Disclaimer: This was written as an entrant in a recent 'Snowed In Bard's Challenge' on the Bards' Village fan fiction mailing list. Copyright for the characters remain with Universal, Studio USA and Renaissance Pictures. It is a sequel of sorts to my previous 'A Bad Dinar' story which explains much of the background, but it's not essential to have read it.
You're a Wonderful Wife
The engine growled and throbbed as Xena reduced the throttle, allowing the skidoo to coast to a halt. The warrior reached down and switched off the ignition. She settled back in the saddle and lifted off her snow goggles, grinning wickedly to herself. No matter how often over the centuries they'd raced, beating Gabrielle in any sort of competition still gave her immense satisfaction. Swinging her leg over the frame of the snow-bike she dropped down into shin-deep snow and waded her way to the front door of the cabin. Trying to strike as casual as pose as possible, Xena leant up against the porch and waited for the bard to catch up.
Gabrielle tore into the clearing in front of the cabin, sweeping the back end of her skidoo out, spraying the figure in the doorway with snow. The bard brought her bike neatly to a halt next to Xena's ride.
"That was unnecessary," Xena coughed, spitting out snow and shaking it from her hair.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Xena, I didn't see you standing in the shadows." Her triumphant grin said otherwise.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," grumbled Gabrielle.
Xena raised an eyebrow. "If it's a snow fight you're wanting... "
Gabrielle held up her hands. "Not me, warrior, not me. It's getting late, I'm tired, and all I want right now is a warm bath, some hot food and a long cool drink."
"How about a long hot warrior?"
"Yeah, that too," she returned Xena's grin.
Gabrielle reached into one of the zipped pockets of her heavy fur-lined jacket and pulled out a remote control. The front door locks unsnapped and the porch lights came on. Pushing the door open, she turned back to look at Xena. The warrior was gazing up at the ominous grey clouds floating in the darkening Colorado dusk.
"Looks like they're ready to dump a lot more snow." Gabrielle looked up too, following Xena's line of sight.
"You should be on TV as a weather girl, you're never wrong."
"Yeah, Xena: Weather Princess. Has a ring, dont'ya think?"
"Come on, Princess, before we both catch our death of cold."
Closing the door behind them, Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief. She was thankful they'd made it before nightfall. Having such a remote cabin, high up in the mountains of her ranch, was a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it more or less guaranteed total seclusion and privacy, but on the other, it was a long haul to get to and they were on their own should anything untoward happen. Not that that was so much of a problem for two near-indestructible immortals.
"Come on, Gabrielle, get some heat and light on and get your cute little butt into the kitchen, I'm starving."
"Yeah, well you can microwave as well as I can, so you can get your cute little butt into the kitchen and cook me something."
"Typical, you ask a woman up to your secret mountain hideaway for a sexy Christmas break, and you expect her to do the cooking," grumbled Xena.
"Quit your whining and go make me a cup of tea at least."
"You're a slave-driver, you know that don't you?"
"You love it."
"Do too, now git!" Gabrielle said, emphasising her command with a smack to the warrior's backside.
"I'm going, I'm going, now put the lights on will ya!"
Gabrielle clicked her remote again and the place was flooded with illumination, as discreet wall fittings slowly wound up to full brightness. It may have been a remote cabin in the mountains, but millions of dollars had made sure it was as luxurious and graceful as good taste, and vast financial resources, allowed for.
Xena was halfway to the kitchen when the lights flickered and went out.
"Oh great, Gabrielle: The Princess Of Darkness," she growled.
"Ho ho," said a voice in the gloom.
"Looks like someone forgot to pay their bill."
"Yeah, very good. I think someone with many skills needs to go check the generator."
"You're the mechanic, remember. How many engineering degrees do you have now?"
"Typical, do the cooking, mend the generator, sweep the yard."
"Yeah, and when you've done that, you can bring in the supplies from the bikes."
"Anything else, Milady?"
"I'll let you know when you get back."
"Oh goody, I can't wait."
* * *
Gabrielle found some candles using her flashlight, placing them strategically around the main living room. Next she lit the main fire. The roaring flames were propane driven, but the glowing logs looked real enough.
"Cosy," said Xena, as she entered the room, wiping her hands. Gabrielle was sitting in front of the fire, her face glowing in the golden flames.
"At least we won't go cold."
"Maybe not, but we ain't having any of the other creature comforts of the twenty-first century. Your generator stopped because there's no fuel, simple as that."
"That's impossible, I only had some sent up here a few weeks ago."
"Well, it looks like some kind soul has helped themselves to it, 'cos there ain't none left now."
"Oh great! Just how I want to spend Christmas."
"Hey, it could be worse. Here we are, just the two of us. Kinda romantic, being in the candlelight, sitting by the fire, don't you think?"
"It sounds real nice, but I know you. A night of this and you'll be wanting to watch sport on satellite, or else play something violent on the Playstation."
"Hey, I'm not that bad," pouted the warrior.
"Oh yes you are. I'm calling up for some more fuel to be air-lifted in." Gabrielle pulled out her mobile. "Oh, just great, no signal. Damn it! I'm sure Ares had a hand in designing these things," she said, snapping the lid closed in disgust.
"Looks like we head back tomorrow and spend Christmas down on the ranch after all."
"Uh uh, it's snowing hard out there. By morning we'll be snowed in."
"Wonderful... any good news to tell me?"
Xena smiled "Well, I guess it's settled. We're going to spend the holiday keeping each other company and trading stories."
Gabrielle sighed. "Why do I get the feeling that this is going to be more my gig than yours?"
Xena shrugged. "I can't imagine, my bard, I can't imagine."
* * *
Gabrielle snuggled closer to Xena. They were seated on several cushions thrown in front of the blazing fire. The warrior had managed to boil a pan of water on the flames and had made them both a cup of tea.
Xena idly stroked Gabrielle's hair, nuzzling her gently, kissing the top of her head affectionately. Neither could take their eyes off the flickering flames and the glowing logs.
"I reckon you should start, my love," she said softly.
Gabrielle took a sip of her tea. "What would you like to hear, something funny, something sad, something exciting, something... something nice?"
"Thanks a bunch, Warrior Helpful Princess!"
"Anytime, darlin', you know you can rely on me," Xena smirked.
"Okay, have it your own way, but don't blame me if you don't get what you want."
"I'll take the risk."
"I sing of... hmmm, what do I sing of?"
"I like it so far."
Gabrielle jabbed her elbow into Xena's side. The warrior grunted.
"So violent. I swear that's all you understand. Now, if it were me, I'd have tried to settle the dispute with fine words and understanding."
Gabrielle swivelled round to look at the grinning Xena. She held up her finger and thumb, holding them apart a few millimetres. "You're that close, warrior, so watch it!"
As she turned back to the fire Xena stuck her tongue out at the bard.
"And you can put that tongue away, too," Gabrielle said without turning around.
"Think you're so clever."
"Yeah, and don't I know it."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means would you be so kind as to actually start this story?"
"When you've finished."
"Finished being an ass--"
"Okay, okay... I'm sorry, just get on with the story."
Gabrielle was silent for a moment. Drawing in a deep breath she began.
"I sing of... Eponin, a noble, but deeply troubled warrior."
~ oOo ~
Eponin contemplated the foaming, treacherous waters of the river that churned and coursed below her. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, feeling the dying warmth of the last sunshine of the day on her face. It was Solstice Eve. Soon the sun would drop below the horizon and with it the last rays of daylight she ever intended to see. Sighing, she dropped to one knee and bowed.
"Forgive me, Goddess Artemis, for I have failed you, my sisters, my Queen, my family, and myself. I didn't protect the royal princess, and because of my selfishness I have plunged the nation into mourning and despair. I am unworthy of your support, and can no longer be considered an Amazon. I belong in Tartarus and would ask that you allow me to take the true coward's way out and do not accept me in to the sacred land of the dead, where I would unfit to stand by your side, and the side of so many brave and honourable warriors."
She remained kneeling for many moments, part of her hoping that someone might answer. But no one did. Standing, she unhooked her war mask, hanging on its drawstring over her shoulder. She studied the snarling face, surrounded by its many feathers of honour that she had earned over her long career as royal bodyguard and weaponsmaster. She smiled briefly at the memory of the young and excitable Queen Gabrielle who'd first presented her with it, when her old one got damaged beyond repair.
"Those were the days," she whispered to herself. She tugged the feathers from the mask one by one, casting them onto the waters, to be whisked away faster than the eye could follow. With the pull of each feather she remembered each and every ceremony as they were presented to her; given for some deed of outstanding valour and heroism above and beyond the call of duty.
The memories felt bitter and meaningless now. She was a fake, a travesty, and a failure. She could see it reflected in everyone's eyes as she passed them.
Finally, all forty-seven feathers were gone. Her life's achievements blown away on the wind and water; a fitting end. She tossed the mask into the river, watching it disappear as rapidly as the feathers.
"By the Gods, I wish I'd never been born," she cried out, hugging herself, but refusing to let the tears come and give in to self-pity. She was a warrior, damn it!
The sun was all but gone. 'Now is as good a time as any,' she thought, stepping towards the edge of the rocks along the bank, high above the raging river.
A scream dragged her from her abstraction. Splashing and shrieking caught her attention a little way up the river. A woman, tossed and thrown about by the surf, swept rapidly by her, screaming for help.
Without thinking she dived into the water, kicking out after the helpless victim. The cold and the turbulence disorientated her for a moment as she tumbled end over end in the rough currents. Breaking the surface she gulped some much-needed air, spinning round and round, frantically looking for the drowning woman.
Catching a brief glimpse of some arms and a flash of blond hair, Eponin surged powerfully forward. Twenty swift strokes brought her alongside the flailing woman, who was barely managing to keep her head above the water.
"Don't struggle, I've got you," said Eponin, as she clasped the woman under the chin, pulling her mouth clear of the surface. She went limp in Eponin's arms, letting the warrior drag them both back towards the shore.
Fighting the water on her own would have been difficult enough, but pulling a dead weight as well was proving overwhelming, even for Eponin with all her natural strength and determination.
"I... I don't think we're gonna make it... the currents are too strong... I'm sorry," she gasped above the roar of the water.
"You'll make it, I promise. You always do."
Eponin felt her waning strength surge forth again, carrying them both to the calmer waters of the shore and to safety. Kneeling on all fours in the shallows, catching her breath, Eponin studied the woman closely for the first time. She was lying on her back, smiling and looking for all the world like she was calmly enjoying a late afternoon dip, not at all like a victim of near-drowning.
"Oh that was so much fun!" she beamed, sitting up and brushing her sodden hair away from her face. Eponin rolled over, sitting up next to her.
"Do I know you?" Eponin puffed.
"Ummm, don't think so. We may have come close, but I don't think we were ever actually introduced."
"You just interrupted something important, but I guess I can forgive you, under the circumstances," panted the exhausted warrior.
"Yeah, I know. You were going to kill yourself. I had to act fast, it seemed the best way of getting you to stop."
"What!" exclaimed a startled Eponin, lurching to her feet.
The woman held out her arm to Eponin, clearly looking for a hand-up. The warrior grudgingly grasped her hand and pulled her, none too gently, to her feet.
"Well, it worked, didn't it?" said the woman.
"That's not the point. What in Tartarus gives you the right to interfere in my private affairs, and to foolishly risk your own stupid life doing it?"
"It's my job. I was sent to help you see that this is not the way."
"What'ya mean you were sent; by who?"
"Whatever," she growled.
"I'm an angel," the woman said smiling and holding out her hand to shake.
Eponin smacked it away. "Yeah, and I'm Cleopatra, Queen of Denial."
"Pleased to meet you Cleo. I can call you Cleo, can't I? My name's Callisto, Guardian Angel, second class. How do you do?"
"Get the fu--"
"Now, now. You wouldn't want to swear at an Angel, would you?"
Eponin turned her back and closed her eyes, counting to ten. "This is just friggin' perfect. I do one final lousy good deed and I end up rescuing a fruitcake. Is there no Gods-be-damned justice in this Gods-forsaken world?" she shouted at the sky, throwing her arms out in disgust. "Oh, what am I saying, why should the Gods hear me?"
"Oh, we heard you all right."
"Heard what," replied Eponin, letting her head fall forward in despair.
"You wished you'd never been born. So I came to grant you your wish. It is so; you've never been born."
"Great, keep it up, bozo. You just stay here. I've got a suicide to finish."
"I'll throw myself back in again."
"You wouldn't be that stupid."
"What makes you think I give a damn?"
"I can see into your heart, Eponin."
The warrior regarded the woman a moment. "How'd you know my name?"
"Told you, I'm an A--"
"Angel, yeah, I know. Hey, wait a minute... did you say your name was Callisto?"
"That's me!" she said, flashing her infectious grin again.
"Maybe. Depends on which Callisto you're talking about."
"I mean psycho, several-sandwiches-short-of-a-picnic, Callisto."
"Well, yeah, that'd probably be me."
"Oh, this just gets better. I suppose you can tell me all about how you and Xena defeated that deranged bitch Goddess, Velasca?"
"Sure, what'd you wanna know?"
Eponin shook her head and closed her eyes again. "I can't believe I'm standing here, soaking wet, having this conversation. Forget it, Callisto, or whatever your real name is. Just go back to your hospice and let me get on with what I was doing." She turned to head back to the river.
"Aren't you just a tiny bit curious to know what life's like without you being born?"
"Look, enough's enough. You've delayed me too long as it is. I wanted to do this after Apollo had gone and before Artemis arrived. Now look, the moon's clearly risen," she waved her arm in disgust.
"Sorry, didn't mean to upset you, but it's my job. If I'm ever to get to first class and get my wings I have to rescue your soul. Show you that life is worth living. You wouldn't want me to not get my wings, would you?"
Eponin was at a loss. Somehow this extraordinary woman's words suddenly seemed to have a ring of truth to them. Shaking her head and rubbing her hand over her face, she came to a decision.
"All right, I'll give you till sun-up to prove to me who you really are. Then I'm going to come back here and pick up where I left off. Is that a deal?" she said holding out her hand.
"Deal!" Callisto beamed.
As they clasped hands, Eponin felt a tingle of power run up her arm, making her shudder. She blinked; they were no longer by the river, but back in the centre of the Amazon village.
"What?... where?... how?... that's not possible."
"Nothing's impossible, I've found."
"Yeah, well try yawning with your mouth shut," snapped the irritated warrior.
"I'm glad to see your sense of humour is at least still partially intact. I just thought it would be quicker than all the walking. You've no idea how much I've come to hate walking anywhere."
Eponin tried to speak, but no words would come. Closing her mouth she slowly spun around. It looked vaguely like the village, but many things had changed.
"How can this be?"
"It's what happens when a certain well-respected warrior never gets born."
"I don't understand."
"Then let me show you."
They walked to what used to be the mess hall. The place was full of men drinking and gambling. A brawl was going on at the far end, but nobody was taking much notice of it.
Eponin turned on Callisto furiously. "What are they doing here?" she demanded.
"Just having fun. This is the village tavern, a place to let off some steam and relax."
Eponin strode up to the nearest man and picked him up by the front of his shirt. "Why are you here?" she ground out through clenched teeth, barely containing her anger.
"Hey, haven't seen you around here before, cutie. What's your speciality, you like to dress up as an Amazon, huh?" he slurred. He was quite drunk.
Disgusted, she threw the man back down and stalked back to Callisto, who was smiling at the bright lights and humming to the music that a ramshackle band of musicians were pounding out in the far corner.
"Are you telling me that the Amazons wouldn't exist without me?"
"Sure looks like it, doesn't it?"
"I don't understand, how can this be? I'm only a warrior, a failed one at that!"
"It's amazing how we touch so many people over the course of our lives, isn't it? Fate spreads out like ripples in a pond."
Eponin grabbed Callisto by the neck and lifted her off her feet. "Don't talk riddles to me, woman, I'm in no mood for it!"
"This is most uncomfortable, you know. I'd really appreciate it if you put me down. Fighting is strictly prohibited for non-archangels, and I haven't even got my wings yet."
"Arggggh!" roared Eponin and let go of Callisto, who rather than falling, as the warrior expected, gently floated back to the ground.
"There, that's much better. Perhaps it would help if I showed you how this came about. If you'd like?" she said, rubbing her neck.
"Do what you must."
"Touch my hand."
Immediately the two of them stood above a high cliff. "Why have you brought me here?"
Before Callisto could answer they were interrupted by the sound of small children running and giggling. They ran past Eponin without a care or a second glance. She tried to stop one of them but she dodged past, not even acknowledging the warrior's presence.
"They can't see you, this is the past."
"Who are they?"
"They're your friends, Ephiny, Solari, Chilapa, a few others."
"What are they doing?"
"Come, we can watch," said Callisto, leading her towards an old tree that stood on the cliff tops.
"I remember now, this is where Solari and Ephiny dared each other to climb out onto the branches over the edge, to see who was the bravest. We were only eleven summers old then. So full of our own immortality and bravado."
"Do you remember what happened?"
"Yeah, the branch that Solari was on couldn't take her weight. She always was a heavy girl," Eponin grinned.
"What happened then?"
"Oh, I don't really remember, something happened, they both had a narrow escape."
"Really? I think you remember only too well, but you're being modest."
"Okay, okay... just as the branch that Ephiny was on snapped under the combined weight of the pair of them, I dived over and managed to grab Solari, who held onto Ephiny. The other girls grabbed my legs till Eph and Sol were able to climb up over me to safety."
"Would you like to stick around and see what happens because you're not here this time, never having been born?"
Before the warrior could answer there was a loud cracking noise and a shriek as the young Solari tumbled towards a startled Ephiny below her.
"Nooooo... " screamed Eponin, diving forward. Frantically she reached out for the two girls, but they were already beyond her grasp. She could only watch in horror as they fell helplessly towards their deaths below.
She lay stunned on the ground, her face buried in the grass, her fists clenched in impotent rage. Callisto knelt beside her, resting a hand reassuringly on her shoulder.
"It's all right Eponin, they're gone. Remember, this is only what might've been, not what really was."
The warrior rolled over onto her back and looked up at the smiling Callisto. They were once more back at the village.
"So, the tribe is lost without Ephiny and Solari?"
"Without Ephiny much of the nation was killed in the Centaur wars. Without Ephiny and Solari, there was no one to stand up to Velasca. Gabrielle was away with Xena too much. Velasca had an easy ride to the throne. She lead the nation to destruction in many pointless wars."
"But that's Ephiny's doing, not mine. I'm just a simple warrior."
"A simple warrior who saved a nation by her heroism when she was only eleven years old."
"I... don't want to hear this. That's not who and what I am. I'm no saviour who changed the world. That's for true heroes like Xena and Ephiny. I'm a nobody. Please, what have I done to deserve such torment?" she whispered.
"You tell me, Ep, you're the one who wanted to kill herself. Surely you expected some sort of retribution? My God of love, and even Artemis herself, don't care for those that throw away such a precious gift. You should know that."
"But you don't understand," Eponin sighed wearily. "I disgraced my nation. I'm no longer fit to wear the mask of the royal guard. I let a Princess die when it was my sworn duty to give my life protecting hers!" she struggled with the last words as tears formed in her eyes. She turned away, not wanting Callisto to see her cry.
"So, this is about self-pity? The great Eponin can't be seen to fail, can't be seen to be human, can't admit that she isn't perfect?"
"No... no, it's not like that... I swore an oath. I... I failed in a sacred duty. My sisters can have nothing but contempt for me now; I let them down so badly. I can't bear their rejection."
"You think this is better?" Callisto said, sweeping her arm towards the dilapidated village, once the pride of the nation.
"No... of course not. Why can't you just let me end it? The nation will be restored and I will soon be forgotten, only occasionally remembered as the dumb warrior who didn't know when to retire and caused the death of a Princess."
"Come with me, I'll show you one more thing, then you can decide what you want to do. I won't try to interfere anymore. It would have been nice to earn my wings, but there will be other occasions, I'm sure."
Callisto, smiling, reached down and touched Eponin's cheek. There was a flash and the warrior found herself standing at the back of a solemn crowd of Amazons. They were surrounding the Royal podium in the centre of the village.
"What's happening?" she whispered to Callisto. One of the Amazons turned around.
"Sssshh, the Queen's about to speak," she hissed.
Eponin was startled, not expecting anyone to be able to see her. She turned to Callisto, but the angel put a finger to her lips and pointed to the stage.
"Gabrielle!" Eponin gasped.
Several Amazons turned around and glared at them. Eponin quickly shut her mouth, blushing.
"Sisters, I have returned from my travels, summoned here to perform a very sad duty. I bring you all together today to honour one of our fallen sisters, a brave and noble warrior. You all knew her, and you know the great love and respect we all felt for her. Never one to shirk her duties, always ready to lend a hand, with a laugh and mischievous grin. Never one to complain, well, not much anyway," the bard smiled. A ripple of quiet laughter ran through the crowd.
"She was one of the finest warriors the nation has ever produced, and she was a great personal friend of mine. She first taught me how to use the staff and I will miss her more than I can say," a single tear ran down her cheek. The queen sat back down on the throne, signalling Ephiny to step forward, too choked to continue.
Eponin craned her neck to get a better look at the stage. 'Who are they talking about?' she wondered. 'Please don't let it be Xena,' she pleaded silently.
"Yesterday this was found by the scouts in the shallows by the great river. A little upstream we found her sword and boots." The regent held up a battered mask, stripped of all its feathers of honour.
Eponin gasped for a second time. It was her mask, the one she'd so casually tossed into the river.
"As you can see, the river so cruelly took our fallen hero's feathers of honour. She had the most of any of us. We don't have sufficient reserves to restore it before it takes its place of honour in the temple of the fallen, so rare and special are the feathers used for this task."
The Regent made a show of carefully placing the mask in Gabrielle's hands. Kneeling before the Queen, Ephiny pulled her own mask from her shoulder and tugged a feather from it. She bowed and placed the feather in Gabrielle's hand. The bard held up the mask and pushed the feather into its edge for all to see.
"Who else will give up one of their feathers to honour a hero?" called out the Regent.
A crowd of the nation's finest warriors surged towards the stage, intent on offering one of their precious plumes, far more than would be required to restore the mask.
The outpouring of her sisters' love overwhelmed Eponin. It left her feeling weak and giddy.
"Please, take me back to the river... I've seen enough," she whispered to Callisto.
A moment later Eponin was back at the river, holding her mask, complete with all its feathers. She blinked and looked around. There was no sign of Callisto.
"Damn it, now I'm hallucinating as well," she grumbled.
With a heavy heart Eponin slung the mask over her shoulder. Sighing, she decided that whatever the problem, suicide was not the answer. She resolved to live though this nightmare and face the nation's contempt. She couldn't perform any miracles, but at least she could devote herself to trying her very best for her sisters, if they'd let her. Having made her decision, the warrior turned to walk back to her life.
Nearing the village she heard the drums. Frowning, she started to jog; they were drums of celebration, not sorrow. Running towards the centre she could see a large crowd of Amazons cheering and laughing. When they saw Eponin they parted, allowing her to see into the centre of the throng.
It was the Princess, a bit bruised and scratched, but very much alive.
"Aunt Eponin!" she cried, running towards the stunned warrior. The child jumped into Eponin's arms, gripping her in a death hug. "Oh, Aunt Eppy, I never thought I'd see you again. Is it really you? When we got separated and I found the blood, I thought I'd lost you."
"And I, you, little one!" whispered an overjoyed Eponin. "What happened?"
"I was wandering for ages. I was scared and I hurt bad; running away from those wolves was horrible. I hid up a tree till they went away."
"How did you get back?"
"A nice lady found me. She walked me back to the village. She gave me something to give to you."
Eponin frowned. "What lady? What did she look like?"
"She was beautiful. She had hair like sunlight and a smile that could warm up the coldest day." The little princess dug into her waistband and brought out a little wooden carving, offering it to Eponin. "She said you'd understand." Clutched in her small hand was a pair of wings.
Eponin's eyes watered as she clasped the special wings to her breast. "Oh, I do, little one, I truly do."
~ oOo ~
"I suppose they all lived happily ever after?" said Xena, sniffing and wiping a hand across her eyes as nonchalantly as she could.
"Of course, Christmas stories always have a happy ending."
"You made all that up, it never really happened!"
"That's what bards do, we make things up. It's called writing for a living."
"And you stole it."
"Ummm, well... actually... "
"Oh, don't tell me. That's really another one of yours?"
"Kind of... Frank and I did spend quite a long time discussing it before he wrote the final screenplay."
"Should'a guessed really, shouldn't I?"
"You'd think by now... " Gabrielle said, smiling at her soulmate of more than two thousand years.
Xena smiled back. "Suppose it's my turn now?"
"Yeah, I guess it is, but if you'd rather I told you another one instead... "
"Have you got any more stories I haven't heard before, rolling around in that pretty little head of yours?"
"Oh yeah, there are always more stories."
"Think we'll be snowed in for long?"
"Oooh, at least a week, I'd say."
"I can think of worse ways to spend a week, than listening to you tell me stories."
"And you're not even going to execute me in the morning."
"Were you considering it, my Sultan?"
"Sure, death by a thousand and one kisses."
"Well, you better carry out your sentence, then."
"Oh no, I'll wait till you tell me a bad story first."
"You know I can't tell a bad story to save my life."
"Such pride; I'll just have to heckle you a bit."
"Oh good, a feisty audience. I love a challenge."
"Wouldn't have it any other way, my bard." Xena looked at Gabrielle a moment, just gazing into her eyes. "How many times have we been joined, over the centuries?"
"I presume you mean married?" Gabrielle answered, waggling her eyebrows. "Quite a few times. Why, what of it?"
"Have I ever told you you're a wonderful wife?"
"Just thought you ought to know. Not that I'm trying to put you off your story-telling, or anything, you understand."
Gabrielle drew in a deep breath. "Not a chance, warrior... I sing of-- "
Gabrielle stopped and raised an eyebrow. "Is that the best you can do?"
And it wasn't.
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