JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY: Part One
Copyright Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus, Joxer and other characters mentioned in this story who appeared in Xena: Warrior Princess are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I may have borrowed a few lines from a couple of episodes too. It’s just for fun! No profit is sought from this.
Violence Disclaimer: There is a little violence within this story. However it is certainly in keeping with show.
Subtext disclaimer: Gabrielle and Xena are lovers. There is no graphic sex in this Fiction. If this bothers you (the lovers’ part rather than the lack of graphic action, but I am guessing that will bother some!) or is illegal for you to read in your neck of the woods, please do not continue.
Bad Language Disclaimer: There is bad language. Again not excessive and in keeping with the show.
Angst Disclaimer: There is angst, but not to the level of “Oil of Lanius.”
Author’s note (1) Comments, tips, hints, constructive criticisms will be most welcome. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will reply. And thank you for the supportive e-mails I have received (You know who you are!). They are greatly appreciated.
Author’s note (2) This story is the third in a series, the first two being “The Oil of Lanius”, and “Long Shadows Cast”. I strongly recommend you read them first as there may be situations and characters you do not recognise.
Author’s thanks My thanks go to Silvermoonlight GJ and Norsebard, both fine writers in the own right, who have helped me along the way. Thanks again to Norsebard who acted as my beta reader.
Tag Line: Xena and Gabrielle have to deal with Xena’s heritage, a bard’s festival and sick Amazons as well as Gabrielle finally giving birth.
Gabrielle blinked twice as the sunlight streamed into the hut. She eased herself up into a sitting position and shuffled back slightly to lean on the pillows. She turned her head to look at the empty space where Xena usually was. One hand felt the cold sheet indicating that the warrior had been gone for some time, and the other reached around and gently rubbed the small of her back. Whether the sigh she emitted was due to the aching in her back or the disappointment of Xena not being there again, only Gabrielle would know.
Xena observed the peaceful forest. She inhaled deeply then exhaled, her breathing and that of Argo’s the only sound. She gently kicked the mare and the faithful Palomino trotted on. They walked slowly until Xena reached a clearing. She dismounted, and took the saddle off Argo. Xena reached around and withdrew her sword from her holder but after gazing at it for several seconds dropped it harmlessly on the grass. She sighed and slumped on the floor staring into nothingness. Argo wandered over to her and nudged her, but even that failed to jolt her from her reverie.
When Xena was aware of her surroundings again, she noticed that the sun was low in the sky. Argo was nearby, grazing, and wordlessly she saddled the palomino and mounted her. The trip back to the Amazon village was as slow as the trip out and by the time she had returned it was dark. Xena declined the help of the stable girl, and brushed and fed Argo herself.
Xena quietly opened the door. As expected Gabrielle was in bed sleeping. She was surrounded by scrolls and a quill. Xena gave a quick smile, and then removed the scrolls and quill, placing them on the table. She then gently covered the bard up, giving her a long look, before getting into bed. As was typical recently sleep did not come easy, and Xena lay in bed staring at the ceiling for many hours before finally drifting off into an uneasy sleep.
“What can I do for you, Pony?” Said Gabrielle with a smile. She indicated to the weapon’s master to sit down, although she herself got up and walked around, rubbing her back.
“Are you well?” asked Epinon, concerned.
Gabrielle turned and gave a smile. “I get a bit stiff from staying in the same position too long, that’s all.”
“I was wondering if you knew what Xena’s plans were?” asked Epinon. She saw the puzzled expression on Gabrielle’s face. “I was hoping she would take some of the Xenites, I mean younger amazons tracking with me later.” They shared a smile at Epinon’s faux pas, but Gabrielle’s faded quickly.
“I don’t Pony. I’m sorry. “
“Oh. It’s just they enjoy her teaching them.”
Gabrielle snorted. “I bet they do.”
Epinon looked embarrassed. “I didn’t mean- What I meant. Oh Hades,” she stammered.
“Quit while you’re ahead Epinon,” came a voice from the door and it was Ephiny. Epinon rolled her eyes at the Regent.
“I think I’ll take your advice, Eph. They get a lot out of her-Oh for Artemis sake, I’m at it again.” Epinon already crimson face reddened further. “They learn a lot from her.”
“I know,” said Gabrielle quietly.
“And she hasn’t given any lessons for a week now.” The weapons master paused. “Or been around to spar or hunt.”
There was an awkward silence. “I’ll talk to her,” said Gabrielle quietly.
Epinon detected the note of finality in the Queen’s tone and rose from her chair. “Thanks Gabrielle.” Epinon looked momentarily embarrassed. “Tell that warrior I miss her,” she mumbled and strode out of the room, shrugging her shoulders at Ephiny who mirrored the movement back, out of Gabrielle’s sight.
There was silence as Ephiny took a few steps towards the centre of the room. Gabrielle continued to pace around the room, rubbing her back frequently. Ephiny watched her with a concerned look.
“So did you speak to her last night?” asked Ephiny trying to keep her tone light. Gabrielle didn’t need to answer verbally, her look answered the question.
“What’s going on Gab?” said Ephiny exasperated.
Gabrielle looked at the floor for several moments composing herself. She then looked up at her dear friend. “Alti really stirred things up for Xena. She brought back some shocking memories as well as revealing a couple of shattering details.” Gabrielle paused as she thought how distraught Xena had been when she learned that Solon was cursed by the witch as well learning that she was part God.
“Eph. It’s taking her a while to get her head around these things. I wish I could help her, I really do, but I can’t.”
“Can’t, or she won’t let you.”
Gabrielle frowned. “It’s between us, Ephiny,” she said coolly.
The regent nodded. “OK it can stay between you. But as your regent and your friend, I feel I must say something, as your health is suffering.” There was a pause. “And it is.”
“You don’t have to fuss. I have Piri clucking over me. I am pregnant Eph. Pregnant. Not made of glass. You have been through it; as have many, many other women.”
The regent pursed her lips together and stared at Gabrielle for several moments before saying. “Your back’s been getting worse, hasn’t it? And you haven’t been eating or drinking as much these past couple of days, have you?”
Ephiny approached Gabrielle and placed a hand on the bard’s arm. “I worry, and usually I’m not the first to realise something is wrong. And that worries me more.”
Gabrielle nodded. “I haven’t been feeling great, but I put that down to being nearly seven months pregnant and worried about Xena and what’s gone on here recently.”
“Go and see Piri.”
Gabrielle nodded, and turned back to tidy her desk.
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll do it. Piri’s expecting you,” she added with a wry smile.
Gabrielle gave her a mock angry glare and then walked out of the hut.
Piri gently felt around Gabrielle’s neck. “Lean forward,” she said.
Gabrielle complied, and Piri’s hands worked her way down Gabrielle’s back. She noted the bard wince as she pressed her lower back.
“Mmmm.” Said the healer and pushed Gabrielle back on the pillows. She walked away and washed her hands in the basin on the shelf. She picked up a cloth and dried them as she walked back towards the bard who was watching her intently. “Why didn’t you come to me when you started feeling pain?”
Gabrielle looked down. “I have had other things on my mind,” she said quietly.
“The warrior.” Said Piri simply. Gabrielle nodded.
The healer gave her a long stare and then went to the cabinet that contained her medicines. She found both a jar and bottle and walked back to the bed. Gabrielle was swinging her legs over the side, but stopped as Piri approached.
“This salve will help with your back. You will need help applying it obviously.” Gabrielle looked up at the expressionless face of the healer that was impossible to read. “And this is for your infection. You need to drink more, my Queen. That will also help the pain. “She put them both down on the bedside table.
“Thank you Piri,” said Gabrielle.
“How about a cup of tea? Consultation’s over, I promise.”
Gabrielle gave a wry smile and manoeuvred herself off the bed. “That sounds good, thank you.” She walked over to a chair by the table and eased herself on to it. There was a comfortable silence as Piri prepared the tea. Finally she brought the mugs over to the table, and set them down before sitting herself down.
“You really should take a few days off,” said Piri as she picked up her steaming mug.
“I thought you said the consultation was over,” retorted Gabrielle, irately.
“You need it. The last few weeks have been stressful; the executions, the tribe’s recovery, and-“Piri inhaled deeply, “the problems with your warrior.” She raised her hands as Gabrielle gave her a cold glare. “I just feel a few days off would recharge you.”
“Like it did you,” said Gabrielle, but this time in a softer tone. She smiled at Piri’s uncharacteristic awkwardness, as the healer blushed and fixed her stare on her mug.
“How is Joxer?” asked Gabrielle even more softly.
The healer looked up and Gabrielle could see the older woman’s eyes twinkling. “He’s very well,” she said hoarsely, and then coughed to clear her throat. “It was a lovely few days.”
Gabrielle continued to stare at Piri. The healer looked past Gabrielle, her eyes now misting over, and a slight smile on her face. After a few moments she shook her head and turned her attention back to Gabrielle.
The bard reached over with her hand and placed it on the healers’. “I am so glad for you both. You suit each other.”
Piri nodded. “I do worry about the age difference and the fact that I can’t give him children-“
“So you’ve got a toy boy, Piri. Joxer loves you-that doesn’t matter to him. And the age difference is the same as me and Xena. It’s not worth worrying about.”
“He makes me very happy,” said Piri simply. “I thought, well, I thought it was too late for me. But thankfully I was wrong. With him so close by, most of the time, it’s perfect.”
They shared a smile and then both sipped their tea.
“What ever is wrong between you and the warrior you need to fix it.” Piri’s calm voice broke the peace. They stared at each other for several moments before Gabrielle closed her eyes.
“I wish I could share with you Piri, I do. But I don’t want to break Xena’s confidence.” A tear rolled down her cheek. When she opened her eyes she saw the healer’s worried countenance.
“Gabrielle.” Gabrielle jumped in surprised, so rare was it that Piri used her name. “Gabrielle I am concerned. Your pregnancy has not been straightforward and easy, and the last few weeks have been, “The healer paused, “Extremely stressful for you. You need a break. You need your partner. Take a few days and spend it with her.”
Gabrielle’s lips quivered and she rubbed her eyes that were leaking tears. “I would love to, but-“she sobbed, “She’s avoiding me at the moment. For the last few days she leaves before I am awake and returns once I’m asleep. “Gabrielle sniffed and rubbed her eyes again.
Piri got up and wrapped her arms around the bard and held her until the bard stopped sobbing.
“Sorry,” said Gabrielle.
“That’s what I am here for, as your healer and friend.” Piri held her hand out. “Let’s go back to your hut and have some lunch. Then you can rest-healer’s orders.”
Gabrielle smiled through her tears, and took the offered hand.
Despite the dim light the palomino walked flawlessly towards the edge of the village. Xena unconsciously patted the side of the mare, as the guards came into view. Xena’s eyes narrowed as she saw an unexpected person waiting with them. She pulled Argo to a halt and dismounted in a fluid movement.
“Piri,” she said tonelessly.
“Warrior,” was the reply. Xena gathered Argo’s reins in her right hand and started to walk towards the village.
“I thought we may take a walk,” said Piri looking at Xena intently.
“I’ve been out all day, I should get Argo back.”
“That’s what we have stable hands for,” said Piri. “It’s a fine evening, walk with me warrior.”
Xena gave Piri an angry glare. “I said-“
“Or I will tell the Regent that I thought I spotted the first signs of Irip fever on you, and you should be quarantined straight away.” The healer looked innocently at Xena whose face contorted with anger.
“Alright you win.” She spat out and handed the reins over to a guard who eyed her up suspiciously, and then walked nosily in the opposite direction.
“Does she really have Irip fever?” said the guard nervously.
“I hope not,” said Piri, “I just made it up.” And she turned and strode after the warrior.
They walked in silence until the came to a stream. Piri sat down on a fallen log while Xena kept her back to her, gazing at the stream.
Piri continued to sit silently saying nothing and eventually Xena spun around. “I thought you wanted to talk?”
“I said a walk, but talking is good.” Piri fixed the warrior with a stare which the Xena returned, although she knew that the healer was a formidable foe in the staring steaks.
“Xena, what is wrong?” The healer’s tone was so gentle and the use of her name such a surprise that Xena found her self walking over to the log and sitting on it. She was even more shocked that the healer took her hand and squeezed it, then let it drop.
“Piri, I don’t, I can’t-I’m no good with words. I can’t really vocalise it like Gabrielle can.” Xena put her head in her hands.
“I’m asking you. What’s wrong? Why have you isolated yourself from everyone, including the Queen?”
Xena’s head rose and Piri could see the anxiety in her eyes. Xena inhaled deeply. “I found out something shocking.” She looked away from Piri. “I think I should keep my distance from the amazons for their own safety.” Xena turned back to look at Piri.
The healer continued to look impassively at Xena, who shut her eyes and blurted out, “I’m part God.”
There was silence at first then Piri gave a laugh. Xena opened her eyes and Piri laughed again, a belly laugh that ricocheted around the trees. She wiped her eyes as tears formed in them.
Xena got up. She unhooked her chakram and hurled it at a tree trunk, embedding it deeply. She spun around. “Thanks, Piri. I unburden myself and this is the reaction I get.”
“I’m sorry,” said the healer panting slightly. She tried to stop her lips from quivering. “I just don’t see what the deal is?”
“I have god’s blood. The Olympians are my relatives. I’m no longer a mortal, but a half breed. I should have known better to discuss it with anyone.” Xena’s voice rose angrily and she stepped towards the healer.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have reacted like that. Forgive me.” There was silence as Xena looked unappeased. “I only reacted like that because I don’t see what the problem is. I do know what it is like. Panacea is my grandmother, Asclepius is my Great Grandfather.”
The words hung in the air. Xena’s mouth opened ajar in shock. When she recovered her wits she stammered, “I-I didn’t know.”
Piri shrugged. “It’s who I am. I never thought of myself as a half breed.” Xena lowered her head. “I know there are many of us out there who have Olympians as parents and grandparents; Zeus, Apollo, Ares-“Xena flinched at his name, “All like to spread themselves around. Artemis is rumoured to have had children, although I do not know for sure.” She looked at the dejected figure. “What is it really? You have no truck with the gods. I thought it wouldn’t worry you if they are your relatives.”
“I may be Ares daughter,” whispered Xena. “It was bad enough as his chosen, but to be his daughter…” her voice faded away.
Piri got off the log and approached her. “You are the same person now, as you were before you knew you had God’s blood. That hasn’t changed.”
“He offered me Lindos,” said Xena in a whisper. “After Gabrielle admitted what happened. I was so tempted. I was so close to accepting his offer.”
Piri put her hand on Xena’s arm. “Don’t you think I would have been? Or Joxer? Any of us would. You refused him.”
“But I may not again. I could be dangerous-for the amazons, for Gabrielle.” Her voice softened on the last two words.
Piri smiled. “You are admitting you are dangerous to know. Warrior, Xena Destroyer of Nations was dangerous. This Xena whether or not she is daughter of Ares, Zeus, Hades or a distant relative of mine is not a threat to the Amazons, and especially not to their queen.” Xena slumped and Piri took both her hands. “And perhaps this Xena needs to share these worries with the queen.”
Xena nodded dumbly and Piri removed her hands and wrapped them around the warrior. Xena put her head on the older woman’s shoulder. After several moments she straightened up.
“I just feel lost not knowing who I am. It was easier to shut down than face up to it.”
“For you maybe. But not for the Queen, Epinon and others that care for you.”
Piri smiled at Xena’s look of surprise. “People care for you warrior, get used to it. But you don’t have to talk to me, anymore,” said Piri. “You need to talk with the Queen. She’s worried about you, and at the moment she doesn’t need any additional concerns.”
Xena looked at the healer. “Is Gabrielle ok?” she said anxiously.
Piri paused for slightly too long, and Xena sensed that immediately. Before the healer could answer Xena said, “What’s wrong? There’s something isn’t there?” She ran her hand through her hair, but didn’t take her eyes off the healer.
“She has a mild, and I stress a mild infection. I have given her herbs that will prevent it becoming a kidney infection.”
Xena sighed and the relief showed for a moment before it was replaced by a guilty look. “I should have been there for her.”
“Yes you should,” said Piri simply. “But fortunately Ephiny was. If you carry on with being this martyr to the cause, get used to it.”
Xena’s face reddened with anger, and her fists tightened into balls.
“Don’t speak the truth? You know it is. Talk to the queen. It will help you both. I’ve suggested she take a few days off. You should spend it together.”
Xena took several deep breaths and her anger dissipated and she gave a long sigh. “I will. If she’ll have me.”
Piri gave her a broad smile. “Never worry about that, warrior. You’ve been through worse.”
There was silence as Xena reflected on what they had discussed.
“Thank you Piri. I mean that.” She smiled warmly at the healer. “I take it Piri is short for Panacea?”
The healer nodded. “And if that ever becomes common knowledge, warrior, you’ll find out what other skills I have inherited from my family.”
Xena chuckled. And Irip fever? Where was that from?”
Piri smiled broadly. “Didn’t you guess? Piri backwards” and she gave Xena a wink.
Xena crept into her hut and heard the bard’s gentle snores. She walked to the bed and knelt down by the side of it, and leant over and pushed the bard’s hair from her face. She gave the damp forehead a kiss. Gabrielle stirred, but Xena tenderly stroked the blonde hair settling her down. Xena shifted onto her bottom and leant back against the wall, and took Gabrielle’s hand in hers and gently stroked it.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and the first sight was a glorious one she had been denied for several days; Xena’s blue eyes. She felt her hand was being held by the warrior’s larger one and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Hey.” Said the warrior.
“Hey, yourself. You haven’t been there all night have you?” Gabrielle looked at Xena sitting on the floor, her armour in a neat pile beside her.
“I’ve slept in worst places,” replied Xena with a smile. She swung her legs behind her and rose onto her knees. She removed her hand from Gabrielle’s and cupped her face with it, and leant forward and kissed Gabrielle’s forehead. It was still damp, and Xena moved her hand to Gabrielle’s neck and back and felt the skin warm to touch.
“That’s nice,” said Gabrielle.
“Stay there and I’ll get some tea,” said Xena abruptly, and jumped up quickly and went to the table.
Gabrielle eased herself up the bed and watched the warrior prepare the tea, saying nothing and keeping her back to Gabrielle.
The bard’s eyes followed the warrior around the hut.
“Xena,” she said.
Xena still kept her back to Gabrielle as she put the mugs on the table and then rested her hands on the wooden surface.
“Xe, you’ve come back to me. Talk to me, please.”
“You’re sick. And I should have realised it. But instead I was too wrapped up in myself.”
“And of course, I haven’t done that to you, have I?” Gabrielle’s voice was laced with sarcasm. “You had every right to put yourself first. You never do, usually. I just wish I could have helped you.” Gabrielle’s voice faltered and Xena finally turned around to face her. Their eyes locked and Xena strode towards the bard, sat on the edge of the bed and hugged her tight.
When they released each other, Xena remained on the bed. “I should have talked with you, but, it was easier to push it away. Bury it. I’m a master at that.” The warrior hung her head.
Gabrielle hooked a finger under her chin and lifted the despondent face. “You’re not the first person to do that. I just want to be there for you Xe. Like you’ve been there for me.”
Xena gave a wan smile which faded quickly. “What if I’m Ares daughter? The thought sickens me.”
Gabrielle took her hand. “You don’t know that for sure Xena, so don’t waste so much time worrying about it.”
“I know, but I do. Tell me it wasn’t your first thought when you knew I had God’s blood in me?”
Gabrielle looked down and said nothing.
“Exactly,” said Xena. If I am his spawn, I shouldn’t be around you.”
Gabrielle gave a short laugh. “How do you figure that out, Xe? The knowledge doesn’t change anything; how I feel about you, what a good person you are.”
“How can you say that?” said Xena more angrily than she intended. “My father could be a bastard –a Godly, evil one at that-who I hate. Of course it affects me. It would affect anyone.”
Gabrielle pulled back her hand and turned away from her saying nothing. She then started to push herself out of the bed, the opposite side to where Xena was sitting.
“I’m sorry you feel that way Xena,” said Gabrielle coldly. Xena stared at her not understanding the sudden change in attitude, until her eyes rested on Gabrielle’s bump. She closed her eyes.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it to come out like that.” Xena moved around the bed. “This baby won’t know Lindos. It won’t be an issue.”
Gabrielle looked at the floor. “It’s not just this child. You’re saying you are affected by your father, whom ever he may be. So was Hope. And she didn’t have a chance of my love. I never gave it to her,” the bard added sadly.
Xena flinched at the use of Gabrielle’s daughter name. She closed her eyes for several moments and when she opened them she stared straight in Gabrielle’s angry verdant ones. “I know. I know. And it will haunt both of us for ever. But that’s why I am so anxious about this. Hope was all Dahok, what if I’m all Ares?”
“You’re not, Xena. Cyrene did a good job with you. Yes you were infected with blood lust but you overcome it. You over came Ares call. And you don’t know you are his child, do you? Do you?”
There was silence. Gabrielle moved closer towards to Xena. “I know how hard it is to talk of Hope. Thank you. ”
Xena nodded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just confused. I knew who I was and for the first time in a long while I am happy with it.” Gabrielle could see the look of vulnerability on the warrior’s face. “Suddenly all of that is dust and I didn’t know who I was or where I was from.”
“You’re still my Xena,” Gabrielle moved closer and wrapped her arms around her. “That’s not changed.”
“That’s the most important thing. I’m sorry for shutting you out.”
“We’ll get through this, Xe. We can find out who your blood is from.”
“That can wait, Bri. There are more important things to worry about. Let’s get this baby out safe and well. So tea first and getting rid of that infection.”
“Yes boss,” said Gabrielle.
“Don’t you forget it,” said Xena with a genuine smile.
“The rest has done you the world of good,” said Piri smiling. She stood at the doorway clutching parchment.
“Come in,” said Gabrielle. She motioned to the chairs and Piri followed Gabrielle to the table which was surrounded by scrolls. They both sat down.
“I saw a happy band of amazons go tracking so I assume Xena has returned to her teaching duties.”
Gabrielle snorted. “You weren’t deafened by the screams of joy? The Xenites are happy again. And so is Epinon. She’s got her buddy back.”
“Are you ok with that? I thought the idea was to spend the time together, not for you to bury yourself in your scrolls and Xena to go hunting with Epinon.”
“We talked a lot,” Gabrielle smiled at the healer. “I wanted her to get out again. Make her realise she is no threat to anyone in this village.”
Piri nodded. “And how are you feeling? Pain gone?”
Gabrielle mirrored Piri’s action. “Much better thank you. And my back is easier too.”
Piri brought her hand from her lap onto the table. She was holding the parchment that was covered in a scrawl with many crossing outs and smudges. “I thought you might like this. It’s from Joxer.”
Piri coloured slightly as she saw the bard’s eyebrow rise in an enquiring manner. She put the parchment in front of Gabrielle, who touched it and pretended she had burnt herself. “Funny,” said the healer and rolled her eyes. Gabrielle picked up the parchment properly this time and started to read.
“Not the first few lines,” said Piri quickly and laughed as Gabrielle looked up quickly and gasped.
“Thank you, Piri,” said Gabrielle and went back to her reading. After several minutes she put the parchment on the table and turned towards Piri wearing a wide smile.
“I’m not sure even I looked that happy when I read it,” said Piri with a laugh.
“I’m sure you did, especially reading the second page that you didn’t show me.” The healer coloured and looked demure as Gabrielle stood up and walked around the hut, rubbing her back, but still wearing her wide smile.
“What?” asked Piri slightly puzzled?
“Sometimes the Gods give you a gift Piri, and you have to take it with both hands. And this is definitely one of those times.”
“No.” Said Xena sharply.
“No,” said Ephiny with a glare.
“No,” said Epinon. “No way.”
Gabrielle looked from one to another and her eyes rested on Solari. “Care to make it four negatives Sol.”
Solari looked from Gabrielle to the three angry women. “Actually I’d love to go,” she said quickly and quietly, aware of the three pairs of eyes boring a hole through her. “Piri, over to you,” and she got up and walked to the opposite side of the room from an angry looking Epinon.
“I think it is a fine idea,” said Piri. “It is just what you need Warrior.”
“It doesn’t matter about me,” spluttered Xena angrily. “You think it is fine idea. For Gabrielle to travel, heavily pregnant, just for a bard’s festival. There will be plenty of other festivals.”
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “I am seven months pregnant Xena. You and Ephiny travelled later in your pregnancies than this. It is only a three day journey to Amphipolis. We can take a heavy guard.”
“No,” said Xena. “There is too much that can go wrong.”
“Staying at the village can be really safe; I mean you never know when it will be attacked by rogue amazons,” retorted Gabrielle quickly.
“Or mad Shamenesses,” added Solari. Xena turned to her and started to growl. Solari suddenly found the floor very interesting.
“There is too much that can go wrong,” repeated Xena running her hand through her raven hair. “You’ve just had an infection; you’re hardly fit to travel.”
Gabrielle exchanged an exasperated look with Piri. “I’m fine now. Besides there are healers in Amphipolis and Joxer will accompany us back. And I have you, Xena. You are worth ten healers.” She turned to look at Piri. “Present company excepted of course.”
The healer exchanged a smile with Gabrielle.
“I don’t like it,” said Epinon. “Travelling all that way. There are so many dangers.”
Piri groaned. “For Artemis sake Epinon. It is a three day journey not a mountainous trek to a war zone. Thousands of families travel all the time and have no problems.”
“No but they don’t attract trouble like Gabrielle,” retorted back Epinon.
“Gabrielle, I know you want to go and see your friends, but there will be other times,” said Xena gently.
“It’s not just that, you know,” said Gabrielle quietly. “It’ll be a break for us all.” There was a pause.
“We can accompany you,” said Solari and exchanged a look with a slightly mollified Epinon. “As many warriors as you want Xena.”
“I can ride-in a wagon. I don’t think Argo could manage me,” said Gabrielle with a giggle. “It will do us good Xe. We can see Cyrene, meet up with Iolaus, Hercules and Joxer,” said Gabrielle.
“And you can throw yourself into the bardic festivities,” said Xena in a lighter tone and with a smile. Gabrielle knew she was winning and took several steps towards the warrior. Xena gave a nod, and Gabrielle smiled at her. She then turned to Ephiny who had remained ominously silent.
“Eph? Please!” Gabrielle turned to her friend.
Ephiny shook her head. “OK, OK. You will take a large compliment of guards. If there are ANY problems on the way you come straight back. If you are in Amphipolis and there are complications you stay at Amphipolis. Do you understand?”
“Yes Eph,” chorused all the other women in her room and she rolled her eyes in an exaggerated fashion.
“Right well we will go and select a squad,” said Epinon.
“Four others, that’s enough,” said Xena.
Ephiny turned her back to Xena and mouthed six and held up six fingers. Epinon nodded and she and Solari left the hut.
“I will prepare a pack of medications for you,” said Piri, “and if you would be so kind to take a letter for Joxer.”
“Of course. Thank you,” said Gabrielle warmly. As the healer left she turned to look at Ephiny. “Will you and Aella be alright together?”
The regent frowned. “Of course,” she said sharply. “What do you mean?”
“Just we’re leaving the pair of you with a lot of work. Do you think you can cope?” Gabrielle looked at her friend innocently as Xena chuckled.
Ephiny frowned at them both. “We’ll be fine thank you.” She pointed her finger at Xena, waggling it with every word. “Just take care of her.”
Xena hung her head low. “Yes Ephiny.”
“And take that smirk off your face. I’ll just go and tell Aella the news.” She gave Gabrielle a half smile and walked out the hut shutting the door.
“Thank you.” Said Gabrielle simply and took Xena’s hand.
“I just worry,” said the warrior and shut her eyes. “I don’t want anything to go wrong.”
“I know.” Gabrielle put her hand on her stomach. “We’re so lucky to have you.”
Xena‘s smile faded quickly. “I know it’ll be good for you, getting out, meeting some of your old academy friends. It’s not been easy recently.”
“It never is.” Gabrielle smiled. “It’ll be good for us all. It will give you a chance to speak with Cyrene and Hercules.”
“That’s the real reason we’re going, isn’t it? Gabrielle I told you that it’ll wait. I’m not having you trek for days in your condition just so we can talk to mother and maybe find out more about my past.” Xena walked away from the bard and put her hands on her hips.
“It’s not just that Xe. It just seemed too good to miss. Friends, family and bards all together. It’ll be good for us to get away from the village for a while, good for you, Xe and for Pony and Sol. They still need to work out a few things, and it’s so much easier away from prying eyes.”
“And of course it gives Eph and Aella plenty of time to work together. Nice one,” said Xena.
“I still can’t believe they are not a couple yet. They are both stubborn warriors!”
Xena nodded and smiled. “You know, Amphipolis really likes to celebrate. It’ll be pretty wild.” Xena watched Gabrielle smile and then stare into the distance lost in thoughts. The warrior approached her and gently laid her hand on her shoulder. “Hey Bri, where did you go?”
Gabrielle turned to look at Xena a melancholy expression on her face. “I was just thinking about the last festival where we were going to meet Hercules, Iolaus and Joxer. It seems a lifetime ago.” Gabrielle looked down at her bump and gently rubbed it.
Xena placed her hand over Gabrielle’s, wordlessly. They were both lost in their own thoughts, remembering the difficult events that had brought them to this point-Xena’s darkness, Lindos, and Gabrielle’s reaction to her pregnancy. Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle who tightened her grip. Her lips then found the taller woman’s and they kissed passionately. Xena ran her hand through Gabrielle’s hair and then started to move her lips along Gabrielle’s jaw line. She could feel the bard stiffen slightly and so her lips stopped their journey and pulled back slightly.
“What’s wrong?” asked Xena gently.
Gabrielle looked down at her body.
“Are you feeling unwell?” asked Xena in a concerned tone.
Gabrielle shook her head. “I just look, so, so unattractive,” she said and burst into tears.
Xena stifled a laugh and wrapped her arms around her. “You are beautiful my bard and I love you.”
“You’re biased,” sobbed Gabrielle and this time Xena couldn’t stop the laugh.
“Of course,” said Xena. And hugged tighter. She had a thought and pulled away slightly again so she could see Gabrielle’s face. “You know if you just want to snuggle that’s fine.”
There was a flash of relief on Gabrielle’s face. “I just feel-“
“Unattractive, dowdy, and certainly not wanting sex,” added Xena. She smiled. “I felt the same during my pregnancy; there is nothing to feel ashamed about.” Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak.
“Snuggling is good-believe me.” Xena smiled as Gabrielle looked brighter. “Especially if I get to rub your back first.” This time she was rewarded by a toothy Gabrielle grin.
“Thank you,” she said. “And for agreeing to go to Amphipolis.”
“I can never refuse you,” said Xena with genuine feeling. “It’ll be nice to have a quiet visit with Mother for a change.”
Gabrielle raised her eyebrow. With a bunch of Amazons, Hercules, Iolaus, Joxer, bards and questions over Xena’s parentage a quiet visit was the last thing she expected.
Cyrene allowed herself a couple of sips of water from her mug before she went back to work. The lunchtime crowd was just dispersing and she collected the mugs and plates up and headed back to the kitchen. “Stew’s all gone,” said Doris, the cook, sternly.
“Anyone else comes in they can have bread and cheese,” said Cyrene. “Thank the gods for your daughter and son in law, Doris. I don’t know what we’d do without them over this festival.”
“She’s a good girl, is Falla. And that man she married is a good ‘un too. He enjoys it.” Cyrene patted the cook’s hand, and breathed in deeply enjoying the calm. That was shattered as they heard the door opening.
“Sound like you’ve got some more customers Boss,” smiled Doris as she rolled the pastry out for the night’s pies.
Cyrene rolled her eyes and gave Doris’s arm a friendly push and left the kitchen. “Stew’s off but we-Xena, how good to see you.” Cyrene opened her arms wide and to her pleasure Xena strode over and gave her a warm hug. They both clung on to each other, and finally Cyrene pulled away, although she took Xena’s larger hands in her own. “Daughter it has been too long. All alone? Where’s Gabrielle?” Cyrene’s eyes searched Xena’s face for a sign or a hint of what happened.
“She’s following. I just wanted to make sure there was room for us. There’s quite a crowd.”
“Xena, I’m sorry, we are full. It’s the Bards’ festival, all my rooms are gone.” Cyrene saw the crestfallen look on Xena’s face.
“Have you anything, anything at all for Gabrielle, she really needs it?” Cyrene couldn’t remember the last time she had heard the pleading tone in Xena’s voice.
Before the older woman could answer, the door swung open. Xena stepped around her mother and headed towards the door. She turned back and whispered, “Not too many questions to Gabrielle please Mother.”
Cyrene looked puzzled but this turned to shock as she saw several women warriors, heavily armed, enter her inn. She strode forward and was about to ask for their weapons when she spotted Gabrielle. A heavily pregnant Gabrielle. She failed to stifle a gasp, and she covered her mouth with her hand. She recovered her composure quickly and gave the bard a warm smile and embraced her.
“Gabrielle, it is so lovely to see you,” said Cyrene.
“And you, Cyrene. I am sorry for this inconvenience,” The bard pointed at the warriors who were walking around the rooms ensuring there were no dangers. “Pony, Sol, its fine. And you have to take your weapons off.”
Cyrene watched as a swarthy woman approached Gabrielle looking concerned.
“You can’t be serious Gab? And leave you undefended?”
“Solari I am serious. It’s hardly being undefended. I am well guarded by you, Xena and Cyrene.”
“And Doris pitches a mean rolling pin,” said Cyrene with a twinkle in her eye. Both Gabrielle and Xena laughed at this, and before any more of the amazons could voice their concerns the warrior said, “We need to find accommodation. Mother’s inn is full.”
“Oh Xena your room is free, of course it is. I would never use it for anyone else. You and Gabrielle can stay there. And your-“
“Amazons,” said Gabrielle kindly.
“Amazons can stay in the barn, if they wish. I doubt anyone else will have any free rooms.”
“The barn is fine,” said one of the women. She looked at Xena who nodded and gestured with her hand. The Amazons bowed politely at Cyrene and followed Xena out of the door.
Cyrene took Gabrielle’s hand and walked over to a table. Questions were whizzing through Cyrene’s head as she gazed at the younger woman but she heeded her daughter’s words.
“Would you like a drink, dear?” asked the inn keeper.
Gabrielle smiled. “No thank you. I think I’ll head for a nap when Xena gets back.”
“Of course, of course.” There was an uncomfortable silence. “So it’s the bard’s festival that has brought you here?”
Gabrielle nodded. “That and a few other things. We did so want to see you, Cyrene.”
“You could have waited until after the baby’s born,” said Cyrene, her curiosity unable to be held at bay any longer. She heard the door swing open again, and from the footsteps knew it was her daughter.
“Xena how could you travel with Gabrielle so close?”
Xena walked towards the table and stood by it, towering over the two seated women. She put her hands on her hips and looked angrily at her mother.
“Cyrene, I have two months to go,” interjected Gabrielle.
“I don’t think so,” blurted out Cyrene. “You look much closer than that.”
“Believe me it’s two months,” said Xena angrily and stared at her mother. Cyrene could see a mixture of emotions warring in her daughter’s eyes-eyes she had been so used to reading when Xena was growing up-anger, pain, sadness. The shrewd older woman realised the subject needed to be changed. She knew that Xena would tell her-when the time was right for Xena.
“So would you like a bath, dear or just a nap?” She turned to face Gabrielle.
“I think I might have a nap first, Cyrene.” Gabrielle got up stiffly and in an instance Xena was at her side.
“You stay with your Mother and catch up. I can find my way.” Gabrielle kissed Xena’s cheek gently and gave a smile to Cyrene as she walked towards Xena’s old bedroom.
Xena watched her go with a pensive expression on her face. Cyrene got up and walked to the bar. She took a brown bottle from behind the bar and two mugs. She then walked to the front door, and turned the sign around indicating the inn was closed. By the time she reached the table Xena was sitting down. The warrior was staring at the table and didn’t acknowledge Cyrene even as her mother poured her a drink and put it in front of her.
Xena remained motionless and Cyrene wondered how long the silence would carry on for. She covered Xena’s hand with her own and gave it a squeeze. This was the catalyst for Xena to move and she looked at her mother, her face void of expression.
“Have a drink,” said Cyrene. Xena did as she was bade and coughed after gulping the liquid down.
“The good stuff,” she said, hoarsely.
“I thought you needed it.” There was a pause. “Xena, tell me.”
Xena looked at her mother and gave a sigh. “There’s so much to tell, where do I start?”
“Start with Gabrielle,” said Cyrene tenderly. Xena looked down again for a moment and when she looked up, the look of pain and anguish she wore shocked the older woman.
“She and Iolaus were captured while trying to rescue me. They were beaten and tortured, and would have been killed had it not been for the Amazons and Hercules.” Xena gulped and a tear started to roll down her cheek. “The ring leader, Lindos, took a liking to her and raped her.”
There was silence. “Oh my poor girl,” said Cyrene and stood up and walked over to Xena. She wrapped her arms around her daughter and Xena pressed her face hard into her stomach. After a while they pulled apart.
“You weren’t hurt?” asked Cyrene anxiously? “No-one tried to-to force you? “
Xena gave a hollow laugh, and her face screwed up in pain. “I haven’t told you the full story mother. I’d drunk from an enchanted challis and it made me lose my memories, my sense of self.”
“Darkness became all important. I had no memories of anything or anyone just a need to feed the darkness. I destroyed villages, murdered people.”
“Xena no,” said a shocked Cyrene. “That’s all behind you.”
“The challis made it real again. I helped affect some Amazons and we were in a camp when Gabrielle and Iolaus were captured.”
Cyrene looked at Xena’s face, and was apprehensive of what would come next. She watched as her daughter took a deep breath in and spoke quickly, “I was the one that handed Gabrielle over to Lindos. I gave her to him.” There was silence. “Then the next day I took part in torturing them both. They would have died had Hercules and the Amazons not arrived with the antidote.”
“No daughter, you would never hurt Gabrielle.”
Xena snorted. “I have before. I did, Mother I hurt her physically, and I gave her to him knowing what he wanted.” Xena swallowed.
There was a long silence. Xena looked at mother with a curious expression. “Say something, please?”
Cyrene looked at Xena and opened her mouth once and then shut it. She opened it again and spoke slowly, considering each word carefully before she spoke. “Gabrielle’s carrying Lindos’ child?” Xena nodded. “It must have been hard for you both.”
“That’s an understatement,” said Xena, and she looked into her mother’s eyes. “We’ve got through it all; Gabrielle’s recovery, my guilt, her fear about the baby. We’re still together.” Xena smiled and looked past Cyrene.
“Xena that shows what incredible love you have for each other. What a bond. Cherish it, and her.”
“I do Mother, believe me I do. Every day I give thanks for it.”
“The baby, Xena? What are you going to do?”
“We’ll raise it together. The bastard will have nothing to do with the child; I’ll make sure of that.”
“He lives?” said Cyrene surprised. “I would have thought he would have stood trial.”
Anger appeared on Xena’s face again. “We couldn’t find him or his sister. They were the ring leaders. Gabrielle didn’t want us to carry on the search.”
Cyrene nodded wordlessly. She then started to smile, and it grew into abroad grin.
“A baby Xena. Just think a baby.” She lost her smile as she looked at Xena’s face. “I know it’ll never replace Solon, but Gabrielle’s baby.”
“I know. I’m getting there. It’s taken me a while to warm to the idea, but Gabrielle will have my full support,” Xena said genuinely.
“A baby.” Repeated Cyrene absently. “I’m sure I have some of your old things, and of course there’s the crib, and-“Cyrene was interrupted by Xena’s laughter, a wonderful rich laugh that brought joy to the older woman.
“Thank you Mother, you are a treasure to me.” She stood up and went to her mother’s side.
“Thank you for understanding.”
Cyrene leant across and hugged her stomach. “Oh daughter, it will take a while for my head to stop spinning, but the main thing is that you and Gabrielle are fine and together.” She looked up at her tall daughter. “You’re a special person, Xena. And so is Gabrielle.”
“Thank you,” said Xena, croakily.
Just then the door opened and five weary looking amazons entered.
“The horses are happy and we have made up our beds,” said one.
Xena grinned and walked towards them. “Mother this is Solari, Epinon, Walia, Selene and Asteria. They are Amazons from Gabrielle’s tribe and will be protecting her.”
“Nice to meet you ladies. Although the rule’s the same, no weapons,” Cyrene smiled sweetly and she watched all the amazons look at Xena who shrugged her shoulders.
With noisy grumbling they all removed their weapons.
“Where’s Gab?” asked Epinon.
“Gone for a nap,” said Xena. “I think I’ll check up on her,” she added and frowned at Solari and Epinon’s smiles. “Behave,” she said to the amazons.
“Come on dears, I am sure we can find you some lunch, and you can tell me about your village.”
Xena turned to watch the five amazons troop after Cyrene into the kitchen, as she made her way to her old bedroom.
“You’re timing is impeccable as usual, it’s dinner time shortly,” Xena grinned as Gabrielle peered at her slightly disorientated as she awoke.
“I slept that long. Xe you should have woken me,” said Gabrielle running a hand through her hair and pushing herself up the bed.
“You needed it. It’s been a long few days,” Xena said and sat at the edge of the bed and took one of the bard’s hands.
“We hardly slummed it though. Inns every night, a comfortable wagon; not what we’re used to.”
Xena squeezed her hand. “But at the moment what we need. How are you feeling?” she asked softly.
“Rested. Although this bed isn’t that big-I take up most of it.”
“I’m sure I’ll squeeze in,” said Xena and she leant forward for a kiss.
After sharing a tender kiss, Gabrielle said, “How’s Cyrene? Did you have a chat?”
Xena nodded. “I told her about the challis,” she said quietly. They looked at each other and Xena gave a laugh. “Mother is searching through the attic for all our baby things, so watch out there may not be room for you on that wagon coming home.”
Gabrielle giggled. “So you think she’ll be up for babysitting?”
Xena gave a hearty laugh. “Oh yes. She’s definitely claiming Grandmother Rights.”
“Well she is,” replied Gabrielle. “I think of her as a Grandmother.”
Xena looked around the room. “It feels funny to be back here. She’s hardly changed it; I thought she’d want to get rid of anything.”
Gabrielle laid a comforting hand on Xena’s hand. “She knew you’d come back to her.”
Xena gave a weak smile which faded quickly, and was replaced by a look of disgust. “And I have to rock the boat. Ask about my past-her past. It’s going to be a lovely mother daughter chat. Hi mum, I think the man you slept with wasn’t my dad, but a God. So glad it was good for you.”
“Xena,” the bard spoke gently and now laid both hands on Xena’s arms. The touch and the gentle tone seemed to sooth her, and she turned to face Gabrielle looking contrite.
“If you want to talk to her by yourself I’ll understand,” said the bard.
Xena shook her head vigorously. “I’d like you there, please.”
“Of course,” said Gabrielle, and leant in for a kiss.”
“Tomorrow,” whispered Xena.
“Dinner now,” said Gabrielle as her stomach made its presence felt by a noisy grumble.
Xena jumped off the bed and held a hand out for Gabrielle. “I hope Doris has baked enough pies to feed you both.”
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and held Xena’s hand and after pulling herself out of the bed, they headed towards the dining room.
The Amazons were already present, receiving several puzzled and perplexed stares from Cyrene’s customers. Cyrene gave a warm smile when she saw Xena and Gabrielle and took Gabrielle by the arm and led her to the table where the Amazons were seated.
“I trust everything is secure?” said Xena to Epinon who was enjoying a large portion of pie. The weapons master chewed slowly swallowed and answered seriously,” absolutely. One of us has been watching the door, and-“she broke off when she could see Xena’s mouth quiver into a smile and realised that the warrior was teasing.
“Food’s good,” said Solari quickly before her lover could retort back to Xena.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Gabrielle and rubbed her hands with glee as a large portion was brought to her by Cyrene.
“That’s Gabrielle’s starter, I hope you have more,” said Xena to her mother. “Gabrielle takes eating for two literally.”
Gabrielle didn’t respond as she was tucking into her pie, but Cyrene cuffed Xena around her head. “Leave her alone, or I’ll set Doris onto you.”
Xena gulped. “OK I’m scared now,” and took an interest in her plate of food.
The inn filled up, and soon became a bustling place of chat and laughter. The amazons continued to watch everyone intently, getting stares back in return, and so few people approached their table.
Cyrene slumped down next to Gabrielle looking weary. “Busy night,” said Gabrielle with sympathy.
“I shouldn’t complain, and I know that it will get busier over the next few nights.” Cyrene turned to look at Gabrielle and gave her a wide smile.
“Run Gabrielle, that’s her ‘I want something look’”, said Xena.
“Xena.” Said Cyrene sharply, then turned back to Gabrielle and smiled again.
“What do you want Cyrene?” asked Gabrielle, lightly.
Cyrene gave a look of mock outrage, but said,” so many people have come in the hope that you may tell a story.”
Gabrielle spluttered. “Me? They haven’t come to see me?”
“They remember when you have been here before; Goliath, Cecrops, Meleager, they are so popular.”
Gabrielle looked at Xena who smiled at her and took her hand. “It’s up to you, Bri. How do you feel?”
Everyone at the table watched the bard. “I haven’t told a story for a long time,” she said quietly.
Cyrene rose. “It was just a thought, dear.” She patted the bard’s hand.
“Wait Cyrene, I’ll do it.”
“Just a couple,” growled Xena. “We’ve had a long journey.”
“Absolutely,” beamed Cyrene and she got up and made her way to the little stage.
“Are you sure this is wise?” asked Solari. “She’s very exposed.”
Xena rolled her eyes. “Try to relax Sol, and enjoy yourself.”
“We are extremely fortunate to have here a wonderful storyteller who I know you all remember. Gabrielle!”
There was a round of applause and Gabrielle walked gingerly through the crowd. Within seconds the crowd hushed. She looked over and saw the Amazons watching her, and Xena looking as she always did when she told stories to audiences; a mixture of embarrassment for herself and pride of Gabrielle. Aware of the looks the amazons were receiving and that some townspeople still had long memories when it came to Xena she launched into her tale. “I sing a song of brave amazons and noble centaurs, a greedy man who wished to create a war and a righteous and wise warrior princess who prevented it.”
Gabrielle told the story of death of Terreis, the bitter dispute between the amazons and centaurs and how Xena had prevented the war Krykus wanted to develop. She omitted her name when speaking about who had tried to save Terries. The audience sat spellbound and in rapt fascination until the final word when they broke into noisy applause.
Gabrielle promised them another, and decided to end on a funny story. So she told the story of mistaken identities and a priestess with a lisp. At the end of the story she felt weary, and was finding it hard to leave the stage as so many admirers wanted to talk with her. She could feel herself swaying but within moments Xena and the amazons were at her side.
“OK?” said Xena anxiously.
“Just tired,” said Gabrielle. “It has been a long time since I’ve told stories for a crowd.” She swallowed. “Before Britannia.”
Xena put her arm around her. “Come on let’s get the star turn to her bed.” The amazons parted the crowd so they could walk through easily. Cyrene stopped them and gave each a hug and a kiss. “I am so pleased to have my girls back,” she said. “And tomorrow, we can catch up fully.”
“Little does she know,” whispered Xena to Gabrielle, and in response Gabrielle squeezed her arm and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Gabrielle watched Xena pace up and down the room. The bard opened her mouth to say something, but closed it as Xena looked up. The pacing continued and finally Gabrielle got off the bed and walked to Xena.
“Are you sure you want me-“
“Yes!” said Xena sharply. She then shook her sadly, and stopped pacing. “I’m sorry, I just-I don’t know what to think.”
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena and tentatively the warrior rested her head on the bard’s shoulder. They remained like that for a few moments until Xena pulled away chuckling.
“What?” asked Gabrielle puzzled?
“The baby. Even I could feel it.” Xena gently patted Gabrielle’s stomach and was rewarded by another kick.
“It’s certainly active at the moment, “said Gabrielle.
“Hmmm, likes being spoilt rotten by its Grandmother no doubt. Nutbread for breakfast, in bed, mind. No wonder.” Gabrielle cupped Xena’s face and smiled pleased that her love for the moment had the impending conversation off her mind. But Xena’s smile soon became a frown and Gabrielle brought her other hand to frame Xena’s face.
“Xena,” she said quietly.
“I know. It’ll be better once I know.”
“You do realise that Cyrene may not know anything. It’s God’s blood Xena. It could be from a Grandparent or beyond.”
Xena took Gabrielle’s hands in her own larger ones. “No. I know. Call it a feeling or intuition. I was different to my brothers, different to other children growing up. I think-I’m sure that night Mother told us about, when my father came back from war is the key.”
There was silence. Gabrielle walked to the table and poured them both a mug of apple juice. She handed a mug to Xena who nodded her thanks.
“Come on Mother. The lunch time crowd should have gone by now.” She downed the juice and walked over to the table. As she placed the mug on the table, there was a knock on the door. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a look.
“Come in Cyrene,” said Gabrielle, and the door opened.
Cyrene smiled as she entered the room. “Phew it’s getting busy out there,” she said. Xena stood staring at her face neutral. Gabrielle glanced at her and then at Cyrene.
“Sit down Cyrene,” said Gabrielle and gestured towards a chair. The older woman sank into the chair and closed her eyes. Gabrielle meanwhile has shut the door and gave Xena a nudge in the back. That seemed to rouse the warrior, and she looked at Gabrielle and gave a wan smile and then turned her attention to her mother. The older woman opened her eyes and looked with concern from one face to the other.
“What is it?” she asked warily.
There was silence. Gabrielle glanced at Xena. She could see her partner considering what to say, how to say it. Gabrielle knew if it were her she would launch in, full of emotion. Xena on the other hand was more calculating and analytical.
The silence was uncomfortable. Gabrielle gentled placed her hand at the small of Xena’s back. The warrior didn’t acknowledge it, but as Cyrene opened her mouth to speak Xena spoke quickly.
“Several years ago, I was travelling with Borias, Solon’s father,” she said in response to Cyrene’s puzzled look. “We were near Renwa, and visited a little temple. It was nothing special, very plain, boring, certainly not worth looting.” Xena gave a half-smile that faded quickly.
“Borias couldn’t see it. Claimed I’d disappeared when I entered it. Course I thought he was pulling my leg. We left and never returned.”
Xena looked at the ground. Gabrielle moved her hand from Xena’s back to her arm, and the warrior looked at Gabrielle in gratitude.
Cyrene watched the pair intently. “Xena, I don’t understand, what has this to do with me?”
Xena swallowed. This was the hard part. “The temple. It can only be entered by and seen by people with God’s blood.”
The silence was palpable. Cyrene looked at Xena and stared into her eyes. She saw concern and anxiety and fear.
“Mother. Please. I am part God. I don’t know how much and by whom. Do you know anything? Anything at all?”
Cyrene shook her head dumbly. Her daughter was part God. And she had no idea where it came from.
“Mother I know this is difficult, and believe me I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want to know. Did you have an affair? Or did the man who came back give you any indication that he wasn’t Atrius?”
Cyrene shook her head. She stood up and walked towards Xena. The warrior tentatively walked to her and they reached out their arms and gave each other a hug. Gabrielle edged towards the bed and slumped on it, eyes still fixed on Xena.
“No Xena, I was never unfaithful to your-to Atrius.” Cyrene pulled away. She stared off in the distance for several moments and inhaled deeply.
“Mother what is it” said Xena sensing something?
“The only other, well it never came to anything,” Cyrene said distractedly.
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a look.
“Please Mother. Anything. I won’t judge you, whatever it is.”
Cyrene looked from Gabrielle to Xena. She bit her lip and nodded as if to herself.
“I was never unfaithful to your father. In the physical way that is. But my heart, I loved someone else deeply.” She smiled warmly as she remembered.
“Your father was away a lot. I was stuck running this place with Toris as a baby. At lambing and harvest time the inn was busy but beyond that, it was dull and quiet. “Cyrene looked out the window. “Then I met Tia. She was a traveller passing through, and we struck up a friendship.” She looked at her daughter’s face, unsure what the reaction would be, but Xena’s face remained neutral.
“We became close, very close. I used to look forward to Tia’s visits more than your father’s. She visited me the day before your father came home, and I never saw her again. I asked around but no one knew anything of her. I was shattered; I never knew what had happened, if she had died, or merely grown tired of visiting me.” Cyrene swallowed and tears formed in her eyes. “Before I knew it, I was pregnant with you, and soon after you were born your father came home for good.”
“I’m sorry Mother,” said Xena with genuine sympathy.
“It doesn’t help you I’m afraid,” said Cyrene.
Gabrielle looked expectantly at Xena who nodded. “Cyrene, did Atrius appear surprised that you had a child.”
Cyrene shook her head.
Gabrielle gulped. “Did it appear different-Xena’s conception to ahem, er-“Gabrielle became flustered and looked at Xena for help. But instead she got twinkling blues eyes looking back with a hint of mirth.
“Yes, yes it did,” said Cyrene tenderly and Xena and Gabrielle turned to look at her in surprise.
“A woman doesn’t like to talk of these matters and certainly not with her children, but-“she smiled in happy remembrance. “He was so gentle and tender that night. We were awake the whole night, loving each other, touching, whispering.” She looked at her daughter. “I make no apologies, Xena. It was the best night of my life.”
“Mother thank you. I am sorry that I had to ask.”
“Xena I am sorry that I couldn’t help you further. What does this mean?”
Xena rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I don’t think it was Atrius that visited you that night.”
“Who?” said Gabrielle?
“That’s the question isn’t it?” said Xena with chagrin. “Ares,” she whispered. “It could be Ares.”
“Ares isn’t your father, I am.” The voice came from the doorway. All three women turned to look.
Athena stood at the doorway.
“Tia,” gasped Cyrene, and her legs wobbled and she half stumbled, half fell onto the floor.
In a flash Gabrielle was by her side, as Xena remained frozen staring at the dark haired God.
Athena’s eyes followed Cyrene as Gabrielle awkwardly helped her onto the bed.
“Tia,” repeated Cyrene.
“Yes,” said Athena simply.
Xena continued to stare at Athena. The God walked slowly towards her and held out her hand but Xena ignored it.
“Where were you?” she whispered through gritted teeth. “Where were you when I was Ares chosen? You’re the Goddess of wisdom. Didn’t your wisdom tell you that Ares and I were a dangerous combination?”
“I didn’t know,” said Athena with heartfelt sorrow.
“Didn’t know what?” spat Xena.
“That you were my daughter. “
There was silence. Gabrielle rubbed Cyrene’s arm and the older woman smiled at her, and found her hand and squeezed.
Gabrielle got up and walked to Xena. She had seen that look so often in their early days-defensive, putting a wall between herself any anyone. It was rarer these days, but still there in the background. Gabrielle put an arm around Xena’s waist and she felt the warrior relax to her touch although visually she was doubtful anyone else could detect a change in her posture.
“I’m sorry Cyrene. Truly I am.” Athena took Cyrene’s hand. “I used you and left you. I am so sorry.”
“Tia-Athena-“ Cyrene said, still looking bewildered.
“Tia, I loved you calling me that.” The Goddess smiled.
Cyrene smiled back. “Tia, what happened? Why did you leave?”
Athena’s head drooped. “I loved you. More than anyone I have ever loved. But you were married, and I-I was the Virgin goddess.”
“So you took my father’s form, and had your way with her,” said Xena bitterly.
“Yes,” said Athena quietly. “That’s exactly what I did. I knew it was wrong-that my father, brothers and sisters did it all the time. But I couldn’t help myself. I wanted you so bad, Cyrene. I thought this was the best way. So I took your husband’s form and-“
Athena dropped her head in her hands.
“We had the most wonderful night ever, and made a beautiful girl,” said Cyrene.
Athena lifted her head up. “You’re not mad? I thought you’d hate me. I took advantage of you. I forced myself on you, and impregnated you then left.”
“You didn’t force me. And yes you impregnated me and look what we have produced.” Cyrene motioned to Xena. “This will take some getting used; the love of my life being a God.”
Athena smiled shyly at this.
Cyrene continued, “It seems incredible, but at the same time, so right.” She took one of Athena’s hands.
“I could never hate you. I loved you. I still do, not a day went past that I didn’t wonder what happened to you. I loved Atrius, he was a good father, until-“Cyrene shared a look with Xena. “The only part I am upset about is that you left me.”
Athena sighed. “I felt so guilty about what I had done. I was supposed to be above such things. I was no better than Ares or Zeus. How could I face you again? I felt so guilty. So I decided I would never return. I gave Atrius a false memory-he believed he had retuned home, and that was that.” The Goddess looked down. “I vowed never to bother you again, but I couldn’t resist looking in on you. So a few years later I looked in from afar and saw you had three children and assumed Atrius had returned to you. It never crossed my mind until Ares started bragging that Xena told the Furies he had fathered her.” She turned to look at Xena. “That was the first time I realised you could be my daughter. I went to visit the Fates and they confirmed it for me.”
Xena shook her head and turned away. Gabrielle looked at her with concern and then towards Cyrene and Athena. The two women were talking quietly and Gabrielle could see the devotion shining through as they spoke with each other. She turned her attention to Xena and moved in front of her.
“OK?” she said, and then groaned at the lameness at her question.
Xena looked at her and then pulled her in for a hug. “Thank Hades it wasn’t Ares,” she said, and put her head on the bard’s shoulder. Gabrielle closed her eyes and leant against Xena, and when she opened her eyes she looked at Xena’s parents gazing back at her. The bard smiled awkwardly at them and then pain gripped her across her abdomen. She shuddered and fell deeper into Xena’s arms.
“Gabrielle,” said Xena with concern and Athena and Cyrene sprung forward. Xena carried Gabrielle to the bed.
“It’s ok, the pain has gone.” Gabrielle regained her colour and smiled at the anxious looking warrior.
“Practice contractions,” said Cyrene with authority.
“I’m fine really,” said Gabrielle.
Athena smiled at her. “You look radiant Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle smiled shyly. Xena flicked her eyes at Gabrielle then stood up and spun around in a fluid motion.
“Where were you when she needed you? When Uncle Ares set me up?” Xena’s voice was bitter.
“I’m sorry,” said Athena. “I know now what a terrible parent I have been. I wasn’t there for you when you really needed me.”
“You didn’t know-“interrupted Cyrene.
“But when I did,” Athena raked her hand through her hair. Gabrielle smiled at the sight, so familiar it was to her, “when I did, what did I do?” She shut here eyes. “I didn’t want my family to know. I am still thought of the Virgin goddess. I thought that was the most important thing. My reputation.” Her voice became edged with bitterness.
“And I didn’t want Ares or Hera using you to get back at me,” Athena added quickly.
“Is that possible?” asked Gabrielle.
Athena shrugged. “Ares would use anything.” Xena nodded at this.
“I thought I was protecting you by not interfering.”
"You deserve to know the truth." Athena looked at Cyrene. "Both of you." She sighed and turned to look at Xena. “I’m sorry that I have done so little for you.”
She sighed and turned to look at Xena. “I’m sorry that I have done so little for you.”
Something in her eyes tickled at the recess of Xena’s memories. For several seconds she couldn’t place it, but then it, along with pain, came flooding back.
“The old woman, at the Hospice. It was you.” Xena looked from Athena to Gabrielle.
“You took her there! Where did you find her?” asked Xena. Her hand found one of Gabrielle’s and she squeezed it. It was a time that still caused Xena pain and anguish.
“The Elysian Fields,” said Athena quietly.
“Gabrielle died?” asked Cyrene incredulously.
“Yes,” chorused Xena, Gabrielle and Athena.
Athena looked at Gabrielle with affection. “I can never thank you enough for what you have done. I’m sorry I removed them, but I felt it was for the best.” Athena put her hand on Gabrielle’s head, and the bard lurched forward slightly, and Xena held her tighter.
Gabrielle felt the memories rush in her head. From the pain and agony of the fall, to meeting Hades, then onto the peace of the Elysian Fields, with Talus, her grandmother, Perdicus and Solon. She looked at Xena with tears in her eyes. “I was in the fields with Solon,” she said quietly. A tear trickled down Xena’s face.
Gabrielle smiled at a memory. “He called me-“she stopped and took a deep breath in.
“Tell me,” said Xena gently.
“Gabby-mum” said Athena. “He wanted his Gabby-mum and Mother to be reunited.” She looked at Cyrene. “It’s hard to refuse your grandchild, so I petitioned Hades. I said that you would become unstable without Gabrielle.”
“You were right,” said Xena.
“You didn’t,” said Gabrielle quietly.
“I need two other gods to petition on my behalf and that was easy enough, Hephaestus and Aphrodite offered, and so Hades agreed. “
“You took Gabrielle to the healing temple.”
“I had to leave some physical wounds and I took the memory of her time in the Fields.”
Xena gently pushed Gabrielle onto the bed, and stood up. She turned to face Athena. “You said you have done little, but-“Xena swallowed and had tears in her eyes. “Thank you. Thank you for returning her to me.” The words were warm and sincere. Athena smiled genially.
“It was my pleasure.”
Gabrielle looked at the three women. She pushed herself up. “I’d like to do some shopping while the market’s on.” She raised her hand to stop Xena’s protest.
“You stay here. I think the three of you have a lot to catch up on.”
Xena looked at her Mother who smiled eagerly, and then at Athena who after giving her a wary look, nodded.
“OK,” said the warrior. “But be careful. If you feel ill, return straight away.”
Gabrielle nodded. She approached Cyrene who gave her a warm hug and Athena who shook her hand. Xena walked to the doorway with her.
“You OK?” asked Gabrielle with concern.
Xena nodded. “Take it easy,” she said and gave Gabrielle a tender kiss.
Xena turned back to face her parents. Parents! It would take time to think of Athena as a parent that would take some getting used.
“Will Gabrielle be alright?” asked Cyrene.
“That’s what amazons are there for,” said Xena and Athena in unison, and the three women all laughed.
“I always thought that Xena exaggerated Gabrielle’s love of shopping,” said Walia in an aside to Asteria.
“I’d love to blame her delicate condition, but she has been far, far worse than this,” retorted Asteria as she struggled with the packages that Gabrielle had given her to carry.
“If anything, Xena has understated it,” added Solari, through gritted teeth. They watched as their Queen engaged in banter with a market stall holder.
“You know, I almost feel sorry for them,” said Solari. “They see this sweet pregnant woman, and then bang, they’re selling half their stock for a dinar.”
Epinon sniggered, but lost her smile when Gabrielle added more packages to the precariously balanced ones she was already carrying.
“Good negotiation, my Queen?” she said coolly.
“Yes thank you, Pony. I think that is it.”
“We and the traders say whoopee,” said Asteria under her breath.
“Now that’s not the attitude to have,” said a voice and Xena walked up to the group of women.
“Xena,” said Gabrielle warmly and walked over to her. They said no more verbally but their eyes told a different story.
“Pony, at last, a good use for your warriors,” said Xena drily.
Epinon snarled at her.
“Have you really finished, Gabrielle?” asked Solari.
“Yes thank you, Sol. And thank you all. Xena?”
“Come on, lets go for a walk,” said the warrior, and they turned away from the grumbling Amazons who staggered towards Cyrene’s inn under the weight of Gabrielle’s packages.
They walked through the bustling market, past houses and towards the woods in silence. Xena indicated a spot and with Gabrielle’s nodded approval they sat down.
They sat in silence taking in the peaceful atmosphere, so different from the bustling town just moments away. Gabrielle gave Xena a sideways look. “How are you?” she asked gently.
Xena shrugged. “Bewildered, confused, frustrated.” She paused and looked at Gabrielle. “Relieved and overjoyed that Ares is not my father.”
“Just your uncle,” said Gabrielle in a teasing voice. “And Zeus is your grandfather.”
Xena made a face, but then smiled. “But I am still me. I am no different. It’s what you and Piri have been saying. Athena admitting the truth, it was a weight off my mind and I am pleased I know, but I don’t feel any different.”
“I am glad,” said Gabrielle and leaned into Xena who wrapped her arms around the bard and kissed the top of her head.
Gabrielle merely nuzzled in closer, and after a few moments asked, “How did it go?”
“Odd. I didn’t really know what to say. Athena was interested in everything; although I got the feeling she knew everything anyway.”
“Does she want to be a part of your life?”
“I think so,” Xena slowly sank back to the ground taking Gabrielle with her. The bard’s head was on Xena ‘s shoulder and the warrior’s arms wrapped tightly around her. “I’m not sure how I should feel about that.”
“I doubt she’d be dropping in every day for a mug of tea, Xena. More likely once in a while. You’re her child, her only child.”
“I know.” A pause. “Mother and her hit it off.”
Gabrielle chuckled. “Oh I know what you mean. Embarrassing was it?”
Xena chuckled along with her. “Yeah. Your parents?”
“Oh yes, big time. I used to hate it, all the other parents would be cold and distant and mine would be cooing over each other like newlyweds. Now I think how nice it was.”
They lay there in silence for several moments enjoying the sunshine. Xena swallowed and brought her hand up to Gabrielle’s cheek. She gently stroked it. “Tell me about Solon,” she said in a strangled voice.
Gabrielle took Xena’s hand in hers and kissed it. She turned to look at Xena. “He is a beautiful child Xena. We talked, about you. He wanted to know everything.” Gabrielle felt Xena wince. “He loves you, Xe and he knows you love him. He’s spirited, caring, loving, he is so much like you.” Gabrielle watched as the tears coursed down Xena’s face. “Oh Xena. I’m sorry that I could spend time with him and not you.”
Xena turned to her, her eyes still wet with tears. “I’m glad you did. He must have loved having a mother, even if it was for a short time.”
Gabrielle blushed and looked away momentarily embarrassed.
“That’s why he called you Gabby-mum isn’t it?”
Gabrielle nodded. Xena wiped away her tears and closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She opened them and steeled herself for the next question.
“Did you see Perdicus?”
Gabrielle looked shocked at the question. “Yes,” she whispered.
“How is he?”
Gabrielle looked away. “Well. He was pleased; no that’s not the right word. He said it was nice to see me, but he wished he hadn’t.”
Xena continued to look at Gabrielle and for once the steely eyed stare of her partner made the bard feel self conscious.
“He knew about us, and was happy that I was happy. He doesn’t blame either of us Xena.”
“Do you wish you could have stayed with him?” although her voice was calm her emotions were anything but. Xena sat up and looked away from Gabrielle.
“No.” said Gabrielle simply. “I loved him, and I can’t deny I don’t feel anything for him even now. But my place is with you, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And neither would Perdicus.”
Xena lay back down again and stroked Gabrielle’s face. “Thank you.”
Gabrielle moved closer to Xena and gave her a tender kiss on the lips. Xena felt slight pressure on her stomach. Xena broke away laughing. “That baby. Its timing is immaculate.”
Gabrielle smiled at Xena’s happy countenance. “You’re amazing.”
“I’m part God, what did you expect. See making jokes about it already!”
Xena jumped up and held her hands for Gabrielle to grab hold of. With a grunt the bard was on her feet. “It’s a good job that Hercules is coming soon; I don’t think I can lift you any more.”
Gabrielle swiped her hand at Xena. “I’ll tell your Mother.”
“Which one?” and Xena stuck her tongue out.
“Hercules will be here soon?” asked Gabrielle.
“Today,” said Xena and was suddenly distracted by the sight of a couple of rabbits. She moved towards them, chakram at the ready.
Gabrielle watched with interest. She felt a pain in her back and stifled a moan. She rubbed it furiously and within several seconds it had gone. By the time Xena returned with a rabbit in each hand, she was smiling warmly.
“Cyrene does have food you know.”
“I know but a little more can’t hurt.” Xena smiled at the bard, but she couldn’t help to notice how tired she looked. “Come on lets get you back. Does the market have any goods left?”
“Some. And it’s not all for us. There are presents for people, a few bits for the baby.”
“Mmm, “said Xena. “I’m sure there won’t be room on the wagon for you on the way home!”
“Hey look at you,” said Iolaus warmly as Gabrielle walked through the door. The hunter limped over to her and gave her a huge hug which nearly lifted her off the floor.
“My turn,” said Hercules, and as Iolaus moved towards Xena, the demi-God embraced Gabrielle.
“You look radiant,” said Hercules.
“I don’t feel it at the moment,” said Gabrielle.
“Let’s get you sitting down,” said Hercules and Iolaus took one of Gabrielle’s arms each and within moments they were sitting with the Amazons.
Xena wandered into the kitchen and placed the rabbits on the table. Doris gave her a smile and carried on making the stew. Xena walked towards the bar.
“Are you OK, Mother?” she said to Cyrene who was serving behind the bar.
“I’m fine, daughter.”
“Athena get away alright?”
“Yes, she did.” Their eyes locked.
“I’m sorry Mother, for what I said to you, and Athena.”
“You don’t feel ashamed of me?”
“Not at all. I love you.”
Cyrene looked away, overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment. Xena smiled, and turned to look at her friends. She heard a thump, and saw Cyrene had placed a tray with a large jug full of ale and several mugs next to her. “Go and have a good time Xena,” Cyrene said.
Xena picked up the tray and strode to the table. She placed it down and there was a rush to pick a mug.
“I was just telling our majesty that Joxer is currently tending Asteria’s back. An injury caused by carrying her shopping.” Epinon spoke seriously, but Xena could see the smirks of the other Amazons and Gabrielle trying to look innocent.
“Should have bent her knees,” said Xena and sat down next to Iolaus. “So how are things?” she added as she poured her self ale and savoured the first sip.
“Saving maidens, defeating Hera’s acolytes, battling dear old brother Ares, the usual,” said Hercules light heartedly.
“And did any of the maidens needing saving?” asked Epinon with a twinkle in her eye. Solari chuckled but the other amazons looked irritated at the thought of women being mocked, unaware of the usual banter that existed between the friends.
“They did after meeting Iolaus,” said Hercules.
“Hey,” said Iolaus indignantly.
“What was her name?” asked Gabrielle.
“Lost track haven’t you?” said Hercules drily.
“Well someone has to make a stand, Joxer’s loved up, and-here he is,” said Iolaus, very happy to change the subject.
“How’s Asteria?” said Gabrielle with a hint of concern in her tone.
“She’s fine, I told her to rest, and bend her knees next time,” said Joxer, oblivious to Xena’s smirk as he slid in next to Gabrielle and immediately started to engage her in conversation.
The group enjoyed Doris’s stew, and the ale and chat continued to flow as the inn filled up and became crowded. Xena caught sight of her Mother looking slightly harassed and worn.
“Mother is there anything we can do?” she asked.
“Unbelievably it is under control,” said Cyrene with chagrin. She smiled at her daughter, and leant towards Gabrielle. “Alright dear?”
The bard nodded, although she was beginning to feel tired. As Cyrene straightened up, she was struck by a thought. “There is something. I think we’ll need more ale before the night is out. I have two barrels in the lock up.” She handed Xena a key.
“Lead the way,” said Hercules and he stood up grandly.
Xena stood up too. “I’ll show you.”
“Need any help?” said Selene, but withered under Iolaus, Joxer, Gabrielle and Xena’s incredulous stares.
“I can manage it!” said Hercules kindly and he and Xena headed out the inn.
Xena breathed deeply in the cool night air. It was satisfying to be outside for a moment away from the bustle of the crowded inn. She turned to look at Hercules, content and happy as usual.
“Over here,” she said and pointed to a small metal storage unit sealed by locked doors.
Xena pulled a key from her breastplate and started to unlock the lock. She stopped and turned round.
“What?” asked Hercules?
Xena swallowed. “Sit for a moment,” she said. Hercules nodded.
“Iolaus told us about you retrieving the Oil of Lanius from the temple near Renwa,” said Xena quietly.
Hercules shook his head. “That’s all in the past. You’re not still beating yourself up over it are you?”
Xena shrugged. “It’s something I’ll never forget,” she said quietly. “But that’s not it.” She inhaled deeply. “I’ve visited that temple before.”
The words hung in the air. Hercules looked shocked for several moments before he regained his composure.
“I-well-I-you know what that means,” he said whispered?
“Yes,” said Xena. “I was concerned that my father was Ares. My mother was visited by my father when he should have been at war.”
Hercules made an O shape with his lips, and then gulped.
“It’s not,” Xena said quickly. “It was Athena.”
“Athena!” said Hercules surprised. “I never knew that she had children.”
“Neither did she until a while ago,” said Xena.
“Athena,” repeated Hercules. He smiled broadly. “There are definitely worst parents. I’ve always liked Athena.”
Xena nodded and smiled. Hercules gave her a sideways glance. “Come to think of it, there are similarities,” he said laughing. He became serious for a moment. “Are you alright with this?”
“I’m getting there, so is Mother. I am just relieved it wasn’t Ares.”
“He could use this. He doesn’t like to share anything and he always wants to be No1 in Zeus’s eyes. How does Gabrielle feel about the in-laws?”
“Her usual supportive self,” said Xena proudly. “She’s ok.” She added to Hercules questioning look.
“If you want anything you know where to find me.”
Xena grunted her thanks and got up and opened the door.
Xena eased the inn door open so that Hercules could walk through. With a barrel of ale on each shoulder he turned sideways and slipped through and they both made their way through the packed crowd. If anything it had grown in size. Hercules placed the barrels behind the counter, eliciting cheers from the crowd and a smile of gratitude from Cyrene. He spun around and saw that Xena was transfixed by the bard on stage. It was Gabrielle.
They made their way back through to the crowd to their table, garnishing several irritated stares. They sat down and Xena continued to watch Gabrielle intently, looking for any sign the bard was flagging. She found it hard to listen to stories about herself, and as the story was of her and Hercules rescue of Prometheus, she shot the demi god a sly look. He was as uncomfortable as she was, and she smiled to herself at that thought. However, soon the torture was over as Gabrielle finished up her story. The crowd were vocal in their appreciation and called for her to do another, but Gabrielle shook her head and headed off the stage. Xena watched her progress slowly through the crowd as so many people wanted to talk to her and press money into her hand. As she neared the table, a voice could be heard, “My dear, how you’ve developed as a bard. I assume you are entering the festival in fact you must enter the festival and I will sponsor you. Tell me have you thought about putting your works onto scrolls. I know a printer in Thessaly and I am sure that he can do us a good deal.”
“Oh no,” said Iolaus, Hercules and Xena simultaneously.
“What?” asked Solari seriously and Epinon and Selene stood up in order to get a better view of their queen.
“Trouble,” said Iolaus, and put his head on the table.
“Hold onto your money,” said Hercules, quietly.
“Salmoneus, what a surprise,” said Xena as Gabrielle and Salmoneus approached their table.
“I should have known,” said Hercules and smiled sweetly at Salmoneus.
Iolaus lifted his head up slightly. “Did I dream it?” he asked. Gabrielle ruffled his hair and his face dropped down on the table again.
“Hello, hello, hello to you all. Xena, Xena, Xena, why did you not come back and try to win the title. Why did you withdraw and deny your public of a year of being a light in their lives, a beauty to marvel at.”
Xena was waving her hands to stop while Gabrielle was trying hard, and failing to contain her laughter.
“What?” asked Epinon?
“Oh didn’t Xena tell you. Well she is a modest little thing really. Xena entered and won Miss Known World. So fetching she looked in her costumes too. But she gave it up. In fact it would have been good to have had Gabrielle next year but I can see she has been a little busy. I hope you are rubbing oil on your stretch marks my dear, don’t want to spoil that flawless skin. By the way, I have some contacts and I can get you some of the best baby products at a fraction of the price that you would pay at the markets.”
Xena too had put her head on the table, while Epinon was crying with laughter. Hercules and Joxer were also laughing at the stricken warrior.
“So…You mean to tell me… Xena won a beauty contest,” wheezed Epinon, trying to still her quivering mouth. “Oh what a gift, what a gift.”
Hercules managed to get control of his face and turned to Salmoneus. “So what does bring you here?”
“Well I am pleased you have asked, Hercules. I am putting on a wonderful production of Homer’s work. It has the best actors, scenery, and writing this side of Athens. It’ll be a hit!”
Gabrielle exchanged a look with Xena who had raised her face inches from the table. Xena rolled her eyes.
“So where are your acting troupe, and when is it on?”
“All will be revealed tomorrow,” said Salmoneus with a smile. “Is there a seat for me?” And he grabbed a mug and started to pour ale into it.
Xena looked at Gabrielle who nodded her head towards their bedroom. “You can have mine, we’re off to bed.” With that Xena rose and wrapping an arm around Gabrielle they walked to their room.
Gabrielle walked to their bed and dropped on it and closed her eyes. Xena smiled, shut the door and perched on the bed next to Gabrielle. She took one of the bard’s legs, and started to undo her boots.
“I haven’t been this tired since,” Gabrielle opened her eyes as she thought. “Since I first started out with you. My feet used to ache so much, and my blisters had blisters.”
Xena laughed. “I remember. I was so impressed you could keep up. At first I was trying to look for an excuse to leave you. Then one day, I realised I had stopped thinking that at all. I just wanted you with me.”
Xena pulled the other leg across her lap and started to remove that boot too.
“How are you doing?”
Xena removed Gabrielle’s boot and started to massage her foot and calf. “OK. “
“Really?” said Gabrielle.
“Yes really. Mother is happy. What happened to her was a good thing, not-“Xena’s hands stilled and she looked at Gabrielle.
“I’m pleased too,” said Gabrielle hoarsely. “You were conceived through love, by two people who adored each other. That’s how it should be.”
There was silence, and then Xena continued to massage Gabrielle’s legs. “I told Hercules. He was very relaxed about it.”
“I suppose you are related now, “said Gabrielle more brightly.
“Suppose,” said Xena and drifted off in thought for a moment. “I’m not sure how active a role Athena would like to take. Or if she expects anything from me.”
“We’ll see,” said Gabrielle. “I have a feeling she will visit Cyrene a little more often.”
“How tired are you?” said Gabrielle. Xena stilled her hands again and used one of them to rake through Gabrielle’s hair.
“I’m fine but you are shattered,” said Xena and she gasped as Gabrielle started to put her hand under her shoulder strap and pull it down.
“I suddenly feel very fine. It’s not like we have to stand up,” said Gabrielle and her hand continued her assault, moving beneath Xena’s leathers.
Xena whimpered. “Well there was that time in-“
“Just kiss me,” said Gabrielle.
“Oh yes, your high- “uttered Xena before her mouth was called into action.
Gabrielle made her way to the bar area feeling very rested. Xena had left a note saying she had gone fishing with Hercules and Iolaus, but Gabrielle had a feeling that was hours ago. As she entered the main body of the inn, she could hear voices, Xena included. The warrior flashed her a smile. “Good afternoon,” she said and walked over to the bard and gave her a hug.
“It’s not that late is it?” said Gabrielle, concerned.
“Hush up, Xena. Don’t listen to her Gabrielle. It’s merely mid morning. It’s not natural these people who want to get up in the middle of the night to go fishing,” said Cyrene, who shot a dirty look at Xena and then guided Gabrielle to a table. Gabrielle sat down and with moments a mug of tea was thrust in front of her by a smiling Epinon.
“You’re still thinking about Xena and the contest aren’t you?” said Gabrielle and sipped her tea.
Epinon nodded and Xena shot her a look of disgust.
“This is perfect, perfect,” came a voice from outside and the door was flung open and Salmoneus came in.
“I have to say that this is so exciting, my dear,” Salmoneus walked up to Cyrene and took her hand and kissed it grandly. “It is a show that will be talked about for years, generations in fact. And the fact it is here, will only add legend to this inn.”
“What!” exclaimed Xena? “Mother, what is going on?” She looked from her mother to Salmoneus.
“Oh didn’t I say, dear? Mr Salmoneus is staging his evening of events here. It is quite a coup, Xena. He had several other premises wanting to host it, but he chose us.”
“I bet he did,” said Hercules under his breath.
“Mother? You mean that Xena is your daughter?” Salmoneus looked flustered and dabbed his brow with a handkerchief. “You two look like sisters”
Cyrene smiled and looked embarrassed but Xena rolled her eyes and Gabrielle giggled.
There was a knock at the door and then a head popped around. “I was wondering if-“
“Orion!” exclaimed Gabrielle.
Orion walked in the inn, and Gabrielle rose from her chair and approached him. They shook hands awkwardly, laughed and then gave each other a warm hug. Xena watched icily but when Gabrielle turned to her she gave the bard a smile.
“I was told you were here,” said Orion happily. He pointed at Gabrielle’s stomach. “You’ve been busy. Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” said Gabrielle quietly. There was an awkward silence as the Amazons and Xena stared at Orion, who suddenly became very self conscious.
“I was hoping we could go for a drink, if you’ve got time that is?” he asked nervously.
Gabrielle turned to look at Xena who smiled warmly. “Go. Catch up. I want to keep an eye on the theatre mogul there,” and nodded her head towards Salmoneus who was fiddling with the wall decoration much to Cyrene’s annoyance.
“Thanks, I won’t be long and then I’ll help out,” Gabrielle said and gave Xena a quick peck on the cheek, turned and took Orion’s hand and they left the inn. Xena watched them leave, her face losing her smile and becoming darker and darker. Epinon approached her.
“What’s up?” she said.
“I want you to follow them Epinon. And if he tries anything you have my permission to shoot him.” Xena’s tone was serious and Epinon exchanged a look with Solari who had joined the pair.
“Xena?” asked Epinon. “Is he a threat to Gabrielle?”
“An old flame,” Xena growled.
“Oh,” said Epinon, and laughed. “Don’t worry we will keep the Queen’s virtue and honour intact,” she added keeping her mouth straight.
Xena turned to look at her and Epinon could see the concern in her eyes. “Xena, she loves you. Blimey, even if Homer himself proposed she’d say no.”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Xena, regaining some of her humour. “Go on with you, I want to have a word with sycophantic Sal.”
The amazons nodded and went to speak with the others.
Xena approached Salmoneus and was joined by Hercules. They both stood watching him fuss around with decorations with hands on hips. Salmoneus turned around and smiled.
“So where are the troupe?” asked Hercules.
“They are coming down from Paraeus. They have finished a most successful run, where apparently they were fabulous.”
Xena and Hercules exchanged a look. “So you’ve not seen it?” Said Xena.
“Well, not, exactly,” said Salmoneus. “But Zera, assured-“
“Zera!” exclaimed Xena and Hercules. Xena put her hand to her head and Hercules rubbed his face.
“She’s a bigger crook than you are,” said Xena.
“Hey,” said Salmoneus indigently.
“How much did you pay her?” said Hercules with an amused look on his face?
“Never mind that. How much has it cost my mother?” asked Xena menacingly.
“Nothing, nothing, I promise,” said the now sweating Salmoneus waving his hands. “I sold the tickets; she was going to get some of the drinks money.”
“WHAT!” yelled Xena? “SOME. Why you-“
Hercules stepped in and pulled Xena back. “Let’s see if the troupe turns up.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” said Xena bitterly. “I’m going to find mother,” said Xena and stomped towards the kitchen where she had seen her mother disappear.
Hercules and Salmoneus were left alone together as the Amazons had departed too.
“I’ll just-“Salmoneus started towards the door.
“No you won’t,” interrupted Hercules. “You stay here where I can see you. You are not leaving Cyrene to face this all by herself.”
Salmoneus sunk into a chair. “Any more thoughts on the biography?” he asked brightly.
“I’m surprised you have time to meet me,” said Gabrielle. She sipped her ale.
Orion mirrored her action. “I’m doing a recital this afternoon, but beyond that I thought I’d take it easy and check out all the talent. Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back.”
“Good call. I’d like to get out and see some bards. Apparently Cyrene has something at the tavern this evening.”
Orion smiled politely. “So how are you?” he asked gently. “I thought you and Xena were together.”
“We are,” said Gabrielle.
“But,” Orion pointed at her stomach.
“Oh,” said Gabrielle. “I thought you wouldn’t notice.” They shared a laugh. “It wasn’t planned, I was ra-“Gabrielle broke off and looked away.
There was silence. Orion read the distress on Gabrielle’s face.
“I’m so sorry,” whispered Orion and placed his hand on Gabrielle’s.
They sat in silence for several moments. Orion peered into his mug, swallowed and looked up. “I could marry you. If you wanted a father for the baby. I’ll take a job at the Academy.”
“Oh sweetie,” said Gabrielle and cupped his face with her hand. “Thank you. That is so kind. Xena and I, well we’re going to raise it.”
“Good, I’m glad,” said Orion quickly, although his voice was tinged with disappointment.
“No I mean it, thank you. You are going to be such a famous bard, and I am so pleased to have known you,” said Gabrielle, picking up her mug.
Orion looked bashful. “Maybe Dad would be proud of me then.”
Gabrielle smiled sympathetically. “Still having trouble with him?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry. Let’s talk about you. Any more adventures? Some of the stuff you written, it’s fantastic.”
Gabrielle smiled and they continued to talk for several minutes about stories they had heard and shared their knowledge of their mutual friends.
“I better head off now,” said Orion, smiling. “I’m over there for the afternoon,” he pointed at a large area with a crowd gathering. “I’m surprised Xena didn’t join us,” he added nervously.
“She didn’t, but she sent a squad of Amazons to make sure you behaved.”
“Where, where?” asked Orion and stood up and spun around looking for them.
Gabrielle laughed. “Oh they are around.” Gabrielle gave Orion’s arm a squeeze. “Thank you. It’s been wonderful to catch up with you.”
“You too.” Said Gabrielle and watched as Orion hurried away. She smiled and waddled over to the market stall where the Amazons were browsing.
“Fancy seeing you here, Gabrielle,” said Solari, brightly.
“Amazing coincidence,” said Gabrielle, drily. “Come on, let’s make sure Salmoneus hasn’t turned Cyrene’s inn into a theme park!”
“So let me get this straight. Salmoneus has made a deal with the biggest crook this side of-“
“In the world.”
Gabrielle smiled and turned her gaze back to Xena. “They are due to give a performance here, tonight. And the troupe is not here.”
“That about wraps it up,” said Xena through gritted teeth and turned to Salmoneus and gave him a sneer. Salmoneus dabbed his pale forehead with a now sweat soaked handkerchief.
“Grr,” said Xena.
“Pay the money back,” said Epinon simply.
All eyes turned to Salmoneus. “Well you see, it is not that easy. Business being what it is, cash flow and profit margins-“
“You’ve spent it,” said Iolaus and rolled his eyes.
“Yes,” replied Salmoneus. “Maybe your mother could lend me-“
“GRRRR” replied Xena, and Salmoneus paled further.
“Any one got any ideas?”
“Cancel the event?” said Solari.
“I imagine it wasn’t cheap,” said Xena staring at Salmoneus. “I don’t think they’ll take too kindly to having it cancelled. And what worries me is what they’ll do to Mother’s Inn.”
“Xena you and your friends can deal with a few rowdy guests. Mr Salmoneus how many tickets did you sell?” asked Cyrene.
There was silence.
Cyrene swallowed. “Anyone got any other ideas?” she said in a high pitched voice.
“Maybe the troupe will turn up?” Said Joxer, hopefully.
“And pigs will fly,” said Hercules.
“We do have a bard in our midst,” said Salmoneus quickly.
All eyes turned to Gabrielle.
“I-but-I can’t-“stammered Gabrielle.
“I am not having Gabrielle put in front of that crowd,” said Xena.
“Xena, I’d be fine,” said the bard and smiled at Xena.
Xena smiled back, and took her hand. “I don’t doubt you could do it, but I’m worried that the crowd may not take to having you instead of a Homeric play. If they’ve been drinking-I just don’t want to put you in that situation.”
“There are several of you,” said Salmoneus looking around. “And we have a talented, a very talented if I may say so, bard that I am sure can write a play that can rival, no top any play written by Homer.”
Gabrielle looked aghast. “You want me to write a play? Now?”
“And you want us to act in it?” said Iolaus aghast.
“I can’t believe this!”
“We’re not actors, we’re fighters.”
“Joxer you are a healer, not a fighter,” said Gabrielle.
“I meant in general,” said Joxer.
“So that’s a go-er then,” said Salmoneus.
The room erupted in noise again, with everyone talking at once. Unnoticed by many, Falla walked in and spoke to Cyrene quietly. Xena watched with interest and saw the colour drain from her Mother’s face.
“Mother, what is it?” Said Xena.
“The crowd has already started to arrive. And there have already been arguments between the sections of Homer’s fan club about who gets the best seats.” Cyrene slumped into a chair.
“How long have we got?” asked Hercules.
“Not long.” Said Salmoneus.
“Just popping out to the-“Gabrielle pointed in the direction of the bathroom and grimaced.
Xena squeezed her hand and the bard left the room.
“We really have to come up with something,” said Iolaus. “And quick. There are enough of us, we can think of something.”
“So we’ve come up with…” said Joxer.
“Nothing,” chorused everyone else in the room, and sighed.
“We have two of the brightest minds in Greece, and you haven’t come up with anything. You have been a disappointment,” said Salmoneus.
“That’s rich coming from you,” said Hercules.
“I still say my idea would work,” said Solari huffily.
“No one in their right mind would watch a play about Cats, especially with singing,” said Xena with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
“I thought it was a good idea,” said Epinon, rising out of her chair.
“It may have been if we had costumes, a writer, people who could sing and time, but we have none of those,” said Xena.
“Well I haven’t heard you coming up with any credible ideas. And someone with many skills too,” retorted Epinon.
“Girls, girls,” said Salmoneus.
“Shut up Sal!” they said to him together. Salmoneus shrugged his shoulders, and tried to creep out of the door.
“Oh no you don’t,” said Hercules. “That is the fifth time you’ve tried to sneak out. You have to face the music.”
“Shame we haven’t any music either,” said Iolaus. “I thought Amazons were supposed to be good at drumming.”
Xena snorted, and Epinon and Solari both glared at her and were about to open their mouths when Cyrene entered the room looking harried.
“The inn is full. They are getting restless. We need to tell them.” She said. “And Xena, do you know where Gabrielle is?”
“She popped to the bathroom. Is she in our room?”
“No I checked,” replied her Mother. “She isn’t.”
Xena looked at Epinon, who immediately exited the room.
“Don’t worry Cyrene,” said Hercules, and gave the older woman a warm smile.
“I’m sure Salmoneus has a good story to tell,” said Iolaus and laughed as the businessman paled.
Epinon rushed back into the room. “The others thought she was with us.”
Xena’s face became passive but her voice was icy. “So that’s another thing to add to drumming that the Amazons are useless at.”
“You haven’t exactly done a good job at keeping track of her yourself have you Xena?” snapped Solari.
“Please, please. This is not helping,” said Cyrene.
“I’m sorry Cyrene. The tension has got to us,” said Epinon.
“Sorry Mother,” said Xena. “I need to find Gabrielle.”
“We’ll come, “said Solari, and was gratified to see Xena nod. They trooped out of the room, but suddenly Xena froze and turned her head. “Come on,” she said.
They all headed towards the main part of the inn that was full to bursting. Gabrielle was standing on the stage in front of a hushed audience.
“-and I know I’m not the only one who is looking forward to watching the play.”
There were lusty cheers and Xena, Salmoneus and Cyrene looked very uncomfortable.
“What are you doing?” whispered Xena.
“Unfortunately the playhouse troupe can’t be with us this evening,” continued Gabrielle.
This was met by a chorus of boos.
“But instead we have a magnificent bard, who will enthral you with wondrous tales.”
“Gabrielle,” growled Xena.
“But you don’t want me prattling on,” said Gabrielle with a smile.
“I love you Gabrielle,” came a shout from the crowd.
“You’ll get your five dinars later,” the bard replied with a laugh.
The crowd murmured, and an object was thrown towards Gabrielle. Xena started to move forwards but felt a large hand on her shoulder stopping her. It was Hercules. She looked at him angrily but he merely pointed to the stage and Xena watched Gabrielle pick up a pair of underpants with a look of horror mixed with amusement.
“Er, thank you. I know you are disappointed,” she said to the crowd who were beginning to get restless. “But here is-“she waved her hand triumphantly towards the side of the stage, and the crowd erupted as a bard walked on stage.
“Orion?” said Xena.
“Who?” said Salmoneus? “Who’s ever heard of Orion?”
“Gabrielle’s ex,” said Epinon, still smarting over her heated discussion with Xena. The warrior Princess shot her a menacing look.
“Homer! Homer!” came the chant from the crowd.
“What?” said Xena and everyone standing with her?
“I am pleased to announce Homer will be spending the evening with us,” shouted Gabrielle. The crowd’s noise gradually subsided, although several of Homer’s fans had fainted with the excitement and were being revived by their friends.
“Thank you, Gabrielle.” Said Homer warmly, and clapped his hands several times, and the crowd did the same. Homer then grabbed Gabrielle’s hand. “As well as being a fantastic bard, Gabrielle has done so much for me.”
“I bet she has,” whispered Solari to Epinon who snickered. Xena approached Solari and grabbed hold of her leathers. Solari pointed to the stage, and Xena twirled around.
“I’m hoping that Gabrielle will join me later, with a few other friends to talk about our experiences at the Academy.” Homer was grinning at Gabrielle. She nodded and the crowd cheered and whooped and she left the stage waving.
Xena let go of Solari’s leathers and pushed her way through the crowd. It was almost silent, although Xena could hear some ribald comments about Homer which made her laugh, although one about Gabrielle almost made her change direction and seek out the speaker. She finally reached an ecstatic looking Gabrielle, and grabbed her arm, pulling towards the kitchen area.
They finally reached the relative peace and quiet of the kitchen area. Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and gave her a warm hug.
“Are you ok, Bri?” asked Xena and her eyes scanned Gabrielle.
“I’m fine, although I could use a drink,” said Gabrielle, and drew up a stool. “And to get rid of these.” She threw the underpants onto the fire, and then sat down, resting her hand on her bump.
Xena found two mugs and poured them both some apple juice. Gabrielle downed hers in two gulps, and Xena gave her the second mug. Gabrielle quickly emptied that mug too and then shut her eyes.
“So your ex is a world renowned bard. Any more secrets?” asked Xena. Gabrielle opened her eyes, as the words were said without humour and the cerulean blue eyes flashed a hint of vulnerability.
Gabrielle inhaled. “He asked me to marry him. So the baby would have a father. I told him no obviously.” She smiled.
Xena returned the smile. “He has good taste.” She looked down at the floor. “That was kind of him. I’m sure he’d have made a good father.”
“Yeah,” said Gabrielle and got off of her stool and stood in front of Xena. “You do know that I never gave it a moment’s thought, don’t you? Don’t you? I love you.”
“Me too,” said Xena. “What you did, what Homer and you have done for Mother. Thank you.”
“Glad to help,” said Gabrielle and leaned against the Warrior Princess. They stayed like that for several moments.
“Come on,” said Xena. “Your public awaits. Who else are coming?”
“Stallonus, Twickenham and Euripides. They weren’t doing anything this evening and thought it’d be fun to do something together.”
“Thank you,” said Xena again and kissed Gabrielle on the forehead.
“So there we have it, what an event, what an evening,” shouted Salmoneus over the noisy crowd. “Thanks to Salmoneus productions. Remember autographs will be on sale, ooh” Salmoneus spun around and rubbed the back of his leg where Gabrielle had kicked him. Gabrielle gave him an icy stare. “Of course our wonderful bards will be happy to autograph anything, for free.” Salmoneus blushed as he saw a buxom women push through the crowd cradling her assets. “Almost anything,” said Salmoneus, nervously. “So let’s show our appreciation for the bards.”
There was more cheering and clapping and coins were being thrown onto the stage. Salmoneus started to collect some of the coins along side the bards, until he felt a hand on his shoulder. He stood up, turned around and saw Hercules, Xena and Iolaus standing on the stage arms crossed, shaking their heads slowly. Salmoneus gazed sadly at the coins that were disappearing in other people’s hands.
“I think my hand is going to fall off if I sign any more signatures,” said Stallonus. “I’m so pleased they’ve all gone.”
“Me too,” said Homer. “I just wish it was only parchment I had to sign!”
“Well if you are a heart throb,” said Euripides teasing. He stood up and walked over to where Gabrielle was sitting, having her shoulders massaged by Xena. The inn was quiet and there were only them left. The amazons were tidying up being helped by Iolaus and Hercules.
“Gabrielle, it has been an honour,” he said formally. Gabrielle rose and they shared a warm hug. When they parted, Xena held her hand out, and Euripides shook it.
“Thank you,” said Xena. “And remember, if you are ever in Amphipolis, this is your home. Mother insists.”
“Thank you. Oh wait,” Euripides pulled his bulging money bag from his belt and shook about half of it into his hands. He then walked over to where Cyrene was sitting with Joxer and Asteria and placed all the money on the table. Cyrene looked at him quizzically and then in shock as Stallonus and Homer repeated the gesture.
“I can’t take your money, boys,” said Cyrene. “I had my best evening in living memory. I don’t expect anything from you.”
“Fair dues,” said Homer. “It’s what we usually agree.” He turned to face Gabrielle. “Gabrielle, thank you. I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in a long time. It was super to catch up.”
Gabrielle smiled at him.
“And good luck,” he pointed at her bulging bump.
“Thank you Orion,” she said and they shared a warm embrace.
The three bards picked up their belongings and made their way to the doors. Salmoneus walked with them. “And remember if ever you need literary agents, I’m your man.”
They went out of the inn and Salmoneus looked after them.
“Mr Salmoneus. Here have this,” said Cyrene, and gave him a bag full of coins. Xena stared at her, but her glare was met with one of equal ferocity back. “Well, he did help.”
“Mmm,” said Xena.
“Thank you my dear, and if ever you want to stage another event.”
“I don’t,” said Cyrene firmly.
“She doesn’t,” said Xena at the same time.
“Well I think I will depart. There is someone I need to see about a wonderful range of cooking products. So I will bid you all a fond farewell.”
There were grunts in his direction. Joxer waved enthusiastically, and Iolaus and Hercules exchanged a look and walked with him to the door.
“Bye Salmoneus,” said Gabrielle.
“Bye my dear and good luck. Remember Salmoneus has a nice ring for a baby.”
Xena rolled her eyes and watched him leave with Hercules and Iolaus.
“Come on, let’s head off to bed. We can do the rest of the tidying tomorrow.”
Epinon and Solari put down the brooms they were using and smiled.
Cyrene nodded. “Thank you for all your help. I really appreciate it. And Gabrielle-“she walked over to the bard. “Thank you.”
The bard smiled. “My pleasure.” Xena draped an arm around her shoulders.
“Come on my talented bard, you need your rest.” And the pair headed towards the door.
“Night,” called Gabrielle.
“This is nice,” said Gabrielle as she opened her eyes.
“What?” asked Xena?
“That you are still here,” replied the bard and snuggled into Xena. “Usually you’ve gone and left me.”
She looked up at Xena’s face that showed a flash of hurt. “I know it’s because I get up so late. I’m not blaming you, Xena.”
Xena kissed the top of her head. “Sometimes it’s nice to be lazy,” she said.
“Only you haven’t!” Gabrielle’s attention was caught by the large steaming bath at the edge of the room, and the table that was groaning under the weight of the food on it.
“You deserve pampering after yesterday,” said Xena, “and I had a little help with the tub. Athena’s visiting Mother.”
“Oh,” said Gabrielle. She eased herself out of bed, and picked a grape off the bunch on the table. She walked to the tub and put her hand in and inhaled deeply. “Smells divine.”
“Apparently it’s Aphrodite’s secret recipe. Yes it is safe,” Xena added to Gabrielle’s raised eyebrow. “Go on get in, I’ll do your back.”
Gabrielle shed her clothes and got in the bath gingerly. She gave a groan as she eased her body in, and shut her eyes. Xena got out of bed and sat next to the tub.
“Mother is ecstatic. Last night she cleared more money than she usually does in a season. And now Athena is here too.”
“How do you feel about it?”
“OK I guess. Still getting used to it.”
Xena gently sponged Gabrielle’s back and then reached across and grabbed an empty jug from the table. She filled it up and started to wash her hair.
“That’s lovely,” said Gabrielle. “Xena, do you know if you have inherited any gifts or powers from Athena?”
Xena stilled and thought for several moments. “I don’t know. I am wondering if my healing ability is from her. I can’t read minds, transport or go weeks without eating or sleeping though,” she said with a smile. “But maybe things that I took for granted that came easy to me are from her.”
She recommenced washing Gabrielle’s hair, massaging her scalp gently. “The amazons are up,” she said sheepishly.
“Are you and Epinon speaking?”
“Yes. I think the ale last night helped. She and Sol are having a wander around the town. Joxer is buying Piri a present and Hercules and Iolaus have gone hunting. All done.”
Xena jumped up and held her arm out for Gabrielle who took it. Xena helped her out of the bath and then got a large towel and wrapped it around her. Within minutes the bard was dressed and Xena was lying in the tub while Gabrielle was tucking into breakfast.
“There is something I wanted to ask you.”
“I should have known you were after something,” said Gabrielle.
Xena feigned an innocent look and laughed. She jumped up and out of the bath and wrapped herself in a towel.
“I’d just like you to have a check up, before we go tomorrow. It hasn’t quite been the rest I’d anticipated.”
“Fine, no problem,” said Gabrielle sipping tea.
“And with the journey back-what did you say?”
“I said fine. “
“Oh, “said Xena looking momentarily stunned. She pulled on a tunic and sat on the bed and pulled on leggings.
There was a knock at the door and Gabrielle got up and answered it. It was Cyrene and Athena.
“Gabrielle, you look well,” said Athena warmly.
Gabrielle stepped back and the two older women entered. It was impossible not to notice the chemistry between the pair. Xena sprung up from the bed and stood awkwardly in the middle of the room.
“Thank you for the bath, it was wonderful and the breakfast. It was a lovely treat,” said Gabrielle.
“It is lovely to spoil my girls, I’ll miss you,” said Cyrene sadly, and looked away.
“As I was saying Gabrielle, I’d like you to have a check up. The choices are Joxer.”
“Mother has brought many of Amphipolis’ babies into this world. Or there is Josef, the healer.”
“What’s Josef like?” asked Gabrielle.
“He has to be 108,” said Xena with a sly look at her Mother.
“He’s my age,” said Cyrene and gave her daughter a slap on the behind.
“You and Cyrene can check me,” said Gabrielle. Mother and daughter exchanged a glance, while Gabrielle lay on the bed.
“Do you want me to leave?” asked Athena.
“Of course not,” said Gabrielle and was greeted by a wide smile from the Goddess.
Cyrene stood over Gabrielle and started to push her stomach.
“Any pains?” she asked.
“A couple of times,” said Gabrielle studiously ignoring Xena’s annoyed look.
“It’s low. Plenty of kicks?”
“I can answer that. It’s a kicker,” said Xena with a smile.
“And how are you feeling generally?” asked Cyrene taking Gabrielle’s hand.
“I’m getting a bit tired I guess. Seem to be aching all over.”
“What about your hand?” asked Xena and picked up Gabrielle’s left hand. “You’ve not complained about it recently.”
“No but I haven’t been sparring.”
Cyrene looked at Athena. “Tia can you do anything?”
Athena shook her head. “Gabrielle’s been saved, twice in fact, by Gods. Mortals can only be saved once, or a further time in exceptional circumstances. I can’t do anything for her at all now, not even healing a cut.”
Xena opened her mouth. “You, I can heal, Xena, you’re not a mortal, as such,” said Athena. “Anyway, I know Ares has healed cuts and bruises of yours. And the Ambrosia, well that was a special case.”
“It’s not that,” said the Warrior Princess. “You said Gabrielle was saved twice. Was it is the Thessalian healing temple?”
Athena shook her head. “Illusia. Gabrielle was dead when she hit the water. She was revived and brought to Illusia.”
“Illusia,” whispered Cyrene. “What’s that?”
Gabrielle and Xena looked at each other. Gabrielle swallowed. Neither could speak.
“It’s the Gods party piece,” said Athena. “We like to use it if it can reconcile people. In this case Solon asked and Hades agreed.”
“After our “Xena searched for the right word, “difficulties, it helped to set us on the right path together.” She smiled at Gabrielle, but it quickly faded. “You died, I killed you.”
Gabrielle took her hands. “I’m here,” she said gently. “It’s all in the past.”
“Ambrosia, Illusia, there is so much I don’t know about you girls,” said Cyrene sadly. “Sometimes I feel I don’t know you at all; what you’ve done, what you’ve been through.”
Gabrielle and Xena locked and eyes and Gabrielle gave an imperceptible nod.
“Mother, why don’t you come back with us? Stay at least until after the baby is born.”
“Xena, I couldn’t?”
“Why not?” asked Athena.
“The Inn for starters,” said Cyrene.
“If it is money, allow me. I could pay for staff to run the inn. It is the least I could do,” said Athena.
Cyrene stared at her.
“Mother we would like you to come with us.”
“I don’t know.”
“A baby needs its Grandmother.” Said Gabrielle. She turned to look at Athena. “All of them. Please visit us, once it makes an appearance.”
Athena looked taken aback and glanced at Xena who nodded. She then gave a toothy grin.
“Reanie, why don’t you?” said Athena gently, taking Cyrene’s hand. Xena rolled her eyes.
Cyrene nodded. “I better get things sorted out. Doris and her family can run the place; they’ve been itching to try. And I better pack, and-“
“Let’s go and have a drink first,” said Athena, and clicked her fingers making the tub disappear. “I’m sure things won’t take too long,” and gave a wink. They walked out of the room.
“Are you ok about this?” said Gabriele giving Xena a hug.
“Sure I am. She is having her own hut, right?”
Gabrielle laughed. “Oh yes. But think our own babysitter.”
“Gabrielle you have a whole tribe desperate to babysit!”
“She looked so happy. And so did Athena. She wants to be part of your life, Xe.”
“As long as it is in a role of a parent, not as a God. I don’t like owing Gods favours, family or not. You know what?”
“We are going to need two wagons!”
“How much longer, Xena?” Asked Cyrene.
“I thought it was children who were supposed to ask their parents that!” replied Xena. “Not long. We’re entering Amazon territory shortly, so we should be at the village before nightfall.”
Cyrene turned around. “How are you faring Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle waved from the following wagon that was driven by Iolaus. “Fine thank you, Cyrene,” she shouted back.
“We’ll get to the Amazon land and then Joxer, Hercules and Iolaus will veer off to the centaur village. We’ll visit it once you get settled.”
“That will be wonderful Xena. Are you sure this is ok?”
“Mother, Gabrielle is the queen. She is happy, and I’m sure Ephiny will be too. Don’t worry you won’t have to be dancing naked covered in mud around the fire.”
“Not in your first week at least,” said Epinon from on top of her horse. Cyrene laughed.
“Be approaching the border soon.” Epinon added.
They carried on for several minutes until Xena brought the wagon to a stop. Gabrielle and Iolaus had got off and approached them. Xena jumped off the wagon in a fluid movement and then helped her mother down.
“Just up here,” said Gabrielle kindly to Cyrene. They walked for a minute and Xena nodded to Cyrene and they all clasped their hands above their head.
Three Amazons descended from the trees. On seeing Gabrielle they immediately all fell to one knee.
Gabrielle sighed. “Up, up.”
“It is good to see you your majesty,” said one.
“Thank you Dana. And you. I am looking forward to getting to my hut, I can tell you.”
“I’m sorry?” said Gabrielle.
“The village is in quarantine. We can’t let you through.”
“What happened?” said Gabrielle appalled.
“Yesterday people started to fall sick, and it spread rapidly. We were not relieved so Cara returned to see what the problem was. They wouldn’t let her in, and told us to stay here. Otere advised the centaurs and they are not affected.”
“The whole village?” said Xena. “Fallen sick that quickly?”
Joxer pushed his way forward. “I’m going to help.”
“No,” said Otere. “We were under strict instructions from Queen Ephiny and Piri.”
“I’ll deal with Piri,” said Joxer. “She won’t be able to cope, especially if she is sick. I’m not leaving her.”
“What if it was Gabrielle? You’d be first there!” Said Joxer angrily.
“I would,” said Xena smiling. “I was going to say, I’ll come with you,” she added gently.
“And I’m coming too,” said Cyrene.
Dana threw her hands up in exasperation. “What are we? Pleasant statues to be ignored?”
Gabrielle smiled. “You are doing a good job. You’ve no chance against their stubbornness,” she said in an aside to the guards. “Have you eaten recently?”
The guards shook their heads. Iolaus went to the wagon to retrieve some food.
“Here” he said handing over a bundle with a smile. “Cyrene packed enough for an army.”
Xena turned to Gabrielle. “You are not setting foot anywhere near the village, do you understand. It’s too risky for the baby. Until we know what we are dealing with.” She cupped the bard’s face with her hand.
“OK,” said Gabrielle with tears in her eyes. Xena brought her towards her and they kissed tenderly. “Be careful,” whispered the bard.
“We’ll take that wagon, it’s got all Joxer’s healing items on it,” said Xena. She helped her mother on to it and Joxer climbed on. Walia gave her a horse and Epinon also mounted hers.
“Can’t let you get all the glory can I,” she said. “Gabrielle has sufficient protection.” She blew a kiss towards a dejected looking Solari. “You might need some help,” she added quietly.
Xena nodded. She looked at Gabrielle who raised her hand up. The wagon and two horses then moved towards the Amazon village whilst the small crowd watch them disappear into the dark forest.
As soon as they reached the outskirts of the village, Epinon dismounted and ran towards Ephiny’s hut. Joxer and Cyrene got off the wagon and joined Xena walking slowly towards the village. It was deserted. There was little noise from the usual vibrant community.
“Eph’s not there,” said Epinon hoarsely, “but I went into Chillipa’s hut.” She shook her head and tears rolled down her face. She ran into another hut. Cyrene followed her. Joxer went back to the wagon and started to lift out his bags, thanking Gods that he had decided to stock up on medicines and herbs at Amphipolis busy market. Xena approached him and placed her hand comfortingly on his shoulder. She could see the concern radiating from his brown eyes.
“We’ll go and see her,” she said. Joxer nodded wordlessly and they carried the bags to where Cyrene was now standing. “They’re dying Xena, the amazons are dying,” she said shakily. Xena shivered and went cold as she remembered seeing this very scene in a vision thanks to Alti. She shut her eyes and tried to rid herself of the shameness’s image.
“All of them are sick. All of them,” said Cyrene.
“Let’s go and see Piri,” said Xena quietly.
They walked into the medical hut. There were double the numbers of the usual occupants, the hut felt warm and oppressive and there was an overwhelming acidic odour. Piri was walking delicately around the beds, and was assisted by two other women who looked as equally as ill as the patients they tended.
“Piri,” said Joxer. The healer looked up and at first a look of anger crossed her face but that was soon replaced by relief. She took a step towards Joxer but he was too quick and strode forward and gathered her up in his eyes. For several seconds they merely hugged, and then Joxer gently rubbed his thumb along her cheek. “I was so worried,” he said quietly.
“You shouldn’t have come Jay,” she said although her voice lacked conviction.
“I wasn’t going to leave you,” he said gently and kissed her lips. “You’re warm,” he said, and placed his hand on her forehead.
Xena and Cyrene were trying to give the couple their privacy but eventually Xena cleared her throat. The couple pulled away slightly and Piri looked at Xena. The warrior could see how tired and worn the healer was yet her eyes shined with defiance. Piri glance at Cyrene quizzically.
“My mother, Cyrene,” said Xena simply.
“The queen?” asked Piri.
“Heading towards the centaur village I would imagine. And she is well, although tired from the journey.” Xena looked around the hut. Amazons were lying on the floor as well as beds, some were asleep, others moaning quietly. Xena’s attention was caught by the sight of Ephiny tending to Aella. She turned back to look at Piri. “Tell me, what happened. What are the symptoms?”
“It started yesterday, without warning. Within hours, most of the camp were infected and within the day everyone. Everyone Xena. It’s the same for everyone; vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, lethargy. It’s the elderly and the young that are most at risk. And-“she looked towards Ephiny and Aella, “Aella.”
“Aella?” asked Xena, surprised. “Why? She’s young and fit?”
“She suffered a slight injury, a wound from a fall, and she has deteriorated most severely. Her wound is infected.” Piri leant in towards Xena, who did the same. “I’m worried we may lose her.”
Xena stepped back, aghast. She inhaled deeply and looked around. “We’ll do everything we can to avoid that. Mother, do you recognise any thing about this?”
Cyrene shook her head slowly. “What do you want me to do?”
Piri smiled in gratitude. “The hut over there, I haven’t been there for a while. You may need to change linen,” she looked down at the floor.
“Don’t worry I’ll get a fire going and start some washing too,” said Cyrene. She squeezed Xena’s hand and left the hut.
“Where do you want me?” asked Joxer.
Before Piri could answer, Xena said, “You stay here, Joxer. I want to check some things out and then I’ll be back.”
Joxer and Piri nodded in unison and Xena hurried out of the hut. She saw a bewildered looking Epinon in the centre of the village.
“Eph’s in the healing hut,” said Xena. “It’s Aella,” she added in response to Epinon’s stricken face.
“What?” she asked breathlessly.
“Aella’s not too good,” said Xena gently. “No one is. It’s swept through the village like-“
“A plague?” asked Epinon, fearfully?
“No, I don’t think so. There’s usually a cough and a rash. It’s more like,” Xena became lost in thought and then started walking. Epinon strode after her, not saying a word. Xena opened the door to the store shed and rummaged around until she found a sack of grain. She took her breast dagger from her breast plate and in a swift movement cut a small slit in the bag. She cupped her hand in the grain and brought it to her nose and sniffed.
“Smells OK,” she said. “An old trick,” she said quietly.
“Poison?” said Epinon appalled.
“It’s a possibility.” Xena dropped the grain and brushed her hands together and looked around. “I need you to ask around. Build a picture of what happened. Get timings, who is sick, when they became ill, what they ate, who they have been in contact with. Anything you can find out.”
“Sure thing Xena,” said Epinon. “What about you?”
“I’ll do whatever I can,” she replied sanguinely.
“Here’s another load,” said Xena as she carried an armful of clothes, towels and rags towards the centre of the village. Cyrene had started several fires and in large pots, dirty linen was being boiled. Darkness had fallen, and the village remained eerily quiet.
“How are they?” asked Xena. Cyrene merely sighed and added the clothes to an empty pot. She placed sodden linen over weapon racks she had found.
Epinon approached the pair. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Boiling all the bed linen and clothes. It may reduce the spread,” said Cyrene.
“Too late for that,” said Epinon with a shrug of her shoulders.
“What have you found out?” Asked Xena.
Epinon sighed. “Many people started to complain not long after breakfast and by lunch time everyone said they had symptoms. They ate different things, drank different things, for Artemis sake the hunting party even fell ill and came back early.”
“Really?” said Xena interested.
“Everyone is ill, except for Louka’s baby. She is fine, Louka says, even though Louka is poorly.”
“So the only people not infected are Louka’s baby and Dana, Otere and Cara. They were fine weren’t they?” Xena’s brow furrowed as she thought. “What do they have in common?” No one said anything, but Cyrene continued to tend to the washing. Xena watched her for a moment and said suddenly, “WATER! That’s it.”
The other two women looked at her.
“The baby doesn’t drink water only milk and the guards get their supply from a different source. The hunting party gets it from the northern river same as the village. I bet my bottom dinar that the water is contaminated.”
There was silence while the women digested the information.
“But not everyone drinks water. And some people only ever drink tea,” said Epinon.
“Good point, but chances are the food was cooked in the contaminated water or contained water.”
“Will boiling be sufficient?” asked Cyrene.
Xena shook her head. “I don’t know. It depends on the contaminant.”
“It’s too late to check tonight,” said Epinon. “I can ride up to the stream to the south and bring back fresh.”
“I’ll come with you,” said Xena. “We’ll need to wash the waterskins out. And any pots we can find. We can take wagons. It’ll be slower but we can fit more on.”
“I’ll start collecting them up and telling people not to drink anymore,” said Cyrene.
“I want to see Ephiny and Aella before we go,” said Epinon.
“Come on, we’ll talk to Piri and Joxer too,” replied Xena and they strode to the healing hut.
“Hi Ephiny,” said Xena, and squatted down next to the red rimmed eyed regent.
Ephiny smiled wanly and went back to gazing at the prone Aella.
“Gabrielle’s not here is she?” asked the regent.
Xena shook her head.
“How is she?” asked Epinon who was standing at the foot of the bed.
Ephiny turned quickly as if to snap an answer, but managed to control herself.
“Sorry, thoughtless question,” said Epinon.
“No, Pony. Sorry. She’s not good,” said Ephiny.
“You don’t look great yourself Eph,” said Xena. “Why don’t you rest?”
Ephiny shook her head slowly. “I don’t want to; just in case-“she looked down and started to sob. “Why when it’s too late, do I realise?” She started to cry.
Xena looked at Epinon, and then placed her hand on the regent’s shoulder. “It may not be too late, Ephiny. She may well pull through.”
“We don’t all have the luck of the Gods like you and Gabrielle,” said Ephiny. Xena bristled slightly and looked at the stricken Amazon. She was feverish and there was a pungent smell from a bandage on her arm.
“What’s that Eph?” asked Xena nodding at the bandage?
“She fell off her horse. When everyone became sick it suddenly became infected.” Ephiny looked away. “I never got a chance to tell her, how much she means to me, what a part of my life she is. That I love her.”
Xena gave a faint smile. “You might yet, Ephiny. Listen; don’t bathe her wound any more, unless it is water we give you ok?”
“OK?” the regent looked from one to another.
“Xena think the water source is contaminated?”
Ephiny nodded. “Worth a thought.”
“So we’re going to get from the stream in the south. See how that works out and tomorrow we can always check the Northern source.” Xena stood up. “We’ll be off then. Keep telling Aella you love her. She’ll hear you.”
Ephiny smiled and nodded. Epinon gave her a hug and then they left Ephiny to her lonely vigil.
“Hercules, hey wait up a minute,” shouted Iolaus from the wagon. He turned to Gabrielle who was sitting next to him. “OK?” he said anxiously.
The bard nodded wordless, and rubbed her back with both hands.
Hercules had dismounted and had approached the wagon. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Gabrielle’s a bit stiff, she needs a break,” said Iolaus. Hercules smiled at Gabrielle and held his arms out and lifted her down from the wagon.
“I think you are the only person that can still do that,” she said, breathlessly and walked around rubbing her back and trying to straighten up. Solari was now by her side.
“Are you alright, Gabrielle?”
“Just my back. It’s been coming and going.” She leant against a tree and closed her eyes. Solari looked at the tired features of her queen and friend. She beckoned Iolaus and Hercules over.
“I don’t think we’ll reach the centaur village tonight,” she said plainly.
“Agreed,” said Hercules.
Gabrielle opened her eyes. “Don’t stop on my account. I’m fine.”
“You’re shattered. And if you are not, you should be, because I am,” said Iolaus with a grin.
“We’ve had to take an indirect route because of the wagon,” mused Hercules. “But there’s a clearing a couple of miles away, I believe.”
Solari nodded her assent. “We can scout up there and see if the wagon can make it easily. Selene, Asteria, Walia,” she called.
Selene, Asteria and Walia all approached the group.
“Selene, me and you will scout the area, while the others remain here.” Solari turned and faced Asteria and Walia. “Watch the queen,” she added sternly.
All three of them nodded although Gabrielle noticed that Selene was listless. She approached the Amazon and took her hand. “We’ll get back to the village soon. I’m sure your sister will be fine.”
Selene swallowed, nodded and smiled gratefully at Gabrielle.
“See you shortly,” said Solari with a little bow at Gabrielle and her and Selene disappeared into the forest.
“Now Gabrielle, sit down on that trunk, and I’ll sort that back out,” said Hercules. Gabrielle did as she was asked and Hercules started to massage her lower back.
“That’s it, aahh. Hercules, are you married?” groaned Gabrielle.
Iolaus laughed. “Magic fingers hasn’t he? I’m sure that’s why this has improved so much.” He pat his leg and Hercules blushed.
“Drink, my queen?” asked Walia.
“Don’t mind if I do,” replied Gabrielle.
“Alive or dead?” Asked Iolaus.
“Oh very dead,” said Hercules. “Sshh,” he added and stood up. The rest of the group followed his lead. His face broke into a smile as he saw Solari and Selene emerge from the trees.
“What’s wrong?” he asked as he saw their worried faces.
The two amazons approached them. They were both breathless and a water skins was pushed into both their hands. They drank deeply.
“The clearing,” said Solari, and took another swig from the skin. “There are people already there.” She looked around at the group. “They look like slavers.”
“Slavers!” exclaimed Iolaus. “But wha-“
“They had cages, and chains. Enough for a whole village.”
“How many?” asked Hercules seriously?
Solari and Selene looked at each other. “About thirty,” said Selene.
“Good odds,” said Hercules. “For us,” he added.
“Doesn’t seem many if they intend to take most of a village,” said Asteria.
“Our village,” said Gabrielle quietly. “That’s what they want isn’t it? Why they are here.”
Hercules nodded slowly.
“Still Asteria is right,” said Walia. “That’s not enough to take on our village. They’d be beaten in moments.”
“If the village was fit,” said Selene, thoughtfully.
Hercules and Iolaus exchange anguished glances.
“What?” asked Gabrielle?
“A village near Scupi,” whispered Iolaus. “Antzas, he’s one of the men who live at the centaur village, got word that his brother and family were in a village that completely disappeared. Every member. He went to look for them, but nothing.”
“How does a village just disappear?” asked Solari appalled.
They all looked at each other astounded. Hercules turned to look at Selene. “It’s like you say. The slavers would be beaten in moments if the Amazons were fit. But they are not.”
“You think the illness and the slavers are connected?” asked Gabrielle.
“It’s possible. Poisoned grain, poisoned water, easy enough to do. Wait for a couple of days and then attack. Minimises risk of casualties, and you don’t need many in your army. Increased profits,” the demi God said bitterly.
“We have to stop them,” said Solari with steel in her voice. “They could be aiming to move at anytime.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Iolaus.
“I’m coming,” said Gabrielle before anyone could say anything.
“Gabs, be reasonable. If anything happened to you, Ephiny and Epinon would kill me. And then there’s Xena.”
“So I’ll stay here, by myself, shall I?” said Gabrielle with a raised eyebrow.
“Good point,” said Solari. “But you stay back when we take them on.”
Gabrielle nodded, and everyone headed for the wagon or their horses with the feeling of excitement building.
“Looks like we arrived just in time,” whispered Solari to Iolaus.
The hunter nodded, and watched as Selene and Walia went to their right and Hercules and Asteria to their left. He looked behind him and saw Gabrielle standing by Argo stroking the palomino’s nose. He looked around again and gave Solari a nudge in the ribs with his elbow. Her bird call was the signal for them to start.
They jumped up and ran the short distance to the slavers camp. The slavers were packing up and obviously not expecting an attack of any order and certainly not in the middle of the night. A couple raised the alarm but by the time the other few had scrambled into action the four amazons and two men were in the midst of them.
Although Iolaus was handicapped by his injured leg, he could still fight and he enjoyed the feel of over powering men twice his size. He looked up and saw that as usual Hercules was sending men several feet into the air. Iolaus turned his attention back to his opponent. The taller man had a sword and brandishing rather clumsily, Iolaus thought. After feinting right and left, Iolaus stopped and the slaver made a lunge. Iolaus ducked down and then man toppled over him. Iolaus picked up the sword before the slaver could reach it and with a blow to the head using the hilt, rendered him unconscious.
Solari was brandishing her sword with her customary grace. Anger was coursing through her body as she thought about the fate that could have befallen the whole village. Slaves! She parried right, then left, and then knocked the man’s sword from his grasp. She felt no remorse as she plunged the sword through his belly. She pulled it from him and he toppled to the floor. Solari wiped her forehead with her wrist and spun left to see what was happening with Walia, but felt pain across her face. She stumbled backwards, dropped her sword and clutched her face. She could feel the blood ooze from her nose and through her hands. Solari felt a kick to her stomach and she fell backwards, gasping and winded. She looked up and saw through blurred vision, a large man, sneering at her, making a figure of eight with his sword.
“Amazon bitch! You’ve spoiled our plans. See you in Tartarus.”
Solari’s eyes widened, and she swallowed deeply. She watched the blade descend but it never reached it’s destination as the thug lurched forward and dropped the sword. Solari reached for the blade and in a fluid movement flicked the sword backwards into his chest. As he fell dead to the floor she looked to see who had distracted him. It was Gabrielle.
Solari scrambled up. “What are you doing?” she hissed.
Gabrielle grinned at her and twirled the tree branch she had used as a staff. “You should know Sol, I never listen,” she said, and swung the “staff” and caught a ruffian across the ribs. “Just don’t tell Xena.”
“For Artemis sake,” muttered Solari, and started to join the fray again.
Hercules had seen Gabrielle fighting alongside Solari, and decided to end the battle immediately. “Iolaus,” he called. The blonde man looked up and grinned and moved towards Hercules and started to fight back to back. Hercules increased the power behind his punches and soon there was a pile of unconscious men at their feet.
Despite the beginnings of a headache, Solari had finished with her latest opponent and looked up to see Gabrielle being forced into a corner, her movements increasingly awkward as she tired and tried to protect her bump. She ran towards where they were fighting, but before she could aide her queen, the slaver fell to his knees with an arrow in his back. She turned and saw a smiling Asteria. Solari walked over to Gabrielle and was concerned to see blood on the bard’s arm and the bard leaning against a tree wearily.
“Gabs, are you alright? Sit down,” she said gently and guided Gabrielle to the floor.
“I’m fine,” said Gabrielle, softly as she cradled her stomach.
“I think Xena will find out,” said Solari, and flicked her head at Gabrielle’s arm.
“Great,” said Gabrielle, and watched as Solari ripped some cloth from a dead man’s clothes and held it against the wound.
“Right. You.” Said Hercules, and picked up one of the wounded slavers with one hand and held him high up. “Now spill the beans.”
The slaver coughed and spluttered, but said nothing, so Hercules tightened his grip.
“We put something in the river.” Hercules squeezed his grip further. The man was gasping and his voice was a hoarse whisper. “We were going to take the bitches to the markets.”
“What did you put in the water?” growled Iolaus.
“Dunno, dunno,” said the man panicked as he saw Hercules ball his fist. “We got it from some bloke, didn’t ask questions. It worked before. It wears off quick once they stop drinking it.”
“Near Scupi?” said Hercules, bitterly.
The man nodded and Hercules punched him and then dropped him unceremoniously on the floor.
“Everyone ok?” he asked and looked around. All the slavers were dead or unconscious. Walia was having a long drink form a water skin, Selene was looking around the camp and Solari and Asteria were sitting with Gabrielle. Hercules pointed at the group and him and Iolaus walked to them.
Asteria was wrapping Gabrielle’s arm as she sat patiently on the floor. Solari was watching intently trying to focus her eyes properly.
“Hercules,” said Gabrielle with a smile.
“Can’t miss out on the action, eh?” he said laughing.
“What’s the plan?” asked Solari seriously. “We need to let the village know.”
“And get these to jail.” Hercules looked at Gabrielle. “I know they have poisoned your tribe and what they were going to do-“
“Take them to Scupi,” said Gabrielle. “If they can find out anything about those poor people it’ll be worth it. Besides I don’t think the village is in any fit state to hold this many.” She looked expectantly at Solari.
“Much as I would like them to suffer for what they have done to the village, they committed worse crimes elsewhere.” Solari nodded and then winced. “Agreed.”
“It’s too late tonight, besides we’ve had a long enough day,” said Iolaus. He looked at Gabrielle. “You must be exhausted. “
She smiled at Iolaus but her weariness was apparent.
“We can shackle them in their own chains. At first light a couple of us can go to the centaur village. They can send runners to the amazons and let them know to drink from another source. Then we can finally get you home,” he smiled at Gabrielle.
“Sounds like a plan,” she said, and rubbed her back gingerly. “Sol, you are going to have a couple of shiners in the morning.”
Asteria sniggered. “Pony will still love you,” she said. “I’ve bound your arm, but it will need stitching. How’s your back?”
“Comes and goes. “
Solari said quietly, “Gabrielle. Thank you for saving my life.”
Gabrielle squeezed her hand.
“Although when Xena sees this she’ll kill me. And Eph,” slurred Solari.
“Leave them to me,” replied Gabrielle, wearily.
“I think you should get some sleep.” Solari turned to Hercules. “Want me to do first watch?”
“Nah, we’ll do it. Just make sure they are uncomfortable and secure and we are set.”
“Is it always this dramatic around you?” The scout looked at the two men.
Hercules laughed and turned away, but Iolaus shook his head.
“This. This is quiet!”
“Good trip?” asked Joxer.
Xena and Epinon merely smiled at him and got off the wagon jadedly.
“You’re back!” exclaimed Cyrene as she emerged from one of the huts. “Girls, you must rest. You’ve been up all night.”
“So have you,” said Epinon, too tired to care that she had been called a girl for the first time in years.
“We’ll rest when you rest,” said Xena and gave her mother a hug.
“How are they?” asked Epinon concerned. She was lifting pots, pans and waterskins off the wagon. Any container that could be found was commissioned into use.
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” said Cyrene, and stopped, putting her hand to her mouth. “They are keeping water down, the herbs are working. Look around, listen.”
Xena looked up and saw a few people walking tentatively around the village. There were also more sounds that contrasted sharply with the silence of the previous night.
“How’s Piri?” said Xena to Joxer who was helping Epinon unload the wagon.
Joxer smiled fondly. “She’s asleep. I don’t think she had slept for days. She admitted she was feeling a little tired.”
Xena raised an eyebrow. “She must have been dead beat.”
She then caught sight of a figure emerging from the healers hut. “Pony,” she said.
Epinon looked at Xena and then followed her gaze. She smiled broadly as she saw Ephiny stride towards them. The regent stopped by her old friend, and Epinon gently punched her on the arm. Ephiny draped her arm around Epinon’s shoulders and squeezed. They shared a tender smile before Ephiny turned to Xena.
“Thank you for what you have done, all of you. I feel so much better, you wouldn’t believe it.”
“How’s Aella?” asked Xena.
“Better, much better. The wound isn’t oozing any more and the fever is down. She’s sleeping now.” Ephiny looked down at the ground, slightly embarrassed.
“Xena, Epinon I insist you have something to eat. I suppose you are going to do another run?” Cyrene put her hands on her hips and gave her daughter a hard stare.
“We need to Mother. The clean water is helping flush through the contaminant and helping with the symptoms.”
“Hopefully tomorrow we can look at diverting the water towards the village. Until then we are relying on bringing the water to us. I’ll make it a priority and as people recover they can replace you, and the guards.”
“Good thinking Eph,” said Xena. She wiped her forehead with her hand. “Come on Mother lets have some breakfast and then-“She spun around. “Horses. Centaurs, “she corrected herself.
The group turned to look at two centaurs galloping towards the village. They waved and trotted towards them.
“Vassilis, Sotiros, good to see you.” Xena held her hand out and shook Vassillis’ hand.
“Where is that water from?” asked Sotiros suspiciously.
“The south,” said Epinon quickly.
The centaurs both nodded. “Good,” said Vassilis. “The northern source has been poisoned.”
“What?” asked Cyrene. “How?”
“Come and have some breakfast and explain it to us,” said Ephiny.
The centaurs nodded and followed the group into the deserted dining hall. Cyrene had already started to cook food, figuring that the recovering amazons would start to feel peckish. The amazons and Joxer sat at a table and Cyrene and Xena brought several plates over. The centaurs stood watching. They were aware that they had several pairs of eyes boring into them.
“Now we don’t want you to worry,” started Soriros.
“When people say that, you automatically do,” added Xena drily.
“They’re all fine,” said Vassilis quickly.
“Gabrielle,” whispered Xena. “What happened? Tell me!”
“They stumbled across a group of slavers. The slavers poisoned the northern water source and were waiting for you all to fall so sick that you couldn’t fight back.” Vassilis paused looking at the stunned faces. “Don’t worry. The slavers got what was coming to them. Hercules and Asteria rode and advised us of this. They were anxious you were told of the water situation.”
“Wow,” said Joxer puffing his cheeks out. “They are all ok?”
“Apparently so. The plan is the slavers are being brought to our village before being taken elsewhere.” Soriros looked at Ephiny’s startled face. “They’ve done it before,” he said gently. “They took a whole village. They need to have a trial. Gabrielle agreed.”
Ephiny looked at Epinon and the weapons master nodded.
“Fair enough,” said the regent. She looked at Xena who was staring into space.
“Xena,” she said. The warrior princess jumped slightly and looked at Ephiny. The regent turned and pinned Soriros with a stare. “And they are well, all of them?”
Soriros looked at her and nodded. “They didn’t mention any injuries. They plan on returning once the slavers are collected by our guard.”
“Xena,” repeated Ephiny, and this time the warrior princess smiled at the regent.
“Looks like we have a bit of work to do getting the place ready for the queen,” said Xena with a falter in her voice.
“Better wake Piri. I’m sure she’ll want to examine Gabrielle and the others when they return,” said Joxer getting up. “Tell Tyldus I’ll be staying for a couple of days, until they recover fully.”
Vassilus smirked. “And being with the lovely healer has nothing to do with that decision, Joxer,” he teased. Joxer blushed and left the hut.
“Come on Xena, let’s do another run. I’m sure we’ll be back before they are,” said Epinon. Xena could see the concern in her friend’s eyes and knew it would only leave once she saw Solari safe and well. Those thoughts mirrored her own regarding Gabrielle.
“Looks like I’ll be cooking for a happy homecoming,” said Cyrene happily.
Xena kissed her mother on the cheek and shook both the centaurs’ hands and left the hut with Epinon.
“How’s the headache?” asked Gabrielle.
“So, so,” said Solari, holding a damp cloth to face. She removed it briefly and smiled at her queen. Both eyes were swollen and the bruising was going a deep shade of purple. “Do you think Epinon will notice?”
“Nah,” said Gabrielle laughing and leant against her friends who replaced the cloth on her face, flinching as the cool cloth touched her face.
“My Queen did you want to get down and walk the rest?” called Asteria.
“Yes please,” said Gabrielle, and brought the wagon to a halt. Hercules had dismounted and held his arms out and Gabrielle accepted his help gratefully. He then held his arm for Solari, who placed the cloth down and took his arm. Iolaus and the amazons had also dismounted and they all looked at each other and smiled.
“My queen,” said Hercules grandly and bowed.
Gabrielle laughed and took his arm and they walked together.
Within minutes they were at the edge of the village. Gabrielle frowned as she tried to identify a sound. As she entered into the village she realised it was applause. The majority of the tribe were waiting for them in the centre and were clapping and cheering. Her eyes immediately looked for Xena and she looked intently but couldn’t see her partner. Her face fell for a moment until she felt a familiar presence by her side. She let go of Hercules’ hand and felt her self enveloped in a bear hug. She tried to stifle a moan due to the pain in her arm, but then relaxed into Xena’s tight hold.
“I was so worried,” said Xena into her ear.
“I’m fine, Xena. “
Xena pulled apart and saw that the pregnant bard look desperately tired. Her face was pale and eyes black rimmed. She felt a pang of guilt rip through her.
“How’s everyone?” asked Gabrielle.
“Much, much better. Even a few hours ago, this place was deserted and silent,” said Xena, and she kept an arm around her as she watched all the returnees being welcomed back. She watched as Epinon gently traced her fingers around Solari’s bruises and then kissed her.
Piri approached the pair. Gabrielle gave the older woman a hug that was reciprocated. “My Queen I would like to examine you,” she lifted her hand up to her lips, as she saw both Xena and Gabrielle opening their mouths. “But I think you could do with a sleep and a hearty meal first. I’ll leave you in the warrior’s capable hands.
Gabrielle nodded her thanks and took Xena’s hand. Together they walked through the noisy crowd towards their hut.
“Just a moment,” said Gabrielle as she saw Ephiny. She approached her friend who had finished teasing Solari.
“Good to have you back, your highness,” said Ephiny with a smirk and gave Gabrielle a hug.
“Aella?” asked Gabrielle.
“Getting better. Xena can fill you in.”
“Catch up tomorrow?” asked Gabrielle.
“You betcha,” replied the regent.
Gabrielle slumped into a chair, shut her eyes and emitted a long sigh. Xena approached her and knelt at her feet. “Did you sleep at all last night, Bri?” she asked.
Gabrielle shook her head. “I couldn’t get comfortable with one thing and another.” She opened her eyes. “You’re looking pretty weary. Want to tell me what has been happening?”
“Not a lot. We figured-“
“You figured, you mean.”
“OK I figured out the water was contaminated so Pony and I went to the south to get fresh. It worked a treat, within hours the village were all improving. Then Vassilis and Sotiros arrived and told us about the slavers. Gradually the village has been getting back to normal. Everyone is still a little run down, but so much better than yesterday. Tea?” Xena got up and started to prepare the mugs.
“Yes please. What about Aella?”
“She was very ill. We nearly lost her.”
Xena turned around on Gabrielle’s gasp. “She’s getting there,” she added guessing correctly Gabrielle’s next question.
“Why Aella? She’s young and healthy?”
“She had a wound. Bathed in the contaminated water, it caused it to become infected. The good news is she is recovering. The better news is that Ephiny finally realises how she feels about her.”
Gabrielle beamed with happiness. Xena brought her mug over and gave it to her. She noticed that the bard was moving gingerly but put it to the back of her mind for the time being.
“Anything to eat? Mother has been cooking all day in preparation to the village getting their appetite back and your arrival of course.”
She frowned as Gabrielle screwed up her face and shook her head.
“What’s wrong?” she asked anxiously? She crouched down next to Gabrielle.
“I’ve had an upset stomach,” said Gabrielle.
Xena felt her forehead which felt cool.
“I just need a good night’s sleep, in a nice comfy bed,” Gabrielle said and looked longingly at their bed.
“Get in now,” said Xena.
“I can’t, Xe. There are so many things to do. Ephiny still looks poorly and-“
“Gabrielle. Nobody expects you out of this hut until tomorrow. You look shattered. You are obviously not feeling well either.”
Gabrielle looked uncomfortable for a moment and then slumped further in the chair. “Don’t be mad,” she said quietly.
“What?” asked Xena and watched as Gabrielle took off the jacket she was wearing.
“What’s this?” hissed Xena as she saw the bandage. She unravelled it and stared at the small cut in the skin.
There was silence. Gabrielle gradually turned her head around to look at Xena’s face. It was impassive but the blue eyes shone with anger. Gabrielle shut her eyes and started to count backwards, “five...four…three…two…one,” she muttered quietly.
“Of all the stupid, idiotic, things you have done, and you have done some things, this must rank as the stupidest. You are pregnant; you are going to have a child, that’s not just a couple of extra portions of nutbread in there. What made you think you should fight? There were others there. Hercules for Gods sake, and Solari. Boy am I going to get Solari. She should know better.”
Xena was pacing across the hut. Gabrielle stood up and walked over to her.
“It wasn’t Solari’s fault. I just joined in.”
Xena looked at Gabrielle and then looked away.
“Joined in, for Hades sake, Gabrielle. Anything could have happened, what were you thinking of?”
“It’s not just you to consider, Gabrielle. Not to mention you’re not exactly as nimble on your feet at the moment. Gabrielle!”
Gabrielle continued to look at Xena and gently touched her arm. Xena pulled away at first and then sighed and relaxed.
“Any more injuries? Broken legs or arms?” she asked.
Gabrielle smiled and knew that Xena’s anger was dissipating.
“Not that I know of,” she said and framed Xena’s face in her hands.
“Good because I would have to kill you then,” said Xena and moved towards Gabrielle and their lips locked in a searing kiss.
They broke away and stared at each other for several moments.
Xena swallowed. “I need to do your arm, and then you need to rest.”
“So do you,” said Gabrielle, waggling her eyebrows.
Xena raised her eyebrow, and Gabrielle laughed. “Actually I don’t think I have enough energy to make it to bed.”
“Neither do I,” said Xena smiling. “Seriously, sit down and I’ll get some supplies from Piri. Do you want something for your stomach?”
“I’ll leave it tonight and see how it is in the morning.” Xena nodded and kissed her on the cheek and walked out of the hut.
Gabrielle sat back down on the chair and shut her eyes. Within seconds she felt a hand shake her.
“Hey sleepy. You must have dozed off.”
“You’ve only been gone-“
“Longer than I thought. I got collared by Mother, Piri, and Solari.”
Gabrielle’s eyes snapped open.
“Relax she collared me, not the other way around.” Xena held Gabrielle’s arm and started to pull the wound together.
“She told me what happened. You saved her life.”
There was silence, and it was broken by Gabrielle’s intake of breath as the needle entered her skin.
“I think Epinon wants to thank you.”
“For all they’ve done for us, it was nothing.”
Xena smiled. “Very modest my bard. But I think there are several people wanting to thank you. I feel a festival coming on.” Xena bit the thread with her teeth and admired her handiwork. She rubbed salve on the wound making Gabrielle gasp and then carefully rebandaged it with a fresh bandage.
“All done. Come on lets get you to bed.”
Gabrielle smiled and stood up. There was knock at the door.
“I don’t believe it,” said the bard.
“They can go away,” said Xena irritated.
There was a second knock. They exchanged looks and Xena made her way to the door. She opened it to see Ephiny and Epinon standing there.
“Come on you two. You know Gabrielle needs her rest,” said Xena.
“Gabrielle, there are people who want to see you.”
Gabrielle laughed ironically. “It’ll have to wait. Really I-“
“No they are demanding to see you,” said Ephiny. She looked uncomfortable.
“Whoever it is can wait,” said Xena sternly. “It can’t be that important.”
Ephiny looked at Epinon before swallowing and turning to face Gabrielle.
“Gabrielle it’s your parents.”
“My parents,” said Gabrielle shocked. “What are they doing here?”
She exchanged a quizzical look with Xena who shrugged her shoulders.
“Of course they must come,” said Gabrielle.
“There’s someone with them. A friend of theirs. Escort perhaps,” said Epinon.
“Could be,” said Gabrielle still in shock. “They barely travel out of Potedia.”
“We’ll bring them along,” said Ephiny. “If you’re sure?”
Gabrielle nodded wordlessly, and the amazons left the hut.
Gabrielle sunk into the chair and placed her head on the table. “Just when I thought the day couldn’t get worse.”
Xena chuckled and stood behind her rubbing her shoulders.
“Why now?” she asked. “Have you told them about the baby?”
Gabrielle lifted her head from the table, shook it, and put it back down.
“Maybe they know,” said Xena.
Gabrielle lifted her head again and turned to face Xena. “Gods,” she whispered, tears in her eyes.
“It’ll be alright,” said Xena wrapping an arm around her shoulder. “I’ll be here.”
“Xena I wouldn’t wish this on anyone else, but do you think Cyrene would be with us?”
Xena grinned. “Family crisis and drama just up her street. Of course! I’ll go and get her.”
“You will be coming back won’t you?” asked Gabrielle sternly.
Xena merely smiled and hurried out the hut.
“Show them in,” said Gabrielle. Her voice quivered and she could feel her palms becoming sweaty. She rubbed them on her skirt. She looked across to Xena who gave her a reassuring smile.
“Gabrielle-“cried her mother as she entered the room. She went straight to her daughter and gave her a hug. She then pulled back and looked critically at her.
“So it’s true?” she said. “Why didn’t you tell us? We are your family.”
Gabrielle shrugged and was about to speak when her father approached her.
“Don’t worry my girl, we can sort this out. Just leave it to us.”
“Sort what out Father. Nothing needs to be sorted out,” she said.
“I think it does,” retorted Herodotus, and Gabrielle rubbed her eyes with a hand.
“Well there is nothing to say that it can’t be sorted out civilly and over a drink,” said Cyrene.
Gabrielle’s parents turned to look at her.
“I’m Cyrene, Xena’s mother.”
Gabrielle’s parents glanced at Xena briefly and then turned their attention to Cyrene.
“Drink?” she said, and they both nodded.
“Do you live here?” asked Hecuba.
“I’m just here until after the baby is born. Gives me a chance to be with the girls,” said Cyrene.
Herodotus shot Xena a look of barely disguised anger.
“That remains to be seen. A baby should be with two parents,” he said.
“It is,” said Gabrielle and everyone turned to look at her. “It has me and Xena.”
Xena gave a proud smile and stood behind Gabrielle placing a hand on her shoulder.
“A baby needs its father,” said Hecuba. She watched as Gabrielle flinched. “Where is he? Why did you leave him in Amphipolis?”
Gabrielle frowned. “What?”
“You were seen with a man in Amphipolis. Being very friendly together. Thank goodness you were. We would never have found out about our Grandchild.”
“Mother. I was going to tell you, after it had arrived.”
“Bet that was a shock, Gabrielle falling pregnant,” sneered Herodotus to Xena.
“Amphipolis?” said Gabrielle. “You don’t mean Orion? He’s not the father.” She laughed. “He’s a friend who is a bard.”
“Who has ever heard of Orion?” muttered Herodotus.
“That makes it easier then,” said Hecuba. “Don’t worry we have found a husband for you and a father for the baby.”
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “I’ve got Xena. I don’t need anyone else.”
“Nonsense,” said Hecuba. She walked to the door and opened it. “Traianos has offered to take you and the baby on.”
A tall dark haired man walked in. He went straight to Herodotus and shook his hand. He then looked Gabrielle up and down. “She’s fine,” he said.
Xena made a move towards him, but Gabrielle pulled her back. “It’s ok,” she said.
“I might have known,” she said to Traianos. “You’d do anything to get your hands on that money.”
Traianos looked momentarily shocked but then sneered, “It’s within my right. You were married to my cousin.”
“How are you related to Perdicus?” whispered Gabrielle and for a moment her eyes filled with tears as she remembered her dead husband. She then felt Xena’s hand on her neck, gently caressing it.
“That gives you no right, no right at all.” She said to Traianos, and then said to herself, “Why me? Why now?”
Triaianos smiled sweetly at her. She shuddered, and then looked down at her bump, and smiled. “Mother, is Ana expecting?”
Hecuba looked surprised. “Yes she is. She married that nice baker’s apprentice and she’s fallen. What does that have to do with you?”
“Everything.” said Gabrielle. “Perdicus told me all about your uncle’s money.” She walked up to Traianos who looked nervous. “He always said you’d do anything to get hold of it. Oh you’ve tried, Gods know the girls of Potedia know you have tried,” Gabrielle suddenly looked very serious.
“What’s going on?” asked Cyrene looking at all the people in the room.
“I’m going to tell you a story,” said Gabrielle smiling. She rubbed her back and continued. “A rich merchant had three sons. He left his fortune to one son and very little to the other two. The now rich son, Christos promised that the eldest child of his nieces and nephews would inherit his fortune.”
“Christos. It’s about Christos,” said Hecuba.
“So he had no children?” said Xena.
“He wasn’t the marrying kind.” Said Gabrielle and her parents together.
“One brother had four children; Perdicus was his oldest, who has died.” Gabrielle swallowed. “And the youngest, Helena also died. Ana is married and Pacolus is a farmer. The other brother has two sons one of which is Traianos.”
“That money is mine,” he said angrily. “You agreed it Herodotus. I’ve paid you fair and square for your daughter.”
“She’s not yours to trade,” said Cyrene, appalled.
“Hardly fair and square,” said Hecuba, ignoring her husband’s attempts at trying to quieten her. “You promised you would foreclose on our farm, if we didn’t tell you where Gabrielle was. You promised you would look after her and care for her baby.”
“Father you could lose the farm?” said Gabrielle worried. “But you’ve always been careful.”
“He has,” said Hecuba proudly. “But times are hard. He lent money to Yiannis and Nico. It’s left us short.”
“Father,” said Gabrielle and walked up to him and stroked his cheek.
“I couldn’t see them go under,” he muttered quietly. “And now it’s cost you. If I knew it was all about money…” he stared at Traianos.
“We were thinking of you,” said Hecuba.
Gabrielle nodded. “As crazy as it sounds, I know you were.”
“Don’t worry about money,” said Cyrene. “This man will get what is owed him. But not Gabrielle.”
“Fine,” huffed Traianos. “Didn’t want that freak’s kid anyway. Don’t see the father sticking around.”
“Why you-“said Xena and moved forward. Not feeling any restraining hand, she picked up the man and took him out of the hut. She dropped him on the ground and then picked him up with one hand, and with the other she punched him on the face. “That’s for what you said,” she said.
She punched him again. “That’s for what you did to Gabrielle’s parents.” By this time Traianos was barely conscious. “And that’s because I don’t like you,” and Xena gave him a hard punch that caused him to lose consciousness. By now there was a small crowd gathered around.
“Amarice,” said Xena. “Put out the trash please. Dump him off Amazon land.”
“Of course, Xena, right away,” said the young Amazon.
Xena smiled, rubbed her hands together and went back into her hut.
As she walked in she could feel the tension rise again. There was silence.
“What?” asked Xena?
“We just feel he should know,” said Hecuba. “A man has a right to know about his child.”
“Hecuba don’t,” said Xena.
Herodotus immediately turned on her. “Why not? Have you killed him? What did it feel like knowing she loves someone else?”
Xena snarled and stood toe to toe with him.
“It wasn’t like that,” said Gabrielle.
“Gabrielle, he needs to be a part of his child’s life. “ Said Hecuba.
“It’s got me, Xena, Cyrene and this tribe. It will be loved and cared for.”
“A child needs a father,” continued her mother, still oblivious to the look of horror Cyrene and Xena wore.
“Not this father,” said Gabrielle quietly.
“Why?” said Herodotus. “Because he is not like Xena. Maybe if you left Xena you could make a go of it with him, rather than bringing this child into the world unmarried.”
“I was raped,” said Gabrielle quietly.
There was silence.
“Now you know,” she added and turned away.
“You should have told me,” said Hecuba.
“I couldn’t, I didn’t want to but-“
“But you told Xena’s mother. You couldn’t tell me but you told someone else.”
Cyrene looked surprised. “I waited to be told I didn’t force it out of her.”
“I wanted to know,” retorted Hecuba.
“You know now,” said Cyrene angrily.
Meanwhile Herodotus had turned to Xena. “Where were you then? The great protector. “
Xena looked momentarily guilty. “Once a warlord always a warlord. A leopard doesn’t change its spots.” Herodotus carried on. “I bet you don’t even love her. Using her like you’ve used so many others.”
“Now hang on,” said Xena back.
Gabrielle watched as the other occupants of the room started to argue. She felt a sharp pain in her back and then-
No reply. The warrior princess was too engrossed arguing with Herodotus.
“What?” shouted Xena back, irritably? She looked up and saw a curious expression on Gabrielle’s face.
“I think my waters just broke.”
The room became silent and all heads turned to Gabrielle.
Xena’s eye widened and she rushed to Gabrielle’s side. She looked down and saw the evidence for herself.
“It’s too soon, Xena,” whispered Gabrielle anguished.
“You’ll be fine, my dear. It’s a family tradition. Lila was two weeks early and you were a whole month early.” Hecuba spoke cheerfully but wore a forced smile.
Xena flashed Hecuba a smile of gratitude. “We’d better get Piri,” said Xena as she helped Gabrielle to the bed.
“Where’s this Piri person? I’ll get her,” said Herodotus.
Xena looked at him quickly then turned her attention back to Gabrielle. “Just ask the guards outside, they’ll get her. Herodotus, Joxer, Hercules and Iolaus are still around. If you want some male company.”
Gabrielle’s father thought for a moment. “Thank you,” he said gruffly and turned and walked out.
Xena was putting the pillows behind Gabrielle. She heard a moan and saw the bard’s face contorted in pain. “Hold on,” she said gently. She felt her hand squeezed and then the contraction passed and Gabrielle let go.
“It’s too early,” said Gabrielle looking at Xena with tears in her eyes. “The baby, it’ll be-“
“Hey,” said Xena gently. “As long as I am around the baby will have me fighting for it. OK?”
Gabrielle nodded and lent her head on Xena’s shoulders.
They remained like that for several moments oblivious to the presence of their Mothers in the room. They drew apart as they heard a knock. Xena looked at Cyrene who went to the door.
Piri came bustling in. Xena noticed that she looked refreshed and brighter since she last saw her.
“Let’s take a look at you,” she said gently.
The mothers stood back, but Xena remained on the bed with Gabrielle. Piri felt around her stomach, causing Gabrielle to wince.
“The backache and upset stomach was you starting,” said Xena quietly. She kissed Gabrielle on the top of the head.
Piri nodded. “You’ve definitely started my Queen. I’ll pop back shortly with my things and Clonie.”
“Can we do anything?” asked Hecuba pressing her hands together.
“The old faithful cooled boiled water, lots of towels and blankets, food and drink for Xena. Gabrielle may need something too.” The healer chuckled at her own joke.
“Coming right up,” said Cyrene and tugged at Hecuba’s arm. They left the hut.
“Try and relax as much as you can,” said Piri taking in the anxious faces of the pair. “I won’t be long.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” said Xena. Piri walked out the hut.
“Finally got to bed,” said Xena, trying to ease the tension. Gabrielle hid her face in her chest, and Xena tightened her grip.
“Sshh, it’ll be OK. This baby will be fine, I know it,” she said soothingly.
Xena stood next to Gabrielle and squeezed her hand harder. The bard cried out for several seconds and then groaned and released the pressure on Xena’s hand. Suddenly Xena had a feeling of Déjà vu and she remembered the scene that Alti had shown her. “We’ll see this through too you mad witch,” she muttered under her breath and then turned to Gabrielle.
“More water?” she asked.
“No, yes, no. Yes I will.” Said Gabrielle.
Cyrene handed Xena a mug of water and Xena supported Gabrielle and let her take a long drink. Within moments Gabrielle had dropped the mug and was crying again. Xena carried on squeezing her hand and feeling absolutely powerless.
Within moments the contractions had passed and Gabrielle had closed her eyes and was breathing heavily. Piri stood by the bed and smiled. “Gabrielle, I just need to borrow Xena for a moment.”
Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked at Xena anxiously but nodded. Xena went to the corner of the room with Piri, and Cyrene sat next Gabrielle and put a cool towel on the red faced bard’s forehead.
“What is it?” asked Xena sharply.
“The labour is quicker and harder than I’d expect. She’s six weeks early. I’m concerned about the health of the baby.” Piri spoke in whispers.
Xena inhaled deeply. “It will be alright won’t it?”
“I don’t know,” whispered Piri honestly. “At this rate it will arrive within the hour.” She looked at Xena’s shocked face. “We can’t even give her the flower from the santra bush.”
There was a pause. “Xena I could do with your help with the child.” Xena’s looked into the healer’s eyes and saw fear. She nodded.
“Clonie can deal with Gabrielle. We’ll take the baby to the table and check on it. I’ll make sure the table is covered with blankets and has plenty of clean water.”
Xena nodded wordlessly. Piri put her hand on the warrior’s arm. “Be strong for her.”
Xena swallowed deeply, and took several moments to compose herself. She then put on a smile and turned around.
“Hey Bri,” she said.
“What is it?” said Gabrielle.
“I get the best job in the world. I’m going to bring the baby into the world,” said Xena and stroked Gabrielle’s hair.
Gabrielle scanned Xena’s face. “Xe,” she said her face crumbling.
“It’ll be fine,” she said quietly and held her tight as she felt Gabrielle stiffen as another contraction hit.
“Push, push,” said Piri.
“I am,” said Gabrielle through gritted teeth.
She fell back onto the pillows and Cyrene dabbed her forehead with a cloth while Hecuba held her hand.
“Aaaaah,” said Gabrielle and Cyrene and Hecuba held her tighter.
“The head. I can see the head,” said Xena excitedly. She looked up from the end of the bed. “You’re doing brilliantly,” she said.
Gabrielle smiled and then her face was contorted in pain again.
“Relax, relax,” said Piri.
“I’m trying,” shouted Gabrielle as she sat up.
“Gabrielle it’s coming, it’s blonde like you,” said Xena.
She looked at Piri who was kneeling on the floor. The healer looked anxious. “Ready with the blankets?”
“Aaahhhh,” cried Gabrielle.
“There’s the head, Bri, and the body. Oh it’s a boy,” said Xena as the baby slid into her waiting hands.
Gabrielle fell back into the pillows breathing heavily. “Is he-“
Her question was answered by a lusty cry from the baby.
“I’ll just cut the cord,” said Piri. She watched as Xena held him close despite his ear splitting cries.
Xena wrapped the crying baby in a blanket and brought it over to Gabrielle. “He’s beautiful,” said Xena. She kissed the bard who was crying tears of joy. “We’ll clean him up for you and I’ll bring him right back,” said Xena, and brought the baby to the table where Piri was waiting. She unwrapped the blankets.
Piri gently felt over the baby’s body. “Well?” said Xena.
“He looks fine,” said Piri. She put her finger in his mouth and he started to suckle.
“Looking for food. Definitely your child,” shouted Xena.
“He’s a good size, bigger than I expected, strong cry, nice pink colour, ten fingers, ten toes,” Piri gave Xena a wondrous smile of relief. “He looks absolutely fine, thank all the Gods. Lets get him cleaned up and over to-“
There were two cries simultaneously.
“PIRI!” called Clonie.
“GABRIELLE.” Cried Hecuba.
Xena spun around and her eyes widened in horror as she watched Clonie trying to stem a flow of blood from Gabrielle. Piri had also turned and was holding the baby. “Cyrene,” she called. “Take the baby and Hecuba.” Cyrene looked from Gabrielle to the healer and nodded. She took the baby in one arm and with the other tugged at Hecuba.
“Hecuba, leave them, they’ll be fine.”
Gabrielle’s mother stood frozen to the spot staring at her daughter.
“Hecuba, let them do their work. Lets fuss over our grandson,” said Cyrene with a hint of desperation.”
Hecuba gave Gabrielle a lingering look and turned around and walked out with Cyrene, sobbing.
Xena had raced over to Gabrielle. She saw the white waxy face and laid a hand on the bard’s cool cheek. “Gabrielle,” she said.
She watched the bard blink as if it was slow motion. She appeared oblivious of Xena’s presence. Then her eyes shut. “Gabrielle,” said Xena in a more panicked tone. Her eyes didn’t open.
Her eyes didn’t open!
Xena went back to the foot of the bed where Piri and Clonie were desperately trying to stem the flow of blood.
“Pressure points,” whispered Xena and pushed down hard on Gabrielle’s stomach. The blow flow reduced. Piri looked at Xena.
“I’ll have to release it shortly, but I can put it on again,” said in reply to the questioning look.
“Alright. Let’s removing the packing and give me a look,” said Piri. Clonie and she desperately took away the blood soaked bandages. Piri examined Gabrielle closer.
“Piri, I need to release it,” said Xena. Clonie and Piri put clean packing in Gabrielle and Xena pressed again on Gabrielle’s stomach. Almost instantly the bandages were turned red. Piri looked at Xena again with sorrowful eyes. Xena repeated the procedure and then turned to Gabrielle’s face. The tears were running down her face. “Come on Bri, come on. I’m not losing you,” she said in a determined tone.
“OK Xena,” said Piri, and Xena pressed again on Gabrielle’s stomach. This time the bandages took longer to become soaked. Xena looked at Piri. “It’s slowing.”
“One more time, Xena, “said the healer calmly, and Xena repeated the procedure while Clonie and Piri removed the linen again. Piri replaced the bandages and nodded to Xena, who released the pressure point again. This time the linen remained dry. The three women breathed a sigh of relief. Piri turned to Clonie and spoke quietly to her and the assistant healer left the hut.
Piri washed her hands in a basin and dried them on a towel. She went to Xena’s side. Xena was stroking Gabrielle’s hair. Piri picked up one of the bard’s hands and felt for her pulse. She then felt her forehead and took in the shallow breathing and pale skin.
“Will she survive?” asked Xena shakily, shocked at the unexpected turn of events. An hour ago they were concerned about the baby, but it was Gabrielle that was fighting for her life. The healer put her hand on the warrior princess’ shoulder. Xena turned around to look at her.
“Xena I don’t know. The next few hours will be crucial.”
Xena’s face crumbled and Piri took the warrior princess in her arms and the taller woman laid her head on the healer’s shoulder.
At that moment Ephiny came rushing in and took in the scene of the two women embracing. “Clonie told me…no…no” said the regent and looked at Gabrielle.
“She’s alive,” said Piri, and broke away from Xena. She went to Ephiny. “She’s lost a lot of blood.”
Ephiny looked from the healer to Xena who now stood aimlessly in the middle of the room.
She went to Gabrielle and leant over her, giving the colourless lips a kiss. “Come on my Queen. Come back to us.” She then stood up and turned around trying to act more confident than she felt. “Gabrielle’s parents and your mother are looking after the child.”
“A boy,” said Piri.
“A boy,” repeated Ephiny. “Xenon will be delighted. Piri do you need anything?”
“I need to get some supplies from my hut,” said Piri. She motioned with her head at Xena.
“I’ll come, I need to-“Ephiny’s voice wavered as she looked at Gabrielle. She patted Xena’s arm, which Xena acknowledged.
Xena heard them leave the hut and she sat down on a chair next to Gabrielle. She took one of the bard’s hands. “Hey. Don’t leave me to do all the talking again,” she said. Her eyes were full of tears. “Come back, please. I need you.” She stroked Gabrielle’s pale face. “Your son needs you,” she said croakily and put her head on the covers and sobbed.
“So what’s the news?” said Aella. She pushed herself up the bed and grimaced as she put weight on her arm.
“Careful,” replied Ephiny. She sat on the bed and leant over and gave Aella a kiss.
“Have Gabrielle’s parents really turned up?”
“Wow. And I’ve missed all the action. So tell me.”
Aella watched as Ephiny looked away with tears in her eyes.
“Eph what is it?” she said gently.
Ephiny turned to face her. “Gabrielle went into labour.”
“Gods, no,” said Aella. “The baby?”
“A boy, he’s fine,” said Ephiny with a little smile.
“Then what is it?”
Ephiny looked uncomfortable. “It’s Gabrielle isn’t it?” said Aella quietly.
Ephiny nodded and tears ran down her face. “She’s sick. She’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Eph, you can share this with me, you know?” Aella took her hand. “I know how much Gabrielle means to you. Don’t feel guilty for caring.”
Ephiny smiled through her tears. “Thank you. How have I managed without you?”
“You don’t have to any more. We’re sharing the load together. Next time you see her, I’ll come too. Now come here.”
Ephiny wrapped her arms around Aella and held her tight.
Hercules and Iolaus entered the quiet room. Piri was sitting at the desk writing and she looked up and smiled in acknowledgement of their presence. The only sounds were the occupants breathing and click, click of Cyrene’s knitting needles. Iolaus lowered himself onto a chair, while Hercules walked up to the bed. Xena was gently stroking Gabrielle’s hair. Hercules placed his hand on her shoulder. Xena didn’t turn around.
Hercules sat on the chair by the bed. “How’s she doing?” he asked quietly.
Xena shrugged her shoulders and Hercules exchanged a worried look with Cyrene.
“Why don’t you take a break, stretch your legs?” he carried on.
“No, thanks,” Xena’s tone was neutral.
Hercules rubbed his face with his hand and looked at Cyrene again. “Is that for the baby?” he asked.
“Now we know it’s a boy, I’m knitting a blue blanket,” said Cyrene proudly.
“I saw the baby, he’s gorgeous,” said Hercules. He turned back to Xena. “Why not go-“
“I don’t want to,” she snapped and turned to look at Hercules. Despite her eyes being dry now, the red rimmed eyes showed signs that she had been crying. Now the eyes blazed with anger. “I want to be here with my partner while I still can.”
“She’s strong, she’ll be ok,” said Iolaus.
“You know that do you?” Xena shouted. “How much can she take? I mean wouldn’t it be the God’s joke to have her die in childbirth and leave me with that bastard’s son to raise.”
“Xena,” said Cyrene warily.
“The Gods,” said Xena, and stood up. “Athena, I ask for your presence. Your daughter asks for your presence.”
Piri and Iolaus looked shocked. With a flash Athena arrived. She looked at Xena and then at Gabrielle lying still in the bed.
“Please, please. I’ll do anything, anything you ask. Whatever it takes. Just make her well.”
Athena looked at the bard with anguished eyes and then turned to Xena. “You know I can’t.”
“Can’t or won’t?” screamed Xena. The helplessness and frustration of the situation coupled with tiredness was causing her anger to build up.
“Xena I can’t heal Gabrielle, no God can,” replied Athena. “You know that.”
“Some parent you are,” said Xena bitterly.
“Xena!” exclaimed Cyrene.
“It was a God that caused this in the first place,” said Xena pacing up and down. “Typical Ares having the last laugh. He’s getting his wish. She’ll be out of my life thanks to Lindos. What do you Gods ever do for us but cause us heartache. You’re all the same.”
“Xena, you haven’t slept for two nights. It’s been a draining couple of days as it is. Get some rest. I’ll stay with Gabrielle,” said Cyrene, sternly.
Xena breathed heavily and her face snarled with anger she was at last releasing. She then heard a noise thanks to her uncanny hearing ability. She looked around the hut and strode out.
Hercules frowned and then heard the baby cry.
“The baby,” he said.
Piri and Cyrene jumped up and followed Xena out of the door.
Xena strode towards to the hut where she could hear the baby’s cries get louder and louder. She flung open the door and saw Hecuba shaking a rattle for the baby, who was grizzling lying on the bed. She walked up to the baby, and Hecuba after taking a look at her angry face stood back.
Xena looked at the crying child. Memories of the briefest of times with Solon flashed through her head. And then of Gabrielle nursing Hope before their world came crashing down and Xena asked her partner to do the unthinkable; let Xena kill her child. She saw the blonde hair and her promise to Gabrielle flashed through her head.
She heard footsteps and quickly bent down and gathered the child in her arms. She brought him to her and kissed the top of his head smelling the soap that Hecuba had used to clean him, her anger dissipating.
“Xena,” said Cyrene.
Xena swallowed and turned around. The baby was clutched to her chest and stopped crying but was trying to suck on the warrior’s breastplate. She looked down and smiled.
“You are hungry little man. You are so like your mother.” She gripped him tighter. “How about some milk?” She looked around and could see relief on the faces of those present.
“A baby needs its mother,” she said simply. “I promised Gabrielle I would be fighting for him and I will.”
Cyrene approached Xena. “That’s my girl,” she said quietly.
Xena sat down on the bed and sobbed. She rested her face on the baby’s head. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to the baby.
“I just-“ Xena blinked back the tears, “I thought of him as the cause of what happened that he was Lindos’ son, and he’s not. He’s Gabrielle’s through and through.”
“And yours,” said Cyrene. Xena nodded.
Hecuba held out her arms and Xena passed the baby to her. “I was worried what would be become of him if…Gabrielle….passed. But now I see his place is with you.” She stared into Xena’s eyes. “I can see how much you love our daughter. I know you will love our Grandson like your own.”
“Gabrielle’s not going anywhere,” said Xena determinedly. “Not with us behind her.” She smiled in gratitude at Hecuba and took the baby back from her. He started to grizzle.
“Come on, let’s get you fed,” said Xena. “Let’s go and see your mummy.”
“The crib is beautiful,” said Hecuba, as she watched dotingly the baby sleeping.
“Iolaus made it,” said Xena. She ran her hand over the wood paying particular attention to the detailed quill carved in the wood. “It was a surprise.” She looked back at Gabrielle who was lying unmoving.
The door opened and Herodotus walked in noisily.
“Ssshh,” said all the women in the room.
“Oh, sorry,” he walked over to the crib and peered in proudly. His eyes then turned to his daughter lying in bed.
“No change?” he asked.
Hecuba shook her head.
“The boy’s been fed?” asked Herodotus.
“Gabrielle fed him,” said Cyrene. “With help from Xena,” she added.
“It’ll be good for them both,” said Piri quietly.
Herodotus looked momentarily embarrassed and looked at the crib again. “Can’t keep calling you boy can we? Need a name, er, boy.”
“Had you and Gabrielle discussed names?” asked Cyrene.
Xena shook her head and looked at Gabrielle. “It was a bit early.”
“It is tradition in Poteidaia to name your eldest child after a Grandparent,” said Hecuba. “What is your father’s name?” she asked Xena.
Xena exchanged a glance with Cyrene. “That’s complicated,” she said.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean anything,” said Hecuba flustered.
“I’ll tell you later,” said Cyrene.
“So Herodotus it is,” said Herodotus proudly.
There was silence. No one wanted to voice their thoughts.
“Let’s wait for Gabrielle, dear,” said Hecuba finally, shaking her head.
“OK,” said Herodotus, frowning at her.
“I’m going to examine Gabrielle, now,” said Piri.
Hecuba went to her daughter and kissed her on the forehead. “See you soon.”
She turned and went to the crib. Herodotus took Gabrielle’s hand. “Little H needs you.”
Hecuba rolled her eyes. “Come on Big H. We both could do with a wash and something to eat.”
They left the hut. Cyrene stood by the crib.
“Do you want me to go?” She asked.
“You can stay and help,” said Piri. “She probably could do with a change of sheets too.” She started to push Gabrielle’s stomach.
Xena sat by the bed and held Gabrielle’s hand.
Piri finished her examination after several minutes. She looked at Mother and daughter. “The good news is the bleeding has stopped. The swelling is reducing.”
“The bad news,” said Xena coolly.
“I think we’ll know one way or another within a few hours.”
Xena turned to look at Gabrielle. “Come on bard. You’ve done it before, come back to me. Come back to us.” She then stood up and wrapped her arms around the bard and lifted her up. Cyrene removed the dirty sheets and replaced them with fresh. Xena gently lay Gabrielle in bed and covered her up.
“Xena you must be exhausted. Why don’t you get in bed?”
Xena was about to shake her head, but then changed her mind. “I think I will,” she said. She removed her breastplate and bracers and slid her boots off.
“Don’t worry, we’ll leave you be,” said Piri.
Xena slid into the bed and took the cool bard in her arms.
“Good night, Xena,” said Cyrene. Xena kissed Gabrielle and shut her eyes gradually drifting into a much needed sleep.
She opened her eyes and spent several moments trying to focus, and then lifted her head from the pillow, but found it an effort so lay back again. She heard murmurings and turned her head to look at the sleeping face that was so dear to her and brought her hand to her cheek and stoked it gently. Two azure eyes shot open. Her hand was instantly covered by a larger one.
“Gabrielle?” said Xena hesitantly.
“I hope so,” said Gabrielle. Her voice was just a whisper.
“Gabrielle,” repeated Xena, and sat up. She stared at the bard.
Gabrielle became self conscious as Xena’s eyes drilled into her.
“Oh Gods, we have been so worried,” said Xena and she lay back down and started to cry.
“Ssshhh,” said Gabrielle and edged closer to Xena. She then felt arms round her and pulled towards the warrior. She was held tight and could feel Xena’s sobs. Gradually they subsided and the hold was loosened.
“Hey,” said Gabrielle, gently.
Xena sniffed. “I thought I was going to lose you. “ She kissed Gabrielle gently on the lips.
“I’m still here,” said Gabrielle smiling.
“Please don’t ever do that again.” Gabrielle saw the pain in Xena’s eyes and the fact she was barely able to control her emotions.
“Don’t apologise. Oh Gabrielle!” Xena tightened her hold once again. After several moments she cupped the bard’s face.
“How are you feeling?”
“Washed out,” Gabrielle tried to move up the bed and grimaced. “A bit heavy limbed.” She stared at Xena’s face that now radiated joy. “I don’t remember, what happened.”
Xena smiled. She slipped out of the bed and then put her arms under Gabrielle and sat her up the bed. She then put an extra pillow behind the bard and sat down on the bed and took one of the bard’s hands and brought it to her lips.
“You lost a lot of blood. You’ve been out of it for a while.”
Gabrielle closed her eyes and nodded. “The baby?” she said suddenly and opened her eyes. “Is he ok?”
“He’s fine,” said Xena with a smile. “Absolutely beautiful. Wait there.”
Xena got up and walked to the crib. She picked up the baby and brought him over to Gabrielle and gently placed him in her arms. She watched as Gabrielle scanned his face and then unwrapped the blankets and held his little hand. She then held his other hand and brought it to her lips.
Xena took a step backwards, wanting to give Gabrielle time with her son. She was about to turn when she heard Gabrielle say, “Where are you going?”
Xena looked down feeling self conscious. “You should have some time with him. Alone,” she murmured.
“Thanks. But I’d rather have time with you both.” Xena looked up into Gabrielle’s eyes and gave a reticent smile. She walked over to the bed and slid behind Gabrielle so she was supporting the bard, and gave the blond head a kiss. She then stroked the tiny cheek with her hand and watched indulgently as Gabrielle cried tears of happiness as she inspected every inch of her newborn son.
After several minutes, Gabrielle said,” Xena could you hold him, I’m getting a little tired.”
“Sure,” said Xena, and took him and stood up. Gabrielle kept her eyes fixed on the baby.
“Do you think, do you think he looks like him?” said Gabrielle, shakily.
“No,” said Xena firmly. “Not a bit of him.” She looked down at the baby who was starting to stir, “He certainly has your appetite,” she said smiling. She placed a pillow across Gabrielle’s lap. “Ready for him?”
Gabrielle nodded and took her son in her arms again. Xena watched with a feeling of pride as well as a tinge of envy. She shook herself mentally. Now was a time for celebration.
“You’ve got the hang of it,” she said. “I’m just going to let the Amazons know.”
Gabrielle looked up. “It must have been hard on everyone. My parents!” she said.
“I think they’ll want to see you as soon as possible. Trouble is so will the whole tribe,” said Xena. She stepped out of the hut and gave a sigh of relief. She saw one of the guards and asked her to get Piri and their parents. Her wide smile meant she did not have to say anything else.
She then stepped back in and saw that Gabrielle was still feeding the baby. She went to the fire and put a pot of water over it and arranged two mugs nearby.
She turned around and saw that the baby had finished feeding and Gabrielle was now looking exhausted. Xena walked to the bed and took the baby from her and held him against her shoulder. A large belch was heard.
“Definitely like you,” she said and sat on the bed and laid the baby on Gabrielle’s lap again supporting him. They looked at each other and shared a kiss.
The door opened, and Piri and their parents came rushing in shrieking screams of joy. Piri went straight to Gabrielle’s side and felt her forehead and pulled her eye slightly before checking her neck.
“Thank you,” mouthed Gabrielle.
“Good to have you back,” said the healer and stepped back so Hecuba could give her daughter a hug. She did awkwardly as Xena was still sitting by Gabrielle and then gave the warrior a hug and a kiss.
Herodotus was standing back beaming and Cyrene was hovering and as soon as Hecuba moved she took her place and gave both Xena and Gabrielle a kiss.
“How are you feeling, dear?” she asked.
“Tired,” said Gabrielle. “But very, very happy.”
“I think they’ll be a huge party when you are well. We’re stay for that,” said Hecuba and Herodotus nodded in agreement. “They’ve gone to get Lila. They thought, well that doesn’t matter now. But she’ll enjoy seeing you and her nephew.”
“Suppose she’ll bring that boyfriend of hers,” said Herodotus gruffly.
“No one would ever be good enough for his girls,” said Hecuba gasped in horror as she realised what she said looked at Xena.
Xena smiled. “I can understand that,” she said and looked at Herodotus and nodded in understanding. The older man gave her a salute.
“So what about a name,” said Hecuba? “Your father has been calling the poor child Herodotus.”
Herodotus frowned at her.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. She looked at the baby and smiled. “I was going to ask Xena and Cyrene if it was ok.” She looked around the room. “I’d like to name him Lyceus.”
Cyrene gasped and put her hand to her mouth. Xena looked at Gabrielle with tears in her eyes. “Are you sure?”
“I want him to be a part of you Xena, and so giving him your brother’s name felt right.”
Xena leant in and gave Gabrielle a kiss, and then held her finger for Lyceus to grasp. “It’s perfect.” She then stood up and scooped up Lyceus and gave him to Cyrene who was crying silently.
She smiled through her tears. “He reminds me of Lyceus when he was a baby. Must be the blond hair. Thank you.”
“Darn fine name,” said Herodotus. “A good man’s name.”
“It is,” said Xena, smiling.
As Gabrielle and Xena walked into the dining hut the place erupted into cheers, whistles and clapping.
“Where’s my Godson?” said Ephiny and made a bee line for the new entrants. Gabrielle placed Lyceus into her arms and she turned and walked towards to a crowd of amazons who immediately started cooing and talking baby-talk.
Xena rolled her eyes. “For a bunch of warriors,” she muttered. She helped Gabrielle to a chair. “You do realise that you won’t see him until he is ten years old.”
Gabrielle chuckled and eased herself down.
“Welcome to invalids corner,” said Aella brightly.
Gabrielle took her hand. “I’m so pleased,” she said. “Ephiny deserves someone like you.”
“I think so too,” said Aella laughing. She turned around to face Solari. “Still seeing double?”
The scout nodded painfully. “At least that’s an improvement. Three lots of Pony in the morning is too much.”
The others laughed.
“I’m just going to see mother,” said Xena and gave Gabrielle a kiss and walked to where her mother was chatting with Athena. The Goddess was dressed in a long blue dress and arrived at the borders saying she was a friend of Cyrene. Xena smiled inwardly at the irony of that. Only Hercules, Iolaus, Piri, Joxer and Ephiny knew the truth of who she actually was.
Xena gulped. “I owe you an apology. I said terrible things.” She looked into Athena’s blue eyes.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help. You know if I could have I would have.” The Goddess looked around at the party. “Thank you for inviting me.”
“You’re a part of the baby’s life. You’re a part of my life. We-I wanted you here. It’s good to get to know you.” Xena stepped forward and embraced Athena tentatively. Cyrene watched with a tear in her eye and pride radiating from her.
“Thank you for the toy horse. Argo says the likeness is uncanny.”
“A baby has to have a favourite toy,” said Athena. “Now where is the guest of honour?”
“Good luck getting your hands on him. I think his God father has him.” She pointed to where Joxer was sitting with Piri both cooing over the baby.
“This could get nasty,” said Cyrene. “Wish us luck.”
Xena laughed and watched her mother, no her parents, she corrected herself, walk to the healers.
She looked around and was about to return to Gabrielle when she saw two figures away from the crowd. She walked up to them.
“Xena,” said Lila. “I was going to get a drink for us. Do you want anything?”
Xena shook her head. Lila scampered off leaving Xena with a terrified looking young man.
“Georgios, isn’t it?” she asked.
Georgios nodded silently.
“First time to an Amazon camp?” she added slyly.
He nodded. “First time out of Poteidaia,” he whispered.
“Aahh,” said Xena. She looked at him and then looked around. Gabrielle was in deep conversation with Aella. Epinon had joined Solari was sitting with the scout’s head on her shoulder. Hercules and Iolaus were telling several of the Amazon elders about their time in Amphipolis with Salmoneus. Her parents were having an animated discussion with Joxer and Piri and Gabrielle’s parents were serving drinks and food and chatting happily with anyone that came their way.
“A bit full on, isn’t it?” She said.
“A bit?” said Georgios in astonishment.
“That’s families for you,” she said and patted his arm. “Get to know them, you may be surprised.”
He immediately looked across at Herodotus.
Xena grinned. “Don’t worry about him. His bark is worse than his bite. And I should know.”
She walked over to Lyceus and motioned to her mother.
“I’ve only just got hold of him,” she whined.
“You both had him half the morning,” retorted Xena.
Athena patted Cyrene’s arm and Cyrene grudgingly put him in her daughter’s arms. The Goddess laughed and put her arm around Xena’s Mother. She walked across to where Gabrielle was sitting. The bard had closed her eyes for a moment, but opened them as Xena placed Lyceus in her arms.
“Thought you’d like a cuddle, before you lost him for a while. Mother is giving us the evil eye, and I’m sure there may be an Amazon that hasn’t babbled in his direction yet.”
Gabrielle turned and gave Xena a gentle kiss on the lips.
“Thank you. For everything.”
“No I should thank you,” Xena swallowed. “Before I met you I thought I could manage on my own. Didn’t need anyone else. Lone tree in the forest being the strongest. But I can’t. It isn’t. You’ve shown me what it means to love and be loved. To be a family.”
“Oh Xena,” said Gabrielle. “You’ve always had people that love you.”
“I realise that now. And I’ve got a whole extended family. Even if they are amazons.” She rolled her eyes as Gabrielle gave her a slap on the arm. “But now I’ve got you two.” She stroked Lyceus’ blond hair. “And that’s everything to me.”
“We’re family,” said Gabrielle burrowing in closer to her.
Xena put an arm around Gabrielle, kissed the top of her head and sat back and enjoyed the festivities.
To be Continued and concluded in Journey of Discovery: Part two: Denouement
Back to the Academy