Gabrielle, the Amazon Queen, and Xena, her champion, were in the Royal hut having a meeting with her Regent, Ephiny and Solari, the Amazon Scout trainer.
“But they won’t be a threat to us, here, right?” Gabrielle asked, looking intermittently at the three other women.
“We need to consider any aggression on outlying territories a potential threat,” Ephiny said. “If you mean, immediate threat, no.”
“Then tomorrow’s festivities should go on as planned and we can gather the council after? Would that be acceptable?” Gabrielle inquired.
“Acceptable but not something that should be delayed for any length of time,” Ephiny answered.
“Okay, then. Advise the council that we will assemble the sunset after tomorrow.”
“Wait,” Xena said, sounding a bit ruffled, “this needs to be dealt with sooner than later. The Triballi mean business and I’ve been up against Chersis before. He needs to be stopped before he starts because he’s a ‘no mercy’ kind of guy.”
Gabrielle studied Xena momentarily, her own expression dubious. “Yes, I gathered that but -”
“Look, Gabrielle, I know you have responsibilities here that you cannot leave right now. I can take care of Chersis myself. Six sunsets at the most and I’ll be back.”
“Xena,” Gabrielle said, her voice strained so as not to reveal her frustration and annoyance, “The scouts said that Chersis hasn’t even reached the border of Abdera yet. Surely you can wait until after the festival so I can go with you.”
“I want to get to Abdera before he and the Triballi make it over the Mount Haemus range. You certainly wouldn’t want me to wait until after Abdera was sacked, would you?” Xena’s tone also bordered on annoyed.
“Of course not. You know better than that,” Gabrielle snapped.
“If I leave now, Argo and I can make it before Chersis gets there and starts his dirty work for King Hales.”
“But, Xena, the scouts said -” Solari began, then shut up after receiving a withering glare from the queen’s champion.
“The scouts said the attack is inevitable so in order to get there on time, I plan to catch a ride with my friend, Chabrias, and see if he can sail us into port. That will save me at least one, possibly two sunsets of riding.” Xena immediately became busy by gathering the supplies she expected she would need for her mission.
“Can’t you at least wait until first light?” Gabrielle asked, peevishly.
“I think I should get started right away. I’m going to go prepare Argo.” Xena swiftly left the hut.
“What was that about?” Gabrielle said while she, Ephiny and Solari exchanged flummoxed glances.
An amused Ephiny casually strolled up to Xena who saddled up Argo. “Xena, why didn’t you tell her that it would be at least a quarter moon before Chersis and his men get to Abdera? I heard the same message you did.”
“You can never be too early to prevent a battle, Ephiny,” Xena said, her demeanor distracted in an attempt to get everything in order.
Ephiny folded her arms across her chest, not buying it. “So you’re leaving Gabrielle at the mercy of several horny, lovestruck Amazons, all salivating to pursue her while you run away to do something that could wait at least one more sunset?”
Xena stopped packing the saddlebag and focused on Ephiny. “I’m not running away! And Gabrielle can handle herself. If she wants to play your silly little game, she has every right to do so. It’s not as though we’re romantically involved; we’re friends.”
Ephiny blinked away her surprise at Xena’s words. “Really? You don’t care if our queen is pursued and caught by a secret admirer?”
Xena stopped what she was doing to seemingly contemplate what Ephiny had said. She then shrugged and began to cinch Argo’s saddle. “No, why should I care if someone wants to waste her day wooing Gabrielle? It’s not like she has any plans to stay.”
Ephiny pursed her lips. “Pretty cocky, aren’t you, Warrior Princess? Remember, many couples that connect on the Cupid’s Day Hunt end up joining. Maybe all Gabrielle’s needs is a reason to stay.”
Xena chuckled. “If her being queen isn’t enough motivation to make her stay, I doubt that she would take seriously any Amazon who would throw away her day on silly romantic ploys and feed her a fancy eve meal…”
The fetching, curly haired Regent raised her eyebrows and grinned. “Really? So, say, I decide to be the one to get my offer to her first and spend the Cupid’s Day Hunt enticing her with clues and, say, she decides she likes it and it turns into more than just a romantic eve meal…you would be perfectly okay with that?”
The expression on Xena’s face showed that she would not like that scenario at all. She hesitated before she mounted her big Palomino, as though she were thinking over the regent’s words. When Xena settled into the saddle she looked down at Ephiny. “If that’s what Gabrielle wants…” But her voice seemed to have lost its conviction.
“Great. Just making sure. Yours are the last toes I would want to step on, Warrior Princess.”
Xena ignored Ephiny’s intent. “Well, while your enjoying your little recreational foreplay, I’ll make sure save a few lives in your name.”
Ephiny chuckled out loud. “Whatever makes you feel better, Champion.”
The Warrior Princess shot the regent a blistering scowl before she heeled Argo into a trot and moved away from the village.
“The Cupid’s Day Hunt,” Ephiny had explained to Gabrielle and Xena a half-moon earlier, “is an annual Amazon tradition that takes place on one day every twelve moons. Cupid, the son of Aphrodite, and god of love, was known for shooting mortal beings with his arrows that would then cause that being to instantaneously fall in love with the first person they’d see.”
“Yeah, yeah, we know all that,” Xena said, brusquely. “What about the hunt?”
“I’m getting to that,”Ephiny said, patiently. “As Cupid’s arrows seem to be too few and far between for the Amazons’ liking, we invented a day to help along what we consider inevitable at some point anyway. Instead of an Amazon being distracted by an unrequited love interest all the time, the council set aside one full sunrise and sunset for us to either pursue or be pursued by a potential lover. Trust me, Amazons plot and plan all year for this day and unless we’re in the middle of a war, this festival takes place without fail.”
“And where does hunting come in?” Xena asked, eagerly.
Ephiny rolled her eyes and continued. “Amazons who are romantically unattached divide into two categories – the pursued and the pursuer. Pursuers affix notes to the doors of those wanting to be pursued and the first note the object of affection reads means she will be anonymously courted all day by the author of that note. The rest of the day, a sort of scavenger hunt goes on, where the pursued will find clues or affectionate notes that eventually leads to a big reveal of the woman doing the wooing at the romantic dinner that evening.”
“Wait…what?” Xena stood up, a dashed look on her face. “That’s the hunt?”
“Indeed. It is a much anticipated event,” Ephiny said.
“You set aside a specific day for this nonsense? A whole day?” Xena scoffed, disgusted. “That’s pathetic.”
“It is not,” Gabrielle said, and lightly backhanded Xena’s belly. “Behave. I think it’s sweet.” The queen had a dreamy look on her face.
Xena shook her head. “You would,” she said to Gabrielle.
Ignoring her, Gabrielle looked at Ephiny. “Who can participate?”
“Everyone is eligible to participate as long as they are not promised to another Amazon and many Amazons have fallen in love and bonded as a result of couplings that have begun on Cupid’s Day.”
“Good gods,” Xena said, feigning gagging. “I’m off to spar with Eponin. Let me know if something really important happens.” She strolled out of the Queen’s Hut.
“There’s not a romantic bone in her body, is there?” Ephiny asked, staring at the door.
“Seems not,” Gabrielle sighed. “If there was, it was probably lost during her warlord days.”
“That’s true. Why woo them when you can just, you know, take them.” Ephiny realized she had said that out loud. She looked at Gabrielle, sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean -”
“Yes, you did,” Gabrielle said, easily. “And it’s true.”
“So…” Ephiny was hesitant. “You and Xena? She’s never been romantic with you?”
“No. And she’s never taken me, either.” There was a trace of sadness in Gabrielle’s tone. “We aren’t… We’ve never… We’re friends, Eph. Nothing more. Just best friends.”
“But you’d like it to be more, wouldn’t you?”
Gabrielle sighed. “I think that’s a losing battle. She constantly says it without saying it. I realize I need to get over it. I don’t know if I ever will.”
“Maybe you should put yourself in the running to be pursued,” Ephiny suggested. “I doubt there would be a lack of interest.”
Gabrielle thought for a moment then shook her head. “No. I will oversee it though. It will be interesting to see who hooks up.”
Gabrielle had not placed herself in either category as there was only one person she wanted to pursue or be pursued by and now that Xena wasn’t there, she wanted no personal participation in the day’s activities.
So it was with great surprise that when Gabrielle awoke on Cupid’s Day morn and saw nearly one hundred notes attached to the queen’s hut door.
“EPHINY!” Gabrielle called. Her Regent, who had been up and about since sunrise, jogged over to Gabrielle.
“My Queen,” Ephiny said, biting her lip, trying not to laugh at Gabrielle’s expression. The queen pointed to her door to which Ephiny responded, “I see. Impressive.”
“I thought I made it clear that I would preside over the festivities and not get involved otherwise.”
“I guess your subjects - slash - admirers have other ideas.”
“I…I can’t take part in this.”
“Well, actually you can and with all these requests, you really must. It doesn’t look good for our queen to look as though she feels she is above tradition.” Ephiny made sure her tone of voice was amiable.
“I’m not above anything but…”
“But what? The one person you wish to be pursuing you isn’t here?” Ephiny pinned her with a knowing look.
“No,” she said defensively and then said, “yes,” in a small voice that sounded defeated.
“If it makes any difference, I spoke with Xena before she left last night. She said that she didn’t care if you got hit on today or even took up with one of your pursuers. After all, you’re just friends and she’s okay with whatever you want.”
“She said that?” Gabrielle’s eyes were wide.
Ephiny nodded. “Yep. I made sure I was clear and she understood what that would mean and she acknowledged that she did and rode off.”
Gabrielle absorbed the shock of those words and then her eyes narrowed. “Oh, she did, did she?”
“Sorry, my Queen. She didn’t seem to think anything would come of someone – and I quote - wasting their time wooing you.”
Gabrielle’s mouth dropped open. “She said that? Why that arrogant…presumptuous…cocky…”
“I know. I thought the same thing.”
Gabrielle looked at all the notes on the door. “What do I do?”
“Pick one. Whichever one you choose represents who pursues you for the day.”
“But how will the pursuer know it was their note I chose?”
Ephiny grinned. “You don’t think whoever attached these notes to your door isn’t watching? Trust me they’ll know and so will you by the number of groans you will hear because her note wasn’t selected.” She watched as Gabrielle inspected the door with notes attached by darts. “Choose wisely, Gabrielle.”
The queen nodded and then detached the small item her eyes had been mostly riveted to since she saw all the requests. It was a lavender rose with the note rolled up around the thornless stem. Just as Ephiny predicted, there was the sound of disappointed grousing even though there was no evidence of anyone around her hut except her regent. “Now what?”
“Open the note and read it and do what it says. It will lead to another note and that one will lead to another and so on. Eventually one will lead to the location of a romantic dinner and there you will discover the identity of your secret admirer.”
Gabrielle sighed. “Okay, well…I guess it begins.” She looked at her regent. “Were there any notes on your door this morning?”
“Just a few? Ephiny, you’re a catch, I cannot believe there were just as many if not more on your door.”
“I’m flattered, my Queen, but it’s well known that I am a pursuer this year.”
“Ah. I understand. Are you going to try to get Solari back?”
“First, I’m not supposed to reveal any of my plans for today and second, I’m afraid that arrow has been long discarded.”
Gabrielle tilted her head as compassion poured from her. “I’m sorry, Eph.”
“It is what it is, Gabrielle. Or, more specifically, it was what it was.” She brightened up. “Now, go read your note and let’s get our day started.”
“Right.” She flashed a smile at her Regent before she returned inside the queen’s hut. “Good luck.”
“Same to you, my Queen.” When the door closed, Ephiny pumped her fist in the air then rubbed her hands together gleefully. “I knew that rose would do it,” she said to herself as she jogged away.
Gabrielle leaned against her door, disappointed at what Ephiny had relayed to her about Xena’s parting words. “Big, dumb warrior. For someone who senses and sees everything, how can you be so blind?” She held the flower close to her nose and breathed in the lovely fragrance. “I’ll show you,” she said and unrolled the note. She was secretly hoping she would recognize Xena’s scrawl in the handwriting but the penmanship was impeccable and the sentences were in rhyme. She pushed away the disappointment and decided to just throw caution to the wind and play along.
To the woman who holds my heart with her smile
After one turn of your sandglass, proceed to the north woods oldest tree with the “G” carved in it for your next clue
Gabrielle held the note close to her heart. It may not have been from Xena but she was definitely affected by the sweet words. She walked over to her sandglass and flipped the device so that the contents began to fall from the full top bulb to the empty lower bulb.
“I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be playing along,” Gabrielle mumbled to herself as she looked at the note and took in the fragrance of the rose again. She thought about what Xena had said to Ephiny. Oh, Xena, she thought, why couldn’t this be you?
She decided that she had time to eat her morning meal before she went in search of her next note. As she entered the dining hut, she had to grin at all the excitement of the Amazons involved in the pursuit. The atmosphere was contagious and she smiled wider at the idea of all these normally big, tough women now acting like giddy young girls with their first crushes.
Once she had her fruit and bread selections, she took a seat at the queen’s table, next to her regent.
“Well, my Queen, how do you like the hunt so far?” Ephiny asked, with a wide smile.
“Not sure yet, Eph. It’s just started. Why aren’t you out pursuing?”
Ephiny arched an eyebrow. “How do you know I’m not pursuing right now?”
Gabrielle looked around. “Ah. True. Who’s the lucky girl?”
“Now, you know that’s against the rules, Gabrielle,” Ephiny said, with a flirting lilt to her voice. “You can’t ask and I can’t tell.”
“Don’t ask, don’t tell? Well, that’s a silly rule.”
“It’s the mystery and speculation that makes the day what it is.” She watched as Gabrielle took a bite of the nut bread and closed her eyes at the heavenly flavor.
“I love Adria’s nut bread.”
“Clearly,” Ephiny said, swallowing hard at her queen’s expression and sensuous moan. She blinked a few times to pull herself out of an instant sexual daydream. “Um…so, are you still upset that Xena isn’t here for the hunt?”
Gabrielle appeared to consider the question carefully. She took another bite of bread and washed it down with a sip of cider. “You know…I was. I really was this morning. Then I thought, how can someone who is so clueless leave clues to anything much less something romantic?”
“Really?” Ephiny looked mildly shocked.
“Yeah. Well…that and her staying would leave her open for someone – other than me - to pursue her. She may be clueless but I’m not and that would kill me.”
“You mean if she would actually play along. I know you know her better than I, Gabrielle, but I cannot see her having that kind of patience.”
“Still. I’d rather not take that chance.”
Ephiny nodded and leaned her elbow on the table, resting her chin in the palm of her hand. She continued to look at Gabrielle. “Were you pleased with your choice, my Queen?” Ephiny asked, with a radiant smile.
“It was a lovely, thoughtful note. I’m eager to see what the second clue brings.”
“When must you retrieve it?”
“Soon. What about you? When do you leave your next clue?”
“The second one is already planted. We have to stay at least one clue ahead because, if not, you could just watch for us to place the notes and the hunt would be over.”
“Aren’t the participants on an honor system? Otherwise, couldn’t I just go now and retrieve the next clue and the clue after that…”
Yes, doing that would not be in the spirit of the game.”
“Is there any chance that more than one person can leave a note in the same location? What happens then?”
“You’ll recognize the theme of your pursuer’s note so there won’t be mix-ups. For example, you chose the one with the rose. That means that all your clues should have a rose attached.”
“Oh. Okay. That makes sense.”
Gabrielle had no problem locating the old tree with the G carved into the bark. Attached to the tree was a white rose and another note.
Clue number two is this rose of pure white
Go back to your hut and turn the sandglass twice. When it is empty, go to the main stable and find the chestnut mare with a feather and a rose in her bridle.
Gabrielle was tempted to retrieve the next clue immediately but she thought back to her conversation with Ephiny, about honoring the rules and decided to be good. She reread the note as she held the flower to her nose. “Somebody is really putting a lot of effort into this. Who knew Amazons could be so lyrical?” she mumbled to herself. On her way back into the village proper, she watched as several Amazons milled around, either retrieving clues or gushing about the notes that had received. Before she reached the Queen’s hut, she ran into Eponin.
“Good day, my Queen,” Eponin said, with a nod.
Gabrielle reached over and pulled a strand of straw out of the weapon master’s hair. “Pursued or pursuer?” Gabrielle asked.
“Pursuer,” Eponin said with a wink.
“And how’s it going?”
Eponin glanced at the rose in Gabrielle’s hand. “You tell me.”
Gabrielle stared at Eponin and then at the piece of straw she had just let fall to the ground. My next clue is in the stable, she thought. “Is this you?” she asked, holding up the rose.
“Gabrielle, you know I can’t tell you that,” Eponin said, wearing a sly grin. “I thought you meant, ‘how’s it going’ in general. So…how’s it going for you?”
“It’s…it’s fun. I can see why this day is so anticipated.”
“Are you looking forward to meeting your pursuer?”
“I’m definitely curious. I do have a question, though…This is just ceremony, right? I mean, I’m only obligated to have a romantic eve meal with my pursuer and not anything more than that, yes?”
“You can get involved as little or as much as you want, my Queen. And that includes allowing your pursuer to spend the night in your bed, if you so desire. You are not bound in any way unless you want to be,” Eponin assured her. “You just have to make sure that when your pursuer is revealed, you don’t lead them on if you instinctively know they don’t stand a chance for anything more than candlelight and a meal.”
Gabrielle nodded. “Good to know. Thanks, Eponin.”
“You’re welcome, my Queen.”
Gabrielle began to walk toward her hut. She turned around, walking backwards. “Have you seen Ephiny?”
“She was leaving the stable as I was going in,” Eponin called back.
Gabrielle entered her hut and walked to the sandglass. She turned it over so the cycle could begin. She then placed the white rose in a clay vase next to the lavender one. She began to pace.
“Okay. It could be Eponin but it could also be Ephiny. Except the stables could be where a lot of pursuers leave their clues so in that case, it could be anybody. Well…anybody but who I really want it to be. There’s nothing in the poetry that gives me any kind of a hint, other than whoever it is has clearly been harboring an attraction of some sort. Maybe even more than that. That’s going to be awkward.” She sighed. “Damn you, Xena. If you were the one writing these lovely notes, there would be no question of how the evening would end. Or wouldn’t end, in your case.” She scratched her chin in thought. “On the other hand, maybe this is my wake-up call to stop pining over something that will never be and grab onto something that has potential.
“If it’s Eponin…well, she has possibilities but the chemistry just isn’t there. Not only that, she can usually barely string a sentence together so I doubt she is the one writing these notes. Although, she seemed to be quite talkative just now. And if it’s Ephiny…” A hint of a smile graced Gabrielle’s face. “Hmmm. Definitely some promise there. And there is a spark.” Then she sighed. “But she’s not Xena. And I’m pretty sure she still has feelings for Solari. But maybe she’s in the same boat with Solari as I am with Xena. Except Solari actually loved Ephiny once in that way.”
Gabrielle sighed and reached for a waterskin. She took a few swallows, recorked it and placed it back on the table. What if it isn’t either Eponin or Ephiny? Well…too late to back out now.
While she waited for the time to pass, the queen decided to work on polishing up some of her unfinished scrolls. When the top bulb was completely empty, she turned it over so the process could start again. Soon enough the bottom bulb was full with no more sand falling into the pile, so she put away her scrolls and headed toward the stables.
This rose of blue renders my heart full
One more turn of your sandglass, then go to the stream where the poles are set up. Tied to the line on the third pole from the path, is your next rose.
Gabrielle rolled the note back around the stem of the blue rose and turned to study Alleyo. “I wish you could talk, sweet girl.”
As Gabrielle watched the last of the sand empty from the top bulb, she again left the queen’s hut and walked to the path that would lead her to the stream. When she was almost there, she saw someone move in the trees not too far from where her destination was. Gabrielle caught a glimpse of Amazon clothing and recognized it as Ephiny’s. This confirmed Gabrielle’s suspicions and put a smirk on her face, feeling victorious as she was positive she’d figured it out.
“Hmmmm. Maybe it really is Ephiny pursuing me. But…she knows how I feel about Xena. However, she also knows that Xena doesn’t feel the same about me.” Gabrielle looked around. “And now she probably knows I talk to myself.”
Gabrielle continued to the designated area where she found the fishing poles that were set up against the rocks. She spotted the yellow rose and another note attached to the selected wooden rod. She removed the rose and read the note.
A new beginning is what yellow means
Go back to the village and have your midday meal. Then go to the large olive tree and find the coral colored rose.
Gabrielle smiled and headed back to the village and her hut so that she could put this rose with the others.
The dining hut was heavily occupied and the enthusiasm of the Amazons was even more noticeable than it had been that morning. As Gabrielle filled her plate with bread, cheese and fresh vegetables, she noticed Ephiny standing off to the side, the regent focused intently on something to Gabrielle’s left. The queen looked in that direction and saw Solari laughing with a couple other women, one being the head cook. Then she witnessed Adria touch Solari on the shoulder and wink at her in what clearly seemed like a flirty manner. Gabrielle quickly looked back at Ephiny who shook her head and grimaced, apparently not pleased by that little exchange.
Why would Ephiny pursue me when she’s so obviously still in love with Solari? Gabrielle thought. Unless… Gabrielle grinned and followed Ephiny to the Queen’s table. Gabrielle sat down next to her regent and bumped her shoulder. Ephiny was still distracted.
“I know what you’re doing, Ephiny.”
The regent looked directly at Gabrielle. “You…you do? How -?”
Gabrielle reached over and laid her hand on Ephiny’s arm. “It’s okay. Really, I understand. And I’ll play along.”
Ephiny’s mouth dropped open. “Play along?”
“Sure and even if it doesn’t work, we can still have some fun.” Gabrielle gave her a wink.
“Fun?” She decided to make sure before she admitted to anything. She folded her arms. “What do you think you know that I’m doing?”
“You’re trying to make Solari jealous,” Gabrielle said, triumphantly. “And you two belong together so I’ll help you if you think it will work.”
“I’m -? No, Gabrielle, that’s…that’s not it.” She folded her hands on the table. “First, you’re supposed to keep your guesses about who or why to yourself. Regardless of what you think you’ve figured out, you could be mistaken and guessing the wrong person or motivation could backfire on you. And, second, why would you think anyone would waste this day to make someone else jealous? Especially use you in the process? By the gods, Gabrielle, you really are oblivious to the effect you have on the women of this village, aren’t you?” Ephiny shook her head. “And you call Xena blind.”
The Regent shoved her plate away, stood up and walked away from the queen, shaking her head and mumbling words that Gabrielle couldn’t hear.
“Ephiny, wait -” Gabrielle watched her go. “What’d I say?” She called out, truly puzzled. All through the rest of her meal, she thought about Ephiny’s demeanor and how the compliment Ephiny had given her had been said in such an annoyed tone.
Then Gabrielle stopped eating as a thought hit her. Oh, Gabrielle, you idiot. It really is Ephiny. Oh, gods. Ephiny’s been writing the notes and really is pursuing you. Oh, boy…
Gabrielle slowly walked on the path toward the big olive tree. “I can’t believe Ephiny has these feelings for me. She’s right. I’ve been just as blind, if not more, than Xena. And with these notes, it doesn’t sound like a rebound kind of thing, either. I guess she and Solari really are over.” The olive tree came into view. There were a few Amazons also either approaching the large tree or the other, smaller trees in the grove. Some were leaving. Anyone who passed Gabrielle, showed deference by either a nod or verbal acknowledgment. Some stopped to watch her as she moved toward the main tree, searching for her note. She spotted the rose and reached for it, plucking it from the branch. Before she detached the small parchment from the stem of the flower, she looked up to see several Amazons staring at her. They watched her wistfully and she blushed under such scrutiny. She made a ‘move along’ motion with her hand focused on the new note.
A coral rose reveals my desire
Start your journey now to the place above the waterfall where most joining ceremonies take place to find a rose the color of a peach.
Gabrielle studied the beauty of the rose, then let her hand fall to her side in mild exasperation. “Oh, Ephiny,” she said, quietly and sighed. “Could this really work between us?”
The waterfall was a walk that would take at least a turn of the sandglass to get to and another turn to get back. Gabrielle took the rose back to her hut and placed it in the vase with the others. She walked around the village in search of Ephiny but then stopped, not knowing what she would say to her if she actually found her. She went back to the queen’s hut, took a couple of long hits off a wineskin and closed her eyes in contemplation.
Why shouldn’t I take advantage of Ephiny’s offer? Ephiny is a good woman and I do have needs. It’s Ephiny, after all; I already know we’re compatible and we have a rapport. I’ll even admit I’m attracted to her. Could we make something work? Could she be my regent and my consort? Consort…wow. Not sure I’m ready for that step yet. Well, with anyone except Xena. But Xena doesn’t want me. Why don’t you want me, Xena?
She grabbed the waterskin and started for the Falls. The trek took a long time and in that interval she weighed the pros and cons of an affair with Ephiny. By the time she reached the Falls, she had talked herself into the possibility of exploring a relationship with her regent. Maybe she could learn to love Ephiny the way she loved Xena.
Gabrielle climbed to the clearing above the waterfall and in the vined arch where many an Amazon took their joining vows, she found the peach-colored rose with a note. She took the flower off the wooded portico and unraveled the note.
Come back to your hut and see who awaits
Gabrielle approached her hut with trepidation. The butterflies in her stomach felt more like a nest of phoenix. She took a deep breath, opened the door and stepped inside.
She entered and took in in the atmosphere of a candlelit table setting and the assorted flowers she had collected throughout the day that had been added to a gorgeous bouquet of red roses. She approached the vase filled with the collection on the table and picked up the note. It said only two words: “Love, Ephiny.” Although Gabrielle was still mildly disappointed, she mustered up the energy to greet her “secret admirer” with the same enthusiasm as the love confessed in the notes. After all, she could do a Hades of a lot worse than her regent.
Hearing the sound of someone step into the room, Gabrielle instantly knew she could not lead on her second in command. She couldn’t face her just yet so she kept her back to her. “Ephiny, I never knew and I am honored that your feelings for me are so deep. I would love to enjoy this beautiful meal you have prepared and celebrate all the effort you put into your Cupid’s Day Hunt and it’s not that I never thought about it but…my heart belongs to another and as much as I envy anyone who gets you as a mate, I cannot return your feelings. I’m sorry.”
There was dead silence behind her. Gabrielle closed her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat. She would have done anything not to have to hurt the woman who meant so much to her. “I’m so sorry.” Her voice was barely a whisper. There was still no response. “Don’t you have anything to say to me?” She asked gently, waiting for the onslaught of emotion.
“Sure. Sucks to be Ephiny,” the smooth alto voice behind her said.
Gabrielle nearly gave herself whiplash turning around. “Xena? But… you… Chersis…what…? Where’s Ephiny?”
“Probably having hot simian sex with Solari.”
“Solari? Ephiny’s cheating on me already?” Gabrielle asked, confused. “Wait, why are you here?”
Xena couldn’t help but laugh. She took a step closer to her bard. “Who do you think has been pursuing you all day?”
“You? But – you’re not - I mean, there’s flowers and poetry and candles and -” Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you and what have you done with Xena?”
“Relax, my bard. You bring out the romantic in me.”
“I…do?” Then the reality of it all finally hit her. “By the Gods, Xena, this was all you? All those words of love and desire for me were…you?” The last word was whispered.
“All me. Well…a little help from Ephiny planting all the notes and Aphrodite on what the different colors of roses meant but, believe it or not, the poetry was all me, yeah.” She almost seemed embarrassed admitting that side of her. Then she stopped. “And…what do you mean you’ve thought about it with Ephiny?”
Gabrielle waved her off. “Good gods, Xena, I’m not made of wood. Ephiny’s not exactly a harpy, you know. You can’t tell me you haven’t -”
“I haven’t,” Xena stated, emphatically.
“Oh.” Gabrielle scratched her chin, embarrassed. “Okay, then. Um…me, neither.”
“But you just said -”
“Why the note from Ephiny?” Gabrielle interrupted to get off that subject. “I don’t understand.”
“This was Ephiny’s gift to us. She saw what we refused to or, more to the point, what I refused to. I was barely out of Amazon territory when Ephiny asking me if it was okay for her to pursue you hit me like a mace. Just like she knew it would. So, I decided I needed to be the only one to pursue you. I was not about to lose you again to anyone else. I lost you – gave you up - once to Perdicus because I was trying to protect you from me. But I’ve realized that I’m the one who needs to protect you for me and love you. I love you enough to let you go but I can never give you up again. I’ve made many mistakes in my life, Gabrielle, but loving you will never be one of them. You are my breath, my being, my everything. I’m in love with you, Gabrielle. I honestly can’t remember when I wasn’t.”
Gabrielle had tears in her eyes, moved by Xena’s words and actions. “Well, as you can see by my speech to who I thought was Ephiny, you aren’t going to lose me to anyone again. Ever.” They stood inches apart silently appraising each other. “So…what about Abdera?”
“No worries. Chabrian and the Athenian fleet will be there to meet Chersis and the Traballi. I think they can handle it without me.”
“They better be able to. I’ve got my own plans for you, Warrior.” Gabrielle stepped closer to Xena.
Xena reached out and pulled Gabrielle the rest of the way. “Tell me, Bard, just what are your plans?”
“Let me show you,” Gabrielle whispered tilting her head up for a kiss.
BEHIND THE SCENES
“Aphrodite!”Xena bellowed. “Hey, loooooooove goddess, show yourself.”
The blonde bombshell appeared in a puff of pink smoke and glitter. “You do get the concept that you’re the mortal and I’m the goddess, right, warrior babe? Because you expect me to be at your beck and call instead of the other way around.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Xena said, distracted. “Listen, I, uh,…need your, um, advice.”
Aphrodite placed her hand over her heart and looked as though she might faint. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You heard me,” Xena said, testily.
“I’m sure I didn’t because I thought you said you needed me.”
“I said I need your advice.”
Aphrodite vanished and reappeared again. “I was sure I must have popped into an alternate universe. Was there something you wanted?”
Xena sighed, disgruntled. “I said I need your help.”
“Who are you and what have you done with my dispassionate warrior princess?”
“I’m not dispassionate.”
“That’s true…hostility is passion.”
“Aphrodite…” Xena growled.
“So…what can I do for you?”
“I’m trying to woo Gabrielle.”
“Well, it’s about time you caught up with the rest of us. You want me to put a spell on her?”
“No!” Xena said, quickly. The success rate of Aphrodite’s spells were shaky at best.
“Oh, well, maybe I should get Cupid to -”
“Not Cupid, either.”
“Why? What’s wrong with my Cupie?”
“He reminds me too much of Caesar.”
“You really need to stop obsessing.”
Aphrodite took the mini-scroll from Xena. “Okay, let’s see what you’ve got here. ‘Without you I’m so easily bored, I love you more than my sword’. Really?” She continued. “’I love your eyes as green as moss’ Well, that’s a nice start. ‘I love you more than my hoss.’ Hoss?” She looked back down at the paper. “’ My chakram means the world to me, I need you more than Ephiny.’ Great Zeus, Xena, there’s not a poetic bone in your body, is there?”
Xena shrugged, looking defeated. “Yeah. Why do you think I called for you?”
Xena pointed to the scroll. “There’s one more.”
Aphrodite recited “’There once was a gal from Amphipolis…who couldn’t help but put her lips on this…’ Oh, my…” Aphrodite turned an interesting shade of pink that almost clashed with her outfit. “Well, Xena, I think you’ve done the impossible…you made the goddess of love blush.”
“Would it make Gabrielle blush?” Xena asked.
“Seriously? I think Gabby would be a deep shade of scarlet for the rest of her days.”
“Then are you going to do it for me?”
“No, you’re going to do it yourself.”
“Aphrodite, if I could do it myself, I wouldn’t have called for you!” Xena spit out, impatiently. “You’ve just seen my best efforts.”
“Xena…you do have it inside you. And I know you can do better. How much more do you think it would mean to our little bard if it all came from your heart?”
“I want to romance her, not scare her away. That I can do without your help.”
“Warrior up, Princess. I think all you have to do is really examine your feelings for her and the affection, the passion, will flow.”
“So you’re not going to help me?”
“No, I am. I’m going to help you discover your inner romantic.”
Xena rolled her eyes. “Oh, boy…”
“Yep. Gonna be a long night, warrior babe.”