SPIRIT OF THE MOON
Disclaimer: The characters Xena and Gabrielle are owned by Universal/MCA etc. No infringement of copyright intended. Any feedback welcome.
Making plans had become increasingly less important to Xena. Now as she travelled with her new friend Gabrielle she had discovered that adventure seemed to seek her out.
Yesterday however she had decided to do something proactive, but already her scheme was falling apart.
The warrior had been hired by King Pragador to seek out a potential assassin within his luxurious palace. Pragador was known to be one of the wealthiest men in all Greece, yet his vast riches had brought him to a near permanent state of paranoia. He had even refused Gabrielle entry into the palace which had almost meant Xena refusing to help, but a compromise was reached in which the blonde bard was supplied with a tent, food and armed guards whilst Xena conducted her investigation.
It had also become customary for the tall warrior not to accept payment for doing her 'good deeds' perhaps a few dinars or some food was all she expected. With her task completed, Pragador had offered substantially more. It briefly occurred to Xena that in fact the sum was paltry given the King's enormous riches, but it was a great deal more than the warrior was used to carrying since her days as a rampaging warlord.
It had taken less than two days for Xena to allay the King's fears of an internal assassin, yet she had found herself missing Gabrielle for each moment they were apart. The King was clearly suffering from something close to madness. His official food-taster had become ill and with the monarch's state of mind he had immediately jumped to the assassination theory. It had transpired that food-taster's can become ill for perfectly innocent reasons just like everyone else.
King Pragador was ranting and rambling, he was clearly a very unhappy man and it had affected his entire family yet Xena had some sympathy. She too had been afflicted by a form of madness back in the days when she pillaged and plundered and was driven by a bloodlust for no reason other than it's own sake. As Pragador continued to ponder further conspiracies, Xena allowed her mind to drift back...
2. A Memory
The one-time 'Destroyer Of Nations' had called it a day. Xena was not physically spent but her soul was a hollow shell and her spirit exhausted to the point of collapse. Shedding her armour and leather bodice, laying down her sword and chakram was a symbol of her inner void.
Her only instinct was to return home, back to Amphipolis, back to her mother. She was filled with doubt that even then she would find any form of comfort.
She heard the commotion, saw the village girls being rounded up, these things happened.
The girls would be sold as slaves yet the warrior was not inclined to act, after all she could probably help this particular village yet she could not help every village so what was the point? Some were screaming with fear, others totally cowed and meekly accepting their fate. Then something happened that sparked the warrior, jolted her from her moribund emotional state.
One girl, probably the youngest and smallest of them all was attempting to fight off a brute who was twice her size. The sheer courage of this single-handed resistance from the most unlikely source somehow prompted the warrior to act. She could not help every village but by Hades she was going to help this one!
It transpired that the thugs were from Draco's army, tougher than many, but Xena had their measure. Then there was the second thing. Having dispersed the rogues, most of the village girls simply fled back home...only one stayed to thank Xena and insist she take her home to tend to some minor wounds. Of course that individual was the same feisty farm girl who had put up the initial fight. It was if all the courage and compassion of this small settlement was wrapped up in a single, petite and somewhat beautiful package.
Now, Xena wondered if somehow she had 'romanticised' this memory of her first encounter with Gabrielle, yet she did not believe so. It was certainly true that the warrior had not wanted the young Gabrielle to latch on to her as she did, yet her annoyance of this 'bard' who talked too much and was somewhat naïve actually wore off much sooner than Xena ever admitted to.
They had been 'friends' now for some time and Xena's affection for the little blonde had just grown and grown. Quite simply, Gabrielle was Xena's purpose in life. The warrior felt that the bard had given her everything yet Xena had returned very little. Teaching her to defend herself and fight, teaching her not to be overly trusting of strangers...what reward was that for rescuing someone's soul?
It was for that reason that the warrior accepted Pragador's payment. She would not tell the bard at first, what Xena wanted was to surprise her friend with a gift, something special.
The plan was not fully formed but after leaving the palace Xena intended to find themselves a nice town where they could enjoy cooked meals, actual beds and hot water - all treats in themselves, and then she would somehow find out what Gabrielle desired...and Xena would buy it.
What the warrior would not admit to herself was that she was really set on 'courting' Gabrielle. Wine and dine her like a love struck youngster might do. Xena could not admit this as to be spurned would be as a fatal blow to her vitals.
3. Make A Plan - Amuse The Gods
Gabrielle had heard her friend emerge from the palace and came running from the provided tent. It seemed both woman were about to embrace yet somehow they contrived not to.
Instead they stood facing each other, holding the other's arms but grinning broadly with both lips and eyes.
"You got every thing sorted?" Gabrielle asked though the question was rhetorical, she had no doubt at all about the warrior's abilities.
"It was nothing" Xena responded "all that money and the man suspects a conspiracy behind every pillar. It's quite sad really"
"I don't suppose he paid a king's ransom either, Pragador is notoriously tight-fisted"
Gabrielle sounded slightly wistful as if she rather wanted just a little luxury...
Xena finally broke off the almost-embrace.
"I did get a little something" she said finding it difficult to maintain direct eye contact.
Even with the best of motives this was still a lie.
"I want to find a decent town so that Argo can get a good look over, and we can enjoy someone else doing the cooking...just for a day"
"Soft beds and hot water?" Gabrielle sounded enthusiastic.
Xena was thrilled that her plan seemed to excite the blonde who was looking more beautiful than ever. The warrior's inner smile could outshine the sun.
That was yesterday.
"Xena wake up! You will not believe what I've discovered and the morning I've had"
The raven-haired warrior was in fact already awake but this early onslaught of enthusiasm was a little difficult to take.
"That town you were seeking is here! At least it is only about two hundred paces further down the track, I can't believe we set up camp here and missed it last night"
Rationally, Xena should have been pleased at her friend's sheer joyous visage...yet the
warrior almost sensed a hint of accusation...as if it was her fault that they had chosen to rest early in a perfectly good camping spot.
"I met a friend too" Gabrielle continued. "She is incredible. I have been awake for ages so we had a really long chat and I can tell you that this town is perfect and Selena is just fascinating"
Years of fighting in bloody battles had never produced such a stinging blow.
Xena turned her face away to hide the pain. All Xena could think was that this euphoria had been engendered by some unknown character. The warrior was not accustomed to being jealous but if these feelings were not the result of jealousy then what? The most beautiful woman in the world, the woman you secretly loved, was apparently happier than she had ever been - and she had achieved that state in a time that you were resting and she was off meeting someone else.
Xena had no time for Gods but she recalled and old saying
'If you want to make the God's laugh, announce your plans.'
4. Selena And Selene
"The town is called Halaki and it has everything you asked for"
Gabrielle had toned down her initial gusto but Xena was taking her time to transform from slumber to activity.
"The blacksmith is highly regarded so Argo can get her treat and apparently at least one of the taverns serves the best food anywhere outside of Athens. Isn't it just great?"
The tall warrior attempted a smile yet she felt wretched inside. Part of this was guilt.
If Gabrielle had found her 'soul mate' then she should be nothing but happy...somehow though, Xena felt little but loathing for a woman she had still to meet.
That meeting was of course inevitable and Selena was certainly a sight to behold.
Despite her extensive travels, the warrior would have to admit that this new found 'friend'
of Gabrielle's had an astonishing and oddly elusive appearance quite unlike anyone she had ever seen before.
It would be simple to focus on her hair to begin with...a mixture of flame red and burnished copper cut in a fashion more conducive to a male...but there could be no doubt this was a woman. She was younger than Xena had expected, probably just a little older than Gabrielle herself but she had the demeanour of someone with much more experience and wisdom. Her eyes seemed to have the ability to alter colour from hazel to something akin to gold - quite disconcerting.
Selena's figure was slender, again just on the edge of boyish but still truly that of a woman.
Perhaps it was those cheekbones, though more likely the entire 'package' that displayed a quite stunning looking young female.
Of course all this did nothing whatsoever to raise Xena's spirit. If Gabrielle had to fall in love with someone else then it was easy to see why Selena would be the one. Xena had always worried that Gabrielle apart from anything else, may not be inclined to favour a female 'mate' but Zeus! If anyone could turn a girl's head then this accursed apparition would be the one.
"Selena is named after the moon Goddess Selene" Gabrielle was still upbeat.
"I had worked that out" the warrior responded dryly.
"Actually we do not refer to Selene as a Goddess" Selena interjected.
"Well, not in the usual course of events. We regard Selene as the spirit of the moon"
"Doubtless you will explain this important difference" Xena just could not conceal the disdain in her voice.
The young woman's hair colour seemed to be changing as the very early sun began to rise, yet her radiant smile was undiminished
"God's by common tradition are emotional and interfering. They demand homage and sacrifice, they take at their whim, a very active role in the lives of mortals. We believe Selene to be more benign. She creates magic and mystery...she creates opportunities but does not force us down a particular path"
Selena paused to view a fascinated Gabrielle, a disinterested Xena.
"Selene may guide us to a crossroads but will not influence which path to take. The spirit may choose to be malicious or merciful, but that is not her chosen way. Make no mistake however, the moon in the form of Selene can change our entire world"
Noticing that her friend was enraptured, Xena felt the need to intervene.
"I have known people from many lands, distant lands who also worship the moon.
They told me that when the moon shows a full face it can drive men mad, turn the placid into a monster. You know of the Roman calendar? They say on the final day of the eighth month that evil stalks the land...such malevolence is magnified yet again when the moon displays a full disc"
The warrior herself had no time for such nonsense, but somehow she hoped the connecting of the moon with wickedness may just allow Gabrielle to view Selena and her notions in a different light.
The copper-haired beauty barely lost a candle of radiance from her smile.
"I'm impressed Xena, not so many have knowledge of these beliefs. It could be said that even were this true...how would we recognise goodness if evil did not also sometimes reign?"
5. Enough Is Enough
The warrior could never be certain if a particular stranger knew her, knew of her or was entirely oblivious of her murderous history. Selena's last remark might just have been a barb against Xena's past.
Whatever, it did not matter.
A cool rational observer would adjudicate that Xena was behaving in an unjust manner, but the warrior had only yesterday decided to finally own up to herself that she was besmitten by Gabrielle. She had even made a tentative plan to woo "her bard" and win her love...
It took less than a day for said plan to disappear like a piece of nutbread from Gabrielle's plate...and right at this moment Xena chose to blame Selena for this intolerable situation.
"It could also be said that only my rumbling stomach reminds me of hunger" Xena enjoyed her moment of sarcasm.
"Right now I shall indulge myself in a wonderful cooked breakfast...and I think a large goblet of port"
The latter part of this pronouncement caused Gabrielle to raise her eyebrows but it had a much bigger impact on her new friend.
"Intoxicants are to be used sparingly. For anyone to imbibe at such an hour with the sun only just breaking the horizon is positively barbaric"
Selena had sounded for the first time, quite indignant, her face reflected her tone of voice.
This reaction was an unexpected bonus for the warrior who quickly retorted.
"You will not be joining us then? Gabrielle, breakfast awaits!"
It was a smiling Xena who turned away and gently pulled on the reins to lead Argo down the main street of Halaki. Her feeling of triumph was short lived.
"I had already been invited to join Selena and her parents for breakfast"
The bard sounded apologetic and as Xena wheeled around she noticed that the blonde seemed rooted to the spot, looking uncomfortable.
"Gabrielle! A quick word...please"
The leather clad woman regretted the severity of her tone as Gabrielle slowly moved toward her.
"What are you playing at? You know nothing of this woman or her family"
This time her voice was lower but calmer.
"To be honest Xena you have been acting very strangely all morning. Selena is perfectly nice yet you have shown her ill-concealed hostility. Can you believe that when I agreed much earlier to go for breakfast that I thought you would be happy to come along?"
Gabrielle sighed but was obviously not finished speaking.
"They live just outside of town and I will be perfectly safe. With us, I do all the talking which is fine, now I have the chance to listen and learn. What is wrong with that? More fun for me than sitting with a grumpy port-swilling warrior"
A brief yet agonising quiet ensued.
It was Xena who broke the silence.
"Keep your staff on hand at all times. Be back here, say at that fountain by midday at the latest. And where is that Tavern with the decent food?"
The two companions parted on slightly more amicable terms, yet neither felt happy.
6. Well, She Is Xena
The warrior ambled down the road pausing only to give Argo a pat on the neck.
"My one faithful friend" she whispered to the horse.
Unable to resist, she took a look back to see Gabrielle and Selena disappearing down the road that led out of town, they seemed deep in conversation and apparently the blonde bard was not about to take one last longing look.
By the very nature of their work blacksmiths tended to be large men. Xena had once encountered a female "smithy" but usually walking into a strange town, you could safely bet that the blacksmith would be a big man. As the warrior approached his shop she decided that she could potentially lose this imaginary wager, at least on a technicality.
This man was not big, he was massive.
Not only did he tower over the tall brunette, it looked like he had borrowed his shoulders from an ox. Not such a trustworthy generalisation but often true - blacksmiths were also grumpy. The heat of the furnace, the potential for many kinds of injuries...it was possibly not surprising they were a humourless lot.
This extra tall , barrel chested smithy though was grinning. No he was leering.
Having dealt with various Cyclops and genuine giants, Xena was not at all afraid of this mere over-sized oaf, and his lascivious stares were just the additional irritation she required to act tough. After all, what was the point of being Xena if you could not use your many skills to intimidate and bully? Just occasionally.
"Listen up laughing boy and listen good!" she began.
"My very special horse will be treated with total care and respect. She will be given a thorough wash and all four shoes will be replaced. She will have a stable of her own with nothing but fresh water and all the hay she feels like eating. Plus apples. Once the town market opens you will toddle off and buy say, half a dozen fine apples for my horse.
Do your job properly and you will be paid handsomely, fail in any way - and I will know, and I will damage you. Badly."
The leather clad one had kept her tone measured with just the proper degree of menace, it was something she had learned during her years of commanding an army.
The blacksmith had began listening with a look of bemusement, he clearly had never been spoken to in such a manner before, and his expression had only altered slightly to one of bewilderment. Perhaps this was a joke? Considered a bit of a ladies man, perhaps his friends had set him up with this super-hot babe but made her act out this routine?
He glanced around but there were no sniggering mates to be seen, and the woman was glowering. At last he found his voice.
"You listen little lady. I always take care of a horse, it's my job. The water in the stable is fresh enough, out here the horse can drink from the rain-barrel like all the others. I don't do apples for no-one and I want cash up front. I reckon fifty plus dinars right now but it will cost more if the horse gets troublesome. I hate troublesome horses."
The pair had been standing square on if not exactly face-to-face, throughout.
Xena sighed though secretly she was pleased at his response.
"You are going to need your anvil"
Xena walked over to where the large block of metal sat and issued a silent prayer to whomever was listening. She was not completely confident she could do this.
The 'smith stood his ground and watched quite mystified as the woman bent her legs and seemed to motion to move the anvil!
Zeus! That thing was heavy but Xena knew she could not show any sign of struggling. She hoisted the solid block to about chest height and as steadily as she could muster walked back to be again square on with the now slack-jawed smithy.
Xena let go of the massive weight.
The anvil crashed to the earth landing quite literally the width of a grass shoot from the man's feet, and very close to her own.
It was impossible, yet he had witnessed it. Four men could barely move that thing an iota, yet a single woman had carried it thirty paces. The 'smith felt quite nauseous at the thought of what may have happened had this woman dropped the anvil on his feet. He knew she had dropped it deliberately, almost crippling him. Hades! Almost crippling herself!
Xena leaned forward.
"Next time I will personally nail a horse-shoe to a particular part of your anatomy...and trust me it will not grant you good luck with the ladies"
He barely heard her. The sudden need to evacuate his bowels and also vomit had taken over all his thoughts. One way or another his breakfast was coming out.
Xena merely strolled off, knowing her message had got through.
"You won't forget the apples then?" she called back.
7. Meet The Parents
Though Xena had imagined seeing Selena and Gabrielle deep in conversation as they took the cart-track route out of town, in fact they had been all but silent.
A subdued bard was simply puzzled as to why her friend had been so grouchy. Discovering Halaki and finding out it seemed to be exactly the type of town Xena had spoken of, Gabrielle had been thrilled. Yet the warrior had reacted in a quite different and very unexpected manner. It was a little worrying.
"Our house is up there on the left" Selena said as a couple of buildings came into view.
"The one on the right is a sort of mini-temple to Selene and we also use it if fellow moon worshipper's visit"
Gabrielle hadn't felt at all nervous about visiting Selena's home, after all the girl had been nothing but pleasant and friendly, so it was quite a shock to receive such a greeting from the lean, balding man who was Selena's father.
"In the name of Zeus! Child, another one?" he barked as soon as they had crossed the threshold.
"You are sick and twisted and downright lucky that I am not a harsher man"
He sounded pretty harsh to Gabrielle, but she wisely kept her own counsel.
A rather attractive, slightly plump woman scurried into the room.
"You have a guest, how lovely. You are not from this town though?"
Selena's mother had managed to address both arrivals simultaneously.
"This is Gabrielle, she just arrived this morning. I told her we would furnish her with breakfast"
"Breakfast? Pah! I'll bet you did..." the father intervened but was curtailed.
"Certainly, though we have but cheese and goat's milk - with fresh bread of course"
The mother sounded apologetic and Gabrielle simply hoped that no-one had witnessed her heart sink. Earlier the promise of a hot breakfast cooked by a renowned epicure was on offer... yet her decision to stay with Selena had meant bread and cheese!
"I think we shall take it in the garden" Selena suggested leading Gabrielle away from the feuding parents. Gabrielle heeded her old friend's advice and gripped her staff firmly, suddenly this family seemed odd.
Selena was quite unfazed, she was presumably accustomed to her parent's
"You see how though the sun is now forcing it's light upon the day, the moon is still visible?"
Gabrielle followed the gaze of the copper-haired beauty and indeed clearly saw the moon.
"Selene is quite some lady. There is magic afoot today"
8. Breakfast Japes
The warrior had taken a few moments recovering from her anvil delivery antics.
"The tavern with the blue doors" had been Gabrielle's direction to finding 'the best food anywhere beyond Athens'...and it wasn't difficult to locate.
Xena walked in and was instantly impressed. The décor, the furniture and indeed the lack of stench suggested this place was several cuts above the more usual 'establishment' that she and Gabrielle were forced to endure.
The bar/dining area looked quite large, then again it was devoid of any people save for Xena herself and a portly gentlemen who was fidgeting constantly behind the bar-counter.
Portly was good - perhaps proof of the food's reputation - and his ruddy complexion was not unusual for a bar-keep, but the warrior found this perpetual busyness a little annoying.
The man was polishing a spotless bar, moving bottles by a tiny fraction and generally hopping around as if the floor were on fire.
He had clearly heard Xena arrive but had chosen not to acknowledge her until she was standing right at the bar itself.
"May I assist you madam?"
The warrior detected some disdain in his tone, clearly she was not dressed in the 'appropriate' attire. Whilst he was no giant blacksmith, Xena reserved the right to be cruel to this man too. It was seductively enjoyable...though sweet Gabrielle had taught her not to push things too far.
"You could begin with a name, I don't want to call you 'bar-keep' all day"
"My name is Falcus and I am not the bar-keep. I own this premier inn, rated by the revered Michelinus himself"
The tone was all hubris, Xena fancied she could have some fun here too.
"I'm Xena and I wish to be served a fine breakfast."
The warrior scrutinised his face but her name clearly did not register. That was fine, apparently in Halaki cooks not warriors were the names to be recognised.
"Madam, er Xena. The hour is clearly early, the sun has barely escaped the horizon..."
"Breakfast time!" Xena interrupted.
Falcus began to perspire just a little and his fidgeting resumed.
"My cook may not be ready, she is very temperamental and a stickler for preparation"
Xena decided to play this cool, for the moment at least.
"If your cook is in the kitchen then I'm certain she can rustle up something. Ham and eggs was always a favourite of mine, very simple"
"But, but I cannot just, I mean it is unheard of..." the man's foot-hopping seemed to transfer to his speech pattern.
Xena then made a complete change of tack.
"Those two bottles of port, what is the difference between them?"
"Madam! Port is a very strong drink that no lady would...I mean no-one would consider drinking such a beverage at this hour"
That was the second time this morning that she had been chastised for suggesting a port would be a fine breakfast drink. Xena allowed her own ire to grow...it made her more creative.
"I simply asked what the difference was" Xena reminded the man who was now quite agitated.
"Er, one is domestic the other imported" Falcus mumbled.
"Imported is even more potent and certainly not a drink I would countenance serving at this time when half the town is still abed"
Xena grinned just slightly.
"Were you not on your way to ask cook about my ham and eggs?"
"Yes, yes, yes of course yes" Falcus scurried away looking quite mystified.
Xena hopped the bar-counter and checked out the two port bottles.
9. Breakfast Japes II
By the time Falcus had returned Xena was standing in the same spot as if she had not moved an iota.
"Cook has agreed to your request though it will be a little while"
"Zeus! It had better be. I expect it to be properly cooked. If you bring me anything cold or raw you will be wearing it."
This was her first actual threat and Xena slightly regretted using it too soon. Falcus was a catch worth toying with...
"Now while I wait, I rather fancy trying that port - domestic of course"
The owner was already rueing the moment this 'woman' had walked through the door.
The problem was that he had no support to evict her and furthermore she carried an air of menace that made him feel most uncomfortable.
"Lady I strongly advice you take something else, even an ale. Port can make a hardened drinker wilt, especially..."
"If you mention how early it is again I will..."
Xena curtailed herself. Her tone was surely sufficient.
Falcus got the message and began to frantically search for the smallest vessel he could find.
"A goblet man, a full goblet! And quit calling me 'lady' I am not a domestic dog"
The owner carefully selected the bottle and with visibly trembling hands he poured out the liquid.
"Xena. You are a connoisseur of this fine drink?"
Had Falcus finally chosen honey over vinegar?
"Not at all" Xena replied "I simply fancied trying it"
The warrior noticed the man clearly relax. She took the merest sip then adopted a puzzled visage.
Xena surreptitiously watched as Falcus' ruddy complexion again turned ashen.
"Strange.. What.. strange?" he stuttered out the words.
"Nothing" the warrior said "just not the taste I imagined it would be."
Falcus sighed audibly, then had cause to blanche yet again as Xena following her initial genteel sip proceeded to drain the entire goblet.
"Same again, let's keep it domestic" she pushed the empty goblet towards him.
Falcus had realised that argument was pointless and poured another measure though Xena noticed a slight smirk on his face. This was good. Despite his nervous behaviour, Falcus was clearly a man used to being confident and in control, this made him prone to defiance, and that just meant more fun for the warrior.
With her refreshed goblet of port Xena began to look around.
"I'm going to take that table by the window" she announced and moved towards it.
Falcus followed as he would do with any regular customer, he had quite forgotten that Xena had already placed her order.
"The view is stunning is it not?"
Xena looked out and was taken aback to see the moon still clear in the sunlit sky. It made her yearn for Gabrielle and feel quite maudlin.
"Listen Falcus I'm sorry if I have been a little snappy, it has been a difficult time for me"
Her apology sounded sincere, indeed was sincere at that moment...
If the owner of this fine establishment, approved by Michelinus himself, had known of Xena and her reputation it would be unlikely that he would of chosen to make another request, but he hadn't and he did...
10. She Is Still Xena...
"Now that our little misunderstandings have been sorted, there is just one more thing"
Falcus being somewhat of a big-shot in this town had foolishly rediscovered his confidence.
"My inn has a reputation to uphold and one rule that I use to maintain this standing is that we do not allow weapons in the bar area. I can assure you Xena that this rule applies to everyone from the mayor to the magistrate, so if I could just take your sword it will be kept safely behind the bar until you leave"
"I don't think so"
The warrior's reply was measured in tone and volume and perfectly straightforward.
"The, the thing is, my regulars don't really expect to see weapons on display"
Falcus had just about managed to retain his composure.
"Think of it as a service. I will have someone clean and hone your sword while you dine"
It was almost admirable how the man was thinking on his feet.
"Touch my sword and I will demonstrate exactly how well honed it always is"
It must have been the thoughts of her bard that had kept the pure aggression from Xena's voice.
"But the rules Xena. Look around, we are the only two in the place and probably will be until the midday sun. What harm could it do to pass your sword into my safekeeping?"
"Supposing I did hand over my sword?" Xena asked "what about all my other weapons?"
Falcus suddenly had that that same sinking feeling that he had experienced with every conversation this accursed morning.
"Men always think that they can ogle a woman's cleavage without being noticed and typically you have proved no exception. Are you planning on fishing out my breast-dagger too?"
Falcus returned to hopping and fidgeting.
"Do you really want to try?"
"Perhaps rule was the wrong word. More a policy, a convention...and one that I just recall doesn't apply to women, Of course you can keep your weapons, I mean what is a, a defenceless woman supposed to do without a little protection?"
"Quite so bar-keep, what would a defenceless woman such as myself do without you and your enlightened attitude? Run along before you wet yourself and don't come back unless you are bearing my breakfast"
As Falcus stumbled into tables and chairs while he fled, Xena felt just slightly guilty.
Gabrielle had taught her not to use her enormous prowess in inappropriate situations.
Of course that was the very problem. The beautiful bard was not on hand to steer the mighty warrior down the reasonable path. No. Gabrielle was away with some moon-loving, striking looking beauty.
Besides, Falcus was not the respectable businessman he portrayed himself to be.
Xena glanced again at the still visible moon and decided that she was still entitled to throw her metaphoric weight around...
11. Confessions And Confusion
Despite her earlier misgivings, the rather plain breakfast offering had proved surprisingly pleasant. Gabrielle always felt better after a meal and the freshly baked bread in particular
had been simply delicious. The fact of their eating had somewhat curtailed conversation, so the young blonde's further questions about the possible rituals and ceremonies of moon-worship had not been fully answered by Selena.
The bard would have to admit however that she was still wary. It was impossible to travel with Xena and not learn. Gabrielle had already surveyed the garden for possible escape routes...and she was constantly double-checking that her fighting-staff was on hand and also keeping a watchful eye on the door that led to the garden. If the father made a sudden appearance then Gabrielle was fully prepared to act or react, depending upon the circumstance.
"Gabrielle, I've known you but a short time but it is obvious you are a young woman of formidable intelligence"
Such a compliment was one thing that the blonde had not prepared herself for.
"Very beautiful too" Selena continued "and extremely learned"
"Growing up I tried to read every scroll and pamphlet that was available. Plus we did have a very good teacher who had her own personal library and she was kind enough to let me have free access to it"
Gabrielle explained, all the while hoping that she was not blushing too readily.
"I have to assume then that you are aware of Sappho and the notion that women can be inclined to love each other, as can men and that the usual idea of marriage does not suit every person"
The bard was not so much uncomfortable as puzzled by this sudden change of conversation topic.
"I am not as naïve as everyone seems to assume" Gabrielle retorted with a hint of bitterness.
"Do you also then accept that women can be as lustful as men? That we can not only fall in love with another female but we can simply take pleasure for little other than the sake of it?"
The bard was just beginning to feel uneasy. She had never met anyone who was quite so casually direct as Selena.
"That teacher I told you about, from my home town of Potidaea? She had more than just scrolls of classic history. Her 'private' collection included tales that would make a prostitute blush. Stories of how twenty or thirty harem girls would 'entertain' each other in mass orgies. Of how they used carved phallus substitutes and other unimaginable devices. Trust me, I have read it all and then some"
Gabrielle hoped that her strong tone had forwarded a message that she was not a child.
"Sounds wonderful!" Selena grinned. "I don't suppose you still have any?"
The bard looked cross that this 'confession' had been met by a giggled response.
"Maybe you should get to the point Selena, because you are beginning to become tiresome"
12. Getting To The Point
"Well it should be obvious by now that I am such a person. A Sapphic, a "Lesbo" or whatever the latest slang is"
Gabrielle had a brief epiphany. The father's 'another one?' outburst.
"If I understand correctly you are circumnavigating to the point that I am your latest 'conquest'. You did not so much invite me to share breakfast but you hoped that I would in fact be your breakfast?"
The bard sounded suitably indignant, yet she was strangely flattered and perhaps just a little thrilled at the idea.
"Gabrielle you truly are witty and wonderful"
Compliments were fine but the bard was impatient, something her expression displayed more eloquently than words...
"I will confess that when I watched you emerge from that forest this morning it felt as if Selene herself was smiling down and handing me a beautiful gift. After all, I have no idea what compelled me to visit town so early, it was like one of those opportunities that I explained we believe our moon spirit presents us with from time to time"
There was a sincerity and lack of levity in Selena's tones that helped to assuage Gabrielle's annoyance. She no longer felt she was the butt of some private joke.
"You may recall that I had invited you to share breakfast before we had even introduced each other"
The bard could not in fact remember the exact chronology of their conversation, but it sounded possible...
"You then spoke of a 'companion' back in the woods and that threw me a little" the moon worshipper continued.
"It seemed an odd term. Not husband, boyfriend or even girlfriend, but 'companion.'
The name Xena struck a chord somewhere, but I didn't at first know why. The moment I saw her, well everything changed"
"Charming!" muttered Gabrielle.
"You mean you instantly forgot about me and switched your lusts to her...I guess I can't blame you" The final words were spoken somewhat wistfully.
Selena smiled and dared to gently touch Gabrielle's hand, it was a gesture of reassurance.
"Not quite. You see when I saw the armour and the leather and the sheer size and yes, beauty of the woman...I suddenly knew who Xena was"
"You don't know who Xena is!" Gabrielle surprised herself by this outburst.
"Fine, fine." Replied a slightly startled Selena.
"I know of the stories and the rumours, and that she is the fiercest warrior in all Greece.
I also saw in her eyes that she loves you and if I tried anything at all she would personally remove my head from it's shoulders with her bare hands."
Gabrielle took a few moments to digest this last statement.
From the very point of meeting Selena through the awkwardness with Xena, the hostility of the father and some rather uneasy topics of conversation, Gabrielle had been through a whirlpool of emotions...yet Selena's last remark had topped all that had gone before.
She felt unsure of how to proceed, excepting that she wanted to choose her words carefully.
"Xena is very protective towards me. It could be she regards me as a little sister and she certainly wouldn't allow anyone to harm me...but I very much doubt that she loves me in the way that I presume you mean"
The bard had spoken slowly and softly.
Selena mirrored this speech pattern.
"Gabrielle. I suspect that your opinion of me has fallen a little since the very early morning but you must trust me that I am not playing games or have any form of agenda.
You must have heard the hostility when Xena addressed me and it had nothing to do with my beliefs. Xena was jealous, she saw me as a rival. She loves you."
"Sometimes at night we sleep very close together, even cuddle for warmth.
If she is so in love, why then has she never acted upon her feelings?"
Selena smiled but as a friend.
"From all that I have heard, your warrior companion is utterly fearless, yet I just know there is one thing that terrifies her - the thought of losing you."
The young woman who's hair now seemed to radiate as the sun itself, paused. This next part was going to be tricky.
"I er suspect that Xena is well experienced in love-making" This was Selena's moment to choose her words carefully.
"There is a chance that she thinks you are less so. It could be that she believes you have no interest in her, or indeed women at all in that particular aspect..."
Goodness! This really was difficult.
"I just have no doubt that your friendship means everything to Xena. A kiss or a careless fondle - in her eyes - could jeopardise that bond and drive you away for good. If that happened, the mighty warrior would be a broken woman with nothing to live for.
It is the one risk she is not prepared to take"
"You seem to know a great deal about two people you have only just met"
Gabrielle contrived to sound angry, but the words had struck home. Selena may as well have been describing the bard's own situation. She was in love with Xena to her very soul, and yes, she was afraid to show it lest the warrior not reciprocate. A life without her warrior simply would be no life at all.
Selena hid an inner glow. She was more convinced than ever that her moon spirit was working a very special magic this day.
14. Falcus Rather Wishes He Had Stayed In Bed.
At around the same time that Gabrielle was being pleasantly surprised by the simple fare provided, Xena was staring at an empty plate. As an act of finality she pushed the plate forward and sat back in her chair.
"Cyrene forgive me but that was better than home-cookin'. Zeus! That was better than sex...or very nearly, it has been a while"
The warrior had whispered her thoughts as if her mother somehow may otherwise have heard them.
Throughout her eating Falcus had been conspicuous by his absence. Xena had mused that perhaps he had gone to change his underwear. After several moments of simply savouring the bliss of her breakfast, Xena did the polite thing and took her empty plate to the bar.
The owner must have heard and came shuffling into view looking only slightly anxious.
"Falcus my man, you do have an honest side. That truly was the best meal I can ever remember. Your cook deserves her weight in gold though somehow I doubt you pay her nearly enough"
Maybe the portly businessman had been working on his courage.
"Xena you are the most objectionable of people. I provide you with the promised fine dining and you choose to question my honesty? You suggest I treat my staff shabbily?"
He even tried to stand taller in a curious attempt to intimidate the woman who had scared him silly all morning.
"My mother owns a tavern, I grew up there. Nothing as fancy as this I grant you but it is an honest business" Xena explained.
"Lady. I am one of this town's most respected citizens and I refuse to be spoken to like this by some backwater ruffian"
Xena was strangely amused by Falcus' change of behaviour. A few warlords had spoken to her in such a manner...but they were all dead now...this was a novelty.
"Every tavern owner knows the tricks of diluting the alcohol to make more money.
Add some water to the mug before filling the rest with ale, turning one genuine port bottle into two that are half watered down"
Falcus' complexion was turning a little more florid, beads of sweat began to adorn his brow.
"When you were down in the kitchen I checked out the port bottles. Identical labels, but one had a red paint mark on the stopper. Yet you told me one was domestic and the other imported"
"A know-it-all like yourself would understand that the labels are put on by the wholesaler, not the manufacturer. Of course the red mark is put on to distinguish the imported brand"
Falcus sounded triumphant.
"And besides, don't you think my customers would know a diluted drink if they got one?"
Xena was enjoying this sparring contest.
"Consider this. A huge man, say your own over-sized blacksmith comes in of an evening and demands a port after a busy day. You provide him with the real deal, carefully checking the stopper. He knows his stuff and is happy. However, after say his fourth or fifth port he is visibly drunk. His faculties are impaired. Now you strike. You switch to giving him the watered down variety and he is simply too drunk to notice, yet you carry on charging the full price"
"Utter nonsense" the owner replied though with no real conviction.
Xena had not finished.
"Another scenario. A genteel lady much like myself arrives and just out of curiosity decides to sample a port, obviously later in the day as you have this early drinking fixation. You make some silly argument but manage to persuade her to try the slightly less strong 'domestic' variety. You give her a watered down beverage fully knowing she will not realise that real port does not taste that way."
"Xena you are babbling and I have a good mind to call the militia"
"Falcus! I already told you that I checked your two port bottles. I didn't just look, I removed the stoppers and had a quick sniff. At first I wasn't certain, the first bottle seemed like it might just be an inferior brand. Then I removed the stopper with the red paint, the so-called 'imported' variety. There was no doubt that it was genuine, honest to goodness and a rather superior port. Don't take me for a fool."
The owner realised that he had been rumbled, yet continued to take the offensive in a bizarre manner.
"And you should thank the gods Xena that I have been serving you the watered down crap!
How many goblets have you drank. Drank! Ha! You are throwing it back like a madwoman.
At this early hour, even our oafish lout of a blacksmith would be a gibbering wreck if he had drank the way you do. Hades! He would probably be dead if I had served up the proper stuff"
Falcus paused for one final attack.
"Logically Xena, I have saved your life and yet you just give me this ludicrous morals lesson"
"In the name of the gods man how stupid are you? I switched the stoppers you moron. I have been drinking the genuine port all morning, and very nice it is too"
Falcus was entirely bewildered. He looked back and forth between the two bottles but refused to believe this woman had actually been drinking his prime port...it was impossible.
She was standing straight, her speech was perfect and her eyes were as clear as the fountain water.
Yet somehow in his heart he knew it to be true. He did double-check, just to make sure.
"You are a freak of nature and I want you out of here" the most respected owner of the Michelinus approved inn was now the one who was babbling.
15. 'Negotiating' With Xena
"Oh shut up you fool" The warrior said in remarkably even tones.
"Let's finish off the decent port, we have some talking to do"
Though not exactly contrite, Falcus knew that he was probably best just to obey.
"Now I will pay in full for the meal and I will give the cook an extra something on top, but forgive me if I do that personally, for some strange reason I don't find you trustworthy"
Falcus meekly nodded his agreement.
"I think given the circumstances that the port will be viewed as a gift, the fact that you failed to deceive me is not my fault"
The portly, now extra ruddy man looked aggrieved but again consented.
"But I need more"
Those words sent a chill throughout the man's body. Briefly he prayed for Zeus to just strike him dead right now.
"You see I have a very special friend and I have promised her a fine meal. Clearly I would not consider going anywhere else, your cook is a genius. We shall also require a room for the night. Your very best room. It must have a hot-tub with some form of maid service so that we can order extra food and drink at our leisure. You know, the type of service you doubtless provide for your magistrate friend"
Falcus again simply nodded.
"You know I usually throw in a prostitute for the magistrate. I'll do that for you too if you promise to stay but the one night" He sounded utterly desolate.
Xena inwardly grinned, she had 'known' many a fine prostitute...
"I don't think that will be necessary, just make sure everything else is top class"
"Excuse me Xena, but I fail to see what benefits I gain from this deal" Falcus was perhaps emboldened by the port.
"Well, providing you change your ways and stop diluting the liquor, I will restrain myself from telling the mayor, the magistrate and even the gigantic blacksmith about how you have been cheating them for goodness knows how many years..."
"Oh, I see" replied Falcus who still felt that he was the one being cheated.
"Fine so everything is settled. Now let me pay for the food and I will leave through the kitchen after thanking the cook. Probably see you later in the evening"
Falcus suddenly felt almost elated. The harridan was leaving if only for a while.
"It was only ham and eggs so we shall call it..." How far could he push his luck?
Xena grimaced slightly. However she reckoned a greedy man could not change instantly and the meal was possibly worth that amount, even if most people could not possibly afford it.
She hesitated. This was after all a particularly prosperous town by the looks of it, and just for once since her warlord days, Xena had money to burn. Perhaps too, Falcus deserved a small break for her mild cruelty.
"You do understand that all tonight's offerings are going to be free. I mean your special generous gift to a meek and defenceless woman?"
Falcus was mute.
"Good, here is twenty five now let me see your diamond in the kitchen"
Xena was surprised that cook was relatively young and quite pretty in an unconventional manner. She did not however seem to have the time or inclination to say very much.
The warrior counted out one hundred dinars and thrust it into the woman's hand.
"If tonight's meal is as good, I will give you double that"
The already taciturn cook was truly struck dumb.
16. The Waiting
Xena emerged on to a shadowy back street but soon found an alley that took her back on to the main street of Halaki. It was a bright, sunny though not particularly warm morning.
There was much more bustle about the place with stall holders either in the process of setting out their wares, or indeed some already in business.
The warrior had glanced across to see the blacksmith already busy with re-shodding Argo.
She then wandered down to the fountain that had been her suggested rendezvous with Gabrielle. It was still too early as the sun was still some distance from it's zenith, but she enjoyed splashing her face with the crystal clear water.
Despite her finishing the best part of an entire bottle of port (and so early!) Xena was quite sober. This 'ability' to drink heavily was just another throwback from her inglorious past.
Warlords and thugs alike held a special pride in "holding their liquor" and back then, the warrior rose to any challenge.
Though this morning had began so terribly, Xena felt much more at ease. The port may have helped, the beyond delicious meal surely had, but above all the warrior had somehow resolved to put her initial plan back on track. The arrival of Selena had served as a warning that Gabrielle as a beautiful young woman was likely to be the target of suitors.
Somehow, Xena had to make her feelings towards the bard more obvious, though without scaring the poor girl. The warrior had garnered from Selena's eyes that the moon-worshipper was also a worshipper of the female form...this was probably a good thing as it may force Gabrielle into making a decision...about all sorts of things.
Of course it could just be that Selena had already seduced the blonde beauty and Gabrielle would come back grinning broadly and announce her new found love...
Xena pondered a few moments at that ghastly idea. She couldn't bare the thought of riding the lands with Gabrielle and Selena, she would simply have to go off on her own again - or she could always just kill Selena...
The warrior mentally kicked herself for that latter heinous idea.
Sitting here could be a long wait, maybe she could walk down that cart-track and just see
how her friend was doing?
For reasons unknown to herself, Xena had not expected to see two houses. Logically there could have been many more, yet the warrior had somehow thought that Selena and her family would have a home in total isolation.
She heard voices from the house on the right, so she entered.
The man was balding and angry, almost a skinnier version of Falcus, Xena mused.
He appeared to be talking to himself though there was some sort of shrine that he may have been addressing. The cursing nature of his language was not usually the sort to be heard in front of shrines as far as the warrior was aware.
"Excuse me!" Xena spoke loudly "I am looking for my friend, a girl called Gabrielle"
If the man was startled by this sudden intervention he disguised it well.
"One of Selena's sluts no doubt. Are you her mother?"
The man appeared to be in an unfettered rage, he barely looked up at Xena and having addressed her he continued his inane ramblings.
That situation changed in the blink of an eye.
The lean man found his upper throat held in a vice-like grip by a single hand. Suddenly his feet could no longer feel the floor.
"Gabrielle is not a slut!"
He barely heard the actual words, yet the sheer menace in their delivery registered deeply in his brain.
He coughed and spluttered but could barely speak.
It had taken an age for him to formulate those two small words.
Xena let him fall like a sack of potatoes and gave him a punch for good measure.
The warrior scurried across to the other house but got no reply.
On the verge of kicking in the door it was finally opened by a slightly plump woman.
"I think the two girls went back to town" the woman explained in answer to Xena's hurried interrogation.
"I would have seen them on the road" The warrior sounded suspicious.
"There is a short cut through the woods. Gabrielle is perfectly safe"
Again, circumstances appeared to be conspiring against Xena. She briefly considered simply searching the house from top to bottom but this woman seemed genuine.
"Get a new husband" she growled before leaving.
Xena began jogging back down the track but finally slowed to a walk. It would not be difficult to find Gabrielle in Halaki, she was certain to be somewhere along the main street now turned into market place, unless she and Selena had ran off together...
Obviously the warrior checked the fountain first, but no luck there. By the position of the sun it was in fact now past the midday and strictly speaking it was she Xena, who had failed to keep to the arrangement. Briefly smiling at the sight of the blacksmith purchasing apples...Xena had a hunch.
The renowned inn, approved by Michelinus himself, was certainly much busier than it had been upon her first visit but it only took a quick scan for Xena to find her bard.
Gabrielle was sitting at the very window table that Xena herself had occupied this morning.
The warrior's face held the biggest smile, not least because Selena was obviously absent.
The bard's face lit up equally and she jumped up and hugged her friend with no inhibition.
Xena nodded towards a drink on the table.
"Are you imbibing?"
Gabrielle looked just slightly embarrassed.
"I thought I would try a port. The fat man warned me it may be too strong but he eventually yielded"
Xena immediately became suspicious.
"Let me have a sip?" she asked.
"Of course. To be honest it is a little strong for my tastes"
Xena tasted the drink.
"Son of a centaur!" she muttered. It was genuine port. Somehow she had doubted that Falcus would give up his corrupt ways so readily.
"Why don't I get you a fine wine and I will take your port?"
"Sounds lovely" replied Gabrielle who's eyes were positively smiling.
Xena was slightly disappointed to find a girl behind the bar. Obviously Falcus would not serve all day but she wanted to speak to him.
Back at the table, conversation was at first slightly stilted.
Finally the warrior asked what she needed to ask.
"Shopping I guess. I did get a nice breakfast and she is a lovely girl, but that is all"
Gabrielle appeared to be answering more than was asked...
"Oh Zeus! Gabrielle. You would not believe the breakfast I had. The cook here is far better than her reputation. Trust me, you are going to taste the best of dining outside or inside of Athens. I promise you"
"Sounds wonderful" said Gabrielle "but can we afford it?"
Xena adored the use of the word 'we.'
"I reached an arrangement with Falcus, the owner. The fat man who served you the port"
Gabrielle looked mystified but chose not to question. Her mind was still racing with the earlier conversation with Selena and she was itching to somehow convey her true feelings towards Xena, who by the way was looking more gorgeous than the law should allow.
"We also have a room for the night, the very best"
Xena too sounded excited.
That sent chills throughout the bard's body, not least in a special place...but it was slightly tempered by her wondering exactly what Xena had done to gain such a 'deal'
When Falcus suddenly appeared behind the bar, Xena sprang to her feet to talk to him.
Gabrielle was left feeling even more puzzled and maybe a little less hopeful. Why was the warrior so friendly with this man that he was offering gifts, and why was Xena so keen to involve herself with a chubby, florid middle-aged man?
When Xena returned, Gabrielle was a little more sombre.
"I had arranged for us to have supper here, but by Hades we are going to have lunch too"
"Is this another gift from your friend Falcus?"
Xena noted and understood the slight bitterness in her friend's voice.
"Gabrielle, I have to confess something"
The bard retained a forced smile whilst her insides churned.
"Remember King Pragador? He did offer a goodly amount of cash for that job I did, and I took it. I wanted it just so that we could enjoy a little bit of luxury and also so that I get buy you a gift for being such a good friend"
The bard now had mixed emotions. It was incredibly sweet of Xena, yet was 'good friend' the extent of her feelings? Selena had all but convinced her that the warrior held deeper feelings...but that now seemed to be all a mistake.
"Pragador's money does not explain this 'arrangement' you have with Falcus"
It was Xena's turn to be dismayed. Just when everything seemed to be returning to the plan, things were thrown off course.
"Trust me Gabrielle, Falcus is an irrelevance. Basically he tried to con me this morning and so I am extracting some non-violent revenge. When we have plenty of time I can tell you the full story, but right now I just want you to sample the food. Order anything you desire right now courtesy of Pragador, and if we are still talking then tonight all services are courtesy of Falcus"
"Xena! I would never not talk to you" Gabrielle sounded slightly hurt. "But I think food sounds pretty good right now, so let's examine the menu"
18. Epicurean Delights
"In the name of all the gods, that was just incredible"
Neither woman had spoken for some time after the meals had been savoured but Gabrielle could hold back no longer.
Xena could not help but grin. She was again utterly delighted by her own feeling of contentment garnered from yet another astonishing feast, yet she took more pleasure from her friend's satisfaction.
"Wasn't it just? That woman is incredible. The sad thing is that I don't think these 'sophisticated' locals appreciate the Elysian fields being served to them on a plate"
"Only trouble is, my cooking is going to be like dirt from now on"
Gabrielle made an observation that Xena had not foreseen.
"Darling you are a wonderful cook. You simply do not have the resources out on the road that this woman has..."
The word "darling" briefly hung in the air, yet both women let it pass.
"Hey. Let's just enjoy this luxury while we can. After all, if we ate like this every day we too would just find it commonplace"
Gabrielle added the voice of reason.
Xena slipped ten dinars across the table.
"Would you replenish the drinks? I need to use the facilities..."
When the warrior returned she found two full beverages and a rather excited bard.
Xena was barely seated when Gabrielle leaned across the table.
"Your friend Falcus is back and do you see those ladies with him?"
A bemused Xena looked up in the direction of the bar.
"Their dress sense may be a touch tacky, but Hades if you have the body I guess you can pull it off"
Xena was more than taken aback by her friend.
"Gabrielle, what are you saying? Perchance you have had a little too much wine?"
"Oh come on Xena! Those women are gorgeous and don't tell me you don't think so too. How does such an ugly, ruddy faced, fat man attract such beauties"
The warrior was momentarily dumbstruck.
"Fine, they are not in your league, but us mere mortals would kill for boobs and thighs like those"
The strange thing was that Gabrielle did not look or indeed sound drunk.
"The thing is Xena, they are both giving you the eye. Your ship has come in big time today"
Xena recalled that earlier Falcus had said that he "usually threw in a prostitute" with his best room. The man was clearly having a laugh and he would pay dearly for that...yet it was Gabrielle's words that were more baffling.
"What did Selena do to you this morning?"
"She did nothing at all. She is terrified of you and believes that you love me. During our conversation however, she reminded me of a crush I had on a schoolteacher back in Potidaea. A female teacher who kept lots of naughty pamphlets about the joys of Sapphic sex"
This sudden and drastic turn of events left Xena for once feeling almost powerless.
"Gabrielle, I think you need to rest. Give me a moment"
Xena left the table and marched to the bar with a look in her eyes that was intentionally murderous.
"Falcus! Get rid of the prostitutes and make our room ready. Your very life is hanging by a thread right now. No further games or I will kill you more slowly than is necessary."
Gabrielle awoke to find herself in the most comfortable bed she could imagine.
The leather-clad warrior was sitting on the side of the bed watching over her.
"How are you feeling? Have some water"
Xena spoke in soothing tones.
Having sipped on the fresh water, Gabrielle gathered her resolve.
"Xena please listen to me" she spoke with determination.
"It may have been that the port and a couple of goblets of wine did rather loosen my tongue, but I was essentially speaking the truth. I promise you nothing happened with Selena, other than she encouraged me to speak with my heart...and just a little with my loins. I love you Xena, I have from the very first day we met. Do you remember that day?"
"Of course I do" Xena replied softly. "My life began that day"
The bard smiled.
"Mine too. Xena this could ruin our friendship, something I cherish beyond breathing, but I cannot hold back any longer. I love you. I do so with my heart, my soul and finally I can admit with my desires. I only mentioned those girls to demonstrate that I do have desires.
There, I have said it. You can leave right now if you wish, I will understand that you do not share such feelings. All I ask is that you do not harm Selena and that you do not think ill of me"
Xena stood up with an ominously serious look upon her face.
"Gabrielle, I must leave you."
The bard closed her eyes but that did not prevent the tears from escaping.
"First of all, I must pay the blacksmith for taking good care of Argo. Secondly, I promised the cook a healthy payment for providing such unbelievable fare. Hades! I may even throw some money at Selena if she is still in town. I will never demand anything of you again my love, but this. You must promise to still be here when I return, and you must promise not to go seeking out those admittedly hot looking prostitutes"
The bard opened her eyes to see an ecstatic warrior.
"My only love, I underestimated you and will never do so again. I give you my solemn pledge to protect you, to love you and never to leave you beyond today. Selena has every right to believe in her moon-spirit, yet I promise that the spirit of my love for you will never be matched"
Whilst the warrior was uttering her devotion, neither women could possibly see that the moon had vanished from the sky...Selene had completed her task.
Xena herself was now shedding tears, yet as they kissed with a growing passion, it really didn't matter...
THE END / THE BEGINNING.
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