This sequel to A Nation's Pride takes place sometime after events in Season 3 and pushes the envelope on a new timeline in the Xenaverse.
Taking a break from life on the road, Xena and Gabrielle help rebuild Amphipolis in the aftermath of the destruction Athena's army wreaked on the town. A strange mystery and a desperate request for assistance interrupt their brief time-out and embroil the duo in a tumultuous hornet's nest of angry gods, pregnant Amazons and complications too numerous to name.
Disclaimers and other stuff: XWP and its characters belong to MCA/Universal. I didn't create them and am just borrowing them for the fun of it. This story delves into a relationship between two women, so be warned. No content of a graphic nature, however. There's some violence, of course. This is a Xena tale, after all. Angst level is low on this one and humor is higher than the last one. If you haven't yet read A Nation's Pride, you might want to go read that first before you go any further. Otherwise you'll be walking around aimlessly in a quagmire of ‘huh?'.
Feedback is much appreciated and can be sent to email@example.com. Bards are hungry and love to be fed on a regular basis.
The tall warrior's dark head shot up with a start. “Ouch! Son of a b—” Xena hissed as she slammed her head into a ceiling strut so hard that she saw stars.
The second screech had Xena on her feet and flipping down from the barn loft with battle-honed precision. She landed on her feet and raced for the barn door in time to collide solidly with a bundle of short-haired bard. Only Xena's quick reflexes kept them from tumbling to the ground in a heap.
“Gabrielle?” Xena managed as she held the smaller woman back by the shoulders and steadied her. “What's the matter? Are we under attack? Is something on fire? Is mother—” Each question came out in rapid-fire precision.
“Oh, good, I found you,” Gabrielle panted and bent forward to catch her breath.
“What's going on, Gabrielle?” Xena waited for the bard to catch her breath, realizing the emergency wasn't quite that.
Gabrielle just pointed out the barn door. Xena glanced out into the bright sunlight in time to see a black and white blur charging straight for the barn at full speed. The blur was no taller than a large dog, but was on a definite mission
“What the—” Xena ducked outside and just managed to catch the lead of the animal that was bolting for the barn with a loud, angry bleat.
Gabrielle turned in time for an angry goat to butt her in the hip, rather than the butt. And Xena's quick yank on the lead rope was just enough to keep the goat from knocking the bard over.
“You wanna tell me what's going on, bard?” Blue eyes flashed mischievously at a pair of grateful green ones.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak, but the words died on her lips as another woman flew around the corner in hot pursuit and pulled up short in front of the trio.
“Mother?” Xena glanced from her mother to the bard and then to the goat, who was contentedly munching on the bard's brown skirt. “Would someone tell me what's going on here?”
“Damned goat got into the new shed you just finished for me and devoured an entire sack of grain, as well as half a barrel of apples,” Cyrene stood with her hands on her hips as she glared at the oblivious beast. “Are you okay, Gabrielle?”
“I'm fine,” Gabrielle answered as she yanked her skirt from the goat's teeth and stepped out of its reach. She glanced at Xena, who was watching her with an upraised brow. “What?”
“My question exactly,” Xena said.
“The goat hates me,” Gabrielle crossed her arms over her green-clad chest and glared back at the taller woman. “What can I say?”
“Goats don't hate people,” Xena shot back with a questioning glare, “unless there's good reason.”
“I'm not good with animals, Xena,” Gabrielle shrugged. “You know how well I get along with Argo. She hates me, too.”
Xena scoffed. “My horse doesn't hate you. And this goat doesn't hate you either.”
“Girls,” Cyrene stepped between the two and wrapped an arm around each woman's waist. She grinned at Gabrielle and glared up at Xena. “The goat hates everyone, Xena. Gabrielle was just trying to get him away from the barrel before he finished off the rest of the apples. That's when he turned on her and took off in hot pursuit.”
Gabrielle stuck her tongue out at Xena over Cyrene 's head, to which Xena crossed her eyes and scrunched her face in imitation of an old crone.
“You two,” Cyrene shook her head and swatted them both on the butt. “I have pies that need my attention,” she said as she walked away without a backward glance.
“Brat,” Xena chided the smaller woman when her mother was out of earshot.
“Just keep that goat away from me, Xena,” Gabrielle moved a respectable distance away from both the goat and her partner. She rubbed her hip where the goat had bumped her with his horned forehead. “I swear I'm gonna have a bruise from that dumb animal.”
“Ahhhh,” Xena scooted closer to the bard, while keeping the goat on her other side and far enough away that it couldn't get a bead on Gabrielle. “Come on, Gabrielle. Want me to kiss it and make it better?” She leaned down and gave the bard a quick peck on the lips.
Gabrielle snickered. “Maybe later,” she answered with a seductive gleam in her eyes. “After I entertain the villagers with a few stories and you glare down the idiots who try to get too close to me.” She snickered.
Xena yanked on the goat's lead. “Gotta keep ‘em in line, that's for sure. Men are pigs.” She glared at the goat. “Goats, too, apparently.”
“Goats, pigs, men—” Gabrielle glared at the beast that was eyeing her around Xena's leg. “They're all the same to me. Beasts, all of ‘em. Can't trust a one of ‘em as far as you can throw ‘em.” She snorted at her own joke. “Get it? You throw ‘em?”
“Hardy har, har, Gabrielle,” Xena deadpanned. “Please don't add that one to your extensive repertoire. It's not exactly one of the better ones you've come up with.”
“Better than the one I tried on the crowd last night,” Gabrielle frowned. “That one really fell flat.”
“Villagers know absolutely nothing about Amazons,” Xena said, as she yanked the goat's lead and started walking. “Come on, Blackie.” She glanced over her shoulder. “You coming, Gabrielle?”
“No,” Gabrielle shook her short-cropped head. “I think I'll see if your mom needs further assistance. Or maybe I'll head over to the new library and see if Draes needs any help with those scrolls he's been copying.”
“Suit yourself,” Xena shrugged and continued on with the goat walking amicably beside her. “Try to stay out of trouble, will ya?” She shot over her shoulder as she disappeared around the corner.
“I do not get into trouble,” Gabrielle grumbled as she headed in the opposite direction.
Later that night the tapers were burning low in the main room of Cyrene 's inn. It was standing room only in the spacious room, as villagers listened with rapt attention to Gabrielle relating another tale to the gathered throng.
“—and that's how Xena saved the lives of four innocent men and turned the tables on Ares, God of War,” Gabrielle finished to rousing applause and a standing ovation from a certain tall warrior seated inconspicuously at the back of the room.
It was the third night the inn was packed to overflowing. Many of the room's occupants were well into their cups, while others simply wanted to listen to the bard's tales. Gabrielle was finally finished with her third tale and gratefully took a mug of cider handed to her by one of the passing barmaids as she approached Xena's table.
“Is this seat taken?” Gabrielle struck a pose and lasciviously eyed the seated warrior.
“It is now,” Xena answered as she pushed the chair next to her back with her foot. “How's the throat?” She asked quietly into the bard's ear.
“Not too bad,” Gabrielle answered as she sipped her cider and relished the feel of the cool liquid on her parched throat. “I think your mom's remedy is working wonders.”
A dark brow rose above questioning blue eyes. “What remedy is that?” Gabrielle leaned close to Xena's ear and whispered something only loud enough for the warrior to hear. Xena snorted. “You're serious?” A nod. “I wouldn't put it past her to try that on the town crier. But you? I thought you were smarter than that.”
“She said it would work and after giving it a try, I believe her,” Gabrielle sipped her cider. “My voice hasn't cracked once since I got here.”
“Huh,” Xena leaned back in her chair and drained her ale. “To each her own, I guess. Not something I would try, that's for sure.”
“You're not a bard,” Gabrielle scoffed. “The only time you strain your voice is when you do your battle yell during a fight, and that only lasts long enough for you to knock the snot out of your first opponent.”
“Ew, gross,” Xena shot her companion a look of disbelief. “Must you ruin the moment with your crass language?”
Gabrielle choked on her cider. “Gods, Xena! Don't do that!” She coughed several times. “I think some of it went up my nose.”
Xena patted the choking bard on the back. “Sorry, love.”
They sat in companionable silence for several long moments and watched the revelry around them. It amazed Gabrielle that it had only been one moon cycle since these same people had been running for their lives. Amphipolis was the first village in the path of Athena's army and had suffered the most destruction. The village militia hadn't even bothered to take a stand against the army once the Amazon messenger arrived to explain the situation. The council quickly voted to flee into the surrounding countryside, and everyone just took what they could carry when they ran. It was a blessing that no one was killed.
Shortly after the army flattened most of Amphipolis, word quickly spread that the army's commanders were all dead. One of the lesser lieutenants found the men in the commander's tent shortly after sunrise. No one in the army would say who the assassins were. Every soldier's lips were sealed and the army quickly disbanded. There was no longer a formal command structure, so the bulk of the soldiers simply returned home.
Word reached Gabrielle and Xena that Potidea was spared from any major damage. A small group of raiders managed to burn several buildings in the village and there was some livestock reported missing, but no lives were lost and the village proper was intact. Gabrielle was sure her parents and sister had escaped unscathed and was looking forward to a brief visit to the family farm in a few days time.
Her thoughts turned to her Amazon sisters and she wondered how things were going in the village during her absence. She and Xena had only been gone a few weeks when word reached them that nearly all the warriors who had participated in Xena's scheme were pregnant. Gabrielle knew it was possible that a number of the women would be pregnant, but she never dreamed the number would be so high.
“How do you think Ephiny is faring?” Gabrielle asked.
Xena glanced at her blond companion. “Probably going nuts by now.” She smirked. “Glad we're not there to share the fun. Amazons aren't the most stable people under normal conditions. Having that many women with child will only make things a whole lot more interesting. Probably start a civil war right there in the village. I'm sure Nissia is trying to figure out how to train the rest of the village to be midwives. She won't be able to take care of that many women when they all give birth at the same time.”
“You know you're partially responsible for what happened, don't you?” Gabrielle glared at the amused warrior. “I can't believe you cooked up such a hare-brained scheme. What in the world were you thinking, Xena?”
Xena hid a smile behind her empty ale mug, as she pretended to take a drink. “You weren't there, Gabrielle,” she finally answered with her stoic mask firmly in place. “I had to think of something that wouldn't involve wiping the Amazons off the face of the earth.” She gave Gabrielle a raised-brow look. “Besides, you were the one who gave me the idea. So you're as much to blame as I am. Not to mention Eponin's part in making sure it went off without a hitch.”
“Me!” Gabrielle exclaimed in a hushed tone. “What in Hades did I do or say to put that idea in your head?”
Xena folded her arms across her chest. “You said the Amazons needed a boost in their numbers. You know, new blood and all that.”
“Not by prostituting themselves to a bunch of strangers, Xena,” Gabrielle slapped a hand against her forehead. “I soooo have to watch what I say around you.”
Xena shrugged. “Those warriors didn't seem to mind.” She smirked. “Actually, I think they rather enjoyed the—um—opportunity to strut their stuff, so to speak. It was a welcome distraction from the day-to-day routine of drilling and patrolling.”
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at the smug warrior. “What?”
“Well, now they're part of one of your stories,” Xena snickered. “They figured you could come up with an amazing tale of bravery and sacrifice centered on the pride of the Amazon Nation.”
“Excuse me?” Gabrielle exclaimed. “Why—what—Xeeeena—”
“Hey, you're the one who comes up with all these far-fetched tales involving yours truly,” Xena said. “I just talked up how much of an honor it would be for them to have their queen traveling the countryside and telling of their exploits. You are going to come up with a story about what they did, right?”
Gabrielle slapped her forehead and shook her head. “I can't believe I'm to be party to such a flagrant disregard for Amazon dignity.”
“Hey, they're pregnant Amazons, not village whores,” Xena added, while trying valiantly to hide her amusement at the whole situation.
“They're warriors, Xena,” Gabrielle argued. “Warriors fight. They don't march into the midst of an army and sleep with the enemy.”
“I really don't think there was much sleeping going on,” Xena said under her breath.
“Hey, you two,” Cyrene took that moment to approach the table. “What's going on?” She glanced from an obviously amused Xena to an equally exasperated Gabrielle. “Am I interrupting something?”
“We were just having a friendly discussion,” Xena said with as much innocence as she could muster.
“Oh?” Cyrene tried to meet the bard's eyes, but Gabrielle's attention was elsewhere. “I enjoyed that last story you told, Gabrielle. I don't think I've heard it before. Is it new?”
Gabrielle let her irritation at her partner dissipate in the face of Cyrene 's timely interruption. “It's one I've been working on for a while now,” she answered in a congenial tone. “I call it ‘The Reckoning.'”
Cyrene glanced at the taller warrior. “So, it's true then?”
“What?” Xena gave her mother a wary look.
“You interact with the gods more often than not?” Cyrene glanced at both women.
“More like they interfere in our lives more often than not,” Xena scoffed. “One of the many byproducts of my days in Ares' shadow, I guess. Or maybe it's because Hercules helped me see the error of my ways. He is Ares' half-brother and the two are bitter rivals, after all.”
“And let's not forget what my being Queen of the Amazons did to get the attention of a certain goddess—or two—or three,” Gabrielle threw in with a wry smirk. “That last encounter of ours wasn't exactly something I'll soon forget.”
“Oh?” Cyrene 's interest was certainly peeked, which earned Gabrielle a glare from Xena.
“It's—um—a really long story,” Gabrielle shrugged and then added. “Not very interesting, actually.”
“No,” Xena agreed and waved a negligent hand at her mother. “You don't want to hear about it right now. Besides,” she shot the bard a look that begged cooperation, “Gabrielle needs to rest her voice after all that storytelling. She's been a little hoarse lately, and I don't want her to lose it.”
Cyrene shot the bard a questioning look. “Gabrielle? Have you been using that remedy I gave you?”
Gabrielle cleared her throat loudly. “Um, yeah, I have. But,” she shrugged, “I guess it can only do so much to keep my throat clear.” She cleared her throat again and then added a yawn for good measure. “That's my cue to get off to bed. It's been a really long day and tomorrow will be just as long.”
Cyrene gave both women a skeptical glare. “Mmhm, I see.” She watched Xena and Gabrielle stand and stretch. “Oh, by the way, Xena—”
Xena waved Gabrielle to go on ahead and turned back to face her mother. “Yes?”
“When are you going to tell me?” Cyrene gave her daughter a knowing look.
“Tell you what?”
“That the two of you are sleeping together,” Cyrene answered blandly. “Is it too much to ask that my daughter be honest with me? After all, I am your mother. I should hear these things directly from your lips, not have to go to the trouble of deducing it on my own.”
Xena's eyes bulged before she caught herself and masked her expression. “What? Why—um would you—um—”
“Sit down, Xena,” Cyrene patted the chair next to her, “before you fall down.”
Xena glared at her mother, but took the seat anyway. She sighed heavily, “What gave us away?”
“I put you in a room with two beds,” Cyrene said. “Only one bed has been slept in the entire time you've been here. I don't have to be Aphrodite to put two and two together, Xena.”
Xena blushed and looked away. She knew this moment would eventually come, but wasn't quite prepared for its eventuality. Despite what most people believed about her, she wasn't always completely ready for any situation. This was certainly one of those times.
“Talk to me,” Cyrene prodded.
Xena took a deep breath and turned to face her mother. “Okay, yes.”
A dark brow much like Xena's rose on the older woman's face. “And?” Cyrene waited for her daughter to elaborate. “Oh, for Hades' sake, Xena, I'm your mother. Tell me what's going on between you two. Is it serious? Do you love each other?”
Xena felt like an awkward teenager all over again. She didn't know how to talk about her feelings with Gabrielle, but at least they were making progress in that arena. Now her mother was asking her to express what was in her heart? How was a warrior supposed to respond to such open interrogation?
“Mother,” Xena couldn't help that her voice had just a touch of whine to it.
“Spill it, Daughter,” Cyrene decided on a different tact. “I'm waiting for a proper explanation.”
“It's not that simple,” Xena said. “We're—I'm—It's just not that simple.”
“Do you love her, Xena?” Cyrene smirked when the question made her otherwise stoic daughter squirm. “I take that as a yes.”
“We—um—” Xena rolled her eyes and slumped in her chair. “Gabrielle is much better at this than I am. Why don't you corner her, instead?”
“Oh, don't think I won't,” Cyrene shot her daughter a firm glare that quickly softened into a warm smile. “I guess I just wanted to hear it from your lips, though. After all, you are still my daughter. I'd like to know that you've found someone who makes you happy.”
“Gabrielle has always made me happy,” and then she blushed to her roots when she realized what she'd just said. “I mean—she—I—Oh, Hades' left nut, that certainly didn't come out the way I meant it to.”
“Don't worry, Xena,” Cyrene patted her daughter's arm affectionately. “I'm beginning to understand everything.”
Xena rested her arms on the table and stared at her folded hands for a moment. Then she looked her mother in the eye and swallowed down her trepidation. “I love her with all my heart, Mother. We're very happy together.”
“So, you're a couple?” Cyrene clarified.
Xena nodded. “We are.”
Cyrene eyed her daughter and couldn't help but push a lock of hair behind Xena's ear. “Hm.”
Xena watched her mother for a moment and noticed the thoughtful look in the woman's gray-green eyes. Cyrene wasn't exactly smiling, but she wasn't throwing anything in a fit of pique, either. Xena took her mother's hands in hers and the difference in their sizes didn't go unnoticed by either woman.
“I love her,” Xena reiterated.
Xena squeezed the hands in hers and then got up and walked away. If she had glanced back, Xena would have seen the smile of triumph lighting Cyrene 's features. But Xena just kept walking to the stairs that would take her up to the room she shared with her partner.
“Okay, what gives?” Gabrielle's calm voice broke the silence. “You haven't said a word since you came in here.” She snuggled deeper into Xena's warm embrace. “Not that I'm complaining or anything. You always were a woman of action, not words.”
“Mm,” Xena uttered as she wrapped her arms tighter around the smaller woman. “Just thinking.”
“Life—love—the pursuit of—”
“Oh, give me a break, Xena,” Gabrielle sighed in exasperation. “Tell me what's really going on in that thick skull of yours. And please don't deny that you have a thick skull. We both know the truth behind those words.”
Xena snorted. “Thanks.”
“Don't mention it,” Gabrielle answered. “Now, talk.”
“Mother cornered me,” Xena blurted.
“That sounds ominous,” Gabrielle said and then the realization of what Xena said hit her. “Cornered you? About what?”
“Us,” Xena answered.
“Gods, Xena!” Gabrielle sighed exasperatedly. “Is it too much to ask that you just spit it out, so I don't have to wrestle these things out of you? Does she suspect something? What did she say?”
Xena pulled the bard with her as she switched their positions with a quick, room-spinning flip that had the warrior on top of her smaller lover. Passionate blue eyes locked with surprised green ones.
“I like wrestling,” Xena lowered her lips to the bards and gave her a smoldering kiss that left them both breathless. “I like wrestling with you especially.”
Gabrielle smiled up at the woman whose face was framed by her dark hair. “The feeling is mutual, Xena, but that doesn't answer my questions.”
Xena dipped her head to the bard's bare cleavage. “I don't want to talk about my mother, right now. I'd much rather do other—things.” She flashed a seductive smile.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, but quickly gave in to the wonderful sensations coursing through her entire being, as Xena's attentions became more heated. She soon completely forgot what they were talking about as Xena took her to that place of utter bliss that only they could share together.
The main gathering room of the inn was relatively quiet in the early hours before dawn. It was far too early for the morning meal crowd that would arrive in a few candlemarks. But it wasn't too early for a pair of early risers, who were used to getting up and being on the road before dawn.
“That was so not fair of you, Xena,” Gabrielle hissed as she traipsed down the stairs to the main room of the inn with Xena close on her heels. “You know I can't think straight when you—um—” Her words were cut short when she spotted Cyrene bustling around the room, cleaning up the last remnants of the evening's festivities. “You are so going to tell me what happened last night between you and your mother,” she hissed over her shoulder, just as they stepped off the last step together.
“Speaking of,” Xena muttered as Cyrene made a beeline for them.
“Good morning, you two,” the innkeeper greeted them with a bright and cheery smile. “Ready to start the day with a hearty breakfast?” She glanced from her fidgeting offspring to the blushing bard next to her. “Something hot to keep you going throughout the morning?”
Gabrielle's blush deepened and Xena just rolled her eyes. “Mother,” she growled as she brushed past the woman and headed out the front door.
“What? Did I say something wrong?” Cyrene looked to the smaller woman still standing next to her. “Gabrielle?”
“I—” Gabrielle shook her head and cleared her throat. “Xena doesn't do breakfast,” she lamely explained. “We're usually already on the road by the time the sun comes up, so we just forage for nuts and berries along the way.”
“Nuts and berries?” Cyrene gave the bard an incredulous look. “That can't be very satisfying.” She motioned for the bard to sit at one of the vacant tables. “Sit down, Gabrielle, and I'll bring you a proper meal to start your day.”
“ Cyrene , I really don't—”
“Ah, ah, no arguing, now,” Cyrene insisted as she ushered Gabrielle over to the table and made sure she sat down. “I may not be able to coral my own daughter, but at least I can make sure you eat something.”
Gabrielle sat down and watched Cyrene wave to the only barmaid in the place. The innkeeper whispered something to the young woman and then sat down in a seat across from her with an expectant look that made Gabrielle's stomach sink.
“Now,” Cyrene gave Gabrielle an appraising once-over. “Tell me what's going on between you and Xena.”
Gabrielle swallowed down the sudden lump that instantly formed in her throat. “Uh—I—um—” she stammered at the unexpected and straightforward request.
“Do you love her?” Cyrene asked as she gazed intently at the woman across from her.
“I—um—” Gabrielle was still at a complete loss for words.
Cyrene let Gabrielle stew for another moment before her expression softened. “Relax, Gabrielle,” Xena's mother patted Gabrielle's arm affectionately. “It's about time my daughter found someone who is her match in every way.”
Gabrielle's brows shot up into her hairline. “You're not—we aren't—um—” She ran a hand down her face in frustration and sighed in exasperation. Then she girded herself and met the woman's gray-green gaze. “She's the most important person in my life and I love her with all my heart and my entire being. Words can't even begin to express what Xena means to me and what she's done to make me a better person.”
Cyrene considered Gabrielle's words thoughtfully for a moment. “Do you remember when we first met, Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle was a bit confused by the abrupt change of topic. “Yes, I think so. It was when Xena came back here to make amends after saving Lila and me from Draco's goons, wasn't it?”
“Yes,” Cyrene smiled warmly at the memory. “You were very young, very idealistic. You followed after Xena like a stray puppy.” She paused to let her words sink in. Then she pointed a knowing finger at the bard and said, “But you did something else that day that Xena showed up here and I rejected her attempts to apologize for who she became.”
“I did?” Gabrielle thought back to that long-ago time.
She remembered how naïve she'd been when she'd followed Xena from Potidea to Amphipolis with the hope of being accepted as more than a simple village girl. She also remembered how devastated the stoic warrior was to have Draco's prediction come true. Being rejected by the very people who raised her, much less by her own mother, was simply too much for Xena. That was when Gabrielle first saw past the warrior's weapons and lethal combat skills to the vulnerable woman-child hiding beneath.
“You stood up for her,” Cyrene said quietly. “It was the first time I'd ever seen Xena step aside and allow someone else to speak for her. And it was also the first time I noticed a real change for the better in Xena.” She lowered her gaze then. “Unfortunately, I was too full of anger and hate to fully realize how special that moment really was.”
Gabrielle put a hand on Cyrene 's. “You two eventually mended your differences and forgave each other for all that happened.”
Cyrene raised tear-filled eyes to Gabrielle's. “And I have you to thank for that, Gabrielle,” she said. “You've made as much of a difference in her life as you say she's made in yours.” She smiled through her tears. “I am very grateful to you for all you've done to give me back my daughter. And I want you to know that I now consider you my daughter, as well.”
Tears sprang to Gabrielle's eyes, as Cyrene firmly grasped her hand and covered it with her other hand. “I don't know what to say,” she finally said, as the tears spilled down her cheeks unheeded.
“Say you'll continue to love her, no matter what happens,” Cyrene said. “I just want you both to be happy and to love each other, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle nodded. “I can certainly do that.”
“Good,” Cyrene gave Gabrielle's hands a last squeeze and then let go.
Both women were wiping away the last of their tears, when the barmaid returned with a large serving tray full of aromatic dishes. She set the tray on the edge of the table and removed several wooden bowls and platters. When she was done, she looked to Cyrene for further instruction.
“Thank you, Carlena,” Cyrene said as she quickly heaped two plates full of food and set one in front of Gabrielle. “Tell Aris the food smells wonderful.”
“I will,” the young barmaid said as she tucked the tray under one arm and headed back to the kitchen.
“Mmm,” Gabrielle savored the scrambled eggs and ham. “This is delicious.”
“Aris is the best cook I could have hoped to hire,” Cyrene commented between bites. “It's also nice that her three daughters are willing to work here for a little extra coin.”
“Business is good, then?” Gabrielle lifted a mug of warm cider to her lips and savored the sweet brew.
“We're actually turning a profit—or at least we were before that army came marching through here and destroyed practically everything,” Cyrene frowned. “Do you know their commander ordered his men to shout obscenities against Xena while they leveled the town? They were also praising the name of Athena in the same breath they were shouting those obscenities. It was rather disturbing.”
Gabrielle's expression hardened. “No, I didn't.”
“What I don't understand is why Xena had anything to do with it,” Cyrene continued thoughtfully. “Do you?”
Gabrielle was caught with a mouthful of food that she had to chew and swallow before she could answer. “The army belonged to Athena. Athena and Artemis were working together to get Xena's attention on my behalf.”
Cyrene looked at Gabrielle in confusion. “That makes no sense, Gabrielle. Why would Athena even give Artemis the time of day, much less work with her to get the attention of a couple of mortals? It's not like the gods to interfere in human affairs.” Her expression turned thoughtful. “Unless Ares is involved.”
“I'm Queen of the Amazons, Cyrene ,” Gabrielle answered, as if that explained everything.
“You are?” Cyrene watched Gabrielle nod soberly. “But what does that have to do with anything?”
“As Queen of the Amazons, it's my duty to choose a consort, a—um—a spouse,” Gabrielle explained. “Amazons are women, so—” She shrugged.
Cyrene thoughtfully considered Gabrielle's words. “Amazons marry each other?”
“Men aren't allowed to live in the village. Actually, they aren't allowed in the village at all,” Gabrielle continued. “If an Amazon marries a man, she either has to go to his village for conjugal visits or she has to leave the village and go live with him.” She paused to let the words sink in. “The queen doesn't generally have the option of leaving the village.” She shrugged. “Although, in my case, I appointed my good friend, Ephiny, as regent in my absence, so I'm not bound by that particular stricture.”
“You could marry a man,” Cyrene was still trying to grasp exactly what Gabrielle was saying.
“I did, actually,” Gabrielle said. “His name was Perdicus and we were married for only a day before he was killed by one of Xena's archenemies.” She shook her head when she realized she was probably just confusing the woman with each new revelation. “The point is—”
“You were married to a man, Gabrielle?” Cyrene couldn't help but be completely bewildered by the bard's convoluted explanation. “I didn't know that.”
“We grew up together,” Gabrielle couldn't keep the sad note from her voice, but countered it with a wry half-smile. “He was the main reason I ran off to be with Xena in the first place, actually. My father and his thought we would make a good match and betrothed us to each other when we were just babies. I didn't want to get married and spend the rest of my life as a shepherd's wife in Potidea. So, when Xena came along and did her warrior thing against Draco's men, I figured I would just follow her and see where I ended up.” Her smile deepened and until her face fairly glowed with love. “It was the scariest and most exciting moment of my life, and I haven't regretted a single moment we've spent together since that day.”
“Not a single moment?” Cyrene gave her a skeptical look.
“Okay, one or two or—” Gabrielle conceded with a shrug. “There was the time I thought I wanted to be a famous bard and ran off to attend the Athens Academy of Performing Bards. Then there was that other time I got really tired of fighting and just wanted to go home to Potidea, which I did. And then there was Britannia and Chin and everything that happened between us during and after that,” her expression turned thoughtful. “Come to think of it, I don't really regret all that stuff, because it actually brought us closer than we'd ever been before. It also made us appreciate each other all the more.” A blond brow rose as she rested her chin on a fist. “I guess we never did have that discussion we were supposed to have when I fully recovered. I'll have to corner Xena on that one.”
“Gabrielle?” Cyrene lifted the younger woman's chin from her hand. “It seems there's a lot you haven't told me about your adventures with my daughter.”
Gabrielle shrugged. “What can I say? We've been through a lot together.”
“And you love each other,” Cyrene nodded.
“We do,” Gabrielle acknowledged with a warm smile.
“I look forward to hearing more about those adventures,” Cyrene gave Gabrielle a knowing wink. “But, for now, I need to get back to work. I'll see you later, Daughter.” She kissed Gabrielle on the forehead and headed for the kitchen.
Gabrielle sat there for a moment, just basking in the glow of Cyrene 's acceptance.
“Yo, Xena,” Cletus, the town smithy, greeted the leather-clad warrior. “Wha' brings ye ta my humble forge?”
He was a burly man with short-cropped blond hair gone black with soot that covered him from head to toe. His bare chest was protected by a sleeveless apron that he wore to keep the sparks from burning his skin. Sweat poured off him as he stood in front of the massive forge and slammed a hammer down on a horse shoe he was working on. He grabbed a pair of tongs, picked up the glowing shoe and dumped it into a vat of water. Steam billowed up into the ceiling and funneled up through a vent.
Xena ducked under the low roof and took the tall smith's arm in hers. “Thought I'd come by and make sure the roof is doing its job, Cletus,” she said with a smirk. “Doesn't look like there's much smoke lingering in here anymore.”
They both glanced up at the sloped metal ceiling with the air vent at its peak. Cletus smiled proudly as he stood with his massive hands on his hips and fairly rolled on the balls of his feet. The big man couldn't help but admire their handiwork.
“'Tis a marvel of pure genius,” he said as he returned his attention to the woman before him. “Ye did a fine job designing it, Xena.” He shook his head. “Can't figure how ye came up with such a novel idea.”
“What? You think a warrior can't have a novel idea now and again?” Xena teased the man. “It isn't all about battle strategies and war, my friend. Besides, you're the one who built it and got the design to work.”
“Yer too modest, Xena,” Cletus amended quickly. “It ain't that I think warriors are incapable of doin' other stuff ‘sides fightin'. Ye just weren't a one ta be thinking stuff like this up, ‘s all. At least not before ye went off and raised an army, conquered half the known world, became Destroyer of Nations and all.”
“I have many skills, my friend,” Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek. “Besides, I like a good challenge.”
“Right ye are,” Cletus picked up a rag and wiped his sweaty hands on it. “Join me for a cold mug of ale? I tapped a new keg just this mornin'.”
“No, I think I'll pass,” Xena said. “I have a few projects I need to finish today.”
Xena stepped over to a low table full of various weapons and surveyed each one. She finally picked up a slim dagger and tested its weight in her hand. The double-edged blade was honed to a paper-thin edge and the handle would fit a much smaller hand than hers.
“Ye lookin' to add another weapon ta yer collection?” Cletus stepped up next to her. “I got some fine blades in the back that you can have for a steal.” He chuckled at the double entendre. “I certainly owe ye for the roof design.”
Xena held up the slim dagger between them. “You ever heard of weapons called sais ?” She ran a finger along the blade and then moved her finger out a few inches to show an extension of the blade.
“Don't get much call for anything like that ‘round here,” Cletus answered, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I heard they come from a distant land. Somewhere beyond the rising sun, ain't it? Had a weapons merchant come through here several winters ago. He carried an extensive collection of weapons from all over the known world. I think he even had a pair of ‘em in his traveling wagon. Didn't buy ‘em, though. Ain't worth the coin.”
Xena nodded. “You know what they look like, though, right?”
Cletus nodded. “Truncheon so long,” he held his hands out. “Two prongs on the sides and a slim handle with a knob on the end used for bludgeoning. Can I?” He waited for Xena to hand him the dagger. “You can hold them either this way,” he pointed the blade towards Xena. “Or turn them and use the prongs as leverage for a good swing at an opponent's head, mid-section or—well, whatever.” He shrugged. “Not a very effective weapon, except in close-quarter, hand-to-hand fighting. I sure wouldn't use ‘em in battle. Give me a nice long sword any day.”
Xena regarded the blade in her hand for a moment. “Can you make a pair with blades like double-edged daggers, rather than the rounded truncheons?”
Cletus regarded the dagger thoughtfully for a moment. “Not an easy endeavor, Xena.” He finally said. “Like I said, I only saw the weapons the one time, and I didn't get a real good look at ‘em then, either.” His brown eyes met Xena's baby blues and he pointed at her sword and chakram. “You plannin' on tradin' those in on a pair of short daggers?”
“They're not for me,” Xena smirked and placed her hand over the round weapon at her hip. “I'm perfectly happy with the weapons I'm familiar with.”
His expression mirrored his confusion. “Who're they for, then—if'n ye don't mind my askin',” he said. “I'll need to take a measurement of the person's arm and hand ta get a decent fit.”
“I'll bring her by eventually,” Xena answered. “They're a surprise, so try not to let slip what you need the measurements for, will ya?”
He touched the side of his nose and winked. “Gotcha, Xena. Mum's the word.”
She stepped back outside and gazed up at the roof. “I like that little piece you added to the top of the chimney.”
Cletus nodded. “Yeah, thought it would keep the rain from streamin' in through the vent up there.”
“Good idea, especially since we're due for some rain this evening,” Xena smirked.
Cletus glanced at the cloudless sky. “Ye daft, Xena? There ain't a cloud in the sky,” he scoffed as he went back to work with a shake of his head. “
“Don't say I didn't warn you, my friend,” Xena said. “And say hello to Molly for me, will ya?”
“Don't be such a stranger, Xena,” Cletus said as he raised his tongs and absently waved them at her. “Don't forget ta bring yer friend by for those measurements. I got a lot of work ta keep me busy, so I'll have to put in extra hours ta get your surprise done ‘fore winter.”
“I won't forget, Cletus,” Xena said as she turned to leave. “Bring Molly by the inn some night soon. She can hear some good stories told by a real bard.”
“A real bard, eh?” He called to her retreating form and received a quick wave of acknowledgement. “I just might do that!”
Xena headed across the town square and passed several merchant stalls on her way to her destination. She just happened to glance at the last stall and noticed something that caught her eye. She wasn't much for shopping, but she wasn't oblivious, either.
“How much for this?” She picked up a beautiful piece of handcrafted metalwork on a slim leather thong. Two intricately designed quills were crossed over a tiny open scroll. A small red ruby, like a drop of blood, sat in the middle of the crossed quills and glimmered in the sunlight.
“Fifty,” the gruff, pudgy merchant barked, as he stepped up and adjusted his belt over his wide girth.
Xena eyed the man. “Ten,” she countered and raised a dark, intimidating brow.
She wasn't the one who did the bartering. But she knew Gabrielle would give her grief for paying full price for something that could be bartered down to a lower price. Xena wanted to give Gabrielle something special as a promise of things to come. She knew the bard would love the gift and would cherish it for the sentiment behind it, as well as for the time Xena was willing to put in to barter for it.
The merchant picked up the small charm and held it up between them. “This ruby alone is worth more than the fifty I'm asking, lady.”
Xena's brow quirked and she crossed her arms over her chest. “I'm not paying fifty dinars for a piece of cheap metal just because you claim that little piece of glass is a real ruby, old man.”
The man sighed heavily. “All right, forty, then,” he said. “It took the artisan several moons to carve those quills with such life-like precision. And did you read the inscription on the scroll?” He held it up for her inspection. “It says ‘The gods bless and keep you'.”
Xena snorted. “The gods rarely bless and keep anyone, especially me.”
“Beg your pardon?” The man gave her a bewildered look. “You shouldn't speak so poorly of the gods. They might hear you and bring a bad omen down on all our heads.”
“They bring anything down on me again and I'll chop ‘em into little pieces,” Xena growled and then caught herself. “Uh, on second thought, I don't think I want your trinket. Has a bad taste to it.” She started walking away.
“Okay, okay,” the merchant waved her back over to his stall. “I can go as low as thirty dinars, but that's it. As it is I'm losing money on the deal.”
Xena pulled several coins from the front of her bodice and blew on them. “I'll give you twenty and that's my final offer,” she said with a wry smirk.
The man hesitated for a moment and then sighed heavily. “Fine, it's a deal,” he rolled his eyes in exasperation and took the money from her. “May I ask who I've had the pleasure of bartering with?” He asked as he dropped the necklace into a brown leather pouch and handed it to her.
“Name's Xena,” she said as she took the pouch and tucked it in her cleavage.
“ The Xena?” The man gawked at her in open awe. “The same Xena who raised an army right here in Amphipolis and conquered most of the known world? Don't they still call you the Destroyer of Nations?”
Xena leaned on his table and looked him in the eye. “It's just Xena.” She gave him her most intimidating glare. “I don't do the warlord thing anymore, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd just forget you ever saw me.”
“Oh, oh, most certainly,” the man backed away several steps and wiped the sweat from his brow. “I—I really didn't mean to offend you. If I've done so, please accept my deepest and most profound apologies, Xena.” He reached behind him and grabbed something off a nearby table. “Here.”
Xena reached out and took the items from his outstretched hand. She looked down to find a pair of silver bracers in her hand. Two quills crossed over a scroll sat on atop the intricate silver tooling.
“Please,” the man continued. “Take them as a token of my appreciationÃ³completely free of charge.”
Xena removed the pouch from its hiding place and looked at the twin bracers. There was no way they would fit in the leather pouch, much less between her breasts. “Thanks,” she made to hand them back, “but these are really too much for what I paid you.”
“No, no, no,” the man held up a staying hand, took a larger pouch out and handed it to her. “I want you to have them, too. They're a matched set.”
“Okay,” Xena said. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you, Xena,” the merchant said with a grateful smile. “I'm in your debt for how you took care of my only son and sent him home to us with only a small scratch. He's now married and has given me six strapping grandsons.” He glanced at the large pouch with the bracers in it. “That's a small price to pay for what you gave me, Xena.”
“Your son was in my army? What's his name?” Xena asked, as she absently adjusted the pouch.
“Breniden,” the merchant answered with pride. “Said he was one of your hoplites. Now he works the family farm and does some woodcarving in his spare time. His wife, Treis, bakes pies and sells them at market. Best pie you've ever tasted. Three of his boys are old enough now to do the lion's share of the plowing and harvesting. They also help me out when I travel to other towns and villages.”
“I think I remember your son,” Xena said. “As I recall he looked a lot like you.”
“That he does,” the merchant beamed. “The two oldest grandsons take after me, too.” He proudly patted his protruding stomach.
“You must be very proud,” Xena said. “I'm glad he made it home safely.”
“'Twas thanks to you he came home at all,” the man said. “The way Breniden tells it, ye were three days into a campaign when a crossbow bolt nicked his sword arm. He said the bolt was poisoned and nearly killed him. But you knew just what to do to cure him and save his arm. Once he was well enough, you sent him home with some coin to get him started on a new life. He bought a nice piece of farm land right here in Amphipolis.”
Xena nodded. “I remember your son,” she said. “He wasn't more than fifteen and bravely cut through an entire line of men, before I watched that bolt slice through his sword arm. Even after he was hit, he still kept his head and saved three men's lives before the poison took him down. We won the day and the men were singing his praises around the campfire that night. He was a hero and I rewarded him as such.”
“You saved his life, Xena,” he said. “I can never repay you for what you did for the wife and I. Breniden is our only son. It nearly killed Aris when he ran off to join your army against the warlord Cortese.”
“I know your wife,” Xena nodded. “She works at my mother's inn.”
“Name's Plathos,” he said as he held out his arm to her. “I also have three daughters who work for your mother. Nicest and most generous woman this side of the Peloponnese .”
Xena took his arm and shook it firmly. “Sorry, but I didn't recognize you. Were you here—um, before?”
“Before Cortese?” He quirked a brown eyebrow at her and shook his head. “No, we moved here right before you formed your army. Maybe you've heard of Serres? It was several leagues to the north of here.”
“No, can't say I've been there,” Xena said.
“Well, that's probably because it hasn't existed for some time now,” Plathos continued. “The village was leveled by a warlord. The name of the man escapes me now, but he was ruthless and gave no quarter. Destroyed everything in his path without any regard to those left behind, even burned the crops and slaughtered the livestock in their pens. Nasty business, that. We barely escaped Serres with our lives, much less the few belongings we could load into the wagon and take with us. We came to Amphipolis and your mother was kind enough to put us up in a back room of the inn for a few weeks. That's when she hired Aris as a cook. The girls were too young to do much more than get underfoot at that time, but one-by-one they started helping out in the main roomÃ³clearing tables, serving drinks and cleaning up. I think you were already living with that ragtag bunch you turned into your army, by then.”
“Mother was always one to help out someone in need,” Xena smirked. “Well, I really need to get some work done today, so—”
“Oh, my apologies for going on and on, when you're so busy with the rebuilding here, Xena,” Plathos gave her a quick bow of his nearly-balding head. “I'll let you get on your way, then. Thank you again for your business and for all you did for my son.”
“It was nice to meet you, Plathos,” she held her arm out again and shook his. “Good to know things are working out for you and your family.”
“If there's ever anything you need, Xena,” he said as she started walking away.
“I'll know who to ask,” she shot over her shoulder.
“Ow! Papyrus cut,” Gabrielle exclaimed as she stuck a finger in her mouth and winced. “A battle wound is much less painful than one of these.”
“Are you okay, Gabrielle?” An aged man in a gray tunic and brown trousers asked from across the long table.
“I'm fine, Draes,” Gabrielle smiled at the white-haired elder. “I just have to remember not to unroll these scrolls so fast that I catch my fingers on the edges.”
“You have done a fine job with that particular scroll,” the Amphipolis scribe commented as he glanced up from a pile of scrolls rolled loosely in front of him. “I must say, we've made tremendous progress because of the work you've done to help me with this daunting job. I am eternally grateful for all your fine work, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle sat back and ran a tired hand through her short-cropped, blond hair. “We've done pretty well, haven't we?” She smirked proudly. “Some of it was drier than a desert,” she glanced at a piled of freshly transcribed scrolls, safely rolled and stored in their vellum cases across the room. “But this one is well worth the effort.” She held up the scroll she was copying and smiled tiredly. “Do you know who wrote it?”
Draes studied the script with pale gray eyes. His wrinkled gray brow quirked as he read the few words revealed to him. “I'm not sure,” he finally answered. “What's the work about?”
“The Trojan War, I think,” Gabrielle answered as she set the scroll down in front of her again. “It almost sounds like a story I once heard, but—” she shook her head.
“I believe it was written by a little-known bard who passed through here a few winters ago,” Draes said. His expression turned thoughtful for a moment. “I don't remember his name, but I do recall that he was a very good storyteller. He stayed at Cyrene 's inn for several days and shared his stories in the main room at night, just like you.” He rubbed the stubble on his chin with one wrinkled hand. “He had this strange habit of closing his eyes when he told a story, as if he were trying to put himself right there so the words could more easily come to him.”
“Closed his eyes?” Gabrielle asked with some surprise.
“Yes,” Draes nodded slowly. “He told each of his tales with his eyes closed and didn't open them again until the last words left his lips. During this particular tale he had a number of the audience members in tears for the better part of the telling. We all felt like we were right there with him, seeing what he saw behind those closed lids.”
“Huh,” Gabrielle lifted the scroll and scanned its contents again. “I think I know him. I met him at a contest in Athens and we parted as friends.”
“I asked him if he would write down the tale for our library,” Draes continued. “He agreed. It's been one of our most popular scrollsÃ³even more popular than the yearly almanac that comes from the oracles in Athens .”
Gabrielle smiled as she traced a finger along the hastily scrawled letters. “He was in a hurry when he wrote this.”
“Yes,” Draes answered. “He was heading to another village and wanted to get there before the next moon. I believe he was looking for someone.”
Gabrielle's head lifted and her eyes met the aged scribe's. “Did he say who he was looking for?”
Draes shook his head, wisps of white hair escaping from the leather thong he used to tie it at the nape of his neck. “No,” he said. “He never said, but I think it was probably a woman.”
“A woman?” Gabrielle's expression mirrored her surprise. “Why do you think he was looking for a woman?”
The man waved a negligible hand. “Isn't every young man looking for a woman?” He smirked. “This particular young man was very smitten. I could see it in his eyes when he mentioned the woman he was chasing. I think he said he met her in Athens .” He looked away and shook his head. “Youth is wasted on the young,” he clucked as he sifted through the scrolls in front of him.
He was so focused on his task that he completely missed the knowing smirk on Gabrielle's face. Gabrielle glanced out the window and saw by the position of the sun that it was after the noon hour. She rolled up the scroll in front of her and placed it back in its vellum case. She cleared her work space and set the scrolls back in the cubby holes where they were kept.
“I have to go,” Gabrielle said when she was done.
“Leaving so soon, Gabrielle?” Draes' expression showed his disappointment.
“I have some things I need to take care of,” Gabrielle answered. “I'll try to make it back tomorrow, but I can't make any promises. I think Xena wanted to take a ride over to the grain storage sheds west of town. They need help with the roof or something.”
“I thank you for the help you've provided, Bard Gabrielle,” Draes stood and bowed slightly. “Because of you, I have made considerable headway in getting things squared away here. I'll also be sending some of these copies to the Academy in Athens , where others will be able to share in our good fortune.”
“I'm glad I could help,” Gabrielle gave the stooped man a quick hug and then moved to the wooden doorway. “And it's just Gabrielle, Draes. I don't really do titles, not even as Queen of the Amazons.”
“Queen Gabrielle, the travelling Bard of Potidea?” Draes gave her a teasing grin. “I think it suits you, my dear.”
“Battling bard is more like it these days,” Gabrielle grumbled as she paused in the open doorway and turned back to give him her best imitation of Xena's intimidating scowl. “Those words do not leave this hut, Draes. Or I will send a certain Warrior Princess over here to straighten you out,” she finished the threat with a playful wink. “Good day to you, Draes.”
“Good day to you, Queen Gabrielle,” Draes waved to her retreating form.
“Queen Gabrielle, the Battling Bard of Potidea, huh?” Xena smirked as she caught up to her diminutive partner just outside the nondescript building. “I like it. It sure beats all the titles I've held or the derogatory ones some people have pinned to my name.”
“Do not even go there, Warrior Princess,” Gabrielle growled.
“Or, what?” Xena crossed her arms over her breastplate and continued to smirk. “You gonna beat the tar outta me with your little stick?” She wiggled her fingers in Gabrielle's face. “Oooo, I'm really scared, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle realized in that moment that she really hadn't been using her staff while they'd been in Amphipolis. As a matter of fact it was still leaning against a wall upstairs in their room, where she'd left it when they first arrived. Although she rarely went anywhere without the walking stick/weapon, she just hadn't felt the need to have it with her during their stay in Amphipolis.
“I don't have it with me,” Gabrielle gave the taller woman a wry look. “Guess I left it in my other skirt.” She gave Xena a quick hip-check and nearly fell over when the taller woman answered with one of her own. “Thanks for that.”
Xena quirked a dark brow. “You rarely go anywhere without your staff, Gabrielle. What gives?”
Gabrielle shrugged. “I just haven't needed it for anything,” she said. “We aren't out on the road, so I haven't needed it with me all the time. Besides, I don't want to lean it against a doorframe or wall somewhere and forget where I put it.”
“Getting forgetful in your old age, huh?” Xena teased.
Gabrielle shot her taller companion a questioning look. “Have you been drinking?”
“No, why?” Xena chuckled. “Do I smell like an ale keg or something?” She smelled her arm pit and gave the smaller woman a satisfied smirk. “Nothin' too ripe there. Although, I could really go for a dip in one of the lakes nearby. Mom wouldn't mind having fish on the menu tonight.”
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “You're acting like a little kid, Xena. It's kinda weirding me out.”
Xena did a little dance around her smaller companion with a childish grin. “Can't a woman have a little fun around ya without you thinkin' something's wrong?”
Gabrielle stopped with her hands on her hips and glared at Xena's back. “You aren't just any woman, Xena,” she said quietly. “You're the one I've chosen to spend the rest of my life with, and you're also a seasoned warrior with lethal combat skills. You rarely act childish.”
Xena approached the smaller woman and put her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. “I'm comfortable here, Gabrielle,” Xena looked intently into shining green eyes. “Like you, I don't need to put on the usual warrior airs that I use when we're out on the road.” She glanced around at the familiar surroundings of her home village. Most of the buildings were brand new, but the place still reminded her of home. “I can relax my warrior senses here. These people know me and accept me for who I am, not for the warlord I became when I left all those years ago. They don't know Xena the Destroyer of Nations. They just know Xena, the kid who used to run around here and play with the other kids. It's kinda refreshing not to have them looking to me to solve their problems or kick someone's butt for them.”
Gabrielle sighed. “Okay,” she said with a quick nod. “I guess I'm being a little too uptight, huh? I'm sorry.” She gave Xena a conciliatory half-smile. “I must be ready to start cycling.”
“Don't worry about it, love,” Xena put a companionable arm around Gabrielle's shoulder and squeezed. “I think it's time we took a little break from all this fun.” She wriggled her eyebrows and smiled. “Why don't you grab your staff and meet me in the kitchen. I'll ask Mother to pack us up a little something and we'll have a picnic.”
“Okaaaaay, who are you and what have you done with the real Xena?” Gabrielle deadpanned with a quirked brow.
“Seriously, Gabrielle,” Xena nearly bounced on the balls of her feet. “It'll be nice to spend the rest of the day together. We can do some fishing and—” She wriggled her brows again. “Maybe some other things. It'll be fun.”
Gabrielle didn't have a chance to respond, as she watched Xena fairly dance away with such glee in her step that the smaller bard just stared in wonder. When Xena disappeared from view, Gabrielle still continued to stare after her in utter disbelief.
“Weird,” she muttered with a shake of her head, as she slowly followed the warrior's path.
Continued in Part 2
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