Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. Absolutely no aspect of this story (e.g. ideas, images, dialog etc.) contained within may be used elsewhere without the express prior written consent of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
EXTREME VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER
This story depicts scenes of EXTREME violence and/or their aftermath. This simply cannot be emphasized enough. The violence is described in exacting detail at times, however, it was necessary for the plot of the story to include it. You may have read this warning in the past and thought that the author overemphasized how violent his or her story would be. However, in this case, the warning is VERY real and should NOT be taken lightly. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
SEXUAL VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER
This story depicts scenes of sexual violence and/or their aftermath. Some readers may be disturbed by this type of depiction and anyone who is sensitive to this particular issue may wish to read something other than this story.
This story may be best classified as a Hurt/Comfort Story involving the characters Xena: Warrior Princess and Gabrielle. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
(1) The words to the "poem" that Gabrielle recites are actually the lyrics to the song "The Change", sung by Garth Brooks, and are used here without permission or intent to profit.
The Change was written by Tony Arata & Wayne Tester
(c) 1995 Little Tybee Music / Forerunner Music Inc.
MCA Music Publishing
(2) The story of Baucis and Philemon is an old Greek myths that was originally told by Ovid.
It is my best guess that it was this story that Gabrielle was telling Xena in the episode Chariots of War, although the details of Gabrielle's story do differ slightly from the traditional tale. I attribute this simply to bardic license on the part of Gabrielle.
Warnings/Disclaimers are included with this piece of fan fiction to enable readers to judge whether it is of interest to them. Their inclusion is an attempt by the author to prevent any individual from being overly disturbed or distressed by this story and they are intended to be taken seriously as a comment about the nature of the story. After reading the Warnings posted, it is the sole responsibility of each reader to decide whether this piece of fan fiction is of interest to them or whether it might be more appropriate for them to read something else instead.
This story is dedicated to Catherine "Cat" McKenzie...since without her tireless support and willingness to go off on bizarre searches for obscure facts, this story would still just be rattling around my head. Sheís also the best furkiní editor and friend a bard could ever hope to have!
Feedback and comments are more than welcome and should be directed to email@example.com
A Fine Line
Authorís Note: The events of this story take place a few weeks after the ending of The Third Wheel (which took place a few weeks after the X:WP episode A Day in the Life.) If you havenít read that story, well, it probably wonít make too much difference, although some things may not make quite as much sense. Just get used to the occasional bizarre reference.
The sun was still shining brightly overhead when the two women entered the clearing by the lake. A tall woman with jet black hair and a confident air of command looked the clearing over carefully, before nodding her head and dropping the reins of the horse she was leading. "This looks like a good place to set up camp," she announced. "Iíll scout around a little to make sure the areaís safe," she continued, as she turned to look at her blonde companion.
Gabrielle nodded. "It looks perfect. Iíll have everything set up by the time you get back," she said, trying not to show her concern over how tired her friend looked and sounded. However, she knew that it would do no good to suggest to Xena that she rest first and scout later; the warrior was simply too obstinate to listen to logic like that. The fact that they were stopping for the day while it was still so early, though, clearly indicated that Xena was more tired than she was letting on.
Gabrielle shook her head, as she watched Xena head off into the surrounding woods. They had only started traveling again a few days ago, after having had to take time off for the warrior to recover from injuries she had suffered a month earlier. Xena had been willing to remain in Uthranis as long as she was still having difficulties walking. As soon as she was able to move around again without the limp, however, she had decided they needed to be moving on, and no amount of arguing could change her mind. The fact that she still tired easily and was not even close to being fully recovered, made no difference to the warrior. Xena had been feeling cooped up and constrained for far too long. She needed to be on the road again.
Gabrielle worked rapidly to set up their camp, determined that everything would be finished by the time that Xena returned. As she laid their bedrolls out next to one another, she couldnít stop a broad smile from spreading across her face. She and Xena had been lovers for a couple of weeks now, the best couple of weeks of her entire life, and sometimes she still had trouble believing that they were finally together. She knew, though, that this was another reason that Xena had wanted to leave Uthranis. Things had been fine while the two of them were staying by themselves, alone and away from others. Once they had started seeing other people on a regular basis, however, Xena had grown self-conscious about any displays of affection. Xena always felt the need to put on her strong warrior image whenever there were others around, and this was not particularly conducive to romantic encounters.
As Gabrielle finished setting up the rest of the camp and began to collect firewood for the evening, she thought back on the days since they had left Uthranis. It had been harder to leave than she would have thought. She suspected that it had been hard on Xena as well, even though the warrior would never admit to it. But they had left a good friend behind in Uthranis: Cor, a former lieutenant of Xenaís who, with his humor, insight, and foolhardy bravery, had managed to get Xena and Gabrielle to finally openly admit to the feelings they had for one another. Gabrielle had been jealous of Corís relationship with Xena when they had first met but, as time had gone by, she had come to consider him a friend, and she was already missing the sound of his voice.
The past several days had been relatively quiet for the pair. A few bandits and ruffians had tried to start some trouble with them, but Xenaís name and her imposing stance, as she drew her sword from its scabbard, had been enough to frighten them off without any actual fighting. Unfortunately, this same routine hadnít worked on the men they had met up with earlier that day and they had had to fight the idiots to convince them that the warrior and the bard should be left alone. Xena had thrown herself into the battle with her usual enthusiasm, with Gabrielle following closely behind. They had easily defeated the eight men, although Xena had been forced to kill one of them in the process. Afterwards, though, Gabrielle could see that Xenaís reserves were nearly drained. They had traveled for a short while longer before Xena had decided to stop for the day, hours before she would normally have made such a decision.
Gabrielle had long since collected the last of the firewood they would need for the evening and had laid out the makings of the campfire, by the time Xena returned with a rabbit for their dinner. Gabrielle shook her head as she took the animal from her friend and prepared to cook it. "Xena, weíre still overloaded with all the food and supplies that Cor insisted we take when we left Uthranis. There was no reason for you to go to the trouble of catching something for us to eat tonight."
Xena shrugged. "It wasnít any trouble. I flushed him accidentally and took him with my chakram without even thinking about it. But if youíd rather have trail rations....," she said with a smile.
"No, this will be fine," Gabrielle replied. Seeing Xena looking around for something to do, the bard grinned. "Iíve taken care of everything, including Argo, so all you have to do is sharpen your sword for the next hour while I fix dinner."
Xena arched an eyebrow at Gabrielle and looked at her for several moments, before shaking her head and moving to sit on a nearby log with her sword and her whetstone. Soon she was engaged in the endless process of sharpening the blade, a process that was not only necessary for the sword, but was also important in helping Xena to relax from the tensions of the day. She was completely worn out and she was grateful that Gabrielle was, for once, remaining quiet. It wasnít that she minded the bardís stories but, at the moment, she simply didnít have the energy to listen to anything Gabrielle had to say.
Gabrielle kept a close eye on her friend as she went about preparing their dinner. It was obvious from the way Xena was carrying herself that the warrior was almost out on her feet. It was sheer stubbornness that was keeping her going at the moment; the same stubbornness that refused to allow her to take a few more days to rest and regain the remainder of her strength. Gabrielle had tried to convince Xena not to push herself so hard but, after their last argument, she had decided to give up on the direct approach since it obviously wasnít going to work. On the other hand, the indirect approach had the potential for success.
Supper was soon ready and the two women ate in comparative silence. Xena was too tired to carry on a conversation and Gabrielle was too absorbed in planning her new method of attack. After they finished eating, the bard took care of cleaning everything up, before finally making Xena a mug of tea and taking it over to where she was sitting. "Here, try this. I think youíll like it," she said with a smile.
Xena took the mug and smelled the brew, smiling appreciatively as she did so. She took a small sip and nodded her head. "Itís good. What is it?" she asked curiously.
"Actually, Iím not sure. Itís a mixture Cor gave me for you. He said youíd like it," Gabrielle replied.
Xena jerked the mug away from her lips and spat out the rest of the liquid in her mouth. "You gave me one of Corís mixtures and you donít even know whatís in it?" she sputtered angrily.
Gabrielle laughed at Xenaís reaction. She had to admit, though, her friend was justified in being cautious. The last time Cor had given Xena something to drink without telling her what it was, the drink had contained a strong sedative that had quickly put her to sleep. Considering all the discussions they had had about Xena pushing herself too hard and needing to get more rest, Xena could be forgiven for being a bit suspicious about Gabrielleís motives. "Relax Warrior," Gabrielle finally said. "He assured me that there was nothing in it you would object to. Itís just tea. See, Iím drinking some too. Do you want to switch cups with me?" she teased gently.
Xena chuckled ruefully. "No, thatís all right. I just donít want to be under the influence of sleeping herbs when weíre out here in the middle of nowhere."
"I know...now drink your tea. It might relax you but I promise it wonít hurt you," Gabrielle said with a smile. Xena nodded as she began to drink the rest of the tea, enjoying the flavor and wondering what in the world Cor had mixed up this time. The two sat together in comfortable silence, before Gabrielle finally spoke up. "So, where are we headed anyway?"
Xena pondered the question for a few moments before answering. "Well, to be honest, I wasnít really headed anywhere. I just needed to get away from Uthranis. Everything was starting to feel too ëcrowdedí and ëcloseí there." Xena was silent for a few more seconds before continuing. "Actually, I was thinking that maybe we could visit the Amazons, unless you have some place else youíd rather go?"
A broad smile broke out across Gabrielleís face. "No. Iíd love to go visit the Amazons! But we were just there not long ago. Are you sure you want to go back there again so soon?"
Xena smiled. "Well, you are the Amazon Queen now. I guess we should start trying to make it back there a little more often. Besides, weíre relatively close and thereís nowhere else we need to be."
Gabrielle grinned. "Well I guess we visit the Amazons then," she said happily. She looked over to see that Xena was draining the rest of her tea from her mug. As she finished, Gabrielle took her cup from her and then returned to help the warrior take off her armor. Her breath caught in her throat as she slowly removed each piece. She was amazed, as always, at the sheer beauty of the woman who had captured her heart. As she helped to take the armor off, she did her best to be gentle with her friend. Several times, though, she heard Xena moan softly in pain, as her sore muscles were pulled this way and that. When Gabrielle was finished, she leaned against Xenaís back and wrapped her arms around her lover, closing her eyes as she held her tightly. She remained like that for several moments, before moving around to face the warrior. "Come on and lay down. Letís see what I can do about those sore spots," she said quietly.
Xena smiled gratefully, when she heard Gabrielleís words, before moving to stretch out on their bedrolls. The bard had only recently adopted the practice of giving her friend backrubs, but she had become amazingly good at it during the past few weeks. Of course, the fact that she had had so much practice at it, undoubtedly contributed to how rapidly she was becoming an expert in her technique.
Gabrielle grinned while she watched Xena get comfortable. As she began to slowly stroke the warriorís tired body, she launched into the dullest story that she knew. While giving Xena massages over the last few weeks, she had learned several things. She knew exactly how and where to touch her to drive the warrior wild with desire She had mastered the art of getting Xena to the point where coherent thought was impossible for her. She also knew exactly how and where to touch the warrior to soothe her muscles and lull her into a deeply relaxed state. It was the second type of massage that she was interested in at the moment.
It didnít take long to achieve her goal and soon Xena was sleeping peacefully, a small smile on her lips. ëMission accomplished,í Gabrielle thought, as she pulled a blanket up to cover her friend, before rising and walking silently away. She checked on Argo to make certain that the mare was all right and then retrieved the scroll she was working on from one of the saddlebags. She spent the next few hours working quietly on her most recent story, before finally deciding to turn in as well. She tossed another log onto the fire, made one last check of the camp, and then crawled under the blankets next to Xena. She smiled when the sleeping warrior wrapped an arm around her and moved closer. She spent the next few minutes lightly caressing Xenaís hair, loving the feel of it as it slid through her fingers. Finally she leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss against her loverís forehead, before closing her eyes and settling down to sleep.
Gabrielle woke up the next morning before Xena, a feat she only rarely managed to accomplish. Looking down at the warriorís face, which was resting against her chest, Gabrielle felt her heart swell with love. She remained motionless for several long minutes, enjoying the feel of Xenaís body pressed against hers, and then gently moved out from underneath her friend. Stretching as she rose to stand, she glanced around the campsite, before grabbing a bar of soap from one of the saddlebags and walking the short distance to the lake. Reaching the shore, she removed her clothes and then dove into the warm water. She quickly washed her hair and the rest of her body and then tossed the soap back onto the shore. Moving into deeper water, she began to swim in slow, lazy circles. Finally, she flipped over to float on her back, while she allowed the sun to warm her body.
The sound of a splash eventually drew her attention back to the shore. She could see the ripples of water spreading outward from a point not far from shore, and she could see Xenaís clothes lying next to hers on the bank. As Gabrielle began treading water, the warrior slowly broke the surface just in front of her and then moved into the bardís embrace to kiss her deeply. "Morning," Xena said huskily.
"Morning," Gabrielle replied, pressing up against her, delighting in the feel of Xenaís skin against hers.
"Iím sorry about last night," Xena murmured, as she slowly caressed her loverís back.
"Last night? Why are you sorry about last night?" Gabrielle asked in a confused tone.
Xena looked at her in surprise. "Because I fell asleep on you, right in the middle of one of your stories," she replied.
Gabrielle laughed. "That was the whole point. Xena, I almost fell asleep during that story," she said, as she leaned in to kiss her lover.
The warrior pulled back. "You mean there was something in that tea?" she demanded.
Gabrielle grinned. "Xena...there was nothing in your drink. You were just tired. Now why donít you just admit that maybe you need to start trying to get a little more rest," she said and then pulled Xena to her to kiss her again.
Xena returned her kiss and deepened it, parting Gabrielleís lips to thrust her tongue into the bardís mouth. Gabrielle moaned and pressed closer to the warrior, as she wrapped her arms around Xena to hold her tightly.
Suddenly, Xena pulled away again. "Maybe youíre right," she said in a serious tone.
Heart pounding, blood racing, it took a confused Gabrielle several moments before she could finally respond. "Iím right? About what?"
"I should probably get some more rest," Xena said solemnly, as she released the bard. "Iíll just go take a quick nap and then we can get back on the road again," she finished, before she turned and headed back to the shore.
Gabrielle watched her, completely dumbfounded by the turn of events. As Xena neared the shore, however, Gabrielle grinned and quickly swam after her, easily catching the slow moving warrior. Sliding up behind Xena, she whispered in her loverís ear, "A nap is a good idea, but I think before you take one, you should get a workout first...you know...exercise your muscles."
Xena paused as she considered Gabrielleís advice. "Maybe youíre right. I could practice with my sword."
"I was thinking of different muscles," Gabrielle said, as she placed soft kisses along Xenaís neck and shoulders.
"Hmmm...maybe I could take Argo for a run?" Xena said, struggling to speak normally.
"Well...those are some of the same muscles I guess. But itís not really what I had in mind," Gabrielle replied, as she reached around to stroke Xenaís breasts.
"Well, Iím out of ideas. What do you suggest?" Xena asked, then groaned deeply as Gabrielle dropped one hand to press against her sex.
"Let me think about it...maybe Iíll come up with something," Gabrielle said, before wrapping her legs around Xenaís waist and moving sensuously against the other woman. Moving her hand back up, she cupped both of the warriorís breasts in her palms, squeezing them firmly. She trailed her lips up Xenaís neck to her ear and blew lightly across it, before outlining it with her tongue. She smiled when she heard her lover moan softly.
She continued to torment the warrior for a few moments more, before moving back to Xenaís neck, nibbling and sucking lightly as she moved along the line to her shoulder. Reaching the warriorís shoulder, Gabrielle hesitated for a brief moment before biting down hard, loving the gasp of pleasure she heard escape from Xenaís throat. Unable to take her loverís sweet torture any longer, Xena reached down to unlock the bardís ankles from around her waist and then turned quickly to face her. Recovering instantly, Gabrielle pressed up against Xena once again, locking her ankles behind the warriorís back while she kissed her passionately. Hands stroked backs, trailing fingernails across sensitive flesh, as both women sought to draw the other as close as possible. Xena moved her mouth hungrily over the younger womanís, parting her lips once again to thrust her tongue inside. She explored the bardís mouth thoroughly and then enticed Gabrielleís tongue back into her own.
Gabrielle groaned softly when she felt Xena sucking on her tongue. She began rocking rhythmically against the warrior, the feel of the water around them heightening every sensation. Lifting the bard up out of the water, Xena brought her loverís breasts to her waiting lips. Gabrielle groaned again, louder this time, as she felt Xenaís lips draw her nipple into her mouth. She clutched the warriorís head firmly to her chest, encouraging her to take more of her breast into her mouth. Xena swirled her tongue across the nipple before biting down. She smiled when she heard Gabrielle whimper softly and then moved to lavish her attentions on the bardís other perfect breast.
The two lovers continued to stroke and caress one another for several minutes, before Xena began moving towards the shore once again. Gabrielle unlocked her ankles from around her loverís waist as they drew closer, then smiled when Xena immediately swept her up into her arms to carry her the rest of the way to their blankets. Laying Gabrielle carefully down on their bedrolls, Xena hesitated for several moments before joining her, enjoying the opportunity to simply drink in the beauty of her lover. Stretching out beside the bard, Xena lightly trailed her hand up and down her loverís body, watching the play of taut muscles as Gabrielle reacted to her touch. "I love you," she finally said, before leaning down to kiss the younger woman.
Gabrielle sighed softly, when she felt the weight of Xenaís body pressing against hers. She returned her loverís kiss with equal passion, while she reached around to cup the warriorís head and hold her close. When she felt Xenaís hands beginning to move over her body, Gabrielle broke the kiss to look up at her, a determined glint in her eyes, before quickly rolling her lover over onto her back. Smiling down at the look of surprise on Xenaís face, Gabrielle leaned down to lightly brush her lips across the warriorís. "Let me," she said softly, as she reached out and caught Xenaís hands in her own. Bringing each hand slowly to her lips, she kissed them softly one at a time, before placing them behind the warriorís head. Seeing the confused expression on her loverís face, Gabrielle smiled again. "For once, just let me love you."
Xena chuckled softly. "Gabrielle, what are you talking about?" she asked, as she brought her hands back out from behind her head and reached for the bard.
Gabrielle grabbed her hands before Xena could touch her, gently placing them behind the warriorís head once again. "You always end up taking the lead. Just relax and let me touch you. Trust me," she said softly, as she reached down and lightly ran her fingers across Xenaís stomach and then up to circle her breasts.
Xena took in a deep, shuddering breath and then nodded. Gabrielle grinned at her small victory. Nearly every time they made love, the warrior ended up controlling the pace. This time, Gabrielle intended to be the one in control. She knew, though. that sheíd never be able to last long if Xena started touching her, so she had to get that issue taken care of right at the start.
Still smiling, Gabrielle leaned down to kiss Xena softly on the lips and then moved to brush kisses across the warriorís cheeks, forehead, and chin, before finally settling near her ear. "You are so beautiful," she murmured into Xenaís ear, before biting down on the lobe and tugging at it gently. Moving to her loverís other ear, she flicked her tongue out to lightly trace the outline, before exploring the crevices within. "I could spend days singing songs of your beauty," she said softly, before moving to run her tongue across Xenaís jawline.
Pausing for a moment to look down at her lover, Gabrielle smiled when she saw Xena struggling to restrain herself. Nodding in satisfaction, the bard leaned over again to trail kisses down the other womanís neck. Her lips settled momentarily at the hollow of Xenaís throat, while her left hand began tracing intricate patterns across the warriorís flat stomach. Moving to her loverís collarbone, Gabrielle used her mouth to brand the other woman as her own, smiling when she saw the small marks that were appearing on Xenaís skin. She moved back to Xenaís throat and began to run her tongue across her loverís neck, while her hand slid up to capture the warriorís breast.
Xena groaned loudly when she felt her loverís hand cup her sensitive breast, and she reached down to cover the younger womanís hand with her own, encouraging the bard to squeeze harder. Gabrielle shook her head, as she lifted her head to look down at the other woman. "No," she reprimanded gently, as she removed Xenaís hand and put it back behind the warriorís head. "Not yet," she said huskily, as she moved down to run her tongue across one of Xenaís breasts, while her hand gently massaged the other one, sighing softly when she felt it swell beneath her touch.
Xena moaned and arched against her loverís mouth, but somehow managed to keep her hands locked in place. "Please Gabrielle," she panted. "Harder...more....," she begged. Smiling against the warriorís breast, Gabrielle willingly complied. She moved her mouth to Xenaís nipple and bit down and felt it grow rock hard at her touch. Her hand began squeezing the other womanís other breast more firmly, pinching the tip between her thumb and index finger. "Gods yes," the warrior ground out, fighting desperately not to reach out and grab Gabrielle and clutch the bard tightly to her body.
Gabrielle switched her mouth back and forth between her loverís breasts, leaving neither one of them neglected. The bard reveled in the sight of the warrior writhing uncontrollably beneath her touch, as she slowly pushed the other woman to the edge. Finally moving her mouth downward, she ran her tongue across Xenaís quivering belly and then gently parted her loverís thighs and settled between them. Placing her head near Xenaís damp curls, Gabrielle blew warm air across her loverís sweet folds, before turning her attention instead to Xenaís inner thigh. Placing her lips against the soft skin, the bard began to lick and nibble her way down the other womanís leg until she reached her calves, then slowly began moving back up. Passing over the warriorís center, Gabrielle moved to the other leg and began the same, torturous treatment, as she moved slowly down Xenaís leg and back up again, once more skipping over her loverís heated center to pass to the other leg.
"By the Gods Gabrielle...please....," Xena whimpered frantically, as she moved her hips towards her lover, fighting the urge to grab the younger woman.
"Please what, Xena?" Gabrielle asked softly, propping herself up to look at the warrior. "Tell me what you want me to do."
"Please Gabrielle. I want your mouth on me now...I canít...I canít take much more of this," Xena rasped hoarsely.
"On you...on you where?" Gabrielle asked with a gleam in her eyes. "On you here?" she asked, before pressing a soft kiss to Xenaís inner thigh. "On you here?" she teased, while she leaned up and kissed Xenaís stomach. "On you here?" she asked, as she parted Xenaís folds and dipped her tongue between to take a long, loving taste.
"There," Xena moaned, as she thrust her hips towards her loverís mouth. Her hands came out from behind her head but she managed to keep from grabbing Gabrielle, and instead curled her fingers into the bedroll.
Gabrielle reached up to grab the warriorís hips firmly while she probed deeper, matching the movements of Xenaís hips with her tongue. She lovingly explored every fold, every ridge, before finally moving up to flick her tongue across the other womanís center, smiling to herself when she heard the warriorís groan of ecstasy. Pressing harder as she heard Xenaís breathing growing ragged and uneven, she ran her teeth across the swollen bundle of nerves, before taking it between her lips and sucking on it, swirling her tongue across its surface as she felt her lover slip over the edge.
Xena arched against the younger woman as she shuddered uncontrollably, waves of ecstasy coursing through her trembling body. Gabrielle stared in wonder while she watched the play of emotions across her loverís face, as she continued to press soft kisses to the warriorís center. As Xenaís breathing gradually returned to normal, Gabrielle replaced her mouth with her hand and moved up to take Xenaís nipple in her mouth once more, moving her tongue lightly around it. She slowly stroked Xena, gritting her teeth to control her own reaction when she felt the other womanís unbelievable wetness against her hand. Straddling the warriorís thigh, she began pressing against her loverís leg, moving to the same rhythm as her hand. She continued her assault for a few minutes more, as she felt the warriorís passion beginning to build out of control once again. Finally she slipped her fingers up to capture Xenaís swollen clit.
Xena groaned low in her throat when she felt her lover touch her. Her hips were moving entirely of their own volition and her head was thrashing back and forth. Her entire world was centered on Gabrielleís fingers, as she brought Xena back to the edge.
"Xena, open your eyes," Gabrielle commanded, her voice husky and low. Obeying the command, Xena looked up to see the bardís face inches from her own, gazing at her with a look that could only be described as raw passion. She struggled for control, to hold on for a few minutes longer, but as Gabrielle pressed her hips harder against the warriorís thigh and her hand harder against Xenaís sex, she slipped over the edge once more. Her gaze locked with Gabrielleís, Xena moaned as her body bucked and writhed against her loverís hand, while the bard continued to stroke her, continued to press firmly against her.
Several minutes passed before Xena was able to manage anything even closely resembling rational thought. Looking up, she saw Gabrielle smiling down at her, eyes still filled with passion, as she lightly stroked her lover. Leaning down, the bard continued to move her hand against the warrior, while she placed gentle kisses across her loverís breasts. Xena felt herself responding to Gabrielleís touch once again and moaned when she felt the younger womanís lips dancing across her skin. She thrust her hips helplessly towards the bardís teasing fingers but they continued to remain just out of reach. "Gabrielle...please...your fingers....," Xena groaned loudly, as she struggled to speak.
"My fingers?" Gabrielle asked innocently, as she continued to tease the warrior.
"Inside me Gabrielle...your fingers...Could you put them inside me...please," Xena finally managed to gasp, thrusting her hips towards the bardís hand once again.
"You want me inside you?" Gabrielle asked in a low, seductive voice, while she pressed two fingers to Xenaís opening.
"Gods yes," Xena whimpered, as she felt her lover slip two fingers just inside her and then stop.
"You want me inside you...or you need me inside you?" Gabrielle purred softly into Xenaís ear, before moving back to look down on the warriorís face.
Xena hesitated for a moment, gazing into Gabrielleís eyes, before willingly submitting. "Need. I need you inside me Gabrielle," she choked out, her voice thick with passion.
Gabrielle leaned down to capture Xenaís lips, as she slid two fingers deep inside her lover. She sighed softly when she felt Xenaís muscles contract around them. Thrusting her fingers to keep pace with the movements of the warriorís hips, Gabrielle moved to straddle the other womanís thigh once again and began rocking against her. She continued to thrust her fingers deeply into her lover while massaging the warriorís center with her thumb, all the while moving her hips against Xenaís thigh and feeling her own passion building out of control. Reaching down to grab the other womanís wrist, she placed the warriorís hand between her own legs, moaning with pleasure when Xena instantly began to stroke her fingers against the bardís engorged clitoris.
"Gods Gabrielle," Xena groaned. "Youíre so wet...you feel so good," she panted, as she slipped two fingers inside her lover and began matching Gabrielle stroke for stroke. Their gazes locked as Xena reached up with her other hand to caress her loverís breasts, rubbing callused fingers across the nipples and sending shudders of delight through the young womanís body.
They continued to thrust against one another, trying to prolong their pleasure for as long as possible. "Now," Gabrielle moaned as she finally gave in, unable to deny herself any longer. With a loud cry, Xena released as well, arching her body as she lost control completely, giving in to her passion, trusting Gabrielle enough to fully let go.
They lay together for several minutes, before either one had the ability to move. Withdrawing their fingers at the same time, they shivered as pleasant aftershocks rippled through their bodies at the sensations it caused. Without a word, they both brought their fingers to their mouths and licked them clean, savoring the taste of the other. As they finished, they kissed deeply, tongues pressing against each other, causing their tastes to mingle.
Xena shifted Gabrielle to a more comfortable position but maintained her hold on her lover. The bard slowly traced circles across Xenaís stomach, before hugging her tightly. "Thank you," she said quietly.
Xena chuckled. "Thank me?" she said in disbelief. "Why are you thanking me?" the warrior asked.
"For trusting me," Gabrielle replied. "And for letting go completely. For not trying to hold back part of yourself," she finished.
"Do I normally hold back from you?" Xena asked in a concerned voice.
"No. But I know how hard it is for you to allow yourself to lose control. I just wanted you to know how much it means to me that you trust me," Gabrielle said with a yawn.
"I do trust you, Gabrielle," Xena said, as she slowly caressed her loverís back.
Several quiet moments passed before Gabrielle spoke again, "Xena?"
"Hmmm?" Xena asked sleepily.
"Iím sorry, but I just canít think of a good workout for you," Gabrielle said, a teasing note in her voice. "Maybe you should just take the nap and forget about the exercise."
"All right," Xena agreed with a yawn. "Iím too tired at the moment to do anything strenuous anyway," she said, before pulling Gabrielle closer and allowing herself to drift off to sleep.
The next two days passed by uneventfully and, before they knew it, Xena and Gabrielle were nearing the town of Baraliam, the last village of any reasonable size before they reached Amazon territory. Xena briefly considered passing by the village completely, but Argo was in need of a new bridle, and Baraliam was as good a place as any to pick one up. In no time at all, they had made their purchase and were preparing to be on their way, when Gabrielle hesitated. "Buy you a drink?" she asked, indicating the tavern that was standing nearby.
"You want a drink?" Xena asked with a slight smile.
"Actually, I just want to sit down and rest for a few minutes and this was the best excuse I could come up with," Gabrielle replied.
"Okay. Weíll stop for a few minutes and have a drink," Xena agreed. "But I thought I was the one who was supposed to still be weak and recovering from injuries."
Rolling her eyes, Gabrielle led the way into the tavern. She was pleasantly surprised to find that it was filled with the aroma of delicious food, rather than the smell of stale body odor like so many of the other taverns they visited. Looking around, she saw that the patrons seemed to mainly be local citizens, and the place was clean and neat. Smiling happily, she began to walk towards one of the back tables, while Xena trailed behind her.
"Warrior," a loud voice called out, stopping the pair in their tracks. Looking towards the bar, they saw the bartender watching them closely. "No weapons are allowed in my tavern," he said firmly but not unkindly. "You can hang them by the door," he continued, pointing towards several large pegs.
Xena looked at the pegs, then back to the bartender, and then finally at Gabrielle. "Come on. Letís go," she said, as she turned to leave.
Gabrielle quickly grabbed her arm, stopping her progress. "Xena come on. Hang your weapons up and letís have a drink."
"I donít need a drink that badly Gabrielle," Xena said flatly. "And I donít want to be unarmed and defenseless in some unfamiliar place when thereís no need for me to be in here in the first place."
Gabrielle laughed at her last comment. "Unarmed, maybe. Defenseless? I hardly think so. Come on. Iíll bet that wherever you sit down in here, there will be five different things within armís reach that you could use as a weapon," she said with a grin. "Give up the sword and the chakram and let me buy you a drink."
Xena considered her options for a few more seconds, before finally sighing in resignation. Hanging her weapons up carefully on the pegs provided, she cast a quick glance around the room, noting the exits, the locations of the customers, and a variety of other things that suddenly seemed infinitely more important now that she was no longer armed.
Gabrielle hid a smile as she watched Xenaís actions, before wandering over to the bar and ordering drinks for the both of them. Returning to the table that Xena had finally chosen, she handed the warrior her drink. Sitting down across from her, she sighed contentedly, as she finally got off her feet. "So how much longer will it take to get to the Amazons?" she asked after several minutes had gone by.
"Probably about three days, maybe a little less," Xena answered.
Gabrielle nodded. "How long do you think we can stay?"
Xena shrugged. "I dunno, maybe a week or two."
Gabrielle looked at her in astonishment. "Seriously? That long?"
Xena grinned at her young friend. "Well not if you donít want to. We donít even have to spend the night if youíre going to be anxious to leave."
Gabrielle smiled broadly. "Itís not that and you know it. Iím just surprised that youíre willing to stay that long."
Xena simply shrugged again and the conversation dropped. The truth was, she had several reasons for her willingness to stay for an extended visit with the Amazons. Gabrielle was the Queen now but she had chosen to travel with Xena rather than stay with the village, and Xena still felt guilty about that sometimes. She knew that Gabrielle not only deserved to learn more about the Amazons, but that she needed to learn more about them too. The only way to accomplish this was for Gabrielle to spend time with her adopted people. Besides, Gabrielle had been happy with the Amazons and even though she knew that Gabrielle loved her, she also knew that few things would make the bard happier than spending time at the Amazon village. Making Gabrielle happy was important to Xena, more important than she sometimes liked to admit.
But Xena had another reason for wanting to spend time with the Amazons. Everywhere they went, Xena had to be concerned about the people around them learning the truth about her relationship with Gabrielle. It wasnít because they were both women, although she knew that that fact could cause problems in some places. Xena seriously doubted, after everything she had done in her past, that her reputation could suffer much from the revelation that she was in love with a woman, but she wasnít entirely certain how Gabrielle felt about that issue. Still, Xena had to admit that the Amazon village was one place that loving another woman wouldnít be regarded as unusual. The real problem, though, was not that they were both women, but rather that Xena was a target; Gabrielle even more so. Xena knew that their survival often depended on the fact that she was perceived to be dangerous, to be a threat, and she could show no weaknesses when they were in public. To do so was to risk not only her life, but Gabrielleís life as well.
With the Amazons, however, Xena didnít have to worry about acting like the warlord, because they already knew exactly what she was capable of. She had had a formidable reputation amongst them before they had even met her and, since that time, she had only improved her image in their eyes. They had seen her defeat Melosa, their former Queen, in hand to hand combat. She had managed to defeat Velasca, another former Queen, who had eaten ambrosia and become a goddess. Best of all, in the Amazon village, Gabrielle would be the true focus of everyoneís attention. This meant that Xena didnít have to feel like everyone was staring at her all the time. Next to Gabrielle, she was rather insignificant. Instead of feeling threatened by that fact, Xena found it strangely liberating.
They finished their drinks and Xena allowed Gabrielle to convince her to stick around for another round. As they downed their second round, however, Xena smirked at her friend. "Come on...I think this qualifies as more than enough rest."
Gabrielle grinned sheepishly, as she rose to follow Xena from the tavern. Stopping to grab her weapons, Xena fastened them securely, before continuing on her way out the door. Reaching Argoís side, Xena carefully examined the new bridle once more to make certain that it was adjusted properly and then reached for the reins. Her hand paused in mid-air, however, as she heard the sounds of screaming coming from further down the street. Turning in that direction, she stepped forward slightly as she tried to see what was going on. She heard the danger, however, several second before she actually saw what was happening. "Raiders!" she growled angrily, as she began running in the direction of the sound of pounding hooves and barbaric shouts.
It didnít take long for the soldiers to advance into the middle of town. They were a small "army" numbering only about two dozen men. They were more than enough, however, to subdue a town the size of Baraliam, which was filled with villagers who knew nothing of the art of warfare. They were not enough, however, to subdue a town that also contained the Warrior Princess and the Amazon Bard.
Sweeping through the soldiers, Xena managed to knock several of them unconscious, before she finally reached the leader. Leaping upwards, she tackled him from his horse, driving him to the ground. Rolling to her feet, she quickly drew her sword and parried his clumsy thrusts, grinning widely at the frustration on his face, as he tried to find an opening. Xena toyed with him for a little while, enjoying his growing anger as she continued to taunt him, before finally slamming the hilt of her sword hard across his face, knocking him to the ground in a lifeless heap.
Looking around, she saw that Gabrielle was having no problems with the soldiers she was fighting; none of them seemed to have the skills necessary to threaten truly competent opponents. Reassured that her friend was in no need of her help, Xena scanned the rest of the village. The majority of the soldiers who were still standing had already begun a hasty retreat. A few, though, were still fighting, and it was these men that Xena focused her attention on. She saw that two different people, at opposite ends of the village, were in need of help. Grabbing her chakram, she sent it arcing through the air to strike the helm of a soldier who was chasing a young woman, knocking him backwards off his horse. As he lay motionless on the ground, Xenaís chakram returned to her hand and she ran in the opposite direction to where a soldier was standing over an older woman.
Flipping through the air and screaming her battle cry, she landed next to the soldier and backhanded him hard, knocking him away from the woman. Shaking her head as the fool came at her with his sword, she easily parried his attack and then disarmed him. He stared at his empty hands for a few seconds, before drawing a dagger and coming at her one last time. Dropping her sword, Xena reached out and caught his arm, twisting it around behind him and causing him to gasp in pain as he dropped the dagger from nerveless fingers. Reaching up with her other hand, she pressed her fingers hard against his neck, rendering him unconscious. "Sometimes itís just easier to do it that way," she muttered with a wry grin.
Seeing that the battle was all but over, Xena focused her attention on the older woman lying on the ground beside her. "Are you all right," she asked, as she knelt beside the woman she had just saved.
The woman carefully picked herself up, leaning against Xena as she did so. "Yes Iím fine. Thank you," she said with a smile.
Xena quickly looked around to find Gabrielle, sighing in relief when she saw the young woman helping someone else who had been injured, before turning back to the woman at her side. Xena returned the smile and then noticed that the womanís arm was bleeding. "Your arm is hurt. Let me take a look at that for you," she said, as she moved closer to examine the wound.
The woman turned to watch as Xena looked at her arm. "So, who do I have to thank for saving my life?" she asked.
"My name is Xena," she answered after a momentary hesitation.
"Xena. I like it. It has a good sound to it," the woman replied. "Iím Ishalia," she said pleasantly.
"Itís good to meet you Ishalia, although it would have been nice to have met under better circumstances," Xena said with a wry smile. "Okay, I need to clean this up and it could use some stitches too," Xena told her as she rose, intending to find Argo.
"Xena, are you okay?"
Xena smiled when she felt Gabrielleís hand on her back and turned to find that the bard had reached her side. "Iím fine Gabrielle, but I need to find Argo and get our saddlebags."
"Iíll find her for you," Gabrielle replied. "Anything else?"
"Just find out if anyone else was hurt and needs help."
Gabrielle nodded. "Okay...Iíll be right back," she said before hurrying off.
"Is your friend a warrior too?" Ishalia asked curiously.
Xena turned to watch Gabrielle walk away, her voice softening slightly as she answered the womanís question. "No, Gabrielle is a bard," she replied, before turning back to face Ishalia. "And if youíre not careful, youíll find that out for yourself," she said with a grin.
Ishalia smiled. "I look forward to it," she said sincerely. "I donít have anything handy to use for stitching this up, but that bucket over there has clean water if you want to get started cleaning this," she said, nodding towards the cut on her arm.
"All right...I could use a clean cloth though," Xena said as she looked around.
Ishalia shrugged. "This dress is old but itís clean. Just rip a strip off the bottom."
Xena chuckled. "Okay," she said and then leaned down and complied with Ishaliaís instructions. Taking the cloth over to the bucket to wet it, she quickly returned and began cleaning the dirt and debris from the wound. By the time she had finished, Gabrielle had returned with the saddlebag she knew Xena wanted. "Anyone else hurt?" Xena asked her.
"From what I saw, it appears there were no major injuries, but Iíll check again," Gabrielle replied.
Xena nodded as she dug through the bag, searching for her needle and thread. "Let me know if thereís anything serious. Iíll be there to help as soon as I finish here."
As Gabrielle turned to leave, Ishalia quickly spoke up. "Are you planning on introducing me to your friend Xena, or did you think we had already met?"
To Gabrielleís astonishment, Xena turned bright red. "Iím sorry. Ishalia, this is my friend Gabrielle. Gabrielle, this is Ishalia."
Gabrielle studied Ishalia briefly. She was an older woman, probably in her mid-fifties, who appeared to have a permanent smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes. Extending her hand to the woman, Gabrielle smiled warmly. "Iím glad to meet you Ishalia," she said.
"You too Gabrielle. Xena tells me youíre a bard," she said, wincing slightly as Xena began stitching up her arm. "Iíd like to hear some of your stories before you leave."
"Iíd be happy to, although I donít know how long weíre going to be here," she replied, looking at Xena curiously for a moment. "Well I guess Iíd better go see if anyone else needs help," she said, glancing down again at Xena before walking away.
Xena sewed Ishaliaís arm up with quick, efficient movements, wanting to spare the older woman any additional pain. Finishing with her task, she rocked back on her heels with a smile. "There. That should take care of it," she told her patient, as she reached into the bag for a bandage and began wrapping the womanís arm. "Make certain you keep this clean. Later Iíll give you something to put on it to help speed the healing process."
Ishalia nodded as she watched Xena finish with her arm. "What did Gabrielle mean about not knowing how much longer youíll be here?" she asked curiously. "You arenít planning on leaving already are you?"
Xena chuckled. "We were literally on our way out of town when the raiders attacked. Weíre just passing through. Weíll be on our way again as soon as I make certain that everyone is all right."
"Where are you headed?"
Xena hesitated again. "Amazon country," she finally replied, not certain what the womanís reaction to that information would be.
To her surprise, Ishalia smiled slightly. "Ahh, I should have guessed. That would be Queen Melosaís village...no wait, thatís wrong," she immediately corrected herself. "Melosa is no longer the queen. I donít remember the new queenís name, although I do remember hearing it was a rather complicated situation."
Xena looked at her in astonishment. "How do you know about Melosa?"
Ishalia shrugged. "The Amazons sometimes come here to trade. Weíre on good terms with them. Not allies, but weíre certainly not enemies. So, are you and Gabrielle traveling that way for some particular reason or just to visit?"
"Just to visit," Xena replied. "We have several friends there," she continued, knowing that it would be too difficult to explain the entire situation.
"Well then, since you donít have to get there by any specific time, why donít you stay here for the rest of the day?" Seeing Xena getting ready to protest, she hurriedly continued. "Itís going to be quite awhile before youíll be ready to leave anyway. You might as well stay here for the night. Please. Youíll be my guests. A home cooked meal and a clean bed are the least I can offer after you saved my life," she finished, smiling warmly at the warrior kneeling in front of her.
Xena considered the offer. Ishalia was right, they werenít in any real hurry to reach the Amazons and they werenít going to get much further today anyway. Surprised that she would even be considering such an offer, when normally she would have refused immediately, Xena studied Ishalia briefly. Despite herself, Xena found she was drawn to this woman she had just met and she realized that she honestly wanted to accept her invitation. "Okay," she finally agreed. "Weíll stay for the night." Xena rose to stand, before reaching down to help Ishalia stand as well. "But at the moment I think Iíd better go help Gabrielle."
Ishalia nodded, a delighted smile on her face. "All right. Thatís my house over there," she said pointing to her left. "Just come by whenever you get done," she finished, as Xena nodded and left to find her young friend.
"That was fantastic," Gabrielle told Ishalia enthusiastically. "I donít remember the last time we had a meal that good," she said, as she pushed herself away from the table.
"Iím glad you liked it," Ishalia replied with a smile.
"Oh, she did. Normally Gabrielle only has two huge bowls of stew. Three bowls is unusual, even for her," Xena said dryly. "Here Ishalia, let me help you with that," the warrior said, as she watched the woman reach to pick up the large pot that contained the leftover stew.
"Thatís all right Xena. You two just go into the other room and relax. Iíll be there in a few minutes."
Nodding, Xena silently agreed, before following Gabrielle into the other room. Seeing the inquisitive expression on Gabrielleís face, Xena narrowed her eyes. "What?" she demanded.
"Nothing...I was just thinking about something," Gabrielle said with a bemused grin, before sitting down in the middle of a long couch.
Shrugging her shoulders, knowing that Gabrielle would tell her if it was something important, or even if it was something insignificant for that matter, Xena sat next to her on the couch as they waited for Ishalia. After a few moments the woman joined them, moving to an overstuffed chair that faced the couch. They chatted for several minutes, Ishalia asking them about their lives and their travels, before she finally looked at the pair curiously. "So how did you two end up traveling together in the first place?"
Xena grinned. "Well, that was my fault. She showed up at my camp one night and I made the mistake of feeding her." Xena shook her head ruefully. "I shouldíve known better. Everyone knows you can never get rid of a stray once youíve fed it."
Ishalia laughed while Gabrielle glared at her friend in mock anger. "A stray?" the bard finally asked.
"Oh, Iím not complaining," Xena reassured her, as she placed her hand on the young womanís shoulder. "After all, everyone also knows thereís nothing more loyal than a stray whoís finally found a home," she finished, struggling to keep a serious expression on her face.
Despite her best intentions, Gabrielle smiled back at her friend, hearing the truth behind Xenaís teasing words. "Well, even a stray can recognize a good thing when she sees it," she said, covering Xenaís hand with her own. Looking into her loverís eyes, she forced herself to resist the impulse to lean in for a kiss. Reminding herself sternly that they werenít alone, she dropped her gaze and turned back to face Ishalia.
Ishalia regarded the two women with a small smile before focusing her attention on Gabrielle. "Well Gabrielle, since youíre no longer a stray, I guess I donít have to worry about you adopting me. But since I did feed you, does this mean I can get you to tell some of your stories?" she asked, as she settled back further into her chair.
Xena chuckled. "You didnít have to feed her for that...all you had to do was stand still long enough for her to get started," she said, a wicked gleam in her eyes.
Deliberately ignoring her friend, Gabrielle smiled at Ishalia. "Sure, would you like to hear something in particular?"
Ishalia shook her head. "No, anything at all will be fine."
"I know, I know," Gabrielle interrupted, turning to look at Xena. "No stories about you." Smiling when she saw the look of relief on Xenaís face, Gabrielle thought for a few moments about the best story to begin with. Eventually settling on one, she launched into her tale. As she finished, both Xena and Ishalia encouraged her to tell another and then another. Finally, after her fourth story, the young bard was beginning to grow tired as the events of the day began to take their toll. Seeing her friend growing sleepy, Xena began asking Ishalia about her village, allowing Gabrielle the opportunity to relax. She wasnít surprised when Gabrielle soon fell asleep, the bardís head resting against her shoulder. She hesitated momentarily before carefully shifting to draw Gabrielle partially into her arms, allowing the young woman to rest against her more comfortably, and smiling slightly when Gabrielle burrowed into her embrace. Holding Gabrielle tightly, Xena continued to listen to Ishalia for quite some time, occasionally asking questions as the woman told her about her life.
Ishalia finished talking and the two sat together, quietly enjoying the silence. Xena turned her gaze to Gabrielle, lightly stroking her hair as the young woman slept in her arms. "You love her very much, donít you?" Ishalia asked, a gentle smile on her face.
Xena looked up carefully, knowing she had let too much show through, but she had been unable to stop herself. Something about this woman and this evening had caused her to let down her guard. "Yes, I do," she finally answered quietly. "Is that going to be a problem for you?"
Ishalia laughed. "Why would it be a problem? Love is love. Who cares what body youíre wearing when you finally find it? Actually, it simplifies things. I was a little concerned since there was only the one bed in the spare room. Obviously that wonít be a problem."
Xena smiled slightly. "No...It wonít be a problem."
"So," Ishalia said as she changed the subject. "Youíre planning on leaving tomorrow?"
Xena nodded. "Probably in the morning; whenever Gabrielle manages to wake up."
Ishalia cocked her head to the side as she studied the warrior. "I donít suppose Iíd be able to convince you to stay another day, would I?"
Xena looked at her in surprise. "Another day?"
"Of course. I havenít had visitors like you and your friend in ages. Itís been nice to have someone to fuss over again."
Xena chuckled. "I doubt youíre at a loss for company Ishalia."
Ishalia smiled at her. "No youíre right. But all my other friends already know all my stories, and I know theirs. You and Gabrielle are a unique find."
"I donít know," Xena hedged. "We were wanting to get to the Amazon village fairly soon."
"One more day wonít make any difference now, will it? Besides, if you leave, how will you know if my arm is healing properly?" she asked with a sly grin.
Xena raised her hands in mock surrender. "All right. You win. Weíll stay one more day," she agreed, amazed at just how much she actually wanted to stay for a little while longer. "But for now, I think Iíd better get my little bard to bed," she said with a smile. Standing up, she lifted Gabrielle easily into her arms. "Weíll see you tomorrow," she told the woman before carrying Gabrielle to their bedroom.
Gabrielle woke the next morning to an empty bed. She stretched languorously before rolling over again and trying to decide whether she should attempt to go back to sleep. Finally deciding that she might as well get up, she sighed and got out of bed, stretching once again for good measure before leaving in search of Xena.
"Ishalia, Iíll go get the water for you," she heard Xena offer as she approached the kitchen.
"No no. I can handle it. Youíre the guest here so just stay put," Ishalia informed the warrior sternly.
By the time Gabrielle reached the kitchen, Ishalia was gone. Seeing Xena leaning against a table, wearing her leathers but no armor or weapons, Gabrielle smiled and approached her. "Morning," she said huskily, as she slipped into the warriorís arms to kiss her.
"Morning," Xena replied softly, holding the bard tightly. "Sleep well?"
"Mmmhmm," Gabrielle murmured, as she held her lover close, resting her head against Xenaís chest. "So," she said after a few silent moments. "When do you want to leave?"
"Well actually...I told Ishalia we would stay for one more day," Xena said hesitantly.
Gabrielle pulled away from her slightly to look up into her loverís face. With a puzzled expression and a somewhat bemused smile, she studied the warrior for several seconds. "Xena...just what is it with you and this woman?" she finally asked.
"What do you mean?" Xena asked guardedly.
"I mean that youíve been acting funny ever since you met her. I mean, you offered to help clear the dishes last night, and just now you offered to go fetch water. And I heard you doing the same thing countless other times yesterday, offering to help with this or that. Itís just not like you."
"So youíre saying Iím rude?" Xena said, arching an eyebrow.
"Oh no," Gabrielle said with a wide grin. "Iím just saying you hate doing chores," she finished diplomatically, trying not to laugh. "Seriously though, Iíve never seen you act so polite and respectful to someone youíve just met," she said with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "And I donít remember the last time I saw you blush the way you did yesterday when she chided you on your bad manners for not introducing the two of us."
Xena smiled ruefully. "I know. And youíre right. I guess itís just that she reminds me of someone I used to know back in Amphipolis." Seeing Gabrielleís curious expression, the warrior reluctantly continued. "There was a woman there...a widow. Her name was Riash. She didnít have any kids, so she sort of adopted all of us as her own and we all adored her. All she had to do was say the word and we were falling all over ourselves to do whatever she asked of us."
"Even you?" Gabrielle asked with a smile.
"Especially me," Xena replied, chuckling softly.
"What was she like?"
"Riash? Riash was the kindest, sweetest woman you could ever hope to meet. One of those people that you just want to be around because they do everything they can to make you feel good about yourself. She never told me I was wrong to want to learn how to use a sword or fight. She always accepted me just as I was." Xena grinned as thoughts of Riash filled her head. "Of course, that didnít stop her from trying to instill a certain amount of discipline in me as well. Roughhousing was all well and good, but not inside her home. And no weapons either. I made the mistake of carrying my sword into Riashís house one time, and it was the last time I ever tried that again. Inside her home I was expected to be well-behaved and well-mannered...and it was probably the only time back then that I ever was."
"The only time ëback thení?" Gabrielle asked, a broad grin covering her face.
Xena smiled ruefully. "Okay...probably the only time in my entire life that I was well-behaved and well-mannered." Xena paused, as she continued to think about the woman from her past. "Riash was...well she wasnít really a mother or even a grandmother. When I was unhappy I went to Riash and with a word or a gesture she could make all the pain go away. And when I had good news to share, it was Riash I wanted to tell first. She was my confidant, my protector...my friend."
Seeing Xenaís far away expression, Gabrielle hesitated for a moment before gently asking, "She was?"
Xena nodded as she closed her eyes. "Riash died a long time ago."
"Cortese?" Gabrielle asked softly, naming the warlord who had attacked Xenaís village so long ago, setting her on the path of darkness that she had followed for years to come.
"Yes, Cortese. It always seems to come back to him, doesnít it?" Xena asked in a strained voice. Shuddering slightly as she felt Gabrielleís arms tighten around her, Xena pulled the young woman closer, losing herself in her loverís embrace. Finally regaining control, she began to speak again, her voice slightly unsteady. "Riash was killed by one of Corteseís men. It happened right in front of me, but I couldnít get to her in time to save her. I tried...the gods know I tried...but I was too far away. I was too slow and helpless to do anything but watch as he drove his sword into her and then laughed as her blood spilt onto the ground. I finally managed to reach her side but there was nothing I could do. She died in my arms. I donít think she even knew it was me holding her," Xena finished, her voice cracking despite her best efforts to remain in control of her emotions.
Gabrielle leaned back slightly to gaze up at her lover. Her heart constricted painfully, when she saw the sorrow in Xenaís eyes. Reaching up, she brushed away the tear that was making its way down Xenaís cheek before hugging her friend tightly once again. "You must have really loved her," she said quietly.
Xena hesitated for several moments before speaking. "Yeah, I did," she finally admitted. "She was the one person other than the members of my family that truly cared about me, and that I truly cared about as well. I loved her, and I would have done anything for her."
Taking a deep breath, Xena forcefully banished the painful memories of the past. "Ishalia is so much like Riash. She even looks a lot like her. I guess I just want to spend a little more time with her," she admitted quietly.
Gabrielle smiled. "Well Iím definitely not complaining. I havenít seen ëthe warriorí make even one appearance while weíve been in Ishaliaís home."
"Yeah, you know. The big tough warrior image you always put on whenever there are other people around," Gabrielle said with an impish grin. "The one who I canít put my arms around and lean against. The one whose shoulder I canít fall asleep on."
Gabrielle quickly put her hand over Xenaís lips to stop her. "Itís all right. I know why you feel that you have to do it. But just because I understand it doesnít mean that I have to like it," she said. "Xena, we can stay here as long as you want. The Amazons arenít going anywhere."
Hearing Ishalia returning, Gabrielle reluctantly moved out of Xenaís embrace. "Too little, too late, Iím afraid," Xena said wryly. "We blew any chance of keeping our relationship a secret from Ishalia last night," she said, as she reached out and caught Gabrielleís hand, drawing her back to keep her close. "She already knows all about us."
"And youíre okay with that?" Gabrielle asked, wanting to be sure.
"And Iím okay with that. I donít think I need to be ëthe warriorí in front of her," Xena said with a small smile.
"Gabrielle," Ishalia exclaimed happily as she entered the kitchen. "I was just talking about you."
"Oh?" Gabrielle replied, smiling as she watched Xena move to help the woman with her bucket.
"Yes. I saw the wife of the innkeeper, Fellia, while I was getting water and I mentioned that one of my guests was a bard, and a good one at that. She said to tell you theyíd love to have you visit their tavern if you could. She assured me they could work something out to pay you for your time."
Gabrielle considered the offer. "Sure," she said after a few seconds. "Sounds good. Itís been awhile since I had an audience of more than one or two for my stories. And maybe I could even tell a few of my ëforbidden talesí if you would agree to keep Xena busy for me," she said with a wide grin.
Gabrielle laughed when she saw Xena roll her eyes. "Yes, you see, the big, brave warrior you see standing before you gets easily embarrassed whenever I tell stories about her. So I have to tell them in secret."
"Ahh, well Iím sure that any stories, forbidden or otherwise, would be welcome," Ishalia replied. "But Iíll do my best to keep Xena distracted for you."
"Good, now if I could just get some breakfast, Iíll get out of your hair and go find out what kind of arrangement I can make with Fellia."
Xena spent the rest of the day in Ishaliaís company, taking a tour of the town, meeting various people and, despite the womanís protests, helping her with her chores. Late in the afternoon the two finally settled down in Ishaliaís living room to relax. Ishalia told Xena more about her husband who had been a master craftsman. She showed Xena several of the items that he had made, before finally reaching what was obviously the one that meant the most to her. Taking a small lyre down from a shelf, she lovingly ran her hands over it, as she carried it to the warrior so that she could examine the piece.
Xena took the instrument carefully, amazed by its beauty. "Itís incredible," she finally said. "Did he do all the carvings on it as well?"
"Yes he did," Ishalia said with a look of obvious pride. "He made this for me on our 20th wedding anniversary. It was probably the best work he ever did."
"I donít doubt it," Xena said sincerely, as she carefully traced the carvings on the lyre with her fingertips.
"Do you play?" Ishalia asked curiously.
"No," Xena replied with a chuckle. "Iím pretty hopeless when it comes to musical instruments like this. But you must," she said, as she handed the lyre back to Ishalia. "Iíd love to hear you play something."
"Itís been quite awhile since Iíve played for anyone else," the woman protested. "I wouldnít even know what to choose."
Xena shrugged. "Anything at all. Please?" she asked with a smile.
"All right...let me think for a second," Ishalia said as she began stretching her fingers to loosen them up. Finally, she smiled as she reached a decision and, moving to get comfortable, she began to play.
Xena smiled and sat back in her chair to listen to the music. Ishalia, despite her protests, was actually quite good, and Xena was enjoying herself thoroughly. All too soon the music ended, and Xena smiled broadly in appreciation. "That was wonderful," she said sincerely. "How about another?"
Ishalia cocked her head curiously at the warrior. "You donít play...but do you sing?" she asked.
Instantly, Xenaís expression became more guarded. "Why?"
"I noticed you humming while I was playing. It was quite lovely. Iím guessing that you must sing equally as well."
"I sing a little," Xena admitted. "Mainly just for myself."
"Ahh...well why donít you sing while I play then? After all, I mainly play the lyre just for myself. It will make a good match," she said with a glint in her eyes.
"No...itís been a long time since I sang for anyone other than myself...I wouldnít even know what to sing," Xena protested weakly.
"Sounds familiar," Ishalia said with a grin. "Look Xena. If you really donít want to sing, I wonít make you. I just thought it would be nice. I donít often get to play for an audience as appreciative as you. I just thought it would be fun to have you join in with me. If you want to sing, then just pick something and Iíll follow along."
"Okay, okay. Let me think," Xena agreed. Finally, recalling a song that had been one of her favorites when she was younger, she hesitantly began to sing, her voice growing stronger and more confident as she saw Ishalia smile and join in. Feeling more at ease, she began to relax and enjoy herself, smiling as the small home was filled with music.
Gabrielle was in exceptional spirits as she wandered through the village towards Ishaliaís house. The patrons at the tavern had been well behaved and they had loved her stories - an excellent combination. Her pouch was filled with dinars and she was on her way to what promised to be an excellent meal. It had turned out to be a great day.
As she approached Ishaliaís home, she heard the sound of singing coming from inside. Drawing closer, she was astonished when she realized that it was Xenaís voice that she was hearing. Gabrielle had heard Xena humming on numerous occasions, but actual singing was a rarity for the warrior. She remembered Xena telling her once that she only sang when she was "moved" or when there was "something behind it". Apparently, Ishalia had managed to touch something deep and personal within her warrior friend.
Moving forward, Gabrielle carefully opened the door to Ishaliaís house and stepped inside. She stood quietly, transfixed by the scene before her, as she watched Ishalia play the lyre while Xena sang. The song was unfamiliar to Gabrielle, but there was a haunting beauty to it that drew her in and kept her spellbound. She remained silent and motionless for several seconds after the song had ended, before finally moving all the way into the room where Ishalia and Xena were sitting. "And I thought I was the performer," she said softly.
The two women looked up in surprise when Gabrielle spoke. Ishalia laughed as she rose and placed the lyre back on a shelf. "Donít worry Gabrielle. My playing is mainly the result of the quality of my instrument, not my skill. And I had to work hard to get Xena to sing even one song, so I donít think you have to be concerned about too much competition from her either."
Gabrielle smiled and nodded, turning her attention from Ishalia to Xena, who was sitting quietly, intently studying the chair she was sitting in. "Well thatís reassuring. Iíd hate to be out of a job," Gabrielle said with a smile.
"Are you hungry? Dinner should be about ready."
Gabrielle reluctantly turned her gaze from the Warrior Princess to the older woman. "Iím famished. Iíve been looking forward to your cooking all day," Gabrielle replied, as she watched Ishalia walk into the kitchen to check on the meal.
Turning to study her friend again, Gabrielle moved closer to sit on the table in front of her. "That was beautiful," she finally said softly.
"Yeah, Ishalia plays well," Xena agreed, deliberately misunderstanding Gabrielleís words.
"Yes she does. But that wasnít what I was talking about and you know it," Gabrielle said, as she reached out to gently stroke Xenaís cheek, smiling when the warrior turned her face into her hand to press her lips against the bardís palm. She continued to study her friend for several more seconds before speaking again. "Did Riash play the lyre?" she asked quietly.
Xena chuckled and shook her head in wonder. "Yes she did," she replied softly. "And yes," she continued, seeing the unspoken question in Gabrielleís eyes. "I used to sing while she played."
Gabrielle smiled. "Iím not sure how Iím going to manage it, but somehow Iíve got to figure out a way to inspire you to sing more often," she said, as she stood and then reached down to help Xena rise as well.
Xena smiled and looked down at her lover. "You already do Gabrielle...It wasnít Riash that I was thinking about while I was singing, it was you," she said softly, before leaning down to kiss the young woman and then leading her into the kitchen to join Ishalia.
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