by JS Stephens
Copyright © 1998, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. belong to Renaissance Pictures, Universal, etc. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Please do not eat the daisies. There are no warranties attached to this picture. There may or may not be subtext, depending on what the characters tell me to write.
It was just before the Winter Solstice when Gabrielle received a letter from Lila and Marcus. It said:
Dear Gabrielle and Xena,
It doesn't seem possible, but our little Sarah is now all grown up and about to get married to Xenon, a young man who has been working for us the past two years. We really like him and more importantly (to Sarah, at least,) he is her brother Benjamin's best friend. They will get married on Solstice Eve and wanted you two to come to Corinth for the wedding. Unfortunately, our mother is in too poor health to attend, but Sarah, Xenon, Benjamin and his wife, Gwendolyn (she is a Celtic captain's daughter) went to see her last month.
Anyway, sorry to ramble so much, but I keep having to jump up to answer questions about the wedding. I'd say you could stay here, but our house is going to be pretty crowded. I will, however, make reservations at your favorite hotel, if you wish. Also, we'd love for you to stay for Solstice dinner the next day.
Please let me know by Joxer's fastest courier.
Lila & Marcus
"So, Xena, what do you think? Should we go to the wedding?" Gabrielle asked as she laid the letter down on her desk.
"Sure, why not? Mikael seems to be handling things pretty well at the moment and little Cyrene is already helping in the kitchen several days a week. I have an idea, do you want to see if Rebecka can go with us? Joxer did mention that some time he'd like for her to look over a contract there soon, so we could stay in Corinth a couple of extra days for that," Xena replied.
"Sounds good to me, it's fun traveling in larger groups. But do you really think that we should be going during Solstice? I mean, we usually get a lot of business then," Gabrielle worried.
"Gabrielle, I'm not worried, Mikael should be fine. He can always ask Mother for advice, she's not planning to go to Solon and Julia's this year. Don't worry about it, everything will be fine," Xena answered soothingly.
Gabrielle picked up her quill and a fresh sheet of parchment. "Okay, I'll send Lila a message then. Let me write it down, then I'll let you take it over so you can ask Rebecka if she wants to tag along at the same time."
"Like she would say no," Xena grinned. Their oldest goddaughter still looked to Xena as a hero and loved doing anything with her, just like her mother Diana had done as a child. But, Rebecka was no longer a child, Xena reminded herself, she was an adult. Kids, they just grow up too fast, she decided. Gabrielle handed her the completed message and sent her on her errand.
It was a beautiful wedding, Rebecka decided as she stood in the buffet line. As she slowly moved forward, the best man came up behind her and asked, "Who are you, most beautiful of women?"
"I beg your pardon?" The tall, blonde man smiled and repeated his question. Rebecka looked into his sincere brown eyes and answered, "I am Rebecka, just who are you and why do you want to know?"
He answered, "I am Saul, a friend of Benjamin's, also an attorney here in Corinth. Now, my dear Rebecka, are you a friend of the bride or groom?"
"Why should I answer?" she asked, intrigued by the young man.
"Oh, no reason really, I just saw you and was immediately struck by your beauty and wished to strike up a conversation as we put goodies on our respective plates," Saul answered.
She smiled. "Well, in that case, I am Rebecka and not really a friend of either. I am here with my godmothers, Gabrielle and Xena. Gabrielle is Sarah and Benjamin's aunt, Lila's sister."
"Oh, I see. I hope you realize I mean no disrespect, especially since you have such well-known godmothers. I would not like to run afoul of them," he said with a twinkle in his eyes. "Dare I ask if I may sit with you?"
"You may," Rebecka agreed.
They moved down the line, filling their plates, then found a couple of empty chairs at a table already filled with wedding guests. Saul kept up a merry chatter, asking Rebecka about herself, then telling her a little about himself. "My father was the one who talked me into being an attorney. I really wanted to go into the theatre, but it was seen as too low class for our family." Saul smiled ruefully. "Enough chatter about me, I see that the band is getting ready to play. Would you like to dance with me?"
"I'd love to," Rebecka replied. Saul escorted her to the dance floor, then started gracefully whisking her around the floor. Rebecka was impressed despite herself, few of the men her age back home knew or cared to know how to dance. They wound up dancing for what seemed like hours until Rebecka caught sight of Xena impatiently standing by the door. "Saul, I believe my chaperones are ready to leave," she said, indicating Xena. Gabrielle had just joined Xena and was trying to subtly indicate that they were ready to leave.
Saul answered, "I have enjoyed my evening with you, Rebecka, and hope to see you again. Will you be here long during this stay?" he asked as he walked her toward her godmothers.
"Just for a few days, we are celebrating the winter Solstice with Marcus and Lila, then I will check on some business for my father. If you are good, maybe we can see each other again," she added, her eyes dancing with mischief.
They reached Xena and Gabrielle. Saul bowed to the two women, then took Rebecka's hand and lightly kissed her knuckles. "Thank you for a beautiful evening, Rebecka. I will now sorrowfully relinquish you to your most beautiful godmothers. May you have a beautiful Solstice, and may your coming year be filled with light and love."
Rebecka replied, "And may you also have a year with light and love, Saul. Good-night, and thanks for the conversation and dancing." She turned to her godmothers. "I suppose I'm ready to go," she said.
Rebecka woke up early the next morning, earlier than Xena, even. She quietly drew her bath and soaked in the hot, sudsy water, replaying the events of the night before. Saul was bright, personable, and and excellent dancer, she mused. She rarely enjoyed herself so much in the company of a man, especially since her former fiance, Jason, had been so, well, dull, compared to Saul. Jason was actually quite a bit older than she was, nearly nine years older, but he had faithfully worked for Joxer since he was a boy, and had risen to assistant manager for the courier business.
She knew that Jason had watched her grow up and had, for some reason, assumed that she would marry him when she was old enough. Not that Jason was a bad man or anything, he was very faithful and steady and had a real respect for her business acumen. She liked him, but became aware that liking and getting along with someone was good for friendship, but not for marriage. There had to be more to marriage than just liking someone, as Gabrielle had pointed out during one of their talks.
"I'm sorry, Rebecka, I didn't know you were awake. Do you want me to wait for you to finish your bath?" Rebecka shook herself out of her daydreaming to see Xena standing at the edge of the tub, still tousled from sleep.
"Um, no, that's okay," Rebecka stammered. "If you'll pour some more hot water in, it should be warm enough for another bath. Do you want to join me?" Xena answered by pouring more water in, then slipping off her robe and stepping down into the large bath. Rebecka never failed to be awed by the sight of Xena's still firm body, old scars snaking whitely around her ribs and back. She could see why Gabrielle claimed that men and women both lusted after Xena, even though she was fifty-four years old. "Did you sleep well, Xena?"
"Oh, yes, thank you for asking, Rebecka. Gabrielle is still sleeping soundly, so I thought I'd sneak a bath in before she woke up. I didn't dream that you would beat me to it, I must be getting old or something," Xena answered wryly. "Why don't you hand me the sponge, I'll do your back." Rebecka handed Xena the sponge, then turned around and lifted her hair so Xena could get to her back. "It seemed that Saul was rather taken with you last night," Xena commented as she started scrubbing.
"He is an excellent conversationalist and dancer," Rebecka replied, suddenly cautious. "At least he didn't try to do anything inappropriate, like Alexander did a couple of years ago at the festival."
Xena chuckled as she thought about it. "Those lessons paid off, didn't they? Although I didn't think I taught you to kick quite that hard, he could barely walk for a week." Xena handed the sponge to Rebecka and turned around. As Rebecka started scrubbing her back, she asked, "So, what happened with Jason? You two were engaged for several months, then the next thing I hear is that you had broken the engagement. I asked Joxer and Diana both, but they seemed as puzzled as the rest of us."
Rebecka was quiet as she finished scrubbing Xena's back. After Xena turned around and took back the sponge and soap, Rebecka finally answered, "I'm not sure myself, but it just didn't feel right. You know how Gabrielle tells the story of everyone seeking their soulmate, so that they can become whole? Well, Jason was nice, he respected me as a business partner, he was very pleasant to talk with, but there was no spark, nothing that made me feel that he was my soulmate. You know, like you and Gabrielle just belong together and Dad says that he felt drawn to Mom the first time he saw her in Grandmother Cyrene's inn."
Xena listened quietly as her goddaughter spoke, then queried gently, "What did you feel with Saul?"
She pondered the question a moment before answering, "Saul? Very nice, but an undercurrent of something I can't place my finger on. I guess he was rather glib and overplayed the attentive suitor last night, like a performance or something. He said that he always wanted to be an actor, but his father wanted him to be a lawyer instead, so he went into law." Rebecka stretched, then climbed out of the tub and started drying off. "I wouldn't mind seeing him again, though, I did enjoy his company." She draped her towel on the hook and pulled her robe on. "I'd better get dressed so we can get some breakfast before it all gets eaten up."
"Okay, go on, I'll wait for Gabrielle," Xena replied. After Rebecka left, Xena leaned back, enjoying the warmth of the water. When Rebecka and Jason were engaged, Xena could never really imagine a wedding. She had mentioned it once to Gabrielle, who had just mysteriously said that time would tell. "I'd better get out or I'll be a prune," Xena muttered to herself as she hoisted herself out of the bath, then grabbed a towel to dry off with. "I'd also better check on my wife, she might not appreciate having a cold bath just because I was daydreaming."
Meanwhile, Rebecka was in the dining room enjoying the breakfast buffet when she heard a voice say, "You are just as lovely in the morning as in the evening, Rebecka." She turned around to see Saul standing behind her, plate in hand. "Mind if I join you? It is a public place, you know," he added helpfully.
"I don't mind, Saul, but what are you doing here? I thought you lived here in Corinth," Rebecka replied as Saul took the seat across from her.
"I'm here to meet some clients from out of town," he said as he picked up his bread, buttering it precisely. "I was early and didn't have much at home, so I decided to take advantage of the breakfast buffet. I am glad that I did now, I had no idea that I would see you again so soon," he added.
Rebecka smiled at the man, deciding that he made fairly decent company, even if he was a lawyer. "I am glad you happened by as well, Saul, since my godmothers aren't down yet," she said. "Oh, happy Solstice," she added belatedly.
Saul smiled, showing beautiful teeth. "Happy Solstice to you as well, Rebecka," he said. He popped a piece of toast in his mouth, then after swallowing, asked, "Are you and your godmothers going somewhere to celebrate today?"
"Yes, we are celebrating with Marcus and Lila. My family usually celebrates with Xena and Gabrielle's family, but Lila and Marcus wanted Gabrielle and Xena to come for Sarah's wedding and I tagged along, since I have business to transact for Dad tomorrow," she informed him. "Do you celebrate with your family?"
"Well, I usually celebrate with Benjamin's family, too. My mother died on the winter solstice seven years ago and my father refuses to celebrate, so Lila asked if I would like to celebrate with them from then on. Does Gabrielle have a big heart like Lila does? They look so different, Lila so dark and Gabrielle so fair."
Rebecka smiled. "Yes, Gabrielle has a big heart, she and Mom usually shame most of the merchants in town into donating food and toys for the less fortunate in Amphipolis. We all pitch in for this big town feast for lunch, then our families get together for a private celebration that night." She ate some dried orange, then added, "it will be different not to be celebrating with Mom, Dad and my little sister, Cyrene."
Saul ate his last bite and chased it with a big gulp of tea. He blotted his lips delicately, then said, "I hate to break off this lovely conversation, but I see my client walking in. I enjoyed our breakfast together." He reached over and gently squeezed her hand, then left to meet his client.
Rebecka watched him walk away gracefully, picking his way around the tables. It was rare to see a man with such physical grace, she mused, and even rarer for him to not seem to be aware of it. Her dad, bless his heart, was not exactly the most coordinated man alive, managing to occasionally knock over chairs or other objects, despite the workouts that he did with Mom. She turned to finishing her breakfast, wondering what could be keeping Xena and Gabrielle. She got up and went to pay for her breakfast, then went up to their room.
Gabrielle started to warm up to her tale, the sparkle of storytelling in her eyes. "Many years ago, Xena and I were in a town where the king was very mean and had outlawed Solstice celebrations. He had driven his wife away and suffered for it, even though he was not aware that he had suffered. Xena and I decided to make things right, so we tried to trick him into not closing down the local orphanage, which had fallen behind on its taxes. But, the funny thing was, his wife was running the orphanage, and he did not recognize her at first. He thought she was a ghost, but then he saw the light reveal her face and fell in love all over again."
She looked at each face in turn, then continued. "Sometimes, we forget why we are here. We forget that love is the light, the light that banishes the darkness of the soul. This season, we celebrate the coming of the light, the coming of the year, the coming of renewed life. The days will get longer, the cycle of life will begin again. We gather to celebrate the light, celebrate the love, and pledge ourselves to showing the world that light of love, and to hold back the darkness of evil. Let us celebrate the light!" She dramatically threw her candle into the fireplace, setting the logs into a glorious blaze of light and warmth, bathing the room with a warm glow.
The assembled families broke into applause as Gabrielle took her bows. Benjamin leaned over to Rebecka and asked, "Does she always tell such wonderful tales, Rebecka? I hate to say it, but she's even better than Dad."
"Gabrielle could have studied in Athens, but she turned it down to follow Xena," Rebecka replied. She glanced around, then asked shyly, "Benjamin, can you tell me more about Saul?"
He chuckled, then replied, "Saul?" He looked around, seeing that Saul had gone over to talk to Gabrielle before continuing. "Oh, he's been a friend since we were children, but he's a stinker, too. He has a habit of paying a lot of attention to a woman, wooing her on, then dropping her when things get too serious. He really should have gone into theatre, but his father forbade it. You see, his older sister, whom Saul adored, ran off with an actor and his father resented it so much that he didn't want Saul to follow in her footsteps. So, Saul went into law, but not as a prosecutor or litigater as his father wished, but into administrative law, where he mostly helps negotiate contracts between parties. Why do you want to know? Oh, that's right, the two of you were dancing so much last night. Trust me, don't get involved with him."
"Oh, thank you for the warning," Rebecka said slowly. "I appreciate it."
"No bother. Gwen, could you pass the cider? Hey, Rebecka, anything wrong?" Benjamin asked, wondering if he'd said too much.
"No, nothing at all, I just need some fresh air, that's all," she said as she stood up, looking around for an exit.
"Go up the back stairs, Sis and I used to join Mom and Dad up there at night. They were always mushy about it, it's where they fell in love. Now I fell for Gwen when I was bargaining for wool with her father, the captain...Rebecka?" Benjamin looked around, then asked his wife, "Where'd she go?"
Gwendolyn fixed him with a piercing stare. "Probably upstairs, my dear. You burst her small bubble about Saul. He might change if he found the right woman, you know."
Benjamin had the good grace to be embarrassed. "Oh, Gwen, I'm sorry, I shouldn't speak out of turn, I should let you do the speaking."
She lifted a black eyebrow. "Wise man," she commented wryly. "You can apologize to Saul in advance, here he comes."
"Benjamin, Gwendolyn," Saul said smoothly, "how is your Solstice dinner? Gabrielle tells a terrific story, doesn't she?" He glanced around, then asked casually, "Have either of you seen Rebecka?"
"Benjy here told her your reputation as a ladies' man and she took off, most likely for the roof," Gwendolyn answered.
"You what?" Saul said in a dangerous voice as he grabbed Benjamin by the shirt front. "So I flirted with a few ladies, I've been nothing be respectable with Rebecka. How dare you say such a thing to her!"
Xena appeared as if by magic and gently peeled Saul's fingers from Benjamin's shirt. "No violence, Saul, this is Solstice. Would you two gentlemen care to tell me why you are acting like asses?" After Gwendolyn told Xena what transpired, Xena turned to Benjamin and said, "If you weren't my nephew by marriage, I'd have some harsh words to say, for you hurt my goddaughter. Saul, you have my permission to go after her."
"Yes, Xena. Don't worry, I'll be a perfect gentleman," Saul answered grimly as he stalked away.
"Great, first I get engaged to a dull, but respectable man, then I start falling for a ladies' man. Saul seemed pretty nice, despite his theatrical flourishes," Rebecka complained to the stars.
"Rebecka, may I present my case?" Rebecka turned around to see Saul standing next to her. Startled and embarrassed, she nodded slowly. "Shall we sit down?" Saul asked. At Rebecka's slow nod, they both sat down in the long couch, as far apart as they could.
Saul looked at Rebecka somberly, then said quietly, "It is true that I have flirted with many women, Rebecka, Benjamin is correct about that. I could parse my language precisely and couch everything in legal mumbo-jumbo, but the truth is this: my father has thrown many rich, upper-class women at me in the hopes of creating a grand alliance, something to wipe out the stain of my sister running off with an actor. I always adored her and wanted to marry a woman similar to her, someone who is independent, intelligent, witty, and loving. Someone who I could really share my life with, not just someone I had to create heirs with." He pointed up at the sparkling stars and asked, "What do you see in the sky, Rebecka?"
Rebecka smiled a bit, thinking of the fanciful stories that her father and Gabrielle had told her over the years. "Well, Dad always said that the stars were the reflections of the love of souls gone to the Elysian Fields, shining down to warm the hearts of present day lovers. Gabrielle once said that stars were candles from Olympus, providing just enough light to see at night. I'm more like my mother, I think there is some other explanation, like they are dust or something reflecting the light of the sun. But, they are beautiful to look at, and often lend a softer glow to objects and people than does sunlight."
Saul scooted a little closer, then said, "I never knew my mother very well. I could never remember her in very good health, I came nearly twelve years after my sister and my mother almost died when I was born. My sister was more like my mother and I adored her."
A ghost of a smile flitted across his lips. "Mary used to take me in the back yard and point out the stars, saying that they were the lights of heaven, showering the love of the gods down on us, and our guides in life. She studied astrology before she married Timothy, and always predicted that I would marry a very intelligent woman, someone who would be my partner in business as well as in life. She used to tell me, 'Saul, the woman you love will share your fascination with the stars, and more importantly, will be able to share your mind.' I have asked every woman I ever dated what she thought about the stars, and you are the first one who ever gave me a reply other than 'huh?' "
"Saul, Benjamin gave me the impression, well..." Rebecka trailed off, then continued. "So, you didn't just, um..."
"Use women? Dump them when the going got rough? Led them on? No, my dear, I didn't. Benjamin was jealous, you see, for until he met Gwendolyn, he rarely got a woman to even look his direction. But I never dishonored a woman, I did date the women that father insisted that I date, but I always reserved the right to not take them out again." He scooted a little closer and took her hands in his. "Rebecka, I feel a connection with you, an excitement I have never experienced with any other woman. I would like to court you, if I may."
Rebecka considered for a long moment, then finally said, "I will consent to see you while we are in town, then see what happens."
Saul smiled broadly. "I will take that as a compromise." He leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. Rebecka shivered at the contact, feeling a thrill course through her body, feelings that she had never encountered before. She suddenly understood what the bards talked about, suddenly knew why her parents and godmothers literally put their lives on the line for each other, knew what she had not felt with Jason. Saul's eyes were reflecting the starlight, the brown nearly black in the soft light, shining with emotion, pools she could nearly dive into and lose herself in for ages.
"Cute scene," Xena said from across the roof. The two jumped guiltily as the warrior sauntered toward them, grinning broadly. "I see that the solstice magic is working. Oh, don't worry, your secret is safe with me, I was just coming to tell Rebecka that it was time to go back to the hotel."
Rebecka looked longingly at Saul. "I hope to see you again while we are in town," she said.
He smiled and reached for her hand, brushing her knuckles with his lips. "I shall make it my mission to see you again."
"Goodnight, Saul," Xena said pointedly.
He smile sweetly, taking Xena's hand and kissing it as well. "Goodnight, mighty warrior," he said. She rolled her eyes and motioned for Rebecka to follow her. Saul watched the two women walk across the roof and disappear into the house. "And goodnight, dearest Rebecka," he said softly into the night.
Saul found it very hard to concentrate on his work the next week. He made excuses to go visit Rebecka, helping her read the contracts, making suggestions, taking her to dinner, then finally taking her to see a play the last night she was there. For most dinners, Saul had graciously invited Xena and Gabrielle, Benjamin and Gwendolyn, Marcus and Lila, or Sarah and Xenon to attend with them as chaperones, but this time he asked Xena and Gabrielle if he could take Rebecka unchaperoned. He promised that he would not make any untoward advances under pain of sudden death. Xena, amused, agreed poking her wife in the ribs. Gabrielle quickly agreed as well.
Saul was more nervous than usual as he followed the usher to their seats. Rebecka wondered why he was so nervous, but did not have a chance to ask as the actors had already taken their places on the stage. Very daringly, the troop used women as well as men in the roles and one of the women looked somewhat familiar for some reason to Rebecka.
The play, a comedy of errors, was about a man and woman who hated each other, yet had unknowingly fallen in love at a costume party. When the masks were lifted at midnight, the couple was first shocked, then amused that they had each fallen for the person they thought they hated. After the last round of applause, Saul leaned over and asked, "Would you like to meet the lead actors?" Rebecka agreed, fascinated by the fine nuances of their performances.
They made it back stage, finally winding up at the dressing room of the woman. Saul knocked and the door was opened. A tall, blonde woman looked at him for a long moment, then suddenly cried, "Saul!" and grabbed him in a tight embrace. She finally released him and said quietly, "My little brother, how you have grown!"
Saul grinned and then said, "Mary, I'd like to introduce Rebecka. She is in town on business this week. Rebecka, this is my sister, Mary."
Mary took Rebecka's hands in hers and looked deeply into the other woman's eyes for a long moment, then said, "Rebecka, welcome to the family."
Confused, Rebecka replied, "Family?"
Mary laughed, then answered, "I'm sorry, Rebecka, I just assumed that you are engaged to Saul, he's never brought a woman to meet me before this."
Before Rebecka could even think of a reply, Timothy came from his room and said, "Well, Saul, what a pleasant surprise, and who is this lovely lady? Wait, are you Joxer and Diana's girl? I remember seeing you as a little girl, before I quit the business and went into acting full time. How are your parents?"
"They are fine, sir. And you are?" Rebecka asked, searching her memory.
Timothy smiled. "I'm sorry, I'm Timothy, Mary's husband, and I guess you were about two or three the last time I saw you. Will you two consent to join us for a late supper? Just give us a chance to change and we'll take you to our favorite restaurant."
Several hours later, the two couples wound back up and Mary and Timothy's house for a last drink. Mary pulled Saul into the back yard for a moment, asking, "Saul, is she the one?"
"Yes, she is, Mary. I know it in my bones, she is the only woman for me," he answered seriously.
Mary smiled, then said, "I still have it in safekeeping for you. Shall I bring it out?"
"Yes. Please do." Brother and sister smiled at each other, then went back into the house. Mary slipped into another room for a moment, then handed Saul a small bag. Soon, good-byes were exchanged and Saul and Rebecka left.
"I like your sister and brother-in-law," Rebecka said as they rode back in the carriage. "Now I vaguely remember hearing about Timothy from Dad." She smiled at him, taking his hand. "It was a lovely evening all the way around, I thoroughly enjoyed myself."
Saul smiled at her. "As did I, my dear. Too bad this is our last evening together," he sighed as the carriage turned into the circle in front of the inn. They stepped out and walked into the lobby after Saul paid the driver.
"Rebecka, would you sit with me for a few minutes?" Saul asked, indicating one of the couches near the fireplace. She nodded and they walked over, then sat down. Saul pulled the small bag from his pocket and slowly opened it, revealing a necklace. "Rebecka, this was my mother's necklace, given to Mary for safekeeping. She wanted me to give it to my future wife. I feel like I'm stumbling here, even though I make a living with words. Rebecka, I've only know you for a week, but will you marry me?"
Rebecka looked at Saul, then at the necklace. "It is beautiful, Saul." She searched her feelings, then finally answered, "Let me give you an answer when I am sure."
He nodded and put the necklace away. "I understand," he said quietly. "But I will wait for you," he said, then leaned forward and kissed her lips. She was surprised, but kissed back with great passion, then pulled away and went upstairs without a further word.
"Hey, Rebecka, I missed you," Cyrene said as she grabbed her sister in a fierce bear hug. "How is Corinth? How was business?"
"Fine, we landed another contract," Rebecka replied as she hugged her little sister back. "We also had Solstice with Lila's family, it was pretty nice. I admit I missed you and Mom and Dad, though, but at least Gabrielle and Xena were there."
Cyrene grinned up at her big sister and then grabbed a bag as they started back into the house. "So, did you get me anything?" she teased.
"Yes, but you will have to wait, I packed it with Xena's bag, you know how light she travels," Rebecka replied as she grabbed her other bag from the cart. "Let me pay the driver, then we can all go into the house." Cyrene agreed and went into the house as Rebecka paid the driver, then thanked Xena and Gabrielle for going to Corinth with her. Finally, she greeted her parents, telling Joxer about the contracts she reviewed and signed for while she was gone.
After dinner, Rebecka gave Cyrene her present, a new winter cloak of deep green wool with intricate patterns woven into the cloth. Cyrene was very pleased and insisted on trying it out immediately. Rebecka laughed at her little sister, but agreed to accompany her for a short walk so she could try out the new cloak. She pulled on her older brown cloak, following Cyrene out the door. The sisters walked along for a few minutes in silence, then Cyrene shyly took her sister's hand and asked, "So, how was the wedding? How was the food? Did you get to dance any?"
"The wedding was beautiful and the food was marvelous. Of course, Gabrielle tucked it away, but even Xena ate more than usual. There were musicians there and I did get to dance for a while with a gentleman." Rebecka thought fleetingly of Saul's warm hands guiding her through the steps of the dance, of his warm brown eyes, then tried to turn her thoughts away. "Sarah was a beautiful bride and Xenon was a very handsome groom. Since it was Solstice Eve, the place was decorated with evergreens and candles, very beautiful. I think Aphrodite herself would have approved."
Cyrene nodded, then asked, "Did it make you regret turning down Jason?"
Rebecka frowned, shaking her head slowly. "No, not really. Why, are you having romantic notions about him?"
Cyrene looked horrified at the very thought. "Gods, no, I'm only twelve, sis! He'd be way too old for me and I'm not old enough for even a crush, but I do want to see my sister happy. So, tell me about this man you danced with."
Rebecka smiled happily, glad to tell her sister about Saul. "Well, his name is Saul and he is an attorney in Corinth. He is just a bit taller than Dad, has blonde hair, brown eyes and is a good dancer. I also saw him several times over the week." She thought for a moment, not sure whether or not to tell her sister what else occurred. Well, a little wouldn't hurt. "Saul is also a friend of Benjamin's, so he had Solstice with us, I think he doesn't get along well with his own family."
Cyrene stopped and turned to face her sister. "So you like him a lot," she stated.
Rebecka flushed unexpectedly. When did her little sister start getting so perceptive? Although truth be know, Cyrene is not so little anymore, she is nearly as tall as I am and her figure is starting to gain curves, Rebecka thought. "Well, Saul is pretty nice, but, he's several years older than I am and lives in Corinth."
"Jason is what, nine or ten years older than you are? You were engaged to him for nearly a year," Cyrene pointed out.
"Cyrene, that's different. I like Saul and hope to be friends with him," Rebecka countered.
Cyrene looked skeptical. "Rebecka, you got that mushy look on your face, just like Dad does when he talks about Mom. You must feel more for Saul than you are letting on."
"Little one, I think it's time to head back," Rebecka said abruptly. "Do you like your new cloak?"
"Yes, it is wonderful, thank you." The sisters walked back toward the house in silence. When they were nearly back, Cyrene said, "I'm sorry if I pried, but that is what little sisters are supposed to do," then she took off running. Rebecka laughed and ran after her, tackling her in the front yard. They rolled over a couple of times, each trying to get the advantage when Diana came out and called out, "Knock it off, you two!" They just laughed more, then finally helped each other up and went inside.
A month went by. Rebecka settled down back to work, but couldn't get Saul out of her mind. It was almost annoying, having the handsome attorney invading her thoughts all the time, but she had nearly convinced herself to forget him when the letter came via one of Joxer's couriers.
I have written and re-written this letter numerous times before finally just sitting down and finishing it. I really enjoyed your company when you were in Corinth. Although I make my living with words, I am having such a hard time writing this letter!
My dear, I think about you daily. It took a while to understand why you would be reluctant to marry me immediately, since I thought we both felt the same. But, after several long talks with Marcus and Lila, whom are nearly like parents to me, I have come to realize that if it is true love, it will last and I won't have to rush into anything. Marcus suggested that I start corresponding with you to keep in touch. I think I can do that.
You met my sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Timothy, at the play. Well, they offered me a position as attorney for the troop, which I am thinking about taking. It would only be another client, not a full-time position, but at least I would be doing legal work for actors, which is as close as I will ever get to the stage. Father is still being a pain, so I am moving to my own apartment as soon as I can find one. I'm not sure why I lived at home all these years, except that I kept assuming I would move when I got married. Whoops! The "m" word again, I promise not to mention it again!
I hope that this letter finds you in good health. Tell Xena and Gabrielle hello for me and that I hope to see all of you again some day. If you plan to come to Corinth, please let me know.
You can write me in care of Marcus and Lila. This is a very not-so-subtle hint.
Yours most sincerely,
Rebecka re-read the letter several times, then rolled it up and carefully stored it in her dresser. Just when she tried to convince herself that Saul had probably gone on to seeing other women, proof came that he had not. She sat down on her bed and tried to think about other things, but failed. Saul's smiling face kept bubbling to the surface, mocking her attempts to forget him. So why was she trying to forget him? she wondered. Thankfully, there was a knock at the door, interrupting her thoughts. "Come in," she called out.
Cyrene popped her head around, grinning. "Hey, Gabrielle says that an acting troop is staying at the inn and will put on a performance tonight. Want to go?"
Rebecka stifled a groan; she did not feel like getting back out tonight. "What about Mom and Dad, are they planning to go?"
"No, they claim they are both tired, but I think they just want some time alone. Mom suggested that we go by ourselves," Cyrene added helpfully.
Rebecka looked at her sister thoughtfully for a moment, then blushed when she realized what was probably really going on. "Okay, sure, when do we leave?"
"In time for supper, I think. Mom said that we could stay over at the inn if we wanted to," Cyrene told her.
"But it's not even their anniversary," Rebecka said without thinking.
Cyrene looked puzzled for a moment, then groaned. "How impossibly mushy," she muttered as she left.
Cyrene and Rebecka went over to the inn that evening to see the traveling troop perform. Rebecka was surprised to see that it was the troop that Saul's sister and brother-in-law belonged to, but was both disappointed and relieved that Saul was not with them. After the performance, they all sat down for a late supper, with Gabrielle grilling them about the play. Rebecka was very quiet and thankful that her sister had not chosen to sit by her. As she was finishing her dessert, Mary came over to sit with her. "Rebecka, it is good to see you again," the woman said.
"Good to see you, too, Mary," Rebecka answered.
Mary looked at her speculatively for a moment, then said, "Saul sends his greetings as well. You know, it is nice getting to see my little brother again after so many years. I'm glad he took an apartment near ours, it is good for him to get away from Father." She took a sip of wine, then said, "You know, Timothy and I just moved back to Corinth a few months ago, just before the winter solstice and I haven't even been to see Father yet. I just can't bring myself to see the man who ran me out of town because I wanted to act."
In spite of herself, Rebecka was interested. "So, what brought you back?"
"Timothy's brother and his wife just had their first child, a little boy. Since the gods have not blessed us with children of our own, he decided that he wanted to be near his nephew. It just happened that there were a couple of spots open in this troop, so we applied and were accepted. The troop travels a few time a year, but mostly stays in town. Tim and his brother have always been very close and Tim is so cute with his nephew, just silly over him." She smiled, the pointed to her husband. "See, that couple brought their baby and Tim just gravitated toward them," she laughed.
Sure enough, Timothy was amusing the baby to the delight of its parents. "Despite our age differences, I was always close to Saul, but he was almost more like my child than my brother, he was born when I was fourteen. Mother died when he was seven, so I came back to live with Father and Saul for a while, then when I married Tim, we stayed for a few more years, then moved to Athens to join a theatre there. But, you probably don't want to hear my entire life."
"No, it is interesting," Rebecka protested. "So, what was Saul like as a little boy?"
Mary smiled. "A charmer, that's what he was, a real charmer. He did a few children's roles until Mother died, then Father forbade him to act again, saying that he was going to be a lawyer and that was that. He was such a sunny child, always laughing and telling stories. When Mother died, he was pretty withdrawn for a long time, even came to live with me and Tim for a few months. We wanted to take him with us when we moved, but Father would not hear of it, saying that 'Saul needs a proper upbringing, not that nomadic, sinful life you live!'" Mary shook her head. "I'll never understand Father, I think he married Mother just for her family background, they never seemed close." She took another sip, then yawned. "Sorry, dear, but I'm really tired. Are you planning to be back in Corinth anytime soon? If so, Tim and I would be happy to put you up, we have a large apartment with an extra bedroom."
Rebecka was secretly ecstatic about the offer, but managed to say calmly, "I appreciate the offer, Mary, if I will be in Corinth, I'll send a message."
"Do, Rebecka. We would love the company," Mary said. "Well, I'd better gather up my husband and tell Gabrielle good-night." She patted Rebecka's arm, then left the table. Rebecka watched her, thinking how Mary moved so gracefully, just like Saul, then berated herself for thinking about him again. Well, on second thought, maybe she should write a letter to Saul and send it with his sister, she decided. She started looking around for her little sister, finally finding her in the kitchen with Xena's mother Cyrene, asking questions about preparing banquet meals. Cyrene left reluctantly, telling the older Cyrene that she would be back in the morning to help Gabrielle.
Saul decided to drop by his father's house to pick up some items he had forgotten in the move. He entered the house, thinking his father would be at his bank, since it was working hours. As he walked down the hall toward his old room, he heard loud moans and cries. Thinking something was wrong or that his father was home and being robbed or was in pain, he burst through the door to help.
"Son! What in Zeus' name do you think you are doing here!" his father thundered from his bed, where he was obviously being serviced by a young woman. The young woman looked up at Saul, then back at his father. His father shoved her head back down in his lap and growled, "You may finish in a moment. Saul, just what do you think you are doing here?"
He stared for a few seconds longer, then managed to get out, "Father, I came to pick up a few things. I had no intention of interrupting you and this woman. Are you planning to marry again?"
"Gods no, I'm paying her for this, do you think I am a fool? If I married again, it would be the widow next door, she comes from a very excellent family. No, I'm paying this woman for a bit of fun. Why, do you want her after I'm done?" he asked bluntly.
Saul paled, then flushed with anger. "No," he growled, "I do not. I am ashamed to find you paying a woman for affection. Miss, I apologize for my father, he must be getting senile."
The old man stared at his son, then shouted, "Leave! Do not set foot back in this house!" The woman fearfully looked up and he slapped her, growling, "I did not say you could get up! Damn, I've gone soft and it's all your fault!"
He reared back to slap her again but was restrained by Saul, who shoved his father hard against the wall and said dangerously, "No, Father, you will not slap her again." He turned to the girl and said, "Young woman, please get dressed, I will escort you home in a few minutes. Father, I am deeply ashamed of you. How long have you been paying women for your, your..." Saul stumbled to a stop, but managed to finish, "You talk about your position, your bank, how you married Mother for her background, then you ..." He swallowed hard, then said tiredly, "You are pathetic, old man." With that, he turned and took the young woman's arm and slowly walked her out of the house.
"It's okay, he pays me well," she said as they left the house. "I've been doing this with him for several months now."
Saul stared at her, looking at the faint bruises on her face. "And he slaps you often?"
She looked away before replying, "Well, just when I don't please him fast enough or when I am under the influence of the moon. Really, I don't mind, my mother trained me for this, I've been doing this since I had breasts."
Saul shuddered with revulsion. His father paying a prostitute, who appeared to be younger than Rebecka, and beating her as well. The woman not caring. It was too much for him, he decided as he slowly steered her toward his sister's apartment, not knowing what else to say.
The woman didn't protest any more, even when Saul turned her over to Mary and asked Mary to find some job for her. He had never even been tempted to pay a woman for sex, had even turned down women he had dated, not wanting to share himself that way unless he was sure he loved the woman. As his confused thoughts tumbled, he found himself walking toward Marcus and Lila's store. Maybe, perhaps, Rebecka has sent me a letter and it would be with them, he thought.
As he entered the store, he heard a voice saying, "...so let's get this straight, you can supply linen as well as wool? We've never carried much linen, but I'm sure with the quality you produce we can distribute it and get you top dinar."
"Rebecka?" Saul questioned softly. The woman turned around, it was Rebecka. Without thinking, he crossed the room and pulled her in his arms, hugging her tightly. "Rebecka, what a great surprise," he croaked, burying his face in her neck. To his embarrassment, he felt tears start to run down his face, splashing her neck. He took a deep breath and forced himself to shut off the tears, then finally pulled back to see his beloved. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Rebecka looked questioningly at him, but merely said, "Marcus, Lila, I'll talk to you later. Saul, would you like to take me to dinner?" He nodded and she tucked her arm through his and called out her good-byes.
After they left the store, he realized that she had kept his back to them, so they did not see his tears. "Saul, I don't mean to sound forward, but let's go to your apartment, you seem pretty upset about something and I'm not sure you want to be in public."
He nodded slowly, not trusting his voice yet, but covered her hand with his hand, content to just have her by his side. When they got to his apartment, Rebecka gently sat Saul down and got him a glass of wine, then waited for him to drink it before asking, "What happened, Saul? Why are you so upset?"
He played with the glass for a moment, then set it very gently on the table. Taking a deep breath, he said, "I went to my father's house to pick up a few things and caught him in bed with a prostitute. She was younger than you are, and he was angry at me interrupting his tryst. He even offered her to me when he was through." Saul shivered with revulsion. "Gods, I don't mind the affections of women, but to pay for them?" He was quiet for a moment, he admitted, "I have never been with a woman, I want the first time to be with the woman I love, someone I want to spend my life with, not just any woman. You understand, don't you?" he asked pleadingly.
Rebecka pulled her chair closer and replied, "Yes, I do understand. One thing that Xena taught me when I was old enough that sex can be used to bring two people closer together, or it can be used as a weapon. She used it for both and said that sex with a loved one is far better than any other sex could ever be."
Saul laid his head down on the table, then looked up, blushing deeply. "I can't believe I'm talking to you about this, Rebecka, but I'm so upset! I'm wondering now if Father paid women while Mother was alive as well. I hope not, for I loved my mother, but I fear he did, because he never loved Mother, not like he should have."
Rebecka took his face in her hands and said gently, "You are not your father, Saul. I see gentleness and goodness in you. I can't imagine now why Benjamin ever told me that you played around with women, you never treated me with anything but the utmost dignity and care. I did receive your letter, and I have talked with your sister. You are a dear, sweet man, and I am proud to be your friend."
He sighed deeply. "Just a friend? I can live with that," he said tiredly.
"I'm just not ready for the next step right now, Saul," she countered as she dropped her hands from his face. "But I'm willing to get to know you better. So, change of subjects, what legal work are you doing for the troop now?"
Saul smiled slightly, recognizing what she was doing, getting him to forget his immediate concerns. Well, maybe I should, he thought. "Oh, just the usual, contracts, insurance, stuff like that. The benefits are that I get to hang around when they are rehearsing and sometimes even read for different characters to help the rehearsals." He went on to describe several plays they were working on, getting more excited as he spoke.
Rebecka listened closely, asking questions as he went along. Finally, she noticed that the sun was starting to set and remarked, "I had better leave soon."
He sadly agreed. "I escort you back to Lila and Marcus' house. But, before we leave, will you agree to accompany me tomorrow night to the opening of their newest play? If you like, we can ask Marcus and Lila to go with us."
"That would be terrific, Saul," Rebecka agreed. "I enjoyed the last play we went to, and enjoyed the play they did in Amphipolis." She stood up and waited for him to get up as well.
"Thanks for listening," Saul said as he got up. "I really appreciate it." He reached out and hugged her, enjoying the feeling of her body against his, the warmth, the feeling of her cheek against his. Without thinking, he gently stroked her back, then moved his head slightly and kissed her. He could feel her responding to his kiss and caresses, could feel his own surging response, wanted to take her to the next room and lay her on the bed, but instead, he pulled back and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get carried away."
Rebecka blushed as she realized what he meant. With great reluctance, she pulled out of his arms, her body warring with her mind. She was shaken to realize how strong the physical attraction was, one more moment and she would have gladly fallen in bed with Saul. "Let's go now, Saul, I don't trust myself too much longer," she admitted. He just nodded and placed her cloak around her shoulders and led her back to Marcus and Lila's house.
Several weeks later, Saul received a letter.
Thank you for the lovely time in Corinth, the plays, the museums, everything. I hope that you had as much fun as I did, I never dreamed that there were so many things to do and see in your fair city. I also enjoyed the dinner with your sister and brother-in-law the last night I was there, they are very amusing.
I have also thought a lot about your problems with your father. I'm really sorry he hurt you so much, but you don't have to be in his life. It sounds like his loss.
Let me ask you something else. Are you staying in law because you enjoy what you do, or is it because you are accustomed to the money and prestige? You were so good when you had to fill in for that other actor at the last play, I started thinking that the stage lost a great actor when you went into law instead. I know that I would be very unhappy if Mom tried to make me be an Amazon, I don't mind the weapons training I've gone to, but I could never be a warrior, I don't have the warrior spirit like Xena does. I'm more like Mom and Gabrielle, I can defend myself, but I don't relish it.
Well, I can't think of much else right now and business needs my attention.
I miss you.
Rebecka sealed the letter, then handed it to the courier. She turned back to her accounts, trying to figure out why there was such a discrepancy in the Corinthian accounts. She had negotiated some of them herself, it must be that one of their agents was skimming profits.
As she re-added the figures, her father came in the room. "Hi, Rebecka, how is life? How is Saul?"
"Hi, Dad, Saul is fine. End of that discussion. Now, about this agent, I think he is skimming again, what do you want me to do about it?"
Joxer scratched his chin, looking carefully at the figures that his daughter was pointing out to him. Finally, he said, "I guess we need a new agent, but I'll be damned if I can figure out who to send. I don't have time to go see about it myself, for Xena and I am going to pick up your sister in Athens tomorrow, she and Grandmother Cyrene have been visiting Xena's grandchildren. You seem to like Corinth, why don't you take over the agent's position for a couple of months? Your mother and I talked about it last night and decided that if Marcus and Lila don't care, we can rent you a room from them."
"Are you sure, Daddy?" Rebecka asked, half-hoping it would come true.
"Yes, baby, I will miss you terribly, but Diana and I are sure. Besides, there is plenty of business we can pick up if we have a trusted agent in Corinth," Joxer said reasonably.
Rebecka grabbed her dad and hugged him hard. "You really mean it? I mean, you can trust me, sure! Wait until I tell Saul!"
Joxer asked, "And how is your friendship with Saul?"
Rebecka felt a blush creeping up her face. "Oh, we write and do things, that's all."
Joxer snorted. "You never paid this much attention to Jason. I know my daughter, I think you have feelings for the young man. Just be careful, okay?"
"Sure Dad, I will," she promised.
Joxer watched Rebecka bounce out of the room, presumably to pack. Diana came into the room and asked, "So, do you think we will hear wedding bells soon?"
He smiled at his wife and said, "If she has fallen for Saul half as hard as I fell for you, the answer is definitely yes."
Rebecka arrived in Corinth again, this time to stay, renting a room from Lila and Marcus. Within a few months, she had completely taken over all the Corinthian business end of Joxer's import/export and courier services and had signed up several important suppliers as their exclusive distributor. She was also spending more time with Saul, both professionally and personally as he became her legal advisor and best escort.
One night they went to a play that Saul's sister and brother-in-law were starring in, then went out to the cast party afterwards. "A complete triumph!" his sister, Mary, crowed as she passed around more wine. Rebecka drank deeply, more than usual. Saul was so proud of his sister's troop, for not only had the play been financially successful, but it had also just won a very prestigious award. He also watched with concern as Rebecka drank, worried that she would get very drunk. He finally took her glass away, saying softly, "Honey, you are getting smashed, let me take you home."
"I'm not so very drunk," Rebecka slurred indignantly as she hung on to his arm. "But, if you insist, take me home." Saul pulled his brother-in-law, Timothy, aside and told him that they were leaving. Timothy nodded, saying he would tell Mary.
Saul bundled Rebecka into a waiting carriage and gave the driver directions to his apartment, thinking that Marcus and Lila should not see Rebecka so drunk. Rebecka giggled softly as the carriage lurched through the streets, stroking his arm, stirring feelings deep in his gut. He was very relieved when they arrived at his apartment, where he put Rebecka on the couch in his living room. Saul took her shoes and cloak off, then covered her with a blanket and kissed her forehead, then went to his bedroom to try to get some sleep.
Several hours later, he was awaken by a tongue in his ear. "What the-" he tried to say, but found his lips covered by Rebecka's. He pushed her up, saying, "Rebecka, you are drunk and will regret this in the morning. Please go back to the couch and get some sleep."
She shook her head, saying quietly, "I'm not that drunk, Saul. You offered to marry me once, I am keeping that option in mind. I love you, Saul, and want to show it."
"Rebecka, it shouldn't be like this--"
"Shut up, counselor, and kiss me."
Saul tried to protest again, but Rebecka effectively cut off all protests. His mind was warring with his body, desire fighting with common sense, then desire finally winning as Rebecka nuzzled his neck. He closed his eyes as Rebecka helped him out of his sleeping clothes, then opened them in shock as she licked a nipple. "Oh, gods," he moaned as he reached out to pull her closer. Her skin was so soft, so warm, her breasts so heavy over his face...
The next morning, Rebecka woke up to find Saul gently stroking her arm. She smiled up at him, then slowly realized that they were both naked. The night came rushing back as she recalled their love-making in the middle of the night, then the horror of remembering that she had seduced Saul. She knew that she had grown to love him, but didn't realize the depths of her feelings until alcohol had loosened her inhibitions. All this flashed through her mind as Saul leaned over to kiss her good morning, letting his hands wander freely over her body. She felt herself responding as she kissed him back, letting her hands wander over his body, hearing his soft moans...
Lila had looked at her sharply when Rebecka finally came home that morning, but chose not to say anything. Rebecka went about business as usual for the next several weeks, but often snuck off during the night to go to Saul's apartment, then snuck back before morning. One morning, she woke back up at Lila and Marcus's feeling sick. The sickness seemed to lessen when she ate breakfast, so she forgot about it. But when she felt sick the next several mornings, she reluctantly went to talk to Lila about it.
She approached Lila after breakfast, saying quietly, "Can we talk in private?" Lila looked curiously at her, motioning for Rebecka to follow her to the office. Once comfortably seated, Rebecka cleared her throat nervously then blurted out, "I think I'm pregnant, Lila, and I'm scared."
Lila took her hand and said, "I suspected that you were, especially after you didn't come home several nights until late. Then, you started getting sick of the mornings. What can I do to help?"
Rebecka looked at her curiously. "Help? I thought you would chew me out or something."
"No, honey, I can't do that, I was in your situation once upon a time," Lila said soothingly. "I know it is frightening, but Saul really loves you."
"You mean that you and Marcus--"
Lila interrupted, "No, not Marcus, Rebecka, another man altogether. To make a really long story short, I had sex with a man I was supposed to marry, but when I turned up pregnant, he skipped town. I miscarried and was sent here by our village healer. It did work out for the best, because I met and later married Marcus. So, when are you going to tell Saul?"
Rebecka thought for a moment, then answered wearily, "I guess the sooner the better."
Lila leaned over and kissed the other woman's cheek. "I promise that Marcus and I will support you, no matter what you and Saul decide. Do you want us to have him over for dinner tonight?"
"Yes, that would be perfect," Rebecka said, relieved. Then, she turned pale. "I'll have to tell Mom and Dad sometime. Mom probably won't mind but Daddy will freak out."
"Joxer probably will, I agree. Well, is there anything else I can do?" Lila asked solicitously.
Rebecka started to shake her head no, but instead found herself crying and flinging her head in Lila's lap. The older woman held her for a moment, then lifted her face up, saying, "It's not the end of the world, Rebecka, you'll see. At least you don't have my parents and you don't have the added weight of disowning your sister just before you found out you were pregnant." Rebecka sniffed, then laid her head back down and mumbled a question.
Lila gently stroked her hair and answered, "You see, Gabrielle and Xena weren't lovers yet, but they were close to it. The man I was to marry had known Xena before, so he tried to flirt with her again. Failing that, he caught my sister out and tried to take advantage of her, then when I saw them, claimed that Gabrielle had started it. I was so angry with my sister, she had already had one husband..."
That night, Rebecka was very nervous. She could hardly eat, which Saul noticed immediately, but didn't ask about until after the meal. Marcus got up and started helping Lila with the dishes and Rebecka took that as a hint that they were being left alone for the moment. She tried to find a way to lead up to the topic naturally, but failed, finally saying, "Saul, you asked me to marry you some time ago. Are you still wanting to get married?"
Puzzled, he answered, "Yes, I am, whenever you are ready. Rebecka, I love you with all my heart and want to spend my life with you."
"In that case, you'd better get prepared to hire a priest," she said in a rush.
He looked at her carefully. "Hire a priest? Do you mean that you are expecting?"
She breathed a sigh of relief that he had guess. "Yes."
Saul looked at her for a long moment, the let a wide grin split his face. "Thank the gods, I thought for a moment you wanted to get rid of the baby. When do you want to get married? Tomorrow morning? Tomorrow night? I'm ready, any time!"
Rebecka laughed for the first time that day. "Saul, I think we need to at least wait until Mom and Dad can get here, or we can get there. I've seen plenty of large premature babies before."
"Oh, I suppose I forgot about your parents, seeing as how I have no family except my sister and brother-in-law. Hey, can we go over and tell them the good news tonight? Do Marcus and Lila know? Geez, I'm sorry it happened this way, but Rebecka, I've been waiting for you to decide to marry me, every since I saw you in line at Sarah's wedding." He could hardly sit still, he was so excited.
"Yes, they know and I think we can wait until morning to tell Mary and Tim." Rebecka smiled at him. "I'm relieved, I thought that you would be mad at me."
"Mad? At you? Dear, I was wondering how I could convince you, now I don't have to convince you to marry me. Just wait, I'll be the best husband and father ever. I'll even change diapers!" He jumped up and grabbed Rebecka and swung her around in his excitement.
"Careful, you'll make me sick. So, when do you want to go to Amphipolis?"
Xena saw them first as they rode into Amphipolis. She laid down her tools and sauntered into the courtyard where Saul was helping Rebecka climb down from the carriage. She instinctively sized up the situation and decided that they had come come to be married, that Rebecka was probably expecting a baby. Frankly, she didn't care, she was just happy to see her goddaughter.
Rebecka turned and saw Xena and broke into a run, nearly knocking Xena over when she grabbed her godmother in a bear hug. Xena held the younger woman close, feeling ridiculously close to tears from happiness. "Hey, Rebecka, I'm glad to see you," Xena said as she finally pulled back. "You look very good, very healthy. So, is there a wedding in the future?" she asked as she noticed the necklace around Rebecka's neck.
Rebecka blushed and stammered, "Yes, well, yes, Saul and I are planning to get married. Lila and Marcus will be here tomorrow too. Um, you met Saul last Solstice, didn't you? Well, Saul, come here and say hello to Xena."
Xena had to smother a grin when she saw how protectively Saul acted, gently settling an arm around Rebecka's waist as he held out his other arm for Xena to grip. She solemnly gripped his arm, then said, "I believe congratulations are in order, Saul. I know you will take good care of Rebecka or Gabrielle and I will have to come teach you some manners."
"Oh, believe me, Xena, after some of the stories Rebecka told me, I'd never do anything to get you mad," Saul said in mock horror. He relaxed a bit and added, "I will take very good care of Rebecka, she is a very special woman."
"Rebecka!" Cyrene shouted as she caught sight of her sister. She ran across the road and hugged her sister hard, then let go of her. "You've come home! I never thought it, but I've missed you so much. Are you here to stay?" She finally noticed Saul and frowned. "Who are you?"
"I am Saul, you must be Cyrene. Rebecka has told me much about you and how proud she is of her little sister," Saul answered easily. He heard another shout, then turned to see Gabrielle and her mother-in-law both ran out of the inn to greet the young woman.
The older Cyrene looked squarely at Saul as Gabrielle hugged and kissed Rebecka, sizing him up in much the same manner as her daughter had. He flushed under the scrutiny, but managed to hang on to his wits. "I take it you are Cyrene the elder, Xena's mother?" She said yes and he took her hand, kissing it respectfully. "I am pleased to get to finally meet you, Rebecka is very fond of you, and speaks of you as her beloved grandmother."
"You must be Saul, then, the one Rebecka has mentioned in passing in her letters," Cyrene answered, approving of his manners. "But, I am not the one you must charm, you must charm your future father-in-law, who is coming down the street now." Saul turned to see Joxer walking toward them, then breaking into a run and grabbing his daughter in a big hug. "He is very much the doting father, who thinks his daughter can do no wrong," she added helpfully. Saul started feeling anxious for the first time since Rebecka had told him that she was pregnant.
Joxer finally released his daughter and looked her up and down, hardly daring to trust his voice. Gods, she was more beautiful than ever, she looked absolutely radiant with good health and happiness. "Oh, baby," he whispered, "you look so good."
"Thanks, Daddy," she answered, aware that her father was being sentimental again. She quickly added, "Business is booming, did you get my latest summary?"
Joxer pulled himself together, sniffing back tears of happiness. "Yes, Rebecka, I did. You are doing a fantastic job as my agent, but your mother and I have missed you so much. Are you home to stay?"
"No, just for a visit," she said. "We are staying at the inn for the next week or so, then will go back to Corinth. Daddy, I'd like to introduce you to Saul."
Saul bowed slightly. "I am pleased to meet you, sir, Rebecka speaks of her parents with much love and respect."
Joxer looked at the young man, approving of his manners and deference, glancing over at Xena to see if she approved. Xena smiled and Joxer relaxed. "Well, Saul, welcome to Amphipolis. Any friend of Rebecka's is welcome to visit. I appreciate all the good legal advice you are giving her, do you have other clients?"
The little group started toward the dining room of the inn as Saul started telling Joxer about his legal practice. Young Cyrene was sent over to the store to tell her mother that Rebecka was home. Diana shut down the store at once and went back over to the inn with her youngest daughter.
Rebecka was pleased at how well things were going. All the people she loved best, except for Lila and Marcus, were gathered around the remains of dinner in the private dining room of the inn, and all seemed to accept Saul pretty well. He nearly rivaled Gabrielle as a storyteller, painting a picture of living as an attorney in Corinth, telling of his sister and brother-in-law, making them laugh about some of the stranger requests that had come his way
Finally, he started telling them a new tale, starting with, "I was in line, waiting my turn for the buffet when I saw this angel in front of me," and ending with, "after many patient months, Rebecka finally accepted my proposal of marriage, so here we are. Lila and Marcus should arrive tomorrow and we'd like to get married right away."
Diana looked at the happy faces of her daughter and future son-in-law and said, "Then congratulations are in order. Of course, I'll cater the affair. Gabrielle, can we rent this room for the wedding?"
"Wait a moment, Diana, Rebecka isn't old enough to get married!" Joxer cried out. "Rebecka, do you know what you are doing? You're only twenty, not old enough to make that kind of decision. Saul, you seem pretty nice, but are you ready for marriage?"
Rebecka took a deep breath, then expelled it slowly. "Daddy," she said calmly, "I am ready for marriage. Besides, we really need to get married soon."
Joxer felt like someone had just stomped on his chest as the words sank in. "You mean, you are pregnant?" he blurted out. His eyes narrowed in anger as he turned to Saul. "How dare you get my daughter pregnant! You slimy bastard!"
"Daddy! It's not his fault, it's mine!" Rebecka shouted. A chilling quiet stifled the room as Rebecka glared at her father. "I am old enough to make decisions. I made a wrong decision, but I am willing to pay for it. Saul had already asked me to marry him before this happened and I had been putting him off to think about it. I made the first move, not Saul."
"No, it can't be that way," Joxer said softly. "My little girl, you can't be serious."
Diana stood up and grabbed her husband by the arm. "If you folks will excuse me for a moment," she said firmly, "Joxer, come with me." She half-pushed, half-led her husband to one of the offices and forced him to sit down. She paced for a moment, then stopped and looked at Joxer.
Husband, our daughter is pregnant. You'd better get used to the fact, soon. Saul is willing to marry her and she is willing to admit that she made the first move, rather than letting Saul take the blame. That, my love, takes courage. We brought her up to be truthful, to take responsibility for her actions. Joxer, I could barely keep my hands off of you when we were courting, if you recall. At least she can get pregnant easily, remember how we prayed for another child? How it was nearly eight years before we could have Cyrene? I suggest you go in and apologize to them for your behavior, or I will toss you in the barn to sleep tonight!"
Joxer stared at his wife, nearly physically staggering under her words. In their twenty-three years of marriage, Diana had never been so angry with him. He dropped his face in his hands, embarrassed, angry, and tired. Finally, he raised his head and said, "I was wrong, but every man wants his daughter to be a virgin when she marries, wants to give his daughter permission to marry, not be told she is marrying. I suppose I'd better apologize?"
"Yes, you should," Diana answered in a calmer voice. "I'm sorry I yelled at you, but at least her baby seems to be conceived in love. This child will know his or her father, unlike me, who did not meet my father until Cyrene was born. My poor mother was a prisoner of war, kept alive so some damn soldier could use her as a breeding animal! Mother killed him before I knew his name, even, Joxer. I wouldn't trade my mothers for anyone, but sometimes I felt odd, not having a father."
Before Joxer could say anything else, there was a soft knock at the door. Saul poked his head around the door and asked, "May I come in?" Diana motioned for him to enter. Saul came in and took a chair across from Joxer and Diana. He folded his hands in his lap and cleared his throat before speaking. "Joxer, Diana, I know that you have every right to be upset with Rebecka, but the fact is that I gave in and could have said no just as easily. I didn't, though, even though I knew what might happen." He took a deep breath.
"In some ways, I'm relieved that you acted this way, my own father would probably just have congratulated me on getting a woman of means in my bed. My father was always just concerned about how society saw him, not about love of my mother, my sister or myself. I know he never loved me, especially since I wanted to be an actor like my sister. I gave in to pressure and became a lawyer. I assure you, your daughter and grandchild will get the best home that love and money can provide, for like I said, I fell in love with Rebecka the first time I saw her. I had dated a lot of women, but had never become intimate, wanting to save that for the woman I would marry. We did jump ahead a bit, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to make a good home for them."
Joxer looked from Saul to Diana, then asked, "Dear, do you mind leaving us for a moment?" Diana kissed him, then left the room. Joxer looked out the window for inspiration, then back at the young man before him. "Saul, very few people now know the truth -- my father kicked me out on my own when I was still a boy. I could not get the hang of being a warrior, so he kicked me out. My mother died when I was young, my only protector. My older brother used to beat me up regularly. Until I met Xena and Gabrielle, no one ever believed in me. When I met Diana, it was the first time a woman really looked past my goofy exterior and loved me for myself. I shouldn't be so hard on you, but I promised myself when Rebecka was born that she would never have to go through any humiliation like I did. I guess I've gone overboard the other way from your father and my father, I love my children too much."
Saul answered, "No, Joxer, you do not love too much. Believe me, I wanted to be able to come and ask you and Diana for Rebecka's hand, not to tell you that we were getting married."
"I guess I'm still in shock, but Saul, for Rebecka's sake, I will do my best to accept the situation." Joxer tried to smile as he held out his arm. "Welcome to the family, son."
A cry rent the air of the little house, followed soon by Diana coming out to announce, "Saul, you and Rebecka have a beautiful son." Saul pumped Joxer's hand, then dashed into the room to greet his son. Diana sat down on the couch with her husband and laid her head on his shoulder. "Gods, that was nearly as exhausting as having a baby myself. I'm just grateful that he didn't nearly die like Rebecka did when she was born."
Joxer put his arm around his wife. "So, do they have a name?"
"Xeres, after a friend of Marcus and Lila's. Speaking of which, someone needs to let them know about the baby arriving." She kissed Joxer on the cheek, then asked, "Where are Xena and Gabrielle?"
"Out for supper, they should be back any time." Joxer hugged his wife closer, then asked, "A grandson? Really?" She nodded. "I don't know anything about boys, just raising girls," Joxer mused, "do you suppose I'll know what to do?"
Diana raised her head and smiled at her husband. "Joxer, you'll do fine. Remember, this time you are a grandfather, not a father."
Joxer contemplated for a moment, then grinned broadly. "Finally, I can hold a baby then hand him back when the diapers get poopy! Ouch! it's not nice to poke your husband that way! Just wait until I get you home..."
"Promises, promises," Diana snickered.
Return to the Academy