For the Keeper of My Soul--Always 4
It took nearly a week for Gabrielle to take care of her duties as Queen. One of them being a dispute over territory between an older Amazon couple and a distant cousin of Nikippa's.
After carefully studying all the facts and other evidence provided by both sides, Gabrielle was forced to rule against the regent's cousin, but
she diplomatically lessened the disappointment by locating a similar piece of property that wasn't claimed by anyone and deeding it over to the cousin.
Nikippa was once again impressed by the bard queen's ability to make everyone, if not happy, at least not as angry. No other ruler she knew of could have handled such a volatile situation in the same manner and would have had to deal with a powerful enemy.
Instead, Gabrielle had settled the matter so that both parties felt that justice was done and by placing the cousin on that empty piece of land, she had provided her village with a buffer between themselves and the outer territories in the East.
Once that was done, Niki and the council talked their wandering Queen into sitting in judgment on some other possibly explosive disputes. As with the other cases, the young queen listened attentively to both sides of the dispute and took all the evidence into consideration before rendering her decision.
Usually, Gabrielle was able to find some kind of reasonable compromise that was agreeable to both sides, but even the ones she couldn't find a mutual agreement on, both parties seemed to feel always that justice had been done and that the Queen's decision had been as fair as the facts allowed.
After a few days, Gabrielle told her friends that it was time for her to go. No one hated to have her leave more than the regent and she made sure
that her queen knew how she felt.
"Listen, Gabrielle," Niki said when they were alone in the Queen's hut. "You and Xena should really reconsider all this wandering around and come home to us. The people need their queen."
"Niki, we have discussed this," the bard said firmly, trying to stop the conversation from becoming a heated argument. "Xena is my love and my mate. She is the other half of my soul. Where she goes I go. Besides, the
Amazons have you and not only are you a great Amazon, you are also a fine
regent. Not once have I heard anyone say a word against you as a warrior or as
regent. I know that every time I leave here, I'm leaving my people in the
best possible hands."
"I'm flattered at your confidence in my dubious abilities," Niki began, holding up her hand to forestall the protest her queen was about to launch. "No, let me finish. I'm not speaking as regent now but as a friend and a fellow Amazon, and you, my beloved Queen, are needed here at home. These last few days have proven it. Oh sure, I could have handled
those disputes, but not like you. There is no way, this side of Hades, that I
would have been able to find the perfect solutions to each case the way you
Niki looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes letting the little blonde see the sincerity of what she was saying. She wanted her queen and friend to know that every word that she spoke was from the heart and not some trivial wish to get out of her own responsibilities.
"Great Goddess, Gabrielle, can't you see what you accomplished out there?" Niki said, indicating the village and beyond. "Anytime you have to
have an outsider settle a dispute there is always someone that feels cheated, someone that feels that they were treated unfairly, but not now.
Every case you sat in judgment on was not only settled according to law, but for the first time I've ever seen, everybody involved is pleased and satisfied that fairness reigned and justice won out. Some of those cases were heading for some kind of violence, some even as far as clan war or even all out war between villages. But before you were done, not only did the problem get solved peacefully, but you even got long-time
enemies together and very possibly averted bloodshed between my clan and some very old and dear friend of mine. Damn woman, you even forged a
couple alliances out there that will protect our Nation"
"Oh really, Niki," Gabrielle humbled by the woman's praise "anyone could have settle those..."
"No again, my Queen," the regent interrupted, another privilege of friendship. "Only you could see past the rhetoric and the tribal politics to the real matter being discussed, and what it meant to the people
Your people need that kind of leadership. By the goddess, Gabrielle, the entire Amazon Nation needs that kind of compassionate, caring leadership. And you can believe me that word of your manner of handling your people's needs and cares has already begun spreading all over the nation. We Amazons are an observant people, Gabrielle, and we all recognize
greatness when we see. Come back to us soon, Gabrielle. Your people need and deserve their true Queen and not a pale imitation like me."
Spent by her emotional out burst, and a little embarrassed by her uncharacteristic open display of her own inner thoughts, Nikippa stood and swiftly left the Queen's hut before the stunned bard could say a word.
Gabrielle watched wide-eyed and slack-jawed as her friend disappeared through the door. In a way she was glad Niki left because the great bard wasn't sure she'd be able to find the words to answer her friend's declaration and she really needed time alone to try to assimilate what her friend had just told her.
The only person that had ever spoke to her like this was Xena; it was one of the things that Gabrielle loved about her stoic warrior princess. She always told the bard that she was better than she gave herself credit for, and said it like she was talking to an equal. Xena never talked down to her or treated her like she was a kid. Well, not any more anyway.
Gabrielle smiled as she pictured her tall dark formidable lover and how she'd often told Gabrielle almost the exact same thing only a few weeks ago after spending a night at an inn where Gabrielle had paid for their room by telling stories in the public room.
Gabrielle also remembered that Xena had been talking about maybe settling down and making themselves a home where they would be able to come back from their various travels and safely rest and recuperate. Her tall mysterious lover had even mentioned making their home among the Amazons, because as she put it living there wouldn't be as bad as one of their home villages. At least among the Amazons, she would be free to kiss
her lover in public and their marriage would be recognized.
"At least no Amazon's going to tell me I need a man in my life to make me complete," Gabrielle snorted to herself. She moved reluctantly around the hut gathering her belongings as she got ready to leave at first light to meet her soulmate and lover at a river town called Ciros.
"Maybe I'll talk to Xena about this. I mean I never looked at the way Niki put it. I'll be curious to see what she has to say."
Her things packed and ready to go, Gabrielle went to her bed and as she blew out the last candle, her mind was whirling with thoughts of her and her mate making their home with her people interspersed with visions of her reunion with her passionate warrior. A happy smirk curled the ends of the bards lips as she surrendered herself to the arms of Morpheus and dreams of passion and deep undying love.
The next morning found an anxious Gabrielle nervously pacing, waiting to leave. She'd have already left, but Nikippa insisted on her having an escort. Gabrielle had tried to talk her friend out of it, but the regent wouldn't be swayed.
So, here she was. Waiting while Niki sorted through the volunteers to find
the prefect escort to take the Queen to Ciros and wait until her mate joined them. At which time the Amazons would return home and leave their beloved queen in the care of her champion.
At first Niki wanted to assign an entire company of Amazons to escort her to the port town, but she had finally compromised with Gabrielle and instead of a full company she would be escorted as far as the border by a troupe of scouts (a kind of Amazon special forces), then from the border to Ciros by four of the least belligerent of the younger scouts.
Niki convinced Gabrielle to take the younger scouts on to Ciros with her, to give them some experience with getting along in an outsiders town. This way they had Gabrielle to watch over them, and save them from making any major mistakes.
Like killing a man for looking at their legs or whatever part of the anatomy they found appealing.
So under the supervision of a battle-scarred veteran of many border wars named Aentia and her troop of scouts, Gabrielle began her short journey to the border. After that, it was a three day ride to Ciros.
One of the gifts the Amazons had insisted their Queen take was a horse. After much looking, and many test rides, Gabrielle chose her mount.
Much to the dismay of Niki, the council, and the Amazon stable master, Gabrielle picked out a scruffy looking chestnut mountain pony with black mane and tail.
For some reason, the two of them clicked at first sight and while the others tried to steer her toward the tall proud Arabians or similar breeds, Gabrielle kept feeling herself drawn to the shaggy little horse.
She named her new friend Ate, this made the stable master laugh, Ate was the Goddess of delusion and the master of horses thought that anyone that
would choose the hard headed little horse had to be delusional.
"You know, Niki, it's just like we were meant to find each other," Gabrielle said, trying to explain her choice to her friend while sneaking
the little horse an apple. "I mean, those proud prancing beautiful animals you guys tried to get me to choose would be fine for Xena or you or one of the other warriors, but not me. I don't know if it's just because
we're both short and underestimated or if it's that I always go for the underdog but she's perfect for me and I think Ata's a lot more horse than any
of you give her credit for. Besides that, if I fall off this one I won't get
hurt as bad."
Both women laughed heartily at the bard's self-depreciating humor at her lack of riding skills; even the little horse snorted.
"That will be enough from you, young lady," she scolded. "Keep it up and I
won't bring you any more apples."
As if she understood the threat and wanted to make it up to her new mistress, the horse began nuzzling Gabrielle, receiving a big hug and an ear scratch that was straight from the Elysian fields for her gestures.
The trip to the border was uneventful and to the delight of her escort and their commander, Gabrielle kept them entertained by telling them stories every night. Every one of the normally serious scouts were like little kids, crowding around the campfire each night to hear their bard Queen regale them with her tales of the adventures of Xena the Warrior Princess and her ever-faithful companion, Gabrielle.
To Gabrielle, the look of wonder and excitement on the faces of her audience was like water to a man dying of thirst. It fed and sustained her heart and soul almost as much as her warrior did.
It was a melancholy good-bye when the party reached the border and the two groups went their separate ways. Even the battle-hardened Aentia got a lump in her throat as she bid her queen a good journey.
"I won't say good-bye, my Queen," the older woman said as she placed her fist over her heart and bowed slightly. "I only say fare thee well until we meet again."
"I hope it's soon, Aentia." Gabrielle said and sniffed, fighting the tears
that threatened to fall any second. "I have a feeling I will see you and your troop again, sooner than either of us think."
Both women shivered a little at this prophetic comment, then they turned and joined their different traveling parties.
With a final wave, the groups separated. Aentia continuing her assigned patrol, and Gabrielle and her four escorts toward the raucous, wide open, trading town of Ciros.
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