Most of the characters herein belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal, Studios USA, Flat Earth Productions, and any other individuals or entities who have an ownership interest in the television programs Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. This story was not written for profit and no copyright infringements are intended.
Violence: Were mixing Xena, Cleopatra, Marc Antony, and Octavian here. What do you think?
Subtext/Maintext: PG-13. Yep, X & G are in love. If that offends you, you might not want to read this story because you could find yourself enjoying it.
Questions/Comments/Suggestions welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
Setting: This story falls sequentially after "A Solstice Treaty." (Actually, "The Sixth Sense" falls between this story and "A Solstice Treaty," but Sixth Sense is a bit of graphic fluff. If you dont enjoy that sort of thing and prefer the PG-13 stuff, you can skip Sixth Sense, as it has absolutely nothing to do with plot. <G>) Ive taken extreme liberties with history and religion here, so you have been warned.
Gina Torres: Shes Hal on Cleopatra 2525 and she was Nebula on Hercules. For a visual, she was also Cleopatra on one of the more Xena-free episode of Xena ("King of Assassins").
CLEOPATRA 4 A.D.
(posted April 13 , 2000)
You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes ...
- Song of Solomon 4:9, the Bible, New American Standard Version, copyright by God.
The boat pulled into the three-sided harbor just as the sun was rising, painting the gently-lapping waves in brilliant hues of red and orange, creating a scene of tranquil beauty that belied the nights turmoil. Gabrielle leaned over the railing as they were tying off at the long central dock at the port of Alexandria. She watched with mild interest as the large side door to the boat was lowered, the clanking chains creaking with the weight, and the sailors slowly began to unload the rather frazzled and traumatized cows and sheep onto the wide platform designed for such purposes. Mixed "moos," and "bahs" rose up as the confused animals were herded onto dry land and guided toward the market area.
The bard looked around, taking in the sight of the tall lighthouse immediately behind them and the myriad of buildings on shore, along with the various other cargo boats that were anchored further out away from shore near the center of the harbor. She inhaled deeply, drawing in the scent of fresh salty air mixed with a fragrant hint of woodsmoke emanating from the buildings further up on shore, as the citizens of Alexandria rose to greet another morning. Gabrielles nose twitched as she also detected the remaining faint tickley smell of wool and cowhide. The bard closed her eyes, and practiced some of the meditation techniques Eli had taught her, attempting to empty her mind and spirit of the constant stress of the previous three days, hoping to replace the negative energy with some of the warmth and beauty that surrounded her.
Xena had gone below to pack up their things, and to compose a brief note to Cleopatra to let her know they were in Egypt and on their way to the queens palace, reminding the Egyptian queen that she had left them with an open invitation to come visit, and hoping Cleopatra would interpret this as merely a social call. At least until the warrior had a chance to lay some ground work with the passionate and unpredictable queen first. She shouldered their bags and took one last look around the tiny berth. Cant say Im gonna miss this place. Not that we actually spent much time in here. Well, except for ...
She grinned to herself and then turned, closing the door soundly behind her. She made her way through the narrow passage below for the last time, joined by several crew members who were as anxious as she was to deboard the ship and make contact with solid ground. She couldnt help but notice that most of them made sure to give her plenty of space, and she shook her head with wry amusement. Some things never change. As her head appeared through the final porthole, the captain approached her and held out his hand. "Xena, lass, I was just lookin fer ye. Yer mate over there said ye was down below."
The warrior reached out and took the proffered forearm. "Is Cleopatra at her summer palace in Cairo, or is she at the main palace here?"
"The queen is currently taking up residence in Cairo." The captain leaned to the side and spit tobacco juice over the railing.
"Figured." Xena shrugged her shoulders, resettling the weight distribution of their bags. "Did you get a chance to find out where the local carrier pigeon station is?"
"Aye. Tis at the end of the docks near the first tavern. They have several pigeons that make the route to the queens palace in Cairo." Ronan studied the tall figure for a long moment. "Wish yed told me ye was on a mission to see the queen."
"Would it have gotten me on board your boat with less hassle?" The warrior smiled.
"Aye. Might o gotten ye better quarters too." The captain looked down, polishing the toe of one boot on the back of his pants leg.
"Ronan. I kind of like to keep my business to myself. I cant always tell my friends from my enemies at first glance." The blue eyes gazed unwaveringly until the white-bearded man looked back up.
"I can see that about ye." The older mans face crinkled into a hesitant smile. "Sorry bout me crew and the trouble they caused ye. I didnt pick em, I can assure ye o that. Came wit the boat."
"That makes me feel a little bit better." Xena absently rubbed her thumb back and forth on the smooth inner rim of her chakram. "I dont enjoy killing people." At least not anymore. "But if someone goes after my partner and its them or her, rest assured, they are going to lose if I have anything to do with it."
"No one can blame ye for that, Xena." Ronan lifted a hand to shade his eyes from the now fully-risen sun.
"Um ... did you check into that other thing I asked about?" The warriors voice grew low as her eyes darted to the side.
"Aye. Once I kenned ye was gonna have to go to Cairo, I looked into it right away. Fraid yer gonna have to wait a day, though." Ronans voice carried across the boat, and Xena winced.
Please keep it down. The warrior looked around at her partner, who was a fair distance away on the other side of the boat, still in what Xena hoped was a deep meditative state. "Why do we have to wait?"
"Theres only one boat from here to Cairo each day, and the one this morning already left at dawn. But I got ye and yer friend booked on tomorrows voyage." The captains voice grew louder, pleased with himself for helping out the warrior, whom hed come to admire greatly during their trip.
Xena groaned inwardly and looked around again, and found herself pinned by a pair of rabid green eyes. The smoke was practically smoldering out of the bards ears. Damn. Too late. She heard. So much for meditation.
"Oh Xeeee-naaaa." Gabrielles voice was low and steady. Too steady. Forced. "Can I have a word with you please?" The bard crooked a finger, motioning for her sneaky partner to come to her.
"Excuse me for just one moment." Xena turned away from the captain to face the mini-tempest brewing before her. "Gabrielle." The warrior put on her most charming sexy grin. "Did I mention how beautiful you look this morning?" She stalked slowly toward her fuming partner.
"Its not going to work. Honey." The last work spoken with a great deal of facetiousness.
"Why Gabrielle, whats not going to work? I dont know what youre talking about. I try to give you a compliment and ..."
"Stop." The bard placed her hands on her hips and glared up at her tall partner, who was now about a foot away. "Before you say anything else, let me ask. Did I hear Ronan say that you and I are booked to travel tomorrow on a BOAT?!"
"Now Gabrielle ... let me explain ..." The warrior backed up a step and held her hands palms out in front of her.
"Did I?!!!" The bard stamped her foot, causing Xena to jump.
Gods. Shes really angry. The warrior reached out and hesitantly placed one hand lightly on her partners shoulder, hanging her head apologetically. "Yeah. You heard right. But Gabrielle, our only other choice is to go overland on camelback, and that would take several days, which we dont have. Not to mention camping in the desert during the heat of summer."
"I ... dont .... care." Gabrielle stamped with both feet.
Xenas first response was to laugh, as the sight of her petite partner having a temper tantrum was actually kind of cute, but she knew better and shoved that down, quickly putting on a pleading expression instead. "Gabrielle. Sweetheart. Please. We have to take the boat. Theres no other way to get there in time." She continued to gently rub the bards shoulder as she spoke, grimacing internally at the tense muscles she could feel just under the surface of her partners skin.
"Xeeenaaaa!!!" Gabrielle pushed the large hand away and began pacing back and forth. "How could you? By the gods, if I never see another boat again it will be too soon." She threw up her hands as the speed of her pacing increased and she muttered, allowing a few choice expletives to escape her lips in the process.
Wow. Never heard her use those words before. Xena recognized a few of the phrases as expressions she had heard around the Amazon village, and decided to just step back a healthy distance and wait for her boiling partner to calm down.
"Lass, if I may." Ronan stepped up next to the warrior and gestured toward the ballistic bard.
"Please." The warrior bit off a grin. "Be my guest." Xena sat down on a bench to watch the ensuing entertainment.
"Gabrielle, lass." The captain waited until the bard spun around and faced him, forcing herself to put on a civil expression. "The boat to Cairo is nothing like this one."
"It ... it isnt?" Earnest green eyes questioned the captain.
"No. Its not on the open sea. It goes up the Nile River. Have you ever been on a river cruise?" The captains eyes, also green, twinkled in the early morning sunlight.
"Um ..." Gabrielle briefly recalled a swift canoe trip down a river as she and Xena tried to escape the Hoard. Pomira. She mentally corrected herself. Probably not what hes talking about. "Not really. At least I dont think so."
"Tis a grand affair. The boat is open and a lot smaller. And the Nile, its smooth as glass, with lots o pretty countryside to see on the way."
"Yeah? Keep talking." The bard felt herself slowly reeled in.
"They have platters o cheese and olives and other goodies to snack on, and flasks o sweet wine. And sometimes they be lyre players or singing bards to entertain ye on your trip. Only takes about half a day too. Ye dont have to stay overnight on the boat."
Singing bards? Gabrielle allowed herself to get caught up in the fantasy. "Well." She eyed her silent partner. "That doesnt sound too bad. Okay warrior princess, I guess youre off the hook." She smiled at the warrior, who slowly rose and grinned back with relief.
"Thank you, Ronan" Xena clapped the captain on the shoulder. "Ive never been on one of those cruises either, but Ive heard about them. You explained it a lot better than I could have."
"No problem, lass." The captain looked from warrior to bard. Such a contrast. Wonder how they got together? "Yer welcome to sleep on the boat tonight, and we even have an extra dinghy so ye can come and go as ye please. Well be anchored here fer a few days, and Ill be the only one aboard. Me crew will probably be staying at the local brothe ..." He eyed Gabrielle speculatively, not wanting to harm what he perceived to be delicate ears. "... er inn. Aye. Thats it. The local inn."
"Funny." The bard put on her best innocent tone. "I could swear I heard some of your crew talking when they were leaving, and they were going on and on about the exotic Egyptian women in the Alexandrian brothel."
Ronan blushed. "Aye." He muttered. "Anyway. They wont be aboard me boat tonight, so there be plenty of space if yer a mind to stay. In fact, ye can even have me first mates cabin." He gestured toward the door of a large berth that opened out at top-deck level.
"Thanks." Xena raised a questioning eyebrow at her partner, who nodded affirmatively. "I think well take you up on your offer. I havent been here in a long time and I dont know what kind of campsites we might find outside the city. Im not sure wed find any kind of protected area to sleep in. I was ready to put out the dinars on an inn, but if youre offering, that would save us some."
"Make yerselves at home." The captain smiled. "Extra dinghy is over there." He pointed toward a small row boat that was lashed to one side of the railing.
The warrior had quickly decided that a trip through the Alexandrian market might be the best way to make amends with her still slightly testy partner, and dutifully stayed at the bards side for a few candle marks as they looked through stall after stall of linens, leather goods, hardware, household items, and assorted culinary delights. Shopping was not high on Xenas list of exciting things to do, but she did get some entertainment out of watching Gabrielle, as the bards eyes grew wide and various exclamations of delight erupted from her lips at each new novelty. The warrior glanced wistfully at a stall that displayed a wide variety of swords and daggers, only to find herself dragged toward yet another booth full of various snacks instead.
"Gabrielle." Xena chuckled. "How much more can you hold? Or is that a stupid question?"
"Hey!" The bard backhanded her playfully in the stomach.
"Oof." Xena groaned. "Not so hard. Ive tried some of everything youve tried, remember? A little harder and it might all come back up."
"Oh. Sorry." Gabrielle rubbed her partners belly before she turned and perused the tasty-smelling items on the counter in front of her, finally coming to rest on some chunks of brown stuff that appeared to be stuffed with raisins and nuts. Raisins and nuts, she liked. It was the brown stuff she had some trepidation about. "Whats that?" She pointed to the plate of curious food.
"That, pretty lady, is chocolate." The dark-skinned merchant broke off a corner of one piece and held it out to the skeptical bard.
"It doesnt look very good." She grasped the small chunk and held it under her nose and sniffed carefully. "Mmmm. But it smells good. Whats in it?"
"Cream, honey, and crushed cocoa beans. Trust me, you will like it." The merchant smiled, charmed by the blonde hair and green eyes of the lovely woman he was talking with. So different from Egyptian women.
"Xena, what are cocoa beans?" Gabrielle turned to her tall dark partner with a quizzical expression, noting that the warriors eyes had strayed toward the weapons stall across the narrow street.
"Huh?" She turned toward the bard. "Oh. Dont know for sure. Never heard of em."
"Where are they grown?" The bard raised a blonde brow at the obviously enamored merchant.
"In the forests south of Egypt."
"Forests south of Egypt?" Suddenly Xenas attention was firmly riveted on the stall in front of them. "Didnt know there were forests south of here." The warrior had a map of the known world, but much of the area south of Egypt and Sumaria was a mystery. She had heard tales of dark jungles and strange creatures, the likes of which she had never seen, but had never really had confirmation that the stories were true.
"Oh yes." The merchant tore his attention away from the object of his desires and found himself looking into the most intense blue eyes he had ever seen. In fact, the only blue eyes he had ever seen. She looks Egyptian, but those eyes ... a goddess. Perhaps a daughter of Ra. "The forests go on for hundreds of leagues. I have family that lives there and they grow these beans."
Hmmmm. Xena stored the information away as she watched her partner study the brown substance closely. "Oh Tartarus, Gabrielle. Just go for it. If you dont like it you can spit it out."
"Well ..." The bard eyed her partner. "Bottoms up." She slowly touched just the tip of her tongue to the stuff, which immediately melted against her taste buds. Her eyes flew open. By the gods. She shoved it in her mouth and quickly opened up her belt purse. She swallowed. "How much?"
"A drachma per bar." The merchant watched as Gabrielle counted out eight dinars. "You want the whole plate?"
"Yes. Are Greek dinars good enough?"
The merchant inspected one of the gold coins and bit it, checking it for authenticity. "Theyll do." He studied the coin more closely. Amazonia. Wheres Amazonia? Then he looked at the face stamped on the coin, which bore a striking resemblance to the woman in front of him, except that the face on the coin had long hair. Queen Gabrielle? He read the fine print on the coin. Interesting.
"Great. Wrap it up. Except give me two pieces right now." The bard took them and daintily bit one of the bars in half. "Gods. Xena, you have got to try this." She held the other half up to the warrior, who shrugged and took it, playfully snapping it up between her teeth.
"Whoa." A grin lit up Xenas face as she chewed and then swallowed, the sweet sensation washing over her tongue, mixed with the more familiar taste of nuts and raisins. "Thats really good."
"Yeah. Almost better than ..." The bard trailed off and blushed, eyeing the firm body next to her. Nah.
"Better than what?" A dark eyebrow rose into the warriors hairline.
"Nutbread." Gabrielle smiled sheepishly. Yeah, thats it. Nutbread.
"It is better than nutbread, and I know what you were thinking." A coy smile played at the warriors full lips.
"Um ... you do?" The bards ears grew quite pink. "Sorry."
"Oh no." Xena bent over until her lips were next to one of the ears in question. "Dont be sorry. This stuff is great. But you know ..." She nipped an earlobe. "The way it melts, I think we could combine the two and have a really great time."
"Combine the two?" Gabrielle squeaked as the lips closed on her sensitive flesh.
"I can certainly think of a few places it would be really fun to lick this stuff off of." The warrior purred as the pink ears turned bright red.
"Oh." I guess that could be fun. The bard hastily accepted the wrapped package from the intrigued merchant, who had not heard their whispered conversation, but had definitely seen the exchange. Gabrielle carefully tucked the remaining unwrapped piece of chocolate in with the others.
"Not gonna eat that now?" Xena was puzzled, knowing her partners penchant for sweets.
"Um ... no." Gabrielle looked up shyly. "I think Ill eat it later."
Huh? Oh. Glad she thinks that sound like fun too. The warrior caught her soulmates drift, as she chuckled and found herself tugged toward the weapons booth. "Dont tell me you want to look at swords, Gabrielle."
"No." The bard smiled sweetly. "But you do." She dropped a small hand against Xenas lower back, gently pushing her partner toward the selection of well-polished metal and oiled leather and smooth wood. Gabrielle watched with fascination, as the warriors face lit up, the blue eyes flitting from swords to daggers to crossbows. Shes like a kid in Senticles workshop. Warriors. The bard sighed and rolled her eyes.
While Xena tested various daggers, flicking them back and forth with her wrist as her long fingers worked the hilts with expert skill, Gabrielle found her eyes wandering over to the next stall, which was full of jewelry, with shiny necklaces and bracelets dangling from pegs, while a case of rings, hair barets, and earrings enticed her over for a closer look. She looked at the warrior, who was busy discussing the price of an ivory-handled dagger with the merchant, and touched her partner on the arm. Xena looked down briefly as the bard gestured toward the jewelry stall, and the warrior smiled and nodded. "Be over in a minute."
Gabrielle made her way over and just looked from one item to another, until her eyes came to rest on a large gold hoop that bore a single pale blue stone dangling in an oval setting. She frowned. "Is that a necklace?" She pointed to the piece, which the merchant immediately took off of the peg on the back wall of the stall and laid it on the counter for the bards inspection.
"No. Its a headpiece. You wear the gold hoop on the crown of your head and the set falls down in the middle of the forehead. Its beautiful, is it not?" The dark-haired woman stepped back a bit to let the sun illuminate the object. "I made it myself."
"Yes. Its very nice work." The merchant inclined her head graciously while Gabrielle lifted up the gold set and then glanced over at her partner. "What kind of stone is that?"
"Aquamarine." The merchant responded, following the bards gaze. At just that moment, the warrior looked up and smiled directly at the bard, her eyes lighting up for the briefest second before she took a package from the weapons dealer and began to walk toward them. Ahh. "It matches her eyes perfectly." The dark-haired woman whispered, as Gabrielle continued to lean over the counter.
The bard looked up at the merchant and smiled. "Yes. It does." She turned, just as Xena moved in beside her. "What did you get?" Gabrielle ran one finger lightly over the brown burlap wrapping in the warriors hand.
"Just a dagger." The warrior unrolled the burlap so the bard could see her purchase. It was a steel blade, not very long, with an ivory handle that had a tiny scene etched into it. Xena bit her lower lip as she watched her partner pick it up and peer down at it. The carved picture was of a waterfall and a small pool, with a tiny willow tree etched to one side of the pool.
"Oh." Gabrielle looked up at her soulmate. "Thats beautiful. Too pretty to actually use, Xena."
"Dont intend to use it, unless Im desperate." She bent over and tucked it into her boot.
"Then why did you buy it?" The bard knew why, but she wanted to hear it from the warriors lips.
"Because it makes me happy. And every time I look at it, Im gonna smile and remember the one moment when it all came together, and I finally understood what my life was about and why Im here." Xena reached out and discretely took her partners hand, as she turned and leaned over the counter. "Whatcha got here?"
Gabrielle hesitated before she lifted the headpiece, hoping to cash in on the warriors good mood. "Its a headband. See." She started to drape it over the dark locks and stopped as she saw her partner frown.
"Gabrielle." Xena gently grabbed one of the bards wrists. "I dont wear stuff like that and you know it."
"Please. Just let me see what it looks like on you." Blonde eyelashes batted enticingly over green eyes and the warrior groaned.
"Oh. Okay. But hurry before anyone sees." The warrior indulged her partner as the bard arranged the small Egyptian headpiece, fluffing the ebony bangs and playing with the setting until it hung just so, making the blue orbs it dangled between look even more blue, if that were possible.
"Xena. That looks really nice on you." The affection on the bards face quite evident as she stood back and admired her partner. "Come on, let me buy it for you, please?"
"Remember in India, how you said we should blend with the locals?" Gabrielle pulled her negotiation skills out and dusted them off.
"Yeah. Whats your point?" The warrior scowled, blowing a puff of air up toward her forehead, ruffling her bangs. The dangling stone was a bit annoying, as she could see it out of the inner corners of her eyes, and they crossed briefly, making her dizzy.
"Stop it." The bard giggled. "Its not that bad, is it?"
"Well ..." Xena looked over toward a clothing booth, spotting a little white skirt and midriff top outfit. A feral smile appeared on the tanned face. "If Im gonna blend, you gotta blend too. And I get to pick out something for you, deal?"
"Deal." Gabrielle smiled. She turned and indicated that they would take the headpiece and began the haggling process with the merchant, while the warrior moved over to look down at the jewelry in the case on the counter.
Xena was hoping to find some equally authentic piece of jewelry for her partner, perhaps some earrings or a necklace, when her eyes focused in on two rings. Her breath caught as she looked at them more closely. They were identical bands made of three braided strands of metal, each strand a different color. They were simple but beautiful. "Um ..." The warrior got the merchants attention, who was wrapping the bards purchase and counting dinars. "Can I see those?" She pointed toward the case.
The merchant moved over and pulled out a small key from a loop at her waist, unlocking the case from the back and lifting the glass lid. She took out one of the rings, the smaller one, and held it out. The warrior grasped it between her thumb and first finger, holding it up to the sunlight. "What kind of metal are these strands?"
Gabrielle moved over to look at the item and uttered a tiny sound, half sigh, half yelp as she realized what her partner was holding. The merchant gave her a quizzical look. "Three strands of gold."
"All three are gold?" Xena lowered the ring so the bard could get a better look.
"Yes. Its a wedding ring." The merchant pointed to the strands. "One strand of yellow gold for the woman, because shes soft and warm, one strand of white gold for the man because hes cool and strong, and one strand of pink tinted gold that represents the love that binds them together." The merchant studied the tall warrior and smiled. "You know, the yellow gold matches the highlights in your friend ... um ... partners hair ..." She nodded toward the bard while guessing the nature of their relationship. "... while the white gold matches the highlights in yours."
With trembling fingers, the warrior turned to her partner and lifted up a small hand, sliding the cool metal band onto Gabrielles left ring finger. It fit perfectly and Xena smiled a lop-sided grin as she watched her partner flex her fingers and look down at the foreign object. "What do you think?"
The bard looked up with tears swimming in her eyes and lifted the hand that bore the ring, cupping a chiseled cheekbone. "Its perfect."
The warrior brushed a tear away from her partners face, her eyes never leaving Gabrielles. "Can we see the other ring?"
The merchant retrieved it and held it out toward Xena.
"No." Gabrielle turned and reached out, closing her hand around it. "Let me." She took Xenas left hand in her two and held it up, softly kissing each knuckle before she placed it on a long elegant finger. Another perfect fit. Weird.
After they became betrothed, they had looked all over Zakynthos and every town between there and the Amazon village, and had not been able to agree on matching rings. What they had discovered was that when it came to jewelry, they had markedly different tastes, the warrior preferring simple pieces while the bard liked more ornate things. They had finally quit looking, deciding to shelve the issue until closer to their joining ceremony in hopes that something could be worked out. The warrior had carefully suggested that maybe they didnt have to have rings that matched, which had sent the bard into an emotional crying spell until Xena assured her that they would keep searching until they agreed on something. And now here they were. These two rings were a wonderful combination of what they both wanted.
"Are we done looking?" The warriors eyes smiled as she studied the ring on her own finger and then looked back at her soulmates face.
"Yes." Gabrielles voice was very soft. "I dont think we need to look any further. I think weve found exactly what we need." Her double meaning not lost on her partner.
As they became absorbed in each others eyes and the world briefly faded out, the sun glinted off the bards right hand and the merchant frowned. "May I?" She gestured toward Gabrielles hand.
"Oh. Sure." The bard turned and held out her right hand while the merchant carefully studied the ring on her right ring finger.
"Its very unusual. Who made it?" She held Gabrielles hand lightly against her own.
"I ... um ... dont know, actually." The bard continued to allow the merchant to look at her ring.
"What does it mean?" The merchant recognized the crest as that of royalty, and her eyes squinted just a bit, as they slowly raised from the hand to Gabrielles face.
"Um ... its a signet ring." The bard glanced at her partner, who looked a bit uneasy.
"Where are you from, child?" The merchants eyes darted from warrior to bard, reflecting curiosity and a touch of what Xena recognized as fear.
"Potadeia." Gabrielle sighed. "Its in Greece."
"Are ... are you the queen of Potadeia?" Already large dark eyes grew even larger.
The bard snorted, remembering her largely un-noticed existence in her home village. "Not hardly. No, Potadeia doesnt have a queen. Im queen of the Greek Amazons."
"Amazons?" The merchant looked at her with a quizzical expression. "Who are Amazons?"
"That would take a long time to explain." Gabrielle smiled. I sometimes ask myself that question. "My subjects live in twelve different villages scattered throughout Greece. I guess you could say Im a long way from home."
"I see." The merchant let go of the bards hand. "Do you want the rings?"
"Yes." Warrior and bard spoke in unison. They carefully counted out the dinars they had saved for rings, and wordlessly walked away from the small stall, not noticing the whispered conversation behind their backs between the jewelry merchant, the weapons merchant, and the candy maker.
They had agreed at their betrothal that when they found rings they liked, they would immediately start wearing them and not wait until their joining ceremony, because in their hearts they were already joined. The ceremony was merely a formality, a way to make what was already true between them legally binding in the eyes of their friends and family. Xena took her partners hand and intertwined their fingers, idly running a fingertip against the unfamiliar presence of the metal encasing Gabrielles finger.
She smiled and steered the bard toward the clothing stall. The smile grew broader as she indicated the small skirt and top she had spotted earlier, watching Gabrielle blush as the merchant removed the garments and wrapped them up. They continued shopping for a few more candle marks, and by the time they were finished, each had managed to select an outfit complete with accessories for the other. They decided they would save the new clothing until hopefully they had some sort of official dinner or banquet with Cleopatra.
They strolled down the street and turned a corner onto the main plaza. The bards eyes grew wide as they passed a large ornate building. "Temple of Isis. Xena, who is Isis?"
"Um ... thats kind of a bards tale, but Ill take a stab at it." The warrior stopped in front of the temple to collect her thoughts.
Isis, Xena explained, was the wife of Osiris. Osiris was a legendary Egyptian god who chose to become mortal and live as a man and set about civilizing Egypt, introducing the country to art, literature, fine dining, and wine. Isis was his sister, and in his day it was common for the children of royalty to inter-marry, and so Isis, when she came of age, was married to Osiris. Osiris was eventually murdered by their jealous brother, Seth, who buried him alive in a coffin and sent him floating down the Nile River. Isis eventually found Osiris body and took him back to Rhakotis, the name that Alexandria was known by until Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and changed its name.
Seth stole Osiris body and cut it into fourteen pieces which he threw into the Nile. Thirteen pieces washed up and were recovered by Isis, who put them back together, but alas, his penis was eaten by a fish and was never recovered, so she added a phallus and had the body parts preserved, creating the first mummy. Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, grew up and avenged his fathers death, and guaranteed his fathers immortality by feeding one of his own eyes to Osiris, which was a symbol of resurrection. Due to the sacrifice of Horus, Osiris became the judge of dead souls who wanted to go to heaven. Poor Isis, however, mourned Osiris until her death, being inconsolable at the loss of her husband.
"Thats kinda strange, especially the part about the eye. Like I said in Britannia, and I thought our gods were freaks." The bard smiled up at her partner. "I know, I know. At least theyre our freaks." She looked over at a tall column erected in front of the temple and wandered closer, squinting as she read the inscription carved into the stone.
I am seeking after love: Behold me existing in the city, great are its walls:
I grieve for your love for me -- Come you only, now that you have departed!
Behold your son, who caused Seth to retreat from destruction!
Hidden am I among the plants, and concealed is your son that he cannot answer you, while this great calamity remains!
Yet concerning you -- There is no likeness of your flesh left:
I follow you alone and surround the plants, each of which holds danger for your son, --
Lo, I, a woman, in front of all.**
"Thats really sad." Gabrielle turned to look at her partner, who was holding one hand in front of her mouth, smirking, and shaking in silent laughter. "What?" The bard raised a blonde eyebrow.
"Um ... Gabrielle. Step back over here beside me." Xena continued to chuckle as she placed one hand lightly against the small of the bards back. "Now. Look at the column."
The bard took in the tall sandstone column, at the top of which was a carved hovering bird. "Yeah. Its a column with a bird on top. Whats so funny?"
The warriors sides were starting to hurt, and she took a deep breath to calm down before she pointed up to the top of the column. "See the top? The way its shaped. What does that remind you of?"
Gabrielle looked more closely and Xena watched her, as a flush of red began to creep up her chest and into her neck. "Oh gods. Xena! Is that what I think it is?"
"Yep." The warrior finally laughed out loud. "Appears there was one part of old Osiris body that Isis missed more than the others, the part she never found."
"Can we go back to the boat now?" The bard took one last look at the column and shook her head.
"Yeah. I think we can do that."
Suddenly Gabrielle began giggling uncontrollably. "Great Artemis!" She slapped Xenas thigh.
"What?" The warrior stopped and waited for her partner to gain control of herself.
"I just had a vision." The bard looked at her partners face and then lowered her eyes to Xenas chest. "Someday, as a testament to your memory and our relationship, Im gonna commission a statue of two giant bronze breastplates with a little quill resting in the cleavage."
"Gabrielle! Thats not funny." The warrior felt a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth in spite of herself. "Let me guess. The quill represents you because youre a bard?"
"Right. Thats an easy one." Gabrielle continued to laugh. "And it is too funny."
"You know, Gabrielle." Xena grinned wickedly. "Bards, by tradition, tell their stories orally, not through writing. Maybe you should have them put a little carving of a tongue in the cleavage instead of the quill."
"Oh gods." The bard laughed harder while slapping her partners thigh again. "You are sooo bad."
"True." Xena threw one arm around Gabrielles shoulders as they resumed walking. "But you started it, my bard. Besides, I think the tongue would be a much more accurate symbol of your many talents than the quill."
"Yeah?" Small fingers playfully tickled the spot at the base of the warriors neck.
"Well think about it. You're a bard, so you tell stories. You're a queen, so you do a lot of negotiating. You're a good friend to people and you often talk to them to comfort them. All of that requires the use of your tongue. And there have certainly been a few times when I would have fallen down on my knees and worshiped a statue of that particular part of your body." A most lascivious smile appeared on Xena's face.
"You would, huh?" The tickling slowed to a teasing motion.
"Most definitely." Xena waggled a dark eyebrow.
"Well ..." Small fingers combed through the hair hanging across the warrior's shoulders. "Maybe later I should practice on some of my talents, you know? Because practice makes perfect, Ive heard."
"So do you need anyone to put you through your paces while you ... practice?" Xena's voice sounded just above the bards head, blowing warm air across her scalp.
"Are you applying for the job?" A lone bardic finger ran down the middle of the warriors spine to the top seam of her leathers, sending a scattering of goose bumps across her upper back.
"If youre looking to fill the position."
Gabrielle looked up at the tanned profile and smiled. "You better make sure you know what youre getting into. Its got some tough requirements. The job description calls for a life-long commitment. Are you prepared to put me through my paces for the rest of your life?"
"Oh, yeah." Xena tilted her head and briefly kissed her partner.
"Um ..." The bard ran the tip of her tongue around her own lips, tasting a faint hint of chocolate the warrior had left there. "I think youre hired."
As they made their way across the crowded marketplace back toward the docks where they had left the dinghy, the bard snuggled up against her partner, tucking herself tightly against the warriors side. "Hey." Xena ran one hand up and down a bare arm. "Have you ever been boom diving?"
"Boom what?" Gabrielle looked up at the warrior with a blank expression on her face.
"Guess not." Xena chuckled. "Its lots of fun." She glanced overhead at the sun, which indicated that it was a few candle marks past noon. "When we get back to the boat Ill show you.
"Come on Gabrielle!" The warriors sleek head bobbed up and down in the water at the bow of the boat, as she grinned up at her reticent partner. "I promise youll like it."
"No way, Xena." The bard sat on the railing and gazed down at the turquoise blue water with more than a little fear in her eyes. "I am not going to just fling myself out into the air like that. I do not have a death wish."
"Suit yourself." Xena swam back over to the side of the boat, using long strokes of her arms, and pulled herself up on a rope ladder that hung over the side of the boat. Clad only in her underwear and a sleeveless shift that was now thoroughly plastered to her long frame, she padded over to the forward mast and grabbed the boom, pulling it over to the port side of the deck.
Ronan had finished unloading cargo and the boat was now anchored further out near the peninsula where the lighthouse stood. She had drawn a small crowed of bored onlookers onshore at the base of the tall structure, who had first become interested earlier in the afternoon when the warrior had taken the gaff-headed foresail completely off the mast and relieved the boom of any ropes, leaving it to swing freely through the air.
With a wild yell, she stood up on the port-side rail and grabbed onto the boom, leaping onto the forward deck and running across the weathered planks on her bare feet as fast as she could, drawing her legs up under her and holding on as the boom swung over the starboard rail and out across the water around toward the very front of the boat. When she was clear over the water, she let out another yell and let go of the boom, tucking her body into a tight ball and executing two forward flips before extending her arms and legs straight up and down, pointing her toes and executing a perfect head-first dive, entering the water with hardly a splash.
As she surfaced for about the tenth time, her audience once again erupted in a round of applause. She ignored the accolades, looking instead toward the somewhat sad face of her partner, who still sat pensively on the railing. Shes not having much fun.
Xena climbed the ladder again and made her way toward the bards side, leaning back against the rail next to her partner with her weight back on her forearms, so that they were next to each other but facing in opposite directions. She looked over and tilted the bards chin up. "You know how to swim, so whats the problem?" The hand dropped down to a smooth thigh where the warrior began to lightly trail her fingertips up and down the sun-warmed skin.
"I ... um ... the height, for one thing." Gabrielles eyes shifted to the lighthouse. "And all those people watching. What if I make a fool out of myself?"
Ahhh. Xena climbed up on the top rail and leaped off, sailing through the air and hitting the water in a low arced racing dive before she began to swim swiftly toward shore. She reached the peninsula and waded ashore, taking purposeful strides toward the crowd and stopped about three body-lengths from them, crossing her arms over her chest and slowly panning them with a lethal stare. "Dont you people have somewhere else you need to be? Hmmm?" Her face hardened.
Suddenly the group began to shuffle around, looking anywhere but at the menacing figure before them, and slowly began to break up, scattering in several directions until the warrior was left standing alone at the base of the structure. Hmmmph. Thats better. She swam back to the boat at a leisurely pace and climbed on board, resuming her prior position against the railing, and leaning in and kissing her partner softly on the lips. "There. All gone. You wanna try it now?"
"Well ..." The bard looked first at the water, then at the boom, and then at her tall soulmate, smiling timidly. "Will you go with me?"
"Sure. Comere." Xena lead the bard over to the port side rail and then retrieved the boom, pulling it around until she was back at the bards side. "Um ..." She cocked her head, thinking and studying the water. "Get behind me and hold onto my neck." The warrior couched down until she felt the small arms around her shoulders. "Now wrap your legs around my waist." Gabrielle complied and Xena stood up, wrapping her large hands around the wooden boom.
"Now ..." She looked over her shoulder. "Just hold on tight until we get over the water. When I let go, keep hanging on. Were just gonna drop directly down into the water, feet first. Nothing fancy. Just remember to take a deep breath when we start to drop, okay?"
"Ready?" The warrior shifted slightly, compensating for the extra weight on her back.
"Ready as Ill ever be." Gabrielle squeezed her eyes closed as she felt her partner start to move. The air rushed across her skin and her eyes flew open, just as they cleared the starboard rail and Xena let out a wild whoop. Oh gods. They began to drop and the bard drew in a deep breath, and felt a giddy jolt of joy as they fell through the air and hit the water.
They separated under the water and then surfaced, and the warrior breast-stroked over to her partner until she made contact, holding the bard out at arms length. "How was that?"
"Wow. That was great!" A full smile decorated Gabrielles face. "Can we do that again?"
"Sure." Xena chuckled and took the bards hand, guiding her toward the ladder.
They continued to play, Gabrielle growing braver with each jump until she finally got up the courage to go solo while the warrior cheered her on from the water below. After a few solo jumps, she asked Xena to teach her to dive. The warrior smiled and gave her some lessons off the low platform at the very back of the boat at first. When she had mastered that, they moved to the main deck of the boat and continued until Gabrielle was comfortable diving from that height. Xena then showed her partner how to do a flip into the water, and laughed heartily at the exuberant expression on the bards face after her first successful flip.
Finally they grasped the boom together and swung out over the water. Xena yelled. "Now. Just flip into a tuck like you were doing on the deck." The bard let go and complied, hitting the water headfirst. It wasnt a perfect dive, but it wasnt bad either, and when she surfaced she found herself in the embrace of a very proud warrior. "That was great sweetheart."
"Xena. I did it!" Gabrielle threw her arms around the warriors neck and kissed her thoroughly.
"Mmmm." The warrior pulled her lover closer and deepened the kiss, holding them both up as she treaded water with her long powerful legs. She smiled against the bards lips and flipped onto her back, pulling the bard on top of her and kicking back toward the boat while she continued to tease the bards lips, face, and neck.
The sun was beginning to set as they reached the rope ladder. Xena kissed her soulmate tenderly and cradled the small body against her while she took Gabrielles arms and pulled them around her neck. "Just hang on." The warrior grabbed the ladder and climbed up with the bard still wrapped around her. There was something quite possessive about carrying her lover to their bed chamber, and the warrior allowed that knowledge to wash over her, filling her with a passion that was very primitive in nature.
She reached the first mates berth and entered it, closing the door behind them and setting Gabrielle down on her feet next to the bed. It was a much bigger room than the one they had shared down below, with a much larger bed, and it had portholes on three sides and a hatch that could be cranked open so they could look up at the stars, that were just starting to appear in the early evening sky.
The warrior opened the hatch and then quickly shed her tunic and underwear. The bard, who was similarly attired, started to do the same. "Uh-uh." Xena appraised the wet fabric clinging to her lovers body with an appreciative sweep of her eyes. "Let me."
"Okay." Gabrielle dropped her arms to her sides and just breathed, feeling her own chest rising and falling and her heart pounding, as the warrior closed the distance between them and grasped the bards wrists, holding them loosely behind Gabrielles back with one hand while she leaned in and kissed the bards forehead, and then her eyelids, followed by a kiss on her lips and then a trail of kisses that lead to the hollow of her throat. With her free hand, Xena quickly unbuttoned the wet tunic and pushed it off her lovers shoulders, letting it fall to the floor as she let go of the bards wrists and kissed her way down the firm body, kneeling to slide Gabrielles underwear down her muscular legs, and feeling the small hands drop to her shoulders and blunt nails digging in.
Xena slowly stood up and looked into green eyes darkened with lust for a long moment, before she leaned in and kissed her partner while backing her up against the bed, gently pushing her down onto the mattress as the backs of Gabrielles calves made contact with the cool sheets that hung over the edges.
The headboard was padded and covered in leather, and just below it, right above the mattress was a long wooden bar. Perfect. The warrior straddled her lover on her knees and grasped the bards hands, drawing them up and back until Gabrielle felt her knuckles brush against the smooth round surface. "Hold on." Xenas voice was a low growl, tempered with deep love which reflected from her pale blue eyes, along with a tiny smile that twitched at her lips.
The bard complied, wrapping her hands firmly around the bar and assuming a completely open and vulnerable position as she looked into the warriors face with total trust. "Do whatever you want to, Xena." Gabrielles voice was a soft whisper.
The warrior grabbed onto the bar with one hand herself, while she bore her weight on her free forearm and slowly kissed and nipped her way down one of Gabrielle arms while she lowered herself until she made contact all along the length of their bodies. She ducked her head and kissed her partner with increasingly demanding intent, while her hands wandered up and down the bards sides, gently teasing familiar sensitive spots and drawing tiny whimpers from the back of Gabrielles throat.
Xena pulled back and softly stroked her lovers cheek, licking her lips as she realized that they were crossing a line. They had crossed several lines during their time on Zakynthos, breaking down a lot of barriers between them, and their love-making had become much more creative. Not that it hadnt been completely satisfying before. But a new dimension was added, as the playfulness that had characterized their time on the road together spilled over into their love life. The warrior had slowly come to realize that the bard was capable of handling Xenas more aggressive and adventurous nature, and had gradually showed her young lover a few things, enjoying the mutual pleasure they brought to one another as they explored this still relatively-recent development in their relationship.
But this was something new, another place they hadnt been to together. It wasnt exactly bondage, because Gabrielle could let go of the bar any time she wanted to, and Xena could tell from the bards face that she understood that. But as long as she held on, she really couldnt move around much, leaving the warrior to do all of the work. She continued to touch her partners face and leaned in, sampling a salty bardic neck. She pulled back and looked up again with a question in her eyes. "Gabrielle, I love you."
"I love you too, Xena." The bards face conveying permission for Xena to keep going. Gabrielle understood that this was something her soulmate needed. It wasnt about domination. It was about trust. While on Zakynthos, Xena had hesitantly told the bard a little bit about her sexual past, and had expressed that Gabrielle was the only person she had ever shared her bed with that she knew really trusted her, or for that matter the only person the warrior had ever slept with that she knew she could trust. This small act symbolized something very important between them, and was a way for the bard to show the warrior that even when she was totally naked and most vulnerable, she was unafraid, and had complete faith in Xenas love for her.
"Gods, you are so beautiful." The warrior shared a long leisurely kiss with her partner and then pressed herself firmly against the small muscular body, and began a heated exploration until she felt Gabrielle begin to tremble. "Cold, love?"
"No." The bard whispered into a nearby ear. "Very very warm."
"Good." Xena continued her administrations until the trembling crested and then dissipated, and she felt two small arms drop from the wooden bar and wrap around her neck. "You are amazing sweetheart." She rolled over on her side and ran one hand up and down the bards back.
"Likewise." Gabrielle smiled and curled up, tangling their legs and molding herself around Xenas body, resting her forehead against the warriors while looking deeply into blue eyes gone silver in the moonlight that shone through the porthole, casting pale shadows into the corners of the room.
The blue eyes blinked almost shyly. "Thank you. I ... um ... you ... sorry. Im not sure where all of that came from." The lashes lowered and a faint blush appeared on the high cheek bones.
"Xena. Theres no need to apologize." The bard gently stroked the dark locks that spilled around both their shoulders. "Remember when we fought those soldiers on the road outside that Roman compound?"
"Uh-huh." The warrior grabbed the hand against her head and drew it around, kissing her lovers fingertips.
"And then that night we camped in the woods near Mt. Olympus, and you had a small attack of ... um ... battle lust?" Gabrielle smiled. It had become one of her favorite memories, and had actually been a rather mild encounter compared to some of the things they had shared since then.
"Yeah." The eyes dropped again.
Small fingers reached out and tilted the tanned face up until their eyes met. "Remember what I told you?"
"That ... if I ever needed to work stuff out that you were there for me?" Xena pulled the bard closer to her, draping a long leg across Gabrielles hips.
"That offer still stands. Dont be ashamed of what you need. And dont be afraid to tell me. Or show me." One hand dropped down and lazily stroked the rock-solid leg resting over her hip. "I love you. You have made me happier than I ever dreamed possible, and I want to make you happy too. Dont you understand that I enjoyed what we just did just as much as you did?"
"Yeah. Youre not the only one who gets pleasure out of giving pleasure, Xena. Sometimes I like to think that I can make you feel good, too. "
The warrior sucked in a surprised breath. Of course she wants to give back to you, you big dumb warrior. "Gabrielle." Xena kissed her partners soft lips. "Dont think it. Know it. Every time we are together .... like this ..." She smiled. "... I always feel good." She clasped their left hands and held them up toward the hatch, allowing the moonlight to reflect off the twin gold bands.
They spent the next candle mark simply cuddled up together, wrapped up in each others arms, quietly talking about the day, the shopping, the boom-diving, and admiring their new rings. A quiet knock interrupted their conversation.
Ronan. "Just a minute." Xena groaned and reluctantly rolled out of bed and drew a tunic over her head, running her fingers through her disheveled hair before she opened the door and peeked out. "Yes?"
"Xena." The captain stood before her with a large platter of grilled fish. "Am I interrupting ye?"
"Not exactly." You just missed it. A feral smile appeared. "Whats up?" She eyed the food as the smell wafted into their room and she heard the bards stomach growl loudly.
"One o me old naval mates runs the tavern at the end o' the docks. He cooked up a large mess o fish and vegetables and sent some o it over here. They be way too much for me to eat. Would ye and yer lovely partner care to join me for a bit o' supper?"
"Yes. Wed love to." Gabrielles voice rang out from the dark room.
Xena laughed. "That would be an affirmative vote from Gabrielle, and when her stomachs involved, I dont dare argue. Give us about a quarter candle mark?"
"Aye." The bearded face crinkled into a smile. "See ye in a bit."
The warrior turned and closed the door, and lit a candle on a low table beside the bed so that her partner could see to get dressed. "I think hes lonely." Gabrielle tied a woven leather belt around her sleeveless butter-colored tunic, foregoing shoes since they were only going across the deck.
"Yeah." Xena had taken a comb to her still-damp locks, combing out tangles as she worked her way from her crown down to the ends of the long tresses. "His whole life is taking this boat back and forth from Pirgos to Alexandria. He steers the boat while most of the crew sleeps and sleeps while most of the crew is awake. Then when he gets to port, they all desert him to go out on the town. I get the feeling hes not the type for that sort of thing."
The warrior selected a wineskin from the two they had brought with them, and held out her arm for her partner. Gabrielles hand slid around a muscular forearm and they stepped out of the cabin and spotted Ronan at a small torch-lit table near the back of the boat. They ate outdoors, sharing the meal and passing the wineskin around. The bard put her people skills to work, gently drawing the captains life story out with carefully probing questions and occasional sympathetic looks that put the man at ease.
Ronan was born and raised in Eire, and grew up in a large family on a sheep farm in a childhood existence not too terribly different from that of the warrior and the bard. He had been a sheep farmer himself, and had married young. "Aye. Me Katy. She was a lovely lass, with long thick red hair and the prettiest face ever I laid eyes on. "One look at her and that was all she wrote."
"I know the feeling." Xena smiled as she felt a small hand come to rest on her thigh under the table.
"Where is she now?" The bard laid her other hand on the mans arm.
"The fever took her, and our two wee twin babies." His eyes watered and he sniffled before continuing. "Twas a fiercesome cold winter, that one was. The nearest healer was too far away to reach us in time. I cared fer her and the two little uns as best I could, but twasnt much I could do fer em."
"Im sorry." Gabrielles voice was very soft and she squeezed the arm, as the warrior stood up abruptly and moved to the railing, looking out at the water while she continued to listen with her back turned.
"Ye are a kind lass. Ye have a good heart, I ken it." Ronan smiled sadly. "Anyway, I buried her and the babies on the side of a hill, overlooking the green valley that was me home. But when I finished, I stood up and looked about the land, and realized they was nowt' more fer me there. I sold the farm and joined the navy in Britannia. Spent many years there and after me discharge, I went back to Eire and joined up to crew a passenger boat. One thing lead to another, and now here I am. The seas me mistress now. But dont feel bad fer me, lass. Ive seen so many things and places that most people can only dream of. Me life, tisnt so bad." He rose up. "Its late and you lasses have to be up early in the morning, so Ill be bidding ye a good evening."
"Good evening, Ronan." The bard impulsively hugged the older man and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for dinner."
"Yes." Xena turned and regarded the captain with sad eyes. "Thank you. Maybe well catch your boat when we go back to Greece."
"Aye." Ronan tipped his hat. "Id be glad to have ye aboard. Ill give ye a nice cabin if ye do ride back with me."
"Thanks." The warrior continued leaning with her back against the rail. "Ill keep that in mind." She watched as the older man made his way down a stairwell behind the wheel to the captains quarters, and then she turned back again, looking out across the dark depths of the water behind the boat as internal demons flitted and darted around her head.
Gabrielle studied the somewhat stiff back for several long moments before she stood and softly padded over to the rail, leaning against her partner and rubbing small circles against the broad shoulders with the flat of her hand. "Hey. You okay?"
"Yeah. Im fine." Xena didnt look up, though, and a long sighed escaped her lips.
"You want to talk about it?" The bards hand wandered up and began to massage the tense neck muscles.
"Gods that feels good." The warrior dropped her head forward. "I ... was just thinking."
"About Solan?" Gabrielles voice held the deeply sorrowful note it always did when she talked of Xenas son, because on so many levels, the bard would never completely forgive herself for the role she played in his death.
"No." The warrior half-turned and held her partners small hands in her own, studying them and smiling a little at the matching rings. Thats gonna take some getting used to. "At least not in the way you might think."
The bard lifted a large calloused palm and kissed the inside. "Talk to me, Honey. Whats going on with you?"
"I was just listening to Ronan." Xena closed her eyes reflexively as the light kisses traveled up her inner forearm. "Gabrielle. Ive lost so many people. My father, or at least the man I knew as my father. Lyceus. Lao Ma. Borias. Marcus. Solan. Even Hope, in a way."
The bard sucked in a surprised breath and her forehead fell forward against the warriors chest. They had talked and talked and talked about Solan and Hope and Dahak, and Chin and Ming Tien, and that time in their lives when the darkness had descended and neither one really believed they would ever live long enough to see the light again. But never, in all those talks, had Xena ever spoken of Hopes death as a personal loss. "Wha ..." Gabrielle swallowed, trying to collect her thoughts. "What makes you say that? About Hope, I mean."
Xena closed her arms around her partner, whose body was shaking. She kissed the fair head. "Because she was yours. And you are mine. So in a way, she would have been mine too. But Ill never know what that would have been like because I never even considered the possibility that someone as good and loving as you might have been able to make a difference in her. Gods know you did with me. I feel like such a hypocrite. Especially now that I know who my father is. When all is said and done, Hope and I werent so very different from each other."
The bard looked up and took Xenas face in both hands. "Dont." Her thumb stroked a high cheek bone. "Xena, we cant go back. We can only go forward. And there is a big difference between Ares and Dahak. Ares is the god of war, but somewhere underneath all his fire, there is a heart. Dahak is pure evil. We saw Hope in action. I think ..." Gabrielle gently tugged her partners hands, leading her to a low bench that was bolted down to the deck against the railing. "No. I know that she would have killed one or both of us, if given enough time. She sure tried to. So dont torture yourself. I dont think we could have done things any differently to make her good. She wasnt good. Not at all. You know what Ive come to believe, Xena?"
"What?" The warrior pulled her partners head against her shoulder and she ran her fingers through the short blonde hair.
"Hope wasnt part of me at all." Gabrielle drew in a deep breath and played with the tunic laces that were right in front of her face, twisting them around her fingers as she spoke. "She was totally a spawn of Dahak. He just used my body to bring her into the world. I ... I know she was a beautiful baby, but she was able to take on any form she wanted to. Dahak made her look like a human baby so I would love her and want to protect her. And later, she chose to look like me just so I would feel guilty and believe she was my daughter, maybe so that I wouldnt try to stop her from carrying out Dahaks plan. Or maybe just to make me feel bad, because thats what evil does. Makes people feel bad for no reason at all. But she wasnt mine. It ... it would have been nearly impossible for me to get pregnant at the time that Dahak violated me. Think about it."
Xenas brows furrowed and then rose in revelation. It had been a miserable day. She had rescued Gabrielle from that cross and they had barely spoken to each other. Then she had deserted the bard into Krafstars hands, thinking she was never going to see her best friend again, and then she had gone back to meet up with Bodaceia. And just to top things off, she had started cycling that afternoon. And if I was cycling, then that means that Gabrielle was ... "Were you ...?"
"Right on time." The bard snuggled up tightly against the warm body she was sitting next to.
"Well then youre right. Its damned near impossible that you would have gotten pregnant that day." The warrior suddenly felt a huge weight lifted from her shoulders. "I ... this is going to sound very selfish, but you have no idea how much better that makes me feel."
"No, thats not selfish." Gabrielle rested her hand on Xenas belly, idly stroking the firm muscles through the warriors tunic. "Makes me feel better too, at least a little. I dont even think of her as my child anymore."
"Why didnt you tell me about the cycling thing sooner? Course, if Id been thinking clearly, I would have figured that out myself back then."
"Thats just it. Neither of us was able to think clearly for a long time after that day. It didnt even occur to me until recently." The green eyes peered upward. "Small detail, huh? Anyway, I was going to tell you when the time was right. It wasnt something I wanted to just bring up out of the blue, especially since weve been so happy most of the time lately."
"Well, Im glad you told me."
"Me too." Gabrielle sighed. "And even though I dont think she was mine anymore, thank you."
"For what?" Two dark brows furrowed.
"For letting me know that you thought of her loss as yours too, and not just as mine."
"Oh. Well, thisll relieve me of some really weird thoughts, too." The warrior chuckled softly trying to lighten the mood. "Sometimes Id get into this circular thinking. Like, Ares is my father and he had a child with Hope, the Destroyer. So that made Hope my stepmother and the Destroyer my half ... whatever in the name of Zeus the Destroyer was." Half giant horned lizard? Half sea monster? "And then things got really strange if I followed that further and realized that if Hope was my stepmother then you were my step-grandmother."
"Ewww." Gabrielle wrinkled her nose.
"Yeah." The warrior mirrored her partners facial expression. "I didnt let myself go there very often. Its kinda like thinking about the fact that I slept with Hercules and hes Ares brother."
"Uggh. Xena, thats almost worse."
"Yeah. Tell me about it."
"Um ... Xena."
"I hate to tell you this, but even if Hope isnt my child, the Destroyer was still your half-sister or brother ... or whatever."
"Huh?" Xena thought about that for a moment. "Oh gods. Thats true. Assuming that the Destroyer really was the child of Ares and Hope. I dont think I want to know."
"Me neither." Gabrielle gently poked the stomach she was rubbing. "Xena, the Destroyer should be proof enough that Hope wasnt mine. That was one ugleee son-of-a-bacchae. Id really hate to think that thing had part of me in it. If Ares was his father, then he must have gotten his looks straight from Dahak through Hope. Ares is a lot of things, but butt-ugly isnt one of them. And he sure does produces beautiful children."
"Why thank you." The warrior gave a playful ruffle to her partners head. "And he certainly didnt get his looks from you, love. So what you say makes sense. Hope obviously didnt have any of your genes in her, thats for sure."
"So maybe Hope was a total spawn of Dahak, and the Destroyer was a total spawn of Hope. Maybe Ares didnt have anything to do with creating the Destroyer, so that would mean that youre not related to the Destroyer after all."
"I can only um ... hope." Ouch. Bad pun, warrior.
Gabrielle grimaced. "On second thought, maybe you werent a bard in a previous life."
"I already told you that. Anyway ..." Got off track. But Im really glad we did. The warrior lifted the bard up into her lap and held on to her tightly. "When I was listening to Ronan talk about losing his wife and how he looked around and knew there was no place for him on his farm anymore ... Gabrielle, if anything happened to you, I dont think there would be any place in the whole world that I could run to and feel like there would be anything left for me."
"Xe ..." The bard peered into pained blue eyes. "Why are you torturing yourself? And what would you do?"
"When have you known me to not torture myself?" The warrior ruefully smiled.
"Okay, point well taken, but what about the other question?"
"Well. Artemis help me, I know I have your rite of caste. Id probably make Chilapa permanent regent and then run away to the northern Amazons again and wait to die. Of maybe Id hang around in Greece until one of your Amazons challenged me, and then Id just let them win."
"Id hope youd keep trying to live." Gabrielle softly kissed her partners shoulder. "But no matter what, Xena. If I go first, Ill be waiting for you under that willow tree, I promise you that."
They shared a long undemanding kiss, before the warrior stood up and carried the small body back to their appointed cabin. She gently tossed her partner onto the bed and then crawled in beside her. Gabrielle rolled over onto her stomach and Xena laid her head between the bards shoulder blades, draping her long frame across her partners body. She drew the light-weight covers up over them and they were soon fast asleep.
"This is bliss." The bard closed her eyes and leaned back into a thick padded cushion as she patted her full belly and felt the sun warm her face.
They were more than halfway through the cruise up the Nile, and it had turned out to be everything Ronan had described. Below deck, a platoon of sweating muscular oarsmen deftly drove the boat upstream, but top deck was a virtual floating paradise. There were only ten other passengers besides the crew, and they were all reclining, stretched out on low double padded benches that lined both sides of the upper deck. Servers continually walked by with trays of all kinds of food, and their mugs were never allowed to be drained more than halfway down before they were quickly refilled with whatever libation they wanted. Lyre players softly strummed while singing bards sang of the myths of Egypt.
The warrior simply sat back, one arm wrapped protectively around her partners middle, who was spooned up against her, and delighted in watching Gabrielle, knowing the bard was carefully absorbing the tales to take back to Greece with her. She lazily stretched out a long arm as a server walked by, and snagged a sprig of grapes from the tray. She plucked off one of the plump juicy fruits and held it down in front of her partners face, laughing as Gabrielle took it into her mouth, along with part of Xenas finger. "Glad youre enjoying yourself."
"Oh. I am. This land is incredible. Ive never seen anything like it." The bard continually gazed out at the river bank, often turning to ask her knowledgeable partner about various things they saw both on shore and in the water. The ever-changing Nile river valley had started out fertile and green near Alexandria, but as they got closer to Cairo, the terrain became increasingly arid, and gave way to long stretches of open desert interspaced with the occasional oasis.
"Xena, whats that?"
"What?" The warrior raised up, looking out across the water toward shore and seeing nothing but brown sand and sun-scorched brush.
"No. That. In that bowl they just brought out." Gabrielle pointed toward a painted ceramic dish that was filled with large round objects that appeared to have a rough texture and were an odd color, kind of like the color of sunset.
Figures. Food. "Those are oranges. I havent had one of those in ages." Xena got up and retrieved one of the ripe pieces of fruit, and sat back down. The bard watched in fascination as the warrior carefully peeled it, tossing the chunks of skin over the side.
"That parts not good to eat?" Gabrielle looked curiously down at the water where a floating trail of orange peel was stretched out behind the boat. "Its a lot prettier color than the inside."
"Yeah, but its bitter." She finished and then separated the fleshy halves into sections, picking out as many seeds as she could in the process, and teasingly flicking them at her partners bare midriff.
"Hey!" Gabrielle tossed one of the seeds back. "Whats that for?"
"Just cause youre so cute and I like messing with you." The bard was wearing Xenas favorite red outfit, and the warrior had spent as much time observing her partner as she had the terrain around them. "Here." She held out an orange slice as a peace offering, and the bard leaned over, taking it between her teeth and biting down.
"Ooo." Her mouth watered at the combination of sweet and sour that exploded on her tongue. "Thats good. More please." She opened her mouth and a chuckling warrior fed her another slice.
Two clandestine figures sitting a good ways behind the pair watched in fascination. "I dont get it." A bearded man murmured to his companion. "Is the tall one some kind of servant to the fair one? Look at how she has her trained to feed her and pamper her."
"But look at the tall ones posture." The rotund one replied. "See how protective she is? I think shes a body guard of some sort. Look at all her weapons."
"True. But the royal one is armed as well." The bearded man gestured toward the sais tucked neatly into the bards bootstraps. "Wait a minute. They just kissed. Maybe the tall one is a body slave to the little queen."
"Beats me." The portly one shrugged as they continued to observe their quarry.
At precisely noon the boat veered west across the smooth water toward a small port. A dark-skinned crewman, dressed in a white caftan, stood up and projected his voice. "Which of you are Xena and Gabrielle?"
The warriors eyes narrowed and she slid a hand down to her chakram, but otherwise remained still. "Im Xena, and this is Gabrielle." She kept her hold firmly around her partners waist. "And this damned boat should be veering east toward Cairo instead of west."
"Begging your pardon." The man nervously cleared his throat as he remained a respectful distance from the menacing warrior, who was oozing with danger at the moment. "But I have a message for you." He moved as close as he had to and no closer, holding the piece of parchment out to the leather-clad figure.
Xena took the note and studied it. Huh? "Cleo says she knew we would be on this boat and she wants to meet us in Giza for a tour before we go on to the palace at Cairo." She looked up at the crewman, who stood waiting for her to finish reading. "Is that the port of Giza?" She gestured toward the boats apparent destination.
"Yes. I had a message myself from the queen to stop there before going to Cairo, and to give you that message just before we reached Giza. She didnt say why." The man was starting to develop a nervous twitch in his eyelid and he absently rubbed one hand across his face.
When Xena had been to Egypt during her warlord days, she hadnt been any further south than Alexandria. Shed only stopped there long enough to re-stock her boat and maybe enjoy a good meal in the tavern before moving on. Word was that the Ptolemies, the dynasty of kings that preceded Cleopatra, werent to be messed with. Heeding that warning, the warrior had steered clear of Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatras brother and legal husband, only ducking in and out of his country on occasion out of necessity. She had assumed that if she did succeed in her plan to conquer the world, shed eventually have to deal with him, but decided to leave him alone until he truly got in her way.
"Whats in Giza?" She raised one eyebrow in question.
The bard turned and urgently tugged at the fringe of the leather battle skirt. "Um ... Xena. Thats whats in Giza." Gabrielle rose up and pointed toward shore.
"What in Hades ...?" The warrior looked in the direction her now speechless partner was pointing. Off in the distance, three gigantic triangular-shaped buildings rose up from the desert floor. In front of them was a large statue that appeared to be half-man, half-lion. Scattered about the base of the four huge structures were dozens of smaller buildings and what appeared to be temples. Nothing human could have made those. Its not possible. Xena felt her arm hairs raise and a chill danced across the back of her neck. "Well be getting off here."
"As you wish." The crewman made a hasty retreat, thankful he still had all of his appendages attached to his body.
The two onlookers were too far away to hear any of the conversation, other than the names of their quarry as the crewman had shouted them out. One of the names they already knew. But the other ... "So the slaves name is Xena. Its a bit unusual. Ive never heard that name before." The larger man shifted in his seat and dabbed at his sweaty forehead with his tunic sleeve, hoping they could get out of the sun soon.
"I have." The bearded man quietly stroked the dark growth on his chin and got a faraway look in his eyes. Couldnt be. Must be a coincidence. "But the one I heard of is just a legend. Or if she was real she surely must be dead by now. Ten summers ago, every province on both sides of the Mediterranean had a bounty out on the head of a warlord named Xena. Someone would have captured her and cashed in on that by now."
"Really?" The portly man turned to his companion. "Tell me about her."
"She was a warrior by land and a pirate by sea and she answered to no one. Bowed to no king, and worshiped only one god, the Greek god of war, Ares. She plundered every village and boat in her path, and took anything that was of value. Death and destruction followed in her wake. No man ever survived at the end of her sword, and no kingdom she set her sights on ever stood for long. Last I heard she was close to taking Athens. But soon after that I quit hearing about her anymore and after a while most of us in Alexandria figured she never really existed. We think she was made up to explain acts that were really committed by a bunch of different war lords and swash-bucklers."
"Well. Even if she was real, this woman cant be her. The person you describe would never have been captured and taken into slavery by the likes of someone as small and helpless-looking as this Queen Gabrielle."
"No. Youre right. Whoever this current Xena is, shes no warrior, thats for sure." The bearded man chuckled. "But I dont think the little ones so helpless. Have you noticed her muscles when she moves? You dont get built like that sitting around being fed grapes all day long."
"Hey, theyre getting up."
The two men waited until the queen and her "slave" had de-boarded, and at the last minute made their way forward and hastily got off the boat, right before it pulled away from the dock to continue on across the river toward Cairo. They kept a safe distance, following their prey through the streets and paths of Giza, never letting the queen out of their sight.
"Xena. This is amazing." Gabrielle stood in the center of the temple of the Sphinx, making her way from one painted panel to the next, eyeing the odd figures and strange hieroglyphics curiously as she reached up and traced her fingers across some of the raised drawings. "Look at the eyes. Why do you think they painted them like that? See how the eyes are always facing directly forward, even if the head isnt?"
"Yeah, I see. And no, I dont have a clue as to why theyre painted that way. Maybe the artists just didnt have any talent." A very bored warrior sat on a bench near the temple doorway, her long legs stretched out in front of her as she continually tossed a dagger, embedding it dead center in the wall opposite her, and then getting up to retrieve it, only to sit down and toss it again.
"Will you cut that out?!" The bard intercepted her partner and took the dagger out of the wall herself, holding it behind her back and tapping her foot.
"Hey. Give that back." A perturbed warrior raised her voice but made no move to go after the weapon, lest her partner hurt herself in the process. "Please." The tone changed to a pleading one. "Comeon. Im bored out of my skull here, and if I look at one more drawing I think Im gonna puke. At least let me amuse myself until Cleo shows up."
When the got off the boat, they'd searched for Cleopatra for a candle mark with no luck, and the impatient bard had decided to start the tour without the Egyptian queen. She had already dragged her partner through the Temple of the Valley, which was next to the temple they were in now. Shed patiently followed her soulmate as theyd studied every panel in the Valley Temple, and as far as Xena was concerned, the Temple of the Sphinx was no different than the previous one.
Gabrielles face softened and she held out the dagger. "Here Honey. I keep forgetting youre not a fan of the fine arts."
"Is that some kind of underhanded insult?" Xenas eyes narrowed as she studied the smirking face in front of her.
"No." The bard patted her stomach. "Just a fact. I realize youre just about as interested in these temples as I was in those weapons at the market yesterday. But Xena, these panels. They represent history."
"Hmpph." The warrior accepted the dagger and flipped it around in the palm of her hand. "Those silly drawings may represent history, but with these ..." She tossed the dagger into the wall again and then drew her sword, spinning it with pride. "... with these men forged history, my bard."
Gabrielle merely rolled her eyes and stalked off to the next panel.
"Gabrielle?" Xena slid the sword back into her scabbard.
"Yes?" The bard smiled over her shoulder but didnt turn around.
"If you dont mind, Im gonna step outside again and take a look around. See if Cleo is anywhere in sight."
"Sure. Take your time. Ive got about five more panels yet to go."
Xena spared a brief affectionate look at her petite partner, leaning against a column and doing some studying of her own, taking in the graceful curves and firm muscles of Gabrielles back and legs. The morning had been a lot of fun for both of them, and she had seen glimpses of the younger Gabrielle that had traveled with her during those first few years. Egypt was to Gabrielle now, what most of Greece had been to her when they had first met. A place full of wonder and magic.
The bard had posed endless questions and made hundreds of comments during most of the trip up the Nile and the tour through the two temples. Xena had watched her partner absorb information and details like a sea sponge absorbs water, and it occurred to her, not for the first time, that she was watching a brilliant mind in action. Why someone like her wants to stay with a grumpy, battle-scarred, ex-war lord like me is something Ill never understand. She could go anywhere she desires. Do anything she wants to. Be with anyone she chooses.
The warrior had addressed each question, for the most part, in a much less gruff manner than she had four years ago. She found, much to her surprise, that she had apparently been missing the non-stop babble that had been routine during their early travels together. Hmmm. She was like that in Chin and India too. Hope she gets a lot of poems out of this. The warrior shook her head and stepped out of the temple into the bright sunshine.
She was halfway across the narrow street when she stopped and cocked her head, listening. She quickly sifted through the noises made by the sparse pedestrians that shuffled by and the plodding of camel hooves in the soft sand that covered most of the ground, until she tuned in on what had caught her attention. There it was again. A small muffled cry, this time accompanied by the sound of metal clattering against tile. Gabrielle.
Xena turned and ran back toward the temple, taking the tall steps up two at a time. As she bolted through the wide doorway, she quickly swept the interior with her eyes and realized it was empty. As she looked toward the back door, she spotted one of the bards sais laying near the exit. Damn. Cant leave her alone for a minute. The warrior knelt down and grabbed the weapon before she quickly plowed across the floor and out the back exit, and spotted her partner several meters away, being dragged kicking and apparently screaming toward the base of the large Sphinx. Her hands were tied behind her back and there appeared to be a gag across her mouth.
Two men had the bard between them, forcing her to walk forward by poking at her with some long spears, while a third man walked ahead of her, leading her by a taut rope that was tied around her neck. It was obvious Gabrielle wasnt making it easy on them, as she attempted to kick at their shins and continually turned her head toward first one and then the other, trying her best to yell at them through the confining gag. Give em Hades Gabrielle.
The warrior took a split second to judge distance and angle, before she threw the chakram with as much force as she could muster, sending it ricocheting off one of the buildings. It then turned sharply, slicing through the rope that extended out from the noose around the bards neck. From there the chakram bounced off another low building and angled upward, taking the ends off the two spears. As soon as Gabrielle realized what was happening, she hit the ground and rolled away from her three captors and then struggled to her feet again, trying to spit the gag out of her mouth, her hands still tied firmly behind her back.
Xena started running forward, letting out her war cry and drawing her sword, still watching her chakram as it continued sailing upward, apparently caught in some sort of updraft and gaining momentum as it flew. The warrior reached her partners side and looked up, as she heard a thunderous cracking sound. Uh-oh. "Duck!" The warrior threw her body over Gabrielle and covered her head as the chakram impacted the nose of the Sphinx, which immediately split down the middle and began to crumble into hundreds of pieces of small rock which showered down around them.
The dust settled just as Xena reached up and snatched the chakram out of the air on the rebound. She stood and looked around at the three would-be kidnappers, all of whom were quite dazed and caught under small piles of rock, but appeared to be relatively uninjured. A muffled noise and a nudge against her lower legs made her turn toward her partner. "Oh. Sorry." She hauled the bard to her feet and pulled out the breast dagger, quickly relieving Gabrielle of her gag and her bonds.
"Well, well." A deep throaty voice carried across the space between them and the far end of the Sphinx. "Xena. Do you ever do anything but fight? And what have you done to my Sphinx?" Cleopatras hearty laugh rang out as she closed the distance, stopping an arms-length from the tall warrior and placing her hands on her own hips, peering up at the now nose-free monstrosity. "You know, Xena. You just destroyed a thousand year old monument."
Oops. The warrior grinned sheepishly. "Sorry about that. These guys were trying to kidnap Gabrielle and my chakram got a little out of control."
Cleopatra looked down at the three wide-eyed men, who were slowly digging their way out from under their rock prisons, and had not yet found their voices. "Thats the Gabrielle you three were bringing in? You guys cant get anything right. This Gabrielle is ..." An annoying little blonde? Cant believe Xena still has this kid hanging onto her coat-tails. Cleopatra quickly put an inner lid on her opinions. "... is the traveling companion of my good friend Xena, the warrior princess of Greece."
The portly man and his bearded companion looked at each other in shock, but said nothing, while the third man, who had joined them at the docks, merely scratched his head in confusion.
"Wait a minute." The warrior frowned. "These are your goons?"
"Yes." The Egyptian sighed. "But theyve apparently been trailing the wrong person. I got word yesterday that some foreign queen named Gabrielle had been spotted in the market at Alexandria and that she was headed toward Cairo to try and take over my kingdom. These guys were supposed to capture her and bring her in, but they obviously made a mistake."
Warrior and bard exchanged a wordless glance that spoke volumes. "Um ... Cleopatra." Gabrielle stepped forward, brushing the sandstone dust off her skirt. "There has been a mistake, but not by your men."
"What do you mean?" The Egyptian looked first at the bard and then at the warrior.
"Cleopatra." Xena moved to her partners side. "I know you and Gabrielle have met, but I probably never got around to making proper introductions according to royal custom. Let me try again. May I present to you Gabrielle, queen of the Greek Amazons."
The Egyptians mouth flew open as she mutely accepted the bards extended arm. "Rest assured." Gabrielle smiled. "I have no intention of taking over your kingdom. Six hundred Amazons is more than I can handle already."
"I see." Cleopatra visibly relaxed. "I have a hospitality tent set up on the other side of the middle pyramid. Lets go have some lunch and sort everything out."
"That sounds wonderful, thank you." Gabrielle bowed her head just the slightest bit as a courtesy to their royal host.
"You guys." Cleopatra eyed her trio of guards. "Get back to whatever stations you were attending before all of this happened.
"Yes your highness." The three bowed deeply before slinking off back toward the river.
The Egyptian queen merely groaned and then turned back to her guests. "Ladies, shall we?" She led the way toward the Pyramid of Khafre.
As they walked away, Xena took one last look over her shoulder at the Sphinx. "Im really sorry about your statue."
"Dont worry about it." Cleopatra dismissed it with a waive of her hand. "Ill have it repaired within the week. No will ever know it was gone."
Continued in Part 3
** From a lament that Isis sang for Osiris (The myth is basically told here as it is told in Egypt. And yes, Isis really was often symbolized by a bird hovering over Osiris erect penis. <G>).
NOTE TO FOLLOWERS OF THE SERIES (spoiler alert for the show's episode "Antony and Cleopatra"): I first conceived of Cleo 4 while I was still writing "March the 16th." It was a logical next step after the historical death of Julius Caesar, the fictional crucifixion on the show, and the fictional treaty in my last story. At some point early in the writing of "A Solstice Treaty," I read that the show was going to air an episode, "Antony and Cleopatra." (Much thanks to Kam for letting me rant a bit about that one.) Anyway, that ep is fast approaching its air date, and in fact, many of you may have already seen it. Here in Dallas we get most new eps about a week later than everyone else, so I won't get to see it until April 22, 2000. I have purposefully avoided reading anything about the episode, so as to not be influenced in the writing of this story. However, I did finally take a peek at some of the info on MaryD's page yesterday (April 10, 2000). I smiled when I read Renee O'Connor's statement about night shooting and boats, although I know the night-time boat activities on the show will be vastly different from what I have written here <G>. I am in a bit of a quandary over whether or not to watch it until I finish this story, as I have the whole thing outlined already (I tape every ep - friends think I'm nuts when they see the large Xena tape collection in the corner of my living room). But I think I will, and if I see anything I like, I may borrow it. Or if there's something I really don't like, I will have some fun changing it herein. I can make one faithful promise to you. There will be no food and sex orgy between Xena and Antony in this story (that's a rumor about the ep, from what I read). Stay tuned ... next chapter will probably be posted sometime around April 22nd.
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