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?
Drug Abuse and Angst Warning: In this section of the story only, we learn a little bit about Xenas dark past, and perhaps gain new insight into the gabdrag. And also in this section, a bit more angst than usual, I think. Hang with me. Things will get better, I promise.
Subtext/Maintext: Lets give this section an "R" rating, shall we, just to be on the safe side? <G> I know, I promised PG-13, but just this one section, okay? Its mostly for a bit of playful dialogue. Two women in love, if offensive to you, illegal where you live, or you are under 18, then move on.
Questions/Comments/Suggestions welcome: email@example.com
Setting: This story falls sequentially after "A Solstice Treaty." 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 May 17, 2000)
... out of Egypt I called My son.
-Hosea 11:1, the Bible, New American Standard Version, copyright by God.
Warrior and bard made their way over the last rise on a narrow dusty road that took them due east to the outskirts of Cairo. Small low mud huts with thatched roofs dotted both sides of the street, many with nothing more than a thick piece of frayed burlap tacked in place to cover the doorway, and most with two or more small children running about, or occasionally, elderly couples could be seen sitting on rough benches on whichever side of their homes gave the greatest shade from the oven-like heat. The area was a shocking contrast to the luxury and beauty of Cleopatras palace. This was where the poor, the uneducated, and the most down-trodden Egyptian subjects lived, those who labored in the fields and markets of the city, providing their back muscles in contribution to the wealth of the government, while not being afforded the privileges of citizenship in return.
Gabrielle couldnt help but notice some of the less fortunate children, many of whom were filthy and naked, and she was sure if she went closer, she would be able to actually count their ribs sticking out against skin that stretched tightly across their little bellies. "Xena. Does Cleopatra know that some of her people are living like this?"
"More than likely." The warrior had one hand resting lightly against her partners lower back, and she absently made small comforting circles against the bare skin just above the brown leather belt. "Its one of the curses of being poor in a large city. At least if youre poor in the smaller towns or out in the countryside, you can usually have a larger tract of land to farm, and maybe do better for yourself. This close to the main hub of a large market area, theyre all at the mercy of the Cairo economy to determine their livelihood."
"Its so sad." The bard peered discretely over at a little girl, who couldnt have been more than two summers old. She was sitting in the dirt in the front yard of her home, wearing nothing but a small bit of cloth around her lower body, and was crying pitifully and tugging at her earlobe with one hand, while sucking her thumb of the other hand in between the yelps of protest. A woman that Gabrielle could only assume was the girls mother was sitting in front of the house rocking what appeared to be a very fussy year-old child. And it was obvious from the state of the womans waistline that the next baby was due to be born any day. "Cant anything be done for them?"
"Unfortunately, a lot of them probably came here from other countries, like Yosef and his family. Theyre refugees of one sort or another, maybe running from the long arm of Rome. As far as the Egyptian government is concerned, if they dont do well here, they can always pack up and go back to wherever they came from." Xena altered the motion of her hand, running her fingers idly up and down her partners spinal column, stopping every now and then to trace the unfamiliar braided leather ties on Gabrielles halter top, and enjoying the new sensation of the buttery-soft material against her fingertips. "Maybe if Octavian gains control, we can talk to him about setting up some sort of program to makes things better for them. Youd be good at drawing up details on something like that."
"Hey. That would be great, Xena. We could help them set up a co-operative child-care program so that more of the women could go into the city to work and bring home more money. Oh ..." The bards eyes were alight, as the internal wheels began to spin. "We could teach them how to plant more efficient gardens. Maybe help them to set up some sort of market in town to sell and trade fresh vegetables and crops with each other. Get them to teach each other their skills. And see if theres someone who can read and write, who would be willing to teach the children, so that they can make better lives for themselves some day."
The bard smiled up at her partner, whose tall frame was casting impossibly long shadows on the road in front of them, as the last rays of the late afternoon sun bathed their backs with scorching heat. While the warmth was intense, it was already obvious that the desert lay still, almost holding its breath against the promise of the evening coolness that would finally, surely, win its battle with the torturing fireball that dominated the long Egyptian days.
"See. I knew youd have some good ideas." Xena ruffled the short blonde hair with obvious affection, before returning her hand to its place against Gabrielles back.
As they cleared the rise and started down a low hill, the bard looked ahead toward the very last dwelling on the road, which if she had followed Yosefs directions correctly, was their destination. She studied it curiously, noting that unlike the other homes that led up to it, it was in much better condition, with a coating of white wash on the mud walls, and bore a sturdy wooden door and window shutters, along with a wooden-shingled roof that sloped down, providing wide bands of shade on the sides of the house.
A well-tended garden could be seen to the side of the small structure, and behind it several meters away was a larger stable with a wooden corral. The bard laughed and pointed toward the barn. "Look. Theres Tobias." The small donkey was near the side of the stable, munching on some hay that was poking out over the top of a feeding trough. Two other mules were also enjoying an evening meal, along with another small grey donkey.
Xena also peered at the house, observing it with her usual warriors eye, studying approach, number of visible exits, and any surrounding flora that might provide cover for intruders, which in this case was scanty save for some low desert scrub. As they drew closer, she noticed several saw-horses scattered to the side of the house, and a small low building behind the barn that had a large pile of wood stacked against one wall, comprised of logs too thick and long to be used for firewood, and another stack of freshly-sawed pale yellow boards, her sensitive nose detecting their sappy earthen scent with great appreciation. The smell reminded her of home. Hmmm. A carpenter. Interesting. Trees were a rare commodity in Cairo, and most wood had to be brought up river from the more fertile Nile delta.
They reached the wooden door and Gabrielle knocked, while Xena reflexively removed her hand from the bards back, withdrawing to a more platonic position against her side. Suddenly, the door opened and Yosef appeared, smiling broadly as he extended his arm. "Gabrielle, Im so glad you could join us. And Xena ..." He gazed into the intense blue eyes. "... yes. I do remember you."
The warrior clasped the proffered arm, noting the calloused palm, and looked over his shoulder, slowly trailing her eyes up the length of the sturdy door, which bore unfamiliar but beautiful carvings on its surface, which appeared to be tooled foreign letters along with some intricate scrolling. "Nice work. Yours?"
"Yes." Yosef inclined his head in a humble gesture. "Thank you. I was apprenticed by my father as a carpenter, as was his father before him. As will be my sons. Come in. Please." He stood aside and motioned toward the interior of the house. They stepped inside, and blinked, and found themselves in a tidy, if small, front room, which bore few personal possessions, save a well-made wooden table and chairs, along with another work table for food preparation. A tall set of wooden shelves served to store more food items and earthenware dishes, and a long padded bench sat against one wall and two smaller matching padded chairs were angled toward it to create a conversation area. Entries to two other rooms were blocked by bright striped curtains, and there was another carved wooden back door leading out toward the barn. Yosef ushered them to the long bench and a shorter woman with long dark hair shyly brought them goblets of rich red wine.
"Im Mary. Welcome to our home." The woman bowed slightly. Her voice and that of Yosef hinted at an accent that the warrior couldnt place. Greek had long been the tongue most spoken in Egypt, since the days of Alexander the Great, and it was obvious that it was not the olive-skinned womans native language.
"Nice to meet you, Mary. Thank you." The bard stood up as she greeted the woman, and Xena stood beside her and merely smiled and nodded her greeting.
Mary spoke hesitantly with a quiet voice. "Ive wanted to thank you for a long time for the gift of Tobias. I never thought I would get the chance." As she spoke, a small boy, about two summers old, peered around one side of her long faded blue linen skirt, while another one, a few summers older, gazed steadily at them from the other side.
"Well, who have we here?" Gabrielle knelt down at a childs eye level and smiled encouragingly at the two boys.
The taller boy strode bravely forward and stopped in front of her, cocking his head to one side. "You a nice lady. Nice to everyone." He patted her gently on the knee.
The warrior snickered until she found herself pierced by deep dark brown eyes, as she became the next object of the boys focus. "And you very strong and brave."
"Forgive him." Mary blushed and drew the young boy back to her side. "This is my oldest son, Yeshua. Yeshu, we call him. And this little one is his younger brother, Yameh. Yeshu is the baby I was carrying in my arms when we met you and you gave us Tobias. Hes turned out to be ... quite precocious." Her eyes grew thoughtful. "If youll excuse me, I need to finish up our meal."
"Let me help you." Gabrielle stood up and offered, sniffing the delicious spicy scent in the air, grateful that the growl in her stomach was for once inaudible.
"Oh, no." The woman shook her head and frowned. "Youre my guest. I couldnt ..."
"Please. I want to." The warm green eyes gathered Mary in, and she found herself hesitating.
As for Gabrielle, she found herself inexplicably drawn to this woman, and sensed an instant kinship she hadnt felt with anyone in a long time, perhaps not since she had met Xena. True she had eventually bonded with Ephiny, but they had not started out as friends. The bard felt as if she and Mary had know each other longer than the quarter candle mark since their introduction.
"Well. Okay." The woman led Gabrielle toward the corner where she had been carving some roasted mutton. She handed Gabrielle a long knife and a loaf of freshly-baked bread. "Why dont you cut that into slices for me?"
"Sure." The bard smiled. "Everything smells wonderful." Gabrielle found herself salivating as the scent of the warm crusty bread called her taste buds to full attention.
"Thank you." Mary also sensed the immediate bond, and briefly touched the bard on the shoulder before she returned to the task of arranging the mutton on a large serving platter. She stole clandestine glances at her newfound companion, wondering what it was like to be dressed so freely, especially in Egypt in the summer. She herself was clothed in a long skirt and sleeves, and the heavy scarf that normally covered her head in public was draped loosely around her shoulders, allowing her long thick wavy hair to flow freely down her back to below her waist. It was the traditional clothing she had worn since childhood, and Yosef was loathe to allow her to adopt some of the more revealing attire that was so prominent on the streets of Cairo. At times she longed to feel the sun and wind on her suffocating skin.
"Xena." Yosef stood up and drained his tankard of wine. "Why dont I give you a tour of my carpenters shop while we wait for them to call us to the meal? Its a nice evening. No sense in sitting inside."
The warrior had felt a growing discomfort, the source of which she couldnt yet determine, and she was grateful for a chance to focus her attention on something more concrete and technical, and to get a breath of fresh air. She looked over at Gabrielle and recognized the unspoken approval in the bards eyes, understanding that her partner was agreeable to being left alone for a while, before she followed the bearded man out the back door, ducking her head to clear the short upper frame, which fell a few inches shy of her six-foot height. Yeshu tagged along after them, clutching the hem of his fathers long robes as he studied Xena with intelligent eyes that missed nothing.
Dinner had been a congenial affair, and the atmosphere had lightened considerably, as they discussed crops, politics, Greece, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and life in Egypt, while they devoured the feast that Mary had prepared for them. It was not lost on either Xena or Gabrielle that the little family probably didnt eat meat every day, and had more than likely made a bit of a sacrifice to provide it for this meal. Both warrior and bard had initially been a bit taken aback when the whole family bowed their heads and Yosef prayed to their one god in an unknown language. It was an unfamiliar concept to both women, but they amiably mimicked the actions of their hosts, bowing their heads, but not closing their eyes, choosing instead to sneak a wide-eyed questioning peek at each other, wondering what was going on. After the prayer, Yosef explained that he had been speaking in the ancient language of his fathers, Hebrew, and that they were thanking their god for the food.
Finally, after their bellies were full and they had once again moved to the conversation area, the warrior took a long sip of what was probably her third mug of wine, and peered over the rim at Yosef. "So. What brings you to Egypt, and what were you doing in Greece when we first met you?"
"Ah. Xena." The bearded man shifted to a more comfortable position as he drank from his own cup. "Just from our discussion in the carpenter shop, I knew those questions would be coming. You study all the angles, take in everything, dont you?"
"Yes." As apparently does your oldest son. She added silently, recalling her earlier tour of the carpenter shop, and several inquisitive comments from Yeshu, the content of which seemed much too advanced for a boy of only four summers. The warrior smiled. "In my line of work, it pays to learn as much as you can about the people and places you deal with. It can make the difference between life and death at times."
"I see." The man scooted to one side, making room for his wife next to him on the longer bench, as Mary finished up in the food preparation area and joined them. Xena and Gabrielle were seated in the two smaller chairs that flanked the long bench, facing in toward them. "We were running away to protect our son."
Gabrielles green eyes flashed with anger. "Who would want to hurt a little baby? He couldnt have been what, more than nine moons old when we met you, could he?"
"No. Youre right. He was exactly nine moons old. And we were running from King Herod, the man appointed by Julius Caesar to oversee Judea, the province we were living in at the time. He ... had orders from Caesar to murder all infant boys that were twelve moons old and younger. Prophets told Caesar that a new king had been born in Herods province, and in order to make sure that the young unknown challenger didnt reach maturity, Caesar decided to eliminate all baby boys that had been born during the time frame the prophets had forecasted."
"Bastard!" Xena spat out the expletive without thinking. "Forgive me. Im quite familiar with Caesar. May he rot in Tartarus. I knew he was into murder, but I didnt think it included babies. Even in my darkest days, I never would have ..." She stopped suddenly, realizing what she was about to say, and closed her mouth, trying to control her internal shaking.
Gabrielle looked anxiously at her partner, remembering Xenas story of rescuing a baby from her army. That simple act of mercy had resulted in the warriors running the gauntlet, being expelled from her own army, and ultimately set her feet firmly on the path of redemption. The bard had heard the story not only from her tall partner, but also from a beaming Salmoneus, who had been privy to watching Xenas transformation from warlord tyrant to champion of justice.
Yosef raised one questioning eyebrow, but made no comment on the warriors incomplete sentence. "No offense taken." He briefly clenched his hands in fists into his lap before he looked up and continued. "We had been living there in Bethlehem since Yeshua was born. Three men came to us and warned us that we needed to leave. That our boy was in danger." He looked over at his wife.
Mary gently took his hand. "The men." Her voice was soft and shy, as if she wasnt used to speaking in mixed company, even if her husband was the only odd one in the mix. "They had all had the same dream and had found each other on the road. They felt compelled to travel to where we were. Their friends and families thought they were all crazy. Some of them were a long way from home. In fact ..." She gazed at warrior and bard and then looked up at her husband. "One of them was from Greece. What was his name, Yosef?"
"Iolaus. Yes. He was Greek." Yosef stopped as he saw the shocked faces of their guests. "What? Whats wrong?"
"We know Iolaus." Gabrielles eyes were wide. "Was he short and muscular, with thick curly blonde hair?"
"Why, yes." Mary studied her new friend. "That must have been him. Such a kind man. He grew quite teary-eyed when I introduced him to Yeshu. He said that his journey was complete and that he could return to Greece in peace."
"Then you must have met Hercules, too." The bards eyes crinkled with a smile.
"Hercules?" The woman once again deferred to her husband. "Was that one of the other three men?"
"No." Yosef patted her hand. "But he was there. He never came inside, but he was outside, waiting for his friend. I stepped out to get some air and smoke my pipe, and we talked for a while. He seemed hesitant to join us. Said he was there with Iolaus, but that he hadnt had the same dreams. He seemed a bit overwhelmed, as if he understood more than he was letting on."
"What do you mean?" Xenas voice was low and steady, belying her curiosity.
"Our son ..." Yosef stopped and looked deeply into the pale blue eyes, and then down at the olive-skinned face of his wife.
"Yosef." Mary glanced over at their guests. "I trust them. I think ... Yaweh has sent them to us for a reason. They brought us blessings once. Perhaps he has sent them here to help fulfill his purpose."
"Yaweh?" The warrior interjected and raised one arched black eyebrow.
"Yaweh is our god." The woman turned to face them more directly. "He ... blessed us with Yeshu. There are ... prophecies concerning our child. He has been chosen by our god for a special purpose. We dont completely understand it all yet. We merely accept it."
"What sort of purpose?" Gabrielles eyes twinkled with the promise of a story, perhaps something she could add to her repertoire to take back to Greece, along with the Egyptian legends she had memorized during their trip up the Nile River.
"Before I begin, let me warn you." Mary peered anxiously into the green eyes flecked with gold. "There are many people who have heard our tale who believe us to be mad. Or worse."
"Try me." The bard gazed steadily at the woman and smiled warmly, wondering what her hostess would think if she were to hear Gabrielles life story.
The Nazarene woman found herself relaxing, and feeling as if she had known Gabrielle all her life, and she began to tell them of the time prior to Yeshuas birth. She and Yosef were betrothed to be married, when an angel came to her and told her that she would bear a child that would bring hope and love to the world, that he had the potential to relieve the world of suffering. She became pregnant and she and Yosef were quietly married after the fact. When she was almost due to give birth, Julius Caesar issued a decree that their part of the Roman Empire was to conduct a census for tax purposes, and all men had to journey to their birth villages to register themselves and any family members. She and Yosef had traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Yosefs home village, and she had gone into labor during the height of the census-taking, and they could find no room in any of the inns or guest houses, and she had been forced to give birth in a stable.
Warrior and bard exchanged a painful glance, remembering a time when Gabrielle had been forced to give birth in a stable as well. The bard saw Xenas face fall, and she ached to move over and comfort her lover. She knew the warrior still harbored strong mixed emotions and guilt about the circumstances surrounding the birth of Hope, and the aftermath, as did Gabrielle herself. It seemed that no matter how many times they thought they had put it all behind them, things kept happening to bring it freshly to the forefront. Gabrielle continued to watch Xena until the warrior finally raised her eyes, at which point the bard made the I love you sign in her lap, and she saw Xenas eyes mist up at the simple gesture. The bard mouthed the word later," and the warrior nodded her understanding and managed a tiny smile.
From a nearby corner, Yeshu was drawing on some parchment with a quill, while he looked on thoughtfully, taking in everything and pondering it all, processing the mixed words and feelings that were washing over him. He was not old enough to understand everything his mother was talking about, but he did already have a deep feel for human emotion, a maturity beyond his years, and he could tell that their two guests were hurting, and it made him sad.
Mary continued to recount their visit from Iolaus and Hercules, as well as a band of shepherds, all of whom had been strangely drawn to visit Yeshu when he was born. They had decided to stay in Bethlehem for a while, as they were not well-received in Nazareth once Mary had become pregnant. Their religion strictly forbade sexual relations outside of marriage, and an unwed pregnant woman could very well have been killed for being in her condition.
Xena bristled at that, and wondered at the hypocrisy of killing a woman and her unborn child because of the act of love that had created the child. She brooded over that, but let it pass, storing it away to discuss with her rapt partner later. The warrior allowed most of her attention rest on Gabrielle, watching her reaction to the story and to Mary, while she let the story itself sink into her own mind as a secondary activity to reading her lovers emotions.
The night after Iolaus and his companions had warned them that Yeshu was in danger, Yosef had a dream in which an angel told him to take his family and flee to Egypt. They had tried to go south at first, intending to cut through Arabia and across the Sinai peninsula, but all roads leading south had been heavily patrolled by Roman army regiments. Instead, they had been forced to go north, along the Mediterranean Sea, and had been on their way to Athens to catch a boat for Egypt when they had encountered Xena and Gabrielle on the road.
Tobias had been a gift of mercy in Marys eyes, as she was exhausted, and feared she might not last until they could find a boat and safe passage. Finally though, they did make it to Alexandria, with Yeshu, Tobias, and their few meager possessions in tow. Yosef had set up his carpenter shop, and they were living in exile waiting for a sign from their god that it was safe to return home to Nazareth.
"You do know that Julius Caesar is dead, dont you?" The warrior interjected as Marys story wound down.
"Yes." Yosef looked over at Yeshu, who was still sitting in the corner, wide awake. Yameh was curled up on the floor at his feet, fast asleep. "But we had heard of civil unrest among the leaders that took over after that, so we decided to stay here until the Roman government becomes more stable, and until we have clear directive from Yaweh that it is time to move on."
"Thats why Gabrielle and I came here." The warrior briefly glanced at her partner. "Weve met Octavian, Caesars legal heir, and hes a good man. We intend to help him defeat Marc Antony and maintain control of Rome. If he succeeds, I would think you would be able to go home, and probably very soon, if you want to."
"Really?" Yosefs smile lit up his whole face. Home sometimes seemed like a distant dream. Yeshu and Yameh had never met their grandparents, and Yosef couldnt even be certain that all four of he and Marys parents were still alive. So much had happened. "Xena. I have a flask of aged port. Would you care to join me outside and tell me more about Octavian while we share a drink? I also have some fine tobacco and an extra pipe."
"Ill pass on the pipe, but port is a favorite vice of mine." The warrior chuckled internally, recognizing that despite what appeared to be very traditional values, Yosef was unconsciously treating her as if she were the male half of a visiting couple. "Gabrielle, do you want to join us outside?"
The bard was very introspective, lost in thought, and it took a moment for her to look up. "Um ... no. But you go ahead. Im sure Yosef would like to hear your take on Octavian, and Id love to talk with Mary a bit more about the things she just told us. That is, if thats okay with you. Is it?" She turned to their hostess in question.
"Yes." Dark eyes blinked. "I would love to. Its been so long since Ive felt like I could talk to any other woman about all of this. Its been a bit overwhelming at times. Were afraid to say much to anyone here. We prefer to blend in. Its safer that way."
"I understand." Gabrielle stood up. "If youll excuse us, I need to have a word with Xena privately for a moment."
"Of course." Yosef gestured toward the front door. "Feel free to step out there. Im going to go take care of my livestock and then Ill be back with that flask." He made his way politely out the back entrance and disappeared through the garden that was immediately behind their house.
The warrior got up and mutely followed her partner out the front door, and was pleasantly surprised when Gabrielle pulled her into a tight hug and stood up on her toes, wrapping one hand around the back of Xenas neck and drawing her forward for a long sweet kiss. "Um." The warrior pulled back and licked her lips, enjoying a pleasant lingering tingle. "Any particular reason for that? Not that I didnt enjoy it." She winked at her soulmate.
"Just want to make sure youre okay." The bard reached up and stroked a tanned cheek, pushing a wayward lock of black hair aside in the process.
"Yeah." Pale blue eyes met green. "I ... just got to thinking about everything you went through in Britannia again. Marc Antony and Dahak, and Hope and all of that. Her story hit a little too close to home. Especially when she started talking about babies and prophecy and stables."
"Xena. Honey." The bard lifted long fingers and gently kissed the fingertips one by one as she spoke. "You know Ive forgiven you for all of that, right? Just like I know youve forgiven me."
"Yeah." The warrior looked down, unable to look at her partners face. Forgiving myself is a lot harder, though.
"So whats wrong?" Gabrielle tilted her lovers chin up.
"I feel so selfish, Im almost ashamed to tell you." She took a deep calming breath I ... was watching you in there, and I could tell that you were relating to everything she had to say. It made me feel bad. I know you need to talk to her. And she seems to need to talk to you. You two have a strong connection. I can see that. And I know that she is probably going to be able to give you something very profound. Something that I cant give to you, and its killing me." The dark lashes blinked.
"Xena. Listen to me." Gabrielle led the warrior over to a low bench next to the front door. "No one will ever be able to come close to giving me all that you have given me. Try to think of it like ... well ... like when you and Pony talk about weapons, or strategy, or battle, or any number of things that both you and she know and understand well. Things that I dont understand. I would never begrudge you your friendship with Pony, because I know she enriches your life in ways that I cant. And sometimes I even benefit from the knowledge that you bring back to me from your times with her, because she has insight into the ways of the Amazons that is very helpful to me."
"Yeah." The warrior folded her hands around an upraised leg. "But its not the same thing. I dont talk to Pony about my feelings and stuff."
"Yes you do." Gabrielle smiled and patted her partner on the knee.
"Do not." A stubborn jaw jutted out.
"Xena. Raella and I talk too." The bard grinned at the shocked rise of her partners eyebrows. "I know that in your own way, you and Pony have your little sensitive chats. Oh. You may do it while youre slugging down an ale around the warrior fire circle at night, or while youre sitting in the weapons hut cleaning and repairing things, or whatever in Hades it is that you warrior types do when you get together. But ... bottom line ... you have a very special friendship with Pony, and you two do manage to share stuff with each other."
"Bu ..." The warrior found herself silenced by two small fingers pressed against her lips.
"Not finished." Gabrielle gently admonished. "I know some of the very sweet things you have said to Pony about me, because she tells Raella and Raella tells me. And I know that you and Pony even sometimes talk about ... um ... how can I put this ..." The bard felt a faint blush creeping up her neck and jawline. "... how to pleasure women."
"Gabrielle!" Xena frowned deeply. "I would never discuss the details of what goes on in our bedroom with anyone."
"I know that Honey, and I appreciate it. I didnt say you discuss details." The bard tapped her partner on the end of her nose. "I meant you two sometimes discuss ... um ... technique."
Busted. "Oh gods." It was the warriors turn to blush a dark crimson that looked quite beautiful on her bronze complexion.
"Dont worry." Gabrielle leaned in and pecked her partner on the lips. "Just one more thing I benefit from because of your friendship with Pony. Although Im sure shes learned a lot more from you than you have learned from her."
"You think so, huh?" A sexy grin tugged at the warriors mouth. Wish Pony coulda heard her say that. She chuckled.
"Oh. I know so." The bard tilted her head again, draping a leg over one of Xenas, as the warrior closed her arms around her and kissed her thoroughly, gradually deepening the contact and taking her time at it, until both women had quite forgotten where they were.
Heavy breathing and wandering hands stopped abruptly, as a small voice piped up from the doorway. "Girls dont kiss girls."
"Yeshu." Xena found her voice first, giving her flustered partner time to get her breath under control. "Little boys dont spy on adults."
"Wasnt spying." The boy moved closer. "Came out to see if you was okay."
"Why?" Gabrielle was intrigued, having not had as much contact with the little prodigy as her partner had. "Why did you think we werent okay?"
"Because you was sad in there." Yeshus large eyes reflected sympathy.
"Yes. Part of the time we were." The bard regarded Yeshu with a touch of awe. "How did you know that?"
"Felt it." Yeshu placed his fist over his heart. "In here."
"You were right." Xena held out her hand, offering it to the boy, who took it without hesitation. "I was feeling pretty bad in there. But Gabrielle made me feel better."
"By kissing you?" Yeshu cocked his small head in question.
The warrior laughed heartily. "That was part of it, yes. Have you been taught that its wrong for girls to kiss each other?"
The boy looked inward for a long moment, testing his heart for the truth. "Havent been taught anything about it." It was certainly not a topic either of his parents had thought to discuss with a four-year-old.
"Yeshu." Xena lifted the boy up to sit comfortably on her leg, the one unoccupied by Gabrielles, and settled him where both she and the bard could see his face. "Your mother and father both love each other, right?"
"And they sometimes kiss?" Xena tiled her face so he could see her eyes.
Yeshu giggled. "Yes. I see them sometimes, but they dont knows it."
"So you do spy on adults." The warrior gave a friendly pat to the dark head.
"No." Yeshu scowled. "They just not careful to kiss where I cant see them."
The warrior laughed again. "Do you think its wrong when your mother and father kiss?"
"No." The boy looked at Xena as if she were insane. "Not wrong for them to kiss."
"Well ..." The warrior draped an arm around the bards shoulders, pulling her closer to her side. "Gabrielle and I love each other just like your mother and father do. In fact ..." She held up her ring for Yeshus inspection. "... were going to get married, just like your mother and father did." Technically it was a joining, but she decided no to confuse the issue, since it was basically the same thing. And she certainly wasnt prepared to discuss Amazons with the small genius.
"Thats neat." The boy traced the interwoven strands of gold with a tiny finger. "Pretty." He looked over at Gabrielles left hand. "You gots one too."
"Yes." The bard offered her ring for his inquisitive eyes and fingers. "Xena and I bought them for each other, as a symbol of our love for each other."
"So you ..." Yeshu pointed at Xena. "... loves her?" The finger changed directions, indicating Gabrielle.
"Yes. Very much." The warrior smiled as the bard lean into her side.
"And you ..." He gazed at Gabrielle. "... loves her." He looked back at Xena.
"More than anything." The bard felt long fingers brush against her bare shoulder.
"So you kisses each other because you loves each other?" Yeshu was working out this new puzzle.
"Right." Xena squeezed the small boy around the waist where she supported him. "Anything wrong with that?"
Yeshu sighed and closed his eyes, no longer searching, knowing a truth that was buried deep in his heart. He opened them again and smiled warmly. "No. Not wrong to love. Its a good thing."
Gabrielle peered earnestly at the small wise face, studying the large intelligent eyes, the tousled black hair, and the olive skin. "Yeshu, can I ask you something?"
"Okay." The dark eyes grew wide in anticipation.
"I have a feeling that someday you are going to grow up to be someone that people are going to look up to. Promise me that you wonít forget what we talked about tonight. That itís not wrong for two people to love each other. Even if theyíre both women. Or both men." Gabrielle patted the boy on the knee, and let her hand stay there. "Can you remember that for me?"
"I wonít forget." Yeshu leaned over and kissed the bard on the cheek, and then quickly pecked Xenaís as well, before he leaped down and dashed inside the house.
Gabrielle left her partner safely in Yosefs company, shaking her head in amusement as she heard them launch into a detailed discussion of types of wood and what they were useful for, as they uncapped the flask of port. The strong sickly sweet smell of Yosefs tobacco smoke tickled her nose, making her sneeze, and she was glad it was a habit Xena hd never picked up. She quietly made her way back into the small cottage and saw Mary putting out some bread dough to rise, setting it on the window sill of an open window. "Youre always busy, arent you?"
Mary turned and smiled shyly. "I guess so. I really dont think of it like that. I just do what I need to do to take care of my family."
The bard turned that over in her head. "I suppose thats what Xena and I do, too." If you can count a village full of Amazons and a town full of Amphipolites as family.
The Nazarene looked thoughtful for a moment. "You two are ... together, arent you?"
"Does that bother you?" Gabrielle really hoped it didnt. She desperately wanted to talk with Mary, and didnt want her to be uncomfortable with her.
"I ... have been taught that it is wrong." The Nazarene paused and swallowed. "But I never knew any people like you. Yeshu ... told me about your talk outside earlier. He seems to think that your relationship with Xena is fine. He even started asking me questions about Yosefs and my wedding, and wanted to know if a wedding of two women would be like ours was. Although I strongly suspect that neither of you are pregnant, and Im certainly not prepared to discuss that detail with him just yet."
"Oh." The bard walked over to the long padded bench and sat down heavily. "Sorry about that. I ... didnt mean to intrude upon how you raise your son."
"My son ..." Mary joined Gabrielle, turning and curling up with her legs tucked against her on the comfortable cushion. "... sometimes I wonder who is raising who."
"Hes very insightful for his age." The bard offered, encouraging her new friend to expound.
"Yes. Hes been talking in complete sentences since his second summer. And he absorbs everything around him like a little sea sponge." There was a note of pride tinged with sadness in the dark brown eyes. She looked over at a stack of scrolls that lay on a set of shelves in a corner. "He can already read much of Yawehs teachings, and he is so full of questions. We are fast reaching a point where I no longer have answers for him."
"Can I ask you a personal question?" Gabrielle had been pondering something Mary had said earlier, guessing at something else she and the Nazarene had in common.
"I ... suppose you can ask." The dark-skinned woman looked almost fearful, bracing herself for any number of hurtful comments or questions that she had endured at the hands of her family prior to their departure for Bethlehem.
"Earlier, you said that an angel, and I dont fully understand what an angel is, but thats a different question ..." The bard bit her lower lip. "... this angel told you that you would become pregnant, you got pregnant, then you got married. But then you also said that women who get pregnant out of wedlock could be killed where you come from. Is ... Yosef ... is he Yeshus father?"
"Yosef is his earthly father, yes." Shes going to think me mad if I tell her the whole thing. Mary hesitated, and then dove in despite her fears. "Shortly after the angel visited me, a spirit ... I believe it to be the spirit of Yaweh, our god, came upon me. I am certain that at that time I became pregnant. Yosef and I ... we did not know each other intimately until after Yeshu was born."
"Did you feel like Yaweh raped you?" Gabrielle couldnt help but ask, remembering an alter and licking flames that invaded her, probing, searing her inside, and forever changing the way she saw the world and the gods who played with their lives as if they were disposable toys.
Mary looked shocked. It was an unexpected question. She had not anticipated Gabrielles easy acceptance of her story, since no one else other than Yosef had ever seemed to believe her, including her own parents. But she had never thought of her experience as a rape. "Oh, no. It was easily the most profound experience of my life. It was beyond bliss."
"But did you have a choice? Did you get to decide if you wanted to carry his child?" The bard tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
"I would never have considered rejecting the blessing Yaweh chose to give me. The angel told me I had been chosen, and I readily offered myself. It is something our people have expected for a thousand years, that someday a messiah would be born to us." Mary searched the forlorn face before her in confusion. "I truly believe that Yeshu is that promised one. It wasnt a matter of choice. It was an honor."
"Oh." Gabrielles voice was very soft. "I wasnt given a choice."
"What do you mean?" The Nazarene was lost.
The bard sniffled a bit, in spite of herself, and launched into the whole story of Dahak, beginning with her betrayal by Krafstar, including the death of Solan at Hopes hands, and ending with the very long road she and Xena had traveled to get to where they were today, and her belief that after all was said and done, that Hope was not really her child, that she had merely been used as a vessel to bear evil. By the time she finished, Gabrielle was openly crying. She hadnt told anyone the whole tale before, other than Xena, and in a way, she hadnt even told Xena all of it, because there were parts that they both knew about, but had never brought themselves to discuss.
As her story concluded, the bard looked at her friend with red-rimmed eyes. "I always wondered why me? I know now that I was full of pride, full of idealistic attitudes about killing. I thought I was invincible when it came to that. I was so sure that my hands were never going to be stained with someone elses blood. But was my pride so horrible that I had to go through all of that just to be purged of it? Was it necessary to be physically tortured and emotionally humiliated, and have half my soul ripped out just to rid me of pride-filled ideals?"
"Have you thought all this time that you did something to make all of that happen?" Mary patted Gabrielles leg hesitantly, and felt tears stinging her own eyes.
"Yes." The bard sniffled and wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. "For a long time, I blamed Xena for not protecting me. For taking me to Britannia in the first place. But after a while, I realized that I was the one who stabbed Meridian, shedding my blood innocence and preparing the way for Dahak to use me."
"Gabrielle." Mary instinctively moved closer, draping one arm across the bards shoulders. "I dont think you were being punished. You went through some very terrible things. But sometimes, I think things just happen. You were used horribly by this Dahak, but you did nothing to deserve the way he treated you. He sounds like he is a demon of Satan. You are human. From what you have said, his evil is able to cross oceans and knows no barriers. Do you honestly think you could have done anything to stop something that evil if he had every intention of using you in the way that he did?"
"I ... guess not." The bard suddenly felt the last ton of a huge weight lifting from her shoulders. "Thank you." Her spirits began to rise. "Ive spent so much time trying to figure out what I did wrong, it never occurred to me that there was no way I could have stopped him, that no matter what I did or didnt do, he had his purpose in mind, and I was going to be used. It ... it was really out of my control, wasnt it?"
"I believe so." Mary smiled warmly and got up to offer Gabrielle a piece of linen to blow her nose on. While she was up, she put Yeshu and Yameh to bed, both boys having fallen asleep in a corner where they had been playing. The bard assisted her by picking Yeshu up while Mary retrieved Yameh, and they tucked the small warm bodies into a sturdy well-made child-sized bed in one of the back rooms. Every piece of furniture in their home had been made by Yosefs own hands, and the boys bed was no exception. The Nazarene opened the shutters to let the cool night air in, and then they moved back to the sitting area.
The two women continued to talk for another candle mark, Mary sharing her hopes and fears about her son, and Gabrielle talking of her life with Xena and the Amazons. She even had the courage to tell Mary of their crucifixion and resurrection by Eli, and a dark cloud moved into the Nazarenes eyes. "Whats wrong?"
"I dont know." Mary rubbed her arms against a sudden chill. "When you spoke of your crucifixion, I just had the most bleak feeling, as if a tight vise were wrapped around my chest." The sensation passed, and she managed to smile.
"Are you okay?" The bard peered at her friend with concern.
"I think so." She sat back, once again curling up in a corner of the low bench. "You know Gabrielle, I guess Im a little overwhelmed. Youre the first person Ive talked to who heard my whole story and believed me, and didnt judge me or anything."
"Me too." The bard smiled.
"Except for that prophet." The Nazarene twisted her hands in her skirt.
"This man. He teaches down by the Nile river bank. He came to us a few moons ago and said he had felt compelled to come to Cairo. He said some of the same things about Yeshu that our own Hebrew prophets have written about. He seems very nice, and I think he was sent to re-affirm to us our beliefs about Yeshus destiny, but he almost frightens me." Mary looked up. "His eyes are full of love, but he is very intense. I ... think I am a coward. I sometimes dont want to know everything that has been said about my son."
"Would you mind if I look him up and talk to him?" Gabrielle wanted to hear more about the prophecies, and the concept of destiny, something she had grown much more interested in after their trip to India.
"No. I suppose not. He teaches down near the landing where the ferry boat from Giza docks." Mary looked up, as a dark head peered through the front door.
"Hey." Xena immediately noted her partners tear-stained cheeks, and felt her heart turn inside out. "Its pretty late." She paused and swallowed. "Didnt know if you wanted to go back to the inn or not. Yosef said we can sleep in his barn if we want to. Or in the haystacks behind it if youd rather be outside."
Their eyes met in silent understanding regarding the recent paranormal activities in the bards life. "I really dont want to go back to the inn. Outside would be great." Gabrielle stood up.
"Um ... you can keep talking for a while if you want to." The warrior looked down at her feet for a moment, trying to hide the sadness in her eyes, and then looked back up. "Ill just go get our bedroll situated, and you come on out there whenever youre ready."
"Are you sure?" The bard anxiously eyed her subdued soulmate, torn between the need to comfort, and the desire to learn as much as she could during the short time she would have with the Nazarene.
"Yeah. Take your time." And the warrior ducked back outside before Gabrielle could question her further.
It was well past midnight when Mary went to join an already-sleeping Yosef in their bedroom, and Gabrielle bid her friend goodnight and made her way out to the back of the barn.
The warrior was laying on her side on top of their sleeping furs, which were nestled in a comfy bed of sweet-smelling hay next to the back of Yosefs barn. As was her habit when sleeping outdoors, she had removed her armor and boots, but was clad in her leathers, and her sword and chakram lay within easy reach. She had a light blanket pulled up to her waist as a barrier against the slight night-time chill that magically provided relief from the days scorching desert heat. Gabrielle crept up behind her and looked around for their things. Damn. I hate to wake her up. But then ... The bard studied the rise and fall of her partners ribs. ... shes not asleep.
Gabrielle knelt down next to the warrior and placed one hand on a bare shoulder. "Hey there. Still awake?"
"Hello, gorgeous." Gabrielle blushed slightly as Xena rolled over onto her back and took the bards hand into her own, drawing it to her lips and gently kissing it. "Just waiting for you." She raised her other hand and traced the bards cheekbone, remembering the dried tears she had seen there earlier. "Everything alright?"
The bard captured Xenas hand, holding it firmly against her face. "Yes. Things got a little intense in there for a while, but Im fine now."
"You wanna talk about it?" The warrior blinked, her pale blue eyes taking on a silvery hue in the light of the three-quarter moon, which shone down on the desert floor with an ethereal quality, making a torch unnecessary.
"Xena." The bard turned her face and lightly lipped her partners inner palm, causing pleasant chills to race up the warriors spine. "Can we wait until tomorrow morning? I really want to tell you all about it, but Im a little mentally exhausted right now. Good stuff, though."
The warrior sighed with relief and smiled. "Sure. I have some things to discuss with you, too. I think I may have found out who Saqqara is."
"Really?" Gabrielle was suddenly all ears.
"Yeah. Yosef says he thinks she was an Egyptian princess a long, long time ago. Im not sure what that means, exactly, in terms of whats been happening to you, but its probably worth checking out tomorrow." Xena sat up. "You think?"
"Oh, most definitely." The bard looked around. "Where are our bags?"
"In the barn on a table just inside the door." The dark head nodded toward the mud-plastered wall next to them.
"Im going to go change into a sleep shirt." Gabrielle looked down at her new ensemble. "Im not sure this would be comfortable to sleep in."
"Need any help?" Xena waggled an eyebrow and ran one finger along the side of her partners exposed waist.
"No." The bard leaned in and kissed the warrior quickly. "Ill only be a minute. You just stay here and save my place."
"You, my love, will always have a place beside me." Xena tugged at the bard, pulling her back in for another kiss. "You have a permanent reservation."
"Gods." Gabrielle closed her eyes, melting into the warm sensual invasion of her mouth. "The things you say to me ... so sweet."
"I have sweet inspiration." Xena watched with unhidden desire in her eyes, as her partner reluctantly stood up.
"Back in a minute." The bard turned and loped around the side of the barn out of sight. She re-appeared momentarily in a mid-thigh length sleeveless linen shirt, and smiled as Xena beckoned to her, patting the spot on the furs next to her. Gabrielle sank down into the warmth and felt long arms close around her.
"Now." The warrior burred into her ear. "Where were we? Hmmmm?" She licked and nipped her way across Gabrielles jawline to her lips. "Was it here?" Something occurred to Xena and she pulled back, resting her weight on one forearm while she brushed her fingers through the short blonde hair. "Im sorry. I have a one-track mind sometimes." She saw the smirk on her partners face. "Okay. Most of the time." A feral grin appeared and then was quickly replaced by an expression of loving concern. "You just told me you were tired, and here I go, just ... urrfff."
The bard roughly pulled Xenas face back down to hers, kissing her thoroughly, allowing her tongue to reach out and explore the warriors mouth with reckless abandon. Not until she was sure her partner was going to burst from lack of oxygen, did she let up, withdrawing to a hairs length from Xenas lips, feeling the warm deep breaths tickle the downy blonde fuzz on her upper lip. "Xena. I said I was mentally exhausted. Now, unless what were doing is going to require a great deal of deep thought, Im rather enjoying it, and Id prefer not to stop."
"Nope." The warrior carefully rolled Gabrielle over onto her back, hovering above her and peering down into the green eyes, whose pupils had dilated considerably in the last few minutes. "No thinking required. Just a mindless roll in the hay with the girl of my dreams."
"Xena, so, so sweet." The bard clasped her hands around the strong shoulder muscles, urging her partner downward. "Shut up and kiss me."
"Xena, so, so sweet." The bard clasped her hands around the strong shoulder muscles, urging her partner downward. "Shut up and kiss me."
The warrior complied, starting with soft gentle contact, and gradually deepening the kiss until she heard tiny whimpers coming from her lovers throat. "Gods I love to taste your mouth." Xena groaned as she continued to pleasure her partners lips, while gently wedging a powerful thigh between the bards legs, pressing upward. She broke off the kiss with surprise and grinned. "No underwear, my bard?"
"Well ..." Gabrielles chest heaved with great effort. "... I figured what was the point, it probably wasnt going to stay on long anyway."
"You figured right." The warrior shifted, gliding her body down her lovers , and grasped the hem of the sleep shirt, slowly pushing it up as she planted tiny kisses on Gabrielles rock-solid lower abdomen. She worked her way up the bards center line, pausing to tease her navel, and enjoying the continual dance and flutter of Gabrielles stomach muscles just under the surface of her skin. "I love the way you react to my touch, Gabrielle." The name rolled off Xenas tongue with a soft caress.
"Oh sweet Artemis." The bard felt a jolt of warmth shoot through her middle and go straight to her groin, and she unconsciously tangled her fingers in the warriors long hair, urging her upward.
Xena continued her administrations until the sleep shirt was a bunched up mass of fabric wrapped around Gabrielles chest, and blocked from further removal by the bards head and arms. The warrior growled with frustration and blindly reached next to her, digging around in the hay underneath her chakram until she felt the breast dagger and retrieved it.
She paused, prepared to slice off the offending material, when the bard laughed softly. "Xena. Honey. Calm down." Gabrielle noted the fire in her partners eyes. "Well, just a little. I appreciate the sentiment, and if we were home, Id say cut away, but I only brought two sleep shirts with me, so can we just take it off in the conventional way?"
"Spoil my fun, will ya?" The warrior smiled nonetheless, and carefully lifted her lovers shoulders, pulling the shirt off and tossing it aside as she was finally rewarded with a view of the creamy smooth flesh she craved. "Youre so unbelievably damned gorgeous, my love. Im the luckiest person in the whole universe." Xena lowered herself back down, greedily licking the upper and lower swells of the bards breasts and working her way inward in ever-shrinking circles.
As she felt her partners passion rise, the warrior continued to play her lovers body like a fine instrument. She slid upward, and the bard moaned at the incredibly arousing sensation of the warm leathers brushing against her naked flesh. Xena pressed her lips against the skin directly behind her lovers ear. "Ive got you, baby. Youre right here in my arms, and Im gonna hold you for the rest of my life. Let it go, Gabrielle. For me. Please." She nuzzled her face into the myrrh-scented hair and growled low in her chest as she heard her partner cry out, the first waves of pleasure surging through her system with great intensity.
As Gabrielle came slowly floating back down to earth, Xena turned onto her back and cradled her lover close to her against her chest, feeling the tiny tremors that still shook the small body she held. "I love to feel you against me, sweetheart. Love feeling your body shivering against mine." She kissed the pale head and gasped as the bard rolled on top of her.
"Xena. I love you." The bard carefully pushed a leather strap off a broad shoulder. "Were safe out here, arent we?" She moved over to work the other strap. "The deserts mostly flat. We can see anything coming for leagues, cant we?" She leaned down and kissed the more-exposed skin, as one hand snaked underneath the warriors back, untying the leather laces with well-practiced fingers. "I need to touch you, Honey."
"Ugghhh." Xena felt the leathers being peeled down her body slowly, freeing her breasts from their snug confinement. "I ... Gods ... you ... okay." The warrior relented as the full lips of her partner descended to her mouth, while a small hand reached beneath the blanket and began to work its way under the leather battle dress.
Yes. The bard kissed her way down Xenas neck, and she nipped at the hollow of her partners throat, as her fingers curled around the top of the brown bloomers the warrior wore with her leathers, prepared to divest her lover of the garment, when she found herself suddenly pushed up.
"Gabrielle, get off." Xena held her partner at bay with strong hands.
"Just did that." The bard struggled against her lovers vise-like grip in confusion. "Your turn now."
The warrior burst out laughing. Shes good. "No. Not that kind of get off. Get off me. Someones coming."
"Yeah. You. If youd just let me ..." She tried unsuccessfully to push the large hands off her waist, even as she found herself sitting beside her partner in complete frustration.
The bard scowled as Xena leaned over and kissed her, while she hastily pulled her leathers back up into place. "Gods, Gabrielle. Whats gotten into you?" The warrior was enjoying her lovers new-found aggressive side.
"You. Got into me. Just a few minutes ago, if I recall." The bard blew out a disgruntled breath as her sleep shirt hit her in the face with deadly accurate aim. "Id really like to get into you now."
Great Zeus. They dont call her a bard for nothing. Gabrielles playful words were toying with her senses in a way that almost tempted her to just ignore the approaching threat, and get on with their interrupted activity. "Put that on." The warrior cocked her head, listening. "Yosef is going to be here in just a few more seconds."
"Oh. Ohhhh." The bard quickly tugged the linen over her head and they just managed to arrange themselves a friendly distance apart under the blanket as Yosef rounded the corner from the other side of the barn.
"Everything okay out here?" He looked down at the two wide-eyed women with grave concern.
"Yes." Gabrielle replied, wondering what in Hades had caused the man get up from his warm bed and come all the way out there, jut to ask that at this very early morning candle mark. "Why do you ask?"
"I thought I heard someone scream." He glanced around for any perceived threat.
"Huh?" The warrior sat up, keeping the blanket tucked under her arms. A small gurgle from her partners throat brought instant clarity, as she recalled her lovers passionate cries several moments before. "Oh. Spidah." Xena reached for the convenient breast dagger, which still lay on top of the hay nearby, and held it up. "Sand Spidah. Crawled across Gabrielle."
"Well where is it?" Yosef looked all around them.
"Killed it." The warrior made a slashing motion in the air with the knife. "Tossed it over there." She pointed out into the darkness beyond the barn. "Wayyyy over there."
"Yeah." Gabrielle chimed in. "Shes got a really good arm. No telling how far away it landed."
"Oh." Yosef relaxed. "Very well then. Sorry to disturb you. May you rest peacefully for the remainder of the night ..." He looked up at the blanket of starts in the desert sky. "... or morning, that is."
"Same to you." Xena smiled graciously. "Good evening."
"Yes." Yosef retreated toward his house.
When they were certain their host was safely back in bed, the bard chuckled and rolled back on top of her partner. "May you ..." She kissed Xena soundly. ".... rest peacefully ..." She deftly pulled the leathers back down with one swift motion. "... for the remainder of the morning." The brown bloomers became history. "Now." She echoed her partners earlier words. "Where were we?"
"Something about. Oh gods." Small fingers began to explore. "Getting off."
"Yes?" Gabrielle trailed her hand along the warriors now exposed hip.
"And ... someone coming. Unngghhh." The hand reached the very sensitive skin on the back of Xenas thigh, teasing it mercilessly with a light up and down motion of her blunt fingernails.
"Uh huh." A lusty note tainted the bards voice.
"And ... oh ... my ... gods ..." The warrior felt gentle hands push her legs apart. "Getting into each other."
"Rigghhttt. Thanks for refreshing my memory." Gabrielle laughed and began to ease herself down on top of her mostly naked partner. She sat up momentarily, pulling her sleep shirt over her head and laying it aside within reach.
"Enhancing my view, my bard?" Xena purred.
The bard threw her head back and looked up at the abundance of stars, which seemed so low in the heavens she swore she could reach up and pluck one out of the sky. "It is a beautiful night, isnt it?" She teased quietly.
"Oh, yeah." The warrior ran her hands up the re-exposed ribs, forcing Gabrielles attention back to the task at hand. "Very, very beautiful." She lovingly cupped the full breasts.
"Yeah. Very." The bard expelled a sensual puff of air at the contact, and licked her lips, taking a brief moment to savor her own breath-taking view. "But thats not why I took my shirt off. I thought I might need it in a minute." The bard trailed her fingers up the flat stomach.
"What for?" The warrior frowned.
"To gag you with. Im not sure how many sand spiders we can conjure up in one night." Gabrielle closed the distance between them, settling down on top of Xenas long torso.
"I think I am capable of controlling myself, Gabrielle." Despite her words, the warrior whimpered as naked skin met naked skin.
"You do, huh?" The bard rose to the challenge, quickly finding several of her partners erogenous zones in succession, giving hit and run attention to each one and moving on to the next, driving Xena to near insanity in a very short period of time.
"Oh ... gods ... baby ... I ..." Xena grabbed the sleep shirt, voluntarily stuffing part of it into her mouth, melting into Gabrielles skilled actions.
"You surrender to me, warrior princess?" The bard flicked an earlobe with the tip of her tongue.
"Ill take that as a yes."
They didnt get much sleep.
The warrior awoke and opened her eyes, and then immediately squeezed them closed, as full sunlight brutally assaulted her senses. She was briefly aware of quiet movement next to her, and she smiled at her recent memories, as she took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet warm smell that was her lovers scent. She rolled over to her side and carefully allowed her eyelids to drift open, and her sight immediately fell upon a curved upraised calf. She leaned in, nipping the muscular flesh with just her lips, tentatively poking the tip of her tongue out to taste the salty skin in the process.
"Good morning, sleepyhead." Gabrielle had re-donned her sleep shirt, and was leaning back against the stable wall with a scroll propped up on her leg, scribbling across it with a well-sharpened quill. Her ink well sat on a hay bale next to her, and from Xenas eye-level, she had also apparently managed to retrieve a pair of underwear from their bags. "Pretty late in the morning for you to just now be getting up."
"Yeah. Well." The warrior scooted closer, worming her head and shoulders beneath the bards writing arm, and impishly lifted the hem of the sleep shirt to plant a series of long wet kisses across Gabrielles belly. "Someone kept me up pretty late last night."
"Tcchhh." The bard enjoyed a pleasant fluttering sensation in her stomach, and clicked her tongue against her teeth, shaking her head with mock gravity. "Stamina, Xena. Weve got to work on your stamina."
"Oh really? Do we now?" An evil grin appeared, displaying a row of shiny white teeth, and Gabrielle suddenly found her parchment and quill being snatched from her hands, as Xena flipped over, landing between her legs, and pinned her back as she continued her assault on the soft skin, reaching places that made the bard yelp at the attack on her sensitive flesh.
"Now ... Xena. Yowww!" The bard squirmed to no avail. "Come on. Its broad daylight."
"Like weve never done this in broad daylight." The warrior made her way slowly up to a tasty collarbone. "Ill show you some stamina, my bard. Especially since you seem to think I need to work on it. How does that saying go? Practice makes perfect?" She laughed wickedly.
"Oh ... gods." Gabrielle quickly thought of one last appeal, as she felt her shirt about to come off, and her defenses rapidly crumbling. "Xena. What if Yosef comes back out here? Please, Honey. You know I was only teasing you."
The warrior heard the desperate note in her partners voice, and relented, snuggling up against her soulmate and brushing her lips against the bards instead. She raised her head and smiled sheepishly. "Sokay. You really did wear me out last night."
"Really?" Gabrielle looked rather surprised, and pleased with herself at the same time.
"Oh, yeah." Xena kissed her again, nibbling gently at the full soft lips. "Did I mention how incredible you are? Or how much I love you?"
"Well." The bard picked up her quill and absently chewed on one end. "Maybe. I do remember you speaking to me in several different languages last night, although I wasnt sure exactly what you were saying, especially with that shirt stuffed in your mouth half the time." She giggled, remembering Xenas little challenge, and her ultimate victory.
"Singing your praises, love." Xena rolled over in the hay next to her partner, ending up on her stomach with her elbows propped up and her chin cupped in her hands. She kicked her heels up behind her and crossed them at the ankles, and batted her dark eyelashes, the look on her face one of pure adoration. "And thanking the gods for your many ... um ... talents." The warrior took hold of the corner of the parchment Gabrielle had been working on, and dragged it across the hay toward her. She peered down at it and studied the clear even handwriting. "Whatcha writing?"
The bard plucked up the scroll and quickly re-read the lines in silence. "It might not make much sense until I tell you about my conversation with Mary last night. But I wrote a little poem for her. There are a lot of prophecies about Yeshua, and I tried to capture some of that here."
"Read it to me. Please?" Xena flipped over onto her back and laid her head in Gabrielles lap, clasping her hands across her own stomach.
The bard cleared her throat, and her voice softly read:
Mary, did you know
That your Baby Boy will one day walk on water
Mary, did you know
That your Baby Boy will save our sons and daughters
Did you know
That your Baby Boy has come to make you new
This Child that youve delivered
Will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know
That your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man
Mary, did you know
That your Baby Boy will calm a storm with His hand
Did you know
That your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod
And whey you kiss your little Baby
Youve kissed the face of God.*
"Hmmm. Very beautiful, love." Xena looked thoughtful. "All of that is in their prophecies?"
"No. Part of it is, and the other part I sort of used my imagination, and made it up, based upon my feelings about what Mary had to say."
"Do you believe her?" The warrior felt a small hand come to rest on her stomach, and she wrapped one of hers around it.
"Dont know." Gabrielle set the parchment aside. "But she really seems to. Id ... like to. If it really is true, it certainly is appealing. One person born into the world to relieve the suffering of all the rest. It sure makes more sense than what some of the Greek gods have to offer."
"But is it the suffering of the whole world, or just their people?" The warrior idly stroked the bards hand wither thumb. "And is it all suffering, or just spiritual suffering? Does that mean no more illness or death or pain, and if it does, wouldnt the world get really crowded after a while, if no one ever died to make room for the ones being born? Would it be like it was when Death was chained up, and people couldnt die to escape their own suffering?"
"Dont know that either." Gabrielle sighed, remembering her spiritual quest across India, all the while that Xena was fighting her own personal demons with her constant nightmares about crucifixion, and her doubts about her path in life. "But one of the things I learned from dying with you, is to pay attention to prophecies and visions."
The warriors face took on a clouded appearance, and she closed her eyes. And Im so sorry you had to learn that, my love. "Wish I could have spared you all of that."
"Xena. Let me tell you the most important thing I discovered during my talk with Mary last night." Gabrielle trailed her fingers through the long dark tendrils the spilled across her lap and onto the hay. "There are some things in life we have no control over, and for the most part, the actions and desires of the gods is one of those things. Dahak, if he was determined to make me carry his child, there is nothing, nothing you and I could have done to stop him. Think about it. He wasnt confined to Britannia. He has appeared in Greece, too, and I suspect he can appear anywhere he wants to. And use anyone he wants to for any purpose, against their will. I believe that if you and I had never left Greece, he would have come to us, if thats what he really wanted. It was just icing on the cake for him to take our circumstances and use them to get us to blame each other, and turn us against each other. Every time he tried to wreck havoc on us, he also managed to make us feel guilty, and to chip away at our love and faith in each other. He could have accomplished his purpose more directly. He didnt need us. Hes just evil, so he decided to use us and make us miserable in the process."
"Gods." The warrior felt a tight hand slowly release its firm grip on her soul. "I never thought about it like that."
"Me neither. Until Mary helped me see it that way." She continued to play with her partners hair, reveling in the silky sensation against her fingertips. "And the same goes for Callisto and Satan. If you and I were destined to be crucified to satisfy their purpose, I dont think we could have escaped it. You and I, especially you, did everything in our power to avoid snow, mountains, and Romans, because thats what you kept seeing in your vision. And even though we tried so hard, Rome came to us. The snowy mountain found us. It was destiny."
"Destiny." Xena rolled the word around in her mouth, and couldnt decide if she liked the taste it left there. "Destiny can change, my bard. Look what happened to Caesar. And to me too, for that matter."
"Maybe. Maybe not." The bard pondered. "Perhaps you and Caesar were just mistaken about your destinies."
"Maybe." The conversation was starting to make the warriors head spin.
"And speaking of destiny. Mary told me about a prophet teaching down by the Nile, who has a lot to say about Yeshuas destiny." Gabrielle studied the wary face in her lap. "Xena, Id really like to go see him."
Please please please. Not India all over again. I dont think I could take it. The warrior sighed heavily. "If thats what you really want."
There was no missing the resigned tone in the deep voice. "Xena, whats wrong?"
Okay. Gotta be very careful. "Gabrielle. You know I will support you in almost anything you want to do. Or explore. As far as Im concerned, you can do almost anything you gods-be-damned please, and Ill go along with it, short of you cheating on me or leaving me ..."
"Xe. Not going to cheat on you. Or leave you." The bards chest felt heavy. "Ever."
"Sorry. I know that. It was just an example of what it would take for me to not be supportive of you." Xena smiled sadly. "But some of the things you explore are hard on me sometimes. You know that and weve talked about that. India was really hard for me. I never knew which Gabrielle I was going to wake up with each morning. I felt so unbalanced half the time. But I know you, and I know that spiritual things are important to you, and meaning. You have a dreamers eye, and I love that about you. You help me to see things Id otherwise never even pay attention to. But Im not going to lie to you. If you need to search some more for your meaning in life, Ill be right there beside you, but it wont be easy for me. I ..." The warriors throat felt very dry, and the muscles in her neck worked as she swallowed. "... Ive found my way, my meaning, and I guess I hoped that you had too ..." She trailed off, afraid that if she said anymore she was going to choke up, very un-warrior-like.
The meaning behind her partners words hit Gabrielle with the force of a physical slap to the face. Oh gods. She thinks shes not enough. "Xena. No no no, Honey. I have found my way, and its you. Im happier than Ive ever been, and I think I tell you that about every other day. And no matter where life leads me, or what it teaches me, I know that my place in life is by your side. Im just curious, thats all. I want to understand, more for Marys sake than my own."
"Oh." The warrior felt her stomach muscles unclench. She hadnt even realized they had tensed up.
"Yes. Xena, she doesnt have any friends here. I think Im the first person shes really talked to besides Yosef since they moved here, and that was over three summers ago. Theyve been running scared for a long time. I thought that maybe, if I hear what this prophet has to say, I could go back to her and try to calm some of her fear." Gabrielle looked off into the distance. "She said last night she was really sad that I would be going back to Greece. She has such a long road ahead of her, especially after they go back home."
"Then why dont they just stay here?" The warrior asked sensibly. "Seems like Yosef is doing well for himself in Cairo. Far as I can tell, there arent many skilled carpenters in these parts."
"Because they believe that their god will eventually lead them back home." The bard thought of her own sense of duty to the Amazons. "They believe that Yeshus life is supposed to be lived out among their people."
"Hey." Xena sat up and brushed bits of golden straw off her leathers, while Gabrielle playfully plucked a few idle strands out of the dark hair. "Lets go find some breakfast and then well go visit this prophet."
"Thank you." Gabrielle leaned over and kissed a bare shoulder before she stood up and went to the barn to change. As she entered the dark stable, she was greeted with the musty smell of soiled hay, along with a high-pitched bray. "Hello, Tobias." She padded over to the donkeys stall and scratched the fuzzy beast around his ears and underneath his halter straps. "Good to see you. I always wondered what happened to you. Im glad youve got a good family to take care of you." She started to move away and the stubborn animal snapped his teeth around the bottom part of her shirt, restraining her near the stall.
"Now Tobias." She laughed. "Ive got things to do. I cant stay here with you. Im sorry." She rubbed the white nose and gently pulled at the halter until the donkey released her. She put on her new leather clothes, and as she hefted up their bags and opened the barn door, Tobias let out a loud mournful bray followed by a disapproving snort. The bard chuckled and went outside to meet her partner.
They gracefully declined Marys offer of a large breakfast, and when she insisted, they finally compromised with her, allowing her to wrap up some eggs and diced green peppers in some large flaky rolls for them to take on the road with them. Yosef offered them permanent lodging while they were in Cairo, but they politely turned him down, stating that they had already paid the deposit on the room at the inn in the city, and that they really should take advantage of it. They both wanted to make use of the bathing facilities, along with the privacy the room afforded them.
Gabrielle hugged Mary, and promised shed be back before they returned to Greece. As they turned to go, Yeshu ran after them, stopping them until he could wrap his small arms around their legs. He looked up solemnly and smiled. "I wont forget."
Xena hoisted him up, shifting his light weight onto her hipbone. "Yeshu. Were coming back in a few days. This isnt goodbye yet." She ruffled his hair, and for the briefest moment, spared a pang of memory for Solan, wondering what her son would have been like at Yeshus age. Yeshu didnt miss the sad eyes, and he carefully reached up and brushed away a single tear that trickled down the warriors face before she could stop it. A look of understanding passed between them, and she gently set him back on his feet, and clasped hands with Gabrielle, as they made their way down the road and over the rise toward Cairo and the Nile.
They had agreed to go find the prophet first thing, and then pay a visit to Cairos library, to find out who Saqqara was. It was a smaller branch of the famous library in Alexandria, which was one of the largest collections in the world. The bard sensed her partners somber mood, and she looked up at the masked profile. "You need to talk?"
"Just the usual." Xena sighed. "Small boys always make me think about him."
Gabrielle knew who him referred to, and she squeezed the large hand that held hers. "Xena. I know I can never bring him back for you, or replace him. But someday, you are going to get a second chance. And we are going to have the most beautiful and the most lucky child in all of Greece."
"You think so?" The warriors voice clearly reflected her disbelief. "What ... what if I screw up again? I dont have a very good track record with children."
"You ..." Gabrielle stopped her partner and made Xena look at her. "... are going to make a wonderful mother. You arent the same person you were back then, Xena. You have so much to give to a child. You were very good with Yeshu. In fact, children seem to gravitate to you. I have to start telling stories before they pay any attention to me. Imagine how it will be to have one of your own."
"My own." The voice was doubtful.
"One way or the other, Xena ..." The bard turned and placed her hand on a bracered biceps as they continued to walk. "... any child of mine will be fully yours too."
The warrior said nothing, but instead draped her arm across Gabrielles shoulders, pulling her closely to her side. Xena was drawn out of her dark thoughts momentarily, as a strong sweet odor wafted across to her on the breeze from a nearby field. She shuddered, and dark thoughts of a different nature permeated her memory, filling her mind with vague swirling images.
The bard felt the shiver and followed her partners gaze to a vast blanket of bright reddish-orange flowers that waived in the wind, their beauty adding some very pleasing color to the brown sands of the desert beyond them. "Those flowers sure are pretty." Gabrielle inhaled deeply of the thick syrupy smell that made it almost difficult to breathe. "Ive never smelled anything so strong, at least when it comes to flowers."
"Yeah. They look so harmless, dont they?" The warrior frowned.
"What do you mean?" Dangerous flowers? Gabrielle gave a quizzical look to her partner, waiting.
"Those are Colitas. Theyre a type of poppy that thrives best in dry areas. The first time I saw them was in Chin, right before I met Lao Ma." She thought back to those days right after Caesar had had her legs broken, and her maddening drive to find something, anything, to dull the pain in her throbbing limbs. "People take the leaves and stems, and dry them out. After they dry, they ground it up into a powder and put it in these water pipes and smoke them."
"Why?" The bard studied the flowers with a new eye.
"The smoke gets in your lungs and then in your blood. Goes to your brain and makes you sleepy. Makes you not care about anything. And dulls pain." She felt another chill dance across her skin, and at the same time, a tiny spark of desire, which she quickly shoved way down inside. "In Chin, there are these flop houses where people lay around all day and do nothing but smoke. They live out their lives in an alternate reality."
"Sounds pretty depressing." Gabrielle was afraid to ask the next question, already knowing the answer. "Youve been to one of those flop houses, havent you?"
"Yeah." The warrior kicked at a rock on the dusty trail, causing it to fly several meters ahead of them. "Yeah I have. The first time was after Caesar broke my legs, and I hurt all the time. Thought I was going to die from the pain. I stayed in one of those places for about a week before I decided I really wanted to live. I knew that surviving was going to mean facing the pain, so I got out of there. Shortly after that, Lao Ma found me, and showed me what to do to heal."
"The first time?" The bards guts twisted at the knowledge of this new aspect of her partner. Gabrielle had never known anyone who used strange drugs, but she had known alcoholics, and she wondered if it was a similar addiction.
"Gabrielle." Xena was having that sensation again, of feeling her partners apprehension in her own gut. "I did that many times during my war lord days. And ... four times since I met Hercules. Three of those times since I met you."
"Oh gods." Gabrielle clutched her arm around her partners waist. "Did you want to die all of those times?"
"I dont know." They reached the rock again, and Xena kicked it again with a savage strike that shattered the stone, sending the pieces scattering in several different directions. "Lets put it this way. I didnt have much will to live. I ... found a little dive in Athens right after my army made me run the gauntlet. I was in pain, just like that first time, and I tried to fool myself into thinking it would make it go away. It just dulls it until the drug wears off. The next time was when I went to Chin that time, after I left you on the docks in Greece. I figured I was going to kill Ming Tien and then I was going to find me a place to smoke myself into oblivion. Figured Id give myself a little kick of it before I went on to Ming Tiens palace."
"And ... th ... the next two times?" The knot twisted tighter, and the bard feared she might throw up.
"After Solan died. Before I went to get you in the Amazon village. I was high as a flying parchment when I went riding in there. The place I went to was in Athens again, but they apparently had mixed some other stuff into the Colita powder without me knowing. Instead of lulling me into peaceful forgetfulness, it set me on edge, and got my blood pumping way too fast, and made my skin crawl. I kept seeing things, and it sent me into a stark raving rage. And then Ares came to me and planted hatred in my heart, and that was all it took to push me over the edge. I was on the verge of madness, partly from grief and anger, and partly from the mix of herbs and drugs in my system."
"You know, in a weird way, that almost makes me feel better about all of that." Gabrielle took deep breaths, trying to calm her rebelling stomach. "Im glad you told me. At least now I know you werent completely yourself when you did that. But what about the other time? Theres one you havent told me about yet."
"After you fell down that lava pit with Hope." I spent a couple of weeks in a little hut way up near the northern Amazon territory. "I wanted to forget my whole miserable stinking life, and that Id lost the only person who had ever stood by me. And the chance at a love that had slipped through my fingers forever. That time, I really did want to die." The warrior paused, as she felt her partner suddenly grip her arm tightly. "Gabrielle?"
Black spots danced in front of Gabrielles eyes, and her whole body tingled. "Xena. I think Im going to lay down for a minute." The bard slumped down in the road and closed her eyes, as the world grew dark. She was only out for a few seconds, and when she opened her eyes she found herself held in a pair of strong arms across Xenas lap, and felt a cool wet sensation across her forehead. "Wha ..." She blinked in confusion. "What happened?"
"You fainted." The warrior brushed her fingers across a pale cheek, relieved to see the color slowly returning to her partners face. "And scared the Hades out of me."
"Sorry." Gabrielle put her hand up to her head and felt a wet piece of linen. "I dont think Ive ever done that before."
"Must be the heat." Xena wanted to believe that in the worst way. "Maybe we should go to the inn and rest for a while. Catch up with this prophet later."
"No." The bard slowly sat up despite the warriors protests that she should remain still for a few more minutes. "Im okay. Besides, this is the coolest part of the day, before noon."
"You sure?" Xena supported her partner as she stood up.
"Yeah. Im fine." Gabrielle swayed briefly, before she steadied herself and then clenched her hands on the warriors shoulders and looked intently into the worried blue eyes. "Xena, I need you to promise me something."
"What?" The warrior knew it wasnt the heat.
"Promise me you will never smoke that stuff again." The blunt nails unconsciously dug in.
"Gabrielle. I really dont see any reason why Id ever ..."
"No." The bards voice was hard, and her eyes were cold. "You promise me. Theres no seeing or thinking as an option here. You just promise, because I know you keep your promises."
"Okay, okay. I promise." Xena tried to pull her obviously angry partner closer to her, and was surprised when the bard pushed her violently away and stalked down the road several paces ahead of her.
What in Tartarus is bothering her? The warrior followed behind her soulmate, trying to decide if she should catch up, or wait until Gabrielle had cooled down and came back to her of her own accord. She continued to walk slowly, watching the dejected carry of the bards back and shoulders. Xena wasnt sure what had just transpired, other than that it had something to do with her history of drug use. Ive told her a lot worse things about my past than the Colitas. I dont get it.
After a quarter candle mark, Gabrielle stopped and turned in the road, and then began to walk hesitantly back to where the warrior was. Xenas head was down and she was muttering to herself. "Xena. Im sorry."
Confused blue eyes met troubled green ones. "Salright. Youve got me worried more than anything. Can you tell me whats wrong? Please."
"I ... you ..." The bard allowed herself a long minute to collect her thoughts. "Did you ever smoke tobacco like Yosef does?"
After what had just occurred between them, Xena was hard pressed to answer, fearful her response might sent her partner into another unexplained tirade. The warrior felt her emotional barriers start to rise. "Yes. I used to sometimes enjoy a pipe around the campfire with my army at night. But it was just tobacco. It was to relax, and to be one of the guys. It doesnt alter you senses more than maybe a bit of a head rush when you first inhale. I can still think clearly when I smoke tobacco."
"But you dont smoke it anymore. Why?"
The warrior studied the pain in the green eyes and realized her answer was somehow very important to her partner. "Partly because I realized that the more I smoked, the harder it was to breathe when I exerted myself. Which you know, I am almost always exerting myself in one way or another, so I figured it must be bad for me. And partly ... because at some point before I met Hercules, I had decided I didnt plan to smoke the Colita powder anymore. It ... was the same way I feel about getting drunk. I didnt like feeling out of control. When I was a warrior, I didnt need a reason to smoke the powder. Not after that first time before I met Lao Ma. I didnt need pain or sorrow. I did it sometimes just to feel good for a while. And I decided that it wasnt a good thing to let myself get that mellowed out. Not with all the people out there who would have loved to catch me with my defenses down, and either kill me or haul my live carcass in to collect any number of bounties on my head. So I quit the Colita powder. And I quit smoking tobacco at the same time, because psychologically, the activity of smoking tobacco was too similar to smoking the Colita."
"But then ..." The bard tried to work out this new puzzle. "... why did you smoke the Colitas again after you had made a firm decision not to?"
"I had a few very weak moments. I relapsed." Xena sighed. "Until youve been hooked on something like that, I dont know if you can understand."
"Oh. I understand. All too well." Gabrielles voice was bitter, and it was an assault on Xenas ears.
"Would you please tell me what is wrong?!" The warrior barely managed to keep herself from grabbing her suddenly enigmatic partner and shaking her. "Have you ever used drugs?"
"No!" The bard crossed her arms over her chest and planted herself firmly in the middle of the road.
"Well then, whats up? Have you known someone who used them, besides me, that is?" Xenas patience was wearing way too thin, and she was afraid she was going to have to distance herself from the bard for a while if they didnt resolve their argument soon.
"No." Gabrielles chin quivered, and she looked down at the ground. "Not drugs ..."
Xenas anger dissolved at the action, and she reached out, firmly tilting her partners face up as she saw the tears brimming in the bards eyes. "Baby. I love you. Will you please, pleeeasssee, tell me what in Tartarus is hurting you so much? Id like to help you, if youll let me."
"Alcohol." Gabrielle muttered. "It scares me. That people will take stuff or drink stuff or smoke stuff that makes them turn around and hurt people. The Colitas, when you started talking about it, it made me think about people who drink too much ale or wine, and get so drunk they dont know what theyre doing anymore."
The warrior pulled the small body against her, as she felt the bard give in to the tears, and she brushed her hand across the pale blonde hair, making shushing noises while she let her partner cry. Xena frowned deeply. Ahhh. Alcohol. And Marc Antony ... She felt her blood begin to boil and then another thought occurred to her. "Sweetheart. Has anybody, besides Marc Antony, ever hurt you after theyve had too much to drink?"
Gabrielle stiffened, and she looked up. "Xena. I cant talk about it right now, okay? I havent thought about it in a very long time. A very long time. Until today."
"Xena, please. One crisis at a time, okay? I promise I will talk to you about it. Very soon. Once I sort it all out. Just not here and not now. Not in the middle of a road in the desert when we are in the process of trying to find a prophet." The bard linked arms with her partner, and urged her to continue walking, enjoying the feel of the sun as it dried her face, and wishing to put it all out of her mind for a while.
"Baby. I do keep my promises."
"I know you do." The bard managed to smile.
"Whenever youre ready, you know Im here."
"Soon Xena ... um ... Xena?"
"How many more days til we start cycling?"
They walked the rest of the way to the Giza ferry landing in somewhat companionable silence, both lost in troubled thoughts, both trying to focus on the task at hand. After a few inquiries, they were directed about a mile south of the landing to a tiny oasis on the bank of the river. A large crowd was gathered, and they quietly nudged their way through to get a look at the prophet.
They finally spotted him right down near the water, his back turned and his long dark hair pouring over his shoulders against a long striped robe. His arms were stretched out to his sides in supplication, and all eyes were rooted on him as he spoke with confidence and authority. He stopped suddenly in mid-sentence, sensing a familiar presence. Slowly he turned, his serious blue-green eyes growing wide with wonder, before a smile slowly spread across his face, drawing his beard up around his ears in the process.
Gabrielle forgot all about her troubles, as her heart lurched in her chest. "Eli?"
Continued in Part 6
-from "Mary, Did You Know" by Mark Lowry and Buddy Green, Copyright 1991, Word Music, A Div. of Word, Inc./ Rufus Music, Adm. by Gaither Copyright Management (ASCAP). As performed by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd on the CD The Gift, Copyright 1996, Magnatone Records.
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