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 program Xena: Warrior Princess. This story was written strictly for the pleasure of the writer and anyone who might honor the writer by reading it, and not for profit. No copyright infringements intended.
This story contains, among other things, recounts by various observers of and participants in the crucifixion scene from the XWP episode, "The Ides of March," so yeah, heavy on angst and violence.
PG-13, okay maybe R. Nothing too graphic here but come on yall, we just saw the two women die, and their last words to each other were "you were the best thing in my life," and "I love you." If you dont want to see them as lovers, move on to some other story.
Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation:
Thank the gods for spell check! Ive tried, so if its not perfect, bite me!
This is my first attempt at XWP fan fiction. Any questions, comments, or suggestions are most welcome. You can e-mail me at email@example.com or .
This story begins on March 16th, the day after the 4th season cliffhanger "The Ides of March." I can hardly wait to see how they resolve it, and it is definitely one of my favorites. So, until season five begins, Ive used my imagination a little and this is how Id like to see it go . . .
MARCH THE 16TH
In these days and these hours of fury
When the darkness and answers are thin ...
Come lay your body beside me
To dream to sleep with the lamb ...
Am I your passion your promise your end
I say I am
Yes I am
Your passion your promise your end
Yes I am
Barring divine intervention
There is nothing between you and I
And if I carelessly forgot to mention
Your body your power can sanctify
Come feed your hunger your thirst
Lay it down the beast will die ...
For I am your passion your promise your end
Oh yes I am
- from "Yes I Am" by Melissa Etheridge, Copyright 1993, MLE Music Admin. By Almo Music Corp. (ASCAP). As performed on her CD, Yes I Am, 1993, Island Records, Inc.
A few candle marks later, Xena lay on her side under the warm furs, fast asleep. Gabrielles body rested along the length of the warriors back and the bards arms were wrapped firmly around her partners waist. Tired as she was, the younger woman had not yet been able to fall asleep, her mind suffering from system overload at everything that had happened that day, and all the new sensations that had bombarded her all at once. She tenderly kissed the bare shoulder in front of her and the sleeping warrior unconsciously reached down and wrapped her hand around one of the bards wrists, pulling her lover more snugly against her back. Gabrielle smiled and focused in on just exactly who it was she held in her arms. Ares Chosen. The Destroyer of Nations.
The bard carefully slid her arm out from underneath the warrior and raised up on it to look at her new lovers face. In sleep, all traces of the intense expression the warrior usually wore when she was awake vanished, replaced by one of absolute peace. A peace that could not possibly be owned by anyone with murder and hatred in their heart. This was the sleep of the just. Gabrielle smoothed some idle dark hairs from Xenas eyes and leaned over to kiss a high cheekbone. The warrior sighed at the contact and mumbled in her sleep, "love . . . you . . . Gabrielle."
"Love you too," the bard whispered softly, and fell back down into the thick fur, nuzzling her face against the back of Xenas neck and inhaling the scent of lavender that lingered there.
A candle mark earlier Xena, known to the world as the warrior princess, had shown her love with a gentleness and a selflessness no war lord would ever be capable of. It had been all Gabrielle could do to get the warrior to let go, and allow the bard to take over and lavish her partner with the same warm affection she had received. Gabrielle knew that Xena had spent so much time living with the guilt of her past, that somewhere deep down inside she believed that she did not deserve to be loved.
The bard had reminded the warrior of her earlier claim that she wasnt done with her yet, and after a brief tickle fight and a bit of roughhousing Xena had finally relented and allowed Gabrielle to playfully push her onto her back, the bard ending up straddling her partner, pinning the warriors arms down with her hands. It was a game they had played a hundred times, a tickle fight followed by a wrestling match, in which sometimes, just sometimes, Xena would let her smaller friend pretend she had won. They both knew better. But this time was different. They had never played the game naked before.
"Hah! Ive got you!" A feisty bard gazed down at the warrior with a grin on her face and a glint in her eye.
Yeah, love. You sure do. "Now what?" Xena had chuckled.
Gabrielles eyes softened and she lowered herself down on top of the warrior, settling in slowly, making contact all along the length of their bodies. She felt Xenas breath go uneven and saw a faint pulse point pick up at her partners throat. The bard had bent over and nipped at the spot, and then she raised up to look into half-closed blue eyes. "Now . . ." she traced a finger from the warriors ear, down her neck, across her chest, and her hand came to rest against the side of her partners waist. "Now, I am going to make love to you, Xena."
And she had, starting with a gentle teasing exploration of Xenas lips and gradually moving down the warriors body, memorizing every indention and every curve. Kissing the tender skin of an inner thigh, the bard heard a soft moan and felt Xenas firm grip on her arm, which was wrapped around the back of the thigh in question. Pleased with that response, she had shivered with anticipation and kissed her way down to a more intimate contact with the warrior, and got lost in that for a while. And much later, sensing her lovers need for an anchor, she had slid back up Xenas body and looked into the warriors face and saw tears brimming in the pale blue eyes.
"Xena, whats wrong?" Gabrielle kissed an idle tear from her partners face.
"I . . . you . . . Gabrielle, I . . ."
"Its okay love, take your time," the bard said gently, cupping her hand against Xenas face and running a thumb up and down the soft down on the warriors cheek.
Xena swallowed a few times and wrapped her arms around her partner, "Gabrielle, I love you so much."
"And I love you," the bard had stated simply.
"Gabrielle . . . please . . ."
"Please dont ever leave me."
Gabrielles green eyes had grown wide. As if. "Xena, you listen to me. I meant what I said earlier today. There isnt a chance in Hades of me leaving you. Ever. Period."
"I need you." Xena had looked into the bards eyes with an achingly sweet look.
"And I need you. Im here Xena, and Im not going anywhere without you. Sleep now, love. Its been a very long day."
Gabrielle had slowly slid off her partner, pushed her to her side, and snuggled up against the strong back. She had wrapped her arms around the warriors waist and felt a warm hand on her leg.
"I cant believe the most beautiful girl in the world loves me," Xena murmured.
"Didnt know you had any other lovers besides me," the bard answered with a teasing chuckle.
"Gabrielle, I was referring to you." Mock exasperation.
"Xena, thats very sweet. Believe it. I love you with all my heart. Now go to sleep."
"Remember that time I taught you the songs my mother used to sing to me at bedtime?"
"Yes, love." And Gabrielle sang the soft lullabies of Xenas childhood quietly into her ear, stroking the raven hair until she heard the warriors breath gradually deepen into sleep.
Ill treasure this night for the rest of my life, Gabrielle mused. Destroyer of Nations? I dont think so. Not anymore. And she joined her lover in contented slumber.
Xena opened her eyes to see that all the candles had burned down and the fire had become white hot coals. She blinked for a moment trying to figure out what had woken her up. There. An agitated whinny from Argo. A brief pause and then another one, this time higher in pitch.
The warrior rolled over slightly, away from her partner, feeling the sleeping arms gradually fall away from her waist. She allowed herself a brief smile and then rose to her feet. Damn. No time for armor and Im buck naked. She felt around and found the large shirt Gabrielle had been wearing earlier. Hmmm. She pulled it on and though a little snug, it wasnt unbearable. She quickly slipped on her boots and reached for her sword, which as always, was right by her side. Quietly, so as not to wake her partner, she stole out of the small room.
With soundless steps born from years of practice, she snuck down the narrow damp corridor toward the cavern entrance and stopped at the edge, listening. Argo snorted a few times and Xena could hear the horse stomping around in frightened circles.
With one leap she bounded out of the cave with her sword drawn and ran over to Argos side. She looked all around with her sword pointed straight out. "Whos there? Come out and show yourself." A command.
She heard the underbrush behind her rustle and spun around, but could see nothing. She felt . . . a presence, and all the hairs on her arms prickled in response, her heart racing with a sudden rush of adrenaline. And then all was quiet and the wave of fear subsided. Argo nibbled at her shirt collar and the warrior idly patted the velvety soft nose, her eyes straining to see into the darkness.
"What was that, huh girl? Thanks for the warning. You be careful out here, okay?" She regarded the small entrance to the cave, knowing there was no way the palomino would fit through it.
She walked the perimeter of the cavern area and satisfied that whatever had disturbed the horse was gone, she made her way back into the cave and into the small room where Gabrielle was still sleeping. Xena sat down on the furs just above her partners head and leaned back against the wall, stretching her long legs out in front of her. As she lay her sword down by her side, the bard rolled over and opened her eyes.
"Xena, what are you doing up?"
"Heard something. Had to go check it out."
"What was it?"
"Are you coming back to sleep?"
A sleepy bard scooted up and lay her head on the warriors leg, and shuffled about until she was resting on her side with one hand on her partners knee. "You make a nice pillow."
"Glad Im good for something."
In the dark, Xena felt a soft kiss to her leg. She reached over and pulled the furs up over her lovers shoulder and then rested her arm protectively on top of it. As Gabrielle fell back asleep, the warrior sat up.
With the first greyness of dawn Xena gently lifted her lovers head from her leg and lowered it down to the furs, leaning over to kiss the wispy blonde hair. She grabbed her sword and padded out of the room and back out of the cave.
A nicker in return.
The warrior walked around looking for clues as to what had disturbed them during the night. Scanning every inch of ground she made her way over to the tree where the oat bag was hanging and her eyes grew wide in astonishment. She knelt down and studied yet another set of large cloven hoof prints. What in Hades? What kind of animal . . . or thing . . . makes prints like that and yet I cant see it? She had heard it. Felt it. But had seen nothing.
Xena stood up and carefully followed the tracks for a ways, finally losing them in the thick winter-dead undergrowth. She looked around and sniffed the air thoughtfully, detecting the scent of . . . breakfast. More rabbit, some toasting bread, and herbal tea. With another look around she unconsciously placed her hand at her hip where her chakram normally rested, and then frowned. Damn. I need to lose that reflex, at least for now. The warrior realized that a split-second could mean the difference between life and death, and that reaching for a weapon that wasnt there could have fatal results.
The warrior silently shook her head and followed the smells of cooking back into the cave, her stomach rumbling in appreciation. She made her way down the long corridor, hearing the sounds of stirring Amazons in the large main room. As she reached the entrance she scanned it and realized Gabrielle wasnt there. The way that girl eats, I cant believe the smell of food hasnt drawn her in here. Xena chuckled inwardly.
"Kallerine, has Gab . . . the queen gotten up yet?"
"No, we havent seen her this morning," the young Amazon turned from the fire where she was pouring hot water into mugs of tea.
"We figured you would know more of the queens whereabouts than we would," Rebina added. She had seen the bard mysteriously toting her and Xenas sleeping furs from the room the evening before. The tall Amazon smirked a bit.
"Whats that look for?" Xena asked.
Amarice walked over and looked her up and down, "Isnt that the shirt our queen was wearing during dinner last night?"
Xena looked down and felt a flush rising to her face. Oops, I guess I took her clothes. Not like she could come in her without them. At least not without catching a whole lot of grief.
"Never mind, Ill go wake her up," the warrior turned on her heals, snatched up her armor and the armor the bard had worn the day before, and stormed out of the room to a chorus of subdued giggles.
Xena turned down the short corridor that lead to the room where she and the bard had slept, and ducked through the low entrance. She stopped for just a moment. Gabrielle was still asleep, resting on her side, one arm tucked under her head and the other curled up under her chin. A little smile was on her lips and one bare shoulder peeked from under the furs.
I still cant believe this beautiful creature loves me, the warrior mused, remembering Gabrielles considerable attentions the night before. For one with so little experience, the bard had certainly known exactly what to do. She had utterly possessed the warrior, the emotional connection between them so intense it bordered on painful. A bittersweet pain born of their years together and the knowledge that in so many ways they were who they were solely because of each other.
Xena remembered a question posed to her partner right before Dahak had entered their lives and changed everything forever . . . "Youre Gabrielle. Question is , who would I be without you?" Who would I be without her? Id rather not even go there.
The warrior crossed the room and knelt down next to her sleeping lover. She leaned over and kissed the bare shoulder. The bard stirred and green eyes slowly opened up and peered at her.
"Good morning, gorgeous," Xena smiled.
The bard blushed a pretty shade of pink and she reached up and took Xenas hand and brought it to her lips and kissed it. "Good morning to you, too."
"Here, I brought your armor. Um . . . were busted. The Amazons kinda caught me wearing your shirt."
"Oh," Gabrielle giggled and sat up. "Guess Ive got a start on building that reputation we talked about."
Xena merely grinned and took off the shirt, exchanging it for her own armor, relishing in the familiar feel of the leather and brass, which fit her like a second skin. She picked up the shirt and rolled it up, catching the faint scent of lavender mixed with bard.
"Xena," Gabrielle was struggling with the clasps on the back of her borrowed armor, "can you help me with these. I cant quite reach them."
"Sure," the warrior snapped the offending pieces together, and impulsively pulled her partner into a tight hug."
"Oomph. Xena, dont take this wrong. I love your hugs but youre squeezing the stuffing out of me."
"Sorry," the warrior relaxed her hold but didnt let go, and idly ran a hand up and down Gabrielles back. She kissed the fair head a few times and then pulled it to her shoulder and held it there.
Gabrielle could hear Xenas heart beating, and felt a few shaky breaths. "Xena, is something wrong?"
"Gabrielle, I went out this morning to check on whatever made that noise last night. I found some more of those cloven hoof prints. I dont know what were up against, but someone or something seems to be following us around. Gabrielle, if anyone ever tries to hurt you again, I swear Ill . . ."
"Xena, calm down, love. Everything is going to be alright. Were going to figure it all out, okay? Together." The bard smoothed the warriors bangs and searched the haunted blue eyes. "Come on, lets go eat breakfast. Youll feel better. I promise." She took her lovers hand and led her to the main room.
A candle mark later they had packed up and were ready to head to the Amazon village. Xena tightened the straps on Argos saddlebags, grasped the large saddle horn, and with a fluid motion leaped up and landed in the saddle, feeling the familiar leather and warmth of the horse beneath her. She smiled and leaned down, offering Gabrielle an arm up, "wanna ride up here with me?"
The bard returned the smile and took the arm, finding herself lifted from the ground and sailing through the air, coming to rest behind Xena. She remembered that moment four years ago when she had convinced the warrior to let her travel with her, and the first time she had been offered an arm up onto Argo. She had been so afraid to ride horses. Weve come a long way, havent we girl? She mused silently to the palomino. She wrapped her arms around Xenas waist and they started out, the Amazons walking alongside.
"Xena, what are your plans now?" Amarice questioned.
"First Im going to get you three back to the Amazon village. Then Gabrielle and I have some business to attend to on Mt. Olympus."
"Mt. Olympus? What business would you have there?" the tall red head asked.
"Gotta find out whats going on. Find out how Callisto managed to get back to earth again."
"Oh," Amarice pondered this for a moment. She knew the warrior had a special relationship with the god of war. A complicated relationship. "Will you need some company?"
"Maybe," the warrior was noncommittal. "Well see."
Gabrielle heard something and turned around. "Xena, remember those four horses and soldiers you said must have camped at that fire ring we inspected yesterday?"
"The horse with the black tail is the one who was carrying the heavy soldier."
"Gabrielle!" an exasperated warrior responded, "how can you possibly know that?"
"Because the four soldiers are behind us."
Xena snapped around and saw the four soldiers in question way down the road, quickly closing the distance between them.
"Okay, everyone heads up. Stay calm and watch each others backs."
The warrior stopped Argo and jumped to the ground, Gabrielle sliding down behind her. Xena stepped to the middle of the road, crossed her arms, and waited. As the soldiers reached them she saw astonished eyes gaping at her.
"Hello, boys," Xena said with a feral smile. "Whats the matter? Seen a ghost?"
She drew her sword and the Amazons followed suit, Gabrielle taking a firm hold on her staff. The warrior quickly scanned the group of soldiers and spotted a familiar face. Her own face hardened into a snarl. You drove spikes into my lovers hands. She felt the rage rising and could taste it in her throat. She let the dark side take over, giving it free rein, and unleashed a loud cry, "Ailililililili!!!" With a running start, she leapt into the air and did a flip, smacking the soldier from his horse with the flat of her sword.
At that moment the other soldiers charged. Kallerines sword met the one carried by the heavy soldier, and the loud clank of metal on metal rang out. She deflected his downward blow and he charged past her, making a tight turn on his horse and coming back for another swipe. This time the young Amazon was ready. As he made his pass she deflected it again, and turned to grab his leg as he road by, jerking him from the horse. They began hand-to-hand combat until the Amazon finally had him against a tree, a small dagger blade against his throat. He dropped his sword in surrender and she whipped out a length of leather cord and tied his hands behind his back.
Satisfied that the soldier was tied securely, she turned to assist Amarice, who was engaged in a sword battle with another soldier. Sweat glistened on her face and her brow was wrinkled in concentration. The tall redhead towered over the shorter soldier, whom she was gradually driving back to the edge of the road. Finally he took a step and fell backward over a log. Amarice held the point of her sword at his throat while Rebina took his weapons and Kallerine tied him up.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle looked up to see a blonde soldier on a beautiful appaloosa horse bearing down on her. She held Ephinys staff close to one end, and hesitated just for a moment, realizing that she hadnt held a staff in a while, and just managed to duck as the soldier reached out and almost took her head off with his sword. She jumped back up. Dumb Gabrielle. Get your head in the game. She turned around to face him, the grip on her new staff sure and comfortingly familiar. As he approached she went on the offensive, taking a few steps forward and swinging the staff hard up into the air, knocking the soldier crosswise off his horse and managing to send his sword flying from his hand. As he hit the ground, he rolled and found his midsection pinned down by the end of the bards staff.
"Kallerine, heres another one to tie up." Gabrielle turned to see if Xena needed assistance.
When Xenas sword hit the soldiers back, it knocked the wind out of his lungs and he went flying off the horse through the air, landing with a distinct thud on the dirt road. He recovered and stood up. As he turned around, he found a tall dark warrior bearing down on him, blue eyes piercing him, her face hard with fury. He held his sword up and parlayed several very hard strokes. Xena mixed it up, throwing a punch here and a kick there, never taking her eyes off him. Driven by the pure rage that was so much a part of her dark side, her sword met his stroke for stroke, and she went on the offensive, circling the soldier, her face breaking out into an evil grin.
The soldier saw it. Utter hatred. And, Xena was enjoying every minute of it. Fear churned in his gut and he knew he was going to lose. The warrior before him was possessed. With one hard cross blow Xena sent his sword flying and she spun around, landing a round-house kick to his groin, knocking him to the ground. He groaned, doubled over in pain. She pounced on him, pinning him down with her sword and two strong legs. The look of hatred turned to one of murder.
"Please," the soldier begged, seeing angry blue eyes darkened to purple looking right through him.
Xena let out an evil laugh and pinned one of his arms with a foot. Jerking the breast dagger from inside her armor, she held it up high over her head and sunk it into the soldiers hand with a sickening crunch of metal on bone, driving the small instrument through his hand and into the ground and then pulling it out. The soldier shrieked with pain as blood spurted from the wound, and he grabbed the injured hand with his other one.
The warrior got up and stood over him as he rolled into a ball, whimpering.
"How does it feel, you son of a bacchae? You piece of pig dung? Tell me," her voice rose to a wild pitch, "Tell me, damn it!" Her voice shook and she proceeded to kick the soldier, who kept whimpering. She lifted up her sword, thinking to have it over with, and then dropped it to her side. With one foot she pushed him out of his curled-up ball and onto his back.
"On second thought," she growled low, "Im not going to kill you just yet. Youre not getting off that easy. Im going to make you suffer, just like you made her suffer." She took the tip of her sword and made a very small slash in the soldiers leg. And then one in his arm, each cut eliciting another shriek.
Her face twisted into a hateful little smile and she took the tip of the sword, playfully dragging it from one of the soldiers ears to the other, but not drawing blood. She saw his violent shudders and the tears in his eyes, and the glint in her eyes increased.
"Plll . . . please," he stammered weakly, "have mercy on me."
"Mercy! You have the nerve to beg for mercy? Im going to skin you alive. You think I dont remember what you did to me? To her?!" And Xena proceeded to kick him some more.
Gabrielles eyes widened and she ran until she was a little over a swords length away from her very dangerous-looking partner. "Xena. For gods sake. Stop it!"
"Stop it! Now!"
Xena held her sword up over her head with both hands, and looked over at her lover. "Gabrielle. Hes the one. Hes the one that had the wooden mallet . . . he doesnt deserve to live . . ." The rage came to a boil and she began to shake.
"Xena. I know. He was just following orders. Xena, listen to me. Put the sword down. This isnt the way. Xena, if you let the hate win you are letting whatever force wanted us dead win. Think for a minute. You havent killed in cold blood in a long time. Youve come a long way. Dont undo all of that. Please, love, put it down."
A battle was going on inside the warrior. It would be so easy. Taste so good. After all, he killed us. But Gabrielle doesnt want this. She is begging you not to do it. Rage and love butted heads inside her chest, which was very tight at the moment. Her fingers twitched on the sword hilt as her eyes met two pleading green ones. Xena gasped and she slowly lowered a shaking sword to her side and it clattered to the ground. The unconscious soldier lay still.
Please, love. Two words. To bring her back down to earth. To ground her and make her realize what she stood for now and who she was living for. And she grudgingly pushed the Destroyer of Nations way back down inside to wherever she had been laying dormant all this time. Is that who Id be again if it werent for her? Thats how it all started, isnt it? My desire to avenge Lyceus death? Which had escalated into years of killing and hatred. Followed by years of guilt and remorse
She thought about her partners word, He was just following orders. I used to order the soldiers in my army to crucify people. "Oh Gods!" Xena cried out. "Gabrielle," a crestfallen warrior slowly stumbled into the arms of the only one who knew her completely. And somehow still loved her. "Im sorry. Its just that he . . . he hurt you. I watched him hurt you and I couldnt do anything about it."
The bard felt the trembling body in her arms. "Shhh. I know, love. I know. He hurt you too." She stroked long raven hair and made little shushing noises until she felt Xena go still. "Xena, its okay. Were fine now, right?"
"Gabrielle, Im sorry," the warrior finally straightened up and looked into her lovers eyes, finding understanding and forgiveness there. And once again found herself redeemed by one small bard, who had been brave enough to follow the Destroyer of Nations and had ultimately changed her life forever. And now held her heart firmly yet gently in an unbreakable hold.
Xena looked around to find three wide-eyed Amazons staring. Upon her gaze, they all found other things to look at. The warrior sighed and then knelt down to check the soldier she had almost killed. "Hell live. Tie him up."
Kallerine made hasty steps to take care of the request.
"Gabrielle," Xena hesitated, "will you get upset if I still use pressure points when I need to?"
The bard chewed her lower lip for a moment. "Xena, I never did like them, but at least you dont kill people with them, and I guess they do have a purpose."
"Good." The warrior stalked over to the large soldier Kallerine had first tied up and jabbed two fingers into each side of his neck. He gasped for air and began to turn red. "Ive cut off the flow of blood to your brain. Youll be dead in thirty seconds unless I release you. Understand?"
The soldier nodded, his eyes wide with fear.
"Now, tell me, who sent you here?"
"Brutus," the man managed to spit out.
Another gasp. "We were sent to the compound to retrieve your body."
"Where were you going just now?"
"When we found you missing we assumed the Amazons had taken you, because of their queen. We were on our way to the Amazon village when we happened upon you."
Xena jabbed the mans neck again and he collapsed to the ground, taking in deep gulps of air.
"Well, what a co-inky dink. Were on the way to the Amazon village too. Looks like you boys got yourselves an escort. Amarice, you and Rebina and Kallerine take these four guys back to the village and lock them up until Gabrielle and I get there. Dont hurt them," she briefly eyed the unconscious one, "We just need to hold them for a while. I cant afford to have them go back and tell Brutus Im alive until we resolve everything. Gab . . . the queen and I will go straight to Mt. Olympus. I want to get there before these four are missed and more soldiers show up."
Xena walked over to Argo and pulled her healers kit from a saddlebag. She made her way back over to the soldier who had helped crucify them, and proceeded to clean and bandage the wound in his hand, and then stitched up the slashes she had made on his arm and leg. She then lifted him up and draped him across the back of his horse.
Turning to the other three soldiers, she went to them one by one and cut the bindings from their wrists. "This is only long enough to let you climb back up on your horses, because I dont feel like picking up all four of you today. Once move other than to get on your horse and Ill take your head off, got me?"
Three gold-helmeted heads nodded solemnly.
"Kallerine, after each one gets back on his horse, tie his hands around the saddle horn so he can hold on, and pull the reins over the horses head. Each of you Amazons can lead one of the horses. Kallerine, you lead two. You can handle it."
"Sure, no problem," the young Amazon said with a touch of pride in her voice.
As the blonde soldier that Gabrielle had subdued began to climb up on the appaloosa, Xena eyed the horse with appreciation, and then frowned. "Wait a minute. Whered you get that horse?" She had noted that the saddle and tack were different from the other three, not Roman army issue.
Remembering the pressure points used on his comrade, the blonde soldier decided an honest answer was in order. "We came upon a village between Athens and the compound. It was mostly sacked. There were no survivors."
"You didnt sack it?" the warrior stared him down, searching his eyes.
"No." The truth. "Found this horse in the woods near the village. It must have escaped during the sacking. I bought the saddle and tack in the next village. Wasnt wearing anything when I found it. My own horse is stabled in the village where I bought the tack. I wanted to ride this one for a while and try it out. My Roman issue tack wouldnt fit this horse"
"Hmmm," Xena mused. She walked over and made soft noises to the horse, noting the gentle look in the animals black liquid eyes. She pried open its mouth. "Lets see, about five years old." She went from hoof to hoof, inspecting the underside. She noted the sheen to the animals coat and the firm muscles rippling under its hide. Finally she bent down by the animals side near the tail, looking underneath. "Mare. Good. Shell be more gentle than a stallion. Gabrielle, looks like youve got yourself a horse." She smiled and turned to her partner, whos mouth had fallen open.
"Oh, Xena, are you sure?" The bards eyes widened like a child on solstice eve. She was a beautiful animal, with a dappled grey coat, except for her rump, which was white with large black spots, and her lower legs, which bore white socks, which also had smaller black spots. Her mane was black, and her tail was white on the top half, gradually blending into black on the bottom. The bard took in the fine-tooled tan leather saddle, which had small ornate silver buckles and a soft lambs-wool blanket underneath. "Xena, we cant take the blanket and tack. This soldier paid for them. The horse may be up for grabs but the tack isnt."
The warrior realized her partner was right. She went back to the saddle bags and felt around for a minute, pulling out a small leather pouch. She dug into it making clinking noises, and finally drew her hand out. She walked over to the soldier and since his hands were tied, she slipped something inside a pocket which hung from his armor belt.
"Heres a hundred dinars. For the horse and the tack. Brutus isnt going to let a fine mare like that stay with you anyway. Shes too beautiful. You know and I know that if you show up in Athens with that animal she will end up in Brutus personal stable, right?"
"Right," the soldier said quietly.
"Kallerine," the warrior said, "looks like youll only have to lead one horse. This fellow will be walking to the Amazon village. Good thing its only a day trip from here."
"Right," Kallerine agreed, "we wont have to make camp before we get there. No need to worry about guarding these soldiers overnight." The young Amazon grew more solemn. "Xena, when will you and Queen Gabrielle be returning to our village?"
"Its two days to Mt. Olympus from here. Then another three days from there to the village. Once our business is finished on Mt. Olympus your queen and I will probably need to stop by and see our families. Im sure theyve heard were . . . um . . . dead, and I think we might need to let them know were okay. So well probably stop off in Amphipolis and maybe Potadeia before we return to the Amazon village," she eyed her partner, knowing Gabrielle was not particularly fond of visiting her family. "It may be about a moon before we return to the village."
"Well, be safe," Kallerine looked a bit sad. "Dont forget that I still have bacchae-slaying stories to share with you."
"I wont forget," the warrior smiled at her young admirer. "I look forward to hearing all about it."
"Xena," Amarice approached her. "Are you sure you dont need company for your trip. An extra pair of eyes and ears?"
"No Amarice, I need to do this alone. Well almost alone. Gabrielle will be my extra eyes and ears. Mt. Olympus can be a dangerous place, what with all that deified ego swirling around up there. Gabrielle and I have both dealt with the gods before. I need you to go back to the Amazon village and help guard these soldiers and protect the village. Things are still unstable out there."
"Well, okay," the red head said slowly. "I guess the queen is in good hands."
"Amarice," warm blue eyes regarded the Amazon.
"Thank you. For everything."
"My queen." Amarice turned and held a hand to her chest in salute to Gabrielle. Rebina and Kallerine did the same.
The bard quietly returned the gesture. "Artemis be with you. Give my love to Chilapa."
The Amazons walked away, leading the horses that bore the soldiers, and Xena turned to her partner. "Lets get the stirrups on that saddle adjusted to fit you." She led her dazzled partner over to the appaloosa.
"Hello there," Gabrielle reached up and stroked the soft skin near the horses nostrils. "Oh Xena, look."
On her nose there was a thin white blaze that ended at her forehead with a large white flared-out spot. It looked like . . . a shooting star.
"Thats pretty," the warrior said softly, remembering her wish the night before.
"Im going to call her Star," Gabrielle declared.
Xena kissed her lover briefly and then gave her a leg up into the saddle, adjusting the stirrups and patting the bards firm calf before she went over and mounted Argo.
"You comfortable up there?"
"Yes. This is great." The bard sounded giddy. "Thanks, Xena. I never thought Id have my own horse."
"Well, I wasnt really sure youd want one. I remember you were kind of afraid of horses when we first met." The warrior smiled. "But one look at your face a minute ago and I figured you had gotten past that."
"Um . . . yeah. I mean, Im pretty used to Argo now, and I have ridden her alone before. And this horse is a little bit smaller than Argo. Star fits me better."
"Good. Then lets go," and the Warrior clucked to Argo.
Gabrielle and Star fell in behind, the bard full of wonder at her new friend.
They traveled all day, the bard trying out some new stories on her partner and playing the little guessing games they often played to pass the time while they were on the road. Toward evening they had started to reach the foothills of the mountains and the air was noticeably cooler. Gabrielle pulled her cloak more closely around her face, holding it with one hand and her horses reins with the other. She and Star were getting along fabulously and she decided that after four years of walking, riding was a nice change. They stopped at the edge of the woods that ended at the plain that sloped up to Mt. Olympus.
"Lets stop here," Xena said. "The rest of the way is pretty much out in the open, and I prefer to camp in the shelter of the woods."
Gabrielle was gazing off into the distance at the looming mountain. "It looks so close."
"Yeah. Hard to believe its another days travel to get there," the warrior agreed. She pulled Argo up close beside Star and joined the bard in her admiration of the mountain. Xena reached out and took Gabrielles hand, the bard offering her a shy smile. They sat in silence, the only sound the rustling of the dry leaves and the swirling of the winds from the mountains. And the beating of two hearts.
"We need to make camp," Xena reluctantly broke the tranquility.
"Yeah, I guess so."
The warrior turned Argo and they backtracked a bit. Xena turned the horse off the path and they went through the trees a little way before they came to a clearing which was sheltered on two sides by some large rocks. The warrior sniffed the air. Water. Good. She stopped Argo and jumped down, landing with a bounce. She grabbed the water skins that hung from the saddle and then walked over to help her partner down. The bard slid down, landing in two strong arms.
"Gabrielle, if youll gather some firewood Ill go refill our water skins. I think theres a stream over behind these rocks a ways."
"Okay," the bard agreed, walking around in circles to get the kinks out of her legs, which werent used to riding alone all day. She usually held onto Xena for balance when they rode double on Argo. Riding alone was different. She had to grip with her legs to keep her balance, and her thigh muscles were quietly protesting.
Xena observed the bards slight limp and made a mental note to take care of her partners sore muscles. Later. She grinned and walked off behind the boulders, whistling.
The warrior found the stream with ease, first following her nose and then her ears, as the trickling sounds of water reached her well-tuned hearing. She noted with appreciation that there was a still pool to one side. Kneeling down on the bank, she uncapped the water skins and dunked them under the cold water until they were full.
She stood up and laid the skins on a rock and then stripped off her armor and leathers. Taking a deep breath, she plunged into the ice-cold stream and waded over to the pool, which came up to her waist. She dunked under once, rinsing the dust of the day off of her skin. Surfacing, she shook the water from her head and then went still. Watching a few feet below the water, and listening. Ahhh. She quickly thrust her hand into the iciness and pulled out a large fresh-water catfish. Fish for dinner. Xena wistfully eyed the blackberry bushes on the bank, now fruitless and dead in late winter chill. Gabrielle loved berries.
Xena retrieved the water skins and shouldered her leathers and armor, and walked back to the campsite. As she turned the corner around the boulders, her partner looked up and squeaked. "Xena, you are wet and naked. Youll catch your death of the coughing sickness." The bard grabbed a towel out of a saddlebag and walked over to the warrior, drying her off. "Not that I dont like you wet and naked," Gabrielle teased.
"Oh you do, huh?" Xena bent and nibbled an earlobe. "Here." She held out the fish for the bards inspection.
"Ooohhh. Good. Can you clean it?"
"Sure," the warrior chuckled. She put her leathers back on, foregoing the armor since she would be sleeping soon. Maybe, she thought, as she ran an appreciative eye over her lovers slim form. She pulled a knife out of a saddlebag and set to work cleaning the fish while her partner found a cooking pan and filled it shallowly with water and put it over the fire to simmer.
A half candle mark later, Gabrielle had pan-fried the catfish, making a light batter with bread crumbs, herbs, and water. She sauted the remainder of the vegetables they had taken from the inn, and looked thoughtfully at the saddlebags which were now resting against one of the boulders. She walked over and drew out the wine skin from the night before, which was still a quarter full. Just enough to provide some warmth, she smiled.
"Xena, dinners ready."
The warrior turned from where she was finishing up brushing down Argo and Star, and returned the grooming kit to the saddlebags. She hung up two oat bags for the horses and pulled two tin plates and forks out of the bags, and went to sit down on the log behind Gabrielle, who was still tending to the fish. The bard turned and served up two portions on the plates and stood up.
"Comere," Xena patted the spot on the log next to her. Gabrielle sat down and took the plate the warrior offered her. She stabbed a piece of fish with her fork and held it up for Xena to taste. The warriors mouth closed around it and she chewed for a minute. "Thats good, love."
"Thanks." Gabrielle smiled and then held up the wine skin, taking a sip before offering it to her partner.
They traded bites and sips of the wine until they had cleaned their plates. Xena got up to put more wood on the fire while the bard washed her face and hands, and then washed the plates. Gabrielle went over to the saddlebags and knelt down to pull out a sleeping shirt, wincing at the pain in her legs as she stood up.
"Gabrielle. Not used to riding alone, huh?"
"No. Its a lot easier when I have you to hold onto," the bard looked thoughtfully over at her new horse. "But Xena, I love Star. Shes perfect. And so pretty."
"Yes, very pretty," the warrior echoed softly, eyeing her partner instead of the horse. "You two seem to have hit it off."
"Yeah." Gabrielle said, missing her partners gaze.
The warrior walked over to the bard. "Here, let me give you a hand with this stuff," and she helped her remove her armor, pulling the sleep shirt down over the shorter girls head. "Gabrielle, go lay down on the furs and let me take care of those muscles."
The bard obeyed, sinking down into the furs on her stomach and feeling strong warm hands kneading the backs of her thighs and calves. She felt the knots being worked out of her weary legs and then felt the hands moving up to massage her back and shoulders. Reveling in the warmth, she sighed in utter contentment. After a while the warriors hands were replaced with small kisses, which Xena placed on her partners shoulders and the exposed skin of her neck.
Shivering, Gabrielle rolled over to find her partners fiery blue eyes inches from her face. Xena closed the distance between them and kissed her fiercely on the lips, and the bard laced her fingers in the long black hair, pulling her lover in closer. They broke off and Gabrielle reached up, starting to undo the laces on the warriors leathers.
"Gabrielle," Xena said reluctantly. "Not a good idea. Were too exposed out here. I need to be ready at a moments notice to protect us." The warrior tilted her head for a moment, a sexy little smile playing at her lips. "You however, I can have some fun with."
The bards breath caught, as skilled fingers wandered under her sleep shirt, evoking a wave of sensation that threatened to carry her away. "Xe . . ."
Another kiss silenced her, and the warrior bent closer, teasing an ear lobe with a flick of her tongue and whispering, "Gabrielle, just go with it. My turn."
The bard felt the sleep shirt being tugged over her head, and closed her eyes as a heavy warm body settled down on top of her, the feeling of the warriors leathers pressing against her bare skin strangely sensual. She opened her eyes and read something new in her lovers face. Possessiveness, hunger, and . . . the dark side, given away by a familiar glint in Xenas blue eyes. Gabrielle gasped and arched her back as the warrior continued her heated exploration, the bards own hands involuntarily reaching for any of Xenas skin she could get to. Gabrielles heartbeat increased and she vaguely heard little whimpers coming from her own throat.
"You are so beautiful," the warrior murmured. "So responsive." She ran her tongue from the bards throat all the way down to her navel, and then playfully nipped her partners lower abdomen, pleased at the reaction of the well-toned muscles to her touch. "Gabrielle, do you trust me?"
"Only with my life, my heart, and my soul," the bard whispered shakily.
The feral smile grew larger. "Mine," Xena growled.
"All yours, love." Gabrielle said softly, and she wrapped her arms and legs around her partners long frame and surrendered to the intensity of her lovers attentions.
Some time later, Gabrielle was laying on her side. The warrior was curled up behind her with one arm wrapped underneath and around the bard. Gabrielle held onto the warriors arm with both of her own, anchoring herself as the warrior slowly kissed her way across her shoulder to the back of her neck, Xenas other hand roaming freely over the bards body.
"You taste so good, " Xena purred, continuing with the kisses. "Let go, Gabrielle. Thats it, love. Ive got you." The bard shivered, enjoying a sudden wave of pleasure before slowly coming back down to earth.
The warriors energy from the dark side had apparently been lingering from their earlier encounter with the soldiers. Energy which the warrior had worked out with her partner in a very creative and positive way. So this is what its like to be the object of battle lust. I guess shes going to continue to surprise me in this area. Gabrielle smiled and settled back against her lover, turning her head to meet one of the kisses with a kiss of her own, tasting the spiced wine on Xenas lips. They broke off and the bard rolled back to her side again, still holding onto her lovers arm, gently tracing the strong muscles of a forearm.
Gabrielle finally felt the long body behind her relax and she leaned against her partner, feeling the subtle shift of Xenas stomach muscles under her leathers, and bathing in the warmth that radiated from her lovers body. The strong hands that held her gentled, and the warrior began to stroke the pale blonde hair. Xena shuddered, remembering the feeling of the dark side. With a deep breath the warrior willed the energy away.
"Gabrielle, are you okay?" Xena finally asked with some hesitation. "I guess I got kind of . . . um . . . aggressive. I didnt hurt you did I? Or scare you." Gods. I havent behaved like that since Borias, the warrior mused to herself, remembering a certain bearskin and some rollicking romps with the father of Solan. Romps which were always heightened after surviving the heat of battle. A time when the dark side was always there, fully in the forefront of her being.
The bard rolled over on her back and reached up with one hand to touch her partners face. "No, Xena, you didnt hurt me and we are far beyond me ever being afraid of you. That was . . . you are . . . amazing, love. But . . . I worry about you. Im not afraid of you, but you did scare me when you were torturing that soldier. Theres a difference. I know you would never do anything to hurt me but sometimes Im afraid you are going to do something to hurt yourself. Your dark side could destroy a lot of what you have worked so hard for. Xena, you, no we, have been given a second chance and part of that seems to be tied up in the light we bring to each other."
"Gabrielle, I cant imagine that I have much light to offer."
The bards eye widened and she pulled the dark head down to her shoulder, tangling her fingers in the warriors long hair. "Xena, you do, love. Every single day, well almost every single day, since we have been traveling together, you have shown me kindness, at first in little ways and later as you demonstrated just how much you care for me. And not just me. Xena, dont you realize how many peoples lives are better because of you? Dont you see it? Everywhere you go things are changed for the better. I know youve changed me for the better. That is light. Youve got one great big shining light inside that heart of yours." The bard reached down to place a gentle hand over the heart in question.
The warrior closed it in her own hand. "Guess I never saw it that way. As for you my love, you are the light that drives that darkness from my soul. I guess thats why now that we are . . . um . . . well you know, I cant seem to get enough of you. Its like I want to pull you inside of me where I can have that light all the time."
"Xena, you do have me all the time. And we are going to be together. Forever, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember."
"And Xena," the bard said with a mischievous smile, "any time you need to work off that dark energy, you just let me know. I kind of liked it."
"I think that dark side is surfacing again."
"Comere, warrior princess," and Gabrielle pulled her lover back over on top of her, feeling a strong arm wrap around the back of one of her legs just above the back of her knee, lifting the leg up. Slow purposeful kisses were being planted down her breastbone and stomach. A low primal growl emerged from the warriors throat, and the bard grabbed onto the shoulder straps of her partners leathers and held on for the ride.
Xena woke just before dawn and reluctantly opened one pale blue eye. And then the other. The campfire had burned down to a few coals and a light dew had fallen, the moisture causing a low cool mist to hang just above the ground. A lone mourning dove cooed in a nearby tree, framed by a rose-tinged sky. The horses were awake, standing patiently side by side, occasionally shuffling on their hooves and nosing each other companionably.
Under the thick furs it was so . . . warm. The warrior was wrapped around her naked lover, who still dozed in peaceful slumber. Xena carefully raised up on one arm to peer down at the bard. The smooth pale skin of her face reflected utter contentment, and the soft lips were shaped into the faintest smile. The warrior raised her hand and gently traced her partners lips with two fingers. So soft. Xena smiled and thought what a perfect morning it could be, if only the task of traveling to Mt. Olympus didnt loom in front of her.
With a soft groan the warrior laid back down, wanting nothing more than to just lay there, holding her lover, and go back to sleep. She thought about the night before. Where did that come from? Xena knew that the rage and anger and darkness which she usually held so carefully in check had surfaced almost full force when she saw the soldier who had been a part of their crucifixion. If Gabrielle hadnt stopped me, I would have killed him. After I tortured him.
Why did I need to work all that out with Gabrielle the way I did? She had felt a need to utterly consume the bard, to possess her and to dominate her. It had been a primal feeling, a feeling of deep need that went beyond her normally gentle and protective feelings for her lover. She reflected on that and knew that on some level her partner was the one who ultimately had the power to cleanse her and to keep her from acting on her darker impulses. The look of complete and utter trust in Gabrielles green eyes, and the way in which the bard had simply offered herself up, a light to blot out the darkness, melted the warriors heart.
Xena gave in to the impulse to sleep a while longer and pulled her lover more tightly to her. She kissed the fair head and heard a faint happy whimper as Gabrielle snuggled up against her. To Hades with Mt. Olympus, it can wait a few more candle marks. Life is too short not to enjoy a moment like this. The warrior closed her eyes and let the mourning dove lull her back into tranquil sleep.
A candle mark later Gabrielle woke up to find herself completely surrounded by warm dozing warrior. She sighed happily and slowly untangled herself from the long arms and legs, and quietly rolled out from underneath the sleeping furs. Brrrrrrrrr. Goose bumps covered her body as the chill air hit her bare skin. She found her sleep shirt and pulled it over her head, followed by her cloak. She then tugged on her boots and chewed her lower lip for a moment in thought.
The bard picked up an armful of wood and re-started the campfire, stoking it with a long stick. She then set some water for herbal tea and pulled some flat bread and dried fruits and nuts out, setting them aside to wait for the tea. Closing her eyes she relaxed, feeling the warm sun on her face. Relaxing further, she practiced some of the deep breathing she had learned from Eli, emptying her mind and feeling . . . a quick wave of fear . . . and sorrow . . . somehow connected to Xena.
Gabrielle shuddered and opened her eyes. What was that all about? She turned around to find the warrior still safely asleep. The bard walked over to her partner and knelt down. Subconsciously, she reached out and smoothed the dark hair. A strong hand reached out from under the furs and took hold of her hand, as two blue eyes suddenly opened. A smile crossed Xenas face. "Best part of every morning," the warrior muttered sleepily.
"Waking up to see your face." Xena turned her head and kissed her partners hand and then looked back into the green eyes, which were troubled. "Whats wrong, love?" She sat up and moved closer to the bard.
Gabrielle drew her hand down and rested it on a strong thigh. "Nothing . . . exactly . . . not sure. Just a vague feeling . . ." she trailed off, looking down at the ground.
"Hey, are you sure?" Xena reached up and turned the bards head so she could look more closely into her eyes.
Gabrielle looked deep into the pale blue orbs, trying to shake the sad feeling, and managed a smile. "Yeah. If I figure it out Ill let you know. Come on. I think the waters about ready for tea." She stood up, pulling her lover with her, and reflexively drew her into a brief warm hug. Its like I want to protect her from something.
The bards mood disturbed the warrior but she decided to let it go, knowing her normally chatty partner wouldnt take long to talk about whatever was bothering her. Xena hugged her back tightly, trying to communicate reassurance with the contact.
They broke apart and Xena donned her armor and made her way over to the horses. "Hey, girls."
Two soft nickers in response.
The warrior smiled and poured some oats into two feeding pouches, which the mares eagerly started to feast on. Xena walked between the two mares, resting her cheek against Argos shoulder, feeling some of the bards sadness herself. She thought about the journey ahead of them and sighed. Been a long time since Ive been to Mt. Olympus. A very long time. She closed her eyes remembering a time when she sold herself over to Ares ... and darkness and hate.
"Hey." Gabrielle interrupted her thoughts and offered her a steaming cup of herbal tea.
"Thanks. Mmmmmm. Mint. And honey." The warrior sniffed the steam in appreciation, taking the mug in one hand and grasping the back of the bards neck with the other, pulling her head in against Xenas shoulder. They stood quietly while Xena sipped her tea, both women lost in swirling un-named thoughts and emotions.
A quarter candle mark later they broke camp, deciding to eat the flat bread and dried fruits and nuts on the ride. Xena gave her partner a leg up onto Star and then climbed onto Argo. She fell in beside her partner and they rode in silence, save the sound of the munching on their breakfast. The path broke through the trees and they were once again at the edge of the low plain leading to the mountain. Gabrielle looked up and felt the wave of fear again, quickly followed by a feeling of profound emptiness, as if something precious were being yanked away from her . She wobbled a bit in the saddle, spilling a handful of nuts onto the ground, feeling sharp tears sting her eyes. She took a couple of deep breaths and felt a warm hand rest on her thigh.
"Gabrielle. Please. Tell me whats wrong."
"Xena. I really dont know. This morning as I was meditating, I felt fear and sorrow, deep sorrow, and I somehow thought it might be connected to you. I . . . I tried to push it away. Thought maybe it was just residual emotion from the . . . crucifixion. But just now, when I looked up at Mt. Olympus, I felt it again. I think Im feeling something that has to do with this journey. Xena, Im afraid for you. Do we have to go there? Can we just go back to India and buy you a new chakram?"
"Gabrielle. It wouldnt be the same. This one is mine. It was made especially for me. Dont worry. Ill be careful. Nothing bad is going to happen to me." The warrior pulled as close to her partner as she could without crushing their legs between the horses, and reached up to brush an errant tear from Gabrielles cheek.
The bard sniffled and grabbed the hand, and they rode on, the smaller hand clutching tightly to the larger one. The ground fog of the morning had burned off and the sun was shining brightly from a clear blue sky. A gentle wind stirred the dead brown grasses they were riding through. Here and there a small green shoot could be seen peeking out, a hint of spring.
"Tomorrows the equinox, isnt it?" Gabrielle asked, trying to count the days.
"Yes. A time of renewal." Xena responded. Maybe for me too. And for us. She added silently. "Gabrielle, when were through here I had talked about taking time to go see our folks. You know, let them know everything is okay. Whaddaya think?"
"Yeah. We probably should." The bard looked down at their linked hands. "Xena, we need to think about how we are going to behave in front of them. I mean, the Amazons, this is how they all live. Theyre . . . um . . ."
"Used to seeing women as lovers?" The warrior finished for her.
"Yeah. But our parents . . . well, Im not so sure what theyre going to think of us."
"Gabrielle. I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I dont give a rats ass what my mother thinks, although I believe she will be fine with it. As for your parents, Ill do whatever you want to do." A feral smile played across her face. "Although it is going to take a great deal of concentration to keep my hands off you." The smile softened. "Im just used to reaching out to you. Its almost like breathing to me. I dont even think about it anymore."
"Me too. Xena, you know I havent really had much contact with my parents since I left home to follow you four years ago. I dont think they ever accepted it. When I went home to marry Perdicus, I think they thought it was over, that I had it . . . you . . . out of my system. They were shocked when I decided to keep traveling with you after Callisto killed him. They wanted me to just stay home with them. My sister Lila, well you know shes been around us some. I think shell be okay with us. I may not even need to visit my mother and father. Sometimes I think Im already dead to them. I can probably just send word that Im okay. Lets just go to Amphipolis and then get back to the Amazons."
"Okay, love, whatever you want to do." The warrior was sorry for her partner and her relationship with her parents. Xenas own mother had been so loving and supportive of her, ever since they had reconciled four years ago. In fact, Xenas mother treated the bard like another daughter, a sister to the warrior. Got some news for you mother, she aint my sister.
Rather than stopping for lunch, the pair decided to eat more trail rations, and arrived near the foot of Mt. Olympus about three candle marks before sunset. Xena pondered putting off her meeting with Ares until the next day, but decided that it would be best to get it over with. She stopped Argo near a large tree and jumped down, turning to help her partner, who already had one leg swung over Star. The warrior caught the leg, grabbing her partner and pulling her back until the bard landed in her arms.
"Xena," Gabrielle laughed, "whats gotten into yo . . . ummmopph . . ."
The warrior tilted her head and planted a solid kiss on her lovers lips and then slowly let her down to her feet, pulling her into a hug. "Just gathering a little courage, love. Youre my source, remember?"
Both women held onto each other more tightly, remembering a Persian spy and a poison arrow in the bards shoulder, and a time when they both thought they were going to die. Gabrielle because the poison was slowly sucking the life from her lungs, and the warrior because frankly, without her partner, there was no reason to go on. She had planned to fight the Persians for as long as she could, holding off an entire army, determined to fight until her strength was gone, at which point she hoped she could take whatever final blow might be delt and make her way to the bards side to die with her. Until she found the bottle of serum on one of the Persians and suddenly, her plans changed.
"And youre mine," Gabrielle whispered.
"Gabrielle, listen, I know I said Id never leave you behind again, bu . . ."
"Then stop right there," the bard layed her fingers gently against Xenas full lips. "Im not letting you go up there alone. Never again. My job now is to watch your back, partner."
"Okay. Theres no one Id rather have watching it. Lets get a few things settled here and then go on up and get this over with."
They decided to leave the horses saddled and packed, in case they needed to make a quick getaway. Solemnly, they removed their cloaks, warrior and bard both settling their armor and weapons. Gabrielle took a firm grip on her staff and waited, as Xena carefully unwrapped the two pieces of the chakram and tucked them into some loops near her waist.
Xena turned and faced her partner, and sighed. "Lets go. Stay close." They faced the mountain and started the climb. Gabrielle was surprised to find a path leading up, until Xena explained that sometimes the gods preferred to walk instead of just spontaneously moving from one place to another. As they rounded a corner they came upon a pink-clad form basking on a rock, long blonde curls cascading over the side. Upon approach the figure rose up, wrinkled her nose, and giggled.
"Xeeeeeena. And Gabrielle."
"Aphrodite?" The warrior eyed the goddess warily. Xena had never trusted much in the gods.
"Xena. Whats that look for? Id think youd be thanking me," the goddess of love looked back and forth between warrior and bard. "Another one of my success stories. And believe me, warrior princess, you are one tough cookie to crack, even for a goddess like moi. It took me a while to figure it out, but once I looked hard enough it was like, duh, get a clue, it was so obvious. You were already with your perfect loooove connection."
"Oh yeah. That. Yes, thank you." Xena blushed, and in spite of herself gave the goddess a full-faced grin.
"Youre welcome," the goddess beamed. "And what brings you here, girlfriend? We havent seen you in this neck of the woods in a long time."
"Aphrodite, I need to talk to Ares. Do you know where he is?"
"Oh, my dear brother." The goddess ruffled a bit. "Hes around here somewhere. Not sure where. Its like, you know, we arent exactly close. You have more of a grasp on him than I do, Xena. Dont you know that by now? I mean you are the Destroyer of Nations."
Gabrielle saw her partner stiffen and instinctively placed a hand against the small of Xenas back, making little circles with the flat of her hand. She felt the warrior relax a little and smiled, turning to face the goddess. "Aphrodite, I want to thank you too. Xena and I are very happy. But please, Xena is not the Destroyer of Nations anymore. She hasnt been for a long time."
"Wellll," the goddess preened a bit. "Maybe not, but I have to tell you, she will always be my brothers chosen. That will never change. Good luck finding him, although it shouldnt be hard. If the warrior princess is lurking around these parts, Ares wont be long in hiding. Tootles!" The goddess giggled again and waved her hand in the air and was gone in a swirl of sparkles.
The warriors mood darkened considerably and she motioned for her partner to follow her. They walked on up for another half a candle mark and as they passed a small cave, Xenas senses prickled, and she felt a familiar rush of blood course through her veins, the seduction almost palatable in its strength. She turned to face the cave opening and her senses heightened even further. She grabbed a large stick from the ground and pulled flint from her belt pouch, lighting the stick to make a torch. "Hes in there." She motioned to the bard. "Gabrielle, lets go in. Stay right behind me."
They walked slowly into the cave, the torch casting eerie shadows on the walls, which rose quite high up into the mountain. As they entered a large room, Xena suddenly handed the torch to her partner and swiftly drew her sword, every nerve taut. "Okay. I know youre here. Show yourself."
"Ares, Im not kidding." The warrior said evenly.
"Now!" Xena barked.
The smell of brimstone entered the room, and with a reddish flash of light and a puff of smoke, the god of war appeared right behind the warrior. "Hello Xena. Long time no see," Ares purred right into Xenas ear.
The warrior spun around. "Hello yourself."
"What, not even a little hug for your favorite god? Xena, Im hurt." Ares lowered his eyes in mock dejection.
"Ares." Xena ignored the comment. "I know you know what happened to Gabrielle and me. And Im pretty sure you know who is responsible and why. I was hoping you could enlighten me. And . . ." She carefully pulled out the pieces of broken chakram and held them close. "I came to ask a favor."
"Ahhh. After all this time the warrior princess has come to ask a favor of me? What a joke. What have you done for me lately, Xena? Whats it worth to you?"
"Come on Gabrielle, its obvious this trip was a mistake. Lets go." The warrior strode toward the entrance to the room, the bard close behind.
"Wait." A command from the god of war.
"Ares. Im not selling my soul to you for a chakram. Or information. Therefore we have nothing more to discuss."
"Xena. Wait a minute. You cant blame a god for trying, now can you? Come back. Ill tell you what you want to know. And then well discuss your chakram."
The warrior hesitated for a moment, testing her senses. Hmmmm. I do believe for once hes serious. No punches. "Okay," she said measuredly, turning and walking back.
"Sit down," Ares made a sweeping motion toward a low flat rock. "You too, Blondie," he nodded to Gabrielle.
Xena sat down next to the god, pulling her partner snuggly against her on the other side.
"I can see my sisters been at work again," Ares mused.
"Yes. Now. Tell me what in Hades is going on?"
"Well, Xena, its not Hades."
"Absolutely not. Xena, I may toy with you from time to time but I would never kill you. The world is a much more interesting place with you in it."
"Relax Xena. Its a long story. You remember the one god of the Israelites?"
"Yes. But I thought he was supposed to be a good god. Besides he didnt seem to have much power when all was said and done."
"Oh, but the power is in the believers, not the god. Theres a counterpoint to the one god. His name is Satan."
"Satan? Never heard of him."
"Well, imagine the evil of Dahak multiplied several times over. Weve never seen anything like it. Apparently when someone is very very bad, depending upon their beliefs, they go to a place worse than Tartarus and a god worse than Hades. Satan lives in a place called Hell, but heres the trick. Hell is partly what is in your mind. Whatever tormented you most on earth, you are doomed to live with for eternity in Hell. We all know Callisto was evil, I mean, she even scared me at times, especially during her immortal phase. She went to Hell and met Satan, and struck up a bargain with him."
"What sort of bargain?" Xena asked warily.
"Satan wants to control the world, but he cant do it unless he rids the world of all the good in it. Believe it or not he has many targets, but you Xena, you were his greatest one. Well, maybe Hercules too, although I havent heard of any plans against him just yet. With your strength and power, and the fact that you use it to fight evil, Satans power couldnt fully enter into the world. So, he made a deal. If Callisto could get you to lay down your sword, that is quit fighting evil, and if she could see to it that Caesar made himself emperor, she could have her mortality back, and get out of Hell. Satan needed you out of the way and he needed Caesar in power so he could use him to make mortals suffer and carry out his evil plans."
"But there was a stipulation. Callisto was not allowed to harm you physically, only mentally. She failed all the way around, thanks to you. You were too strong to give in to her little temptations of peace in exchange for laying down your sword. Then you warned Brutus about Caesars plan to declare himself emporer, and Brutus talked the other Roman senators into assassinating him. Then, when she saw that you were going to beat all the soldiers in the Roman compound and escape, she lost her patience and threw the chakram at you. She broke your back, and therefore her part of the deal not to harm you physically."
"Oh, Xena," Gabrielle said, "Callisto is the one who threw the chakram?"
"I suspected as much," the warrior replied. "So what happened to Callisto?"
"Shes back in Hell, where she will continue to live with her greatest torments for eternity."
"And what might that be?"
"Visions of you. And Blondie there."
Xena sucked in a shocked breath before willing herself to be calm. "And what of Satan? Are those his cloven footprints I keep seeing everywhere I go?"
"Yes. Well probably. I do know that he has been watching you. He will continue to plot against mortals. And frankly, we fear that this one god he opposes will grow in popularity. You know us Greek gods, we like the world in bright colors and shades of gray. We like our lines a little blurry. This one god, they teach that his world will be black and white, with strictly drawn lines that no one will be allowed to cross. Everyone must behave and live and think alike. There will be no room for differences. Those that follow him advocate absolute obedience without question. They dont teach his followers to think for themselves. And they have so many rules. Rules, rules, rules. Thou shalt do this. Thou shalt not do that. Its crazy. But they draw people in by offering freedom and peace, and then keep them there by playing upon their fear of the afterlife. Theyre told if they dont follow the one god they will go to Hell. And, they teach that no other gods exist."
"What a strange concept Everyone knows theres more than one god," the warrior mused. "Since when do mortals have to obey the gods? And since when do the gods have rules? And why would anyone follow those rules if they werent right for them as an individual? Why cant people live their lives however they want to, as long as they arent hurting anyone else? And why cant people believe in whatever gods they choose to believe in?"
"Yeah, well, for some mortals its a lot easier to follow a set of rules blindly than to make the effort to think as an individual. The gods here on Olympus are afraid that if the popularity of the one god grows too much, we will cease to exist. No one will believe in us anymore. The tricky thing is, Satan uses the one god concept to his advantage. He plants seeds of contempt in the minds of the one gods followers. They behave in very hateful ways towards those who dont believe what they do, and they call it righteousness." The god of war turned to face his protÈgÈ. "Satan is powerful, but as long as true love and goodness remain in balance with his evil, the world will go on. So, princess, as much as I hate to admit it, even if you wont fight with me anymore . . . I . . . we . . .the Greek gods, need you out there fighting this new evil." Ares almost choked on these last words.
"Did I just hear the god of war say he needs Xena to fight evil?" Gabrielle laughed aloud.
"Hey, Blondie. Give it a rest," Ares snapped.
The warrior was silent for a moment, idly playing with the broken chakram. Finally she looked up with pale blue eyes. "What about this? I can fight this evil, this Satan guy, a lot better if I have it back in working order." She held up the pieces.
Ares turned and paced around the cavern in silence. Warrior and bard exchanged questioning looks and waited. Gabrielle felt the vague fear she had been feeling all day. It was stronger than before, and she felt almost dizzy for a moment, seeing little black spots before her eyes. She gasped silently, drawing in air, and felt a strong arm steady her.
"You okay?" Xena barely whispered.
"Yeah . . . give me a minute . . . I . . . um"
"Youre getting that strange sensation again, arent you?"
"Yes." Gabrielle looked up and across the room, fear in her eyes, as she gazed at the back of the god of war.
"Dont worry Gabrielle, he wont hurt me. And I wont let him hurt you."
The bard slumped against her partner, not at all convinced.
Ares turned back around and walked over to the warrior and knelt down, getting at eye level with her. "Do you know the history of that weapon, Xena?"
"Not really, other than you gave it to me the last time I came here. Before I became the Destroyer of Nations." Before my world spun out of control.
"You may want Blondie here to leave before I tell you anything further."
"No, Ares, weve been through too much together. Where she goes, I go. Where I go, she goes. And Ares, she has a name, and its not Blondie. Its Gabrielle. You know that. Now show a little respect for my partner."
Shes the only one who has the guts to stand up to me, the god of war mused silently. "Okay, but I need to tell you something and its not going to be easy to hear. Not for you. Probably not for her. There are some things I think its time you knew. Information that I owe you."
"Just tell me what I need to know . . . what?" The words of Ares sunk in. "What could you possibly feel you owe me? Every time we talk you try to convince me that I owe you."
"Xena, youd be surprised just how much I owe you," the god of war looked steadily into the pale blue eyes. "The chakram was made by your father. He . . . um made it for you a long time ago. When you were just a baby. He had it in safekeeping until you were old enough to use it. Until you were ready to use it."
"My father . . . but my father was an evil warrior. My mother killed him because he was going to sacrifice me to you. I was a little girl when he died. You know that. How could he have kept something for me? He was dead."
"Xena," the god of wars voice bordered on gentle. "Do you remember the furies?"
"Yes." A most wary tone from the warrior, remembering a time when the furies, influenced by Ares, had temporarily made her go insane, and almost convinced her to kill her own mother to avenge her fathers death. Until she made up a story and convinced them that Ares was her father, and that therefore there was no death to avenge. Ares had been enraged but he had admitted to her cleverness.
Xena focused on the dark figure before her. "Yes, but that was just a story I made up to trick them. I didnt mean to upset or offend you, I just wanted to get my sanity back. If I did offend you Im sorry. I mean, if youre looking for an apology in exchange for my chakram I guess I can at least give you that, but what does that have to do with my chakram or my father, for that matter?"
"Princess, how could I possibly be offended by your . . . story. That was one of your sanest moments. Ive never heard you think more clearly. And why, exactly, do you think you are called the warrior princess?" Ares emphasized the last word.
"I . . . never really thought about it. I mean, Lao Ma said she would make me a warrior princess, but that never happened."
"Wrong. Lao Ma has nothing to do with it. Think again. Were your father or mother royalty?" The god prodded.
"No, but . . ."
Gabrielle felt the wave of fear again, and sensed her partners inner turmoil. The warriors jaw twitched, and several emotions crossed her face.
No. I cant believe it. Wont believe it. It cant be true. Xena struggled with herself for several moments. This time it was the warriors turn to get up and pace around the room. She began quietly mumbling incoherent phrases under her breath, which grew louder, until she was kicking the wall and beating it with her fists. "Noooooo!"
Gabrielle started to get up, but Ares reached out and held her back. "Blondie," the god of war whispered. "Let her go for a minute. Theres nothing you can do about this. Shes got to work through it and shes got to accept it."
The bard struggled for a moment and then realized that Ares was right. She looked over at him and saw something akin to hurt . . . and pain . . . on his face. So. The god of war does have a soft spot. And its my lover.
Finally, Xena was silent and her shoulders slumped, and she walked slowly back and sat down next to the bard, reflexively wrapping an arm around her partners shoulders. She could only look down at the ground for several minutes and then with an expression of utter defeat, she raised her eyes to look into the dark ones of . . . her father. "You?"
"I had high hopes for you, Xena. You know, that whole chip off the old block thing. But like I said, even if you wont stand and fight with me, I still need you to do what youve been doing. So, give me one of the halves of your chakram."
The warrior mutely stood and handed over one half, still in shock from this newest revelation. Ares took it and held out a hand to his daughter. To her surprise, Xena took it, and allowed herself to be lead to the middle of the cavern. Gabrielle stood up and watched, but did not follow, her hands wrapped firmly around her staff.
"Okay, Xena, brace yourself," Ares said, as he held out his half of the chakram, the broken edges pointed toward the warrior. "You need to fit your half to the half I am holding and then hang on. Dont let the pieces become disconnected, and dont let go until I say so."
With one backward glance at her partner, the warrior complied, lifting the chakram half to meet the one held out by Ares, and bracing both feet as she felt a strong jolt. Ares raised his free hand in a fist toward the ceiling, threw his head back, and closed his eyes. The ground shook and a low roar reverberated throughout the room. Xena felt the electric sensation grow, the seduction of the dark side racing through her body, feeling it in every nerve ending. The chakram began to vibrate and then to glow. It grew brighter until it was actually hard to see it. In her hand it felt warm, but not burning hot. Xena closed her eyes, concentrating on the strong love and light she could feel coming from her partner behind her. Finally, all became still again and the warrior opened her eyes to see her chakram, now whole as if it had never been broken. And the hand of Ares still grasping one side of it.
"There," the god of war slowly released it. "You have your chakram back. And the full strength of your powers. The chakram is a part of you, Xena, a part of the source of your fighting skills. That combined with your intelligence, and your . . . um . . . genealogy, are what make you the great warrior you are."
Ares turned and faced Gabrielle. "Hey, Blondie, you know that the gods can read your thoughts, right?"
"Yes." The bard fixed a steady gaze on the god of war.
"I heard you just now, willing her to hold on and not give in to me. Heard your thoughts of love for her."
"Whats your point, Ares?" Gabrielle asked tersely.
"Just this. I have tried and tried to separate you two. I always knew if I could get her away from you I could probably get her back. I can see now that its not going to happen. I have one thing, just one thing to say to you." Ares moved in until he was nose to nose with the bard.
Gabrielles eyes crossed and she swallowed, aware that Xena was tensed to protect her, if necessary. The bard took a deep breath and stepped back. "And just what do you have to say?"
"Take good care of my daughter." The god of war then turned back to Xena and reached up a hand and touched the warriors cheek. "Ill be around and Ill be watching you. And now you know why." With another red flash and more smoke, he vanished.
Xena blinked and held up the chakram, examining it carefully and finding no flaws. Experimentally, she tossed it across the cavern. It ricocheted twice off the walls and she grabbed it as it rebounded back to her. She reached down and hooked it onto her leathers, and felt her legs give way as the full impact of her encounter with the god of war registered. As her knees hit the ground, she felt warm arms wrap around her from behind, and she leaned back into her source.
"Oh gods," she moaned, and turned to bury her head in her lovers shoulder.
"Shhhhhh. Xena. Ive got you. Hold on, love. Just hold on. Its okay." The bard continued to whisper comforting words into her partners ear, and she stroked the dark head, feeling the strong body she held shaking. Gabrielle felt uncharacteristic tears wet her shoulder, and she bent her head and kissed the top of Xenas, and then bent further to kiss away the tears on the warriors face.
"Gabrielle." the warrior choked. "Whats the point? Im the daughter of evil. Maybe I shouldnt even try. Maybe Im destined to be evil."
"No! Xena, you listen to me. You are not evil. You . . . are . . . not. Not anymore. You remember what you said MLila told you?"
"Now that I know evil I can fight it?" Xena said weakly.
"Yes. Xena. You hold onto that. And you believe it. You have to. Do you understand me? Dont you give in to Ares now. Not after all this time and how far youve come. I refuse to believe that you will ever be the Destroyer of Nations again. Its just not possible. You are a good person Xena. So what if Ares is your father? You dont have to be just like him. You can take that power and channel it for good. In fact, you already have. Im not like my father, and you dont have to be like yours."
The warrior just listened, still clutching her partners leathers. Im a demigod. Like Hercules. I guess that explains why I can do some of the things that I can do. And . . . Zeus is my grandfather. Aphrodites my aunt. Cupids my cousin. And I guess Hercules is my uncle. Ewww. Im not gonna think about that too much. Xena suddenly felt very strange.
"Xena," the bard asked tentatively, "what are you going to tell you mother?"
The warrior was pensive for a moment. Her mother said her father had been away at war. Then suddenly one night, he came to her. He went back to battle, and nine months later Xena was born. It was well-known that the gods sometimes disguised themselves so they could copulate with mortals. That is how the warrior had come up with the story she told the furies of Ares being her father. Shed never really allowed herself to consider that her story might be true.
"Im not going to tell my mother anything. She doesnt need to know. It would only hurt her. Best for her to keep on thinking it was my father . . . er . . . her husband . . . who came to her that night. In fact, Gabrielle, it should stay between the two of us. It could get very dangerous for both of us if the wrong people knew I am the daughter of Ares. Its bad enough now just being known as his chosen. We dont need to be any more of a target than we already are. You cant tell anyone, promise?"
Xena stood, brushing off her armor. "Come on. Lets get out of here." She took her partners hands and helped her stand. They walked out of the cave and started back down the mountain.
Continued in Part 5.
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