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 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
my love, you know that youre my best friend.
you know that id do anything for you
and my love, let nothing come between us
my love for you is strong and true . . .
so now youre sleeping peaceful,
i lie awake and pray
that youll be strong tomorrow
and will see another day
and we will praise it
and love the light that brings a smile
across your face . . .
- from "Hold On" by Sarah McLaclan. Published by Sony/ATV Songs LLC, Tyde Music (BMI). As performed on her CD, Mirrorball, Copyright 1999, Artista Records, Inc.
Xena watched the door close behind her brother and Gabrielle, and sat down on a bar stool with a sigh. She picked up her mug of tea and sipped at it thoughtfully. On the one hand, she was glad that her partner had taken on the burden of breaking the news of their relationship to Toris. Xena had not been looking forward to it. She wasnt even sure what he would think, not that she ultimately really cared. It was the potential awkwardness that she dreaded more than anything. She hadnt been around her brother much in over fourteen years, since she left Amphipolis to form her first army. It had been a long time and a lot had happened. People change, the warrior mused. I sure have. On the other hand, she really wished she could listen in on the conversation between Toris and her lover.
A few breakfast customers from the village opened the door to the inn and stepped through the doorway. It was an older couple and Xena vaguely recognized them from her childhood, though she couldnt remember their names. They both stopped for a moment and looked at her with startled expressions, but then merely nodded in greeting and went over to a table beside one of the windows and sat down. Xena managed a small smile and ducked her head slightly in return. Cyrene came back into the main room from the kitchen with two plates of ham, bread, and eggs, along with a pitcher of hot tea, which she placed on the couples table. After exchanging pleasantries with them she went to the bar and sat down next to her daughter.
"Whats wrong, honey? Youre not worried about Toris and Gabrielle, are you? If you are I can tell you, you worry needlessly. That girl is head over heels, honey, and its with you."
Xena blushed and took another sip of her tea before looking up. "No. Im not worried. Not really. You know mother, Ive traveled with Gabrielle across Greece and several foreign countries, by land and by sea. I cant tell you how many times I have had to fight off or drive away low-life men that hit on her. And that was before we were a . . . um, couple. Now that were together, I mean really together," a smile from the warrior, "the first man that hits on her is my brother. We cant ignore him and he certainly isnt going away. I guess I just hope he takes the news okay."
"Oh Xena, Toris is an open-minded boy. Or man, I guess I should call him. Hell be fine. He may be disappointed but I think he will also be happy for you. We spent a lot of years worrying about you. We really thought we had lost you forever. That day that Gabrielle showed up here and kept the villagers from stoning you, and then I finally realized that you really did mean to turn your life around, that was one of the happiest days of my life. And now just look at you. Youre happy. You have turned things around. I hear good things about you all the time. And now youre in love. With someone who obviously thinks the world of you, too. Its more than we had ever hoped for for you. Especially after everything that happened with your father. I know I left you and your brothers on your own a lot more than I should have, trying to run this inn and keep food on our table. I couldnt be a mother and a father but I did the best I could."
The warriors face darkened a little and she swallowed a few times. "Mother, did . . . did our father . . . did he ever . . . um . . . try to sacrifice Toris or Lyceus to any of the gods?"
The innkeeper searched her daughters face for a long moment. "No Xena, just you. But you always were special. You were stronger. Faster. Smarter. You almost seemed to be touched by the gods in a way your brothers werent. I suppose Ares wanted you because of all the gifts you had. I guess he did finally have you for a while. Im so glad you turned away from that life. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I dont know." Xena lied. "Just curious, I guess." Im trying to figure out if Toris and Lyceus are my full brothers or my half brothers but I cant tell you that, Mother.
"Well, Id better get busy." Cyrene spared a brief glance at her brooding daughters eyes and thought for a moment. "Xena, some of our sheep have been pasturing for the winter in that little boxed-in canyon up in the hills. Its time to move them down here and corral them for a while. They need to be washed and shorn, and lambing time will be coming soon. Why dont you ride out on Argo and drive them down here for me?"
The warrior smiled. "Sure, I can do that. Argo could probably use the exercise and I could sure stand some fresh air." She got up and walked across the room and out the door.
The innkeeper watched through the window until her daughter disappeared into the barn. Something more is going on with her than worrying about Gabrielle. I guess Ill have to figure a way to get it out of her. That girl always did keep things all bottled up inside. Maybe she needs a little TLC from her mother.
Gabrielle and Toris had slowly made their way to one of the prettier spots near Amphipolis, a small pond surrounded by several kinds of trees, a very peaceful and secluded place. They had discussed the weather, the sheep, the town gossip, and Gabrielle had told him most of the details of the crucifixion and of coming back to life, leaving out the part about she and Xenas growing relationship. Toris had been pretty amazed at all of it and the bard could tell it had been a lot for him to digest. He had thus far avoided the subject of courting, her love life, or his love life, and she was beginning to wonder if Xena and Cyrene had been wrong about the tall man.
They were still walking with Gabrielles arm linked through Toris. He reached over and covered her hand with his own. "Gabrielle, I havent seen you in a long time. I never got to tell you. I heard about your husband. Perdicus, wasnt it?"
"Im really sorry. That must have been very hard to go through."
"Yes it was. And thank you. But Im fine now. I mean, we were married for less than a day and the truth is I really didnt know him that well. I thought I did, but then I didnt even know myself very well at the time. Looking back, I wasnt even in love with him, at least not in a way that would have made a good marriage. He was a good and honorable man but I think the marriage was a mistake."
"Why do you say that?"
"Its just not what I was supposed to do with my life. It wasnt my destiny."
"Oh. Well, have you had any other suitors since then?"
"Not exactly. Xena and I do run into some . . . um . . . characters in our travels. Lots of men try to pick us up when we travel but theyre just after a good time. Weve certainly had to fight off our share of scum, thats for sure." The bard took a firm grip on her staff and held it out in front of her. "This. This has gotten me out of more than a few bad situations. Especially if Xena wasnt close by to protect me at the time."
"I noticed you always carry that with you. You must be pretty good with it by now."
"Xena says I am. For a while I decided not to fight anymore. I even had another staff that I threw away. That staff originally belonged to Ephiny and so did this one. Brutus killed her during a battle near the Amazon village. She was my regent for three years while I traveled with Xena. Now I realize that with what Xena and I do, I have to fight. I cant let her do all the work of protecting us by herself. It isnt fair."
"Gabrielle, why do you follow my sister around? Isnt it awfully dangerous? I mean, you two were killed. How many times can you expect someone to bring you back to life? Dont you think someday you two are going to get yourselves killed permanently?"
"Yes, I have no doubt about that. Xena is a warrior and you dont see too many old warriors. Most of them die young. But Im where I belong. Im doing what Im supposed to be doing. I have to have faith that as long as I follow the way that Im supposed to, that things, my life, will turn out like theyre supposed to"
"But dont you want to find someone and settle down? Raise a family? Put down some roots somewhere?"
"Thats a pretty complicated question. Toris, I have a family. I have Xena and you and your mother. I have the Amazons. I know I could count on all of you if I needed any of you. I have my sister Lila. As for being settled, maybe someday, but for now Im happy with what I do. And Toris, I have found someone. Someone I want to spend the rest of my life with."
"What? I dont understand." The tall man sounded more than a little disappointed. "Gabrielle, I thought you said you hadnt had any serious suitors since Perdicus died."
"Yes, I did say that. And I havent. This person didnt come courting me. It was something that just kind of gradually happened until one day I realized I was in love."
"Well Gabrielle, if you are in love with someone, why arent you with him? Why in blazes are you following my sister all over the place?"
"Um, Toris, it isnt a him."
" I guess you have more in common with the Amazons than I realized."
"The person youre in love with. Is she an Amazon?"
"No, although she is probably even more like the Amazons than I am."
"Then who is she and why arent you with her?"
This boy is denser than mud, the bard thought silently. "Toris, I am with her. Almost every moment of every single day of my life. And Im as happy as Ive ever been."
Toris stopped and turned and stared at her, as the bards words slowly, ever so slowly, sunk in. "Let me get this straight. Youre in love with Xena? My sister?! Does she know?"
"Of course, silly!" Gabrielle laughed and slapped him playfully on the arm.
"Well is she in love with you?"
"No offense Gab, but sis doesnt strike me as capable of it. She certainly doesnt seem like she would be any good at romance and . . . um . . . stuff." The tall man blushed.
You have no idea. "Toris, why do you think Xena became who she was? Have you ever thought about that?"
"No. Not really. Most of the time I just thought she was stark raving mad. She brought so much shame on our family, I tried for a long time just to block her out, pretend she wasnt my sister."
The bard was saddened by this admission. "Toris, a person doesnt express strong emotion, either love or hate, unless it is because they care about something or someone a great deal. Your sister was hurt deeply by a lot of people. By this villages rejection of her. By the death of Lyceus and the part she played in that. By people that gained her trust and then betrayed her. Underneath that cool exterior she feels a lot of things very deeply. Fortunately for me, love is one of those things."
"Wow. I just havent really been around her much since we were in our teens. I dont know much about who she is anymore."
"You should get to know her while were here. I think youd like what you find."
"Maybe. Still Gab, youll have to admit that Xena isnt the best at communication. I mean, how do you know she loves you? I cant picture her even forming a complete sentence half the time."
The bard smiled, remembering very gruff short conversations that over four years had become deep discussions about life, politics, religion, philosophy, and . . . love. Guess she and I have come a long way. "Toris, she tells me she loves me. She shows me. She does nice things for me all the time. You want to read something she wrote to me?"
"Well, if you dont mind, that would be kind of interesting, I guess."
"Come on, lets sit down." Gabrielle led Toris over to a large boulder by the pond and climbed up. She reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out a little folded up note, the one Xena had left her after she wrote the poem a few days before. "Here. Read." She thrust the note under her lovers brothers nose.
Toris took it and read in silence. He let out a low whistle. "Eyes the color of the sea before a storm. My sister thought that up all by herself?"
"Yep. Shes a very special person and we are very much in love with each other. We just had to die together to figure it out." The bard reached out and patted Toris on the arm and the sun made the bracelet on her wrist sparkle, catching the tall mans eye.
He reached down and traced it with his finger. "Nice."
"Yeah. She bought it for me. Just because."
"So you and she . . . you . . . um. Never mind, I dont want to know."
Gabrielle smirked and then laughed deeply. "Oh, yeah, and its fantastic. No, its more than fantastic, its . . ."
"Gabrielle." Toris cut her off. "Too much information. Way too much information. She is my sister, remember?"
"Oops. Yeah. Sorry. Come on, lets head back." The bard jumped down from the rock, pulling Toris with her.
"Im really happy for you and sis. Ill have to admit, I had kind of hoped . . ."
"I know. And Im flattered. Youre a good man, Toris. Very attractive too."
"Well, I might be a bit partial to tall warriors with black hair and piercing blue eyes," a laugh from the bard, "but yes, I think you are very attractive."
"Youll find someone. I have no doubt."
"I sure hope so. Hope shes as sweet and kind as you are."
Gabrielle squeezed his arm and they walked the rest of the way back in silence.
Gabrielle got back to the inn to discover that her partner had left for the hills and a little shepherding. The bard spent most of the afternoon helping Cyrene clean up around the inn. They had begun the initial prep for the dinner crowd when the older woman finally insisted that Gabrielle deserved a little time to relax from her recent ordeal. The bard had gone to her room and moved her things into Xenas room. Now that things were out in the open there was no sense in taking up space in a perfectly good guest room. Cyrene had even helped clear a space in one of the wardrobes in Xenas room so that Gabrielle could move the things in there that she usually kept stored permanently at the inn. In the process, the bard found some of the scrolls from her very first travels with her partner.
"Oh. I havent looked at these in a long time." She delicately picked up the rolled parchments and laid them on the bed.
"Sweetie, why dont you go on now and read those, or go for a walk, or go see that horse of yours. Things are under control here. Besides, I told you two candle marks ago to relax."
Gabrielle smiled at the innkeeper and hugged her. "Thanks Cy . . . Mom."
She picked up the scrolls and went out to the barn to visit Star. She set the scrolls down on a low bench against the back wall of the barn and made her way over to the appaloosa. Star neighed loudly and butted the bard on the shoulder as she approached.
"Hey there. Whatcha doing? You miss Argo? I miss Argos mom, thats for sure. I didnt know she knew how to herd sheep. Shes just full of surprises."
Gabrielle thoroughly groomed Star and then tossed some clean hay into an empty stall at the end of the row. She found a clean soft horse blanket and threw it on top of the hay. That done, she picked up one of the scrolls and nestled back into the sweet-smelling bed she had made to read. Before long her eyes grew heavy and she gradually drifted off to sleep. She never heard the tall figure enter the barn.
Xena herded the sheep into a large corral and lead Argo into the barn and put her in the stall next to Star. She removed the palominos saddle and bridle and brushed her down before giving her some oats to eat and filling her trough with fresh water. As the warrior started to leave she noticed several scrolls on the bench at the end of the barn. What are those doing here? She made her way over and as she passed the last stall, she looked down to see the bard curled up on a blanket, fast asleep.
The warrior grinned and felt a giddy flutter in her stomach. Cant believe just looking at her has that effect on me. She quietly knelt down and curled up next to her lover, resting a long arm around the bards middle.
"Hey. You smell like sheep." Green eyes opened as Gabrielle rolled over to face the warrior.
"Oh. Sorry. I can go and wash up if . . ."
"No. Not bad like sheep. All springy like sun-warmed wool. Its kind of nice."
"Oh." Xena snuggled closer, nuzzling the top of her lovers head. "Howd it go with Toris?"
"I told him about us. Hes okay. In fact, hes happy for us."
"Really? Hes not jealous or upset?"
"No, not too much anyway. At first he had a hard time believing you were capable of romance, but I think I managed to convince him otherwise."
"Gabrielle, hes my brother." Xenas face flushed and the bard felt the warriors skin warming.
"Dont worry. I didnt tell him anything embarrassing. Just told him how thoughtful you are and all the nice things you do for me."
"All the nice things?" Xena nipped at a bardic navel as she tugged Gabrielles shirt out of the waistband of her wool slacks.
The bard felt skilled fingers tracing up her stomach, reaching sensitive areas, and she sucked in a breath. "Well. Maybe not all the nice things." She tilted her head and met the warriors waiting lips with her own, while she reached around and undid armor and then unlaced leather that was warm from her lovers body heat.
Xenas heart skipped a beat before speeding up considerably, and she found herself pushed onto her back, her lover straddling her, with green eyes boring through to her very core. "Your turn, love?" The warrior asked on an uneven breath.
"You got it." The bard bent down and kissed the warrior thoroughly, as she peeled the leathers down to reveal smooth tanned skin beneath. "Gods, I love you," Gabrielle said with a husky voice.
Xena was speechless at her lovers onslaught and simply closed her eyes, enjoying the bards attentions. The blue eyes popped open briefly as small hands moved slowly down her rib cage and across her thighs. "Love you too." Blue and green eyes met and twinkled, as the souls behind them danced together in a harmony born of deep commitment and friendship. The warriors eyes closed again as Gabrielles activities became much more personal.
A candle mark later Xena and Gabrielle were seated in the stall, curled up together comfortably. The warrior was reading from her partners scrolls for the very first time and the bard looked silently over her shoulder, anxious to hear her lovers reaction to her work. She absently ran her fingertips across the warriors muscular shoulders, reading along with her.
This particular set of scrolls actually started from a few moons before the two had met, and gave Xena a new insight into her lovers frame of mind at the time they started traveling together. The stories chronicled their first meeting all the way up through Gabrielles tenure at the Athens Academy of Performing Bards and her decision to return to the road with Xena.
Two distinct themes began to be revealed to the warrior, at least distinct in that she had not really thought that hard about them before. The first theme was how Gabrielle saw Xena, her descriptions of the warriors actions as well as her insight into Xenas thoughts and personality, and also the bards growing feelings for her. The second theme, and one which stung a little, was the depth of Gabrielles own thoughts and feelings. Of course Xena had been there for most of the adventures the bard had written about, and they had sometimes shared limited discussions about thoughts and feelings. But that was the beginning of their friendship and the warrior held back a lot and shut out even more, keeping the very observant and sensitive younger girl at arms length.
"Gabrielle. Im sorry. I never knew how much I was hurting you. I wish I had allowed myself to open up to you more back then. I feel like Ive missed a lot of good stuff simply because I wouldnt let you in." The warrior drew the fair head forward and kissed the top of it briefly, before turning and pulling the bard into her lap and wrapping her arms around her.
Gabrielle laid her head against a strong shoulder and squeezed her partner lightly around the middle. "Xena, its okay. I was probably a lot for someone like you to handle back then. In Potadeia I felt so alone. All the time. Oh, people liked me and all, but I had to bottle up everything. They were simple people with simple dreams. There was an elder in our village who had been to Athens to study with Socrates. I begged him to teach me to read and write, and reluctantly he did. It just wasnt done in our village. Girls were expected to marry, have children, and keep house. My parents were focused on finding the right man for me to marry. Thats all they wanted for me. And I wanted so much more. I just knew there was this great big world out there beyond Potadeia and that I wanted to see it. I didnt know how it was going to happen, but I needed to get out. And then you came along and I knew if I didnt grasp that opportunity, that one brief moment when our paths crossed, that I was going to be stuck in Potadeia for the rest of my life."
The warrior reached up and touched the back of her knuckles against a soft cheek, stroking it slowly. "I just never realized how much it meant to you to get out. I didnt understand it. The ironic thing is that when I was that age I was the same way. I wanted out of Amphipolis so badly that I sold my soul to do it. I guess I didnt see it in you because on the surface you and I are two very different people. I didnt understand why a gentle soul like you would choose the harshness of a life on the road when you had a warm bed to sleep in back home. Its taken a long time to figure out that way down deep, you and I are fundamentally very much alike."
The bard smiled and turned her head to kiss the back of Xenas hand. "Xena, when I met you I hate to admit it, but it didnt much matter what kind of person you were. I had seen your bravery and fighting skills and that was all I needed to know -- that somewhere out there was another woman who had taken control and wasnt going to let the world dictate to her how to live her life. When I was with you I was able to express so much more than I ever could at home. Whether you listened or commented back almost didnt matter, at least not at first. What mattered was that I was at last free to start becoming who I needed to be and was able to freely express myself. So dont feel bad. Just letting me stay with you was the greatest gift you could have given me at that time."
Blue eyes softened. "Funny. Somehow by giving you that small gift I think I have gotten back the greatest gift of all."
"And whats that?"
"Loving you. And being loved by you."
Their lips met briefly and then they resumed talking.
"Xena, where do we go from here? Have you thought much about that?"
"Well, yeah, some. I think the only real pieces missing from the current puzzle are to figure out whats going on with the government and have that chat with Brutus I want to have. From there I dont know. Not exactly anyway. I never told you everything about my talk with Krishna in India, did I?"
"I . . . I wasnt sure. I kind of thought you had held some things back."
"Yeah. At the time he told me that each person has to find their own way, and that my way was the way of the warrior. That was my path in life. But this is sort of part two of that life. I think that the way of the warrior is still part of my way, but that something new has been added to it. It goes back to what you call the way of friendship. I still want to help people, Gabrielle, and to use my skills to that end. And I still think it is my way to not back down from a fight and to act with confidence in that. But theres something above that. Part of my way is to be with you, to love you, to learn from you, and that part takes precedence over the way of the warrior. I think the two can work together, but if I had to make a choice Id lay down my sword for you."
"I couldnt ask you to do that, and I dont want you to do that, but I think we are on the same track here. You know how I feel. I dont like fighting. But I do love you. And if I do have to fight to watch your back, to help you protect us, I will. And I wont back down from that either. I think this is where those two side-by-side forks of the river finally meet, Xena, in the way of love and friendship, because what it seems we have decided here is to always put each other and us being together first. We have our own individual ways, yours being the way of the warrior and mine being the way of love and peace, but our way together is the way of friendship, and that means that sometimes the warrior will have to be peaceful and sometimes the peacemaker will have to fight."
"Wow." Blue eyes glowed. "After all the struggles its all finally merging together, isnt it?"
"Yes. Its great isnt . . . uomph . .." The bards lips were suddenly covered by happy warrior ones.
After a moment, Gabrielle came up for air and her brows furrowed a bit. "Xena?"
"Theres something else Ive been thinking about and I wasnt sure just how to approach you with it, but I think this is a good time."
"What is it?"
"Xena, Ive spent over three years being queen of the Amazons pretty much in name only. They were a strong nation when I first met them, with a lot of good leaders. Thats not so true anymore. Chilapa is very intelligent and fair but she doesnt have much help. Most of the Amazons left are either very young and inexperienced, or very old and no longer capable of fighting. So many of the really skilled Amazon warriors have been killed. You even said that the Amazon nation was dying."
"Yes. It makes me very sad. They are a unique and vital part of our world. I dont want to see them become extinct."
"Neither do I. Xena, I think its time I took some real responsibility for them. I would really like to go lead the Amazons for a while. Be an active queen. Help them get back on their feet. And I would love for you to be by my side. We could do it together. But I wont do it if it means leaving you behind."
"I . . . I think thats a very good idea. The Amazons need you. Im not always so terribly fond of their ways," the warrior chuckled. "I think its partly all those female hormones that are constantly clashing. Then they all have their time of the moon simultaneously and eeewww, it just gets really emotional around there. But I think I could deal with it, at least for a while."
"Xena, there are two ways we could do this, you know. And either way you will be living with me in the queens quarters. But we are either going to have to get majority approval of the Amazon elder council to allow you resident alien status in the Amazon nation, or . . . we could formally nationalize you . . . make you a citizen. The Amazon charter does allow dual citizenship, so you would not be relinquishing your Amphipolis citizenship."
"Well, my bard, let me think about that for a while. Either way has advantages and disadvantages. The first allows me more independence but the second allows my more rights within the Amazon nation. In both cases I would vow to honor and protect the queen."
Gabrielle giggled. "Xena, you know you dont ever have to bow before me. Ever. But I do appreciate your honor and protection.."
"Bottom line Gabrielle, Id follow you anywhere, and if you need to be with the Amazons Im right there with you. In fact, we could make the Amazon village our home base, no matter what we eventually end up doing. If we go back on the road again for some reason it could be the place we always return to."
"Thank you, Xena. It means a lot to me to have your support in this."
"Id do anything for you."
Gabrielle looked up at her partner for a long moment and smiled before she placed a soft hand against the warriors face. "I know." She drew Xenas head forward and kissed her very tenderly. The warrior wrapped her arms around her partner and hugged her fiercely.
After a brief exploration they broke apart and the bard picked up a quill and a piece of parchment, and leaned back against the warriors chest as she balanced the parchment on her upraised knee. She absently twirled the quill in her fingers and then began to write.
"Whatcha writing about?"
"Im composing a message to my parents and Lila, to let them know that Im okay and that Ill be moving to the Amazon village soon. I figure I can send it by one of your mothers carrier pigeons."
"You sure you dont want to go see them in person? You know Ill go with you if you want me to."
"No. I dont think they want to see me. It really hurt when they didnt even come here for my birthday party last year. And poor Lila had to join that merchants caravan just so she could get here. It was great that Minya was with the caravan, so at least Lila had a friend in the group. I think Ill give my parents an open invitation to come visit me in the Amazon village if they want to, but Im not going out of my way to see them, at least not for a while."
"Well okay, but if you change your mind Im here for you."
"Thanks." The bard patted the warriors leg and resumed writing.
"Gabrielle, why dont we stay here for a few more days? Im going to help Toris wash and sheer the sheep and then we can travel on to the Amazons."
"Great. Can I help with the sheep?"
"Sure. You and Star could help keep the sheep near the stream while Toris and I wash them. We can probably get them all washed tomorrow and then shear them the day after that. Well bundle the wool up the day after that and then Toris can take it to market to trade. He wont need my help with that. So in four or five days we can pack up and go . . . home."
"Sounds like a plan." Gabrielle looked up and smiled at her partner. She folded the finished letter to her parents and dripped some melted candle wax on the edge to seal it. She turned her hand and pressed her Amazon queen signet ring into the warm wax. "I dont think theyve seen the signet before," she mused. "Hope it doesnt freak them out too much."
The bard pulled out a second piece of parchment. Xena eyed her. "Now what are you writing?"
"A message to Chilapa. Telling her the queen is returning. To rule the nation."
Gabrielle was just finishing her second cup of hot tea when Xena poked her head in the door of the inn. "You almost ready?"
"Sure." The bard stood up and smoothed the red leather skirt. She walked to the door and grabbed her staff from the corner.
Cyrene stepped out of the kitchen. "Here. A little something for lunch." She handed her tall daughter a bundle.
"Thanks, Mother," the warrior smiled. "Whats in here?"
"Youll just have to wait and find out, now wont you?" the innkeeper patted Xena on the stomach. "You all be careful out there. They may be sheep but they can still be strong."
The warrior smirked. "Ill try not to let the ferocious sheep get the best of me. Come on, Gabrielle, I got Star all saddled up for you."
They made their way to the corral where Toris was already astride his black stallion, two sheep dogs laying expectantly at the animals feet. Xena gave the bard a leg up onto Star and then she opened the gate to the corral. The dogs immediately rose up and ran in, effectively moving the sheep out of the corral and onto the road. The warrior jumped up on the top rail of the gate and whistled for Argo. The mare came running by and Xena flipped up into the air, landing neatly in the saddle just as the horse ran by.
"Show off," Gabrielle teased. She reigned Star in beside Argo and they began to follow the flock. Toris kept to himself on the other side, not saying much.
"Whats up with him?" The bard asked.
"Hes not a morning person. I dont think his tea has kicked in yet. He drinks about five strong cups every morning. Give him another candle mark and hell probably utter his first word for the day."
Gabrielle giggled. "Well thats something you two certainly differ on, Miss Come on, time to go, the sun will be up soon."
"I think I got that from growing up in the inn. I learned that if I got up early I would usually get some of mothers sweet rolls fresh and hot from the oven. I dont think Toris ever figured that out. By the time he got up, the guests and Lyceus and I had usually finished off the rolls. They were the first things to go. Mother was too busy to cook a special breakfast just for us, so we always got whatever was being served to her guests each morning. Not that everything wasnt great. Youve tasted her cooking."
"Boy have I ever. A few more weeks here and we might have to go shopping again to find me a bigger a skirt."
The warrior gave her lovers toned midsection an appraising glance and she smiled in appreciation. "Oh, I dont think youve got anything to worry about, love. You look just fine to me."
"Oh, yeah. Better than fine."
Gabrielle blushed. Xena had given her compliments in the past, but since becoming lovers the seductive looks and the very sweet comments had been pretty much free-flowing, and it took some getting used to. "Youre going to spoil me rotten, you know."
"Thats the plan, love." The warrior sidled Argo even closer and reached out and took the bards hand, kissing it lightly.
"Would you two give it a rest? Ever since youve gotten here youve been practically smoldering. Its enough to make a fellow need to search out a cold stream." Toris yelled over the flock.
"Look Gabrielle, theres someone else on the road with us," Xena gave her lover a crooked grin.
"Oops. Guess his tea finally reached his brain." Gabrielle laughed.
"Hey Toris, deal with it. Besides, where were going that cold stream can be arranged." The warrior yelled back at her brother.
"You wouldnt dare. Would you?" The tall man looked suspiciously at his sister.
"Oh, wouldnt I?" Xena gave him an evil grin. "But I wont have to. Were about to be in that cold stream washing these sheep, remember?"
"Oh. I was hoping you two girls would take care of the washing while I keep an eye on the flock."
"Toris, you and I are the biggest and strongest, and we can both handle these sheep pretty well. Gabrielle here hasnt been around them much so she gets the job of herding."
"So she gets to stay dry." The tall man said.
"Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on how good she is." Xena laughed playfully.
"You listen to me, warrior princess," the bard jumped in. "I do not, do NOT intend to go diving into cold water unless I have to to rescue a sheep. You got me? If all goes well I dont plan to get wet until I take a hot bath tonight. And you are the one who had better be good, or else Ill have to think of some suitable punishment."
"Xena!" An exasperated bard slapped her partner on the leg.
They reached the trail head that lead through the trees and down to the stream. Xena and Toris, along with the dogs, managed to get the flock turned off the road and going in the right direction. Gabrielle held back a bit, observing their actions, learning as much as she could for her job of keeping the herd in control on shore.
As the trees cleared the stream came into view and the bard sighed. It was a beautiful place. The water was clear and babbled over small stones. Along the shore the first small blooms of spring were starting to appear in colors of pink and red and yellow. The birds had returned from their winter haven and were singing in the trees, and grass was finally starting to pop up in little green shoots. "Gods, Xena, every place Ive been around here is absolutely gorgeous. You sure were lucky to grow up here."
"Yeah, it wasnt half bad," the warrior agreed. She got off Argo and removed the mares saddle and bridle, tossing them under a tree along with the saddlebags. "Go on girl, have a nice romp." She patted the mares rump and the horse whinnied loudly before taking off downstream.
"Gabrielle," Xena ambled over to her partner. "Toris and I are going to start washing the sheep, two at a time. Your job is to keep the rest of them from wandering too far up or downstream. Let the dogs do most of the work. Thats what theyre trained to do. If you run into any snags just give me a yell, okay?"
The warrior retrieved two cakes of soft brown soap and tossed one to Toris. "Here bro, lets get started."
"Okay sis, bet I can wash more than you can."
Matching pairs of blue eyes glinted at each other, and brother and sister each grabbed hold of a bawling sheep, dragging the poor bewildered beasts toward the stream.
Oh boy, this is going to be fun to watch, the bard mused silently, as she watched her competitive partner and her equally competitive brother go to work.
The day had gone pretty well. They had taken a break when the sun was highest in the sky, and had discovered that Cyrene had packed some large ham sandwiches, small flasks of lemonade, and nutbread for dessert. They devoured the delicious lunch and had gone back to work. It was now late afternoon and most of the sheep on shore were clean, with only a few remaining to be washed.
Gabrielle smiled smugly, realizing that overall she had done a good job. She had only had to chase down a few strays, and just as Xena had said, the dogs actually did most of the work with only a few verbal commands from the bard. She had even been able to pull out a scroll and do a little writing, looking up from time to time to make sure the flock was still intact. She had also taken time to play with a couple of early season lambs which had been born up in the canyon at the end of winter.
She looked up as Xena and Toris each released two more sheep from the water, and the disgruntled animals came up on shore and took off at a run downstream. Gabrielle tucked the scroll she had been working on into Stars saddlebag and gave the mare a gentle kick, galloping after the two runaways. The dogs followed along beside and the bard caught up with the sheep and pulled ahead of them, blocking their path. The dogs held them at bay from the bank side so that the sheep had two choices. Get back in the water or go re-join the flock. Of course they chose to re-join the flock.
As the bard turned back, following the two sheep, she looked way upstream and saw two of the spring lambs heading into the trees. "Oh, bother," she said to herself, "How did those two get so far so fast?" She looked down at the dogs. "You keep things in control here while I go get those lambs." She took off again at a gallop.
"Hey, whereya going?" Xena yelled from the water as her partner flew by.
"Escaped lambs upstream." Gabrielle yelled over her shoulder.
"Oh. Hey, youre doing a great job."
"Thanks." A smile from the bard as she kept going.
Gabrielle reached the spot where she thought the lambs had gone into the trees. The foliage was too thick to ride through so she dismounted Star and left her just outside the tree line. "Stay here." She pushed the thick branches aside, carefully making her way through the trees, looking for the two white fluffy lambs. And suddenly found herself pinned against a tree by a very large man with very foul-smelling breath.
"Finally got you alone, Queenie," the man drawled, showing yellow crooked teeth. "Been watching you for days." He leered at her and fingered the fringe on the bottom of her skirt, and then ran his finger up her midsection and raised her chin. "Dont you look cute."
Gabrielle visibly cringed and tried to hide her rising fear. "Who . . . who are you? What do you want?" The bard looked around. Her sword was back at the inn and her staff was tucked into loops on Stars saddle. Unarmed. Damn.
"My names not important. As for what I want. I want the ransom."
"Ransom. What ransom?"
"The handsome fee Im sure the Amazons will pay to get their queen back in one piece."
"Yeah, I heard you telling them stories back at Manolies inn. Gots a big mouth that woman does. Bragged all over the village how the warrior princess and the queen of the Amazons was staying at her inn. Been following you ever since. Almost took you from the barn yesterday when that damn warrior woman came riding up. But now. Ive finally caught you alone."
"Xeeeenaaa!" Gabrielle yelled as loud as she could.
"Shut up, bitch!" The man slapped her hard across the face. "Besides, were too far upstream. She cant here you."
Oh yes she can, the bard thought silently before yelling again. "Xeeeenaaa!"
Another hard slap, which knocked her to the ground. She sat up and shook her head, and reached for a long thick stick which was laying next to her. And felt a searing sting, as a dagger sliced a deep gash across the top of her forearm.
"Oh no you dont. I saw that big staff you carry around." The man stood over her, drawing the dagger back again in a threatening stance.
Gabrielle felt warm blood running down her arm and looked down and gasped. It was flowing pretty fast. The rage boiled up inside and she grabbed the stick, tucked herself into a ball, and rolled forward, pushing the man down with a thrust of her feet. He fell to the ground and she stood up and over him, lifting the stick over her shoulders. And never saw the sword hilt as it hit her across the back of the head. She dropped to the ground and the world went black.
"Thanks, Cephas," the yellow-toothed man said as he stood up. "She was about to nail me, that one was. Shes feisty."
"Yeah, well you shouldnt have cut her, Angus. Now were going to have to stitch her up. Cant have her dying on us before we collect our ransom. You sure this one is the queen?"
"Yeah. Im sure."
"That warrior woman nearby?"
"Nah. Shes way downstream."
"Gotta hand it to you Angus, stealing those two lambs to use as decoys was a stroke of genius."
"Why thanks, Cephas. Now. Lets get the little queen loaded up onto the nice-looking horse of hers."
Xena stopped suddenly and stood up, releasing the half-washed sheep she had been holding. It promptly ran up onto the bank, getting leaves and grass stuck in its soapy wool.
"Xena, what are you doing?" Toris looked at her.
"Shhh." The warrior cocked her head. There it was again. Her name being called. "Gabrielles in trouble." She ran out of the water and whistled for Argo, who came tearing out of the trees. She grabbed her sword from the boulder she had laid it on beside the bank, and leaped onto the horse. She took off at break-neck speed and spotted Star standing near the tree line. Just as she rode up, two thugs came out of the trees carrying the bard between them.
Without thinking, the warrior launched herself from Argos back and flipped through the air. She split her legs and landed a solid foot straight into both of the faces of the two men. They dropped Gabrielle and fell to the ground. Before they could get up Xena pinned one of them to the ground by planting her sword into his shirt collar. She grabbed the bards staff from Stars saddle and held it to the throat of the other man.
"I havent decided if Im going to kill you yet or not," she growled. "It depends on if shes dead or alive, and if shes alive, what youve done to her."
Toris came galloping up on his black stallion. "Need some help, sis? Oh . . ." He spotted the still form of the bard laying on the ground.
"Yeah," the warriors voice was shaky. "Check her out."
The tall man jumped down from the saddle and knelt down beside the bard. He felt her pulse. "Shes alive . . . oh . . . Xena, shes got a really nasty cut on her arm. Its bleeding pretty bad."
"You two are very lucky shes alive, because if she wasnt," she pushed the staff end hard against Cephas throat and he gagged. Xena continued, "if she wasnt, Id be cutting you both into little pieces right now and feeding you to the fish. As it is, Ill let the town reeve deal with you. Toris," she turned to her brother, "Tie them up." She looked back at them. "Move an inch and Ill kill you. Got me?"
The men both nodded, their eyes wide with fear.
She stepped back and knelt down beside her lover. Blood was pooled on the ground underneath the bards arm and she was out cold. Xena quickly tore a strip of material from the bottom of the tunic she had been wearing while she was washing the sheep, and tied it above the cut to stop the flow of blood. She noted two bruises starting to show where Angus had slapped the younger girl. Xena gently lifted her partner up and felt a large knot on the back of her head at the base of her scull. She carefully pushed up the left eyelid and was relieved to see the pupil go immediately to a pinpoint from the light. She lifted the right eyelid and the pupil stayed large and round. Damn. Head injury. She picked the bard up and carefully climbed into Stars saddle.
"Toris, theyve hurt her pretty badly. Ive got to get her back to town. Throw those two thugs across Argos back. Ill send someone to help you get them and the sheep home. Will you be okay until someone can get here?"
"Yeah, sis. Go take care of Gabrielle." Toris had tied the men up, hog-style, and was already lifting them bodily up onto Argos back.
"Thanks." The warrior carefully held onto the bard and started back to the inn. She went as fast as she dared without either jostling the bard too much or dropping her, and after what seemed a lifetime she reached the inn.
"Mother!" She yelled.
Cyrene came running out of the inn. "Dear gods, Xena, what happened?" Blood was caked on the warriors thigh where it had run off her partners arm.
"Not sure. Some thugs got her. Get some bandages and warm water and go get the healer. I just realized I left my healers kit in Argos saddlebags back by the stream."
"The healers here having a glass of ale."
"Great. Get his kit."
She got slowly down from Star and carried the still unconscious bard to their room, and laid her gently down on the bed. Cyrene arrived with bandages, a bowl of warm water, and an intoxicated healer.
"See here Xena, Im the healer in this town. Ill take over from here."
"No you wont, youre drunk," the warrior growled, as she started cleaning the blood and dirt off the bards arm.
"Yes I will." The healer, Gramulus, stumbled forward and tried to push her aside.
"Gramulus, I dont have time for this." Xena stood up to her full height and fixed an angry stare on the weaving man. "Leave the kit and get out of here. Dont make me any madder than I already am."
Gramulus looked up and even in his drunken stupor recognized the look in the piercing blue eyes. He dropped the kit on the foot of the bed and meekly left the room.
"Xena, is there anything I can do?" Cyrene looked worriedly at the still form on the bed.
"Yeah. Shes lost a lot of blood. Theres some herbs I need to make a tea to try to get her some strength." The warrior ran through a list of herbs with her mother and the innkeeper went to the kitchen to boil some water and make the tea.
The warrior finished cleaning the gash and set to work stitching it, sprinkling it liberally with powdered herbs which were used to ward off infection. Im so sorry I wasnt there for you love. She dipped another rag into the pitcher of cold water that was kept in the room for the purpose of washing up, and pressed it against the lump at the back of the bards head, tying it in place with another long strip of cloth.
While she waited for her mother to return with the tea, she stripped off her own blood-soaked tunic and washed up in the basin, scrubbing her partners blood off her leg and arms. She went over to the dresser and pulled out a clean tunic and donned it. Then she pulled Gabrielles boots off and gently removed the red leather skirt and the top. She cleaned the dirt and blood from her lovers body and then went to the dresser again. She found Gabrielles favorite warm soft sleep shirt and put it on the bard. Gabrielle, I guess that hot bath you wanted will have to wait for another day.
Cyrene returned with a pitcher of steaming water and several packets of herbs along with a mug. Xena took the packets, sprinkling appropriate amounts from each and then poured steaming water over the powdered leaves.
"Xena," the innkeeper asked gently, "wheres Toris?"
"Oh gods, Mother, I forgot about him. Hes keeping watch over the thugs that did this. Hes back down at the stream where we wash the sheep. We need to send someone to help him. All the sheep are still there and my armor and Argos saddlebags."
"Say no more, honey, Ill take care of it. You just stay here and tend to Gabrielle."
Cyrene left the room and Xena sat down next to the bard, lifting her head and shoulders up. She slowly poured a little of the tea between the bards lips and was grateful to see Gabrielles throat reflexively swallowing the strong brew. She managed to get about half a cup of tea into the bard and then she sat the mug down on a table next to the bed. She curled up beside her lover, cradling her against her shoulder, and pulled the covers up over them. The bards body was feverish.
Wonder if thats from some infection in her arm, or swelling inside her head? The warrior worried silently. Damn. Why didnt I hear those guys? I promised her nothing bad was going to happen to us anymore and now look whats happened. We cant even wash some damn sheep in my own home village without people coming after us. But why her? I just dont get it. Most of the time its bounty hunters after me. I cant wait to question those low-life sons-of-bacchae when Toris drags their sorry butts in here.
Xenas mother stepped back into the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Honey, hows she doing?"
"Hard to say. The cuts pretty deep. It went into the muscle and just barely missed her tendons. Shes got a fairly large bump on the back of her head. The bruises on her face will heal fine, but we wont have any way of knowing how her head is until she wakes up. Shes starting to run a fever. Its not very high right now so Im going to just let it do its work. She may be fighting an infection and if thats the case, a low fever will help ward it off. If it gets higher Ill have to get her the herbs for it. Shes awfully pale, probably from the blood loss, but I think we got her taken care of before she lost too much. I . . . I cant believe I let this happen to her. Im supposed to look out for her and I completely failed. Mother, if shes permanently damaged from this I dont know what Ill do." Tears brimmed in the blue eyes and Xena choked on the last words.
"Oh, Xena. You cant blame yourself for this. Be glad you got to her before something worse happened. Shes young and strong. Youve just got to have faith that she will be alright."
"Mother, I have a hard time believing anything good that comes my way will be for long. I love her so much. Most days I cant even believe shes in my life. I dont deserve her."
"Honey, if most of us got what we deserved in life, I have a feeling a great number of us would be in pretty bad shape. Weve all done things we regret. Youve got to focus on the good in your life and the good things youve done, and quit kicking yourself over your past. She is in your life and I think she loves you more than life itself. Hold onto that Xena. Hold onto it tightly. Its a rare thing you two have. I can see it. You let that bond between the two of you pull you through this."
"Ill try, but you know Ive never been one to do much of anything on faith, other than faith in my own abilities."
"Just try, honey." The innkeeper smoothed a dark lock from her daughters forehead and straightened the blankets a little.
Toris poked his head inside the door. "The reeves here and weve got those thugs locked up in the cellar. Xena, do you want to talk to them?"
"Like you have to ask?" The warrior gently lifted up and moved Gabrielles head over onto the pillow. She rose from the bed and pulled on her boots. "Mother, will you sit with her while I go question those men? Ill be about a half a candle mark."
"Yes, if Toris will watch the main room of the inn."
"No problem, Mother. I think I can handle it for a while. Go on sis."
"Thanks. Both of you." Xena hurriedly left the room and made her way to the cellar stairs.
Cephas and Angus were shackled together, back to back. Aaron, the town reeve, sat on a stool in the corner of the cellar with a sword propped across his lap. Suddenly the door burst open and a tall angry warrior crossed the room until she stood over them with her arms folded over her chest.
"Start talking." Xenas voice was a low growl.
"Aint got nothing to say to you." Cephas sneered at her.
She moved around and faced Angus. "You going to talk?"
Angus merely looked up her and thrust out a defiant lower jaw, struggling against the manacles around his wrist.
"Fine. I tried to do this the easy way, but its your choice." She moved back around to Cephas and leaned over, swiftly jabbing two fingers into the sides of his neck. He inhaled sharply and a trickle of blood ran out of one nostril. His eyes grew wide and he looked up as they began to glaze over. "Ive cut off the flow of blood to your brain. Youll be dead in thirty seconds unless I release the pressure points. Now, one more time. Why did you attack Gabrielle?"
"Ransom . . . Amazon queen . . . please . . ." Cephas gasped.
Xena jabbed his neck again and he inhaled deeply several times. "Let me get this straight." The warriors words were slow and measured. "You were going to kidnap Gabrielle and hold her for ransom? Do you have a death wish or are you just stupid? Do you have any idea who all you have just angered with your little scheme? What were you thinking?"
"We figured the Amazons would pay a nice price to get their queen back. And we thought wed have some fun with the queen while we waited for them to cough up the dinars. After all, she is a little Amazon harlot. Bet shes a Hades of a spitfire in the sack." Angus responded with a leer across his face.
"I see you have a death wish and youre stupid." In one swift move, the warrior slid in front of him and drew back her foot, kicking him savagely in the groin. He cried out and doubled over as much as the shackles would allow, clamping his legs together. Xena grabbed him by the hair and snapped his head back, leaning in until they were nose to nose. "If . . . you . . . ever . . . talk about her like that again," the warriors teeth clenched, "I wont just kick em, Ill cut em off. You got me?" He nodded weakly, trying to avoid the blue eyes which threatened to bore a hole through him.
The reeve stood up and walked over to stand by Xenas side. "Xena, this changes things. This appears to be a direct crime against the queen of the Amazon nation. We have two choices. We can keep them here and charge them based upon the laws of Amphipolis, or we can turn them over to the Amazons and let them deal with them."
"Hmmmm. Amazon justice. That might be just what they deserve." The warrior paced back and forth, thinking aloud. "Yeah. I think thats a plan." She turned back and looked at the two thugs. "Boys, you are about to get a one-way trip to the Amazon village, where you will be tried and punished for the assault, attempted kidnaping, and planned rape of the Amazon queen. I think youll find the Amazon legal system quite interesting. As well as the various penalties they have if you are found guilty of the crimes you will be charged with. You ever seen some of the special toys the Amazons have for rapists?"
Cephas swallowed hard and turned his head to Angus. "You stupid fool. You had to open your big mouth. Dont you know the warrior is consort to the Amazon queen? Now look what youve gotten us into."
"Xena," Aaron said. "We also discovered two lambs in the woods that they stole from one of the villagers. They werent yours. Apparently they used the lambs as decoys to draw Gabrielle to them. We can charge them with theft as well."
"Are the lambs okay?"
"Yes. Weve already taken them back to their owner."
"Let it go," the warrior replied with a feral smile. "These two will more than pay for their crimes by the time the Amazons are done with them." She turned and knelt down next to the two prisoners. "Of course if she doesnt fully recover, the crimes you will be charged with will increase. Right now shes laying upstairs unconscious. You two had better start praying to whatever gods you think might listen that she is okay. Because if shes not, when the Amazons are done with you I will hunt you down and I will punish you myself. Very slowly. And painfully. And when Im finished with you it will make what the Amazons do to you look like the Dionysian festival."
Xena stood up. "Aaron, arrange an escort for these two for first light tomorrow. Draft a note to the Amazons describing their crimes. Tell them to hold them until I send word as to their queens condition." She turned and left the room, slamming the door soundly behind her.
She quickly made her way back up the cellar stairs and down the hall to her room. She took a deep breath and her hand shook as she turned the door knob. "How is she?"
"She may be a little warmer." Cyrene turned to her daughter. "Why did they do this to her, Xena? Did they say?"
"Mother, they were going to kidnap her and hold her for ransom from the Amazons. I cant believe after all the bounty hunters that have come after me that someone came after her like that. It just never occurred to me that anyone would ever do that, unless it was to get to me."
"Oh, Xena, thats terrible. What are we going to do with them?"
Xena smiled at her mother for the first time since she got back from the stream. "Turn them over and let them get a taste of Amazon justice." The smile became a grin for a brief second.
"Oh. Well. What will the Amazons do with them?"
"Trust me Mother, you dont want to know."
Cyrene considered that for a moment. "I guess whatever it is, that ought to teach them a lesson."
"Im sure it will. If theres anything left of them by the time a few of the Amazons I recently met get done with them." The warrior spared a brief memory of the devotion of Kallerine and Amarice to their queen.
"Mother, thank you for sitting with her. Ill take over. You probably have things to get done for your dinner crowd."
"Okay honey, but if you need anything you call me, okay?"
Cyrene patted her daughter on the shoulder and quietly left the room.
Xena sat down on the side of the bed and pulled the covers back. She gently lifted the bandages on the bards arm to check the wound. Damn. The edges of the cut were markedly pink and swollen. She placed a hand to her partners forehead. She is getting warmer.
The warrior got up and dug through her own healers kit, which Toris had brought up. She retrieved several packets of herbs and sprinkled them into an empty mug on the table next to the bed. She poured some water over them and stirred them with her fingers. She sniffed it, and satisfied with the mixture, lifted Gabrielles head and once again poured some of the liquid between her lips, watching as her partner swallowed.
Xena set the mug down and went back to the kit. She pulled out some more of the powder used to prevent infection and poured it into another mug. She mixed in some water to create a salve. Lifting the bards bandages again, she carefully spread the salve on the festering wound and then secured the bandages back in place.
Gabrielle. Please. Please wake up, love. Please be okay. The warrior pulled back the blankets and crawled in next to her lover, drawing the bards warm body against her. She kissed the fair head and felt the tears start to spill out of her eyes and trickle down her cheeks. Xena gradually cried herself to sleep, holding her partner securely in her arms. She never heard Cyrene enter the room and leave the tray of dinner on the table. The innkeeper leaned over and tucked the covers around her daughters, pausing a moment to rest a cool hand on each forehead. With a worried frown she turned and made her way back to the main room of the inn.
The warrior awoke to feel the body in her arms trembling, incoherent words escaping from the bards mouth. "Xena . . . no . . . no . . . ooohhhh!"
"Shhhh. Its okay. Come on, love, Im here." Xena smoothed the fair hair, which was damp with sweat. Good. Fevers breaking. She realized her partners body was soaked with perspiration. Rolling carefully away from the bard, she got up and retrieved a dry sleep shirt, gently removing the rumpled one Gabrielle was wearing and replacing it with the fresh one.
Xena went to the wash basin and dipped a clean rag into the cool water and laid it across the bards forehead, holding it in place while she carefully felt the bump on the back. It had gone down a little, much to the warriors relief. She bent over and kissed the soft cheek before crawling back into bed, once again snuggling up against her lover. Youre going to be just fine. You have to be.
The next time the warrior awoke sunlight streamed through the eastern window of the room. She sat up and peered over at Gabrielle, resting a hand against her head. Her temperature felt normal. She sighed and felt the bard stir. Slowly, green eyes fluttered open and tried to focus.
"Xena? What . . ." The bard started to roll toward her and stopped. "Oww! Ohhhh. Hurts. Everything hurts. My head . . ."
"Gabrielle," The warriors heart was in her throat. "Be still, love. Youve been through quite a lot."
The eyes closed and Xena could see the bards throat muscles move as she tried to swallow. "Xena," the voice cracked, "What happened to me?"
Oh gods. Her memory. "Gabrielle, what do you last remember?"
"Um . . ." The bards head was pounding, and everything was fuzzy. "Lambs. I was going after some lambs. Xena, are the lambs alright?"
A tear escaped from the warriors eye as she looked at her tender-hearted partner, whose memory it appeared, was alright. "Yes love, the lambs are just fine."
"Oh. Good. I did a good job, didnt I?"
"You did a perfect job, sweetheart. You just rest now. Well talk more later."
Gabrielle rolled toward the warrior and a wave of nausea hit her, as her head began pounding in earnest. "Xena, I think Im gonna be sick."
The warrior leapt from the bed and grabbed the almost-empty wash basin and placed it next to her lovers face. She held a firm head against the bards forehead as she emptied the contents of her stomach. After Gabrielle laid back, Xena dipped a rag into the pitcher and gently wiped off the bards face and mouth. "Let me get you something, love." She retrieved some more herbs, some for pain and some for nausea, and mixed them up. "Here, drink this."
The bard grimaced as she swallowed the foul-tasting liquid. "Uggghh. Awful. You sure you love me?"
"More than anything," Xena replied softly.
"You take good care of me." Gabrielle closed her eyes as the strong herbs began to take effect.
The warrior pulled the covers up and stroked the short blonde hair, listening as the bards breathing deepened. Do I? Lets see, in the past week and half she was taken prisoner by Caesar, crucified, and now she was almost kidnaped and raped by two men who managed to knock her senseless before I could even get to her. No love, I dont think Ive been taking very good care of you at all. Xena sighed and picked up the basin to take it out and clean it up. She looked wistfully at the sleeping bard and silently left the room.
Cyrene looked up from wiping down a table where two customers had just finished eating breakfast. "How is she?" The innkeeper made her way across the room and laid a hand on her daughters shoulder, peering up worridly into the pale blue eyes.
"I think shes going to be okay. She woke up for a little while this morning and her memory appears to be intact. Shes gonna hurt all over for a while and she needs to get her strength back, but I think the worst of it is over."
"Oh, honey, thats good news." The older woman looked down at the basin the warrior carried. "Is she ill?"
"Um . . . I think its just dizziness and pain from the bump on her head. Let me take this outside to clean it. Could you get me something to eat? Im sorry, I never did get around to the dinner you left me last night. Im afraid it got cold."
"Sure, honey. Go on now. Ill have a tray for you when you come back in."
"Thanks, Mother." Xena disappeared out the door.
When she returned, her mother handed her a tray that contained herbal tea, hot cereal, bacon, and a mug of mild chicken broth along with some flatbread wafers. "Here, Xena, the broth and wafers are for Gabrielle. Maybe she can keep them down."
"Thank you. Where is Toris? I was supposed to help him sheer sheep today. If he comes in, tell him Ill be out later to help."
"Hes already out in the barn sheering. He got some of the village boys to help him. He said to tell you not to worry about helping. Just take care of Gabrielle."
"Oh. Well, great. I owe him. Did Aaron get those two thugs taken care of?"
"They were sent out with a guard unit at dawn. And they didnt look none too happy. One of them kept muttering about dying at the hands of a bunch of crazed Amazons."
"Good. Although they arent going to die. At least not yet. Maybe not at all. I better get back in there. I dont want her to wake up alone."
"Go on, honey. Let me know if you need anything."
"Thanks." The warrior hurriedly left the room bearing the laden-down tray. She backed into her room and set the tray on the table next to the untouched one from the evening before. Gabrielle was still asleep, and Xena sat down on the edge of the bed and felt the pale forehead. Satisfied that her partners fever hadnt returned, she smoothed the blankets and then went back to the table and ate breakfast, breathing deeply in between bites to relax her clenched stomach muscles. Shes going to be okay. Thank the gods.
After she finished eating, the warrior moved over to the low desk that sat against the window and pulled out a piece of parchment and a quill. She began composing a follow-up note to Chilapa informing her that the Amazon queen was going to be okay, and to proceed with the trial of the two men. She signed it with a flourish, folded it, and dripped some wax from a candle on the edge. Hmmm. Wonder if I should use Gabrielles signet ring to seal it? Probably not. That might make the Amazons mad if someone besides the queen uses it. Maybe I ought to get a signet of my own. Guess my signature is enough. I think most of Greece is familiar with it. Xena reflected on a time when a note received with her signature on it struck mortal fear into the recipient.
Gabrielle stirred on the bed and whimpered as she felt the pain anew. "Xena. Where are you?"
"Im right here, love." The warrior jumped up from the desk and strode quickly to the bedside and sat down, taking one of the bards hands in hers. "How are you feeling?"
"Like a chariot ran over me. A big one."
"Think you could eat something?"
The bard frowned and swallowed a few times. "I can try."
"Good girl." Xena retrieved the mug of chicken broth from the tray and brought it to her partner. She reached under the bard with one arm, raising her up enough so the broth wouldnt spill, and held the edge of the mug to Gabrielles lips.
The bard took a few tentative sips and managed a slight smile. "Sure is a lot better than that stuff you gave me a little while ago." Slowly, she drained the mug.
The warrior then retrieved the flatbread crackers and offered them to her partner. The bard nibbled on them and finished two of them. "Xena, could you get me some water?"
"Sure." The warrior grabbed a water skin from the table and held it up for her thirsty partner. Gabrielle sucked at the skin with gusto.
"Slow down, love. Too much water too soon might make you sick again. How is your stomach?"
"Okay, I think. Food seems like its going to stay down."
"Good. Maybe you wont need any more of those herbs."
"I sure hope not." The bard started to roll closer to Xena and stopped quickly. "Ouch!" She looked down and noticed the bandage on her arm for the first time. She tentatively lifted up the edge and peered at the stitches underneath. "Gods, Xena, what happened?"
"What do you remember?" The warrior gently pushed her lover back onto her back and placed a hand against a soft cheek.
"Um . . ." Gabrielles brain felt confused from the medication and she furrowed her brows trying to concentrate. "Oh . . . that man. He was going to kidnap me and try to get ransom from the Amazons. He cut my arm when I tried to pick up a stick to defend myself. I managed to push him down and thats all I remember. Ugh. Xena, he had the most foul breath and disgusting yellow teeth."
"Man? You only remember one man? Gabrielle, there were two of them."
"Oh. I only saw one. What happened to them?"
"I heard you cry out for me, and Argo and I came running."
The bard smiled and placed her hand over the large one resting against her face. "He said you were too far away to hear me, but I knew you would."
"He said that to you?"
"Yes. But he was wrong. I knew youd protect me. You always do."
"Gabrielle, come on. We just died recently because I couldnt protect you. You got all banged up yesterday by two thugs because I wasnt there to protect you. Im not worthy of any admiration from you for my protection. I am really slipping. Maybe Im getting old."
"Xena, thats not fair. No one is perfect. Besides, Im the one who walked into the woods without my staff, against everything you ever taught me. And you did rescue me yesterday. You kept them from taking me away. How could we know that anyone would try to hurt us so close to home while we were doing something as mundane as washing a bunch of sheep? We cant anticipate every single bad thing that is going to happen. Its just not possible. You are my hero and you always will be. No matter what. Just get used to it, okay?"
The warrior searched the stubborn green eyes and saw a fierce determined devotion shining through. For her. "Gabrielle, I love you."
"I love you too. Always. Now tell me, what happened to those two men?"
"I held them down and Toris tied them up. Aaron kept them here until this morning. We sent them to the Amazons."
"The Amazons. Why?"
"Gabrielle, they were going to kidnap the Amazon queen. They did hurt you and they . . . confessed they planned to rape you as well." Xenas hand shook slightly against her lovers cheek. "It was a direct crime against the Amazon nation, and the Amazons deserve to see that justice is done."
"Yes. I guess thats true. Boy, I almost feel sorry for them. Hope Amarice isnt left alone with them."
The warrior chuckled. "Yeah. It wouldnt be a pretty sight. I wrote Chilapa and told her to go ahead with the trial. We can get Aaron to take your affidavit and send it to them for your testimony. That way you can rest and not have to travel there just to be a witness. I figured you might not want to go to the village until they are dealt with. If you go back, you will have to preside over the trial and determine their punishment."
"You know me so well. Xena, what am I going to do? I want to be a good queen when I return to the village, but I really dont like having to decide someones fate, not when it is a matter of life and death. Theres no denying that something is eventually going to come up that I am going to have to deal with the area of capital punishment."
"Gabrielle, you dont ever have to deal out the death penalty if you dont want to. Thats your prerogative as queen. Believe me, the Amazons have plenty of very creative alternative punishments for the likes of those two thugs."
"Thats true." The bard closed her eyes as a brief wave of pain shot through the back of her head. "Xena, my head really hurts."
"Sorry, sweetheart. Im afraid its going to hurt on and off for a while. Ive already given you a lot of painkilling herbs. I really dont think I should give you anything else for a while."
"Then can we move out to that bench on the porch? I actually feel better sitting up than laying down."
"You really feel like moving?"
"Yes. I think so."
"Okay. Im going to pick you up very slowly. You tell me if it hurts too much."
Xena wrapped the blankets securely around her partner and then reached down and lifted her up. She carried the cocooned bard through the main room of the inn, shaking her head as she saw Cyrene start to protest.
"Were just moving out to the porch. Not going anywhere."
"Oh. Hi, sweetie." Cyrene rested a hand gently against the bards leg. "Glad to see you up."
"Glad to see you too, Mom." Gabrielle managed a very weak smile.
Xena went outside. The bench in question sat in a little alcove which was set into the wall of the inn. She carefully sat down sideways, stretching her long legs out along the length of the seat and slowly bringing her lover down to rest between her legs, the bard reclining back against the warriors chest. She kissed the blonde head and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and then leaned back against the wall. Both warrior and bard were soon napping peacefully, each gaining healing power from the close contact, Gabrielle physically and Xena emotionally.
Continued in Part 7
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