See For Better or Worse (Part 1) for the complete disclaimer statement and other notes from the author.
With Meleager slumped in Xena's arms on Argo and the Gabrielle on Meleager's horse, they rode towards Walsas. The silence between them was extremely uncomfortable for the bard, who was feeling a little guilty for her earlier actions. "If you want to, we could rest a while," Gabrielle offered glancing over at the warrior, who probably needed a break by now from lugging Meleager around like that. "No," Xena relayed, her eyes focused forward. "Unless you need to rest," Xena added curtly, the word 'need' grating on the bard's nerves. "No, I'm fine. But thanks for your concern," Gabrielle said sarcastically. "How's your head?" Gabrielle asked with a thin smile. "Fine. Thanks for asking," Xena responded flatly. "Sarah, you are not taking this seriously enough." Sarah's mother trailed behind her daughter with a variety of fabrics. "Would you stand STILL for one moment?!?" She snapped. "Lila, would you please tell your sister the colour and material of her dress IS important." The mother enlisted the aid of her quiet daughter in the corner, who cringed at being brought into the middle of yet another wedding argument. "Sarah, the colour and material of your dress is important," Lila repeated in an unenthusiastic drone, making Sarah grin. "I've always been fond of black," Sarah blurted, studying the fabrics. "Well black WOULD go with the bridesmaids dresses," Lila relayed, thankful she had to only go through being a bridesmaid in a Traditional wedding once. Of course, she would have been much happier if Sarah had just avoided the Traditional Wedding altogether, like Gabrielle did. "Lila! Sarah! You two are incorrigible!" The woman scolded her daughters, shaking her head wondering what she did to ever deserve such difficult children. "Queen Sarah!" A young guard rushed in interrupting them, receiving a cold stare from the older woman and a look of thanks from the two younger women. "Please excuse the interruption. Lookouts have reported your sister and the Warrior Princess are arriving," he relayed, bringing a big smile to the sister's faces for the reinforcements had finally arrived. "You invited them?" The older woman asked with a raised eyebrow. "Why wouldn't...." Sarah's question to her mother was forgotten when she noticed the concerned look on the guard's face and no mention of her soon-to-be-husband. "Isn't Meleager with them?" "Lookouts report he's been hurt my Queen." Queen Ephiny paced in her tent as Eponin watched uneasily. "She still hasn't asked for my decision. She hasn't made any more demands." Ephiny shook her head. Trayla entered the tent. "Well?" Ephiny asked. "She's practicing again," Trayla responded. "I don't suppose she's practicing the sword?" Ephiny asked hopefully, but knowing the answer. "No my Queen, she is practicing the staff," Trayla relayed with a sigh. "Again." "Gurda is shrewd, I'll give her that," Ephiny relayed appreciatively. "How is she at the staff?" Ephiny asked Trayla. "Deadly." Rushing out of the Walsasian castle, Sarah, Lila and their mother saw for themselves what the lookouts reported. The three travelers rode in the front gate. "My Gods, what happened to him?" Sarah gasped as she rushed to Meleager's side as Xena lower the still unconscious man to two guards. Gabrielle dismounted, quickly going to Sarah and putting a comforting arm her. "He'll be ok Sarah." Meleager groggily muttered something as the two men shifted him to get a better hold. "He's not drunk again is he?" Sarah's mother asked caustically, Sarah gasped, eyeing her mother in disbelief and hurt. "NO!...He hit his head." Gabrielle snapped, quickly defending him. "He was in a cave trying to get one of the Traditional items," Gabrielle added coldly, watching an upset Sarah leave with the two guards take Meleager into the castle. Her eyes returned to her mother. "Oh, and don't worry mother...he'll be alright," Gabrielle relayed, her eyes as cold as her voice. Xena finally dismounted, not even receiving so much as a glance from Gabrielle's mother, not that she wanted one. "I see," her mother responded, standing rigid, offering no embrace or words of affection for her well-traveled daughter. Xena finally received a glance from the older woman when she stood behind her bard. In it's brief duration, that glance imparted all that the warrior needed to know. Gabrielle's mother despised her. "Let me guess," Gabrielle eyed her mother with a polite smile. "You didn't ask Meleager to get me to help with the preparations." "No dear." The woman's admission wiped the bard's polite smile off her face. "I know you have other, more pressing business than to bother with our family and our little Traditions." The woman's pleasantly spoken words inflicted more damage to the bard's heart than a dagger ever could. Funny how important a mother's words were. Lila looked at the ground feeling helpless. Xena inwardly cringed, feeling that she was the cause of this reaction from the bard's mother. And they didn't even tell her about their relationship yet, Xena sighed. Perhaps Gabrielle was right about visiting her mother in Amphipolis, the warrior considered, torn between wanting to make it easier on the bard yet not wanting to leave her side. Xena grew angry with herself for worrying so much about her own feelings and ignoring Gabrielle's. "Well, I have work to do, if you'll excuse me. Lila?" Her mother looked to Lila, who lifted her head, looking between her sister and mother. "I'll be right along Mother," Lila offered, amazed that her response seemed to appease her mother, who nodded then left. "Gods Gabrielle, I swear Sarah and I had no idea she was still so upset," Lila hugged her sister tightly. "You would think..." Lila blurted, interrupted by Gabrielle. "Lila, I understand why you and Sarah were so desperate for reinforcements." Gabrielle forced a laugh. "But I'm afraid I won't be as much help as you two expected." Gabrielle shrugged. "On the bright side, I'm getting used to being a disappointment." Gabrielle forced a smile. An uneasy Lila looked at Gabrielle then Xena, who was also disturbed by the bard's comment. "Not to me," Lila responded, hugging her. "Dinner will be in about an hour...amazing how you timed that," Lila joked, trying to lighten the mood. "See you then?" Lila pulled back looking at the two. "Of course," Gabrielle responded, a polite smile still on her face. Her sister smiled uneasily, then left. Just as Xena stepped to give the bard a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, Gabrielle headed towards the castle leaving the warrior to grasp the air. "I should freshen up for dinner," she relayed, turning to the Warrior Princess. "First I'd better tend to..." Xena automatically began her usual reply, but with the vacant look in the bard's eyes, she realized this was not time for their usual routine. "Uh, the stable boy can tend to Argo and our stuff...lugging Meleager around has made me riper than usual...I wouldn't want anyone to loose their appetite on my account," Xena joked. Gabrielle nodded silently and headed towards the castle. Xena's eyebrows furrowed with worry as she followed behind the bard. "We should send messengers right away...to tell Gabrielle to stay away...until you finish up with Gurda," Eponin blurted, concerned for her absent Queen. "Eponin, I can not "finish up" with Gurda until she challenges me...and I suspect she will choose to be very patient with her challenge to the throne." Ephiny sighed. "But we can't have Gabrielle walk right into ...." Eponin's argument was cut off by the Acting Queen. "Gabrielle is the Queen, in bad times as well as good, Eponin. For better or WORSE, she will accept her duty, as should you," Ephiny responded forcefully, successfully stopping further discussion on the matter. She sighed, wishing she could "finish up" with Gurda. Gabrielle seemed to keep getting the 'worse' part of the bargain. When they entered the bard's room, Xena waited for the bard to say something. When they bathed, Xena waited for the bard to say something. When they dried off and dressed, Xena waited for the bard to say something. When the bard sat down and started to brush her hair, Xena waited for the bard to say something. With each brush stroke, a weary sigh came from the bard, who usually took pleasure in the task. Moving behind her chair, Xena gently took the brush from the bard's hand and proceeded to untangle the strawberry blond locks. "Gabrielle, do you still want me to go to Amphipolis?" She asked, bracing herself for an unwanted answer. "No," Gabrielle answered weakly, shaking her head. "Unless..." Gabrielle turned towards the Warrior Princess. "...you WANT to go." Xena sighed and knelt down to speak face-to-face with her bard. "Not alone," Xena responded emphatically. "Bedsides," she grinned. "Who would talk to mother?" Tears welled up in the bard's eyes. "Hey..." Xena spoke softly, her strong hand cupping the bard's cheek. When a tear fell, it was carefully wiped away by the warrior's thumb. Xena felt lost on this emotional minefield. The bard needed to talk and it was up to the Warrior Princess to make that happen. Unfortunately, her most successful method for getting someone to talk was out. Gabrielle would need way more than thirty seconds, Xena considered. What would Gabrielle do if the situation were reversed, Xena asked herself. Slowly and carefully ease into the discussion. Obviously, the warrior sighed. From her admittedly sparse verbal arsenal, Xena selected an approach that had the benefit of being successful in the past as well as a relatively safe topic. "Nice weather we're having," Xena blurted. Gabrielle's tear-filled eyes lifted from the floor and looked blankly at her. The bard's head tilted as if she didn't quite catch the last statement from the Warrior Princess. "Huh?" The bard asked softly, sniffing and wiping away another tear. "Uh...the weather," Xena stammered, now feeling the pressure of having gotten the bard's undivided attention. "It's nice," Xena added, pointing at the window. Gabrielle stared at the warrior for another long moment. "Don't you think?" Xena asked, nervous at the bard's silence. Surprising the warrior, the bard leaned towards her and kissed her. "Thank you," Gabrielle whispered, her voice thick with emotion. "We'll talk later...after dinner...Ok?" Xena asked hopefully. A small smile crept over the bard's face. When she nodded, a dazzling smile appeared on the warrior's face, making the bard chuckle warmly. The bard's laugh subsided into a loving gaze. "You know how much I love you?" Gabrielle asked the familiar question, tracing her fingers over the warrior's cheek. Xena took the bard's hand from her cheek and kissed her palm. "I've never questioned how much Gabrielle..." Xena responded, holding the bard's hand against her cheek. "...only why," Xena admitted honestly. The bard drew a sharp breath in for her response. But she slowly exhaled a thoughtful moment, realizing that she couldn't possibly find the words to adequately describe why she loved Xena so much. After waiting for words that didn't come, Xena's eyes drifted down to the floor. Gabrielle immediately felt horrible for disappointing her warrior. "Xena, anything I say to describe why I love you so much will be so grossly inadequate, incomplete and just plain lacking, that I have to admit," Gabrielle relayed with a dramatic sigh, "as a bard, I'm ashamed." Her head dropped in feigned disgrace. Peeking up, her theatrics were rewarded with a crooked grin. "Perhaps," Xena slowly took the bard's hands in hers. "If we put our heads together," Xena leaned towards her bard so their foreheads touched. "We could find another way," Xena suggested, pulling back and kissing Gabrielle's forehead. "For you..." Xena slowly kissed the bard's eyebrow. "To express yourself..." Xena slowly kissed the bard's other eyebrow. "Without words." Xena playfully brushed the tip of her nose over the bard's, evoking a small giggle. "I wouldn't want... " Xena slowly kissed the bard's cheek. "you to feel...." Xena slowly kissed the bard's other cheek. "...ashamed." "No?" Gabrielle asked innocently, her warrior's lips hovering over her's. "No," Xena answered, waiting for the bard to better express herself. "You know what?" Gabrielle relayed, closing the already small distance between them. "What?" Xena whispered. "I'm hungry." "Me too," the warrior agreed, nipping at the bard's lips. The bard grinned. "I'm talking about dinner," Gabrielle relayed, causing the warrior to pull back and stare at her bard. "Oh...."
At the dinner table, two chairs at either end of the table were empty. Sarah decided the recovering Meleager needed her undivided attention. Only after sitting down, did Lila realize that she was next to her mother and father on one side of the table with Gabrielle and Xena were sitting on the other side. "Isn't this good soup?" Lila asked, eyeing the uncomfortable group. "Yes dear, very good soup," their mother responded, with a polite smile and nod. "Yeah, fabulous soup," Gabrielle added with a sigh. "Needs salt," Xena relayed honestly. "Think so?" Gabrielle's father looked up from his soup with genuine interest. Xena looked at the man who's gaze, unlike his wife's, appeared friendly. She nodded. "Me too," He agreed simply. "Well, now that you mention it, it does need a little salt," Gabrielle's mother agreed quickly glancing at Xena with a nonchalant shrug. A surprised Xena looked over to Lila, who shrugged, then Gabrielle, who stared at her soup while quietly sliding the salt dish towards her. "OH...OH," Lila blurted, almost choked on her soup in her excitement. "Calm down Lila. We've already established the soup is good," Gabrielle responded, making Xena grin as she added some salt to her soup. "Very funny. I just remembered... you had two Amazon visitors....Sustra and what was ...." Lila tried to remember. Gabrielle and Xena exchanged concerned glances. "Solari dear," her mother added. "Yeah...They had a message for you." Lila relayed. "What was the message?" Gabrielle asked. "They wouldn't say." Lila shrugged. "Not surprising. Amazons are not very open with information," Xena relayed, causing Gabrielle's father to look up from his soup with interest. "Where are they now?" Gabrielle asked. "They are in town at Cumae's Inn," Lila explained. "Why are they at the Inn?" Gabrielle asked, looking at Xena, considering Amazons usually felt more comfortable outdoors. "Sarah invited them to stay here, but they refused," her mother relayed with irritation. "Rather rude of your little 'subjects' to refuse an invitation like that." Xena and Lila cringed as Gabrielle looked blankly at her mother who continued. "Sarah is your sister you know. But I guess if their 'Queen' doesn't think much of her family, why would her subjects?" Xena eyed the woman, both shocked and angry at her entirely inaccurate and heartless remark. Not wanting to make things worse for Gabrielle, she debated whether or not to say anything. But looking over to bard who stared blankly at her mother's bowl of soup, her decision was made. As Xena opened her mouth to challenge this woman's hurtful words, Gabrielle's mother stood up. "Dear, your not finished din..." her husband called to her. "I've lost my appetite dear, excuse me," she interrupted him and left. The bard stood up immediately after her mother's departure. "Gabrielle..." Lila called to her sister. "I'm going into town," Gabrielle stated calmly. She turned to leave but stopped and looked to her father. "Excuse me?" With sadness in his eyes, he nodded weakly and Gabrielle left. As Xena stood up from the table, she glanced down at the two remaining diners. They looked as lost as Xena felt. Xena shook her head and sighed with annoyance before she left to follow her bard. Xena caught up to Gabrielle as she left the castle. "Gabrielle?" She asked uneasily, making Gabrielle stop and turn towards her. "Xena, I'm not interested in talking about my mother right now," she relayed firmly. "What I am interested in is finding out why the Amazons are here," Gabrielle informed her as she started walking back towards town. Xena sighed and followed. Entering Cumae's Inn, they were immediately greeted by Xena's old friend. "Well Hades! Look what the cat drug in!" Cumae's voice boomed happily as she came towards the two, giving Xena a huge bear hug. Even Gabrielle had to smile at Cumae's greeting. Her smile faded, realizing Cumae was allowed that simple indulgence, yet she wasn't. "You look good yourself Cumae," Xena responded with a smirk. "Guess you're here to see the Amazons?" Cumae blurted, now giving Gabrielle a bear hug. Gabrielle nodded as the woman released her hold. "Upstairs, second door on the right," Cumae informed her, noticing the usually talkative bard quietly nodding again. As Gabrielle left up the stairs, Cumae grabbed Xena's arm and pulled her aside. "What's wrong with her? Cat's got her tongue?" Cumae asked with a chuckle. "Wrong animal," Xena said bluntly, making Cumae even more curious. "What's going on Xena?" Cumae asked. "Don't know yet," Xena relayed, her eyes drawn to the stairs. Gabrielle knocked on the door in a familiar rhythm. It quickly opened. "Your highness! We heard you had arrived." Sustra smiled broadly, bowing slightly. Gabrielle noticed with concern the sword in Sustra' hand, which the Amazon promptly sheathed. "Sustra, I just got the message you were here to see me. What is going on?" Gabrielle asked, looking in the room to find Solari coming to the door as she was putting her dagger back in her belt. "We shouldn't talk here," Solari informed her with an air of mystery as she scanned the hallway, finding it clear. "It is best we leave town," she added. "Why?" Xena asked, appearing out of nowhere and surprising the Amazons, who didn't like surprises. "Because these walls have ears," Solari relayed gravely. As the four women walked through the streets, the people of Walsas warmly greeted Gabrielle and Xena with many hello's, glad you're back's, and genuinely warm smiles. "They like you very much here." Solari eyed the people as they passed. "I'd like to think so," Gabrielle responded, her curiosity growing with each step. "They are good people." "And strong, they fought well together against Grickas," Sustra added, assessing the people as they walked by. Gabrielle thought it odd Sustra would bring up Grickas. The man who murdered Sarah's first husband, the King of Walsas, and unsuccessfully attempted to take over the kingdom. Gabrielle noticed Xena keeping a suspicious eye on the Amazons. Finally far enough away to satisfy the Amazons, the group stopped at a clearing. Gabrielle and Xena silently looked at each other, then the Amazons. Finally, Solari explained the troubling situation. "Queen Ephiny has been formally petitioned by Gurda to claim Walsas as Amazon land," Solari blurted with Sustra nodding in agreement. Gurda was a familiar name to the Warrior Princess, who's eyebrow raised. "What gives Gurda the right?" Gabrielle asked calmly. "Amazon Law," Solari informed her with a sigh. "Gurda found an old scroll that establishes the Amazon claim for this land, now called Walsas." She motioned toward the land and town. "According to our law...." "Gurda can challenge the throne if the Queen refuses to claim the land," Xena interjected gravely, her concern not well hidden. Gabrielle laughed, surprising the three. "How convenient for her. And just where did she find these scrolls?" The bard challenged. "A northern tribe in Ratheos, they keep a large collection of Ancient Amazon scrolls," Solari explained. "Ephiny had them brought to Amazonia after Gurda's discovery. Kinda late now," Sustra interjected with a sigh. "They are mostly boring historical accounts of land and kingdom management. Without battles, they make for poor fireside stories...and I'm afraid our sisters have not been very interested in reading these scrolls," Solari relayed honestly. "Until now," Xena noted. "How do we know they're not fake?" Gabrielle asked, starting to feel as uneasy as Xena. "Trayla has looked over the scrolls very carefully. She believes them legitimate," Solari relayed with a sigh. "Oh," Gabrielle spoke weakly, trying to think of a good next step. "Don't worry Gabrielle, Ephiny has no intention of claiming Walsas." Sustra tried to console her. "Then she'll be challenged," Gabrielle relayed with concern. "Ephiny can EASILY take Gurda." Sustra laughed, having great confidence in the Acting Queen's skills. Xena nodded and smiled, agreeing with Sustra. Ephiny would be able to handle this situation and Gabrielle wouldn't have get involved, Xena sighed with relief. "Yeah but how many challenges can she take?" Solari relayed, shaking her head. Xena suddenly didn't feel so relieved anymore. "What do you mean?" Xena blurted with irritation. "Gurda has many Amazons who are loyal to her, and are just as power hungry. If she fails in her challenge of the throne, I don't expect it will be long before they figure out they have same right to challenge the throne over Walsas," Solari relayed. "I want to read the scrolls myself. There's got to be something Trayla missed," Gabrielle relayed thoughtfully. "NO!" Xena blurted vehemently. "Once you step foot on Amazon land Gabrielle, Gurda will challenge YOU." "Gabrielle, this is not like a personal challenge, Xena won't be able to be your champion for a challenge to the throne," Solari quickly informed her that important detail. "I KNOW," Gabrielle relayed with irritation, eyeing a very unpleased Warrior Princess. "Gabrielle, this is EXACTLY what Gurda wants," Xena blurted with frustration. "THINK Gabrielle, why else would she choose to go after Walsas. There's got to be other lands that the Amazons have claim to. But she KNOWS Ephiny won't claim the land, she KNOWS you won't want Ephiny to have to constantly defend your sister's land, she KNOWS you will come and ..." "And she knows she can easily beat me," Gabrielle calmly interrupted, quickly defusing the Warrior's impassioned argument. Though the bard's voice was calm, the look in Gabrielle's eyes revealed great hurt. Solari and Sustra looked at each other uneasily. Insulting their Queen like that could mean they would have to try to arrest Xena. Or if Gabrielle was in a really bad mood....they really didn't want to think about that. "Isn't that right Xena? Tell me," Gabrielle challenged the Warrior Princess, who's heart dropped knowing the bard was questioning Xena's faith in her. "Come on Xena. I want to hear you tell me what you think. That I have no chance of winning a challenge. Say it." "Gabrielle..." Xena spoke with great pain, in her voice and on her face. "SAY IT!" Gabrielle commanded, finally disclosing her anger and hurt. With each word, she had managed to injure the woman she loved. Xena's heart ached knowing her next words would be no different. Yet, she had to utter them. She had to convince Gabrielle it was foolish to even risk a fight with Gurda. "Gurda is a better fighter Gabrielle," Xena admitted with cold honesty. Solari and Sustra tensed, disturbed by the Warrior Princess' admission. Gabrielle looked at the ground, drawing in a long breath. She nodded slightly as she exhaled slowly. "I have no desire to fight, Xena." The bard spoke quietly as her eyes lifted to meet Xena's. "But I have no intention of letting Walsas remain a constant thorn in Ephiny's or my side." Gabrielle informed her. "I need to go to Amazonia and review the scrolls myself," Gabrielle explained with unnerving calm and confidence. "I will tell Sarah what's going on. We'll leave in the morning." "Uh ...Your majesty..." Solari started to question the Queen's wisdom to tell her sister but Gabrielle's piercing gaze immediately silenced the Amazon, who slightly bowed in acquiescence. "Shall we meet you in the morning at the castle gates?" Sustra interjected, causing Gabrielle to nod before leaving for the castle. The Amazons stood awkwardly, waiting for the Warrior Princess to explain how this really wasn't such a bad plan. Xena closed her eyes and exhaled. It was a long moment before she opened her eyes again. "Uh, Xena?" Sustra dared to bother the warrior when she opened her eyes. "What should we do?" Xena abruptly drew her sword, making the Amazons nervously jump back. Xena eyed them coldly. "Care to practice?"
Finding her sister in the kitchen putting together a tray of food for Meleager, Gabrielle sighed not knowing where or how to begin. "How's Meleager?" Gabrielle asked. "There you are," Sarah looked up with relief. "Oh, he's up and very hungry," she relayed with a smile which faded seeing the concern on her sister's face. "I heard about mother at dinner Gabrielle. She had no right to say ...." "We have to talk." Gabrielle relayed gravely. "Yes, I know," Sarah agreed reluctantly. "I really had no idea mother is still so upset with you. I guess I should have known by how obsessed she is with my Traditional wedding." Sarah relayed with a weary sigh. "She's just wrong to...." "There you are!" Lila interrupted Sarah, coming in the kitchen. "You know mother was dead wrong to treat you like..." "Great, she's wrong," Gabrielle interrupted, rolling her eyes. "Now listen, I just found out what the Amazons wanted to tell me," Gabrielle relayed with urgency. "Uh ....you might want to sit down." The three sat in silence around the kitchen table, staring at their plates of nutbread after Gabrielle explained the situation. "WOW," Lila finally blurted in amazement, breaking the silence. "You know, one day you'll both look back on this and laugh and laugh and la..." Lila realized her humor was not exactly going over well, from the glares from her sisters and sighed. "Don't worry, you'll figure something out," Lila encouraged her sisters, stuffing her mouth with nutbread. "I'm not sure what I can do, but ...." Gabrielle relayed with a sigh. "You'll do your best," Sarah rubbed her temples. "That Gurda sounds pretty dangerous," she relayed with concern. "Yeah. I'm hoping for a peaceful solution," Gabrielle relayed, picking at the nutbread on her plate. She suspected her continued good health depended on it. "If not, Sarah could make her a bride's maid," Lila suggested with her mouth full, munching on another piece. "Huh?" Her older sisters blurted in confusion as Lila slowly sipped her water to wash down the treat. "Yeah, mother could nag her to death," Lila explained, successfully evoking giggles from her older sisters. "Yeah, sic mother on her!" Sarah readily agreed, laughing harder as Lila threateningly wagged her motherly finger of reprimand at them. "She'd nag her to death or at least die trying," Lila added. "I don't think I hate her THAT much," Gabrielle blurted. "Gurda or Mother?" Sarah asked seriously. All three howled. "Well, it would be a toss up on what would kill Gurda first...mother's nagging or the embarrassment of wearing that hideous pink bridesmaid dress!" Lila burst out laughing, making Sarah laugh even louder and almost fall off her chair. Gabrielle wasn't laughing. "Pink?" Gabrielle questioned her. Sarah looked up at her sister and took a deep breath as she wiped the tears from her eyes, trying to calm herself long enough to answer her sister. Lila coughed, also trying to regain her composure. Looking at the upset face of their middle sister proved very sobering. "Uh," Sarah uttered uneasily, then looked at Lila, who's eyes grew wide just before they burst out laughing again. "You're making me wear PINK?!?" Gabrielle was not amused. "Uh...it's not so bad...really. Lila looks great actually," Sarah added nervously, with an unconvincing smile thrown in. "Lila...doesn't...have...RED...HAIR!!" Gabrielle blurted slowly, making her sisters giggle more. "How could you do this???" The upset bard abruptly stood from her chair, knocking into the table and causing the plates of nutbread to violently lurch. "Now Gabrielle...stay calm," Sarah held her hands out as if they could deflect her sister's temper. Lila rolled her eyes and sighed, grabbing her plate back. "You of ALL people, a fellow RED head! How could you!!" Gabrielle snapped. "PINK!!" She blurted as she slapped her hand down on the table punctuating her displeasure with the colour, which happened to hit the edge of her plate of her uneaten nutbread. While nutbread normally doesn't fly, it did take flight long enough to cross the table, hit Sarah square on her chest, and fall down snugly between her ... attributes. Gabrielle's mouth dropped as Lila coughed on her nutbread. Sarah sighed, looking down at the nutbread. Lila made no effort to contain her amusement. She grabbed her stomach and let out an obnoxious belly laugh that drew stares from her older sisters which stopped her abruptly. "Now wait just a damn minute!" Lila protested angrily, seeing a familiar conspiratorial gaze exchanged between her older sisters. "What did I do??" Lila quickly got up from the table, realizing if she wanted a chance to escape, now would be the prudent time. With incredible speed, Lila fled from the kitchen. "Oooff," blurted the fleeing Lila as she barreled into the Warrior Princess. "What's wrong?" Xena asked, pealing Gabrielle's youngest sister off her. Lila looked back. "They're plotting again. If you know what's good for you...you'll stay clear of the kitchen," Lila warned, looking over her shoulder at the kitchen. "Don't say I didn't warn you." Xena sighed and shook her head as Lila proceeded with her escape. "Boy, Lila is FAST." Gabrielle laughed. "And awfully nervous...did you notice?" Sarah relayed with feigned concern then chuckled. She sighed when she sat down, eyeing her the nutbread lodged between her attributes, then her sister. "Uh...sorry," Gabrielle responded with a guilty grimace. With a unconvinced smirk, the Queen of Walsas proceeded to extract the nutbread. Succeeding in generating a lot of crumbs, she shuddered. "Ugh...where's Meleager when you really need him," Sarah relayed with a smirk at her crumby predicament, making Gabrielle howl. "Give the poor guy a break, he was just attacked by a Furry Wegget," Gabrielle relayed, wiping tears from her eyes. "I hope he comes through on the items," Sarah sighed. "Or that will be something else Mother will hang over our heads until we are all visiting Hades." Sarah sighed and juggling her shoulders again, trying to get more crumbs to fall through. "She wouldn't let death stop her," Gabrielle joked wearily. "I really am sorry for bringing you here so early. I had no idea," Sarah apologized holding her sister's hand. "Funny thing is, I was kind of glad to hear she wanted me here, in a masochistic sorta way," Gabrielle joked sadly. "I never meant to hurt her...." Gabrielle relayed with a sigh, wearily rubbing her eyes. "Gabrielle, you should never have to apologize for living your life. She should have been quite pleased you got back with Perdicus, if you remember how happy she was announcing your betrothal at cousin Huestis' rehearsal dinner," Sarah relayed. "A lot happier than you, as I recall." "I was EIGHT, Sarah. I hadn't even kissed a boy yet and mother already had my life with Perdicus planned out," Gabrielle complained, shaking her head at the unpleasant memory. "Yeah...well...it was always mother's goal in life to marry off her three daughters. You know, I was thinking of inviting cousin Huestis to the wedding," Sarah relayed. "Do you think he'll come?" Gabrielle let out a laugh and shook her head no. "I think he's probably had enough of mother and her Traditional weddings for a lifetime," she relayed making Sarah nod. "Promise me one thing," Gabrielle asked her. "You won't let mother keep you and Meleager from going through with it. I still have nightmares from poor Huestis' fiasco," she sighed and sat back. "Well, you know what they say, 'For better or worse'...and poor Iphigenia couldn't take the 'worse' part," Sarah remembered. "Yeah...but the worse is supposed to come after the wedding not during the wedding," Gabrielle relayed grimly. "I would have strangled her if it was my wedding." "Is that why you didn't want a Traditional Wedding?" Sarah asked with surprise. "Well, killing your mother, even if justified, would still constitute loss of blood innocence," Gabrielle joked. Sarah sighed and sat back waiting for a serious answer. Sarah's patient gaze caused Gabrielle to shift uncomfortably and look at the table. "You know," Gabrielle spoke softly, picking through a plate of nutbread crumbs. "Your wedding day is supposed to be a celebration." Gabrielle looked at her sister and smiled warmly. "Two people... publically declaring their love for each other, in front of the Gods, their family and friends," Gabrielle softly preached her romantic vision. "It's not supposed to be a trial," Gabrielle sighed. "Our village has made the most sacred and wonderful ritual into a painful ordeal. Well, at least mother has seen to it it turns out that way." Sarah nodded knowingly, quietly listening. "I don't think I...I don't think we...." Gabrielle stumbled over her words as her eyes filled with tears. She paused and took a deep breath. "I loved him," she added as if needing to convince her sister. "but..." Gabrielle sighed and stared at her empty plate of nutbread. "...if I had to go through all that, to justify my love ..to my family...friends...." Gabrielle sighed and shook her head, leaving many thoughts unspoken. "Perhaps this Traditional Wedding stuff has its place after all." Sarah smiled with new understanding. "And maybe you'll have one yet," Sarah suggested with a mischievous grin, causing Gabrielle to laugh softly. "Not likely," Gabrielle laughed, sitting back in her chair and shook her head with an amused smile. "Besides the obvious of not being very traditional, you'd have to call that a public display of affection," Gabrielle informed her sister. "We agreed that public displays of affection were out," Gabrielle added with a sigh. "NO public displays of affection?" Sarah repeated in amazement. Gabrielle sighed unhappily and shook her head no. "None?" Sarah asked. Gabrielle shook her head no. "Not even hugging?" Sarah asked, incredulously. Gabrielle sighed heavily and shook her head no. "No casual touches?" Sarah asked, almost in shock. "Xena doesn't want me to be a target...so no public disp.." Gabrielle explained. "That's the most ridic...." Sarah interrupted. "Sarah," Gabrielle blurted with irritation. "And you're HAPPY with that?" Sarah related incredulously. "I promised," Gabrielle snapped. As Sarah opened her mouth again, Gabrielle quickly stopped any further discussion on that topic. "Drop it," the bard blurted with a warning glare. Xena heard footsteps approaching. Maneuvering behind the unsuspecting man, she placed her hand over his mouth. "No you don't," Xena spoke quietly in Meleager's ear. Before he knew it, he was no longer entering the kitchen but the library across the hall. When she released him in the library, she curiously eyed the confused man with a raised eyebrow. "Nice pajamas." Xena smirked, still eyeing his silky yellow pajamas with a big black M embroidered on the right breast pajama pocket. "Think so?" He looked down and inspected his big M and smiled warmly. "Sarah actually had this made....Hey! Why in Hade's name did you yank me away from the kitchen? I'm starving! I haven't eaten all day." Meleager whined. "Sarah and Gabrielle are talking." Xena informed him.