Xena: Warrior Princess is © to Universal Pictures, Renaissance Pictures, Networks USA, Lucy & Rob. I'd love to own the characters of Xena and Gabrielle, but, alas, it's not to be. There is love here between our two heroes, and a little romance, and, a little sex as well. Go away if you're under age, or if the thought of two women together makes your head explode. Many thanks to Abraham Lincoln for that wonderful quotation.
Spoilers: None, my own revisionist interpretation of how they could have met. Xena and Gabrielle meet in an altogether different way, yet their destinies will always be the same…
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They say that the road to redemption is fraught with stark, rocky terrain and darkened paths that those with any sense dare not tread. No wonder it took me many years to finally trample that road. I looked for it at every turn, down every dark alleyway, in the ruins I helped to create, in the faces of the poor that I crushed. But it eluded my grasp, and the search itself became an exercise in futility. It mocked my every attempt to grasp it, until I finally stopped altogether. The road to destruction was an easier path to follow, so I did.
I was a monstrous, hideous aberration, barely human, and I reveled in my barbarous nature. Men quaked at the mere mention of my name, women feared for their daughters, and children thought me a nightmare—like the ones you have on a cold, windy night, when the moon is full.
Guilt was my constant companion; it followed me wherever I went. I heard it laugh every time I plunged my sword into an innocent victim. It snickered while I watched my men plunder and rape the land. It's evil cackle echoed in the hills on the hot nights when the cries of my victims rose up from the bowels of hades itself.
Redemption. I was ready for it, however, having spent most of my adult life doing things that even I could never forgive, I thought it beyond my grasp. I thought I might find it in my own homeland, but, alas, this was not to be. So I ditched my armor and weapons in a field, donned a thick linen garment and cloak, and wandered the land like an itinerant nomad. After awhile I easily resembled those I perpetuated violence upon—a vacant stare, lost in the wreck of my memories. I lived a peripatetic life—I scrounged in trashcans, hid in caves, and howled at the moon. I begged for food in places that even animals avoided.
I was still full of rage, and self-hatred, but I was tired. I wandered for so long that suddenly fall became spring without me realizing it. Until one day, when a bone weariness caught me in its grasp, and I had to finally take my rest.
It was a typical seaside village. Not really any bigger than the one I grew up in, but for an agora that hugged the shore and an impressive fishing pier that accommodated about twenty mid-size boats. The main road into the village was lined with the typical small markets, clothes stores, bars, and a few liveries. There were a few temples on a road that led away from the shore, and beyond that, a row of small houses that disappeared behind a hill, where I realized most of the dwellings must have been—safely protected against any storms that rose off the sea. I figured that the people who lived in this place lived very simple and quiet lives.
As I walked down the roadway and past the first inns, with their aromas of hot food, I realized I was hungry. I hadn't eaten in two days, and I probably stank as well. With no money or means of acquiring food I walked the road that led to the temples and hoped there was a Theseion there, like the one in Athens, where the poor were taken care of. I needn't have worried, there was, and it looked exactly like the one I remembered in Athens, Doric, peripteral, with a pronaos and opisthodomos.
I destroyed the one in Athens, and the guilt that came with that memory almost kept me from entering the one in this small town. But I was too famished to care at this point. There were two food stalls erected at the bottom of the steps that led up to the temple proper, one was offering meat, the other, vegetables. I stepped to the end of the small line of people. It was late in the afternoon and most people had already taken their midday meal.
As I stood at the back of the line a small boy turned to me and frowned. "You need a bath, lady."
I offered the boy a cynical smile. "Yeah, well, you and me both, kid."
His mother turned to say something to me but when she caught my glaring eyes she quickly turned around and gathered the boy closer to her. I realized I could still do it; still intimidate people with just a look. I caught myself then, wanting to apologize and strangle at the same time.
I wordlessly accepted the small plate of food offered to me and sat down on the temple steps. They didn't offer me a fork so I picked up the food with dirty fingers and ate it like a starving animal. I looked up to find that a man, dressed in dirty rags, was watching me as he ate.
My eyes narrowed and I stilled my movements. "What the fuck are you looking at?"
He shrank away and lowered his eyes. "Nothing…nothing, I'm sorry. Its just that, well, you look familiar."
I frowned. "No, no I don't."
The man nodded and turned his back to me, apparently agreeing with my astute appraisal. He scooted further away from me and finished his meal.
An older woman, with blonde hair streaked with gray, came up to me an offered me a small loaf of bread from the basket she was carrying. I snatched it up without speaking and dipped it into the grease left on my plate and ate like there was no tomorrow. My hunger for food was temporarily satisfied.
I looked up again when I finished and noticed that the woman who had offered me the bread was watching me while conversing with the vegetable cook. When she noticed my glance she put down her basket and approached me.
"Hello, my name is Hecuba."
I wasn't in the mood for conversation. "So what."
She smiled at me then, and sat down on the step I was sitting on. "You look like a woman who could use a clean place to rest."
"I don't care what you think, leave me alone."
She regarded me for a few moments, and then did something that no one in my army had ever dared to do. She reached over and lightly touched my shoulder. "We own the inn at the end of that street, the two storey one. Come by after you eat." With those words she stood and walked away from me.
I don't know how long I sat on those temple steps, but when I looked up, the sun was setting on the horizon and it was starting to get a bit chilly. There were no stables to break into and sleep in, and I didn't feel like sleeping inside the temple, so I got up and headed for the two storey inn at the end of the street.
Looking back, I don't know why I made that decision. The temple would have been comfortable, but I also knew I didn't like sleeping in the company of other people, and I wondered what that woman really wanted from me. I knew not to enter by the front entrance, so I walked to the back of the inn and looked into a small, yet clean, kitchen. The woman who earlier approached me was in there talking to a girl with dark hair and pretty eyes.
I cleared my throat and the woman turned and looked at me. I think that she was a little surprised that I accepted her invitation, but she smiled at me and indicated for me to follow her. I entered the kitchen and followed her down a small hallway until she stopped at the farthest door. She opened it and stepped aside.
I peered inside to find a small bathing chamber. A copper tub stood in the center of the room with small tables pushed up against opposing walls, on which I assumed were bottles of soaps. There was a large cabinet on the wall opposite the door.
"We offer traveling sailors baths in here for a reasonable price, but you can use it for free. There are clean clothes in that cabinet."
I turned to her then, suspicion clouding my eyes. "Why are you doing this?"
"Offering me your kindness."
She looked at me and then gave me a sad smile. "Because no one should be as shattered as you are."
My heart clenched as she turned and left, and my eyes could have filled with tears had I not willed them away. After a few moments I closed the door and, throwing off my clothes, practically fell into the steaming water. I had not bathed in hot water for months, and it felt so good that, as my head fell back onto the tubs edge, I finally felt my pain and let a few tears escape me, and a small, strangled cry escaped my lips. After awhile I poured some soap onto a cloth and thoroughly washed my body. It was only then that I realized how filthy I really was.
I ended up draining the tub and filling it again with hot water and settled my body into it for a long soak. When I was ready I got out, dried myself, and opened the cabinet. There were several tunics hanging and several boots lined up on the bottom. I selected a dark brown linen tunic and brown belt and they fit rather well. I also selected a pair of black leather boots and put them on. I was thankful that they were worn because new boots would have hurt my sore feet. I hadn't worn anything on my feet since my own boots fell apart two weeks ago.
A part of me wanted to hide in that room, but I was curious by nature, so I ventured out into the hall and made my way towards what I assumed was the main room. I peered into the room and realized just how much I missed life's simple comforts. There was a huge fireplace built into one wall, with a fire blazoning, and several tables were scattered about it with small oil lamps burning on each table. This was the only light it the room, and the doorway that led into the kitchen was darkened by a drape. A long tall bench ran along the wall where the door to the kitchen was and several amphorae of wine were stacked on it, along with several drinking vessels.
Several people were scattered amongst the tables, and were talking or laughing as they drank. I was about to turn away when the woman named Hecuba entered from the kitchen and waved me over to her. She indicated a series of small booths near the door to the kitchen.
"Would you like to sit awhile, maybe have a cup of wine?"
I was too tired at this point to decline so I glanced at her before settling into one of the booths. She lit the small oil lamp on the table and then moved to pour me a cup of wine.
When she set the cup in front of me I offered her a weak smile of thanks. "Thank you."
I found myself looking up to her then, a little curious about her. "Who was that girl you were talking to earlier?"
She sat opposite me. "Oh, that's my youngest, Lila. She helps out here every afternoon."
I nodded. "Her looks must favor her father."
"Yeah, they do. But my oldest looks exactly like me. If you stick around tonight you'll hear her tell her stories."
Hecuba ran her hand through her hair then. ‘She's a dreamer, that one. She fancies herself a bard and likes to come here every night and entertain our guests."
My curiosity was piqued then. "What's her name?"
We both turned then when a young blonde woman entered the inn dressed in a simple light beige, cotton chiton and sandaled feet.
A young man, the one who had called her name, stood from one of the tables and walked over to her, grinning broadly. "What have you done with your hair?"
The young woman, Gabrielle, ran her hand through her short blonde locks. "Do you like it, Perdicas?"
Hecuba stood up then and leaned against our table. "What have you done with your beautiful hair?"
Gabrielle turned to her mother then and laughed. "Oh, mom, its much too hot for all that hair. Don't you like it?"
The young man put an arm around Gabrielle's waist. "It's lovely."
I brought my cup up to my lips then and stared at the blonde over the rim of my glass. The boy was right; it was lovely, she was lovely—beautiful, actually.
The young woman looked down then, as if noticing for the first time there was someone else at the table her mother was at. Her smile faltered slightly then, and I could have sworn a shyness enveloped her, one that wasn't there before.
Before I knew what was happening, I found myself on my feet then, and the young woman known as Gabrielle was walking in my direction.
Her mother pushed off the table and indicated me with her hand. "Gabrielle, I'd like you to meet…meet…" She looked at me then and shook her head. "I'm sorry but I didn't get your name?"
I panicked for a moment then, wondering what the mere mention of my name would do to these people. I looked from Hecuba to Gabrielle and finally blurted it out. "Xena—my name is Xena."
Gabrielle simply took my large hand then, and held it between her own. "It's so nice to meet you, Xena."
I remember that when I looked down on her my I opened my mouth as if to say something, but words failed me then. Then I finally noticed her beautiful emerald eyes, they sparkled bright, even in the dim light of the tavern. I stared at her, as her small hands held one of my larger callused ones, and wondered why I couldn't find my voice.
She looked like she wanted to say something, as well, but she didn't. Then her smile faded as her lips parted slightly.
We just stared at each other, for the longest moment I could remember.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Hecuba, she was looking from her daughter to me and a small smile touched her lips. I tactfully removed my hand from Gabrielle's and nodded to her.
"Its nice to meet you, too." I cursed the hoarseness in my voice.
Hecuba touched her daughter's shoulder. "Have any new material for our guests tonight?"
Gabrielle's eyes lit up. "No, nothing really new. But I thought I'd continue with Hesiod's Theogony tonight, it's a real favorite."
I watched as Hecuba beamed with delight at her oldest daughter. She lightly brushed her hand over the young woman's face and then walked to one corner of the room where a tall stool was.
"Fair and gentle guests!"
All in the room faced the older woman. "Once again, tonight we are graced with the stories of my fair-haired daughter, Gabrielle."
As Gabrielle walked over to her mother the small crowd cheered. When Gabrielle sat on the stool one of the patrons put a glass of wine on the small table next to it. The blonde smiled down at the man and took a sip of wine.
Then her face lit up as she began her tale. "I thought that tonight we would continue the wonderful tale of Hesiod that I began three days ago."
"Eurynome, a daughter of Oceanus with lovely looks, bore him the three Graces, Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and the fair Thalia. From their eyes love that dissolves the flesh seeped down as they looked; beautiful is their glance from under their brows.
And he came to the bed of Demeter abundant in nourishment, and she bore the white-armed Persephone, whom Aidoneus stole from her mother, Zeus the resourceful granting her to him.
Again, he took love of Memory with her beautiful hair, from whom the Muses with gold diadems were born to him, nine of them, whose pleasure is in feasts and the delights of song.
Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis the archer—lovely children above all the Celestials—in shared intimacy with Zeus who bears the aegis…"
I sat, mesmerized, as the young woman's voice, melodious in its cadence, floated over the entire room and quieted even the loudest of patrons. She easily enthralled them with her words, and I soon found myself hypnotized as well. But I was fighting the lethargy the wine caused, and soon found my head resting on my arms.
Hecuba came over to me then and bent down. "Would you like a room to sleep in, Xena?"
"Sure." I was too weary to care if these people knew who I was at this point.
She led me upstairs into a small, but lovely, room. A small fireplace burned with a fire that was mostly just coals and the bed looked so inviting that, after she left, I ditched my clothes and boots and crawled into it and fell into the first peaceful sleep I had in months.
When I awoke the room was so dark I didn't know if it was early sunrise or sunset. I realized I was a little disoriented. I soon realized I had to take care of some personal needs so I opened the door to find that Gabrielle was walking towards my door. She was carrying a tray laden with food and drink.
I averted my eyes, for some reason I couldn't look at her. "Umm, Gabrielle, can you point me in the direction of the…well…" I looked up to her then, and suddenly found my mouth dry.
She smiled and nodded toward the end of the hall. "Last door on the left."
I quickly excused myself to take care of business. Afterwards, after my face and hands were washed I returned to my room. Gabrielle had opened the drapes and I could see the sun setting on the horizon. She had lit a small fire in the fireplace, and had oil lamps burning on the table and mantle. The tray on the table was filled with what I knew to be some kind of fish, cheese, bread with oil, honeyed dates, grapes, and a generous amphora of wine. She was sitting at the table near the window that faced the sea and looked up to me as I entered the room.
Lila was pretty, but Gabrielle was beautiful. I hadn't been in the company of a beautiful woman in months, and I found myself uncharacteristically clumsy in my movements. I sat on a chair opposite her.
"I thought you'd be hungry after such a long sleep."
I blinked, realizing the vulnerable position I had put myself in. "How long was I asleep?"
"Mother put you in here the night before yesterday. You slept all day yesterday and didn't start to stir until a short while ago."
I then thought about how Gabrielle could have known I was waking up. I felt my dark suspicion grow, but I desperately tried to suppress it. "How did you know I was waking up?"
She must have heard the hard edge to my voice then, because she stood immediately and headed for the door. "I'm sorry."
Before I knew what I was doing, I was on my feet again, catching up to her and taking her gently by the shoulders. I turned her around to face me. "No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I'm just a little edgy, that's all."
I felt her slight tremble as she looked up at me, slowly loosing the frightened look on her face. "I told my mom I would look after you tonight, she's away and won't be back until tomorrow."
I could feel the familiar guilt start to bubble to the surface, but I was loath to let this young woman see it. I dropped my hands from her shoulders and guided her back to the table. When she took her seat again I poured her a glass of wine.
"Would you tell me something, Gabrielle?"
"Sure." Her smile beguiled me.
"I'm not sure where I am."
Her head tilted slightly, as if it was obvious where we were. "Oh, you mean the name of this town? You're in Poteidaia."
Poteidaia—I knew this place. My army had passed by eight years ago, but for some reason, I had left the town untouched. I didn't' realize that I had ventured so close to my own home, Amphipolis. But then again, my wandering was aimless.
As we ate I noticed how her face lit up when she talked about her stories. It seemed to me as if she lived for her storytelling, and I began to realize that this young woman was just as her mother described her to me. She didn't seem as if she belonged in a place like this—this unremarkable town. And I wasn't blind to her beauty, either, which I knew that her mother picked up on when she introduced us. It wasn't long before we had finished our meal, and despite months on the hard road, I felt that I wasn't tired anymore.
Gabrielle took a long swallow of wine then smiled at me. "Would you like to go for a walk, perhaps, on the beach?"
I was too eager to say yes, but did so anyway. "Sure."
We walked in silence on the Poteidaian shore, taking in the fresh breeze from the sea, and the soft light of the moon. After a long silence, Gabrielle finally spoke.
"Mother says she ran into you at the temple."
I had wondered how Hecuba accounted for me. "Yes, I was at the Theseion."
Her tone was deceptively light, but I, having endured a lifetime of hard experience, recognized the slight strain. "How long have you been homeless, Xena?"
I realized I didn't really know. "I don't know—one year, maybe two."
I saw as she nodded, and then the silence descended on us again. It was several long moments until she spoke again.
"Would you like a job?"
I stopped then, and turned to her. A job? Did she have any idea who she was talking to? Me—the destroyer of nations—taking a simple job in this tiny, insignificant town?
She must have noticed the look on my face because she lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be presumptuous."
I brought three fingers under her chin and brought her head up to look at me. "Don't be sorry. I'm just not used to people being so nice to me."
"Or so trusting of you?"
That, too. "Yes."
I lowered my hand but she continued to gaze up at me. The look on her face told me I was in trouble, because no one had ever looked at me like that before—at least, not voluntarily. Her forest green eyes, so pale under the moon, were so revealing that I wondered if she herself knew what she was offering. I took a step closer to her then, without guile. I wondered if she realized she had closed her eyes, knowing what I wanted to do at that moment.
But I hesitated, and the moment was over.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and nodded slightly, forgiving me. "In the morning, if you'd like, we can talk to Lykurgos. He's the one who needs the help."
I nodded then but didn't speak. If I had spoken then, my voice would have betrayed me, and I wasn't quite ready to admit I could be vulnerable. A felt a shift in me then, somewhere inside me, and it felt as if an old need in me was finally quieted—the need to be connected to another human being. I didn't know how this could have happened so quickly, but the connection was real. My hunger for companionship lessened a bit that night.
In the morning I found Gabrielle in the kitchen, along with her mother, going over an invoice of some kind. I watched them from the doorway.
Gabrielle took the parchment and frowned. "Does this mean we have twelve amphorae of the Sicilian wine, or twelve sets of it coming to us?"
Hecuba looked over her shoulder and peered at the paper. "I don't know, I don't read Latin."
"I do." Both women looked at me then, and Gabrielle handed me the sheet. "It says you have twelve amphorae of the wine due to you, which will be here in a week."
The older woman looked relieved. "Good, we're almost out of the stuff. Are you hungry, Xena?"
"Good, you and Gabrielle can have breakfast together."
Gabrielle shot her mother a quick glance, and then looked at me with shy eyes. ‘Come on, Xena."
We took a table near the fireplace. I tried my best not to appear happy to see her. "So, Gabrielle, I haven't seen your father around. What's his name?"
"His name was Herodotus."
Was? "What does he do?"
The young blonde looked at me then, an unreadable expression on her face. "My father is dead."
I wondered why Hecuba never mentioned this to me. "How?"
"About six years, now. He went to fight with the Athenians when they defended their city against that rebel general, Draco."
Oh, my gods, I had sent Draco the military knowledge he needed to try that disastrous move. My throat tightened, and I had to fight every instinct in my body then that told me to get up and flee. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle."
"The Athenians prevailed, you know."
I did know, one of the few times in my past where a plan of mine actually failed. I opened my mouth to say something, but the words stuck in my throat.
Gabrielle looked up into my eyes, and there was a profound sadness there. Sadness for whom, her father, or me? I couldn't be sure at that moment. "I'm not really hungry anymore."
I reached across the table and lightly grasped her hand.
Her mother approached the table then, and her eyes questioned me at the look on her daughter's face. "Gabrielle just told me about what happened to Herodotus."
"I see." She put the tray down on our table and knelt before her daughter. "You don't have to do this, you know."
Gabrielle looked to her mother then, and wiped the tears off her face. "Do what, mother?"
"Wallow around in those memories. Its not good for you."
Gabrielle smiled then and nodded. "I love you, mom."
"I love you, too, kid."
I looked away, unable to bear the tender moment between mother and daughter. My own mother had…
Gabrielle looked up at me then, and I quickly glanced down at the table so she wouldn't see my eyes. In reality, I had to fight the urge to run away.
The blonde offered me a warm smile. "I'm okay, really. Let's eat so we can go see Lykurgos."
We ate in silence, and I remember that I couldn't get enough of her beautiful smile. I was beginning to crave it, its warmth washed over me, and it made me feel like I could be forgiven for my numerous sins. Maybe I wasn't as hopeless as I thought I was.
Lykurgos owned a small fishing fleet and was, perhaps, the richest man in Poteidaia. We found him at the pier, giving instruction to the fisherman before they set sail. He was an older gentleman with graying hair and hazel eyes that sparkled when he saw Gabrielle. He gathered the smaller woman in his arms and smiled down at her, it was a move that made me jealous.
"Good to see you, Gabrielle. What are you doing out here?"
She nodded towards me and I stepped up by her side. "I'd like you to meet someone. Lykurgos, this is Xena."
The older man offered me his hand and I grasped it firmly. "Lykurgos."
"We were wondering if you were still looking for laborers."
The older man grinned at Gabrielle. "Are you looking for a job, young lady?"
Gabrielle smiled back. "No, but she is."
He looked me over, apparently assessing if I could handle the workload. "Well, I've got one position left, but it's not on the boats or docks. It's at the warehouse down the road. I need someone to mend fishing nets and keep the place clean."
I looked to Gabrielle and she appeared to be a little embarrassed. I don't think this is what she had in mind. "That's okay…"
"How much does it pay?"
She looked at me then, and her expression was priceless. She didn't expect me to be interested.
"Not much, only 15 dinars a week."
"When can I start?"
I needed money if I was to start a new life. I wanted a horse, and enough provisions to hit the road as soon as I could. I could have stolen a horse, but I didn't want to do that. Working for this man for a couple months would allow me to do this. I secretly wondered if I could really do it, legitimate work, but at this point I had no choice.
The old man must have seen something in my eyes then, because he shook my hand again. "How about the day after tomorrow."
There were a few more words spoken between us, but I didn't pay too much attention to them. All I knew was that Gabrielle was watching me intently, as if she could read my mind.
As we walked the road back to the inn I could feel a small amount of tension between us. I finally could stand it no longer, so I stopped and turned to her. "Are you alright, Gabrielle?"
"Do you really want to leave here so soon, Xena?"
I ducked my head then glanced at her. "I never said that, did I?"
"But I know you were thinking it. I saw the look in your eyes when he mentioned money."
"I need money to get the things I need, don't I?"
"Yes," Gabrielle admitted. "I just, well…I was hoping…." Her voice trailed off.
I remember looking at her as we continued to walk, and her expression saddened. I sighed and led her off the road and we ended up walking up a small hill on the northern side of town. We came across a grove of Eucalyptus trees and she finally stopped and leaned against a tree.
I set my reticence aside, and moved until I was but a few inches from her. "What is it, Gabrielle?"
She looked up at me, and I could tell that her pulse quickened. "I don't want you to go, Xena."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Maybe not today, or tomorrow…but I can tell that you'll eventually leave."
What could I say? No, you're wrong? She was right, I didn't think I had it in me to stay in one place for an extended period of time. "Does it upset you to think that one day I may leave?"
I didn't know what it was. What was so special about this town or this woman in front of me that made me want things that I had never wanted before? Was it the Fates? Or some trick by the God of War? Ares—that bastard—he was always doing things to try to get me back. But his constant whispers had lessened of late, until there were entire weeks when he was completely absent. I thought my life might be one constant, agonizing moment after another, but the last two days were a testimony of something different, and I suddenly felt myself unfettered by my demons.
Did this woman in front of me know what she was doing? I needed her to, because I didn't. The unbearable misery of the last two years melted into the fabric of the past, and I released a long labored breath.
When I looked up to her after that breath I knew then that I wanted to kiss her, so I did. Her response was almost immediate; she wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me to her. My body had a mind of its own, and soon I felt myself pressing her against the tree and deepening the kiss.
When we broke apart she gazed at me with the eyes of love. How could this be? We had only known each other a few days. As soon as that thought came to me I threw it away, it made no more sense to me than the need for air itself.
I rested my forehead on hers. "What are we doing, Gabrielle?"
"I don't know, Xena, but let's do it some more."
So we did, and I soon felt that my long time hunger to regain at least some of my innocence and live a noble life might actually come true. I never had a real incentive for this before, but I had one now, she was in my arms.
We left that glade and went back to the inn and made love, sweetly, passionately, with an abandon I had never experienced before. Her legs were wrapped around my waist and my head was thrown back in ecstasy. I had never made love before, and I wept when it was over.
I worked for Lykurgos for exactly three months, and earned enough dinars to buy the horse that I wanted and the provisions I would need to strike out on my own. I spent my days working in that warehouse, my nights in the warm embrace of my love. Some nights we would just hold each other, and nothing more was needed between us. Other times we would be up all night—sweating, grinding, locked in passion's embrace. I wondered if Hecuba knew that her daughter spent most of her nights in my bed. I learned many things over those three months, mostly that I did have a heart, and that I could be loved—and love in return.
But my heart was troubled. Would Gabrielle want to leave this place? Could I keep us both safe in a world filled with capricious uncertainties? I knew the world in a way that she didn't. I had seen its horrors—had been the cause of some of them—and I knew it wouldn't be easy.
One late afternoon, when I had finished my work and was sitting on the pier, looking out onto the sea, Hecuba came and sat by my side.
"Are you in love with my daughter?"
I shouldn't have been surprised by that question. "Yes, I am."
"She's in love with you, you know. Since the moment she laid eyes on you I knew her heart would be yours."
My eyes widened. "I need to tell you something, Hecuba…"
"I know who you are, warrior."
"Then how, or why, do you let me…"
"I know that because of you my husband is dead—even though not directly, and things can be forgiven over time. I didn't want him to go and fight with the Athenians, but his love for the democratic ideal overrode his familial responsibilities. I took me a long time to forgive him for that, but I did. And I also know that because of you my oldest daughter is truly alive—for the first time in her life."
My voice was barely a whisper. "I don't know what to say."
"He was a good man, and I miss him."
"I could never hurt Gabrielle, Hecuba."
She looked at me then, apparently assessing the veracity of that statement. "Then I ask two things of you, Xena. First, you come clean with Gabrielle and tell her the truth of whom you are. Secondly, marry her."
She stood then and left me in stunned silence. But looking back, I realized she was right, Gabrielle deserved no less from me.
Hours later, she was waiting for me at the inn shortly after sunset. She was sitting at our favorite booth in the back of the room, a hot meal spread before her. Hecuba's words had freed me in a way, and I boldly strode up to her and leaned down and kissed her fully on the mouth, right there in the tavern in front of everyone.
She tried to pull away from the kiss, but I didn't let her. When I finally broke the kiss she stared at me, wide eyed.
"What's gotten into you, Xena?"
"You, Gabrielle, have gotten into me, in ways that no one ever has. You have stolen my heart, and I will love you forever." I got down on one knee then, and I noticed that all the patrons in the inn were watching us now, but I didn't care. I took the ring from my pocket and held it up to her.
Gabrielle blanched. "Oh, my…"
I reached over and took her left hand and slipped the ring onto her finger. "Will you marry me, Gabrielle?"
There was complete silence in the room, as if everyone held a collective breath, then someone started clapping, and tears fell from my sweet Gabrielle's eyes.
She got up and fell into my arms. "Gods, yes, I'll marry you, Xena!"
The small crowd in the room erupted with thunderous applause. Some lifted their cups and drank to us, others came over and either grasped my arm or hugged her. She was in tears, so I held her as she cried. I glanced over at the doorway to the kitchen and noticed Hecuba standing there; she smiled, then nodded to me, and then disappeared into the kitchen.
When all the well-wishers were gone, and after our meal was long over, I took Gabrielle by the hand and led her out of the tavern. We ended up at the beach, and walked hand in hand in companionable silence. Then I remembered my promise to Hecuba, and I turned her to face me.
"There is something I need to tell you, Gabrielle."
She wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me closer to her. "Does it have anything to do with you being the warrior princess?"
My knees went weak, and I could have fallen then, if her arm was not holding me tight. "How long have you known?"
She reached up and cupped my face in her hand. "When I was a girl someone came into the village and told us a mighty army was passing by, close on our border. So I snuck out, along with my best friend, Erytheia, and we went to our western border and we saw for ourselves this mighty army. You were riding along the ranks of your men, and you turned in our direction and looked up into the trees we were hiding in. I don't think you saw us but I saw you. You were the most beautiful creature I had ever seen."
"You know what I mean." She reached up and pulled my lips down onto her own.
"Can you ever forgive me—for my past, the death of your father?"
"I learned forgiveness a long time ago, Xena. It wasn't easy, but I did. We were all devastated when my father left for the wars. Over time my mom's gentle spirit helped us all to heal."
"She's a most remarkable woman."
"Yeah, don't I know it." Her lips found mine again, and we kissed as if it was the first time.
When we got back to the inn and walked to my room I suddenly felt a little awkward. She and I were to be married, did that mean we couldn't be together until after the ceremony? I think she saw the confusion in my eyes then, because, she simply took my hand and opened the door to my bedroom, and then led me inside.
I watched as she led me to the foot of the bed, then she dropped my hand and went to stand in the middle of the room. She lowered her head slightly and proceeded to take off her clothes with slow and deliberate movements, until she was naked. She winked then, and moved to the bed and leisurely turned the blankets down. Her eyes never left me as she lowered herself on the bed. She waited.
My heart skipped a beat when she parted her thighs, and, with shaking hands, I did the same for her—removing my own clothes at a maddeningly slow pace. Her lips parted and she looked at me with hooded eyes. I sauntered over to the bed and crawled its length until my body was over hers. When she parted her thighs some more I lowered myself until my full weight was on her, and we both groaned as heated flesh came together. My lips found hers and our kiss was unhurried yet deep. My tongue begged entry into her mouth and she granted it freely. When her legs encircled my hips our dance began. Our centers met and melded as one, just as our hearts did.
When our nipples grazed Gabrielle gasped and held my head in her hands. "Open your eyes, please…"
I did, and our eyes locked until the waves of our passion rose to a crest, and we both crashed onto a breathless shore.
A week later we were married in the Theseion. We stood before an altar dedicated to Aphrodite Pandemos as a priest wound a ceremonial cloth around our entwined arms and asked the goddess for her favors on this union. Hecuba, Lila, and all their friends stood witness to our joining together. Gabrielle blushed when the priest beseeched the goddess for fertility for the bride. I merely lowered my head and grinned at her, after all, I had many skills.
On our wedding night we found ourselves sitting on the Poteidaian shore, sharing a good bottle of the Sicilian wine. I wrapped a shawl around her shoulders when the cool breeze made her shiver.
I was lying down with my head in her lap. I looked up to her beautiful face. "I love you, Gabrielle."
She brushed errant strands of hair off my forehead. "Still not going to tell me where we're going for our honeymoon?"
"Nope." Alexandria in Egypt will be lovely this time of year.
"Ah, please, I'm dying over here."
"No you're not." I lifted off her lap then and wound my arm around her neck, bringing our lips together. After the kiss was over I lay back down again, a contented woman.
She shook her head and grinned down at me. "What if we play a guessing game? I try to guess where we're going by asking you questions about what roads, or sea routes, we'll be taking to get there. For every answer I get right, you get a kiss to a different part of your body."
By the time she kissed a particularly sensitive place on the inside of my thigh I was panting, and I screamed out the correct answer when her tongue found my center.
We decided that we wouldn't make any plans beyond our honeymoon; we would wait until we got back to decide what kind of future we both wanted. Our lovemaking that night was beyond anything I had ever done before—it was raw yet unhurried, and we weren't satisfied until the sun started to rise over the hills.
And finally the quest was over, my journey from the innocence of youth to ruthless warrior back to human being again. I had lost my humanness all those years I was a warlord. It was chipped away every time I brought about brutality on those around me, every time I let the demons inside me have full reign, in every act of cowardice in the rape of the innocent. All that darkness had split me into many divisions, some of them were ambivalent to the suffering I had caused, some detested every evil action I did, and yet others still took delight in the anguish I had caused. But the fragmentation of my past was at an end, and, for the first time in my life, I was whole. I had coalesced into a whole human being—the good along with the bad—and was free. Gabrielle helped me, with her love and understanding, to become a better human being and understand "the better angels of my nature." My hunger to be a whole and complete human being was over, and gone forever.
I now had a wife and I looked to the future, to whatever lay beyond the horizon. Freedom felt good, love felt good, and my total commitment to my beloved was everything and more.
My name is Xena, and I am free…
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