Characters and backstory from Xena: Warrior Princess are property of MCA/Universal/Renaissance. No copyright infringement is intended. This is an original (I hope)work of alternative fan fiction. No profit will be gained from its production. This piece of fiction is copyright of the author.
There are depictions of love/sex between consenting adult persons of the same gender. If this is illegal where you live, you are underage, or the idea ties your intestines in a knot (eww...that's a thought), then stop reading here and find something more appropriate to your tastes and/or laws. Author's Note:
Yep...a sequel in The Way of Life series. This one happens soon after The Way of the Amazon.
Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
by TZ Copyright April 26th, 1998
"Come on, Gabrielle."
"That's it, honey. Come on, wake up."
"Uh, huh. If we don't start now, we'll never make it to the baths at Eropolis."
"Yep, that's it." Xena smiled widely at the bleary eyes that peeked from under the blanket.
"Rest and relaxation," the mostly hidden woman mumbled in question.
Reaching down to push her lover's hair away from her face, Xena grinned. "I promised, didn't I?"
Gabrielle nodded more vigorously.
"Well then, let's get going," the warrior prodded, pulling the blanket from the petite bard. She watched appreciatively as the young woman stretched her nude body to wakefulness.
When Gabrielle raised her arms, Xena complied with the unspoken question and pulled the bard to her feet, drawing her into an embrace.
"Good morning, Xena," Gabrielle said when her lips were released.
"Morning," the warrior replied, swatting her lover's backside. "You get washed up and dressed," she advised, "and we'll get back on the road. Otherwise, I won't be responsible for acting on my baser desires," she added with a seductive smile.
"Now, Gabrielle," Xena ordered, chuckling when she read the speculative look in the bard's eyes.
Gabrielle grinned and shrugged. With her usual morning chatter, she gathered her clothes and found the small spring by which they had camped. When she finished and returned, Xena had rolled their blankets and had tied them to Argo. The bard accepted a steaming cup of tea and a chunk of flatbread. "Tell me about the baths again, please?"
Xena looked over her shoulder as she continued to kick dirt over their smoldering campfire. "Well, Eropolis was built around natural hot springs. They're known for their healing qualities and people from all over Greece go there to rest."
"And its a honeymoon spot," Gabrielle added.
"You know, we haven't had time to ourselves since we were joined."
The warrior quirked a brow at her wife's petulance. "I think it had something to do with hundreds of Amazons and a small village," she reminded the Queen.
Gabrielle grinned and nodded. "If Wolf and Ep hadn't provided that distraction, we might never have gotten free."
"And Ep was awake for the ride this time."
"Shame we couldn't hang around a little longer to see the look on her face," the bard replied with a mock pout.
"You want to get to Eropolis or not?"
The small woman answered by swallowing the last of her tea and tossing the crumbs that were left of her breakfast. Before Xena had finished cleaning the rest of their campsite, Gabrielle was waiting impatiently next to Argo, eager to be on the road.
"So, how long until we're there," Gabrielle asked once they were heading west.
"By nightfall," the warrior replied.
"Is this going to be one of those 'travel until we drop' days, or do we get to take our time?"
"In between," Xena answered, casting a glance to her wife. "But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy a long lunch if you ride with me for a while."
Mentally, Gabrielle figured the amount of time a lunch and lovemaking would consume. She decided a quick meal and some slow love was worth the jarring her backside was bound to take while atop Argo. "Okay," she said, barely hiding her enthusiasm.
Xena nodded her head and lifted the small bard behind her. *Sometimes, Gabrielle, you are just sooo easy to read.* "Hold on."
Grinning as she wrapped her arms around supple leather, Gabrielle closed her eyes. "You don't have to tell me twice."
Urging her warhorse to an easy gallop, Xena clasped one hand over her Gabrielle's arms and leaned her body back. She knew that she was going to enjoy the ride.
The ride to Eropolis was turning into one of their more pleasant days. After their latest adventures, the two women found the lack of action more than welcome. They had just resumed their travel after a brief lunch that was interrupted by enthusiastic and very satisfying lovemaking. Their appetites sated, both were falling into a comfortable place atop Argo. Xena smiled when Gabrielle's sigh fanned warm breath across her shoulder. She breathed deeply and... *damn,* she cursed silently. "Gabrielle, get down."
The bard, knowing the tone of the warrior's urgent command all too well, complied with prudent haste and readied her staff for defense. Concentrating on the distant sound of thundering hooves, she was vaguely aware of Xena also dismounting. From experience, she knew that the warrior had sent her beloved horse off the trail and out of danger. *Well, at least I get to stay now,* Gabrielle thought with a shiver of expectation.
They stood off to the side of the road, just in case the approaching riders were merely passing through. The sight that greeted the warrior and bard, however, left them wide-eyed with astonishment. The riders continued past them, the men throwing frightened glances to them for help as they desperately clung to their mounts.
"Can Argo do *that*," Gabrielle asked as she found her voice first.
Xena's widened eyes narrowed. "If she had to," the warrior muttered before blinking to make sure that it had not been an illusion. Moments later, the same horses returned, but without their riders.
"Yep, that's what I thought I saw," Gabrielle exclaimed, confirming for the warrior that they were seeing the same thing...horses galloping backwards.
"I don't know what's going on, Gabrielle, but I bet if we find those men, we'll get some answers."
"I can't wait to hear this one," the bard replied with a hint of droll wit.
Cautiously mounting Argo, Xena put her heels to the mare's flanks and prepared herself for any surprise. With a snort of approval, she was relieved when the horse complied and began moving...forward.
Gabrielle merely chuckled at the warrior's studied movements and followed on her own two feet, which she was sure were not enchanted.
Less than a quarter-candlemark later, the women found the unseated riders limping up the road. Relief was evident in their features and the words of the man who had assumed leadership. "Xena, thank the...well, thank goodness it's you. We are from Trasis, and we seek your help."
The warrior eyed the group of villagers intensely, looking for any sign of malicious intent. None were able to hold her gaze as they began to fidget under her heated glare. Dismounting, she approached the leader, a stout barrel-chested man. "What's your name, and how can we help?"
The leader bobbed his head nervously. "Uh...my name is Parathus, I'm the smithy for our village," he explained in way of greeting. "And, well, something has gone wrong. Strange things keep happening, and we're worried that something might happen...someone might get hurt."
"What kind of things," Gabrielle asked, stepping next to Xena, but not too close in case she might need to fight.
"We've been cursed," another man spoke with annoyance. "By all the...."
"Shut up, you fool! Do you want them to visit their damn tortures on us once more," Parathus hissed.
"But, Parathus, it's the truth!"
Xena had heard enough of the two men squabbling. She raised her hand in an impatient gesture. "Enough! Are you saying that the gods caused your horses to run backwards?"
The group of men cried in unison and sheltered their heads with their arms in a gesture of fear.
The warrior cast an amused glance to her partner and rubbed the back of her neck. "Look, I don't know what's going on, but my partner and I tend to avoid most...divine entities...as much as possible." Xena looked down when she felt the tug on her leather skirt. She sighed mentally and changed her position. "However, in this case...."
"Oh, thank you, Princess. See, I told you the stories were true," Parathus informed his fellow villagers. "She's changed." Turning to face the woman who stood as tall as he did, the smithy's face became a canvas of mixed emotions - happiness, relief, excitement. "So, what now?"
"First, we get back to Trasis and see if we can find any clues there," Xena announced as she gathered Argo's reigns and began to walk the road from where they had just come.
"Do you think this is the work of the gods," Gabrielle asked in a hushed tone, unwilling to hear grown men cry.
"Oh, I'm sure that it's possible. We both know what they are capable of," the warrior reminded the young woman.
"Huh, I'm not so sure this was a good idea," the bard mumbled as she remembered their various adventures and encounters with the Olympians.
Xena chuckled at her wife's sudden reluctance. "Relax, Gabrielle. We've dealt with Death, Hades, the Furies, Callisto, and the God of War...who could be worse?"
A fair brow quirked in contemplation. "You have a point there."
"Yeah...so just don't worry about it. We'll go in there...check things out. We'll figure something out. I mean, it could be something else altogether, right?"
Gabrielle lifted her face to gaze upon the woman she trusted with her life and nodded, more confident knowing that Xena was by her side. "Sounds like a plan."
"Good, now let's get moving," the warrior said as she increased their pace. "The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can continue on to Eropolis."
"And rest and relaxation," the bard sighed.
"Right," the warrior drawled, flashing a brief look of seduction to her wife.
"Well, what are we waiting for," the petite blond asked as she lengthened her stride, eager to solve Trasis' problems so that they could finish what they had started that morning.
By the time that the group reached the village of Trasis, the men following the women were out of breath, wheezing from the relentless pace that had been set. With a wry look to the group, the warrior studied the layout and daily activities of the town...well, what there was of it. Xena's stoic warrior facade successfully masked her disbelief.
Gabrielle was also observing the village. However, her incredulous look was vivid on her expressive features. Of the few people there were making their way through town, at least one was an unbecoming shade of green, and two were various shades of oranges and reds. Two huts were defying nature, resting solidly on their pointed roofs. The horses that they had seen earlier were still walking backwards in a spacious corral near the stables. The bard cocked her head when she realized that a two-headed dog was walking among the equines. Unlike Cerebus, however, whose three heads were in the front of its body, this curiosity had a head at each end. *Don't even think about it, bard.*
"Parathus, thank...the stars...that you're here. When your horses returned without you, we feared something might have happened."
"Relax, Drius, we found the Warrior Princess. She's promised to help us," the smithy replied, laying a comforting arm across the man's shoulders.
Drius, the green man whom Gabrielle had earlier seen walking up the main street, was studying his unnatural skin tone and glancing back and forth between his hand and the bard's top.
Xena hid a smirk at the man's actions, agreeing silently with him that he did bear an uncanny similarity to the bilious shade. The one who knew her so well, however, dealt her an inconspicuous elbow to her lower ribs.
"Don't say a word," the bard warned in a lowered tone.
Xena cleared her throat and addressed Parathus. "Why don't you round up as many people as you can, and we'll hear what everyone has to say."
"Oh, okay," the smithy replied. "We'll meet you near the fountain," he informed the tall woman who had returned her eyes to the village before them. When Xena nodded in agreement, the stout man called a few others to him and ordered them to call everyone for the meeting.
The warrior in question turned her eyes to the young woman at her side. "Yes?"
"What are you thinking?"
"I don't think this is anything BUT the work of the gods," she began. "The question is...which one or ones."
"But who would do something like this," the bard asked, leaning against her staff as she took a moment to enjoy the fact that she wasn't moving.
"We won't know who would have a motive until we find out what's been going on. But it's obvious that some god was either offended or is just having a bit of fun with mortal lives," she finished with a subdued snarl.
Gabrielle reached out a hand to calm the warrior. "Now, Xena, we won't help things any if we make matters worse by further insulting the gods."
Willing the frustration away, Xena patted her wife's gentle hand. "I know, you're right, Gabrielle. I guess I'll just have to work on controlling my emotions."
The bard gave her warrior a wry look. "Like that's going to be a real chore, Ice Queen."
Xena's right brow disappeared under her bangs. "She told you about that, huh?"
Gabrielle wrapped an arm around a leather-clad waist and grinned. "Uh, huh...and I'm putting together a collection...Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations, Bitch of the Sea, Ice Queen...."
"I get the idea, Gabrielle," the warrior growled. "Say, did you notice how much that guy matched your top?" Xena smiled in satisfaction when the bard's words silenced.
Flashing a warning to the back of the warrior who had already left to talk with the group that was steadily forming at the town's center, the bard ducked her head to study her apparel. With a silent groan, she acknowledged that her halter did indeed match the sickly green of Drius. *That's it...I'm getting a new one,* she thought with agitation that quickly turned to smothered humor when she saw the rest of the assembly.
The villagers had gathered in a loose semi-circle near the central fountain. With a bard's eye, Gabrielle observed that while most of the people looked to be all right, there were a few, like Drius, who stood out. At Xena's instructions, she found a blank scroll and set about recording the details of each person's afflictions as the warrior asked pointed questions. Down to the minutest detail, Gabrielle put to parchment the woes of the village of Trasis. Finally, when the last villager came forward, a young man...nude as the day he was born, the bard's eyes widened in surprise.
"Your name," Xena asked.
The young man blushed profusely as he cupped his hands in front of his genitals. "Th...Thalanos," he stuttered.
"And your problem," the warrior asked, hiding her amusement well.
"Uh...uh...I can't seem to wear clothes," he answered.
Parathus took pity on the young man and stepped forward. "Ever since this started, Thalanos here, has worn all his clothes. Whenever someone tries to cover him, the garments dissolve into thin air. We finally gave up because the entire village was starting to run short on clothes."
Gabrielle spared a look to her wife to gauge her reaction, and to ease Thalanos' discomfort by not staring at him. To a stranger, Xena would have presented herself as a stoic warrior, unaffected by the town's revelations. However, to the trained eye of someone who had traveled with her for three years, the glint of amusement was obvious in her stunning blue eyes.
Sensing the bard's eyes on her, Xena turned to the young woman. "Get all that," she asked, barely winning the battle to keep her lips from twitching.
Nodding her head mutely, Gabrielle ducked her head to study the parchment. She willed herself not to lose it in front of the entire village. The stab of guilt she should have felt was not acknowledged by her conscious, which was roiling with uncontrollable mirth. She bit down on the inside of her cheek with the effort.
Xena raised her hand to hide the grin to which she knew she was losing the battle. Inhaling deeply to regain her composure, she turned to address the anxious group. "My friend and I will take our leave to examine the evidence. You folks go on and return to whatever you were doing before, and we'll contact Parathus when we're finished."
"Thank you for coming," Gabrielle added as the men, women, and children left them alone with the smithy.
"Parathus, Gabrielle and I are going to find a campsite and we'll go over everything. We'll be back before sunset."
The smithy nodded his understanding. If he knew that he was not already cursed, he would have done the same - gotten as far away from the godsdamned town as soon as possible. With an uncomfortable grimace, he turned and entered his workroom where he could scratch the incessant itch that had been plaguing his privates for the past three days.
When they were sure that they were out of earshot of the town, the pair of women fell to the forest earth and succumbed to the laughter that had been cramping their insides.
"Oh, poor Thalanos," Gabrielle gasped as she clutched at her aching ribs.
"I'd say that you two have something in common," Xena pointed out to the young woman.
"And what's that," the bard asked, her laughter dying at the comparison.
"His clothes disappear, and yours just seem to shrink each cycle of seasons. I figure in a few more summers, I won't have to work too hard with those laces," she explained with a snort as she fell to her back once more. Her breath was stolen from her when the bard pounced on her.
"Oh, really, warrior?" Gabrielle's fingers found their way under brass armor to the tall woman's most sensitive tickle spot. "Any chance I can get that enchantment to work on your leathers?"
With a growl, Xena rolled the woman over, careful not to pinch the bard's wandering fingers. "We'd have to hide out at the Amazon village," the dark woman explained.
"No, way, Xena. Joined or not joined, those women do not know how to keep their eyes off you."
"And your Queen's attire dissuades them from lusting after you?"
Gabrielle chuckled at the idea of a pack of passionate Amazons chasing them across the village compound as their clothes shrunk to nothing. "Enough of this, woman," she warned as she rolled the warrior over. "Seriously, Xena. Do you think this is the work of the gods?"
"I don't know, love," the warrior replied as she scooted out from under her wife and pushed herself into a sitting position. "Could be magic, something in the water...."
"Well, I'd believe a sorcerer before the water theory," the bard stated. "Some of that stuff was just too weird."
"Yeah," the warrior agreed. "Poor Thalanos."
Gabrielle could not help the pained look she threw Xena, nor the ensuing humor that erupted once more.
"Okay," Xena gasped as she fought to regain her breath. "Why don't we set up camp, and while we're waiting for dinner, we'll go over that scroll."
"Fine with me," Gabrielle replied as her stomach announced its agreement.
While a hearty rabbit stew was simmering over their campfire, and during the meal itself, the duo sounded ideas off each other, dismissing some and listing others at the bottom of the scroll Gabrielle was keeping for the purpose of solving this mystery.
"What do we have so far," Xena asked around a mouthful of bread.
"Well, let's see," Gabrielle said as she swallowed a piece of meat she had been chewing. "We've decided that if it was a god...then it isn't Ares...not his style. It might be Aphrodite if we go by Thalanos. And of course, there's Hermes," Gabrielle added, "he is the trickster of the gods. And all the others just don't seem to be likely candidates."
"Ok now," Xena began, her hands making chopping motions as if she were attacking the problem with a weapon. "Aside from Thalanos, evidence doesn't clearly point to Aphrodite. So, that leaves us with Hermes."
"That's if it wasn't a sorcerer," the bard reminded as she wiped the bottom of her empty bowl with chunk of bread.
"Right," the warrior reminded herself as she began to rock with subtle motions. "Sorcerer or Hermes. Now, the question is...why?"
The bard shrugged as she swallowed a mouthful of wine. "They seem to be a nice-enough village of people."
Xena smiled warmly to her wife. "You think everyone is nice."
"Not everyone," Gabrielle explained, "not any more."
"Mostly everyone, then."
The bard smiled, suddenly aware that she had regained that facet of her personality. She still trusted and believed in people and their innate goodness. She just didn't do it blindly anymore. She had learned to consider facts and evidence before reaching a conclusion.
"Anyway," the warrior interrupted the bard's mental ramblings, "we won't know until we go back to the village."
"We told him we'd be back by sunset," Gabrielle reminded.
"Hmm...how about I go back to Trasis and let Parathus know that we are going to stay here tonight and work on the village's problem, and you can stay here and keep the bedroll warm."
"Is that what I am reduced to now...Gabrielle, Amazon Bedwarmer?"
Xena ducked to kiss her wife passionately. "I could always find someone else...," she replied huskily.
Gabrielle swatted playfully at Xena's thigh, and then let her touch linger to absorb the heat that always seemed to emanate from the sultry woman. "No, Xena, I think I can handle the job."
"You certainly have the hands for it," Xena sighed as the bard's hand wandered under her leathers. A sharp slap on her knee brought the warrior out of her lusty haze. "Huh?"
"You better get going, or else we'll never get to find out just how talented my hands are, now, will we?"
With a wicked grin and wink, Xena slipped into the deepening shadows of the forest and jogged the short distance to Trasis. She consulted briefly with Parathus who looked like he was trying to learn some ancient tribal dance, shuffling from foot to foot and wiggling his hips every so often.
Shutting her mind off from the amusing jig in front of her, Xena concentrated on his face and explained to him that she and Gabrielle were still working on the mystery of what had happened to his village and that they would be back right after first light in the morning.
The smithy's relief was evident in his words of thanks, though not in his restless manner, which seemed to grow worse the longer they stood there. Exchanging evening pleasantries, the two of them parted company. The warrior, allowing the growing darkness to cover the amused smirk on her face, trotted back to camp, her libido raging ever more with each step closer, while back in the blacksmith's hut, the smithy undid his trousers and resumed the only activity that brought him any peace lately...scratching.
When Xena arrived back at their campsite, Gabrielle was already curled up under their sleeping furs. The warrior's frown of disappointment changed to one of sensual surprise when the bard rolled over to face her, lifting the blanket in the process. Xena's heart stopped for a few excruciating moments and then resumed at double time, making up for the lack of air her brain was receiving. She was caught breathless, dizzy, by the golden hues of fire that danced over her wife's nude body.
"Do you want to watch while I do it, or do you want to actively participate?"
Gabrielle's words spoken on a silky breath captured the warrior's attention. Torn between the two choices, she did what any respectable woman would do. She stripped herself of her armor and leathers and pounced on the bard.
It wasn't what Gabrielle had planned, but the unexpected tickle-fest did turn into something incredibly hot and passionate. *Married life is definitely good,* she thought as Xena's fingers stopped poking ticklish spots and began stroking and caressing parts that were even more sensitive. "Oh, gods," she sighed when the warrior's lips moved to nuzzle an ear.
"You like," Xena asked as she began to trail soft kisses down Gabrielle's neck to her breasts, stopping only to nibble her collarbone a few times. She blew across an aroused nipple before claiming it between clamped teeth.
"Oh, gods," the bard cried louder as a burst of pleasure/pain shot from her hardened nipple to her groin.
Xena smiled wickedly against her wife's breast. "It's not the gods, my love, it's me. I make you hot and wet."
"Oh, yes, Xena. Only you," the small woman replied with a gasp when her lover finally entered her.
Xena closed her eyes tighter and burrowed her face deeper into Gabrielle's neck. She really did not want to rise, but she had promised Parathus that they would return to the village after first light. With a sly stroke of her tongue, she tasted the salty sweat that had dried on her bard's neck in the few hours that they had been sleeping. With natural grace, she threw the blanket off her body and stretched her aching muscles. It was a good thing that she had not fought recently, she thought to herself, or else she wouldn't have been able to prove to the bard that the position they had seen in Aphrodite's temple really was humanly possible. *Who would have known that Gabrielle had become so flexible.*
Rising to her knees, the warrior tossed a few branches on their smoldering campfire and began to prepare their morning tea. Gazing through the trees to gauge the height of the sun over the horizon, she figured that they would have to get started if they wanted to get to Trasis any time soon. She turned and gave her wife's exposed shoulder a firm shake.
Her efforts were rewarded with a groan, one step further than usual upon her first attempt. She smiled at the early progress.
"Wake up my bard, it's not that hard." The warrior's brow furrowed in confused contemplation. Those were not the words she had been thinking before she opened her mouth. She shook a little harder. "My sweet, my sweet, the day you must meet." She clapped a hand over dysfunctional mouth. *What in Tartarus is going on?* She finally resolved herself to rocking the bard to and fro until the small woman woke with a slow grin.
"Xena. Is it time to get up already? I feel like I just fell asleep," she commented as she rose to kiss the warrior's cheek. "Is something wrong," she asked, noticing that Xena's frown.
The warrior shook her head vigorously in denial.
"Okay...whatever you say." Gabrielle heard the water boiling over the fire and moved to fill their mugs. "Why don't you get dressed before I forget that we're on a mission here, all right?"
Xena nodded absently, her mind working furiously over the conflict her speech and brain were having. With movements practiced from time, she donned her shift, leathers, and armor. Moving to her wife's side, she allowed Gabrielle the domestic chore of buckling her breastplate.
"So, Xena, have you thought any more about Trasis' curse," the bard asked as she handed the tall woman her tea.
The warrior shook her head and ducked her head to study the leaves that had floated to the surface.
Her temper beginning to flare at the reticent warrior, Gabrielle rose to find her clothes. She struggled as she pulled her top over her breasts, grunting with the effort to tie the laces. *That's funny...this is the wrong time of the moon for swelling.* She shrugged as she finished and pulled on her boots. Moving to sit in front of Xena, she had to tap the warrior's knee for attention. Without a word, the silent woman complied and tied the footwear so that they were just right for walking.
"Xena, I don't know what's going on with you, but it's starting to annoy me," the bard said through clenched teeth as she wiggled her shoulders to adjust her top.
Attempting to communicate through expression alone, Xena apologized for her reluctance to say anything. *Not if it comes out in rhyme.* Her efforts were rewarded with a worried frown.
"Is there something wrong with your mouth," Gabrielle asked, an edge of alarm creeping into her voice.
Xena nodded and then pushed Gabrielle's hands away when the bard tried to examine the warrior's face.
"Xena, I don't know what you are trying to tell me. And if this is some kind of game, I'm not in the mood for it." Gabrielle rose and began to pace around the campsite in agitation. "You say that you mouth is injured, but you won't let me take a look at it.... This damn top...what is going on?"
A flash of horror turned to bemusement when Xena realized what her wife was complaining about. Last night's words came back to haunt her. The bard's top had shrunk to an even skimpier size. She barely held back her humor when Gabrielle pulled her top down to cover the undersides of her breasts, only to growl when the garment slipped up a bit.
Hearing the warrior's stifled chuckle, Gabrielle turned and faced Xena. "What is so funny," she asked with rising frustration.
*Well, if she's dealing with it, so can I.* "Don't worry, my dear, its the just the curse. Have no fear, it could be worse."
"What?!?" Gabrielle's head snapped around in bewilderment. "What did you say?"
"Your top is shrinking, remember the joke? I was thinking, that's all it toke."
The bard raised her brow. "'Toke,' Xena? That's not even a word," she criticized, her mind still grasping her lover's plight.
"No poet am I, I'll say the truth. But to rhyme I try, my words are proof."
"Well, I guess you aren't too bad," the bard relented, feeling sorry for the woman who couldn't recite for her life. "Now, let me guess. Last night, we were talking. We joked about my top getting smaller...so that's my problem," she recapped as she tugged once more on the offending garment. "But why are you...oh, no. That limerick last night, when we were making love. I told you that you'd never make it as a poet."
Xena nodded her head in affirmation. "So seems our plight, our words said in jest. How do we fight to get out of this mess?"
Gabrielle tapped her chin in thought for a moment. "Well, first things first," she said as she found her cloak in the depths of Argo's saddlebags. "We need to be in Trasis soon. Once we get there, we'll figure out why this is happening, right?"
Xena smirked as the bard wrapped her cloak around her shoulders, covering her top which had risen to her nipples. In an effort to hide her amusement, she turned and began to smother their campfire. The shaking of her shoulders gave her away.
"This is NOT funny, Xena."
The warrior shrugged in apology, reluctant to hear any more drivel pass her lips. With a deep sigh, she rose to Gabrielle's side and took Argo's reins. With no more words between them, they made their way to the village that had swept them up in its problems.
Parathus was waiting eagerly for the couple, pacing back and forth by the fountain. He was alone in the square, for all the other villagers refused to come outside, fearing for any additional outbreaks of oddness. The smithy's large hands occasionally jerked in natural reaction to scratch an itch that had become almost painful for the raw skin it was afflicting.
His pained expression brightened when he saw the two women emerge from the tree line and follow the path to the center of the village. "Were you able to discover the reason for the town's curse," he asked, rubbing his hands around each other.
Gabrielle glanced up at Xena and shook her head. *I won't find any help from her.* "Well, Parathus, we've narrowed it down. Can you tell me if perhaps there are any sorcerers in the area?"
The smithy's eyes widened at the unusual question. "No...no, I don't think so."
The bard nodded her head and took up the large man's earlier activity and began to wear a path through the packed dirt. "Okay. I guess that leaves only one thing."
"What's that," the smithy asked as he clenched his fists in an effort to make them obey his will and not their natural inclination to reach for his crotch.
"Why would Hermes want to curse us," Parathus asked in alarm.
"I'm not sure," the bard mumbled, trying to figure out what could offend the god. She was brought up short by the tall form that blocked her path. She gasped in surprise when Xena grasped her arm and pulled her aside.
The warrior flashed Parathus a warning look and ducked her head so that she could whisper into the bard's ear. "Of thieves and commerce the god takes care, and though this town's small, it has its share. See if any merchants, vendors, or like, have angered the god...."
"Okay, Xena, I get the idea," Gabrielle interrupted, not wanting to hear the rest. She smiled at the look of relief that flashed across the warrior's face. "Parathus, could you find out if perhaps any of the merchants in town might have done something wrong to offend Hermes?"
"Sure, Gabrielle, no problem. Where will I find you?"
The bard spared a glance to her wife and sighed. "We'll be at the tavern. I think maybe Xena might need something to drink."
The smithy's brows rose as he noted the early hour and the warrior's odd behavior. "Fine, then. I'll meet you there as soon as possible."
The women nodded and crossed the square to the tavern, where Gabrielle promptly ordered a mug of strong port for the warrior who was finding their situation less amusing by the moment.
"Hades," the bard grumbled under her breath.
Xena's brow rose in question.
"My shrinking shirt, it's starting to hurt," the bard replied with a scowl when she realized what she had said. "Now you have me doing it," she complained. She discretely opened her cloak to show the warrior how it had shrunk to fully reveal her breasts and was digging into the muscles of her chest.
Nodding in sympathetic understanding, Xena pulled a dagger from her boot and cut the laces on the bard's shirt carefully. With a little wiggle and contortion, Gabrielle was able to remove it.
"Don't even think it, Xena. It's miserable enough, I don't need to worry about you groping me in public."
Caught staring lecherously at her wife's breasts, the warrior pulled together the edges of the small woman's cloak and signaled the barmaid for another port.
Half a candlemark later, they were joined by Parathus who was gasping for air. The women waited patiently for the man to gain his breath.
The smithy shook and head. "I spoke with them all. They all said that they made the proper sacrifices and said the right prayers."
"Are you sure that you spoke to all of the merchants?"
"What about the one that's sitting in Bariducus' jail?"
Everyone turned to look at the barmaid who was handing Xena her drink.
"You've imprisoned a merchant," Gabrielle asked, her mind whirling with thought.
Parathus blushed. "Well, he's not from around here. We caught him selling our women defective cookware, and he refused to return their dinars. What could we do," the smithy asked as his voice rose an octave.
Gabrielle snarled in recognition. Turning her head to see Xena, she whispered, "Salmoneus."
The warrior shrugged and nodded her head. Inside she wondered wryly why it would bother her that she couldn't talk, when half the time, she didn't anyway.
"Can we see him?"
Parathus nodded. "I'm sure Bariducus will allow it. He'll do anything to remove this curse. He's been living with his wife's family ever since his house was turned upside down."
"All right, then, let's go."
Getting Bariducus to allow them to see the unscrupulous merchant was easily done once they found him. He had been hiding in the town stables, seeking peace from the ranting of his mother-in-law. When the jailer opened the heavy wooden door to the town one and only cell, the women's eyes bulged in surprise.
"Well, Parathus, I'd say that we've found the reasons for your problems."
The smithy's face fell in relief. "Is he the reason, then," he asked, praying to Hermes to forgive the village.
"Part of it," the bard revealed cryptically. "You see, Hermes favors thieves and businessmen. And well, Salmoneus falls into both categories on some occasions, but you see that man over there?"
Parathus followed the blonde's finger to the man who was wrapped in an assortment of binding chains and ropes.
"He's a master thief. Definitely blessed by Hermes, if you asked me."
Xena narrowed her eyes and nodded in agreement.
"You know both these men," the jailer asked as he began to remove the thief's bonds.
"Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet Salmoneus, Merchant Extraordinaire and Autolycus, King of Thieves. I'd say that imprisoning these two was enough to bring down the god's wrath." Gabrielle turned suddenly and hid her blush in the folds of her cloak. "Well, I guess now we know how you managed to keep Autolycus here," she muttered as the thief ran his hands over his naked limbs.
"Lose your lockpicks," the warrior asked, gasping when the words came without rhyme or meter.
"Yeah, well, it is uncomfortable entertaining the ladies when you're wearing your clothes," the thief replied in a suave manner as he fingered his mustache. When the jailer handed him familiar garments, he began to dress. "Uh, do you mind, I'd like some privacy here."
"Sure," Xena replied, pulling Salmoneus and Gabrielle from the cell.
"I swear, Xena, I didn't know that the cookware was made so cheaply," the merchant finally spoke.
"Just like those weapons, right?"
Salmoneus began to stutter. "Yeah, like that."
The nervous man turned to the gentle blond. The look on her face as she grasped the edges of her cloak cowered him.
"If you ever, ever do something like this again...I'll...I'll...."
"Just don't let us find you doing it again," the dark warrior warned, causing the merchant to bob his head in agreement.
Once she was sure that she had scared Salmoneus witless, the warrior guided her wife to a darkened corner. With two fingers, she withdrew the bard's top from her cleavage. "Figured this might be back to normal," she explained. "Things were getting a little crowded down there," she said as she pointed to the minute space between her breasts.
Shielded from curious eyes by Xena's broad shoulders, Gabrielle pulled her top back across her shoulders. "I suppose this will do until we find new laces."
"You did good, you know."
The bard looked sharply up to the warrior and blushed at the compliment. "I didn't do it by myself," she stated with a casual shrug.
"But it couldn't have been easy, you know, without me talking."
"Like you talk all the time, Xena. Trust me, it was nothing unusual," Gabrielle stated, her good humor returned.
"Well, maybe I'll make an effort to do it more often," the warrior replied.
Gabrielle smiled at Xena's promise. "As long as it's not poetry, warrior mine."
The women were brought out of their private conversation as Autolycus and the jailer joined them. "Well, let's see if everything is back to normal out there," Xena said as she stepped through the door.
They were greeted by the sight of villagers filing out of their homes, smiling and greeting one another. Drius ran across the square and barely restrained himself from pulling the two women into a thankful embrace. Xena and Gabrielle accepted his profuse words, though, as well as the other villagers who gathered around the two men who had brought this upon them.
"If I were you two, I would be making tracks out of this place," the warrior advised the freed men.
"And the sooner, the better," Gabrielle added.
Salmoneus and Autolycus looked at each other and nodded. The two began a quick jog to the trail that led to the road going west. The villagers watched them with a mixture of fear and anger.
"All right, folks, show's over," Bariducus announced as he closed the jail's door behind him. He found his wife in the crowd and together, they left for their home, sure to find it a shambles after everything had been turned upright once again.
Xena and Gabrielle hung around a little bit longer before they collected Argo from in front of the tavern and found the path that the fleeing men had previously taken.
"Still want to go to Eropolis," the warrior asked as she mounted her warhorse and offered a hand to her wife.
"Oh, definitely," Gabrielle replied. "After all that, I can't think of anything else."
"We should have stopped and gotten you new laces for your shirt."
"Not from any merchant in that town. No way, Xena."
The warrior chuckled and urged Argo to a fast canter, eager for the rest and relaxation she had promised her wife.
Xena looked up as she finished the scroll to find the bard watching her expectantly.
"Well, what do you think? I wanted to go with comedy this time," Gabrielle explained as she nibbled on her lower lip.
The warrior searched for the right words...ones that wouldn't discourage her wife's new hobby. "Well, it turned out better than that other piece of fiction you attempted," she replied lamely.
"Is that all you have to say," the bard asked as she ripped the scroll in question from her wife's hands. "Come on, Xena. You are my most important audience. I can take constructive criticism."
Rubbing a nagging ache from her neck, Xena shrugged. "I don't know, Gabrielle. I'm sure that Salmoneus and Autolycus have been imprisoned many times, and nothing like that ever happened before."
"That we've heard of," replied the frustrated bard. "What else?"
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I would never talk like that, curse or no curse," Xena explained. "I'd rather cut out my own tongue."
"Okay, so we change the curse upon you. What else?"
"It was too easy to figure out. You narrowed the cause down too quickly."
The bard's shoulders slumped a little lower. "Anything else," she asked dejectedly.
Xena, realizing the mood into which her wife was falling, moved to kneel in front of her. "Well," she drawled, running a suggestive finger across Gabrielle's exposed abdomen, "that love scene was way too short."
"Oh, really," the bard replied, a gasp hitching the breath in her throat.
"I guess you'll just have to show me how to improve that aspect of my writing, then," Gabrielle whispered as Xena lowered her to their bedroll.
"Always a pleasure, my darling sweet. To taste your skin, a definitive treat."
Gabrielle's giggle was interrupted abruptly by a ragged moan. "Oh, gods...Xena."
The Way of the Wolf
The Way of the Amazon
The Way of the Bard
The Way of the Child
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