Disclaimer: All characters are property of Renaissance Pictures MCA/Universal Pictures and Xena: Warrior Pictures. I am not receiving any financial gain from the production of this story. Any characters that are not a part of the television series are my original creations as well as the majority of the storyline.
Content Warning: This story depicts intimate relationships. Some of them involving two women. If this offends you or you are under 18 please scoot. There are lots of stories on the net that do not depict any intimacy between our two favorite girls. Perhaps one of these may be more to your liking.
Violence: This is Xena we're talking about.
Comments: This is my first attempt at a fanfic and I'd love to know what you all think. I'd appreciate and comments you may have. Constructive criticism is also most welcome. You can contact me at email@example.com
Her back was aching. She was still in that place between asleep and awake but the realization that her back was aching was making itself known. As of yet, she still hadn't opened her eyes, she was hoping to drift off again for at least bit more sleep time. As she tried she made another realization. She was sleeping on something hard.
"Did I fall out of bed?" She thought to herself. She hadn't done that since she was 4.
She opened her eyes and her breath stopped. She was still very groggy but jumped up as if startled. She looked around and saw she was in what appeared to be a forest. She closed her eyes and shook her head trying to dispel the dream. When she opened them again she saw trees, the dirt floor, leaves . all the common things you see in the woods.
She was confused.
"What the hell is going on?"
She had gone to bed the night before in her own bed in her apt. in New York City. She looked down at herself and noticed she was no longer wearing her t-shirt and shorts (her customary pajamas). Instead she wore jeans, sneakers and her blue Tee with the sleeves cut off. On the floor she saw her backpack. She picked it up curiously; it was weighty and was about to open it when she heard sounds. It was like a banging and voices too far to make out.
She put her pack on and thought, "Where there's people, there's help or at least answers."
She had always had a terrible sense of direction and hoped the noises wouldn't stop until she found the source. She was nervous and confused and kept wishing she would wake up. She had long since decided that she didnt like this dream.
As she drew closer to the source of the voices she realized that whomever they belonged to were shouting. Not just shouting, yelling. The banging noise was more distinct now too. Not bang clang, like metal on metal. She reached the edge of a ravine. When she looked down she saw people fighting. The shouts and clanging were coming from here.
Her mind told her this must be some kind of movie. A period piece of some kind. She saw swords and armor. Not knightly armor but the warrior/barbarian type. She came down slowly, she didn't want to distract anyone and spoil the scene. She also hoped she wouldnt be caught by any camera angles. She would find a crew and get out of here.
She couldn't help smiling to herself as she thought, "I have some imagination."
As she reached the bottom, her plan was stay low and close to the side of the hill. Hopefully that would save the scene. As she turned back to look, she saw a man running at her with his arm raised and a sword in his hand.
"Is he going to stop?" She asked herself.
He yelled as he ran. He looked strong and was dressed in black. He wasn't stopping. Just as he brought his sword arm down she bent, more out of fear than anything else. Her shoulder went right into his mid-section. As he toppled over her she stood. She turned stunned. He was on the ground with a loud thump. He was dazed and groped for the sword that had fallen out of his hand. She ran over to him and kicked him in the head.
Looking down she whispered, "Sorry, Dude."
She took a few steps back and decided. "Movie or no movie, I'm outta here."
Just then she was grabbed from behind. Whoever it was, was strong and she was beginning to get very angry. She stepped back with her right foot, dropped to one knee grabbing her attacker by the hair, pulling him over.
"What the Hell?!" she yelled as he scrambled to his feet.
He charged at her with his arms outstretched and she kicked him in the stomach. She heard a noise come from the man as he doubled over. She'd knocked the wind out of him. She grabbed him by his hair and delivered a knee that sent him flat on his back.
"These guys are for real?"
She grabbed her pack and was about to run when her attention was called to her left. She heard someone struggling. She saw a girl. She was fighting off one of the attackers with a stick. The girl had her back to her but saw the man had a sword. She fought the impulse to run away and ran towards the girl. She was only a few feet away when the girl lost her stick from an overhand slice of the man's blade. She pushed the girl out of the way in time to avoid a mid-level slash coming the other way. Before the man could raise his arm for another attack she kicked his hand with her left leg causing him to drop the sword. She then gave him a right side kick to the chest that caused him to stagger backwards. Hearing his companions call to him, he ran. All was silent.
She felt a hand rest lightly on her shoulder, then heard a voice that asked, "Are you alright?"
She turned her head to see a lovely young girl. She had strawberry blond hair, a green halter top with laces in the front and a brown skirt. She also had the most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen.
"No." She thought.
Before she could speak she heard running footsteps and a voice called out, "Gabrielle!"
The source of the footsteps stopped and asked, "Are you alright?"
The strawberry blond responded, "Yes, I'm fine."
She felt a firm hand on her shoulder and heard, "Thank you for helping my friend."
When she turned to the source of the voice her heart stopped as she saw a pair of blue eyes that could only belong to one person. She opened her mouth to speak but all she managed to say was, "Xena." With that she looked down realizing she was in pain. The sword swipe has missed the young blond but not her.
She fell to her knees and muttered, "I have to wake up" and the world went black.
"Ow!" her first thought before she began to stir. Her mid-section stung terribly. She opened her eyes to a crackling sound. To her dismay she was outdoors.
"On the floor again." She thought.
This time though she lay on something like a blanket with her head propped up. Not totally uncomfortable except that her mid-section was burning. The crackling sound she found was a nearby campfire. She could smell the smoke from the fire. She was beginning to get truly unnerved. Where was she? How did she get here? What was going on? Then she remembered what happened right before everything went black.
"Am I going insane?" she thought. "I must be going insane. This just isn't possible." It was all she could think of.
She had just about given up hope that it could all be a dream. But it couldn't be real. If it wasn't a dream then she must be crazy. Just at that moment, she noticed figures across the campfire. The heat from the fire distorted the figures but she prayed they weren't the two people she had seen before. She began to move to try and get a better look when one of the figures moved towards her. It was the young blond.
She gently rested hand on her shoulder and said, "It's ok. You're hurt, don't get up." She wanted to scream but realized it was true, it did hurt. Not bad, but it hurt just the same.
"Are you thirsty?" the young girl asked and gave her some water.
"Thank you," she replied.
"I should be thanking you for what you did this afternoon. I'm Gabrielle."
"Nice to meet you Gabrielle, I'm Mariana."
Gabrielle smiled and said, "Mariana, I've never heard that name before, but I like it."
Mariana let a smile escape from the corner of her mouth and said, "But my friends call me Mary."
"But Mariana is so much nicer," said Gabrielle.
"So I've been told. But I guess I've gotten used to it."
Mary sat up a bit so she could get a better view of the person on the other side of the fire. Gabrielle followed her gaze and said, "That's Xena." Her heart was pounding so hard she could hear it in her ears.
"Are you alright?" asked Gabrielle. Mary nodded and Gabrielle continued.
"How did you happen to be here?"
Mary thought for a moment, then responded, "I was lost. I heard voices and followed them. I didn't know it was a battle."
"Well I'm glad you're OK," replied Gabrielle smiling.
"She's beautiful," Mary thought, then Gabrielle asked, "Where were you headed when you got lost?"
"No where in particular," said Mary. "Just wandering I guess."
"Well, you're welcome to travel with us to the next town. It's about a day's walk."
Mary considered for a moment what her options might be. None, she thought. "OK," she replied. "I don't mind pleasant company."
She realized she was very tired and excused herself to Gabrielle who indicated she understood and walked back to where Xena was. It was the last thing she saw before falling asleep, her mind a flood of confusion.
Gabrielle sat next to Xena. She was sharpening her sword, as was her custom every evening.
"Is she alright?" Xena asked.
"She's fine," replied Gabrielle. "Her name is Mariana, she was really wiped out she went back to sleep. She said she was lost."
Xena looked pensive as she kept sharpening her sword. "On her way to where?" asked Xena.
"I don't know," replied the young girl.
"And where is she from?"
"I didn't have time to ask her before she fell back to sleep," answered Gabrielle, knowing where this was going.
"She seems like a nice person," she continued.
"You trust too much," replied Xena.
"And you not enough," countered Gabrielle. "There's something about her," said Gabrielle looking across the fire at Mariana.
"That's what I'm afraid of," replied Xena sarcastically.
Gabrielle turned, placed a hand on Xenas cheek and turned her face towards her. She looked deeply in those piercing blue eyes she loved so much and said; "You have to give people a chance sometimes. The same way I gave one to you. I believed in you, I still do, I always will. But what if I'd never gotten to know you?"
Xena looked down and Gabrielle knelt in front of her. She took Xena's face in between her hands and kissed her lips very softly. "I love you," whispered Gabrielle.
"I love you too, Gabrielle. Let's go to bed."
Grrr. Good stretch, Mary thought. "Ouch!" she whispered. The sword slash was still sore. The night's sleep had done her well, except for the sting, she felt good. She hadn't really had time to think. So much had happened. She didn't understand any of it. She quietly stood up and looked around the campsite. She walked over to the fire. It had gone out but she felt the embers. They were warm and she could smell burnt wood, it was a faint scent. Her imagination couldn't be "that" good. From where she stood she could see Xena and Gabrielle. They were still asleep. Gabrielle had her head on Xena's shoulder and her arm around the warrior's waist.
"Like 2 pieces of a puzzle," thought Mary.
She heard water in the distance and decided that would be a good direction to head in. It was only a few yards before she reached a lake. The water was so blue and the green of the mountains in the distance was breathtaking.
"My imagination is not "this" good," she whispered.
She closed her eyes and let her senses absorb the freshness of everything around her, the flowers, the trees, and the fresh air. It was invigorating. She dropped to a crouch looking across the water.
"This can't be real."
But yet it seemed to be. Her mind kept denying the possibility, but her senses told her otherwise. She couldn't accept the reality of the situation until she got an answer for how it could all be possible.
She stood from her crouch and lifted her shirt. She wanted to see her wound. It wasn't bad at all. About four inches long, not quite in the center of her abdomen, more towards the left. No stitches required. As she surveyed the damage, she noticed her abdomen was flat. Not completely flat but flat by her standards. She flexed her stomach muscles and to her surprise, she could actually see them. Her stomach had always been hard but never even close to flat. Not that she was displeased at all but it only reinforced the fact that this was all a fabrication of some kind. She looked at her arms. They were nicely sculpted. She looked at her biceps and the horseshoe shape of the triceps. She had worked long and hard on her arms over the years. They were strong but she could never get them as sculpted as she liked. They were perfect now.
"What about my legs?" she thought.
She couldn't see them because of her jeans but she did recall running the day before.
"I ran," she thought.
She hadn't run in years due to an old knee injury, but yet yesterday she had run. She had run to help Gabrielle and she had run like she had a new knee. "Amazing." She was beginning to become truly aggravated with the whole situation. She needed to focus. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. Slowly she began to move.
Gabrielle watched silently as Mary moved. She had always enjoyed watching Xena practice with her sword in the mornings. But she had never seen anything like this. Mary was moving as if attacked by an invisible opponent but the movements were smooth, fluid and very focused. She was oblivious to Gabrielle standing about 20 feet away.
When Mary came to a stop Gabrielle spoke, "that was beautiful."
Mary was startled and turned quickly.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I just didn't want to distract you."
Mary smiled, "it's OK."
"What was that you were doing?" Gabrielle continued.
"A kata?" Gabrielle looked puzzled.
"It helps me to focus, clear my mind and stuff," said Mary.
"It looked like a dance," replied Gabrielle.
"I've often thought that myself," said Mary.
"Did you sleep alright?" Gabrielle asked.
"Very well thanks. I owe you and Xena a thank you for taking care of my wounds and all," said Mary.
Gabrielle smiled, "Consider us even. You helped me yesterday."
Mary returned the smile. "Wanna sit?" she asked as she sat on the grass facing the lake.
Gabrielle came over and sat next to Mary. They both looked thoughtfully over the water. Mary broke the silence.
"So where are you headed?"
"We were on our way south when we were attacked," replied Gabrielle.
"On business or pleasure?" asked Mary with a smile.
"Hmm sometimes it's hard to tell," remarked Gabrielle.
Mary smiled and laughingly said, "I bet it is."
Gabrielle laughed at this then asked, "How about you? I know you said you were lost but where did you start from?"
Mary felt herself tense. She needed a reference point of some kind. She knew whom she was with but not exactly where she was. She searched her memory but could find nothing.
She had to stall, "you mean originally?"
"Mm Hm," replied Gabrielle with interest.
"Well, my people are from very far from here, Hispania."
"What city?" asked Gabrielle.
Mary silently thanked God that she had researched Ancient Spain one day on a whim. "Ercavica," she replied.
"How did you end up so far from your home?"
Mary cursed herself. She hadn't thought of any of this, she was so busy trying to figure out how she'd gotten here that it didn't occur to her she would have to answer questions. Questions that under the circumstances, she couldn't answer honestly. She was sure they'd think she was insane.
"I left home one day and never looked back." Mary finally answered.
"Did something happen? I'm sorry I shouldn't be asking you all these questions," said Gabrielle feeling embarrassed.
"It's OK," said Mary smiling. "I just didn't fit in, so I set out in search of a place where I did fit in. I haven't found it yet but who knows maybe things are looking up."
She looked over at Gabrielle and smiled. She thought she saw a blush come over the young girl's cheeks. Mary couldn't help but think, "No wonder she loves you." At that moment she heard a voice call out, "Gabrielle." Well at least this round of 20 questions was over.
Mary stood up quickly and offered a hand to Gabrielle. She accepted it and stood just as Xena appeared. Mary took a step away from Gabrielle as Xena approached. A gesture of "submission" to the "dominant" female. Gabrielle smiled broadly. Mary barely had time to wish Xena good morning when Gabrielle began speaking excitedly.
"Xena! Do you know what a kata is?"
"A what?" asked Xena looking puzzled.
"A kata. It's like a dance but it's not a dance. It's like you're fighting but you're not fighting."
Gabrielle was rambling. Xena was getting exasperated and Mary started to laugh.
"Gabrielle, wait, wait." Mary looked at Xena, "I was practicing some fighting movements in a set pattern. It helps me focus."
Xena looked at Gabrielle and asked, "Why didn't you say so?"
"I thought I was," replied Gabrielle.
Mary couldn't get the grin off her face. "This is too funny," she thought.
Xena continued, "You were gone so long our breakfast almost burned. We have a long day ahead, let's get back so we can get started." They all walked back to camp.
When they reached camp, Mary noticed all the blankets had been rolled and packed. The fire had been restarted and there was fish cooking. It smelled good and her stomach growled.
"Smells good," said Mary with raised eyebrows.
"Help your self," replied Gabrielle.
Mary stopped mid-way when she noticed her backpack. She'd forgotten all about it. She walked over to it and lifted it. It wasn't heavy but it did have some weight to it. She was about to open it when Xena approached.
"Here," said Xena offering Mary a fish.
"How's the wound?" asked the warrior.
"It's fine. Just a scratch," replied Mary smiling.
"Those were some nice moves yesterday. Where did you learn to fight?" asked Xena.
"I had two teachers. They used different techniques. But I use the techniques that work best for me. It depends on the situation."
Xena half smiled and said, "You're not a warrior."
"I never said I was," replied Mary.
"You don't talk like one, or look like one but you fight like one," said Xena.
Mary looked up into those sapphire blue eyes and said, "coming from you I consider that a compliment"
Xena smiled out of the corner of her mouth. She patted Mary on the shoulder and walked away. Mary watched her for a moment and thought, "Damn, she's tall! Mental note: Do not piss off the Warrior Princess."
With that she turned her attention back to her pack. She knelt and opened it. It had two sections and a front pocket. She opened the first of the sections and saw purple. She pulled it out. It was her purple fleece shirt. She folded it and put it down. It was a little bulky and she thought it was the only thing in that section but when she looked again her eyes widened. She stuck her hand in and withdrew her nun-chucks. She ran her hand over them. They were one of her prized possessions. They were tan with a dragon carved into each wooden stick. The two sticks were attached by a chain about five inches long. She placed them gently on the fleece and continued her search. Finding that section was now empty. She replaced the fleece but left out the nun-chucks. "Now the other section," she thought. This one contained another pair of jeans, 3 pairs of socks and underwear and 3 tee shirts. They were all hers. She knew those clothes. She didn't notice Gabrielle looking at her.
"Is anything wrong?" she asked. Mary's head jerked up.
"You're gonna have to make more noise," Mary said.
"I'm sorry, that's twice today. You looked a little unnerved. Is anything missing?" asked Gabrielle with genuine concern.
"No, I think I have everything."
She put everything back in the pack and popped open the front pocket. It only contained a leather pouch. She pulled it out and realized this was the source of the weight. The pouch was tied at the top by a leather tie. Mary untied it and looked inside. There were coins inside.
"Whoa! That's a lot of dinners." Mary looked up at Gabrielle. "Sorry, it's just "
Mary smiled. "It's OK. I've just been saving for a rainy day. I have the feeling it's about to pour."
Gabrielle looked puzzled. Mary tied the pouch, tossed it back in her pack and stood up. "Can I give you a hand with anything?"
"Uh, yeah come on," answered Gabrielle still a little confused. As she walked off, Mary picked up the nun-chucks and stuck them in the back of her belt. She then grabbed her pack and followed.
Gabrielle handed her several small bundles, "Here take these to Xena so she can pack them on Argo."
Mary dutifully took the bundles and walked to where Xena was packing Argo's saddlebags.
"Gabrielle said to give these to you. She's coming in a minute."
Xena took the bundles and Mary moved towards Argo's head. Argo was beautiful. She gave Argo her hand to sniff and to her surprise Argo nuzzled her shoulder. Mary smiled and looked over at Xena. Xena's eyebrows were raised and she smirked.
"She likes you."
Mary turned back to Argo and patted her on the neck; "Cool."
At that moment, Gabrielle appeared.
"OK ready to go."
She looked at Xena who had a pensive look and asked, "What's wrong?"
Xena climbed on Argo and replied, "Nothing. Let's get going." With that, the day's travel began.
They walked for a long while in silence. Mary had no idea how long exactly. She didn't even know what time of day it was.
"I'd give anything for a watch," she thought.
But at least the silence gave her time to think. Two days ago had been Friday. She'd gotten home from work as usual and gone through her evening routine. Prior to bed, she had been on the computer reading up on Greek mythology. She had been reading a story about Ares the Greek God of war. She had speculated on how he was portrayed on the television program Xena: Warrior Princess. This was by far her favorite show and she knew every detail of every episode. She would often daydream of what it would be like to be a warrior princess. Her life to this point, in her opinion, was seriously lacking and no matter what she did, she always felt as though something was missing. She had even playfully begun entertaining the thought that the Gods were or had been real.
"All myths have a basis in reality," she had thought to herself.
Then she stopped dead in her tracks. She remembered what her last thought was before falling asleep that night had been.
"If the Gods are real, they would show pity on me and send me where I belong." "No," she whispered to herself. Then she remembered what she had said to Gabrielle that morning. "I didn't fit in so I set out in search of a place where I do fit in."
Why had she said that? She was just about to panic when she felt a hand on her arm.
"Mariana, are you alright?" It was Gabrielle. Mary couldn't respond, she could only nod.
"What happened?" the young girl asked with concern showing on her face. Mary looked up and saw Xena up ahead.
"Nothing, I'm OK. I .you wouldn't believe me if I told you." Gabrielle smiled.
"You'd be surprised." Mary started walking.
"Come on, Xena's waiting." But Gabrielle didn't move.
"I'll tell you later." They caught up with Xena and continued walking.
"So where are we headed?" asked Mary.
"Cirrah," replied Gabrielle. "Cirrah, Cirrah," thought Mary. It ran a bell but not loud enough.
"Have you ever been there?" asked Gabrielle.
"Whew." Mary wiped her brow. It was hot. She looked up and saw the sun was almost in the center. "Almost noon," she thought. They had been walking forever, by Mary's standards and she hoped they would stop for a rest soon. She grabbed the bottom of her T-shirt and wiped the sweat from her face. She looked over at Gabrielle in her green halter-top and thought, "Good idea." She took off her T-shirt and slung it over her left shoulder. She was wearing a black sports bra. With her jeans, she was still more fully clothed than her companions.
For the last hour or so, Gabrielle had been dropping hints to Xena about lunch. Mary had heard the young girl's stomach growl a couple of times. She had smiled thinking, "she's always hungry." She had wrecked her brain trying to remember why she felt she should know Cirrah. But after a while, she gave up on it figuring she would soon find out for herself. Then she got an idea. She turned to Gabrielle,
"So how long have you and Xena been traveling together?"
"About 3 summers now," replied Gabrielle.
"Have you had a lot of adventures?" asked Mary.
With that Xena indicated this would be a good time to stop for a rest. Mary was quietly thankful. Over lunch, Gabrielle recounted several stories of her adventures with Xena. She told Mary about King Greggor and Pandora, Valasqua and Callisto. Garbrielle made a great bard and she showed Mary some of her scrolls. "The scrolls," she thought with a smile.
"So what was your most recent adventure?" asked Mary.
"Oh, that's a strange one," replied the bard.
"How so?" asked Mary.
"Well for me the whole adventure lasted about 2 minutes. But for Xena, it lasted about a month."
Gabrielle went on to give the account of how the families of Lycos and Manos had a rivalry and about the lovers and cupid and how tomorrow would never come. Triumphantly concluded by Xena saving the day. Mary sat amazed at the account. Hearing the bard tell the tale was quite amazing.
"That's amazing," said Mary. "I've never heard anyone tell stores the way you do."
Gabrielle smiled and looked down.
"I'll have to tell you some stories of my own some time."
Gabrielle's eyes widened, interested. "You tell stories too?"
"Yes, but mine are works of fiction," answered Mary.
"Do they have a moral or message?" Asked the bard.
"Most of them do, yes."
"Then you must tell me."
Xena interjected, "if you two are finished, can we get going?"
Mary stood and grabbed her pack thinking, "Well I know what's coming. I'm in trouble."
With that she followed her companions to the adventure that waited for them.
Xena decided to rest Argo a bit and led her by the reigns. Mary was beginning to feel the affects of the walk and the heat. But Gabrielle seemed to have boundless energy. Xena was quiet as she walked listening to Gabrielle chat about this and that.
Gabrielle turned to Mary and asked, "Are you tired of hearing me talk?"
Mary's eyes widened in surprise.
"It's your fault you know," continued the bard.
"My fault?" Mary asked without a smile.
"You promised me a story," said Gabrielle smiling.
"Did I?" asked Mary innocently.
"You did," said Xena. "And if you don't tell her one, we'll never get her to shut up."
Gabrielle shot Xena a glance causing the warrior to smile broadly.
"OK, I'll tell you a story." "Once upon a time " began Mary.
"Once upon a time?" asked Gabrielle.
"That's how I start all my stories," Mary answered.
"Once upon a time I like it. Go on!" remarked the bard.
"Once upon a time in a far away land there lived a prince in a shining castle "
Mary went on to tell them the story of beauty and the beast. When she was done, Gabrielle said, "That was beautiful."
"You better watch out Gabrielle, you may have competition," remarked Xena.
Mary laughed. "No, I don't think so. Storytelling is Gabrielle's department."
"Oh but you told it so well. I almost cried when I thought the beast had died," said Gabrielle.
"It was a little too sentimental for me but it was nicely told," added Xena.
"Well thank you both," said Mary with a slight bow.
At least the story had made Mary forget about the walk for a while. She shifted her pack and Gabrielle asked, "I've never seen a pack like that before. Where did you get it?"
"It was a gift a long time ago," Mary answered.
Gabrielle let Mary go ahead a few paces so she could have a better look at it. Then she asked, "What are those?"
"What are what?" Mary asked puzzled.
"Those sticks." Mary had completely forgotten about her nun-chucks.
"My fighting sticks."
"Fighting sticks? They look too short to be fighting sticks," remarked Gabrielle.
"Can I see them?"
"Sure," said Mary as she handed them to Gabrielle.
She handed Mary her staff and examined them. She turned them over in her hand and looked intently at the carvings.
"They're beautiful. Look Xena."
Xena looked over at them and said, "Yes, very beautiful. Where did you get them?"
"From one of my teachers," answered Mary.
"He must have considered you a very worthy pupil to give you such a gift," continued Xena.
I was very honored by the gift," replied Mary.
Gabrielle felt slight tension between the two women. "How do you use them?" she asked a little too quickly.
Mary turned her gaze from the warrior to the bard. She felt the tension between her and Xena. She knew the warrior had a suspicious nature and she had to be careful not to let her pride clash with Xena's. But at the same time, she could not back down from an unspoken challenge. She handed Gabrielle back her staff.
"Here, I'll show you," said Mary taking the nun-chucks from the bard.
She took 2 paces back, held the nun-chucks out in front of her with one stick in each hand. She closed her eyes and released a deep breath. She began to swing them in a series of movements transferring them from hand to hand. Slowly at first then faster. She never faltered. She ended with both the sticks in her right hand.
"That was amazing!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "Wasnt it Xena?"
Xena arched her eyebrow and replied, "Yes, but how would you use them in a fight?" Mary looked at the warrior and thought, "I hate pop quizzes."
She looked over at Gabrielle, "Attack me," requested Mary. "With your staff. Don't worry, just attack."
Gabrielle walked forward. She looked hesitant. She struck an overhand blow.
Mary easily blocked it and she smiled. "You can do better than that," Mary taunted.
The bard's expression became determined. She swung her staff to the right, then the left. Both strikes were effortlessly blocked. Once again overhand then low for a sweep. Mary blocked the overhand strike then lifted her leg to avoid the sweep. The bard thrusted the staff towards Mary's mid-section. Mary sidestepped and brought down the nun-chucks trapping the staff between the chain and the sticks. Gabrielle was off balance and Mary yanked the staff from her grip. She dropped the nun-chucks and spun the staff over her head taking a step forward. She stopped thrusting forward with the staff stopping just inches from the bard's face.
Gabrielle was shocked into immobility. Mary stepped back and thrusted the staff into the ground. She extended her arm offering the staff to the bard. Gabrielle stepped forward and took the staff. Mary slapped her hand against her thigh and bowed never taking her eyes off the bard. Gabrielle looked at Xena puzzled.
"She's offering you respect," said Xena. "In the east, it's the highest form of respect one warrior can give another," she continued. "It's a great honor."
Mary turned to look at Xena, "You were taught well," said Xena.
"I wouldn't have hurt her," said Mary.
"I know that," replied the warrior. Xena looked into Mary's eyes. "Who is she?" she thought. "What is she?"
She had spent most of the day considering this. Looking now into her eyes, she was no closer to an answer. She was struck by the realization that it would be possible to get lost in those eyes. The gaze was broken by Gabrielle's approach.
"Where did you learn that?" she asked.
Mary turned to the bard, "I had two teachers back home. One was good with a sword, the other with these."
"You can use a sword too?" Gabrielle asked in awe.
"Yes, but I prefer these. I've never killed anyone and don't think I ever will."
Gabrielle smiled, "I know what you mean."
Mary turned to Xena, "Are we almost there?" asked Mary.
Xena turned away from the road. "Close enough. We'll make camp tonight and head for town in the morning."
Mary and Gabrielle followed as Xena looked for a place to camp.
They finally reached a spot Xena considered suitable. Xena left to hunt some game for dinner and Mary made herself as useful as she could. Gabrielle left to find firewood and Mary stayed to set up camp. She dug the fire pit and placed two logs near by so they could sit comfortably by the fire. She took out the bedrolls and neatly placed 2 together on one side of the fire. The third she placed on the other side. "Don't want to intrude," she thought to herself. When Gabrielle returned, she surveyed the camp approvingly.
"Well, this is nice," said the bard smiling. "I usually have to do everything while Xena is out hunting."
"I just want to pull my weight here give me that it looks heavy," said Mary reaching for the pile of wood the bard carried.
"No, it's OK. I've got it," protested the bard. But Mary took the pile and set it by the pit.
"Thank you," said Gabrielle shyly.
Mary stood and let Gabrielle deal with making the fire. Mary watched closely as she was certain she would have to learn this skill.
"When we go to town tomorrow, can I pick up a couple of things?" asked Mary.
"Shopping!" said Gabrielle excitedly. "What do you want to buy?" asked the bard.
"A bed roll and water skin," answered Mary.
"I'm sure you'll find what you need. Are you good at bargaining?"
Mary smiled and replied, "Not at all." The bard gave a wide grin and her eyes lit up.
"You just leave it all to me. I'll get you the best deals in town."
Mary sat on one of the logs. She had picked up a stick and was drawing absently in the dirt. She was reflecting on the events of the day. She was tired, dusty and hungry. She was also getting a newfound respect for the bard. A part of her loved this. It was a dream come true. Another part of her wondered if she could actually pull it off. And yet another part of her refused to accept that this whole experience was real. She wondered if, given the fact that this was all real, would it be possible for her to remain with them. She would enjoy accompanying them on their many adventures, but what if the fates had a different destiny in store for her? She would have to wait and see. Her biggest fear was that it would all go away. Just poof, as quickly as it came, it could be gone again. That would be very cruel, even for Greek Gods. She threw the stick into the fire and stood up. Gabrielle was just about to ask her what was wrong when Xena appeared. She had caught 2 rabbits and was feeling rather proud of herself. Mary decided this would be a good time to take a walk. She excused herself and disappeared into the brush.
Xena looked at Gabrielle questioningly. "Is she a vegetarian? We still have some bread and cheese left over from lunch."
"No I don't think that's it," answered the bard.
"Something's wrong," she continued as Xena began to skin their dinner.
"What did she say?" asked the warrior.
"That's just it, she didn't say anything. She sat there for a while thinking quietly about something. She looked I don't know, like she was really far away. I was just about to ask her what was wrong when you came back. I ."
"What?" asked Xena. "I want to help her," answered the bard.
"I didn't know she needed help," countered Xena.
"Can't you feel it?" asked the bard.
"An energy or something. It draws you to her. It makes you want to be around her. It's not unlike what drew me to you," said Gabrielle.
Xena was done with the skinning and left the rabbits for Gabrielle to cook. She stopped in front of Gabrielle, looked down into her deep green eyes and asked, "Should I be worried?"
Gabrielle looked up and replied, "Should I?"
"I asked you first," said Xena smiling. "Well she does remind me of you," replied the bard.
"And she reminds me of you," said the warrior.
They laughed and hugged each other tightly. "Nice job on the camp by the way. It looks rather homey with the logs by the fire," complimented Xena.
Gabrielle smiled, "Thanks, but it wasn't me. Mary set up camp while I was collecting the wood." Xena looked over at the bedrolls then turned to Gabrielle. "She knows," said the bard with a smirk. "I don't know how but she does."
Mary had walked for a while then decided to find a place to sit. She didn't want to get too far away from camp. She didn't want to take a chance on not being able to find it again. But this was far enough to afford her and her companions some privacy. "They deserve some private time," she thought. She was wracking her brain trying to figure this all out when it happened. She finally broke down. She sat leaned up against a tree, put her head on her knees and just began to sob. She needed to release all the conflicting emotions she had bottled up.
"What kind of a warrior are you?" said a voice.
Mary's head jerked up and she jumped to her feet. Standing before her was a man dressed in studded black leather. He had shoulder length dark hair, dark eyes and a goatee.
"You're nothing but a cry baby. What kind of a warrior cries?" he said smugly.
"Ares?" Mary stammered.
"Who else?" replied Ares. "I don't have much time, and this will be the last time I'll appear to you so listen closely. You're here because I brought you here."
"Why?" asked Mary.
Ares' face softened just slightly and he continued, "Because you believe. Your belief gives my sister and I the ability to exist. My sister looked into your heart and upon much discussion; we decided to reward you in this way. But a condition applies."
Mary was having difficulty absorbing everything. All she could do was ask, "What condition?"
"You cannot interfere in Xena & Gabrielle's destiny. You cannot tell them what the fates have in store for them. The moment you do, you will be returned and this life will end."
Mary considered for a moment. "So all this is real? I mean historically real? But "
"The scrolls," Ares replied. "Gabrielles scrolls?" Mary asked.
"Who else?" said Ares getting irritated.
"So I can stay here permanently?"
"As long as you abide by the condition. This is your home. I have to go."
"Ares!" Mary called out. "Thank you!"
Ares turned and looked at Mary. "Use the gifts we've given you wisely."
"Gifts?" Mary asked.
"The body was my sister's idea, your physical strength, mine. Everything else was already inside you. You have a soul like no other in the modern world. You belong here. Make your own destiny and carve out a place for yourself in history. Good-bye."
With that he was gone. Mary thought for a moment then began to laugh. "No Shit!" she said aloud. She looked around and realized it was beginning to get dark. "Let me get back before I can't see my hand in front of my face." The heaviness in her heart had lifted. She still couldn't believe she had just spoken to Ares. She no longer cared if it was a hallucination or not. She had a choice now.
For a minute she thought she had made a wrong turn. "Why couldn't they have given me a better sense of direction? Now that would be really useful?" she muttered to herself.
Then she felt her stomach growl. She sniffed the air and realized she could smell something cooking. After a few more yards, she could see the clearing where they had camped. She was a few paces away from the clearing when she thought, "I hope I don't walk in on anything." She looked down and took a step snapping a branch with her foot. It made a loud cracking noise that she hoped would signal her arrival. She was greeted by Gabrielle.
"We were just about to send out a search party," she said smiling.
Mary returned the smile and said, "I just needed to be alone for a while. It's been a busy 2 days and I'm not used to such pleasant company."
Xena stood and looked at Mary. Then she smiled and said, "Neither are we."
Mary was very pleased. Maybe she could win the warrior over after all.
"Come on and eat something before it gets cold," said the bard.
Mary walked over to the fire and took some meat off the remaining carcass. She then took a place on one of the logs. She had never eaten rabbit before and had reservations but she was starving. She looked at the meat and thought, "Sorry thumper" and took a bite. It wasn't too bad. But as hungry as she was, anything would have tasted good. Xena and Gabrielle had finished their meals and Xena had begun her nightly routine of polishing her armor and sharpening her sword. Gabrielle went to sit by Mary who was busily finishing off her dinner.
"Are you alright?" asked the bard.
Mary tossed the last bone into the fire and replied, "Yes, I'm fine. It doesn't hurt much anymore," patting the wound she had received the day before.
"No not that," said the bard. "Are 'you' alright?"
Mary was embarrassed and didn't quite know how to answer.
"You looked like something was wrong before," she continued. Mary was thoughtful. "It's OK, you don't have to answer. I just "
Mary could see the young girl was embarrassed. She thought Mary thought she was prying.
"It's alright. I don't mind that you're asking me," said Mary gently. "You can ask me anything."
Gabrielle looked into Mary's eyes. They were dark and expressive. She felt as though she could see into her very soul. There was a sadness there she couldn't describe. A sadness of such depth that it broke her heart and she had to look away. Mary saw the compassion in the young girl's eyes. She also saw a soul full of love and goodness. She wanted to reach out to her but did not know how. Gabrielle finally broke the silence.
"Why did you leave home?"
Mary smiled, "I told you that already."
"Yes, but why did you feel like you didn't fit in?"
Mary thought for a moment then said, "My family wanted me to fit in this mold that just wasn't made for me. They stopped trying after a while but my heart longed for something. I didn't know what it was but I knew it wasn't there. So I left."
"What did your heart long for?" asked the bard.
"A place to belong. A place where I can be accepted for all that I am. Storyteller, philosopher, warrior lover. I just want to be able to be me."
Gabrielle placed a hand on Mary's arm and said, "I've never known anyone like you. When I look at you, I see someone who is strong, brave, sensitive and kind. Yet you carry with you a sadness that's beyond words. Why?"
"I'm afraid that's the one question I can never answer," answered Mary.
"I want to help you."
"I know you do."
Gabrielle stood to go then turned back to Mary. "One last question."
The bard moved closer to Mary and spoke softly, "How did you know about " She paused and looked away.
"I have a gift," said Mary smiling.
"Are you an Oracle?" asked the bard.
"No, I just know things sometimes," answered Mary. "She loves you very much. Don't ever forget that," she continued.
"I know she does," replied the bard glancing over at Xena.
"Now go to her before she starts getting the wrong idea about us."
Gabrielle smiled broadly and turned to go.
"Oh! By the way, I'm a very sound sleeper," called Mary, after her.
The bard turned her head up and laughed. Mary watched as Gabrielle went over to Xena. She placed her hand on Xena's and took the sharpening stone from her. The warrior smirked and turned to the bard. She kissed her lightly on the lips and Mary stood taking her cue from the lovers and went to bed
The town was bigger than Mary had expected. It was a beehive of activity. Her attention kept being drawn this way and that. She couldn't keep the smile off her face. She made a list of the things she wanted to buy in her mind. "Bedroll, water skin, maybe a pair of boots." Her companions appeared to be in deep conversation and was about to join them when her attention was drawn to 2 boys playing by a merchant's tent. They were young, probably not older than 7 or 8. She shifted the pack on her back and heard the dinars clink. It was then that she realized she had no idea what a dinar was. She knew it was money but she didn't know its value. She glanced over at the boys again and got an idea.
She walked over to the boys and said, "Hello there young sirs, you look like a pair of helpful lads. Can I talk with you for a moment?"
They looked up at Mary then at each other. She dropped to one knee so she would seem less threatening.
"My name is Mary what's yours?"
"Dimi" replied one of the boys "This is Maxim" he continued, motioning toward his friend.
"Very nice to meet you both." She replied with a smile.
She brought her pack to the front and brought out the leather pouch. She opened it a brought out three coins. All were of the same size and shape but were of different colors.
"Lets see how smart you boys are." She held out a bronze colored coin. "Which one of you can tell me how many dinars this is?" Both boys wanted to answer.
Mary finally chose Dimi who answered, "Ten Dinars"
Mary smiled, "That's right! Now Maxim, this question is for you. How many dinars is this?" She held out a silver coin and the boys eyes lit up.
"That's fifty dinars."
"Good!" exclaimed Mary. "Now the one who gets this wins a prize. Are you ready?"
The boys nodded their heads in unison. She pulled out the gold dinar piece and as if on cue both boys exclaimed, "100 dinars!"
"Sshh, don't get so excited. You boys are indeed the smartest young men I've ever met."
She smiled and handed them each a 10-dinar piece. The boys looked at each other then at Mary and took off running.
Mary stood and laughed as she watched them run off. She took a peek inside the pouch before securing the leather tie. "Damn, I'm rich."
She was startled from her thoughts by Gabrielle. "What was that all about?" she asked.
"Nothing just having some fun with the kids."
The bard smiled and asked, "You ready to do some shopping?"
"Good, we're meeting Xena back at the inn around midday, so we have all morning to shop."
Before Mary knew it she was being drug all over town. Gabrielle had her own agenda and took the opportunity to restock some of their depleting supply of items. But Mary took careful stock of the different stores and what could be found in each one. She didn't think most towns would be all that different from one another and it would be useful to know where to go for what. They finally reached a shop where Mary could purchase a bedroll.
"Ok, leave everything to me; I'm sure I can get you a good price."
Mary nodded and dutifully followed the bard over to the 'bedroll section' of the shop.
"Oh, this one is nice. What do you think?"
Mary looked at it and felt the material she was about to comment when the bard said excitedly, "oh look at this one, its filled with goose feathers."
Mary really liked this one. It was blue and though it was filled with feathers it wasn't too bulky. It would be really comfortable for sleeping on the ground.
"I like this one." She answered.
Just then the merchant approached. "Ah! You show good taste. That's one of our finest bed rolls."
The bard stepped forward, "How much?"
"You seem like a good lass I can let you have it for 10 dinars."
Gabrielle, smirked, "10 dinars! Are you kidding me? It may be nice but is only worth maybe four."
The merchant narrowed his eyes a bit and said, "I can see you're smart shopper. I can certainly appreciate that. I'll let you have it for nine dinars."
Mary stepped back and watched the bard at work. The merchant never knew what hit him. By the time Gabrielle was done with him not only did Mary have a new bedroll but a blanket too, all for less than 10 dinars.
It was a little past midday when they arrived at the inn. Xena had still not arrived and they decided to wait inside. The inn was fairly crowded and they decided to take a table towards the back. Mary was very pleased with the day's events. She'd gotten a bedroll, blanket, water skin and a pair of boots all for less than 40 dinars. Gabrielle was amazing to watch when she was in barter mode. It had been a long morning and she was starving. Mary was sitting across from Gabrielle with her back to the wall. She leaned back gratefully and leaned her head against the wall. A voice startled her out of her peaceful mode.
"What can I get for you today?"
Mary opened her eyes and saw a young girl by the table. She was obviously the barmaid and for some reason Mary found herself speechless.
"Um ." Mary looked quickly at the bard. "Why don't you order for all of us, you know what Xena likes and I'll eat anything."
Gabrielle gave her a look and narrowed her eyes a bit. Mary could see the mischief in her eyes but said nothing and just let the bard order what sounded like an endless list of what she hoped were edible items. The barmaid left their table and Gabrielle watched as Mary's gaze followed the girl to the kitchen. Just then both their attentions were drawn to a new comer at their table.
"Sorry I'm late." said the warrior as she took a seat next to Gabrielle. "Did I miss much?"
Mary answered before the bard could. "Nope, the food should be here soon though. Tell Xena all the stuff we got."
With that she was off on an animated tale of their morning shopping excursion. All Mary could do was smile, Gabrielle was so animated whenever she spoke that it was great to watch. She could understand how Xena could sit and listen to her tell stories even if they are about her. One just gets lost in the telling; Mary listened and felt as though she hadn't even been with the bard all morning. She was absorbed in the conversation when the barmaid returned with their food.
"What can I get you all to drink?"
Mary looked up at the girl and she felt her stomach drop. "What is wrong with me?" she thought.
Her attention was drawn to Xena, "She'll have a cider," gesturing towards the bard, "and my friend and I will have a port." Mary looked back to the girl as she said, "I'll be right back with your drinks. Enjoy your food."
The girl let her gaze linger on Mary for an extra second as she gathered her tray and turned to go. Mary stole a quick glance at Gabrielle and noticed the mischievous look in return. She decided it would be best to concentrate her attention on her food. Within a few minutes the barmaid returned and served the drinks. When Mary reached out for hers the girl held the mug a second longer that necessary and caused Mary to look up and meet her gaze.
"If you need anything else just let me know." She turned to go and Mary's gaze followed her all the way to the bar.
When she returned her attention to her food she noticed her companions were looking at her and she could feel a blush starting at the base of her neck. Xena took pity on her and turned to the bard.
"We'll need a room for the night."
"What did you find out? Is he here?" Xena took a deep swallow of her port and replied,
"He's here alright. He's scheduled to be executed tomorrow."
"Executed!" exclaimed the bard.
Mary listened to the conversation but her attention kept being drawn towards the bar. She drained her mug, and stood up leaning over towards Xena and taking the mug from her hand.
"You're done with this right? You want another one? I'll be right back." She left the table leaving her companions a little speechless but thoroughly amused.
Mary reached the bar and found herself having to take a deep breath. "Hi, can I have two more of these please."
The barmaid turned and gave a broad smile upon seeing Mary. "Sure let me get those for you." She grabbed the mugs and began refilling them. "Are you new to this area? I don't remember ever seeing you before."
Mary smiled, "New, yes you could say that. My name is Mary."
Mary smiled, "Nice to meet you. How long have you worked here?"
Lilith thought for a moment, "A little over two summers now."
Mary was desperately trying to make conversation but the girl had such an affect on her that she found it hard to breathe let alone think. Lilith leaned in close and whispered in Mary's ear.
"Ill be free after the evening meal."
Mary gave the girl a broad smile and said; "Well then I guess I'll see you later."
She grabbed the mugs and returned to the table. She tried to ignore the amused looks of her companions as she took long swallows of her port. She finally put down her mug and reached into her pack for the leather pouch. She pulled out a silver coin and handed it to bard.
"What's this for?" she asked a little puzzled.
"Will that be enough to cover lunch, our rooms, dinner and whatever else we might need?" asked Mary.
Gabrielle looked at Xena then back at Mary. "It would be more than enough, but ."
"Good," interrupted Mary, "I have to go do a couple of things. I forgot to pick up a couple of things at the market. So I'll just leave all the arrangements up to you guys."
She started to leave when she remembered her pack. She started to go back for it when the bard said, "Don't worry we'll get your stuff." Mary smiled and exited the inn with a bit of a spring in her step.
Xena finished off her port and turned to the bard. "Could I interest you in a nice long bath?"
The bard smiled, "You don't have to say it twice. I'll go make the arrangements."
"Don't forget to get two rooms." called the warrior after her.
The bard stopped for a moment, then looked up at her partner. "Xena, I was thinking, maybe we should take her with us."
Xena arched her eyebrow but didn't give Gabrielle the exasperated look she'd been expecting. "Actually, I'd been considering that myself."
"You were? You didn't mention anything about it."
"I just did", replied the warrior with a smile. "I thought I'd talk to her about it later on at dinner."
The bard looked over at the barmaid and smiled, "Well, you better move fast 'cause I think she might have some after dinner plans."
They laughed and the bard left to arrange their accommodations.
Mary walked through the market place with specific destinations in mind. She had taken careful note of the different shops while she was shopping earlier with Gabrielle. She had heard the bard comment on her need for new scrolls as she was falling a bit behind in keeping a written account of her travels with Xena. She had also noticed the previous night that the sharpening stone Xena used was worn down and she was in need of a new one.
Mary reflected on the fact that though their life was exciting, fighting for the greater good did have its hardships. Other than the potential for serious injury or death, it was not a very lucrative lifestyle. Mary knew that Xena was an excellent provider and would do her best to give Gabrielle everything she needed, but for some things dinars were needed and sometimes they weren't easy to come by. If they were lucky Gabrielle could usually barter her storytelling skills for room and board and would be allowed to keep any dinars offered by the patrons. If they weren't lucky they'd have to sleep in a barn or at worst make camp outside town. They hadn't really mentioned to her where they were headed next or if they wanted her to come along. She was grateful to them for all she'd learned in the last couple of days and for taking care of her when she was hurt.
She felt that if this was to be where they parted company then the least she could do was to give them each something useful to remember her by. If her memory served her correctly they would end up in Britania soon and they would need all their resources to get back.
It was a couple of hours before she returned to the inn. She noticed her companions were gone and she didn't see Lilith either. She saw the innkeeper behind the bar and approached him.
"Excuse me; do you know where my friends went?"
He turned to her and said, "They went upstairs about two candle marks ago."
Mary smiled inwardly, "So they made the arrangements for our lodgings I'm assuming."
"Aye, they did. Your room is the second one at the top of the stairs on the left hand side. Theirs is the one right across."
"Thank you." replied Mary and turned to go then stopped. "Oh, by the way when is the evening meal?"
"Not for about four candle marks yet." he answered.
"Four candle marks?" she thought to herself. "Ok thanks.", and trotted up the stairs.
When she entered the room she stood in the doorway for a minute just admiring the interior. There was a very comfortable looking bed, a table that held a basin and pitcher, and to the left were a table and two chairs. All in all it was a cozy room, or at least Mary thought so. She placed the sack containing her purchases on the table and went to sit on the bed. It was the softest thing she had sat on in two days and it felt really good. She yawned and decided a nap might not be a bad idea. The bed was so soft her muscles relaxed immediately. She placed her hands behind her head and inhaled deeply. "This is very cool", she said aloud.
She thought about her companions and wondered whether this would actually be the last evening she'd spend with them. She also thought about Lilith and about the effect the girl had on her. Every time she looked at her it was like the air stopped moving in her lungs and her heart would race. She couldn't remember that ever happening with any one else before. It was with that thought that she drifted off to sleep not aware of how truly exhausted she really was.
Some one was calling her name. But they were so far away she hoped if she ignored them they might go away. It didn't work the voice only got louder and more insistent.
"Mary, wake up." She opened her eyes slowly and realized it was Gabrielle. "It's about time, and I thought I was a sound sleeper." she said with a laugh.
"Good stretch." said the warrior with a smirk.
"Sorry, I didn't realize I was so tired."
The bard laughed, "Its ok, we were just about to go get some supper, are you hungry?"
Mary sat up and shook her head from side to side then went over to the pitcher and poured some water in the basin. She washed her face then ran her finger through her hair, taking note of her reflection in the water. Xena watched with her arms folded on her chest and fought off the impulse to tussle the girl's hair.
"It looks fine! Can we get going? I thought you two were hungry."
Mary looked over at Gabrielle, "She's hungry too that's why she's cranky. She's just too stubborn to admit it."
Mary chuckled a bit and headed for the door grabbing her sack of gifts on the way out. When they got downstairs they were greeted by a great deal of activity. The inn was fairly crowded but they managed to find seats at the same table they had occupied earlier. Mary sat and watched as Xena, for lack of a better word, scanned the room. Mary took a cue from this and took a look around for herself. They were at the back so it gave a good vantage view of the rest of the room. No one looked particularly threatening, at least in Mary's opinion. She did however catch sight of Lilith and felt her heart skip a beat. "I have to stop doing that." she thought to herself. She was at the far end of the room serving some beverages to some particularly rough looking fellows. When she gathered her tray and turned to go the one nearest her grabbed her bottom. She turned quickly, laughed and used the tray to block any further advances as she walked away. Mary's eyes narrowed and her muscles tensed as she clenched her jaw.
Gabrielle noticed and leaned towards Mary, "What is it?" Mary took a deep breath and noticed Lilith looked a little shaken as she returned to the bar.
"Nothing, I'm gonna go get us all something to drink. Order me whatever sounds yummy."
She managed a smile before leaving the table and the bard decided not to press her further. Mary went straight behind the bar. She wasn't concerned with what anyone would say.
"Hey, are you alright?" Lilith turned, surprised that some one was there and stopped short when she saw Mary.
She looked down and smiled, "What are you doing back here?"
"I came to see if you were alright." said Mary softly.
"I'm fine." replied the girl softly.
"Are you sure? I mean ." Mary looked towards the man who'd grabbed Lilith and sucked in a deep breath. She knew her temper was her own worst enemy and should do her best to calm herself down but
"Its alright, it's a part of the job. You just get used to it after a while."
"You've been here for two summers and it seems like you haven't gotten used to it."
Lilith opened her mouth to say something when Mary stopped her. "Its not ok for some one to treat you that way. No matter how much they drink or whatever you were about to say, it's not ok for him to violate you that way."
The barmaid looked at Mary with a surprised expression. "How did you know what I was going to say?"
Mary smiled warmly, "Are you almost done here?" Lilith returned the smile and replied,
"Yes, let me get something to eat for you and your friends then I'll be done."
Mary turned to go then turned back, "I kind of promised to return with drinks."
Lilith grabbed three mugs, "Same as this afternoon? Two ports and a cider."
Mary thought for a minute, "No, make it two ciders and one port. I'm not a big drinker but Xena doesn't have to know."
Lilith let out a laugh as she poured. "Protecting your image are you?"
Mary blushed, grabbed the mugs and said, "Something like that."
Mary got back to the table and served the drinks. "Everything all right?", asked the warrior.
"Yeah, why?", replied Mary with a puzzled expression.
"I thought there might be something wrong seeing as how you look a bit flushed."
Mary felt the heat rise up the back of her neck to her ears and she knew how red she must be right now. She looked at her companions to find Xena smirking into her mug and Gabrielle biting her lip to keep from laughing. She was about to say something when their food arrived. Suddenly they were the sole of politeness and charm. A little too much so, "They are so bad.", she thought. Lilith gathered her tray and left for the kitchen.
"So,..", began the bard, "What are your after dinner plans?"
Mary stopped chewing long enough to give the bard an imploring look. "I hadn't made any plans actually."
"Maybe some one made them for you." said the warrior with a grin.
"You two must really love this particular shade of red." said Mary pointing to her own face.
They couldn't hold it in any longer, they burst out laughing and to Mary's surprise she laughed too. When the laughter subsided she looked over and saw Lilith by the bar untying her apron.
Gabrielle kicked Mary under the table, "You gonna let her stand there all night?"
Mary rose quickly and approached the barmaid. "Hi, listen would you like to join my friends and I for dinner?"
Mary tilted her head and gave the young girl what could only be described as puppy dog eyes. Combine that with a sheepish grin and Lilith was unable to resist.
"Yes I'd like that very much."
"Cool" Mary reached out and grabbed the girl's hand and led her to the table. She took a place next to Mary and was cordially introduced to the rest of the group.
Lilith was very sweet and was very easy to talk to. Gabrielle liked her very much and they were soon wrapped up in conversation. Mary and Xena watched for a bit as the conversation began to get very lively and animated.
Xena turned to Mary and asked, "So what are your plans?" Mary thought for a minute,
"Honestly I don't have any. I've been sort of playing it by ear, seeing what comes up."
It was Xena's turn to think for a moment. "Why don't we go outside for a bit? There's something I'd like to talk to you about."
Mary let out a long breath, "Ok, lets go." Xena leaned over to Gabrielle, "We'll be back, just going outside for a bit."
Mary in turn, told Lilith the same and asked the bard to keep an eye on her sack. She'd almost forgotten all about it with all the teasing she was getting. She'd make sure to give them their gifts when she returned.
They walked out of the inn and Mary was pleased to find the air cool and refreshing. She hadn't realized how stuffy it had been inside. She looked up at the warrior and saw her expression remarkably changed.
"What's up?" asked Mary, trying not to let the nervousness show in her voice.
"Gabrielle and I will be leaving in the morning." Mary's heart sank at the thought of being left behind so soon. "There's something we need to do." she continued. "Have you ever heard of the metal of Hephaestus?"
Mary considered whether or not to answer honestly. Finally, she decided a little white lie couldn't hurt in this case. "No, I haven't."
"Hephaestus is the master smith of the Gods. He created a formula for an indestructible metal. Unfortunately some one stole the secret and gave it to a warlord named Agathon."
Mary listened quietly as Xena told her the details of the events. When she was done she took a deep breath and said, "Gabrielle and I were talking and we wondered if you'd like to come with us."
She didn't need any time to think about it, "I'm in."
"Wait, before you commit yourself, this will be very dangerous. Its not a game."
Mary looked up into the warrior's eyes, "I know it's not a game, and I know it will be dangerous. But ..this is where I have to be right now."
Xena didn't know why but she could feel the truth of her words and knew the girl was right. "Alright, since that's settled, lets go back inside."
Mary followed Xena back into the inn and was forced to stop suddenly almost bumping into the warrior. Xena had stopped abruptly and Mary sidestepped a bit to see what had caused her to halt. The reason was very apparent, Gabrielle stood with her staff in a defensive posture with Lilith falling in behind her looking very frightened. The bard was in a verbal confrontation with one of the men who'd been drinking at the inn. Next to him was the one that had grabbed Lilith earlier and his eyes were fixed on her. Mary felt her temper start to rise and looked to the warrior for a cue on what to do. Xena was very still and she listened intently to what was being said.
"Come on now lass, that's not very friendly. My friends and I just want to get to know you a little better."
"And your friend too." added the other man. He took a step forward and the bard squared off towards him.
"Thanks for the invitation but I'm afraid we've made other plans." said the bard in a tone so pleasant it surprised Mary.
The first man grinned, "Well now, I'm sorry to tell you but your plans have been changed."
He reached for the bard and was stopped by the voice directly behind him. "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Her voice was calm and cold, it bordered on seductive and the half grin accentuated the effect.
The man turned, "And just what business is it of yours?"
"The young lady IS my business." He turned and looked at the bard then back at Xena.
"Oh its like that now is it?" he grinned, looked at his companion and continued, "Well don't worry you'll get them back when we're through with them."
Marys temper snapped and she took a step forward but was stopped by Xena's arm blocking her path. "I'm willing to overlook that very, very stupid comment if you and your friends get out of here."
The men looked and each and laughed. "What do you say boys? Maybe we should let them watch so they can see how a pretty young lass should be pleasured."
The men roared with laughter and Xena's expression was very dark. Mary was gritting her teeth so hard she could feel the pressure in her jaw. Xena took a long slow breath and said, "The only way YOU could ever please a woman would be if you passed out and she took matters in her own hands."
The laughter stopped. It seemed like it happened in slow motion but Mary knew it was only a second. She made eye contact with the bard shifting her gaze quickly to Lilith then back again. Gabrielle gave her a look of acknowledgement and moved back closer to Lilith in case any of them got through. The man swung at Xena and she blocked the blow easily following up with a punch of her own to his jaw.
Mary rushed forward towards the other man, who was beginning to step towards Xena and his companion. She was suddenly grabbed from behind and Mary was livid. She lifted her arms and broke the hold by pure force. She turned quickly and followed up with a kick to the stomach that sent her attacker to the ground. She looked to her right and saw another man coming at Xena from behind with a chair raised. She ran gave him a roundhouse kick to the mid section that stopped him in his tracks and caused him to drop the chair. Xena then executed a back kick to the man's jaw that left him unconscious on the floor. It was then that Mary felt the burning sensation on her left arm. She turned to see the last of the attackers holding a dagger. She looked at her arm and could see the blood seeping out of the fresh wound. She never hesitated as she went for him.
"I've been wanting to kick your ass for a while now." she said in a tone too low for anyone to hear except Xena.
He swung for Mary's mid section but he was too far away. He closed the distance and swiped from the other direction. Mary quickly sidestepped and hit him with a backhand across the back of his head. He growled and turned raising his arm as he did so. He came down hard and fast. Mary blocked upwards with both hands, stopping his attack. She grabbed the wrist of the hand holding the dagger and twisted it down and back causing him to loosen his grip on the weapon. Before he knew what had happened Mary had his arm behind his back and she was holing his own dagger to his throat. She was doing all she could to control her breathing. She wanted to kill this man and she could feel the surge of energy flowing through her. Xena watched the events in quiet stillness and as Mary held the dagger to the man's throat she wondered what the girl would do.
"You piece of shit." hissed Mary. She pressed the blade against his throat. "Apologize to the young ladies for the conduct of you and your companions tonight."
He looked over at Gabrielle and Lilith, "I'm sorry."
"You better be, or the next time I see you I will kill you. Now pick up your friends and get out of here."
With that she released him. She stood perfectly still, holding the dagger so tightly her hand shook. Xena walked over to her and held out her hand. "Hey", she said in a soft tone. Mary looked up at her and then down at the dagger. She raised her hand slowly and gave it to the warrior. Xena took the dagger and placed the other hand on Mary's shoulder.
"Come on, we need to get that arm taken care of." Mary let Xena lead her over to where the other two women were. Gabrielle gave Lilith her staff and looked at Mary's arm. "Ouch, we need to get that cleaned up."
Mary sat at the foot of the bed as Gabrielle took a closer look at her arm. She looked over at Lilith who had followed them upstairs. "I need some fresh water, cloth and bandages if you have any."
"I think I can find some." said the girl and she was out the door. Mary took a look at her arm and flinched a bit. She couldn't really see the wound because of the blood.
"Great just what I need, another scar." she thought to herself.
Xena took a look at the wound and smirked a bit. "Bet that stings."
Mary looked up at the warrior and half smiled. "Nah, its just a scratch."
Xena looked at Mary's arm again "A scratch huh?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes "Warriors."
Lilith arrived with all the necessary items and Gabrielle got to work. The cut wasn't as bad as the bard first thought. "It might not need stitches. Just a good cleaning and a bandage." Mary stayed still while the bard worked on her arm. She couldn't keep her muscles from twitching if she hit a particularly painful spot and the bard noticed. She was all too used to the reaction from her warrior and knew Mary was in pain.
She looked closely at Mary's arm and took note of the finely defined muscles. Xena was strong and had muscle but where Xena was long and graceful, Mary was stocky. She was about Gabrielle's height so her muscles made her look bulky, but the bard had seen her grace first hand and knew some of the skills she possessed. She was disturbed from her thoughts by Lilith.
"Is there anything else I can do to help?"
The bard thought for a minute then replied, "No I think this will do. A hot bath and a good night's sleep is the best advice I can give."
Lilith smiled and let herself out of the room. Gabrielle had just finished tying off the bandage when Mary exclaimed, "My bag! The one I took downstairs with me!"
"Relax, its right here." Mary looked to see Xena holding the sack.
"Cool, I thought I'd lost it."
Xena handed her the sack and Mary opened it. "I didn't know if we would be parting company here so I got you each something as a thank you for the last couple days." The bard and warrior looked at each other then back at Mary. They both opened their mouths to speak when Mary stuck her hand in the sack and brought out two new scrolls. The bard stopped short when Mary presented her with the scrolls.
"You'd commented that you needed some new scrolls. I thought these would tide you over for a while."
Gabrielle smiled, and took the scrolls from the girl's hand. "You didn't have to do that."
"Wait, I'm not done yet." She retrieved the sharpening stone from the bag and tossed it to the warrior.
It was caught easily but Xena had a look of genuine surprise on her face. "I noticed the other night that you need a new one."
Xena gave the stone a little flip toss and smiled. "Solstice came early this year."
They all laughed and Mary was surprised at how natural it all seemed. The bard smiled sweetly and said, "Thank you, these are great." Mary was surprised when the bard placed a kiss on her cheek.
She looked up at the warrior and was surprised to see a smirk on her lips. "I think some one is waiting for you." She said with a genuine smile. Mary tried to suppress a blush and bid the pair good night. Mary closed the door behind her and the pair looked at each other.
Gabrielle smiled and said, "Come on Xena, you know you like her."
Xena flip tossed the stone again and smirked, placing it on the table of their room. "What?" asked the bard sensing an uneasiness in her soul mate.
"Did you see her tonight?" asked the warrior seriously.
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle was a little concerned and sat on the edge of the bed.
"She could've killed that man."
"But she didn't", added Gabrielle quickly.
"But she wanted to. I could feel it, the blood coursing through her veins, the primitive anger rising to the surface taking her over the edge. Just when I thought for sure she was going to do it, she pulled back."
Gabrielle was puzzled, "Is that a bad thing?"
Xena looked at her bard and said, "It was amazing. To let your self be lead right to the edge and have the strength to pull yourself back. Not one of my many skills." She said with a touch of regret.
"I never realized it took that much strength not to kill some one."
"To some people killing is natural and to others not killing is natural. It takes strength to go against your nature no matter which it is."
Gabrielle gave her a pensive look. "I never thought of it that way."
She stood and put her arms around Xena's neck. Come on love lets go to bed. Xena let out a long breath and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle's waist. "We do have to get an early start." she replied with a smirk.
"Mm hm, and besides why should Mary get to have all the fun tonight?" continued the bard seductively and led her warrior to the bed.
Mary walked across the hall to her room and saw Lilith pouring a bucket of hot water into the tub. She didn't hear Mary come in and was startled when she turned to see her there.
Mary chuckled a bit "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
"No, it's alright. I just wasn't expecting to see you there."
Mary stood there for a moment and just looked at the girl. She was beautiful, at least Mary thought so. She hadnt really noticed before but for the first time she saw the girl had the most beautiful hazel eyes. Mary felt her heart skip a beat as their eyes met. She felt almost as if she'd looked into them before. She couldn't put her finger on it but there was a familiarity in what she saw in the girl's eyes.
She was speechless, then Lilith broke the silence, "The bath is ready don't let it get cold." She went to leave and Mary stopped her gently grabbing hold of her upper arm.
"Wait, where are you going?" asked Mary softly.
Lilith averted Mary's gaze saying, "Oh, I just thought that with all the excitement and you being hurt that you'd want to spend the rest of the evening alone."
Mary smiled and placed a finger under the girl's chin forcing her to look into Mary's eyes. "But, I want you here."
Lilith looked deeply into Mary's eyes and knew the sincerity with which Mary was speaking but couldn't allow herself to accept.
She turned to go and Mary stopped her again. "What is it?" she asked.
"Nothing, I just . You don't have to . I mean, its alright I'm used to being used as a bed warmer."
Mary was angry, "A bed warmer? Is that what you think I want? Is that what you think of me then? Let me tell you something, I don't need a bed warmer."
"What do you want from me then?" asked Lilith angrily.
"To talk to you, get to know you, to protect you to love you."
Mary stopped short realizing what she'd just said. Lilith felt as though the breath had been sucked right out of her. She could see the color rising in Mary's cheeks and the look in her eyes told her that she was speaking the truth. Mary started to turn away when Lilith placed a hand on her shoulder, "Wait, I'm sorry. I just thought I mean I didn't think you "
Her lack of vocal skills was exasperating her. She knew what she wanted to say but it was coming out all wrong. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Let me start again. I'm not used to some one treating me the way you do. Looking at me the way you do."
Mary took a deep breath and stepped closer to her. She brought up her hand to the girl's cheek and closed the distance between them. Lilith was a little taller than Mary and she had to tilt her head up slightly. But when their lips met it was the most incredible sensation either one had ever felt. The kiss was so light and soft but the emotion behind it was overpowering. Their lips parted and Mary looked up at the barmaid searching her eyes for something unknown to her mind but familiar to her heart. Mary ran her hand to the back of the girl's neck keeping her thumb on Lilith's cheek.
The second kiss was deeper and they could feel the passion as their lips parted and their tongues made contact for the first time. They engaged in a timeless dance of exploration. Mary broke the kiss and ran her hand down the girl's arm stopping when she reached her hand and grasped it. She led Lilith to the tub and with out saying a word slowly undressed and got in. Lilith stood watching as Mary undressed and her breath began to quicken. She'd been with women before but this was different. She didn't know why it was different but it just was.
She approached the tub and began to undress. Mary's mouth went dry and she found it hard to swallow. She was enjoying the warmth of the water against her skin as she watched the beauty being exposed before her. Mary reached out and grabbed Lilith's hand. She guided the girl into the tub and had her sit in front so she could lean against Mary's chest. It was like finding the lost piece of a puzzle. As she held Lilith around the waist all she could think of was that she felt complete.
She closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the feeling. She opened them to find Lilith lathering her arms. She tightened her grip a bit and began run her hands back and forth slowly across the girl's mid-section. She felt Lilith's breath catch and she continued the motion slowly raising her hands until the were beneath the girl's breasts. Lilith leaned back into Mary's chest and she felt a shudder run through her body.
Mary enjoyed the feel of their bodies so close together and reached down to place a kiss on the girl's neck. She had always had a weakness for that space between the neck and the shoulder. She couldn't keep herself from biting it lightly. Lilith took in a sharp breath and this only served to encourage Mary to do more. She sucked lightly on the area as she let her hands begin to explore more freely. She cupped Lilith's breasts in her hands as she continued to pay dutiful homage to the girl's neck. Lilith raised her hand and grabbed the back of Mary's head leaning back further into Mary wanting to get even closer. Mary's hands went down to caress smooth thighs, running her hands up and down them stopping just short of their intended destination.
Lilith released Mary's head and changed position. She turned to face Mary and knelt straddling Mary's lap. Mary's breath was coming very fast as her desire was threatening to overtake her. Lilith wrapped her arms around Mary's neck and kissed her deeply. The kiss was long and passionate leaving no mystery as to what they both wanted to happen next. Lilith stood, breaking the kiss and stepped out of the tub. Mary followed suit and was led by the hand to the bed knowing full well this was going to be a joyously long night.
Mary stood by the window looking out at the stars. It was something she enjoyed but didn't get a chance to do very often. City lights have a way of dimming the starlight and it was a rare treat for her to see a sky full of stars. But in the last few days she'd gotten an eye full. She looked down at a sleeping Lilith who had a very contented expression on her face.
Mary stretched and thought to her self, "I could really use a cigarette right now."
Just then she heard Lilith, "What's wrong?"
Mary looked down and smiled, "Nothing, just admiring the stars."
She got back in bed and Lilith placed her head in the hollow of Mary's shoulder. She let her hand travel lazily down Mary's chest to rest on her stomach. She looked up at Mary,
"Will you be leaving in the morning?" Mary let out a long sigh and rubbed Lilith's back.
"Yes." she answered softly.
"Are you bound to them then?"
Mary furrowed her eyebrows, "Bound?"
"Yes, I thought because of the mark on your back "
Mary realized she was talking about her tattoo. She had a chakram tattoo in between her shoulder blades. She often forgot about it because she never saw it unless she happened to glance at it in the mirror. She was glad Lilith had reminded her of it. She wondered why Aphrodite would give her this cool body and leave the tattoo. "Very funny." she thought. How would she be able to explain it to her companions? She quickly decided that she'd do her best to keep it hidden until she could come up with a logical or at least believable explanation for it.
"No, I'm not bound to them but they're my friends and they need my help with something they have to do. I have to be there for them."
"I know you do."
There was a sad look in the girl's eyes and Mary didn't know how to comfort her. She had considered the possibility of actually staying, but then thought better of it. The fates had put her on this path for a reason. She didn't know what it was but she had to follow her heart. While she definitely felt connected to Lilith for some reason, she also felt the pull towards her companions. On the other hand she could also argue that Lilith was the reason she'd crossed paths with Xena and Gabrielle in the first place. Then she remembered Ares' words. "Make your own destiny and carve out a place for yourself in history." She was determined not to fall into the same traps that had led her here in the first place.
She held the girl close and let her heart speak the words her mind could not find. "Ill be back."
The girl seemed to brighten then fade. "You don't have to say that, its ok. After tonight "
"I'll be back." Said Mary in a definite tone.
Lilith looked in Mary's eyes and was drawn into a very heart felt and passionate kiss. Once again she had a sense of completeness that just drove her senses wild and let her instincts do what came naturally as her hands started to wander. "I could really get used to this." she thought as she let a devilish grin settle on her lips.
Gabrielle stepped out into the hall with the last of their gear in tow. As she made her way to the stairs she almost ran right into Xena who was on her way up.
"Have you seen Mary this morning?" she asked the bard.
"No, not yet. Maybe she's still asleep." She answered, glancing at the room to Mary's door.
They looked at each other for a moment then Xena said, "Ok, you go downstairs and see if you can scrounge up any breakfast. I'll see if I can get our friend up."
Gabrielle smiled, "Good luck! I think Cupid used a heavy duty arrow on that one."
Xena heard the bard chuckle as she turned towards Mary's door. She opened the door slowly and poked her head in. Normally she wouldn't care what the circumstances were but despite her best efforts to the contrary she found that she liked the girl. There was something about her she couldn't quite figure out but on this one occasion, despite her head warning against it, her heart told her she could trust her.
She stood at the foot of the bed and looked at the sleeping couple. Mary was on her side with Lilith in front of her in a spooning position. They were under the covers but Xena could tell Mary held the girl close to her. The scene touched her heart and for a moment considered leaving them in peace and leaving Mary behind. She would have done just that but Mary lifted her head and looked directly at the warrior.
"Time to go?" asked Mary.
Xena simply nodded. "I'll be right down."
Xena exited and Mary leaned down to place a gentle kiss on the girl's cheek. Lilith stirred and Mary spoke softly. "I have to go."
"I know." Replied the girl.
Mary stood and dressed quickly. She went over to the basin and poured some water in it so she could wash her face and wake more fully. She decided to wear her new boots but thought better of it once she had them on.
"Hm walking 20 miles a day with no arch support is not gonna cut it." She thought to herself. Then she got an idea; she grabbed her sneakers and took out the insoles. She fitted them into her boots and tried them again. "Much better." She finished lacing them and grabbed her pack. Lilith had already gone when she turned to leave and she assumed she'd see her downstairs.
When she reached the main room she noticed Gabrielle industriously finishing off her breakfast. Gabrielle looked up and smiled. "Good morning. Long night?" she asked with a mischievous grin. Mary smiled slightly, "Blissfully long, thanks. And yours?"
The bard blushed, "Um" "Thought so." They looked at each other and laughed.
"Here have some breakfast." She tossed Mary an apple then continued. "How's your arm?"
Mary flexed her muscles and felt a nice sharp pain shoot through the whole arm. Her face never changed expression but Gabrielle saw her jaw tense up.
"Here let me take a look at it."
Mary walked obligingly over to the bard and lifted the sleeve of her t-shirt. When the bard tried to lift the bandage to take a peek it stuck to the wound.
"Ew, that's gonna hurt. It must have opened up again during the night."
"Too much physical activity I guess." Said Mary with a shrug. The bard gave Mary a sarcastic look.
"If I pull it off it'll completely open up again." Gabrielle turned to see Lilith approaching with a basin and cloth.
"If you use some warm water you should be able to get it off with out too much trouble." She said to the bard. Gabrielle smiled and thanked her taking possession of the basin. She went to work on Mary's arm trying to be careful not to pull too much on the bandage until she could get it completely unstuck. Mary reached over with her free arm and grabbed Lilith by the waist pulling her close to her.
"Morning sunshine." Said Mary with a large grin. Lilith smiled shyly and placed her hands on Mary's chest just below her shoulders. Mary held her tight almost afraid to let go then their eyes met. Mary loosened her grip and brought her hand up to the girl's face. She paused a moment then drew her in for a kiss. It was long and passionate and gave no indication of ending until Mary heard Gabrielle clear her throat. They broke the kiss and Mary looked at the bard questioningly. To her surprise the bard was blushing she looked around and saw what few patrons there were staring at her.
"Guess they're not used to public displays of affection in these parts." She said quietly and all three women laughed.
"Well you're all done. I gave you a fresh bandage and cleaned it again. I'm afraid its gonna leave a scar."
Mary looked down at her arm and smiled. "No problem, just one more to add to the collection." She realized for the first time that Xena wasn't in the room. "Where's Xena?" she asked.
"She had some last minute things to take care of before we left."
Just then, as if on cue, Xena arrived. "Are we ready? We have to get going."
Mary and Gabrielle grabbed their packs and made ready to leave.
Lilith approached and gave Mary a small bundle. "Here this is in case you get hungry. You didn't have much breakfast."
Mary took it and tucked it away neatly in her pack. She grabbed Lilith by the hand and led her towards the door. Her companions were waiting and she knew they had to go but she couldn't go with out saying good-bye. She stopped in the doorway of the inn and turned to face Lilith. Mary stroked her cheek lightly and met her lips in a soft and tender kiss. They hugged and Mary took the opportunity to whisper in her ear.
"Wait for me, I'll be back, I promise." She looked into the girl's eyes for the last time and turned to go. She reached her companions with a spring in her step. "So are we going or what?" she asked with a smile.
"Let's go then." Said the warrior.
They'd walked for a bit in silence when Gabrielle suddenly asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" turning towards Mary.
Mary looked down as she walked; "Mm Hm" was her only reply.
Gabrielle thought for a moment, "I mean if you'd rather stay "
Mary lifted her head and regarded the bard for a moment, "Are you trying to get rid of me?" she asked with a smile.
"No of course not. I was just wondering whether you might not prefer to stay with Lilith."
Mary laughed, "To be honest, I did give it serious thought. But I told Xena I would go with you."
"It's not you took a blood oath or something I'm sure she would have understood."
Mary stopped in her tracks, catching the bard and Xena by surprise. They both turned to look at her. "My word is the only thing I have that means anything to me. I don't give it lightly or to just anyone. I told Xena I would help out and that's what I'm doing."
"I'm sorry " began the bard.
Mary smiled, "You don't have to be. I get a little over sensitive sometimes. It gets me in trouble. I'm sorry if you thought I was angry, 'cause I wasn't."
The bard was relieved and returned the smile.
"Now that we have that settled, can we get going?" asked the warrior. Before turning back towards the road she reached in her saddlebag and took some thing out of it, "I almost forgot." She said, and tossed the object at Mary. Mary caught it and looked at what it was. It was the dagger she'd taken from the thug the night before. But it was in beautiful leather sheath. She looked up at the warrior but before she could speak Xena simply said, "You earned it." With that she grabbed Argos reigns and continued on. Mary was speechless and looked at the bard.
"She wanted you to have something nice to carry it in." She quickly bent and tucked the dagger safely into her boot.
"Nice fit." She thought, and went to catch up to her companions.
"Can I ask you something?" began the bard turning towards Mary.
"Are you always so affectionate in public?"
Mary laughed then thought for a moment, "I never really thought about it. But looking back, yeah I guess I am. Why? I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable back there."
Gabrielle was a little flustered but she couldn't figure out why. "No not uncomfortable. Actually it was nice that you could feel free to express your feelings that way. Its not something common place, especially between two women."
Mary laughed again then looked over at the bard and wondered what had placed that particular look on her face. Then she followed her gaze straight to the warrior princess.
"Xena isn't the public display of affection type?"
Gabrielle smiled, "Not really, or at least I don't think so."
Mary was a little puzzled, "You dont think so?"
"Well, its not like I wouldn't like to now and then but its just that if people knew .it might be dangerous."
Mary saw the logic in her statement but then dismissed it saying, "No offense but do you actually think people don't know?"
For once the bard was speechless.
"I mean the way you look at each other is a dead give away. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out."
"Uh, a genius." Gabrielle nodded silently and Mary continued.
"If you love her even half as much as I think you do it must be hard to keep your hands to your self half the time."
"Half the time! Try all the time." Laughed the bard.
"My point then, since every one knows anyway why not just give in to the impulse?"
"I don't know if she'd go for it."
"You'll never know until you try." Finished Mary.
The bard smiled and wasted no time catching up to her soul mate. Mary couldn't make out the conversation but after a minute the bard hooked her arm around Xena's at the elbow. Xena looked down at the beautiful strawberry blond and arched her eyebrow then bent her arm so the bards would fit more securely and kept walking. "Hah!" Mary said to herself quite pleased.
About a mile away from town they turned towards the woods. It was another mile before Xena finally stopped. She stowed their gear and laid out the plan. Not as detail oriented as she would have liked but Mary could work with it. The plan was simple; the goal was to free a man named Walsom. Xena wanted to recruit him for the mission she had already described to Mary. Unfortunately he was scheduled to be executed that morning. Gabrielle would create a diversion, Xena would free Walsom and Mary would play interference to anyone who decided to follow. Mary tried to recall everything she could about this particular escape. As far as she could remember it would be simple enough to pull off and her role in it would be minimal at best. "No problem." She thought.
They made their way back to town to await the execution. Xena and Gabrielle always had a way of inadvertently attracting attention. This time they wore hooded cloaks that no one found particularly interesting, especially since they had showed up to witness something as exciting as an execution. Mary pondered this from under the hood of her own cloak when the crowd began to stir. Mary and Gabrielle moved closer to the execution platform and waited. Gabrielle looked around casually when a torch caught her eye.
"Perfect item to start a diversion with", she thought. They saw the crowd part as Walsom was brought in. He was escorted up the steps to the platform and a hood placed over his head. The executioner was ready with his axe as Gabrielle moved closer to the torch. Mary simply let the crowd push their way ahead of her until she was at the back then slipped away unnoticed. She made her way to the appointed escape route and waited. She heard a commotion emanating from the town square and smiled. A few moments later she heard the sound of hoof beats and Argo appeared with a bound hooded figure on top. A few moments later the bard came running and followed the same path Argo had taken, all that was missing was the warrior princess. After a few moments she didn't appear and Mary felt as though she was holding her breath.
"Come on, come on, Xena come on."
She could still hear the commotion coming from the town square and was about to run and see what the hold up was when she heard some one coming. Then she heard yelling.
"Oh, oh, this wasn't in the script."
She looked around and saw a merchant stand on each side of her. The awnings were being held up by what appeared to be two wooden supports and from where she stood she could see that there were items on top of the awnings. Suddenly she saw Xena round the corner and head her way; there were at least ten to fifteen villagers in pursuit. Mary ran up to one of the merchant stalls and prayed. She kicked the wooden support beam and it broke causing the contents of the awning to fall. She ran to the other stall and did the same causing the same effect.
Mary watched as the Warrior Princess effortlessly jumped and flipped over the falling debris. Her pursuers were stopped momentarily as they struggled to clear their path. Mary watched for a moment amused then decided it was time to go. She ran out of town and all the way to the tree line. Once there she ducked behind a tree and checked to see if anyone followed. There was no one in sight and she let out a long breath. She looked into the woods and took an apprehensive step. They'd agreed to meet at a predetermined spot but she wasn't sure she'd be able to find it. She pushed back the hood of her cloak and began the trek that she hoped would lead to her friends.
Mary was thankful when she finally arrived. She thought she'd taken a wrong turn but soon realized she was on the right track.
"Everything all right?" asked the warrior.
"Did anyone follow you?" added the bard.
"No, I lost them pretty easily."
"Good, this is Walsom. He'll be joining us on our little adventure."
Mary looked Walsom over and decided very quickly that she didn't like him. Not just because of what she knew of him but he just simply gave her the creeps. They gathered their gear and left to gather the rest of the recruits. It was at least a day's walk to the town where the others were being held. The good news was that at least they were all being held in the same place. At least that was convenient and would save time. Mary felt a sense of urgency coming from Xena and she was very aware of how serious the situation was. They'd been walking for hours in total silence. Mary used that time to observe, she was getting a good look at the business end of the warrior princess. Quiet, thoughtful and always on guard. Gabrielle was never far behind. She was unusually quiet and Mary could sense that she was very in tune with her mate. Any change in Xena's aura would alert the bard to any situation. "Cool", Mary thought to herself. Then she began to think about herself, it occurred to her that she could almost feel what they were feeling and wondered why that was. "Must be the stress of the situation." She thought. She also watched Walsom and decided her initial reaction to him was right. He was definitely creepy and she didn't like him at all.
It was dusk by the time they camped. After dinner Xena said she'd be leaving in the morning to get the rest of the recruits. Gabrielle didn't like the idea of being left behind but understood that the Warrior Princess could travel faster alone. Time, though not critical at this point was still a factor. The next morning everyone was up just before dawn, all except Walsom. Gabrielle went to refill the water skins and Mary was left to pack up the camp. She looked over at the sleeping Walsom and decided it was time for him to get up.
She walked over to him and called to him but he didn't respond. She bent over him and shook him slightly; he mumbled but still didn't get up. Mary was thoroughly annoyed by this time and grabbed the edge of the bedroll. She didn't think she had pulled that hard in fact she knew she hadn't pulled that hard. But when she pulled she yanked the bedroll out from under Walsom causing him to flip in mid air before landing hard on the ground. Mary stumbled back a few paces but kept her balance. It was all she could do to keep from laughing. He hit the ground with a thud and it took him a minute to register what had happened, but once he did he was angry. He got to his knees and looked around seeing Mary still holding the bedroll.
Some thing in the back of her mind said "Oh, oh" but she wasn't about to show him that. She simply tossed the bed-roll at him, "Its time to get up. Xena will be back soon and she wants us ready to go. You do remember Xena? You know the Warrior Princess, tall, black hair, piercing blue eyes, legs that go on forever."
Walsom was not amused, and stood up with the intention of beating the living tar out of her. Mary continued, "So, now that you're up you can clean up your section of camp, she wouldn't be amused if you held us up."
He thought for a moment then reached down for the bedroll. "This is far from over."
Mary smirked, amused that she'd won that round, "Promises, promises."
She chuckled and walked off never letting on just how nervous she had been. She walked over to where she had temporarily stowed the gear and looked down at her hands. She opened and closed them and wondered what was more un-nerving, the fact that she barely escaped having to fight Walsom or that she'd spun him like a top by yanking on the bedroll. She wondered what else she could do. She would have tried to find out were it not for the bard returning to camp. "Everything ready?"
"Yeah, just about, Walsom had a little trouble getting up but he's getting his gear together."
Mary watched as the bard practiced with her staff. She loved to watch Gabrielle move. She had great skill with her staff and she could see the power behind her moves. She moved with grace, speed and strength. All of this combined with her natural beauty and Mary couldn't take her eyes off her. She played absently with her nun-chucks as she watched the little bard. "Little" she thought to herself playfully, the bard was hardly little. In fact, she was Mary's height. The only difference in their sizes was that where Mary had a lot more muscle mass the bard was very toned. It gave her the appearance of being smaller than she really was and weaker. Which, Mary considered carefully was a definite advantage. She could easily catch an opponent off guard with that little deception. Mary on the other hand, didn't have that luxury. When you looked at her she didn't exactly look like a defenseless female and anyone who approached her with hostile intent would be ready for a physical encounter.
She was still pondering this when the bard plopped down next to her a little winded. "That was great." complimented Mary with a smile.
"Thanks, ok your turn" Mary was puzzled. "Show me what you can do with these." Said the bard handing Mary her nun-chucks. Mary smiled and stood up.
It had been a long time since she'd had to show anyone her proficiency with that particular weapon and she hoped she wouldn't disappoint her companion. She took a deep breath closed her eyes and began. The Movements were crisp and her expression showed focus. She concluded the kata with a bow.
"Why do you do that? I saw you do that the last time." Asked the bard.
"You mean the bow?" The bard nodded. "I was taught to use violence for defense only. Even in those cases it should never be excessive. When we would practice we'd always bow to show our opponent that we respect them and that sparring with them is an honor. When the sparring is over we bow again as a thank you for the privilege and to show humility."
"You never want your sparring partner to feel like you think you're better than they are."
The bard thought for a moment, "That's why you bowed to me."
Mary smiled, "Mm Hm."
"So why do you bow at the beginning and end of a kata?" she asked.
"To show your reverence for the creator of the style you are demonstrating."
"You were very focused. That must take a lot of discipline."
"For some people it takes a lifetime. One of my teachers said I have a gift. I don't know if I do, I just know its fun."
The bard smiled and thought, "Fun."
"So, how about you? Did Xena teach you to use the staff?"
Gabrielle looked at her staff fondly, "We practice, and she shows me new things but I originally learned at the Amazon village near Amphipolis."
Mary smiled at the thought of seeing the girl in her Amazon attire. "You don't look like an Amazon." She said teasingly.
"You don't look like a warrior." Answered the bard a little too quickly.
Mary chuckled and said, "Don't get defensive I was only playing."
Gabrielle smiled apologetically and Mary continued, "I never said I was a warrior. I'm just me, I hate labels."
"Now who's being defensive?" asked the bard.
"I'm sorry, I just hate being made to feel like I have to be something instead of just me."
"I know what you mean." agreed the bard and changed the subject. "So, what's going on with Lilith?"
Mary gave a big grin and sighed at the thought of the barmaid. "To be honest I don't know. From the moment I saw her it was like I was hit by a thunderbolt. When I'm with her I can barely breathe."
"I know what that's like." said Gabrielle sympathetically. "Do you have any plans?"
"None, I don't know what to do. Who knows what the fates have planned for any of us? Ill just have to trust I make the right decisions when the time comes."
Walsom observed the two women half listening to their conversation. He thought that when the time came he would have no problem killing the blond. But the dark haired one would be trouble. Though she didn't appear to be a warrior she looked strong. He had seen her practicing and he saw she had considerable skill. They would both have to be taken of, and the Warrior Princess as well. He didn't like the idea of going up against Ares. But he was sure he could turn it to his advantage somehow. He wasn't about to tangle with the God of War. At this point he didn't even know why, but if it was important enough to Xena then the profit had to be there somewhere. He would find it. All it required was a little patience.
Xena returned by mid-morning with the last three participants in tow. Mary looked the bunch over and marveled a bit. Donnell: ex-gladiator, very tall, strong and well built. Deep set green eyes and long brown hair. Monlick: thief, and from what Mary understood, one of the best. He was short in stature but that was a good trait in a thief, Mary thought to herself. To be small, quick and silent were a definite advantage in his line of work. Glaphyra: ex-slaver and good fighter. She reminded Mary a little of Gabrielle with her blond hair and light eyes. Then there was Walsom: Assassin, the best Xena ever trained. No wonder he gave her the creeps.
Once all the proper introductions were made Xena laid the situation out for them. Ares had given the secret of the metal of Hefestos to a warlord named Agathon. Agathon's army is now unstoppable because of the metal. The "mission" was to stop an unstoppable army. Simple, clear-cut and all in a days work thought Mary. There were seven of them and four of them had serious reservations about the whole thing. Xena divided all the packs amongst everyone and they set off towards agathon's castle.
Gabrielle was unusually quiet and looked very serious. Mary didn't ask but she knew she was nervous about the whole thing. After a few hours Xena found a place to camp for the night. Gabrielle tried to designate the duties without any success. Xena stepped in and in a flash the "team" was putting the camp together.
"I'll stay here", said Mary. "Go fill the water skins."
Mary practically shooed the bard and warrior out of the camp. She was feeling a little mischievous and wanted to offer the pair some alone time to talk or "whatever". Besides, she wanted to observe her teammates for a bit. She settled herself on a large rock and watched as the camp was being assembled. She tried to remember as much as she could about the adventure ahead. Then she recalled that things hadn't happened exactly as she thought when they saved Walsom. "Nothing is certain", she thought to herself. "Better stay focused and alert." she was shaken from her thoughts by Monlick.
"Why are we doing all the work while you just sit there?"
Mary smiled, "Is that what it looks like to you?" she asked.
"Looks like you're just sitting on your ass." added Walsom walking over to join Monlick.
Donnell walked into the clearing with an armload of wood when Glaphyra went over to join the crowd.
She approached Monlick, "Hey! You're supposed to be helping me with the tents."
Donnell approached with a grin "Just in time for the party."
Walsom turned to him and said, "We were just about to find out why her majesty gets to sit around while we do all the work."
Mary chuckled and replied, "In case you haven't noticed I have the most important job of all."
"And what's that?" asked Glaphyra annoyed.
"I'm the babysitter." She answered with a wide grin.
"Is that so?" asked Walsom with a dangerous look.
"That's so." Replied Mary looking steadily in his eyes.
Monlick stepped forward, angered by her statement. Walsom stopped him, "She's mine! I owe her."
Glaphyra interjected, "Men! You never get anything right. She's mine!"
Donnell laughed, "Hold on, let a real man do the job."
Glaphyra was furious and drew her daggers. Walsom pulled his crossbow, "No one kills her but me." And aimed at Glaphyra.
She turned her attention to him giving Donnell a chance to grab his spear. Monlick turned and pulled his hand axe. It was truly a sight to behold. They were in a circle with their weapons aimed at each other. Mary was still perched on her rock too amused for words.
She stood, dusted off her jeans and walked away thinking to herself, "Well, my job is done."
When Xena and Gabrielle returned to camp they marveled at the sight. Xena looked at Mary with a raised eyebrow. "What happened?"
Mary shrugged, "Decision making problem."
"What does that mean?" asked the warrior. "They couldn't decide who was gonna be the one to kill me."
The bard's eyes widened, "Kill you?"
Mary bit her lip to suppress a smile. "Look on the bright side, now no one has to stay up to make sure they don't kill each other."
Gabrielle's mouth dropped open, "Xena "
"Well at least I'll get a good night's sleep." Interrupted the warrior. She turned and nudged Mary's shoulder as she passed. Mary noticed the smirk on Xena's face and walked over to explain what happened to the bard.
The following morning found the foursome still in formation. All either to stubborn or too distrustful to lower their weapons. Mary laughed and went to take care of her morning rituals. When she returned she saw Donnell and Glaphyra going in one direction and Walsom and Monlick in another.
"Where's everyone going?" Gabrielle filled her in, "Donnell and Glaphyra are going to get some supplies. Walsom and Monlick are going to check out Agathon's defenses and we're going to try and arrange a diversion.
Mary was pensive, "We?" she asked.
"We!" affirmed the bard grabbing Mary by the arm. Before she could protest she was drug over to where Xena was waiting.
"Are we ready?" asked the warrior.
"Who broke up the party?" asked Mary.
"I did." Answered Xena.
"So where are we going?" asked Mary.
"To see King Greggor. I need him to mobilize his army. That will draw Agathon's troops out of his castle and make it easier for us to get in."
Mary thought for a moment, "Well at least that's how I remember it."
When they returned to camp Walsom and Monlick had already arrived. Donnell and Glaphyra arrived a few moments later with a pretty well loaded horse. Xena approached Monlick and asked about what they had seen at the castle. He expressed his reservations about their success. He also refused to give the warrior the map that he'd made of the castle. "That metal is worth a lot of money." He said.
Xena ignored his statement and requested the map. Monlick took his axe out of his belt and threw it. Xena caught the movement in time to knock Gabrielle to the ground just missing being hit by the axe. Missing its mark it was embedded in a tree. Mary felt her anger rise and went to help the bard up when she saw Xena take to her feet and head towards Monlick. He pulled a dagger and spun around ending behind Xena with the dagger to her throat. They struggled and Xena broke his hold. She ran up a tree and flipped landing behind him. She gave him a sidekick that sent him flying into the tree his axe was stuck in. With a thud and a crunching sound that made Mary wince Monlick was impaled on his axe, his feet hovering a few feet off the ground. Everyone was speechless.
As the three walked away from the scene Xena was livid. "Did you see that? If they had backed me or Monlick that would have been something, but they did nothing. They have to work as a team or this is never going to work."
Having said that she walked away with Gabrielle close behind. Mary blew out a breath and ran her fingers through her hair. She looked up one last time at Monlick and walked away.
Mary was having trouble sleeping. A first in the week since she'd "arrived". Mary had a gift for being able to sleep anywhere. She always wondered what use it would ever have. Now she was grateful for it. A kid from New York City doesn't usually camp out and she had no desire to now but it came with the territory and she would get used to it. But tonight was different. She lay awake looking up at the stars. Sleep just wouldn't come, not from lack of comfort but from the disturbing images in her mind. She got up hoping a walk would help clear her mind. They were going to Agathon's castle tomorrow and she knew she'd have to be sharp.
She walked until she looked back and camp was out of sight. She found she liked the woods at night. Once she got over the notion that a crazed killer with a hockey mask and machete was out there somewhere, she found the woods to be very peaceful. She looked around and found her target, a large rock up against a very old tree. She hopped up on the rock easily and sat herself down. She leaned her back against the tree and raised her left knee to rest her elbow on it. She leaned her head back and remembered what had happened the previous morning.
After Xena had returned with the last three members of their group they'd set out towards Agathon's castle. On the way they came across what was left of small village. The inhabitants had tried to put up a fight with out much success. Their weapons were all broken. Swords splintered and shields cut in half, and the bodies. Mary tried not to let her composure fail her. She had never in her life seen anything like this. The wounds inflicted were so severe, literally blood and guts everywhere. As she sat perched on her rock she knew the smell of blood would forever haunt her. She could smell it even now as she reflected on the carnage.
Glaphyra had asked upon looking at half a shield, "What could do this?"
"We're about to find out." Answered the warrior.
Mary looked up and saw, what she could only call trouble coming their way. About twelve armored forms running with swords drawn. "Oh shit." Was all Mary could say before they spread out. They were imposing figures heavily armored from head to toe. Donnell threw his spear at one and it bounced right off. The same happened when Walsom tried his crossbow. Gabrielle seemed to be fairing better with her staff. Mary watched as the bard kept one of the soldiers at bay. "Nice moves." She thought to herself then hit the ground hard. "Humph" she grunted and rolled over just in time to avoid being on the receiving end of another blow. She swung her right leg across her body and caught her attacker behind the calves, knocking his feet out from under him. Mary got to her feet quickly and pulled her nun-chucks out of her belt. She swung as he rose to one knee and hit him across the face. He stumbled but his helmet provided him with good protection and he didn't go down. Mary spun quickly and kicked him in the back of the head sending him forward. She watched for a moment as he shook his head and started to rise again. She attempted another strike with her weapon but he caught her wrist. He pulled her off-balance and she stumbled, her weight and momentum carrying her to the ground. He stood and came at her with his sword. His arm was raised as he descended to deliver the blow. Mary grabbed the dagger out of her boot and plunged it into the exposed armpit of her attacker's sword arm. He yelled in pain, dropped his sword and pulled back. Mary was sprayed with blood as the dagger exited the wound. She lay there for a moment trying to control her breathing.
She heard running footsteps. Gabrielle dropped to her knees next to Mary. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah I'm fine." Answered Mary.
Gabrielle looked at the dagger in Mary's hand. Mary saw he blood on it and cleaned it off in the grass.
"Remind me to tell Xena her gift saved my life."
With that she stood, grabbed her chucks and her pack and rejoined the group followed closely by the bard.
She was shaken from her thoughts by nearby sounds. She listened more closely and realized they were voices. She carefully peered around the tree and saw Walsom, Donnell, and Glaphyra. Walsom was trying to convince them to team up with him against Xena. Then there was a whoosh and Xena appeared. She landed neatly in the clearing in front of them. Mary smiled at the surprised look on their faces.
"Is this a private get together or can any-one join in?" asked Xena in a slightly sarcastic tone.
"Walsom was just telling us what he saw at the castle." Said Donnell.
"Yeah we were figuring our chances." Continued Glaphyra.
Xena looked the trio over and smiled, "Its gonna be a long day tomorrow I suggest you all get some rest."
She waited until they were on their way back to camp before she turned to go herself. Then she stopped suddenly feeling the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
"I was wondering how long it was gonna take you to show up."
There was a flash of purple and Ares appeared a few yards behind Xena.
"You always know when I'm around. I guess I must have a certain presence." Said the God of War.
Xena slowly turned and grinned, "You say presence I say stench. Now what do you want?"
He put his hand up to his chest and his face showed a mock expression of hurt feelings.
"Oh, Score one for the Warrior Princess!"
Mary couldn't help smirking, "I can't believe he actually did say that." She thought to herself. She turned her attention back to the conversation.
"I'm here to warn you." He continued in a more serious tone.
"Why would you want to do that?" she asked.
"With the metal of Hefestus Agathon is unstoppable. Give it up Xena; he knows King Greggor has no intention of attacking. He's pulled his forces back into the castle. I gave Agathon my word I wouldn't interfere. If you go there he will kill you."
Xena turned to walk away and Ares disappeared in a flash of purple light and smoke. Mary waited until Xena departed and let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. She ran her hand through her hair then over her lips. "God, I need a freakin' cigarette!" she thought to herself. Then a smile crossed her face and she said very quietly "Light me big boy." She blinked and just like that a cigarette appeared in her hand. She peered at it and saw it was lit. "Nice touch." She raised it to her lips and took a long drag. Her eyes closed and she let the smoke out slowly. "Ah! Now I can think." She said to herself. She was convinced this was the best cigarette of her entire life. She savored it for as long as it lasted. When she was done she hopped off the rock, stretched and said, "Now I can sleep."
The morning brought with it a new sense of urgency for Mary. She hadn't slept well. She'd been plagued by nightmares and visions of blood. She walked off to find her first bush of the day. "I miss toilets." She mused to herself.
"Well, I guess its just one of the infinite number of things I'm slowly getting used to."
She went back to camp and saw everyone up and busy. She neatly and quickly packed up her gear then went over to Gabrielle who was intently working on something.
"Whatcha doin'?" Asked Mary.
"These need to be filled with oil." Answered the bard. Mary knelt and began to help.
The bard kept busy with the task at hand but kept glancing at Mary finding her noticeably quiet.
"Have you had breakfast?" asked Gabrielle casually.
"Nope." Answered Mary shortly.
"Here." Said the bard tossing something at Mary.
"What's this?" asked Mary sniffing at it cautiously.
"I guess you could call it a trail bar. Xena makes them. It should hold you for a while." Answered the bard.
Mary took a bite, "Mm, its good."
The bard smiled, "Rough night?" Mary didn't answer. "You looked troubled last night. You didn't sleep deeply like you usually do."
"How do you know that?" asked Mary. "When you sleep deeply you usually snore." Answered the bard with a smile.
Mary blushed, "Sorry I " Gabrielle laughed and Mary found it contagious.
"That's better, that's what I like to see." Mary finished off her trail bar and set down to her previous task. She had this little tingle in the back of her mind telling her to be careful of something. She explained it away and tried not to think about it. Once all the preparations were completed they set out to the castle.
They reached it in less than an hour by Mary's calculations. It looked formidable; Mary was impressed by the sheer size of it. The gates were well guarded and there were some guards around the perimeter as well. Up top she noticed more guards at the turrets. All were heavily armored and very dangerous looking. They took cover behind some heavy brush close to the east wall of the castle. The plan was as follows: Gabrielle, Mary and Donnell would create a diversion. Walsom would take out as many guards as possible with his crossbow. The crossbow bolts were small enough and his aim good enough to reach the hard to reach areas that the armor could not protect, such as the armpit, neck and upper thigh. Glaphyra would help Xena by throwing her daggers into well-placed spots in the mortar of the wall. Xena would then use them as hand and foot holds to quickly reach a ventilation shaft. If all went as planned they would get in.
Xena made a torch and lit it. Gabrielle, Mary and Donnell each took an oil filled jar and lit the piece of cloth in the opening. After a moment they began to throw them. When they hit they shattered causing the oil and whatever it spilled on to catch fire. The guards were caught by surprise and scrambled. Mary caught sight of the roof as Xena reached the foot of the wall. She launched a jar upwards and was surprised when she hit the guard squarely on the head. "Yeah!" she yelled and went for another jar.
Xena was making good progress up the wall and stopped when she was level with the shaft. It was blocked by a gate, and she was too far to reach it. Donnell grabbed his spear and gave it a powerful throw. It stuck in the wall on Xena's right about a foot from the shaft. Walsom took careful aim and shot a bolt at the latch securing the gate springing it open. Donnell took a rock and tossed it shock-put style at the gate causing it to hit the edge and bounce open. With her entrance now clear Xena jumped for the spear and caught it. She hung for a moment then swung, let go and caught the gate. From there she pulled herself up and entered the ventilation shaft. Donnell motioned for Mary and Gabrielle t continue their assault as he and Walsom moved ahead. They were clear on that side of the castle and the men rounded the corner.
After a moment Donnell appeared and motioned the three women forward. When the three rounded the corner they were met by no fewer than twenty guards with swords drawn. Mary scooted to a halt "Shit." She looked over to see Donnell and Walsom looking very proud of themselves. Glaphyra was livid and tried to advance. "Ah, ah, ah I wouldn't do that if I were you." Said Donnell. She stopped and the soldiers took possession of them.
Xena was crawling her way down the shaft. She could see the end of it when suddenly she heard, "There she is!" A guard appeared and she quickly disposed of him with her chakram. She headed for the opening when it was suddenly blocked by a gate. She turned quickly but was stopped when another gate descended blocking her escape. She heard a laugh and turned her head to see Agathon standing there. He held up her chakram with a smile. "I bet you could use this right about now." Xena was enraged. The idea of being trapped simply did not agree with her. Agathon moved out of sight and two other figures appeared. Walsom and Donnell laughed. Walsom stepped closer and said, "Sorry Xena, you offered freedom, Agathon offered cash." Xena wanted to kill him and made a mental note to herself that she would the first chance she got. A large cluster of soldiers appeared and she decided to play along for now.
Mary, Glaphyra and Gabrielle were led to a cell. It looked brand new like it was made especially for them. Mary was annoyed. She did recall this happening but she had hoped it could be avoided. One of the guards shoved Gabrielle into the cell in a way that Mary didnt appreciate. She turned and pushed the guard grunting a few colorful phrases, but she was hit from behind turning out her lights momentarily. Once the pretty lights dimmed down behind her eyelids she could hear her name being called. She opened one eye tentatively and saw the bard. She realized her head was cradled in her lap.
"Mary Are you ok?"
"Did you get the license number of the truck "
She was cut off by the bard. "What did you think you were doing? You couldve gotten yourself killed."
"Its bad enough they caught us, there was no need for that guy to manhandle you. Its not like we resisted or anything."
Their attention was drawn by the sounds of footsteps coming down the stairs. They watched as Xena was led to the cell.
"What happened?" She asked as the guards turned to go.
Mary sat up and replied, "Nothing just a bump on the head."
"She was defending my honor continued the bard.
"Your friend took exception to Gabrielle getting shoved by one of the guards." Added Glaphyra.
Xena walked over to Mary and extended a hand. Mary took it and got to her feet receiving a firm pat on the arm from the warrior. Mary sat on the bench near the back of the cell. She put a leg up and rested her arm on it leaning her head back against the bars. She knew theyd be out of there soon enough and decided to sit back and stay out of the way. She was tired, hungry and had a pounding headache. Being in the company of the warrior princess meant that she would never complain but all things considered shed rather not be in the cage. She wasnt claustrophobic or anything but she just didnt like the confinement.
"How do they deal with this on a regular basis?" She thought to herself.
She watched the trio. Glaphyra stayed in a corner looking very angry. Xena paced the cell continuously. It reminded her of a panther shed seen at the zoo once. Gabrielle stood arms folded on her chest, watching her partner. Those were definitely three women ready to kick some ass. Mary smirked and closed her eyes. They popped open when she heard the sounds of some one descending the stairs. It was Walsom and Donnell, both wearing very smug expressions.
Walsom began by saying, "I told you I had a plan."
"I suppose its too late to consider my options." Said Glaphyra.
"Way late." Answered Donnell sarcastically.
Walsom turned to the guard and said, "Do not get near the bars and dont take your eyes off them. Especially Xena."
With that they simply turned to go leaving the women safely tucked away in their prison for the time being.
"Men, theyre all the same!" said Glaphyra angrily.
Gabrielle looked at her for a moment then turned to her and said, "Youre blaming this on the fact that theyre men?"
"Look around you little girl! Do you see any men in here?"
The bard stepped closer to Glaphyra and said in a very definite tone, "Im not a little girl, and for your information there are some good men in the world. I know, I married one."
"Well where is he now? I dont see him around. Maybe he got tired of you, or maybe he moved on to another conquest!"
Gabrielle was unable to keep her anger in check. She lunged at Glaphyra and pinned her to the bars with an elbow to the throat. "Maybe he was murdered." She said through gritted teeth to avoid yelling.
Xena was there in an instant. She placed a reassuring hand on the bards shoulder and she released her grip on the woman. The bard looked at Glaphyra for a moment then walked to the other side of the cell leaving Xena with Glaphyra.
Mary watched Gabrielle and her heart went out to her. She wanted to comfort her but she knew she needed a minute to think about what had just happened. "Youve been through so much. Im glad you dont know whats coming." Mary thought to herself.
That was the one thing that pained her. If the fates saw fit that she should continue in their company she would see them go through a lot of pain. She could comfort then but never warn them. Was it selfish to let them suffer because she wanted to remain here? Also, would her warning be able to change destiny? She didnt think so. But she wished she could block out her knowledge of the future. She glanced up to see Glaphyra walking over to Gabrielle. She was offering an apology to the bard for what she had said earlier.
Mary glanced over to her right and saw Xena leaning against the bars with her arms folded on her chest. She was looking at Gabrielle. When Xena looked at her bard the expression was one of a kind. It was reserved for when they were alone or for when no one else was watching. The love her eyes held for Gabrielle was literally indescribable. Mary had to avert her gaze because she began to feel like she was intruding on a private moment.
Mary was pondering the mystery of commercial breaks. Its funny how you never think about what happens during a commercial break. One minute youre watching something then boom a commercial break. Then a few minutes pass and boom youre back to the show. No one ever stops to wonder what length of time has passed from the last scene to the new one. Well, Mary was finding out first hand. "I know it was only a one hour show but damn."
They had been there quite literally for hours. It felt late but she couldnt really tell. No one had been down to see or torment them. Only the guard was there and he was at a safe distance. Mary was still perched on her bench. Xena was on the floor with Gabrielle cuddled up against her. Glaphyra had been pacing and finally decided to have a seat. Mary made room for her on the bench. She sat on the bench with her elbows on her knees.
She glanced over at Mary and asked casually, "So whats your story?"
Mary looked at her for a minute trying to decide whether or not to answer. "Not much to tell." She finally answered.
"Oh come on, traveling with these two " She motioned to the pair on the floor. "There has to be a story there." She concluded.
"We met up on the road to Cirrah, Ive been traveling with them ever since." Stated Mary simply.
"Thats it?" Asked Glaphyra.
"Yup, thats it."
Gabrielle smiled watching the exchange. Mary was a mystery to her. She could be so wordy and articulate, full of energy and a genuine desire to have fun. Then, at times, like now, she could be guarded, cautious, extremely observant and quiet. Almost predatory, a lot like her partner in fact. The bard marveled at how she could be both those things and have such a good soul on top of it all. Mary had her dark side like Xena but there was light there as well. The bard thought for a moment wondering why she seemed to carry such sadness with her. "What could have caused that?"
They turned towards the sound coming down the steps. After a moment they saw the source of the sound was Donnell. He was coming down the steps with a grin that annoyed even Mary.
As he approached Glaphyra spoke, "I want you to know, when I kill you, it wont be because youre a man."
"Oh really? Well it should be, because I am a man. A red blooded, two fisted, we rule the world, whether you like it or not, man."
As he spoke he approached the bars. With amazing speed Xena lunged and caught Donnell by the throat. The guard quickly came to his aid. Xena released Donnell and he turned, grabbed the guard, and pushed him against the bars. Xena then quickly sent him into unconsciousness.
Donnell rubbed his throat, "You didnt have to be that convincing."
Xena gave him a look of mock concern. "Aw", she extended her hand and he handed her what looked like a chain with a serrated edge. It was made from the metal of Hefetus and would be able to cut through the bars.
Once they were out Glaphyra asked, "This was all part of the plan?"
Gabrielle smiled and replied, "Xena needed to get into the castle. What better way than to get captured?"
Glaphyra looked at Donnell, "I dont know "
He interrupted her, "You owe me an apology. You owe me big, and dont worry about forgetting. I wont let you." He grabbed the sides of Glaphyras face, brought his head down quickly and kissed her firmly. Her mind fought the notion for a brief moment then it was over, leaving her slightly breathless. He walked away and she followed, still a little light headed.
When they reached the armory they were confronted by Walsom, the armory smiths and several soldiers. Xena spotted her chakram hanging across the room with several other weapons. They split up and began to dispose of their adversaries. Mary went to the right with Glaphyra. Mary ducked in time to miss a hammer blow by one of the smiths. She bobbed right to avoid another blow, then followed up with a kick to his stomach that stopped him in his tracks. She ran over to a weapons table and her hand landed on her nun-chucks. "Excellent!" She turned and gave a back-handed swing with her chucks catching a charging smith off guard in the side of the head. He went down and didnt get up again. Glaphyra had her hands full with two soldiers and Mary ran over to help relieve some of the pressure.
Xena was facing three soldiers. She knew her sword would be useless against their armor and weapons. She decided to use hand to hand. Her speed was amazing as she ducked and dodged sword slices always following up with blows of her own. She turned quickly and grabbed two swords off the weapons table. Now evenly matched Xena disposed of the soldiers in a matter of seconds.
Mary was engaged with a soldier and was unable to help Glaphyra who was once again besieged by two opponents. She was cornered by two opponents against a table. Mary struggled against her opponent but she knew shed never make it in time as one of the soldiers lifted his sword arm. Suddenly the movement stopped. The soldier stiffened and fell to the ground with a spear in his back. She didnt stop to ask questions, she took out the other soldier and looked across the room to see Donnell looking at her. "Thanks." She said. He smiled and gave her a nod.
Seeing all their adversaries defeated he crossed the room to reach Xena. He opened his mouth to say something when she heard a crossbow click. She shot her hand up to Donnells face catching a crossbow bolt just inches from his eye. They looked over to see Walsom. Donnell started to go after him when Xena held him back. "Let him go." She said.
They all gathered around the furnace and waited for the plan. Xena looked up and began, "This is a blast shield. If we use it to block the furnace the whole castle will go." They all nodded in agreement. "First put all the weapons in here."
Donnell looked at Xena surprised, "Youre kidding."
"No all of them."
They all scrambled, grabbing weapons, tossing them into the furnace then going back for more. When they were done Xena said, "Ok step back." She grabbed her chakram and threw it breaking the chain holding the blast shield. It crashed down on the furnace blocking it and causing a slight tremor.
"What about the soldiers?" asked Donnell.
"With Greggors army out on the battlefield Agathons brought all his troops inside. They go when the castle goes."
Just then Agathon came running in. He looked at the damage and yelled, "No!" He had had a special weapon made from the metal of Hefestus. He gripped it tightly and threw it. It ricochet off the wall and grazed Donnell on the leg causing him to fall.
"Why does everyone wanna kill me?" He shouted holding his leg.
"Your death will take a really long time because you didnt just betray me, you betrayed him!" With a flash of purple Ares appeared.
"Hes pissed." Thought Mary to herself.
He extended his arm and Donnell was lifted off the ground. Then he whipped his arm down and Donnell landed at his feet. Xena watched and said, "Intervening directly Ares?" She smirked at the God of War. "If you have to bail him out now how will you know if hes really worthy?"
Agathon was furious, "Dont listen to her garbage! You know Im the one!"
Ares let out a deep breath, "Agathon, I promised I wouldnt interfere."
"Thats fine with me War God. I dont need your help."
Ares walked past him looking at Xena then disappeared in a flash of purple and sparks. You could almost hear what he was thinking. The look said it all; he wanted her to dispose of Agathon.
"Ok warrior babe its just you and me."
He squared himself directly in front of Xena about 7-10 yards away. Xena turned her head slightly, Gabrielle, Glaphyra, Mary get out of here."
The bard looked at her warrior, "Im not leaving."
"Like she said." Continued Glaphyra, "Besides, we have to take care of our men dont we?" She said looking at Donnell.
Xena turned her full attention to Agathon. He had clipped his weapon to his belt. It was set up very much like a quick draw shoot out. Mary folded her arms on her chest and smiled. "That dude is so screwed." She said out loud. Shed said it at the moment Agathon went for his weapon. His throw hesitated for less than a second when he heard the comment. Xena threw her chakram and splintered Agathons weapon into shards. Everyone ducked except Agathon. He looked over at Mary, "Who " He was silenced by a shard that hit his forehead and buried itself deep.
Mary let out a breath she didnt realize shed been holding. "Lets go!" yelled Xena. She grabbed hold of Donnell and helped him up. Gabrielle and Glaphyra led the way followed by Xena and Donnell. Mary brought up the rear. They made their way through the corridors quickly and without any resistance. Mary could see the exit just a few yards away. Gabrielle and Glaphyra were already out. Mary was just a few feet away when she was grabbed from behind. She struggled against the hold to no avail. She looked up to see Xena and Donnell clear the exit.
She took some comfort in the fact that at least they were safe. She felt her feet leave the ground as she was picked up by her attacker. She had no leverage to try and break the hold. "Im not gonna die here!" She snapped her head back hitting her attacker in the face. He was stunned and put her down loosening his grip slightly. She took advantage and broke the hold. She was about to run when an explosion shook the castle. She looked back and grabbed the soldier by the shoulder openings in his armor. Then a second explosion hit and a ball of fire came flying towards them. She pressed herself close to the soldier and they were literally blown out of the castle. The armor became red hot because of the flames but Mary held on until they had cleared them. She yelled and let go of him, pushing him away from her so he wouldnt land on her. She landed hard and flat on her back. It took the wind out of her and it took her a minute before she could take a deep breath. She coughed a bit and opened her eyes. Shed never been so happy to see a blue sky in her entire life. She burst into a coughing fit and her eyes began to water blurring her vision.
She heard footsteps fast approaching and she stumbled to her feet still coughing and wheezing. "Mary!"
She stumbled and was caught before she could fall. "Easy, its ok." Said Gabrielle.
"Here, come here." Xena stepped behind Mary. "Stand up straight. Put your arms over your head." Mary complied. "Take deep breaths." Xena put her arms around Marys waist.
Every time Mary exhaled Xena pushed up and in slowly, forcing her diaphragm to expel as much air as possible. After a few deep breaths the urge to cough ceased and her eyes cleared. She put her arms down and Xena let go of her waist. "Better?" asked the warrior.
"Much Thanks" The warrior smacked her on the back.
"Dont mention it."
Gabrielle was a little angry. "Why didnt you call out for help? You couldve been killed." Mary looked at the bard then down at the ground. "One of us wouldve gone back to help you." She continued.
Mary took a deep breath. "You had all made it out safely. I wasnt going to risk that safety. Id never risk anything happening to either one of you. You need each other."
Gabrielles anger gone she touched Marys arm. "But you "
"Im expendable." Said Mary seriously and walked off a bit. Bard and warrior looked at each other, concern on Gabrielles face empathy on Xenas.
They made their way back to where they had stored their gear. They rested there for a while. Xena fashioned a make shift crutch for Donnell and Gabrielle treated his wound. Mary was quiet, unusually quiet, and her companions noticed. She sat on a fallen log trying not to think about her burnt hands. She had blisters on her palms from holding on to the armor. All in all shed fared better than the soldier. He had been, for lack of a better word, baked in his armor. Not a pretty sight. She was oblivious to all the conversation around her. She was giving her situation a great deal of thought. Her choices were these:
The first choice was boring. She cared for Lilith. In fact she couldnt wait to see her again. But settling down was not in her heart right now. She knew shed have to talk to the girl eventually.
Choice number three was stupid. Shed already considered it just to save them some pain. But whos to say it could prevent anything. If something is meant to happen it will. Choice number two was scary. But what real choice did she have? They didnt need her to protect them. But she was in awe of what her companions shared. The connection they had was eternal. It was something that always has been and always will be. But she took no comfort in that thought. Her concern was with the here and now. Expendable or not she would follow their path if they allowed it. This was what she had wanted. Well now she got it and all that goes with it. The adventure of a lifetime complete with innumerable risks. She looked at her palms again and smiled, "Hell yeah it was worth it." She said softly and stood to join the rest of the group.
The next morning found Donnell and Glaphyra ready to move out. Mary did her best to get up quickly and light heartedly but she was sore all over. It felt like every muscle in her body hurt. Mental note: If the Gods had wanted us to fly they would have given us wings. She grimaced a bit as she stretched out the kinks in her back. She gave a nice healthy growl that earned a smile form the bard.
Gabrielle walked over to her, "How are you feeling? That was some fall yesterday."
"I know, Ive never been airborne before. It was fun but I have to work on the landing."
The bard folded her arms and looked down for a moment smiling. Then she looked up meeting Marys eyes, "Do you always do that?"
"Do what?" asked Mary a little puzzled.
"Use your sense of humor as a defense mechanism so no one gets too close." The sentiment hit home.
Mary retained her good humor but avoided the bards eyes. "Yes", she answered simply. "I do funny a lot easier than stoic."
The bard smiled again. "Ok, well discuss this later. Let me see your hands."
Mary was hesitant. "Why?"
"Cause I wanna see how badly you burned them."
Marys eyebrows shot up in surprise. "How "
"It wasnt hard to figure out but it didnt seem like the right time to pester you about it. Youre in a much better mood today so let me see your hands." Mary couldnt resist. She knew Gabrielle wouldnt take no for an answer.
She held out her hands palms up for Gabrielle to examine. "Thats gotta sting. Did you put aloe on them last night?"
Mary nodded, "They dont really hurt today, they did yesterday though, put me in a bit of a mood."
"I noticed. Well, youll live."
They shared an awkward silence then Mary asked, "Are we seeing Donnell and Glaphyra off?"
Mary watched as Donnell and Glaphyra took off towards the east. They were bickering a bit and Mary smiled to herself thinking, "It must be love." She sighed and turned to see Xena and Gabrielle going back to camp. She looked up and judged that it was about mid-morning 9-10am by her standard of time. "A day off would be really nice." She thought.
The last week and a half had been interesting, exciting and extremely tiring. How they did this day after day was beyond her. The injuries, the hardships and just the aches and pains. She silently thanked Aphrodite for giving her a body that could handle it. As soon as she reached camp she made a bee line for her bedroll.
She would have fallen asleep within seconds had it not been for Xena. "Are you planning on sleeping all day?" she asked.
"Are we moving out?" Asked Mary.
"Nope, we deserve a day off." Mary was relieved to hear that from the warrior princess.
"Im going fishing." Continued the warrior.
Mary opened her eyes, "Fishing?"
"Yeah." Xena walked towards the lake and Mary sat up.
She heard Xena call out, "You comin or what?" Mary stood quickly, gave the bard a smile and took off after the warrior.
"Theres nothing to it. You just have to be patient. The key is, if you get a bite, watch your line. Dont jerk it or it could snap. Just hold on, tire the fish out. Let him struggle. Then you can bring him in."
Mary listened to the warrior and realized this was the most shed heard the warrior speak since theyd met. "She must really like fishing." She thought. After a few moments she asked, "Is there any truth to the rule that says you have to be quiet or the fish wont bite?"
Xena smiled, "No the fish know were here, they just dont know why. If theyre hungry and curious theyll bite regardless."
Mary filed that away for future reference. She stood by the bank with her pole and cast the line in trying to remember Xenas instructions. It was a good cast and earned an approving look from the warrior. She could see why Xena enjoyed this. The scenery was breathtaking, the environment invigorating and one could easy reflect, think or daydream for hours. "Very cool." She thought. Then she saw the surface bubble ever so slightly. She stiffened a bit and was about to call it to Xenas attention when it happened again. Her line twitched slightly, "Xena "
"Sshh " they waited, both of them holding their breath. Then there was a hard jerk on Marys pole. She almost lost it but recovered quickly and held firm. Mary was surprised the pole didnt just snap from the pressure. "Xena!"
"Relax! Just hold on. Whatever you do dont let go."
Xena put her pole down and stepped behind Mary. She reached around and placed her hands on Marys. "Pull up and back like this. Not too hard or the line will break. Pull then release. Every time you pull take a step back. Youll get him."
Mary barely heard what she said. Shed never been this close for this long to the warrior and to put it simply, it was distracting. She released the pressure on the pole, took a step back and pulled. Xena gently pressured all the movements to ensure Mary did them properly. Mary put all her concentration into her actions. After a few successful attempts Xena was confident in Marys ability. She stepped towards the bank to check the progress.
"Just a little more, youve almost got it." After a few more pulls Xena reached down and grabbed the line. She lifted the line and with it came the fish. Xena looked at it approvingly. "Not bad!"
Mary walked over and took the line. It was a good sized fish. Mary looked over at Xena, "Now what?"
"Take it off the line, grab it by the tail and whack it against something. Then you have to scale and gut it." Marys eyebrows furrowed and she bit the corner of her bottom lip. She got the fish off the line and grabbed it by the tail. Then she took a deep breath and whacked it against a large rock. She refused to have the warrior call her a wimp.
"Whats the matter? Did you forget your dagger?" Asked Xena.
"No I have it. I just Ive never scaled or gutted a fish."
Xena raised an eyebrow. "Im surprised. Seafood is a big part of the diet in Hispania."
"This is my first time fishing. My grandmother took care of all the food preparation. I just ate." Answered Mary.
"She didnt teach you?"
"I never really did any girly stuff until she died and I had to learn to cook and clean on my own cause there was no one else to teach me."
Xena regarded Mary for a moment, "Must have been rough. How old are you?"
Mary was wrapped up in the conversation and didnt think about her answer. "About 20 winters."
Xenas eyebrows shot up, "20 winters?! But you cant be much older than that now."
Mary smiled, "Oh, youd be surprised." Before Xena could ask another question Mary changed the subject. "So, are you gonna show me how to do this?"
Mary didnt last long after dinner. She was exhausted and this time when she hit her bedroll she didnt even get a chance to say good night. Gabrielle looked across the fire at Mary.
"I dont think well be seeing her again until morning."
Xena smiled, "She was pretty wiped out."
The bard placed her hand on the warriors, "She rose to the fishing challenge though."
"Yeah, she did pretty good too. Nice size for a first try."
It was the bards turn to smile, "Does this mean you have a fishing buddy?"
"Maybe." Answered Xena with a smirk.
They sat in silence for a few minutes then Gabrielle gave Xenas hand a little squeeze, "What is it?"
"Just thinking." Answered Xena.
"Oh, oh "
"No, I was just thinking that maybe we could take a few days off."
Gabrielle looked at her partner surprised, "Did I hear you right?"
"I was thinking of going back to Cirrah. If anyone needs us theyll know where to find us."
The bards expression changed to one of concern, "What brought this on? Did you get hurt?"
"Gabrielle Im fine. Really Im fine. I just thought "
Relief showed on Gabrielles face, "You like her dont you? I knew you would eventually."
"Shes confronted every challenge so far and come out ahead. Shes selfless, a good fighter and a good person. Decent people are a dinar a dozen, but a truly good person is hard to find. Weve known her for almost a forth night and shes come through every time with no hesitation. She would protect either one of us with equal passion and purpose. Its almost like she was sent here "
"For us" concluded the bard. They looked at each other for a long moment. "Xena thats "
"A crazy idea."
Gabrielle thought for a minute, "What if "
"It doesnt matter my bard. Nothing much surprises me anymore. But Im satisfied that her intensions are good. And Gods know shes more useful than Joxer."
Gabrielle chuckled, "Is that a fair comparison?"
"Mmm, you may be right. Hey, you never told me what you thought of few days off."
The bard smiled, "Oh, definitely sounds like a plan."
The bard snuggled closer to her warrior and raised a hand to her cheek. "A few days with you at an inn could do wonders for my disposition." She gave Xena a mischievous look and pulled her in for a gentle kiss.
Xena smiled, "No doubt it would wonders for mine too." She pulled the bard into an embrace and kissed her with a bit more passion.
Gabrielle pulled away slightly, "Shell be happy to see Lilith."
"That was another consideration." Confessed Xena. "She may decide to stay with her." She continued.
"I doubt it." Said the bard.
"Why is that?" asked Xena a little surprised.
"Just a feeling." Answered the bard.
Xena looked up and was caught in a sea of green. Xena pulled her in close and placed her hands on the sides of her face. She gently rubbed her thumb on Gabrielles left cheek. Then she slowly closed the distance between them and their lips met. Xena felt her heartbeat quicken and kissed the bard deeper. Their passions began to rise as their tongues played and explored each other. Their hands began to caress one another slowly with familiarity. They parted and looked at each other with heavily lidded eyes and smiled. "Time for bed?" asked the bard with a seductive grin.
"Most definitely." Replied Xena. She picked up her bard and carried her over to their bedroll. She gently put down her precious cargo and stood to remove her armor. Gabrielle watched and licked her lips in anticipation. Xena looked down at her bard then across the fire at a soundly sleeping Mary. As she lowered herself to Gabrielles waiting arms she couldnt help chuckling to herself as she thought, "Thank the Gods for sound sleepers."
Mary woke early the next morning. She took a good stretch and opened her eyes. The sun wasnt quite up yet and there was a really refreshing breeze blowing. For a minute she considered rolling over and going back to sleep. Then she smiled and whispered to herself, "Bath time." From the looks of her companions they would sleep a while longer. Shed have the lake all to herself. She got up, grabbed her pack and headed for the lake like a kid on Christmas.
When she reached the lake she stood there for a moment to admire the colors. The sky was purple with the first shades of orange beginning to show. It was a beautiful sight. She smiled and took in a lungful of air. "This is amazing." She said to herself as she knelt to open her pack. "Hhmm, a laundry mat would be good right about now." She picked the cleanest of what was left to change into. The stripped and dove in. The water was a little cool but it felt great. Mary surfaced and shook her head vigorously. "Aahh." After a swim and a good washing she held on to the bank, head back and kicked her legs lazily just enjoying the feel of the water.
Gabrielle awoke before Xena for a change. She looked over to Marys bedroll and realized she was gone. Not an unusual occurrence but her pack was also gone. Upon closer inspection she noticed Marys nun-chucks o her bedroll and decided she couldnt be far. As she approached the lake she saw Marys pack but saw no sign of Mary. When she reached the bank she saw Mary. She was relaxing by the bank and Gabrielle realized she was staring. She felt a flush rush up her cheeks and suddenly felt the need to make her presence known.
"Hows the water?" Mary was startled by the sudden disturbance and her head shot to the right.
She smiled when she saw the bard, "You scared me!"
"I know, Im sorry." Said the bard with a chuckle.
"The waters great." Answered Mary finally.
Gabrielle was silent; she just looked out across the water. Then she turned slightly and Mary thought she was going back to camp. She took it as her cue to return to her relaxation. She closed her eyes briefly then opened them slightly and glanced to her right. She swallowed hard when she saw that Gabrielle hadnt gone back to camp after all. She had stepped away from the bank a bit and was taking her clothes off. She knew that in the name of decency she should look away but she couldnt. It was as if she was paralyzed. Gabrielle was beautiful. Mary could think of no other word to describe her and still it seemed inadequate. Her inner and outer beauty was beyond compare. She often thought of how lucky Xena was to have such a soul mate. Mary watched as she dove in and disappeared under the water.
She was too preoccupied with the fact that her heart was racing to notice what was coming her way. She felt her legs being pulled and the next thing she knew she was pulled under the water.
When she surfaced she saw the bard with a devilish grin, "Good morning!" She said laughingly.
"Oh, Ill get you for that!"
"You have to catch me first."
With that she was off, swimming as fast as she could. Mary gritted her teeth and took off after her. She went under knowing the bard would stop if she thought she was safe.
Gabrielle looked back and saw no one in pursuit. She stopped and looked around a little nervous and out of breath. Mary shot up behind her and grabbed the girl by the waist. "Gotcha!"
Gabrielle jumped and squealed. "Ok you got me, were even."
"Oh! You call that even? Were even for you scaring me, not for dunking me."
"Oh no" said the bard with dread.
Mary smiled and held her very tight. She was very aware of the feeling of Gabrielles body against hers. Gabrielle in turn felt her heart race as she felt Marys arms around her. Mary placed her chin on the bards shoulder. She turned her head, her lips almost touching the bards sensitive ear. Gabrielle closed her eyes and felt herself lean into Mary. She barely heard Mary as she whispered. "Take a breath." Her eyes flew open and before she could react Mary jumped up and back causing them to flip slightly hitting the water with a loud splash.
They surfaced at the same time. Mary laughed as the bard slicked her hair back. "Now were even." Said Mary with a chuckle.
The bard coughed and replied, "The next time I do that remind me what they say about paybacks."
"Come on Ill race you to the bank."
They reached the bank out of breath and with an unexplained case of the giggles. They stopped suddenly as a large shadow loomed overhead. They looked up to see Xena standing on the edge of the bank. She was naked, gorgeous and no less intimidating.
"I hope Im not interrupting anything." She said with a raised eyebrow.
Before either of them could answer she was in the air. She flipped twice and landed cannonball style creating a big splash. She surfaced with a grin and Mary and Gabrielle couldnt help but laugh. Xena took off swimming in the opposite direction and the pair was left alone again. They suffered for a moment in an uncomfortable silence then Mary spoke.
"Go play with Xena she looks lonely."
Gabrielle chuckled then replied, "We could team up on her. I can never dunk her by myself."
"Didnt you ask me to remind you about pay backs?"
Gabrielle bit her lip, "Youre right I forgot."
"Besides, Im starved; someone has to get breakfast started."
The bard smiled and looked over to where Xena was floating. Mary waited until Gabrielle took off swimming before she got out of the water. She wondered just how long she would be able to hide her tattoo from the pair. "Just until I can explain it."
Xena and Gabrielle spent a long while in the lake being playful in ways they could rarely enjoy. Xena held her soul mate as they enjoyed the feel of the water on their skin. Xena finally spoke, "Wed better get going if we wanna make it to Cirrah before nightfall."
Gabrielle nodded then bit her lip. "What is it?" asked the warrior.
"Nothing its just "
"Come on, what is it?" asked Xena concerned.
"Its just I mean, do you think shell stay in Cirrah?"
Xena thought for a minute, "I dont know." She answered.
"I mean shes helped us a lot and if shed be happy there then she should stay. Right?"
Xena smirked, "Shes not a puppy Gabrielle. We cant just decide keep her."
Gabrielle pouted slightly, "I know that, its just Ive "
"Gotten used to having her around." Finished the warrior. "I know me too. At least she understands the finer points of fishing."
They both laughed as they made their way out of the lake. As they walked into camp they could smell breakfast cooking. They noticed the camp had been cleaned up and Mary was brushing the horse Donnell and Glaphyra had purchased a few days before. Bard and warrior looked at each other. The bard smiled and Xena arched an eyebrow then smirked, "No Gabrielle, we cant keep her."
Mary was completely engrossed in her task. Shed never brushed a horse before but shed seen Xena do it and it didnt seem too hard. She just hoped Xena wouldnt be mad at her for using Argos brush. She hummed to herself contently as she brushed. The horse was good natured and enjoyed the attention being lavished on him.
"Not the life you planned on either huh?" She patted the horse gently. "I wonder if Xena would let me keep you. Walking 20 miles a day gets old fast."
"But its great for the legs."
Mary turned to see her companions standing behind her. "Im sure it is, but my people are a little on the lazy side."
Xena smiled and said, "Well you fooled me, took you for the industrious type."
Mary laughed, "Oh, not hardly. I just do what I can when I can. Other than that Im as lazy as they come."
The horse gave her a nuzzle and she laughed. "You see, he knows. Dont cha boy?"
She gave him a firm pat and turned to Xena. "Uh, I hope you dont mind, I borrowed Argos brush."
"Not at all, its Argo you should be worried about not me."
Mary looked a little puzzled.
"Its Argos brush." Continued the warrior.
Mary glanced over at Argo, "You dont mind. Do ya girl?" Argo bobbed her head up and down. "Ok my bad, Im sorry. You forgive me?" With that Argo gave her a playful nudge. "My girl!"
Xena watched the scene play out. Mary was a bit of a paradox and this fascinated the warrior. She secretly hoped Mary would continue to travel with them, at least for a while. She knew the life they led was difficult, and she didnt expect anyone to endure it for very long if they didnt have to. Shed never expected Gabrielle to stay this long but now in her heart she knew the bard would stay no matter what. But Gabrielle was her soul mate; Mary wasnt bound to either one of them. She was under no obligation to stay. Xena thought about this with a bit of sadness. Shed never admit it to Gabrielle but she would miss their companion very much. "Not easy to find a good fishing buddy." She said to herself with a smile.
Theyd been out on the road for a few hours. Mary was leading the spare horse. Shed been pleasantly surprised when Xena offered it to her. She had no saddle but she was content to walk until she could get him one. Shed been exchanging stories with Gabrielle to help pass the time, carefully avoiding references to home.
Finally curiosity got the better of Mary and she asked, "So, where are we headed?" The bard laughed.
"Took you long enough to ask. Did you just get curious now?" Mary looked at the bard out of the corner of her eye and smiled.
"No, if you must know, I was curious from the time we packed our gear."
"So why didnt you ask? I would have. In fact I always do. Drives Xena nuts sometimes."
Mary chuckled then said, "I dont know, I dont have anywhere to be really. No where to go I guess you could say. Maybe I was afraid if I asked where we were going I might not be welcome."
The bard frowned a bit. "Why would you think that?" "Habit." Answered Mary a little too quickly.
Gabrielle looked over at Mary and was about to inquire further when she heard, "Why dont we stop here for a bit to water the horses?"
Her attention was drawn to a stream on the right just off the path. Mary caught up to Xena, "I can take them if you want." Xena handed her Argos reigns and went to join her bard whod found a place under a large tree. She poked the ground lightly with a small stick looking very pensive.
"Xena, why would she think we wouldnt want her around?"
Xena thought for a moment. "Twos company three is a crowd."
Gabrielle looked up at her warrior, "Do you think that?"
"No of course not. But its not what I think that counts. You never know whats inside some ones head Gabrielle."
At that moment they heard Mary returning with the horses. "All done." Xena stood,
"Wed better get moving or well never make Cirrah tonight."
Mary was surprised, "Cirrah?"
Gabrielle smiled, "We thought a couple of days off would be a good idea after this past week."
"Why didnt you tell me? I thought we were going off into battle again."
Xena smirked, "Getting tired of it already?"
"Not at all." Replied Mary. "I like it actually."
The bard chuckled, "Wait til the newness wears off."
It was late when they arrived. The streets of the town were deserted and all was relatively quiet. They made their way to the inn and Xena took charge of the horses.
"Gabrielle, lets see if we can get the horses stabled."
Gabrielle turned to Xena and smiled, "Uh, yeah lets do that, well be right back." She said hurriedly.
Mary smiled knowing what the sudden departure was about.
She stopped at the door of the inn and took a deep breath. "Come on its only been about a week, get it together." She opened the door finding it surprisingly quiet. Just a few patrons sparsely occupied the room. She spotted the innkeeper by the bar and walked over to him. He looked up and his face registered recognition.
"Back again are ye? Will you be wanting a room?"
Mary smiled, "Do you have any available? Ill need two."
"For how long?" He asked.
"Not sure." Mary pulled out a silver dinar piece. "How long will this keep me and my friends in room and board?"
He was about to answer when Mary quickly added, "You do remember my friends dont you?"
The innkeeper closed his mouth and gave his answer more consideration, "A few days at the least." He said finally.
"How many exactly?" asked Mary.
"Deal!" Mary tossed the silver dinar piece at him.
"Ill have some one get your rooms ready."
He turned towards the kitchen and called out, "Lilith, I need you to ready two rooms."
Marys heart stopped when she heard the name mentioned.
She heard Lilith in the kitchen protest, "At this hour? Who would be crazy enough to be traveling at this late hour?"
She came out and stopped when she saw Mary. Her breath caught and for that moment as their eyes met time stood still. She was in Marys arms in a second. She hugged Lilith so hard she could swear she heard her ribs creak.
She heard Lilith as she spoke softly in her ear, her voice full of emotion, "You came back."
Mary loosened her grip and placed her hands on each side of the girls face. She looked at Lilith and saw the emotion that threatened to escape the girls eyes.
"Of course I came back."
"I didnt think, I mean I hoped, but I didnt want to believe " Her voice failed her.
"Sshh Its ok, Im here just like I promised. Im here."
With that she brought Liliths face to hers and placed a kiss so soft and sweet on her lips that Lilith felt her knees weaken.
"A-hem" came the voice of the innkeeper. "Dont you have rooms to prepare?"
Lilith turned to him saying, "Correction, room. She stays with me."
She turned back to Mary and grasped her hand. As they walked by the innkeeper Mary stopped, "Uh, how many days was that again?"
"Six" said the innkeeper.
"Sorry I didnt hear you, what was that again?" Said Mary with a very determined expression.
"Ah! Thats what I thought you said. Have a good night and let my friends know Im in good hands for the rest of the evening."
She let the barmaid lead her out of the room without noticing that her companions had witnessed most of what had occurred. Xena had her arm around Gabrielle. The bard looked up at her soul mate and smiled, "And to think is hasnt even been that long."
Xena chuckled, "And how many times has a day seemed like an eternity to us?"
Xena slid her hand up Gabrielles back and let it rest on the base of her neck causing goose bumps to break out on the bards arms and a chill up her spine.
Xena smiled, "Why should she get to have all the fun?"
Gabrielle laughed, "You are so bad."
"Thats what they tell me." Answered Xena seductively.
The innkeeper noticed them. "Your friend made arrangements for your room."
"We heard." Replied Xena with a hint of pride at Marys intimidation tactic.
The bard broke in asking, "Seven days room and board for how much?"
"A silver dinar piece." Answered the innkeeper.
Now it was the bards turn to be proud. She turned to Xena smiling, "Shes good."
"That she is my bard, that she is." She paused a moment then continued, "Shes also in love."
"Yeah, shes got it bad."
They were quiet for a moment then Xena broke the silence, "Come on my bard, how often do we get a quarter moon off with all expenses paid?"
"All expenses?" asked the bard.
"Of course." Answered Xena and turned to the innkeeper. "The accommodations also include the use of the bath right?" The innkeeper opened his mouth to speak but Xena answered for him, "Of course they do." And she led her bard upstairs.
Mary lay in bed unable to sleep. "Whats wrong?" asked Lilith concerned.
"I dont know." Answered Mary wrapping an arm around Lilith. "Something doesnt feel right and I cant put my finger on it."
Lilith propped herself up on her elbow and placed a hand on Marys cheek. "Arent you happy here? Or is it me "
"Sshh no its not you. And yes the last few days have been wonderful. I dont remember ever being this happy."
Lilith gained a puzzled expression. "Then what is it?"
Mary let out a deep sigh, "I really dont know, but I know it has nothing to do with you."
"Is it Xena and Gabrielle then?"
Mary thought for a minute, "No, I dont think so."
But the doubt was in her mind. She decided to put the young girls fears to rest by placing a long heartfelt kiss on her lips.
"Come on, lets get some sleep. The day starts early."
Lilith settled her head into the hollow of Marys shoulder and Mary wrapped a protective arm around her. She let herself relax and managed to drift off into an uneasy sleep.
It seemed like only moments had passed when she became aware of some one calling her name. "Mary wake up." She opened her eyes and tried to focus.
"What happened?" she asked sleepily.
"Theyre gone." Said the young girl.
"Whos gone?" she was still too groggy to comprehend.
"Xena and Gabrielle are gone."
"Gone! What do you mean gone? Gone where?"
"I dont know."
Mary got out of bed and dressed as fast as she could. "Wheres Garrin?" She asked.
"In the kitchen I think."
Mary was out the door and headed towards the kitchen. She found the innkeeper and began to question him.
"Where did they go?"
He was startled. "I dont know, a messenger came yesterday. You were out with Lilith I heard the storyteller say the name Ephiny, but thats all."
Mary was silent for a minute, "Did they say anything at all before they left?"
"I asked if youd be going with them when I didnt see you. Xena shook her head slightly and said no."
Mary was torn; she didnt know what she should do. "Garrin, when they left, how did Gabrielle look?"
He thought for a moment, "Couldnt really say, she was already outside. But Xena left this for you."
She looked at the folded piece of parchment. She felt her heart sink and opened it. It said:
We received a message today from an old friend who needs our help. Forgive us for not telling you and leaving the way we did. But we knew if we told you, youd feel compelled to join us. Look around you and see what you have before you decide to run off. She loves you and we think the feeling is mutual. Well miss you and keep you in our thoughts. Youve been a good friend to us both and Gods willing, we will see each other again.
Good luck my friend.
With much affection.
G & X
Lilith watched Marys face to try and gage a reaction but her face was expressionless except for a blush to her cheeks. Finally she let out a long breath and turned towards Lilith handing her the parchment. She read it and looked at Mary. She was looking out the window very still and very quiet. Lilith placed a hand on Marys cheek and turned her face towards her.
"Theyre right you know. I do love you. No one has ever treated me the way you do."
Marys insides were turning inside out but he emotion in the girls voice touched her heart. "How do I treat you?" asked Mary softly.
"From the day we met you always treated me like a lady and not just a common barmaid."
"I dont care if youre a barmaid."
"But most people do."
Mary was torn between going to find her friends and staying where she was. She had enjoyed her time there and had struck up a friendship with Garrin the innkeeper. Shed gotten used to helping out a bit and doing general repairs around the place. Xena had been a great help in this regard and had taught her a lot. She closed her eyes and stilled herself. She opened them to see Lilith standing before her.
"I do love you." Said Mary.
The young girl smiled, "When are you leaving?"
"Im sorry I just "
"Have to go with them I know."
Mary felt the guilt creeping up on her, "I dont want to keep doing this to you. Ill stay if you want me too."
Lilith thought for a moment, "That wouldnt be right. That you love me is enough to carry me until you get back. If I held you here your heart would always want to wander. Youd never be happy."
Mary pulled her into a tight embrace. "Thank you."
She was packed and ready to go in less than an hour. Lilith made sure she had enough water and dry goods to last for a couple of days. Shed gotten a nice saddle for her horse and took Xenas advice about using sleeping furs to pad it and make it a bit more comfortable. Shed be out on her own for at least a week but she hoped to catch up to her companions before then. She also hoped the name Ephiny meant the Amazon village. She placed the last burden on her horse and turned to say goodbye to Garrin.
"Dont be too long between visits lass, and take care of yourself."
"I will." Replied Mary.
"Thanks for everything." He gave her a warm smile and stepped back to make room for Lilith. They regarded each other for a moment.
"Do you have everything you need?" Asked the girl.
"I think so."
They hugged for a long moment. Lilith loosened her hold and looked at Mary. "Dont doubt that youre doing the right thing." She said. "Just come back to me in one piece. Ill wait for you no matter how long." She gave Mary a long and tender kiss full of all the emotion she held deep in her heart. "I love you." She said softly.
"I love you too." Answered Mary, then turned to mount her horse.
"Remember, try and stay north as much as you can. Once you pass Mount Olympus and the Halls of War veer east towards the Strymon Pass. It will lead you to Amphipolis about two days ride from the Amazons. Between here and Mount Olympus there are plenty of towns so rest when you can. After Mount Olympus the closest town is Thessaloniki. You may want to rest there before heading for the Strymon Pass."
Mary took all the information in and committed it to memory.
"How long will it take?"
Lilith thought for a minute. "Itll take you at least three days to reach Mount Olympus. Then another day or so to reach Thessaloniki. Then perhaps another two to three days to reach the Amazons. If you ride well, seven to eight days, maybe less." She saw the worried looked on Marys face. "Youll be fine. Youll make it. I believe in you."
"Thanks, that means a lot to me."
"Now go get out of here. I have work to do."
Mary smiled, "Yes maam."
With that she gently kneed the horse and was off. As she went down the rode she looked up at the sun to try and gage her direction. "What I wouldnt give for a compass and my car." As far as she could tell, the road she was on headed North. Shed stay on it for a while. By mid-day she decided to walk for a while. It was a very warm day and she wanted to give her horse a break. She wasnt prepared for what would happen. Shed only walked a couple of steps when, "Oh shit!" She stopped and grabbed the back of her thigh. "Ah! What the hell?" She tried to walk a bit more but had to stop again. She felt as though her hip joints were, for lack of a better word, open. "Oh, no."
Shed ridden for the last six hours at a decent pace. By her calculations she hoped she as at least half way to Trachis. She was in such great shape physically that she forgot shed never ridden a horse for more than fifteen minutes in her entire life. "So much for this being a piece of cake." She thought to herself. She took a deep breath and just walked. She had no other choice. She just hoped that after a couple of days shed get used to riding.
She was more than thankful when she reached Trachis. It was a good-sized town and though it was after dusk there was a great deal of activity in the streets. She waited until she located the stable before dismounting for fear of what pain she might be in. After getting her horse stabled and asking for directions she headed for the inn. She was in pain, tired, hungry, dusty and worried. She didnt know if shed even make it to the Amazons. But she was certain that if she ever did find her friends shed have a few choice words for them.
Miraculously, she awoke the next morning before dawn. She was sore from the waist down and it took more than a little effort for her to sit up and stand. By the time she reached the stable she was plain and simply cranky. She asked the stable boy for the name of the next northern town.
"Pharsalus, about a days ride." He informed.
"Thanks." She replied and went on her way. "Great, another fifty miles on horseback."
Pharsalus was also a good-sized town. She noticed however that there were more soldiers and rough looking characters than in the previous town. She chalked it up to being nearer to the Halls of War. It didnt worry her but she did feel some shopping was in order. She decided something in the way of armor might be a good idea. She took a walk through the market place and found the store she was looking for. Her nun-chucks were a good weapon and she was skilled with them but they were a short weapon. She had to get close to make contact. That left her vulnerable to attack.
She thought a pair of wrist guards would help cut down the risk to her forearms a bit. There were some made of metal but they were too heavy. Then a pair of leather ones caught her eye. They were simple but sturdy. She wasnt into anything flashy and these were far from flashy. Just a thick, dark brown leather. A quick feel of the inside let her know that they wouldnt chafe her wrists. The shopkeeper approached and Mary turned to him.
"How much for theses?"
"Twenty dinars." He replied without hesitation.
"Ten dinars a piece? My boots cost less than that."
The shopkeeper looked at Mary speculatively. He wasnt sure what to make of her. "Eighteen dinars. Thats the best I can do."
She thought for a moment then mumbled and explicative in Spanish. She was about to agree to the price when she was interrupted.
"Why didnt you say you were Roman?" Mary looked at him completely confused. "Surely you must be here on some sort of business for Rome. Please excuse me. Here, take these as a gift and please if it should suit you let Caesar know that I have treated you well. Once again please excuse my ignorance."
She was speechless. She took the wrist guards and put them on. They were a perfect fit. She went into her pouch and tossed twenty dinars towards the shopkeeper. "Have a good day." She said and walked out. She was disturbed by the fact that hed thought she was a Roman. It wasnt until she arrived at the inn that she realized why. "He must have thought I was speaking Latin. No wonder he thought I was Roman." Then she remembered what shed told Gabrielle. If memory served her correctly Spain was split into three provinces, all under Roman control. So for all intents and purposes with her features and all, she might as well be Roman.
"Aw shit." She thought to herself. "Great, they must think Im Roman too. Im lucky I didnt meet the business end of Xenas chakram."
"Can I help you?" Asked a voice behind the counter.
"I need a room and dinner."
"How long will you be needing the room for?" Asked the innkeeper.
"Just tonight, Im just passing through on my way to Amphipolis."
The innkeeper arched his eyebrows, "Thats a long trip for a woman alone."
"I can handle it." Replied Mary.
He took a good look at her and said, "Aye, I do believe you can. Ill have your food brought out in a few minutes." Mary nodded and he handed her a mug. "Heres something to quench your thirst while you wait." She thanked him and took a seat at the bar. She was tired and knew she could get in trouble with just the look on her face so she quietly kept to herself and drank her port.
A few minutes later her dinner arrived. She sniffed at it a bit, "Stew" she thought. When the bartender refilled her mug she asked, "Do I just keep going north from here to reach Amphipolis?"
"Aye, you should reach Mount Olympus in about two days then veer northeast to the "
"Strymon Pass" finished Mary. "I just wanted to make sure I was headed the right way."
It was then that a strange thought hit her. Lilith had given her the directions initially. But what she didnt think of at the time was that shed given them like shed made the trip before. Knew the way by heart even. She didnt even have to think about it she just blurted out the way like it was second nature. Shed gotten to know her a bit in here time there. In those two weeks they had taken many walks and talked at length about everything you could possibly imagine. Each time she would come away with a better understanding of the young girl. She was more than a simple barmaid. That much Mary was sure of. She had fire in her soul but spent a great deal of effort keeping it subdued and Mary wondered why. It also occurred to her that though they spent hours talking Lilith never made direct references to her past. Only in passing just like Mary did. "Hm, the plot thickens." She thought to herself.
Two days later Mary was approaching Mount Olympus. She hoped she was at least half way to her destination. Shed spend the next two nights out doors and hoped all shed learned in the last month would pay off. She had no illusions about her hunting skills so she had food to hold her over for the next two days. At least she hoped so. She managed to get the fire going and laid out her camp. She was grateful her muscles had finally become accustomed to riding and decided to work out a bit before it got too dark. That night as she brushed her horse she thought of her friends. As much as she loved them she was very angry with them. First, for leaving her behind, second, for making a decision for her without discussing it with her and lastly, for making her take this trip all alone.
"This is so not cool." She told her horse. "I mean if I make it sure it will be a personal accomplishment, but Im still gonna kill em."
She patted her horse gently on the neck and bid him good night. She lay on her bedroll and looked at the stars. She was asleep before she knew what hit her.
The next morning found her feeling very rested. She packed up quickly and was off. She knew that at this point she had to veer slightly east but wasnt 100% certain she was going the right way. When nightfall arrived she reluctantly made camp. She hoped she would find Thessaloniki at some point tomorrow. She was rewarded the next night when she entered a town and learned that it was indeed her destination. Shed slowed her pace the last two days, not being sure where she was going. By the time she arrived at the inn it was very late. That night as she lay in bed she let out a deep breath and thought to herself, "Tomorrow I get to Amphipolis then another day or two to the Amazons. Cool, but Im still gonna kill them."
Finding the Strymon Pass had been no problem at all. She welcomed the shade offered by the cliffs. The pass was narrow and she was flanked on both sides by rock walls. She slowed her horse down to a walk not wanting him to miss-step on the rocky ground. She was glad that all she had to do was follow the path and not guess where she had to go. She was also glad that the trip as a whole had gone with out incident and was almost over. She smiled to herself as she went around a bend and quickly realized she had spoken too soon. "I knew I shouldve knocked on wood."
Upon rounding the bend she found herself face to face with several disagreeable looking men. She quickly assessed that she couldnt go through them on horseback and there were enough of them that they could easily drag her off if she tried. She quickly tucked her nun-chucks in the back of her jeans and dismounted. She looked back to ensure the way was clear in case she needed to make a hasty retreat. She stopped about ten yards away from the men.
"Good afternoon, would you fellows be so kind as to allow me passage through the pass?"
She was tense but managed to keep it out of her voice. The men looked at each other and grinned, then one stepped forward.
"Anyone can go through the pass, but everyone has to pay to ensure safe passage."
"And how much does safe passage go for these days?" Asked Mary.
He thought for a moment, "The boys and I are in a good mood today so well settle for your horse and your purse."
Mary gave it some thought then replied, "Wish as I might Im afraid Ill have t decline on both counts. How about I keep my horse and I give you and your friends 100 dinars?" That way no one ends up empty handed."
He laughed and said, "You seem to have mistaken this for a bargaining session. The terms arent open for discussion. You can either give us what we want, or well take it, and much more."
The leer on his face left no mystery as to what he meant and she wondered if she could take them all if it came to that. Still, the set of her jaw left no doubt that she was ready to find out. "Whats it to be?" He asked stepping closer to Mary. "Do you give us what we want? Or do we take what you have?"
He reached up to touch Marys face and she quickly grabbed his hand twisting it slightly and applying pressure to his wrist. The move was quick and simple and required little effort but it brought him to his knees. His friends were shocked into silence but quickly recovered and came to his aid. She quickly snapped the wrist she was holding and backed up to give her a little time to get out her nun-chucks. She thanked the Gods that clubs and daggers were all she had to contend with.
As they rushed in two got hit quickly in the head from a left and right swing of her nun-chucks. A front kick stopped a third and a sidekick the forth. She ran to her horse to try and take advantage of the situation when she was grabbed from behind. She growled as she struggled to break the hold on her. She was successful but as she turned she was hit by a club that sent her to her knees. She swung up and laid a fist in the groin of the man directly in front of her. He went down but before she could regain her feet she was kicked in the side spinning her onto her back.
She was grabbed by two of the men and hoisted to a standing position. As a third approached she could still see two on the ground. She struggled against the hold they had on her and was about to break free when she was slapped hard across the face. She tasted blood and felt rage as he struck her a second time. She kicked him in the stomach and her went down. She got her right arm free and swung on the one holding her left arm. She connected and he released his hold on her. She turned in time to end up on the receiving end of a punch to the face that snapped her head back and almost knocked her down. She staggered and shook her head. The two men were approaching fast. One lunged at her and she sidestepped causing him to miss her and she took the opportunity to land an elbow to his companions face breaking his nose. She then quickly grabbed the other man by the hair and hit his head against the rock face.
When she saw no one making an attempt to get up she let out a long breath. She looked around and caught sight of her nun-chucks on the ground. She walked over to retrieve them when pain suddenly shot up her leg and she cried out. She went down and saw the man whose wrist shed broken holding a bloody dagger. He came at her with it and through a haze of pain and exhaustion she saw him freeze. His hand was poised to strike but his eyes were wide and unseeing. Then he fell, and behind him she saw a figure but the world went dim before she could focus and unconsciousness claimed her.
The first thing she noticed when she woke was that she was in a bed. The second thing she noticed was that she hurt everywhere. At least thats how it seemed to her, especially her left thigh. She looked over and saw a figure seated in a chair in the corner. She tried to sit up and the figure spoke.
"Just try and rest. You lost a lot of blood and you took a pretty good beating."
She lay back down, "Who are you?"
The man stood and walked over to the bed. "Im Miguelius, I was traveling through the pass when I came across you and your little problem."
"You have great timing."
He smiled and his features softened a bit. He was tall; dark skinned and had very piercing eyes, dark eyes, though in the low light she couldnt tell what color they were. One thing she was sure of, he was definitely a warrior. His attire and commanding presence left no doubt about it in Marys mind.
"Where am I?" she asked.
"Were in Amphipolis." He answered.
Mary couldnt help but laugh, "Amphipolis, well at least I made it."
Miguelius was puzzled by her reaction but couldnt help chuckling. "You should get some rest and some food if you feel up to it. Your horse is in the stable and your belongings are here. Ill be by to check on you in the morning."
He stood and turned to go but Mary stopped him. "Miguelius."
He turned to look at her. "Thank you."
He smiled warmly and said, "It was my pleasure. I just have one question. Whats your name?"
"Mary" she replied with a smile.
"Well then good night Mary."
When she woke the next morning she found the sun already up. She flexed her leg muscles tentatively and pain shot all through her thigh but not as bad as she thought it would be. She was just about to try and sit up when the door opened. A woman walked in with a tray full of food. She was of middle age with a very pleasant smile and amazing blue eyes. Had she not already known who she was she could have easily guessed.
"Good morning, nice to see you awake. How are you feeling?"
"Ive been better." Answered Mary.
"Oh no doubt. I brought you some breakfast. Do you think you can sit up?" Mary sat up slowly and the woman propped the pillows behind her so shed be more comfortable. "You looked in bad shape when you were brought in last night. But you seem to be a fast healer."
Mary half smiled. "Yeah, Ive been told that before."
"What happened?" asked the woman.
"I ran into some trouble trying to get through the pass. I was lucky Miguelius came along."
"Very lucky indeed, where were you headed?"
"Here actually, well really to the Amazon village but I was planning to stop here for the night before moving on."
"The Amazons?" The older woman asked.
"Im meeting some friends there."
The older woman smiled, "I see, well you rest up and eat your breakfast. Ill send some one up for the tray later. If you need anything let me know. My name is Cyrene and I own this inn so dont be shy."
Mary thanked her and set to the task of eating her breakfast.
By mid-day Mary was getting restless.
"God I wish I had my play station." She said to herself.
The healer had been in to see her around mid-morning. Other than some very ugly bruises to her face, her worst wounds were very painfully bruised ribs and the stab wound to her left thigh. According to the healer, at first glance, she had thought Mary was much worse but fortunately her recuperative powers were remarkable.
"Well that confirms it. Ive definitely been blessed with something. Thank the Gods." She thought to herself.
Her ribs made it difficult to move and her leg was killing her but she had to get out of bed. She was bored and that wasnt a good thing. She had a habit of getting in trouble when she was bored. Her ribs were tightly bandaged which helped with the pain when she moved. She stood slowly, keeping her weight off her left leg. She took a tentative step towards the table and winced. "Damn!" She hopped and it jarred her ribs causing her to hiss in pain. Miguelius walked in just as Mary was letting out a string of colorful phrases.
He laughed and Mary was startled, "Is that any way for a young woman to speak?"
He asked with a chuckle. "Do you always enter rooms without knocking?" She asked trying to seem annoyed.
"Always." He answered, walking over to Mary.
"Here" offering her his shoulder for support. He helped her back to the bed and she sat letting out a long slow breath. Miguelius smiled saying, "I didnt think youd be out of bed for another day or two."
"Thatd be a great idea if I didnt have somewhere to be."
He was thoughtful for a moment, "Cant it wait?" He asked.
"Im afraid it cant. I have to get to the Amazon village. Im meeting some friends there and I cant shake the feeling that theres some kind of trouble. I have to get to them."
"You cant ride like that." He said sternly.
"I have no choice, Ive come too far and Im only a couple of days away."
Miguelius was pensive, "Youre determined to go arent you?"
"I have no choice." She answered simply.
"I know a shortcut, it could cut a day off your trip. But I still dont recommend it." He said seriously.
"I know it would be better if I waited but I have to go. I cant explain why but I need to go."
The tone in her voice almost broke his heart. He knew that she would go. Without him it would take two days riding and the risk of seriously aggravating her injuries. With him it would take a day and be less of a risk for her.
"Do they know how lucky they are?" Marys heart jumped to her throat.
"I saw the parchment. It fell out of your pocket when I brought you in. Then I saw the mark on your back when the healer was tending you." Mary was speechless. "Everyone knows of the warrior princess and her chakram." He continued. "It seems youve given up quite a lot to follow them and endured some pain along the way. Not just any friend would do that. They are fortunate."
"Will you help me?" she asked finally.
"Yes, well leave in the morning." Mary smiled warmly and he returned it in kind.
He reached over and tussled her hair then lay his palm on her cheek. "Get some rest. Youre going to need it."
By the next evening Mary thought she was ready to pass out. Shed been on the road since before dawn and theyd only stopped once to rest and water the horses. She was covered in sweat. The perspiration had made the bandage supporting her ribs slide down. Every step her horse took was a new lesson in pain. It was getting unbearable and her ribs were making it difficult to breathe. She didnt even want to think about her leg. Miguelius was growing concerned. She hadnt spoken in hours and had noticed some time ago that she was suffering from some discomfort.
"Were almost there." He said quietly.
"Cool" she replied, trying to keep the pain out of her voice and failing miserably.
It seemed like an eternity before he spoke again.
"This is where I leave you. Continue on through there and the Amazon sentries should make themselves visible eventually."
He reached over and grabbed Marys hand.
He gave it a gentle squeeze and said, "You have much courage. I pray our paths will cross again. Take care of yourself and your friends."
He turned his horse and rode off into the night leaving Mary with no company except exhaustion, pain and her undying spirit. She would will herself to stay conscious the rest of the way if she had to.
Within a few hundred yards after starting down the path her horse was spooked. It took all her remaining strength to calm him and keep from falling off. She could barely see but noticed the arrows in the ground. "Thank God." She thought to herself. She raised her arms and clasped her hands above her head in the Amazon sign for peace.
Ropes dropped down on either side of her and Amazons landed with swords drawn. They all wore their masks and it amused her that they actually did where them. One Amazon stepped forward.
"You are trespassing on Amazon land. What is your business here?"
Mary put her hands down slowly.
"Im looking for two friends of mine. Xena the Warrior Princess and Gabrielle the bard."
The Amazons looked from one to the other but said nothing. "Ive come a long way to find them." She couldnt talk anymore.
She would have fallen off her horse had two of the Amazons not rushed in to support her. The sentry who had approached Mary removed her mask and stepped forward. They had laid Mary on the ground. She was barely conscious. The pain had taken its toll on her. One of the Amazons spoke to the lead sentry.
"Solari, shes really hurt, she has a leg wound thats bleeding. Shes lost a lot of blood."
Solari looked at Mary and saw the blood seeping through her jeans.
"Maresdy!" She called out.
Another Amazon dropped out of a tree and approached the group.
"Run ahead and tell the Queen we have an injured woman. Let the healer know well be arriving shortly. And hurry, I dont know how bad it is."
Maresdy was small for an Amazon but fast. She ran to the village and hastily explained to the to the guards at the Queens hut the situation then headed for the healers hut. One of the Queens guards knocked and waited to be asked to enter. Inside the hut Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny and Eponin were crowded around a table looking at a map when they heard the knock.
"Come in." said Gabrielle and the guard entered.
"Excuse my intrusion, but one of the sentries has just reported that an injured woman was found near the northern border. Theyre bringing her in."
"A woman?" asked Ephiny puzzled. "Was she alone?" she continued.
"I dont know my regent the sentry didnt say."
"Be careful its not a trick." Said Eponin quickly. "A woman, alone and injured traveling at this hour and in Amazon territory. Who would do that?" She asked of the group.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, then, as if sharing the same thought both ran for the door with Ephiny and Eponin in close pursuit. They had just cleared the gates when they saw the party approaching. They ran towards the part and the bards breath caught when she saw Mary. "Oh Gods." She said softly putting a hand on Xenas shoulder. Xena couldnt keep the concern off her face and looked for Solari.
"Solari, what happened?"
She was surprised by Xenas tone and explained what happened.
"She was already hurt?" Asked the bard.
"Has been for some time judging from the amount of blood. Her saddle is soaked, look for yourself."
They saw Marys horse and Xena checked the saddle. The sleeping furs were a mess on the left side. The bard looked and felt a lump in her throat. "Xena."
"She must have ridden at least a day. Gods."
Ephiny approached quietly seeing the distress in both women. "Who is she?" she asked.
"A friend." Replied Xena and headed for the healers hut.
Gabrielle followed with Ephiny and filled her in briefly on their new arrival.
In the light they could see the extent of Marys injuries. The healer concentrated on the leg wound.
"Help me turn her over." She said. Xena rushed over and helped her turn Mary on her stomach.
She grabbed a dagger and quite literally cut the jeans off her. She then cut the bandage off.
"This wound has already been treated." Said the healer. "Had she stayed off it this wouldnt have happened."
Xena took in the scene with an expert eye. She knew by Marys color that shed lost a lot of blood. She lifted Marys shirt when she noticed a dark patch on her skin. She saw deep bruises on her side and noticed the bandage lower down. Xena could only guess what kind of pain she must have been in. Gabrielle went to Xenas side and gasped when she saw the bruises. Xena was feeling her ribs tentatively.
"Are they broken?" asked the bard.
"No, from the looks of the bruising I thought so for sure, but theyre not broken."
"What could have happened?" Asked Gabrielle quietly.
Xena placed a hand on Marys shoulder than walked out of the hut. Gabrielle stayed in order to give Xena a moment alone and give herself the opportunity to take in the scene. She ran her fingers through Marys hair then went out to join her partner. Ephiny and Solari watched the scene play out. They wondered who this woman was that had captured the hearts of their friends this way.
Gabrielle found Xena deep in thought.
"Kim has done all she can. She thinks the blood loss may have been too much. Shes not sure if shell make it." Said the bard tears welling up in her eyes.
Xena brought her into a delicate embrace. "She still has a chance." Began Xena. "She shouldnt have made it here at all. Anyone else would have died."
They were both quiet for a moment then separated. The bard grabbed her mate by the hand and headed back towards the healers hut.
"Come on." Said the bard.
"We cant do anything for her." Replied Xena.
"She came all this way for us. We have to at least be with her."
Xena knew her bard was right and let her lead her back to the healers hut to stand vigil at their friends bedside.
The following morning found them still there. It had been a rough night. Mary had broken out into a high fever and both women refused to leave their friends side. They tended her all through the night until finally, a little after dawn, the fever broke. Ephiny and Solari tried to convince them to get some rest but they refused. Xena knew that the fact that Mary had survived the night and the fever in her weakened state had been quite a feat. But her color was still not good and she was afraid to let her hopes get too high. She left that to her bard, the eternal optimist.
Ephiny entered the hut and took in the sight of the pair. Gabrielle looked up and greeted the regent.
"Morning Gabrielle, Xena, how is she?"
Warrior and bard exchanged looks. "Well," began the bard. "Her fever broke a few hours ago. Xena says thats a good thing."
"When was the last time either of you ate or slept?" When neither woman answered she folded her arms on her chest and let out a sigh. "You know, it wont do her any good for you two to starve yourselves."
"Gabrielle, why dont you go with Ephiny and get something to eat?"
"What about you?" Asked the bard concerned.
"You can bring me back something."
Gabrielle hesitated then she felt Ephinys hand on her arm. "Come my Queen, well bring her back something, you have to keep your strength up, we have a lot to do."
The bard conceded and left the hut with the regent.
Xena let out long breath grateful that her bard had finally decided to go. She needed a moment alone with her thoughts and wanted a moment alone with Mary. She looked down at her friend and a realization hit her. She placed her hand on Marys chest, right on her heart. She watched her hand rise and fall for a moment with the movement of Marys breathing. Then she took a deep breath, "Hey, you crazy, stubborn bitch. What were you thinking traveling in this condition huh?"
She spoke softly and tried to fight back the tears welling in her eyes.
"Look, I know youre in there, you made it all this way, and you survived the night. Youve been fighting to stay just a little more, you can do it. I Gabrielle loves you, youre a good friend to both of us. She I Gods I hate talking."
She took a deep breath and continued, "We both need you. Dont go! Fight! Ive never cared about anyone enough to call them a friend, except for Gabrielle. You have a warriors spirit with the heart of a bard and a beautiful soul. The world needs you. Dont go." She placed a soft kiss on Marys forehead and sat down.
Gabrielle returned a while later with food for her warrior and news. Xena picked at her food not having much of an appetite as she listened to the bard relate the latest on their situation.
"She says Kaliepus has pledged the support of the Centaurs."
Xena raised an eyebrow and said, "He figures if the Amazons fall, theyll be next. What do the scouts report?"
Xena thought for a minute, "Hes being cautious. He wants to see if were gonna expose a weakness of some kind. I should go see Eph; with the Centaurs on our side it gives us the element of surprise. They wont be expecting our forces to be so strong."
Xena stood to go then hesitated.
Gabrielle smiled, "Go talk to Ephiny Ill stay here. Ill send for you if theres any change. I promise."
She assured placing a hand on the warriors cheek.
Xena left leaving the bard alone with Mary. She felt Marys forehead for any sign of fever and was pleased to find her skin cool to the touch. She moved away a couple of stray curls from Marys forehead and smiled at the memory of her always being so particular about her hair.
"You need a haircut my friend." She said softly.
She looked intently at the contours of Marys face, almost as if she was trying to memorize them. A lonely tear escaped and she began to speak, "Once there was a man who left home on search of his family the end of his journey brought him right back to the beginning and he realized that the family he had been searching for had been with him all along."
She bent down and gently kissed Mary on the forehead. Then she held her hand in hers and said, "Im sorry. We shouldnt have left the way we did. We shouldve told you we didnt know we were going to miss you this much. Ive never heard Xena call some one a friend and see that its true in her eyes until you. She has friends, or people that she calls friends, we both do, but its different with you. Please dont go, I cant explain it but I know wed never be the same without you."
Suddenly the bards head snapped to the right and she looked down at Marys hand. She could have sworn she felt Mary grasp her hand. She lifted the hand still I hers and caressed it with her thumb. "Come on, do it again. I know you can." Suddenly her index finger twitched. Gabrielle held her breath, then Marys hand closed on hers. "Thank the Gods," she whispered. She got very close to Marys ear, "Mary, come on, if you can hear me squeeze my hand." She was overjoyed when she felt the pressure from Marys hand. "Mary Mary open your eyes. Come on open your eyes." She received no response and was worried.
She bolted out of the hut and saw her soul mate across the compound. "Xena!" Xena turned in Gabrielles direction and heard the urgency in her voice. She sprinted towards the hut with Ephiny close behind. Gabrielles shout had attracted the attention of almost every Amazon in the village and they also began moving in the direction of the healers hut. She ran back into the hut with Xena on her heals.
"She squeezed my hand. I told her if she could hear me to squeeze my hand, and she did." Xena went to Marys side not knowing what to do.
"Mary" she said softly.
Ephiny had entered with Kim, the healer. Xena shook Marys face from side to side a bit, "Mary" she said again in a firmer tone.
Kim stepped forward and approached Gabrielle. "Im sorry my queen, I know shes your friend, but Ive seen this before and Ive never seen anyone recover. The blood loss was too great."
Gabrielle tried to maintain her composure. "No, you dont know her. Shell make it."
Ephiny put a comforting arm around the bard.
Xena felt a lump in the pit of her stomach as she had a flashback of being in the temple of Esclepius in the middle of the Mitoan-Theesalian war with an injured Gabrielle. She looked down at Mary, "Come on wake up! You are not expendable! Do you understand me? We messed up, Im sorry ok. Wake up!"
"Xena" Gabrielle said softly.
Xena turned to her bard, "Im not gonna let her give up!"
"Will you stop yelling, I have a headache."
Every ones eyes shot towards Mary and Gabrielle rushed towards Marys bedside. A small smile graced Marys lips and she said groggily, "What does a person have to do to get a little peace and quiet around here?"
Bard and warrior both laughed not able to contain themselves as a few joyous tears escaped their eyes. "Hey, welcome back." Said Xena.
"I didnt know I was gone." Replied Mary.
"You scared us half to death." Said the bard trying to sound stern. "Dont do it again." She finished with a smile.
"Ill try not to."
Mary shook her head to clear the fuzziness and to her surprise her head cleared quickly.
"Where are we?" she asked looking at the unfamiliar surroundings.
"Youre in the healers hut in the Amazon village."
"Amazons, yeah I remember. The last thing I remember is talking to an Amazon, then everything went a little fuzzy, then I heard Xena yelling."
"You were out since they brought you in." Began Xena. "What happened?"
"If you help me sit up Ill tell you."
"I wouldnt recommend that just yet." Said Kim stepping forward. Mary hadnt realized there were other people in the room and was surprised to see the healer. Then she noticed Ephiny standing further back. "Wow!" She thought to herself. She was definitely going to like the view in this place.
"I feel fine really, just stiff."
"Her color does look great." Offered the bard.
"A moment my queen."
Xena and Gabrielle both stepped back leaving Mary with a very amused look on her face.
"My Queen?" She asked with a wide grin.
The bard blushed, "Ill explain later."
Kim looked Mary over satisfied with her findings. Then she turned her attention to the leg wound. Mary blushed slightly as she lay there in her t-shirt and under ware as the healer took off the bandage.
Ephiny stood behind her friends and let the relief wash over her. She could tell the pair was also relieved; their whole demeanors had changed. Once again she couldnt help wonder who this woman was. She looked at Mary as Kim went about her work and observed that she seemed very good-natured and when she smiled it lit up her face and was infectious, like the Queens. At the same time she had an inner strength that was much like Xenas. She was truly intrigued.
"By sweet Artemis." Said the healer.
"What?" asked Mary concerned.
She tried to look back but she couldnt see the back of her thigh. Xena, Gabrielle and Ephiny all crowded around to see what was wrong.
"Thats not possible." Said Xena.
"What?" asked Mary again getting exasperated. "I cant see back there. Will some one please tell me whats going on."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. "Your wound is almost healed." Said the bard.
"And thats a bad thing because "
"No you dont understand, you didnt see it yesterday. Its just a little pink where the wound was. Theres no way it couldve healed that fast."
Mary rolled on to her back and Xena went around to her right side.
"Let me see something." She said lifting Marys t-shirt.
The deep bruises that had been there were fading. They were light yellow and orange instead of the deep purple of the day before. The bard came to take a look and ran her hand along Marys side.
She turned to Kim and Ephiny, "Could you give us a moment please?"
"Of course." Replied the regent.
Once the two Amazons left the warrior and bard turned their attention to their friend.
"What?" asked Mary, a wave of nervousness hitting her.
"How were you hurt?" asked the bard.
Mary recounted the details of her journey from the beginning. "I spent two nights in Amphipolis and barely made it here. I have no idea why I healed the way I did."
"Why didnt you just wait in Amphipolis until you could travel?" asked Gabrielle.
"I had to get here. I dont know why, but the closer I got the more I felt the need to be here. Plus I wanted to yell the Tartarus out of the both of you for leaving me behind."
The final comment disarmed the pair and they shuffled their feet a bit.
"Look," began Xena, "Were sorry about that. We should have talked to you about it."
"I dont like people making decisions for me." Said Mary flatly.
"Were sorry." Said the bard.
They were all silent for a minute. Mary was thinking very hard and it was making her head hurt. She looked around the room.
"Where are my pants?" The pair looked puzzled. "My pants, jeans, leggings, britches, whatever you call them on this side of the world."
"Oh!" the pair said in unison.
"Well " began Xena tentatively.
"What?" asked Mary.
"They were covered in blood when they brought you in. They needed to get to your leg and Xena " Gabrielle looked over at Xena.
"I had to cut them off you." The warrior said quickly.
Mary sat and gave them a blank stare. Then she lowered her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. "So my jeans are no longer among the living?" Asked Mary.
"Ah, no." answered the bard.
"Great, wheres my stuff?"
The pair pointed and Mary retrieved her pack and removed her remaining pair of jeans. She put them on and turned to her friends.
"Now what?" asked Mary. No one knew what to say. She looked from Xena to Gabrielle. She knew that for all of them to go on from there she needed to give them some honesty. As much as she could with out getting sent back to her own century. "Ok" said Mary and she turned her back to them and took off her shirt. She then removed her sports bra revealing the chakram tattoo on her back.
"Xena thats "
Mary put her shirt back on and took a really deep breath.
"Ok so what the hell do I do now?" she thought to herself.
She turned around and looked at her friends.
"Alright, we need to talk." She began. "I have a lot to tell you both, please sit down and hear me out."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other then took seats opposite of Mary.
"Ive never lied to either of you. Thats the first thing I want to make clear. The two of you mean a great deal to me. Probably more than youll ever know. You guys are my friends and thats a term I dont use to describe anyone. Im not sure what the consequences will be for telling you what Im about to tell you. In case theyre bad I just wanted you both to know how I felt about you. I also wanted you to know that Ill never forget you."
Xena was trying her best to put up her stoic wall but she found shed lost that ability with Mary. Instead she showed compassion.
"We know you havent lied to us. But we also knew there was more to you than you were telling."
"Im sorry, I was afraid." Said Mary trying to swallow the lump in her throat.
"Of what?" asked Gabrielle.
"Whatever it is we can handle it together." Said Xena.
"Of course, you have to know that." Continued the bard.
Mary was silent for what seemed to the couple like an eternity. Then she began, "Ok here goes. First my tattoo, Ive had it for about two winters. Thats the easy part. Now the hard part. I wasnt born in Hispania. My people are originally from there but I was born somewhere else. Way to the west of Hispania across the ocean is another land. Im from there, and whats more, Im from there about 2000 summers from now."
It took a long time for it to register then Gabrielle finally asked, "How is that possible?"
"Im not really sure. The day we met was the first day I was here. I thought I was dreaming. In my mind there was no way this could be happening."
She related to them the tale of the person she had been. She revealed details of her life shed never told anyone and their hearts went out to her.
"Then on the second day I was here Ares appeared to me. He explained that he and Aphrodite had heard my prayer and sent me here."
"But why would he lead you to us?" Asked the bard.
"Because its what I wanted most in my heart."
Tears welled up in Marys eyes as she continued. "Where I come from everyone knows the tales of Xena the Warrior Princess and Gabrielle the battling bard. I know them all by heart. I know much of what has been and much of what will be. If I reveal your destiny to you they send me back to my time and my other life."
"Thats the weight you carry." Said the bard, realization showing in her eyes.
"Yes, I feel guilty for not wanting to go back."
Xena stood and walked over to the window. Mary didnt know what else to say.
"Tell me something you have no way of knowing." Said Xena flatly.
"The day you saved Gabrielle from the slavers was the day she saved you."
Xena turned and looked at Mary.
"You had given up hope of redemption. You thought your life was over. Then you saw Gabrielle and something in you changed."
Xena felt a tear escape and she walked over to her bard. "Shes right you know."
Gabrielle gave Xena a heartfelt kiss that touched Mary so deeply she couldnt stop the tears from coming. When they broke the kiss they looked at Mary.
"Regardless of what that bastard Ares has in mind the fates brought you here for a reason."
"Shes right." Agreed the bard. "Our destiny is just that, it cant be changed. Let go of the guilt you carry. Youre here now and thats what matters."
Mary smiled a bit, then said, "You guys are too cool." They all laughed and decided to let the fates decide all their destinies come what may.
To be continued in A Lesson in War
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