have a little time to talk to Gabrielle."

He shook his head and said, "Nope, we still have one more place to go, at least for the next few moments. Waving his hands the three of them found themselves in a temple as Gabrielle said, "You are taking me to another of Xena's past loves, only she was engaged to marry him."

She remembered the trek for the treasure and how shocked she was to find out the warlord was engaged to marry Xena. She had really been sheltered in the village because the only man she knew at all was her father and then Perdicus because the family thought he would make a good husband to her. But Xena, she certainly hadn't left many beds empty. Shaking her head she
wondered if she really knew the woman.

Ares sat down beside her and said, "I just want you to think once more, because you chose to follow Xena it almost got you killed again. Think over what has been revealed to you so far and rest. We will return."

In a puff of smoke the two of them were gone. She found herself sitting alone in a strange place. She drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them while the fear of it all was starting to consume her

Chapter Eight

After trying to sleep and finding she was unable to she decided to try to walk out of the valley. Though she had been trudging for some duration it seemed she was not getting anywhere. She heard Aphrodite's voice first as the woman said, "I can see you didn't rest. The journey through one's life can be long. I at least hope you were able to come to some sort of peace
with what has happened up to now."

The low voice of Ares cut in as the man said, "Peace, I hope you have come to your senses and now know what course you have to take."

Gabrielle gazed at the two, it seemed to them it was all a game as she said, "You two seem to enjoy causing a person pain. I know you do Ares but Aphrodite, you surprise me."

The Goddess approached her and said, "I am merely here to help guide you, you should be listening to your own heart not our words. Ares will do his best to confuse you and from the look on your face I would say he is succeeding. If you are tired of getting nowhere, we can begin again."

Nodding her head Gabrielle felt a tingling sensation and she seemed to be propelled forward. As she felt herself drifting to the ground she gazed around and could see herself sitting by a lake.

Ares approached her and said, "There you are, waiting like a nice puppy dog. Xena has left you once again to go to Marcus."

Gabrielle scowled at him and said, "There was a reason, they had to stop Atyminius from causing havoc with Hades Helmet of Invisibility." He laughed as he said, "Maybe that was the plan but after all it did reunite them and sparks flew."

Aphrodite smiled at her and said, "He is in her past, you are in her present, don't let his words get to you. Your wait was worth it, she did return and after Atyminius was caught, Marcus went back."

Ares cut in and said, "Yes, but he wanted to stay up here and use the helmet so he could be with Xena and she was tempted."

Aphrodite took several steps then said, "It's time you meet the one that has really bonded the two of you."

Gabrielle looked at her questioningly as she said, "All right, let's just get this over."

She could hear the yells as her skin crawled and she knew it had to be Callisto. The one woman that actually seemed to be a worthy opponent to Xena. Callisto was devious and maniacal. She captured Gabrielle just so Xena would follow. The woman wanted to see Xena's life collapse as her's had. Gabrielle watched as Xena fought the woman and she hung precariously in mid air.

Ares spoke loudly, "There you are again, just hanging around." Aphrodite gave him a scowling look but he ignored her and continued, "You are in the situation because you know Xena and she is there because she is trying to save you again." He began to fan the air like he was feeling faint. Then he said, As you can see, you are dividing her emotions. This must stop Gabrielle, let Xena go, let her rediscover her dark side."

She tried to ignore him but he stepped up to her and said, "Won't do any good to ignore me, you know I am speaking the truth. Aphrodite wants you to think all things begin and end in love but this isn't true. Take Xena's little trip to see King Lia because he felt his dauughter was in danger.
She didn't consult you, she just went and expected you to take care of things.
I don't know but I don't think this relationship is too healthy."

Aphrodite smirked then said, "So Xena looks like someone else and she did thwart an assassination. Gabrielle knows that Xena was needed."

He smiled and said, "Knowing and understanding can be a far stretch."

Aphrodite reached out and grabbed the Bard's left hand and said, "Come with me, you will understand this."

Gabrielle stared down at the still body of her friend, then she turned to gaze at Aphrodite and said, "I can't handle seeing her like that, can't we go on to something else?"

Ares appeared and said, "Too bad, she has left you once more, and left you holding the bag so to speak. Once more you were almost killed and because you let her into your life."

Gabrielle watched as she stroked the woman's hair and she felt the pains of loss even though she now knew the outcome. The Goddess looked at her with pity on her face as she said, "I believe you loved Xena and were deeply hurt that she would leave you. It must have made you happy to know she was alive."

"Yes, I was ecstatic. It was a hard time, a lesson I didn't want to repeat anytime soon." She was staring at Aphrodite as she said, "You are the Goddess Of Love, surely you know how we feel about one another."

The woman smiled and said, "Sometimes we even get confused. You mortals send out so many signals and keeping track of you can be a full time job."

Ares had vanished and she said, "Come with me, I think you have seen enough of this."

Gabrielle found herself traveling to the time she ate a lot of nutbread and became inebriated. She looked down at herself and was quite enjoying watching her antics. She watched as Xena entered the cave and smiled as she watched the two of them talking.

Aphrodite whispered, "At least the laced bread gave you the courage to finally tell the woman you thought she was beautiful."

"Yeah, but I don't think she even heard me because all she could say was, 'and you are drunk.'"

Aphrodite smiled and said, "But I really think you got her attention in the well."

Smiling the Bard said, "It was a close encounter of the intimate kind and I loved every heartbeat."

Touching her on the right hand Aphrodite said, "She may not have told you, but Xena was extremely happy to have you in that place on that day."

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow and Aphrodite said, "Have you with her. Sometimes you mortals are a pain..."

Ares had returned and he shouted, "But what a lovely pain! Now back to business we have traced the two of you the first year, now, it's time to take the journey through your second."

Gabrielle felt things begin to spin and she closed her eyes waiting for the sensation to stop and when it did she opened them. It was at the centaur's village and she could see Xena talking with Solan.

Gabrielle seemed apprehensive and said, "I don't want to watch this."

He smiled and said, "Why? Could it be that Xena once again kept something from you and when you found out she favored the child she gave away, over the person that had done her bidding, it hurt you."

"It pained me, to find out she had a child and never told me. But what hurt the most was the way she treated me that time. I know she came around but still, it caused me anguish."

Aphrodite cut in and said, "Xena doesn't always know the right thing to say, she tries. So what if she had a son, she wasn't asking you to care for him."

Ares grinned and said, "She probably would have, Gabrielle seems to have no mind of her own as far as Xena is concerned."

Fuming the Bard lashed out, "I do and right now, it's tired of you, I want to go back enough of this."

He answered, "You do not get to pick and chose, it is either the whole way or you stay here for the rest of eternity."

"Great choice, well I definitely don't want to stay here in limbo land so lead on."

They were now at the temple of the Three Fates and Gabrielle turned to Aphrodite and said, "I know, Xena goes back so why am I here now?"

The woman said, "She went back because she did not want that young man's blood on her hands. She thought everything would be fine, you would be, Ephiny and the Amazons and she would be reunited with her brother."

The God of War stepped toward her and said, "Ahh, but it didn't work out like she thought. You were a slave, the Amazon's were enslaved, her mother was dead, and it was not a pretty picture."

Aphrodite's voice rang out, "But, she gave it all up for you, to come back. Regardless of everything, Xena does love you."

The man laughed as he said, "Her form of love maybe, but not a lasting commitment, I don't think she is capable of that."

Her eyes traveling from one to the other Gabrielle said, "I think I know Xena pretty well and you are way off base."

He waved his arms in a circular fashion and said, "Enough, it's time to travel on."

In front of her she could see an army and from their actions she knew where they were. Turning to look at Aphrodite she said, "What does this have to do with my relationship?"

The woman answered, "You found yourself attracted to the young man David, but he already had a love and your feelings were hurt. Where did you turn at this time?

The Bard thought then said, "I went to Xena."

Ares seemed amused as he said, "Seems she is the last resort, a mere convenience."

"That's not true, I would have gone looking for her anyway."

The man stared directly into the Bard's eyes and said, "If David had reciprocated your attentions, you would still have thought of her, I don't think so. It seems Xena and you are playing games with one another and it can have devastating effects."

Aphrodite glared at the man and said, "Enough, let's go to a time of real bite."

The God Of War smiled and said, "Be my guest, I thought it was an unusual time."

Gabrielle stared up at the vision of the two of them, the Bachae had already gotten to her and Xena was now standing beside her. She remembered that time and also remembered how Xena could not kill her. Instead the woman gave herself to Gabrielle as the Bard sank her teeth deep into her friend's neck. She could still remember the taste and the feeling of ecstasy she got as
Xena writhed in the sensation..

Ares grinned as he said, "After all that loving stuff, get ready for a real woman."

He waved a hand and the vision that appeared was one of Xena and her. The God Of War gruffly said, "You act as though you care about Xena, but the first chance you got, you left her for that sniveling coward."

Perdicus had appeared as Gabrielle turned to Ares and said, "You don't know, so quit acting like you do. It wasn't as if he were a stranger."

The man laughed as he said, "You never really knew him and the man you married had been with many. Including Xena's friend Helen. Guess he thought he could teach you something." It was so sudden, he didn't expect it as the Bard's right hand struck out across his face. He staggered backwards holding his left hand to the area and said, "Must have hit a nerve."

Aphrodite reached out and touched Gabrielle on her left shoulder as she said, "It won't do any good to strike out at him, ignore his little barbs. He wants to get you upset."

"Yeah, well he has."

Ares was never one to keep his mouth shut as he said, "If your love is so deep for Xena, how could you just dump her like you did?"

Gabrielle turned her attention back to the apparition and she could see they were at the wedding. She watched Xena and watched as the two of them moved slowly away. Turning to look at Aphrodite she said, "For that I am sorry, I felt Perdicus needed me and I didn't think Xena did. I can now see her pain and know the kiss she gave me was good-by. I was so naive."

The Goddess whispered, "Even though this happened, when Xena found out Callisto was looking for you, she rode like the wind to try and save you. I believe she has shown how much she cares. She loved you so much she let you go because she thought it was what would make you happy."

Ares responded, "Yada, yada, yada, it all boils down to the fact neither of you cared enough to tell the other your true feelings. But I was able to bring you over to my side for awhile."

Aphrodite could see the torment in the Bard's face as she said, "The important thing is you came back. You didn't kill anyone."

Gabrielle looked away as she said, "I know I hurt Xena and seemed to keep doing it. I can't watch this anymore, I know now how much pain and anger I caused, please I want to go on."

Snapping her fingers Aphrodite replied, "Then let's go."

Gabrielle could see visions of Xena, Meg and Princess Diana and as they flashed past, Aphrodite noticed she seemed to smile. It didn't take long for them to settle on the battle between Callisto and her friend. Ares was watching her as she took in the goings on and said, "Your friend was so
tormented at what she had done it was easy for Callisto and me to move in. Invading Xena was a piece of cake."

The Bard watched as the scene went from her disillusionment at Xena being in Callisto's body to Autolycus and the meeting. Ares smiled as he said, "If Xena had remained in Callisto's body I have a feeling, you would have dumped her. After all, waking every day to the face of the woman that killed your beloved Perdicus would have been torment."

Gabrielle didn't say anything but she knew he was close to being right. At that time she hated Callisto and seeing her every day was the most difficult thing she had done. Her love for the warrior was all that kept her there. Gazing at the Goddess she said, "I want to get this over with, there is nothing more to see here."

Ares snickered as he said, "Oh, but there is, the fact that Xena hated Callisto probably more than you and..."

"Enough, Gabrielle has a long way to go, we must travel on."

The man scowled at Aphrodite but shrugged his shoulders as Gabrielle felt her body being pulled in another direction. When everything stopped swirling she could see herself standing beside Xena as the woman handed her a Solstice gift. Aphrodite smiled and said, "Surely you became aware of
Xena's deep love for you on this night."

With fond memories playing across her face Gabrielle softly said, "Yes, it was a night of miracles."

The God of War scoffed, "What exactly does it mean, you being a gift to her? I think Xena expected too much from you and felt anything she wanted, you would see she got."

Aphrodite cut in as she said, "No, Ares, Xena wanted Gabrielle to know it was all right if she didn't buy her a Solstice gift because she had all she wanted by having Gabrielle travel with her and be her friend."

The man laughed, "Yeah, you want to try and sell me a piece of Tartarus also."

Aphrodite scowled at the man then looked at Gabrielle and said, "Let's go."

The canoe was moving swiftly through the waters as the Horde chased after Xena and Gabrielle. The Bard turned to Aphrodite and said, "I don't want to go there, take me somewhere else."

The woman shook her head as Ares said, "What's the matter the fact that your friend turned on you yet one more time, causing a little pain?"

Gazing at Xena and her talking in a supply room, Gabrielle said, "Yes, I saw a part of Xena that I never want to experience again."

The man roared, "But she was soooo good! She didn't let your fluttering eyelids or the, I'm so frail, look get in her way. She took charge and saved them!"

Aphrodite approached her and said, "Though he is right in some aspects not all, Xena loves you and this is the only way the two of you as well as the men might escape the wrath of the Horde. It was hard for you to understand and Xena herself had a problem with some of it."

Shivering Gabrielle said, "It was a difficult time."

The Goddess spoke softly, "Even though she had brought forth some of her fighting knowledge she didn't forget you. When she found out you had gone out among the injured she was devastated. Remember, she went to you and on her knees she let you know how she felt about you."

Managing a smile the Bard said, "I know, but even then she couldn't get out the words, I love you. I was just happy to have my friend back, I do not like her dark side."

Ares grinned as he said, "Leaves more for me to love, that is if she ever realizes you are a hindrance to her and that you don't need her to wipe your nose."

Before Gabrielle could respond the apparition changed and she could now see they were on a ship. Xena and Ulysses were kissing and as she watched, her teeth began grating. The man pointed to the apparition and said, "Seems she has left you again. When will you learn that whenever Xena wants someone she will take them and you can set back and wait for her return."

Gabrielle stared at Aphrodite and said, "I knew she cared for him. But she hadn't shut me out of her life."

Aphrodite was working on a fingernail as she looked up and said, "Sometimes, love gets sidetracked."

Ares howled as he said, "Side tracked, where Ulysses was concerned, she forgot you. Yeah I know she said you would stay with them but, how long would you have put up with their looks of love. My guess is not long. So, see Xena does not need you, she seems to pick and chose. What is wrong with you?"

Gabrielle stared at him and said, "I love her, I think that says it all."

He laughed and replied, "Do you love her enough to wait till she tires of her new infatuation and decides to return to you. Maybe you should be given a medal, a medal for endurance. If you choose to let her step all over you then that is your problem."

Aphrodite stood and said, "Maybe Xena does have a problem with a wandering eye but her love for you is real just look."

Staring in the direction the woman was pointing she could see the ship. Xena had just landed on the deck as she took Gabrielle into her arms. Aphrodite said, "She loves you so much she risked her life to be with you. If you had to be on the ship then she was also."

Gabrielle glowered at Ares and said, "She is right, Xena did do that and she even risked going blind to bring me back another time. I've heard enough. My love for Xena will never die and if that is what you are trying to do Ares, it is not working."

He grinned wickedly as he reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder and said, "But, I have placed doubts and that is enough for me at this time."

Gazing back at the aparition she watched the warmth and caring Xena was showing her, then said, "I've seen enough."

Aphrodite glanced at Ares then at her and said, "Then we will not take this journey any longer but there is one more you must take before you go back."

The Bard's face was full of questions as Aphrodite waved her right arm through the air and the vision of a beautiful woman, with flowing red hair stood at the helm of a ship.

"Sea!" Gabrielle's voice cracked as she continued, "Gods, it..."

Aphrodite spoke, "Yes, Ann Bounty, the look on your face, your words, speak volumes. It was a good time, a growing time for you and for her."

Ares scoffed, "Even on the ocean, you seem to mess up my people. I had Ann Bounty under my thumb though she didn't know it. Her plundering and killing did me proud and then along comes you."

Aphrodite cut in and said, "You helped her, you showed Ann there was more to life than death and destruction. Her change was slow but for the better. Her love for you also changed the lives of many people."

Ares said, "Take a look, see how she enjoys the whip and how it makes a person succumb to her."

Gabrielle stared at the woman as she lashed out at a man that was tied to the mast. Turning her head away she said, "I know she did this but..."

He cut in and said, "She even whipped you, and you still hold feelings for her."

The Bard replied, "It was my fault and she never hurt me again."

He laughed as he said, "Really, seems she left you on the ship and when she came back her actions cut you deeply."

"I know, but she was trying to cope in her own way, she was taking me back."

Walking in a circle the man said, "What she did was almost get you killed along side her. You seem to have a knack for getting involved with strong women who lead you astray and into trouble."

Aphrodite pushed the man back as she stepped in front of Gabrielle and said, "What you must accept is what you have seen, your growth and love for Xena and Ann Bounty. You must decide if these two women will still have a place in your life."

Gabrielle looked at her and said, "How, what do you mean?"

"I know that you have been tormented by your feelings for Ann and for Xena. You seem to blame yourself for the woman's injuries."

Her eyes wide the Bard said, "You said injuries, then Sea is alive!"

Ares said, "It is up to you, she is between at the moment but she seems to have this obstinate obsession that is keeping her from passing over."

Gabrielle stared at him and said, "Tell me you are lying, Sea has to come back."

He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Why, so you can make her life miserable once more? You cannot give the woman what she wants, so it is time to let her go and get on with your life."

Gabrielle turned her gaze toward Aphrodite as the woman said, "Few people ever experience the feeling of true love, but you have been fortunate to know it twice. It is up to you now, there are two paths in front of you, if you take the one on the right, the person you know as Sea will be no
longer. If you take the one on the left you must get past two obstacles in order to bring her back." She placed her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders and said, "Your journey is almost over, it is now up to you, choose."

Gabrielle stared at the two paths, the one on the right was short but the one on the left was longer and there was a mist that was now settling on the ground. She looked at Aphrodite and replied, "If you know me as well as you seem, then you know I will chose the path on the left."

Ares laughed as he said, "Isn't love grand? You have done it this time, if I don't see you again, enjoy the depths of despair." He was gone in an instant and Aphrodite said, "You have made your decision. You must be careful and remember what you fear the most is really in your mind. Good luck." She also vanished and Gabrielle began to stare at the area. She was suddenly feeling alone, it seemed the two had been with her for so long, she was actually missing them. At least she was missing Aphrodite. Looking down at her hands she could see they were shaking as she muttered to herself, "Not much farther, just be calm and try to remember Aphrodite's words."

Continued in Chapter Nine


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