The Curse of Higuchi
By L. Crystal Michallet-Romero
Copyright © October 31, 2001
All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: Xena Warrior Princess, its characters, and all related materials are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The other characters are mine. Like the show, I am playing around with the historical time lines.
Major, Major Disclaimer! Any similarities or resemblances of any character(s) in this story to anyone in real life, either living or dead are purely coincidental!
Sexual Violence: None
Subtext: Yes (F/F)
As it had been in the past, Zara awoke from her day of love making with a very pressing need. She slowly rose from the bed, careful not to wake the sleeping bard, then walked naked and barefoot to the indoor chamber pots. When her crucial needs had been relieved, she moved to the basin and washed her hands. Glancing in the mirror, she noticed the slight reddish marks on her neck and shoulders. With a rueful grin, she remembered the exquisite sensations Gabrielle had sent through her when the smaller woman made these marks.
Zara had never experienced such aggression from her women and she was beginning to learn that she enjoyed it. Although she liked to be the initiator, the captain realized that there was a certain excitement when she saw the open desire in Gabrielle's green eyes. When the blonde pinned her to the bed and would strip her naked, it was all the Moroccan could do to maintain her control.
The tall woman reached up and lightly touched the mark on her neck, then the one on her shoulder. 'Yes, she certainly knows what she's doing!' Zara thought with a smile as the memories of the Amazon's sweet and knowledgeable mouth on her flesh returned. Each sucking, biting motion, each stroke of her tongue had brought out low whimpers of pleasure from the dark woman. Remembering this, the captain shivered as her desires returned. Eager for more, the dusky woman left the room to rejoin the blonde.
When she crawled under the thin sheet and laid against Gabrielle, she smiled and glanced at the dozing woman. The captain gently brushed the back of her hand over her lover's soft cheek. Her touch brought an instant smile from the Greek woman, whose body turned toward Zara as her arms reached to pull her into a tight embrace.
"Ummmm…." was all that the healer said as she pulled the Moroccan's head down into a kiss. Never sated, their bodies began to move against one another, their hands brushing over soft, familiar flesh as their kiss deepened. At their mutual desires, the taller woman slowly climbed over Gabrielle, moving between the Greek's open and willing legs.
Their bodies seemed to become one as their lips kissed deeply, their hands gently caressing while the pleasure grew. As if the mere act of movement could bring release, they pressed against each other, Gabrielle's legs wrapping firmly around Zara's hips, imprisoning her in their sweet embrace. However, before either woman could experience the beginnings of release, the bedroom door crashed against the wall and the sound of thundering feet barreled into the room.
At the sudden interruption, the captain froze for only moment, then quickly rolled over and off of Gabrielle. While she was moving from the smaller woman, the healer hurriedly pulled the single sheet over them both. Nadrah stood wide-eyed and frozen as she glanced at them, then she hastily turned and ran back to the open door. She made a motion to chase someone away, then closed the door and ran in, jumping on their bed.
Panting and out of breath, the dark haired woman laid on her back. She stared up at the ceiling as she tried to control her frustration at the sudden unexpected ending to their pleasure. Gabrielle managed to recover faster, her arms reaching out and pulling Nadrah close to her.
"Zara! Gabrielle! Arjun has a camel now!" the girl smiled. Seeing the captain's less that elated expression, Nadrah looked with concern at Gabrielle. She cupped a hand and whispered in a voice that could be heard across the room, "What's wrong with Zara?"
"Nothing, honey," Gabrielle's eyes were laughing as she held the girl. "You were saying that you found a camel?" She asked in an interested voice as Nadrah snuggled close on the pillow. "My goodness, I'll bet that was a real thrill!" With a light touch of encouragement, the blonde reached behind her and patted Zara's leg.
"Ahuh, he has camels as well as horses and Prajeet, the stable man, said that I can ride one tomorrow!" The girl's excitement was evident.
Glancing out the window, Zara noticed the light of the day was slowly disappearing. The grumbling in her stomach was a secondary concern to her more urgent need that could not be met at this time. With only a slight groan, she rose from the bed, looking down at Gabrielle and Nadrah.
"Where you going, Zara?" Nadrah called.
"To bathe before dinner…" the Moroccan's tone came out harsher than she intended. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Nadrah turn in the Greek woman's arms and snuggle closer. Gabrielle cast a sympathetic smile, then winked at Zara over the child's head.
Gabrielle held the girl close, her thoughts on Zara while her mind heard only half of what Nadrah said. Being so close to her monthly cycle, Gabrielle felt the never end thirst that demanded to be sated. From her very first moon time when she was barely a teen, her body always reacted this way a week before she was ready to bleed. It was as if her body knew when the right time for conception was upon her and would demand that she mate. Unbeknownst to her body, the manner that Gabrielle chose for sating her needs was never with anyone who would enable her to conceive. Her one night with her husband Perdicus had not fallen during this very fertile period, and no child had been conceived. Had one been conceived though, Gabrielle was certain that Xena would have stepped in to help her raise the child after her husband's untimely demise at Callisto's hand.
As Nadrah continued her non-stop chatter about all that was found on the estate, Gabrielle's thoughts continued to wander. Although she was familiar with her own body, she was always amazed at the urgency that she felt right before her menses. When she lived at home it had never posed any challenge to slip away by herself and take care of her urges. After she had joined Xena, it became more of a challenge to find time to sate her own desires especially after she began to fall in love with the tall warrior. Once they had become lovers, Gabrielle's monthly needs were not only something for Xena to tease her about, but the warrior actually seemed to look forward to the storyteller's open aggression and demands to be sated.
With a sigh, Gabrielle gazed down at Nadrah. She smiled as she saw the child's mouth moving, the words eliciting slight nods and acknowledgments from her, while her mind wandered to melancholy thoughts. After Xena had died at Higuchi, her entire cycle was thrown off. In the past, when Xena had died and left her behind, she never experienced the change in herself this badly and she assumed that it was because their bond had not fully formed. Once she was left alone in Japa with only Xena's ashes and her lover's ghost for company, the blonde woman stopped bleeding all together. The stress of losing her soulmate and of waiting to secure passage on a ship brave enough to enter Higuchi's harbor took its toll on her body and it wasn't until she was on the Moroccan ship that her cycle slowly returned to normal. Although her cycles had returned a few months ago, her menses arrived in patches here and there and the urges to be sated had not truly accompanied them until this month. Gabrielle wondered at their sudden return and hoped that this month she would finally have a proper moon time.
As a sense of need filled her body, she sighed and glanced down at Nadrah. She knew that only a few minutes had passed since Zara left them for the bathing room yet the continual odor from the child would not allow the healer to let her lover have time alone. With a crinkle of her nose, she sniffed, then glanced down at the suddenly quiet child. Nadrah's hair was disheveled, her clothes covered in dirt and grass stains. Gabrielle sat up and wiped a smudge from the girl's cheek. "What in the world have you been doing?" she asked the child.
"Um, playing," the girl said softly.
"Playing where?" Gabrielle asked with a slight smile, although her nose detected what the answer would be.
"In the stable," came Nadrah's meek reply.
"No wonder! Why, you smell like…" Gabrielle tried to find a word for it, then leaned down and sniffed close the girl's ear, which brought a fit of giggles from the child. "Yuck! You smell like a camel!" She exclaimed. At Nadrah's giggles, the Amazon smiled, then began to tickle the child. "Yes you do! Just like Arjun's camel! Why, I can't let you near the stables. Someone might mistake you for the camel and expect you to carry them on your hump! I can just see you now, 'Load up the camel,' they'll say! 'It's time for a ride!' Then they'll pack all kinds of trade goods on you, and off you'll go in a caravan back to Calicut! And Zara and I will say 'Where's Nadrah?' and Arjun will say, 'She's off to see Calicut as a camel!' And we'll be so sad, yes we will! We'll say, 'Nadrah would rather be a camel than stay with us! Boo-hoo-hoo!'"
The combination of her words and tickling brought fits of laughter from the girl. "I don't … heehee … wanna be… heehee … a camel, G-Gabrielle, r-really!"
"You don't want to be a camel and go to Calicut? Are you sure? I would have sworn that's what you were becoming!" She pushed back some unruly strands of the child's hair.
"No, Gabrielle, I'm not! Really!" The girl giggled, then her voice became serious. "I want to stay here with you and Zara."
The blonde hugged her tight. "Well, that will make us both very happy then, because we would miss you very much…" She mussed the child's hair.
"Me too…" Nadrah whispered and then said softly, "I-I love you, Gabrielle…"
"Oh, I love you too, sweetheart." There was a hint of moisture in the small woman's eye. "So does Zara. Both of us do."
They hugged for a long moment and Nadrah felt such joy and contentment filling her that she thought she would burst. Then the healer sat up. "Well, if you are not going to Calicut as a camel, you are going to Arjun's dinner party and you can't go smelling like that, because camels just do not go to dinner parties." Gabrielle said with a firm smile as she rose naked from the bed and walked toward the bathing area with Nadrah in tow. "So, come on, honey; you and I are both going to take a bath."
"Ohhh, noooo…" whimpered the girl, her joy forgotten in an instant.
Zara had not even contemplated taking care of her own needs. Instead, she set her mind to the task at hand while mentally grumbling about the interruption. She had just finished washing the shampoo off of her head when she heard Nadrah's protesting words. With the Greek woman leading the way, the child entered the bathroom, the pout large enough to cover Nadrah's entire face.
"B-But, I had a bath yesterday morning!" the girl protested to Gabrielle, who paid no attention and began undressing the child. Nadrah glanced down at the captain pleadingly. "Zara! I had a bath yesterday, didn't I! Tell her!"
"You heard Gabrielle. Do not fuss. A bath and clean clothes would certainly make Arjun more amenable," the Moroccan added as she waved Nadrah down into the tub. Gabrielle slightly smiled, then slowly entered the steaming water. With only a grin, the captain purposely turned her thoughts away from her smaller lover as the crestfallen Nadrah discarded the rest of her clothes on the floor, then came down the steps into the large tub.
"I think a bath will do all of us good!" Gabrielle added as she consciously turned her glance away from the dusky woman's submerged body, her needs still raging deep within her.
"I'm sure we both could stand to…" the captain hesitated as she tried to find the right word, "wash the scent from us?"
"Oh, yes! That is true, I only wish…." Gabrielle paused a moment as she dunked her head under the water, then resurfaced to shake the water from her short locks, "I just wish this was cold! I don't know how I'm going to make it through a formal dinner tonight."
"Cold? What in the world for?" Zara asked with a frown.
"Xena always swore by cold water, said it, uh, cooled her down when she was … hot…" the blonde grew silent as she glanced sideways at Nadrah as the girl played for bit. The child's quick dog paddles took her the length of the tub before she dived under the water like a fish.
"Oh, I see, and … um … did it?" the tall woman asked as she began to mentally find a cold stream of water on Arjun's estate where she could dunk herself, in hopes of silencing her own urges.
"It never did for me, but Xena always swore by it," Gabrielle shook her head as she began to lather her hair. "By Zeus, I'd be willing to try it again. Come to think of it … Xena was always in a cold stream before we became … lovers…" the blonde smiled.
"I could hardly blame her!" the seafarer hoped that her slight smile conveyed all of her desires that she held for the woman. At the bright shade of red that crossed the blonde's cheeks, the captain laughed knowing that her words had the desired effect.
"You!" Gabrielle gave a mocking frown, then splashed Zara with some water. At her actions, the captain shook her head as she returned a volley of splashes on the blonde. Seeing their antics, Nadrah turned from her swimming and began to join in the splashing. When it seemed like they were ready for a truce, they each stopped as slight giggles escaped both Nadrah and Gabrielle. With only a smile and a shake of her head, the Moroccan woman finished her bath before turning her attentions on the girl in order that they could be presentable for the dinner festivities.
Arjun allowed his mind to settle into the peaceful calmness that always allowed him to see beyond his own existence. 'This day has been so trying' he thought as he willed the multitude of thoughts to pass briefly through his mind. Although the presence of Shikha caused some tensions, it was nothing that he could not resolve, and Zara certainly was above any pettiness that Shikha might have tried to begin, the young prince concluded.
It was early in the afternoon and Arjun knew that he would have enough time to meditate before the evening festivities began. While his guests were either arriving for the dinner festivities, or enjoying the amenities that he had to offer, he retreated into the seclusion of his private space. This space was his sanctuary. The only other door was on the opposite side of the room. On this wall, there was a large picture window next to the glass door that overlooked his garden facing south and allowed the sun to shine into his meditation room all day, turning it into a place of light and warmth, winter or summer. In the farthest corner were a few cushions that were situated next to a basket that held numerous scrolls. The center of the room was void of everything except the hard wooden floor.
The room's remaining walls were painted a light blue and the ceiling had clouds painted across it. All along the walls were large murals depicting the various gods and goddess of his people. The centerpiece was the image of Lord Brahma, the infinite, the creator of all. By his side was the beautifully flowing image of his consort, Saraswati. Together, they created the peace and tranquility of nature. In one mural, there was the image of Lord Ganesha, the god with the head of an elephant. All around the room were images of the gods and goddesses who Arjun held dear to his heart. In the section of protector deities, were the images of his beloved Durga and the mother of life and death, Kali Ma. Together, they showed both the promise of the future and the hopes of the past.
Secure and at peace in his solitude, Arjun settled himself down in the center of the empty room. With eyes closed, he sat on the hard, wooden floor in the lotus position. With a deep indrawn breath which he let slowly out through his nose, Arjun began the steps that would lead him deeper into his meditation. Both his mind and body became quiet as he stilled his consciousness. His soft, low voice began to call on the name of Brahma, "Om," the great god's name reverberated deep within his throat until it began to take on a soft, melodic chant. The familiar sensations filled Arjun's rising spirit with a sense of peace and contentment.
With the ease of years of devotion, his spirit rose from his body and moved gracefully to the edge of his estate. The Durga, ever vigilant, stood watch over the intruder; her giant tiger laying with his head on his paws nearby. Sensing one of her devotees, the great goddess turned, and her warm and loving smile fell over Arjun's spirit and filled him with pleasure and awe. In honor of this, his most sacred of protectors, Arjun bowed deeply, his hands pressed before him in a sign of servitude as his mind sent forth thoughts of his homage and adulation. Pleased by his devotion and love, the blessed Durga's ten protecting arms waved him to a spot near her.
When he stood near her, he turned and saw the spirit of a woman warrior in armor of leather and brass sleeping in a fetal position. He gazed at her, examining her strong features and muscled body and found it difficult to understand the determination of this spirit. Ever since the night that Zara had arrived with Gabrielle, this spirit had tried to enter his compound. Apparently not one to give up, this warrior ghost had remained on the outskirts of his estate.
Suddenly sensing his nearness, the warrior's eyes snapped open, her body moved quickly as she rolled to her feet, her spirit sword drawn. With a growl, she stared up at the goddess, then down at him. Seeing him, recognition entered her eyes and she spoke. "I remember you from Zara's ship! You came aboard from that little ship with the purple hull…" She was intent.
Arjun smiled up at the tall woman. "So you are the strange presence that I felt when I was aboard my friend's ship. I did not know of you then, but I have since heard of you. I am Arjun and you must be the spirit of Xena, the Greek warrior."
"You're Zara's friend?" the warrior's voice seemed angry, her scowl turned upon the Durga who stood protectively behind Arjun. The giant tiger raised its head to examine her, then lowered it again as if sensing there would be no conflict at this time. The tall woman pointed an accusing finger at the Durga. "Does Zara know about this ... this whatever-it-is that you have here?"
Arjun smiled as he continued to gaze upon her. "Zara knows … what Zara wishes to know," he stated as a sense of peace kept a soft smile on his features, then pointed at her drawn sword. "Do you intend to hurt me with that?" He arched a questioning brow as a slight smile crossed his face.
"Could I?" She asked with an inquisitive frown as she returned her sword to the sheath on her back, then answered her own question, "No, I somehow doubt that … thing and its pet would let me." She looked with annoyance at the smiling ten-armed woman standing near.
Arjun smiled softly. "She is not a 'thing', she is the great goddess Durga, and no, she would never allow such a thing." He cocked his head. "But I do not believe that you are here to hurt me, are you?"
"Look, Arjun. I don't really want to hurt anyone nowadays. I've done … too much of that in my life…" Xena seemed almost embarrassed as she glanced at the distant estate. "Gabrielle … that's my soulmate, she … she called to me and I need to reach her." She looked at the prince and her expression was entreating. "P-Please. Can you help me?"
"And why do you wish to join her?" Arjun asked softly.
"What? I-I told you, she called me." The raven haired spirit spoke low. "I have to reach her or … or else she'll think that I've left her, and … and I can't hurt her like that." Xena explained as she moved closer to him.
After a moment of thought, Arjun smiled at the spirit warrior. "But have you not already left her?" he queried calmly.
Xena seemed to think over his words, a melancholy expression crossing her features as she turned her gaze away from his questioning eyes. There was a long moment of silence during which Arjun just watched her, waiting. At last the warrior swallowed and her voice was troubled. "Yes. I-I have left her, I know, and I'm beginning to regret it. It's just that ... I-I…" She shook her head like a horse trying to get the bit out of its mouth. "It-It's very hard to explain…"
"Is it really so hard to explain?" Arjun's voice held an air of patience.
Sensing that he would not drop the topic, Xena sighed as she began to pace. "There was so much I had to pay for … so many debts owed … I … I had to…" her words trailed off as she found it hard to finish her thoughts.
"You had to die and leave the one person who meant everything in the world to you?" The petite Indian man's words were soft and compassionate.
With a sad smile, the Greek warrior looked at him and nodded, "There was nothing else I could see to do … I-I … oh, gods…" she shook her head dolefully as sorrow washed over her.
Arjun felt the spirit's anguish. He could see the tremendous guilt which weighed so heavily upon her shoulders and he understood her selfless, if not idiotic, attempt to right some great wrong that she thought she had committed. Without knowing the full story, Arjun could sense that her motives were not outwardly harmful. Fatal for herself, perhaps, but not harmful to Arjun or any of his people and he felt an impulse to help her. Despite this, his initial decision to wait until he learned more remained paramount in his thoughts and he set the notion aside for the time being.
"Please. W-Will you let me go to her?" Xena's hopeful voice asked.
"No, Xena. I will not grant you access … at least not yet," he stated as he raised a finger to silence her argument. Before her anger could take over, she heard his hopeful words, "Zara is my friend … she is my very best friend, almost … almost a part of me. I wish to speak with your … your soulmate first. Then I shall decide if you will be allowed to join them during this time." Arjun began to turn away.
"Hey, what are you afraid of? Do you think that I'd hurt Zara?" The ghost's voice was annoyed and the nearby Durga stirred as the giant tiger looked up. Arjun turned around as Xena tried to calm herself and explain. "Look, I would never hurt her! Zara … helped Gabrielle when she didn't have to. She's got courage and honor … and sh-she's good for Gabrielle. I like and respect her myself; I-I saved her life…"
His expression was calm and controlled. "Xena, even you know that physical pain is not the only thing that can damage a soul. Zara is here to relax … to regain her strength after a hard time at sea and to be with Gabrielle. I will speak with Gabrielle and Zara before I determine if your presence will harm my friend in any way." He spoke softly. "If our positions were reversed, surely you would do the same for your best friend?"
Xena seemed to contemplate his words; then with a sigh that was closer to a sob, she nodded her acceptance. As he was turning to leave, the spirit warrior's voice stopped him and he turned back. "Arjun … Zara and I are somehow ... connected. Sometimes I can … well, feel her, and now I haven't for days … is she … all right?"
"Feel her? What do you mean, feel her?" The feminine man raised an eyebrow as he thought over the possible connotations of that statement.
Xena's cheeks gained a reddish tinge, but her voice was steady. "Maybe feel isn't a good word," she said carefully. "Let's just say that I haven't been able to … sense her presence since she entered your estate. If she's all right, why is that?"
The prince's painted lips made a large 'O' as he suddenly realized what 'feel' might possibly mean to his best friend. "My, my…" he muttered under his breath with a chuckle, "Zara does manage to meet the most interesting acquaintances."
"What?" The ghost looked questioningly at him. "I didn't quite catch that…"
He cleared his throat and raised his voice. "Nothing, nothing. I can assure you that both Zara and Gabrielle are, um … fine and in no danger." Unless you count the machinations of that bitch, Shikha, he thought with irritation. He shook himself and went on briskly. "At any rate, you need have no worries on that score. It's just that no one who is skilled in the mystical arts, and who are outside my estate can feel, hear or see anything from anyone inside and vice versa. It is a part of my magical protections against spells and the like." He spread his hands. "Was there anything else?"
Xena swallowed, then said softly, "A-Arjun ... p-please, will you tell Gabrielle … t-tell her…" The warrior's voice trailed off into silence as her gaze lowered and her brows furrowed as she were unable to form her thoughts. At his penetrating gaze, Xena turned away, sorrow crossing her features.
"Of course, Xena. I will tell Gabrielle that you did try to come when she called, but could not pass my protections. And yes … I will tell her that you love her," he smiled softly as he nodded.
Xena's eyes filled and her voice was melancholy. "You're a-a good man. I know you're only doing what you think is right. And for that, I thank you…" She sat down on a rock and put her head into her hands, the very picture of despondency.
Arjun watched her, waiting to see if she would speak again, but the ghost simply sat with her head down and said no more. The prince sighed, then turned and made obeisance to the kind Durga and once more felt her warmth and love surrounding him. He bid her farewell and closed his eyes as he willed his spirit to return to the vessel of his meditating body.
Arjun opened his eyes, his gaze falling on the colorful images that were painted on the wall in front of him. When he tilted his head slightly, he heard the soft commotion of his guests. Knowing that he had little time, he mentally calculated what he would wear and how long to allot to the endeavor of dressing for the evening. True, he would be fashionably late, but this was a habit of his which his friends were always accustomed to, he reasoned. As he easily rose from his meditative position he vowed that as soon as he was able to find a free moment, he would speak to his best friend's latest lover. With a sigh of compassion for his friend, he left his secluded room.
After Arjun had gone, Xena sat brooding in silence for awhile. The prince's words touched many nerves and she felt all of them jangling like open wounds with salt poured on them. She knew he had spoken the truth about her and her soulmate and the truth hurt. She did leave Gabrielle for what felt like good reasons at the time and now she was paying for it. For what seemed the thousandth time, she mourned her hasty actions in Japa, then cursed with frustration. "What's done is done," she muttered. "I screwed up and didn't think things through far enough, but picking at it won't make it any better."
She sighed and looked up at the ten-armed Durga standing by smiling patiently beside her tiger and spoke hopefully. "I suppose neither of you would feel like playing a game of twenty questions or Rock-Parchment-Dagger to pass the time?" The goddess went on smiling but said nothing. The tiger rolled over on its back and made a grumbling sound in its throat. Xena grunted. "I thought not. Well, there's always this…" She pulled out her sword in a swift movement.
The tiger leaped to its feet and the smiling Durga became alert with weapons appearing in nine of her ten hands again. Xena continued sitting and grinned sourly. "Take it easy, kids. I'm not silly enough to start fighting you both again but I gotta do something to keep busy..." She pulled a small stone from her belt pouch and began running it across the blade of the sword with a rasping sound. The two protectors of the estate relaxed again as she continued her actions. Then after a stroke or two, Xena stopped and gazed at the sword and stone and a look of puzzlement crossed her face.
Finally she spoke softly to herself. "Huh. Here I am, a ghost with a ghost rock sharpening a ghost sword. I'm not really here and neither are they, so how can the rock that isn't here sharpen the sword that isn't either? For that matter, how can I even hold them?" She looked over at the Durga. "I don't suppose you could explain it to me, could ya?" The ten-armed goddess only continued to smile enigmatically and said nothing.
"Didn't think so," Xena shook her head and looked back at the sword. "Oh, well. If it works, it works. Who am I to question it?" Then she began sharpening the sword once more and for a long time the only sound heard in the clearing was the scrape of the rock on the blade and an occasional rumble from the tiger.
Zara stood before the mirror wrapping the midnight blue satin kaffia scarf around her head, her long hair falling under it and past her shoulders. Ever since she left her home to journey at sea, she had purposely abandoned the female head garb of shawls and veils and chose to wear men's garments. Like her brother's used to wear when attending a formal dinner, she wore the finest Moroccan's men's clothes that she owned. Favoring the indigo color, her galibeyeh gown was tapered close to her body, its flowing lines causing it to fall loosely past her knees. Below the galibeyeh, she wore the Moroccan black liba slacks that were loose at the hips, and tapered at the legs. The only item of clothing which was not Moroccan was her best black boots. Like her favorite, comfortable work boots, these dress boots were made by one of the finest shoe makers in Egypt. The leather of the boots shone from the polish job she had applied after her bath. Along the collar of the flowing galibeyeh were finely embroidered Moroccan designs in hues of orange, maroon, yellow, and white. When the kaffia headscarf was wrapped firmly into a Moroccan turban, the captain took the special yellow, gold braided tassel cord called an agal and tied it around the headpiece to hold it in place. Once dressed, the captain turned and watched Gabrielle attempting to dress Nadrah.
While the captain had been dressing, she heard the storyteller talking softly to Nadrah while helping the child dress in her best clothes from Morocco. Occasionally, the child fussed as her excitement to join in the separate children's party was evident. With a sigh, Gabrielle shook her head as she held the smaller piece of scarf out to Zara.
"I give up! Can you do this?" she asked with a pleading expression.
"Of course," the dark haired woman smiled slightly as she took the child's kaffia and easily wound it around Nadrah's head. Each time the girl fidgeted, the taller Moroccan lightly touched the girl's ear lobe, then cast a sharp glance at the child which quickly stilled her wiggling. When the kaffia headpiece was wrapped securely, the captain tied it off with an agal cord similar to her own. Standing back, the tall woman glanced down at the girl with an appraising eye.
Like a warrior undergoing inspection, Nadrah wiped at her nose, before standing tall for Zara's examining eyes. The child wore a tan cotton galibeyeh gown and brown liba slacks and the good brown boots that the captain had purchased on her last visit home. Pleased with the girl's appearance, the Moroccan woman nodded, then lifted the child from the chair, and deposited her to the carpeted floor.
"You will behave yourself," the captain reminded in a firm voice.
"Ahuh," Nadrah smiled up at her, but her fidgeting resumed.
"And you will remember, above all else, that you are representing our home land of Morocco?" The tall woman wanted to make certain that she would not have to leave the dinner party to break up any fights.
Nadrah pouted slightly, her eyes downcast, then she glanced up again. "I will remember, Captain," was her sheepish response.
"Good, then go and have fun, and be in bed by the time we return," Zara smiled as she watched the girl's back, her little legs carrying her from the room in a fast run. Before she left the room, the child stopped, turned in her tracks, and ran to Gabrielle. With wide arms, the blonde lifted Nadrah into a tight hug, then returned her to the floor.
"Have fun," the healer whispered to the child, before the girl turned and began to run out of the room, but stopped a second time and hesitantly glanced up at the captain. Then, with a smile, Nadrah ran and wrapped her arms around the tall woman's legs, her little arms holding firmly to the captain's legs.
Surprised by the actions and strength of the child, the dark haired captain smiled slightly as she glanced from Nadrah, to Gabrielle. With an affirming nod, Gabrielle encouraged her lover to hug the girl. Sighing, the taller woman reached down and patted the child's head. When the girl pulled away, the captain knelt in front of her, her blue eyes making contact with Nadrah's brown eyes. At the intensity of the child's emotions, Zara could only smile before pulling the girl into an embrace.
"You are a credit to us all," the leader whispered softly near the child's ear, before pulling away from her. "Now go, and enjoy the party." At Zara's words, Nadrah turned and ran out, the sound of her feet echoing down the hallway as she ran toward the area where the children's party was being held.
"She's so excited, all she was talking about were the jugglers and clowns and other things that Arjun will have at the children's party," Gabrielle softly said as she moved by her lover's side.
Zara turned and glanced down at the blonde. For the first time, she examined the blonde's clothing, her appraising eyes taking in every luscious curve. The burgundy, maroon, three piece outfit was made of the finest silk of India and had delicate gold embroidery along the edges. The short sleeved, low cut blouse displayed the tops of her ample bosoms and fit Gabrielle like a second skin. The blouse was also cut high enough to show off the smaller woman's incredible abs. Although the matching skirt fell above her ankles, the long slits up the sides showed off the Amazon's shapely, muscular legs with the dragon tattooed calves and her sandaled beautiful feet.
With a pleased smile, the Moroccan inhaled deeply and smelled jasmine perfume enhancing the blonde's luscious natural scent.
"I take it, you approve?" Gabrielle asked smiling, her arms raised out as she spun slowly around to show off the dress, the wrap around her shoulders falling to reveal a bare back down which the dragon tattoo of Akemi sinuously wound.
The mere expression from Zara's eyes was enough to ignite the passion from Gabrielle. Throughout the bath, and while they dressed, it was all the storyteller could do to keep her eyes off of the tall Moroccan. Each time the blonde gazed at the captain's lithe form, the way her long, dark, wet drenched hair hung past her muscular shoulders in tight waves of curls, the Greek woman found herself filling with needs that could not be sated … yet. Despite the fact that they would return soon after dinner to resume their love making, Gabrielle felt impatient and knew that only when sated would these wanton urges disappear. 'Damn, Gabrielle, get a hold of yourself,' she mentally chided, knowing full well that her raging hormones would not stop until she started to bleed.
"Oh, blessed Allah!" The dark woman exclaimed as her body was suddenly alive with need. With a shake of her head, she pulled the blonde close, her gaze looking down into the emerald pools of Gabrielle's eyes. "How will I be able to get through dinner with you looking so … tasty?" Her whisper was husky as her hands ran down the blonde's back. Gabrielle smiled up as she wrapped her arms around Zara's neck, her head tilting slightly back as a mischievous twinkle entered her eyes.
"I'm sure you'll manage just fine," the Greek woman purred just as the Moroccan's fingertips moved to the slits of her skirt, her gentle, skillful fingers sending tendrils of shivers up the smaller woman's spine.
The seafarer's eyes opened wide when her hands moved up the healer's legs, her fingers never leaving the satin skin. As a wicked grin crossed the Moroccan's features, her palms were messaging the smaller woman's firm, smooth buttocks.
"Gabrielle!" The smile on Zara's face showed her surprise and approval. "You are not wearing anything under it?"
"I couldn't find anything to match, and besides, why would I want to obstruct you when we get back to our room?" Gabrielle seductively asked as she pushed herself against the taller woman. At the feel of the taller woman's body against her breasts and belly, the Amazon had the sudden urge to forgo the dinner and take the Moroccan captain here and now. With a salacious smile, she pulled her taller lover down for a kiss.
"By Allah, you are a truly evil woman!" Zara groaned when she finally pulled away from the kiss, then shook her head. With an audible sigh, the Moroccan closed her eyes, and then reopened them when control returned. "Shall we go to dinner or shall we…?" the captain tried to entice Gabrielle.
"Oh, don't even tempt me!" The blonde shook her head negatively, then, with a reluctant sigh, she smiled at her tall lover, "Of course we're going to the dinner!" She nodded slightly as a way to convince herself, then took the captain's hand and firmly led her from the room.
Gabrielle had attended many formal dinners in her time. While Xena found them a tedious chore to be endured, Gabrielle always found them to be enjoyable; an intriguing adventure where she was able to sit back and watch the various interactions of the guests. If it were any of those other times, the blonde would have been able to fully enjoy her surroundings. But now, with her need for release, she was finding it difficult to stay focused on the party. With Zara so close to her, the feel of the taller woman's skin against her own as they brushed together occasionally was sending shivers of desire through her body that made her mind continually wander to thoughts of sex.
In an attempt to control her needs, Gabrielle concentrated on the scene around her. Although most of the guests were strangers to her, the blonde found herself at ease around all of them. As she stood by the captain's side, she would steal sidelong glances at the tall woman. She noticed how easy it was for the Moroccan to interact with each guest. After a brief introduction, the tall woman would flow into a conversation with ease. From time to time, her language would shift to that of the person addressing her.
As the evening progressed, the great meeting hall filled with the sounds of many voices. Unconsciously, Gabrielle stayed close to Zara. The captain would occasionally take her hand and hold it, or wrap an arm easily over her shoulder as she whispered comments about various guests in her ear. Sometimes the dusky captain would simply enfold an arm around her waist as a to convey the message that Gabrielle was with her and the storyteller found that she was truly enjoying the acknowledgment of her lover.
Although Xena was always quick to jump in and lay claim to Gabrielle, such open displays of public affection were never demonstrated. As the Greek woman thought over this difference, she reflected on the times when she had longed for Xena to hold her close, or to even simply hold her hand when in a crowd. But Xena had never been comfortable with such public displays and Gabrielle was beginning to feel a bit miffed about this.
'That's one thing that's gonna change if we're able to bring Xena back,' the healer promised herself silently, then suddenly stopped when she realized her own thoughts. 'When did I start thinking 'if Xena comes back?' She thought uncomfortably. 'I've always been positive and confident that we'd get her back. I've never wavered from the idea that soon we would be together again, and now I'm thinking 'if'?'
Before her thoughts could progress, she felt the captain's hand move from her back, down to her bottom. The mere touch of her lover caused a faint moan to escape the blonde's control. With a smile, Zara glanced down at her, the captain's brow raised in a silent question. At her look, Gabrielle leaned toward the Moroccan, "Unless you want me to throw you on the floor and take you right here and now, I would suggest that you not do that!" Her whisper was low, yet her words made an impact with the tall woman.
"Humm … I cannot say that is an all together unappealing idea," the Moroccan smiled as she turned away to nod across the room to another guest, then she shivered slightly and spoke from the corner of her mouth. "But you are right, now is definitely not the time." Before the conversation could continue, they both noticed the prince moving toward them.
Prince Arjun wore a crimson red formal sari. His hair and make up, Gabrielle noted, was immaculate as was everything that he wore. With a smile and a flourish of his hand, the Indian prince swept easily through the room. His radiant smile was cast on all of his guests. When he glanced up and saw Gabrielle standing near Zara, the prince smiled as his eyes grew wide as if he had just remembered something, then with a girlish squeal, he ran toward the blonde with his arms held out.
"Gabrielle! Look at you! You put even me to shame!" He drew himself up. "And that is not easy to do! Oh, but I simply adore that outfit! You absolutely must tell me who your seamstress is, I love it!" he exclaimed as he gave her a quick hug, then glanced over her form. "Oh, my, that color is you! You certainly do know how to work it, darling!"
"Thank you," Gabrielle blushed as Zara smiled down at her, the pleasure obvious in the captain's expression. The Amazon went on, "I think you look lovely, princess … that sari is very becoming and goes perfectly with your coloring."
The petite man threw up his hands and looked at the ceiling. "Oh, poo! This old thing? Why I just reached into the closet with my eyes closed and threw on the first thing my hand touched … but … you really like it?" He batted his eyes. "You're not just fooling your sister Arjun, are you?" He said anxiously.
"Oh, no," the blonde smiled sincerely. "I think you look beautiful..."
"You are just the dearest thing, isn't she, Zara?" The prince hugged Gabrielle and kissed her on both cheeks, then leaned back dabbing at his eyes. "Oooo, Zara, if you let her get away I shall never forgive you!"
The Moroccan captain nodded. "I will do my best," she said softly as Gabrielle glanced up at her and their eyes locked.
Arjun gazed at them, his eyes taking in everything as they looked at one another, then before anything could be said, the prince was off again. "Oh, but come! I must speak with your little lover, you don't mind if I steal her away for a few moments?" The prince asked his tall Moroccan friend, but did not wait for an answer as he began to lead the storyteller away from the crowd to a secluded corner in the room. As they went, Zara watched them and swallowed as the Greek woman looked back at her as Arjun pulled her along. Then she sighed and took a long drink from her goblet.
When they reached the corner, Arjun put his back to it and faced the Amazon. When he spoke, he dropped the falsetto tone and lowered his voice to speak seriously. "Gabrielle, I simply must beg your forgiveness. I almost forgot to tell you that I had a lovely chat with your soulmate."
Gabrielle felt her heart skip a beat, she smiled then asked, "Y-You spoke to Xena? Is she all right? What happened? Where is she? I was so worried about her! Why didn't…." But her tumbling words were cut off by a wave of Arjun's hand and his gentle smile.
"Yes, dear, she's fine. She wanted me to tell you that she did try to come when you called, but couldn't reach you, and that yes … she loves you," Arjun smiled as he patted her arm.
"But … how are you able to see her?" Gabrielle was confused at his words. Aside for herself and Nadrah, no one could see Xena and Zara was only able to hear the warrior princess. Sensing her unspoken thoughts, Arjun smiled as he gave her a knowing smile.
"All of that will be explained to you as soon as there is a more convenient time," Arjun smiled his reassurance.
"B-But why can't she come to me? When can I talk with her?" The small blonde asked excitedly.
"I promise when I have a chance to talk more in detail with you, we'll know when your bond mate can join you. I assure you, Xena is in no discomfort or danger. Can you be patient for just a bit longer?" The lightly brown skinned man smiled and the shape of his smile was so beautiful that Gabrielle found it hard to resist.
"I-I guess so … I mean, yes. Oh, Arjun…" The healer surprised them both by hugging him and he patted her shoulder as she tried to find the appropriate words to thank the prince for his kindness. "Thank you, Arjun … I-I just…"
"I know," his soft voice was like a melody as his eyes gazed knowingly at her. "Oh, my dear, there is much we have to talk about," he said. Then as he looked over the blonde's shoulder, his smile disappeared and his eyes grew thin with annoyance. "But, I think that right now you had better go and lay claim to what is yours!"
Both the tone and glance from the prince caused the blonde to turn toward the Moroccan woman. Like a shark circling in on a piece of fresh meat, Shikha was in front of the tall captain. The woman from Zara's past held the captain's hands in a firm grip and she leaned forward, her body language exuding sexuality.
Gabrielle felt a sudden anger boiling through her. A part of her was surprised by the anger within. True, she had at times gotten jealous whenever anyone tried to seduce Xena, but somehow, she was able to overcome it. Now it seemed like the green monster was alive and well in her again and all she could attribute it to was her raging hormones.
Arjun's whisper pulled her from her thoughts. "Honey, you must go and claim what belongs to you, or else that vulture will have our poor captain picked clean! Don't you worry, when all of this is over, we'll talk. I'm sure your spirit ghost will be able to join you shortly afterwards."
With a low growl, Gabrielle nodded as she began to make her way to Zara. Her resolve firmly in place, the blonde bard stalked through the crowded party, filled with the determination to dislodge the Indian woman from her lover.
Zara was enjoying the party up until the time Shikha appeared before her. At the instant contact, the Moroccan regretted her initial smile when her ex lover appeared. Having been taken off guard, the tall woman reacted as she would within any party setting and instinctively smiled. But at her politeness, Shikha acted like the strain of the breakup had never existed.
"Zara … I'm so glad to see that you've changed your mind," the Indian woman's eyelashes batted slowly, her eyes glancing momentarily at the Moroccan woman before lowering shyly.
The tall captain was reminded of the many times that Shikha had manipulated her in this manner. It never mattered what the reason was; either the woman wanted jewelry, new clothing, a trip to the country or even when she wanted Zara to leave the only place where she felt truly at home. No, whatever she wanted, Shikha was able to convey her desires with a mere glance or a soft-spoken word.
At the vivid memories, the captain gulped as her mind replayed the images of their past. When the Indian woman took her hands and held them firmly, the Moroccan closed her eyes to an onslaught of images that raced past her vision. As Shikha's voice droned in the background, she purposely remembered the last time they were together alone….
In only a matter of minutes, Zara had made up her mind. With the ultimatum given, there seemed little else she could do. She would walk away from her ship, her command, the life she had made and she would make a home in India with Shikha. When the decision had been made, she went down on one knee and informed her lover of her plans to live with and care for her from then on.
The lovely Indian woman remained frozen and her silence became deafening. Then a slight smile crossed her lips. The captain did not remember hearing the woman's words beyond the sentence that she would be marrying Daruka the following week. His mother was expecting her, and as is tradition for her people, the henna designs would be applied to the backs of her hands and on the top of her feet. From that point forward, everyone would know that she belonged to the Indian commander. And then it was over. There was nothing more to be said, no words that would have change Shikha's mind.
Thankfully for Zara, she had not told Abu about her plans, so she was able to return early from her shore leave. Once on board, she had lurked in her cabin, to alternately sit and stare at nothing as she let her grief and anger churn like water boiling over a cooking pot. When her men completed their rest time, she was more than ready to leave the land that had caused her grief. That was over a year ago and although the captain knew that she no longer loved Shikha … even though she was now grateful for the outcome, the painful memories of yet another rejection had dug deeply into her soul.
With a slight frown, Zara opened her eyes and gazed down into Shikha's soft brown irises. The Indian woman did her best, her voice was low and controlled, the seduction clear within each tone and her body language was enough to get a rise from almost any man or woman she focused her attention on. For the Moroccan woman, the memories of their shared past was too great to ignore.
Before the taller woman could speak, a figure moved beside her. Gabrielle's smile was warm and welcoming; her glance moved from Shikha, then to Zara's hands that were being held by the Indian before turning her gaze back on the woman. Her outward appearance was filled with charm, yet when the Moroccan saw her flaming jade eyes, she knew that the anger there was geared toward one person and one person only.
"Zara…" Gabrielle's voice was smoothly sweet as she turned her attention away from Shikha and gazed up at her.
The lithe captain took the opportunity to extract her hands from Shikha's grasp. With a smile of relief, she wrapped her arm over the Amazon's shoulder and when the smaller woman leaned up for a kiss, the Moroccan complied. Although the tall woman knew Gabrielle's reason for the kiss, the blonde's lips were still sweet to the touch. When the smaller woman's lips parted against hers in invitation, Zara savored the delicious taste of her lover's tongue before reluctantly pulling away. As they pulled apart, Gabrielle took the opportunity to turn in the seafarer's embrace, her back resting against the captain's front as her body acted like a barrier against Shikha's advances. The dark haired woman stifled a smile into the back of the healer's hair as she watched her ex-lover's expressions turn from soft, to cold and then to anger in a matter of moments while the blonde continued to smile sweetly.
"Did I … miss anything?" Gabrielle softly asked as the palms of her hands ran over the Moroccan's arms that were wrapped around her slender waist.
"I-I …don't believe so, at least, not anything worthwhile," Zara stated as she leaned down and kissed the side of the Greek woman's cheek.
"Good, I would hate to have missed anything!" Gabrielle purred as her hand reached up to softly stroke the captain's cheek, her stony gaze never wavering from Shikha.
Shikha's glare bored into the storyteller and her nostrils flared and the blonde's glittering green eyes narrowed to slits. In that instance, it seemed to the anxious Moroccan that silent lightning bolts and sparks of flames were flashing between the two small women and the Captain swallowed uneasily. The silent struggle of wills went on until finally the chiming of a dinner bell caught their attention. All of the guests turned toward the sound and saw a servant, a golden bell in his hand. When all eyes were on him, he smiled and spoke in a clear voice.
"Dinner will be served." The single sentence lessened the tension between the two women and brought a heartfelt sigh from Zara as she smiled down at the blonde. Then she wiggled her eyebrows toward the entrance where other guests were disappearing.
"Shall we?" Was her only invitation before she and the Amazon walked deliberately away from the angry Indian woman.
Arjun had never thought he'd be so grateful for the sound of the damn dinner bell. But today, he was. Seeing the pure anger of Shikha and the look of determination in Gabrielle's eyes, he knew that if the bell not rung, this contest of wills might have literally turned into a proverbial cat-fight.
Each guest was assigned a place within the great hall. Directly to his right was the Sultan of Hadhramaut, to his left his beloved friend, Zara, and beside the captain, her new companion Gabrielle. Behind Prince Arjun sat his five wives adorned in rich silks and jewelry, next to the more numerous and even more richly bedecked wives of the Sultan. As the servants moved easily through the dinner hall, Arjun settled into his high backed chair and glanced around the room. The tables were arranged in a horseshoe shape, with the center open for both the servants laden with trays of food, and for the evening's entertainment.
With an easy smile, Arjun basked in the atmosphere of his party. As he spoke casually to the Sultan, he made certain to talk occasionally to Zara, the slight comments he made for her hearing alone brought a chuckle to the Moroccan woman. When the blonde looked confused, the captain would lean over and whisper an explanation in her ear, and a slight smile would cross her lips as she covered a giggle behind her hand. Pleased by the easy manner of the two, Arjun nodded, then return his attention to the Sultan.
Nadrah watched the numerous entertainers while eating the sweet treats and food. The gathering hall was filled with the noisy laughter of children. Aside for Pritam, she didn't know any of the Indian children. Despite this, she found herself at ease with all the children. She could not help but smile and laugh at the antics of the clowns and jugglers. The acrobatics left her spellbound. Just when the entertainers were leaving the open floor, Pritam leaned toward her.
"Nadrah, come on, lets go peek into the other party," her friend said.
"But the storyteller is next! I wanted to hear a story!" Nadrah frowned as she leaned upward trying to see who would be telling the story.
"It's only Mangar, he's no where near as good as Arjun! Come on, lets just take a peek," Pritam rose and began to leave the party.
"B-But Pritam, we aren't supposed to leave!" Nadrah stated as she began to follow her friend.
"Says who?" he asked as he turned and looked down at her. "Did Arjun say we couldn't leave the party?"
"Well … no," Nadrah offered as her brows were crinkled in thought.
"Then its ok cause it's his palace, come on!" he led the way from the children's gathering.
Nadrah frowned. Something didn't seem quite right about Pritam's statement, but she couldn't decide what it might be. Finally, she took one glance back at the party before shrugging her shoulders and following her friend. As they made their way through the halls, they dodged the various servants who were carrying trays of food or refreshments to either the adult or children's parties. When they came around a corner to the large double doors that lead into the great dinning hall, they stopped in their tracks and looked at the two guards who stood at attention in front of them.
The guards were great strapping men who had their arms folded across their chests and they stared unblinking as if the two children weren't even there. Nadrah looked at them and gulped, but Pritam only gave her a cocky smile before turning a nervous glance to the two burly men. Hesitating, he took a step forward then stopped as one of the guards raised an eyebrow and looked directly at the boy for the first time. His expressionless face glared at the terrified boy. Pritam swallowed, and Nadrah gasped. The guard's stare grew more intense, then in a quick move the guard unfolded his arms from across his chest. With squeals of fear, the two children turned and ran back around the corner they had come from.
Behind them, the two guards glanced at one another and grinned, then resumed their expressionless gaze at the hall.
Meanwhile, once they were certain the guards were not following, the two children stopped. "Well, I guess we aren't going to get in," Pritam sighed as he turned to Nadrah. "Hey, how about you show me Prasha! I've never seen him before. Remember, you were going to introduce me to him today, but then you wouldn't even let me in the room," the boy seemed to frown.
When she remembered how she had found Zara and Gabrielle, Nadrah apologized, and then nodded, "I'm sorry, but the captain and Gabrielle were in there."
"Again! They were in the room all morning and afternoon, what do they do in there anyway?" he asked as he began to lead them up the stairs.
"They like to rub against each other," Nadrah made a scrunched up face.
"Ewwww!" Pritam frowned down at her, then shook his head. "I don't know why grown-ups like that, it sounds very painful!"
"Your sister does it too?" Nadrah was amazed to learn that his sister did the same thing.
"Yeah, but not since we've been staying with Arjun. Once, a long time ago she was with someone she liked, and I hid and watched what they did. It sure didn't look fun, but she didn't stop him or even push him off of her!" Pritam explained as they reached the top of the stairs and made their way to Nadrah's room.
"I don't understand it, but if it makes them happy…" she shrugged her shoulders as they entered the room. The large bed was now made, fresh linens had been exchanged for the damp and smelly ones that Zara and Gabrielle left. All of the strewn clothing had been picked up and sticks of fresh incense were burning in the corner lamps. Accustomed to the servant's diligent work, Nadrah made her way back to her room. When she opened the door, she saw Prasha laying stretched on her bed.
"Whoa! He is big!" Pritam exclaimed as he followed her into the room.
"This is Prasha, he is my responsibility. Prasha has an important job keeping the rats and other vermin in check on the ship, and it's my job to make sure that he's able to do his job." Nadrah spoke proudly as she picked the huge cat up and held him in her arms.
"Then that means that you have an important job too," Pritam said as he held his hand in front of Prasha's nose. The large dark cat sniffed the boy's hand as if judging his worthiness then released a low meow. Smiling, Nadrah handed Prasha over to her friend who eagerly took the cat as he sat on her bed. The large feline purred as it rubbed against Pritam's hand.
"I guess I do have an important job, but no more than anyone else on the ship," Nadrah explained as she joined her friend. "Zara … I mean, the captain, says that every person on board is important and that we cannot afford to lose anyone." Nadrah felt a melancholy set in as she thought of all of her friends who were no longer with them. "That's why it was so hard to get here, we lost a lot of people…" She blinked as she felt her eyes swim with tears suddenly and turned her head away.
Pritam was concentrating on petting the cat and noticed nothing. "It must be an adventure, to always be at sea and go through so many battles! I think that would be a great way to live!" He exclaimed just as Prasha jumped from his lap. The cat ran to the door, released a loud meow as he gazed back at them, then continued to move into the captain and Gabrielle's room. With a sigh, Nadrah fought back her silent tears as she rose and followed her cat from the room.
"I guess some might think it's an adventure…" she said softly. "For me, I've never known anything else … well, except when I used to live in the streets, but I can hardly remember what that was like." She went to open the door for the agitated cat who pranced impatiently in front of it. Once it was open, Prasha ran out and jumped into the flowerbed, his nose sniffing the dirt as he began to dig a proper hole.
"Let me get Prasha more water," she told Pritam as she moved back into her bedroom. When she came out with a half empty bowl, she noticed her friend glancing around the room, his attention on everything.
"Whose bag is this? I've never seen a design like this before," he asked as he pointed at Gabrielle's medicine satchel.
"That's Gabrielle's medicine satchel. Don't touch it, she's got lots of things that can break in there," Nadrah warned as she moved to the indoor fountains. After grabbing a step stool she rinsed Prasha's bowl out, before filling it with fresh cool water.
"What is all this stuff?" Pritam called out and she saw him opening it.
"I said don't touch Gabrielle's bag, Pritam! It's her vials of herbs and healing stuff," Nadrah explained as she carefully carried the bowl of water toward her room.
"Gabrielle is the ship's healer?" The boy asked as he closed the bag and glanced around the room some more.
Nadrah had to think about how to answer his question. "Well, sort of," the girl said slowly. "At first, she was a passenger, but now … I think she's become more sort of a … crew member … I'll be back in a minute." She carried the bowl into her room.
Pritam glanced over his shoulder to where Nadrah had disappeared. Although a part of him knew better, another part could not help but glance again into the healer's bag. When his eyes fell on an interesting looking bottle, he took it out and looked at it, the dried, green herbs inside filled the glass container. On the bottle was an inscription he could not read. Curious about it, he quickly placed the vial into his pocket just as Nadrah was coming back from her room.
"I just hope that Gabrielle doesn't leave us," Nadrah said as she went to the open door and called out to Prasha.
"Leave a life of sailing around having adventures and fun like you guys do?" Pritam scoffed. "If I was a sailor, I'd never want to even set foot on land again. Why would she leave? Why would anybody?"
Although the boy was her senior, Nadrah suddenly felt much older and wiser than her friend. In this instance, she knew that he didn't really have the faintest idea of what he was talking about. She thought about trying to explain shipboard life to him, of how while it was fun and adventurous, it was also sometimes too cold or hot, or really very scary, and it was sad lose good friends and never ever see them again. Then, in a sudden adult flash of insight, she realized that without having had her experiences, he just wouldn't understand.
"I guess you're right," she said softly. "I'm just being silly…" Just then the cat returned from his business and she hurried to close the door. "Come on Pritam, let's go back to the kids party now."
"Ok … but let's sneak down and see if those guards are still at the door. If they're not, let's peek in to the grownup party first, ok?" he asked.
With only a nod, Nadrah lead the way from the room. Pritam felt the vial in his pocket as they made their way down the hall and the staircase. When they furtively peered around the corner to the double doors, he was pleased to see the guards gone.
"Come on, let's see what the grown-ups are doing," he smiled as he ran to the door, then barely opened it enough for them to squeeze in.
The first thing that Nadrah noticed was the sound of music and lots of adult voices. With Pritam's urgings, she followed him and hid behind a large potted plant. She noticed the adults sitting at the tables and tried to find any familiar faces. At the highest table, near the center of the U shape, Arjun sat in a high-backed chair. Next to him sat Zara, Gabrielle, and the Sultan. As her eyes continued to scan the room, she smiled when she noticed the familiar faces of her friends. Having not seen Abu since their journey here, Nadrah rose from their hiding place.
"Hey, where are you going!" Pritam whispered as he caught her arm.
"I'm going to say hello to Abu, I've missed him," she said before she made her way past to servants and guests to where Abu and Isa sat. Upon seeing her, Abu's face lit up.
"Little mouse!" He smiled as he turned in his chair and held his arms open for her.
"Abu! I miss you," she pouted as she hugged him tightly, and his arms wrapped around her as he held her on his lap.
"Oh, I am sorry, little mouse, but I'm afraid that I've been very busy," Abu explained as a slight tinge of red crossed his cheeks. "You see, Prince Arjun has given me an important task, and I must not fail him. You understand, don't you?"
"Ahuh, but I still miss you!"
"Don't worry, little mouse, in no time, Abu will back with us with a bounce in his step and whistle on his lips!" Isa smiled as he lightly touched the tip of her nose.
At his words, Abu laughed gruffly as he shook his head.
"How come you're turning red?" Nadrah asked, concerned that the big man was getting ill.
"W-Well … you see … it's … um…" Abu stammered.
"It's just the wine, little mouse, nothing to be concerned with," Isa offered with a wink to Abu as he held up his goblet, then drank of the dark liquid.
"Good, because I don't want anything to happen to you!" Nadrah exclaimed as she hugged her friend.
"Aw, little one, nothing will ever happen to your Abu, I promise!" The man's gruff words quivered as he hugged her close.
Pritam watched the exchange of his friend with the burly man. With a curious arch of his brow, he reached into his pocket and removed the vial. He glanced at it a moment before looking around the room. When he saw what he was seeking, he moved carefully to the tray that was covered with goblets filled with liquid. With one last glance over his shoulder, he peered at the guests and servants nearby. The guests all seemed to have their eyes turned to the entertainers in the middle of the floor, while the servants were running around gathering trays. Smiling to himself, he carefully opened the vial, then tipped it until the dried herbs fell into a goblet. Surprised at how fast it emptied, Pritam lifted the vial, took a quick glance around, then made his way back to his hiding place. Safe behind the large shrub, he turned in time to see Nadrah leaving her friends. When he realized he still held the vial, he dropped it into the planter, then rose to greet her.
"Ok, can we go back to the kids party now?" she asked.
Pritam glanced over his shoulder and watched the tray being lifted by a servant, the goblets being distributed amongst the guests. A part of him wanted to see where the drink ended up, and see what reaction the herb caused. But then he remembered that not even Nadrah knew that he had borrowed the vial. Returning his attention to his friend, he shrugged his shoulders.
"Sure, lets go," he said as they made their way from the room.
Once they entered the children's party, Pritam gave the vial no other thoughts. Instead, he turned his attention to the entertainers and food. Had it not been for Abu al-Farabi, the Sultan's healer, who noticed the boy discarding the vial in the plant, Pritam's antics might not have been discovered and the whole incident would never have been connected to the two children.
Zara was enjoying the evening meal. As each plate was brought out, a new group of entertainers filled the open space. The combination of Indus dancers, musicians, and actors managed to keep everyone entertained while the platters of food sated everyone's hunger.
The captain glanced at the blonde and noticed she seemed captivated by the dancers of Indus. When their eyes met, the Greek woman smiled, then glanced over at the Sultan as if a thought had just come to mind. Following her gaze, the Moroccan smiled then nodded at the older Arab ruler.
"Excuse me…" Gabrielle whispered to her as she rose from her chair.
"Gabrielle?" Zara watched her lover moving to the Sultan's side. Kneeling by his chair, and keeping her back to the captain, it was impossible to see what the healer was saying to the ruler. Before the tall woman's mind could wonder about the reasons for Gabrielle's words with the sultan, a servant moved to her side, his slight nod caught her attention, then he handed her a pure white piece of parchment. Taking it from him, she opened it and read the tiny but sharp script, then folded it as she began to rise from the table.
"Zara?" Arjun raised a questioning brow.
"Excuse me … I will return shortly," she smiled at her friend in hopes that she was putting him at ease. With only a nod, the prince returned his attention to the entertainers, his eyes periodically scanning the crowd.
As the Amazon spoke to the Sultan, Zara made her way from the party. Following the instructions on the note, the Moroccan exited from the farthest patio. Although the note was unsigned, it had not been so long that she had forgotten the familiar sharp handwriting. When she left the dinning hall, she saw the feminine figure of the dusky woman standing on the balcony. With a wide smile, Shikha turned to her, her arms raised out for an embrace.
"Shikha, you said here that this was a matter of personal safety?" The captain stated as she ignored the woman's gesture and held up the note. Shikha frowned as she lowered her eyes from the paper.
"You can't even spare me a hug… for old times sake?" the Indian woman pouted.
"No, not even for old times sake. Now what, exactly, is a matter of personal safety? Are you in danger?" The captain maintained her personal space as she gazed down at her former lover.
"Yes! Please Zara, give me one more chance! I was such a fool! I should have never turned you away!" Shikha pleaded as she moved against the captain, her arms snaking around the taller woman's waist as she laid her head against the Moroccan's chest. "Please, take me with you! I will go anywhere you desire, live on the ship if you wish, just please, do not leave me behind this time! I could not bear to lose you again!" Her voice was choked and she began crying.
At the open emotions, the dark captain's initial instinct was to hold the woman close, to comfort her as she wept. But remembering Shikha's aptness at controlling her, the Moroccan woman shook her head as she reached down and pried the Indian woman from her.
"Shikha, is Daruka hurting you? Has he hit you?" She asked as she stepped away from her. At the intensity of her gaze, Shikha glanced downward without answering. With a shake of her head, Zara sighed. "Daruka has never laid a hand on you, has he?" The Moroccan confirmed her own suspicions.
"There are many ways to hurt beside those of the fist! I am trapped in a loveless marriage, does that not cause harm?" Shikha asked in a trembling voice. "Oh, Zara, please! You once loved me, you said so! Tell me that there is still some form of love in here for me," her voice grew soft as she lightly touched the Moroccan's chest over her heart, her big brown eyes imploring for something that the seafarer could not give. With a sigh, the captain took the smaller woman's brown hand and removed it from her.
"Shikha … once … perhaps there was a form of love, but no more. You fixed that. There are no feelings in me for you now. Do you understand?" She asked the Indian woman. When the noblewoman opened her mouth to speak, the tall Moroccan steeled her resolve and pulled away, "No more!" Zara's voice was harsher than she intended. Seeing the determination in her eyes, Shikha scowled as she pulled her hand away.
"Do not tell me that you love that little foreign whore! She is nothing but a commoner!" The Indian woman spat.
Frowning, Zara stared down at the woman. It took every ounce of control she had to not lash out at Shikha. Rather than striking the woman, the Moroccan captain crumbled the note in her hand, then dropped it to the ground. Seeing this, the noblewoman seemed to growl before reaching out with the quickness of a snake, her fingers bent and slapped the left side of the dark haired woman's face, her long nails cutting into the captain's tender cheek. At the stinging sensation, the taller woman lightly touched her face, then glanced at the blood on her fingertips. Zara's brows creased as she glared at the Indian noblewoman, memories of Shikha's volatile temper suddenly returning. In silence, the Moroccan turned away from her ex-lover and began to walk back into the dinning hall.
Suddenly regretting her actions, Shikha ran after her. "Zara, please! Wait. F-Forgive me! I love you! Please take me with you! Don't leave me in this loveless marriage, I beg of you!"
The captain ignored the woman. As she covered the scratches with a part of her sleeve, she returned to the brightness of the dinner hall. Ignoring inquisitive glances from the guests, she made her way back to her seat. At the sight of the thin streaks of blood, Gabrielle rose from her chair, but stopped when Zara waved her away. Only after she sat down, did the healer turn her attention to the Moroccan's cheek. Taking a bit of the cloth napkin, she dipped a part of it into the wine, then gently held it against the thin lines on her lover's cheek.
"Do I need to ask about this?" Gabrielle asked as she cast an evil glance toward the woman who had reentered from the patio. Angered by her rejection, Shikha stopped a waiter and took a wine goblet from his tray. In one swallow, the Indian woman drank the fermented drink, then she scowled as if she had just swallowed a foul tasting substance, and looked into the now empty goblet a moment before returning it to the waiter's tray. Angered by the captain's rejection, the woman ignored everything around her as she bitterly found her way back to her assigned table.
"It is nothing, Gabrielle. Merely a scratch, I've had worse," Zara smiled at the tenderness from the blonde.
"Hmmm … I'll have to watch for infections, I hear a harpy's claws are filthy!" She snorted. At her words, a sudden laughter erupted next to Zara. Turning, the Moroccan smiled as Arjun's laughter filled the room.
"Oh Zara! You'd best keep this one! Not only is she beautiful and positively adorable, but she's very funny as well!" He giggled hysterically.
With a shake of her head, Zara smiled down at the blonde. "I guess that is it, you stay with me, the Prince has spoken," she teased and the petite woman only smiled and shook her head.
Prince Arjun had overheard Gabrielle's request to the Sultan and could only smile at the thought of what the blonde had in store for his best friend. Of all of the women whom Zara had been with, none had gone to such an extent of demonstrating their affections for the tall captain. Although Arjun still wanted to remain cautiously optimistic, he could not help but feel pleased at the notion that the Moroccan had finally found the woman she was meant to spend her life with.
Arjun did not known why his friend left the table, but upon her return, he pretty much understood who had lured the Moroccan from the dinner and the evening's entertainment. He felt his anger rising and was about to have his guards remove Shikha and her husband from the party when the blonde's irate words reached his hearing. At the image of Shikha as the mythical creature from the Greek legends, he could not help but burst into laughter as he advised Zara to keep this woman.
When his laughter subsided, he returned his attention to his guests. The conversations and amusements were a hit and secretly Arjun was pleased. He loved to be known as a host who offers the finest in both food and entertainment. When the middle courses of the meal were being served, Arjun decided it was time to make the formal welcome, and to announce the next performers.
With all of the grace of his stature, he rose and waited patiently for a quiet stillness to fill the room. One by one, the guests grew silent as they saw him standing before them. When he knew that all eyes were on him he smiled regally as he held his arms out as if to embrace each and every guest.
"I wish to welcome one and all!" his voice was controlled as he spoke with a falsetto pitch higher than his natural voice. "Tonight, I see many familiar faces which I have long missed. I thank you all for joining me at this time and, I'd like to welcome some new friends to our little circle as well. May I present, His Royal Highness, Sultan Uthman Hadim ibn Zafar ibn Ja'lal 'abd al-Quaiti, of the kingdom of Hadhramaut, and his entourage whom, I'm sure, you cannot miss!"
A friendly applause began, which the Sultan arose to acknowledge. From the corner of his eye, Arjun saw movement from the Greek woman. When he glanced toward her, she smiled sheepishly as she slowly moved from her seat, excusing herself with only a bow of her head.
Zara bent toward her lover and whispered with concern. "Are you all right? Should I come with you?"
Gabrielle colored slightly. "No, I'll be fine, I, uh, just need to visit the chamber pots," she said in an undertone as she hurried away.
Knowing full well what she intended to do because he had overheard her words to the Sultan, Arjun smiled as he placed his palm on Zara's shoulder in order to pull her attention away from Gabrielle. "And I must offer a thank you to my most beloved friend, whom many of you already know, Captain Azzah al-Zarqa' al-Agadir bint Majnun ibn Sayyar al-Hallaj abd Allah," Arjun's Moroccan accent was as flawless as Zara's Sanskrit, each being familiar with the other's language. "Were it not for my dear Zara, whom I consider as a sister, and her timely intervention against the pirates who attacked his ship, we might never have had the pleasure of the Sultan's company."
He tugged at her hands and a bit embarrassed, the captain rose and bowed to the throng. Once the applause had died away and the blushing Moroccan woman regained her seat, Arjun pretended to wipe a tear of joy from his eye as he continued. "My dear brother in royalty and my sister in all but name, I am so honored to have both of you here at my side and especially, dare I say, because without both of you, we would all miss the pleasure of the upcoming entertainment which the Sultan has graciously offered for our amusement."
At his words the Sultan smiled and rose once more and bowed regally while Zara looked bewildered. The room filled with the soft murmurs of the guests, each one tried to guess what or who would be performing. With a mysterious smile, Arjun raised his hand for silence. When the voices died away, he began again.
"Be patient my friends and all will yet be revealed, but first, I have a special announcement to make. Many of you have graciously chosen to stay in my humble home for a few days. I have decided that it would be great fun to hold a competition … a tournament!" Arjun squealed in delight, as applause began again and heads nodded in animation and interest.
"Each day an event will be held covering the areas of archery, an obstacle course, swordsmanship, equestrian abilities and ending with the chariot race! Each day, those who are not eliminated from that days events, will continue on to the next days events until a winner is chosen!"
A buzz began in the crowd as people excitedly turned to one another.
"A winner, there must be a prize then!"
"Surely there must be!"
"How exciting! What sort of prize?"
"Who knows, but the prince is very wealthy! It must be very generous!"
Arjun heard the questions rising in the air, then raised his hands as he waited for silence again. "The final winner of all the events will have two splendid and valuable prizes to chose from … the first will be a sweet and soulful kiss, from yours truly," Arjun pointed at himself as a slight blush crossed his features. For emphasis, he batted his eyes modestly, and lowered his head as a self-effacing smile crossed his face.
The great hall was filled dead silence. With a slight smile, Zara spoke up. "Arjun, although your kiss is undoubtedly to be cherished, what of us who have need of something a bit more … substantial?" At this, a chorus of laughs and friendly gaffs filled the room.
Arjun glanced down at his laughing friend, his frown evident before he visibly sighed and turned a bored expression on her. "For those of you," he said disdainfully as he glanced in the Moroccan woman's direction, "who do not appreciate my kiss, then they may of course choose the lesser prize." The prince snapped his fingers and a uniformed guard stepped forward carrying an exquisitely carved and polished cedar box bound with straps of silver. With a slight movement, the lid opened to reveal a stunning gold and emerald necklace nestled on top of a soft velvet cloth of deepest red. There was silence as the prize was held up, then the excited buzzes and whispers began again.
The prince ignored the eager muttering as he continued. "Besides my ruby lips, this is my second most prized piece, which I will gladly give to the lucky winner of this tournament if they are foolish enough to accept it instead of my kiss." Arjun held a long suffering look as he sighed and gazed lovingly at the necklace, then shook his head and returned his attention to the guests.
He smiled as the voices of pleasure and excitement rose in the room and continued. "So be prepared; any who wish to compete in the tournament for the prize of my wondrous kiss…" he covered his face like a blushing maiden, then frowned and rolled his eyes, "…or my boring old substantial necklace. All are welcome to test their skills beginning tomorrow!"
Arjun allowed the sounds of the room to grow as the excited crowd burst into enthusiastic yodels and applause. Raising his hand, he waited until silence resumed. "But for tonight, I invite you to enjoy yourselves! Enjoy the food, enjoy the wine!" The prince lifted his cup for emphasis, "…And now, let us all as well enjoy the next entertainment which is bestowed upon you, compliments of the Sultan of Hadhramaut!"
As the prince resumed his seat, two Zurnas began wailing low as the Tambura drums began tapping the sounds of a slow dance beat. As this happened, the lights of the room were slowly dimmed until there were only half as many as before. Zara looked around, seeing that Arjun's servants were extinguishing them and realized that this was going to be some intricate dance number.
The tall captain looked around for Gabrielle, but the small woman was not in sight. 'She must still be at the chamber pots,' the captain thought with sorrow. She remembered how much the Greek woman enjoyed the dancing at the Sultan's last party after the pirates had been beaten. 'At least she was before I went and made a fool of myself with that woman who reminded me of Alaya,' she thought disgustedly. She steeled herself. 'Well, there is no Hashish here tonight, so at least I will not be doing that kind of thing to her,' she thought with relief. 'We have become so close,' she smiled at the thought as rueful thoughts filled her mind, 'and I will never hurt her feelings again if I can help it.'
The lights were low and the tempo of the music picked up a bit. As it did, the curtains covering a set of double doors near the musicians opened and a rainbow of veils poured from the opening. As the tempo of the music grew in intensity, the multitude of swirling bodies, gently swaying hips and artful hands weaved a design in perfect unison.
Zara shifted in her seat as she glanced around the room in search of Gabrielle. She, more than anyone, knew how intrigued the healer had been during the women's last performance and hoped that the blonde would return in time to watch the floor show. When she saw Arjun's big smile, and his teasing wink she only nodded as she returned her attention to the Sultan's concubines.
Arjun was finding the entire performance amusing. Yet he didn't know what was more fun, the dancers who were obviously enticing the crowd, or Zara fidgeting in her chair. What made the scene even more amusing was knowing what surprises lay in store for his friend.
At the slight touch on his shoulder, Arjun absently reached up and lightly tapped the small hand. When he turned and glanced over his shoulder, he saw the beautiful smile of Asha. Her clear white smile never failed to cause his heart to skip a beat, and her soft brown eyes always left him breathless.
Arjun knew that there was nothing she would not do for him, and knowing this made his heart ache all the more for everything that he could not give her. Despite all of his best efforts, he was unable to be the man that she thought she had married and although he knew that his parents longed for grandchildren, there was nothing he could do to change his own nature. He was who he was, and although he had come to accept this many years ago, his parents had not. Now, because of the circumstances, Asha was the one who paid for all of his short comings.
Ever gentle, Asha nodded slightly as if reading his thoughts. Her hand lightly patted his shoulder. In that slight touch, she conveyed her understanding and acceptance of her situation. With a sigh, Arjun took her soft, small hand and lightly kissed its back, then smiled as he returned it to his shoulder, allowing her fingers to lightly play with the curls in his hair while he returned his attention to the Arab dancers.
'No, there is nothing to change what already is,' he reasoned as his eyes scanned the room. 'But hopefully, if my plan works, my wives will be rewarded with the children they so long desired,' he thought as his eyes rested momentarily on the burly Moroccan man. When Abu smiled up at the prince, Arjun merely bowed his head before returning his attention to the floor show.
Zara had caught the exchange between her friend and his first wife. In the years that she had known Arjun, she was accustomed to such open displays of affection. Although the prince had no desires for women, she was well aware of his love for his wives, and especially his love toward his first wife, Asha. When the woman glanced at Zara, she only bowed her head and returned her attention to the dancers.
In Gabrielle's absence, a throng of veiled dancers suddenly swirled from the floor, exiting from the double doors they had entered while leaving only a small form standing still in the center. The dancer wore a long flowing cape of blue that fell in a gentle cascade behind the concealed woman's back. Only when small hands reached up to push the hood of the cape back, did Zara notice the azure blue shambar, a veil that covered the entertainer's face and hair. Its cloth of fine silk shimmered like an ocean's wave under the light of the candle lamps in the room. In a single, fluid motion, the veiled woman dropped the sparkling cape to the floor and revealed her garment made of scarves.
Despite the array of cloth intricately placed over the woman's body, her shapely figure, womanly hips and ample bosom were not hidden from Zara's view. At such beauty, the Moroccan swallowed deeply, then averted her eyes. As she fought for control, she glanced around the room, wondering where Gabrielle had disappeared to. At the sounds of approval from the audience, the tall Moroccan looked up and felt mesmerized by the performer's movements.
Each step she took, the movement of her body and hands, were methodical as she stepped lightly near the center of the open room. So light were her steps that she seemed almost to float through the air, her bare feet lightly touching the floor. The drum tapped to a halt and the small form stopped with it, posing with a long silken scarf raised above her head as one Zurna continued to play softly, its music floating through the crowd.
The guests looked with interest as both Zurnas began once more to wail loudly and the drums began tapping in a slow dance beat. The small figure began to undulate slowly to the rhythm, dropping the scarf in her hand, as she continued with dips and turns that threw the fabric of her garment to billow around her like lazy ocean waves. Her arms twisted gracefully above her head and intertwined in counterpoint to the music.
Zara looked around once more for Gabrielle and failed to find her, but her gaze came across Shikha's face sitting next to her husband in the crowd. The dusky woman was looking at her raising an eyebrow, then smiled and licked her lips. The captain frowned, twisting back to watch the slowly turning dancer. 'Will the woman ever take a hint?' she thought grimly. Her cheek stung where Shikha's nails had scratched, but she refused to touch the spot, not wishing her ex-lover to notice her discomfort.
The Moroccan woman watched as the music speeded up ever so slowly, the tempo quickening and with it, the dancer's steps. The performer spun about in a series of quick turns that caused the scarves around her body to fly above her waist. Then suddenly, in a movement almost too fast to follow, the small entertainer released a series of scarves from her body. The thin filaments of fabric floated slowly to the floor behind her as she twirled away from them. The loss revealed the talented woman's muscular legs and from her waist up over her breasts, leaving her slender arms bare. The crowd murmured in appreciation at the quick move and seemed to hunch closer to see what was next. Before anyone saw her movement, the lithe performer removed a long silk scarf that had been wrapped around her waist like a belt.
Faster and faster the music played and the mysterious woman went into a series of twists and dips, whirling the long scarf around her like a cloud of whispering silk. The woman seemed to be dancing closer and closer to the Moroccan woman and the dancer's eyes suddenly caught hers with an almost lightening spark. Zara felt her breath catch at this contact. The small woman's eyes were green and accentuated by dark green eyeliner which seemed to make them stand out even more. Back and forth she danced, her snapping eyes above the veil never seeming to leave the Moroccan woman's. The captain was reminded again of the small dancer whom she had taken away from the Sultan's party weeks before. Her cheeks burned as she remembered how she made passionate love to the small woman while her Hashish drugged mind insisted that it was her dead spirit twin Alaya, alive again and grown to lovely womanhood.
Zara swallowed, remembering the soft touch of the woman's silky flesh and the cries of pleasure that she brought from her. It looked as if she wanted a rematch. Resolutely, the captain turned her mind to Gabrielle and the infinite pleasures they had shared all that afternoon. 'She may not be able to return my love, but I will not betray her,' she thought firmly. Yet, the Moroccan did not take her eyes from the woman.
Without warning, the scarf around the dancer's torso flew from her and floated away, revealing a much smaller piece of green material which was so thin as to be almost invisible. The audience groaned collectively as she spun on, to land on her knees directly in front of the Moroccan captain. Zara's mouth suddenly went dry as the performer bent far back over, bowing her back until her the scarf on her head touched the floor as her arms weaved in serpentine patterns above her and her hips undulated against the thin material. The dark haired woman gulped and attempted to avert her eyes but found herself drawn back to the woman's graceful moves.
The performer came to her shapely feet with a sinuous rush and began spiraling around and around in front of the captain. Then suddenly the silk scarf whipped down over Zara's head and the silken material rustled as it twined sensuously around her neck. The Moroccan smelled jasmine perfume coming from it and shivered as she felt herself becoming aroused. 'Where is Gabrielle,' she wondered anxiously, looking around past the material as she felt a deep flush beginning and her heart beat rapidly in time with the stimulating music.
The mysterious performer spun away, leaving the silken scarf around Zara's neck while she suddenly released the large veil from around her chest revealing a much smaller veil clinging to her bosoms. The material looked like green mist and the shadows of her curving breasts and straining nipples were almost, but not quite fully revealed. The audience let out an appreciative gasp at the revelation.
Zara was as stunned as the rest of the crowd when the large veil came off of the small dancer's shoulders and abdomen with a silken snap, but for a quite different reason. When she saw the pale white sculptured abs with the birthmark on the right side, her mouth hung open and her mind almost shut down with the shock. Surely that was the small mole she had kissed so many times as her tongue tickled down to her lover's navel and beyond during that long afternoon they had just spent together.
"Guh-Gabrielle?" She choked, her mind refusing to believe. Then the woman spun about showing her now nearly naked back to the captain. Under the all but nonexistent material covering her breasts and tied behind her, the sinuous shape of the blonde's dragon tattoo was revealed winding down her back. Zara's eyes shot to Arjun with a consternated expression.
The feminine man had a cat like expression of mischievous joy on his face as he tried to watch everything and everyone in the room at once. His eyes darted from the small dancer, to Zara, to Shikha, to the Sultan, to Daruka, to Isa , to Abu and beyond. He spared his best friend a quick grin and then continued watching the audience's reaction. The combined shock and titillation of the audience filled the prince with amusement.
As Gabrielle danced back to Zara, her green eyes held amusement and allure. Bending and spinning her body, her eyes never wavered from the startled captain's face as she grasped the long silken scarf still wrapped around her lover. As the music of the Zurnas wailed and the Tamburas thumped in a staccato rhythm, the blonde backed up pulling the silken material flowing down over the Moroccan's face.
The captain smelled the heady jasmine scent as the kerchief rustled across her skin and found herself becoming more aroused than she could have believed. As the scarf whipped away, the blonde's small hands tugged gently at hers, pulling the taller woman irresistibly to her feet and onto the floor. As the music pounded faster and faster, the Amazon spun around and around the Moroccan captain, touching her lightly, brushing against her, darting forward and back, her arms weaving and shimmying her exquisite belly all at the same time.
Just when Zara thought she could stand no more, the blonde made quick, graceful moves. The perspiration on her lovely tattooed back was visible under the diffused light. The audience groaned as she swayed, their eyes moving to the dance of the silken material as it moved back and forth, each move tantalizing in its slight revelations of the sweet blonde's body. Gabrielle's eyes were shining with excitement as she danced and the dark haired woman was so filled with desire that she could barely breathe through the pounding blood in her brain. She almost reached to take her lover then and there as the music thundered louder and louder.
The melody was coming to an energetic climax and the blonde caught the captain's eye, then ran towards her. Several feet away, she leaped into the air at Zara, who caught her with little trouble. The blonde wrapped her muscular legs around the tall captain's waist and locked her ankles together behind her back. The Moroccan spun around with the momentum of the smaller woman's landing in her arms but managed to stay on her feet as she was engulfed with the combined steamy fragrances of jasmine and the heated body of her lover. On the very last beat of the music Gabrielle's arms went around the spinning captain's shoulders as the taller woman came to a stop.
There was dead silence following the end of the music, then the stunned audience broke into a massive applause of stamping feet, yodeling and shouts of acclaim for the performance. Gabrielle's veiled breasts were pressed firmly against Zara's shirt. The blonde pulled back her covered head to look into her lover's face. The green eyes sparkled at her from behind the veil and her warm breath puffed the material in and out.
"Hi, there…" she said in a throaty voice, her eyes fixed on the Moroccan's. "You were right on cue. It could have been bad if you hadn't caught me, but I had faith in you."
Before the breathless captain could speak, the petite woman flicked up the bottom of the veil with one hand and fastened her lips to the taller woman's. Her tongue demanded instant entrance and the captain opened her mouth as the Amazon's sweet wetness swooped inside for long moments while the crowd continued to yodel and stomp their approval. Their slight movement caused the final veil to fall loose, the single piece falling between them. Feeling this, Gabrielle pulled away slightly as she tried to fasten the top veil, while also holding fast to Zara. When it seemed impossible, Gabrielle only shrugged as she smiled at the Moroccan.
"I think I have a bit of a problem," the Greek woman smiled as she kept herself pressed against Zara's chest.
"I would offer to help, except I seem to have my hands full at the moment," Zara smiled mischievously. With only a shake of her head, Gabrielle pulled the taller woman's head down for another kiss, their tongues exploring each other's mouths and their lips delighted in the other's softness.
At last Gabrielle pulled back and looked into Zara's gaze. Her green eyes were sparkling with humor and excitement. "Were you surprised?" She was smiling beneath the veil and her eyes crinkled.
"Yes, it was … quite a surprise," Zara said with a slight shiver.
Gabrielle gazed at her lover and her face turned serious. "Was it pleasing to you?"
"You have no idea." Zara's words were a sigh of delight.
"Oh, I think that I may," the petite woman smirked when she gazed into the taller woman's blue, passion filled eyes.
"Ahem. So … how are you going to get your clothing back on?" The captain asked as she looked at the various pieces of the blonde's costume strewn over the floor and at the still applauding crowd. "It is a little public here and the party is not yet over…"
"Oh, we're done with the party, but the dance isn't over quite yet," Gabrielle purred. "There's a second part of this dance to come ... a private part…" Her voice turned throaty.
"There is?" Zara felt a tremor of excitement race through her.
"Yessss," the small woman grinned as she felt the shiver run through her lover. Her breath puffed out the veil again. "We need to get back to our room for this part of the dance." She nuzzled the taller woman's neck. "To do so, we need to make an exit. If you would be so kind?" She flicked her eyes to the entrance.
"Allow me to be your beast of burden for this task," Zara whispered and began walking towards the doors easily carrying the smaller woman wrapped around her.
"Ah, but you have no idea of the strenuous toil that awaits you," said the blonde with a leer.
"Oh, I think that I may…" the captain grinned as she carried the small woman away from the open dance floor. "In any case, I have always loved surprises…"
Arjun smiled as he watched his friend carrying her lover from the room. Glancing at the Sultan, he caught the older man's smile. With an amused shake of his head, the prince joined in the applause as his friends left through the double doors. Of all the things which the Greek could have done, Arjun never would have thought that Gabrielle would have performed such a dance, especially in public. Yet she had, and this small act caused Arjun to feel a bit more at ease with the blonde.
As the two women exited, the music began playing low again and the servants began re-lighting the lamps. Prince Arjun sent his eyes around the vast room, paying close attention to the reactions of everyone there. He noted that everyone seemed well pleased with the performance, with the single exception of Shikha and perhaps her husband Daruka. The Indian noblewoman was glaring furiously after the two women and her husband was watching her grimly. Arjun rolled his eyes to the ornate ceiling. 'Well, Gabrielle made it pretty clear to all and sundry that she is with Zara. Perhaps from now on, Shikha will leave well enough alone,' he thought, then shook his head. 'Perhaps … but by Krishna, I doubt it.'
With a scowl, Arjun turned his attention away from Skikha, then donned an easy smile as he glanced over the crowd. From the corner of the room, he noticed the young navigator discretely excusing himself from the table. With shoulders slumped and head bowed, the bearded Moroccan exited through the nearest patio door.
Prince Asoka's eyes grew misty as he thought of the man's situation. It had only been a few moons since he lost his lover, and now he was expected to party. Like Arjun, the floor show did nothing for him and was purposely geared toward the men in the audience who had an affinity towards women, the petite man thought miserably.
'If I were not the host, and this was not the first day of the gatherings, I'd steal away outside too,' the young prince thought to himself as he returned his attention to the party. Attentive to his moods, Asha began to gently message his knotted shoulders. With only a smile, Arjun leaned into her touch as he watched the floor show progress.
Hiresh, Prince Arjun's personal protector, and captain of the guards had just finished making his evening rounds. When he heard a sound behind him, he turned around and froze as he watched the foreign man enter the public gardens. Careful to maintain his silence, Hiresh stood in the shadows and watched the man walking slowly through the dark. At the far corner of the garden, he caught sight of his lieutenant, his hand on the hilt of his sword. With a shake of his head, Hiresh ordered the man to stand down as they each kept their presence a secret from this man.
Hiresh had seen sorrow in his time. After so many years of service to the prince, he was well aware of the pain which people harbored within their hearts. This visitor, this man from a foreign land seemed filled with sadness.
The Moroccan man moved to the nearby bench and sat heavily upon the granite seat. Leaning forward, the man covered his eyes; his low voice mumbled something which Hiresh could not hear. The captain wondered if the man was praying, but then the Moroccan sat up and glanced around the dark garden, he sighed deeply and it was then that Hiresh heard the tell tale signs of tears.
"Oh Rabeé…." The man sighed as he glanced up at the night sky. Hiresh's brow arch questioningly as he heard the man's words in Arabic. The captain's mind tried to understand why a man from Morocco would be speaking the language of Arabia; his dialect was as clear and precise as to indicate his higher status. Before an answer was found, a slight noise from an upper window caught their attention.
The tall military man mirrored the man's movements and glanced up at the upper window. A diffused glow of light shinned through the closed curtains. From behind the curtains, they saw the silhouettes of Captain Zara, Arjun's best friend, and her new lover. With a gulp, Hiresh felt a familiar stirring in his loins as he watched the outline of the two women kissing in a warm embrace. At the sudden movement from the man, the captain returned his attention the visitor.
No longer able to control himself, the Moroccan sighed as he allowed his tears to fall freely.
"Rabeé …" he whispered to the air, before averting his gaze from the sight of the two lovers shadowed in the window. "Why were you taken from me?" the bearded man sobbed. "Rabeé….my heart and soul…I-I miss you now, more than ever…"
Hiresh suddenly understood that man's lament. With a frown, the captain of the guard slowly retreated from the shadows in an attempt to give the guest the privacy to grieve. When he was at the farthest end of the garden, he waved away the other guards who were secretly hidden in the shadows of the trees and bushes.
Although Hiresh did not know this man, he knew how it felt to lose a lover. With a slight sigh, the tall Indian man stood for only a moment and stared at the foreigner. He wondered what secrets the man held. 'A Moroccan speaking Arabic was not uncommon, but such a clear, distinct mastery of the dialect was unusual,' Hiresh reasoned. Before the gathering ended, Hiresh vowed that he would discover the secrets that this Moroccan visitor harbored.
The evening breeze brought a slight chill into the room. With a shiver, Zara extracted herself from her lover's arms and legs and moved across the cold tile to the open patio door. Trembling from the slight breeze, she reached out and pulled the door closed, then moved back to the bed. As an afterthought, she turned and moved to Nadrah's room, then slowly opened the door and entered the child's room.
Ever since they left the party, neither one had thought to look in on the girl. But now that their needs were sated, Zara took the time to peer in at the sleeping child. Dressed in only her underwear, Nadrah laid stretched across the bed, her head hanging over the edge, mouth wide open. The tall Moroccan smiled at the sight of the child's hair hanging down on the tiled floor.
With only a shake of her head, the captain reached down and gently picked the child up, laid her down in the bed properly, then covered her with the blanket. She took a moment to gaze at the girl's peaceful features. With no cares in the world, the child slept contentedly with her large cat nearby.
'Once, I too was like this,' Zara thought sadly. Before the melancholy could take control, she smiled and lightly brushed her fingers through the girl's hair before leaving the child's room.
When she joined Gabrielle in the bed, she felt the blonde instinctively move against her. With her back to the captain, Gabrielle snuggled into the taller woman's arms. At the feel of the warm body, the Moroccan sighed as she spooned the smaller body, her arms wrapped protectively around the lithe form.
Zara never thought that she could feel so strongly for anyone as she did for Gabrielle. She realized that of all the women she ever knew, the Greek bard was the only one who managed to pull such depth of emotions from her. Although the dance she performed was a pleasing surprise, the gift that the blonde gave her in the privacy of their room filled her with such gratitude and love that the dusky captain was at a loss for words.
They both knew that the night would end in love, but what surprised the Moroccan was Gabrielle's slow patience. The healer danced for her in private, slowly removing the rest of her clothing. Then Gabrielle swayed towards the captain and joined her on the bed. Her gentle urgings and sweet words had finally helped Zara to set aside the fear that she harbored within her ever since the hideous experiences that she and her spirit twin had gone through so long ago. With Gabrielle's help and understanding, the Moroccan was finally able to conquer her fears and overcome the past abuse in order to fully experience the act of love and this, she would never forget. Just the feelings, the exquisite sensations that she was finally able to experience brought her to tears.
She glanced down at the Greek woman and smiled. With the back of her hand, she lightly touched the smaller woman's soft cheek. When the blonde stirred against her, Zara leaned down and softly kissed the woman's shoulder.
"Gabrielle?" she whispered softly in her lover's ear. Once assured that the healer was asleep, Zara kissed her ear tenderly, before softly whispering the words she longed to say, but would never speak while the blonde was awake., "Gabrielle…..I-I….I am falling in love with you."
Gabrielle remained deep in sleep. Confident that her confession had fallen on deaf ears, the Moroccan smiled as she snuggled against the smaller woman's back. The captain pulled the covers over them, then closed her eyes and felt dreams quickly consume her.
The small woman remained silent in her lover's embrace. When the Moroccan's soft, even breathing was felt, Gabrielle opened her eyes and stared into the darkness. She heard the dark captain's words, yet didn't know how to respond. A part of her knew all along that a love was growing between her and the captain, but because of her love for Xena, she pushed the feelings away.
'Do I … love Zara?' Gabrielle silently asked herself. 'I did dance for her, but did I do it for love?' she wondered.
As her thoughts went over the past events, she contemplated everything that happened to them tonight. She danced for Zara, and not just any dance, but a dance that proclaimed to all observers that she willingly gave herself to the Moroccan captain. Initially, she convinced herself that it was to keep Shikha at bay, and the blonde hoped that it would end the woman's pursuit of the gentle woman once and for all. But when they returned to their room, she finished the dance, baring herself completely for her lover's pleasure and it was then that she realized that she did not dance for any other reason than the love she felt toward her tall, dark lover.
Once the dance was over, they shared such sweet love making and with Zara finally trusting her, the healer was able to show how fully their love could be shared. The scars in the tall woman's soul once prevented them from sharing one another in this way before, but now, with all their time together a bond was formed and Gabrielle was finally able to show the Moroccan how wonderful it could be to allow a lover to penetrate her, in order to love her fully and give her such exquisite pleasure.
As she remembered this moment of shared joy and emotion, a slight tear formed in her eyes. At another place and time she might have been able to convince herself that she only did this to help the tall woman live fully. But deep down inside, she knew this was not the reason. Out of love, Xena had taught her how to make love. And just like Xena had tenderly guided her in the act, she wanted to do the same for her new lover…not for pity, no, but because she truly did love Zara.
'Oh, Xena, Xena...' she thought as she felt Zara breathe peacefully against her. 'I love you, but…. I'm falling in love with her too. Zara loves me, and she needs me … but, you love and need me too….oh, by the gods, what am I going to do? What am I going to do…?' There was no answer from the darkness and the blonde sighed as she let sleep steal over her and take her away.
The early morning sun broke through the open window, a single ray of light falling across the sleeping bard. Filled with fatigue, Gabrielle opened one eye slightly, then grumbled at the brightness of the sun before rolling over against the warm body to fall back asleep. The new position, although comfortable, now allowed a ray of light to shine down upon the blonde's closed eyes through the reflection of the mirror.
With a slight sigh, Gabrielle moved away from the reflected ray, her body pressing closer to the warmth of her lover. Squirming slightly, the Amazon absently threw her leg over the Moroccan's longer one, her face rubbing the sleep from her eyes against a firm breast. In an attempt to get more comfortable, the Greek woman climbed over her lover, her body instantly relaxing on top of the softness of the captain as her legs draped over Zara's.
At this new movement, she felt her lover stir slightly, a slight grunt escaping the taller woman's sleeping form. With a slight smile, Gabrielle nuzzled her face between the slumbering woman's breasts, her right arm reaching up to rest partially on her lover's hair and the softness of her cheek. Mischievously, Gabrielle's left hand snaked down and softly stroked the side of seafarer's hip. With a yawn, the blonde slightly groaned as she attempted to fall back to sleep.
Zara dreamed that she was bathed in the early morning rays of the sun. As she basked in the warm sensations, she sighed as a sense of contentment filled her. The refreshing scents of jasmine wafted to her senses. Just when her dreams began to take another turn, she felt a sudden heat cross her body as a soft touch registered against her hip. With a faint whimper, she shifted slightly as she slowly surfaced from her hazy dreams.
The trifling weight of the healer was the first thing that greeted the sleepy captain. When her senses came fully awake, she was aware of the smaller body snuggling on top of her, the tangle of arms and legs enticing her in ways that she found hard to resist. When Gabrielle's fingers lightly stroked her hip, the captain looked down at the Greek to see if she was awake. With eyes closed and a contented look on her face, the blonde continued to sleep while she caressed Zara's sensitive flesh, her nude and beautiful body wiggled slowly against the Moroccan.
With a slight sigh, Zara wrapped her arms around the smaller woman as she closed her eyes, willing her body to not respond but to return to sleep. When she felt Gabrielle's hips squirming against her leg, the feel of the Amazon's soft pubic hair on her skin, the Moroccan gave a silent prayer to Allah for control. The feel of the smaller woman's body, the way her hips slowly gyrated against the captain's flesh, was enough to waken every nerve fiber within her body. When she felt the healers skillful hands slowly move from her hip, to between her legs, she glanced down expecting to see the blonde awake. What she found instead was the features of her lover, eyes closed as if asleep, yet the corners of her lips were turned upward into a smile.
'So, you think you can play sleeping bard and drive me wild?' Zara thought with a smile as she willed herself to calmness. Using all of the techniques that Arjun had taught her, the captain closed her eyes and began to meditate. Each time she felt herself slowly drifting back to sleep, the light, gentle touches from the blonde pulled her back to reality until all she could do was give up and allow the sensations to take her.
Sleep became impossible when she felt Gabrielle's slender, talented fingers entering her warmth. Just as she had done the night before, the gentle Greek brought her to such heights of pleasures that she had only experienced for the first time last night. Zara surrendered herself completely as she had before she gave in to the tidal waves of pleasure that seared through every fiber of her being.
The blonde was careful to move slowly with Zara. Always mindful of her lover's needs and fears, Gabrielle managed to stifle her own rampant desires but once the Amazon felt her lover's release, a deep groan escaped her control. After the fierce orgasm she had just given the tall woman, the storyteller longed for her own. Ever since she had explained to the captain about her insatiable urges before her moon time, the Moroccan was more than willing to help her sate her needs.
Once she had regained her breath, Zara held her close, her lips moved to cover every inch of her face. Like a starving woman, the captain reign soft, gentle kisses over Gabrielle as her hands sought out to pleasure the blonde. As her own desires grew, the Greek woman gave in to the Moroccan's caresses. She felt her already aroused body respond with intensity as the dark woman wrapped her lips around a pink nipple. Unable to control herself, she took the tall woman's hand and guided it precisely where she wanted it, between her legs. Just as the captain's fingers were gently stroking her, bringing her ever so gently toward the brink of climax, the sharp sound of the door hitting the wall broke through their concentration.
With a surprised shriek, Gabrielle yanked the blankets over their naked bodies as Zara quickly rolled off of her. From the door, Arjun released a higher pitched shriek as he quickly turned in his tracks, looking for the intruder who had frightened the smaller woman. When no one was seen, he simply shrugged his shoulders and continued into the room.
"Thank Krishna you're both awake! I simply could not wait any longer! Have I got news for you!" His high pitched voice was suddenly filled with glee and he padded on bare feet across the marble floor and quickly joined them on the bed, completely oblivious to their state of arousal.
Arjun wore a white satin robe. The front part of his hair was wound around small, soft pink cloth in order to bring tighter curls to his already naturally wavy hair. He held his fingers away from his body as he waited for the fresh henna symbols to dry on his long fingernails, then, as if waiving away a question he turned a serious expression on the two women. When Arjun looked down and saw Gabrielle pulling the blankets to her chest, he smiled and patted her hand.
"Oh, honey, no need to cover up! It's not like you have anything that I haven't already seen in one form or another … and, if you don't mind me saying, you have nothing that I really care to see!" His conspirator's whisper was drowned out by his slight laughter. "But seriously … have I got some tales to tell you!!!" He squealed in delight.
With a sigh, Zara glanced down at the healer and cast an apologetic smile to her before laying back down on the bed and pulling the blonde into her arms. At her embrace, Gabrielle's settled back firmly against the captain's front. The feel of the Moroccan's breasts against her back sent a shiver of lust through Gabrielle, but a slight intake of breath was all that was heard as the taller woman settled in behind the smaller woman.
"What's the matter, dear? Is it cold in here for you?" Arjun glanced around the room, noticing that all the doors and windows were closed against the early morning chill.
"She'll be fine, Arjun," Zara assured as she pulled the blanket further onto Gabrielle, tucking it under the blonde's arms before snaking her own arm under the blanket to hold her lover close. Without any thought, she pressed herself against the smaller woman's body, the feel of Gabrielle's rump against her mound sending an enticing chill through her. Sensing the same thing, Gabrielle shivered for a moment, then settled down, her head pillowed on Zara's right arm.
"Well, let me tell you, Gabrielle, that little dance number of yours certainly did get attention!" Arjun laughed as he began his narration while settling down into the pillows beside them.
The captain unconsciously brushed her hand over Gabrielle's soft skin, unaware that it was the smaller woman's breast until she felt the nipple hardening under her fingertips. As Arjun began his narration, Zara smiled to herself as she began to gently fondle the blonde's breasts beneath the blanket. She inhaled deeply, her hot breath close to the Amazon's ear as her palm cupped Gabrielle's ample breast, her fingers alternating between kneading the soft, pliant flesh, and clasping the taut nipple between her fingers.
"And did it ever rile up Shikha!" Arjun exclaimed as Gabrielle released a sharp intake of breath just as Zara gently tweaked the Greek woman's hard nipple.
"Oh, honey, I know what you mean," Arjun tsked, mistaking her gasp as a commentary on his words. He patted Gabrielle's exposed arm, then continued in his narration.
"That Shikha, she is a demon to watch out for! Anyway, as soon as you two left, and need I remind you both how you left?" Arjun glanced around the room and smirked as he saw the clothing strewn about in piles where they had discarded it. "Looks like it only got better once you got here!" he winked knowingly before continuing his narration, "Well, as soon as you two left, there was the worst ruckus from the East Side seating. You know, where Shikha and Daruka were sitting, and, oh, blessed Krishna, you should have heard them arguing!"
Only half listening, the Moroccan snaked her hand down Gabrielle's firm abdomen, the tips of her fingers lightly brushing over the top of the blonde triangle patch between the healer's legs. With a gulp and a negative shake of her head, the blonde tried to keep her legs tightly closed, but soon gave into the teasing touches from the captain. As her legs slowly spread, Zara gently guided the Amazon's leg until it rested over her own, then her fingers returned to their assault on the smaller woman's swollen, sensitive spot.
"And there I was, hearing their argument and thinking that I had to go and break them up, when all of a sudden, a silence filled the room," Arjun's voice grew low for emphasis just as the captain's fingers parted Gabrielle's nether lips.
"Ohhhhh…." Gabrielle gasped when Zara's finger lightly brushed over her swollen, engorged clitoris.
"Yes!" Arjun answered Gabrielle. "Why, you can imagine what was going through my mind."
"I-It's … t-too much!" Gabrielle hissed softly when Zara's fingertip moved down her moist lips and gently entered the Greek woman's warmth, only to move back up to her hardness once more.
"Exactly! All of the silence, right after the yelling, why, it was too much! What, I asked myself, could happen next?" His expansive hand gestures added to the monologue. "Well, I had no more asked myself that, than my question was answered! Can you imagine what happened next? Why, Shikha began to fus right there and then. Not just quiet little ones, but loud enough so that no one could ignore it!"
Zara's fingers were moving slowly, she felt her lover's hips thrusting so softly that only someone pressed against her would know this. With a slight smile, the dark haired woman messaged around Gabrielle's swollen clitoris until the blonde's body began to convulse. When it seemed like the Amazon would climax, the Moroccan stopped as her fingers slid down the healers lower lips, the tips of her fingers entering the warm body once more.
"O-Ohhh … g-gods!" Gabrielle exclaimed as she pressed herself against Zara's fingers.
"That was exactly what I said! I said, Oh, Gods, I cannot believe this is happening!" Arjun said, completely oblivious to Gabrielle's predicament. "And just when I thought it couldn't get worse, everyone who was sitting in that area got up and started moving away from the happy couple," he explained.
"Well, you can imagine how mortified I was! There she is, fusing and stinking up the place, and just when I was ready to go and apologize to my guests, Shikha rises up from her chair, the stench is drifting toward us, and the mad woman goes running out, loud fuses coming from her posterior. Why, I can tell you, she was none too popular after that," Arjun said as Zara returned to her assault against Gabrielle's hardness.
"Why, as the servants were opening all the windows and doors for ventilation, I went to everyone and apologized telling them that Shikha was a party crasher and that I would have the two upstarts evicted first thing in the morning!" Arjun stated.
"Y-Yes!" Gabrielle exclaimed when Zara began an easy cadence over her clitoris, her fingers covered with the moisture from the blonde's body. "Ohhhh … godssss, no."
"Yes, I agree. I mean, how can I evict her, when in all honesty I'm the one who invited her. You are so right, Gabrielle. Not only would it be wrong of me, but it would be rude," Arjun stated.
"Ummmm … p-perfect," Gabrielle groaned softly as Zara's fingers rubbed rhythmically over her hard flesh.
"Well, if you think that was a good piece of news, let me tell you about Major Prangue. You remember that little number he was with?" Arjun asked as he began to remove the curlers from his hair.
Zara's hand had stopped teasing the Greek and grew still. At this, Gabrielle growled softly as she pressed her body back against the Moroccan's. "Gods, don't stop now!"
Arjun turned to her and said, "Give a girl a chance to catch her breath, Gabrielle."
Very flushed and wanting to pant, her body longing for release but swallowing hard instead, Gabrielle moaned and said, "Y-You're killing me."
Arjun looked at the blonde with surprise, "Why Gabrielle, I didn't think a girl of action like yourself could love Gossip as much as me!"
Behind Gabrielle, Zara's head was bowed, her face buried in the softness of Gabrielle's hair, her shoulders shaking in silent laughter.
Gabrielle, said, "It's the anticipation of what's ... c-coming ... that has me breathless!"
"Well, as I was saying, you remember Major Prangue and that number he was with?" He asked as he began to shake out his fresh curls. "Well, she was not his wife, but that dress she wore does belong to his wife!"
"OH, GODS, m-more!" Gabrielle groaned as she felt Zara's artful fingers bringing her to the brink of pleasure.
"Well, if it's more you want, his wife wasn't here because she's vacationing up north with … you won't believe this!" Arjun giggled like a conspirator, "She was vacationing with Major Prangue's sister!!" He hooted with a laugh.
When Zara's hand stopped, Gabrielle pushed back against her, before uttering the protest, "OHHHH, GODS, Nooo,"
Arjun replied, "YES! I couldn't believe it myself. Although I always suspected something like that… but I always thought it was his brother," Arjun continued to prattle on in his non-stop monologue.
Concentrating on Gabrielle's pleasure, Zara ignored Arjun's words as she gently stroked the Greek, her fingers keeping a steady rhythm. With each stroke, the blonde's hips wiggled against her touch. The Amazon's breath, although outwardly controlled, was softly increasing in intensity. When the Moroccan felt the smaller woman losing control, she held her tightly, the slight gasps from the smaller woman were drowned out by Arjun's constant monologue until even he stopped and glance down at the blonde.
In a whimpering cry, Gabrielle turned her face away, burying her features in Zara's arm as she shuddered uncontrollably as she climaxed. The Moroccan held her tightly as Gabrielle's wetness covered her fingers. With a look of concern, Arjun's eyes grew wide.
"Gabrielle, are you all right? Can I get you anything? Water? Your medical satchel?" Arjun's concern was genuine as he noticed a flush to the healer's complexion.
"Might be something she ate … like Shikha's condition," Zara added, suppressing her laughter against the back of the blonde's milky white shoulder, as Arjun jumped from the bed, his hand over his nose as he began to move away.
"Oh, my! I'll bring the Sultan's healer here immediately! I'd better have a talk with the cook … check on the other guests," Arjun suddenly gasped in fear as his eyes grew wide. "By Ganesha! This could be an epidemic! As soon as he finishes checking on Gabrielle, I will speak with the Sultan's healer about what can be done to help everyone infected!" Arjun squealed as he turned and fled the room with little mincing steps. His arms were bent away from his body at the elbows and flailed about as he ran. "Not to worry, I'll have all of my healer's here in no time. This epidemic shall not ruin my party!" the small prince shouted out as he closed the door behind him.
As the last of Gabrielle's orgasm rocked through her body, Zara smiled as she held the smaller woman close. Tenderly, the Moroccan lightly brushed her lips against the blonde's sweaty shoulder. With a heartfelt sigh, Gabrielle turned and smiled up at her, her body beginning to shake from silent laughter as she turned in the captain's arms.
"A-An … epidemic?" Gabrielle giggled hysterically. Like the epidemic that Arjun feared, the laughter quickly swept the seafarer away. With fits of laughter and giggles, the two women held each other close. At the sound from Nadrah's room, they glanced over at the girl's door. With sleep showing in her face, the little girl yawned, then rubbed her eyes.
"What did I miss?" Nadrah asked as she toddled across the room in only her underwear, then climbed onto the bed to join them. "Zara, Gabrielle, what did I miss?" She asked again as a yawn escaped her control.
"A joke, Nadrah, nothing more," the captain managed to say as her laughter slowly subsided.
"Something only adults would understand, sweetheart," Gabrielle explained as she wrapped her arms around the child and cuddled her close, then glanced up at Zara. As the girl fell asleep in her arms, the Moroccan reached over and softly kissed Gabrielle's lips.
"We should tell Arjun that it's not contagious," Zara smiled as she snuggled back to the pillow.
With a yawn, Gabrielle snuggled deeper into the bed, her eyes slowly closing. "Yes … but, not quite yet. We have time to…"
"…Sleep," Zara finished the storyteller's sentence as she closed her eyes and began to drift off.
Gabrielle found herself nestled within a peaceful dream of home. She felt the arms of her soulmate around her as the sound of the morning birds sang a soft song. From somewhere behind her, she heard Xena's soft words echoing in her dreams, "I love you, Gabrielle."
With a slight smile, the blonde nuzzled deeper into the dream. Her heart soared with a happiness she only really felt when in Xena's arms. Knowing that her love was so close to her, holding her protectively, and knowing that finally their two souls had met and were one, Gabrielle was filled with an intense feeling of happiness and contentment. Just as she was feeling Xena's lips caress her cheek, a slight sound tugged at her, pulling her from the pleasant dream.
Angered from being woken from her dream, Gabrielle grumbled under her breath as she opened her eyes to the new intruder. It was Abu al-Farabi, the Sultan's healer. The older man stood above her, his slight smile barely visible through his thick beard. Behind him, Arjun's look of panic was clearly etched on his face.
"Oh, please do not tell me that they've all succumbed to this epidemic!" Arjun asked with a fearful voice.
"Calm yourself, young prince, they are merely sleeping," the older man stated with a wave of his hand.
"Healer al-Farabi!" Gabrielle was suddenly sitting up, pulling the blanket over herself, then glanced at Zara to make sure she was covered. The captain's arms were around her and she was still sound asleep. "What's going on?" The Greek woman asked the older man softly just as Nadrah mumbled in her sleep.
"The young prince has asked me to check on you. He fears you may have the condition that Shikha is afflicted with," his face suddenly turned grim.
"Ummm…" Gabrielle felt her cheeks growing hot as she glanced from Arjun, to the healer. Assuming her discomfort was from Arjun's presence, the older man turned and gave a polite nod to the prince.
"What?" Arjun's expression was filled with confusion, then, as dawning settled in, nodded as he began to step discreetly away, "Oh! Of course … I'll just be right here … over here … then you can tell me what steps to take next," Arjun stated as he moved to the door, keeping his back to the room.
"Healer al-Farabi, I am very sorry that the prince wasted your time bringing you here," Gabrielle's words were a hushed whisper. "You see, it was merely in jest that Zara mentioned I might have what Shikha has…" The older man's brow rose in a silent question as he moved to sit beside her. "You see, it's like this … umm … Zara and I were … in the middle of something … and … well, I'm afraid I was, uh, unable to … control…" Unable to fully explain, Gabrielle hoped the healer could decipher her meaning.
The older man simply stared at her. Then, when he saw the deeply sleeping form next to her, the disheveled sheets and the blush on Gabrielle's face, the older man glanced down in thought. When he recognized the musky scent of women's perspiration within the room, he smiled and nodded to himself.
"So you are not ill?" He asked softly.
"No, quite embarrassed, but not ill at all," Gabrielle explained as Nadrah began to wake from her sleep, a big yawn escaping her control as she sat up and glanced around the room.
"Am I missing anything?" The child asked as she instinctively nuzzled into Gabrielle's side. The blonde smiled and unconsciously wrapped an arm around her, hugging her close.
"No honey, you aren't missing anything." She assured.
The old healer smiled down at the child, then spoke quietly to Gabrielle. "Well, healer Gabrielle, if you are not ill, then we have another matter to discuss," he stated as he removed a vial from his pocket. He held it up to her, then shook it displaying what little remained in the vial.
"That's mine! B-But how…?" She blurted with shock as she took it from him. Without a care, she hastily moved from the covers completely naked and dashed across the room to her satchel. As she began to rummage through her bag, the older healer turned his gaze away from her naked form.
Nadrah was wide-awake as she curiously watched the blonde. From the jouncing movements on the bed, Zara woke up in time to see Arjun glancing over his shoulders, his eyes assessing the Amazon's bare body. With an approving expression, he glanced at the captain, nodded approvingly, and winked then quickly turned back before Gabrielle caught him looking. The Moroccan grinned to herself as she yawned and watched her lover move about in the nude.
"When I noticed the inscription on the bottle was not mine, I quickly realized what had happened to the Lady Shikha." Healer al-Farabi began to explain as he glanced around the floor for something. Once he found the object of his search, the older man smiled as he reached down and pulled an oversized shirt from the floor, then handed it to Gabrielle as he turned his back before continuing to speak. Taking the offered shirt, the Greek healer pulled it over her head as she suddenly realized that she was naked.
"However, that stubborn husband of hers would not allow me near enough to examine her until this morning. I was able to give her an herb which would counteract the cleansing herb but after losing so much…" he shrugged, "I am afraid that after nearly a full night on the chamber pot, there will be little else she can do but rest, which is what I prescribed as well as liquids and food. In a few days, she should be well enough to rejoin the festivities," he said.
"But…" Gabrielle was confused as she moved to sit on the edge of the bed with her medical satchel in her arms. "I know this vial was right in here yesterday. I don't understand."
"Yes, this leads to another question," his tone was soft.
"How did Shikha get the cleansing herb in her?" She asked as realization of the woman's illness was suddenly clear.
The bottle was hers, that much she knew, but how it ended up with Abu al-Farabi was a mystery. Glancing up at the older man, she noticed him looking over his shoulder to Arjun, then to Nadrah's bright, alert eyes. With a slight sigh, the old man took the only chair in the room and placed it before the blonde. Wanting to keep the conversation private, the healer easily switched his language to Gabrielle's mother tongue, speaking in clear, precise Greek.
"During the party last night, I saw the falconer's boy put this into a flower pot," he began to explain.
"Pritam?" Gabrielle was surprised at the news.
"What happened to Pritam?" Nadrah quickly asked when she recognized her friend's name. Moving closer to Gabrielle, the girl leaned into the healer's warmth as she glanced from her friend to the older healer.
"Yes, that was who I saw. I had no idea what he had disposed of, but after Lady Shikha's, ah, illness, his actions warranted my investigation. When I found the bottle, and the scribing was not in my hand, my only thought was that it might have come from your bag. I was not certain how much was missing and hoped that perhaps the child had simply discarded it without opening the vial," the older man sighed as he ignored Nadrah and continued to speak in Gabrielle's native tongue. "Unfortunately, that appears not to have been the case."
At his words, Gabrielle noticed the fatigue etched on his face. The clothing he wore were those he had worn during last night's party. Understanding his concern, Gabrielle leaned forward.
"The vial was full, Master al-Farabi…" She explained, then asked with concern. "How many people…?"
"Thus far, only one. When the young prince came to get me, I feared that more had been affected." He explained.
"Have you talked with…" Gabrielle glanced down at Nadrah and a slight smile crossed her lips before returning her attention to the healer.
"I attempted to go to the child, but I'm afraid the exterior guards would not allow me to travel to where the child is residing and I could not air my concern because I was not even certain if my suspicions were correct..." He explained.
"…but they are." Gabrielle finished with a sigh. Sensing her guilt over the incident, the older man's wrinkled hand lightly patted the blonde's smooth hand.
"I'm afraid so, but all is not lost. As soon as I was able, I administered to antidote. Shikha will be fine, in time. And I have inquired about other guests, no one seemed to be affected…until you, that is. Thankfully, it was simply a misunderstanding. But, my friend, the question remains, how did the child get the vial?" The older man was solemn.
Glancing down into Nadrah's bright, inquisitive eyes, Gabrielle smiled as she lightly kissed the top of the girl's hair, then knelt before the child. "Nadrah, honey, I need to ask you something, and it's very important that you tell the truth, ok?"
At the tone from the blonde, Zara was suddenly wide awake, the seriousness of whatever conversation that had taken place in hushed tones between the two healers was not lost on her. Without a concern for her own modesty, she rose from the bed and moved to a drawer, where she removed another shirt and quickly pulled it over her naked form, then turned to watch the exchange between her lover and Nadrah.
"Were you in my healers satchel at all?" Gabrielle asked.
"No," Nadrah answered without hesitation. Gabrielle's brow furrowed in thought, then smiled softly.
"Did you come into the room at all last night during the party? Did you have anyone with you?" She asked again.
"Ahuh, me and Pritam. I was introducing him to Prasha." She smiled as she glanced at Gabrielle. When she saw the Greek woman's frown and look at the older healer, Nadrah's smile quickly vanished. Afraid that she had done something wrong, she looked up at Zara who now held an unreadable expression.
"Gabrielle?" The captain asked, her arms crossed on her chest as a frown crossed her features.
"Healer al-Farabi found a vial from my bag, the vial I kept the cleansing herb in," she began to explain.
"It was discarded in a potted plant…" the wise man stated as he glanced momentarily at Nadrah, then sighed as he glanced down at the tiled floor.
"He saw it discarded by Pritam," Gabrielle finished what the healer could not.
"What…?" Zara began to ask, then glanced down at Nadrah. "Nadrah, did you ever leave Pritam alone in this room?"
The child's eyes closed slowly as she began to concentrate, her little brows scrunched up in thought. Then, with a frown, she glanced up at Zara. "Only for a little bit, I was getting Prasha some water before bringing him back in from the patio," she explained as her gaze moved from the Moroccan, to Gabrielle then to the Sultan's healer.
"How many were affected by this … this…?" the dark haired woman questioned.
"So far, one," Gabrielle replied.
"The Lady Shikha seems to be the only one who suffered the ill effects of the cleanser," Healer al-Farabi added. "Thankfully, I was able to assist her. She should be well in a few days."
"And this herb does…?" Zara asked again, her confusion evident.
"The herb is a cleanser, Zara." Gabrielle began to explain. "If a patient is unable to … umm … if they are unable to go…" she rose her brows and motioned toward her abdomen area.
"Oh … OH!" The Moroccan suddenly understood. "So that was the cause of her actions at the party after we left?" She gazed at al-Farabi.
"It would appear so. I had not known what the child did at the time, but it soon became clear," The elder man stated.
Before the three could continue, Arjun stepped forward, clearing his throat. With a confused expression, the feminine man glanced at Zara, then Gabrielle, before turning his attention to the healer. Still maintaining his distance from the storyteller, the prince spoke up.
"Well, healers. Do I have an epidemic on my hands or not?" Arjun asked, his voice low and controlled as he pulled his robe closed.
"What is at play here, Prince Arjun, has nothing to do with a contagion, and everything to do with mischievousness," the healer replied. At Arjun's continued expression of confusion, Gabrielle held the bottle up to Arjun.
"Someone took a cleansing herb from my satchel and used it, we fear, on Shikha," Gabrielle explained. "We won't know for certain until we talk to … the suspect, if more than one person was harmed by it."
"B-But … then … what of your , umm … situation?" the lightly brown skinned man asked, his brow raised quizzically as he glanced at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle seemed to turn a few shades red as she averted her eyes from her host. Her hand moving up to cover a smile as she shyly looked away, then glanced at Zara for help. The tall woman remained impassive, her expression revealing nothing as she gazed at her princely friend.
"Whatever that was, it passed and gave Gabrielle no further troubles," was all the captain replied deadpan.
When awareness suddenly dawned, Arjun grew a big smile, his hand waving for emphasis as a slight squeal of amusement passed his lips. "Oh, you two are really bad! And that, my friends is very good!" The prince chuckled, "But, as to what to do about the little … what was it you called it? Mischievousness?" His smile grew suddenly coy. "Well, as the saying goes, it couldn't have happened to a nicer gal!" He hooted, before breaking out into fits of laughter, his body moving toward the bed until he fell, face down, to laugh and chortle at the predicament that had fallen over Shikha.
At his actions, Zara glanced at Gabrielle who was smiling at the laughter that escaped the man. Like an infectious disease, the blonde began to chuckle, then released full belly laughs as tears of laughter rolled down the prince's face. Confused by the adults, Nadrah climbed onto the prince, stretching out on Arjun's back as she giggled at his laughter. With as much humor as he could muster, the aged healer shook his head as a smile broke through his beard. Although the captain was smiling, and a chuckle threatened to escape her control, she felt that this matter could not be taken lightly.
"We have to do something about this, someone could have gotten hurt," Zara managed to say through her slight chuckle.
"O-Oh….yes! S-Something must be done with that young scamp!" Arjun chortled as Nadrah rolled from his back and he stood up from the bed. "I … shall go … personally … and speak with his sister," Arjun managed to pull some slight control over his mirth, but when he glanced at Gabrielle, the laughter from both broke out unabated once more.
"A-And … I will apologize to Shikha myself," the Moroccan offered.
"Oh … n-no … you … won't!" Arjun's commanding voice managed to break through his fit of snickers, "I forbid you to say a word of this outside of this room!" He commanded as the laughter slowed in intensity, his chest still shaking from the humor of Shikha's predicament.
"Daruka is filled with anger towards you, Zara. You go to him now, I don't know what excuse he'll use to start a fight. So let me take care of this," Arjun said as control returned. "I will go and find out what the boy did, then go from there. Healer al-Farabi, care to join me for this questioning?" He invited.
"Perhaps I should, then I may check on others, should anyone else be involved," the older man said with a haggard sigh as he rose tiredly from the chair. With only a nod, he lead the young prince from the room, the sounds of Arjun's remaining chuckles echoing in the hall.
When the room was empty of all but the three occupants, Gabrielle glanced up at Zara. With a shrug and shake of her head, the captain sighed as she began to wonder how this little incident would turn out. Then, Gabrielle made an audible sniffing sound before gazing down at the smiling girl, then at herself. Lifting her arm, the blonde sniffed under it, then grimaced.
"I think we all need a bath," she stated as she rose from the bed.
"A bath! Not again!" Nadrah whined as she turned to the captain.
"Yes, a bath. Come on, and don't dawdle, I have an archery competition to join in," the dusky woman ordered as she walked by the bed, then reached down and lifted the girl in her arms, holding her by her side under one arm like a sack of wheat.
"Aww," was all Nadrah moaned as the two women and the bundle of child disappeared into the bathing room.
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