Dyo Zoi ~
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Solan, Hope, Ares, Varia, Dahok and all other characters tat have been previously mentioned on Xena are property of Ren. Pics. Any other characters are owned by me and are the property of my own twisted little mind. I own this story and it is copyrighted to me, thank you very much.
Content: There's a little of everything, but nothing explicit. Sorry, but that's just not my bag. If you're lookin for a good roll in the hay, its not to be found here. Read accordingly. There is violence, but not anything graphic.
I appreciate any comments. Please use constructive critism. This is my first fanfic endeavor so please be kind. And no flame or hate mail please, lets be mature. Thanks firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy the Show.
The sun golden rays timidly peeked through the window into the bard's hut. Its warm light illuminated the two figures lying intertwined on the bed. Their arms wrapped around each other in embracive exhaustion.
They looked so innocent, yet so innocently indulgent.
Both of the bodies held slight smiles on their faces. Gabrielle's was reminiscent of youthful discovery, Aphrodite's of whole and complete satisfaction.
After a while, the sun's warming presence was too much for the bard's consciousness to resist. Her emerald eyes fluttered open. She sat up and immediately regretted the action.
"Ahh!" She groaned. "That's smarts!"
A gift from the moon festival a head that hurts like Tartaurus.
Gabrielle's head was throbbing. It felt like she'd been kicked in the forehead by a centaur. Serves me right!
She turned her body to face the results of her reckless indulgence. There lay the Goddess of Love, cuddling up to a pillow, in place of Gabrielle's presence.
Great! What did I do?! Gabrielle's mind asked regretfully, but it was rhetoric. The bard was very aware of last nights "athletics".
Drunkenness often results in memory lapses; Gabrielle was not blessed with that luxury. No, she remembered last night perfectly. She had sex with the Goddess of Love.
Gabrielle's first reaction to the realization was the defensive. She seduced me! Gabrielle emptily accused. But, she knew the conviction had no merit. The bard had been a willing participant in the night's activities. If anything, Gabrielle had seduced Aphrodite. For Gods sake, she even tried to stop me.
The bard desperately wished she could take back the night's activities. It wasn't that she regretted it. Last night had been .well .incredible. No, she couldn't complain about that. She had been a willing participant in the sexual marathon. That wasn't it.
What had happened, the sex, it had been too good. Sleeping with Aphrodite had been everything she'd ever dreamed sleeping with a woman would be. It was gentle, yet passionate. It was slow, yet fevered. It was caring, yet intense. It had been everything she had wanted. Everything she had dreamed about. But, it hadn't been with Xena.
The passionate excursion had been like a scenario out of one of the bard's late night fantasy. Except, it was missing a certain tall, dark, and deadly warrior.
Gabrielle felt guilty. Last night, she tried to make up for Xena absence by fantasizing that the earnest Goddess was none other then her own very Warrior Princess. I think I even no I could have ..Yes, yes she had. The bard even called out Xena name ..several times.
She began to plunge even deeper down a shame spiral. Gabrielle was so encompassed by her self deprecation, that the stirring Aphrodite went unnoticed.
Aphrodite opened her eyes and was met with a vision. There before her was the woman she loved. Her body draped in a white sheet, the sun casting down warm rays, highlighting the bard's perfectly toned body. The Goddess smiled and simply in took the sight before her.
She noticed the lost look on Gabrielle's face. She's probably regretting last night. I knew she would. The Goddess, for her part, held no assumptions about last night. She knew when the morning came, the bard would most likely regret her actions. And, although it hurt, Aphrodite accepted it.
She was well aware the hurt daylight would bring, so she begged The Fates for the night to never end. But, the morning came too quickly for the Goddess, and it seemed the bard, as well.
Aphrodite knew that to Gabrielle last night had been a drunken mistake. It had just been casual sex. The idea saddened the Goddess. She remembered Gabrielle calling out Xena name, not hers, when she reached the height of passion. That had hurt, more then she wanted to admit.
But that was the price.
She accepted it.
But last night, it hadn't been just sex to her. It never could be, not with Gabrielle. Last night had been incredible. She not only felt with her body, she felt with her soul. The joy of discovery almost matched the physical pleasure.
Last night, Aphrodite hadn't had sex with Gabrielle. She had made love to Gabrielle. That in itself was a right reserved for few. Aphrodite had sex all the time with countless persons not important enough to have names. Sex was just sensation, nothing beyond that. It was pure carnage ending in release.
But few had ever experienced Aphrodite making love. The Goddess could only name a few partners, actually. Making love was a completely different experience. Sex was all about her pleasure, but when she made love, Aphrodite enjoyed giving equally as much as the taking.
She was very attentive, as she had been with Gabrielle. Last night had been an opportunity for the Goddess to do the worshipping, as she had to the bard's body. Showering it with kisses and caresses, applying pleasure to every inch.
It had been awesome. It had been incredible. At least .it had been for her.
The bard continued on in her sorry state, almost consciously refusing to look at the Goddess. This worried Aphrodite. The one thing that scared her was Gabrielle anger, but not anger at what had happened.
Aphrodite was terrified that the bard would think that she purposefully took advantage of her weakened state. That she had seduced her, leaving her unable to consent. Aphrodite couldn't bare that. She was a Goddess in all, but even she wasn't strong enough to shoulder Gabrielle's hate. It would break her.
With each second of Gabrielle's continued silence, Aphrodite became more and more worried. Then, as if sensing the Goddess's fear, Gabrielle turned to Goddess and smiled.
"Hey." She said casually, yet heartfelt as if to put Aphrodite at ease.
"Hey." Aphrodite repeated back.
An awkward silence followed the greeting with both minds reeling at what to say.
"About Last night ." The bard began.
"It was " Aphrodite jumped in, as if to justify herself.
"Incredible." The Bard finished.
Aphrodite smiled at the admission. Maybe she doesn't regret it.
They both said at once. The two broke into laughter at the incident. The accidental humor broke the ice between the two and reaffirmed their comfortability level.
"Aphrodite, I have something to say to you."
"No, me first."
"Please, let me first." The bard said in a serious, yet sincere tone. The Goddess bowed her head and obliged.
"Last night, it was incredible. It was everything I could have hoped for and everything I've dreamed about. Last night was great. I may have been a little tipsy," The bard admitted smirking. "But, I remember everything .Everything."
Aphrodite still sat with her head bowed, too afraid to look the bard in the eye. Gabrielle reached over and lifted the Goddess's chin so they were staring directly at each other in the eye.
"Aphrodite, I don't regret what happened last night." She said seriously. A smile spread like wildfire across the Goddess's face. Her whole demeanor began to brighten up. She's getting the wrong idea!
"But " The smile dropped as Aphrodite now waited in fear for the next shoe to fall.
"It can't happen again. Aphrodite, what happened last night might have been great, but it was just sex. It was tremendous sex." Gabrielle admitted with a blush. "But still, just sex."
"I can't let that happen again. It's not who I am or who I want to be. I'm sorry."
The bard let out a deep breath and silently waited for the Goddess to respond. Aphrodite opened and shut her mouth several times as if formulating a reply, but heeded to produce one. Finally, she found the right words.
"You're wrong you know."
"Wrong? About what?" The bard asked confused. That wasn't the reaction she had expected.
"I mean, sweet pea, you were right about last night. It WAS incredible." The Goddess winked at the bard to cover her own blush. Her expression turned more somber.
"But, it wasn't just sex. At least not for me. Gabby, last night. Last night we made love. I know it, I felt it. Something met on a deeper level with me. It wasn't sex, it was love .for me."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to intercede, but Aphrodite quickly silenced her.
"Let me finish. I have something I have to tell you, something I should have told you earlier."
She took a deep breath. It was the Goddess's turn to reach and lift Gabrielle chin so they were directly eye to eye. Aphrodite exhaled slowly and began her confession with unbacked strength.
"Gabrielle, I love you."
"I love you to Aphrodite, you're a great friend." The bard smiled at Aphrodite's admission, but it left her confused. That was her big confession?! And I thought Xena had a hard time expressing her feelings.
" No, no you don't understand. I don't just love you. Gabrielle, I'm in love with you."
The bard leaned back against the weight of the heavy revelation. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, is in love with me.
"How..wha whe?" Her thoughts jumbled aloud.
Aphrodite sensed the bard's confused retreat and stumbled to explain.
"I know, it's weird. The Goddess of Love falling for a mortal and all." She said jokingly. "Gabrielle, I can't tell you when I actually fell in love with you. I don't know for sure. However, I do know that since the moment I met you, I could feel it."
"Love. Surrounding you, for you, a connection on some levels. When I'm with you, I'm the happiest I've been in sometime. The time I spend in your presence, it warms my soul. You have such quiet strength, and gentle grace, and the purest heart I've ever known."
"For being the Goddess of Love, I'm without much experience as such. But, I do know what I feel for you is real and true. I love you."
"I don I'm so ." Gabrielle deeply touched by the Goddess's admission. She knew how hard it must be for Aphrodite to admit so much. She didn't want to discourage her by saying she didn't feel the say way ..but maybe I could .
"Look, I know you don't feel the same way about me." Aphrodite said, as if reading the bard's mind. "That's ok. I'm not asking you to. All I'm asking you for is a chance."
A chance . The bard contemplated the idea. Aphrodite 's confession changed everything. Previously, Gabrielle had felt like the Goddess had used her for a wild roll in the sack. But it seemed to be the other way around.
Gabrielle had been taken a back by Aphrodite's profession of love, and deeply touched. A chance, I owe her that, don't I.
"A chance to what?"
"A chance to be with you. To make you happy. To show you the beauties of life. Give me a chance to touch your soul."
"Aphrodite, I don't want to mislead you. I'm not in love with you, and I don't think that chance will change things." She admitted seriously.
"I'm not asking for you to be in love with me. All I'm asking is to be with you."
The bard smiled at her honesty.
"Well .I guess we could ."
The bard decided to lighten the mood.
"So 'Dite. Since this is all new, what would you call last night?" She asked waggling her eyebrows.
Aphrodite turned crimson before thinking up a response.
"Perks to a new friendship?" She said in an inquiring tone.
"Perks huh. So, does this make me your girlfriend?" She asked in mock seduction.
"Not my girlfriend, but a really good friend .with perks!" She said smiling. "Is that ok?" The Goddess asked hesitantly.
In response, Gabrielle bent over a kissed the Aphrodite deeply.
And so it was, their first night together, not to be their last. The two enjoyed a friendship with "perks". Aphrodite and Gabrielle began to spend a tremendous amount of time together. Gabrielle helped Aphrodite to, if anything, be more serious and see the true beauty in the world. Aphrodite helped Gabrielle to recapture some of her innocence lost to years of worldly travels.
Gabrielle filled the emptiness and loneliness of Aphrodite's life. As a god, although it was incredible, without the other members of Olympus, existence had been pretty dull. Gabrielle also enraptured and reminded the Goddess of the true beauty of love.
Aphrodite filled the void Gabrielle possessed in Xena's absence. She became more then just a bedtime partner. The Goddess was a true friend. She became Gabrielle's confidant. Sharing her secrets, her thoughts, her life, with Aphrodite.
The partnership worked perfectly. During the day, Gabrielle would usually be busy with Amazon business. The queens from the surrounding villages had returned to their tribe. But, at the request of Varia, Gabrielle stayed on as her second in command and advisor.
The evening belonged to Aphrodite. The two would usually meet over a meal. They'd talk for hours, topics ranging from gravely serious to simply simple. They debated, they teased, they flirted, they argued. But, they always had fun.
Sometimes Aphrodite would use her godly powers and whisk Gabrielle away to some exotic location, for a night on the town. The two would eat, drink, dance and be merry.
Then, the nights were spent wrapped in each other's arms making love until they exhaustedly surrendered to Morpheus. Every night, Gabrielle called out Xena's name less and less. But, she still called it out; every night.
And, every night, Aphrodite let out silent tears of what could not be. Every night she heard Xena's name, and it still shook her to the core. But the Goddess accepted that.
That was the price after all.
A price she was more then willing to pay.
Aphrodite still had yet to tell Gabrielle that she was her chosen. Everyday she vowed to confess everything, every night fear won out and the words left her. She was afraid. Afraid Gabrielle might think she'd placed a spell on her or something of that nature and this all would end. And she never wanted to end.
Aphrodite couldn't remember another time in her life when she was so happy. She was spending her life with the woman she loved. She felt so close to Gabrielle and took pride in the fact that Gabrielle truly reciprocated. The Goddess was in the Elysian Fields every moment she spent with the bard and cherished every second as a gift.
Of course, in the back of her mind, doubts swarmed. She was aware that Gabrielle thought of her as nothing more then a friend, well maybe a little more. And although she had Gabrielle's body, she would never truly have her heart.
She knew if Xena were to show up tomorrow, the bard would drop her in a heartbeat. Even with the wounds between the two, the Goddess of Love knew the subject well enough to realize a true and lasting specimen ..which they were. But, for now, she was content to leave the doubts in the dark. And denial covered her like a warm blanket.
Gabrielle enjoyed their time together as well. She took the relationship at face value. The bard had previously decided to live for the moment, not to think of tomorrow. She was simply enjoying her time with Aphrodite. The Goddess was a great friend.
The bard loved spending time with Aphrodite. She found her to be very refreshing next to the seriousness of the rest of her live. She talked, but she listened. She was fun, but she knew when a situation called for seriousness. She helped to fill what was missing in her life .Xena.
Helped but never replaced.
The bard still missed the warrior terribly. The more time she spent with Aphrodite, the more and more fond she became of the Goddess. Gabrielle had been truly touched by the Goddess profession of love. But, as much as she wanted, the bard could not reciprocate the feeling.
Yes, Gabrielle loved Aphrodite, but only as a very close friend. She would never feel that way about the Goddess, the way she felt about Xena. Xena had been, and still was, her reason for living. Even though she felt betrayed by the warrior, she still loved her with all her being.
Aphrodite was her friend, but Xena was her world.
Gabrielle knew this, accepted it, but refused to dote on it. If she did so, regret of her actions with the Goddess would ensue and she didn't want that. Gabrielle would not allow her time with Aphrodite to be cheapened. It meant too much.
Of course, it wasn't true love. But, Gabrielle and Aphrodite's time together had been beautiful in its own right. And, Gabrielle would cherish it for as long as she lived. And when and if Xena ever came back, she would be able to look back at this time with a smile.
So they continued on.
Ares stood on the hilltop surveying the land below him.
Amazonia was ripe for the taking. They owed him a battle, and he was sure to collect. His pride was still recovering from retreating with his tail between his legs earlier. Now, with his godhood in tact, he would enact revenge.
"Amazon bitches. They're going down." Ares said with a mixture of disgust and pleasure.
True, his motives were a bit clouded. Ares had convinced himself that attacking the Amazons had been simply for strategic measures. Their lands were bountiful hunting grounds, luscious forests: a perfect place to raise and train an army.
Once his oasis of rage was complete, the faithful would flock by the hundreds to join Ares' Army and to pay him homage. It would be glorious! Ares thought, but only half heartedly. Because, deep down, he knew the true reason for attacking the Amazons.
The blonde had become a bit of an obsession for Ares. She was puzzle to him. He tried many a time to figure out just what she had, what made her so special. Ares both admired and despised her at the same time.
He admired her for her strength and courage. She had the bravado to stand up to him like no other mortal, except for Xena. Gabrielle was also able to conquer the unconquerable. She had tamed the wild beast. She had made Xena fall in love with her.
Not just in love with her, the warrior was completely enamored by her. She was completely consumed by the bard. Gabrielle was Xena's breath, her world, and her reason for living. The relationship reminded him of his own feelings for the warrior. The only difference it was a mutual consent between the two.
At the same time, Ares despised Gabrielle. First off, she wounded his pride many a time by refusing him. Ares, not just once, but several times, had offered Gabrielle the world. And, every time, she turned him down.
It wasn't just that she turned him down, it was how quickly she did so. She barely gave his offer time enough to consider before flatly turning him down. It was an insult.
He also hated her because she had everything. She had Xena. Xena was everything.
Not only Xena, but others. A former prospect, Varia was now thoroughly in love with the little bard. His sister, Aphrodite, was now completely and hopelessly in love with Gabrielle.
The bard had everything.
What is it about her?! Ares asked himself futily. He knew there wasn't one simple answer. The bard was pure of heart, intelligent, caring, courageous, beautiful .blah blah blah blah. The list goes on.
His attack on the Amazons was a way to squelch his overwhelming obsession with the little blonde. It was personal.
Ares turned around and headed back to his army. Well, not yet an army. Right now, he had about three hundred semi-well trained soldiers. But this was just the beginning, more were joining everyday and word came in of others on their way.
By his calculations, Ares figured that by the time they were ready to pounce on the Amazons, he should have at least 800 men.
Ah yeh, more then enough. Facing the entire Amazon nation, it would have been a challenge. But alliances are a double edged sword. They can be both a blessing and a curse.
Since the other queens had returned to their tribes, there had been a sort of civil unrest. Varia knew authority gave her power of the entire nation. She had since enforced several rather unpopular agendas that had caused disunity among the nation. Ares doubt she'd be able to muster up the support needed to defeat his army.
He smiled to himself as he looked over the camp.
Gabrielle's head bobbed down .again .waking her up for the third time that morning.
The bard's dislike of early mornings was legendary, but it was part of the job. Usually, Gabrielle was able to control her tiredness. But, last night, Aphrodite had been in a relatively frisky mood. This had resulted in an all night marathon which had left Gabrielle in her current state.
To add to that, Varia had picked the most boring item of business in the agenda to bring before the council today: taxes. The bard was so bored that Varia's words became noting more then sounds as Gabrielle focused her attention otherwise.
It wasn't that Varia herself was boring, it was the subject matter. Gabrielle did not find the taxes imposed to be agreeable, therefore wasn't very interested.
The unity of the Amazon nation had seemed like a great idea, and it was in fact. But, in hindsight, many problems should have and could have been solved better.
The idea of taxes were very unpopular with the Amazons. The taxes didn't entail actual money, just percentages of goods and products. They were needed to support the entire nation. And what was excess was then redistributed with in the villages.
The taxes were deemed unfair by many and had caused a rift between many of the newly unified tribes. Today's agenda: metals.
"Sisters, listen to me. As unpopular as it is, we must continue collect all the metals and minerals from the tribes. We need 100 percent of materials found to make weapons. We need those weapons to protect and strengthen the Nation." Varia shouted.
"Once the weapons are made, they can be redistributed to the tribes accordingly." She continued. Her idea was followed by a collection of head shakes and sighs.
"Varia, its too big of a task to undertake. We're barely able to keep up now. Plus refining and creating weapons takes time. The villages need them now. We're not equipt for the projects you've been giving us." A voice for the back shouted.
"Well get equipt." Varia snarled back.
"How can we, this is unfair and you know it."
Several others backed the accuser up, but Varia stuck to her guns and shouted back reasons why it was a good idea to continue on. The situation escalated. People began jumping up from their seats. It looked as if a fight was brewing to take place.
"People!" Gabrielle shouted. " People"
"AMAZONS!" She yelled at the top of her voice. The passionate protesters ceased their fighting and turned to Gabrielle.
"What?" Several yelled.
"Listen to me. I understand the disagreements brought from both sides. You both make valid points." Both sides nodded their heads, acknowledging the bard's words.
"Now, may I present to the council a third alternative."
The Amazons returned to their seats.
"Go ahead." Varia said.
"Now, One side believes that the metal and mineral tax is a good idea for strategic purposes. While the other, they believe it is simply too much to undertake and beyond your boundary. Why not find a compromise?"
"Varia, asking the smiths to create weapons for the entire nation is a bit unrealistic. Plus, the different regions use different settings and styles of weapons. It's unfair to assume the smiths know this or could know this. But, it's also important to have some uniform weapons made." Gabrielle rationalized.
"How about, we request half of the metals from the tribes. This way you'll have your weapons, but the villages will be able to also fill their own personal needs."
Several moments passed by as the council allowed Gabrielle's plan to truly sink in and formulate. Then, several knowing smiles spread across the inhabitant's faces.
Varia stood up.
"Well, sisters it seems we have a proposal on the floor. All in favor?"
"Aiy." The room shouted.
"All opposed.?" The room was engulfed by silence.
"Then its settled. For now on Gabrielle's plan will become law. Dismissed."
The Amazons began to file out of the hut slowly. All previous animosity had vanished. After several minutes, only Gabrielle and Varia remained.
"Good job today, bard."
Varia breathed deeply and let out a serious sigh. Her tone turned more sincere.
"You know, they really respect you Gabrielle."
"The council." She answered honestly.
"Well, although I'm not very deserving, I do appreciate it." Gabrielle said, smiling, and exited the hut.
When she was out of the hut, Varia let her thoughts be vocalized.
"I really respect you Gabrielle."
Ares' eyes stared into the ceiling of the tent. He had indulged and exhausted his passions with the nameless woman beside him. For his purposes, she had been Xena.
Something about the air, the smell of metal and leather, the sound of the men training, aroused his senses. It was the sounds of war, and it was intoxicating.
Yet, the whole occasion was bitter sweet. Though the woman beside him had played Xena's role for tonight, an understudy would never do. None of this would ever be enough. Never, without her. Xena was everything.
When they had been together, it was everything. The passion, the pleasure, the pain: everything. Ares couldn't even recall life before her, and was reluctant to dote on life after her. But this war, it would at least occupy him ..for now. But it was a treatment, not a cure. The only one currently available.
Ares would be content for now. This battle was a perfect mixture of rage and revenge. The Amazons would get what was coming to them. Everything, even that little blonde. Although Xena wouldn't like that, Ares had to avenge himself. She'll get over it.
Xena. With the thought of the warrior, Ares was reminded of his promise to Xena. If he were to break it, he would be breaking the most sacred oath of godhood, and he couldn't have that.
Well, let's see. I promised Xena that Eve would be safe. That part was done. No harm had befallen Eve, and Eve was too far away to be affected by this.
Hmmm .and I promised that there would be no war. And he had did that, but .I promised there would be no war between the Amazons and the approaching Romans. I never said anything about me. Yep, I'm free and clear! Ares thought, smiling in spite of himself.
Anyway, Xena half way to Chin by now. Her and that little bitch had a fight, and now there's no reason for her to return.
Besides, what Xena doesn't know won't hurt her.
But Ares was only half right.
By now, Xena's journey to Chin was almost over.
Three damn months on this fucking ship! Xena was so sick of the sea it drove her to physical illness. The warrior had never been squeamish before, but towards the end of the trip, seeing her over the side of the railing was a common occurrence.
It wasn't the waves, or the motion of the boat, it was the further away she was from her humanity, from her heart, from Gabrielle. With each passing day, Xena fell more and more into herself. Every time she looked out onto the water, she saw nothing but a deep void growing and growing, keeping her further from Gabrielle.
Xena had thought, originally, that with time the wounds left by the separation would heal. But, they only got worse. It was like an infection. Everyday, her need for the bard grew stronger and stronger. Every league added to the distance between the two, only served to strengthen her love.
Xena had completely fell apart. Her once vivacious blue eyes were now dead, cold as ice. Her muscular toned body had withered away from lack of nutrition. Food simply did not interest her anymore, what was the point. Her leathers were constantly sliding off her. Every meal, Eve circled her like a mother hen, forcing her to eat.
Her strength, her will, had all but disappeared. Xena was missing her fire. She was off balance.
Three months without her.
Xena did remain true to her promise. She had not entertained the company of the soldier or anybody for that matter, she simply wasn't interested. Indeed she felt a need, but it was for Gabrielle alone. No other would suffice.
The pain of separation was only added upon by their impending arrival in Chin. Xena knew it was only a matter of days before they reached the harbor. Eve was lit up like a little child. She continually asked Xena questions about the land.
"What is it like? How are the people? Is it beautiful? Did you love it there?"
Every night, Eve's excitement grew and Xena's anxiety rose. Chin held very few fond memories. Xena was in no hurry to reach the end of their journey.
And even once they did reach Chin, what then? Eve would continue on her quest to spread Eli's message of love, but what of her. Eve had already refused her offer of protection. Something about preaching peace with swords in hand didn't quite fit. Xena would never be content to just follow her daughter around as a lapdog.
She could return to Greece, but what was there for her. Nothing. She couldn't face Gabrielle after the pain she caused her and was too afraid at the prospect of harming her again.
I could always head to Rome, Xena thought, but knew the suggestion held no true clout. There, again, was nothing for her in Rome. Xena's draw to Rome had been Caesar. Like a moth to a flame. How true, Xena recalled Caesar's words. But, without the flame, the moth flies free. No, Rome wasn't in her future.
There was Britannia, but that was another place of ill refute. Xena had only terrible memories of there. In fact, just the mention of the land made Xena's stomach do several flips. No, that's definitely a bad idea Warrior Princess.
There was always Gaul. Xena had never truly spent and time in the land. No memories to scare her away. Yes, she reasoned with herself, yes Gaul would be nice.
Her heart refuted, No it wouldn't. In the depths of her soul, she knew no place would be "fine." Nothing would ever be ok, not without Gabrielle. Her body clinched at the realization and Xena tipped her head over the railing to empty the meager contents of her stomach.
"Again!" Gabrielle yelled. "Come at me again."
The Amazon moved towards her with rapid agility making an adequate attack on the bard. But, Gabrielle was easy able to block it and within a few moments had landed the other Amazon squarely on her back.
"Nice move Mara." Gabrielle praised, relaxing from her fighting stance and easing over to the Amazon.
"But next time, when you do that, fake to the low strike, instead of aiming for my thigh. Go for my knees. That way you can knock your opponent quickly to the ground."
The Amazon shook her head in understanding as she listened to the queen's coveted advice. The two began to make their way out of the fighting circle. Suddenly, a voice from behind stopped them.
"Not so fast there."
The two turned to face their assailant. They were met with a sight of Varia, staff in hand, holding an arrogant smirk.
"I'd like a go at the little bard." She said sarcastically. Gabrielle smirked back as the other Amazon quickly exited the ring.
"I'd love to oblige dear Varia. But, doctor's orders: no strenuous activity." She said in a sarcastic, mocking tone.
"Oh yeh, what do you call what you were just doing before?"
"Oh that, child's play!"
"I'll show you child's play." Varia said lunging at the bard.
The move had been made to catch Gabrielle off guard. But, with her warrior instincts, Gabrielle was already on the defensive and blocked the move perfectly.
"Trying to stunt my recovery are you?" She said and she made a swipe for Varia's feet. Seeing the move, Varia jumped up over the staff.
"Me, never. Simply testing your reflexes. Call it a check up."
She made an attack aimed at Gabrielle's mid section, the bard was luckily able to jump back out of the way before any damage had been done.
"How very kind of you." The bard remarked snidely.
A crowd began to gather around the two fighters. The prospect of the two queens duking it out was simply too much for ANY Amazon to resist. Soon, the whole pack became enraptured with the battle. With every offensive, a collective gasp followed. With every defensive, a sigh of relief.
Varia and Gabrielle were oblivious to the fact. They simply continued on battling away.
Varia held the superior strength; Gabrielle held the superior skill. Varia held the superior height and weight; with her low center of gravity, Gabrielle held a better center of balance. Varia had incredible speed, but, the bard had incredible patience. The combining factors made them an extraordinary match.
"Hey, you're pretty good at this bard." Varia said, emphasizing the last word as if it were an insult.
"Better than you."
"We'll see about that, little girl." Varia called as she blocked the bard's staff. They held the position for a moment, pushing the staves against each other in a show of strength.
The bard looked deep into Varia's eyes.
"Who you callin' little girl, little girl?"
"Really," The bard exclaimed exasperated. " Well, then you better be careful."
"Oh, and why's that?" Varia asked, pulling her staff back.
"Because this little girl is gonna kick your ass!" Gabrielle said. Using the new move she had just learned, she brought her staff in an arc to Varia knees, effectively sweeping her to the ground.
Varia became enraged. She jumped up and dusted herself off. Then, in true arrogance, she made a huge swoop intended for Gabrielle's head. The bard, easily anticipating the move, swung her staff into the air, blocking Varia attack and sending her staff straight into the air.
Gabrielle rolled down and somersaulted backwards, jumping up just in time to catch Varia's descending staff.
"Oops, too late." She smiled innocently. "I think I just did kick your ass!"
Varia stood up, her back turned to Gabrielle and the crowd. She then ran to the close weapons rack. Gabrielle simply smiled, thinking she was getting another staff. Ahh, care to try again?
But, Varia had something else in mind.
"Well, little girl." Varia said with her back still turned to the crowd. "Its time you played with the big Amazons now."
Turning around, Varia threw two silver Sais in Gabrielle's direction. They were thrown slow enough, so that the bard was able to catch them on her staff. But, with enough precision and accuracy, that to anyone else, it would have been deadly.
"Ahh," Gabrielle exclaimed as she grabbed the embedded Sais out of the practice staff. "I see you like to play rough."
"Isn't that the only way to play?"
They began another round of combat. The second much more intense then the first. With staves, the weapon being so big, an amount of personal space is allotted. But, Sais are much closer, much more concentrated.
The two began a complicated defensive dance, each making lunges and parries at the other. The audience was now completely enraptured by the fight. The whole village had turned out.
Exhaustion began to kick in, but the two refused to succumb. Instead, the pace was raised a notch and Gabrielle and Varia began to fight harder. The moves came with more speed and power, the blocks quicker. It was a complicated choreography.
The battle intensified until it reached the ultimate climax. Varia and Gabrielle both moved for a frontal assault. Both moving a Sai to the other's neck. Each a hairsbreadth away from killing the other.
"You know," Varia whispered. "One inch closer, and I could kill you."
"Well, you know what." Gabrielle answered. "One inch closer, and I could kill you."
The two stood like this, deadlocked for several moments. Each displaying a smug smirk of victory. The trance was finally broken by a noise from the north. It was unrecognizable to Gabrielle's ears, but Varia knew it all to well.
She dropped her Sais and turned to the source of the sound. A look of dread coated her face.
"What was that?" Gabrielle asked, confused.
"It's the hunting party, they've returned."
"So what does that sound mean?"
Varia turned to the bard and stared blankly into her eyes.
" Cepami, what is it?" Varia asked as she raced to meet the returning hunting party.
"Queen Varia." She acknowledged, going down on one knee.
"Yes, yes, now why did you sound the alarm?"
"It was just ..Queen Gabrielle." Cepami again went down on one knee when Gabrielle entered in the scenario.
"What's going on?" Gabrielle asked.
"I was about to find out. Now, Cepami, what happened?" Varia asked, more then a bit annoyed.
"When were on the hunt, you know. Today, some of the others saw something over the hill."
"What was it?" Varia asked impatiently, she wasn't in the mood for atmospheric foreshadowing.
"We don't know."
"What do you mean? You don't know." Varia asked harshly.
Cepami raced to explain.
"Well, we kinda know. There were lots of men, about five, six hundred of them. They were training, for battle. They're coming for us." She said disgusted.
"Who, who was coming for us?"
"I don't know who. But, there were war banners by each tent."
"War banners?" Someone asked from the back.
"For the God of War."
"Ares." Gabrielle answered.
An immediate council meeting was called to deal with the situation.
Amazons filed into the royal hut. Collective worried expression were on everyone's faces.
"What's gonna happen to us?" Someone shot out. The voiced concern was followed by a serious of the same questions. It became madness, a series of worried exasperations. Varia had to stop it.
"AMAZONS!" She yelled in an authoritative voice. "We shall come to order." The chaos subsided and the Amazons returned to their seats.
"Now, we will continue with dignity." They all shook their heads in agreement.
"Well then, what are we going to do Varia We all heard what was said. We can't fight Ares alongside a Five hundred strong army. We have no chance." An elder spoke up. Several other Amazons voiced agreement.
Gabrielle spoke up in the defensive.
"Listen, we don't know that it was Ares, or his army. We don't even know if they plan to attack us. All we know is there is a mass of men several miles outside the Amazon border. Let's rationalize here."
"Gabrielle's right." Varia agreed. "We don't know anything substantial, only speculation. Let's not be defeated before the battle begins."
"Now, I suggest a reconnaissance mission to infiltrate the camp."
"Oh really," The elder again spoke up. "Who's would be stupid enough to do that. It's a death warrant."
"I'll go." Varia spoke up.
"I'll go with you." Gabrielle stood behind her.
Varia turned around and looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes and found nothing but unconditional support. It warmed her heart and left a smile on her face.
"Then it's settled."
"APHRODITE!" Gabrielle screamed at the top of her lungs. "APHRODITE! COME HERE!"
The little bard was furious and was in no mood to wait, luckily she didn't have to. A flash of light appeared and was replaced by the perfectly pink Goddess.
"What is it sweet pea? I was up in Olympus picking out some stellar new furni .." The Goddess lost her train of thought as she turned and looked at Gabrielle. She was met with a grave sate and a blank sea of green.
"How could you?" Gabrielle said through misty eyes. She was hurt, hurt by Aphrodite's betrayal. The Goddess hadn't bothered to mention anything about Ares intentions. Betrayal .this is what Xena must have felt like.
"How could I what?" Aphrodite inquired, confused.
"How could you not tell me?"
"I'm sorry honey, I'm a little lost. Not tell you what?"
"Don't call me that! How dare you, after what you've done."
"Gabrielle, I honestly don't know what you're upset about. Please tell me." Aphrodite was now thoroughly worried. She had no idea of the root of Gabrielle's anger, but she knew she played some unwilling part in it.
"How could you not tell me about Ares?"
"What did Ares do now?"
"He's camped several miles outside the Amazon border. Camped with an ARMY, Aphrodite. He plans to attack us."
"How could you not tell me?"
Aphrodite felt as if she'd been stabbed in the back. In truth, she had no knowledge of Ares goings on. He hadn't told her, and she hadn't bothered to pay attention. Now, she knew she should have, to protect Gabrielle.
"I'm sorry. I swear, I didn't know. Gabrielle, I'm so sorry. If I wouldn't known I wou ."
"Don't." Gabrielle angrily interrupted. " Don't you dare tell me you didn't know. Do you think I'm stupid?"
No, Aphrodite thought, I think you're the most brilliant person I've ever met. "I swear, I didn't know."
"Aphrodite, don't insult my intelligence. You and Ares are two of the few gods left, besides that he's your brother. You're telling me you had no idea."
"I know, with his reputation I should keep tabs on him. But I don't, and I haven't been. If I would have known, I swear I would have told you little one." The Goddess said with true sincerity. To emphasize her genuineness, Aphrodite stepped forward and placed a hand on Gabrielle shoulder.
"Don't touch me." The Goddess stepped away as if she'd been burned. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. If you knew or didn't. You should have known. Now, my tribe pays the consequences for our indiscretions. I'm sick of it."
"Sick of it?"
"Of everything, of you, of Gods. You think you can just appear. You think you just meddle in people's lives and that's ok. Its not." Gabrielle said with infuriated passion.
"Its not ok. I'm so tired of my life being destroyed by you gods' petty problems. I don't want it anymore, I don't want you."
At her words, the sound of Aphrodite's heart breaking could be heard throughout Olympus.
"Just tell me why?"
"Why me? Why did it have to be me?"
Aphrodite knew her answer, but was hesitant to reveal. Ahh well, she already hates me. What's one more reason?!
"Because Gabrielle, you're my chosen."
"Your chosen? Like Xena to Ares." Gabrielle asked in reluctant understanding. Aphrodite simply shook her head as an answer.
"Well, that explains a lot doesn't it. So why me, why'd you pick me to be you're chosen? Huh?"
Aphrodite rose her head so that her eyes bore deeply into Gabrielle's.
"Because I love you." She said so plainly honest, it hurt because it was so raw.
For a moment, Gabrielle was thrown off stride by the remark. But, within a few seconds her anger returned.
"Well, who asked you to love me? I didn't. I didn't ask for it. I didn't want it. I didn't need it. And, I don't need you. I hate you." Gabrielle said with vengeance. She leaned in and began pounding against the Goddess's chest. Screaming over and over again "I hate you. I hate you."
Aphrodite only wished she could feel the pain. It would have been a form of penance. But, with her godhood, she was oblivious to it. She simply bared the blows.
After several minutes, the bard's chants of hatred and oblivious blows subsided into a fit of sobs. Aphrodite held her tightly, letting Gabrielle deal with her own demons. They stayed like this for hours. The Goddess gently rocking the crying bard. Finally, Gabrielle stopped her tears.
She slowly lifted her head out from the crook of the Goddess's neck.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean what I said."
And Aphrodite knew she truly didn't.
"It's all right little one." She said reassuringly.
"No it's not. Things haven't been all right in a long time have they?"
"No, but we learn to deal." The Goddess remarked honestly. Several moments of silence passed between the two before Gabrielle composed herself enough to continue on.
"Yes sweet pea?"
"Stay with me tonight?" She asked.
To Aphrodite, there was nothing more in the world she'd love to do.
"Of course Gabrielle."
The Goddess resumed her previous position. Laying down on Gabrielle's bed, holding her close. The bard regained her spot on Aphrodite's shoulder, resting her head in the crook of Aphrodite's neck. They stayed, contented like this, for several moments until the bard spoke once again.
"Yes, sweet pea?"
"I think everything is going to be all right."
"Yeh, Gabrielle. It will be." Aphrodite said reassuringly. And for the moment, it seemed as if everything was. But, Aphrodite knew. Although she tried to deny it, tonight's events had eluded to what she already knew was coming.
It is the beginning of the end.
"Ready?" Varia asked, sticking her head into Gabrielle's hut. Her timing was such that she had just missed Aphrodite and Gabrielle's brief, but passionate morning make up session.
"Yeh, just a sec." Gabrielle answered back, straightening her leathers. For the trip, Gabrielle had decided on a darker, slicker set of black leathers. They were still her regular, shorter cut, just a different color for a different mood.
"Ok, I'll be at the stables. Meet me there when you're ready."
Gabrielle finished packing her necessities: a shift, a sharpening stone for her Sais, parchment, case she was feeling creative, a bedroll, and soap.
As she stepped out of the hut she inhaled deeply. Gabrielle was more then a little curious about the new mission. More curious to how she'd make out. It'd been several months since Gabrielle had "roughed it" out on the road.
Truth is, she missed it. The bard was more then happy to spend a night under the stars, even in adverse conditions. But, something about it all just didn't seem right. Something was missing .Xena.
Adventures, travel, anything, just didn't seem right without her warrior. The short trip would be bitter sweet for Gabrielle, but she was determined to make the best of it. Besides, it's not like Varia's that bad of company. Gabrielle chuckled to herself as she slung her pack over her shoulder and headed in the direction of the stables.
She reached them and was met with the sight of Varia lightly brushing a beautiful shiny grey horse. It was silver like the stars.
"Is he yours?"
Varia looked up from her task and turned to the bard.
"Yes, she's mine."
She's! Amazons! Does everything have to be female? Gabrielle thought, exasperated, but held her words as not to be offensive.
"What's her name?"
"Yes, her name Brown."
Gabrielle gave a confused look.
"You do realize that your horse is grey."
"So why call her Brown? Why not something more exotic? Like Silver Whisper. Or The Grey Goddess or"
Varia burst out laughing.
"Grey Goddess? Come on Gabrielle! Ha ha ha"
"Well, it's better then Brown."
"Look, I was twelve when I got her. She was just a colt then. Neither I nor she were clever enough or would remember a name like The Grey Goddess. So, we decided on something simple: Brown." Varia explained.
"Now, Gabrielle, would you care to ride with me, or would you prefer your own horse?"
Gabrielle hesitated to answer. This little excursion, in a way, was somewhat blasphemous. It was like Gabrielle had Varia replacing Xena. The horse was one thing that Varia couldn't do. Xena was the only person Gabrielle would ever share a horse with.
At first, it had been a necessity. There was only one horse between the two. And, in dire situations, it was necessary for them to both ride Argo. Gabrielle refused to get her own horse because she somewhat feared the beasts. Too high off the ground for me.
Later, riding with Xena had become a comfort. The warrior was so secretive of her feeling and emotions, and so reluctant of Gabrielle's. When they were both on top of Argo, Gabrielle was allowed physical contact with Xena. She was allotted the luxury of holding the warrior close.
When Gabrielle's feeling for Xena had gone south of friendship, the need for another horse arose. Gabrielle simply couldn't sit in such close proximity to the warrior. She couldn't have Xena's arms wrapped around her, back pressing against her, her gorgeous raven hair flapping in her face, and not let her feeling be known.
Gabrielle would be unable to control herself. Although, on occasion, she did allow herself to indulge and ride with Xena. But, it had to be Xena. It always was Xena.
It could never be anyone else.
"Well, I'm packing a lot a weight her." Gabrielle said, winking and pointing to her stomach. "Wouldn't want to overload the horse. I think I'll take my own."
Varia expression damped for a split second, revealing how saddened she was at the idea. She had been looking forward to some physical contact with the bard. She quickly recovered her composure and walked over to the joining stable, where another horse was kept.
"Suit yourself. Well then, you'll need a horse now won't you." Varia grabbed the reigns of the animal and pulled him into view. Gabrielle was left breathless by the true beauty of the stallion.
"This is Malice. Named as such because he is the only male in Amazonia. It's to remind all Amazons of men's true intentions."
"How nice." Gabrielle remarked, rolling her eyes. Figures .Amazons!
Gabrielle mounted the horse and Varia did so as well. They began a leisurely trot outside the stable.
"Yep." Varia answered concretely.
"Well then, it's a good thing you decided to be an Amazon queen Varia." Gabrielle said.
"Oh really, and why's that?" She asked, coyly.
"Because, with an imagination like that, you would have never made it as a bard."
Ares drew his sword. It was a symbol of his prowess, his power, his godhood. With weapon pointed out and a look of intimidation upon his face, he was the embodiment of strength.
"Now, Come at me again!" He called in a commanding voice.
The men were hesitant to go up against the God of War again. They were not quite recovered from the last battle that had ended several minutes ago. Each waited for the other to step up. Ares grew tired of their cowardice.
"I said AGAIN!" His voice bellowed. To emphasize his point, the God released a blazing fireball across the camp. It landed far away enough, so as to cause only minor injuries. But, close enough to convince the soldier to move.
It was a test of training. Ares was a seasoned warrior. Without the aid of his godly powers, he was a formidable force. Ares, in a fair fight, could hold off about fifteen bad warriors. He could take about ten decent fighters. And, being thoroughly matched, he could hold off about five well trained men. Let's see how many I can take this time!
The first man walked up and drew his sword. He began his attack. Not bad, Ares thought as he easily held the man off.
The second man jumped in. He drew his sword and began the attack. His first move was a shot directly to Ares' knees, while the other man aimed for his side. Ares just barely saw the move. He just had enough time to do an awkward back flip out of the circle, landing directly behind the two men. Clever clever!
The third man brought an interesting twist to the battle. Unlike his other cohorts, his weapon of choice appeared to be a quarter-staff instead of a sword. The staff was equipt on both ends with two sharp blades protruding from each side.
He seemed bent on removing Ares legs from with under him. While Ares held off the two other men, he made a large swoop for Ares' ankles, taking his whole body down with him in the process. Ares caught the move, and as a reward, he kicked the man squarely in the jaw.
The man flew through the practice field before a tree trunk stopped his flight. He got up, gave himself a second to regain his composure. Then, he ran back, joining his companions on the battle field.
Ares smiled. He's got spirit, I like that. Well, I've got my hands pretty full, but let's see if I can do one more.
"Another!" Ares called out.
The next man in line, who had been anxiously awaiting his chance at battle, ran in.
"Wait!" Ares commanded. The fight paused and the soldier stopped in his tracks. Ares spotted a man by the tents carrying uniforms to the other side of the camp. I have an idea.
"You there, come here." Ares demanded to the man. In order to make anything a true test, you must challenge everything. The warriors Ares had been fighting had all voluntarily shown up at the practice field to battle with the God of War. Ares wanted test someone other then his most eager and arrogant soldiers.
The man timidly strode up.
"Yes, Lord Ares?" He asked, terrified.
"Join the fight." Ares commanded pointing to the other men.
"But, Lord Ares, I have no weapon."
"Yes you do." Ares said pointing to the man's fists. " Now, all four of you, ATTACK!"
And so they did, all fighting their own battles, yet somehow working together. The battle was poetry in motion and Ares was loving it.
Ares opened his mouth to call for another soldier, but realized he would have been overwhelmed. One more and he'd have to resort to using godly powers. One more and he'd lose face in front of his men. Ares continued the battle for several more minutes until he was thoroughly sated.
"Enough." He called out and the men immediately dropped their weapons. "All of you, continue practicing for another candle mark then break for a meal. Then I want you immediately to turn in for the night. Lights out. Tomorrow will be a big day of training. We must band together. Because, before the next full moon .." He paused for dramatic emphasis.
"We will .have ..AMAZON BLOOD ON OUR HAND!"
"Yeh!" An echo of the men cheers at Ares inspired words.
The God of War turned and headed to his tent. His army now number six hundred. It took four men, that's perfect. Six hundred of those warriors against however many Amazons Varia can muster up. Not bad odds, He arrogantly smiled.
No, not bad at all.
Unbenounced to their godly counterpart, Varia and Gabrielle had been watching the fight very closely.
They both held gazes chalked with fear.
"Did you see that?" Gabrielle asked rhetorically. Inside, her mind was reeling. His army was huge, and well trained. We're really in for it aren't we!
"I've seen Ares fight before. He can usually hold his own against nine or ten decent soldiers. To be held off by only four. And look, there's about sixty tents."
"Ten men per tent." Varia continued.
"That's six hundred men. Six hundred soldiers like the one's we saw fighting Ares means ."
"We're in a lot of trouble." Varia finished. And they were.
The soldiers had been good. Even if they were the best infantry, warriors of that caliber would be tough to fight. Especially with the odds they would be going up against. In Varia's village, a particularly larger Amazon settlement, there were about one hundred women. But, the average village ranged about a 50-60 population range.
In the Amazon alliance, ten villages were bonded. So, at fully capacity they were about an even match. Six hundred approximately. If Varia could have full participation, the battle would not be such a challenge. But, Varia doubted she could get all the tribes' assistance.
With the months passing since the alliance, bonds had weakened. Although they had chosen Varia to be queen, it seemed, ultimately, not many supported her. The governmental policies implemented since the unification had Varia somewhat unpopular. And she doubted, this would do anything but strengthen the disunity.
Gabrielle, for her part, was in her own world. Fantasizing about things that could never be. If only Xena were here. She'd know what to do! Gabrielle wished so hard she could practically see Xena riding in on a blaze of glory, drawing her sword and battling Ares with her fists of fury. She'd send the God packing with his tail between his legs, and everything would ok. Everything would be all right.
But, it wasn't.
Now, the bard was without a plan. With an army that good and that large, even with the entire Amazon forces, it would still be a risky endeavor. They needed something to tip the scales in their favor.
They needed Xena.
But, sadly there would be no miraculous rescue. No brilliant strategic plan. No heroic mission. No Xena. This was the first true challenge Gabrielle had to face without the warrior. The past few months had brought several squabbles, but nothing of this magnitude. Well, get used to it bard.
Silent moments ticked by and both Varia and the bard were encompassed by their thoughts. After several moments of quiet contemplation, Gabrielle spoke up.
"Well, so what do we do now?"
"I don't know." Varia admitted futility. "We could sneak into the camp, find out his plan."
"I would have suggested that too." Gabrielle said. "If I thought it would do any good."
"What do you mean?" Varia asked confused.
"I know Ares. If there's one thing about him that always stays true, it's his arrogance. With numbers like that, I think he's positive he'll win. Ares smells victory." She explained.
"Sooooo?" Varia asked again, still a little lost.
"So, my bet is there is no plan. Simply get in, win, get out."
"That's mighty cocky, even for him. Don't you think?"
"For Ares?! Hah!" Gabrielle said in an obvious tone. "My dear, are you truly that innocent?"
"Oh ha ha ha." Varia said, drenched in sarcasm.
"I think the best thing we can do, right now, is simply set up camp." Gabrielle suggested.
"True, we can head back tomorrow with what we've found out. There is no more good we can do here." Varia agreed.
"Ok, let's look for a spot. Preferably something with a beautiful view of the stars."
"Sleeping that stars. Are you really that bardy?!" Varia asked with a crinched face.
"Yes, I do believe I am."
The two trotted around for a good candle mark for a spot "under the stars." Varia pointed out several perfectly good camping spots which Gabrielle effectively turned down. Apparently they just didn't have enough "atmosphere."
Gabrielle, normally wouldn't be so picky, but it was her first time away from the village for months. She wanted this one night to be as perfect as possible. The bard had suggested going closer into Amazonia, but Varia refused stating that she'd like to be a close to Ares camp, just incase they tried something night. Gabrielle simply shook her head in agreement and continued with the task at hand.
The green eyes scanned the terrain until they caught the perfect place.
"Yes, Gabrielle." The woman, answered annoyed.
"Look, over there. That cave! Could we stay there, its perfect!"
Varia looked over the cave. From what she could see it look all right. Nice vantage point, enough room. The mouth of the cave also consisted with a protruding lower lip. The ledge hung out a few feet. Far enough so they could built a small fire, without filling the cave with smoke. And, it was open enough that the wind would hid any traces of it.
"Yeh Gabrielle, we can stay there."
The two rode over to the cave. Inside, the cave was nice accommodations. It was a good size, not to dark and damp, and allowed enough breeze inside so it was neither too hot or too cold. Varia took the horses to the back of the cave and tied them up. She began to unload the packs.
"Wait." Gabrielle commanded.
"What is it now?!" Varia said with an exaggerated sigh. This woman!
"Geez, calm down Amazon. I was just gonna say, why don't I unpack things and YOU go find us something to eat."
"I brought travel rations Gabrielle, we don't need to hunt."
"Ah well, as much as I love to rough it," She exclaimed, rolling her eyes. " Dry jerky is not on my menu. Besides, it'll give me a chance to cook for you. Give a taste of what you're missing with that Amazon food."
"Fine. But, why don't YOU go hunt and I'LL unpack. It'll be easy. This area is filled with big, plump rabbits."
"No, I don't hunt."
"Are you telling me you can't hunt?"
"Its not that I can't, it's that I won't." Gabrielle plainly stated.
"Why? What's so intimidating about a fuzzy little creature?" She asked curiously.
"Not intimidating, cute."
"Are you telling me that you can kick a bunch of Amazon ass, mine included, on the training field. But, you can't bring yourself to kill a bunny rabbit?" Varia asked, trying futily to control her laughter.
"I guess I am." The bard said, not the least bit embarrassed or angry at Varia's laughter.
"Now you hunt." Gabrielle instructed, pushing the bow and arrows she'd retrieved from the pack into Varia's hands. "I unpack."
Varia took the weapons and walked out not bothering to hide her amused smile.
After Varia left, Gabrielle went out into the forest. She collected some wild spices for the meal. With Xena, the bard had always had a special stash in her bag filled with cooking spices. She knew the extra attention to small detail was something Xena treasured. But, now she was without and she had to make due.
Once she returned, Gabrielle set to fixing up the camp. It was scary how routine the motions felt. The bard easily fell into her learned habit. She went out and collected some firewood for a minimal fire. Nothing too big, or Ares would suspect.
Unconsciously she set out the two bedrolls side by side, as she had always done with Xena. For a moment, it was as if the warrior was actually there. That this was Xena and Gabrielle's campsite, not Gabrielle and Varias. She let herself live in the fantasy for several moments before shaking back into reality.
She quickly retrieved the bed rolls and set them several feet apart. Gabrielle put her own closer to the cave's opening so she could have a clear view of the stars.
Something about the whole ordeal was unsettling. Of course, the whole deal with Ares had played some part in it, but it felt deeper then that. Even though she knew Xena wasn't here, she couldn't stop herself from thinking she was. Every time she turned her head, every sound she heard, she expected to turn around and see Xena.
Maybe it was the Ares, or the forest, or because it was her first real trip alone, but it felt like the warrior should be there.
Gabrielle felt guilty. In some perverse way, She was trying to have Varia take Xena place. Maybe not intentionally, but on some conscious level. The camping out, the friendly banter, making her go out and hunt. It was as if she was trying to substitute the warrior. But, Gabrielle also knew that was impossible.
She needed time to think. The bard walked over to a boulder on the side of the cave and sat down for a minute. She then got up and went over to her pack to withdraw her sharpening stone for her Sais.
The fluid motion became automatic allowing the bard time to think about her other issues. She stayed deep in thought for sometime until a noise broke her concentration.
A hard breeze whisped through the cave.
The bard darted at the sound of what she thought was someone calling her name, dropping her sharpening stone in the process. After several seconds of contemplation, Gabrielle ruled that it had simply been the howling of the wind.
"Probably Ares trying to drive me insane!" She thought aloud.
The bard reached down to grab her sharpening stone when she felt something odd. Her fingers graced upon something with a velvety cloth texture. Gabrielle slowly picked it up.
It was a black velvet pouch. Small enough to be a coin purse, but when Gabrielle squeezed it to discover it contents, it contained herbs. It had an elegant gold draw string. Something about it looked strangely familiar.
Gabrielle moved to flip the pouch over to see the other side and gasped at the revelation, dropping the pouch. She quickly picked it up again and to make sure what she had seen had been real. It had.
On the front of the pouch was a beautifully stitched "X" in gold. Xena. Now Gabrielle remembered where she had seen this before. Xena had carried several of them in her medicine kit to separate her herbs. Xena's been here.
"Xena?" Gabrielle called out. "Xena, are you here?"
There was no answer, but the bard was determined to find her warrior if she was here. Gabrielle moved towards the back of the cave, following the tunnel in the back.
"Xena?" She called out again, but her only answer was the echo of her own voice.
Gabrielle reached down into the pouch to feel the herbs. They were brown, powdery, and old. Probably been here for months. Meaning, she hasn't been here for months. But just when she began to loose hope, Gabrielle heard footsteps coming up behind her.
"Xena." Gabrielle said, this time in a lower, assured tone. The bard raced out of the tunnel.
"I'm coming." She said as she picked up speed. A flood of emotion clouded her consciousness, so as Gabrielle became unaware of her surroundings. As she turned a corner she ran straight into a body.
Sadly, she recognized it. It was Varia.
"Well, if I knew you were that hungry I would have come back sooner." Varia said smiling, holding up two rabbits.
Gabrielle awkwardly smiled to hide her disappointment.
"So, let me get this straight. You won't kill the cute little creatures, but you have no problem devouring their flesh, tearing from bone to bone?"
Gabrielle took a second between bites to look up and answer Varia question.
"What can I do if their already dead? What's done is done, right."
"Riigghtt." Varia said, in confused agreement.
The bard continued on with her feast. Varia watched in amazement. She'd never seen someone actually inhale their food.
Gabrielle smiled like a guilty child.
"Just a bit."
It was the truth, she was hungry. But, her accelerated eating served a dual purpose. Gabrielle was still unnerved by her earlier encounter. The pouch radiated of Xena's presence and made Gabrielle yearn all the more for her. She wanted to quickly finish her food and go to bed. Maybe Morpheus could ease her soul.
"Hmm?" Gabrielle acknowledged her with a sound, not even bothering to stop between bites.
"If you keep eating like that, you're gonna make yourself sick."
"Oh, don't worry." The bard said, quickly followed by a burp. "I've had lots of practice!" She smiled.
"I'm sure you have."
Varia had been so caught up in Gabrielle's eating habits, that she neglected her own. Didn't matter anyway, she wasn't hungry. The whole mess with Ares had stolen her appetite.
Gabrielle quickly finished, licking her finger tips with satisfaction.
"Not too bad if I say so myself!" The bard stretched out her arms and let out a long yawn. "Well, I'm beat. I think I'm gonna turn in."
"I'm pretty tired my self. I think I'll make one more trip to Ares' camp before I go to bed, though. Just to make sure he's not planning anything tonight."
"Do you want me to go with you?"
"No, that's ok. You're tired. I'll be back shortly." She reassured her.
"Alright. Well, wake me if you find something."
"Goodnight Varia." The bard said drowsily.
"Goodnight Gabrielle." Varia said as she exited the cave.
Once Varia left, Gabrielle reached over to Xena's medicine pouch and brought it to her chest.
"Goodnight Xena, where ever you are."
Chin was lonely.
Xena was truly at one of the lowest points of her life. She had never felt so alone. It was the first time in her life where she had been without anybody.
Eve was long gone. She had been so for about a fortnight. Her daughter had found a temple in the forbidden city which was willing to listen to her preachings. Although she had tried to convince Xena to accompany her, the warrior had bowed out. Eve had even tried the helpless damsel in distress routine, but it was useless. It wouldn't work this time. With Xena's history, it was more dangerous for her to remain in the city.
So they had gone their separate ways. Xena had heard several reports about the black powder being used in a close region and had gone to investigate. But, a week's worth of travel had been in vain. She showed up to find no powder in use. She should have known better. Xena had destroyed the powder herself, and she never does anything halfway.
So here she was, several leagues outside the forbidden city, alone, with nothing to do. Xena wasn't used to not saving the world. And boredom was a very dangerous condition for a warrior of her caliber.
She was at a crossroads. Where do I go from here? She could stay in Chin, until Eve was finished. But, she truly didn't know how long that would take. It may be a matter of weeks or it maybe a matter of years. Businesses of the spirit were a complicated affair.
Or, she could go back to Greece ..not that there was anything there. She could return to her normal heroics, although they didn't seem so appealing this time around, without Gabrielle. But, in going back, there was still always a chance they could meet up again.
Over the months on the boat, she had overcome her protective instincts. She realized her leaving had more to do with her own fears then saving Gabrielle. It had been cowardly and selfish. Saying it was for Gabrielle's own good was a shallow and self-seeking excuse.
She now knew that it was up to Gabrielle to decide where their relationship would go. Xena was willing to do anything to be with her bard. Anything. She'd hand in her leathers, become an Amazon, and live in the village for the rest of her life. Anything was worth it, if that's what it took to make Gabrielle happy with her.
Xena lived for that dream. She lived for the day they would reunite. Gabrielle would hug her and tell Xena everything would be ok. They could return to the way things were. They could be happy.
Then again, she was paralyzed with fear at the other alternative. What if they met up and Gabrielle still never wanted to speak to her again? Xena couldn't handle that rejection.
So many questions, so little answers.
The one thing Xena knew for sure was that she loved Gabrielle deeply. And that, that was enough to get her through the night. Everything else was secondary.
It's strange, Xena thought. If close my eyes, I can pretend I'm back there. I can almost feel her tonight. But, when Xena opened her eyes, she was alone. It hurt, deeply. The emptiness, the loneliness, it cinged her soul.
But tonight, she was content to live in a fantasy. A place where Gabrielle and her were together. A place where Gabrielle and her were happy. Reality drifted away. Morpheus was kind tonight. No nightmares, just sweet memories.
Xena prayed that morning never come.
Half way across the world, Gabrielle was thinking the same thing.
Tonight had been a brilliant myriad of dreams. All of them about her and Xena. All of them happy. The one she was enjoying at the moment of a particularly romantic nature.
Her and Xena were on the beach, watching the sunset. The warrior had just completed a deeply moving profession of love and was leaning her head down for a kiss. When their lips met, it was electric and the bard's body tensed at the contact. Then, here dream world began to fade away. She heard her name being called.
She hazily opened her eyes and saw a dark silhouetted figure in front of her.
"Xena." The bard said is hazy recognition. She leaned her lips forward to kiss her Warrior Princess.
Varia froze. She had been away all night watching Ares camp, and had finally returned to the cave to wake Gabrielle. She had tried the obvious way, yelling the bard's name. She shook Gabrielle several times, but to no avail.
Varia decided to try an opposite approach and leaned in and whispered the Gabrielle's name into her ear. The strategy had apparently worked as Varia saw the bard's green orbs appear. She had mumbled something under her breath and then WOW!
All of a sudden her lips were suffocating Varia's in a passionate kiss. Not that she was complaining, she simply would like to know the reason for such an impulsive move. In fact, Varia was in Illusia. She was kissing the woman she had fallen in love with. The soft touch of her lips was everything she'd ever dreamed it would be.
But, Varia was too surprised to respond. Afraid of Gabrielle reaction when she realized her actions. She closed her eyes and let Gabrielle lead.
All too soon, Gabrielle pulled away and ended the kiss. Her eyes began to flutter slowly as she became accustomed to her surroundings. When she became aware of her actions, Gabrielle's eyebrows shoot up to her hairline. What the hell did I just do?!
"Varia!" Gabrielle called out in huge surprise. "I what I jus I mean "
Gabrielle struggled for words to explain what had just happened, but finding a viable explanation. Sorry, I was once again hallucinating and I believed you were Xena. Sorry, you interrupted my sex dream with the Warrior Princess and I thought she was you. Yeh, that'll go over great.
Gabrielle pondered for a second and said the best clarification she could come up with.
"Sorry, I um I thought you were someone else." Yeh, great going bard!
"Oh!" Varia said, accepting the words. Although, she wasn't able to hide the tone of hurt in her voice.
Several moments of awkward silence passed between the two. Both were searching for words to say to normalize the uncomfortable situation. Finally, Varia spoke up about her return.
"Well, anyway, we've gotta pack up now."
"Why?" Gabrielle asked with honest curiosity.
"We've got to get to Amazonia as soon as possible. But first, there's something I wanna show you at Ares' camp."
"What is that?"
"You'll see." Varia answered in a saddened tone.
The two packed up camp in record time and raced to the hillside. At first, Gabrielle didn't recognize anything out of the ordinary from last night. Then a large "BOOM!" sounded and Gabrielle saw an explosion a couple hundred feet away.
The little queen searched for the source of the blast. Gabrielle found the weapon with disgusted recognition.
"They were working on them all last night." Varia explained.
"Well," Gabrielle said in an uncharacteristic monotone. "There goes our chance in Tartaurus."
Ares stood over his army and smiled with pride.
They were like well oiled machines. He could no longer just smell victory. He could taste it, he could touch it, he could feel it grace the palm of his hand. Those Amazons were going down! Gabrielle was going down.
The Catapults had been created on a whim. Ares knew he didn't need them to win, but there was nothing wrong with a little insurance. Besides, the men seemed entertained by the new weapon. Anything to boost moral.
"Soon," He told himself aloud.
"Soon those Amazons will be no more."
They rode hard. Harder then Gabrielle had ever rode before. She would have complained if not for its dire necessity. They needed to make it to Amazonia and quickly. The rest of the tribe must be informed so that the situation could be properly dealt with.
In Gabrielle's mind, she tried to envision a plan. Once they reached the council, messengers could be sent out. All the tribes would be called and hopefully they could gather within a fortnight. Then, several days of training and togetherness and the Amazons would be ready by the next full moon.
If they could rally all the Amazons, it would be a fare fight. At least it would have been. But, with Ares new toy, the scaled were tipped against them. The bard tried to think of something, well something besides Xena, that would re-even the odds.
Varia, for her part, was dreading the return. She had yet to think of a plan. She knew Ares attack would not be very well received. It would be hard enough getting most of the Amazons to rally under her leadership. And, if it leaked out that Ares' army had Catapults. Then it would be over. Varia 's mind raced as she tried to come up with a solution.
They quickly reached the border and were greeted by an Amazon Guard. She bent down on one knee as a sign of submission.
"Welcome home my queens."
Varia, however had neither the time nor patience for royal formalities at the moment.
"Get up, get up! I need you do something for me."
The guard stood at prided attention. A mission from the queen herself was great honor.
"Anything, my queen."
"I need you to sound the alarm, immediately." Varia added the ending word to emphasize the urgency of her plea. "Then, I need you to round up every council member and sending them to the meeting hut at soon as possible." Varia took a second to breathe.
"Do you understand the urgency of my words?"
"Yes Queen Varia."
"Now, one last thing. After that is done, and only after that is done, I want you to round up some extra guards and post them at the borders. I want them all on full alert. Every non Amazon is to be taken into custody and treated as a hostile prisoner until I say otherwise."
The Amazon shook her head in understanding.
"OK, now go." She ran off.
"Varia, don't you think that last part was a little bit extreme."
"Maybe, but it was necessary." Varia explained sadly.
The two gave their horses to a passing Amazon and proceeded to the meeting hut. On the way there they heard the sound of the alarm going off.
They waited in the hut for several minutes for members to start appearing. After about a quarter of a candle mark, most everyone was there.
A bunch of questions swarmed the members.
"What did you see?"
"What's going on?"
"Who's after us?"
Varia tried to calm them down. It finally took a sharp whistle from the door guard to quite everyone up.
"Now Sisters, Gabrielle and I are here to report." Varia began.
"Yes," Gabrielle continued. "We went to the hillside, and we did find an army there."
"Well, who was it?" Someone from the back shouted.
"It was Ares' army."
A series of gasps echoed through the crowd at the mention of the name. Varia debated whether to tell the other news. It will only make things worse, .but ..a good leader is an honest leader.
"Sisters there is something else." Varia spoke. "Ares is planning to attack us. The army is about six hundred competently trained warriors." She took a deep breath. "And, sisters, they have Catapults."
Varia sat back a let the confusion and pandemonium reign.
There was a series of murmurs from the crowd. Worried rambling, but nothing completely coherent. Finally one spoke up, with accusation clear.
"Varia, this all your fault. If you hadn't dealt with Ares in the first place, we never would have been in this predicament."
"Yeh, Varia. You brought this down upon us."
Varia bowed her head in shame and willingly took the blame. They were right after all, this was her fault. It was her dealings with Ares that had brought this to pass.
"No." Gabrielle spoke up in her defense. "Stop your blaming. This isn't Varia's fault. No one is to blame here, only Ares. Blaming others is not going to get us anywhere. Let's focus on a plan."
"She's right." Lethara spoke from the background. She had just entered the hut. "We need a plan to beat Ares."
"Well, we should begin by calling the other villages here to prepare for war." Gabrielle suggested. "Once they all arrive "
"You mean if they all arrive."
"What?" The bard asked.
"The other villages haven't been to happy with out recently implemented policy ..or leadership." One of the elders spoke. "I doubt we'd be able to get half of them to come and help."
"So Varia, what's your plan?"
"Yes Varia, how are we gonna get out of this?'
Varia's mind was moving a mile a minute. A plethora of thoughts entered her consciousness. She was touched by Gabrielle's defense of her. She was hurt by the council cinging remarks. And, her brain was racing for a plan.
An idea crossed her mind for a split second, then was pass off. Then, several moments later, the same thought began pressing again. It just might work!
The bard was trying to calm the council down, while Varia was lost in her thoughts. Where's the sisterly unity here? Where's the loyalty and support? Amazons! Gabrielle thought as she pushed back a younger, enraged Amazon who was trying to get to Varia.
"Gabrielle." Varia called out.
The bard turned to her and saw a deep expression on the queen's face.
"Gabrielle," Varia said again in a more sensuous tone. She looked deeply into the bard's eyes and slowly got down on one knee.
"Will you marry me?"
"Ares." Aphrodite called out as she entered his tent. "Ares!"
The God poked his head out from under the sheets.
"Sis." He said is sarcastic happiness. Another head popped up. It was blonde and belonged to a seemingly beautiful, yet nameless woman. "Not that I don't love you're company, but I'm kinda in the middle of something here."
"Well, it'll have to wait. I need to talk to you NOW!" Aphrodite exclaimed angrily.
"Ten minutes, Sis. Give me ten minutes."
Aphrodite just stood, stone faced.
"Geez, all right already. You," He pointed to the girl. "Go. We'll finish this later."
The blonde woman jumped out of bed, unabashingly naked. She bounced across the room, picking up her scattered clothing. When she was, finally, decently dressed, she quickly exited.
"Well, you think the Goddess of Love would show a little more leniency for love."
"Funny Ares, I never figured you to be the blonde type."
"NO, that's you remember. So, Sis, mind telling me what this is all about?" Ares said in an annoyed inquisition.
"This about the Amazons, Ares. Why didn't you tell me?"
Damn it! Ares was hoping she wouldn't have found out about that. Especially since he'd swore on Aphrodite name about preventing the war. Technically, in the most minimal sense of the word, he hadn't broken that promise. But that technicality was rapidly waning.
"You didn't ask."
"That's not the point, Ares." She said angrily.
"Fine, sooorrryyy! I should have told you. There are you satisfied now?" He asked in aggravation.
"Damn it Aphrodite, what more do you want? Besides I don't see why it is any of your business. What, are you taking over Artemis's responsibility for those women."
"No, I'm not. But, I have a vested interest Bro."
"Oh really, and what would that be."
"Gabrielle." She answered plainly.
"Oh, and why do you care so much about a mortal, Sis?" Ares asked with malice.
"Because Bro," Aphrodite said pressing her pointed finger into the tip of his nose. "I love her."
Gods be damned! Does that woman have every person wrapped around her finger? Ares resolve only strengthened. Didn't Gabrielle ever have enough? First Xena, then Varia, now Aphrodite. When is it gonna be enough?
"Now Ares, I am asking you. Please, don't do this." Aphrodite said with unaccustomed seriousness.
Ares was taken aback by her sincerity. Aphrodite was never this passionate about anything besides ..well, passion. She really is in love. Damn it!
"Look, Aphrodite, I'd love to meet your request. But, I can't."
"Why Ares, why? Its just a war. You start some any other place. Let them be. Let her be. Please."
Ares began to feel guilty about his vengeance. If only But he couldn't change his plight. It had to be the Amazons. It had to be Gabrielle.
"I'm sorry. I can't." He said sadly.
"Fine, be a little bitch. But you listen to me partner," Aphrodite fumed." I know about your little promise to Xena. I know that you swore on my name. I also that you are an inch away from breaking it and you are sustaining on a minor technicality."
Aphrodite moved in closer, so that Ares could feel her breath upon him.
"And I know, if you break that oath, The Fates will deem me able to claim retribution." She grabbed his vest collars. "And, I will find ways to enact my revenge that are nothing near sisterly."
She released him and stepped back.
"Yes." Ares said in a whisper. He was actually scared.
"Now, since you are determined to see this stupid was through, I have a request, brother."
"Yes." Ares said, his voice still not fully returned.
"You make this a fair fight."
"It is a fair fight. I've got about six hundred men. If they band together, they'll have about the same number. Its even."
"NO. Its not. They have six hundred Amazons. You have six hundred soldiers AND Catapults."
"NO, sis, please." Ares begged like a spoiled child.
"Lose the Catapults."
"Oh common, I just got them. We just tried them out today. I ca ."
"Oh Boo hoo hoo. The War God loses his new toys." Aphrodite said sarcastically. "Look, tears." She said tracing her finger down her cheek.
"Fine!" He said, angrily.
Aphrodite smiled at her small accomplishment.
"Good, they better be gone by sundown. And no hiding them bro, I'll find 'em. I'll be checking up on you." Aphrodite said before disappearing from the tent.
"DAMN IT!!" Ares yelled angrily at the top of his lungs. He needed something to take the edge off. Brita .Bran Brint what was her name again? Ares decided on going simple.
"Girl, Come in here."
The blonde, who had been waiting outside the tent rushed in. Ares brought her close and gave her a hard kiss. Oh yeh, something to take the edge off.
When Aphrodite reached Olympus, she was reduced to tears.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle. I tried."
"What?!" Gabrielle asked astonished at Varia request. "Marry you?!"
Where in Tartaurus had brought that on? Gabrielle's mind raced for an explanation.
"I mean, I know we're close friends Varia, but ." She thought aloud, confused.
"Alright, Everyone out." Lethara yelled from the background. She wasn't sure what was going on, but she did know it was of a more personal nature and did not need to be witnessed by the whole village.
No one heeded her calls as they all stood, flabbergasted at the room's goingons.
"I said MOVE!" Lethara moved. As if broken from a trance, the Amazons, finally, heard her words and began to clear out.
Gabrielle was in a state of shock. She didn't know how to respond to Varia's question. Of course, she knew the obvious answer was no. But, she was more concerned as to what had inspired Varia to make such an outlandish request.
"Varia, I don't understand. We haven't, I mean I don't ." Gabrielle struggled to voice her thoughts.
What's changed to make this happen? She silently thought.
"The kiss!" Gabrielle said. It was all clear. "That kiss today. Varia, when I kissed you .I thought I explained that. Varia it was an accident."
Varia was holding her response. Waiting until everyone had left the room before she responded.
With Gabrielle's recent realization, she was racing to explain her earlier actions.
"Look, I didn't wanna tell you this. But, ok, last night I was fantasizing about Xena. And when I woke up, half consciousness I saw you and thought you were her. I thought I was kissing her. I'm sorry, it was an accident." Gabrielle stuttered.
Varia, truly wasn't listening. She, herself, was trying to find the right words to explain her actions.
Gabrielle went on mumbling incoherently about "the kiss". The last member exited and now, Varia was ready to talk.
"Gabrielle, stop!" The bard halted speech.
"Again, I know I asked earlier, but What were are you thinking?! Marry you?!" She asked completely confused.
"Let me explain."
"Ok, its not about the kiss earlier. Although, I'm not gonna pretend like I didn't enjoy it. I did. And, the truth is Gabrielle, that I do have feelings for you. Deep feelings, that I've been having a hard time hiding."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Oh no! Not this! Varia is my friend, this supposed to happen! I don't wanna lose her friendship.
Varia saw Gabrielle change in expression and hurried her confession.
Gabrielle perked up at the word.
"But, that is not why I asked you, Gabrielle."
"It's for the good of the nation." Did I just say that? That was a bit over the top. Varia scrambled to recover her self.
"Ok, Gabrielle. In order to beat Ares, we're gonna need the full support of the nation. As things are, I honestly don't know if that's possible."
"What do you mean?"
"The Amazons may have voted me queen. But I've lost much of their respect. Plus, with the new unpopular government policies, I'm not the most accepted person right now. I don't think I can muster up that kind of support." Varia said seriously.
"Ok, I follow your reasoning. But, what does any of that have to do with asking me to marry you?" Gabrielle asked yearning for a reason.
"Since the Dyo," Varia struggled to say the words. The wounds from the occurrence were still deep. "Since, you know, what happened."
Gabrielle nodded her head in saddened understanding.
"When the other queens saw that, Gabrielle, they respect you and admire you like no one else. Even the Amazons in the village would hand over their life for you. If I was to take you as a consort, they would listen, they would fight for you."
Gabrielle understood her explanation, but was still questioning.
"Having a new consort and then regaling troops for war. Varia, don't you think that's a little suspect?"
"Perhaps. But what if we could disguise it somehow."
"Oh, and how would we do that?" Gabrielle asked, less then supportive.
"Well, what if we sent an announcement out to the other villages. Varia and Gabrielle Are to be married within a week. We request the presence of all Amazons for this 'most joyous' union."
"Sooo " Gabrielle remarked.
"So, they all gather for the event. We marry, everyone's happy. And then And then, we discover Ares is right across the ridge and on a path of attack. The Amazons would rally behind us and we could take them."
"Gabrielle, it would be for the good of the nation."
Gabrielle took a step back from Varia, letting the true magnitude of the situation sink in. Marry her For the good of the nation. Her answer of no seemed now to be selfish. What if this is the only way?
"So, Gabrielle, will you marry me?"
"I .I .I need more time Varia. This is all so sudden, I don't know." She exclaimed.
"Time. Gabrielle, I'm sorry, time in is the one thing we're short on. Take as long as you need to come to a conclusion, but I don't have to remind you how grave the situation is." Varia said in a darker, urgent tone.
Gabrielle nodded her head, understanding her words. Varia walked out of the hut, and ran straight into the crowd of on lookers who had snuck in close to unsuccessfully eavesdrop.
"So?" One of them asked.
"So, get out of here."
"That's Queen Varia, and I just gave you a command. Now do as I say before I'm forced to take further action." She growled angrily.
The Amazons scampered away and Varia returned to her room, agitated. Gods, please let her say yes. For me, and for the nation.
Gabrielle walked dazed into her tent, deep in thought. Her mind replaying the earlier events, striving to find an answer.
Her knee jerk reaction was to say no, to turn Varia down immediately. The woman was a great friend, but not her soul mate. She cared for Varia deeply, but she wasn't in love with her. It would be a joining in the legal sense only.
But, when she thought deeper, another idea occurred. Gabrielle didn't want to live the rest of life alone. What she wanted to be is with Xena. But, it was obvious that wasn't to be. The bard could settle for the next best thing. She would never be alone. Yes, she didn't love Varia. Yet, with how similar she was to the warrior, Gabrielle was very sure she could grow to. Don't I deserve another chance to be happy?
Her sense of duty strengthen her answer. She was an Amazon queen. Her duty, above all, was to protect her tribe. They were not only her tribe, but her sisters, her friends. It was her obligation to secure their safety. There was no time for an alternative plan, so in turning Varia down she would not be fulfilling her job as queen.
There was no other way. Gabrielle knew her answer.
Varia heard a voice at the door.
"Varia?!" It called out. It was Gabrielle.
Damn it! Gabrielle had been away for less then a candle mark. That could only mean one thing. She's going to say no.
Varia was hurt. Both as queen and as a woman. The rejection meant the bard was turning her back on the nation. But, it also meant that she was turning down a life with Varia. I wanted to make her happy! Damn her!
"Come in." Varia said, struggling to make a sound.
"Varia, I have your answer." Gabrielle said calmly.
The bard's cool condition threw Varia off stride.
"Gabrielle, just let me tell you first, I think you're making a mistake. I mean not only are you letting ."
"Yes." The bard interrupted.
Yes?! Did I just hear her right. Yes in agreement that she was letting down the nation or yes to my proposal?! Varia's mind asked.
"Yes what?" She inquired hesitantly.
"Yes Varia. I will marry you."
Aphrodite sat, sprawled across her big pink couch upon Olympus. She was at odds with what to do. She desperately wanted to help Gabrielle. But what can I do?
"Hit 'em with a love bolt?! Hah!" She sarcastically berated herself.
Her hands were tied until Ares fully crossed the line. He was still dancing around the border which left Aphrodite unable to seek vengeance. She had gotten rid of the Catapults so at least the fight would be fair. She would however, have to check to make sure it stayed that way. Ares had a tricky little habit of bending his words.
"What to do what to do?"
Without the other gods, Olympus was a boring affair. Aphrodite needed something to do, something to keep her mind occupied so she wouldn't worry so. I could always drop in on Gabby. Give her the stellar news about my job on the God of War. Besides .I did need to finish up that makeup session, Aphrodite thought with a silent wink.
Then its settled, Amazonia here I come. Aphrodite stood up to snap herself to Gabrielle.
"Aphrodite" Three voices called out. Each annunciating a different word.
The Goddess didn't have to ask who it was. She knew. It was the one thing that every god feared, The Fates. Oh no, so it begins.
"How are you lovely ladies doing today? Can I get you something? Strawberries? Chocolate? They're great Aphrodisiacs." The Goddess said stuttering to delay the terrible news she knew was coming.
"There is no time." The youth spoke.
"We are here about a manner of great importance." The elder said.
"Well what is it chicas?"
"You have changed fate, Aphrodite. In a way never meant to be." The maiden explained.
"Varia has asked Gabrielle to marry her, and she will accept. This was not meant to be."
Aphrodite was taken aback by the confession. Her heart swarmed in chaos. Varia?! Where did that come from? The Goddess was completely sure that they weren't you know. So what's going on? Aphrodite took a deep breath, she knew Gabrielle would have an explanation.
"Ok, so I'll talk to Gabrielle. I'll get her not to marry Varia. See, easy."
"We're afraid not." The youth remarked. "Aphrodite, you tampered with Gabrielle's life."
The elder continued on.
"YOU were meant to live a life as friends, nothing more. Gabrielle's heart, her path, her life belongs to Xena."
"They were to repair the rift between them after Eve's conviction." The maiden spoke accusingly. "You hindered this process. Then you seduced Gabrielle."
"I did not." Aphrodite defended herself. "It was a mutual development."
"Gabrielle was a mortal, she couldn't see. She couldn't understand."
"But you could Aphrodite. You knew their souls were meant to be together."
"Yet, you acted on a selfish impulse, taking advantage of that girl."
Aphrodite was offended by naming her undying love nothing more then a "selfish impulse." But, she chose to keep her mouth shut. She would give no reason to tempt The Fates.
"What you've done will cause a war, killing many people, may good people. You must repair the loom."
"How? What am I to do?" Aphrodite asked futily.
"Do." They returned to alternating words to emphasize their conviction.
"Yes, I understand." She said bowing her head as The Fates slowly disappeared.
And they were right, Aphrodite did know what she must do. She had to find Xena and bring her back.
First, however, the Goddess wanted a full explanation for Gabrielle sudden acceptance of marriage. Why couldn't of it been me? Aphrodite snapped her way into Gabrielle's room.
"Gaaabbrriiieeelllee." She called out in search of her bard. The Goddess was answered by the far off sound of the little queen's voice.
Aphrodite followed the noise to the back room of the hut, where the bard lay lounging in a bath tub. She held an expression of deep thought that lightened immensely when she saw Aphrodite.
"Hey there, care to join me." The bard said, seductively waggling her eyebrows. Seems I wasn't the only one who found this morning lacking. Aphrodite was truly tempted to join her. NO, first, I have to know.
"Tempting offer Sweet Pea, but I've gotta pass."
The bard tried to quickly hide her offended look at the Goddess's rejection.
"Actually Gabby, we need to talk." Aphrodite said seriously. Gabrielle sensed the gravity of the situation and quickly got out of the tub to dress. Aphrodite turned her eyes to allow Gabrielle a minimal about of unnecessary privacy.
"Ok, I'm ready." The little queen said, drying he hair off. "What do you wanna talk about?"
"Well, for starters, ummm ..how bout you're impending marriage to Varia." Aphrodite said in sarcastic tranquility.
"You heard about that, huh. Already?"
"I AM a goddess Gab."
"Yeh, I know. Well " Gabrielle struggled to find the words to properly explain it. "Ares is right above Amazon land, waiting to attack. We need all the support we can get "
"Not following." Aphrodite interrupted.
"Let me finish. Varia has implemented some rather unpopular laws upon the new nation. Now, people doubt her leadership and are unwilling to follow her. Apparently, she had some idea that they all really respect me. "
"Of course they do." The Goddess added matter-of-factly.
"Anyway, the plan is to send out invitations to the other tribes for a wedding celebration. Then, once they all get here, We suddenly discover Ares' army and we attack. With full Amazon force!"
Aphrodite's expression lightened. I knew she had some valiant explanation. She's just that honorable.
"Aphrodite, this doesn't change things between us. Varia, is a good friend and companion. But you're my confidant, I won't trade one for the other."
The Goddess was touched by the words and simply smiled as a reply. When she finally regained her composure, she looked at Gabrielle with gratitude.
"Thanks little one. I just had to know."
"Well, I just had to drop in and clear that mess up." Aphrodite said humorously, trying to hide her tears. "Now that's done, I have to go .somewhere back to Olympus. Yes, that's it."
Gabrielle shook her head in understanding, thrown a little off balance by Aphrodite's stutter. Does it bother her that much?
Aphrodite reached her hands up in the air to disappear, but remembered one quick thing.
"OH, by the way. I got rid of those Catapults for ya. You're welcome." She said casually. Gabrielle heard the words and raced into Aphrodite's arms.
"Oh thank you so much 'Dite."
The bard took a deep breath.
"I love you, you know."
"I know." The Goddess said in the mist of tears. "And that's what makes this so hard." She murmured under her breath then quickly disappeared.
Only when she reached Olympus did she allow her tears to fall.
Xena's head shot up.
Her existential senses picked up a disturbance upon the surreal scenery. Too anyone else, the change would have gone unnoticed. But not to Xena. The change was as plain as day to the warrior.
She could feel the breeze shirt for a brief second. The sounds of her hidden voyeur. Xena could feel two eyes piercing into her, watching her every move. All these signs alerted her to the presence, but did little in identifying its source.
The way Xena truly knew who watched her was by her body's alerted response. The hairs on the back of her neck began to stand up. Her stomach involuntarily curled inwardly. Her skin had a rambunctious quality to it. These were caused by usually one thing: a godly presence.
Ares, Xena thought with both disgust and self-deprecation.
"ARES!" She called out. " Ares I know you're here, My stomach's already sick of your presence."
A flash of light sprinkled the countryside.
"Ouch, easy Warrior babe! No need to be caustic!" Aphrodite said with a mixture of anger and sarcasm.
"Aphrodite?!" The warrior exclaimed surprised. This was not the godly presence she was expecting. "What are you doing here?" She asked with urgency.
Aphrodite wasn't sure she wanted to answer the question because what she was about to do would eliminate the most important relationship in her life. She knew her and Gabrielle would always remain friends. She knew never again would they be lovers, not with Xena around. Aphrodite knew true love, and that it was. Gabrielle's heart belonged to the warrior and in Xena presence, the bard would no longer be able to deny it.
She had even accepted that fact. But it wasn't the absence of sex that disheartened her, it was the loss of intimacy. The intimacy that only lovers share. It was the knowing glances and the subtle touches. The way they had full conversation with out saying a word, speaking through their eyes. It was the feel of laying in each other arms after they had made love. That, Aphrodite would miss forever.
It had taken all the strength the Goddess possessed in her to go to Xena. After The Fates left her, she realized the true magnitude of the situation. Every morning she woke up telling herself she would go to the warrior. Everyday was spent making minor excuses so as to delay the visitation.
Excuses and all, it had taken Aphrodite almost a full two weeks to work up the courage. Actually, she would have waited longer if possible, but there was no more time. Today was to be Gabrielle's wedding day. If she did not stop it now, The Fates had the ability to seek revenge upon her. And all gods fear the wrath of The Fates.
The Goddess lost herself in her thoughts for a moment; it was a happier place to be. She'd forgotten Xena question. Xena, seeing Aphrodite's deep look, inquired again.
"Aphrodite." She said looking straight into the Goddess's eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"Can't a friend drop in and say hi." She remarked with humor as a defensive mechanism.
"Xena, I need you're help. Well, not really I, but a friend of mine."
"Gabrielle?! Did something happen to Gabrielle?" Xena asked fevered. The thought of the bard in trouble sent Xena is to a rage spiral. She drew her sword out of instinct. "Gabrielle, if anything had happened to her I swear I'll ."
"Calmate Chica. Before you march the gates of Tartaurus, let me finish."
Xena felt a bit sheepish for her reaction. Guess that protective streak never goes away, does it?
The warrior looked up at the Goddess from a bowed head. When she had finally composed herself, she asked again.
"Aphrodite, how's she been?"
Xena's protective instincts had somewhat angered Aphrodite. Who does she thinks she is? She can just walk out on Gabrielle, leave her at her lowest, but then has to be her personal savior. What hurt Aphrodite even more is that Gabrielle would probably accepted her with open arms.
"Without you, she's been just fine."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Xena said hostilely.
"You know when you left her, she was dieing."
"I know," Xena interrupted. "I inspected the wounds myself, but she has remarkably quick healing abilities."
"You saw her physical wounds, but you failed to diagnose her soul. She wasn't just dying on the outside, but the inside as well. She needed you, and you weren't there." Aphrodite said convictingly.
"I left her to protect her."
"Who are you trying to fool, you left her because of your own guilt. It was selfish Xena."
The warrior's head sunk even lower.
"Do you know how many days I sat by her bedside, hearing her cry. Hearing her blame herself for your leave. Even without your presence, she still protects your reputation. Do you know what it felt like to hear her tell me how it was all her fault, that she had endangered Eve and deserved to be punished. I mean, do you have any idea?! "
"She needed you and you weren't there." Aphrodite said straight faced. "But, to answer your question. How is she? She's thriving. She quickly built up her strength at the same time building up her bonds with her tribe. She is Varia second in command and probably the most respected, admired member of the nation."
"Her policies are brilliant, her words soothing, and her ear always open. She's able to deal with the harsh demographics of politics, yet keep her heart unstained. She's an amazing woman."
"Without you, just fine." She ended.
Xena drunk in her words with unquenched thirst. They were, however, a mixed blessing. Xena's was put at ease knowing Gabrielle had survived and was okay. A bit of pride was stirred up in her for the young bard hearing how well she was doing in the nation.
But, a small part of her heart ached at the news. Perversely, Xena had hoped, on some level, that Gabrielle would have suffered somewhat as she had. That the loss of the relationship would have effected her as deeply as if did Xena.
There was something about Aphrodite's words that left her uneasy. If not that actual words, but the tone itself. The way she spoke, it was backed by such enormous intensity and passion. Her words showed a valley of emotion with true depth far below that of friendship.
Something about her admiration and respect was oddly familiar to the warrior, much too familiar. Xena took a second to dote on the thought before making a startling revelation.
"You. You're in love with her aren't you." Xena said in disgust.
"Yes, I am. Along with half of the rest of the world. Yes, I'm in love with Gabrielle. And you know what, without you, she's had time actually focus on other people around her. People who care for her and want to be a part of her life."
"I can't believe you, you're sick."
"Sick because I love her? That's not what Gabrielle thought."
"You told her?" Xena asked.
"Oh, I did more then tell her Xena." Aphrodite said seductively.
"What do you mean?" Xena barked out, furious.
"I showed her. I did what you were too afraid to do. I let Gabrielle know the depth of my true feeling. She accepted it .on many occasions." Aphrodite said with a wink
Her words, true, were spiteful. They cheapened the relationship that the bard and Goddess had shared. But at the moment, Aphrodite didn't care. She wanted to hurt Xena. Hurt her for taking back what meant so much. I want her to feel some of what I'm taking on by giving Gabrielle back.
"So you .you two were having sex?" Xena asked disgusted.
"Oh no, not sex. Never with Gabrielle. We made love. She made love to me and I made love to her. The past few months have been some of the most incredible of my life."
Aphrodite words stung Xena to the core. She tried to wrap herself around the knowledge that Gabrielle had been in a relationship with another woman ..and it hadn't been her. Xena clutched her chest as if to draw out the invisible dagger that lay embedded in her heart. Oh Gabrielle, why couldn't it have been me?
"So, if everything was so perfect between you two, why did you come here. To gloat?"
"Hmph," Aphrodite sighed. "I wish. I love Gabrielle with all that I am. And, I wish we could be together forever. But, The Fates are cruel. They have cursed the Goddess of Love to be in love with one she can never have."
"Xena, you and Gabrielle are soul mates. You know that. Yours lives are intertwined. You two were meant to be together. Your hearts are the perfect compliment to each other. You were made for her, and she was made for you. And as hard as I try, nothing with in my godly range can change that." Aphrodite admitted, fighting tears.
"I've come here today because I need your help, for Gabrielle."
"Anything." Xena responded automatically.
"Ares had raised an army to attack the Amazons. He plans to descend upon them by the full moon tonight. His motivation is revenge, against Gabrielle."
"Ares!" Xena growled. "That son of a bi ."
"Its not just him." Aphrodite interrupted. "Varia is leading the Amazons. But, with some major squabbles have arose since they unified and Varia was afraid she would not get full Amazon support."
"So, she had an idea. She would invite all the Amazons in for a celebration, and in the midst of the festivities, they would discover Ares' attack and would band together to fight him."
"What celebration is that?" Xena asked seriously.
"The Queen's taking of a consort through marriage."
"And who would she be marrying?"
"Gabrielle." Aphrodite said blankly.
"WHAT?!" Xena said, words didn't even describe the things she was imagining to do to Varia.
"The entire nation fully respects Gabby. If Gabrielle was to marry Varia, the nation would be safe. They would band together and be able to defeat Ares."
"But Gabrielle would never " Xena said, halting her words to truly think.
"Well, what do you know about Gabrielle, as a person?" Aphrodite asked in an obvious tone.
"She's the most honorable, pure hearted person I know. She'd do anything to help others." Xena said sadly.
"She said yes didn't." Xena said in a sullen tone.
"Yep she did. But, that's not the only problem. Varia, like so many others, seems to have fallen for her as well. And although she was thinking about the Amazons, her intentions are mixed."
Xena angered at the idea.
"So basically what I need you to do is stop Gabrielle from making the biggest mistake of her life with Varia before she loses her life to Ares."
"When's the wedding?"
"Like now." Aphrodite said, embarrassed for waiting so long.
"Well then, we must be going." Xena said anxiously.
Gabrielle, I'm coming.
Gabrielle glanced into the mirror through tear glazed eyes.
She was dressed in a white dress. The dress was short, reaching to her knees. But, it had slits aside the legs running up to Gabrielle's hips. The top was low cut, revealing an ample amount. Gabrielle guessed it was to be incentive for the wedding night.
Her back was left bare. A strap went around her neck to keep the dress on. It was inlayed with white beads in several Amazons designs around the bosom area.
Gabrielle had allowed her hair to grow down since the Dyo Zoi. Now it reached a little past her shoulders, curling inwardly at the tips. She had opted to pin it back away from her face because it made her look older and more sophisticated.
She looked paragonic. A model of perfection for all Amazons to lust after. She was beautiful. One could almost believe her to be the happy blushing bride. But, the façade was broken by Gabrielle's tears.
She had fought them earlier, but now conceded to let them flow freely. She had told herself that this was the only way and that it was for the best, but the whole ceremony felt sacrilegious. It didn't feel right. It couldn't feel right. Not without Xena.
Gabrielle could feel nothing but sorrow in handing her hand to someone she knew was not her soul mate. The bard didn't want to be bonded to Varia. She didn't want to give her life away to Xena. The tears began to flow even freer.
Tears of what could never be glided off Gabrielle's cheek. Not only was she sad about the impending nuptials, but also she was filled with sorrow of a different matter. Gabrielle's soul ached at the knowledge that her and Xena had never had this type of chance, and now, they never would.
It's not too late, I could still get out of this, screamed Gabrielle's head. But, they were thoughts of fantasy. The bard knew herself all too well. She had made a commitment. A commitment to the Amazons, to protect them. A commitment to Varia, to marry her in a means of protecting her Amazons. This was the only way, she knew she had no choice. Today ..today I am to be married.
Yet, another tear fell.
A knock on the door came. Gabrielle went to open it. It was Lethara.
"Gabrielle, its time." She said heavily. The healer could sense Gabrielle's hesitation. On one level, she marveled at the queen. This woman is willing to give up more then her life for us, she's willing to give up her future.
On another level, she felt unending sorrow for the woman. Not because she was marrying Varia, but because she was bonding herself to a live without love. Lethara knew Varia was deeply in love with the bard. But, she knew Gabrielle would never be capable of returning that love with any true depth. Her love was for Xena alone; they were soul mates. And now, the bard was sentencing herself to a life without her.
Gabrielle took a deep breath. It's time. She turned to Lethara.
Lethara led her to where the ceremony was to be performed. Since there was not a shelter in the village to hold over 500 Amazons, they agreed to hold the wedding outside. Lethara made a short nod to Varia, and Varia whispered into the Priestess's ear.
The Priestess whistled loudly, as if sounding an alarm. Immediately, the body of Amazons split like the parting of the Red Sea. On each side a row of warriors lined up, unsheathing their swords and holding them above their head. They created hallway for Gabrielle to walk through to reach Varia.
Gabrielle began the procession, slowly pacing up the way. Every time she passed one of the Amazons, they quickly lowered their swords to their sides. Within a couple minutes, the bard was in view of Varia.
She truly looked an Amazon Queen. She had dressed herself in full, traditional, brown leathers. She wore all her royal jewelry, symbolizing her status. Her hair was left down and wild. Varia looked beautiful, but she still wasn't Xena.
With every step, Gabrielle felt her happiness slipping away from her. Inching closer and closer to her fate. Once she finally reached the platform, she felt her legs began to buckle from with under her. Gabrielle looked faint.
"Are you alright?" Varia whispered into her ear, concerned.
"I'm fine." Gabrielle answered back. As fine as I'll ever be. To reassure her, Gabrielle made a sharp nod at the Priestess to begin. And, receiving the nod, she did.
"Sisters," She bellowed out in a commanding voice. "We are gathered here to witness a most joyous occasion. We are celebrating the marriage and bonding between Queen Varia and Queen Gabrielle. Before I begin the ceremony, I must ask. Is there anyone here who objects to this joining? Speak now or forever hold your peace."
Several seconds of silence passed by. The Priestess, apparently satisfied, opened her mouth to resume the ceremony when a voice cut through the crowd.
Everyone, including Varia turned to see the source. Once again, the crowd parted to let the objecting stranger make their way to the front.
Gabrielle, however, still had her head turned to the Priestess. She knew the voice, it was the sound of her soul. She was too afraid to turn and look in fear that it had simply been her wishful imagination.
"Varia, I object." The voice spoke again.
This time Gabrielle knew for certain that it was real. Her heart danced its way up her throat in anticipation as the bard slowly turned around to face the speaker who Gabrielle knew all too well.
It was Xena.
Continued in Part 4.