Gabrielle studied Xena intently. They had been sitting like this, across from each other on the bed, but not touching, for the better part of an hour. The warrior had started to speak several times, only to shake her head in frustration and turn her eyes away. “What is it? Tell me.”
The gentleness in her tone brought a smile to Xena’s lips. Reaching out, she took the bard’s hand and looked into her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Gabrielle. The things I said, they weren’t fair. None of this is your fault.” She pulled off her armbands and Gabrielle noticed the stitches near her elbow.
“What happened?” She leaned forward and saw blood hiding in the creases of her breastplate. “Xena, what happened to you?”
“I’m all right, Gabrielle. Just hear me out.” She pulled off the breastplate, dropping it to the floor beside the bed with a quiet promise to herself that she would polish it as soon as she could. Her eyes followed it as she began. “Seven years ago, I was leading raids against the villages that lined the southern coast. We were working our way towards central Greece, destroying anything in our path.” She untied her hair and brushed her fingers through it. “We came across a village there, nothing large, about the size of Potedeia. It’s name was Krylos.”
Gabrielle looked confused. “I’ve studied a lot of maps, but I’ve never heard of that one.”
Xena looked at the floor, the walls, anywhere but Gabrielle’s eyes. “That’s because it doesn’t exist anymore.”
The bard shivered involuntarily, and knew by the slight slump of her shoulders that Xena had seen her. The warrior didn’t mention it though. She simply continued.
“I went ahead to scout the land, to find out if they had any defenses.” She gave a short laugh. “They didn’t even have doors on most of their buildings. But a village was a village.” She swallowed, a look of pain on her face. “On my way out, I saw a young woman with a large pack stealing quietly down the back road, away from the town. I thought maybe she had seen my army and was running to get help, so I grabbed her and dragged her into the woods. By the time I stopped, she was shivering and crying. I don’t know what came over me, but I actually felt bad for her. I started a fire and gave her some food. After she had eaten, she told me who she was, and what she was doing.” She sighed. “Her name was Asephony. She was a beautiful girl, barely seventeen. Green eyes, red hair. Skin so fair it looked like fresh cream. She was small, a little smaller than you. And she was running away. It seems that her parents had promised her to a wealthy merchant in Athens, a man who had ties to royal blood. They called him a prince, a great exaggeration. I found out that he was the bastard child of a King’s heir. Twice removed and barely recognized, but her parents believed his promises of wealth and prosperity. He was almost thirty years older, and had four other wives, all of whom had met a painful death when their replacement was found.”
“That’s horrible.” Whispered the bard, caught up in the story. “Her parents wanted to send her into that?”
“People can do horrible things, Gabrielle, thinking that they have good intentions at heart.” She touched her pale cheek with the tips of her fingers. “Asephony wouldn’t have it. She was going to see the world…” Her words trailed off.
“I watched her talk, watched her smile and reached out to squeeze her arm. Before I knew what I was doing, I had taken her in my arms and kissed her. She fought me at first, but only for a moment. Then I heard her sigh and she gave herself to me willingly. We made love under the moon, and by morning she had my heart.” Xena looked up quickly, frowning at the sadness in Gabrielle’s eyes. She hadn’t paid attention to what she was saying. “It was a long time ago, Gabrielle.”
The bard nodded, not trusting her voice to speak.
“I took her back to her village, told her to tell everyone that the Warlord Xena was coming to destroy their lives unless I was given a tribute. And that the tribute I wanted, was her. The next day, I rode in, my entire army at my back. I went straight to her home and saw her leaning against a tree.” Something changed in her as she spoke, as though angry thunderclouds were rolling across the sky blue of her eyes. “Only she wasn’t leaning. She was tied there. Her eyes were wide open, staring at nothing, the blood on her dress still fresh. They had given me my tribute.” She swallowed, her face closing down, lost in memory. “All I remember after that…is darkness, and blood. I razed the village, burned down every house, every barn, killed every man that was moving, and both of her parents. The rest of them, I sold to the mines. When we left that valley, the only sign that a village had ever been there, was a long, black trail of soot. It wasn’t until that night, when my senses came back to me, that I realized I had been wounded. Someone had gotten a knife between my ribs, and it felt as though a piece of it was still in there. I went into the woods, and found the spot where I had known her, leaned against a tree and waited there to die. That was were Athena found me.”
“Athena?” Gabrielle’s eyes were wide. “THE Athena??”
“Yes,” Xena pulled out her sword. “She is the Goddess of War, Gabrielle. She had followed my army for quite a while, it seems. She came with the face of Asephony, healing me while I made love to her. When my confusion cleared, I realized what she had done, and refused to let her touch me. It was then that she cursed me.”
“Cursed you? How?”
“None may go where a goddess was denied. On penalty of death.”
“So that’s why…Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It seemed so unfair,” She took Gabrielle’s face in her hands. “But when you died, I knew how much I loved you, and I do, Gabrielle. I love you. And I couldn’t let you out of my life without showing you how much.” She leaned forward and kissed her, a kiss of love and barely restrained passion.
When the broke apart, it took Gabrielle a moment to clear her head. “But, what happened to you tonight?”
“I went in search of Athena.”
The bard’s jaw dropped. “YOU called a god?”
“Yes.” She laughed at her look of surprise. “Just because I don’t think them wonderful, doesn’t mean I deny their existence. She cursed me. She can release me.”
“And?” She asked hopefully.
She laid her sword across Gabrielle’s knees. “She gave me the answer. But it doesn’t make sense. Can you read this, Gabrielle?”
The bard studied it for a moment, then nodded. “Part of it, anyway. ‘You must take-‘”
“I know that part,” She interrupted.
“The rest is vaguely familiar, but there’s something odd about it.” She sighed in frustration. “I can’t read it.”
“It’s all right, Gabrielle.” She reached for the sword but the bard curled her fingers around it.
“It’s my life, isn’t it?”
Xena stopped cold. “Forget it Gabrielle.” She warned.
“No, I won’t forget it.” She touched the first set of words. “’You must take what you do not want, from the one who would give you everything.’ It’s my life. Isn’t it?”
“Gabrielle,” Xena pulled the sword from her grasp and set it aside. “What does it matter? I won’t do it. I won’t let you do it. If all we can have, is what we have now…isn’t it better than the alternative?”
“NO!” She felt panic rising in her throat and fought to keep control of it. “Come here.”
Gabrielle moved into her arms, feeling warm breath against her neck as Xena’s lips found the place where her pulse beat in time with her heart. She laughed softly as teeth nipped at her skin, and felt the marks rising that would claim her as Xena’s. Once, she would have fought against any man who would try to own her in such a way. But she possessed Xena as well, she knew that every time she looked into her eyes.
She cried out softly as Xena trailed her lips down her chest, taking a nipple into her mouth through the thin fabric of her shirt. Pushing the warrior away, she pulled her clothing off and laid across the bed, her thighs parting slowly as blue eyes trailed over her fair skin.
Never moving her eyes from Gabrielle’s, Xena untied her leathers and let them drop to the floor. The need she saw on Gabrielle’s face was enough to make her knees go weak. She knelt over the smaller woman’s body, straddling her hips until she could feel soft hair against her labia. Closing her eyes, she began to rock, pushing against the body beneath her., as small sounds escaped her lips.
Gabrielle watched Xena in wonder, her own breath coming in gasps at the feel of the woman on top of her. She could feel exquisite softness and delightful pressure each time Xena moved against her, and her hands reached up instinctively, only to be grabbed tightly when they were an inch from the warrior’s breasts. She whimpered in frustration as she felt them being pulled back and pinned behind her head in one strong hand as Xena brought her lips down against her body.
Xena could feel Gabrielle’s passion building and increased the speed of her hips. She could feel the pounding of the girl’s heart, could hear her name on those sweet lips, and it pushed her over the edge. Her release flooded through her, causing spots to dance before her eyes as she cried out Gabrielle’s name. Beneath her, her lover’s body shook and finally lay still as well. She collapsed into loving arms, and was asleep in seconds, mumbling ‘I love you’ before sliding into darkness.
Gabrielle held her, her eyes overflowing with the love she could not contain. She felt as though this woman was her heart, and without her, she would cease to be.
How could she let her suffer?
She waited nearly an hour, until Xena’s body had completely relaxed, and then slipped out from beneath her. She pulled on her skirt and top, then stood, looking down at her lover for a few moments.
“I love you, Xena.” She whispered softly. Grabbing her lover’s sword, she headed out the door.
Gabrielle looked up and down the hallway. Finding it empty, she slipped out of their room and closed the door behind her. The cold boards against her feet reminded her that she had forgotten her boots and she thought briefly about going back for them. With a shake of her head, she continued down the hallway, listening at each door. She heard Delphi's voice in the very last room. Taking a deep breath, she knocked softly and tried not to laugh when she heard panicked footsteps from within.
After a few moments, the door opened a crack to reveal one of Delphi's clear green eyes. It widened slightly and then narrowed as the door opened completely.
"Gabrielle!" She admonished. "You scared the wits out of me." She looked behind the bard, confusion apparent on her face. "What are you doing here?"
"I need to talk to you."
"Well, uh..." The barmaid looked behind her, into the darkness of the room.
"Please, Delphi." Gabrielle grabbed her arm. "It's important."
She studied Gabrielle for a few moments and then sighed. "All right, all right. Give me a minute."
"Hurry," The bard blushed. "I don't want-"
"Yeah, I know. You don't want Xena to wake up and find you lounging outside my door. One second." She closed the door and Gabrielle could hear heated words from the inside of the room. A moment later, the door flew open and a young woman stormed out, the surprise on her face matching Gabrielle's expression as she saw her in the hallway. Strawberry blonde, pale blue eyes, fairly athletic body. Gabrielle tried not to smile as she stormed away, throwing back a few hard words at the barmaid chasing after her.
"It's not like that, Ari! She's just a friend!" Delphi's shoulders slumped when she realized her lover was out of earshot. "Thanks a lot, Gabrielle."
"Sorry." She couldn't keep herself from smiling. "But I need your help."
Delphi noticed the sword she was holding and did a double take. "What's going on?" She grabbed Gabrielle's arm and pulled her into the room, closing the door softly behind her. "Tell me."
"I need to ask you a question." Gabrielle reached out, her hand going to the top of Delphi's breasts. The barmaid sighed when her fingers only curled around her necklace. "This symbol...what is it?"
Delphi looked down, thinking that the bard had lovely hands. She shook her head quickly and retrieved her charm from Gabrielle's grasp. "It's an old prayer stone." She turned it so she could study it. "My grandfather belonged to The Ursa."
Delphi nodded. "It was an ancient clan that worshipped Athena and Artemis. At one time, everyone in this valley was part of The Ursa."
"What happened?" Gabrielle leaned closer to study the amulet again. "I've never heard of them."
The barmaid smiled sadly. "The usual happened. There was an argument between two of the priests, one who favored Artemis, and one who favored Athena. As can be expected, the clan split in two, each side hating the other, even though they were the same people they had pledged to love and protect." She poured herself a glass of port and sat down on the bed. After a few sips, she continued, her voice soft. "They went to war, each side fighting for the honor of their God. A lot of people died, both men and women. In the end, the clan was so weakened that it couldn't survive. All that's left is the Temple that Artemis and Athena shared at one time. We still care for it, clean it and keep the torches lit. But no one goes to worship, no one goes to pray. To most of us, it's as dead as the clan."
"Who did your grandfather follow?"
"My grandfather was one of the few who did not choose sides. He tried to unify the clan, and was banned for his trouble. He spent the last ten years of his life trying to make people understand why the clan had failed.. He made me understand. He gave me this necklace. It is the symbol for peace in the Ursan prayer language."
Gabrielle laid Xena's sword in her lap. "Is this the same language?"
Delphi pulled the sword into the candlelight and ran her fingers across the blade. She turned questioning eyes up at Gabrielle. "Where did you get this?"
"The sword is Xena's. Athena placed the writing there. I was able to decipher the first part, it's just an odd version of ancient Greek." She pointed to the first verse. "'You must take what you do not want from the one who would give you everything.' But the rest-"
"That's not what it says." Delphi corrected her. "This word is not 'take'. It's actually 'accept'."
`"You must accept what you do not want from the one who would give you everything?" Gabrielle sighed in understanding. "She wanted Xena to think that she had to do it."
"Take my life."
Delphi stood quickly, the sword sliding to the floor with a clang. "What?!?"
Gabrielle tried to decide how much she should tell her. "Athena is angry with Xena. She cursed her. The only way to lift the enchantment is-."
"For her to take your life??" Delphi grabbed the sword from the floor. "I'll kill her myself."
"No!" Gabrielle twisted it out of her grasp. "Xena doesn't want to do it. She won't even think about doing it. And apparently, she doesn't have to. She just has to accept it."
"Gabrielle, listen to yourself. We're talking about your life here."
She shrugged. "I was hoping the rest of the inscription...can you read it?"
Delphi nodded and held out her hand with a sigh. She studied the last set of characters for a long time before looking up at Gabrielle with something of a smile. "Well, I don't know how much help it is..."
"What?" The bard stepped closer.
"'No light is brighter than the moon, on love and life in shadows.'" She smiled.
"What?" Gabrielle repeated, frowning in confusion. "What does that mean?"
"It means the moon may be an answer." She set the sword down and drank the rest of her port. "Artemis and Athena are not fond of each other, but it seems they are still playing by the rules."
"What?" Her voice was getting higher and she was getting very tired of that word.
“In this valley, two gods are in power, still to this day, even though the Ursa are long gone. What Athena does, Artemis must endure, and vice versa. My grandfather used to tell me stories about the games they would play. One would set a course, the other would do her best to deter it. Sometimes it was in fun, sometimes in anger, but they were always trying to prove who was more powerful.” She held up the sword. “It’s a taunt. Athena placed these words here to proclaim her course as set. Which means that Artemis-“
“Could deter it...” Gabrielle’s mind worked furiously. “Artemis could be made to stand in her way.”
“Perhaps.” Delphi frowned. “But first you have to get her attention. That is the tricky part. It would require sacrifice.”
Gabrielle swallowed. “Sacrifice? Delphi, I can’t kill anything.”
“Well, I don’t know of any other way.”
She looked thoughtful for a few moments. “Maybe I do.” She picked up the sword. “Where is the temple?”
“It’s a long walk, Gabrielle. And not through the safest territory.”
“Let me worry about that. Where is the temple?”
“I know I am going to regret this.” She frowned. With a sigh, she told the bard what she wanted to know.
Gabrielle glanced up at the glowing moon and tried to pull her cloak tighter around her body. It was no good, the breastplate just got in the way. She frowned when she thought about Delphi’s reaction to her plan. First, she had laughed to see the bard garbed in Xena’s armor, then she had all but broken down their door to try and wake Xena to stop her. But, being the bard that she was, she was finally able to persuade her to let her go.
Now she wasn’t so sure it had been a good idea.
It was very late at night, or very early morning, depending on how one wanted to look at it, and there wasn’t another soul on the grown over path she was following, but somehow, she felt as though there were eyes on her, making her skin crawl against the leather covering it.
Well, if someone was out there, they weren’t attacking her, so maybe her idea was working. She flashed a little more armor and let Xena’s sword stick out from beneath her cloak. Maybe she had been right in thinking that any passersby would see a warrior and let her alone. Whatever, it didn’t matter. She could see the temple up ahead., Delphi’s directions had been very accurate, as had her descriptions.
The Temple of The Ursa looked as though it had been grown instead of built. Trees lined every inch of the walls with their branches and vines threading between the stones and mortar. There were no windows, only small slits cut through wood and brick to allow the moonlight in. She couldn’t make out a roof, only densely grown leaves and protective overhangs that looked as though they could withstand the fury of Zeus himself.
The truth of another of Delphi’s statements hit her instantly. This place was empty, deserted. Oh, there was not a spot of dirt on any wall, not a lone leaf littering those alabaster stairs, and light flickered from within, but she knew to her bones that no earthly creature was inside. She didn’t know how she knew, she just knew.
Somehow, the thought of being so alone became more frightening than the feel of eyes from the wood, and she faltered in her steps. After a few deep breaths and several thoughts of Xena, she climbed the stairs and stood outside the door.
She tried to focus on what she had to do, but that only terrified her more. She had never spoken to a God, not even Ares when he came for Xena, and the idea of it was very unsettling. Then she thought of her Warrior Princess, sleeping alone back at Delphi’s inn. Sleeping so soundly that she didn’t even hear her lover leave. It wasn’t often that Xena gave in to that kind of exhaustion. Whatever she had done that night, she had done for her. How could she turn back now?
With renewed will, she pushed against the door and found it opened easily, swinging on well oiled hinges to reveal the chamber within. The room was long, long enough to hold a hundred men, with rows of benches leading up to the altar. A fire burned with disturbing energy at the very back, behind the dais itself, and once again, she found everything clean and well cared for. The idea that people would care so fastidiously for a place they didn’t even use was unsettling. With a shiver, she pushed the door shut and slid the bolt that locked it from within.
She moved towards the altar slowly, trying to form the words she would say in her mind. It was odd that words should desert her now. They never had in the past.
“Nothing was ever this important in the past.” She whispered to herself.
Shrugging out of the cloak, she laid it over a nearby bench and resumed her walk up to the dais Her breastplate reflected the firelight and cast eerie shadows across the floor as she made her way.
The altar was beautiful, as altars went anyway. It was hewn from white stone and inlaid with symbols of pure gold. Flowers and fruit lined the floor, covering every space except a narrow path that led
around it and down the center of the room. A ten foot statue of a woman looked down from it’s pedestal above the hearth with two emerald eyes, each set in their own half of two different faces. There was no blood, no athame, in fact no sign of either anywhere.
Gabrielle stopped in front of it and looked down to see a red pillow lining the step before her. She sank slowly to her knees, knowing this would be the last test of whatever faith she had. Remembering Delphi’s instructions, she tilted her head back and stared straight up, into the gemstone eyes of the stone goddess that presided over this temple. “Artemis,” Her throat felt sore, her voice sounded dusty, almost as though it was afraid to speak. “Patron Goddess of The Moon and Maidens. I beg your counsel.”
Nothing but silence.
With a sigh, she reached into her bodice and pulled out a small bundle she had been able to fit in between her breasts and the leather. She reminded herself to be depressed later about just how much she *could* fit in there.
Unwrapping the leather, she held up it’s contents. “I offer these to you, Artemis. One was made by my own hands,” She laid a tiny circle of braided thistle upon the altar. “The other…was made by love.” She glanced one final time at the hoop of silver in her fingers. It had been a gift from her sister for the last birthday she had spent at home. She closed her eyes and squeezed it tightly in her palm before setting it within the garland. “Hunter Goddess, I beg your forgiveness for my lack of proper sacrifice, but I am unable…” She thought about that for a moment. “…unwilling…to kill.” She corrected. “I beg you, for love’s sake…give me counsel.”
The silence that greeted her ears was deafening. Swallowing her bitter disappointment, she turned to leave, forcing herself not to reach back for her ring. Delphi’s warning had been quite clear: Never take back a gift given to the Gods, even if it seems they do not want it.
Trying not to cry, she walked down the aisle to the bench where she had left her cloak. As she pulled it on, she heard a noise behind her. It was like the leaves on a late autumn day, followed by a low, throaty laugh. She spun towards the altar and saw a handsome, if not beautiful, dark-haired woman standing behind it. She watched as the Goddess picked up her ring. With a smile, she slid it onto her finger.
“Gabrielle.” Artemis laughed softly, gesturing to the armor the bard wore. “A sheep in wolf’s clothing.”
Gabrielle looked down at herself and flushed as the ethereal voice echoed in her ears. “It was the only way to make sure I got here alive, Goddess.”
Artemis snorted. “You’re lucky I am a God, and as such, can hear your thoughts. Otherwise I might have killed you for this seeming impertinence.”
“I did not mean it as such, Goddess.”
“I know that, girl.” She reached for a vine of grapes, slipping each fruit into her mouth slowly as she studied the young woman before her. “And stop calling me Goddess. I have a name. I give you permission to speak it.”
“Artemis,” Gabrielle walked forward a few paces. “I need your help, please.”
The God came around the altar and leaned against it. “Why should I grant you my help, Gabrielle. You’re not exactly a maiden anymore.”
The bard cursed in frustration. She had forgotten that. Her mind raced furiously, trying to think of something, anything, and settle on the Goddess’ distaste for men. Looking directly into powerful, bright green eyes she said, “But I’m not exactly…’experienced’ either.”
Artemis looked interested. “Explain that.”
“Well,” Gabrielle felt herself warm up to her task. “A maiden, by definition, is a girl not yet claimed by a man. I have never…been claimed by a man. If you look into my heart, you’ll know I am telling you the truth.” She smiled as endearingly as she could. “Like you, I prefer to keep company with women…well, one woman, actually.”
Artemis gazed at her with an intensity that was unnerving. “You’re telling the truth.” She said finally. “Why are you here? The night is not a safe place for maidens.”
“No…no it’s not. But I had to come here. Because of this.” She came up the aisle to stand in front of the Goddess. Pulling out Xena’s sword, she extended it, hilt first, towards her. She watched as Artemis read the words along the blade, her face growing cold and stone-like. When the Goddess returned her gaze, there was an anger in her eyes that would have frightened an army of warlords.
“So…” She laid the sword on the altar top. “Athena still challenges me, in my own valley.” She stared into the fire, her expression unreadable to the bard.
“Will you help?” Her voice was small.
Artemis didn’t seem to hear her as she twisted Gabrielle’s ring with her fingers. Holding her hand up, she looked at the simple, smooth band of silver, then turned to face her. “What does this mean to you?”
Gabrielle looked at her ring, resting on the hand of a goddess. “I carried the love of my family in that ring. It was a piece of my home.”
The Goddess nodded. “What was the curse?”
“None may go where a Goddess was denied.” Gabrielle mumbled, then explained in detail. When she was done, Artemis looked at her skeptically.
“You would do all this, for a simple act of pleasure?”
“No. I would do all this, to be able to love her. Without a god damning her for it.”
Artemis considered her words carefully before speaking. “She is fortunate.”
Gabrielle only shrugged, her cheeks reddening. “Not as fortunate as I am.”
The Goddess took her face in her hands and whispered, “Watch then…listen…learn.”
When she released her a few minutes later, Gabrielle stumbled slightly, grabbing the God’s arm for support before she realized what she was doing. She pulled her hands back quickly. “I understand.”
“Do you?” Artemis crossed her arms, her hands covering the places that the bard’s skin had touched. “Do you understand, Gabrielle, that if she fails, you will die. And Hades will not let you go twice.”
“I understand,” She said quietly. “that if I don’t do this, I will have failed her.”
Artemis nodded and handed her the sword, new words etched along the blade. “Go then. Even now, it starts.”
Gabrielle nodded. “Thank you.” She grabbed her cloak and fled from the temple.
Outside, the night air felt charged with something she couldn’t identify. It felt dangerous, deadly, as though Athena herself would try and block her way back. She glanced back once and saw no light from the temple. She whispered ‘Thank you.” again and ran towards the Inn.
She hadn’t gone more than 30 yards when a figure leapt from behind a tree and threw her to the ground. She scrambled backwards, and he stepped into the moonlight, grinning down at her like a cat with a nice little mouse.
“’Tires?” She questioned. “What are you doing?”
“Your story was a fool’s tale.” He started to unfasten his belt. “Now, I will teach you the way the world really is.”
She kicked up with her leg, catching him hard in the groin with the tip of her booted foot. He doubled over in pain and Gabrielle shot to her feet, moving to run past him. Before she could, his arm shot out, tangling in her hair and yanking her painfully back to face him. He leaned in close and she could smell his sour breath and the nauseating stench of his unwashed body. With one hand still clutching her hair, he reach around with the other and pressed her up against him. “You’ll pay for that. Oh yes, you’ll pay.” He freed her hair and grabbed the top of her bodice to hold her still. Pulling back his arm, he slapped her, hard, across the face, knocking her to the ground. “Think you’re smart doncha?” He swaggered around her, taunting her.
Gabrielle knew her only hope was to kill him, something she didn’t know if she could do. She felt Xena’s breast dagger against her skin and worked her hand slowly from her face to the top of her tunic.
“You think,” ‘Tires continued. “that uppity bitch of yours is the Warrior Princess? Well, maybe she is and maybe she isn’t. It doesn’t matter. By this time tomorrow, you’ll be tied to my horse like any other slave girl, watching as I beat her to death.” He stared down at her, a smug grin on his lips. “My army’s comin’, little bard. And there ain’t nothing that can save her.”
“Your army?” Gabrielle’s nature got the best of her. “What are you talking about?”
“Seems your well muscled friend ruffed up a few soldiers over you. Took a crest from one of ‘em.” His face grew dark. “Well, he wants it back, he wants her dead…and he wants you. He’s gotta hundred men, ready to march on Atwir in the morning. When he’s done with you, you’ll think I was a gentleman.” He started to take off his shirt. When he had stripped down to what passed for his underclothes, he loomed over her and spat, “Where’s your Warrior now, harlot?”
He turned to see a fist speeding towards his face. When he was able to stand, he looked at her and laughed. “Well, that’s some get up.”
Xena rolled her eyes and looked at Gabrielle pointedly. All she had on was her shift and her boots.
He lunged at her, pulling a dagger while her attention was on Gabrielle. She flipped over his head and landed behind him.
“Yiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyi!” Her cry echoed in his ears as she launched herself into his chest, her boots burying themselves in his ample gut. He fell backwards as the air left his lungs and Xena stomped on his hand until he dropped the knife. She kicked it away, into the trees, and then knelt, one knee on his neck. “Well,” She smiled. “Looks like you lost…again.”
He struggled and she pushed harder, hearing his neck creak under her weight. “Just tell me what I want to know, and I’ll get up. Then we can finish this like men.” She said sarcastically. “Or, I can just kill you now, like a snake crushed under my boot heel.” He shook his head in panic. “What time are they attacking?”
“First light.” He croaked, taking huge gulps of air the moment she was off his throat.
“All right.” Xena looked at him coldly. “There are two ways we can do this. You can run now and hope I never see your ugly face again, or you can attack me and I can kill you, saving some other warrior the trouble.” She sighed when he charged her. “That’s what I thought.” She stepped out of his way, kicking him in the ass as he sailed past her.
When he came at her again, he held a thin spike, something he had pulled from his boot. He gripped it’s handle and lunged, only to have her knee connect solidly with his groin, and then her fist with the back of his head. He crumpled to the ground, his own hand shoving the spike up into his heart. She flipped him over with her foot and shook her head.
“Who do they have to be so stupid?” She asked, to nobody in particular, and then turned her attention to Gabrielle. “Are you all right?”
Gabrielle saw the worry in her eyes and immediately felt like a child. “I’m okay.”
Xena helped her up and then inspected every inch of her.
“I said I was okay!” Gabrielle protested, anger creeping into her voice.
“Oh, I’m not worried about you,” Xena remarked. “This is my favorite armor.” She laughed quietly.
“What are you doing out here, anyway? In my armor?”
“I thought maybe I could find a way to help you,” She saw the steel in Xena’s eyes and rushed to continue. “But I was wrong. You were right.” She hated lying to her, but it was the only way.
The warrior studied her for a few moments and then nodded, whistling for Argo as she pulled her sword from Gabrielle’s back. She hooked it onto the saddle horn with her chakram and then vaulted into the saddle, pulling the bard up behind her. “We have to hurry, so hang on. We have to warn the villagers while there is still time for them to do something.” She spurred Argo into a full gallop back towards Atwir.
When they reached the town, everything was quiet. The quiet of peace loving farmers and merchants with no idea they were about to be attacked. Xena recognized it, she had destroyed it often enough.
“Not this time.” She whispered. “Gabrielle, go get Delphi. Tell her to wake everyone and have them meet us in the tavern. Hurry.”
Thirty minutes later she was staring into incredulous faces. “You can’t be serious!” One man shouted. Why would raiders come here?”
“Raiders go where they will,” She snapped, losing her patience. “They don’t care who they destroy.”
“If they are coming here, then they are coming for you!” A woman cried out. “You’ve brought them down upon us!”
Xena was speechless in the face of their accusations. She had come to help them and was receiving their anger instead of their support. She was close to leaving when Dophycles forced his way to the front of the crowd.
“You are all being fools!” He shouted over the noise. “This woman is offering her aid in saving your village. She is a noble warrior. If you turn her away, you deserve what you get.”
The villagers stared at him, all of them surprised into silence. Dophycles turned and clasped Xena’s arm. “If you stay, I will help you.”
“As will I!” Delphi agreed from the back of the room.
Within a matter of minutes, she had twenty volunteers, all the men she could use. She sent the rest home and gave instructions to her ‘army’ before releasing them to tend to their families. “Remember, be in position well before dawn. Warlords can be unpredictable.” They nodded and filed out, leaving Gabrielle and Xena alone by the bar.
Xena looked down at her lover and smirked. “Could I get dressed? Please?”
Gabrielle smiled. “Lead the way, Warrior.” She followed Xena up to their room, her feet moving automatically as she went over her own plans in her head. With a sigh, she realized that she was betting her life on the woman in front of her. She hoped to the God’s she was right.
Xena didn’t know what to think. Silence was something unusual for Gabrielle...very unusual. And yet, silence is what she got as she led the bard up to their room. She desperately wanted to believe her, that she had given up on trying to ‘save’ her. She wanted to believe that. But something in the way the bard looked right then, kept her from doing it. “What’s wrong?”
Gabrielle glanced up, forcing a smile. “Nothing. I was just thinking about tomorrow. About how we can stop them from hurting these people.”
“We?” Xena shook her head. “No, Gabrielle. There is no ‘we’ in this. You’re staying here.”
“Staying here?” Anger showed clearly in her pale blue eyes. “Xena, I can help you. I know what I’m doing with a staff. I’m not a child anymore.”
“I never thought you were.” She filled a bowl with water and splashed it on her face.
“Because Athena is angry with me.” She dried herself with a towel before taking the bard’s shoulders in her hands. “and you’re no match for a God.”
Gabrielle nodded slowly. Everything depended on her being on that battlefield tomorrow, arguing would only make it that much harder. “You’re right.”
Xena blinked. “What’s going on , Gabrielle?” she whispered, her eyes narrowing.
“Mmmhmm.” She grabbed the bard gently by the chin, tilting her head up to meet her eyes. “Don’t even think about it.”
Gabrielle smiled and leaned into her, feeling the warmth of her body through the thin fabric of her shift. Her hands moved in small circles across the warrior’s back until she heard Xena swallow.
“We don’t really have time for this.” Xena whispered, her voice hesitant.
“Shh.” Gabrielle bowed her head, running her lips above a swollen nipple.
“Gabrielle, I don’t know what the rules are. I don’t know how much you can do…”
Gabrielle reached up and unsnapped her breastplate, letting it fall to the floor between them. “I know how much you can do.”
Xena’s arms were around her instantly, pulling at the laces that held the leather closed. When it finally slid from her hips, Gabrielle moved to the side of the bed. Moonlight streamed through the window and reflected off of her pale skin, bathing her in a glow that made her look unreal. “Come here.” She whispered, holding out her hand.
Xena didn’t hesitate. All thoughts of time forgotten, she pushed Gabrielle back onto the bed and parted her thighs with a hand, eyes closing at the wetness that met her fingers, a small moan escaping from her lips. The urgency of Gabrielle’s need astounded her. There was no shyness, no pause, just a demanding hunger that burned deep in her lovers eyes. She lowered her head and bit softly on one nipple, running her tongue around it in circles, keeping time with her hand as her fingers grazed Gabrielle’s center.
“Please…” The bard’s voice was no more than a ragged whisper.
“What do you want me to do?” The words were light, almost teasing, and Xena smiled as she said them, but her heart nearly hammered it’s way out of her chest when she felt Gabrielle’s palm against the top of her head. The bard pushed her down gently, moving her hips up to meet soft lips as Xena buried them in pale, fragrant hair. She lifted Gabrielle’s thighs onto her shoulders, sliding two fingers deep inside as her tongue parted her and flickered lightly against her clit. She went as slow as she could, exploring every fold, every soft, satin ridge with her tongue as her fingers curled inside, reaching deep to find the spot that always stripped away Gabrielle’s senses.
When she had it beneath the tip of her finger, she increased her speed, pushing harder with her tongue as her hand moved in and out of Gabrielle’s sweetness. She felt the bard’s ecstasy in her own body as Gabrielle began to buck beneath her, her hips shuddering wildly against the roughness of her palm.
“Xena!” Gabrielle’s cry ripped through her like a blade and she felt her own thighs begin to tremble against the sheets beneath them.
“By the God’s, Gabrielle…” Her voice was weak, her hands trembling. When she felt the bard’s back arch, she let go of her self control, allowing herself to slide into release, pulled by the force of Gabrielle’s climax. When they fell back to earth, they lay shuddering together, gasping for air.
“I love you.” Gabrielle pressed her face into Xena’s neck and the warrior could feel the warmth of tears.
“It’s all right, Gabrielle.” She stroked her hair and let her cry, holding her for as long as she could. She was surprised when the tears stopped almost immediately.
“I guess you need to go.” The bard sniffed. “Go on, before I hold you down and never let you out of my sight.”
Xena kissed her softly and rose from the bed. She washed in the same basin she had used for her face, wiping away the traces of their love with a cloth before pulling on her leathers. Gabrielle got up and helped her buckle on her armor, kissing her soundly before sliding her sword into the scabbard on her back.
“You’ll be okay.” She whispered. “I know it.”
Xena hugged her tightly. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Yes. Yes, you will.”
She locked the door behind her, and went quickly to the window. Looking down, her eyes followed her lover until she was out of sight.
Gabrielle sighed deeply, wishing she had more time, but a quick glance to the east told her all she needed to know. She pulled her clothes on quickly and grabbed her staff from the saddlebags, assembling it as she watched the sky lighten above the mountains.
Xena moved like a shadow, slipping from one attack point to the next with the agility of a cat. She had ordered them to stagger themselves in groups of four, creating five small defense parties spread across a field outside of town. She inspected each group, finding them satisfactory, until she reached the last one.
There, she found Delphi, armor strapped around her chest and a sword in her hand. Her skirts were gone, replaced by the rough breeches that the townsmen wore and her hair was braided tightly against her head.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Her voice was harsh, there wasn’t time for reason.
“I’m defending my people,” Delphi shot back. “And save your breath, I’m not going anywhere.”
Xena cursed under her breath. “Do you even know how to use that thing?”
The barmaid smiled. “I run a tavern.”
With a curt nod, Xena moved on, only stopping when Dophycles grabbed her by the arm. “How do you know they’ll come through this field?”
She looked from him to the horizon and then back again. “Because I would.” She pulled her arm free. “Now get ready.”
She left him to move into position and strode to her own spot on the battlefield, right in the front, with no cover. Everyone else was backup…just in case. If they wanted Gabrielle, they’d have to get through her first. She turned her head and listened, smiling darkly when she heard the whispers of the enemy, carried softly to her on the wind. A few moments later, she saw them.
Not a hundred men, but fairly close. She estimated about seventy five.
Every one of them stopped when they saw her, her armor flashing in the newly rising sun. “This is your only chance,” She yelled. “Throw down your weapons and go home to your wives…before I make them widows!”
A few men shuffled nervously, the one’s that believe the legends about her. Most of them just laughed. They parted ranks to let a lone man through and Xena spat when she recognized him..
“Xena,” He tucked his hands into his belt and smiled. “How nice to see you again. I’ve come for what is mine.”
She pulled out his patch of leather and released it to the wind.
“Nice try,” He sneered. “But this town is mine, the girl is mine…and you are mine.” He pulled his sword and charged, his men fast on his heels.
Xena grabbed her chakram and threw it to her right, watching as it arced back to cut it’s way through the nine separate swords. The men stared down at their weapons in surprise before throwing them to the ground.
Xena caught the chakram neatly and held it up for them to see. “Next time it will be your heads.” She called, smiling when they scattered into the nearby woods. “Nine down, sixty-six to go.” She drew her sword and met the attack, the blood singing in her veins as she bulled her way through the men around her.
Somewhere deep inside, she knew this was the real reason she didn’t want Gabrielle here. She didn’t want her to have to watch…to see what she might have to become, to save them and this village.
She clamped down firmly on those thoughts, and shoved them to the back of her mind, letting her body react on it’s own. She couldn’t tell how long she’d been fighting, but the men were down to coming one at a time and she dispatched each of them quickly, satisfied they would live to show the scars that she had given them.
When she reached Kyldus, Xena smiled and began to circle around him, her sword cutting the air as it danced at her fingertips.
The soldier took one look at her and swallowed hard. In her eyes, he saw death, dark and very gleeful.
She raised her arm to cut him down and heard a scream from behind her.
Xena turned her head and saw Gabrielle slam her staff into a soldiers legs. He had been five feet behind her, stealing up quietly, a dagger in his hand. She opened her mouth to speak and felt a foot against her back. Stumbling slightly, she regained her balance only to lose it when a gloved fist slammed into the side of her head.
“Oh, Xena.” Kyldus laughed. “I guess you’re not as good as everyone says you are. You’re not paying attention.” He kicked the sword out of her hand, sending it spinning in the dust to be grabbed up by the soldier Gabrielle had just knocked into the dirt. He stood and began to circle the bard, pushing her to the edge of the field, backing her into the trees.
Xena waited until Kyldus stood over her and then flipped herself up and back, catching him under the chin with both of her feet. He staggered backwards, giving her time to grab a sword that had been abandoned on the field. “That’s the problem with your kind, Kyldus." She grinned and twirled the sword between her fingers. "You always have to gloat.”
Kyldus snarled in rage and rushed at her, pulling out a dagger as he went. When he was two feet away, she jumped to the right, bringing her arm around in a sweeping motion, the blade flat against the back of his head. With a low, painfilled moan, he crumpled and lay still.
Turning to check on Gabrielle, she felt her heart slip into her throat. The soldier had managed to knock Gabrielle’s staff away and now held her by the front of her shirt, readying the sword at his side.
Xena whipped her arm back, dagger ready at her fingertips, and had it grabbed from behind. It only took her a moment to crush her attacker’s windpipe, but a moment was too long. The dagger left her hand a full two seconds after the soldier began his thrust, impaling Gabrielle through the chest before it could rip through his shoulder and pin him to a tree.
She watched as Gabrielle’s hands closed around the blade. The bard’s lips moved, but no sound came out. And then she fell, toppling backwards onto the ground.
Xena stared, trying to will that gentle chest to rise and fall, but it didn’t. It lay as still as the bard herself.
Her vision went black along the edges as she took one step and felt her legs give out, driving her to her knees in the dirt. A sound came from her lips that would haunt all those present until the day they drew their final breath. It began as a low wail, rose to a roar, and ended with the feral note of an injured animal, enraged and unstoppable in it’s fury. “NO!”
In that one moment, the soldiers glimpsed what she had been….and ran in fear of their souls.
Xena did not hear them go, and wouldn’t have cared if they hadn’t. Her cry ended as she pitched forward into the dust, the sword sliding out of her hand as her fingers dug convulsively into the earth.
That’s when she felt it coming.
The black rage and unstoppable hatred that had driven her as a warlord, began to escape from the places where she had locked it away. The darkness traveled from her mind, down along her spine, stiffening it as it went. She could feel it as it threaded it’s way through her soul, never ceasing in it’s struggle to reach her heart
The madness began to take over and she reached out for a sword, any sword. As her fingers brushed over a hilt, her body racked in a pain so intense that she bit down on her lip, bringing the taste of blood and soil to her mouth. She focused on that as words struggled up out of her memory, struggled up out of her soul. She listened, her heart aching, as Gabrielle spoke from within her:
NO! No, look, you promise me…if something happens to me, you will not become a monster.
There’s only one way to end this cycle of hatred, and it’s through love…and forgiveness.
Xena felt some small part of herself fight it’s way through the hatred. She felt it grow as she heard her heartbeat through each of Gabrielle’s words.
No…No, you promise me!
Somewhere in those words, she heard her own voice. Not the voice of the warlord, or the voice of the hero, but the voice of the young woman Corteze had left behind. It spoke only two words, but those words repeated through her heart and mind, driving out the darkness wherever they touched.
Two words whispered to a friend…what seemed like ages go. But as the last strands of them echoed in her mind, she felt her trembling cease. Her vision did not clear, but lightened instead, relieving the pressure in her temples. Reaching out, she grabbed the sword and pulled it to her, using it as a cane to help her rise to her feet. Her gaze was fixed on the figure before her, barely more than a boy, struggling to free himself from between the dagger and the tree. She raised her sword above her head and ran straight for him.
“Yiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiyiy!” Xena saw his eyes widen as she brought her sword down in a devastating arc. Mid-swing, she changed her grip and slammed the pommel into his head. He slumped, unconscious, his body still pinned by her dagger. She grabbed it and tugged it free, letting him fall to the ground unaided.
Dropping both sword and knife, she went on her knees beside Gabrielle.
As if disconnected from herself, she watched her hand touch that pale cheek, watched it brush re-golden hair away from a smooth forehead.
There was no blood on that hand.
With that one realization, all the hatred left her soul. All the blackness she had hidden away drained out of her, leaving her weak and shaken as she stared down at that beautiful face, wanting more than anything to have one more moment, one more chance to tell her…
“I love you, Gabrielle.” She whispered, tears stinging her eyes. “And I kept my promise…I kept my promise.” She chanted the words over and over, as though they were a mantra that would wake her from this nightmare. Cradling the bard’s head in her lap, she rocked back and forth as the anguish tore through her heart. When it became too much for her to bear, she threw her head back and screamed her rage up to an uncaring sky.
After what seemed like hours, the pain finally receded to a dull, throbbing ache and she gently laid Gabrielle’s head back against the earth. Willing her hand to be steady, Xena reached out for the sword still trapped within her chest.
‘My sword.’ She choked, trying to swallow the bitter tast in her mouth.
Steeling herself, she grabbed the hilt and felt her fingers close around…nothing.
Her hands began to shake as she watched the sword disappear, followed by the wound, which went much more slowly. A few minutes later, all that was left was an angry red line against Gabrielle’s once flawless skin and the blood that had soaked into her clothes. A moment more and the bard’s hand moved, going instinctively to the sore spot above her right breast.
Turning towards Xena, Gabrielle frowned, “You didn’t tell me it was going to hurt.”
The warrior had opened her mouth to reply before she realized that Gabrielle was not speaking to her, but rather, over her shoulder. She looked behind her and saw the young soldier climbing slowly to his feet. Her shock increased when his mouth opened to emit the fair tones of a woman. “Well, I told you, you had to REALLY die. What? Did you think it would be pleasant?” The man-child slowly melted away to reveal the fair, dark-haired woman beneath.
Xena didn’t even blink. “Artemis.”
The Goddess smiled down at her, reaching out to stroke her cheek gently. “I understand now why Athena was so angry,” She looked over at Gabrielle. “And why you were willing to die.” She knelt beside Xena and leaned in close, her word’s for the warrior alone. “She would have died for you. A part of you died for her. No stories or legends from any bard could ever equal that.”
Xena nodded, trying to force her heart to start beating. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me, Warrior Princess.” Artemis pressed something into her hand. “Just make sure you never let her go. Because if you do, I’ll be there. And I guarantee...you will never get her back.” She stood and began to go.
Xena’s eyes narrowed as she realized what the goddess meant. Rising slowly to her feet, she kept her face carefully neutral. “Then why?”
Artemis looked over at Gabrielle, who was inspecting the damage to her favorite shirt. With a gentle smile, she whispered, “Even a God can have a heart.”
Xena watched her fade away with a mixture of gratitude and mistrust. Shaking her head, she accepted that there was no point in worrying about it. She could compete against any mortal, but a God? She had to trust that Artemis would keep her word.
Opening her hand, Xena looked to see what the Goddess had given her. It was a ring of hammered silver, one she had seen before. Her heart aching, she remembered that it was Gabrielle’s. A gift she had received from her sister before leaving Poteidea. So special to her that she didn’t even wear it, just kept it tied about her neck with a leather thong.
Xena looked closer and saw something etched along the inside of the band. She tried to read it, but a wind came up, blowing her hair across her eyes. On that wind, she heard a bitter whisper:
Go then. You are free….
The symbols forgotten, she tucked the ring into her pouch and gathered Gabrielle in her arms. Xena held her tightly, lifting her from the ground. “You didn’t have to do that.” She whispered.
“Yes I did.” Gabrielle broke free and stared into her eyes. “I love you.”
“You could have died, Gabrielle.”
“I had faith in you.” She tried to walk and stumbled, still weak from her loss of blood. Xena placed an arm firmly around her waist and helped her, guiding her back towards the village.
“I almost didn’t deserve your faith. I can’t tell you how appealing it was, to let go, to bury myself in the hate again. I thought it was all I had left.”
Gabrielle stopped and pulled her close. “You’ll always have me. No matter what. There isn’t a god that could keep me from you.”
Xena smiled and ruffled her hair affectionately. “Getting kind of cocky aren’t you? You cheat death twice and you think you’re invincible or something.”
They kissed gently, Xena well aware of the pain Gabrielle was in. She was just about to suggest carrying her, when Delphi ran up and grabbed Gabrielle’s other arm. Pulling it over her shoulder, she took the rest of the bard’s weight.
Xena stared at her.
“I just want to help,” Delphi smiled. “That’s all.”
The warrior finally nodded and they resumed their pace back to the inn.
Two days later, Xena was sitting at the bar, talking with Delphi while Gabrielle convalesced upstairs. The anger between them gone, both barmaid and warrior found they liked each other quite a lot. Dophycles had taken charge of the fallen army, those he could catch anyway. He had left that morning, with several of the village men, a long line of prisoners behind them, headed for the mines.
As Delphi waited on another customer, Xena reached into her pouch for a coin, coming up with Gabrielle’s ring instead. She turned it sideways for another try at reading the inscription, but her vision blurred, running the symbols against one another.
When Delphi returned, she held it out to her. “Can you read what’s written on the inside? Whatever language this is, it makes my head hurt.”
The barmaid shrugged and plucked the ring from her fingers, holding it up to the torch behind her. “It’s Ursan.” She smiled. “No wonder your head hurts. See this part?” She indicated a series of eight different symbols. “This is a prophecy. It says, ‘Two Hearts, One Destiny’.” She flipped the ring over and pointed to the other side. “This….this is a warning.”
“What does it say?” Xena could barely see the long, ornate symbol scratched into the silver.
“It says ‘Remember…’” Delphi laughed quietly, shaking her head in amusement. “Artemis?”
Xena nodded. “She apparently took quite a liking to Gabrielle.”
The barmaid handed the ring back with a long sigh. “The Gods never learn. They still think they decide the destiny of man.”
Xena looked at her oddly.
But Delphi only shook her head and slid another port in front of the warrior, raising a hand against her protests. “On the house.”
“Delphi,” Xena growled. “If you keep giving me drinks on the house, you’re going to go out of business.”
“Oh, I think I can handle it.”
“Yeah, but what would your father say?”
The barmaid leaned in close, beckoning with one finger for her to lean in too. “Want to know a secret?”
“My father never says much of anything. He’s too far away for that.” She whispered. “In fact, I haven’t heard from him in over forty years.”
“Forty years?” Xena laughed. “Come on! You can’t be much older than Gabrielle.”
Delphi brought her chin up and leveled her gaze at the warrior. “Looks can be deceiving.”
Somewhere in her bright green eyes, Xena saw something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She opened her mouth to speak, but Delphi interrupted her.
“Speaking of swords…” She leaned down to look under the bar.
“We weren’t.” Xena frowned.
“One of the field hands brought this in this morning,” The barmaid continued as though Xena hadn’t spoken. “It’s yours, I believe.”
She laid Xena’s sword down on the counter. It was clean, not a drop of blood on it, and the blade held nothing but scratches and nicks.
“The symbols are gone…” She drew the sword to her and ran her hand down the length of it.
“I don’t think they were ever there.”
“I saw them, Delphi.”
“You saw a sword with symbols along the blade. This one had been lying in the dew for days, in the old abandoned orchard out by the riverbed. The smithy had to really work to get all the rust off of it.”
“So it wasn’t my sword…” She smiled and slid the weapon home, adjusting it in the scabbard on her back.
“Thank you, Delphi. For everything.”
“Hey, ‘Chesis!” An old soldier called from the doorway. “Bet you never thought you’d see me again, huh?”
“ ‘Chesis?” Xena questioned.
“Just a nickname.” She smiled. “Something my father used to call me. Excuse me.” She went and threw her arms around the old man. “Actually, Griga,” She shouted. “ You’re too damn mean to die! I knew you’d be back!”
Xena laughed and sipped her port, a smile coming to her lips when she heard soft footsteps behind her. She put on her sternest look and turned to face Gabrielle. “What are you doing out of bed?”
“Looking for you!” Gabrielle snapped. “I told you, I’m fine. It’s boring up there.”
“I don’t care, you’re not well. Go get back in bed.”
The bard crossed her arms and stood her ground. “Not unless you’re coming with me.”
Xena felt every eye in the bar come to rest on her. She could hear them all snickering, waiting to see who would win this battle. With a sigh, she held out her hand and allowed herself to be led upstairs.
The laughter and applause followed them as they went
“Are you happy now?” Xena whispered, feigning anger. “Now word will get around that I’m soft on bards. Guess you’ll just have to get used to being one of the many.”
“I don’t think so.” Gabrielle’s voice was low, almost husky and it took Xena by surprise. She looked at the bard and swallowed.
“What are you doing?”
Gabrielle began to circle her, a dangerous look in her eyes, as Xena backed up to the bed.
Her eyes widened as the bard flew at her. She stumbled backwards onto the bed and laughed when Gabrielle came down straddling her hips. “Gabrielle!” She tried to slap at hands that were quickly unfastening her armor. “Stop that. You’re not well.”
“Excuse me, Princess.” Gabrielle said sarcastically. “But if you can’t see what’s really ailing me, then you’re the one that isn’t well.” Her voice became husky again. “Just do what I tell you and no one will get hurt.”
Xena laughed into a pillow and let Gabrielle undress her, fully intending to take control of the situation as soon as she was done.
Gabrielle, however, had different plans. She finished pulling the leathers off and felt Xena's hands go to her waist. She knew what the warrior intended to do, and slapped her hands away. Grabbing the bottom of her own shirt, she pulled it up over her head, exposing perfect breasts to the woman laying below her.
Xena hesitated, telling herself that she should make her rest. With a small grin, she shrugged and crawled her fingers up over Gabrielle's ribs, only bringing them to a stop when her palms covered hardened nipples. She squeezed gently and heard a small moan from Gabrielle. Xena was surprised when small hands covered her own, pulling them away.
"Patience." Gabrielle smiled. "You've already had your turn." She laid her palm against Xena's neck and brought her lips down, kissing the warrior with a passion that startled her. When her lips trailed down to touch the hollow of her throat, Xena jumped slightly.
“Shhhh.” Gabrielle managed, her lips moving lower over soft, tan skin. She kissed her way up the swell of one breast, stopping when her lips were a hairs breadth away from Xena's nipple. She blew on it softly before capturing it with her teeth, her tongue and lips sucking lightly. A soft sound came from the back of her throat as all her inhibitions slid away. These were the breasts she had always thought perfect, always admired. And she knew with utter certainty, that her hands had ached to hold them, her lips had gone dry with the thought of kissing them, long before she had admitted it to herself. Laying here now, with her face pressed against them, she breathed in Xena’s scent and thought she would never get her fill.
Xena's eyes had closed instantly, her back arching beneath her. She ran her hand up Gabrielle's spine to cup her head gently, holding her lips right where they were. It had been so long.... “Yes...” She whispered, her fingers curling softly in Gabrielle’s hair. A moment later she felt a warm wetness against her stomach as the bard’s hips pushed into her. Sliding her fingers down a smooth hip, she ran them across her abdomen and then brought them to her mouth.
Gabrielle trembled as she watched Xena lick her fingers, her lips closing firmly over each one. With a small cry, she began to kiss the warrior’s stomach. Sliding down her thighs, she shrugged away the hands that tried to stop her.
“You don’t have to do that, Gabrielle.” Xena stroked her face gently.
“Try and stop me.” Her throat was hoarse, emotion stretching her ability to speak. She laid her face against dark, curly down, breathing in a scent so sweet that it made her head spin. With tentative lips, she kissed each thigh before nuzzling her face into Xena’s hair. For a moment, she only breathed, wanting the scent in her lungs, in her blood. Then, she slowly flicked out her tongue, parting the warrior’s labia, barely grazing the clit beneath.
Xena went completely rigid at the feel of that shy tongue against her flesh. She felt her breath ripping through her lungs in short, aching gasps and tried to slow the beating of her heart. There was nothing…no one, that had ever affected her this way. The way Gabrielle was affecting her with the small, short strokes of her fluidly soft tongue.
The slowness died away as Gabrielle found that she loved the taste of her. At that moment, she knew the power of what they were doing, and why Athena would try and hurt them both by taking it away. Never had she felt this close to anyone, never had she shared anything that felt this intimate. The knowledge of the power she had swept through her, causing her tongue to move more rapidly, pressing harder against Xena’s swollen flesh. At the same time, she needed more. Needed to possess this woman more completely, the way she herself was owned. She pressed two fingers against her and felt her body spasm around them when she slid them in. The warmth that surrounded her hand felt like pure silk, the convulsive tightening like the beat of her heart. Her mouth never hesitated as she found the rhythm of Xena’s hips, sliding her fingers as she slid her tongue.
Through all of it, she kept her eyes open, locked on the woman above her. She knew every move of that well muscled body, knew every whisper that left her lips. Her eyes traveled over every inch of glistening skin, noticing when the muscles in her stomach clenched, noticing when her back arched slightly higher. Xena called out once, whispered her name, and then came to rest, her hands pulling the bard away from her sensitive flesh, drawing her up and into her arms.
Xena brushed damp hair out of Gabrielle’s eyes before bringing her lips down to taste the bard’s mouth.
With a gentle laugh, Gabrielle pushed her away and ran her tongue across her own lips. “Mine.” She whispered fiercely, her fingers touching the warrior softly on the cheek.
Her mind screamed a warning, telling her to run, as far and as fast as she could. But Xena only smiled. Her heart had already won this battle. She took Gabrielle’s hand and placed it on her chest. “Yours.”
She watched as pale blue eyes widened, then closed, only to open again with tears running from them. She tried to kiss the tears away, but Gabrielle pushed her back once more, taking Xena’s hand and laying it above her softly pounding heart. “Yours…always.” Gabrielle whispered. “From the first day that I met you.”
Xena felt tears begin in her own eyes. She kissed the bard quickly and turned her around to slip an arm across her stomach, snugging up behind her as close as she could get. “Go to sleep.” She coughed to hide a sniffle. “We’re leaving in the morning.”
Xena closed her eyes and pretended not to hear Gabrielle’s soft laugh.
By midday they had only reached the mouth of the valley. Xena helping Gabrielle over every rocky area, demanding they go slow until the bard was completely well. When they crested the last small hill before the mountains, they both turned to look back at the sleepy homes and small town that had come to mean so much.
“I think I’ll remember this place for a long, long time.” Gabrielle leaned into Xena, turning her face up to receive a soft kiss. She watched as the warrior reached into her pouch. She withdrew something and laid it in the bard’s palm, closing her fingers around it. Standing back, she smiled as Gabrielle examined her gift, loving the way her face lit up, taking on the qualities of a child.
“My ring.” She threw herself into Xena’s waiting arms. “Thank you.” She whispered. “Goddess….I love you.”
Xena held her tightly. “There’s something written on the inside. Delphi translated it for me, but I didn’t put it there.” She turned the ring so Gabrielle could see the inscription.
“What does it say?”
Xena tightened her grip, resting her chin on the top of the bard’s head. “Two hearts, one destiny.”
Gabrielle smiled. “Thank you, Artemis.” She whispered. Looking back at Delphi’s inn, she nodded in satisfaction. “It’s kind of fitting, actually.”
“What is?” Xena took her arm and began to help her down the hill.
“Inn of The Three Daughters.” Gabrielle laughed. “Fate, destiny…great idea for a story, huh?”
Xena felt a chill run up her spine and she spun around quickly, her gaze resting on the Inn.
An old woman stood outside, waving to them as she watched.
Xena looked down and then back again, but the woman was gone. All she saw was Delphi’s backside as it disappeared into the Inn. Something played at the edges of her mind and she tried to grab at it, feeling it shift and flutter just out of her reach…
“What’s wrong?” Gabrielle asked.
With that, it was gone.
Xena shook her head and smiled, “I still think it’s a dumb name for an Inn.”
The End…Finally, eh?
Unless you all stone me, I am off to work on Heart Of The Warlord...
Betcha hoped I wouldn’t write another one huh?