by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1998, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: We all know that Xena, Gabrielle & crew belong to RenPics, blah, blah, blah. I am not making any profit off of the characters, I'm merely borrowing them for a spell.
If the thought of two women who are hopelessly in love bothers you, please leave my web quietly. If wrestling with the changes that life brings bothers you, then this story may not be for you. Additionally, do not fold, spindle or mutilate the story while reading it. There are no warrantees, implied or express, connected with this story. Enjoy at your own risk. Please do not lift the covers or re-rout the power conduits.
"Joxer, wake up," Diana repeated louder.
"Why?" Joxer snuggled closer to his wife, Diana. "Ow, that hurt!" he cried, gingerly rubbing his nose. "Gabrielle has been telling you stories again, hasn't she?"
"Yes. Dear, my water just broke," Diana said calmly.
Joxer sat bolt upright, throwing the covers off and reaching for his pants. "Why didn't you say so in the first place?" He stumbled out of bed, rooting for his shirt and boots. "I'll go get the healer right away, or would you prefer Xena?"
"Joxer, the healer will be fine. Just go now, this baby is planning to make a quick entrance in the world." Joxer nodded as he pulled his shirt on, then leaned over to kiss Diana." Honey, please hurry," she said as he straightened up.
"Yeah, baby. I'm on my way!" He sailed out the door, leaving Diana to haul herself out of bed to walk over to the window. She watched Joxer as he ran down the street, the glanced at the moon. Figures, she thought, this baby decided to come in the middle of the night after kicking me awake for months.
Joxer burst into the inn, shouting, "I'm a father again!" Gabrielle and Xena looked up from their lunch as he plopped down at the table with them." Another fine girl, we are just so proud," he said as Gabrielle passed him a glass of wine.
"Well, congratulations, how is Diana doing?" Gabrielle asked.
"She's doing quite well, this labor went much smoother than when Rebecka was born." He took a gulp of wine. "Just six hours this time, Diana is resting well, and our baby is beautiful, of course. You must come over to the house after lunch, I insist."
"We will," Xena answered for them. "How is Rebecka doing? Does she like the idea of a little sister?"
Joxer nodded as he snuck a grape from Xena's plate. "Yes, she does. She's a little concerned about sharing her room, but I assured her that the baby would be in the room with Diana and myself for a few months. I think that settled her mind some. Say, Xena, could you help us expand the house? Not right now of course, but maybe enlarge Rebecka's room or something?" He stopped for breath, then laughed at himself. "Listen to me, I'm babbling."
"Don't worry, Joxer, babbling is perfectly fine for a new father," Cyrene said as she entered the room. Joxer jumped up to hug Xena's mother, who was his adopted mother. "Congratulations are in order, son," she continued. "When can we go see her?"
"After lunch. Diana wanted to feed her before anyone came over, and to spend a little time with Rebecka. She sent me over here to get me out of her hair, I suspect," Joxer said, laughing.
"Probably right," Xena muttered. "Ow, you have sharp elbows, Gabrielle," she complained to her mate. Gabrielle just looked innocent, mouthing, who, me? "Yes, you, beloved," Xena whispered into Gabrielle's ear. "We will come over after lunch. In the meantime, won't you join us, Joxer?"
"Don't mind if I do," he said happily as he grabbed a plate.
Rebecka watched anxiously as the adults passed her baby sister from lap to lap. She was still feeling confused, not sure about this little intruder. Sure, she wanted a sister to play with, but she knew that it would be years before she could actually play with her sister. She was proud, yet she was scared. Suppose that Mom and Dad loved her sister more than herself? Suppose Xena and Gabrielle, or Grandmother Cyrene loved the baby more? She was pretty sure that Xena would still love her as much after their long talks eight months ago, when her parents went to Corinth. She tried to sit still in her chair while the adults cooed over the baby. She had to admit, as babies went, this one was cute. Faintly red hair, creamy skin, little fists that waved angrily in the air. Mom had let her hold her sister for a few minutes before their guests arrived. Rebecka could not believe how heavy her sister got after a few minutes. She happily handed her back when the baby started crying.
Grandmother Cyrene motioned for Rebecka to come over. Rebecka dragged her chair over and let the older woman hug her. "Rebecka," Cyrene asked, "how are you doing? Would you like to go for a little walk?" Rebecka nodded slowly. "Then hand me my walking stick, please." She skipped over to the corner to grab the stick, then came back with it, handing it to Cyrene. "Thanks, dear." She stood up, then leaned over to Xena and said, "I'm taking Rebecka for a short walk." Xena nodded okay, then reached for the baby again. "Ready, Rebecka?"
The woman and the child walked out to the river and found the stone bench that some of the townspeople built. Cyrene sat down and Rebecka sat beside her, happy to have one adult pay close attention to her. She pulled Cyrene's arm around her, then asked, "Grandmother Cyrene, what do you think of my little sister?"
Cyrene smiled at the child. "She is beautiful, Rebecka, just as beautiful as you were when you were born." She gently stroked the child's dark brown hair, then asked, "What do you think of her?"
"She is pretty, I suppose." Rebecka chewed her lower lip for a moment, then asked anxiously, "Will Mom and Dad still love me as much?"
Cyrene smiled. "Child, of course they will. We all love you very much, you are special. I can't quite explain like Gabrielle, since I am not a bard, but love is multiplied rather than divided. You will see as your sister gets older that you can love her as well as your parents and godparents."
"But what about Momma?" the child asked anxiously.
Cyrene suppressed a sigh. Diedra, Diana's mother, had given her house to Diana and Joxer after they married and spent more time with the Amazons now than she did in Amphipolis. Cyrene sometimes sorely missed her best friend and was starting to worry about her. "Your grandmother will still love you the same."
"But she rarely comes home! When she does, she sometimes repeats stories several times in a day. Then, she goes back to the Amazon village before I get to do much stuff with her." Rebecka sat up and looked directly at Cyrene. "Sometimes she calls me Diana. Sometimes she calls out for Rebecka and I get confused, thinking that she is calling for me. What is happening?"
Cyrene's heart sank. Rebecka was noticing the same issues she had, so it was true. "Honey, I just don't know. Sometimes as we age, something happens to our minds. It is hard to explain, but Diedra has never been the same since her Rebecka died. She died before Xena and Gabrielle met, so it must have been, oh, fourteen years ago, I think. It was a great blow to her."
Rebecka sat, trying to figure it all out. "Can you tell me about my other grandmother?"
Cyrene nodded slowly, thinking about Rebecka, the grocer, Diedra's wife. "Rebecka was a wonderful woman. She came here from Israel and started a grocery cart. She was a very good businesswoman and built the business up to a thriving store. She was small and dark, had a beautiful smile and a good sense of humor. She took Diedra in when Diedra showed up at my inn, bedraggled and pregnant, then they fell in love and got married. She died of lung illness."
"What about your husband? Didn't he die when Xena was young?" Rebecka asked. She had always been curious about this, but never had the chance to ask.
Cyrene took a deep breath. Why wasn't Gabrielle here to explain this? "He died in battle."
"Do you miss him?"
"Sometimes. Child, we should get back, the sun it starting to set." Cyrene got up, with stick in one hand and Rebecka's hand in the other. How could she explain that she had to kill Atrius to keep him from sacrificing Xena to Ares? Well, it was a battle, and he lost.
Rebecka walked with her grandmother happily. She adored Xena, love Gabrielle, loved her parents, but it seemed sometimes, especially lately, that Cyrene had more time for her than the others. "One more question, why do you call Dad your son? He was born somewhere else, wasn't he?"
"I adopted Joxer before he married Diana. He had a very unhappy childhood; his mother died when he was very young. I decided that even grown men sometimes needed a mother so I volunteered and officially adopted him," Cyrene explained.
As they approached the house, Rebecka said, "I'm glad you did. That really makes you my grandmother, then."
"Yes, it does. Could you open the door for me?" Cyrene waited for Rebecka to open the door, then walked in with her. She sniffed the air, it smelled like dinnertime.
The morning of the naming ceremony dawned bright and clear, for which Gabrielle was grateful. Joxer and Diana's friends were all coming to the inn for the ceremony in the small dining room later in the day, and Cyrene had volunteered to help direct the cooking, for which Gabrielle was even more grateful. She had a good crew, but an extra seasoned hand was like a gift.
Xena and Rebecka poked their heads in the kitchen, sniffing the air loudly as Gabrielle and Cyrene gave orders. Gabrielle heard them but ignored the pointed sniffing while Cyrene took pity on them and gave each an apple and slice of cheese. "See, Mother likes us better than you do, Gabrielle," Xena teased. "She takes pity on the starving and feeds them."
Gabrielle walked over and looked at first one, then the other, as both the woman and the child tried to look innocent. "Starving? Sure, I really believe that, especially since you two ate a big breakfast with me not more than two hours ago. Go on, get out of here, do something useful, oh heroic warrior princess and apprentice." She made shooing motions at them.
Xena caught one of Gabrielle's hands and kissed it. "You are so cute," she purred. Turning to Rebecka, she said, "Let's go fishing, who knows what we will catch?"
"Just don't forget to get back in time to clean up," Cyrene added. Xena grinned and waved, then led the way out of the inn.
A bit later, Xena found the perfect fishing spot. She stopped and handed her food to Rebecka, then found a log to serve as a bench for them, then sat down and took her food back. She pulled her knife from its sheath, then deftly cored and sectioned the apples, biting into a section and turning to the child. "So," she asked as she swallowed her first bite, "what do you think of your baby sister? Any idea what her name will be?"
Rebecka ate a slice of apple and bite of cheese before answering. Gravely, she answered, "No, I do not know what Mom and Dad will name her. She does tend to yell pretty loudly when she gets hungry, but Mom says she is a good baby otherwise." She ate a bit more, then continued. "She is cute, I suppose." Rebecka finished her snack, then asked, "Did you like your brothers? Did you ever want a sister?"
"Yes, I liked my brothers.Torius, my older brother, was a bit bossy and I didn't get along with him as well. Lyceus, though, was my best friend in some ways.We played together more and were thought of as twins sometimes, since we were just barely a year apart in age. We went fishing, learned fighting skills from your grandmother Diedra, and generally were the terror of the neighborhood. I didn't need a sister, I thought of your mother as my baby sister. Diana was born when I was six and I think I loved her the first time I saw her." Xena popped the last bit of cheese in her mouth, then said, "So, want to fish?"
"Sure, Xena. Just one more question," Rebecka said.
Xena smiled indulgently. This child had so many questions! "Go ahead."
"Why did you run away?" Rebecka asked the question that had rattled around in her head for a while now.
Xena looked carefully at her beloved goddaughter, trying to gauge how much to tell an almost eight-year-old. She had little experience with children, only experience being a child. She looked steadily at Rebecka, then asked, "Do you remember before Gabrielle and I had our party two years ago? When you were kidnapped?"
"Yes. You kept me safe while Mom and Dad came to rescue me," she answered promptly.
"Do you remember the bad men holding us?" Xena asked.
Rebecka leaned against Xena, pulling her arm around her. "Yes," she said quietly.
"Many years ago, I was like those men. Our village was attacked and I helped fight the bad guys. Something happened, though, when Lyceus was killed in front of me, I got really mad and started killing the bad guys, then built up an army. I was very mixed up, you see, and let my anger and sorrow take over. Years later, Hercules brought me to my senses, then I met Gabrielle," Xena explained, hoping it was enough.
Rebecka hugged Xena around the waist. "You and Gabrielle fell in love, then."
Xena chuckled, thinking of how stubbornly Gabrielle insisted that she follow Xena. "Well, not right away. It took a long time before we realized that we were in love. Now, do we fish or what? I have some poles hidden over there."
Rebecka jumped up. "Okay, let's fish." She ran over to the indicated place, then brought the poles over. "Did you and Gabrielle every go fishing?"
Xena laughed, thinking about various fishing episodes. "Yes, we did. Somehow, Gabrielle never understood how I could tickle a fish out of water." She took her pole and started digging for worms. "Now, the first thing to do is bait the hook..."
Diedra sat nervously in the room, waiting for Diana and Joxer to present their daughter for the naming ceremony. Gods, another daughter, she thought proudly. I wonder if she will be interested in the Amazon ways? She played with the edge of her sleeve, frowning at the missing fringes. Oh, yes, she had to repair something, what was it? Before she could determine what she had repaired, Cyrene came in and sat next to her. "Diedra, I'm so glad you made it," Cyrene said as she hugged her friend.
"Thanks. Oh, look, there they are! I wonder what the child will be named?" Diedra asked, grateful for Cyrene's presence.
"I don't know, but hush, my hearing isn't as good as it used to be," Cyrene answered.
The Amazon priestess stepped up on the stage, motioning for Diana and Joxer to meet her. Joxer handed the baby to the priestess, whosettled the girl in her arms and asked, "Diana, daughter of Diedra and Rebecka, and Joxer, foster-son of Cyrene, what name do you give this child?"
Joxer spoke. "We call her Cyrene Ruth, in honor of my foster-mother, and of my natural mother." An surprised murmur went through the crowd. Diedra looked at Cyrene questioningly and Cyrene shrugged her shoulders. This was a complete surprise to her.
The priestess smiled, then asked, "Do you promise to bring her up to be strong and true, in the way of the Amazons?"
As they did when Rebecka was small, Diana gave the answer. "Priestess, she has Amazon blood. We will teach her Amazon ways, but let her make her own decision."
The priestess nodded, knowing that this would be the answer. "Then bring me the oil." A young acolyte brought forth a small bowl of oil, bowing before the priestess and the parents. She straightened and held out the bowl to the priestess. The priestess dipped her finger in the oil and drew a sign on the baby's forehead, then announced, "May the gods and goddesses protect Cyrene Ruth all of the days of her life. May she walk with the gods and goddesses, and may she always help protect the weak and innocent from those who would prey on them. May she bring joy and honor into your house. Now, who is to be the godmother of this child?"
Diana answered. "We would ask that Xena and Gabrielle, godmothers of Rebecka, also be the godmothers of Cyrene." The priestess motioned for Xena and Gabrielle to join them on the stage. "Here we go again," Xena whispered. Gabrielle discretely pinched Xena's arm as they walked up to the stage for their part of the ceremony. At least this time Diana and Joxer had asked them to be the godmothers instead of springing it on them at the ceremony, unlike they did with Rebecka Diedra.
After the ceremony was completed, the food was brought out and the guest started mingling and lining up to fill their plates. Diedra went up to congratulate her daughter and son-in-law. "So, you named her after Cyrene. That is terrific, kids, since Cyrene has been my best friend for years." She reached for the baby, cooing as her granddaughter was placed in her arms. "You are a cute little thing, you know. Mind your parents well and grow up strong." She saw Rebecka out of the corner of her eye and added, "Don't be a pest to your sister, for sisters are supposed to take care of each other." She kissed little Cyrene's forehead, then handed her back to Joxer's eager arms. "Son, do be careful with her," she admonished.
"Yes, ma'am, I will," he answered as he happily juggled the baby.
Cyrene noticed that Diedra seemed more herself that day than she had in the past few months. Maybe the long visit with the Amazons had done her good, she mused. She seemed more alert and did not repeat herself, like she had been doing before she left. While she was thinking, Diedra came up with two mugs of wine, asking, "Are you thirsty?"
"Yes, thank you, Diedra," Cyrene answered. She took the mug and sipped the wine, then smiled. Joxer had found a better wine merchant, she decided.
"Cyrene, do you want to take a walk?" Diedra asked. Not waiting for an answer, she started walking toward the door, still holding her wine. Cyrene grabbed her walking stick and followed her, wondering if she should tell anyone that they were leaving. No, no time, she realized as the hobbled to keep up with the tall Amazon. They walked to the river, to the bench, then Diedra sat down. Cyrene sat beside her, cursing her aching joints. If it hadn't rained yesterday, she wouldn't ache so much, she thought bitterly. Diedra broke into her thoughts. "Cyrene, do you ever doubt your sanity? I mean, do you ever forget what you are doing, then find yourself telling the same story over and over again?"
"Well, I do sometimes forget things, Diedra. Why do you ask?"
Diedra looked at her mug, faintly surprised. She drained it in one long swallow, then dropped it to the ground. "Cyrene, my friend, lately I have woken up, forgetting that Rebecka was dead. I reach for her, then am terrified until I remember where I am. Sometimes I can't remember where I am going or what I am doing. Dorcas, the old priestess, started giving me some herbs that seem to help, but I fear I am losing my mind. I'm so proud of Diana and Joxer, but I feel like I have outlived my useful days. Would you consider it a sin if I went to sleep and never woke up?"
Cyrene looked at her friend carefully. "Are you suggesting suicide?" she asked bluntly.
Diedra nodded slowly, then laid her head on Cyrene's shoulder. Cyrene wrapped her arms around Diedra, noting that she could feel all of Diedra's ribs now. The two friends sat in silence for a moment, then Diedra sighed. "You are my best friend, you took me in and helped me find my beloved Rebecka. Those two little girls bear wonderful names, that of my beloved wife and my beloved friend. I want to be a good grandmother for them, but I don't want them to remember a mindless old hag." She squeezed Cyrene and dropped her head to Cyrene's breast, listening to her heart. "I miss Rebecka, I miss waking up with her and going to sleep with her, miss talking to her, miss loving her. As dear as you are to me, you can't fill that part of my life, no one can. I'm ready to see her again."
"Diedra, please don't talk this way," Cyrene replied, fear prickling inside. Gods, was Cyrene really contemplating suicide?
"No, Cyrene, I must talk to someone this way." She sat up, staring at the river. Minutes crawled by, then she said softly,"I slept with another woman last month, an older Amazon who had lost her wife some years back. It was good, but she wasn't Rebecka. Do you think Rebecka will forgive me?"
Cyrene looked at her friend for a moment, then answered, "I don't think it will be a problem. She will understand, Diedra."
Diedra nodded miserably, then forced herself to look at Cyrene. "Let's go back, they'll miss us. I don't want Xena to round up a search and rescue party for us." She stood up and held out her hand for Cyrene to pull herself up with. "Too bad you don't like women, we could have settled down together."
Cyrene grabbed her stick, then took Diedra's arm to steady herself. "If I could, I would, for you," she answered seriously. "But, much as I love you, I can't envision sleeping with you."
As they started walking along, Diedra asked, "Did you ever sleep with any other men? I mean, after Atrius died?"
"No, I didn't. I did date a gentleman for a few months, years after Xena left, but nothing came of it, just a few stolen kisses." Cyrene answered. "Just a few stolen kisses."
It had been a long day, but a wonderful day. After the last of the dishes were cleaned and the stragglers left the dining room, Xena, Gabrielle and Cyrene sat down to sip cider by the fire. Gabrielle claimed one couch and pulled Xena down beside her while Cyrene claimed the other couch. Sometimes Cyrene still could not believe the changes Xena had gone through, child, young woman, angry warlord, repenting warrior, now innkeeper and contented wife. She blessed the gods that brought Xena and Gabrielle together and blessed their union. She sighed contentedly as she sipped the hot cider, allowing herself the luxury of really tasting it. She must have shut her eyes for a moment, for Xena called softly, "Mother? are you still awake?"
"Yes, Xena, I am awake. Wasn't the ceremony beautiful?" Cyrene asked, remembering the day. It was wonderful to have more babies in the world.
"It sure was," Gabrielle enthused. "I'm thrilled that we have another goddaughter, she is so cute. What do you think, Xena?"
"Oh, cute as babies go, she managed not to spit up or squall during the ceremony. Ouch, Gab, watch those pinching fingers!" Xena rubbed her thigh, then poke Gabrielle in the ribs.
"Girls, stop it!" Cyrene growled. Startled, Xena stopped poking the bard, then relaxed. "Got you, didn't I?" Cyrene smirked. "You looked as guilty as when you and Lyceus used to kick each other under the table."
"Was Xena a bad girl?" Gabrielle asked, as curious as her goddaughter.
Her mother-in-law chuckled, remember Xena's childhood. "No, Gabrielle, just high spirited and mischievous. Diedra helped keep her out of trouble by teaching the kids simple fighting skills and how to properly wield a sword. It also helped when Diana got older and Xena looked after her like a sister."
"I had to, you kept tossing me out of the kitchen, Mother," Xena smirked.
"Xena, I tossed you out of the kitchen because you were always trying to steal the food instead of helping prepare it," Cyrene countered.
Xena stretched out full length, pillowing her head in Gabrielle's lap. "The lap of luxury," she purred. Gabrielle smiled sweetly at her beloved and stoked Xena's face with her free hand. "Mother," Xena asked, "where did you and Diedra disappear to today?"
Cyrene laid her mug down on the hearth as she gathered her thoughts. "We went to the river to talk. Diedra was feeling blue, I suppose, and somewhat confused. She said that she keeps waking up and expecting Rebecka, her Rebecka, to be beside her." She picked the mug back up and drained it, then stared at the empty mug, twisting it around in her hands. "Little Rebecka told me several days ago that her grandmother was sometimes telling the same stories over and over again, and the child seemed confused and upset by it. Diedra said that the Amazons gave her some herbs to help, but she knows that her memory wanders."
"Gods, that must be terrifying," Gabrielle observed. "I'd hate to lose my memories, especially to know that I was losing them."
"I know. Diedra is several years younger than I am, which makes me real uneasy. What would happen if I started losing my mind?" Cyrene mused.
"We'd do what we could to keep you safe," Gabrielle said. Xena nodded in agreement. "So she forgets that her Rebecka is dead?"
The older woman nodded. "Yes, or at least for a few minutes. It's not like when the Furies drove Xena crazy, this is more gradual, Gabrielle. I must confess that some mornings I would like to forget some things, especially when my knees are aching. I guess the real question is, what can Diana and Joxer do for her? Is Diedra a threat to the grandchildren?"
Xena scooted up a bit and pulled Gabrielle's arms around her more securely."I have no idea, Mother. Should I talk to Joxer? I don't think I should talk to Diana yet."
Cyrene rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Maybe we should just wait and see. I hope she stays a bit longer this time before going back to the Amazon village. Gabrielle, that reminds me, has Ephiny ever mentioned anything about Diedra to you?"
Gabrielle screwed her face in deep thought. Finally, she answered slowly, "No, but right now the Amazons are building up fortifications, they keep getting hit by raiders. I'll send her a note by one of Joxer's couriers and ask her about the situation."
"Gabrielle, we really should get to bed soon," Xena said as she cracked a mighty yawn. "Mother, I wish I had an answer for you, but I don't right now."
Cyrene smiled at her daughter. "It will all work out alright, I'm sure of it. You two get to bed, I'm going to sit her a bit longer."
"Good-night," the other two chorused. Xena reluctantly left Gabrielle's lap and stood up, stretching like a big cat. She leaned over to hug and kiss her mother, then said, "Coming, Gab?"
"In a minute, you go ahead." She waited until Xena was out of sight, then switched couches. "Mother Cyrene, how are you doing? I mean, it must be terrifying to see your best friend like that."
Cyrene smiled sadly as she reached over and ran her hand over Gabrielle's soft hair. "My dear child, it hurts more that scares me. I can't do anything, I don't know what to do, or even if to do anything. Diedra is still in excellent physical health, I dare say she could give Xena a run for her dinars." She sat, lost in memory for a moment, then said, "Gabrielle, life has taught me one thing for sure, that you never know when your loved ones will be taken away. Take advantage of each day. I am so glad that you and Xena married, you are both so precious to me, it does me good to see Xena so obviously in love with you, after, what, twelve years of marriage?"
"Yes, our anniversary is in two months," Gabrielle answered.
"Well, permit a rambling old woman to say that she is very grateful that you brought her daughter home." Cyrene hugged Gabrielle tightly, then kissed her forehead. "Now, go keep Xena warm." Gabrielle said good-night, then left the room. Cyrene watched the young woman, then whispered, "Atrius, I wish you did not have to die, but you would be so proud of our daughter." She lapsed into deep thought, then finally roused herself to go to bed.
"Diana, good morning," Diedra said as she started dishing out breakfast.
"Good morning, Mom," Diana said as she hugged her mother with one arm. She sat down and started to switch the baby to the other side so she could eat, but Diedra held out her arms. Diana smiled and relinquished baby Rebecka to her mother, then dug into her breakfast. "Good food, Mom, thanks for cooking. Have you seen Joxer? He didn't wake me when he left."
"Yes, he said that he was going to check the farms on the south side of town. Little Rebecka ate with her father, then went with Xena to buy supplies of some sort." Diedra started cooing at her granddaughter, telling her how beautiful she was, how lucky she was to be born to such wonderful parents. Little Cyrene waved her fists happily as Diedra gently tickled her, not crying for her breakfast until Diana finished eating. Diedra handed Cyrene back over to Diana, who put the baby to her breast immediately. "She looks like a little glutton, just like you were, dear," Diedra laughed.
"She is, I agree. Rebecka wasn't this, ouch! hard with her feeding," Diana said. "So, it's just the two of us, huh? Everyone else deserted, I see."
Diedra shook her head. "No, not quite, Salamone popped by just before you got up and said that she would be by to help in the store after you had time to feed the baby. She should be here any time now."
Diana nodded as she shifted the baby to burp her. Cyrene dutifully burped, holding down most of her breakfast. Diana took her to change her diaper as Diedra cleared the breakfast dishes. Diana came back to the kitchen in a few minutes, sans baby, dressed for the day's work. "So, who do you think Cyrene looks like? Me or Joxer?"
Diedra thought as she scraped the last dish and started washing. "Well, Joxer told me that his mother had a red-haired aunt, but her face is shaped just like yours."
"Good morning, Diana, Diedra. I'll go open the shop now, you just keep chatting," Salamone said as she poked her head around the corner.
"Thanks, I'll be there after awhile," Diana said. When the woman shut the door, she turned back to her mother and said, "Mom, you never talked about your family, just said that you grew up an Amazon village."
Diedra sat down at the table, having finished washing the dishes. "I was an orphan, Diana, and the Amazons took me in. I'm not sure, but I think my mother was an Amazon too. Your father, did I ever tell you about your father?"
"No, but Mamma told me the outlines. I was twelve, it was just a few weeks before Xena left," Diana said. She had always avoided this topic with her mother. She had asked her mama once, but was told that her mother would tell her in due time.
"Oh, I remember that." Diedra looked down at her work roughened hands, lost in thought. Finally, she pulled her thoughts in order, then said, "He was a soldier, some sort of commander. I was captured in battle, wounded too badly to resist. He took care of my wound, then when I was healed..." Her voice trailed off as old memories surfaced. Clenching her fists, she continued in a hoarse voice. "He kept me drugged, you see. His wife cleaned me up, then it started. She would drug me more, bathe me, then hold me down while he raped me. They wanted a child and could not have one, so he picked me out to bear their child." Diedra unclenched and clenched her fists, trying to suppress the tremors she felt. "He was handsome, as I recall, lighter skinned than most Greeks, with dark hair and green or hazel eyes, I'm not sure which anymore. After I got pregnant, they stopped the drugs and I was able to escape and wound up here."
Diana listened as her mother spoke about her father for the first time. Yes, her mamma had told her the same thing, but her mother had never mentioned her past, ever. "It must have been painful for you."
Diedra took a shaky breath. "It was worth it in the long run, Diana, for it brought me here to Rebecka, my dear partner. He enabled me to have you, my beloved daughter. I guess the gods had a plan after all, Rebecka always insisted that everything happens for a reason." She sighed. "You are a lucky woman, Joxer is such a gentle man."
"Yes, he is," Diana smiled. "Mom, seriously, thanks for telling me. I never had the courage to ask you about him."
Diedra just nodded, then said abruptly, "I need to meet Cyrene, I promised to spend some time with her." She stood up and stretched, then said softly, "Your father was tall, taller than me, so you got your height from both sides of the equation." She leaned over and kissed Diana, then left.
Diana watched her mother leave, then went to check on the baby. At least her mother seemed to be having a better day, memory wise, today. She hoped that she hadn't stirred up too many memories, but she needed to hear it from her mother's lips. Before she could think about anything else, little Cyrene started crying. She rolled her eyes, saying, "I had forgotten how much work a baby is."
After the breakfast rush, Gabrielle went out back to Xena's work shed. "Hi honey," she said as she wrapped her arms around Xena's waist. "Long time no see."
Xena grinned as she put down her hammer and kissed her wife. "What brings you out here to the shed? Bored? Lack of customers? Uncontrollable desire?"
"Oh, just wanted to see you, that's all. After all these years, I just can't get enough warrior loving," Gabrielle replied. She snuggled in Xena's arms for a moment, the pulled back. "No, seriously, I wanted to ask your opinion about something. Before you go into shock, it's about what your mother said last night, about never knowing when people are going to be taken away from you. I waited far too long to talk to Lila, and it was only after Joxer and Diana found her in Corinth. I guess what I'm trying to ask is, should I go back to Poteidaia and see how my parents are doing? I haven't seen them since before we married, after Lila threw that fit and my whole family disowned me."
Xena pondered the question as she picked up a stick of wood and started sanding it. Gabrielle understood that her mate sometimes needed to do something with her hands to help her think, so she waited patiently, leaning against a pole. Finally, Xena asked, "Are you willing to face whatever your family will dish out? Are you willing to face them being disabled or even dead? Although if they had died, I'm sure that we would have heard the news eventually. Are you prepared in your heart for this journey?"
"Yes, I think I am. Although I'd like to take the wagon and go pick up Lila, see if she will go with me. Should I do that?" Gabrielle wondered out loud.
"Does Lila ride horses?" Xena asked.
"Sure, she was pretty good when we were kids. I'm just the one who never liked to ride much," Gabrielle said with a frown.
Xena suggested, "Then why don't you take Red and Blackie, let her ride Red. You do pretty well with Blackie. It would be faster than taking the wagon."
Gabrielle thought about it for a little while. She did pretty well with Blackie, a very patient gelding. Red was their newest horse, a younger gelding, who was nearly as patient as Blackie, and who seemed content to follow Blackie. Xena still had a soft spot for Argo, Jr. and would not let anyone ride him, but she had bought horses for guests of the inn to rent. "Okay, Xena, I'll take the horses. You are right, as usual. I'd better get back, I need to clean up then go to the market."
"Okay. See you later." Xena watched Gabrielle as she walked away from the shed. "I never thought I would hear her say that she wanted to see her parents," Xena told the yard cat. The cat merely yawned and stretched, then settled back into a ball of fur. "Lazy critter," she muttered at the cat.
The next morning, Gabrielle told everyone goodbye, then swung up on Blackie and took up Red's reins. On the road again, she thought, but this time without Xena. It felt really strange to be traveling by herself, but someone needed to look after the inn, and it wouldn't be fair to ask Cyrene to take back over just so that Xena could come with her on her quest. On the other hand, she would be happy to see Lila again, they had been writing each other regularly since they finally re-established contact. Plus, she would get to see Benjamin and Sarah again, the nephew and niece that she never knew she had until recently.
When she finally arrived in Corinth, Lila greeted Gabrielle warmly, insisting that Benjamin could tend to the horses while Gabrielle came inside to clean off the road dust. "Gabrielle, what brings you out this way so soon? I just received your last letter today, then you arrive!" She hugged her older sister again, then drew back. "I hope you don't bear bad news, your letter stated that Diana and Joxer had a beautiful baby girl. I didn't even know that she was pregnant!"
Gabrielle laughed happily as she hugged her sister. "No, Lila, nothing is wrong, I just wanted to come see my family again. Joxer and Diana named their baby Cyrene Ruth, and Xena and I are the proud godparents, just like with Rebecka Diedra. I am a bit thirsty, though, could you spare some water?"
"Sure can. Sarah, could you get a mug of water for your Aunt Gabrielle? Thanks, honey." She waited until the girl walked out of the room, then said quietly, "Sarah looks more like you every day, but Benjamin takes after you, he is always begging for paper and ink and has made several quills himself. Sarah takes more after her father, she always wants to go 'help Daddy sell beautiful cloth' as she puts it. That girl could sell anything, I swear!" Lila chuckled. "But where are my manners, won't you have a seat?"
"Aunt Gabrielle, I brought you the cool water, not the icky stuff," Sarah declared as she came back into the room. "We keep it in the cellar, where the temperature is much cooler than up here. Would you like some fresh fruit to go with it? We have a nice selection in the kitchen, ready to slice."
"No, thank you, I ate before I came over." Gabrielle said as Sarah handed her the mug. "You've grown since I was here last."
"Yes, I have. Mother says that I may be taller than her, but we shall have to see. See you, I hear Daddy coming in!" Sarah darted out of the room as her mother and aunt watched her.
"She loves her daddy very much," Lila mused, "I don't think she will ever be my little girl. So, what else is going on? How is my sister-in-law?"
It took Gabrielle a moment to realize that Lila was talking about Xena. "Oh, Xena has been busy fixing up the inn, bouncing drunks, breaking horses, training the militia, things like that. Sometimes I can't believe that she is so happy to be settled down, after all those years on the road. Did I tell you that she is a grandmother? Her son and daughter-in-law have a little girl, Telesilla. That little girl, according to Cyrene, is the spitting image of Xena as a baby. Xena wasn't too sure about being a grandmother, but she seems to have taken it in stride. By the way, she sends her greetings."
"Then return my greetings and blessings when you go home. I should be starting supper soon. I don't suppose you would like to help me?" Lila asked, grinning.
Gabrielle smiled. "Oh, I suppose my arm could be twisted."
Later that night, Lila took Gabrielle up to the rooftop, where they could watch the stars. Gabrielle had told stories about her travels with Xena to her adoring niece and nephew, given Marcus a new contract from Joxer, and helped Lila with the dishes after supper. Marcus and his Aunt Ruth took care of putting the children to bed so that the sisters could have time to talk by themselves. They sat next to each other on the couch that Marcus had made, neither one really wanting to break the companionable silence. Finally, Gabrielle took Lila's hand in hers, then asked softly, "Lila, have you seen our parents since you left home?"
Lila didn't answer right away. She laid her head on Gabrielle's shoulder, just like when they were children, sneaking out to watch the night sky. "Not since I came to Corinth, why do you ask?"
"Because, my beloved sister, I felt that we should go see them. It's hard to explain, but I've grown close to Xena's mother, Cyrene. I know that isn't an answer, but the first time I saw Cyrene, she and the other villagers were trying to make hash of Xena, even though Xena was trying to protect them from an evil warlord. Cyrene eventually, grudgingly, accepted that her daughter had changed, and has been supportive of us ever since. I'd just like to see if our parents have gotten past our running away and can accept us as who we are now, not as who we were then." She let go of Lila's hand and put her arm around her sister. "Besides, I'm afraid that they will die without forgiving us, or will lose their minds. Diedra, Diana's mother, is usually fairly sharp, but lately has started repeating herself or forgetting things. I guess I want to see if Mother and Father are still lucid."
Lila said, "I'm sorry to hear that about Diedra, Diana and Joxer never mentioned that."
"It just started recently, in the last few months or so. I think it hurts Cyrene more than any of the rest of us other than Diana, since Diedra and Cyrene have been best friends for years, since Xena was a little child," Gabrielle explained.
Lila sat up. "Are you sure about this? I mean, Mother and Father never knew what happened, they probably don't even know I am married and have children. They may throw us both out, you know."
"I know, Lila, but I am willing to take that chance. Are you?" Gabrielle challenged.
Lila looked up at the stars for a long moment, then turned back to her sister. "Okay, but under one condition."
"That next time, we take our families. That is, if they accept us," Lila amended.
"Done deal." They hugged for a long moment, then Gabrielle said wistfully, "At least you have had a more conventional life, they still may not approve of me."
"Don't forget, big sister, that I married a crippled Hebrew. How conventional is that?" Lila retorted.
Gabrielle smiled at her sister. "Point taken. But, Marcus is a wonderful man, they will love him, I know."
Lila looked skeptical. "Sure. His own friends, or rather, former friends, still cross the street rather than stay on the sidewalk with us 'sinners'. He still won't even try to attend the synagogue, saying that God understands. I still don't get this one god concept, but my husband is convinced that his god understands us and has blessed our marriage."
"One god. What a weird idea," Gabrielle mused.
Lila nodded. "You got it, sister."
Diedra had been doing better for several days, not forgetting or repeating herself. Diana and Joxer felt that maybe they could breathe a sigh of relief, that maybe she was just temporarily being forgetful.
It all came crashing down about a week after Gabrielle left for Corinth.
Cyrene came over that morning to place an order for the inn and found Diedra working behind the counter. "Good morning, Diedra, how is your family?" she asked.
"Oh, fine, but Diana was rather fussy last night. Rebecka and I took turns holding her all night long. How is your family? Torias and Xena still fighting? They just don't get along, not like Xena and Lyceus get along. I never saw a sister and brother get along as well as Xena and Lyceus do, I only hope that my little Diana can get along with other children that well." As Diedra spoke, she busily gathered up everything on Cyrene's list and packed it in large baskets. "It is good to see you, Cyrene, you usually send Xena over with the list. Is business slow today?"
Cyrene looked carefully at her friend, unsure how to answer. Finally, she said, "Well, it is slow, the breakfast rush is over." She watched Diedra, wondering what to do now. As she wondered, Joxer came in through the back entrance. "Joxer, how is the baby this morning?" she asked, hoping to jog Diedra's memory.
Joxer set down the box he had carried in. "She was pretty fussy last night, Cyrene, but we finally got her settled down. Diedra, did the baby disturb your sleep last night?"
Diedra looked carefully at Joxer, as if seeing him for the first time. "Yes, Diana kept me up. Do I know you, sir?"
Joxer and Cyrene exchanged looks as a long silence descended. It was broken by Diana bringing Rebecka and little Cyrene in the store and promptly handing the baby to her husband. "Joxer, she must be yours, she snores as much as you do. Good morning, Mom, Cyrene, how is everything?" Noting the strange looks on their faces, she turned to her mother. "Mother, how are you this morning?" she asked slowly.
"Oh, fine, Rebecka, but why did you hand Diana to the strange man?" Diedra asked, confusion crossing her face.
The young Rebecka looked at all of the adults in turn, scared for her grandmother. She scooted closer to her father, taking the edge of his vest in her hand. Joxer leaned down and whispered, "Honey, would you and Cyrene go fetch the healer?" She nodded, eyes big as saucers as she let go and grabbed Cyrene's hand. Joxer spoke aloud, "Cyrene, it's good to see you, we'll send over your order later this morning." The older woman nodded and took Rebecka out of the store.
A short time later, Eurydice the healer walked through the door. "Good morning, Diedra! Would you like to take a short walk with me?" she asked. "I'm sure that your helpers can run things just fine for a few hours, dear. Gather your cloak and your walking stick, we may walk a long time." Diedra obeyed without comment as she gathered her cloak and stick, then followed Eurydice out of the store.
Eurydice brought Diedra back several hours later and motioned for Joxer and Diana to follow her out of the store. "Where are your children?" she asked.
"Xena and Cyrene took them over to the inn," Diana replied. "Eurydice, please tell us what is wrong with Mother."
The healer sat down on a bench in the store's courtyard. "I've seen this several times in my lifetime. Diana, your mother has some sort of tumor in her head, it feels like it is between the skull and the brain. I think it is causing her to not think as clearly."
"Can anything be done?" Diedra asked anxiously.
"No, dear, I'm sorry, I can't do anything about it. I have seen this condition several times and I hate to tell you this, but it will only get worse.Your mother will continue to deteriorate until she finally dies." Eurydice reached over and took both of their hands. "Diana, Joxer, you have a difficult time ahead of you. Somehow, you will have to keep your mother from harming herself or others. Some days, she will be herself, but other days she will be like she is today, wandering through time, so to speak. Otherwise, she is in good health."
"Is she a threat to our children?" Joxer asked.
"That, I do not know, Joxer. When she is herself, I will talk to her and explain what I believe is happening to her. I'm sorry, dears, but the gods have not given me the wisdom to heal this condition."
"Thank you, Eurydice." The healer squeezed their hands, then took her leave. "Joxer, do you mind if I go talk to Xena for a while? Can you handle the children and Mother?" Diana asked.
"That will not be a problem, my love." He kissed her cheek, then added gently, "Is there anything I can do for you right now?"
"Just love me and support me," she answered sadly.
Gabrielle and Lila rode into town and checked into the local inn before going to their parents' house. Gabrielle was relieved that the inn had changed hands since her stay here with Xena, when her family disowned her. The sisters decided to unpack their clothes and eat a late lunch before visiting their parents.
They dawdled over lunch as long as they dared, each drinking a second mug of wine to help bolster their spirits. Lila commented wryly that this felt like their childhood, when they tried to get their stories coordinated before going home to face certain punishment after some sort of wrong-doing. Finally, Lila said, "Gabrielle, as I tell my children, the sooner we face our fears, the better off we will be. Remember, though, Marcus and I love you and Xena loves you, so you still have family no matter what."
"Lila, that is the sweetest thing you have ever said to me," Gabrielle answered quietly. "All these years, I was afraid of how you would react to seeing me, but you have accepted me. Do you think that our parents will be as accepting? They never did like Xena."
"Only one way to find out, dear sister, and that is to face them. I must confess that I am pretty scared too, since I ran off without leaving word. I'm just as bad as you are." Lila smiled at her sister. "Besides, you never got pregnant out of wedlock."
"But I told you about Hope!" Gabrielle corrected her.
Lila waved off the correction. "Being raped by a third-rate god does not count. I willingly went to bed with Palios, not listening to you and Xena. Marcus said that it never bothered him, that he still considered me a virgin. But, we've already covered this ground. Are you ready to go?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," Gabrielle answered as she dropped a few coins on the table and picked up her staff.
When the sisters arrived at their old house, neither one raised their hand to knock, each politely waiting for the other. They finally looked at each other, laughing and knocked together. They waited uneasily, straining to hear footsteps, both hoping that no one was home and that someone was home. Finally, the door slowly opened and their mother stood there, asking, "May I help you ladies?"
Gabrielle looked at Lila, then said, "Mother, we're home."
Hecuba looked at her daughters for a long moment in disbelief. She reached a trembling hand to touch first one, then the other, then drew both women into a long embrace. "My girls," she whispered, "you've come home."
"Hecuba, who is at the door?" Horace thundered. Hecuba released the sisters, then motioned for them to come into the house. "I said, who..." his voice trailed off as he limped into the room, staring at his lost daughters. He stared hard at them, then turned to his wife. "Why did you let them in? I told you that we have no daughters!"
"Father," Lila interjected, "we've come home to see you and Mother, to tell you of our families."
"Don't want to hear anything. Get out! You, besmirching your good name with that no-good warlord and you, sneaking off in the night to gods know where! I won't have you in my house, do you hear?" He stepped closer, pointing to the door. "Get out!" he shouted.
"But Horace, it has been so long..."
"Woman, shut up! You know how I feel," he growled.
Gabrielle listened quietly until this point, then she walked up to her father and said calmly, "Don't you dare raise your voice at Mother. Shouting is not a good way to solve anything. Lila and I came home to try to make peace with you and Mother." She waited, casually moving her staff from one hand to the other.
"Damn it girl, don't start that kind of talk with me!" Horace spluttered, even as he walked back to the table and sat down. Gabrielle kept staring at him until he said angrily, "Okay, you girls have a seat. I'll listen, but I don't promise anything."
Gabrielle and Lila sat down at the table. Gabrielle finally started, "You know that I took off after Xena many years ago, that I left her to marry Perdicas, then later married Xena. I owe Xena my life, as does everyone in this village. If she had not come around, our village would have been destroyed, our children sold into slavery, our elders murdered. You see, Xena was just starting on her road to redemption at that time, and I was desperate to leave home, ready for adventure. I followed Xena against her will, befriended her, eventually fell in love with her. Along the way, I became an Amazon princess, then the Amazon queen, a title I gave up in order to marry Xena. I don't think you can ever understand the relationship I have with Xena, we have been married for nearly twelve years, and each year is more precious than the last. She is my other half, the half that makes me whole, that completes me. But, I want you to understand, to accept her."
"I had heard rumors that you married that warrior woman, I knew she was bad for you. Gods, girl, she turned you into an unnatural woman!" Horace snarled.
Lila glared at her father. "Gabrielle is not unnatural, father, she just found the love of her life. I should have listened to Gabrielle and Xena when I was engaged to Palios." Her father snorted. "Do you even know why I ran away?"
"No. Neither do I care," he growled.
Lila looked into her father's eyes. "For your information, Palios deserted me because I was pregnant. Yes, I lost my virginity to him and thought nothing of it. I lost the baby when he didn't show up at the wedding, and our old healer smuggled me to Corinth, where I met and married my dear husband Marcus."
Hecuba perked up. "Do you have children, dear?"
"Yes, Mother, Marcus and I have two children, Benjamin and Sarah," Lila said proudly.
Horace snorted again. "Sounds like Hebrew names, not good Greek names. What in the name of the gods are you doing giving them those kind of names? Those silly people worship one god, and they have all those strange laws and dietary restrictions."
Lila clenched her fists, trying to control her temper. She took a deep breath, then said quietly, "Father, our children are one quarter Hebrew. Marcus gave up his religion to marry me, a true sacrifice, he could have been a priest. If you are going to be that nasty toward your own children, then I will go back to Corinth and never return. I will never allow you to see your grandchildren, the only continuation of your line. Is that what you want?" She stood up. "Come on, Gabrielle, let's go back to the inn. I'm sick of the hatred, the prejudices."
Gabrielle stood up as well as Lila added, "Mother, I am not rejecting you. Father, if you can lose the attitude, I will welcome you with open arms." She grabbed her sister's arm and propelled her out the door.
The day dawned cold, wet and miserable. Cyrene stumbled out of bed, wishing for a moment that Gabrielle would hurry up and come home so she could go back to sleeping late. She loved her daughter-in-law dearly and knew that it was important for her to try to make up with her parents, but she had become accustomed to sleeping late, traveling around the country and being responsible just for herself. Xena was pretty good with the inn, but she preferred to do the physical upkeep rather than the day-to-day management of the inn. Cyrene yawned as she washed her face, then got dressed for the day.
Several minutes later, Cyrene was in the kitchen getting the fires stirred up for the day's cooking. She fixed a plate for herself of leftovers, taking it into the main dining room just as the help started arriving. After giving the morning orders, she managed to sit down to eat. As she started eating, Xena came over and sat across the table from her. "Good morning, Mother," Xena said softly. "Not the best weather, eh?"
"No, not at all," Cyrene agreed, "it seems to match my mood. Did I tell you what the healer said about Diedra?"
"No, we didn't have a chance to talk yesterday." Xena looked up as a serving girl approached. "Just give me a standard breakfast plate and some water," she told the girl. After the girl went back to the kitchen, she turned her attention back to her mother. "So, what did Eurydice have to say?"
Cyrene nibbled at her bread, then pushed her plate away. "She said that Diedra has a tumor in her head and it may be causing her memory loss. She also said that there is no cure, that Diedra could continue this way for years since her physical health is still very good."
"I'm sorry, Mother, this must be pretty hard on you since Diedra has been your best friend for so long," Xena said sadly. "She was pretty good about me spending so much time over there, bugging her for lessons."
"Yes, it is, my dear, Diedra has been my best friend since you were five. I'm not sure if it is better or worse that she knows that something is wrong, at least some days she knows this. My concern, though, is Rebecka and little Cyrene, do you think that they will be safe around their grandmother?"
Xena nodded her thanks as the serving girl laid down a plate and mug. She took a couple of bites while attempting to frame an answer, then admitted, "I just don't know. It's too bad that she didn't die in battle before she started getting this bad. I know that sounds cruel, but I can't think of anything worse than slowly losing my mind, my thoughts, my memories. When I die, I want it to be sudden, while I am still myself." She took a long drink, then added wryly, "Rather pleasant breakfast talk. I really hate trying to think this sort of thing through without Gabrielle."
"She does seem to always know the best thing to say and do," Cyrene agreed. "Diedra is my best friend, but lately I've found myself wanting to avoid her, afraid that she will be reacting as if it were twenty some odd years ago like she did the other day. She called Diana Rebecka, and called little Cyrene Diana. It was eerie, very sad."
"I agree with you there. But, yesterday afternoon she was perfectly normal. I guess this condition comes and goes." Xena finished her food, then added, "Maybe she should go back to the Amazon village. She seems to do okay there."
"Xena, I think we're kidding ourselves if we say that. The Amazons don't have time to take care of an old woman who slips in and out of the present time, no matter how good her fighting skills are, you should know that," Cyrene pointed out.
Xena sighed. "I know, maybe it is wishful thinking on my part. I know that this is hard on Diana, especially since Rebecka died when she was so young."
"At least this time you are here, Xena. I'm not trying to pick on you or anything, but Diana did say after the funeral that she wished you had been there, warlord or not. She always had a soft spot for you, seeing the best in you, just like Gabrielle always has. You were always so good to Diana when she was a child, she absolutely adored you."
Xena smiled sadly as she pushed her empty plate away. "I know she did, it sometimes bothered me after I started going wild. Actually," she hesitated, frowning down at a broken fingernail. She took out her small knife and pared away the offending nail, then continued. "Actually, Mother, I knew that Rebecka was dying. Palios, my cook at the time, brought the news, but I wasn't ready to face home yet. It was shortly before I ran into Hercules, but I remember I was already getting tired of plunder and mayhem. I can remember wondering if Diana would be okay. I did run into her about six months later, when Gabrielle had gone back to her village for a short time. Diana was going back from leave to going to leave, I don't remember which now, but we shared a camp that night. She told me about her mama's death and asked me about Gabrielle, for she had heard of my little bard. It was such a shock to see Diana as a woman, I still remembered her as a child, crying with a scraped knee."
Cyrene nodded. "Ah, Xena, here we are wallowing in the past."
"Well, I guess I'd better stay in the present and get to work or I will have to answer to Gabrielle when she gets home," Xena commented with a grin. "Mother, I'm sure we'll all get through somehow or another. I'm just grateful that you finally accepted me as who I am. How do you think Gabrielle is doing?"
"She's probably charmed her parents by now." Cyrene slowly stood up. "If you'll excuse me, we both have work to do." She reached up and kissed her daughter's cheek. "See you later."
"Okay." Xena watched her mother head for the offices, then started walking toward the kitchen. She didn't mind the little details of inn keeping, but she sure hated coming up with a menu. Maybe she could talk Diana into coming up with the menus for a few days. Then again, she thought wryly, maybe not.
Lila was still mad after dinner. She sat impatiently as Gabrielle was convinced to spin a few tales for the rest of the diners, hoping that they could go back to their room soon. Finally, Gabrielle bowed to the audience and came back to their table. "Well, what did you think?" Gabrielle asked.
"Good stories, but I'm still mad at our father. Can we go back to our room now?"
"Sure, I guess so," Gabrielle answered. "Do we need anything else before going upstairs?"
"No," Lila grumbled.
"All right, then, let's go." Gabrielle followed Lila upstairs to their room, then sat in one of the chairs by the fireplace. "Now, Lila, do you want to talk?"
Lila flung herself into the other chair and ran her hands through her hair, absently pulling out the braid and fluffing her hair. "I guess I want to talk, mostly I want to shake some sense into Father. He was being so hateful, Gabby, it was really sad. I had no idea that he was so prejudiced against my husband's people." She blew out a frustrated breath. "The worst thing is that we both should be used to being treated differently because of who we are with, but it doesn't make it any easier."
"I agree, Lila. Tell me, though, how do your neighbors treat your family?" Gabrielle asked.
Lila stared into the fire, slumping in her chair. "Oh, they accept us, but we live in the Greek part of the city. I guess it is the people that you are closest to or that have been part of your life that can hurt you the most."
Gabrielle leaned forward, catching her sister's eyes. "That's right, sister dear. I'm so glad that you found Marcus, he seems like a really nice man. When I was in Corinth, you told me a little about him, could you tell me more? How did you meet? How did you fall in love?"
Lila smiled a little bit. "Gabrielle, you are trying to take my mind off of our parents. I'll play along, just for you. Let's see, when Palios ran out on me, our healer sent me to Corinth, to the house of Ruth. Ruth's nephew, Marcus, was the manager and salesman for their weaving business. They would go up to the rooftop on pretty nights and watch the stars for a while, just like we did as children." Lila relaxed more, thinking about her courtship.
"You did, huh? Yeah, I missed watching the stars with you," Gabrielle confided, "Xena never saw the romance in the stars.
Lila cocked her head, looking at her sister. "I missed watching the star with you, too, although Marcus could spin tales nearly as well as you could, and I think that's part of the reason I fell in love with him."
Gabrielle asked, "So what about the religious differences? You've mentioned that he gave up his one god for you." She shuddered, thinking about being seduced by Dahak. "What do you tell the children?"
"We've each taught them about our gods and goddesses," Lila answered, "but made it plain that they are free to believe or not believe what they want. Marcus sometimes misses going to temple, but he still tells me that he believes in goodness and love, and helping his fellow men and women." Lila leaned forward, tapping Gabrielle lightly on the arm. "Like someone else I know, always seeing the good in people."
"Most people do have good in them somewhere," Gabrielle replied.
"I'm sure most do. Anyway, Benjamin already wants to study philosophy, and Sarah is determined to be a businesswoman. She can already add a whole column of numbers in her head without error, which grates on her brother's nerves to no end!" Lila added, "She can already drive a hard bargain, like a certain sister of mine." Gabrielle smiled, puffing out her chest. Lila snorted.
"Ah, Lila, I just wish I could have known them when they were small. It's nice to know that I do have a nephew and niece," Gabrielle said wistfully.
"Looking back, I regret how foolish I was to throw away our relationship. Marcus told me that only after I forgave myself could I move on and truly love other people. It's been hard, but I've tried my best. Seeing you again has been so wonderful, I have missed you so much."
Gabrielle took her sister's hands in hers. "I've missed you too, Lila," she said softly. "I'm pretty tired, do you mind if I go ahead to go to bed?"
"No, I don't mind at all. I think I'll stay up and watch the stars from the window for a while, it makes me feel closer to my husband." Lila answered. She stood up and hugged and kissed her sister, then went over to the window and watched the stars. She whispered, "Marcus, I'm sending you my love."
"Diana, where is my sword and staff? I can't dress properly without them!" Diedra fumed as she turned everything over in her room. "Diana, where are you?"
"Coming, Mom, I was just finishing nursing Cyrene." Diana hurried into her mother's room, looking at the mess. "Oh, Mother, you've torn everything up, it will take hours to put it to rights."
"I don't care, I need my sword and staff, I need to go for my annual Amazon duty. I'll have to talk to Rebecka about you. No, wait, Rebecka is dead and you are a wife and mother. The years just go by too quickly," Diedra muttered. She slumped down on her bed, holding her head in her hands. "Gods, daughter, I am worthless. It's getting harder to distinguish between today and yesterday. I'm just glad that my beloved is not here to see the condition I am in now." She ran her hands distractedly through her hair, then looked up at her daughter. "Someone should put me out of my misery. Life just has never been the same since your mama died. Oh, I love my grandchildren, but I don't want them to remember me as a babbling idiot."
Diana sat on the bed next to her mother and took her in her arms, rocking her as she would her children. "Mom, you are not a babbling idiot."
"Not yet," came the muffled reply.
"Mom, I wish there was something I could do for you, make you better, I'd do anything for you," Diana said sadly.
Diedra sat back up and looked Diana in the eye. "You can let me go back to the Amazon village to live out my days. I'm a hazard here and I don't want little Rebecka to remember me as a babbling idiot. Have you seen my sword and staff? Maybe Xena would like to accompany me, or maybe you could. No, that's right, you have a small infant to take care of, I guess I'll have to go by myself."
Diana dropped her head on her mother's shoulder. It was so hard to see her mother like this, repeating herself, forgetful, indecisive. Maybe it would be best to let her go to the village, maybe the Amazons could keep her occupied and safe. It was still dangerous, but her mother thrived on danger.
She felt her mother's arms around her, her lips gently kissing her head. Her mother had rarely been really affectionate, usually quick hugs. She had gotten most of her affection from her mama, Rebecka, but she always knew that both of her mothers loved her dearly. They stayed like that for a few minutes, then her mother gently disengaged herself. "I'm starving, I'm going to get some breakfast." Diedra abruptly left the room in search of her meal.
Several minutes after Diedra left, Joxer and Rebecka came into the room. "Good morning, mommy," Rebecka burbled as she launched herself into her mother's arms. Diana held her tightly, then stood up and let the child down. "Guess what? Xena said that she would take me fishing again as soon as Gabrielle came home to look after the inn. Isn't that great?"
"That is wonderful, honey," Diana said, still thinking about her mother.
Rebecka looked carefully at her mother. "What's wrong, Mom? Is it Grandmother again?"
Diana cleared her throat, bringing her thoughts back to the present. "Don't worry about your grandmother, dear, let your father and me worry about her. Joxer, why don't you take Rebecka over to the inn for lunch today? I need to finish some paperwork here."
"Okay," he said. Joxer grabbed his daughter's hand and said, "So, will you help me unload the carts that just drove up? I know you are so good at arranging the produce." Rebecka nodded, then blew a kiss to her mother. "Diana, I'll see you later. Come on, little one, let's get to work."
Gabrielle and Lila had finished breakfast and were now back on the way to their parents' house to try again to make up with them. Gabrielle wasn't too sure about it, but Lila insisted on trying one more time. When they arrived, Hecuba told them that their father was out in his fields and did not wish to see them again. "But," she added shyly, "I will be happy to visit with you for a few hours. I'm afraid that your father refuses to let go of his anger toward you two."
"Story of my life," Gabrielle observed wryly. Lila kicked her under the table, then started telling their mother about her children, her husband Marcus, and their life in Corinth. Hecuba was eager for details of both of their lives, asking many questions when either one took a breath.
The morning flew by and it was time to fix the noon meal. Gabrielle and Lila pitched in with the meal preparation, which their mother appreciated greatly. The meal was finished as Horace stomped into the house, calling, "Is lunch ready? I'm starving, Hecuba. It sure smells good." He rounded the corner and stopped as soon as he saw Lila and Gabrielle. Angrily, he fumed, "I thought I told you two not to ever darken my door again."
"Well, Father, we thought we would give you another chance," Lila explained as she piled his plate and handed it to him. He took it and sniffed suspiciously. Lila laughed, "No, we didn't poison your food." He glared at her, but started eating anyway. Lila sat down next to her father and continued talking. "Don't you want to know about your grandchildren? Or Gabrielle's godchildren? Aren't you the least bit curious about what happened to us?"
"Bah. I'm not the least bit interested, you are both no longer my daughters," Horace grumbled as he continued to eat.
Gabrielle looked at her sister, then sat across from her father. "But I have to be your daughter, where else could I have inherited my appetite?" Horace stopped eating to stare at her curiously. "Yes, I can eat almost any time, regardless of the circumstances, and can eat more than most people can at a single sitting. Now, you have always done the same thing, Dad, so don't deny it. I am your daughter, after all."
"Don't mean I have to acknowledge you, Gabrielle," he said as he pushed back the empty plate. "Good food," he said grudgingly. "Did you two girls help your mother cook it?"
"Yes, they did, Horace, and you should thank them," Hecuba said sharply.
He sighed. "Okay, thanks for the food, now will you leave? This is a pretty busy season, after all--hey, get away from that donkey!" Horace yelled out the window. He dashed out the door, intent on giving chase to the would-be donkey thief but tripped in the yard.
"Lila, check dad for injuries, I'm going after the thief," Gabrielle yelled as she grabbed her staff. Legs pumping furiously, she took after the thief, rapidly closing the distance. She grabbed his collar and shoved him to the ground, then pinned him with her staff. "Just what do you think you are doing?" she snarled at the ragged young man.
"What does it look like I am doing? Careful with that stick, woman, or I will--" He eyed the staff as the end moved from his chest to his throat. "Hey, you wouldn't, would you?"
Gabrielle grinned wickedly. "Well, let's see now, I am an Amazon and the companion of Xena. You were trying to steal my parents' property and I caught you. What do you think?"
The young man laid back on the ground. "I think I am a fool," he said dramatically, "to attempt to steal property from the parents of the Great Gabrielle, former Queen of the Amazons, Bard Extraordinaire, wife of Xena the Warrior Princess. Oh, gods and goddesses, please end my misery now, I beg of you!" He raised his arms beseechingly, cutting his eyes to sneak a look at Gabrielle's face.
"No dice, youngster," she said as she poked him in the chest with her staff. "You will still have to face whatever punishment the town authorities see fit to dish out. But, if I let you up, will you promise not to run away?"
"What? Run? No, fair lady, I could not possibly run, I fear that you would put a herd of Amazons on my tail," the dark-haired boy wailed dramatically.
"Young man, Amazons do not travel in herds," Gabrielle chuckled, "they travel in military units. Ah, here comes my father. Dad, do you wish to press charges against, what is your name?"
"Theseus, my lady, sir. Now, will you let me up?" he beseeched her.
Gabrielle removed her staff from his chest.Theseus stood up and brushed himself off, then held his arms out in front of Horace. "Good sir, bind my wrists, for I attempted to make off with your donkey. Your daughter, the most beautiful and terrifying Gabrielle, bard, former Amazon queen, wife of Xena, caught me fair and square. Had she not chased after me so determinedly, I would have succeeded in my nefarious plot to acquire said donkey."
Horace looked first at Theseus, then Gabrielle, then back at Theseus. "Do you mean, young man, that Gabrielle kept you from stealing my donkey?"
Theseus nodded vigorously. "Sir, your daughter is known far and wide for her bravery, excellent stories, and sense of fair play!"
Horace rubbed his chin slowly as he eyed his daughter critically. Finally, he said, "Young man, just leave and don't come back. You didn't actually steal my donkey, so we'll call it square." Theseus looked relieved. "But, I will attach one condition: you will have to help me in my fields for the next month, or I will have you thrown in jail." Theseus opened his mouth to protest, but caught Gabrielle's warning glare.
"That is most kind, dear sir. It is obvious that your daughter received her sense of fairness from her father. My most humble apologies to all. Shall I show up tomorrow morning?" he asked.
Gabrielle answered, "No, Theseus, I think you should join my family for dinner, you look like you haven't eaten properly in many weeks. Right, Dad?"
Horace grumbled, "Whatever, Gabrielle. I'll see you back at the house. I'll take this young pup to the market after dinner and get him some new clothes, those rags are terrible. This will add a week to your labor, young man, but I doubt you will challenge it."
"Oh, no, kind sir!" Theseus exclaimed, "Truly, I will not challenge the father of Gabrielle." The three started walking back the house, Gabrielle in back to prevent Theseus from changing his mind and attempting to escape. He did not make any such attempts, thankfully.
Cyrene watched as a small crowd approached the bar. One man was obviously the leader and the others were obviously with him. Perhaps a small unit of soldiers? It was days like this that she was glad that Xena was home, for unknown soldiers still made her uneasy. She knitted her eyebrows together, something looked familiar about this man but she couldn't put her finger on what was so familiar. Perhaps her had family in Amphipolis and he looked like a relative. "Good afternoon, sir, how may I help you?"
"Good afternoon, madam, I am Glaucon and these are my officers. We are on our way to Athens for a conference and decided to stop for a bite to eat, perhaps to rent rooms as well. Your inn looks clean and comfortable, what do you charge?" he said in a well-mannered voice.
Xena stepped up behind her mother, sensing her mother's unease. Cyrene told him the room and board rates, then invited him to sit in the dining room, stating that supper would be served very soon. Could she interest his group with wine and snacks? He agreed, then Xena walked around the bar. "I'll lead them, Mother. This way, gentlemen. By the way, you may leave your weapons and cloaks in the cloak room, please." This was a recent innovation of Xena's, a room to hang cloaks and weapons securely to help reduce fights. Glaucon did not object and directed his officers to follow Xena's request.
After they had been seated and served, Xena went back to her mother, commenting, "Glaucon looks like someone I know, but I don't actually remember him. Why does he look so familiar?"
"I don't know, Xena, I was thinking the same thing. I thought that perhaps he had family here and that we were seeing a family resemblance to someone. I guess it doesn't matter, they seem polite and well-mannered." Cyrene frowned, still trying to place the resemblance. "Maybe he will mention relatives later. Ah, here comes Diana and Joxer."
Diana walked around to the back of the bar and hugged both women. "Good evening, Xena, Cyrene. Joxer and I decided to eat here tonight, Mother is bringing Rebecka and little Cyrene, she should be here any moment."
"Do you think that is safe?" asked Cyrene cautiously.
"She's been pretty normal since yesterday," Joxer answered, "but she gave Diana a fright yesterday, she kept talking about rejoining the Amazons. We hid her staff and sword to be on the safe side. I hate doing that, but we have to think of the children," he added.
Diedra came into the bar area moments later, carrying little Cyrene in one arm and holding Rebecka's hand with her other hand. She smiled at the others, calling out, "Hi, what's on the menu tonight? I could eat nearly anything, I'm so hungry. Diana, could you take the little one? She's getting rather heavy for me." Diana reached for the baby. "Thanks, dear. Xena, any word from Gabrielle?"
"None whatsoever, Diedra. She usually sends at least one letter, she must be pretty busy. Joxer, don't you have any couriers going to Poteidaia these days?" Xena asked.
"For you, Xena, I will send a special courier, a gentleman who is very fast and has been courting a lady over there. That will give him added incentive to rush over," Joxer offered.
"But less incentive to rush back," Xena pointed out dryly.
Joxer smiled. "Xena, you are such a cynic. I know, your cynicism has saved our collective hides many times over. Let's gather up the children and go to the dining room. Diedra, Diana, are you ready?" They replied yes, so Joxer lead his family into the dining room.
As they were being seated, Glaucon happened to look around and see them. His heart felt like it stopped, it was the Amazon he had taken prisoner so many years ago! He looked as she sat with what appeared to be her family, her daughter, was it? He scrutinized the women and caught Xena staring at him expressionlessly. He had heard plenty about Xena, he did not want to make her mad. Before he could turn back around, the Amazon looked over to see who Xena was looking at and caught his eye. Amazon and officer locked stares for a long time, then the woman slowly stood up and approached him. Glaucon had never known fear before now, but suddenly his insides turned to ice as he remembered his treatment of the woman. Could she possibly understand?
"Sir, if I may have a word with you," the woman said quietly as she looked down at him. Glaucon swallowed nervously, but laid down his fork and folded his napkin, then followed her out into the courtyard. He knew that his personal bodyguard would follow in a moment, but he was still unreasonably scared. "You know what you did to me was wrong," she said once they passed through the door. "By the way, what is your name? You never told me, nor did I want to know at the time."
"Glaucon, now supreme commander of the western division of the Athenian army," he replied. "And your name?"
"Diedra of the Amazons," she replied coldly. "You raped me."
Heart pounding, he put a trembling hand on her shoulder. "No, I never meant to hurt you, I took care of your wounds, gave you good food, good clothes, a warm room. My wife and I just wanted a child so badly, and she couldn't have children. I was going to pay you for the child, pay you well."
"Get your hands off of me," Diedra snarled. Startled, he obeyed instantly. "Now, get your mangy pack out of my town or I will personally slit your throat. The only good that came out of my being your prisoner was Diana, my dear daughter."
"But I have already paid for room and board--" he protested.
"Do you really think I give a damn?" she asked harshly. "Gods, Glaucon, no matter how you pretty it up, you raped me. I did not consent to sexual intercourse with you, no matter how many drugs you pumped in my system, no matter how well you treated me and cared for me. I would rather have died than to submit, but you did not give me a chance." She advanced on him, causing him to back up. "You slime, how could you? I don't care if your dear wife could not conceive, you forced me against my will! That is rape, no matter what you call it!" She reached out and shoved him, throwing him off balance. She grabbed his collar and hauled him back up, slapping his face as hard as she could, over and over again.
"Diedra, that is enough," Xena's voice rang through the air. Diedra looked around, confused, then located Xena and Diana emerging from the inn. "Let him go."
Glaucon trembled as Diedra slowly released his collar. He looked over at Diana and said beseechingly, "Please help me, I am your father."
Diedra turned back around and spit in his face. "Father, only by virtue of your seed. Rebecka and I raised her together. You were never a parent, nor fit to be one. Gods damn you to Tartarus!" she screamed as she ran off.
Glaucon turned to Xena, not sure what to do. Xena took off after Diedra, but she had a head start, making a beeline for the stables. "Try to head her off!" Xena yelled, but it was too late. Diedra, who had not ridden bareback for decades, had caught a horse and swung up, kicking her heels into his sides.
The frightened horse took off across the courtyard, jumping over the fence that separated the courtyard and the neighboring fields. Diedra could not hold on as the horse leapt the fence, falling off and landing on her head. The horse continued to run away, even as Glaucon jumped on his horse and chased after it. Xena reached Diedra but it was too late, her neck was broken, killing her instantly. "Gods, Diedra, why did you do that?" Xena whispered. "Why?"
Horace grudgingly admitted that had it not been for Gabrielle, he would have lost his best donkey. "Looks like I got a helper, too," he told his wife. "Something about that boy reminds me of Gabrielle, which may or may not be a good thing."
Hecuba laid a hand on her husband's arm. "Dear, he talks incessantly and tell stories. He may turn out to be a bard, just like Gabrielle." She chuckled, then added, "He has an appetite like both of you, you know."
"Yeah, he does. I'm not so sure I got a bargain, now." Horace rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then looked at his wife across the table. "Hecuba, do you think that maybe I was wrong about our girls? After all, Gabrielle did take after that boy without thought of her own safety."
"Horace, I think we should praise the gods and goddesses for such wonderful daughters. We have both been stubborn, but we need to ask their forgiveness."
"Wait, they should be asking for ours!" he said, but without as much heat as before.
"No, you stubborn old goat, we were the ones that helped drive them away!" Hecuba took a deep breath to try to calm herself before continuing. "Horace, we insisted that Gabrielle become engaged to Perdicas, despite the fact that she was not interested in being a farmer's wife. We caused her to follow Xena, perhaps even caused Perdicas to go to war and die. If we had not insisted, she would have found a way to break the news gently to him, then he could have found another wife who was more suited for him. If we hadn't been so stubborn and refused to listen to Xena, perhaps Lila would have broken her engagement with Palios and would have not gotten pregnant and run away." She rubbed his arm affectionately, then added, "I would like to see our grandchildren, though."
"See there? Our running them away did good, Lila found a much better husband," Horace said, trying to win at least part of the argument.
"What about Gabrielle?" she riposted.
Horace threw up in hands in surrender. "Okay, I admit that maybe Xena is not as bad as she seems, that just maybe she is good for our daughter. Satisfied?"
"I thought I would never live to hear you say that, Dad." Horace and Hecuba turned to find Gabrielle and Lila in the doorway, listening. "We came over to say good-bye," she added.
Horace asked, "How much did you hear?"
Lila answered, "Since Mom called you an old goat." She looked at both parents, then said, "So, are you going to apologize and tell us that you love us or not?"
Hecuba stood up and went to her daughters, pulling them into a hug. "Girls, I've missed you so much," she said softly. "And your father really is an old goat."
"I heard that!" Horace snapped. He walked over and looked at the three women for a minute, then finally admitted gruffly, "Okay, I was wrong. Can you possibly forgive me?" They took him into the hug, laughing and crying at the same time. He pulled out, looked at Lila. "When do I get to see my grandchildren?" he demanded.
"Whenever you and Mother wish to come to Corinth," Lila answered.
"Lila, I really am sorry about the things I said to you as well. Xena and Gabrielle were right about Palios, I was just too hurt still from her leaving to admit that she could be right about a man," he added.
"Dad, I forgive you," Lila answered as she kissed his cheek. "But you'd better hurry, my children are growing up fast and need to see their grandparents."
Joxer held Rebecka in his lap as she sobbed as if her heart would break. Xena had come back into the inn looking terrible, roughly pulling him out to the courtyard, showing him the scene. Joxer listened as Xena told him what happened, barely looking up as Glaucon came riding up with the runaway horse. Xena just glared at him, then turned back to Joxer. "You'd better go tell Diana what happened, I'm no good with words," she said. Joxer nodded sadly, looking at the broken body of his mother-in-law, then turning back to the inn.
He walked back into the dining room and sat down. "Diana," he started gently, "I have some terrible news. Your mother started shoving Glaucon around, then for some reason jumped on a horse, bareback." A tear started down his cheek. "Darling, the horse jumped the fence and she fell off."
"She's dead, then?" Diana asked, hoping she was wrong, but fearing she wasn't.
"Yes," he said slowly. "I'm sorry, baby, I'll miss her too." Diana leaned into his arms, trying to assimilate the information.
Rebecka looked at her parents, then went to sit in Xena's lap. Xena hugged the child tightly, closing her eyes against the tears that threatened. Swallowing hard, she said to the child, "Rebecka, I'm really sorry, but I tried to stop her, I really did."
"I know you did, Xena, after all, you helped save me," the child replied solemnly. She leaned her head against Xena's shoulder and wrapped her arms around Xena's neck. "Will Grandmother be in the Elysian Fields now? Is it true that she can hear my thoughts if I think of her?"
Xena nodded as she stroked the child's hair. "Yes, I think she will be in the Elysian Fields and I can tell you for sure that she will hear your thoughts. I died once, for a short time, and I could hear Gabrielle thinking of me. You going to be okay, little one?"
"Yes, I think so. What about Mom and Dad, and Grandmother Cyrene?" the girl asked worriedly.
"It will be hard on them, too, very hard. We must give them lots of love, okay? Can you do that?" Xena asked her.
Rebecka nodded solemnly. "Yes, Xena. Do you think that the Amazons will want to bury her there, or will she be buried here?"
Xena thought for a moment, then answered, "I honestly don't know, I guess we'll have to leave that up to your mother. Hop down, now, we need to check on everyone." Rebecka slid down from Xena's lap, then took her hand to pull her up. Xena hid a smile as she pretended that Rebecka pulled her out of the chair, at least she could do that for the child.
Gabrielle had told her family goodbye and was now taking both horses back with her. Lila had caught a ride with one of Joxer's delivery men back to Corinth and had no further need of the horse. Gabrielle rode up, weary in every bone. As she rode up, she found that the stable yard was very quiet, as was the entire town square. What was going on here? Gabrielle finally found a stable hand to take the horses, then grabbed her bag and staff and went into the inn.
"Xena? Cyrene?" she called out. "Anyone home?"
One of the cooks came out of the kitchen. "Gabrielle, Xena and Cyrene went to the funeral just a few minutes ago."
"Funeral?" Gabrielle asked, stunned.
"Yes, Diedra was killed yesterday, she fell off a horse. The pyre is being lit today, they just left, you can probably catch them," the cook told her. "Go down to the burial grounds."
"Thanks." Gabrielle ran up to their room to toss her bag and staff down, then ran back down and out to the burial grounds. She made it just in time to see the pyre lit, then finally spotted Xena, Cyrene, Diana, Joxer, Rebecka and little Cyrene at the front of the crowd. She squeezed her way through the crowd and stopped beside her wife, slipping an arm around her waist. Xena looked down, then put her arm around Gabrielle and hugged her tight.
When the crowd started breaking away, Gabrielle offered her condolences to the family, then finally walked back to the inn with Xena. Xena gave a short explanation of what happened, finishing with, "Diana decided that since Rebecka had requested a funeral pyre, that Diedra would want one as well. Diana didn't want to wait for the Amazon priestess to come, so the village priestess conducted the funeral. At least she did get an Amazon pyre, Diana made sure of that much. So, how did your visit with your parents go?"
Gabrielle answered, "Not so good until the end. Dad kept trying to toss me and Lila out, then I captured a guy who was trying to make off with a donkey. Then, the youngster praised me to the skies and Dad finally decided to come around. He and Mom are planning to go visit Lila and her family next month. Maybe we should invite them here sometime."
"Hmm, I'll think about it. Do you really think that they can sit in the same room without choking me?" Xena asked, smiling a little bit.
Gabrielle squeezed Xena's waist. "No, but we can give it a try. Well, back to the inn," she said as they entered the courtyard.
Several months went by. A courier brought a letter to Diana, who read it, then told Joxer to take care of the children for a little while, saying that she needed to talk to Cyrene before she left for Solon and Julia's house. She found Cyrene in the flower garden by the inn's courtyard, just finishing putting in new plants.
"Good morning, Diana, what brings you here alone?" Cyrene asked. For an answer, Diana just handed her the letter. Cyrene read it, then went into the inn for a moment. When she came back out, she took Diana's arm, holding her walking stick in the other arm. "Let's go down by the river, Diana, and discuss this."
The women quietly walked to the river, to the bench that was set out by the townspeople. They sat down and watched the water rushing by for a while, then Diana finally spoke. "Cyrene, what should I do? This man may have fathered me, but he is not my dad. Why should he write to me now?"
Cyrene answered, "Dear, he probably feels guilty. He says that his wife died last year, then watched your mother die. He probably feels terrible about the circumstances of your conception and of Diedra's death, and is trying to make it up to you."
Diana sat quietly, looking at the letter. "Cyrene, isn't it ironic that he wants to see me? I mean, he never tried to track Mother or me down until his wife died, or so it seems. Was he selfish to use Mother? Should I try to see him?"
Cyrene slowly turned the stick in her hands. "I have mixed feelings about this, Diana, especially since I saw your mother after she escaped from his home. I put her up for the night, then took her over to Rebecka's, knowing that Rebecka could put her to work. Your mother was terribly proud and would not have accepted charity from anyone. It took many months, but she finally told me the rest of the story, how Glaucon and his wife kept her drugged until she was pregnant. His wife wanted an Amazon child, as she was the daughter of an Amazon, a different tribe than your mother's and Gabrielle's, and she was bitterly unhappy that she could not bear a child on her own."
They sat silently, listening to the river. Diana sighed, then said wistfully, "I had dreams as a child that my father would appear, just so I would know what he looked like. It never occurred to me that it would affect Mom so badly, or what she really went through. She was pretty lucky to have you as a friend and Mama as a partner. You know, the last few days of her life, I was afraid that something like this would happen. I had hidden her sword and staff, afraid that she would kill an innocent bystander on accident, thinking that they were an enemy from the past. Then, the past came to find her and she died instead of him. It was hard to give her up, especially so quickly, but with her memory getting worse all the time, I was afraid for the safety of my children."
"I know, dear, I was afraid for them as well. You were losing your mother, I was losing my best friend. I never dreamed that she would die before me, I thought since she was younger that she would outlive me," Cyrene said.
"Would I be a terrible daughter if I said that I'm almost relieved? Not the way she died, but, well, you know." Diana looked at Cyrene, eyes begging for forgiveness.
Cyrene put her arm around Diana's shoulders. "I understand and no, I don't think you are terrible, no more terrible than I was for wishing that Xena would never come home again after she became that terrible warlord. I guess things really happen for a reason, Diana, we just sometimes don't understand why. Maybe the gods are playing tricks on us, or the Fates are being cruel, but at least Diedra did live to see her grandchildren. I missed out on my grandchild, I never knew that Xena had a son until Solon was about to be married, which is why I try to visit him as often as possible to see my great-granddaughter."
Diana sighed. "At least Rebecka and little Cyrene have you as a grandmother. Rebecka adores her father and Xena, but lately she has been coming home and talking about 'Grandmother Cyrene'. I think Mom was getting a little jealous at times. Gods, I'm going to miss her."
"Me, too, Diana. Well, shall we go?" Cyrene asked.
"I guess. The letter?" Diana prompted.
Cyrene pondered for a moment, then said, "Write him back and say that you appreciate the offer, but it would dishonor your mother's memory to see him. He is a soldier, he will understand about honor."
"Okay. I guess we should really go now. One question, though, is this where you and Mom came out on your walks?"
"Sure is. I'm sure that in the future I will come out here alone, just to feel close to her." Cyrene pushed up and took her stick in hand. "Let's go join the living."
Xena pulled back the covers and slipped in, waiting for Gabrielle to come to bed. She was exhausted, she had been working on expanding the stable by five more stalls. "Come on, Gabrielle, I'm really tired."
"Just hang on, let me finish this thought," Gabrielle called. Xena waited impatiently for Gabrielle to finish her sentence, carefully put away her quill and ink, then blotted the scroll dry. "I'm coming, you old grump."
"Me? An old grump?" Xena mock growled. "Better watch your language, bard." Gabrielle smiled at her beloved as she slipped into bed. Xena blew out the candle and pulled Gabrielle into her arms, listening to Gabrielle sigh contentedly. "Gab?" she asked softly.
Xena sat up. "Do you really think that your parents will continue to accept you?"
Gabrielle gave up thoughts of sleep for the moment. "I guess so. Why?"
"It's just not fair, my mother succumbed to your charms and accepted me, but your parents didn't," Xena explained.
"Love, life isn't fair. Hey, we should take an extended vacation while your mother is still here. We can go to Corinth and see Lila and Marcus, then on to see my folks. They could see how nicely you clean up without your armor." Gabrielle thought for a moment, then added, "You are less scary without your armor, you know."
"Bah, humbug. Scary is an attitude, my queen, don't you know that by now?" Xena said, smiling.
"Yeah, whatever." Gabrielle thought for a moment, then said, "I'm just glad I went before they died. It would have been terrible to never at least try to make up with them."
"Hey, you make the effort, that's what counts. I still wonder about this Glaucon character, why he did what he did. Do you think that he really wanted to see how his daughter turned out?"
"Probably. Families are strange, aren't they?"
Xena laid back down, pulling Gabrielle into her arms. "My beloved, even if I had never been able to come back home, you would have been all the family I needed. For me, family is more than who shares my blood, it is who shares my heart. Diana's family is just as much a part of my family as if Mother and Diana had been sisters. That's what I think."
"Oh." Gabrielle turned over and kissed her wife. "So, when do you take me to see Solon and Julia?"
"Soon. Very soon. How about on the way back from Corinth?" Xena proposed.
Gabrielle thought about it a moment. "Okay. Goodnight, Xena, I love you."
"I love you too, Gabrielle. I love you too." Xena smiled as she drifted off to sleep with her beloved Gabrielle in her arms.
Return to the Academy