DISCLAIMER: The characters Xena and Gabrielle are copyright to Universal etc. No infringement intended. In this tale it is understood that X and G are lovers. Comments appreciated. Rabsterbgsb@aol.com
'but maybe you should just enjoy the ale and keep your bragging for another place'
The stranger looked up with contemptuous eyes.
'Maybe you should just do your job and serve the drinks'
The barkeep shrugged.
'The people around here are quite fond of Xena, she did us a big favour a while back. They won't take too kindly to you bad-mouthing her'
'Then they will answer to my blade, as Xena will.'
A brief silence ensued.
'Maybe you don't know of Xena's reputation, her fighting skills'
the barkeep tried again.
'And you don't know mine!' the stranger retorted.
'I actually fought alongside Xena. Trust me her reputation does not do her justice' The barkeep was casually pouring ales while engaging the man in conversation.
The stranger's hardened features registered a flicker of interest, but he kept his voice cold, cynical.
'And you just cannot wait to tell me. Go ahead, I have time'
'A warlord was terrorising our village. Xena and her friend arrived and helped us to organise ourselves and fight back, though they did most of the fighting' he added with a laugh.
'She has a friend! I should have known' the stranger sneered 'he probably does all the fighting and she takes the credit. Now isn't that a twister?'
The barkeep looked surprised.
'No! Her friend is a bard and a..'
'Save it for the peasants!' the stranger interrupted 'trust me I have no reservations about killing a woman, not this soldier!'
'You have never met Xena?' it seemed obvious but the barkeep had to ask.
'My son was killed by Xena, that is what I was told. It turns out she has some gladiator friend who pretends he is a bard, so be it. Maybe it was him that killed my boy, tough luck. The name on my sword is Xena, and it is she who is meeting me tonight. I will give her the same opportunity to defend herself as she gave my boy'
The barkeep was a bit wrong-footed by the direction of the conversation, he suddenly had many questions.
'You said you are a soldier?' was the first one that came out.
The stranger frowned slightly, usually his menacing appearance alone caused people to fear him, this bartender was way too casual.
'One of the best' he growled.
'I was telling you about our village' the barkeep resumed.
'With Xena's help the warlord was persuaded to leave us alone, but one man, his evil general had been particularly cruel and we demanded justice'
'So this Xena executed a captured man. It is beginning to sound about her style' the stranger snorted his disdain.
'No. The warlord promised he would be appropriately dealt with, but Xena, not her friend, demanded a single punch'
'On a *captured* man' the stranger repeated 'how tough!'
The barkeep was becoming slightly irritated.
'The point I am *trying* to make is her strength. With a single, not fully delivered punch, she just obliterated his features. I swear his teeth and nose just disappeared into a single pulpy mass of blood and ..'
Just the memory of the sight caused him to almost wretch.
'And she was in a good mood that day' he recovered to deliver his denouement.
'We shall see' said the stranger 'it seems like it is just about time..' he stood up, drained his ale mug and walked outside.
'Hi Melchior, the usual please'
The barkeep poured from his finest keg of cider. Two men seated in the corner table immediately vacated their seats with a smile and a nod. Others too smiled or shyly waved at the new arrival.
'Great to see you Gabrielle!' the barkeep said genuinely 'where is Xena?' he added quickly.
'How nice. You are pleased to see me, yet cannot wait to see Xena again' she said with a laugh, her voice all teasing.
'Sorry that did sound rude. I just should tell her something' he explained.
Gabrielle's smile deepened.
'Did she send word ahead and book our room? Go on you can tell me' the bard sounded quite excited.
Since saving the village this tavern had been a regular resting place for the travelling couple. The villagers always showed them respect and protected their privacy. Melchior always provided a single room with a double-bed.
'Actually no' he replied 'where is she?' he worried.
'She had a strange, secretive look about her. Said she was meeting someone. I think she has gone to buy me, or both of us something nice' Gabrielle had leaned forward to whisper conspiratorially.
This worried the barkeep. Should he tell Gabrielle about the soldier?
Could the loud-mouth really harm the warrior? He was a big one and apparently determined.
'Same again' Gabrielle chirped 'I hope you do have our room free, I am so looking forward to a good..soak in the tub' she winked.
'You're in a good mood tonight' Melchior observed pouring more cider. Gabrielle nor Xena ever had to pay in this town.
'Actually you won't believe me what happened to me just outside' the blonde bard announced.
'This big brute of a man seemed to stagger towards me saying that I had murdered his son. I figured he was just drunk so I tried to ignore him, but he insisted on pestering me.'
'The Gods! What happened?' Melchior asked.
'Well I had left my staff with Xena..so I just punched the guy, right in the face' she giggled 'don't tell Xena I kinda enjoyed it'
Gabrielle was feeling relaxed in their haven.
'Then he gets up and just keeps saying that he still has his nose and most of his teeth, the weirdest thing, huh?'
'I told him I could punch harder if he wanted and he just ran off'
It was Melchior's turn to smile.
'Hi beautiful, I hope you got a drink for me' the tall newcomer grinned and walked to where the blonde stood. They openly exchanged a kiss.
'I have something for you' Xena whispered in the bard's ear.
Standing with arms wrapped around each other's waists the two chatted easily with each other and the odd villager who wanted to exchange a few pleasantries.
'Is the room available, Melchior?' Xena finally asked.
'Of course' the barkeep replied, it always was.
'I just had the strangest meeting' Xena said.
'This guy with blood pouring from his face walks up to me and asks if I can still see his nose'
Gabrielle and Melchior exchanged a quick glance.
'Then he warns me not to go near the village tavern because that Xena woman is inside and she is stronger than she looks'
The warrior's puzzlement increased as Gabrielle grinned even wider.
Xena looked at Melchior.
'Do you know anything about this? He was a soldier type, big man.'
'Sorry Xena, no soldiers in here tonight, just villagers. I'll just go get the hot-tub filled' the man had to disapper as he could suppress his laughter no longer.
Gabrielle had to quickly straighten her face.
'Well I thought it was strange' the warrior shrugged.
'I suppose strange things always happen around us' Gabrielle smiled.
'Yeah! Let's go do some more' Xena led her friend by the hand towards the bedroom.
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