See part 1 for disclaimers and warnings
I can be reached at XWPScribe@aol.com.
Part Two of Two
By Greek Warrior (Joan)
"Gabrielle this is my oldest son Thaddeus. You haven't had a chance to meet because he usually spends most of his time tending his sheep. He has quite a large flock now and is becoming very prosperous. I'll let the two of you get acquainted." She smiled and maneuvered them closer before leaving.
"Sorry about that. Sometimes mother can be a little pushy." Thaddeus explained.
"It's ok, after all we are family now." Gabrielle asked if the two men knew each other and introduced them when the reply was negative.
"You're Xena's brother." Thaddeus smiled. "What was she like growing up? Is she as good as they say? What kind of things does she like?" Thaddeus guided Toris away from Gabrielle so he could have his undivided attention.
The bard shook her head and joined the warrior. "Who was that?" Xena asked as she moved a chair next to hers, for Gabrielle to use.
"Thaddeus, Manderon's older brother."
"I take it his mother was trying to fix you up."
"I think that's exactly what she had in mind, but it backfired."
"You mean he's more interested in Toris?"
"No, I mean he's more interested in you. He's grilling Toris about you right now." The bard laughed at the expression on Xena's face.
"Don't laugh too hard my lovely little bard, I've got some news for you too." Gabrielle looked sideways at the warrior. "I had a talk with my brother today and he thinks he's falling in love with you."
She took a sip of port just as Xena finish her news and started choking as she swallowed. The warrior slapped her on the back until she could catch her breath. "What did you tell him?" She finally managed to get out.
She told Gabrielle what had been said between them and also what her mother had said. She thought for a minute then added. "It almost seemed like he was challenging me for you."
"Do you think he knows about us?"
"No. But when we were kids, he was always trying to find some challenge that he could win. If I beat him he would come up with another one, then another one until he finally won."
"So, I'm a prize in a contest?" The bard rolled her eyes and groaned. "Oh gods, can this get any worse."
"I wouldn't ask that if I were you, they just might answer you." Xena cringed at the thought of the gods getting involved in this mess.
"My two favorite people. May I join the two loveliest ladies here tonight?" Salmoneus inquired.
"Yes!" They both almost shouted as they saw Toris and Thaddeus headed their way.
Dinner was followed by music and dancing. It was also followed by Xena and Gabrielle trying to keep one step ahead of their ardent admirers. Every time they saw them heading their way they would escape through the crowd to the other side of the room. This went on throughout the evening. At one rendezvous back at the fireplace Xena commented. "Maybe I should put my armor and weapons on, that might discourage him."
"Fine for you, what about me?" As Gabrielle replied neither noticed the two men converging upon them.
"Gabrielle there you are." Toris said. "I've been trying to track you down all night. How about a dance?"
"Dance?" Gabrielle looked to Xena. "I'm not real big on dancing Toris, but thanks anyway."
"I'm not taking no for an answer, come on you'll have fun." And with that he whisked her away.
"Xena?" She turned at the sound of her name. "We haven't been introduced, I'm Thaddeus, Manderon's brother and it's a pleasure to meet you." He had taken her hand and begun to shake it.
"Yes, Gabrielle has told me about you. If you'll excuse me." She said as she tried to turn away, but was jerked back.
Thaddeus still had her hand and didn't seem to want to release it. "What's the hurry? I thought you might want to dance. Toris said you loved to dance."
She glared in the direction of the dance floor. 'He's going to die.' She looked back at Thaddeus, who had a puppy dog look on his face and resisted her normal response. 'Gabrielle's parents already don't like me and I don't imagine it would improve relations if I beat up the in-laws.' Instead she responded. "Thank you for asking Thaddeus, but I don't dance anymore, it bothers my leg. Old battle wound." She extracted her hand from his grip and vanished into the crowd.
As the music was ending the bard spied Xena sitting at a corner table. "Thanks but I'm tired, I think I'll rest awhile." Gabrielle responded to his request for another dance. They joined Xena at her table. "Toris, would you mind getting us something to drink?" Gabrielle asked as he sat down.
"No of course not, back in a minute."
He returned with port for all three. When Toris would turn his head away from the table, the bard would pour most of the contents of her mug into the empty ones that had been left on the table by previous occupants. Then she would have Toris get more. Xena figured out what she was trying to do and after the third trip by her brother to replenish the empty mug and said. "Gabrielle don't you think you've had enough?"
"It's a celebration, she can drink as much as she wants." Toris challenged his sister.
The bard had started to slide down in her chair little by little and had started to slur her words. "Yessss a ssselebraseion." She had one eye closed trying to focus on the warrior, while her head bobbed up and down and wobbled back and forth.
"Gabrielle you're drunk and it's time for bed. Say good night." She said as she stood, picked the bard up and slung her over her shoulder.
"Whoa, Xena!" She let the warrior carry her to their room.
Xena closed the door and deposited her bundle on the bed. Grinning she said. "You're bad, very bad."
Gabrielle reached up and tried to pull her lover down. "You aren't complaining are you?"
"Nope, no complaints." She said as she kissed the bard. "Patience love, I have a feeling my brother will be wanting to check in on you." She removed Gabrielle's boots and her own and sat back to wait.
It wasn't long before there was a knock at the door. She winked at the bard and opened the door. She placed a finger to her lips. "Shh, Toris what do you want?"
"I just want to make sure Gabrielle's ok." He tried to peek around his sister's shoulder.
"She'll be fine. She just needs to sleep it off." Xena's statement was punctuated by snores coming from the bed. She had to bite her tongue not to laugh at the outrageous sounds emitting from the bard.
"Ok, I'll say good night then." He reluctantly turned to go.
She closed the door and the bard opened her mouth but Xena held up her hand to stop her from saying anything. There was another knock. The warrior opened the door to the bard's mother this time. "Why did you let her drink so much." It was an accusation not a question.
"Hey, it wasn't me. Toris was the one who said she should be able to drink as much as she wants." Xena replied.
Hecuba walked over to the side of the bed and looked down at her daughter. "Maybe she should sleep in our room in case she wakes up in the night." She said as she brushed the hair back from her daughter's face.
"Uh." Xena was trying to think of a reply. "I don't think it would be a good idea to move her, she might wake up. And if she wakes up she might get sick. I'll make sure she's taken care of tonight."
"Well, that might be best. But if she wakes up sick I want you to come get me." As soon as Hecuba had returned to the main room of the tavern, Xena closed the door and placed a chair against it, placing the back under the latch to keep out any uninvited guests.
"Well what?" Xena moved toward the bed.
"You can't break a promise. Come take care of me." Xena saw desire burning in the bard's eyes.
"Two things first. One, we talk to my brother tomorrow." The warrior stated.
"Ok. Do we tell him the truth?"
"Only if the partial truth doesn't work. If we or mostly you can convince him that you're not ready for a relationship with another man we won't have to tell him about us."
"Relationship with another man being the truth part. And you said I was bad." Gabrielle replied with a grin.
Xena shrugged. "Whatever works." She smiled, then turned serious. "The second thing you're not going to like."
The bard fell back on the bed. "Let me guess, we're going to talk to my parents."
"We're not going to tell them the truth." She stated as she propped up on her elbows.
"No way in Tartarus are we going to tell them about us. But I would like them to understand that you want this way of life. That you enjoy what you're doing, at least most of the time." Xena explained.
"I wouldn't hold my breath, but I guess it's worth a shot. Now if that's all, you've got a promise to keep!"
"And I never break a promise." She said as she moved just out of reach as the bard sat up on the side of the bed and reached for her. She grabbed Gabrielle's wrists and held them behind the bard's back as she knelt down in front of her. Holding Gabrielle's wrists in one of her hands she brought her other hand around and slowly untied the laces of the bard's top. Gabrielle's breathing had increased as her breasts were released. The warrior lightly ran her lips over the already hard nipples, alternating between the two.
The bard moaned. "Xena, I'm going to make you pay for this."
"Oh, I'm counting on it." She chuckled. She ran her tongue in circles around the bard's nipple, pausing every few revolutions to lightly take it between her teeth. The bard had closed her eyes and arched her back wanting her lover to take more of her. The warrior wasn't going to give in so easily. She further tormented her lover by running her hand up and down her inner thigh sending shivers though the bard's body as she barely touched her center.
Gabrielle had collapsed her head onto the warrior's shoulder and was moaning loudly. Xena could hear the music from the main room and knew no one would be able to hear the bard even if she cried out. Gabrielle placed her mouth against her lover's ear and whispered, "Xena if I don't get the rest of these clothes off I'm going to make you wash them tomorrow." She stated as she struggled for breath.
"Oh, ok." She released the bard's arms and stood up with her. She finished undressing her lover, leaned down and covered the bard's mouth with her own. Gabrielle's kiss took her breath away, gentle and demanding. Passionate and playful. Seductive and erotic. She suddenly couldn't wait any longer. She reached down to pull her tunic off but the bard stopped her.
"I want to undress you." Gabrielle stood on tiptoes and whispered in her ear, then spent a minute sucking on the earlobe. She proceeded to remove the warrior's clothing slowly. Payback had obviously started. She stood behind her lover and kissed her between her shoulder blades then ran the tip of her tongue down her spine and kissed the small of her back, sending shivers throughout the warrior's body. Still standing behind her lover she ran her hands up the warrior's hips and ribs. She then placed them on her lover's breasts and massaged gently. Xena leaned back into her lover. She reached her arms around Gabrielle's hips, grasped her buttocks and pulled her closer. "Xena, I'm on fire! I want you, I need you now!"
She turned around to face the bard. "Need you, too." She kissed her lover once more then led her to the bed. The warrior lay down on her back and instructed the bard to straddle her stomach. As the bard lowered herself, Xena almost lost control as she felt the incredible amount of moisture between her lover's legs. Gabrielle's hips slid up and down Xena's abdomen as if they had a life of their own. The warrior bent her knees so the bard could lean back against her legs. She placed her hand between her stomach and the bard. She inserted two fingers into her lover and used her thumb to massage her center.
Gabrielle leaned back against Xena's legs as she road up and down on the warrior's fingers. When the warrior felt the bard's body tense she pushed deep inside her lover. "Gods Xena yeesss!" Gabrielle cried out and collapsed onto her lover as the climax raged though her. Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle. She could still feel the bard's body pulsing. Still breathing hard Gabrielle turned on her side and pulled her lover with her. She placed her thigh between Xena's legs. As the warrior moved back and forth against her leg she placed her fingers on her swollen center and massaged.
That was all she needed to send her over the edge. She called out her lover's name as her body convulsed over and over again. When their breathing returned to normal, Xena tilted the bard's head up and kissed her once again. As they lay together, bodies entwined, a loan figure moved away from the window.
A short time later. "Xena are you asleep yet?"
"Yes, I am."
"Open your eyes. I've got something I want to ask you."
"I don't suppose it could wait until tomorrow?" She opened her eyes and look at the bard. The expression on her face was the answer to her question. "I guess that's a no."
Xena had turned on her back. Gabrielle was on her side propped up one elbow, looking down at her lover. She lightly brushed the back of her fingers across the warrior's cheek. "Xena, will you marry me?"
She looked up at the bard and shrugged her shoulders. "Sure. Can I go back to sleep now?"
"XENA!" The bard punched her in the arm.
The warrior laughed, pulled her lover down and hugged her. "Gabrielle, there is no one else I would rather spend the rest of my life with. But you need to be sure about this. An Amazon Joining is for life. That's why there are so few actual ceremonies."
"I'm completely positive." She kissed her lover. "Totally certain." Another kiss. "Indubitably sure."
Xena rolled over trapping the bard under her and covered her mouth with a long kiss before more words came forth. As they broke from the kiss the bard grinned. "I knew you'd do that to shut me up."
"The only problem with short term solutions, is they're short. Maybe I ought to work on completely speechless."
"I like speechless." The bard saw desire in the warrior's eyes. "Speechless is good. Really good." Xena had disappeared under the cover. "Oh yes." Gabrielle closed her eyes and moaned.
By the time the sun started rising, Toris had worked himself into a rage. He had not meant to eavesdrop at the window but when he heard voices he thought Gabrielle might have been sick. But as he continued to listen he knew what he was overhearing. He convinced himself that his sister had taken advantage of Gabrielle while she had been drunk, so that he wouldn't have a chance with her. In his alcohol clouded mind it made prefect sense. He decided to confront his sister in the morning.
Xena found her mother in the kitchen. "Morning. Have you seen Toris?"
"Morning little one. No, are you going to talk to him?"
"Gabrielle and I both are."
"Are what?" Gabrielle asked as she joined them. "Morning Cyrene."
"Going to talk to Toris. Why don't you explain it to mother. You could also tell her our good news." Xena said as she left the kitchen.
"And where do you think you're going?" Gabrielle glared after the warrior.
"Stables." Xena yelled.
"One of these days, warrior." She turned back to Cyrene who was patiently waiting. "She always does this to me."
"Morning Argo." She ran her hand down the horse's neck. "You ready for breakfast girl?" Argo turned her head and bumped her nose against the warrior's chest. "How about a run this afternoon, would you like that?"
"Xena." Toris entered the barn.
"Morning. We need to talk." She told her brother.
"Yes we do. Well more to the point, I need to talk and you need to listen." Xena crossed her arms and waited for her brother to continue. "When I first joined up with the raiders to get to Cortese there were some men there who said that they had ridden in your army. They had some interesting stories to tell. Some about battles, you know the usual kind of stuff. But the ones that I found unbelievable, of course everyone else loved them, were the ones about your appetite."
"My appetite?" He didn't seem to notice that his sister was not amused.
"You know, all the men and women you've supposedly had. I knew none if it could be true. Silly me."
"Toris is there a point to this little narrative or are you just trying to put me in a bad mood?" She asked him sarcastically.
He was alternating between pacing back and forth, gesturing wildly with his arms, and standing in front of his sister pointing an accusing finger at her. "There are several points to make." He started pacing again. Then stopped and pointed at her as he continued. "You made mother believe you had changed." More pacing. He pointed again. "I believed you had changed. And you obviously have fooled Gabrielle." Pacing again.
Xena wondered which would happen first, would he wear himself out or would he say something that would really piss her off.
Pointing again. "But what you've done this time is more than despicable, more than contemptible. I don't have any word to describe it." More pacing.
She could not for the life of her, figure out what he thought she had done. 'Maybe he thinks I did something to what's his name, Thaddeus. No he knows I took Gabrielle to oh gods! He somehow found out about us.' She started to say something but her brother stopped her.
"Don't interrupt." He was pointing again. "For you to take advantage of someone as innocent as Gabrielle while she was drunk."
"Don't go there, Toris." For a second he was taken back by the venom in her voice.
But he continued anyway. "Just to take her away from me." He accused.
Gabrielle heard some of what had been said and came running into the barn. Toris stopped her by placing his hands on her shoulders. "Gabrielle, are you alright? Just remember it wasn't your fault. You don't have anything to feel ashamed of."
"GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME!" She knocked his arms down. He stood there with his mouth hanging open. "Let me make a few things perfectly clear. First, I am not yours to take away." She placed her hands on his chest and shoved him backwards a step. "Second, I was not drunk last night. I was pretending." She shoved him again. "Third, don't you ever try to hurt your sister like that again." Shove. "Fourth, I am not an innocent little girl. Gods, you sound like my father." Shove. "Fifth, you have a damn big ego to think that I'd fall in love with you just because you THINK you're in love with me." Shove. "Sixth, Xena and I have been lovers for almost a month." Shove. "Seventh," she calmed down and walked to her lover. "I love your sister with all my heart." She fell into Xena's arms and the warrior kissed the top of the bard's head.
He looked at his sister and the bard, then ran from the barn. "Toris." Xena called to him but he didn't stop.
"Let him go. Right now I doubt he would listen to you. I guess I was too hard on him."
"Gabrielle you probably saved both of us. I came very close to losing control. I could have hurt him badly."
"Then you would have beaten yourself up for what you had done to him. I only heard the last part, what else did he say?" Xena told her. "Now I don't feel like I was hard enough. I can't believe he would say those things." She thought for a minute. "Uh Xena, if we didn't tell him about us, then how did he know?"
"Mother would have said something this morning if she had told him. And I imagine Lila was a little preoccupied last night to say anything. He thought last night was the first time it happened, so I guess he overheard us in the room." She reasoned.
"Xena, we gotta get out of this place." They stayed in each other's arms a while longer. "Are you hungry?" Gabrielle asked changing the subject.
"No, not really."
"Too bad. You're eating anyway. I am not facing breakfast with my parents and Lila without you." She grabbed the warrior's arm and started dragging her toward the tavern.
'Great. This day is getting better and better.' She thought as she allowed the bard to lead her out of the stables and towards the tavern.
They joined Cyrene, Salmoneus, the bard's parents, and Lila and Manderon's mother. "Xena did you talk to Toris?" Her mother asked.
"Kind of, I'll explain later." She gave her mother a 'don't ask' look.
"Gabrielle tell another story, please." Her sister begged. Xena groaned.
"Ok but on one condition." She stared at the warrior. "You have to stay."
Xena stared back. "Ok, but I have a condition. I get to pick it."
The bard thought. Her sister pleaded. Gabrielle gave in. "Oh alright, which one?"
The warrior grinned. "Let's see." She wanted an 'embarrass the bard', story. "The one about the Titans."
"You mean the one where Zeus," she didn't get to finish.
"No I mean the one where 'Goddess Gabrielle' in her infinite wisdom, brought three Titans back to life."
"Goddess Gabrielle, this ought to be good." Salmoneus chuckled.
Her glare was enough to silence him. 'I'm getting better at this intimidation thing.' The bard took a bite of food as she thought about the story. "It all started with Xena chasing " Xena listened closely to the story in case Gabrielle had inadvertently forgotten a part or two. " then they turned back to stone." She finished. To the bard's credit she told the entire story no matter how embarrassing it was.
"Thanks Xena, that was a good one. Tell another." Her sister begged again.
Xena got up to leave. Before Gabrielle could protest she stopped her. "We agreed on one story, besides I promised Argo a run." She headed for their room to retrieve her armor and weapons.
It was lunchtime when Xena returned. She brushed Argo down and headed into the tavern though the back entrance. Gabrielle, her parents, Lila, Manderon, his parents and brother had started to eat. Cyrene was serving the other customers. "Mother do you need help?" 'Please. I really don't want to make nice with Thaddeus all through lunch.'
"No, it's not very busy right now." Her mother assured her.
'Great.' The warrior thought and headed toward the others.
Salmoneus hurried into the tavern. "Xena, thank the gods you're back." He was ringing his hands nervously. "There are about a dozen or so soldiers headed this way."
Gabrielle grabbed her staff and ran out behind the warrior with everyone following. Her parents caught up with her outside. "Where do you think you're going?" She ignored them and asked Xena, "Who are they with?"
"I don't know, they're not showing any marking." Most of the village had gathered, but were staying out of the way. The warrior's and the bard's families were standing behind them. Toris was watching from the kitchen window. "If a fight starts, try to keep them from getting hurt." She had indicated their family members with a nod of her head. She walked a few steps away from the bard. "Afternoon boys, looking for lunch or for trouble?"
Gabrielle had to stop Cyrene from moving toward her daughter. "She's going to get hurt, Gabrielle."
"You might get her hurt if you interfere Cyrene, now stay back. That goes for you too, Thaddeus." She warned him when he started moving forward.
"Neither, you see it's our commander's birthday and we thought we might find a present for him. And it looks like we did, doesn't it men." They all started laughing. "I'm sure he will be very pleased to have the head of the warrior princess as his gift. Get her!"
Two of the men attacked, one from each side. She jumped straight up in the air and kicked out to both sides. As her feet made contact with the men, she reached over her shoulder and landed on the ground with her sword in her hand. Four of the men that were standing about twenty feet away to her left were readying their bows. She heard Gabrielle yell archers and glanced that way. One of the men in front charged her as she grabbed her chakram in her left hand. She ducked his sword and smashed him in the face with the hilt of hers. She let the chakram fly and turned back to another man charging. The chakram deflected off a stone post and headed toward the archers. A roundhouse kick put the charging man on the ground. The chakram sliced into each man's cheek but the last one in line fired his arrow just before he was hit. She turned and caught the arrow that was flying toward her in her left hand.
Gabrielle heard a collective gasp from the crowd as Xena caught the arrow. She also noticed that the first two men Xena had rendered unconscious were beginning to revive.
Xena decided that these fools probably weren't going to give up until at least some of them were dead. She knew her chakram had deflected again and was headed back to her. Instead of catching it she ducked and let it fly into the chest of the man in front of her. He fell to the ground dead. She killed two more with one slice of her sword to their midsections. They had surprised looks on their faces as their watched various internal organs fall to the ground; they followed them and were dead before they hit.
Gabrielle moved forward so she would have room to swing her staff. The two men that had regained consciousness moved toward her thinking that she would be easier prey. The man on her right came at her with his sword above his head. She greeted him with the end of her staff in his gut. As he doubled over she turned her attention to the one on her left. He landed on the ground hard when she connected with her staff to the side of his head. She went down on one knee and swung the staff back around to connect with the back of the other one's knees. He landed on his back and she brought her staff back down on his head. Both men were again unconscious. She stood up and returned to stand in front of the people she was protecting. They looked at her with dumbfounded expressions on their faces.
The only man left standing was the one who had wanted her head as a present. He eyed her warily, his sword drawn. She pierced the air with her war cry, jumped and twisted in the air to land behind him. He turned and brought his sword down in an overhead arc. She blocked with her sword and connected with her knee to his gut. As he bent over, she brought the hilt of her sword down to the back of his head. She looked around, at least three dead, she wasn't sure about the archers. She retrieved her chakram from the chest of the dead man and wiped the blood off on his shirt. She walked back to where Gabrielle was standing, "Thanks for the warning. You ok?"
"You're welcome and yes. Do you think this was an accident or were they looking for you?"
"Don't know. We'll have to see if the leader wants to talk when he wakes up."
Their families circled around them, all talking at once. "Xena you're alright." Cyrene grabbed her daughter's face and turned it toward her.
"Gabrielle, sweetheart." Her parents hugged her.
"You can actually fight." Lila stated shocked.
"You are incredible Xena." Thaddeus exclaimed.
From the kitchen window Toris commented under his breath. "She is amazing."
"Everybody get back." Xena said exasperated. "This isn't over yet."
The archers had tucked tail and run. The other men had started coming to their senses; Xena stood staring at the men struggling to their feet. The fear on their faces told her they wouldn't cause any more trouble. She made no move to stop them as they ran away. The man she wanted was just starting to come to. She moved to his side and knelt down. He sat up and leaned back propping himself with his arms. "You can save yourself a lot of discomfort by willingly answering some questions." The warrior explained.
He looked into ice-cold blue eyes. "I'm not telling you nothin."
"Your choice." She made quick jabs with her fingers to both sides of his neck. He collapsed to the ground.
"What did you do to me?" The fear was showing on his face and in his voice. The crowd of people moved a little closer to get a better look and to hear what was being said.
"I cut off the flow of blood to your brain, assuming you have one that is. You'll be dead in 30 seconds unless I release you. Feel like talking now?" She asked smiling.
Toris looked at Gabrielle. "She's bluffing right?"
She hadn't noticed when he had joined them. "No."
The warrior didn't wait for the man to reply. "Who is your commander?"
"Never heard of him."
"Neither had we until two days ago when he rode into camp and challenged Hesperos, defeated him and took over the army."
"Did he send you to look for me?"
"He knew you were here. He sent us to bring you back to him."
"Where are you camped?"
"The valley west of here."
The people watched, both fascinated and horrified at the same time. Xena had just touched him with her fingers, but the man couldn't move and blood was running from his nose and ears. They looked at her with more respect and a little more fear. The bard noticed this as she looked at the faces in the crowd. She also knew Xena felt it also. She released the man from 'the pinch'. "When the feeling returns you're free to go." She stood and turned to the sound of hoof beats. The man got to his hands and knees and crawled a few feet behind the warrior. The crowds scurried away as the horse was brought to a stop about where the archers had fallen.
The man sat atop a solid black war-horse. He was dressed in brown leather armor with a chain mail shirt. He carried his sword on his left hip. He had curly red shoulder length hair and a neatly trimmed red mustache and beard. Xena guessed that he was around her height. "Kiril, I presume!"
"I'm flattered that you've heard of me."
"Not until a few minutes ago." She replied.
He looked behind her to the man on the ground. "That's the problem I'm having, you see. Not many people have heard of me. I was hoping for your assistance in that matter."
"My assistance." Xena said laughing. "Well that's original, it's the first time I've heard it put that way."
Cyrene placed her hand on Gabrielle's arm. "What does he mean?"
The bard looked at the worry on Xena's mother's face. 'Gods I wish this weren't happening here.' "Cyrene," she paused. "He wants to kill her." Cyrene clutched the bard's arm tighter.
"If you wanted to challenge me why send your men?" The warrior asked.
"I had to make sure you had fully recovered after your vacation in the underworld. And it seems like you have, twelve men and not a scratch."
"Three men are " The man behind her had grabbed a sword left lying in the dirt and risen to his feet. He stood at her back and raised the weapon. Xena unsheathed her sword reversed it in her hand and drove it underhanded into the man's stomach. She pushed down on the hilt causing a gaping wound and pulled the sword free. The man fell dead. She corrected her statement without skipping a beat. "Four men are dead just so you could see if I had recovered. You couldn't have just asked?"
"You know, I really hate to kill you, my dear. But I'll get over it. To be known as the man who finally killed the warrior princess will have a great soothing effect on me I'm sure. Shall it be swords?"
"Suits me. You mind if I clean this first?" She said holding up her bloodied sword.
"Be my guest." He said as he dismounted.
She walked over to the bard who handed her a rag. "You really don't know anything about him do you?" The bard asked.
"No, I've never heard of him."
"Which means you don't know how good he is."
"He's very good if he killed Hesperos."
"Xena, I don't like this." She looked worriedly at the warrior.
Her mother added. "Xena please, don't do this."
"Gabrielle, if he wins, get as many people out of here that will leave. I don't know if he'll bring his army to raid the village or if killing me is all he wants." Xena saw the desperate look in the bard eyes. She placed her mouth next to her lover's ear. "I love you." She straightens and looks at the bard. "It'll be ok, after all we have plans remember." She took her mother's hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze as she turned to go.
Gabrielle grabbed her arm. "Xena, please be careful."
They stood facing each other, at the same instant they jumped in the air. Both upside-down and at the top of their arcs the swords met. They both twisted and came down facing one another with their positions reversed. They circled one another for a moment before Kiril attacked. She blocked his high downward slash to her left with her blade. He pivoted around to bring his sword in low to her right. Instead of blocking his blade with hers, she jumped it. His momentum carried him around and put his back to her. She swung her sword overhand to connect with his skull. He held his hilt in both hands and brought it over his head to deflect her blade. They alternated between circling each other and attacking. Each time one would attack the other would counter with proficiency. This went on for quite some time.
Gabrielle knew Xena was starting to tire. She was not fully recovered. As soon as she had started breathing again, she had to deal with Callisto and Valasqua. She hadn't had enough time to rebuild her stamina.
Xena knew she had to end this soon or he would kill her by simply wearing her down. As she thought about this she was a little late in bringing her sword down to block his. Her leg felt like it was on fire as his blade connected with her right thigh. She didn't acknowledge the wound and kept fighting but she could feel the blood running down her leg. She had been studying Kiril all during the fight and knew he had not only been anticipating her moves but also countering them a split second before she made them. She knew it was now or never. She faked a forward flip and twist and knew he would counter with a back flip and twist so he would still be facing her. As he completed his flip she was now behind him. She kicked the back of his legs and he went to his knees. She placed the tip of her sword against the back of his neck before he could react.
"Looks like you win, finish it." He conceded.
"I wish I could but it would just be a waste of energy to run you through." She stated.
"And why is that, my dear?" Kiril inquired.
"Because you can't be killed." She removed the point of her sword from his neck. "Get up Ares." She said with disgust.
He threw back his head laughing and let his disguise fade and his true form appear. Some of the crowd moved back, some gasped while others fainted and some were frozen and unable to do anything but stare. Gabrielle's comment was a venomous. "Damn him!"
He stood and faced the warrior. "Beautiful and brilliant. How did you figure it out?"
"Four things. One, you couldn't have been good enough to kill Hesperos and have not been heard of. Two, you knew my moves almost before I did. Three, everyone thought my death was only a rumor but you were one of the few who knew it to be true. And the fourth, and this is the most important reason, no one but you calls me 'my dear'."
"I'll have to remember that."
"What do you want this time, Ares?" Xena said with considerable annoyance.
"I want the same thing I always want, you. Back where you belong, fighting for me."
"I've told you it won't happen. Give it up."
"I almost did give up, of course that would have meant killing you. You have really been annoying me. Do you know how many of my warlords you have killed in the past two years?"
"I haven't been keeping count."
"Twenty in two years. Do you know how long it takes me to develop and mold a warlord to my liking? I can't keep up with you. For every one I craft you kill five." His was pacing in a circle gesturing with his hands. Xena was standing still letting him circle around her. She was trying to ignore the pain in her leg but now that the fighting was over it was demanding her attention. Ares continued. "And it's not just the warlords, each time I conceive a plan to get you back you turn it against me. Take the time I killed three villagers and you were tried and convicted for the murders, they were going to execute you. I offered you the greatest warriors; told you I would bring them back from Tartarus for you. All you had to do was call my name and you did. But did you want warriors brought back to protect you, no! You had me bring back the villagers I killed. So they had to let you go since no one was dead. I must say I was impressed at the way you manipulated me."
Gabrielle turned her head and whispered to Salmoneus who disappeared into the tavern. The warrior changed her stance to take some of the pressure off her injured leg. Ares continued. "Then I impersonated your father. Had you convinced I was Atreus and came close to separating you and your precious little bard. You were even ready to destroy the villagers when you thought they had killed dear old daddy." He stopped and pointed at Gabrielle. "But you had to interfere, I was really irritated by that." He started his circling again. "And I took that irritation out on you." He glared angrily at the warrior. "Do you know how close I came to killing you that day? But you didn't care; you stood there and would have let that sword plunge though your neck. You didn't move. You didn't even blink as it sailed toward you. I just can't understand mortals."
Salmoneus returned and handed two bandages to the bard. She passed him her staff and started toward Xena. She heard her parents whisper to her, "Are you crazy, get back here!" She ignored them and continued. She knelt down, folded one of the bandages and placed it against the wound. She ignored Ares who had stopped his dissertation and was glaring at them. "It needs stitches." She informed the warrior as she wrapped the other bandage around her leg to hold the first one in place.
"Excuse me, I was talking here."
"And talking and talking. I was beginning to wonder if my bleeding to death while you talked was your plan. Come to think of it, bleeding to death would be better than listening to you." Xena taunted him. They heard gasps and murmurs from the crowd.
"Now these people respect me, you don't." He informed her.
"They don't respect you Ares, they're scared of you." She corrected him.
"Respect, fear, whatever. But I don't get either from you. Which is why I almost gave up on you. And to top it off, I had reduced Hercules to mere mortal. People thought he had murdered his wife until the two of you stepped in to help save him."
The warrior broke in. "You can blame Strife for that, he's the one that confessed."
"Yes and I did blame him, but he has redeemed himself. He brought me the one piece of information that gave me the perfect plan to get you back. It showed me that I had been going about this the wrong way."
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other. "Oh no." The bard uttered just before Ares grabbed her and backed off from the warrior. The crowd took in a collective breath. Her mother's knees gave out and her father had to steady her.
The warrior drew her sword. "Let her go Ares."
"I will, if you make the right decision. You've already made the point that you can't kill me so don't try anything stupid. Now where was I, oh yes. I have always tried to put a wedge between the two of you and drive you apart. Now I see how wrong I was. And it's not easy for a god to admit that."
Xena was desperately trying to think of a way to get Gabrielle away from him. She was at a loss; if he wanted to hurt the bard he could easily do it before she could get to Gabrielle.
He was holding his left arm around the bard's throat and was holding a knife in his right hand. He was grinning like a little boy in a candy store. "So my dear, the way I see it is that you have two choices. One, you can willingly come back and serve me until you die. Or, and I know that you're not going to choose this option, you can watch as your lover dies."
"Xena, please don't do it. Don't go back to him." Gabrielle pleaded.
Xena knew if she made a move toward the bard, Ares would slit her throat. She was desperate. She couldn't let him hurt Gabrielle. And she wouldn't hurt Gabrielle by returning to him; she knew she couldn't even if it weren't for the bard. Her mind grasped one thing he had said, 'until you die'. She silently begged Artemis to protect the Amazon queen from Ares.
"Damn you, Ares." The warrior expressed her feeling. She looked at her lover with sadness in her eyes. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry. Please forgive me." Ares was overjoyed he threw his head back laughing in victory.
Xena used the lapse in his concentration to carry out her plan. She reversed the hilt of the sword in her hand, placed the point against her mid-section and drove it through her body. She accomplished her task so quickly that the bard couldn't utter a sound before it was done. Ares jerked his attention back to the warrior as he heard a mournful cry from the bard.
"Nnnnoooo!" Gabrielle screamed. She pushed his arm away rather easily, if a god could be in shock Ares was, and ran to the warrior. She reached Xena's side as she was collapsing to her knees. She eased the warrior down to the ground. She knelt down and placed Xena's back against her legs in order to keep the point of the sword from touching the ground and doing more damage. Tears were running down her face as she wrapped her arms around her lover and held on tightly. "Xena, don't die on me. I can't lose you again." The bard pleaded.
The only two people who weren't paralyzed by shock were Salmoneus and Cyrene. They ran to the fallen warrior. Xena was still conscious. "Gabrielle, I couldn't let him hurt you." She took a painful breath. "I'm sorry this had to happen here, mother."
"Save your strength little one." Her mother replied as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Ares recovered from his shock and walked toward the warrior. "Leave her alone you bastard!" Gabrielle looked at the God of War with hate in her eyes.
Ares was about to reply when a commotion behind him made him turn around. A man dressed in a robe with a hood hiding his face emerged. He stopped an arm's length in front of the God of War and removed his hood. "Zeus!" Ares was surprised to see his father.
"This time you've gone too far Ares. I'll deal with you later." He waved his hand and the God of War vanished. He knelt down in front of the warrior.
"Can you help her?" The bard begged the god.
"Have faith Gabrielle." He replied. "Phoebus." Zeus called for his son the healer who materialized beside him.
He had a good idea why his father had called for him; he had been on Mt. Olympus when Ares suddenly appeared looking very dejected. He placed his hand on the hilt of the sword, as he did so the blade became red hot to cauterize the wound. The bard held the warrior as her body jerked in reaction to the intense pain. Xena clenched her teeth trying not to cry out. The group that surrounded the warrior were the only ones that ignored the smell of burning flesh. The people in the crowd covered their noses and mouths with their hands, but would not back away. Phoebus pulled the sword free and placed it on the ground.
"Will she live?" Zeus asked his son.
Instead of answering his father he leaned over to speak to the warrior. "I have stopped the bleeding and the wound is cleansed but you have lost a great deal of blood, that is something even I cannot heal. You have to find the strength within yourself to live long enough to let the blood replenish itself. If you can, you will recover." He stood and was gone.
The bard looked at Zeus. "Thank you." Was the only thing she could manage to say.
Xena was beginning to go into shock from the loss of blood, but she managed to ask Zeus why had he helped her. "Because you and Gabrielle helped Hercules prove his innocence, I owed you both a favor." He stood and moved back as Xena finally succumbed and mercifully passed out.
Gabrielle called for help in moving the warrior to their room. Toris, Thaddeus, Cyrene and Gabrielle carried her in and placed her on the bed. The bard's parents, Lila, Manderon and his parents stood grouped in the doorway. Gabrielle took charge; she needed to so she wouldn't fall apart. She asked Thaddeus to get cold water from the well. Salmoneus had brought the bard's staff and the warrior's sword with him and placed them in the corner of the room. Cyrene had broken down and Toris was holding her. "Salmoneus help me with her armor." Gabrielle called him over. They removed the armor, leather tunic and boots. Gabrielle knew she needed to clean and stitch the wound in the warrior's leg and she did that first. She enlarged the hole in the warrior's shift so she could stitch the wound in her abdomen. As she started the warrior groaned and became restless. She put her hand on Xena's forehead and noticed her fever was going up. The bard whispered in the warrior's ear, "Xena I'm sorry, I know it hurts but I have to close the wound. I'll do it as quickly as possible. Xena you will get better, you will live. I love you." She stroked the warrior's cheek and kissed her forehead.
At the Amazon village, Ephiny was relaxing in the bathing hut. She had just leaned back and closed her eyes enjoying the hot water when she saw a bright flash of light that penetrated her eyelids. She opened her eyes and sat up. She couldn't believe what she saw. "Artemis, goddess, I "
She was interrupted. "Ephiny we don't have time for pleasantries. Gabrielle needs you now. Go to her." Then she was gone. The acting Amazon queen sat stunned. She knew where they had been headed when they rode out of the village. She guessed Artemis would have told her if they had left Amphipolis. She didn't mention Xena. Does Gabrielle need a friend or warriors? Should she go alone or take fighters with her? She decided she wasn't going to take any chances. She jumped up grabbed her clothes but didn't bother to put them on. She ran out of the hut shouting orders. "I need 20 of my best warriors with travel gear and trail rations for two days saddled and ready to go, 15 minutes ago. The Amazons that were in the area of the hut and those that came running at the sound of her voice looked at their regent who was standing there naked shouting orders like the hounds of Hades were after her. "NOW!" She added when no one moved.
As soon as Gabrielle started talking to her, the warrior calmed down. "Salmoneus hold her arms down. I don't want her moving around. Toris hold her legs so she doesn't pull the stitches lose I just put in." Gabrielle stitched the entrance wound on her abdomen and the exit wound on her back.
Thaddeus had brought the water back and placed it by the bed. "Is there anything else I can do?"
"No Thaddeus." The bard pulled Lila into the room and pushed everyone else but Cyrene out. "Cyrene are you ok? I need your help."
"Yes Gabrielle I'm just scared I'm going to lose her." She explained shakily. The three women removed the bloodstained shift and replaced it with a sleeping shirt.
Xena's fever had climbed higher and Cyrene and Gabrielle took turns bathing her in cool water. She was very restless and would cry out for Gabrielle. She would settle down only after the bard would sit beside her and talk soothingly to her. Lila had made tea for all three of them and made sure the two women drank theirs. "I'm going to make both of you something to eat." Lila said as she stood up to leave.
The two women said at the same time. "I'm not hungry."
"It's after sunset and neither of you have eaten since breakfast. You're not going to do Xena any good if you both pass out from lack of food. You two are taking care of her, so I'm going to take care of you two and you will eat." She said in a voice that stated she would not take no for an answer.
She entered the main room of the tavern to find Toris, her parents, Manderon, his parents and Thaddeus still sitting at the same table. It didn't look like they had moved since Gabrielle had chased them away and shut the room door. She walked that way. "Any change?" Toris asked.
"No, she still has a high fever. And before you ask," she spoke to her parents, "no I didn't tell Gabrielle you want to see her and I'm not going to."
"Lila we have to know if what he said about them is true." Her mother pleaded while her father looked furious.
"That's not important right now. Whether or not Xena lives is what matters now." Her tone of voice dared them to contradict her. When they said nothing, she explained to her husband that she was staying with Gabrielle and Cyrene tonight in case they needed anything.
He stood and hugged his new wife. "I'll be right here in case you need me." He told her.
The three women had passed the night keeping vigil. The sun was rising now and the women had gotten little sleep. Gabrielle had gotten none. She had become more distressed with each passing hour. Xena's fever had not come down. "Cyrene I don't know what else to do. I've given her tea with herbs to reduce the fever but it hasn't helped." She was to the point of collapse.
"But it hasn't gone any higher, it must be helping some." Cyrene didn't know if she was trying to convince the bard or herself. She just knew that she couldn't lose Xena now that she had gotten her back. And she didn't want to think of what would happen to Gabrielle if she lost her.
Lila brought more hot tea for breakfast. Manderon carried fresh water in behind her. Cyrene stopped him as he was turning to go. "Is my son here?"
"Yes he's been here all night with the rest of us. Most of the village has already come by this morning also." He informed her. "Do you want me to send him in?"
"No thank you, Manderon I'll see him later." She wondered why he had not been in to see his sister since he helped carry her to the room. Salmoneus had come to see about her several times during the night.
The bard had a good idea of what Cyrene was thinking and explained. "It's probably my fault that he hasn't come to see her." She gave her a brief run down of what had happened in the stables yesterday morning. 'Had it only been one day since that incident, it seemed like a lifetime.'
"Don't blame yourself Gabrielle, my son can be just as thick headed as his sister. Sometimes more so. He's probably more ashamed at himself than angry at you."
Gabrielle stood up and opened the window. "If I wasn't so worried this might be amusing."
Cyrene joined her. "What is it?" Gabrielle pointed to Mt. Olympus. They could see bolts of lightning flying around the mountain.
"Zeus must really be upset with Ares this time. I wonder how long that's been going on?" The bard said.
"All night I think." Lila responded. "I walked outside before midnight to get some air and it was going on then."
"Good." The bard stated. "Not that it will deter him, but at least he's had a miserable night."
It was mid-morning when Manderon knocked on the door. Lila answered it. "Gabrielle I thought you might want to know, Amazons are riding into the village."
"They couldn't have heard about Xena this quickly." The bard wondered what else could be wrong.
"Go see, Gabrielle, I'll stay with Xena." Cyrene said. Lila went with her sister.
The bard entered the main room followed by her sister. Their parents stared at their oldest. Her eyes were red and swollen and she had dark circles under them. They started to go to her when a band of Amazons burst through the door. They stared in amazement as a group of women warrior's collectively went to one knee with their heads bowed. "Queen Gabrielle." They said respectfully.
"Get up, please." The bard needed friends now, not respect. As they stood Ephiny looked at her queen. She closed the gap between them a grabbed her in a fierce embrace. "How did you know to come?"
"Artemis sent us. What's happened?"
The bard broke down and started sobbing. She held on to Ephiny like she was the only person that could make things right again. "Gabrielle where's Xena? Is she ." She couldn't finish the question for fear it would make it true.
Lila stepped up. "She's alive but very badly hurt." She explained to Ephiny who she was. The bard had released her death grip on the Amazon. They sat down at the table with her parents.
Gabrielle explained to Ephiny and the rest of the Amazons who crowded around, what had happened. Ephiny kicked herself for not bringing their healer with them. "Why, Ephiny? Why did she do it?" The bard's voice begged for some sort of explanation.
The Amazon held her friend's hands tightly. "I don't presume to know Xena's mind when it comes to Ares, but I know how she feels about you. The two choices he gave her were ones she couldn't live with. She couldn't watch him kill you. And she wouldn't watch as you slowly died or grew to hate her if she went back to being what she was. Think about it Gabrielle, what would you have done in her place?"
Gabrielle looked into her friend's eyes, realization taking a firm hold in her mind. "The same thing."
"Can I see her?"
"Of course Ephiny." The bard started to push herself up from the table.
Her parents stopped her. "Gabrielle wait a minute please."
She fell back in the chair. "Lila would you take Ephiny back?"
She nodded her head. Before she turned to go she gave her parents an 'If you upset her anymore than she already is you'll have to deal with me' look. "She's back this way." She said to the Amazon.
The bard knew she was going to have to deal with them sooner or later but she didn't have the strength to do it now. "I know you have questions but I am too tried and too worried to answer them right now."
"Gabrielle we have to know if what he said is true. We need to know if you've thrown your life away." Her father said.
'If I wasn't so upset I would laugh at that.' She looked at the fearful expressions on her parent's faces. "No father I have not thrown my life away." She knew they would misunderstand but she didn't care. That was their problem. As far as she was concerned she had not thrown her life away and had answered truthfully. She went back to her lover.
She let Lila in on what had been said. "I'm sorry Gabrielle, I warned them to leave you alone."
"I know you did and I thank you for trying."
Xena was restless, tossing back and forth. She called out to her lover. Gabrielle leaned over her and stroked her cheek and whispered in her ear. She calmed down. Cyrene shook her head. "The connection and love these two share is amazing."
Ephiny looked at Xena's mother and then at the bard's sister. "You both know?" They nodded their heads in acknowledgement. "Good, that makes it easier on Gabrielle."
Gabrielle was applying a cool cloth to Xena's forehead. "She's been getting worse all morning. The fever won't go down and she is getting weaker by the minute. She's dying."
"No! As long as she takes her next breath she has a chance. She'll get better." Cyrene knew that if the bard gave up Xena would too.
"Ephiny I need you to do something for me and for the Amazons." She kept her eyes locked on Xena.
"I need you to take my rite of caste."
"Anything but that, my queen."
"Ephiny don't argue with me." She now directed her gaze toward her friend. "You know if anything happens to me without passing it along the problems it will cause. Do you want the Amazons to have to deal with a war for the throne?" Gabrielle tried to be logical about it.
Ephiny knew the bard was right but she didn't want to acknowledge what Gabrielle was really saying.
"What's rite of caste?" Lila asked.
The Amazon jumped in before her queen could down play the meaning. "It's what Amazon royalty pass down so in the event of their death the royal line to the throne will continue." 'Now, my queen, explain to your sister why it is all of the sudden so important.' She almost spoke the last part aloud.
"Ephiny you can refuse to accept it but it won't change anything. I'm trying to do the right thing for the Amazons." Gabrielle stared down her friend.
Gabrielle might hate her regent for what she was about to say but right now she didn't care. "Oh I see and killing yourself if Xena dies is the right thing."
"WHAT!" Lila jumped up and looked at her sister.
"I can't live without her and I won't suffer through her death again. I'm sorry but that's the way it is."
The two Amazons were holding a glaring contest. Ephiny slowly took in and let out a deep breath. "Alright but I hope you know that if, and I stress if, Xena doesn't pull through, I think she will, that if I let you take your own life she will find some way to return and kick my ass."
The bard let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding, "She probably will, after she kicks mine." She turned to face the other two women. Using her best imitation of Xena's warlord stare she stated. "This conversation will not leave this room."
The two women were stunned. All they could manage was a nod of their heads. She turned back to Ephiny. "Let's get this over with, I want to be with her when I don't want her to " She couldn't finish.
"I know." The Amazon stated. "We'll hold the ceremony in the main room. I'll be there in a minute." As Gabrielle left Ephiny walked to Cyrene's side. "Tell Xena what Gabrielle plans to do, repeat it out loud over and over again." Cyrene looked at the Amazon confused. "If Xena has any fight at all left in her, this will bring it out." Ephiny stared at the warrior for a minute, then leaned down, kissed her cheek and left the room.
As the bard entered the main room the Amazons stood, their expressions asking the unspeakable. "No change." She couldn't bring herself to tell them Xena was dying. Saying it in the room seemed different. She felt like saying it out here would make it true and in her heart she was still hoping. She was glad to see the table where her parents had been earlier was now empty.
Salmoneus had entered from the kitchen; he had been helping Toris in the tavern last night and this morning. "She's going to be ok, Gabrielle. I mean this is Xena were talking about, she can do anything." He was trying to be as convincing as he could. But the bard saw the distress on their friend's face.
Cyrene leaned towards her daughter. "Xena, I don't know if you can hear me." She paused to wipe the tears from her eyes. Lila walked over and put her hand on the older woman's shoulder.
"Xena you have to listen. I love my sister very much and I don't want to lose her. She says she can't live with out you. She says she will will end her life if she loses you. Please Xena! You have to live."
Xena had been retreating into the blackness around her. The more it enveloped her the less she hurt. For some reason she had been fighting for something, but she couldn't quite remember what. She just wanted to stop the pain and the darkness offered her relief. Then she heard a droning sound from far away. She couldn't make out words but a picture began to form at the edge of her fevered mind. It wasn't clear and she struggled to make it out. As she came closer to the clouded image the droning started to take the form of words.
Ephiny entered the tavern and motioned the Amazons forward. She turned to face her queen. She wanted to ask if she was certain but the look on the bard's face told her that there was no turning back. She went to one knee and waited. Gabrielle started. "I Gabrielle, queen of the Amazons willingly bestow upon Ephiny my rite of caste." There were a few sharp intakes of breath and a few wide eyes at this. "Do you accept?"
Ephiny took a deep breath and let it out uneasily. "I willingly accept the rite of caste from our queen. To assume the throne in the event of her death."
The Amazons gathered behind their acting queen said as one. "Witnessed."
As the bard turned go, she noticed her parents and Toris had watched the ceremony from the kitchen doorway. She wished they hadn't been there to see. She wasn't about to explain it to them now she had spent enough time away from Xena.
The lack of sleep and constant worry had taken their toll on the three women. Some time around mid-day Lila and Cyrene had fallen asleep in their chairs. The bard tried hard to stay awake but had also succumbed and slept curled up on the bed next to Xena. Her fever had broken shortly after the bard had fallen asleep. The warrior woke a short time later to the sound of snoring. She didn't need to turn her head to find the source. The bard was lying on her side clutching the warrior's left arm and her head was on the pillow next to Xena's, which accounted for the extremely loud sounds echoing though her brain. "Gab rielle?" She forced out weakly.
The bard jerked her head off the pillow hovering over the warrior. "Xena!" At the sound of Gabrielle's voice the two women flew out of their chairs expecting the worst. "Xena, you're awake." Tears of joy and relief came from each of the women.
"Gabrielle I've told you before your snoring could wake the dead." The warrior managed a smile.
"Little one, I thought I had lost you." Her mother held her daughter's head up to help her drink some water.
Lila flung open the room door and headed for the tavern. As she ran into the main room everyone turned toward her and feared the worst when they saw the tears running down her face. "Xena's awake." She announced. The Amazons cheered, while the others headed for the bedroom.
The group arrived at the door to the room to hear. "Xena you don't need to explain, I understand why you did what you did." Xena's face was turned toward Gabrielle who was propped on one elbow looking down at what the bard thought was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen.
As the bard started to lean closer, the warrior cautioned. "Gabrielle, your parents are watching."
"I don't care." She responded as she continued to lean closer and captured her lover's mouth with her own.
As the group in the doorway looked on there was no doubt that what they were witness to, was not a friend kissing friend, but lover kissing lover. The bard's mother fainted.
Cyrene cleared her throat and they broke from the kiss. "Gabrielle, I believe your mother has fainted."
The bard saw her mother lying on the floor and her father bending over fanning her. "Oh boy." Lila and her father help her mother to their room. "I guess I ought to go explain things to them." She sighed heavily.
"They don't know? Didn't they hear Ares?" Xena asked puzzled.
"Yes, but." The bard started to explain but was interrupted by Cyrene.
"Xena, you need restful sleep right now. Gabrielle can explain later." To the bard she said, "Go talk to your parents, the longer you put it off the harder it will be."
The warrior looked at Ephiny. "Artemis?"
The Amazon nodded her head. "She told me Gabrielle needed us."
"She was listening." Xena mumbled, then exhaustion claimed her.
When the bard walked into the hallway, Salmoneus smiled at her showing his support for them. Manderon showed no emotion. Thaddeus and his parents backed away, their faces showing disapproval. Toris stopped her. "Gabrielle I want to say I'm sorry for what happened yesterday."
"Your sister is the one that you should be apologizing to, not me." She was still a little upset with him.
"I know and I will, but you deserved one too." She walked to the door of her parents room took a deep breath to brace herself and entered.
Her parents were sitting on the edge of the bed and her father had his arm around her mother's shoulders. Lila was facing them and leaning against the wall. "You lied to us." Herodotus accused his daughter. The bard couldn't tell if it was anger or hurt or both in his voice.
"You asked me if I had ruined my life, I don't think I have so I answered honestly." She defended her earlier answer.
"You're telling us that you love a murdering warlord." Her father said with malicious intent.
Lila saw her sister had reached the boiling point and was about to explode. "Father you promised you would discuss this calmly."
The bard clenched her fists and dug her nails into her palms trying to distract her mind from her anger. Instead of responding to her father she turned to her sister. "Lila you might want to leave, it seems Manderon's family have the same opinion as father about my relationship with Xena."
"You're my sister and I'm not leaving. I'll straighten it out with them later." She was not about to leave her alone against the two of them.
She shot her sister a quick 'thank you' then turned her attention back to her parents. "Now if you would like to continue this calmly as Lila suggested, we will. If not I'll leave now and this will be the end of it." She dared her father to continue with his previous opinion.
Instead her mother asked. "Gabrielle do the two of you do you love each other that way?"
"If by 'that way' you're asking if Xena and I are in love, then the answer is yes mother we are."
"You weren't raised to be that way!" Her father yelled.
"Answer this honestly father, are you upset because I'm in love with another woman or is it because that woman is Xena?"
"Both." He replied and Hecuba nodded.
"Ok, let's address the it's Xena problem first. That day she saved us, she told me not to follow her. I did anyway. She told me that she was sending me home. I told her that I would just run away again. I convinced her to let me stay. Yes, being around her is dangerous, but I would rather have lived the life I've had with her and die tomorrow than to live to be 200 and never have left the village. Now as for her love for me, the best testament was what she did yesterday. She was willing to kill herself in order to save me. As for my love for her, I can just say that I would do the same. As for your feelings about two women loving each other, I don't know how to change them." She collapsed into the nearest chair. She was suddenly exhausted.
Lila spoke up. "Tell them what you told me. That you fall in love with your heart not your head."
She smiled at her sister with gratitude. "Has anything that I've said made any difference?" She asked hopefully.
"Would it matter to you if it hasn't?" Her father replied in a surly tone.
"Yes. I'd like you to be happy for me, for us. But even if you still don't approve, I'll never leave her. I love her too much and I would die without her." She paused, then continued when they offered no response. "Think about what I've said. You can answer my question later." She stood to go. "There's one other thing I might as well tell you. I asked Xena to marry me and she accepted."
Lila hugged her sister. "I'm very happy for you. Can I come to the wedding?" Their parents were stunned to say the least.
"It's called an Amazon Joining Ceremony. And yes you're invited." She paused to see if her parents were going to say anything else. When they still said nothing she returned to her room.
"How did it go?" Cyrene asked her. The bard just shrugged her shoulders. "Give them time Gabrielle. I know they love you, I'm sure they'll come around."
"Tell us the story of how you and Xena met. Cyrene and I were talking and discovered that neither one of us knew. It will help pass the time until Xena wakes up, she's bound to get hungry before too much longer." Ephiny suggested.
The bard found herself smiling at the memory. "Cyrene, you know part of it because it ties in with Draco's attempt to discredit Xena and attack this village." Gabrielle told the long version of the story for Ephiny's benefit and also to let Cyrene hear parts that she had not witnessed. Xena woke up at the end of the story. Cyrene left to fix her daughter some broth to eat and Ephiny left so they could have some privacy.
"How are you feeling?" The bard asked as she moved to sit on the edge of the bed and hold her lover's hand.
"Tired, weak and lucky." The warrior responded trying to sit up.
The bard put another pillow behind her back. "I assume you mean lucky to be alive." They discussed several things, what the warrior had done and why. The reaction of the people in the doorway that had seen the kiss and what Gabrielle's parents had said.
There was a knock and the bard opened the door to Toris. "Mother said you were awake. Do you feel like talking?" His sister nodded her head and he took a seat by the bed. Gabrielle left them thinking it might be easier on Toris if she were not there. He took his time in beginning. "I'm glad you're going to be ok. I'm sorry about the other morning; I shouldn't have accused you. I just couldn't believe Gabrielle " He faltered.
"Couldn't believe she could fall in love with me?" Xena asked him. She didn't have the energy for a fight.
"No! That's not what I mean. I can't understand how two women can fall in love." He finally admitted.
"We're not asking you to understand it just accept it and be happy for us." She explained.
"After what you did to save her I don't see how anyone couldn't accept it. It was the most selfless act I've ever seen." He said in awe.
"It was more selfish than selfless." He looked at his sister with his brows wrinkled awaiting an explanation. "I couldn't live without her and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if she died because of me."
"I don't see it that way." He opened the door for Cyrene. "You didn't say if you accepted my apology or not."
"Yes Toris." Was all she had the energy left to say.
During the next week the daily routine was the same, Xena healing and trying to build her strength. Gabrielle saw her parents and ate with them occasionally. They never brought up Xena or their daughter's feelings for her. The bard wasn't about to broach the subject, she knew they had to make the first move. By the end of that week Xena was up dressed and eating her meals in the tavern.
One day after Xena and Gabrielle had finished their meal; the bard's mother walked over to the table they shared. "Xena I'd like to talk to you, alone." She explained looking at her daughter.
The bard opened her mouth but was stopped as Xena said, "She has a right, Gabrielle." The two women went back to the room the two lovers shared leaving the bard feeling very anxious.
"Xena I know my daughter loves you and after what you did to save her you must care very much for her. I don't want to lose my girl, but I don't understand the relationship the two of you have. You should also know that in my heart I knew she would leave the village for a different way of life but it was easier to blame you."
"How could you have known she would leave?"
"I had a sister, younger sister, that did the same thing when she was about Gabrielle's age. And even when Gabrielle was little she reminded me so much of her. I've never told my daughter this." The warrior almost told her that she just did but held her tongue. She had heard the bard quietly move to the door right after they had entered. "We never saw or heard from her again and we never knew what happened to her."
"It's not the same, Gabrielle sends letters and she's been back home."
"I know." She moved to stand in front of the warrior. "This is very hard for me but as I said I won't lose my daughter. Her father cannot or will not accept the two of you and is leaving in the morning. I haven't told him yet but I am staying here and when the two of you leave for the Amazon village I want to go with you. I missed her first wedding but I won't miss this one." She stood there with her hands on her hips daring the warrior to tell her she couldn't go.
"Lila and my mother are going and it would make Gabrielle very happy if you were there." Xena heard the bard slip away from the door.
"Thank you." She paused looking very uncomfortable.
"Is there something else?"
"Uh yes, but I don't know how to ask." The warrior sat down on the bed thinking it might make the woman more at ease. "Gabrielle was not raised with the knowledge of I mean she couldn't have known that two women ." She gave up and collapsed into a chair.
"That two women can be intimate?" Xena supplied the phrase. The bard's mother nodded her head. "She had no idea until she spent time with the Amazons. And for someone as inquisitive as your daughter is, she noticed fairly quickly that there were 'couples' among the women."
"She has always been curious, sometimes too much for her own good." She started laughing, "I don't guess she ever told you the story about getting stuck in a tree?"
"No, but that might explain why she doesn't like heights."
"She won't speak to me for a week if she finds out I told you. She had just turned six years old and it was the first summer we had not let her swim with the boys her age, the kids always swim with no clothes on. Well she couldn't understand why she wasn't allowed to go with them anymore. I told her that boys and girls were different. I wasn't about to explain to a six year old what that difference was, but she was determined to find out. One morning she crept out of the house before the sun came up went down to the lake and climbed a tree so she could watch the boys. When we found her missing we had half the village looking for her. About mid-morning we thought to look by the lake and there she was wrapped around a limb fast asleep. Her father called to her and woke her up, told her to come down but she was stuck. When we finally got her down I ask her if it had been worth all the trouble. She said she didn't know she slept through the whole thing."
The bard was pacing in the tavern and looking down the hallway to the rooms each time she passed, when Lila came in. "What's going on?"
"Mother wanted to talk to Xena, alone." She had thought about listening at the door again but kept thinking that they would be done any minute.
"Oh. How long have they been back there?"
"Too long. I can't take it any longer." Lila followed her sister back. They got to the door in time to hear the end of the story. She opened the door and glared. "Mother you didn't."
Xena chuckled at her lover whose face had turned a very nice shade of red. "You my dear bard have had unlimited access to my mother for many days now. It's about time the tables turned."
Cyrene had joined the party and the evening turned into a story telling contest between the two women, much to the dismay of their offspring. When they finally decided their children had probably had enough, Cyrene turned serious. "Xena will Ares leave you alone now?"
"No. He'll try again as soon as he thinks of another plan. But he won't use Gabrielle again because he knows what I'll do." There was a knock at the door and Ephiny entered.
"Xena there's no sign of any army within at least three days of here, so I guess they beat a hasty retreat when their 'commander' didn't return. We're going to leave in the morning unless you need us to stay longer."
"No Ephiny, we've kept you away too long as it is. And thanks for staying in case there was any trouble. Oh, it looks like there's going to be three guests at the ceremony if that's ok?" Xena said as she smiled at Hecuba. Xena and Gabrielle had told Ephiny of their plans earlier that day.
"The more the merrier. Kaylyn is going to stay and travel back with you. She knows the innkeepers in the towns you'll be stopping in east of here. I'm assuming you will be traveling on the roads and not cross-country since you'll have a wagon."
Gabrielle saw that Xena was about to protest the escort. "It was my idea. I get you back from the dead, then a building falls on you and then you almost die again, I will not take a chance on you getting hurt again."
"Yes dear." Xena replied grinning.
"And further more, I don't care what you say. It will take awhile before you're fully recovered." The bard finally realized what the warrior said. "Yes dear! I had an entire argument prepared. Spent all afternoon working on it and you just agree with me." Gabrielle sighed deeply. "Ok fine!"
The warrior told Ephiny that it would probably be at least another five days before they or she would be able to travel. The women all said goodnight and left. After Xena had cleaned up and donned her nightshirt she asked. "Gabrielle, I haven't seen Salmoneus around. Has he left?"
The bard took her turn at the washbasin. "He's been helping Toris run the tavern since Cyrene has been spending time with you. He's also volunteered to stay and help while she's gone." She finished washing up. "You know I think he really likes your mother. How would you feel about having Salmoneus as a step-father?" She turned her face away so Xena would see her grin.
Xena fell back on the bed. "If you're trying to get me back for a minute ago, it's working."
Gabrielle laughed. "Actually I was. But I really do think he likes her." She changed her clothes for a nightshirt and stretched out beside Xena looking down at her. "You look tired. You tried to do too much today." She observed. The warrior opened her eyes and looked up at her lover. She reached up and pulled her down for a kiss. The bard pulled away. "Xena don't start something you can't finish and besides, you need your rest."
"What I need is you." She pulled the bard down on top of her and kissed her again so passionately that it left no doubt in Gabrielle's mind as to what they both needed and wanted.
Xena and Gabrielle overslept and mercifully missed the exchange between the bard's parents. They emerged from their room by mid-morning. Gabrielle went to the kitchen to fix them something to eat. Xena saw Hecuba sitting in the corner and joined her. "How did he take it?"
"Not very well would be an understatement. He's left without even saying goodbye to his daughter. I don't know what to tell her."
"Give him time. Maybe he'll realize that his love for his daughter is stronger than his hate for me."
The bard brought food for herself and the warrior. "Has father left?"
"Yes. He uh, wanted to get an early start to make sure he made it back before sundown tomorrow." She decided a little white lie wouldn't hurt.
"Mother you don't lie very well. He's made his decision not to accept us and didn't want to see me." Xena placed her hand over Gabrielle's and gave it a sympathetic squeeze.
The next five days were spent with Xena and Gabrielle having sparring matches with staffs, starting slowly at first and gradually building in intensity. Xena also spent time riding Argo and working on simple fighting routines with her sword. Her strength and endurance returned quickly. Xena and Gabrielle told everyone that they decided that it was time to leave. They all agreed on the day after tomorrow.
A small celebration dinner was held the night before they left. Manderon accompanied Lila but his family wouldn't come. Cyrene and Hecuba spent most of the evening talking, both the warrior and the bard noticed that the two women seemed to be becoming good friends. Xena noticed that Toris was very nervous when she and Gabrielle were around him. The warrior also noticed that Kaylyn was constantly staring at them when she didn't think Xena was looking in her direction. When the warrior caught the Amazon in the act, she would redden and quickly turn away. Xena wondered if Kaylyn had a crush on her or if it might be the young Amazon Queen that had turned the Amazon warrior's head.
The warrior kept count of how much the bard was drinking. The thought of starting the trip with Gabrielle having a hangover was not a pleasant one. The bard saw she was being watched and walked over to her lover. "Don't worry I'm not going to get drunk. This will probably be our last chance to be alone for several nights and I'm not going to waste it." Xena looked down into eyes that were already turning dark with desire.
"It's a good thing my stamina returned as quickly as it did, otherwise I'd be spending all day in bed recovering from the nights." The warrior was also beginning to feel the passion stirring within her.
Gabrielle put her arm around Xena's waist. "I haven't heard you complaining."
The warrior placed her arm on her lover's shoulder and kissed the top of her head. "Nope, definitely no complaints."
Xena was up and dressed before she woke Gabrielle. She had to pick up the joining bracelet that she had commissioned from the silversmith before they left and didn't want the bard to know about it. She had completed her errand and was back at the tavern by the time Gabrielle came down for breakfast. After the wagon had been loaded with supplies and everyone had said their good-byes the six women were ready to leave. Kaylyn led the way with the warrior riding behind the wagon.
Gabrielle sat in the back of the wagon talking nonstop with Lila. Xena let Argo follow the wagon on her own; she was lost in thought. 'Gabrielle believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. She stayed by me no matter what I put her through. She kept me pointed toward the light when I faltered. She taught me that I could be loved and that I could love again. I don't know what I've done to deserve you, Gabrielle, but I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make you as happy as you've made me.' They both smiled as blue and green eyes locked together in understanding.
End Note: Phoebus, a.k.a. Phoebus Apollo was also known as the healer, who first taught men the healing arts. (Taken from the book, 'Mythology; Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes' by Edith Hamilton.) Asclepius, referred to in the Xena episode 'Is There a Doctor in the House?' was the god of medicine and was Apollo's son. (Info taken from the book, 'Greek Mythology' by Sofia Souli, translation by Philip Ramp.)