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: Not this time.
Comments: This is the third story in the series. You may want to read the first two to get a better idea of what's happening in this one. As always I appreciate any comments you guys have. I take all your suggestions under careful consideration, so please keep them coming. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The first rays of sun were about to appear over the horizon. In the east the sky was purple with red highlights beginning to show through. There was a cool breeze blowing rustling the leaves of the near by trees. Fall was approaching but it would be a few weeks still. There were still some very warm days but the nights were cooler and the days had gotten just a little shorter. The leaves were beginning to show the tell tale signs of summer's end with their change of color and on this particular morning all of nature's colors were simply breathtaking.
Watching this natural wonder were a pair of dark brown eyes. They belonged to a woman of medium height with dark brown hair and a muscular form. She was dressed in a white sleeveless tunic belted at the waist, and sported leather bracers on her wrists. Tucked into the belt was a pair of nun-chucks and strapped to her back a sword given to her by a good friend. The upper half of her was a definite reflection of the last few months the lower half reflected her past in all its glory. Instead of leggings she wore a pair of faded blue jeans and instead of boots she wore sneakers.
Mary took a lungful of fresh air and set to her task. She un-strapped her sword and removed the nun-chucks from her belt and began a slow warm up before she started her morning work out. She had been in Amphipolis for a month and was pleased that her traveling companions had actually decided to stay in one place that long. It was a nice place to be. At least Mary thought so. Nice people, lots to do if you were motivated, and quite possibly the best cook in all of Greece. Yes she definitely needed to workout, it didn't show but she knew she'd been eating her share and then some. She chuckled to herself and continued her work out.
In one of the rooms of the village inn there lay young woman who experienced a sudden chill as her source of warmth and comfort got out bed to begin her day. She wrapped herself in the blanket and opened one eye slightly. The sun wasn't quite up and she groaned inwardly.
"Hey, where are you off to so early?" she asked sleepily.
"I have to check the traps I laid out a couple of days ago. I also thought I'd try to get a deer. Mother mentioned not having served venison in a while."
She finished dressing and turned her attention to the young woman still in bed. She sat on the bed to pull her boots on and turned leaning on an elbow to face her.
"You can sleep in you know. Not even sunrise yet. We did have a bit of a late night last night." She said with a mischievous look.
The young woman blushed slightly, "Yes we did."
She leaned forward and gave her partner a soft kiss.
"I'll get up and go see if I can give your mom a hand with the breakfast crowd." She was thoughtful for a moment, "Xena?"
Xena had caught the thoughtful look and knew there was a question coming. "Yes Gabrielle." She answered with a raised eyebrow.
"You know, I've really enjoyed our time here." She began tentatively.
She had been giving a lot of thought to the prospect of them settling down in Amphipolis. Not that she didn't enjoy being out on the road. But the last month had been so quiet, peaceful. They'd only been involved in some minor skirmishes with a few groups of raiders looking to replenish their supplies. Other than that it had been wonderful. She had actually seen Xena relax. She seemed to actually enjoy being home.
"So have I." Agreed the warrior. She knew her bard well and could tell she had something on her mind. Whether or not to press her on it was the question. Before she could finish her thought Gabrielle continued.
"I think your mom likes having you home."
"Se likes having us home." Corrected Xena with a small smile. "She loves you like a daughter. You do know that right?"
"Yeah I know. She told me to call her mom." Answered the bard.
Xena was quiet for a minute and thought about how lucky she was. She was home. It was a possibility she'd never allowed herself to consider until now. She had family, friends, a home and more importantly options. "Options." But at what cost? She was shaken from her thoughts when Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Hey, where'd you go?" she asked quietly.
"Hm, oh no where. There's no where else I'd rather be." Answered Xena bending her head to give her partner a gentle kiss.
She stood, grabbed her gear and headed downstairs. She entered the kitchen and found the innkeeper taking fresh bread out of the oven.
"Smells good." Said Xena with a raised eyebrow.
The older woman turned and smiled at the new arrival. "Morning little one."
"Morning mom. You know, I'm not so little anymore." Said Xena with a smile.
Cyrene looked up at her daughter. So much had happened in the last fifteen years. Granted her daughter had never been a typical girl. Always the tomboy and rough and tumble since she was very small. But she had been happy. Then the warlord Cortes attacked Amphipolis and all their lives changed forever. For a long time she'd actually wished she'd never had a daughter. She'd heard horrible things over the years and she'd felt ashamed that people knew Xena was her daughter.
When she returned three years ago it was her worst nightmare. She'd hoped Xena would forget about Amphipolis. She would have let the villagers beat her to death had it not been for courage of one young girl. She came out of nowhere and stood up for her daughter with more courage and conviction than she had ever seen. Then she'd seen the look of resignation in her daughter's eyes and realized she'd had no intention of fighting back and the smallest glimmer of hope appeared. Now, she had her daughter back and she knew it was due mostly to influence of a certain bard. For that she would be forever grateful.
"I'm your mother Xena. You're my only daughter. You'll always be my little one." Said the older woman with a warm smile.
Xena felt a smile form on her lips and let the feeling of contentment wash over her.
"Oh, you just missed your friend. She dropped by to say good morning on her way out. I asked her where she was off to so early."
"She's probably working off some excess energy." Replied the warrior simply.
"Excess energy? With all she does around here you'd think she'd be exhausted. You know dear, she's very nice girl. Where did u say u met her again?"
"On the road to Cirrah, she helped us out with some petty thugs and…I don't know, we just kept traveling together. She's a good friend mom."
"Oh I can see that. The two of you together are such scamps. Reminds me of when you were little. You and Lyceus would get in such trouble."
Xena smiled at the memory, "Yeah I remember."
"Gabrielle seems quite fond of her."
"She is, and so am I." She looked at her mother knowingly. "I'm gonna head out and check those traps."
She turned in time to see Gabrielle come into the kitchen. "Hey."
"Hey yourself. Morning mom."
Xena bent her head and gave Gabrielle a quick but tender kiss. "Be back in a few candle marks."
"Be careful." Replied the bard moving further into the kitchen.
She set to work helping Cyrene with preparation for the morning meal and soon the serving girl Acacia arrived. The patrons were beginning to arrive and it was shaping up to be a busy morning.
Mary entered the inn a little before mid-morning. She'd had a good workout and was feeling rather pleased with herself. So much had happened in the last two months that she hadn't had a chance to fully explore, what Ares had called, her gifts. She'd discovered a couple of nice surprises but she attributed it more to her physical condition than anything else. She was in the best shape of her life, had boundless energy and was developing a killer tan. Her Hispanic roots contributing nicely in that area.
She walked in to find the inn mostly empty, the breakfast crowd having departed for the day. She walked over to the bar and was approached by the bar keep. A burly, middle-aged man with graying hair. He was tall and made for an imposing figure but he possessed one of the warmest smiles she had ever seen.
"Good day to you lass. What can Philoneus do for you this morning?"
"Morning Phil, got anything cold handy?"
"Here you go." He said pleasantly handing her a cold mug of cider.
"Thanks" she replied and headed for the kitchen.
She found Acacia and Cyrene beginning to prepare the noon meal. "Hey."
Cyrene turned and greeted Mary with a smile. "Hello there, how was your morning?"
"It was good thanks. Need any help with anything?"
"No dear we're fine here. Xena came back from checking the traps about a candle mark ago. She and Gabrielle went out, they said to tell you they'd be here to have lunch with you."
"Cool, guess I'll go keep busy 'til then." She turned to go then heard her stomach growl. She turned back to the older woman. "Hey Cyrene…" Her words were stopped by something being thrown at her. She plucked it out of the air and saw it was an apple. She looked at Cyrene in surprise.
"That should hold you until lunch." She chuckled and shooed Mary out of the kitchen.
Mary chuckled to herself as she left the inn. She decided to pay her horse a visit at the stable. A good brushing and some grooming would probably take up her time until lunch if she took her time.
She entered the stable humming contently to herself. She looked around and caught sight of the stable hand. He saw her and gave her a broad smile.
"Morning Erramen, how are you today?" she said making her way to her chestnut brown horse.
"Pretty good, been waitin' for ya. I think I got you this time." He said with a gleam in his eye.
Mary chuckled, "Is that so. Well, go ahead I like a challenge."
It had turned into a little ritual. She'd met Erramen when they first arrived in Amphipolis and she really enjoyed spending this time with him in the mornings. He was tall, and well built. "Big boy" was the term she generally used to describe him. He had blue eyes and shoulder length blond hair that he always tied back with a leather tie. If she had to picture a Viking he'd definitely fit the bill. Add to that a great heart and an awesome personality and you definitely had a winner.
She had a habit of tending to her horse in the morning and they'd struck up a casual friendship. After a month they'd developed a closeness that Mary really enjoyed. He was sweet and caring and he tended to be a little protective of Mary but she didn't mind mostly because she was the same way with him. He'd walked in on her one day as she was humming a tune and pestered her until she'd finally given in and sung it for him. Now they had developed a little game. He would give her a topic or situation and she would have to think of a song that fit. It was fun and he could get really creative. Some songs were easy but she had to switch words around sometimes to make them more applicable to the era she was in.
She waited as he settled himself on a hay bale. "Solitude" he said smugly.
"Solitude?" she asked puzzled.
"Yup, bet I gotcha that time." He said flashing a brilliant smile.
"Do you stay up nights trying to figure out how to stump me? She asked chuckling.
"You betcha." He answered with a smile.
She thought for a moment then picked up the brush to get started on her horse. She looked over to the stall that Argo usually occupied.
"Xena was here, decided to take her out for a run. Took Gabrielle with her I believe."
She looked at her horse and patted him on the neck. "Would you like that boy? Been in here a couple of days bet you're bored huh."
The horse nuzzled her neck affectionately and she chuckled. "Ok, after lunch we'll go for a nice long ride. Stretch out both our legs."
She was disturbed from her conversation by Erramen clearing his throat. "Ahem, if I didn't know better I'd say you were stalling."
"Who me? No way!"
"Yeah right, I gotcha admit it."
"Do not. In fact…" she turned and started brushing her horse. "W e have a good one for him don't we boy?" Then she began singing quietly.
She finished quietly gently rubbing the horse's neck and swallowed hard before turning to face her friend. The song was one of her favorites and it made her a touch sentimental every time she found herself even humming it. She was startled to see Xena just in the doorway holding Argo's reigns. Damn. She could feel the rush of blood going to her face and knew by the heat in her ears that she must be a lovely shade of crimson.
She looked over at Erramen. "So…does that work for you?"
He was caught off guard and had to clear his throat before he answered. "Ya, that definitely works. Uh, you ever gonna tell me where you get all these from?"
"You'd never believe me if I did." She said smiling.
"Oh I don't know you'd be surprised what I'm capable of believing." He said as he stood and crossed over to where Xena was standing. He took possession of Argo's reigns and turned to Xena. "The usual?"
"Yeah give her the works and a few carrots too she earned them." She told the young man. Then she turned to her friend. "Hey,"
"Hey" answered Mary as she stowed the horse grooming gear.
"You done here? Thought we'd head in and get some lunch." She asked simply.
"Sure let me just wash up a bit. Meet you there."
Xena entered the inn and caught sight of Gabrielle at what had become their usual table. She crossed the room and took a seat across from her.
Gabrielle greeted her with a smile, "Hey, did you find Mary?"
"Oh yeah, she'll be here in a minute. She was hanging out with Erramen in the stable again." Answered Xena pensively.
Gabrielle chuckled, "Yeah she really likes him. I think he reminds her of her brother."
Xena raised an eyebrow, "Didn't know she had a brother."
"Mm, ya she had a younger brother and sister. She and her brother were exceptionally close. We were talking about families once, she mentioned them." She explained briefly.
"Must be rough on her then. She must miss them." Speculated the warrior.
"I'm not sure but I think there's more to that story than she's telling. She got this look when she was talking about them especially her brother. I think she lost them before she got here. But you know how she is. Hard to figure out what's going on up here most of the time." Concluded the bard tapping the side of her head.
"Remind you of anyone you know?" asked Xena with a smirk.
"Yes and in more ways than one. She's always full of surprises."
"Oh I know. Got one a few minutes ago as a matter of fact. Have you ever heard her sing?" Asked Xena with a slight glint in her eyes.
"Sing? No, I've heard her hum on occasion but never sing. You heard her singing?" asked the bard, her curiosity peeked.
"Mm Hm, when I went to take in Argo she was singing something for Erramen. She was trying to keep her voice quiet but it wasn't bad."
"Oooo, bet we could have some fun with her." Said the bard mischievously.
Xena considered the possibility, "Yeah we probably could but…"
"But what?" asked Gabrielle as he brow creased slightly.
Xena opened her mouth to speak then closed it as she saw Mary enter the inn.
She approached and took a seat next to the bard. "Hey guys."
"Hey." Replied the bard cheerfully. "How's Erramen doing?"
"Oh he's good. His usual goofy self. I love that boy, he's so sweet." Answered Mary good-naturedly.
The bard got a sudden glint in her eye and she turned to Mary, "Hey I heard some interesting news today."
"Did you?" asked Mary curious.
"Mm sure did. I heard from a very reliable source that a very good friend of mine has a hidden talent."
Mary thought for a minute, then the tips of her ears turned pink as realization hit her.
"Oh…well…I wouldn't believe everything you hear. You know how gossip can be." Replied Mary, hoping the bard would take pity on her and let her off the hook.
"Yeah I know what you mean. It's so hard to believe everything you hear. You never know what's true and what isn't. You know, I find the best way is usually to just see for myself." Mischief definitely evident in those green eyes.
Oh God, why me? How do I get myself into these things?
She gave Xena a look that definitely conveyed the message HELP ME in it. Then as if on cue Xena's attention was drawn to the door. Mary turned to look and saw Erramen in the doorway. He caught sight of Mary and called her over. She didn't hesitate to excuse herself and join him.
"What's up?" she asked as he drew her outside.
"I have something to show you." He said seriously.
"Right now? Or can it wait a bit? I really need to have lunch I haven't eaten all day"
"Oh no, no go have lunch it can wait. You know where to find me."
He turned to go and Mary stopped him turning him back around and placing a kiss on his cheek. She pulled back noting the surprised look on his face.
"What was that for?" He asked hesitantly.
"It's a thank you for saving me just now."
"Saving you? I didn't know you needed rescuing but hey no problem."
Mary chuckled, "I'll explain later. I'll come find you when I'm done with lunch."
She stepped back into the inn grateful to find lunch had been served. When food was involved her bardic friend usually forgot about less important matters.
"Everything alright with Erramen?" asked Xena casually.
"Yeah, he just wanted to show me something. Told him we'd go check it out after lunch."
"What was it?" asked Gabrielle.
"Oh I don't know. He didn't say. Guess I'll find out eventually though."
After lunch the three went their separate ways. Xena had promised to work with the local militia. Helping to train them and putting her skills to use with the general securing of Amphipolis. At first she'd been hesitant to help, not wanting any old grudges to surface. Finally one night after dinner she was approached by Marcus, the captain of the militia. He'd explained that he'd been voted the one to come and talk to her about it. Her military experience and fighting skills, in his opinion, were valuable assets and he for one considered himself lucky to be able to count her as a citizen of Amphipolis. She'd been touched by the gesture and agreed to help. Between that and making sure the inn and her mother were ok, she had little time for much else. But she did find time to spend with her bard and enjoyed the long walks they would frequently go on. She found herself on more than one occasion planning a future. That was a luxury she'd never allowed herself in the past.
Gabrielle in turn was on her way to the market. She needed to purchase some new scrolls and she needed to deicide what stories she was going to tell that night. She had taken to telling stories in the evening for the dinner crowd. It brought in extra business for Cyrene and the patrons usually gave her a few dinars that she could set aside for anything they might need. She also helped Cyrene as much as she could in the inn. She felt it was the least she could do. Cyrene refused to take payment for their stay and she felt a little guilty about it. All in all she kept herself busy and settled into a familiar routine that she enjoyed. She could get used to this really quickly she knew. But she also knew her Warrior and soon the road would call to her again and they would have to go. She let out a wistful breath as she made her way to town.
Having gratefully escaped after lunch, Mary was on her way to the stable to meet Erramen. She was curious to see what he wanted to show her. As she entered the stable she saw Erramen finishing up with Argo.
"Hey, here I am, as promised. What's up?"
"Oh, hey. You were gonna take your horse out for a run right?"
"Yeah I was, but I thought you said…"
She was cut off by and excited Erramen, "Perfect! Ok I'll saddle him up for you and get mine. This is gonna be great."
After a few minutes they were riding east out of town. "So what were you gonna show me?" asked Mary, curiosity getting the best of her.
"Lets just run them out for a bit then I'll show you." He answered glancing side ways at his companion.
They worked the horses for about an hour making sure to work out all the kinks from being in the stable for a couple of days. Mary followed Erramen and finally they dismounted to let the horses cool off. They walked in silence for a bit until they reached a wide stream.
"Wanna sit for a bit?" asked Erramen.
"Sure." Answered Mary, taking in the lovely view.
Across the stream was a good-sized patch of flat land and she could smell the rich scents of the soil, water and fresh air. It was a beautiful spot.
"We're not far from town are we?" she asked.
Erramen smiled and leaned back on his hands with his legs outstretched, "Nope, in fact just through that thick stand of trees you'd be able to see the inn."
"Really?" She said surprised then she stood and noticed the stream had a bend that led away from town. "Ah, that's why I never noticed it." She looked down at the young man a little puzzled. "Is this what you wanted to show me?"
He stood and walked to the edge of the stream. "Yeah, you see that piece of land right there across the stream? That's what they call a plot. The town council has a few they opened up for sale. The towns been doing really well and we're growing. When I heard this spot was up for sale I had to tell you."
Mary was confused, "But…"
"Look, we're friends right?"
"Yes of course we are. But…"
"Well we've gotten to know each other pretty well I think. I know how you feel about Xena and Gabrielle. I was hearing some of the elders talking and they were commenting on how glad they are that Xena decided to come back. No one was sure at first what to expect but she's changed so much. I remember when I was little I was terrified of the thought that she might come back someday."
Mary took in his words and felt a wave of sadness wash over her. She felt the tears well up in her eyes. "She's in a lot of pain Erramen. Coming back here was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do. Making up for her past pales in comparison."
He saw the tears in Mary's eyes and he knelt by her, "Hey, what is it? Did I say something?" He reached out a gentle hand and placed it on Mary's cheek turning her face to him.
"I'm sorry." She began. "It's just that…she's a good person Erramen. I know with all that's happened it's still hard to believe. I've heard some of the things people say about her and I wonder why they never talk about what she's done the last few years."
"They do. I've heard the stories about her and about Gabrielle too for that matter. I know she's changed. All of us here in Amphipolis know that."
He stood and brought Mary up with him a little awkwardly and a little too quickly causing her to bump into his broad chest. They chuckled a minute then Erramen turned his attention back to the plot of land across the stream.
"So…you never told me what you thought."
"About what?" She asked a little puzzled.
"That plot of land over there. It's plenty big for a nice house and over there on the side we could put a barn or something."
Mary was busy visualizing then it hit her, "We?"
"Yeah I was thinking for Xena and Gabrielle. You know maybe if they had a place of their own maybe they'd consider staying. Can't stay at the inn forever you know. Neither can you." He finished with a grin.
Mary considered the possibility. She figured Gabrielle would go for the idea but what about her stubborn warrior friend. She knew Xena was bent on making up for her past and in reality there was no reason why she couldn't and still have a place to call home. She reflected on how relaxed she'd seen Xena the last month and reasoned that the safety and reassurance of home helped to ease the stress of just being who she was. Being the former destroyer of nations did not come without a price. She was constantly put in situations where she felt she needed to prove herself. It couldn't be easy on her. She looked over at Erramen who had an expectant look on his face.
"Ok let's do it. I think they can both use a place to call home. How much is it?" She asked grinning.
"Well…actually it's free." He said a slight blush evident in his cheeks.
"Yeah see…Rowan the town elder approached me a few days ago. He wanted to offer them a plot to settle in. You know in the hopes they'd decide to stay. But he didn't know how to approach her. Everyone knows you're good friends and everyone also knows we're friends so they figured…"
"Uh huh, talk to a friend of a friend. That's very direct." She finished, crossing her arms on her chest.
He shrugged a little, "They figured you'd know if they'd be receptive to the idea."
"Ok so the land at no charge. But…oh I've got it! This will work out perfect. Come on." She grabbed Erramen by the hand and led him back to the horses.
Mary left her horse in the stable in Erramen's expert care and went off on a mission to find her friends. Tact would be required here and the method of attack was very important. Yup she'd talk to Gabrielle first. She entered the inn and waved a hello at Philoneus.
"Hey Phil, have you seen Gabrielle around?"
"Aye lass, she just got back. Should be upstairs."
"Thanks Phil, oh is Xena back too?"
"No, can't say that I've seen her since lunch. Do I tell her you're lookin' for her if I see her?"
"Uh, no it's ok; I'll catch up to her later."
She trotted up the stairs cheerfully then realized she had no idea what she was going to say. She stopped at the top of the stairs and took a deep breath. Mary and Gabrielle were usually on the same wavelength mentally. I t was scary sometimes, but maybe something useful would come up in the conversation that she could use to her advantage. She continued on and stopped at her friend's door. She took a deep breath and knocked softly.
Gabrielle had placed her bundles on the bed and was in the process of arranging things when she heard a faint knock at the door. "Come in." she said and turned towards the door. She was pleasantly surprised to see Mary and greeted her with a warm smile.
"Hey stranger, what brings you here?"
Mary returned the smile, "Stranger?"
"Yes, we hardly see you anymore. Just at meals when Erramen isn't dragging you off here or there." Answered the bard folding her arms on her chest and quirking an eyebrow at her friend.
"I'm sorry, just trying to keep busy and Erramen always has something to show me. He gets excited so easily." Explained Mary.
"Really?" asked the bard mischievously. "And just how excited does he get?"
"Gabrielle!" exclaimed Mary, thoroughly scandalized. "You know that's not what I mean. He's just…I don't know. We get along. We have lots of fun together."
"Mm hm, go on I love that particular shade of red on you."
Mary felt the blush deepen even further. Gabrielle had a way making her blush like no one else and even Xena felt sorry for her sometimes. Finally Gabrielle laughed letting Mary know she was off the hook.
"I'm sorry it's just so easy to get you to blush." Offered the bard playfully.
"It's ok. So, what's all this?" Asked Mary referring to the assorted bundles.
"Just getting some supplies we were running low on. You know scrolls, herbs, bandages, the usual."
Mary couldn't help but chuckle, "Yeah, but not much need for that lately."
"I know but we were running low and we might as well keep it stocked up for when we leave." Finished the blond with a touch of sadness.
Hmm "Hey listen, I know we haven't seen much of each other lately. I guess we've all kinda been doing our own thing. You know, it's really nice here. The people are nice and it's really peaceful here. Plus Cyrene is an awesome cook." Said Mary with a broad smile.
Gabrielle turned to the window and sighed. "Yeah I know, I think its great here. I think Cyrene's cooking is catching up to me though."
Mary picked up on the bard's subtle change of mood and decided to change the subject.
"Hey you wanna go workout before dinner? We haven't done that in a while. Bet we could get Xena to come too. It's a great excuse for the three of us to hang out."
"Sure sounds great. I've missed hanging around with you, so has Xena though she'd probably never admit it." Stated Gabrielle as she cleared the bed of the bundles before continuing. "Come here and sit down."
Mary accepted the invitation and sat on the bed wear she was joined by the bard.
"So…tell the truth what's going on with you and Erramen? He is a cutie in case you haven't noticed."
"Oh I've noticed alright. He is a cutie and he's the sweetest guy I've ever known. Sometimes he's so adorable and sweet he gives me a tooth ache."
Gabrielle giggled like a schoolgirl, "Oooo, so do we like him?"
"Of course I like him but…not in that way. He's too young for one thing and secondly he reminds me too much of my brother."
"Well I can see the brother part but the too young part…I don't know about that. How old is he?" She asked curiously.
"20? Mary that's my age." She replied with a bit of surprise.
"Really? I never would have guessed."
Mary barely finished her sentence when she was effectively silenced by a pillow hitting her in the face. "Oof"
"What do you mean you never would have guessed? Do I look like an old maid or something?"
"I think you're beautiful." Answered Mary without thinking.
"I'll have you know…what?" The bard had been caught completely off guard.
Shit "Uh…well…yeah you heard me. I think you're the most beautiful person I've ever known both inside and out. I never gave any thought to how old you were. You have a wisdom beyond your years did u know that?"
Gabrielle was speechless. Not an easy thing to accomplish. "Thank you." She said quietly feeling a slight blush begin to warm her cheeks.
"Anytime." Answered Mary softly.
They shared an uncomfortable silence for a moment then Gabrielle's eyes lit up. "Hey guess what?" Asked the bard excitedly.
"What?" asked Mary as she laid back placing her hands behind her head.
"I received a message today." She answered.
Mary's eyebrows furrowed, "Really, from who?" She asked with interest leaning up on her elbows.
Mary wanted to be happy that Gabrielle had heard from the Amazons. She didn't appear as though it was bad news so she was glad for that. But news of the Amazons also hit a sensitive spot that she was careful to hide from her friend.
"Cool, who was it from? I mean everything's ok right?"
"Oh yes, everything's fine. Ephiny sent word that there would be a joining next moon. Since we're still in the area she wondered if we would like to come. She said the Queen's presence would be a special blessing for the happy couple." She said rolling her eyes a little at having to refer to herself as the Queen.
"A joining? Well, who's the happy couple?" asked Mary a little nervous about what the answer would be.
"Solari and Maresdy." Answered the bard with a wide grin.
"Really? No shi…I mean no kidding. That's great. So you guys gonna go?"
"I haven't told Xena yet but I'd really like to go. If she puts up too much of a fuss we'll just go with out her." Answered Gabrielle matter of factly.
Mary chuckled, "We?"
"Of course we. You're invited too. We have to go it'll be fun. In case you forgot they throw a great party. It'll be a nice change of pace don't you think?"
"Yeah I guess it would. But weren't you saying just a minute ago how much you like it here?" asked Mary playfully.
"I do like it here, don't get me wrong. I've kinda gotten used to the routine around here but…" the bards words died off.
"Xena isn't the only one who gets itchy feet sometimes huh." Commented Mary.
Gabrielle let out a long breath, "It's not that, I mean I love being out on the road with her. And some times I miss having her all to myself. But so much happens to us and I get so scared sometimes. I can't lose her Mary. I can't live without her. I lost her once and I don't know how I made it through. If she hadn't found a way to come back I would've gladly joined her where she was."
There were tears in the bard's eyes and in Mary's as well. She stood and hugged her friend. "I know."
Two little words were all Gabrielle needed to hear. Somehow she knew in her heart that her friend really did know, really did understand. It meant a lot to her to know that some one did other than her soul mate.
As Mary held her friend she stoked the bard's hair lightly. "It's ok, she's safe, and you're safe everything is ok."
Gabrielle pulled back a little so she could look at her friend. "I know, I just want her to stay that way. Being here offers a security we don't have out there"
Mary placed a hand on Gabrielle's cheek and brushed away a few tears. Her hand lingered a moment feeling the softness of the skin beneath. She wanted to say so much. Their safety and happiness was uppermost in her mind always. So many times she wished she could tell them everything, all that she knew of what was to come. But her friends knew the price she would pay and wouldn't allow her to do that.
She took a shaky breath and found herself trapped in a sea of green. She remembered joking with a friend back home once. She said she dared anyone to spend any length of time with Gabrielle and not fall in love with her. She had no idea at the time how true a statement that was. It was indeed impossible not to fall in love with the young bard. She would never act on it of course. Her love for her friends was more important and she suspected that what she felt for the bard wasn't being in love but more enamored. It would settle itself soon enough.
Gabrielle grasped Mary's hand but maintained the eye contact between them. She held her hand in both of hers and spoke softly. "Hey, I thought we agreed. You can't change destiny. You can't go on punishing yourself for things that haven't happened yet."
A few tears escaped Mary's eyes, "I know, but what if…."
Gabrielle brought a hand up to Mary's lips, "No what ifs. Whatever happens, we won't blame you. You have to know that. Xena and I have talked about it. You wouldn't be to blame for anything. We care about you and I know Xena isn't very good at showing it but she worries about you just as much as I do."
Having said that she leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on Mary's cheek. "We love you."
Mary smiled and looked at the ground shyly. She was surprised when she felt her chin being lifted up. "You do know that right?"
Mary nodded slightly, "Yeah well the feeling is mutual."
"Good, now that we have that settled…" began the bard leading Mary back to the bed. "About the joining, you don't have to come if you don't want to. You can hide things from everyone else but not me. You're just like Xena, I can see right through you if I look at you the right way."
Mary let out an audible sigh, "Yeah I know I hate it sometimes. It's cool though. I've never been much for parties but I guess I can make an exception."
Gabrielle regarded Mary for a moment, "You sure? I wouldn't want you to feel weird or anything."
"What's the worst that could happen? I'll get really drunk and pass out in my hut no problem. I'm a happy drunk I don't start fights or anything just laugh a lot and make jokes. Who knows you might even get me to dance." Finished Mary with a chuckle.
Gabrielle thought about it for a moment visualizing. "You know that just might make having to play queen worth it."
Mary lifted an eyebrow at her friend, "Oh really? What you don't think I can't dance? We do dance where I come from you know."
"I'm sure you do. Relax will you. I'm just relieved I don't have to suffer wearing the Amazon attire by myself." Said Gabrielle mischievously.
Mary missed the last part having been lost in thought, then it hit her suddenly. "What? Wait. What do you…oh no, no, no you can't be serious. I'm not an Amazon. You're the queen you have to dress like that. Xena doesn't even dress like that."
"She's my champion; she's not required to dress in Amazon garb. If she were my consort that would be different she might have to." Explained Gabrielle simply.
"But I'm not even your champion why do I have to wear the monkey suit?" Implored Mary.
"Because it's a formal occasion and they look upon you as one of their own. They might get offended. You want a bunch of drunken amazons challenging you to preserve the honor of the tribe?"
Mary opened her mouth to protest then closed it. She let out a sigh and Gabrielle knew she'd won. "I didn't think so."
During the next couple of weeks Mary found lots to occupy her time. She made a conscious effort to spend more time with her friends and was reminded of just what a special relationship Bard and Warrior shared. They developed a habit of meeting after lunch to work out and spar together. The trio really enjoyed this and all three looked forward to their time together.
She also spent a great deal of time with Erramen. They'd begun clear the land and set the foundation for the house. He knew Mary hadn't spoken to them yet but she assured him that it would all work out and that was good enough for him.
Mary had no idea what she was doing but Erramen was patient. She'd never been involved in house building before but he gave Mary easy to follow instructions and she always carried them out to the letter. After a few days it was obvious to the both of them that they made a great team.
By the end of the day Mary was usually exhausted and ate her meals in relative silence. She always waited until Gabrielle had told her stories for the evening before retiring to bed. She loved the bard's tales and refused to miss even a single one. Her companions on the other hand had noticed the change in Mary's demeanor and wondered what the cause could be. They decided to let her be for the time being. Mary would always talk to one of them if something was wrong. Right?
After one such evening of storytelling Gabrielle was detained by a few patrons who wanted to ask a few questions about the tales she had told. Xena turned her attention to her companion. "You look tired." She said casually.
"Yeah I'm beat." Responded Mary a little wearily.
"Maybe you've been pushing yourself too hard. Can't build a house in a day you know." Said the warrior giving Mary a look.
Busted "A house?" asked Mary trying to sound innocent.
"Mm Hm, I saw you and Erramen yesterday and today out by the stream. It's looking good by the way."
"Yeah I'm giving him a hand. Not sure I know what I'm doing though. Just glad I haven't maimed myself yet."
Xena laughed, "I'm sure you're doing fine. Didn't know Erramen was planning on settling down. Good for him."
"Uh…He's not actually. I mean…he's not leaving Amphipolis or anything, but the house isn't for him."
Xena was puzzled, "Who's it for then?"
"Well…actually, it's for me." A small lie but it wouldn't really hurt anything.
"I really like it here Xena. It's a great place. Besides, you're not getting rid of me that easily. I just think I need a place to call home. I have no roots no place to belong to." All true statements.
Xena considered this for a moment, "You're right, a home would be good for you. I'm glad you like it here enough to want to make this your home. I never knew how much I needed one until I thought I didn't have one anymore."
Mary regarded Xena quietly and remembered what Erramen had told her, "You cant live here at the inn forever. Why not do a little settling down of your own? We've been here almost two moons and I see how happy you both are. Just because you make a home doesn't mean you can't travel and have adventures you know."
"Oh I know that. I just…I don't know I never thought I'd ever have a chance do any of that." Confessed Xena a little wistfully.
"Xena you can do and have anything…even redemption." Replied Mary seriously.
"Think about it my friend. There's no harm in that. Hey you wanna give me and Erramen a hand with the house?" She asked hopefully.
Xena's head was spinning with her friend's words but snapped back to the present when she felt a warm touch on her hand. She looked up to see her bard with a very concerned look. "Hey, are you ok?"
"Huh? Oh yeah, I'm fine just thinking." She stood and laced a protective arm around her bard's shoulders. "Come on, bedtime for bards." She said smiling. "And for carpenters too." She continued giving Mary a grin. "I'll be out tomorrow afternoon to give you guys a hand." Having said that she retired for the evening with her bard.
Xena lay awake as she listened to the contented breathing of her soul mate. She saw in her minds eye the image of a young girl from Potadaia. So innocent of the ways of the world and yet she'd shown great courage in the face of the slavers that had come to claim her and the rest of the women of her village. Sometimes it seemed like so long ago.
Three seasons of traveling together had changed Gabrielle. She had matured physically, mentally and emotionally. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that Gabrielle would stay with her. But now holding the young blond in her arms she new she would never be without her, and she was glad.
Xena smiled remembering how many times she'd told herself that she didn't need love, never wanted love. She didn't even recognize it when it came and turned her world upside down. Now she knew she couldn't live without it. She wanted to give Gabrielle everything she deserved and so much more.
And so it was that laying there in the dark with the echoes of a friend's words sounding in her mind that she resolved to give Gabrielle something she knew she wanted so badly but would never ask for, a home. A place to lay their heads and rest their bones when life and all its complications became too much. It was what she wanted too she realized. To make a home with Gabrielle, just the thought of it filled her with loving warmth that made her break into a wide grin. She was almost giddy with the thought of it.
She felt the young girls stir, "Hey there." Said Gabrielle sleepily. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, I was just thinking." Answered Xena tracing gentle circles on Gabrielle's back.
"About you, us, our lives together." She answered dreamily.
Gabrielle leaned up o her elbow, "What about our lives together?" She asked growing a little concerned.
Xena smiled, "I was just thinking about how much I love you and how much you've changed in the last three seasons."
"That's not a bad thing is it?" asked the bard a little apprehensive.
"No not at all. It's just…" Xena felt a knot in her throat and her stomach tightened.
Gabrielle felt the change, "Xena what is it? Please tell me. Have I done something?"
"Yes as a matter of fact you did." She pulled the smaller woman on to of her and settled her comfortably. She let herself absorb the warmth of Gabrielle's body for a moment then captured the bard's lips with unerring accuracy. "You changed my life. You gave me something back I thought I had lost forever."
"What was that?" asked the bard genuinely curious.
"The ability to dream, to plan and hope for the future. I gave that up long ago secure in the knowledge that I would never live long enough to see any of them come true. But you gave that back to me and so much more. I never want to be without it again or without you." Her voice cracked and Gabrielle brought a hand up to Xena's cheek and felt moisture.
What had brought this on she wondered. "Xena I love you. I would never leave you. I can't live without you. You're such a part of me; you're the other half of my soul. Without you, I would die."
Xena was speechless for moment. She had never dreamed she'd hear those words spoken by anyone. They mirrored her own feelings towards Gabrielle and knew in an instant what to say. No turning back she thought to herself.
"Gabrielle, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to experience life with you and watch in wonder as you look at the world with an unending curiosity. I want to spend a lifetime discovering every facet of you. Marry me Gabrielle and I promise to love you for the rest of our lives though I fear one lifetime will not be nearly enough." Xena held her breath and waited for Gabrielle to respond.
Gabrielle ran the words over in her mind several times. She couldn't believe this woman of such few words had just pledged her undying love to her with such passion. No poet ever wrote a grater testament to love. "Well, then we better plan for eternity."
She lowered her head and found Xena's lips with her own. They trembled slightly and she smiled. Her hands began a low and careful exploration of Xena's curves and she felt her warrior's breath catch. "You're right my love." She purred in Xena's ear nibbling lightly on a sensitive earlobe. "One life will not be nearly enough."
A few days later found Erramen stopped at the door to Mary's room. He wiped his hands on his shirt and stood there for a minute wondering why he was so damn nervous. Maybe it was just the fact that he had never been in her room before. It was unheard of really for proper young ladies to receive gentlemen in their rooms. Maybe she would be mad or think the wrong thing. He swallowed hard considering the possibility. He didn't want to offend her in any way. He turned to go and was frozen in place when the door opened.
"Erramen?" ask Mary slightly puzzled.
He turned to face Mary, "Oh…hi…I was just…I mean…"
Mary struggled to keep the smile off her face and not giggle. A lesson in fortitude to be sure considering the fact that the poor boy was a lovely shade of pink.
"What's wrong? Is everything ok?" she asked sympathetically.
"Um…yeah everything's ok. I just wanted to make sure I got a chance to say goodbye." He stated rather shyly.
Mary bit her lip and thought about his response. "Why don't you come in for a bit? I have to finish getting my stuff ready."
He hesitated and was surprised when Mary grasped his hand gently and led him inside. "Look if it will make you feel any better we can leave the door open if you want."
"No, no its ok you don't have to do that on my account. I'm a big boy I think I can handle being alone in a girl's room." He said, trying his best to preserve his dignity.
She smiled and stepped over to the bed. She finished filling her pack and turned her attention towards her sword. She looked around and realized she didn't have her sharpening stone.
"Damn…" she said looking around the room.
"What happened?" he asked brows furrowing.
"I think I misplaced my sharpening stone. I usually keep it up here on the mantle. But…" She wiped her brow and let out a breath. "I tell you what can you go downstairs and get a pitcher of something cold for us while I see if I can find the damn stone."
He smiled broadly, "Sure be right back and if you haven't found it I'll give you a hand." She left content in the knowledge that Mary did indeed not feel scandalized by his presence there.
They had been spending a lot of time together the last couple of weeks with working on the house and all. He had become quite attached to the dark haired girl. They had been good friends before but there was something else there now and he could feel it. At least on his part he could feel it. He really didn't know if she felt the same but he would love the opportunity to find out. The problem was he valued her as a friend and didn't want to lose that.
Mary moved around the room methodically trying not to miss any nooks and crannies in her search for the elusive sharpening stone. She actually found it odd that Erramen had come to visit her. They'd been friends for a couple of months and he'd never visited her before. They always met either downstairs or outside. But then again they had been seeing a lot of each other the last couple of weeks. Perhaps he just finally felt comfortable enough to visit, after all he did have a shy streak.
When he returned to the room he found Mary still in search of the stone. "Damn where the hell is it? I know I saw it here the other day."
"Did you loan it to some one maybe Xena has it." He placed the pitcher and two mugs on the table and began to pour.
"Ah yeah! I forgot all about it. Xena has it." She said giving herself a little smack on the head.
"Want me to go get it for you?" he asked politely handing Mary a mug.
She accepted the mug and took a long swallow of its contents. She was surprised to find it wasn't the cider she was expecting. It was ale and it took all she had not to react to it. What is it with guys and beer? "Na its ok I can get it tomorrow. Besides, Xena and Gabrielle went to bed already. We have to get an early start tomorrow."
"Oh well in that case I won't keep you. Like I said I just wanted to make sure I didn't miss you."
"No its ok please sit down get comfortable I'm not tired yet. And you have to help me drink this I cant drink it all by myself."
Erramen resumed his seat and Mary sat on the bed. "Mm this is good ale." Commented Mary casually.
"Yeah, oh hey I'll keep working on the house while you're gone. Have you mentioned anything to them yet?"
"No not yet. Still kind of feeling them out. I think Gabrielle would be all for it. That goes a long way with Xena. But I think she would be willing to give settling down a go. They think the house is for me. That's why Xena's helping out with it. If we get it done before the wedding I'll give it to them as a wedding gift. They wouldn't refuse." Replied Mary accepting a refill of ale.
"Yeah you think so? That would be great." He was pensive for a moment and savored his ale then continued. "So…does that mean if they stay you stay?"
Mary chuckled, "I don't know. I suppose eventually they'll get tired of me tagging along all the time. Gonna have to settle myself somewhere eventually."
"I don't know, you three have a really special relationship. I see the way you are together. Like family, sometimes I feel guilty dragging you away all the time."
Mary raised an eyebrow slightly, "You don't drag me away. I like hanging out with you. And we're three adults even they do their own things. They're not attached at the hip you know.
Erramen laughed at the mental image that conjured up and she found it contagious.
He put his cup down on the table and stood. He walked over to the bed and looked down at the sword laying in its scabbard. "May I?" he asked as he gestured towards the sword.
He picked it up and took hold of the hilt pulling it free. He examined it with what looked to Mary to be a knowing eye. "Nice" he commented and stepped back a few paces. He twirled his wrist and felt the balance of the blade. "Very nice. Where'd you get it?"
"Hmm…oh it was a gift from a friend." She answered a little surprised at her friend's hidden talent.
"Nice workmanship and the balance is perfect." He placed the sword back in its home and gave Mary a smirk. "What? Just cause I work with horses doesn't mean that's all I know."
"Oh I know that, I just never pictured you to be a swordsman."
"My father taught me. From the time I was very little. He died a few years ago and I just haven't had the heart to pick up a sword since. What made you decide to learn the skill?" he asked curiously resuming his seat and his drink.
"I don't really know. I was always interested in fighting arts. I studied from when I was little I had two teachers, one was good with a sword and one was good with these." She said picking up her nun-chucks.
"I've seen you practice with those. You have great skill. It's sort of mesmerizing to watch you with them. Hey when you get back you think you can show me how to use them?"
"Sure, if you don't mind getting hit. They sting you know. I got whacked quite a bit 'til I got the hang of it. Hell, I still whack myself with the damn things." She said with a laugh.
Erramen drained his cup and refilled his mug peering into the pitcher afterwards. "Enough for one more."
Mary drained her mug and stood. It became apparent to her just how strong the ale was as it took a bit of effort for her not to let on to her companion that she had a definite buzz going. She walked over to the table and held out her mug to the waiting Erramen.
Mary wiped the sweat from her brow and wondered why it was suddenly so warm in her room. "Damn it's hot in here, let me open a window there was a nice breeze blowing tonight."
Looking back on it the smart thing to have done was put the mug down. Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20. She turned and began walking towards window without noticing that Erramen had stretched out his long legs in an effort to get more comfortable. Had he left them in that position she probably would have just stepped over them. But he pulled them back hastily to keep her from tripping causing her to catch her foot on his boot.
Erramen jumped up and tried to catch her but ended up with a chest full of ale as she spread her arms in an effort to keep her balance. She hit the wall with a very audible "Umph"
He reached her a second later grasping her around the shoulders. "You alright?" He asked a little breathlessly. Whether it was the ale or her embarrassment she didn't know but she burst into a fit of laughter that Erramen found impossible to resist.
They stood there for a few minutes and laughed until their sides hurt. Finally Mary turned to look at her companion and realized he was wet. "Oh my god. Did I do that?" she asked still laughing.
He looked down at himself and rolled his eyes, "Um…I got up to try and catch you but you hit me in the chest with your mug."
"Oh no, I'm so sorry here let me get you a towel or something."
She opened a drawer and took out a piece of dry linen. When she turned Erramen was in the process of taking his shirt off and she stopped short. Nice. She slapped herself mentally. Damn it's hot in here. She tossed him the linen and crossed over to the window. She opened it and a nice cool breeze began to come through.
Erramen dried off his face and chest and went for his shirt. Mary took it out of his hands. "Its wet don't you think that will defeat the purpose of drying off?" She saw the beginning of a blush on his face. "Don't worry I wont tell anyone I saw you with your shirt off." She assured him with a smile.
She took the shirt and laid it on the windowsill. "Even if it dries you're still gonna have to wash it or the next time you wear it people might confuse you with a wino."
"A what?" he asked puzzled.
"Never mind just make sure you get the ale smell out of it ok." She answered with a chuckle.
She turned towards Erramen and found him with a concerned look on his face. "What?"
"C'mere." She said softly reaching out a hand.
She approached him and his hand went up her temple rubbing a spot with his thumb just over and to the right of her right eyebrow.
"Does that hurt? You musta hit your head on the wall there."
"Ouch yeah. I didn't even realize I'd hit it that hard." She reached up a hand to touch the spot and her hand came in contact with his. It was warm and for some strange reason she felt a tingle up her spine and she looked up and their eyes met.
She brought both their hands down and broke the gaze. "I'm gonna get teased for this tomorrow you realize."
He chuckled and followed her with his eyes until she reached the windowsill. She turned and leaned on it comfortably crossing her arms on her chest.
He remained standing just looking at her quietly and assumed a similar pose. "So…how long will you be gone?"
Mary though for a minute, "I'm not sure. It'll take us a couple of days to get there then the festivities. Don't know how long that will be. Then we come back as far as I know. Less than a fortnight I would think."
"Mm…" was his only response.
Mary's brow furrowed, "Why?"
"Oh no I was just wondering. Gonna miss you is all."
Mary smiled and approached her friend, "Won't be that long. And just so you know I'm gonna miss you too." She finished, giving his arm a stroke.
He could feel his heart beating. It felt like a hundred hoof beats pounding in his chest and he was finding it difficult to breathe. Mary sensed a change in Erramen and looked up to meet his gaze. I'm in trouble. His blue eyes shone in the candlelight and there he stood shirtless with his hair down and Mary found it hard not to drool. He was handsome, polite, funny, respectful, thoughtful, and had a very giving heart. Any woman would be lucky to have him.
He closed the distance a little between them and she let him. This is not going to happen. He brought up a hand and caressed her cheek. This is not going to happen. She leaned in to the touch and he pulled her in closer. This is not going to happen. She felt her body make contact with his and somehow her arms ended up around his neck. He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her lips. Aw crap.
Tap, tap, tap.
Mary stirred, slowing moving towards consciousness being led by a soft tapping sound.
Tap, tap, tap.
Her brow furrowed as the tapping became louder and a little more insistent. She became slowly aware of her surroundings and the fact that she was not alone. She was still groggy and in a haze of sleepiness leaned into the warm body at her back. She felt a strong arm around her waist pull her in closer and snuggled into the warmth. Then reality kicked in.
Tap, tap, tap. "Mary"
Her eyes flew open and she half sat up. She looked back and saw Erramen beginning to stir. She covered her eyes with her hand and let out an audible groan. She rose quickly threw on her tunic and went to the door.
She opened it slightly and saw Gabrielle, "Uh sorry, I'll be down in a couple of minutes." She told the bard hurriedly.
"You ok?" asked the bard concerned.
"Yeah I'm fine had a couple of ales last night didn't know they were so strong. I'll be right down." She shut the door before Gabrielle could respond and turned towards the bed.
She saw a very innocent looking Erramen with his hands behind his head. "Oh my god." She took stock of the room and herself taking note of the pile of clothing by the bed.
"This did not happen." She said striding purposefully towards the bed. She lifted the end of the covers to find Erramen clad in nothing but what the gods had sent him into this world with. "Oh my god." She sat on the edge of the bed put her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands.
Erramen sat up, "ok…good morning?" he was at a loss for words. This was not the reaction he had envisioned and he was growing a little concerned.
"Erramen, we didn't…did we?" she asked unable to face him.
"Look I'm sorry. To be honest I don't know how it happened. I didn't mean to…I mean I didn't plan it. I just…we just…oh gods." He got out of bed and began to fumble around the room for his clothes.
"Wait, wait hold on slow down before you hurt yourself."
She got up and began to dress. "Ok look, it happened, a little too much ale and a little too much feeling. We can handle this right?"
"I'm really sorry I should've never let it get that far."
"No its my fault too, I could've said no right? Damn look we'll talk about it when I get back. I have to go before they send out a search party."
She finished dressing and grabbed her stuff, "Let yourself out ok. And don't worry I'll be back soon." She stopped in front of him and lifted her hand to his cheek. She pulled him down a placed a very soft kiss on his lips. Then she ruffled his hair and smiled. "Don't worry."
With that she left and flew down the stairs. The main hall was empty except for Cyrene and Gabrielle. "Sorry I'm late. We all set?"
"Um…yeah. Xena went to get the horses, here." Said the bard handing her a half wrapped parcel, which contained two pieces of bread and some cheese.
"Ah the breakfast of champions, cool."
"You would've had eggs if you'd gotten up on time." Replied Cyrene playfully handing Mary a mug of cold cider.
"I know, I know. Some one should've warned me about the ale." Replied Mary taking a long swallow of cider.
Cyrene and Gabrielle both chuckled.
"Hey what's this?" asked Gabrielle referring to the still red mark over Mary's eyebrow.
"Huh? Oh…had a little accident. Tripped in my room last night and ended up saying hello to the wall." Answered Mary trying her best not to blush.
"Well that settles it. Mom, no more ale for her." Said the bard good naturedly.
No hiding the blush that time. "Ha, ha, I'm glad my pain amuses you." Replied Mary going for the bards tickle spot.
"Aahh! Stop that! What were you doing drinking alone in your room anyway huh?" Asked Gabrielle sidestepping to keep from being further tickled.
"Oh well…" she was interrupted by heavy footsteps coming down the stairs.
They all turned to see Erramen descend the steps pulling his shirt on. Once he finally got his shirt in place he stopped seeing the three women. He glanced at Mary then at her two companions.
"Uh...morning ladies, have a good trip, I'm really late." He made his way across the inn and ran into Xena as he opened the door.
"Umph, Gods sorry Xena. Did you get the horses out ok? Got a late start this morning. Excuse me I've got lots to do. Uh…have a good trip."
Xena watched him go then turned towards the inn. "What's wrong with him? You'd think he got caught with his pants down or something."
She received no response and arched an eyebrow, "Did I miss something?"
Gabrielle looked over at Mary and saw her pitching the bridge of her nose, "No. We all set?"
"Yeah let's get going. I have the horses outside." She was getting the not now vibe from her bard and decided to leave well enough alone knowing Gabrielle would tell her whatever was going at a more opportune moment.
It's funny how the human mind works. Its capable blocking out whole memories from a person's conscious mind, then suddenly giving them back the memories, most times at the most inopportune moments.
They'd been riding most of the morning. The day was gorgeous, no clouds, nice breeze with just the hint of a chill in the air. Fall was in full swing and everyone was beginning to set up their stores for the winter.
Gabrielle had been chatting lightly with her two companions and had commented more than once how good it felt to be out and about. Mary hadn't disagreed. She enjoyed her time out on the road with her friends very much but she had other things on her mind. The previous night had come flooding back to her in a rush of memory that had left her literally breathless. She had stiffened suddenly in her saddle with her heart pounding making her breath quicken.
She recalled touches and whispers and wondered why she hadn't put a stop to it when she'd seen the first signs. Its not like she couldn't tell what was happening. The last thing in the world she wanted was to hurt Erramen. She did love him but she knew in her heart she wasn't in love with him and it made her sick to think she might have to hurt him.
Her companions had noticed that their friend had grown pensive. Xena looked back at Gabrielle questioningly and she was answered with a soft pat on her back from the bard.
Now was not the time, that was clear. But she was reassured to know that at least the bard had some idea as to what was wrong.
Around mid day they stopped off to have some lunch. They picked a nice warm spot and relaxed for a while stretching out muscles that were a little stiff from the long ride. Mary's mind was consumed with what she was going to tell Erramen when they returned. Her thoughts were disturbed by a squeal and she looked up.
"Xena stop." Chuckled the bard.
Mary looked over at her friends and decided a little walk was in order. She smiled and stood heading in the direction of a nearby stream. Bard and warrior looked at each other. When Xena was sure Mary was out of earshot she turned to her bard.
"Ok will you please tell me what's going on?" She asked a little exasperated.
"I'm not quite sure." Answered the bard honestly.
Xena looked at her puzzled, "Bu…"
"Look, when I went to get Mary this morning she was all flustered and opened the door about this much then practically slammed it in my face." She stated holding her hands up in front of her face about four inches apart.
Xena's brow furrowed, "So what? Maybe she had company."
"Um hm, not two minutes after she came down Erramen came running down the stairs pulling on his shirt and when he spotted us he started babbling. That was right before he ran into you."
Xena looked up at the clouds, "You don't think they…"
"I don't know, but Mary said she'd been up late drinking and I could definitely smell ale coming off Erramen." She replied speculatively.
Xena though for a minute, "Ok so what if something did happen. They're both adults Gabrielle. I mean…"
"So why is she acting like this then? You know her; she's too quiet and withdrawn. Like she's a million miles away." Retorted Gabrielle.
"Ok you have a point there but who says it has anything to do with Erramen? Maybe she's nervous about visiting the amazons. Did Ephiny happen to mention in her note how things were going with Lilith?" Asked Xena with an arched eyebrow.
Gabrielle bit her lip, "No she didn't. You're right, it could definitely be that. I'm sure she must be nervous. She hasn't heard from Lilith since we left there last and its no secret we've been in Amphipolis." She felt suddenly guilty for not thinking of that.
"Damn it Xena why does she have to put up that happy go lucky front of hers all the time? You know she's never mentioned Lilith not once in all the time we were in Amphipolis." She finished exasperated.
Both Xena's eyebrows rose, "You know you really should learn to express your feelings more Gabrielle. It's not good to keep things bottled up like that."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Then she closed it abruptly with an audible click of her teeth. She slapped playfully at her soul mate's arm earning her a wide grin from the warrior.
"Come on Xena I'm serious. And you're right; it's not good to let things stay all bottled up. I mean...I don't know, it's just I wanna help her you know?"
Xena let out an audible sigh, "I know you do." She reached out and stroked Gabrielle's cheek lightly. She let her hand travel to the back of the young girl's neck. She pulled her in closer and ducked her head to place a kiss on Gabrielle's lips. The light contact gave the young girl goose bumps and she shivered slightly.
Xena pulled back a little catching Gabrielle's eyes with her own. She could hear Gabrielle's heart beat and it was in time with her own. The world around them stopped and all that existed was the sea of green that she was helplessly drowning in.
How did she live without this for so long? Why had she waited so long to acknowledge what was between them? She smiled unwittingly as she remembered that first tentative touch of lips. She brushed her thumb past the bards slightly parted lips and felt the warm breath as it escaped. It sent a tingle up her spine and she could feel the energy between them.
The combination of her bard's innocence and the unveiled passion in her eyes always excited the warrior beyond anything she had ever experienced. In the past her own pleasure had always been in the fore front, but now, her greatest pleasure came in the pleasure she could giver her soul mate.
She leaned in close and their lips met again. Gabrielle licked Xena's lips with a feathery touch of her tongue and the warrior emitted a small moan that surprised her somewhat. She never felt so helpless as when they were like this. All her trust placed in the smaller woman's hands along with her heart and soul.
The most fragile things she possessed given freely to a young girl from Potadaia who'd risked her life and left everything she'd known to follow a broken down ex-warlord who was feared and despised through out all of Greece. And now the warlord trembled as she felt a gentle touch on her the back of her neck and another on her shoulder as it traveled down her arm.
Those who knew them marveled at how the mighty conqueror had been conquered. And conquered she surely was. A willing slave to the love that had laid claim to her heart and would possess it always. This had been her first surrender and never had she expected it to be so sweet, so powerful, so all consuming. Now, with a tilt of her head and a gaze into the eyes of her soul mate she willingly lowered herself into the arms of her captor.
It was almost dusk when they reached Amazon territory. They had stopped briefly once more so Gabrielle and Mary could change into their Amazon attire. Gabrielle had turned as Mary finished doing up the laces of her boots and whistled as she'd stood up.
"Wow, I know I've seen you in that before but you really do look great." Commented the bard.
Mary blushed slightly, "Well thank you my queen." Said Mary bowing slightly before continuing. "But I think your champion will agree that you look…hot stunning as well if not more so."
Mary smiled in her saddle as she remembered the little scene. The truth was she wasn't very comfortable in the Amazon attire but she'd promised Gabrielle she'd wear it and so she had.
Xena pulled Argo to a halt and Mary followed suit with her horse as well. They dismounted knowing the Amazon scouts would make their presence known in a few moments. They lead the horses and within seconds ropes dropped down on either side of them.
Xena and Mary stopped as Gabrielle stepped forward. Masked Amazons slid down the ropes and knelt when they saw their queen. One stepped forward and removed her mask. It was Eponin and Mary couldn't help but smile at the sight of her friend. "Welcome home my Queen. The nation is overjoyed at your return for the blessings of Artemis will surely be upon us."
Gabrielle gave the Amazon and exasperated look, "You done with the formalities?"
Eponin stood and smiled, "You betcha." She said as she stepped forward and hugged the bard. "It's good to see you. Ephiny's been driving us all nuts with the preparations for the joining and your arrival."
Gabrielle giggled and Eponin worked her way over to Xena. She extended an arm and Xena grabbed it warmly giving the weapon's master a warm smile. Then she turned her head to see Mary. Her eyes opened wide and she laughed as she opened her arms to welcome Mary into a strong hug.
"Well look at you!" She held Mary at arms length causing her to blush a little. "You certainly do those leather's justice my friend."
Mary giggled, "Thanks, blame the queen over there she made me wear them."
They laughed and Eponin turned to lead the escort to the village. As she passed Gabrielle she gave her a thumbs up and a wink that was missed by Mary but not Xena. Gabrielle giggled and turned to her champion. "You know maybe putting Mary in Amazon leathers wasn't such a good idea after all."
Xena put an arm around her bard's shoulders and lowered her head a bit, "This might be more fun than I thought it would be."
The closer they got to the village the more nervous Mary became. Erramen was forgotten replaced by the thought of seeing Lilith. She did all she could in the last month to not think about the girl but she couldn't. A day didn't pass that she didn't think about her. With all that had happened and all there was to get accustomed to this was the last thing she expected. Add to that the feelings she was having for her bardic friend and you ended up with one emotional mess.
"One thing at a time." She told herself. Her feelings for Gabrielle would work themselves out she was sure. But Lilith, that was a different thing all together. She had to prepare herself for the possibility that the girl had settled back into her life and all that she had left behind. Besides, would it really be fair to her? Mary knew she wouldn't be able to stay no matter what her feelings were. She knew her path, for better or worse lay along a different course. To leave Lilith time after time would be like dying a little every time. She didn't want to condemn them both to that. No, it would be best if Lilith had discovered that what she and Ephiny had once shared was still alive and they could make it flourish. Right.
Mary looked up and saw the village gates in the distance. She took a deep breath and patted her horse. "Ok boy here we go."
Ephiny greeted them at the gate with warm smiles and hugs for all. She walked to the village center and filled them in quickly and what had been happening and the preparations for the joining. They still had two days before the ceremony and there was still much to do. Xena gave Mary the "we're in trouble" look and she simply smiled in return.
Eponin called a young Amazon over she took possession of the horses. "You're in time for dinner." Began the regent. "Why don't you go get settled in and we'll meet up in a half candle mark for dinner." The trio nodded in agreement.
Xena and Gabrielle left in the direction of the Queen's hut and Mary was at a loss as to where to go. Eponin placed a hand on her shoulder, "Come on lets get you a nice cozy room."
Mary smiled and followed the weapon's master. After a few moments she noticed they weren't headed in the direction of the visitor's huts. She was slightly puzzled but had learned a while back it was better sometimes not to ask. They stopped at a hut and Eponin opened the door. "Here you go." She said pleasantly holding the door open for her.
"Thanks." Replied Mary and stepped inside.
It was cozy. She liked it. The visitor's hut she had stayed in previously had been nice but this one had a more homey feel to it. It was larger and though the décor wasn't all that different it just had a different feeling to it.
"All the guest huts full?" Asked Mary placing her pack on the table.
"No, we just figured…well, we just wanted you to know that you would always be welcome here. You don't need to be with Xena and Gabrielle to come visit. You do know that right?" Concluded Eponin.
Mary was thoughtful for a moment then smiled. "Thanks Ep that means a lot really."
Eponin smiled back and took her leave. She smiled to herself as she thought about what Eponin had just said. "Well I'm certainly dressed for the part." She said to herself as she checked her appearance in the mirror. "I wonder what my counterparts are doing."
In the Queen's hut Xena and Gabrielle were taking a minute to relax before having to face a dining hall full of amazons. Xena had placed their things on the table in their room and was waited patiently as Ephiny rattled on about the preparations for the joining ceremony. The ceremony was in two days and she was convinced they would never finish everything in time. Gabrielle assured her that everything would be fine and extended all their services (including Mary's to the cause).
Ephiny gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks in advance for all your help."
"No problem." Answered Gabrielle then thought for a minute. "So, now that we have that figured out, how are things otherwise?"
"Not bad, no major disasters to report. Everything has been going well. Relations with Centaurs are at an all time high…"
"And… how is Lilith doing?" asked the bard a little tentatively.
"Oh she's fine." Replied the regent. "She's really settled back into her life as an Amazon. She really missed it, and we really missed her as well. It's been…I'm really glad she's back."
Bard and warrior exchanged glances, "That's great Eph." Replied the bard with a genuine smile.
"Well enough of my chattering you guys gets settled and I'll see you at dinner." She concluded as she took her leave.
Gabrielle let out a long breath, "Well at least this time we haven't walked into the middle of a major disaster."
Xena chuckled, "Its early, we just got here."
Gabrielle gave her warrior a look, "Don't jinx it. We're here for a joining ceremony, nice and simple. "
"And when has anything with the Amazons ever been nice and simple?" Asked Xena placing her hands on her hips and cocking her head to the side.
The dining hall was full to capacity. Some guests had already arrived and the room was filled with a buzz of conversation and laughter. Add to that the addition of the tribe's beloved queen and you had one room full of ecstatic Amazons.
Mary had joined her companions prior to heading to dinner and they all arrived together. Upon seeing Gabrielle the room erupted into a chorus of cheers and happy words of welcome. For a few moments it was doubtful they would ever make it to their table.
Finally a path was cleared and the trio was allowed to take their seats. "Whew! I didn't think we'd make it across the room." Said Gabrielle laughing.
"They love their Queen." Stated Ephiny simply. "Besides they know how dangerous it is to keep the Queen from her appointed meals."
The table's occupants broke out into fit of helpless giggles unable to maintain their composure. Once the giggle fest abated they went to get their dinner. When they returned they found two new occupants at their table.
"Well what do we have here?" asked Xena good naturedly.
Mary stopped short when she saw Lilith. She was sitting at the table chatting with her younger sister Rain. They looked up and Rain immediately jumped up and headed for Mary. She barely had time to put her food down before the young girl caught her in a strong embrace.
Mary returned the hug with the same enthusiasm. "Hey there! Wow, its great to see you. How have you been?"
Rain let go of Mary and looked up at her smiling, "I'm good, it's been great. I was sooo hoping you would come."
"I wouldn't miss it, besides I had to come and make sure you were keeping everyone in line." Mary laughed and ruffled the younger girl's hair.
She looked up to see that Lilith was engaged in conversation with Gabrielle. She turned her head in Mary's direction and their eyes met. Mary felt her mouth go dry and her heartbeat began to speed up. Lilith excused herself and approached Mary.
"Hi there." Said Mary smiling.
Before she knew what was happening her face was captured in Lilith's hands and her lips were captured as well. Right there in a dining hall filled to the brim not to mention the Queen, Champion and Regent, Lilith gave Mary what was probably the best kiss of her entire life.
Whistles and shouts erupted from the neighboring tables and the kiss ended leaving Mary looking breathless and extremely flustered. She looked around to see Xena with a raised eyebrow and Gabrielle blushing. She finally looked at Lilith who had a very pleased look on her face. "Hi."
Mary let out an audible breath, "Well alrighty then."
After dinner they remained in the dining hall for a while talking and getting caught up each other's lives. Solari and Maresdy had come to join them for a while and others stopped by now and then to say hello. All in all it was a very enjoyable evening.
When they left the dining hall it was cool outside and they all welcomed the cool breeze. They stood out side for a few moments exchanging good nights and plans for the morning then everyone departed for their respective huts. Mary smiled when she saw Xena and Gabrielle walking away hand in hand. It always warmed her heart to see them like that.
She was shaken from her thoughts by the sound of Lilith's voice. "Why don't you head off to bed Rain? You have to be up early and I need to talk to Mary. I won't be long."
After a few words of protest the young girl relented and headed for the hut she shared with her sister. "Wanna go for a walk?" asked Lilith. Mary nodded and they were off.
After a few minute Mary recognized the path they were on. It led to a secluded stream that Mary had spent some time at the last time she had visited. When they reached the stream the sat on the grass and enjoyed the scenery for a few minutes.
"That was some welcome." Said Mary breaking the silence.
"Uh, yeah. Sorry about that. I just…I don't know. I guess Rain isn't the only one who was hoping you'd come." Said Lilith a little awkwardly.
Mary smiled, "Guess I don't have to worry about finding a date for the wedding."
"A what?" asked Lilith puzzled.
"Uh…a partner… you know."
"Oh you mean you would like escort me to the joining ceremony." She said with a smile. Mary nodded and Lilith continued. "Well yes I would like that very much."
She leaned over and gave Mary a kiss on the cheek. "You look great in those leathers did you know that?"
Mary saw the glint in her eyes and smiled. "Thanks, so do you." She complimented appraising the girl with her eyes. What was it about Amazon gear that just drove Mary crazy? "Must be the belly buttons." She thought to herself.
Lilith leaned in closer "But you know as good as you look in those leathers, I know from personal experience that you look better out of them."
The look in Lilith's eyes left no mistake as to her intentions and there was nothing more that Mary wanted that to lose herself in this woman's arms but…
"Are you sure?" asked Mary as she played idley with the lace of Lilith's bracer.
Lilith lifted her hand and placed a finger under Mary's chin lifting it so there eyes met. "Yes I'm sure. The last time I saw you I thanked you for giving me my life back. The last moon has been wonderful. I didn't know how much I'd missed being here, or I did, I just tried not to think about it." She took a deep breath, "Ephiny and I had a long talk. I told her about us and she realized that her feelings for me were more memories than anything else. She's my best friend and we have her blessing so don't worry about that. I know she likes you a lot."
"That's good cause I like her too. But I don't want to condemn you to a life of loneliness. I can't stay here and I would never dream of asking you to leave. No one could ever hold my heart the way you do but you deserve the chance to be happy with someone who will be here for you. I can't give you that. I don't know if I'll ever be able to."
It was difficult for her to say those things. It was like ripping her heart out. She wished things could be different but she knew that wasn't possible.
"I know that. I've always known. Your destiny does not lie settled down in an Amazon village. It's out there with your friends. I accept that."
"Well I don't, I can't. I won't let you live a life of solitude waiting fro me to come back all the time. That's not right. You are young, beautiful, and smart, you have a great personality. You're such a catch." Stated Mary
"And what makes you think you're any less of a catch? Look why don't we do this? We live our lives and do what we must. You follow your path and I'll follow mine. But when you are here…you're here." Finished Lilith with a caress to Mary's cheek. "Who knows maybe one day we can settle down for good but for now this is all we have."
In that moment she allowed herself to believe the possibility that it would all work out and abandoned herself to the love she felt for this woman. They expressed their love there by the stream with the stars as silent witnesses to the joining of two souls.
The next two days were spent with the village making the final preparations for the joining. Despite Ephiny's predictions of doom due to time restraints everything was completed on time. Everyone had been so busy that unless they were working on the same project no one saw each other except for meals.
Mary had moved her gear into Lilith's hut and she had to admit she was enjoying doing the domestic thing. Rain was happy beyond compare and it just felt nice. If she had to describe it that's how it would be.
The day of the joining found everyone dressed in their best. Lilith had Given Mary a gift of a new set of leathers. She protested stating that she only needed one. But she had insisted and Mary relented. A pattern they were quickly falling into. It seemed Mary could refuse her nothing. A fact that Xena and Eponin loved to tease her about.
Mary, Rain and Lilith left for the joining the image of the perfect Amazon family. An image that was all too readily apparent to her companions. "I think we lost her this time." Whispered Gabrielle.
Xena took in the trio as they arrived. "I don't know, you might be right." Consented Xena with a sigh that surprised her somewhat.
Everyone took their places and the music began signaling the commencement of the ceremony. Solari appeared in full ceremonial dress accompanied by Eponin. They made their way to the platform where the Queen, Regent and Champion stood. Once there they knelt before the Queen. Gabrielle gave a slight bow of her head and they stood.
Next came Maresdy accompanied by Milli. They too bowed upon reaching the platform and stood when bid to do so by the Queen. Maresdy and Solari looked at each for a moment and smiled. Eponin and Milli stepped back and joined Ephiny and Xena.
Gabrielle took a deep breath then began, "We are here to witness the joining of Maresdy and Solari. It is with pleasure and the deepest sincerity that I officiate at this joining. May the blessing of Artemis be on you always." She turned her attention to the couple. "Maresdy do you wish to join you life with Solari? Will you love her, honor and protect her all the days of your life?"
Maresdy looked up at Solari and smiled, "Yes…I will."
Gabrielle smiled, "Solari do you wish to join your life with Maresdy? Will you love her, honor and protect her all the days of our life?"
Solari swallowed hard. Her nerves had been threatening to get the best of her all morning. But she stood her ground and looked down. "I will, all the days of life and beyond."
Tears escaped Maresdy's eyes as she and Solari turned to face the Queen. Gabrielle felt the moisture threatening to escape her eyes as well. She cleared her throat and continued, "As a sign of you union…" Ephiny stepped forward handing Gabrielle a dagger. "Your blood will be made one so that you may be forever joined in both body and spirit."
This was the part of the ceremony Gabrielle dreaded. Maresdy presented her right palm and Solari her left. Gabrielle made a cut in each of their palms then handed Ephiny the dagger. Ephiny then offered her a ceremonial tie which she took and used to fasten their hands together. Then the couple knelt before the Queen.
She placed a hand on each, "Dear Artemis, Maresdy and Solari have come before you and in the presence of their Amazon sisters, friends and family have declared their devotion to one another. I ask that you bless their union that it may endure all and last for eternity."
Gabrielle motioned for them to stand, "Solari?"
"Huh?" she asked a little dazed.
"Kiss your wife so we can start the party." Whispered Gabrielle.
Solari blinked then looked down at Maresdy. She smiled and ducked her head to kiss her bride. There was an explosion of howls, cheers, whistles and applause. The newlyweds broke the kiss and turned to address the commotion. With wide grins they descended the platform hands still joined.
It didn't take long for the celebration to be in full swing. There was plenty of food and drink to be had. The drink in particular was flowing freely and everyone was relaxed.
Gabrielle surveyed the crowd and noted Xena engaged in conversation with a group of Amazons. "Talking about weapons and battle tactics no doubt." She said to herself.
Ephiny she spied with Eponin, Claudia and Milli. Maresdy and Solari were sitting at one of the tables totally engrossed in one another. "Hmm I think its time to find them a room." She walked over to Ephiny and whispered in her ear. Ephiny surveyed the situation and motioned to Eponin. Eponin smiled and went over to the couple. With embarrassed looks they quietly took their leave of the celebration to continue their own celebration in private.
The music was beginning to motivate some towards the dancing area and Gabrielle glanced over at Xena again then back to the dancers. She was about to try and coax Xena to a dance when she was startled. "Eek!"
She was surprised to see Mary standing in front of her with a mischievous grin. "Sorry didn't mean to scare you."
The bard laughed and gave her a swat on the arm. "Hey, what have you been up to?"
Mary gave the bard a wide grin, "Nothing, just wondering why you were here by yourself."
"By myself. Why? Were you watching me?" Asked Gabrielle folding her arms across her chest.
"Maybe…here." Mary handed Gabrielle a mug and took one for herself.
Gabrielle accepted it and they settled back to contemplate the crowd. "So, where's Lilith?"
Mary rolled her eyes, "She's knee deep in a discussion about trapping and preparing game or something along those lines. Not my cup of tea but she seemed to be enjoying the topic. I saw Xena over there so I came to find you."
"Ah I see." Replied the bard grinning.
They finished their mugs and downed another rather quickly. They were half way done with the third and Mary was bopping her head to the rhythm of the music and had a notion that she might like to try dancing. It was just a notion she hadn't had enough alcohol to actually make an attempt. She looked over at her friend.
"Hey doesn't Xena dance?" asked Mary genuinely curious.
"Um, you know…I don't know. We've never had the opportunity."
"Well go ask her then." Encouraged Mary.
Gabrielle giggled, "I don't know."
"Aw come on, you know you want to. You're bopping to the music and you keep looking a t Xena. Go on, I tell you what if she says no I'll dance with you."
"Sure I would."
Gabrielle drained the rest of her mug and went out in search of her prey. She approached Xena from behind and wrapped her arms around her waist. Xena brought her bard around to face her.
"Hi there, you having a good time?" Asked Xena with a wide grin.
"As a matter fact yes. Would you like to dance?" Asked Gabrielle giving Xena a grin of her own.
"Uh…sure." She replied.
Gabrielle took her hand and was about to lead her to the dance space when a voice from the group called out. It was one of the guests from one of the Sister tribes, Adena.
She smirked, "You turning down the challenge then?"
Xena stopped and turned, "No I'll be back."
"Sure ok." She turned to the rest of the group "I knew she couldn't do it."
The group hushed. Xena turned to Gabrielle, "I'll be back in a minute I promise this wont take long."
"What's wrong?" asked Gabrielle concerned.
"Nothing she challenged me to a test of skill and I accepted right before you came. Let me just do this really quick then I'll dance with you ok. It won't take long."
Whether it was the alcohol or PMS or the alignment of the planets no one will ever know. Gabrielle looked up at Xena then over to Adena. "Sure go ahead."
Xena smiled and gave her bard a quick kiss before leaving. Gabrielle watched as Xena left with the group. Her eyes narrowed and she turned on her heels and headed straight for Mary.
"What happened? I thought you were gonna dance with Xena." Mary had seen the exchange and was a little puzzled.
"She has more important things to do." Said the bard shortly, then she grabbed Mary by the hand.
"Where we going?" she asked as she let the bard lead her.
She stopped and turned to face Mary, "You said if Xena didn't dance with me then you would. Or do you have more important things to do too?"
Oh boy she's pissed. "Heck no, lets dance." It was going to be bad enough that Xena would have to endure Gabrielle's wrath Mary had no intention of joining Xena in that dog house.
They found a clear space among the crowd and faced each other. Mary had no idea how to do an Amazon dance but she did have rhythm and she'd been observing the other dancers. Just move in time to the music like any other dance, no problem.
She watched as Gabrielle began to move and followed her movements. The bard had a very determined look on her face, "Maybe," Mary thought to herself, "She'll get out all her frustration with the dancing and Xena will be saved from hurricane Gabrielle."
Mary kept pace with the bard and it wasn't long before they realized they moved well together. Gabrielle closed the distance between them a little smiling. She leaned forward, "You never told me you could dance."
Mary smiled in return, "You never asked."
They both laughed and continued their dance. They were completely oblivious to the glances they were getting from the other dancers. The rhythm changed slightly and the music became more soulful, deeper with almost a carnal edge. Mary could feel it deep inside her almost like a rumbling a growl.
Gabrielle felt it too. It was as though her movements were being controlled by it. She raised her hands above her head and her hips took on a sensual sway. Mary was mesmerized by the movements. The bard closed the distance between them even more, their bodies almost making contact. Gabrielle looked at her friend and saw she was watching her hips intently. At that moment Mary looked up and was caught by a pair of mischievously glinting green eyes.
Gabrielle danced around Mary ending up behind her. She placed her hands on Mary's hips and guided her movements. Mary's heartbeat sped up and she felt as though she was holding her breath. Then the bard turned her around to face her. She kept her hands on Mary's hips and Mary placed her hands on the bard's shoulders and ran her hands down her arms. They each moved in closer and cut off what space left between them. Their bodies fit together nicely and they were both very aware of it.
Xena returned to the festivities and furrowed her brow when she did not catch sight of her bard. She was in a good mood having taught the arrogant Adena a lesson in humility. In truth she felt a little guilty for not having danced with her bard when she'd asked and was hoping to make up for it. But there was no sign of her. She hoped Gabrielle hadn't gotten angry and left the party.
She spotted Ephiny and headed in her direction. It wasn't until she'd almost reached her that she saw she was talking to Lilith. "Hey."
"Xena." Replied the regent with a nod.
Xena nodded at Lilith and turned to the regent, "Listen Eph have you seen Gabrielle?"
"Not in a little while…wait you can't find Gabrielle? I thought you were attached at the hip." Said the regent folding her arms on her chest.
"Don't feel bad Xena join the club. I was just asking Eph if she'd seen Mary."
Xena let out an exasperated breath.
Eponin came up behind Ephiny and put a hand on her shoulder. The expression on her face was quite urgent but upon seeing Xena and Lilith she looked as though she'd swallowed her tongue. "What's up Ep?" the regent looked slightly alarmed.
"Uh…" she looked at the regent then at her companions. This is bad. "I'm sorry would you excuse us for a minute." Said Eponin leading Ephiny away.
After a few feet of distance Ephiny stopped in her tracks, "Ep, what's wrong with you? Where are we going?"
"I think we have a serious problem." Said Eponin seriously.
Ephiny took in her friends tone and look of urgency. "What is it are we under attack? Is someone hurt?"
"Worse." Said Eponin seriously as she led Ephiny to the dancing area. "Look."
At first she didn't see what Eponin was referring to then she spotted Gabrielle. "Oh." Then her eyes opened wide when she saw she was dancing with Mary. "Oh no."
The pair was, for lack of a better word, scandalizing the dance area. Gabrielle had one hand on the back of Mary's neck. Their foreheads were touching and Mary had her hands on the bard's hips.
"What are we gonna do?" asked Eponin concerned.
"I don't know." Answered Ephiny.
The regent was desperately trying to think of a solution when Eponin's voice drew her attention to the pair again.
Eponin wondered if she should help Ephiny pick her jaw up from the floor.
Gabrielle whispered something unintelligible into Mary's ear punctuated by the slightest flick of a soft earlobe by a playful tongue. Mary felt a shiver travel up her spine and emitted a groan that was drowned out by the music. Gabrielle gave her a wicked grin which Mary returned.
"Eph, its bad luck for your guests to kill each other on your wedding day. Not to mention the Queen and I really like Mary."
Ephiny was almost frantic then grabbed Eponin by the hand. "Come on follow my lead."
She led Eponin to the very distracted pair and motioned for Eponin to go behind the queen. She would handle Mary. Ephiny found the rhythm and began to dance behind Mary. Eponin watched and followed suit catching on to the regent's plan. With more than a little effort they were able to pull the two apart and turn them away from one another.
Once this was accomplished it was easy to lead them away from the drooling crowd. The pair was breathing hard and were both flushed.
"What the Hades is wrong with the two of you?!" Began the regent, showing no mercy for either of her friends.
They each opened their mouths to speak but couldn't. They were each trying to figure out what had happened.
"Do you have any idea what would have happened if Xena and Lilith had seen the two of you?" Continued the regent. "Sweet Artemis Gabrielle this is not the way I would want to end up being queen. Hades! I don't want to be queen at all!"
"Ephiny I'm sorry. I don't know what happened. We were just dancing…"
Gabrielle was cut off by the regent, "Just dancing? Did you see the faces of the people around you? No, of course you didn't. You were too busy groping each other!"
"We weren't groping each other!" said Gabrielle defensively. "Were we?" She looked at Mary who looked just as lost.
Mary found it hard to meet Gabrielle's eyes, "It was the music. I swear, one minute we were dancing the next…Gabrielle was pissed at Xena. I figured it'd be a good way to work it off. I don't know what happened."
"The music changed." Said Gabrielle.
"So what?" asked Mary puzzled.
Ephiny was about to answer when her gaze was focused behind the two women. Gabrielle looked confused and Mary simply closed her eyes before she said, "They re behind us aren't they?"
Gabrielle and Mary looked at each other then turned to find each of their respective partners behind them. Lilith had her head cocked to one with her hands on her hips and Xena had her arms folded across her chest. Neither one looked very amused.
Gabrielle and Mary exchanged glances. Neither one spoke. Ephiny and Eponin just looked on unable to look away. It was like a car wreck. Lilith and Xena had very serious expressions on their faces. But in truth, no one really knew why. No one knew what they seen if anything at all. Mary wasn't about to volunteer information before she found out how deep a hole she was in.
"What's going on?" asked Lilith.
Ok that's encouraging. Mary's brows knit together, "Going on?"
"We've been looking for you two everywhere, then Eponin shows up dragging Eph away looking like there's a disaster in the making and now here you two are, the queen and her best friend looking like a pair of scolded children. So yes, I'm going to ask you again, What. Is. Going. On." Finished Lilith, her eyes starting to show a hint of anger.
Mary opened her mouth to speak but Gabrielle spoke out first. "We were dancing and things got a little out of hand."
"Out of hand?" asked Lilith "What exactly is out of hand?"
Xena hadn't spoken at all and quite honestly if frightened Mary. Xena had kept her gaze fixed on Gabrielle but Mary was fully expecting to meet the business end of Xena's chakram.
"We didn't do anything. Things just got a little…close." Added the bard.
"Close." Said Xena in a tone that made Mary wince.
I am so dead. Thought Mary. Lilith looked angry but not as much as Xena.
"Maybe I can help explain." Spoke the regent from behind the two smaller women.
"Oh yes Ephiny please do explain." Said Lilith sarcastically.
"First of all, please keep in mind that this is a joining celebration. Everything is prepared to promote love in all its forms to help maintain a positive air around the lucky couple. Isn't that right Lilith? You were not gone so long that you do not remember."
At first Lilith was confused then her eyes opened wide as the recollection came to her.
"Secondly," continued the regent. "From what I was able to observe the two of you took it upon yourselves to find other things of interest other than your partners. So in turn, feeling rejected by their significant others turned to one another for comfort."
Xena's expression softened a bit, her eyes turning towards the ground guiltily for a moment then returning to the regent.
"Lastly, it was my fault for being so single mindedly focused on the preparations that I did not brief Gabrielle on all the aspects of the celebration."
Gabrielle turned to Ephiny with an inquiring look. "What do you mean all aspects?"
"Well…everything, from the wine to the music is meant to set a mood. It's meant to make you feel…amorous, so that the newly joined is surrounded by nothing but feelings of love and warmth."
"You mean this whole thing is meant to make everyone horny?" Asked Mary in disbelief.
"For lack of a better word, essentially yes." Answered the regent.
Mary stood there open mouthed unable to respond to the regent's honest reply. She looked over at Gabrielle who in turn looked at her. Their minds recalled the dance and they both began to blush.
Mary pinched the bridge of her nose and Gabrielle turned to Xena. "You didn't know about this either did you?"
"I…no, I didn't know." She answered honestly letting go of her anger.
"I'm sorry Xena, you know I would never…Gods…Mary would never…we would never…" She turned her back to Xena too embarrassed to face her.
Xena quickly crossed over and embraced her bard. "Gabrielle its ok. I know you would never betray me, either of you." She said looking over at Mary.
Mary caught the look and was relived. She looked over at Lilith, "So…you mad at me?"
Lilith looked at Mary for a moment then let out a long sigh. "What am I going to do with you?"
Mary smiled, "Anything you like."
Lilith returned the smile, "Does that include dancing?"
"You betcha! Come on." Mary grabbed Lilith by the hand and began to lead her to the dance area.
Ephiny smiled and called out to Xena, "Hey Warrior Princess, dance with my Queen she's been waiting for you all night."
Xena rose an eyebrow and looked down at Gabrielle, "So…what do you say my queen? Could I have the honor of this dance?' She said with a slight bow.
Gabrielle chuckled then grabbed Xena by the hand and went to her friends.
Eponin and Ephiny watched as the couples took their places and began dancing. Eponin saw Ephiny out of the corner of her eye and cleared her throat.
Ephiny looked over at the weapon's master with an inquiring look. "Something on your mind Ep?"
"No, no I was just thinking that maybe we should join them just to make sure there's no further trouble." She answered trying to sound matter of fact.
Ephiny bit her lip to keep from smiling, "Good idea." She replied and led the way to join the group.
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