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 not written for profit and no copyright infringements are intended. In my world, the Xenaverse intersects with the Buffyverse in a character Ive created named Kallerine, who bears a striking resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar. No copyright infringements intended toward the owners of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, either.
Violence: This is Xena were talking about here. She doesnt use that chakram to file her nails. Nuff said.
Subtext/Maintext: PG-13, nothing too graphic here, but if two women being in love rocks your world, too bad for you. Move on to something you can handle.
Questions/Comments/Suggestions welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
Setting: Gabrielle and Xena are living together in the Amazon village. Gabrielle is queen and Xena is her champion/consort. This story falls sequentially after my first story, "March the 16th." Ive taken some liberties with history here, but then so does the show.
A SOLSTICE TREATY
By Texbard a/k/a Texbard
Tonight I am a staggering, awesome planet,
For all day long I construct alliances . . .
I ecstatically speak with words and also with
The purest language - Silence -
- from "Like the Ganges," The Subject Tonight is Love - 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz, versions by Daniel Ladinsky, copyright 1996, Pumpkin House Press, PumpkinH@aol.com.
The morning was cool, the sun just beginning to peek over the edge of the low hills to the east of the Amazon village. The warrior lay awake, stomach down, her face resting between Gabrielles shoulder blades while one long arm spread out protectively across the bards back and down her far arm. Gabrielles ribs rose and fell in the slow steady rhythm of sleep, her breathing heavy and even. Xena shifted slightly, pulling the covers up more tightly around them as a faint breeze blew through the window across her bare shoulders. Once the blankets were arranged to her satisfaction, she resumed her prior position, listening to the comforting sound of her soulmates heartbeat and patiently waiting for the bard to wake up.
After two days of seemingly one crisis after another, the prior evening had been relatively uneventful. Theyd gotten Herodotus settled beneath the shelter of some tall leafy trees directly outside the main gate of the village, and Eponin and Raella had agreed to personally stand guard at the gate through the night and check on him periodically to make sure he was safe. The older man had quietly thanked his daughter and Xena for rescuing him, and had asked Gabrielle if he could meet her for breakfast in the dining hall the next morning. The bard had hesitantly agreed, unsure if even she of many words would be able to carry on a civil conversation with her father for an entire meal. The pensive look on Gabrielles face spoke volumes, and Xena knew Herodotus had thrown some verbal spears at her partner, with resulting wounds that would probably take a long time to heal.
After dinner, Gabrielle had briefly checked their prisoners and informed them of her decision to release them at first light with no punishment. She told them that they were welcome to eat first and to take some trail rations with them for the two-day walk back to their village. Pherinys body had been wrapped in linen and packed with strong herbs in preparation for transport with her Amazon sisters to their village where she would be given a proper funeral pyre. The bard had also written a long note to the regent of Pherinys village, explaining everything that had happened, what the true situation was, and signing it with a flourish, sealing it with wax and her queens signet ring.
Gabrielle had initially planned to give the note to Chaulzie, and was surprised when the young Amazon had dropped to her knees and begged to be allowed to live in the queens village rather than returning to the north. The bard had considered that for several long moments and then agreed, deciding that the girl showed a lot of promise and might learn something if she stayed with them for a while. So the note had been given instead to Shivonne for safe-keeping during their journey. Two litters had been prepared, one for Pherinys body and one for the Amazon with the broken knee. Xena had also reluctantly allowed them to borrow two pack mules from the common stables to pull the litters, after extracting promises of the animals swift return.
Xena had sent a message by carrier pigeon to her mother to give her a heads-up on Maniahs eminent arrival in Amphipolis. The warrior had talked with Eponin about who to employ to escort Maniah, as well as how many should be sent with her. After lengthy discussion, they had decided upon an armed escort of two Amazons, and the weapons master had made recommendations of two of the villages finest warriors, both of whom were trustworthy and loyal to the queen. They had decided not to wait until after the summit, and Maniahs party was slated to leave the village a little before dawn, and was probably already on its way while the warrior waited for her partner to awaken. It would take them two to three days travel each way between Amphipolis and the Amazon village.
After dinner the previous evening, warrior and bard had spent about a candle mark just relaxing, curled up on the chaise bench in their courtyard, counting stars and sharing dreams. Gabrielle had laughed a little during their quiet talk as Xena had shared a few jokes with her from her warrior days. The bard had been surprised when the warrior pointed out to her that she was indeed dreaming again, even if she didnt yet feel inspired to write about those dreams. Gabrielle had reluctantly pulled herself away from her partner and had stayed up several more candle marks tweaking the final draft of the peace treaty and making outlines of the major points for review by all the summit participants prior to the opening of discussions.
While Gabrielle worked, Xena had spent some time in the barn repairing the defective buckle on Stars bridle and re-attaching the loose rivet on Argos saddle horn. Shed then gone to the practice yard where shed run through some advanced sword drills, drawing an audience from the group of warriors who normally spent the early evening talking and drinking around the central fire ring. Shed chuckled inwardly, pretending to ignore the growing crowd of onlookers, while privately enjoying the opportunity to show off a bit, throwing in a few extra flips and tucks merely for entertainment value. When the warrior finished her drills, shed grudgingly allowed herself to be cajoled into teaching her appreciative watchers some of the skills shed demonstrated, and had patiently worked with them until it was almost midnight.
When the warrior returned to their hut, she had found her partner slumped over her writing desk, her head cradled against her arms, fast asleep. Xena had gone around the hut blowing out candles, leaving only one burning low on the table beside their bed. Shed then carefully gathered the bard up into her arms and carried her into their bedroom, only drawing slightly sleepy murmurs of protest as she removed Gabrielles clothes from her limp body and tucked her under the covers, not bothering to put a sleep shirt on the bard for fear that it might wake her up.
Xena had peeled off her own leathers, and then looking down at her sleeping soulmate, had smiled and shrugged a bit, deciding that if Gabrielle was going to sleep naked, she would too. Its only fair, isnt it? Couldnt be because you enjoy the feel of sleeping with her skin against yours, could it? The warrior had chided herself before crawling into bed and curling up with her partner. Theyd gotten their first decent nights sleep in over a week, and Xena was pleased that Gabrielle had slept through the night with no nightmares or brooding moods to disturb her slumber.
The small body underneath her stirred, drawing the warriors attention back to the present. She turned her head and kissed the soft skin on Gabrielles shoulders several times. "Mmmm. Thats nice." The bard rolled over onto her back and stretched lazily, extending her arms and legs out as far as they would go, pulling her body to its full length in both directions. She looked up into the pale blue eyes directly above her and smiled. Gabrielle reached up and wrapped her arms around the warriors neck, pulling her face down toward her.
"Mornin." Xena grinned before closing the distance and giving her partner a long leisurely kiss. "You sleep okay?" The warrior raised up on one forearm and gently stroked the bards face with the backs of her fingers.
"Like a baby." Gabrielle tangled her fingers in the long ebony locks that spilled down over her shoulders, and drew Xena down for another kiss. The bard deepened the contact and they spent several long moments in increasingly heated exploration, until both women were breathing quite heavily.
The warrior pulled back to breathe and peered into the half-lidded green eyes, noting her partners flushed face with great appreciation. "Youre in a mood this morning." She leaned down and pressed her lips against the bards ear. "Not that Im complaining or anything." She nipped the earlobe, producing a yelp from her partner. "You wouldnt be trying to avoid a breakfast meeting with your father, would you?" Xena laughed gently and raised up again, brushing the short blonde hair back with her long fingers.
"Pooey, Xena." Gabrielles lower lip extended in a pout. "Can I help it if Id rather just stay in bed with you all day?"
"Believe me." The warrior traced her partners full lips with one finger. "Theres nothing Id like better, but I have a feeling if we dont get moving pretty soon, were going to have a repeat of the encounter we had with your father a few days ago."
The bard sighed heavily. "Xena, sometimes responsibility just really bites."
The warrior regarded her partner for a long moment, noting the tense lines that creased her brow, and then rolled over on her back, pulling the bard up against her side and wrapping both long arms around her. So much has happened so fast, especially to her. "Gabrielle, weve been through a lot over the last season. Hades of a lot. This whole relationship thing is wonderful and new and exciting, and . . ." Courage warrior. ". . . something I hope we will spend the rest of our lives exploring together."
The bard lay quietly in Xenas arms, allowing her normally reserved partner to speak her mind. Artemis give her strength. Gabrielle knew what she wanted and she really hoped the warrior wanted the same thing. And give me patience.
Xena swallowed, collecting her thoughts, and continued. "Im really glad weve settled here, but theres so much to distract us all the time. Im so comfortable with you, it was easy to slide from best friends to lovers without even missing a beat. I just dont want to be so comfortable and so distracted that we dont take the time we need to lay a good foundation to build our relationship on. Id like some time alone with you away from everyone else, just for a little while. After we finish up with the treaty and the solstice celebration, why dont we go on a vacation somewhere, just you and me and no responsibilities?"
"Where would we go?" The bard was intrigued. Shed never been on a vacation before.
"Oh. The beach maybe or an island." The warrior ran her hand idly up and down the bards arm, pausing to explore the well-toned muscles that had developed from four summers of staff practice. "How about it, Gabrielle? A little sun, a little sea, dining out, shopping, some time alone. Together. My boat is docked down at Pirgos. In fact, there is a really nice island off the coast near there, Zakinthos. We could sail there in less than a day."
"You have a boat?!" Gabrielle sat up and peered down at the warrior. "I thought Caesar captured your boat." The bard poked her partner in the ribs.
Xena smiled with an evil grin. "I captured it back. It took a lot of planning, but once my legs healed and I got back to Greece, I stole it in the middle of the night from a dock on Crete, killed the entire crew, and pirated it back up to Pirgos where my cousin re-furbished it and is keeping it for me. Caesar never knew who took it or what happened to it. "So . . ." The warrior pulled Gabrielle back down and kissed her on top of her head. ". . . what do you think?"
The bard rolled over on top of her tall partner and planted slow sweet kisses across one shoulder and nibbled her way up her neck, laughing under her breath as Xena threw her head back giving her better access to the salty flesh. "I think a vacation sounds like the next best thing to the Elysian Fields." The bard purred into the warriors ear. "Remember the Fields, Xena? Remember how it felt sitting under that willow tree?"
"Yes." The warrior melted into the contact, feeling fire trail along her skin in the wake of Gabrielles attentions. Okay. Gotta stop. Gotta get going. Oh Hades . . . where did she learn how to do that? "Gabri-ellllle. Breakfast with your father. Remember?"
The bard pulled back. "Gods." She planted one more soft kiss on Xenas lips. "Dont know if I can wait for a vacation."
The warrior studied Gabrielles face, re-memorizing every curve and line, and getting lost in the golden and blue flecks that floated in her green eyes. "How in the name of the gods, did I get lucky enough to find you?" And what are you gonna do about making sure you keep her, warrior? "Gabrielle, we probably cant leave for Pirgos for at least a week. But we do have almost all day tomorrow until the solstice celebration. How would you like to camp out somewhere with me tonight after the treaty summit?"
"Um . . ." The bard bit her lower lip and then smiled shyly. "Dont get me wrong or anything, because I love camping outdoors with you . . ." Gabrielle trailed her fingertips across the upper curve of the warriors breasts. ". . . but you have rules for sleeping outdoors that are really going to put a damper on the kind of fun I have in mind."
Xena shivered as her partners hand moved lower. "Have no fear, my bard. The place I have in mind is very secluded. No rules." With great effort the warrior sat up, pulling Gabrielle up with her. "You can have all the fun there you want. And so can I." A feral smile played at Xenas lips as she let her eyes rove freely over her partners naked body. "But for now, youve got a breakfast meeting to go to."
The bard sighed. "Youre right." She kissed Xena quickly one more time. "Im going to go take a bath before I meet my father. Care to join me?"
The warrior closed her eyes. Warm water. Naked bard. Lavender bath oil. The way this mornings gone so far, wed never make it to breakfast. The blue eyes opened. "Why dont you go ahead? I need to go down to the stream before breakfast. Daria wants to serve some grilled fish at the solstice celebration tomorrow night, and I told her Id help her catch them. She wants them to marinade for at least a day, so I probably ought to catch them first thing this morning. Ill wash up there since Ill be in the water anyway." Yeah. Plan B. Cold bath. Thats an excellent idea. "Go ahead and meet your father. Ill meet up with you after breakfast, okay?"
"Okay." The playful mood vanished as the bards face fell. "Xena. Dont take too long, okay?" Gabrielle started to roll out of bed and found herself held in place.
"Hey." The warrior wrapped the bard in a loose hug, sensing her nervousness. Gods. I have got to learn to read her better. I think she was after comfort as much as sex. "Youre going to do just fine today. With your father and the summit. I dont doubt for even one second your ability to handle everything with the greatest of poise and intelligence."
"You really think so?" The bards eyes were full of self-doubt.
"I know so." The warrior kissed her partners forehead. "Gabrielle, the changes I have seen in you over the past four summers are things I could never have imagined. You are one of the best negotiators and diplomats I have ever encountered. Anywhere."
"But Xena." The bard laughed lightly. "Youve seen most of the known world."
"Yes. I have. So whats your point, my bard? That there must be a lot better out there than you? Well let me tell you, there isnt. Youre the best there is." The warrior watched as her partners eyes grew wide and then watered.
"Xena." Gabrielle sniffled a little, as a few tears trickled down her cheeks. "I dont know if I deserve that, but thank you. You always seem to know what to say when I really need you."
The warrior tilted her head and kissed her partner as she brushed the salty tears away with her thumb. "You do deserve it." Xena rose to her feet and pulled the bard with her. "Now your majesty . . ." The warrior playfully swatted a bare bardic behind. ". . . go take your bath and Ill see you after breakfast."
Gabrielle stood up on her toes and planted a searing kiss on Xenas lips, pressing her body seductively against the taller womans, and grinning to herself as the warrior moaned low in her throat. The bard stepped back. "Just a prelude of things to come. Until tonight, warrior princess."
A very dazed warrior watched her partner as she disappeared into the bathing room. Xena groaned inwardly, realizing that she was probably going to replay the bards last words in her head for the rest of the day. For a naive girl from Potadeia, shes getting way too good at pushing my buttons. In all the right ways. Gods give me strength.
Gabrielle blinked as she entered the dining hall, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the lack of light after being out in the early morning sun. After her bath she had spent a quarter candle mark in the back courtyard practicing some of the meditation exercises Eli had taught her along with some of the yoga poses she had learned in India. She had also accepted a cup of calming herbal tea which Xena had brought to her while she was in the tub, the warm steamy liquid soothing her frazzled nerves as it slid down her throat.
Feeling much more relaxed, she scanned the room until she spotted her father sitting alone at a corner table next to the windows. She made her way toward his table, stopping on the way to speak with the group of recently-released prisoners who were eating an early breakfast before leaving to go back to their village. "Good morning."
"Good morning, my queen." They all spoke in unison, averting their eyes down toward the table in a show of respect.
"Hey. I dont bite. Thats Xenas job." The bard laughed softly. "Its okay to look at me." She waited until seven pairs of eyes peered nervously up at her. "Is everything ready for your trip home?"
"Yes my queen." Shivonne spoke for the group. "Thank you for your kindness and hospitality to us. You didnt have to be as gracious as you have been."
"Youre welcome." Gabrielle allowed a full smile to cross her face, putting the young Amazons more at ease. Gods. Im really not that much older than most of them. In fact . . . She studied the somber faces. I think a couple of them are older than me. "You are my sisters as well as my subjects. I want to make sure you are well-taken care of before you leave. If you think of anything else you need, let me know. Ill be around the village all morning."
"Thank you my queen." Shivonne smiled and then resumed eating, as Gabrielle squared her shoulders and moved on toward her fathers table, noting that he had watched her exchange with the group with open interest. Surprised, father? Never seen your little girl in queen mode have you? There are actually people that respect me and treat me like an adult. She took a deep breath and slid onto the bench across from the older man.
"Good morning, Gabrielle." Herodotus voice was hesitant and he couldnt quite bring himself to look into his daughters eyes, focusing instead on a spot on the wall just over her shoulder.
"Morning, father." The bard re-adjusted her posture until the older man looked up to find himself the focus of the bards intense gaze. He swallowed. "You wanted to meet with me?" Gabrielle made a conscious effort to keep her voice on a neutral note.
"Yes. I guess I did." Herodotus allowed his face to relax just a little. "You and I havent seen much of each other in over four summers."
"Thats true." The bard flagged down a server and took two mugs of tea from a tray, sipping from one while setting the other down in front of her father. "Xena and I havent had much reason to travel through Potadeia, and the times we did, horrible things seemed to either precede or follow us there. Id think youd be glad we stayed away."
This elicited a genuine, if not somewhat shaky, chuckle from Herodotus. "Point well taken. Its just . . ." The older man reached across the table and nervously took his daughters hands into his own. ". . .the daughter I remember was so young and defenseless. You always had this fire in you, but it was always tempered by the kind, obedient nature you were born with. That morning when I woke up and you were gone, I was frightened out of my mind for you."
"I . . ." Gabrielle lowered her eyes and she looked down at their hands. "Im sorry. I guess I never thought too much about how it would affect you. It was a totally impulsive move on my part. I had to get away. And I knew if I tried to talk to you or mother about it Id never leave."
"When Lila told us you had left of your own accord, I didnt want to believe it. It was easier to believe that Xena had kidnaped you, or that she had somehow brain-washed you." Herodotus squeezed his daughters hands and then drew back, resting on his forearms on the rough wooden table top. "Then we started hearing stories about Xena and the bard she traveled with, and I knew it was you. Some of the things we heard were pretty terrifying, and all I could think about was your safety. I wanted you to come home so badly, and the longer you were gone, the more I hated Xena for taking you away from us. I was convinced she held some kind of spell over you."
"Maybe she did. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I was taken with her." Gabrielle smiled, her green eyes reflecting her affection for her partner. "But if it was a spell, she will tell you that I had caste the same one on her, because we had this mutual instant attraction to each other."
The older man blinked with surprise, his green eyes the same shade as his daughters. "Every time you came home, Id get my hopes up that youd finally come to your senses, and then youd leave again and go running back to her. Why?"
The bard sighed. Such a simple question with such a complicated answer. "At first I stayed with her mostly because she was a means to an end. She was strong and she was exciting. Wherever she went adventure followed, and I craved adventures and things I could make up stories about. And despite the danger, I felt safe with her because she always protected me. And then she gave me a great gift by teaching me to protect myself. Later we became friends and eventually I came to think of her as family. For a long time I wanted to be Xena, and then she gave me an even greater gift. She taught me that it was okay to be me. That I was worth something as myself, especially to her. With her I thought my dreams might come true, and they have."
"But I thought you wanted to get married, settle down, have children." Herodotus drained his tea mug and was grateful when it was taken away and replaced with a steaming plate of ham, eggs, and fresh bread. He tore the bread in two and buttered it liberally.
"No. You wanted me to get married, settle down, and have children." Gabrielle took the butter knife when her father was finished. "And every time I tried to tell you that I wanted to be a bard and travel, you just dismissed me. You never listened to me. I felt invisible."
The older man was crestfallen. "Gabrielle. Im sorry. I only wanted the best for you."
"I know." The bard reached out and gently patted her fathers arm. "But I was dying inside. I was being smothered by your plans for me. And Xena . . . she saw my potential and encouraged me to follow my heart and my dreams. To the point that she was willing to go with me halfway across the world to India just so I could see what was there."
"And what did you find in India?" Herodotus had never been outside of Greece, and was secretly a little jealous of the things his daughter had seen.
Hmmm. Aiden? Tataka? Indragit? Alti? What can he handle? Gabrielle rolled these thoughts around in her head as she took a long time to chew her food. Finally she swallowed and smiled. "I found out that Xena and I are eternal soulmates. That we are destined to be together."
"You fell in love with her in India?" The older man frowned as he stabbed a piece of ham with his fork.
"No. I think I fell in love with her a long time before that." The bard idly played with the garnet bracelet on her wrist. "But even in India I didnt realize that yet. Xena and I became best friends not long after we met, and things developed so slowly that neither of us realized what had happened between us, not enough to define it as love, at least not romantic love. No. In India we found out that our souls are destined to be together for eternity."
"I dont understand." Herodotus swallowed and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. She was always full of such romantic fanciful notions.
"Its complicated." A lot of things between Xena and I are, arent they? "But now Xena and I know were in love, and you want to know the funny thing?"
"Whats that?" The older man found very little humorous about the tall warrior that had stolen his daughter away.
"After all Ive been through and seen, what I really want is to settle down, get married, and have children." Gods, where did that come from? The bard was shocked as she heard the words come out of her mouth. But its true, isnt it?
"Well . . ." Herodotus face shone with a brilliant smile. "Gabrielle, thats great. You have been married before, but if you come on home, Im sure I can find someone who would marry you. And youre still plenty young enough to have children."
Oh gods. He is so damned clueless. "No, father." The bard steeled herself. "With Xena. I want those things with Xena."
"But . . ." The older man tried to control the disappointment mixed with anger he felt rising from his gut. ". . . you cant marry Xena, shes a woman, and you certainly cant have children with her. There are limits even to what she is capable of doing, despite the star-crossed hero-worship you have for her."
"Father. The Amazons have a joining ceremony for two women who want to become life partners. Its a beautiful ceremony. Its just called a joining instead of a wedding. And under Amazon law, its just as binding as a civil marriage ceremony. And as for children, trust Xena to find a way, one way or another." Gabrielle blushed. "If we cant somehow find a way to actually create a child between us, well work out something with a king or prince of a neighboring province."
"Gabrielle." Herodotus tried to remain calm as he saw his daughter slipping through his fingers forever. "I have no doubt that you and Xena care about each other great deal, that you love each other. I can see that. Its obvious. But joinings? Children? With strange kings youre not married to. The whole thing. Its not natural. Its shameful."
"Only in your eyes. Because thats what you were taught. And your father before you was taught. And what you tried to teach me. The cycle of learned hatred of people who are different has to stop somewhere." The bards eyes flashed with anger that she managed to keep out of her voice. "I am not going to teach my children that love is wrong, no matter who it is between. Because what Xena and I have is a thing of great beauty, and it has brought me more joy than I ever dreamed possible. And . . ." Gabrielles voice faltered. "And I would rather have one week of the love and happiness I have found with Xena than a whole lifetime without it. I accept the risks and the danger. Its worth it to me." The bard rose to her feet. "So if you want the best for me, then you have to accept that being with Xena is whats best for me. And if youre ashamed of me, then theres nothing I can do about that. Now if youll excuse me, I have a treaty summit to prepare for."
Gabrielle turned on her heals and stormed out of the dining hall. As she flung the door open she plunged head-long into two strong arms that reflexively closed around her and steadied her as she started to fall. "Hey." Concerned blue eyes peered anxiously down at the bard as Xena pushed the blonde hair back off her partners forehead. "Whats wrong?"
The bard shook with rage. "He just makes me so angry. Why do I even bother? Hes never going to understand me. Thats why I left Potadeia in the first place."
"Thought you left Potadeia cause you thought I was cute." The warrior chuckled as she stroked her partners fair head, trying to lighten the mood.
Gabrielle laughed and placed both hands on Xenas chest. "That too, honey. I couldnt have chosen a cuter savior."
Xena pecked her partner on the cheek and tugged her by the hands toward a bench under a tall shady tree in the center of the courtyard. After they sat down, the warrior draped a long arm over the bards shoulders and drew her close to her side. "So what happened in there?"
"I dont know." Gabrielles hand came to rest on Xenas leg and she traced figure eights across the top of the warriors muscular thigh. "Things started out okay. In fact they were going pretty well. We were trying to understand each other. Then one thing lead to another and next thing I know, Im telling him I want to be with you forever and have your children, and hes telling me hes ashamed of me."
The warrior managed to stop the audible gasp that almost escaped from her throat. She wants to be with me forever. It was one thing for them to say that word to each other. They were saying it more and more often these days. It was another to know that the bard had expressed that desire to her father. It somehow made it seem more real. More possible. "Im sorry sweetheart." Xena lightly caressed her lovers shoulder. "Um . . ." The warrior trailed off as the rest of her partners statement sunk in.
"Xena?" Gabrielle looked up to find her soulmate gazing off into the distance with a slightly glazed look on her face. "Were you about to say something else?"
Have my children?! Gods. Ill have to see what I can do about that. But the fact that she at least wants them is going to make a few things a whole lot easier. "Uh. Yeah. Um . . .just that I know youre hurting. And I wish there were something I could do to fix this for you, but I cant. So just know that I am here for you. And that I love you. And if he knew you like I do, he would never ever be ashamed of you. Hed be so proud of you hed just bust wide open because he wouldnt be able to hold it in. Because thats how I feel about you. Im so proud of you and who you are and what youve become."
Boy, when she finally decides to talk, she always says something that was worth waiting to hear. "Thank you." Gabrielle kissed the warriors chest, just above the top of her leathers. "Youve made me feel better already." The bard smiled and then realized what all had come tumbling out a few moments earlier. Her brows furrowed and she hesitantly resumed the light touches against the warriors leg. "Um . . . Xena. Listen. About what I said. You know, about forever and children and all that. I know we always talk about forever and all . . .I . . . Just know that I didnt mean to freak you out or anything. Im perfectly happy with what we have right now. Its enough for me."
Xena tucked her hand under Gabrielles chin, tilting her face up and kissing her soundly. "No. Its not enough for you. You deserve the best life has to offer. And Im not freaked out at all. We have plenty of time to talk about all of that. And we will. But Im not sure that right now is a good time. Today is going to be a very big day for us, and especially for you, since you are presiding over the summit. Lets focus on that first, okay?"
"Okay." The bard thought for a moment. "I need to ask you to do something. Or not to do something."
"Whats that?" The warrior peered anxiously down at her partner.
"We have got to keep our personal relationship out of the summit talks this afternoon. No matter what happens, promise me you wont jump in and try to protect me or rescue me or speak on my behalf or anything like that."
"But . . ."
"No buts, Xena." Gabrielle reached up, placing her fingers against the warriors lips. "This afternoon, you are the representative from Amphipolis and I am the queen of the Amazons, and you need to act on behalf of Amphipolis best interests first, above everything else. I dont want the two of us to appear to be showing favoritism toward each other against the other parties. Promise me?"
Xena looked down and kicked idly at the dirt with the toe of her boot. "Oh, okay. I promise. On the one condition that if anyone tries to physically hurt you, I will jump in to protect you. Otherwise, Ill keep my hands to myself." The warrior grinned and pulled her partner closer to her side.
"Xena. Im going to be asking everyone to check their weapons at the door. It is a peace treaty, after all. And Im also going to request that only the five representatives from the entities involved be in the room during negotiations, and the scribe. Everyone else will have to wait outside."
"That sounds reasonable enough to me."
"Even the breast dagger, warrior princess. I cant begin to count how many times Ive watched you sneak into places where you were supposed to shed your weapons with that still on you."
"Aw. Come on. That can just be our little secret." Xena waggled an eyebrow.
"Nope. You dont toss it, Ill remove it myself, and just leave them guessing as to how I know about it." The bard laughed, patting her partner between her armored breast plates.
"Wouldnt even have it in the first place if you hadnt bought it." The warrior muttered under her breath, doing her best to display a pout.
"Xena. If theres trouble, which I dont think there will be, in a room full of unarmed leaders, Id bet every last dinar I have on your ability to beat all of them in hand-to-hand." Gabrielle took the warriors hands in her own and squeezed them. "These are deadly weapons all by themselves, and you and I both know that."
"True. And you cant make me check these at the door." The warrior grinned as she reached out and tickled the bards middle with one hand while she held both of Gabrielles hands with the other. "Deadly weapons, huh? Ill show you deadly weapons."
"Ow. Xena . . . let go . . . gods . . . hey!" The bard squealed as her stomach muscles contracted and she desperately tried to get away from the teasing motions.
"Queen Gabrielle." Shivonnes voice called out across the courtyard from the dining hall door, interrupting the playful banter. "Were ready to leave now."
"Guess I better go do the queen thing." Gabrielle felt the warrior let go of her, and she stood and straightened her skirt. She patted the warrior on the belly and then made her way toward the small group that was gathering on the porch of the dining hall. "Did you get enough supplies from Daria to live on until you get home?"
"Yes. Thank you my queen." Shivonne kept her head bowed. "Permission to speak freely, my queen."
Gabrielle sighed. "Shivonne, were not that formal around here. If you have something to say, just say it."
The tall blonde looked up, the faintest trace of a smile edging its way across her face. "My queen, Im really sorry about everything, and all the misunderstandings."
"You were just following orders. I would have expected no less from any of the women living in this village if I had given them a direct order. Dont worry. Everything is forgiven." The bard reached out and clasped forearms with the taller girl. "Have a safe journey. And tell your regent to please come visit me sometime. You have my note in a safe place, correct?"
"Yes my queen. Thank you." The tall blonde turned and faced her group. "Lets get going. Id like to make camp at the halfway mark by nightfall."
Xena got up and walked over to stand by her partner, as they watched the group of Amazons and pack mules move toward the main gate of the village. "You get Chaulzie settled?"
"Yeah. Amarice was going to get her a bunk in the younger girls dorm until we can find a more permanent place for her."
"So what do you have planned until lunch?" Xena turned and took her partners hands in her own, looking down at her with great affection.
"I need to change into my Amazon leathers and talk to Daria about some refreshments to serve during the summit. Then Im going to go make sure the council room is ready and that theres extra parchment and quills for people to make notes on if they need to."
"Sounds good. Im going to go check on Chilapa and Kallerine and Kama. And I need to change too. Then Ill meet you for lunch. And I think Ill start packing up some things for us to take on our little camp out tonight."
The bard looked up into the pale blue eyes and smiled. "Im really looking forward to that. Um. Xena. Why are you going to change clothes?" The warrior was already in her leathers and armor.
"Well. Id thought about this last night, and it kind of goes along with what we just talked about. Im going in as a representative of Amphipolis. I think I need to dress the part, so that theyll remember that they are dealing with me as a citizen of my home village, and not as the former Destroyer of Nations."
"Hmmm. Hadnt thought about that. You can be a little intimidating in the armor. Although Tildes and I are used to it. And Octavian is probably not easily intimidated."
"You can say that again." The warrior grimaced, remembering her final encounter with the Roman before leaving him with the centaurs.
Gabrielle quirked an eyebrow in question and then decided not to pursue it. "So the only one that might be intimidated by the leathers is my father. Although for him alone it might be worth it if we can get him to see you as something other than a warrior."
A feral smile played at Xenas lips. "Gabrielle. Has your father ever seen you in your Amazon leathers?"
"Ooooo." The bard winced. "Good point. I dont guess I need to worry much about what youre wearing, do I?"
"If hes like most fathers, no." Xena reached out and playfully rubbed her partners bare midsection. "I know my mother was none to pleased the day I quit wearing those gods-awful long skirts she dressed me in and put on my first set of leathers. Thought I was never going to hear the end of that."
"Yeah?" Gabrielle grabbed the long fingers and clasped Xenas hand in hers before the warrior decided to turn the caresses into another tickle war. "My father already thinks I run around half-naked in my short skirts and cropped tops. The Amazon get-up just might give him heart failure and send him on an early trip to the Elysian Fields."
The feral grin grew wider. "The sight of you in those leathers almost gives me heart failure, love."
Gabrielle blushed bright pink. "Xena!"
"Oh. I like that color. Looks good on you." The warrior teased, and stopped as she looked over her partners shoulder and saw Herodotus walk out of the dining hall. I oughta just grab her and kiss her senseless right now. Would serve him right. Xena shook her head slightly. Bad warrior. Bad, bad warrior. She stood up straight and gently placed a hand on the bards lower back, pushing her around so that they were both facing the older man. "Morning, Herodotus." The warrior put on her best fake smile. "See you this afternoon at the summit."
"Um. Yes." Herodotus nodded gruffly.
Unexpectedly, Gabrielle turned and threw her arms around Xenas neck, pulling her head down and kissing her quite thoroughly. She continued for several moments until she watched her father turn his back on them and walk hastily away toward his campsite. She grinned and stepped back, breaking contact. "Xena. Sweetheart. You can open your eyes now."
The warriors eyelids slowly fluttered open. "Uhhh." Guess great minds think alike. "Thanks, I think." She rested her forearms on the bards shoulders, clasping her hands loosely in the air behind Gabrielles head. "Almost did that myself."
"Just wanted to show him I mean business. Put a little action behind my words." The bard reached up and wrapped her hands around Xenas outstretched arms. "Probably not so smart right before the summit, huh?"
"Maybe not." Xena kissed her partners forehead. "But I gotta admit it makes me feel good that youre willing to stand up for me to your father. Although you know I dont expect that, dont you? I dont want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable on my account."
The bard swallowed. Shes so proud. Sometimes I forget that underneath that tough exterior is a very fragile soul and that sometimes she needs a little extra affirmation from me She need to know she comes first with me. "That, love, was one of the most comfortable things Ive ever done. Id declare my love for you from the top of Mt. Olympus if I thought it would get across to him how much you mean to me."
"Hey." The warrior looked sheepishly down at the ground. "Weve got things to get done. Ill meet you back here for lunch, okay?"
"Okay." Gabrielle knew Xena was at a loss for words, and that was fine. Sometimes there were not words to adequately express feelings that were so deep, that only the heart could speak of them. She hugged her partner before reluctantly letting go and making her way into the dining hall to speak with Daria.
Lunch had been a rather somber affair, the bards mounting nervousness made evident by the way she pushed her food around the plate instead of attacking it with her usual hungry gusto. Xena had made several attempts to joke with her partner, and had finally given up, choosing the direct approach instead. Shed spent a half candle mark re-assuring Gabrielle in her abilities to lead the summit with success, and somewhere in the warriors words, the bard had managed to latch onto something and she had visibly brightened, much to Xenas relief. Now they were standing near the main gate, awaiting Octavians and Tildes arrival. Runners had come during lunch and informed them that the party was a little less than a candle marks travel away. "Xena, do I look okay?"
The warrior stepped back and casually ran her eyes up and down the bards toned frame, taking in the rust-colored leathers that accentuated the golden tanned skin. She tugged Gabrielles skirt hem and straightened it a bit, and reached up and tucked an errant feather back behind her partners ear. Gabrielle had always done the Amazons leathers justice. But now . . . Gods, she looks like a queen. There was an added layer of muscle to the bards body that made her appear a bit taller, a bit healthier. And she carried herself now with an air of confidence that she didnt have when she first took the queens mask.
And the short hair. It framed Gabrielles gorgeous face and made her look more mature than the long hair had. The warrior had really regretted the manner in which her partner had lost her long locks, but if Xena hadnt tossed the chakram when she did, Alti probably would have killed her. She hadnt been prepared for how stunning the bard looked when she first appeared with her new short cut. With long hair, Gabrielle had been cute. With the short hair she was beautiful. An appreciative smile played at Xenas lips. "Lets just say I hope I can keep my eyes on the treaty materials this afternoon, and not on the Amazon queen."
Gabrielle laughed and playfully slapped Xenas arm, and did her own quiet appraisal of her tall partner. The warrior had chosen to wear a sleeveless fitted royal blue hip-length tunic hat was belted at the waist over black tailored close-fitting slacks that were tucked into a pair of short ankle-high black boots. The black pants only succeeded in making Xenas impossibly long legs look even leaner and longer, while the blue of the tunic reflected her very blue eyes. And without her arm bracers, in the sleeveless top, her well-defined biceps stood out very nicely. Her long dark hair hung freely down her back and across her shoulders. She took Gabrielles breath away.
The bard chuckled. Without the leathers, Xena looked completely feminine. Oh, the power under the surface was still very evident. But armorless, the warrior lost much of the tough look, which was replaced with an aura of pure strength combined with a womanly beauty that was quite appealing. Hate to tell you this love, but Im not so sure youve succeeded in looking like a simple villager from Amphipolis. During lunch, at least one server had walked right into a door frame with a tray of food while staring at the warrior, while another watching Amazon had poured tea into a teacup until it overflowed and spilled onto the table and then the floor.
Herodotus stood quietly off to the side, silently observing his daughter as she and the warrior exchanged low dialogue with each other, unheard by the older man. Every now and then Gabrielles bell-like laughter carried across to him, and he watched as several times Xena tilted her head and leaned over in an effort to hear his daughter speak. I know theyre in love. I just wish . . . what? That Gabrielle had chosen a more normal life? She looks happy. I wish I could have given her a life that would have made her happy. The older man suddenly realized that there was more than hatred in his feelings for the warrior. Even greater was an overwhelming jealousy that Xena had somehow been able to make his daughter happy in a way that all his plans for her never could have.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of approaching horses. He looked through the gates as a group of mounted Roman soldiers approached, the afternoon sun glinting off their well-polished armor and causing him to squint in response. Behind the soldiers were three large centaurs and . . . one smaller centaur. Herodotus eyes widened. Hed never seen a young centaur before. This set his thoughts in motion as he realized that all centaurs were male, and wondered exactly how that could be.
"Aunt Xena! Aunt Gabrielle!" The young centaur broke into a gallop and ran ahead of his group, coming to a halt in front of the warrior and the bard.
Aunt Gabrielle? The older mans eyebrows shot into his hairline.
"Xenon!" The bard bent over and hugged the young centaur. "What a surprise. Its so good to see you."
"Uncle Tildes told me I could come along if I promised to behave during your meeting. Is that okay?"
"Absolutely. Ill get one of the Amazons to give you a tour of the village. Weve made a few changes since the last time you were here." Gabrielle smiled and ruffled the thick golden curls. She looked up to see Herodotus closing the distance between them. The smile disappeared from her face. "Xenon, Id like you to meet my father. Father, this is Xenon. His mother was my regent and one of my best friends. She was recently killed in battle. She was one of the finest warriors this village has ever known."
"Pleased to meet you sir." Xenon bowed his head slightly and extended his arm.
"Um." Herodotus looked like he was about to choke on his own teeth. "Pleased to meet you." The older man extended his own arm and leaned over a little, clasping forearms with the polite young centaur. He stood back up and eyed his daughter. "Did you say your regent was his mother?"
"Yes." The bard gazed steadily at her father, waiting.
"And she was a . . . um . .. a . . ."
"An Amazon with two legs, just like me." Gabrielle smirked.
"And his father? Is he a . . . um?"
"His father was a very noble centaur friend of ours, Phantes. Phantes died in the battle of Thessaly."
"So . . . an Amazon . . . and a centaur . . . what I mean is . . . um . . ." Herodotus gave up and closed his mouth.
"Yeah." The bard smiled sweetly. "Puts my relationship with Xena in a whole new perspective, huh?"
"Um." The older man looked over at the warrior, who was making her way toward the approaching Romans. "Yes. I guess it does."
"Xena." Octavian strode forward, pushing his long red cape back over his shoulders and removing his helmet, tucking it under one arm. He stopped and let his eyes make an obvious tour of the warriors long frame. Nice. Too bad shes taken. "I must say, you look quite stunning." He stepped up, closing the distance until he was mere inches from Xena. "I dont suppose youve changed your mind about my offer?"
"What offer is that?" Gabrielle had just made her way to Xenas side as Octavian spoke.
"Oh." The warrior looked pensively from the Roman to her partner. "Octavian had a proposition that he wanted me to think about that was above and beyond the peace treaty, but after careful consideration I had to decline. Isnt that right, Octavian?"
"Right." The Romans eyes had moved from Xenas chiseled face to the bards even more chiseled mid-section. He took in the golden hair, the intelligent green eyes, and the full lips, and decided that he needed to visit the Amazons more often.
"Xena, are you sure? Was his proposition something that would have benefited you or the Amazons? Maybe we should think about it some more."
"Yes. Maybe you should, Xena." Octavian smiled broadly, laughing inwardly at the warriors apparent discomfort.
"Just trust me on this one , Gabrielle." The warriors voice was low, almost a growl. "Well discuss it later, okay?"
"Okay." The bard looked from her partner to the Roman in confusion.
"Excuse me, I dont believe weve been properly introduced." Octavian extended his arm.
"Octavian." Xena breathed an internal sigh of relief. "This is Gabrielle, queen of the Greek Amazons. Gabrielle, Octavian, ruler of the Roman empire."
"Pleased to meet you, Octavian." Gabrielle clasped the thick muscled forearm, and was sure she detected just the slightest lingering brush of the mans fingertips against the skin of her inner arm before he closed his hand around it. Oh boy.
"The pleasure is all mine, Im sure." The black eyes bored into green, and remembering royal protocol, he barely restrained himself from lifting up the bards hand and kissing it.
Xena watched the exchange with thinly-veiled amusement. Poor guy. I think hes about to take a second hard fall. She moved past them toward Brutus and spoke low so as not to be heard by the others. "I take it you havent told Octavian very much about me and Gabrielle?"
"I wasnt sure how much there was to tell. I had suspected for a long time that there was more to your relationship than friendship. When I caught up with you two on the road from Amphipolis, those suspicions were definitely confirmed." Brutus observed the slightest hint of a blush creep up the warriors neck behind her ears. "I just didnt know how serious it was, whether you two were committed or if you were just having a little recreational fun. I know how lonely it can get on the road, Xena. Sometimes you end up turning to whoever is most available at the time."
"Shes a lot more than a passing fling to me Brutus. Its the most serious Ive ever been about anything in my life. But I appreciate your discretion." The warrior felt her skin growing warm and chose to ignore it. "We didnt want our relationship to get in the way of the peace talks. Weve made a deliberate decision to keep that aspect of things low key until all of this is over."
"This may sound strange coming from me, Xena." The Roman looked down at the ground briefly before looking back up, facing the pale blue eyes an almost painful experience for him. "But I trust you to do the right thing and keep your head about you. Gods help me, I dont know why. Maybe because when you approached me in that field, you didnt lie to me. Everything you said was true. Caesar was going to crucify you and Gabrielle, and he did. He was going to declare himself emperor until we stopped him. And he was planning to send me to Gaul, so I can only assume that he was going to have me assassinated, just like you said he was."
"And you didnt lie to me, either. Gabrielle was exactly where you said she was. It was just too late, thats all. The fates had already pre-ordained our destiny." The warrior looked for a long time at the shorter Roman. "Weve both been used by Caesar, Brutus. Lets hope Octavian is more honorable than his great uncle."
"So far, he has been." Brutus looked over Xena shoulder to where Gabrielle was busy with introductions between Tildes, Octavian, and her father. "He has a big ego, and he is greedy, but he has a fairness about him that my friend Julius was sorely lacking."
"I could tell by our conversation on the way to the centaur village the other day." The warrior smoothed down the front of the unfamiliar tunic. "Shall we?" She gestured toward the dining hall that the others were already moving toward.
It had been a long afternoon, and even with the windows open in the counsel room, all five occupants were sweating from the early summer heat that sat oppressively between the shelves and tables that filled most of the space. There had been several tense moments which Gabrielle had traversed with great skill, much to Xenas relief. For the most part they had all agreed on the major points of the treaty draft. Now they were mired down in the minor details of agreements regarding trading rights between the parties, as Octavian attempted to impose a tax on profits from mining activities of the Amazons in the hills that were part of their territory.
"See here, Gabrielle." Octavian was pacing back and forth in front of the table where the others were seated. "I dont have a problem with refraining from taxing your livestock or your crops. Those would not generate enough funds for it to be worth it to me to send someone to collect them. But mining. That is something else altogether."
"Octavian, our original agreement was that there would be no tax whatsoever on Amazons goods and services." An exasperated bard held her ground, maintaining a calm air even as her guts clenched with tension. She took a sip from a mug of ale she had been nursing throughout the negotiations and smiled for just a moment before the serious expression returned to her face. Daria had served up large liberal mugs of the amber liquid from the Amazons best brew of the previous season.
Xena was quietly drinking from her own mug, and was practically sitting on her hands, determined to stay out of this part of the argument, as it didnt have any affect on Amphipolis. There were no gems or other minerals to be mined anywhere near her home village, and frankly, she hoped none would ever be found. The hills near her home were quite beautiful, and she never wanted to see them marred by the ugly scars that a full-scale mining operation might leave.
As the warrior watched her partner argue, Xena suddenly felt a strong clenching in her own guts. What the . . .? She felt it again and closed her eyes, trying to concentrate. Havent felt that since I was with Lao Ma. As the warrior focused, she realized that she was feeling Gabrielles fear and tension. She smiled. One of the things she had learned while studying under Lao Ma was that when two people were very close, they could sometimes feel each others emotions, especially negative emotions.
Xena and Lao Ma had been very close. Had been lovers, in fact, although the warrior had not been fully capable of loving anyone at the time. Lao Ma however, had been in love with Xena, something the warrior had not acknowledged until long after they parted company. During their time together, Lao Ma had often been able to sense Xenas fear, and the pain she experienced as her broken legs were healing. Lao Ma had shown the warrior some meditation exercises which could be used to take on someone elses pain or negative emotion, easing their burden, at least for a while. It was a discipline that Lao Ma had developed enough that she could actually sometimes use the powers of her mind alone to stop bad things from happening.
Okay Gabrielle. You told me not to jump in, but you didnt tell me not to shut down my brain. The warrior closed her eyes briefly, blocking out everything in her conscious mind except for the twisted tension in her gut. She took several deep breaths and allowed that feeling to grow until her adrenalin began to rush in a defense mechanism she usually associated with extreme fear. Didnt realize she was that afraid. Shes faced a lot, but . . . Xena realized that Gabrielles fear was not from a personal standpoint, but from an overpowering dread that she would fail at the treaty summit and put the Amazons in danger.
As an overwhelming sense of dread encompassed the warriors being, she allowed one tiny part of her mind to remember that she was not in any personal danger, she was merely easing her partners burden. At that very moment, Gabrielle felt her muscles relax, and a feeling of peace and clarity permeated her being. Weird. She opened her mouth to speak when she caught Xenas face out of the corner of her eye. The warrior was pale and a fine sheen of sweat glistened across her forehead. "Excuse me for a moment." She made her way to Xenas side and bent to whisper in her ear. "You okay?"
"Yes." The warrior gasped softly and managed a smile for her worried partner. "Carry on."
"You sure? You dont look too good." The bards brow furrowed in concern.
"Cramps." The warrior whispered.
"O . . . kay. Ill get you some herbs later." Gabrielle let her hand touch Xenas broad shoulder for just a moment before she resumed her argument with Octavian.
"So all you want to tax is our profits from mining and sell of minerals?" She crossed her arms over her chest as her chin jutted out.
"Yes." The Roman noted the queens posture with great admiration. Not only is she beautiful, shes apparently also stubborn and feisty. I like that in a woman.
"And how, exactly, do you intend to police that? We dont know from moon to moon what we will find in those hills. Sometimes we go for several moons without finding anything. And what little we do find we immediately trade for dinars so that we will have some liquid assets at our disposal." The bard moved to the window and gestured out at the village. "Look around Octavian. Does it look like the Amazons are getting wealthy off our mining activities?"
""Well . . . the Roman rose and moved to her side, looking out at the collection of meager thatched huts. "I hadnt really thought about it. We didnt even know the Amazons were mining the hills until we got here today. You didnt delineate it as a separate source of income in the initial drafts you sent to us."
"Because we dont make enough from it for it to be important." Gabrielle turned and looked intently into the black eyes. "Listen, Octavian. Were not trying to hide anything from you. Our mining income is just included in a miscellaneous category in our books, which you are more than welcome to review."
"Still. Gold and precious gems. You have to acknowledge my concern." The Roman returned the steady gaze.
"Who said anything about gold or precious gems?" The bard smiled. "We do find the occasional garnet or onyx. But we have yet to find any diamonds, emeralds, or rubies in those hills. Most of what we find are common strains of metal that can be used to forge weapons and armor. Weve found no gold or silver. Sometimes we even have to keep what we find to replenish our own supply of weapons."
"Well . . ." Octavian stroked his chin as he looked out the window again.
"Let me propose something to you." Gabrielle leaned against the window frame.
"Im listening." The Roman turned and tried to focus on her words instead of her very green eyes and the swell of her breasts which peeked out from the top of the leather halter top.
"We will start keeping a separate accounting of our mining profits in our books. Once a year I will send you an annual report. If the day ever comes when you think we have made enough profit from it to warrant a tax, we will re-convene and negotiate the terms at that time."
Thata girl. Xena felt the tension melt away and realized that the bard had re-gained her confidence in her own right.
"That sounds fair enough." Octavian returned to his seat. "Write it down, please." He directed the scribe, an Amazon who had been employed to sit in and take notes as well as make any written changes to the main draft of the treaty. The shy girl nodded and bent over the parchment before her, the faint scratching of her quill the only sound in the room for several seconds. When she was finished, she passed the parchment down the table for each of the representatives to review.
It reached Gabrielle last. She studied the entire document for several long moments, pleased that overall, relatively few changes had been made to her original draft. She looked up and smiled. "I think that was our last point of contention." She stood and brought the parchment over to the center table in the room. "If were all in agreement, everyone sign at the bottom of the last page and it will be official. And I think our cook has prepared a special meal in celebration. You are all welcome to join us in the dining hall next door tonight at dusk. Ive also had some vintage kegs of ale and wine brought up from our cellar."
Each of the participants took turns signing, including the warrior, who made a large "X" along with a few additional glyphs on the line for the representative from Amphipolis. As she finished signing, she felt a small hand on her back. She turned and smiled at her partner. "Hey. Good job."
"Xena, can I speak to you for a moment please?" Gabrielle crooked a finger and motioned the warrior over to a private corner. "Okay. Spill it. Weve been cycling together for three summers, so I know you dont have cramps. What gives?"
Oops. The warrior had forgotten that like many women who spent a lot of time together, her and the bards time of the moon had eventually fallen in sync. Which often made for a week or so of rather unpleasant emotional outbursts. The up side was that since they cycled at the same time, that left three other weeks per moon when their hormones were under control. Well . . . other than the hormones of a different kind they had recently discovered, which neither had much desire to try to control. She smiled. "Gabrielle, Im sorry. I didnt mean to lie. It was more of a diversion. And its complicated. Ill explain it to you tonight when were alone. I promise."
"Its okay. I was mostly just worried about you." The bard resisted the urge to reach up and stroke the tanned cheekbone that looked so inviting at the moment.
"Queen Gabrielle. May a trouble your for a minute of your time?" Octavian called to the bard from across the room.
"Sure." She looked up at Xena. "Dont go anywhere. Ill be right back."
The warrior watched as her partner walked away, noting the slight swagger and shift of the bards hips that characterized Gabrielles gait, which she found quite adorable. Oh, dont worry my bard. I wouldnt dream of leaving you alone with him. Not for a single second.
"Do you need something?" Gabrielle reached Octavians side, putting her hands on her hips and watching the Romans face with some apprehension.
"Could we go somewhere more private?" Octavian unconsciously placed one hand on the bards upper arm, a move not lost on Xena, who was really regretting her lack of weapons. He touches her anywhere else and I swear . . .
"No ones listening." Except maybe Xena. Gabrielle stepped back, well aware of her partners keen sense of hearing, knowing she probably was listening. "This is private enough."
"I was wondering if after the dinner celebration you might join me in a celebration of a more private nature. Say, for the rest of the evening? Perhaps in your quarters."
The bard almost snorted up her uvula. She dared not look over at the warrior. "Thats not really my thing, Octavian, Im sorry."
"Come now. Ive read a lot about Amazons. I know you all are rather free when it comes to pleasures of the flesh. What could it hurt? One evening of shared intimacy and then Ill be on my way." The Roman reached out and placed his hand on the bards shoulder, letting one thumb stroke the soft flesh. "Come on. I find you quite beautiful. And Ive been told I dont disappoint."
Gabrielle could swear she heard her partners warning growl from across the room. You couldnt even begin to compare to what I have. She glanced over and saw the slow anger rising on Xenas face, and she quickly dropped her hand to her side and made the I love you sign, watching as the warrior visibly relaxed. Glad we came up with that. "Im afraid it would hurt me." And Xena would most definitely hurt you. "Octavian, I dont live alone in my quarters, do you understand me?"
"Oh. I see. Well is it serious? Would she care? Could she find somewhere else to stay for one night?" The Roman was determined not to give up until he had played every last card.
Okay, I tried to be nice. "Why dont you ask her?" Gabrielle suddenly grabbed Octavian by the wrist. She could see Xena biting back her laughter even as she stopped abruptly, hauling the Roman to a halt in front of the tall warrior. "Xena, Octavian wants to know if you would mind getting lost while he and I share an evening of meaningless sex in our hut tonight. What do you think?"
"Octavian, I promised you youd meet my partner at the summit." The warrior purred. "Here she is, my partner, Queen Gabrielle."
"Oh . . . I . . . Um . . . That is . . .Xena . . . I had no idea." Octavian sputtered while warrior and bard waited for him to regain his composure.
Xena raised one coy eyebrow and smiled a feral smile. "Id never stop Gabrielle from doing anything she wants to do." The warrior rose to her full height. "Now if she wants this, which Im pretty sure she doesnt, Im not going anywhere, because its my home too. Im going to stay there and watch. Ill just sit quietly in the corner and sharpen my sword like I do every evening. Youll hardly even know Im there. So Octavian, if you think youre man enough to perform under those conditions, and if my bard here is willing, you go right ahead.
"I . . ." The Roman took a deep breath. "Xena, Im sorry. I meant no harm."
"Just so we understand each other." The feral smile disappeared, to be replaced by a slightly curled upper lip and a flared nostril. "Because just as Id not stop Gabrielle from doing something she really wants to do, if I thought someone were harassing her to do something she doesnt want to do, he just might lose a body part. Or two. And I dont think I need to explain which ones."
"I understand completely." Octavian bowed slightly. "But you cant blame me for trying. You did tell me you felt like you were lucky. Now I do understand why. Ill see you at dinner. Im going to go get cleaned up."
Gabrielle watched while the Roman walked away. She turned and faced a chuckling warrior. "You really wouldnt mind if he and I slept together, just as long as it was consensual?" Gabrielles voice held just the faintest note of disappointment.
The warrior draped an arm across the bards shoulders. "Are you kidding? If he had touched you anywhere else, I was going to go retrieve my sword from Pony and lop his hands off and feed them to the hogs out there for dinner. I love you. I dont want to share you with anyone. Ever. The thought of anyone else putting their hands on you . . ." Xena trailed off as she felt the anger rise anew.
"Hey. Calm down." Gabrielle dropped her hand and made comforting circles across her partners stomach. "You know I love you. And after being with you, I cant imagine being with anyone else. Xena, I havent been around a whole lot." The bard blushed. "Actually, I guess I havent been around at all. But it couldnt possibly be better with anyone else than it is with you You make me feel like shooting stars are exploding inside my body."
"Shooting stars, huh?" The warrior grinned and kissed her partners forehead. "Lets get this dinner over with so I can take you camping and show you some of those stars." She trailed one fingernail across the back of the bards neck and watched the goose bumps that popped up in her wake.
Gabrielle swallowed, enjoying the little tingles that shot to the base of her spine. She took a deep breath and frowned. "So what was Octavians proposal? The one you declined."
"Lets just say the terms were almost identical to the one he just made to you." The warrior leaned in and nipped a bardic earlobe.
"Oh." The bard looked up and grinned. "He may not have good judgment, but at least he has good taste."
"That he does." Xena chuckled and steered her partner out of the council room.
"So what did you tell him?" Gabrielle peered dreamily into the pale blue eyes as they made their way to their hut to freshen up for dinner.
"Told him that I was taken and that Im head over heels in love for the first and last time in my life, so thanks, but no thanks."
"I thought so. Its true, you know."
"I know." The bard took Xenas hand and intertwined their fingers. Just as they reached their hut, Herodotus approached them.
"Gabrielle, can I talk to you for just a moment?" The older man looked from warrior to bard and then down at the ground.
"Um. Ill just go on inside." The warrior squeezed her partners hand before letting go. "See you in a minute?"
"Sure." Gabrielle turned to face her father and sighed heavily. "What do you want?"
"To tell you Im sorry about what I said this morning. About being ashamed." Herodotus studied the green eyes and saw a softening there, a vulnerability that reminded him just a little of the younger Gabrielle that had left home over four summers ago.
"Apology accepted." The bard smiled wanly. Here we go. Wonder how long until he makes me angry again?
"Wait. Theres more. I . . . this afternoon I saw a side of you Ive never seen before. Im very proud of who you are, Gabriella."
Gabriella. He hasnt called me that since I was a little girl. The bard felt the emotions swirling in her chest, and steeled herself, not wanting to break down in front of her father. "Tha. . . thank you. That means a lot."
"I still dont understand why youve chosen the life youre living." Herodotus reached out and took his daughters hand. "And I wont ever stop worrying about you. But I have never been more proud of you than I was today as I watched you handle that summit."
"What about Xena?" Gabrielle wanted her father to accept the warrior, knowing it probably wasnt going to happen.
"She frightens me. I cant help it. I cant reconcile who she is now with who I know she used to be. I . . . I dont know, Gabrielle. Give me some time, okay? Its obvious I cant change your feelings for her, but Im not sure I can ever be happy about it either."
"I guess its only fair. Ive had over three moons to get used to the idea that Xena and I are more than friends. I suppose asking you to just accept that after only three days is probably too much to ask. Especially since you didnt like her to begin with. Please, just promise me youll really try to give her a chance?" The bards voice took on a pleading tone.
"Ill do my best. Ill see you at dinner, and Ill probably break camp at first light, so Ill say my goodbyes now, in case I dont get to later. Take care of yourself, Gabrielle. And please, despite everything else, remember that I am very proud of you."
"Ill remember. Give my love to mother and Lila." The bard kissed her father on the cheek and then went inside her hut. Xena was sitting in a chair waiting. Gabrielle walked across the room and collapsed into her partners lap and buried her face into the soft blue fabric of the warriors tunic.
"You okay?" Xena rubbed the bards back with one hand and thoughtfully played with some leather fringe that hung off her skirt against her thigh. "He say something to upset you again? Cause Ive had just about enough of it . . ."
"No." Gabrielle sniffled. "He told me hes proud of me."
"Oh." The warrior brushed a tear off her lovers nose. "Thats a switch."
"And hes going to try to give you a chance." The bard smiled and looked into the shocked blue eyes.
I really wish I could believe that, for her sake. "Well. Id say weve got several things to celebrate." And hopefully more by the time this night is over. "Lets get cleaned up and go say farewell to our guests. And then . . ." Xena kissed her partners lips softly. ". . . lets go get Argo and Star and get out of here."
Dinner was a light-hearted affair, a welcome relief to the summit participants after their long afternoon of deliberations. Gabrielle had endured several rounds of toasts by Romans, centaurs, and Amazons, and even one timid one by her father, all of them praising her efforts in bringing the treaty together. Xena had even stood and made shameless accolades in her soulmates honor, "on behalf of the citizens of Amphipolis." The warrior had winked at her shy partner before taking her seat next to the bard and kissing her on the cheek, which had caused the bard to blush and a few Romans and Amazons to chuckle.
Gabrielle watched with interest as the various parties interacted, Romans and Amazons carrying on with conversation, jokes, and a few arm-wrestling matches, while the centaurs sat off to the side near the door eating and talking with some of the Amazons who had been friends with Ephiny and Phantes. Xenon had come by their table several times, thanking them for the tour of the village. Hed been fussed over by several of the younger Amazons and was feeling quite pleased with himself. "Think hes starting to like girls yet?" The bard leaned over and poked her partner.
"Maybe just a little. Although hes still a little young. But centaurs do reach maturity faster than humans. Id give him a few more summers." Xena took a long swig of port and managed to choke down some carrots and green beans that the bard had tactfully placed on her plate. The green eyes watched the vegetables disappear with approval, which elicited a grin from the somewhat relaxed warrior. Xena had changed back into her leathers and armor, and was feeling a lot more like herself again.
Gabrielle bit into a turkey leg and chewed with gusto. She watched as some of the centaurs were also enjoying the roasted bird and the steamed vegetables Daria had prepared. It had taken the bard a while to convince Daria that the centaurs eat the same food as they did, and had barely managed to avert a social faux pas, as she intercepted a large trough of oats and other mixed raw grains that the cook had originally planned to serve to their four-footed friends.
As the guests finished eating, servers came around and collected their plates, replacing them with smaller plates of fruit tarts and cheeses, and the sweeter desert wine was brought out and served up liberally among the revelers. The bard selected a warm apple tart with melted cheese, and broke off a corner and held it up to the warrior. Xena bit down on the sweet offering and flicked the bards fingers with the tip of her tongue before closing her lips around the flaky crust and chewing slowly, smiling as she watched her partner break off another piece and hold it out. The warrior took it between her teeth and then leaned forward, indicating that Gabrielle should take it. The bard blushed and closed her mouth around it, sighing as Xenas lips met hers.
"I swear, those two take foreplay to whole new levels." Eponin watched the exchange between warrior and bard with mixed envy and amusement.
"I dont know. It looks kind of fun to me." Raella lightly touched the weapons masters leg under the table, causing the tough Amazon to jump.
"You do?" Eponin turned and melted into fiery amber eyes.
"Yes." The auburn-haired beauty licked her lips seductively.
The weapons master looked down at her empty desert plate. "Dont go anywhere." She stood up. "Ill be right back. Hey Daria, you got any of those tarts left?" Eponin walked swiftly toward the kitchen as her tall partner laughed softly and shook her head.
"I feel like a baby bird." Gabrielle giggled after she swallowed.
"Youre my baby bird." The warrior offered her partner another bite in the same manner, and then they shared several more similar exchanges of the pastry, along with a few lingering kisses in between. When the desert was gone, Xena picked up a goblet of strawberry wine and reached across, tilting the edge against the bards lips and smiling as Gabrielle took a sip, watching with delight as the bard smiled at her first taste of the sweet drink.
"Wow. Thats really good." The bard took another sip.
"Glad you like it." I packed a flask of it to take with us tonight. The warrior held the goblet while Gabrielle continued to drink from it, and watched as a runner came in the side door and made her way to Octavians side. The Roman listened intently and frowned before rising and making his way across the room to Xena and Gabrielles table. "Uh oh. Trouble." Xena set the goblet down.
Gabrielle stood as Octavian approached. "Xena, Gabrielle. A runner just reached the outer border of Amazon territory. He came all the way from Athens. We have a problem."
"Whats up?" The warrior stood next to her partner.
"My triumvirate has fallen. Marc Antony has assassinated Marcus Lepidus and has declared himself to be ruler of half of the Roman Empire. Greece is included in that half. And hes teamed up with Cleopatra against me. He intends to combine his army with Cleopatras and take the rest of the empire from me. Im afraid I need to return to Rome as quickly as possible."
"Cleopatra?" The warrior looked off into the distance, not seeing the people in front of her for a moment. "Im going to help you stop Marc Antony. Weve worked too hard to have peace between ourselves to let him destroy everything. And I wont have the likes of him taking over Greece."
"Xena." The bard tugged anxiously at her partners arm. "You cant raise an army large enough to defeat him."
"Im not going to raise an army. I . . . we . . ." She looked at her partner, remembering a promise never to leave her behind again. "We are going to Egypt to talk some sense into Cleo. Um. Lets move into the council room, shall we?"
They spent a candle mark planning the trip to Egypt. Xena insisted that she and Gabrielle were still going on their vacation to Zakinthos, as it would take Octavian that long to get back to Rome and assess the situation anyway. They agreed that Octavian would send word to her at Zakinthos of the state of affairs in Rome, and if things were as the runner had said, Xena and Gabrielle would catch a larger boat at Pirgos to go to Egypt. The warrior explained to the bard that her boat was not big enough to cross the sea between Greece and Egypt, and she preferred to entrust such passage to a seasoned ship captain. Xena would try to talk to Cleopatra and at the same time give Octavian time to transport some of his troops across the sea in case they were needed to help in convincing the Egyptian queen to back down.
"Dont suppose we could go around by foot." The bard looked down, clasping her hands behind her back.
Her stomach. Xena tilted her partners chin up. "Sorry, love. It would take weeks to get there on foot and we dont have that kind of time. It will only take a few days to get there by boat."
"Days?! Xena, I cant go without food for days." Gabrielle looked like she was about to cry.
"Gabrielle. Sweetheart. Ill do everything I can to make the trip as painless as possible for you, I promise."
"Why cant she eat on the boat?" Octavian watched the loving exchange with a bit of envy. Interesting. Ive never seen two women in love. But they obviously are.
"She can eat. It just wont stay down." The warrior brushed her hand across the fair blonde head as she spoke.
"There are pressure points she can use." The Roman offered helpfully.
"Yeah. Shes used them before. They help some, but not completely. And they have strange side effects on her, mess with her senses and stuff." The warrior grimaced, remembering the bards hearty consumption of a large helping of raw squid on Cecrops boat. Xena turned back to her partner. "Sweetheart, well just have to make the best of it, okay? If the weather holds out Ill camp out on the top deck with you every night. You dont get as sick as long as youve got fresh air, remember?"
"Well. Thats true." The bard sighed heavily. "Okay. If we have to take a boat, we have to take a boat. But you better be prepared to buy me a really big really expensive meal as soon as we hit land."
The warrior chuckled. "Thats my girl. Dont worry. If things go like I hope they will, well be dining on the hospitality of Cleopatra when we get there. And Ive heard her meals are something to behold." Xena smiled as she watched what she was sure were visions of a large banquet table dancing in the bards green eyes.
They ironed out a few more details of the trip to Egypt and then Octavian left. He planned to travel through the night with his men, hoping to make Athens in a few days before turning toward Rome. Gabrielle went back into the dining hall and said a quiet goodbye to her father and bid Tildes farewell. She kissed Xenon on the head and told him to come visit again soon.
The warrior stood in the doorway, quietly talking to Tildes as she watched her partner make final rounds between the tables of revelers. The party would probably continue late into the night. Xena winced when she realized they were going to do it all over again the next night at the solstice celebration. Hope they get over their hangovers in time for the next round. She chuckled as one particularly limber Amazon attempted to amuse her friends by putting her legs behind her head while bearing her weight on her hands and balancing a full mug of ale on her forehead. Several lingering Romans found excuse to wander by the girls table, curious as to what, if anything, Amazons wore under their leather skirts. Across the room a game of toss the knife was well under way. So far, Cheridah had not had to stitch up any of the participants. Amazons.
Gabrielle finally tore herself away from a table of young admirers and rolled her eyes as she walked toward her tall partner. Tildes smiled and excused himself as the bard reached her goal and slid under the warriors outstretched arm. "Are you finally ready to go?" Xena teased as she ruffled the blonde hair.
"Yeah. Show me this secret secluded place youve been talking about all day." The bards eyes twinkled.
"Argo is packed up and ready to go." The warriors voice was hesitant. "I was hoping you wouldnt mind if we just ride double and leave Star behind. Its only for one night and its already after dark. Id rather have you in the saddle with me, since you dont know where were going."
"Oh gods. If I have to." Gabrielle watched as her partners face fell. "Xena. Honey. Just kidding. I love to ride double with you."
"You do?" The warriors smile returned.
"Yeah. Pretty much ever since you found me in Potadeia. After Hope and all. Gave me an excuse to be close to you." The bard stood up on tiptoe and pecked the warriors lips.
"Did I mention you look really cute tonight?" The bard was wearing the red leather skirt and top Xena had bought for her in Manolies village.
"No. But thanks." Gabrielle looked into the blue eyes, trying to read thoughts she couldnt quite make out, and feeling suddenly very shy. "I wore this for you. I thought tonight felt kind of special, and I knew you liked it."
"Any night with you is special." Xena took her soulmates hand and lead her outside. The warrior flipped lazily up onto Argos back and then reached down, offering the bard an arm up. Gabrielle felt the breeze brush by her, as she found herself flying up and behind her partner. She sighed with contentment as she wrapped her arms snugly around Xenas waist and scooted forward, pressing herself firmly against the warriors back. "Lets go find some shooting stars, warrior princess."
"The kind in the sky or the kind you said you feel inside?"
The warrior shivered with happy anticipation as she clucked to the mare and they disappeared into the night.
Continued in Part 8 (Conclusion)
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