Xena awoke after another restless night's sleep the baby's stirring frantically within her and pressing on her bladder frequently. She turned slightly reaching for Gabrielle and sighed sadly when she felt the emptiness of the space beside her. She desperately wished she knew what was going on but no one would bring her word for fear of the babies coming early. She just wanted to know something, anything that would put her mind at some ease.
"Good you are awake; breakfast will be ready in a few candle drops. I've prepared a nice warm bath for you while you wait, it will help relax those two circus performer's within you" Lila smiled at Xena, a bit worried about the black circles around the strong woman's eyes, knowing how easily sickness could take her in her weakened state of mind. She was doing her best to keep Xena well fed and relaxed but there was nothing she could do to ease the warrior's mind. They hadn't had word about Gabrielle's condition in days; she guessed they wouldn't unless it was the worst news, or hopefully good news.
"Thank you Lila, I hope I didn't wake you last night, the babies wouldn't settle and pacing a little normally helps settle my mind and them" Xena said calmly, silently grateful for her sister-in-law's company. Without Lila's presence she would have slowly gone mad waiting for news, or she would have taken off on a wild chase to find Gabrielle.
"It's my pleasure Xena, I care about you and the babies, you didn't wake me, but I am going to ask the healer today if she can give you something to help you sleep. I know you are against taking herbs during the pregnancy, but if we don't get you some serious rest soon you are going to get sick and you can't afford that right now" Lila insisted, knowing how stubborn her sister-in-law was but also knew that she would do anything for these children, she was counting on that knowledge.
After her bath Xena felt refreshed and more relaxed, the babies were still and although she still felt very awkward with her huge stomach, she felt more like herself than she had in a while. She knew it was getting close, the babies wouldn't fit in there much longer, she just hoped her love would be awake or alive to see them come into the world. She ate as much as her stomach would allow for breakfast and then they went to visit the healer. The walk was slow, much slower than Xena was accustomed to, but necessary with her growing gait.
"Xena, how are you doing today, those babies look almost ready to pop!" The healer exclaimed when she looked at her. She looked at Xena and saw that she looked ready. The birth would not be far off. The healer gave her another two days at most. She knew the babies would be coming early, but that was fairly common in twins and with a mother as healthy as Xena, she wasn't too worried about the babies' health. She looked Xena over and frowned seeing the dark circles around Xena's eyes and knew she wasn't sleeping.
"Come Xena, you know the drill, on the table" The healer laughed, and watched as Xena settled herself on the table. She lifted the warrior's knees and did a pelvic examination. Just as she thought, the cervix was soft and she was probably a little bit dilated. It would most definitely not be long. She knew some women could be that way for a few days so it was nothing to worry about.
"Well it looks like these babies are in a hurry to get out of there, I'd give you another two days tops before these little ones make their arrival" The healer told Xena, seeing the look of sadness mixed with surprise cross Xena's features.
"Let's hope Gabrielle is well enough to travel by then" Xena said quietly, knowing she would do her best to keep the babies from coming until Gabrielle was with her. She didn't know how she would do it but she knew her bard would not want to miss the birth of their children.
"You're looking tired Xena, I am going to prescribe you a mild sleeping herb, it should help relax the babies and allow you to sleep a bit more, in the days before birth a mother normally becomes very tired before the birth of their child, but so you have enough strength to deliver the twins, I think you should take this, it is perfectly safe for the babies I promise" The healer told Xena, knowing if she didn't get some good sleep in the next day or so she would be too exhausted to deliver the babies naturally.
"Okay, how much do I need to take" Xena agreed reluctantly, knowing she needed to rest as much as she could. It had been an effort to walk to the healer, she was already tired. Sleeping would help take the thoughts of Gabrielle away for a while and help her be more ready for the birth of their children.
"I've packaged it in sachets, one sachet per mug of tea, it won't knock you out, but it will relax you enough that if you have a warm fire going and you are snuggled under enough firs, you should fall asleep easily, I suggest you try and have a nap twice a day and try and get at least eight candlemarks of sleep tonight" The healer said and helped her off the table. She handed her the herbs and walked them out of the hut. She waved as they left and knew that in a few days they would be very busy.
Meanwhile in the Amazon camp, a certain Amazon Queen was beginning to come around. She felt like she was talking underwater, her head felt groggy and she had no memory of where she was or what she was doing in water.
"Gabrielle, are you awake?" Aphrodite asked worriedly, seeing Gabrielle open her eyes for the first time in candlemarks. She looked like she was trying to talk but nothing was coming out. She jumped when Gabrielle began to cough and then she looked at Aphrodite and smiled.
"I'm back â€“"Gabrielle said and then coughed again, her mouth felt so dry. She turned her head and saw a glass of water. She pointed to it and looked at Aphrodite. She felt so weak, more weak than she'd ever felt.
"Glad to have you back, you had me worried Kiddo!" Aphrodite said as she held the glass for Gabrielle as she took a couple of sips. She coughed some more and then had a few more sips. Finally her mouth began to feel more normal. She looked at Aphrodite and saw the worry on the Goddess' face.
"How long was I out? Oh Gods Xena, has she had the babies!" Gabrielle exclaimed sitting up and then cursing as her head pounded and exploded in pain. She quickly lay back down and the pain lessened. She relaxed again as the pain went and then looked up at Aphrodite for answers.
" A couple of days, and no Xena hasn't had the babies, although they are ready to come anytime, so you better rest up and get yourself better asap girl" Aphrodite said smiling at the look of relief pass over Gabrielle's face. She took the young bard's hand and smiled down at her.
"You have had everyone including that big Warrior of yours very worried" Aphrodite said, her face showing Gabrielle just how close she must have come to death. She looked up at Aphrodite in question and hoped she would like the answers.
"You were gravely wounded, you lost a lot of blood, I had to teach your healer how to perform what is called a transfusion, one of your young warriors was a match and volunteered, so now you are healed, but you still need more rest so that you can be strong enough to help coach your warrior through what I know is going to be a long and difficult birth" Aphrodite told Gabrielle, knowing they didn't have much time to get her well enough to travel to Poetadeia to be with Xena for the birth. She had already slowed time down once, and knew she couldn't risk it again. She just hoped the babies would hold on for another two days at least. Gabrielle would need another full day of rest before she was well enough to travel.
"And Xena, does she, is she okay, she must be worried sick, have you sent word?" Gabrielle asked, knowing what her love must have gone through. I hope she has been sleeping okay, she needs to rest, Gods I wish I could be with her right now, I know she would sleep a lot better in my arms.
"She is doing okay, she's very worried about you of course, and I know that Lila took her to see the healer today, she was worried about her lack of sleep, so I am sure the healer prescribed some sleeping herbs, you just worry about getting yourself some sleep, I will be taking you to see her as soon as you've had another day's rest, I can't risk you travelling with the Amazon's Xena needs you soon" Aphrodite said, knowing time was of the essence, but even travelling through a God's magic was dangerous for one so weak, and she knew if she had another day's rest she would cope with the experience a lot better.
"Okay, I feel tired anyhow, thank you Aphrodite, for all you have done" Gabrielle said as she drifted off to sleep. Her dreams of Xena, wanting to be with her.
"Sleep well little one, it won't be long before you are with her again" Aphrodite whispered, brushing the hair off Gabrielle's face in a tender gesture. She knew this woman was special and at one time she thought she was meant to love this mortal woman, but as she got to know her, she knew who Gabrielle was meant for, and that she was to be instrumental in bringing them together.
Back at Lila's home Xena was sleeping peacefully, after taking one of the herbal teas. It hadn't tasted great but it definitely did the trick. Lila was preparing dinner, thinking of her sister, and how she had come to love the warrior woman. In the time Xena had spent in her home she had gotten to know her well, and had begun to love the stubborn, proud warrior. She could see how much she loved her sister, but it was more than that, Xena was a beautiful person, honest, caring, and very helpful and there was a vulnerability to her that only the closest to her could see.
She had spent a candlemark watching the Warrior sleep, seeing the beauty on her face as she rested. It was times like these that she understood the attraction for her sister. When Xena was asleep her face was soft, beautiful and peaceful. Gone was the hard warrior's gaze, the stoic looks. Pregnancy had softened her face a lot, and she was looking more womanly every day.
She let her thoughts continue drifting as she continued to prepare dinner, hoping Xena would sleep for at least a couple of candlemarks. She had just finished stirring the stew again when she heard a noise from Xena's room, and she ran into the room to investigate.
"Xena are you okay" Lila asked looking at the warrior worriedly, she was sure she would have slept a lot longer with that herbal tea. She looked into Xena's eyes and saw fear in them, and then looked down at her arms cradling her stomach.
"I think I just had a contraction" Xena told Lila, looking up at the older woman worriedly, she'd been experiencing practise contractions for weeks but this one felt stronger, she'd felt her whole big stomach tighten, and the babies had moved around frantically afterwards.
"Are you sure? It could be just another practise round, let me get you comfortable again, and I will stay with you in case anymore come, we don't want to be hasty" Lila said praying to whatever Gods were listening that it was just a practise contraction. She helped Xena lay down again, and began to stroke her hair, marvelling at the fact that the warrior allowed her to do so.
"It was a lot stronger than the other contractions and it lasted longer, but I guess it still could have been a practise one" Xena said not wanting to admit how soothing it was to have someone stroke her hair. She let herself just feel the sensations and began to drift off to sleep again. A few candledrops past and then she tensed again, another contraction.
"I felt that, it was a strong one, if you have more we will have to call for the midwife" Lila said, knowing that the contraction she'd felt was not a practise one, but not wanting to alarm Xena. She sent a silent prayer to the Gods to bring Gabrielle to them quickly.
Gabrielle shot up in bed, and then groaned as she reeled with dizziness. The pain had been so real, as though she'd felt the tightening herself. She looked down at her stomach and then realised where the pain was coming from. Xena. She had to go to her.
"Aphrodite!" Gabrielle called desperately, her love was in labour she was sure of it and she needed to be with her. She called for Aphrodite again and was relieved when she finally appeared to her.
"Xena's in labour, I'm sure of it, you have to take me to her" Gabrielle almost ordered Aphrodite to take her to her love.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle, if I take you now to Xena, you may not live through the journey, at the very least you will be unconscious for at least a day and then you will be of no use to Xena anyhow, you need at least another four candlemarks rest "Aphrodite told Gabrielle, knowing how hard it would be for the bard to take, but knowing she could not risk taking her now.
"I don't think I can sleep knowing she's in pain and I am not there, please Aphrodite there has got to be something you can do" Gabrielle pleaded with Aphrodite, and then felt very tired all of a sudden, soon she could not keep her eyes open, she looked at Aphrodite and knew what she had done, she tried to fight it but couldn't stop herself from falling asleep.
"Sleep little one, it will be many candlemarks before the birth of your children, if you wish to see them come into the world then you must sleep" Aphrodite told her, knowing the bard would be upset about it to begin with when she woke up, but would realise it was the right thing to do eventually.
Meanwhile back at Lila's house a very cranky warrior was getting frustrated, this was not happening, she was not in labour, yet the pains that were getting more frequent told her she was. Gabrielle! Where are you? She thought, knowing she couldn't stop the babies from coming.
"I know she will be here Xena, stop worrying, nothing will make her miss the birth of her children, you just need to stay calm and breathe through every contraction, don't make this harder on yourself than it already will be" Lila said trying to keep Xena calm, she sent prayers off to all the Gods she could think of to bring her sister home. Xena had been in early labour for at least two candlemarks and the pains were beginning to come more frequently. She was no midwife but she knew they only had a matter of candlemarks before these babies would make their appearance.
"I am trying Lila, but this isn't supposed to be happening this way, Gabrielle is supposed to be hear holding my hand through the â€“"Xena broke off as a contraction gripped her. It was a stronger one, each contraction seeming to get stronger and stronger. She could feel the babies move slowly within her, disturbed by the contracting, but knowing it was almost time to come out into the world.
"That's it just keep breathing, she will be here, have faith in her Xena" Lila said as she felt Xena's stomach, that contraction had been much stronger and she knew it was time to go and fetch the midwife so she could tell them how far along Xena was.
"I'm going to go and send Rowan to get the healer, we need to know how close you are to giving birth to these two" Lila said, her tone brokering no arguments. She watched as Xena nodded and tried not to think of how pale the warrior looked. She knew that Xena was still very tired and she hoped she would be able to deliver these babies without intervention.
She sat with Xena while they waited for the midwife to arrive, by her count the contractions were coming once every 5 candledrops, and were getting stronger as each one came. On the last two or three she felt Xena's hand begin to grip hers tightly, as the pain became more intense. She didn't cry out, but she was struggling to keep breathing through each contraction.
"Xena, how are you doing?" The midwife said as she looked at one very unhappy warrior, who just glared at her cheerfulness. Clearing her throat and kicking herself mentally for her lack of professionalism.
"How do you think I am doing, I am in labour, my wife is hurt and isn't here, and I am about to give birth to twins!" Xena glared again at the midwife, feeling irritated by her cheerfulness.
"I'm sorry Xena, I'm a little nervous, this is only the second time I've delivered twins, they're not very common in these parts" The midwife apologise and then got down to business, she looked between Xena's legs and saw that she was dilated by four fingers and moving on nicely, her waters hadn't broken yet but she was sure that would happen very soon probably with the next one or two contractions. She talked with Lila and was told the contractions were coming pretty frequently and guessed that Xena would begin crowning in another two or three candlemarks. She hoped the warrior's partner, Queen Gabrielle would return soon, if she didn't she would surely miss the birth of their children.
"Okay ladies, it looks like you are doing very nicely Xena, should be another two or three candlemarks before you'll begin to feel the urge to push, for now we will just concentrate on getting you through each contraction and keep you as calm as possible" The midwife told Xena, seeing the look of sadness crossing her face, she hoped Gabrielle was on her way... these babies were in a hurry to get out.
Aphrodite sat watching a sleeping Gabrielle, very aware of what was happening inside of Lila's house, she knew they had very little time, it was going to take a moment of sheer precision to get Gabrielle to Lila's house in time to see her children born. She looked at the young bard, smiling at her angelic face. She would make sure Gabrielle made it in time for her children's birth, nothing and no one was going to stop that.
"How is Xena?" Ares asked as he walked into the hut. He held his hands up as a gesture that he'd come in peace.
"She's in labour dufus how do you think she is?" Aphrodite whispered, she didn't want to dare talking to loudly for fear of the sound making the spell she'd placed on Gabrielle wear off.
"I know, you know I never meant for Gabrielle to get hurt, I didn't even know that band of thugs would attack the Amazons, they were supposed to go after the Romans" Ares tried to tell Aphrodite, and for once he was telling the truth, he'd come to terms with the fact that Xena loved Gabrielle, and that they were married. He also knew if he interfered purposely in their union his existence would cease to be.
"I know brother, the only thing that kept her alive was her love for Xena, and those babies, any other mortal would have died days ago, don't hold yourself responsible, you know you didn't mean it or you would not be here, you need to go and find yourself a good woman to love brother, let these two go" Aphrodite said, knowing he could not, after he'd come to his senses about Xena, he had begun to see himself as their protector, making sure neither of them got hurt by any of his warlords.
"I can't maybe someday, but I need to see that she is happy, I have caused her enough pain I need to see her happy" Ares said as he disappeared hoping his sister would get Gabrielle to Xena in time, he thought about ducking in to see if Xena was okay, but decided against it, he knew she'd feel his presence and the last thing he wanted to do was spoil this special day for her.
To be continued in part 7Return to the Academy