See Chapter 1 for disclaimers.
The market was pretty small, but then again it was a pretty small village. Xena wandered through the half a dozen stalls, picking up some fresh fruit and vegetables, a couple of precious herbs, a pot and some dried meat.
"So, how's the hunting around here?" She decided to make some polite conversation with the fruit vendor to while away the time before collecting her errant gods. Xena, warrior babysitter... hehe.
"Not good," the elderly merchant replied. His aged eyes scanned up and down the tall woman, clad in leather and wool. He only wished he was thirty years younger as he took in the magnificent body on display in front of him. What a woman!
Xena glanced over at him, noticing the lustful gleam in his eyes. Mentally, she rolled her eyes. Not another one...
"There's some small game, which should do for your purposes, but the bigger game moved out of the area years ago."
"Why is that?"
"It's been steadily getting colder here, but there's a new warlord in the area and he's probably hunted out what was left."
"Get much trouble from him?"
The old man just shrugged. Xena knew what that meant. He would periodically come to call and you paid up or else. After all, that's what she used to do all those years ago.
Xena, don't go there, alright?
"What's his name?"
"Rough time, eh? Sorry to hear that. What's the road up ahead like?"
"Depends on how far you want to go. It's pretty flat to the next couple of villages. After that, it steadily climbs up into the mountains to an abandoned Temple at the end."
"Temple?" Xena already knew the answer, but she was curious about what the locals knew. She picked up one of the merchant's apples and tossed him a coin. The apple was a little bitter but it was fresh, forcing her to wipe herself as the juice dribbled down her chin.
"Pretty old. Hasn't been used for as long as I can remember. Story around here is that it used to be a temple to the local god, Kal, but it now seems to be a temple to the local wildlife."
"Used to be the God of War around here. Folks don't pray much any more. Been let down too many times by them. Why bother?"
Xena tried not to smirk. If only her companions could hear this man talk. Their hair would stand up on end!
"Why not, indeed? So, how far is it to, say, the Temple?"
"Why, you interested in going there?" Xena could hear the suspiciousness in the vendor's voice. Oops.
"No, just wanted to know in case we go too far. We may need to seek shelter."
"Oh. It's about a day and a half to the next village then the path separates. The lower path goes to the second village about another couple of days on. The upper path leads to the Temple, about two to three days' travel. After that, it's wild country."
"Well, thank you merchant for your valuable information." Xena turned away to head back to the inn.
"You're welcome, young woman." He smiled as she left, his eyes travelling down to watch the sexy swagger of her walk, her hips swaying from side to side in a most enticing manner. He sighed and turned away to attend to his wares, however his smile never left his face for the rest of the day.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
What's on your mind, Xena?
We'll have to keep an eye out for that warlord, Gabrielle. I want to avoid any fights if we can help it.
The warrior looked up, watching a wagon pull away out of the village, heading up the road they would be taking later. Her attention was drawn to a young woman sitting in the back.
Xena, stop that!
Stop looking at that woman.
Why? You're not jealous, are you?
Me? Jealous? Of course not. A few moments passed. Yeah.
You have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Then why are you still looking? Gabrielle's possessiveness was adorable.
Well, look at her.
I don't want to look at her.
Just look, Gabrielle. Does she look familiar to you?
No. I'm not the one interested in her.
There may be a reason for that. Just look.
Gabrielle did what her partner asked and looked. The girl was pretty enough, but nothing special grabbed her attention, except for the long blonde hair.
She looks like you.
Gabrielle looked again and could only see a very mild resemblance. She looked to her partner. You think so? I can't see it.
Yes, I do. Very much so.
Oh. Xena could feel her partner's hurt. Now you listen to me. I don't care about her,OK? It's you that I love and adore. She couldn't help it as her mind added, Mush, Xena. You are becoming a complete mushball.
Awww... that is sooo sweet. Thank you for putting up with my insecurity, Xena.
Xena could feel the blush creep up her face. You're welcome, and if you tell anyone about this I'll deny it strenuously.
Your secret is safe with me.
Fine. Now let's collect the others and get this fiasco underway.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Marina awoke in a nice, soft, sweet smelling bed in grandma's inn. She expectantly looked around in the hope of finding mama and Gabby. There was silence; there would be no family today. A tiny squark drew her attention to the egg resting in its cloth nest next to her. She leaned over to watch it, the shell shifting in its safe haven. Tiny cracks appeared, becoming bigger as the hard covering pushed up and a tiny snout appeared.
"Eep! Eep!" the creature inside cried in distress.
Marina's eyes lit up at this surprise, the happiness spreading to her face, her lips spread into an excited grin. Tiny fingers slowly pulled away the broken shell, revealing more and more of what was inside.
Bright golden eyes looked up expectantly to the young girl. "Eep!"
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Aphrodite and Ares met downstairs, newly scrubbed and looking very grumpy. Ares' jacket was damp but at least the stain had been removed and smelling a lot better. Xena stood and watched them as they fussed about themselves. "Here is some food, store it in your packs." She had split the food stores so that they all carried some.
Xena, why is it they looked like they swallowed cow patties?
Xena snorted, coughing to try and cover up the smirk on her face. Stop that!
The look on the gods' faces said it all. Aphrodite was wishing for a bed with a dozen male companions, all helping to ease her tension, while Ares wanted to just kill something, or perhaps someone by the look he was giving her.
Without another word, Xena picked up her pack and left the building, the two siblings tagging along behind her. She sighed and took the first step along the path of what was going to be a difficult few days.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gabrielle, I'm going to try to get some sleep. You want to take over?
Sleep? I didn't think you were tired.
There was a moment of hesitation. From now on, one of us has to be conscious at alltimes. Xena sensed the bolt of fear coming from her partner. It's just a precaution, that's all. I'll get some rest and then you get some rest.
Her spirit reached out to Gabrielle, surrounding her in comfort. It will be fine. I'm here. I'll try to relax and let my body go. Try to grab it and take the limbs over as your own.
Do you want to lie down to try this in case you fall?
"OK everyone, take a break." Xena moved away quietly, finding a solitary spot and sat down. She applied her mind to relaxing her body, letting her limbs go limp, and drawing herself into her mind, preparing for sleep.
Gabrielle, tried to expand her thought, willing herself to pick up Xena's hands. It took several attempts before she figured out how to apply her thought to achieve actual movement. She pushed the body to stand, swaying unsteadily until equilibrium was restored.
It was the strangest sensation. She could feel the breeze on her skin and feel the air move in and out of her lungs, but it was not her body. Xena? She could not consciously feel her warrior's presence like before, but it was a warm fuzziness that she would associate with her essence in rest.
Gabrielle looked over to the two gods as they studied her quizzically. She staggered over, her gait unsteady and clumsy on such long legs, making her feel like she was walking on stilts. She flexed the muscles under her control and could feel them respond readily. Maybe she'd better start doing some exercises when she got home.
"What's the matter with you?" Aphrodite thought she had been sneaking a drink behind the bushes.
"Nothing." Ares' eyes narrowed at the different timbre of Xena's voice.
"Alright. What's going on here? Xena, are you in there?"
Aphrodite stood up and walked over, grabbing Xena's chin and looking into her eyes. "Gabby?"
Gabby? When did it go from 'hey you' to Gabby?? She really did like Aphrodite and felt she could live with that.
"You got it."
"Awww, Hades. Why did you have to go and do that?" Ares glared at her.
"Hey, she suggested it. It's not my fault." Xena's face broke out in a wicked grin, the bridge of her nose wrinkling up in a very un-Xena-like fashion. "In fact, it's yours."
Gabrielle turned back to Aphrodite, "She's taking a rest. I'm just stepping in for a while."
"Pretty strange, huh?"
"Tell me about it."
"So, Gabrielle, how does it feel to be in charge of all of this?" Ares swept his hand down Xena's body in illustration. She knew he was jealous. She could tell by the look of disgust on his face.
"Pretty good, Ares. Not that you'll ever know." Electric blue eyes turned in his direction and gave him a wink, a slow, sweet smile gracing those curvaceous lips.
He turned away, trying not to look hurt. All he had ever wanted was this woman and the small blonde had beaten him to it. Damn her!
"C'mon let's get started. The sooner we get to the Temple, the sooner you guys are back on Mount Olympus." And out of our hair...
Ares strutted up to Gabrielle, looking into pale blue eyes and muttered, "Don't get too used to it, blondie. It's only temporary. Then you're gonna have to answer to me."
Aphrodite stepped in before it deteriorated into a fistfight. "Ar, stop this. You know you can't do that. Besides, I kinda like her, you know?"
The blonde looked over to the goddess who looked back at her with... something. Oh no. With the God of War breathing down her neck, it would be suicide not to have the Goddess of Love in her corner. She only hoped that Aphrodite didn't lose sight of the fact that her heart was already taken.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"So, Aphrodite, what do you do with yourself when you're not meddling in people's love lives?"
"Hey there, miss. I fill my days."
"Not much else, then?"
Nicely manicured fingernails landed on a well-endowed chest in mock hurt, Aphrodite's face twisting into a grimace. "Who put a stick up your butt then, Miss Grumpy? Why are you picking on me? What did I do to deserve that?"
Gabrielle was silent for a moment, sighing in regret. "Sorry, I'm just on edge, that's all."
"Aren't we all?"
"So, can you use this thing?" Gabrielle pointed at the bow.
"Exsqueeze me! Artie taught me a thing or two. I can manage if I have to, but I'm not keen on killing things. The image, you know??" Aphrodite's nose wrinkled up in distaste.
"Yeah, I know. I'm the same, but Xena says there are times where you have no choice. I hope I don't have to find out."
"So, what's with leather boy?"
"Ah, well, you're moving in on his gal, you see. He's been pining after her for a long, long time, then you step in and, wham! He's not in the picture any more. He may be a god, but he still thinks like a man." The goddess chuckled at the expense of her brother. "He knows she likes all that dark stuff and he just feeds into that. Problem is, he sometimes gets too sneaky for his own good."
"Well, this was pretty stupid."
"Not one of his better moments."
"What about you? No one you're pining for?"
"The Goddess of Love pines for no one." She smiled then sighed. "Sometimes I wish I could, you know? My love can be fleeting and it can be deep, but that's what love is all about, isn't it? It can be nothing and it can be everything."
"That's pretty deep thinking." Gabrielle glanced across to her companion, looking at her with fresh eyes. Perhaps the goddess wasn't as shallow as she presented herself.
"But, hey, why let love stand in the way of a good roll in the bed sheets?"
Continued Chapter 14
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