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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Oh, you precious kid
I have a motion just for you.
A warrior, barefoot and dancing
With tears of pain and beauty
All of this is true for you.
Lift me through my love and anger
These are my gods, these are your scars,
Lift me through my love and anger
My arms are burning but theyre open wide.
- from "Keeper of My Heart" by Amy Ray, as performed by the Indigo Girls on their CD, Nomads Indians Saints, Copyright 1990, CBS Records, Inc., Manufactured by Epic Records.
All the way down the mountain, Gabrielle kept her hand linked inside her lovers arm. Every now and then she glanced up at the warrior, trying to read the thoughts on her face. They hadnt spoken since they left the cave and the bard realized that Xena was on the verge of a crisis. A crisis Gabrielle was determined to help her partner weather as smoothly as possible. The bard decided to hold her tongue, waiting until the warrior was ready to talk. By the time they reached the horses again the sun was setting, painting the horizon in shades of bright red and pink and purple, its light and beauty in stark contrast to the emotions roiling inside Xenas head.
"Gabrielle, I really dont want to camp here. Not at the foot of Olympus. Too many gods around here who would love to give me a hard time. Theres a small village on the other side of the mountain. We can reach it by morning if we ride through the night. Would you mind terribly? I know youre probably tired."
"No Xena, I dont mind. I dont have much desire to stay here either." The bard walked toward Star, preparing to climb up in the stirrup.
"Hey. Come over here," the warrior stopped her.
Gabrielle gave her partner a questioning look and then shrugged, walking over next to Argo.
"Ride double with me. Please? I could use the company."
The bard smiled. "Sure. Star can follow behind."
Xena walked over and lead Star back behind Argo, fastening the appaloosas reins to a loop at the back of the palominos saddle, making a loose knot. She then vaulted up onto Argos back and in a familiar gesture, offered her partner an arm up. Gabrielle grasped the strong arm and was raised up, landing comfortably behind the warrior. She wrapped both arms snugly around her lovers waist and rested her cheek against Xenas cloak, careful to avoid the hard brass armor underneath.
Xena sighed with contentment and rested a hand on top of Gabrielles, interlacing their fingers. She took Argos reins with her other hand and clucked to the mare, who began to walk down the trail with sure steps in the growing dusk. Star plodded behind, occasionally nickering at the palomino. As the sun sank below the horizon, the first twinkling stars appeared but the warrior was too lost in thought to make her usual wish. The bard however, offered up a special wish for her partner. Please. Please let her get through this okay. Dont let the dark side claim her again.
Around midnight, Xena could feel her partner nodding off to sleep against her back. She stopped the horse. "Here." She swung one leg over Argo, standing one-footed in the stirrup. "Gabrielle, scoot up and ride in front."
"But Xena, I never ride in front."
"Just do it. Youll see why," the warrior quirked an eyebrow and gave the bard a crooked smile.
Gabrielle stifled a yawn and slid forward. Xena climbed back into the saddle behind her, wrapping an arm around her waist and once again taking the reins with her free hand. "Now, lean back against me."
The bard complied, settling back against her lovers chest, resting her head against a broad shoulder and enjoying the warmth.
Xena settled her cloak around both of them. "Go to sleep, love. Ill hold onto you."
Gabrielle sighed and closed her eyes. Xena felt her partners body relax against her and heard the bards breathing deepen. She firmed up her hold on her lover slightly, laying her face against the fair head. "Thats my girl," the warrior whispered softly, and rode on in silence, glad to have her partner close to her after the darkness of the cave.
Xena had always looked upon the night as her friend. Besides the star games she had played with her brothers as a child, she had often wandered about the countryside near Amphipolis after dark, sneaking out of the inn, drawn by the coolness of the night and the sounds made by the night creatures. She would sometimes go for a swim in the moonlight or sit under a tree and listen to the owls hooting and crickets singing. Occasionally as a teenager she had sought out the campfires of travelers, sitting on the edge of the circle listening to the stories they told of the places they had been and things they had seen, dreaming of a day when she too would see the world. As a warlord, the night had offered protection for moving about undetected. She took advantage of the dark to observe enemy camps and figure out strategy based upon those observations.
After she met Gabrielle she had looked forward to the evenings and the companionship they shared by the campfire. It was a time to relax and unwind from the fighting and traveling and constant activity that filled their days. The bard always managed to provide some sort of entertainment by telling a story or playing charades, or making up little games. After dinner and games, Xena would take care of her weapons while Gabrielle wrote in her scrolls, and after that there was always the quiet talk as they lay on their bedrolls waiting for sleep, counting stars and making shapes out of them. It was the time they planned out the next day, or simply indulged in dreaming aloud. Even before they became lovers, they had shared a strong bond and always slept side by side, sometimes even holding hands during the night.
This night, however, was no friend, as the warrior considered the revelation that Ares, the god of war, the being she fought so hard to purge herself of, was in fact her father. How could she purge Ares seduction and dark side from her blood when it was half of what made up her blood? A part of her wanted desperately to hang on to MLilas words, that she could fight evil better because she knew evil. But now, deep down inside the warrior felt that not only did she know evil, that some part of her, the part of her that was Ares, more than knew evil, it was evil.
Am I evil? Gabrielle certainly doesnt think so. She says I bring light to her life. Xena half-smiled at the irony of the bards words. The concept of the Destroyer of Nations bringing light to anything or anyone at all was almost ludicrous. Xena remembered that in the Elysian Fields MLila had told her that while using the way of the warrior to do good was a first step toward redemption for all the atrocities she had committed, that the love she shared with Gabrielle was her ultimate salvation.
"Well, Gabrielle, if loving you is going to save my soul, maybe redemption wont be so difficult after all," she said softly to the sleeping bard, and kissed the wispy blonde bangs. Feeling a little of the tension drain from her shoulders, the warrior rode on, pondering how to separate herself from her father. Maybe I need to follow my partners lead for a while and learn how to love her better. Maybe if I focus on her enough the dark side will stay buried. Yeah, thats it.
Just before dawn they crested a hill and the small village lay below them. It was a shabby little berg, and Xena could tell that marauders had sacked it more than once. She urged Argo on, feeling the weariness in her bones from lack of sleep. As she turned onto the main street of the town she spotted the inn at the end, forming one side of the village square. She stopped out front and gently woke her partner with a slight shake.
"What? Xe . . . Oh, are we there?"
"Yes. Why dont you go in and see if the innkeeper is up? Get us a room and some breakfast and Ill stable the horses out back."
They slid off Argo and the bard stretched and yawned. With a pat to Stars rump, she turned and went inside the inn as Xena made her way to the low stable behind. As Gabrielle entered the door, an arm snatched her and she felt a knife to her throat. The bard was so surprised she dropped her staff, which fell to the floor with a loud clatter.
"Aye, who are ye and what do yer want wit me inn?" a gruff female voice asked menacingly.
"Im Gabrielle, bard of Potadeia and queen of the Amazons. Im traveling with my partner and we just want a room, a meal, and a hot bath. Now please, you really want to remove that knife from my throat before my partner gets here. It would not settle well with her and believe me, you dont want to make her angry. Shes really tall and really strong, and even on a good day people dont mess with her. You definitely dont want to turn this into a bad day for her, believe me."
The knife slowly fell away and the bard quickly pulled herself from the person who held her, reaching down and taking a firm grip on her staff. She stepped back to study her brief captor. It was an old woman, heavy set and tall, with white hair pulled back in a bun and pale gray eyes. Deep wrinkles etched her features, lines born of much hardship rather than of much laughter.
"Say, ye aint notn but a bit o a thang, are ye? Sorry bout the knife. Theys been soldiers through these parts for the last few days, there as. Takes anything we aint nailed down, they do. Took me orse and most o me stores. Im afeared I aint got much to offer ye cept a bit o bread and some cheese."
"That would be fine," Gabrielle replied, feeling sorry for the old woman. "Are you here alone?"
"Aye. Me usband, e passed on six moons ago. Left me to run the place alone, e did. Me daughter lives in town but she as her shop and a usband to care for. Me son, e also lives near. Helps me out best e can, but es got his own famly to worry bout. Gots him a wife and two younguns, he does. They loves their grams, they do," the old woman said with some pride.
Deciding she liked the woman, the bard smiled and extended an arm, "I didnt catch your name."
A tall dark form entered the inn, towering over both of them, and Manolie raised the knife again.
"Manolie, its okay. This is my partner, Xena."
The warriors hand had unconsciously moved to her chakram and she looked questioningly from Gabrielle to the knife in Manolies hand.
"Xener? The Xener? Oh, mes glad to see yer ere, Xener. I eared noun messes wit Xener. Me feels safer aready. Yer welcome to stay ere fo long as yer wants to. Ill give yer a special rate, knock a few dinars off me usual charge." The old woman smiled and patted Xenas bracered arm.
The warrior raised her eyebrows at her partner. "Glad to be here," Xena said warily. "Can you show us to our room?"
"Aye, take yer pick upstairs. Theres noun else ere. Old on a minute, let me get yer some food." Manolie ducked into the kitchen and rummaged around. In a moment she stepped back out with a platter of bread and cheese and a pitcher of apple cider. She handed it to Gabrielle.
"Thanks." The bard smiled, as the warrior, in zombie-like fashion, headed toward the back of the inn, up the stairs, and down a hallway followed by Gabrielle who carried their breakfast. Xena turned the handle on the first door and walked in, dropping the saddlebags wearily in a corner. She sat down as her partner set the tray on a desk. She knew she should eat, so she made quick work of chewing and swallowing a thick piece of bread with a slab of cheese. She then stood up and began to remove her armor, feeling nimble fingers help her.
"Here, Xena, let me get this. You must be exhausted after riding all night."
"I . . . am."
The bard removed the armor and then unlaced the leathers underneath, peeling them down and draping them over the back of a chair. She retrieved a sleep shirt from the saddlebags, helping her partner pull it over her head. "Go sit down on the bed." Xena did and Gabrielle removed the warriors boots, feeling her partner idly running fingers through her short hair as she knelt down. "Now Xena, go to sleep."
"You joining me?"
"In a little while. Ive gotten sleep, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember." the warrior smiled and lay back on the bed, drifting off almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Gabrielle watched her lover fall asleep and pulled the blankets up over the tall woman. She then padded back over to the saddle bags and removed a quill and a piece of parchment. She removed her own armor and boots and donned a well-worn sleep shirt. She walked over to the desk and sat down, munching on cheese and bread as she watched the sun rise and began to write.
Black is the color of my true loves hair,
Her lips are like some roses fair,
She has the sweetest smile and the gentlest hands,
And I love the ground whereon she stands.
I love my love, and well she knows,
I love the ground whereon she goes,
How I wish the day it soon would come,
When she and I can live as one.
And black is the color of my true loves hair,
Her lips are like some roses fair,
She has the sweetest smile and the gentlest hands,
And I love the ground whereon she stands.*
The bard blew on the parchment to dry the ink and then left it on the table. She got up and poured some water from a pitcher into a wash basin, and splashed her face, drying it on a soft white towel. She combed her hair and the padded over to the bed and crawled up under the covers beside her partner. She snuggled up against the warrior, pressing up against Xenas back and wrapping her arms around her lover.
"Hey, you sleepy now?" a lazy voice asked.
"A little," Gabrielle replied. "Thought you were asleep."
"I was. I guess part of me was waiting for you to join me."
"Hold me while I sleep?"
"Always, love." The bard pulled herself closer to her partner and nuzzled up against the back of the warriors neck, taking in the faint scent of leather and saddle soap that lingered there. Despite the sleep she had gotten on the road, she soon found herself drifting off, joining her lover in slumber.
Xena was riding a black horse through a thick old-growth forest. A heavy mist covered the ground, and the trees were so tall they all but blocked any sunlight that tried to break through the dense green foliage. The warrior looked down and discovered she was wearing one of the more flashy sets of armor she used to wear during the days she lead her army. Small bits of gold adorned the dark brown leather, and she was wearing a shiny gold cape tossed over her shoulders. She reached down and fingered the gold fringe that was intermingled with the leather fringe of her skirt. Thats strange. I havent seen this stuff in a while. I dont remember packing it. Oh well, it always was impressive, if a bit impractical at times. When did I put this on?
She rode on, aware that she was alone. And where did this horse come from? Wheres Argo? And wheres Gabrielle? What in Tartarus is going on here? Maybe that innkeeper drugged me or something. I dont remember leaving the inn. Where am I? Xena stopped for a moment, taking a deep breath, trying to get her bearings. Failing to do so, she sighed and continued to follow the poorly-marked trail she was on.
After a while she came to a clearing and discovered she was up on top of some sort of cliff, overlooking a valley and two small villages. Upon closer inspection, she realized that the villages were Potadeia and Amphipolis. Thats weird. I dont remember Potadeia and Amphipolis sharing the same valley. Or being so close together. She puzzled over the sight below her when she suddenly felt a familiar prickling sensation which started at her scalp and traveled all the way down her spine.
The seduction was overpowering. She felt her skin heating up, her heart began to beat faster, and she closed her eyes as the feeling of dark power rolled over her. Oh, yes. Ive missed this. She licked her lips and opened here eyes. The god of war stood before her. Xena greeted him with a wicked smile.
"Xena. So good to see you. I knew once you realized who I am that you would finally understand that this is your destiny. I am your legacy. War is your legacy. You werent made to love. You were made to hate and kill. Its what youre good at."
The warrior laughed aloud, and jumped down off the strange horse. She moved forward and embraced Ares. "Daddy. Im home at last." She threw her head back and laughed again, and suddenly she was surrounded by an even thicker mist than the one back in the forest. It blocked everything from her sight. A strong swirling wind cleared the mist, and Ares was still there. With Gabrielle.
"Here, princess. Prove your love for your father. To maintain your darkness you must do away with the force that has constantly torn you away from me. You know what you have to do, Xena. Kill her. Her light is keeping you from fulfilling your destiny." Ares held out a large shiny dagger. The warrior took it and gazed at it hypnotically.
She glided forward and grabbed the silent bard and moved toward the edge of the cliff. Thats it. Ill slit her throat and then Ill push her body over the cliff. Then Ill go sack Potadeia and take all the plunder to Amphipolis. Xena and Gabrielle were on the very edge, and the warrior slowly raised the knife to the bards throat.
Ares stood behind her, smiling with glee. "Do it, princess. Kill her. Get her blood on your hands. Kill, Xena. Its all you know."
The warrior stopped and gasped. She dropped the knife and sank to her knees, pulling the bard with her. Xena began to weep hot tears and then she shouted. "Noooooo. No, Ares, its not all I know. Not anymore. This love. Thats what I know now."
The god of wars features revealed deep rage and he roared, "Fine. You can defy me for only so long, Xena. I am your father, and eventually you will follow me." And he disappeared with a puff of smoke.
The warrior tossed and twitched in her sleep, mumbling unintelligible strings of words. Gabrielle woke up, feeling the restless body she held, and raised up, leaning on one elbow and bending down over her partner. The warriors lips were draw tightly and her face contorted. A few tears squeezed from the corners of her eyes. The bard raised a hand and tentatively placed it on Xenas shoulder, giving her the slightest shake. "Hey."
"Wha . . ." The warrior bolted up and looked around for a minute, dazed. She swallowed a few times and then reached over and grabbed her partner, pulling her tightly to her. Xena was trembling.
"Xena, love, its alright, you were just having a bad dream." The bard ran her fingers lightly up and down the warriors back and smoothed the long black hair.
"Gabrielle, dont let him get me."
"Ares. Dont let him take me again."
"Shhh. I wont. We wont. Thats not going to happen. Its not even possible."
"I . . . I just find it hard to believe that he isnt going to win."
"I tell you what Xena, I believe. He . . . is not . . . going to win. Why dont you just let me believe that enough for both of us for now, okay? Until you can believe it for yourself."
"Would you do that for me?"
"Of course. Dont you realize thats what Ive been doing all along."
"What if I dont ever believe?"
"You will. But on the off chance you dont, I guess Ill just have to stay with you forever and keep on believing for us both, okay?"
"Promise. Now go back to sleep. Youre very tired."
The warrior reluctantly lay back down, pulling her partner to her until the bard was practically sprawled on top of her. Xena wrapped both arms tightly around Gabrielle and they both went back to sleep.
Several candle marks later the sun was directly overhead, but hidden by an overcast sky. Low clouds had rolled in during the morning and hung in the distance, threatening to dump rain on the land. The air had warmed considerably, as if right on cue for the equinox. Xena woke up and sighed. The sleep had refreshed her body, but not her inner turmoil. She knew she wasnt going to be able to sleep anymore so she carefully released her hold on her partner, rolling her gently back onto the bed. She sat up and swung her legs over the side and stood up and walked quietly over to the window.
Throwing back the shutters, she leaned out on the windowsil, resting on her forearms. The faint scent of rain was in the wind. Hmmm. We may not be able to travel today after all. Xena thought about that and realized that they needed to get some things in town, if there was anything left to be bought. Gabrielle needed some clothes that fit properly, Argo needed some new shoes, and their food supply was running pretty low. Not that she couldnt provide for them on the road, but it was nice to have some basic staples to work with.
The warrior looked over at the sleeping bard and decided she might as well run some of the errands while her partner caught up on her rest. Lets see . . . I need to write her a note . . . Xena looked down at the desk against the window and saw the quill and parchment. It wasnt like her partner to leave her writing out in the open. The bard was usually private with her scrolls. Curiosity getting the best of her, Xena picked up the paper and squinted at it, reading the poem Gabrielle had written. The warrior felt warm tears brim in her eyes. I cant believe she loves me as much as she does. She carefully took a blank piece of parchment and the quill. Dipping it in the ink well, she wrote:
Gabrielle, Im going to look around the village and run some errands. Oh, and your poem. Im not one for words, but back at you, except my true love has golden hair with red highlights. And eyes the color of the sea before a storm. As for living as one, I want that too, love. After we get all of this ironed out were going to have that. I promise you. I want more time with you Gabrielle. Xena.
Signing the note, she went to the wash basin and splashed water on her face. She then donned her leathers and armor and ruffled her fingers through her hair to straighten it out, and then pulled a headband on. She sat down on the fireplace hearth and tugged on her boots, and then sheathed her sword and hooked her now-whole chakram to her belt. Quietly, so as not to wake the bard, she tiptoed across the room, opened the door, and went down to the main room of the inn.
Manolie was bustling about, serving a few villagers who were eating lunch. She spied the warrior and put down a tray, wiped her hands on her apron, and walked toward Xena, greeting her with a genuine smile. "Can I serve yer some soup an bread? Me dont have much, but what I do have yer welcome to."
"Sure. That would be great." The warrior seated herself at a table, leaning her back against the wall where she could observe the villagers. She studied them unobtrusively, and decided they were probably all locals, fairly unsophisticated, and didnt seem to know who she was. Of course this near Mt. Olympus, this was not a village Xena had been to in a long time. She generally avoided the mountain. Too close to the home of Ares. Still, she couldnt help but notice the uneasy glances she was getting. She sighed. Guess theyre afraid of me just because of the way I look, even if they dont know who I am.
Manolie arrived back at the table with a mug of soup and a thick slice of bread. She slyly slipped a small dish next to the bread. "Last o me butter for yer, and . . ." the innkeeper set a large stein down, "cider made from apples from me own orchard. Not much o it left."
The innkeeper had started to turn around but stopped.
"Is there a blacksmith in town and maybe a place to buy some clothes?"
"Aye. The smithy, hes at ter other end o this street. He aint been messed wit much by them soldiers. Es a big man. Me daughter, she as a dry-goods shop next to the smithy. "Es been protecting er store, e as."
"Thanks." The warrior smiled in appreciation.
"Yer welcome." Manolies eyes twinkled and the lines around her eyes crinkled even deeper than they already were. She turned to tend to the other patrons.
Xena sipped at the soup, which was thin but flavorful with a few vegetables floating in a fragrant broth. The bread was hot from the oven and the butter melted into the soft nutty crust. She munched on it with gusto, realizing just how hungry she was after traveling all night and eating only a few bites of cheese and bread earlier. The cider was strong and spicy. After she finished the meal she stood up and made her way out of the inn.
She walked purposefully to the stable and made her way to Argos stall, stopping to pet Star on the nose. "Come on, Argo, lets get you some new shoes." She tied a short rope through the mares halter loop and led her out of the stall. Star whinnied in protest. Xena laughed and turned around, "dont worry, Ill bring your buddy back in a little while." Star shook her head and blew breath out her nostrils, stamping her front hoof. Argo answered with her own snort, nipping at the warriors leathers. "Hey! I guess you two dont like being separated any more than your mothers do. Brother. Are we all pathetic or what?" She led the mare on out of the stable and they walked down the street toward the blacksmiths. The warrior looked around the front of the shop and finding no one there, went around back to the work area.
As she approached, a large man, at least seven feet tall and probably weighing four hundred pounds, stood up. He had a merry face and a thick black beard that framed a large grinning mouth. "Hello. What can I do for you?"
"My horse needs a new set of shoes. How much?"
The smith appraised Argo. "Nice horseflesh."
"Thanks." Xena studied the man and understood why the marauding soldiers would leave him alone. Tall as she was, she had to crane her neck to look up at him.
"Thatll be five dinars."
"Fine. How long?"
"About a candle mark."
The smith extended an arm, " Im Braden, and you would be?"
"Names Xena," the warrior said evenly.
"Xena? The warrior princess?" Bradens eyes narrowed a bit.
"Im the only Xena I know of."
"I owe you a debt of gratitude. Several moons ago you saved my wife from a bunch of thugs. She was traveling to visit her sister when they overtook her party. If it hadnt been for you, she said they would have all been killed. Said you swooped down out of nowhere with some companion of yours, and the two of you beat the Hades out of the thugs before they finally all ran away. Thank you for saving my wife, and tell your friend thank you if you see her. For you, no charge for the horseshoes or the labor."
"Oh. Well. Youre welcome, and Ill pass the message along to my friend. And thanks for the offer of free work, but really, I can pay you." Xena never quite knew what to say when anyone expressed gratitude to her. She smiled almost shyly and turned to go to the dry goods store. "Ill be back in a bit." She turned to Argo. "Be good." She handed the rope over to Braden.
The tall man took it and started leading the mare over to an open stall. No, Xena, you saved my wife. And shes carrying my child. When you saved her, you saved two lives. I dont think I can let you pay, the large man thought silently.
Xena walked back around to the front of the shop and looked next door at the dry goods store. Several colorful tunics hung in the window. A little bell that hung from the door jingled softly as she turned the doorknob. She entered, taking in the strong chemical smell of dye and the tangy smell of new leather. She looked around a minute before a tall slender woman emerged from a back room, a much younger and thinner version of Manolie.
"May I help you?"
"Yes. Im staying down the road at your mothers inn. She sent me. Im looking for some boots and a nice tunic."
"Well, look around. Weve got a pretty good selection."
"Thanks." Xena moved to some deep shelves that held several pairs of boots and sandals. She eyed them and finally picked up a pair of short mahogany leather boots, flat-soled with black leather laces. She measured them with her hands. Perfect. She laid them on the counter and then moved to a rack of clothing.
She thumbed through a few tunics, finding most of them pretty of color but fairly plain of design. Gabrielle likes ornate things, she smiled, thinking of how the bard preened whenever she was wearing her full Amazon clothing and feathers. She noticed a dark red leather skirt, fringed at the bottom, with a woven mahogany leather belt. The belt buckle was tooled silver with little scrolls etched into the metal. She could tell the skirt would hang just above Gabrielles hips and fall a little above her knees. Next to the skirt was a soft cropped top with three-quarter length fitted sleeves, dyed red to match the skirt, the fabric woven in an interesting swirling pattern. Xena chuckled silently, knowing how much the bard liked to wear clothing that exposed her midriff. Not that the warrior had any complaints. She pulled the outfit off the rack and carried it over to the counter.
The shopkeeper appraised her selection with a questioning look. "No offense, but I dont think this stuff is gonna fit you."
"Theyre not for me. Theyre for a . . . um . . . friend."
"Oh. Very well then. Ill wrap them up for you. Thatll be ten dinars."
The warrior reached down to get the money from her belt pouch when something sparkled in a glass case next to the counter, catching her eye. She leaned over and saw a delicate silver bracelet with a small single garnet pendant danging from it. The garnet was cut in the shape of a heart and matched the red of the skirt and top. "How much for the bracelet?"
"Ill take it."
"For your friend?"
"Um . . . yeah." Xena could feel the blush heating her face.
"Must be some friend," the shopkeeper mused.
"Yeah, she is."
"Shes lucky." The shopkeeper handed Xena the packages with a smile.
As the warrior started to leave, she turned and looked back, "No, Im the one whos lucky." And she stepped out of the store. Yeah, am I ever lucky. She made her way back to the inn and managed to sneak upstairs without being stopped by Manolie, apparently a new fan, the warrior smiled. She crept quietly into their room where her partner still lay, fast asleep. Xena laid the larger packages down on the desk and quickly penned another note. She held the smaller package in her hand for a minute, and then slid it into one of the saddle bags, into an inner pocket she was pretty sure the bard wouldnt be rummaging around in any time soon. The warrior left the room and the inn, and decided to retrieve Argo and go for a ride.
Gabrielle woke and found her partner missing. Sleepily, she sat up and saw two packages laying on the table. Her curiosity won out over her sleep-satiated body, and she rolled out of bed and walked over to the table, wincing at the creaks in her saddle-sore legs. She found Xenas first note and smiled. Eyes the color of the sea before a storm. And they call me the bard. She continued to read and felt a faint flutter in her stomach. I want more time with you Gabrielle. Oh, and I want more time with you too, Xena. Yes I do. Then she looked at the packages and found another note on top:
Hi, love. Went shopping and thought youd look cute in this. Hope you like it. Xena.
The bard tore open the paper wrappings and squealed with delight at the skirt and top, and the boots. Quickly, she pulled off her sleep shirt, tossing it across the room, and tried them on. They fit perfectly. She fingered the silver belt buckle and turned in a little circle to make the fringe on the skirt fly up. She brushed her hair and then went downstairs to the tune of her demanding stomach, which felt empty. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, Xena came through the front door of the inn, carrying a stringer of fish and several skinned and dressed rabbits, her hair still wet from a swim that had became a fishing expedition.
"Here, Manolie, maybe these will help you with dinner tonight." The warrior handed over her catch to the astonished innkeeper.
"Oh, bless yer Xener. Me cant thank yer enough. Me stores were down to naught. Now I can stay open for dinner."
Gabrielle chewed her lower lip for a moment and then stepped down from the last step and crossed the room, slipping an arm inside Xenas and squeezing it. "Manolie, Im a bard. I could tell a few stories tonight if youd like."
"Oh, bless yer, lass. Ill go start spreading the word now. Me inns gonna have a feast and entertainment tonight!" The innkeeper hugged the bard and then practically ran out the door.
Gabrielle turned and looked up at her partner. "Xena, thank you for the clothes and boots. I love them. She reached up and wrapped her arms around the warriors neck and drew her into a hug.
Xena hugged her in return and then stepped back, eyeing her lover appreciatively. She then reached down and tickled the bards bare belly button. "Ive missed seeing your midsection," she smiled wickedly.
"Yikes!" Gabrielle jumped at the touch. "Ill get you for that, warrior princess."
"Promise?" Xena waggled an eyebrow.
"Oh, you can count on it." The bard grinned. "I guess were staying here tonight, huh?"
"Yeah, its going to rain. Besides Amphipolis is over a day away, so we might as well make a fresh start in the morning. It would feel good to get a hot bath and not have to make camp in the rain."
"I wouldnt mind telling a few stories about the warrior princess." Gabrielle smiled, watching her partner blush slightly.
"Why dont you tell one about Hercules or Iolaus, or one of the stories you learned at the academy?"
"Because, Im sure Manolie wants to hear about you, thats why. Besides, I dont want to talk about Hercules, I want to talk about you. Now, why dont you sit down with me while I eat a late lunch."
"Gabrielle, a few more candle marks and it will be dinner time."
"And your point is?"
Xena laughed aloud, knowing her slender partner could pack away more food than most of the male warriors she had dealt with in her day. Where the bard put it all was a mystery.
After a quick but satisfying lunch for Gabrielle, warrior and bard decided to go out to the stable to check on Argo and Star. The sky remained overcast and the low clouds in the distance were building. The breeze now carried more than a hint of rain, but the air remained somewhat warm. Gabrielle walked lightly up to the stable door, a bit of a swagger in her walk. Xena fell in a few steps behind, enjoying watching her partner move, the red leather skirt nicely accentuating her slim waist and the curve of her hips.
They entered the low stable and the bard made her way over to Star, sidling up to the mare and patting her, scratching her under her forelock. Star nudged Gabrielles bare stomach, which elicited a giggle. "Youre so pretty. Were going to be great friends." She continued to coo and fuss over the horse. The bard took a curry comb from a bench and began to groom her new friend, taking her time with long careful strokes.
The warrior settled down across from the stall, leaning up against a clean fresh-smelling bale of hay and stretching her long legs out in front of her. She smiled, glad that the bard was so taken with her new horse. After a few more minutes, Gabrielle turned and looked at her partner. "Hey, you okay?"
The bard tilted her head and then walked over and stood right next to the warrior, looking down at her with some concern and resting her hands on her hips. "Are you sure?"
"You just have this funny look on your face."
"Yeah. What are you thinking about?"
"Oh. Just how cute you are and how good that skirt looks on you . . . and . . ." the warrior reached up and rested her hands on her partners hips, tugging her down until the bard was sitting against her between her legs. "How much I want to kiss you right now." Xena tilted her head and met her lovers mouth with her own, tasting a faint hint of Manolies apple cider there. The gentle contact continued for a few moments, as two pairs of wandering hands explored a bit further, but no clothing came off.
Gabrielle broke off for a minute, "Xena, are we necking?"
"Guess so." The warrior replied, trying to catch her breath.
"This is nice."
"Yeah, it is." Two blue eyes twinkled, right before they closed and their lips met again.
Half a candle mark later, Xena was once again resting against the hay bale with the bard propped against her, her back resting comfortably against the warriors chest. Xenas arms were wrapped around her partner, again, much as they had been under the willow tree in the Elysian Fields. Gabrielle was running a few story ideas by her partner for telling during dinner that evening. The warriors eyes were closed and she was half-listening, commenting in the appropriate places, but the other half was just reveling in the closeness she felt with her lover at that very minute, feeling the bards words rumble against her where their bodies were touching. Just as Gabrielle said in the cave a few nights before, the physical contact had . . . healing power.
Gabrielles chatter was cut off, as the stable door opened. Manolie walked in and stopped for a hesitant moment, noting the seating arrangement of the warrior and the bard. "Xener, I thought I might find yer in here. Sorry ter interrupt yer, but some o them soldiers is in the town square making a bit o trouble. Thought yer might could help us out. Would yer?"
The warrior got up, sheathing her sword which had been laying by her side. Gabrielle picked up her staff. "How many of them?" Xena asked.
"No problem. Gabrielle, you wanta help or just watch?"
"Oh, six. Ill watch. This should be fun."
They strode past Manolie, who turned and trailed directly behind them.
The warrior made purposeful steps toward the town square. The soldiers were loading some food onto their horses, including the stringers of rabbits and fish Xena had caught earlier. A few towns men stood nearby, the bruises and minor cuts on their bodies telling of the soldiers treatment when they tried to interfere.
"Hey, scumbags," Xena growled as she reached the soldiers. "Stealings not nice. Nor is beating up on civilians. I worked pretty hard to catch those rabbits and fish. I think you should go catch your own dinner. Give back the food and ride out of here, and no one has to get hurt."
One of the soldiers turned. "You. I thought you were dead."
"Im baa-ack," the warrior sing-songed.
The soldier drew his sword and Xena followed suit, letting out her war cry and leaping up in the air. She tucked into a flip and landed in the middle of the six soldiers, grinning wildly as the attack began. She deflected several blows with one hand, while she engaged in sword-play with the other. Meanwhile, she planted a series of roundhouse kicks around the circle, gradually sending each of the soldiers flying.
As the soldiers flew, the bard ran over to each one and held her staff at their throats while she disarmed them. After a few minutes, Gabrielle stood guard over five swords as Xena fought with the last remaining soldier. As she gained the upper hand, he continued to back up until she finally sent him sprawling to the ground with the flat of her sword. She stood over him to disarm him. As she bent down, he quickly drew a small dagger from his belt and rammed it into the side of the warriors left leg and then drew it out.
Xena cried out in agony, but didnt fall. Instead, she held her sword at his throat. "I ought to just take you out now," she growled, feeling warm blood running down her throbbing leg. "But I tell you what Im going to do." She nicked the soldier on the side of his neck, ever so slightly, watching him wince and seeing fear rise in his eyes. "Im going to step away, and you and your buddies are going to get on your horses and youre going to ride out of here. Without your weapons. And if I even catch a whiff of any of your stinking carcasses anywhere near here, Im going to finish cutting your throat. Got me?"
The soldier mutely nodded and rolled away from the warrior. "You cant send us out into the woods unarmed."
"Oh cant I?"
"But, well be defenseless."
"Shoulda thought about that before you came in here and beat up on innocent people and stole from them. Go. Get outta here. And drop your loot before you take off. NOW!" Xena barked, turning and pinning each soldier in turn with icy blue eyes that chilled them to the bone.
They got up and walked quickly to their horses. They dumped the stolen food on the ground before jumping on and urging the animals away at a dead run. The warrior watched until they were out of sight, slowly feeling the energy subside. She felt gentle hands probing at the cut in her leg and looked down.
"Xena. Come in. Youre going to need some stitches, love."
"Aw, Gabrielle, its not that bad . . . oh." The warrior took a step on the injured leg and felt it almost give way. "On second thought, maybe a few stitches are in order."
As they walked slowly to the inn, several villagers followed, expressing their gratitude to the warrior. Manolie picked up the stringer of fish and rabbits and dusted them off. She smiled proudly as the towns new hero ducked inside her inn.
The bard led her partner back up to their room and pulled the healers kit from their saddlebags. Xena sat on the hearth, stretching her leg out so her partner could have access to the wound. It wasnt that wide, but it was pretty deep.
Gabrielle cleaned the gash and then carefully drew the catgut and needle in and out, slowly closing it up. "Do I still have hands like a sailor?" She grinned, tracing a scar on Xenas leg not too far from the wound she was now attending to.
The warrior smiled, remembering another cut and another set of stitches, and a stormy night in a cave near India. Gabrielle had attempted to sew up the cut and Xena had brushed her aside and stitched it up herself, telling her partner she had hands like a sailor. Truth be known, the bards gentle touch had been driving her crazy, and she was afraid she might do something or push for something they hadnt been ready for at the time. "Gabrielle, I was just teasing. Besides, sailors have reputations for being fabulous lovers."
The bard blushed and had to steady her hands for a minute before continuing. She made the last stitch and tied it off, bending her head and kissing her partners leg beside the cut. "Hey, why dont I draw us a bath and we get cleaned up for dinner?"
"Sounds like a plan." Xena ruffled the short blonde hair and gingerly stood up. Gabrielle ducked out of the room and went down the hall to the bathing room. A large tub was in the center of the room, and around all four walls were several fireplaces, each bearing large buckets of water. Manolie prided herself on always having enough hot water ready for her guests to bathe in.
The bard filled the tub and then went back to the room. The warrior was stretched out across the bed, her hands behind her head and her eyes closed, obviously very comfortable. Gabrielle retrieved the lavender bath oil from their saddlebags, as well as the bar of lavender soap. She crept over to the bed and climbed up, straddling her partner, careful to avoid the stitched leg.
"Rise and shine, warrior princess, your bath awaits you."
Xena groaned and threw one arm across her eyes. "Gabrieeeellleee."
"Come on Xena, youve hunted and fished and fought nearly all afternoon. No offense love, but if you dont take a bath they may make us eat in a separate room tonight."
"Hmmm. Dining alone with you. Not much of a threat, my bard."
"Okay, then hows this? If you dont take a bath, you may be dining alone. Completely alone."
"Weeellll. Thats a little more incentive, but youll eventually have to join me back here. We only paid for one room."
"Thats true, but if you will get up and take a bath, I might go a little easier on you during my stories tonight."
Blue eyes popped open and Xena rolled off the bed, picking up her partner in the process. The warrior slung the slight woman over one shoulder and walked over to the door of the room, carrying the surprised bard down the hallway to the bathing room.
"Xena, put me down!"
"All in due time," the warrior grinned. She managed to pull the bards new clothes off and then dumped the smaller girl into the tub. She quickly took off her own leathers and then joined her partner, who was spluttering and wiping the water from her face.
"Here, give that to me," Xena took the vial of lavender oil from her lover and poured a few capfuls into the steaming water, swirling it around with her hands. She peered at the bard from beneath long black eyelashes. "You mad at me?"
"No." Gabrielle smiled. "Come over here and let me wash your hair."
The warrior grinned and turned around, backing up to her partner and sighing as the bard massaged lavender soap into her hair. They took turns bathing each other, only leaving the tub when the water began to cool and the skin on their fingers and toes was quite puckered.
Dinner was very good and Manolie proved to be an excellent cook. The inn was packed, most of the village having turned out when they heard a bard would be entertaining. A dull roar permeated the room as the happy villagers talked and rapidly consumed the rabbit and fish Xena had caught. Manolie made several trips to the table where warrior and bard sat, making sure her guests of honor had plenty to eat and drink. Gabrielle allowed herself one mug of ale, just enough to take the edge off, but not so much that she wouldnt remain sharp for the story-telling to come. Xena, on the other hand, had enjoyed a few rounds of port and felt a comfortable buzz and a warmth tingling on the surface of her skin.
Gabrielle took one last swallow of ale. "Well, I guess its story time. Wish me luck."
"Gabrielle, you havent told a bad story in your whole entire life."
The bard beamed, and she patted her partner on the arm before she stood up and made her way to the front of the large room. Determining that she was too short for those in back to see, she decided to perch on the edge of the bar, sitting in a comfortable position, her legs swinging a little as she launched into the story of Cecrops, beginning with a vivid description of Xenas spectacular leap from a cliff to the deck of the ship.
The warrior groaned inwardly and slunk down a little, taking a long sip of port. Thought she was going to go easy on me. Xena felt the eyes of some of the villagers, as they turned to study the subject of the bards tale. Gabrielle finished that story and after a round of applause died down, she asked, "who would like to hear a story about Hercules?"
"Yeah. Yeah." Several voices yelled enthusiastically.
Oh good. The warrior relaxed until she heard the bard begin to tell the tale of Prometheus in chains, and how Xena and Hercules freed him. She winced as eyes once again turned to her, just as Gabrielle told of the warrior being carried away on the back of a large bird. Im gonna kill her, Xena grimaced. And Hercules too for telling her about that.
After a few more stories, all featuring heroic feats of a certain warrior princess, a very hoarse bard finally waved off cries for yet another story and jumped down from the bar. She looked up and found pale blue eyes peering at her, as the warrior offered her a frosty mug of ale. Gabrielle gratefully accepted the mug, sucking on it thirstily, and studying the blue eyes a bit further. Blue eyes that were a bit unfocused.
"Youve been enjoying the port, havent you?" The bard smiled at her very relaxed lover.
"Had to do something to block out all those tall tales you were telling."
"Xena, you know and I know that every word I said was absolutely true."
"Yeah, well, whatever. What happened to going easy on me?"
"Cant help it. Youre my favorite subject."
"Well, youre mine," the warrior pulled a gleaming object from her belt pouch and reached down, taking the bards hand, fastening the garnet bracelet around her lovers wrist. "Someday, Gabrielle, Im going to tell a few stories of my own. Then people will know who the real hero is here."
The bard looked down and gasped. "Oh, Xena, its beautiful."
"Just like you, love." Impulsively, the warrior leaned down and kissed her partner.
Gabrielle closed her eyes for a moment and licked her lips. The green eyes opened and she looked up. Xena had never bought her any gifts, other than that little wooden sheep for solstice a few years back. "Whats the occasion?"
"Oh, I dont know. It was just there screaming buy me. Glad you like it."
"I do. I really do. And I love the buyer." The bard pulled her lovers face down for another kiss.
The warrior wrapped her arms around the shorter girl and the simple exchange suddenly became much more heated, as hands began to roam and tongues started to intertwine. Remembering where they were, Xena resisted the urge to start ripping off pieces of her partners clothing, and pulled back, taking a very deep breath to steady herself. "Um . . . Gabrielle, we have an audience."
"Oh." The bard looked up to see most of the eyes in the room fastened on them. She blushed and buried her face in Xenas leathers. "Guess we gave them more entertainment than I had intended to."
The warrior thought for a moment and then scooped her lover up and carried her past all the watching eyes. As she reached the bottom of the stairs she turned and looked at the stunned villagers. "Shows over folks." She turned back and as she reached the top of the stairs, a loud clap of thunder roared and the first pattering of rain hit the roof overhead. Xena smiled. Great sleeping weather. Or not. She backed into the door to their room and spun around, dropping her partner on the bed. She closed the door and then climbed up on the bed, hovering over a very dazed bard.
Xena carefully removed the bards new clothes and boots, and felt skilled hands unhooking her armor, which Gabrielle dropped to the floor beside the bed. The bard unlaced her partners leathers and peeled them down, tossing them aside. She wrapped her hands behind her lovers neck and pulled her down for a lingering kiss, which tasted faintly of port.
The warrior drew back to look into the bards dark green eyes, as the thunder rolled and a streak of lightening flashed outside the window. She leaned down and purred into her partners ear, "Gabrielle, I feel a long slow storm coming on."
"Just give me shelter, love," the bard replied, as long fingers began tracing lazy patterns down her midsection. Her senses reacted to Xenas gentle touch, and she felt the tide begin to rise.
The rain continued throughout the night, providing an extra element to the night music that lulled warrior and bard into a contented sleep. Just before dawn the clouds finally broke, and a few faint rays of sunlight began to creep over the foothills of Mt. Olympus. Somewhere between dreams and wakefulness, the warrior sensed the change in the weather. She reacted internally, and finally her eyes slowly opened. She was stomach down, laying halfway on top of her naked lover, who was also stomach down. Xenas cheek was resting between the bards shoulder blades and her arm was thrown across Gabrielles back and down across the bards outstretched arm.
Well, not such a bad way to wake up, the warrior mused to herself. She carefully got up and rolled off the bed. She grabbed the blanket off the end of the bed and wrapped it around herself, tucking the end in to hold it up. Padding over to the window, she opened it and looked out. A pink sky filled with puffy gilt-rimmed clouds greeted her through the window. She drew in a deep breath and smelled . . . spring.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the rays of the sun grew brighter, dancing over the top of the foothills, and finally the fiery orb itself appeared, painting the land with soft warm light. Xena sighed and decided that life just couldnt get much better. She savored that thought for a moment and decided that she was not going to let Ares win or spoil this second chance she had been given at life. And love.
The warrior glanced over at her still snoozing partner and smiled. Yeah, love, hes not going to ruin this for us. I wont let him. She turned and walked over to the basin and splashed water on her face. She then collected her leathers and armor from the floor and donned them, finishing up by tugging on her boots. She grabbed her sword from where it rested beside the bed and sheathed it, and then hooked her chakram to her waist, pausing for a moment to run her thumb across the shiny metal. I missed that, she mused.
Xena quietly slipped out of the room and down the stairs. The smell of Manolies cooking greeted her and she crossed the room and sat down at the bar. "Mornin, Manolie."
"Aye, top o ther mornin to yer, too, lass. Its a grand day. Time ter start plantin me spring garden today. What er yer an ta young lass goin to do today?"
"Well, Gabrielle and I need to get back on the road. We still have several pieces of unfinished business to deal with."
"Oh, well then." Manolie looked sad. "Let me pack yer up somethin to eat later on."
"Manolie, that would be great. Um . . . could I get something to take up to Gabrielle for breakfast?"
"Sure, lass," Manolie turned and took a tray from under the bar, loading it up with fresh-baked bread, butter, mugs of apple cider, a pitcher of hot tea, and some rabbit leftover from the night before." Here yer go, lass."
"Thanks, Manolie. Well be down in a bit."
The warrior accepted the tray and went back upstairs to the room. She grinned. Gabrielle was still fast asleep. Xena set the tray down on a table and buttered a slice of hot bread. She walked over to the bed and sat down, holding the fragrant bread under the bards nose. The nose in question twitched and two green eyes slowly opened.
"Hey. You brought food."
"Thought it might be the kindest and gentlest way to get you up," the warrior chuckled.
"Got that right." Gabrielle sat up and stretched, and took the piece of bread from her partner, tearing off a piece and stuffing it in her mouth. "Mmmmm. Want some?" She tore off another piece and offered it to the warrior. Xena nipped the piece of bread and chewed it, opening her mouth for another piece like a bird. Gabrielle giggled and held up another bite. The warrior closed her mouth around it, along with one of the bards fingers.
"Hey. Cut that out!"
"Uh-uh. Dont want to." Xena mumbled around the finger. She released the finger, chewed and swallowed the bread, and leaned in to lick a drop of butter off Gabrielles nose and then moved down to taste the lips below. The kiss intensified and the bard ended up on her back with a breathless warrior hovering over her. "Gabrielle, I love you," Xena said in a husky voice.
"Love you too, Xena, but do we have time for this?"
"No, unfortunately not," the warrior said with regret. She leaned down for a quick kiss and then sat up. "We need to get on the road to Amphipolis this morning."
"Oh. Yeah, I guess so." The bard looked somewhat thoughtful.
"Hey," two blue eyes peered at her. "Whats wrong?"
"Xena, whats going to happen to this village when we leave? I mean, I know we cant save the whole world, but if we hadnt been here yesterday, those soldiers would have taken most of their food, and if I hadnt told stories last night, Manolie might not have had any business."
"Yeah, Ive been thinking about that." The warrior rested a hand on the bards leg, idly rubbing her thumb on the fine blonde hairs. "When I get to Amphipolis, I may send my brother Toris and a few others here to teach the villagers how to defend themselves. I trained the people of Amphipolis. They certainly know how to defend my hometown. Maybe they can help out the people who live here."
"Thats a great idea," Gabrielle brightened considerably. "And I could write to the Athens Academy for Performing Bards and see if there are any graduates who would exchange room and board for story-telling. I bet Manolie would be willing to put someone up here if they could keep her inn full each evening."
"I bet she would, too, Gabrielle." The warrior tousled the short blonde head and got up. She held out a hand to her partner and pulled her off the bed and to her feet. They finished off the breakfast and packed up their bags.
They had gotten a late start from the inn, as Gabrielle talked to Manolie about having a bard in residence while Xena had a talk with Braden about heading up an organized malitia for the village. The large blacksmith agreed and the warrior talked to him about weapons he needed to make or obtain before she sent some of the Amphipolitans to train the malitia. As for Manolie, the thought of having her inn full each evening thrilled her beyond words. She could only kiss the bard on the cheek and give her a big hug in thanks. As she went to hug the warrior, Xena managed to get her arm outstretched, and the innkeeper had to settle for a hearty handshake with the warrior.
After all the arrangements were made they had left the village on Argo and Star, waving back at a small group of villagers who had gathered in front of the inn to see them off. They camped for one night and then continued on their way the next day. The weather had held out and was absolutely beautiful. Dusk of the second day found them entering the valley that lead down to Amphipolis.
The first stars appeared overhead and the warrior looked up for a long moment and then closed her eyes and made . . . the wish. She opened her eyes and felt two green ones watching her in the growing darkness. She urged Argo closer to Star, until she was close enough to reach out and capture the bards hand.
"So, what did you wish for?" an inquisitive bard asked.
"Gabrielle, youre not supposed to tell. If you do it might not come true."
"But if I knew what you wished for I might be able to help make it come true."
If she only knew, Xena thought silently. "Love, just by being with me you make my wishes come true."
"Oh." Gabrielle squeezed the large hand and laced her fingers with the warriors. "Xena, you are the place where my dreams begin and end."
The warrior lifted the smaller hand to her lips, turning it to kiss the inside palm, hoping the bard couldnt see the tears that threatened to spill over and down her cheeks.
A series of low whistles interrupted the tranquility. Xena cocked her head and then answered with a different set of whistles, which identified herself and the bard. She listened for the return answer and smiled. Toris. The warrior urged Argo forward and suddenly her brother appeared from behind a tree.
"Sis, by the gods, we thought you were dead!"
Xena stood up in the stirrups and jumped up into the air, clearing Argos head and turning a flip, landing at her brothers feet. Toris grabbed the warrior and lifted her up, swinging her around in a circle before setting her down. "Toris, put me down!" Xena yelped, beating on her brothers shoulders.
"I cant believe its you," the taller man said, his face beaming. "We really did hear that you were dead."
"You heard wrong." Xena hugged him. "Havent seen you in a long time, bro."
"Yeah, I finally decided to settle down at home for a while. Mother needed a hand around the inn. Ive given up fighting for a living. Thats your department."
"Oh, I dont know, Toris. Someday, I might even lay down my sword." Xena looked down at the ground for a moment. She turned and looked back at her lover, who was still seated on Star. "Comere Gabrielle. Toris, you remember Gabrielle, dont you?"
The bard climbed down and walked over and stood beside her partner.
"Of course I remember Gabrielle. How are you?"
"Fine, good to see you, Toris." The bard studied her partners brother. He was a taller male version of Xena, with shoulder-length black hair and the same piercing blue eyes. She hadnt seen him in a few years. The last time they had been in Amphipolis, he hadnt been home.
As for Toris, he found himself captivated by sparkling green eyes and a bard who was quite grown up. He stared for just a moment too long before shaking his head back to reality. "Well, I have sentry duty for a few more candle marks, but the message that youre home has probably made it to Mother by now. Shes probably already killing the fatted calf. Ill see you tomorrow morning, sis. You too, Gabrielle." He smiled at the bard, a look that was lost on Gabrielle, but not on Xena.
"Yeah." The warrior briefly hugged her brother again and then warrior and bard got back on their horses and rode on to the inn. As they reached the inns courtyard, the door flew open and Cyrene, Xenas mother, came running out.
The warrior jumped down and closed the distance. "Mother!" Xena hugged the shorter woman and felt convulsive sobs. "Shhh, mother, its okay. Were okay."
"I know, I cant believe it. We heard that Caesar had you crucified. Ive been frantic trying to find out what happened to your body. I even tried to send a message to the Amazons, but I havent heard back from them." Cyrene sniffed and patted her daughter on the cheek, and then looked past her. "Gabrielle, thank the gods youre alive. Come here. You know youre my second daughter."
The bard climbed down and walked over to give her partners mother a hug. Hope she still feels that way when she finds out Ive been sleeping with her first daughter, Gabrielle thought ruefully. "Cyrene, its so good to see you."
"You girls come in and eat some dinner. You must be starving." The older woman ushered warrior and bard into the inn and over to a table by a window. She brought some heaping plates of venison, potatoes, and bread, and sat them down, along with a tall mug of ale for Gabrielle and a mug of port for her daughter. She seated herself across from Xena. "So, tell me, daughter, whats the real story? What happened to you? I hear what was obviously a false story that youve been crucified, and then you just seemingly disappear for several days."
"Um . . . mother . . . you didnt hear any false stories," the warrior said gently. "Gabrielle and I were both crucified."
"But . . ."
"And we did die. And now were alive again."
"But Xena, I dont understand." Cyrene took her daughters hands in her own and examined them.
"You wont find any scars there, Mother, theyre gone."
"How . . . Xena . . . What . . ."
Xena exchanged glances with her partner and then looked back at her mother. "Its a long story."
"Well, I have absolutely no where to go right now and its still fairly early. Tell me what happened."
The warrior sighed and poured her mother a glass of ale. "Here, Mother, youre going to need this." For the next candle mark, Xena and Gabrielle filled Cyrene in on most of the story, leaving out the gorier details and the fact that they were now lovers. The warrior decided to save the news about her and the bards relationship for a separate story on another day. She managed to communicate that decision to her lover with her eyes, and with relief, saw a look of understanding on the bards face. Xena wasnt sure how many shocks she should put her mother through in one night.
"My goodness," Cyrene had finished off two and a half glasses of ale during the story. "If I ever meet Eli, I must thank him personally." She stood up, wiping an errant tear from her eye. "Xena, your room is just as you left it. Gabrielle, Ive made up a room for you down the hall from Xena. Im sure youre both tired. Ill clean up here."
Warrior and bard exchanged another look. On the road, even before they became lovers they always shared a room when they stayed in inns, to save dinars. Cyrenes inn was the one place they ever had the luxury of having a room and a bed all to themselves, because the innkeeper steadfastly refused to accept dinars from her own daughter. It was a rare chance for privacy they had always enjoyed in the past but now, well, things were different.
Xena stood up, "Thanks, Mother. Well see you in the morning." She leaned over and kissed Cyrene on the cheek.
The bard stood up and hugged the older woman. "Good night, Cyrene. Thank you for dinner. It was delicious."
"Youre both welcome. Now get on to your rooms, both of you. Scoot!" The innkeeper chuckled and ushered the two younger women toward the inner door of the room.
Xena and Gabrielle went through the door and into the hallway. The warrior leaned over and whispered in her partners ear, "Go ahead and go to bed love, Ill be down to your room shortly."
"Okay." The bard briefly hugged her taller partner and made her way into the large airy room that Cyrene always made up for her. It had a cozy four-poster bed and tall windows that overlooked the mountains in the distance, and also offered a nice view of the starry sky at night. She laid her bags down and pulled out a clean sleep shirt. Pouring some water from a large pitcher into the wash basin, she washed her face and combed her hair. She donned the soft well-worn shirt, she crawled up onto the big fluffy bed, which seemed very empty without her lover.
It seemed like a lot of time passed before finally, the door to her room opened and the warrior crept in. Xena made her way over to the bed and pulled back the covers and climbed in, snuggling up to the bard.
"Hey, what took so long?"
"The first time I tried to sneak out, Mother was in the hallway taking clean linens to the empty rooms. Then I was about to get out of bed again, and she came in and . . . um . . . tucked me in," the warrior said sheepishly.
"Tucked you in? Xena, that is precious. No one would ever believe that the warrior princesss mother still tucks her in at night when she is at home."
"Gabrielle, dont you dare tell anyone about that." The warrior growled. "Especially any of your Amazons."
"Dont worry. Like I said, no one would believe it." The bard giggled. "So howd you manage to sneak out?"
"I finally waited until I heard Mother go to bed. Then waited another quarter candle mark to give her time to fall asleep. But . . ." The warrior snuggled a little closer, "it was definitely worth the wait," She leaned over and kissed her partner soundly. "Dont you think?" She kissed her again and slid one hand slowly down the bards firm leg, moving toward her inner thigh. "Hmmmm?"
"Uh . . . worth it . . ." The bard managed on a breathless note, as her mind shut out everything except the sensations created by her partners attentions.
Cyrene was up early and decided to surprise her daughter and Gabrielle with breakfast trays. She carried one tray to Xenas room and quietly pushed the door open, thinking not to wake up her daughter . . . who was not there. The older woman looked at the bed for a long moment, knowing she had tucked her daughter into it the night before. Wonder where she went so early? she mused to herself. She shrugged and took the tray back out, deciding she would leave it in Gabrielles room and Xena could eat downstairs when she came in from wherever she had gone.
She walked down the hall to Gabrielles room and crept in. Setting the tray down on a low table and turning around, she glanced across the room and realized there were two people in the bed. She just kept herself from letting out an audible gasp when she realized just who the two people were. Gabrielle was laying on her stomach and Xena was also sprawled stomach-down, her head resting on the younger girls back with the warriors long arm laying across her. Two sleep shirts lay in a crumpled heap on the floor beside the bed. Cyrene chuckled inwardly. About time those two figured it out. Wonder why Xena didnt tell me?
Two blue eyes popped open, the warrior having sensed someone in the room. As it registered exactly who was in the room, Xenas eyes grew even wider and she covered her face with her hand.
Cyrene walked closer and rested her hand on the one covering her daughters face. "Xena, honey, its alright," she whispered. "Well talk later. You go back to sleep, okay?"
The warrior merely nodded, keeping her face covered. Damn. Meant to sneak back into my room before she got up. Wanted to tell her, but not exactly like this.
Cyrene pulled the covers up more snugly around her daughter and her lover, and bent and kissed both women lightly on the forehead. Then she slipped out of the room and chuckled aloud.
Meanwhile, Xena was pretty sure she was not going to be able to fall back asleep. She reflected on her mothers reaction to finding her with Gabrielle that way, and let out a little relieved sigh. She had been pretty sure that Cyrene would be accepting, but apparently she was not only accepting, she was supportive. Xena sighed again and drew in a deep breath, smelling the lavender smell on her lovers skin and the scent that was just Gabrielle herself. She snuggled up more closely with the bard and despite herself, was lulled back to sleep by the bards steady heartbeat and slow gentle breathing.
Back down in the main room of the inn, Cyrene was preparing for her usual early morning breakfast crowd. As she was rolling silverware on the bar, Toris came in from the hallway, yawning and stretching. "Morning, Mother. Got any tea?"
"Good morning, Toris, here you go," and she handed her son a steaming mug of strong fragrant black tea.
" Thank you. It sure is good to have Xena home, huh?"
"Yes, it is."
"What did she say about all those crucifixion rumors?"
"Son, youd better let Xena explain that herself. Im not sure I could get all the details correct."
"Oh, okay. You know Mother, Gabrielle is looking good. I really like the short haircut. I mean, I havent seen her in almost two years, and I remembered a young girl. Shes not a little girl anymore. Shes become a beautiful woman. Dont you think its strange that shes still following sis around? They sure dont seem like they would have much in common. Seems like she would settle down with some guy and start a family. I wouldnt mind courting her myself. In fact, I think I might while theyre here. It couldnt hurt, could it?"
"Toris, I dont find it strange at all that Gabrielle is still with Xena. I believe they have . . . um . . . a lot more in common than you realize. As for courting her, son, I wouldnt go there if I were you. Youd be setting yourself up for a great disappointment," Cyrene gently admonished. If not a thorough trashing from your sister, she added silently.
"Why, Mother? Surely she doesnt have a suitor already. Why would she be with Xena if she did?"
"Thats something else you might want to discuss with Xena, son."
"Xena? Why would I discuss Gabrielles love life with Xena? No offense, Mother, but sis isnt exactly one to be observant of matters of the heart or to have sensitive chats. Shes so quiet and practical. I cant imagine she and Gab sitting around the campfire at night discussing men."
"Well, son," the innkeeper chuckled, "Youre probably right about that. Im pretty sure they dont sit around discussing men. Trust me Toris, you just need to have a talk with your sister about all of this."
"Alright, Mother, if you think so, I guess I will. But that Gabrielle, she really is a beautiful and sweet girl. She knows me, she knows our family. She greeted me warmly last night. Dont tell me you wouldnt love to have her be a part of our family."
"Toris, as far as Im concerned, Gabrielle already is a part of the family," Cyrene just shook her head in amusement. Now more than ever, she thought. "Just talk with your sister, please."
"Well, okay." the tall dark-headed man sipped thoughtfully on his tea, planning ways to get alone with the beautiful bard.
A candle mark passed and Gabrielle felt the body sprawled across her back stir. She rolled over and found her eyes mere inches from her Xenas blue ones. "Good morning, love."
The warrior smiled and closed the distance between them, planting several slow kisses on the bards face. She raised up and rolled to her side, resting her head on one hand, the other resting on Gabrielles muscular stomach, and sighed.
"Xena, is something wrong?"
"Gabrielle . . . um . . . mother knows about us."
"She came in earlier and left that tray of breakfast on the table over there."
The bard lifted the covers up and looked down at their naked bodies. She leaned over the side of the bed and noted the two sleep shirts on the floor. She groaned and leaned into her tall lover, burying her head against the warriors strong shoulder.
Xena chuckled and began rubbing gentle circles on Gabrielles back. "I think its okay. She even said it was okay. And she . . . um . . . kissed both of us on the forehead and . . ." Another chuckle. "She pulled the covers up over our bare shoulders."
"Kissed us and pulled the covers up around us. Not exactly how I had planned to tell her, and I owe her some sort of further explanation, but she seems absolutely fine with it."
"Thank the gods! Xena, are you sure she wasnt upset?"
"She didnt seem upset at all. In fact, she sounded kind of happy about it."
"Whatd she bring us to eat?"
A deep belly laugh from the warrior. She ruffled the blonde hair and got up to retrieve the tray. "Lets see, we have herbal tea, ham, some kind of cereal, milk, butter, and . . . nutbread."
"Nutbread! She remembered."
"Yeah, how could she forget. The last time we were here you ate a whole loaf by yourself."
"So? I figured she took it as a compliment to her cooking."
"Actually, she must have, because theres two loaves on this tray." Another belly laugh. "Here, love, let me feed you breakfast in bed."
After a leisurely breakfast, a bit of snuggling, and a hot bath, warrior and bard finally made an appearance in the main room of the inn. A very sheepish Gabrielle hung back a bit behind her taller partner, unsure of where to look. The warrior however, strolled confidently up to the bar and sat down. "Good morning, Mother. Thanks for breakfast."
"Youre welcome, Xena. You too, Gabrielle. You can come out from hiding behind my daughter and take a seat. I have something I want to say to both of you." The innkeeper gave them both a very serious look.
Warrior and bard exchanged a look. Uh oh. Here it comes. Xena grabbed a hold of her partners hand under the bar and squeezed it, not letting go.
After a brief moment of silence, Cyrene cleared her throat and gave her daughter a stern frown. "Xena, you had better be good to her because she is the best thing that ever happened to you. Dont you dare screw this up."
"Wha . . ?" A stunned warrior started to open her mouth.
"Hush, Im not finished." The innkeeper turned her gaze on the bard. "Gabrielle, thank you. Thank you for giving me my daughter back. Thank you for loving her when everyone else had given up on her, even me. Thank you for saving her life four years ago when I was ready to let the people of this town stone her. Thank you for seeing the good in her when no one else could. I had already lost Lyceus. Toris was off fighting and I feared every day I would hear he had been killed. I dont think I could have taken losing my only daughter as well. And now I have two. You will always have a home here and you will always be part of my family."
A smile started at the corners of the bards mouth and spread across her face until the corners of her eyes crinkled. She stood up and walked around the bar and embraced the older woman. "Youre welcome, Cyrene."
"Call me Mother."
"Cy . . . Mother . . . Mom, I had to save her life. After all, she saved mine first and she continues to save me on so many different levels I couldnt even begin to describe it. Your daughter is the other half of my soul. She completes me."
"I know, honey." The older woman kissed Gabrielle on top of her head and felt a pair of strong arms wrap around both of them, as Xena moved in from behind, creating a Cyrene sandwich.
Toris chose just that moment to walk in from taking care of the livestock. "Hey, whats going on here, some sort of love fest? Can I join in?"
All three women quickly separated. "Oh, nothing, son, I was just welcoming the girls home. Glad theyre alive and all." Cyrene busied herself wiping down the bar.
"Oh." The tall man looked a bit puzzled. He turned his gaze to the bard and his face brightened. "Gabrielle, would you like to go for a walk in a half candle mark? Im almost finished with my chores."
"Uh, sure." The bard gave him a curious look.
"Great!" Toris smiled and ducked back outside.
"Whats that all about?" a confused bard looked up at her partner.
"Gabrielle, I think Toris, he . . . um . . ." The warrior fumbled for words.
"Hes got a crush on you," Cyrene finished for her daughter.
"Oh. Ohhhh." Dawning understanding crossed Gabrielles face.
"Damn that boy, I told him he needed to have a talk with you, Xena, but I guess he chose not to listen to me." The innkeeper fretted, rolling her hands in her apron.
"Gabrielle, I can talk to him. I mean, I dont want to put you in an awkward position." The warrior offered.
"No Xena, thats okay. I can handle this, unless youre just dying to break the news to your brother yourself. I know how much you like having long sensitive emotional discussions with people." The bard wrapped an arm around her partners waist and patted her on the belly.
"Right." The warrior smiled down at her partner. "Oh no, if you think you can handle it, Ill let you go ahead, my bard."
"Well then," the bard chewed her lower lip. "Im going to go freshen up a little and change into something warmer for outside. If Toris comes back in tell him Ill be out in a bit." She turned on her heels and stopped when she heard Xenas uncertain voice.
"Hey, dont freshen up too much."
Gabrielle spun back around and launched herself into the warriors arms. "Dont you worry love, I only have eyes for you, dont you know that by now?"
"And what beautiful eyes they are." Xena gazed into the green depths for a moment before squeezing her partner tightly. "Let him down gently, love. We big tall warriors fall pretty hard."
"Dont I know it." Gabrielle reached up and brushed her hand across the warriors face and then traced the full lips with one finger, before she turned and went toward her room. Xena watched her go, getting lost in daydreams, when her mothers voice brought her back to the present.
"So, Xena, have you?" Cyrene asked gently.
"Have I what?" A blushing warrior managed to meet her mothers face at chin level, but couldnt bring herself to look into her eyes. Geez, why is she asking me that?
The innkeeper chuckled at the way her daughter took the question. "Not that, silly. It was pretty obvious from what I saw this morning that youve done that."
Cyrene moved closer to her daughter. "No Xena, have you fallen hard?"
"Oh." A long pause. "Harder than I ever imagined possible."
"I see. I thought as much. Ive seen this coming for a long time."
"Xena, we mothers dont miss much."
The warrior took her mothers hand and led her over to the bar again, and poured them both some mugs of tea. She ladled a generous dollop of honey into each mug and looked thoughtfully down into the fragrant brew. Then she looked up, finally meeting her mothers eyes. "Mother, Gabrielle has done more than save my life. She has saved my soul. She is the light that drives the darkness away. Without her I would be lost. Utterly and completely. Theres nothing I wouldnt do for her. I would follow her to Tartarus and back again. I thought I loved Borias, but we were really just using each other."
The innkeeper winced, remembering her daughters first serious relationship.
Xena noted the reaction, knowing her mother had been through mental Hades during that time. She lowered her eyes for a moment and then looked up again. "Then I thought I loved Marcus, and maybe I did. At least right before he died we had both gotten our lives back on track. But he did die and that wasnt to be."
Cyrene smiled. "Xena, I always knew that Marcus had some good in his heart."
"Yes, he did. And then there was Hercules, who was the catalyst that got me moving toward doing good instead of evil. I thought I loved him but we didnt really know each other well enough to be in love. I think I really just admired him a whole lot. I still do. Someday I hope you can meet him."
"Well of course you admire him honey, after all he is a demi-god. And he uses his power and strength to help people." The innkeeper commented.
The warrior stiffened for a moment and then gazed across the room with a faraway look in her eyes. Oh, Mother, if you only knew the half of what I am learning about demi-gods. Nope, I can tell you about that. It would hurt you too much. Xena turned her attention back to her mother, whom, the warrior realized, was looking at her with some concern.
The warrior smiled. "But Mother, Gabrielle is it. Shes the first pure unselfish love Ive ever had. All I want to do is make her happy. I think Im really in love for the first time. And the last time. I cant imagine life without her."
"Xena, honey, I think she feels the same way. I see it in her eyes. I think you two are going to be very happy together." The innkeeper patted her daughter on the leg.
Gabrielle strolled back into the room, now dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, wool long pants, and her boots, clothes she had left behind the last time she and Xena had been in Amphipolis. She noted the close proximity of her lover and her mother, and the serious looks on their faces. "Hey, am I interrupting anything? I can go on outside to wait. I . . ."
"No Gabrielle," Xena looked at her partner fondly. "We were just finishing up. Come on over here."
Cyrene left the room and went into the kitchen. The bard walked over to Xenas side, leaning into her for a moment.
"Gabrielle, I trust you, but he is my brother. We have . . . um . . . similar tastes, if you know what I mean. Maybe you better stay an arms-length away while you two walk."
"Oh Xena, I really dont think you have to worry about Toris getting fresh with me. Besides, I think Ive learned a little self-defense in the last four years." The bard backhanded her partner playfully against her stomach.
As they were laughing, a very cleaned-up and nice-smelling Toris opened the door and stepped into the room. "Gabrielle, are you ready?"
"Sure." She slowly walked over to her lovers brother, and slipped her hand through the arm he offered. She turned back to look at the warrior, giving her a wink with one sparkling green eye. "Back in a bit."
"Okay, um . . . have a nice walk." Xena smiled and returned the wink.
"Oh, dont worry sis, we will," Toris said brightly.
Oh boy. A silent simultaneous thought of both warrior and bard.
*Traditional Celtic tune, as arranged by SixMileBridge, and performed on their CD, Unabridged, Loose Goose Productions, 1998, www.loosegoose.com.
Continued in Part 6
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