Ye Olde Disclaimer
The Xena and Gabby characters are property of Universal MCA. It is not meant to infringe on any copyrights whatsoever.
The story, however, is mine.
The story below contains adult scenes, not to mention some immature adult scenes between two women, so if you are under 18 years of age stop reading now. Yeah, right. Anyway, there are also some scenes of fighting, bitching, seduction and a bit of evil goings on. Well, perhaps more than a little evil. If you find this offensive don't read it. And, I must, yet again, apologize for the disgustingly lengthy prose that will more than likely consume half your ink cartridge and possibly a small tree. Or a year off your eyeballs if you plan to read this online.
This story takes place immediately after my last, HoneyMoon. Actually, I lie, about a half hour after the last story so don't hold your breath on the sex scene in the clearing. Hey, they need some time away from the camera, don't they??? While it is not necessary to read it before this story you may miss a few quips. Oh, and Xena and Gabby are no longer wearing boots, due to a rather unfortunate incident involving both pairs in the last story.
Oh, one more thing. Pronunciation nit.
Lynchia - is sometimes pronounced like this (Lin-sse-eaah, depending on how evil she gets, with bit of a lisp)
Heart and Soul
By Trish Kerr (Phopas) -
"Heart and soul,
I fell in love with you
Heart and soul
The way a fool would do
Madly, because you held me tight,
and stole, a kiss in the night
dum dum dum...
da dum da dum da dum..."
Heart and Soul
Two women lay together, entwined, in the middle of a beautiful clearing. They were surrounded by green grass lit up by the brilliant sunlight that swept across it. A riverbed flowed through, sunlight dancing across its shimmering current, the sound of running water gently rippling through the warm afternoon air as a faint melody drifted in the distance. A horse grazed lazily a few feet from the naked forms. The taller of the two women was on the ground, her raven hair flowing across her shoulders and onto the blanket they nestled on. She looked completely at peace. The smaller, strawberry blonde was draped over her, propped up on one elbow, and grinning widely, her green eyes sparkling with delight.
"Are you humming?" Gabrielle asked.
"Hmm." Xena replied dreamily. Dum dum dum, da dum da dum da dum, dum dum dum...
"A tune...sounds familiar..." Gabrielle said.
"Hmm?" Xena mumbled. Her eyes were closed and she couldn't open them for the life of her. Dum dum dum... I fell in love with you...
"Well at least you seem less tense." Gabrielle sighed.
.... heart and soul....da dum..da..
Gabrielle smiled down at her lover. She had just successfully rendered her helpless. This was one of her new challenges in life and she was rising to it with eager enthusiasm. She traced the outline of Xena's jaw with her fingertip, admiring her beautifully sculpted features. Gabrielle was now so helplessly in love with this woman just the simple act of touching her welled up deep emotions inside her. Every time she looked at her lover her heart squeezed tight leaving her breathless. She bent down and kissed her softly on the lips eliciting a quiet moan from Xena. "Hey..." Gabrielle whispered.
Dum da... "?"
"Xena, your vocabulary has been seriously compromised of late." Gabrielle laughed.
Xena nodded and pulled the bard down on top of her, wrapping her arms around her lover in the hopes that this would quiet her. She played with Gabrielle's hair as she soaked in the feel of her nakedness against her skin. An incredible contentment had fallen over her and all sights and sounds of the day melted away except for the beat of Gabrielle's heart with her own. No one had ever left her feeling this vulnerable nor had she ever believed she would crave such a feeling. Each time they made love these emotions deepened and she was surprised anew with each fresh wave that fell over her heart.
"I guess I'm talking too much." Gabrielle whispered as she basked in the feel of Xena's hands in her hair. She felt Xena's chin nod against the top of her head and smiled at this, deciding to give the poor warrior some peace. Gabrielle closed her eyes and listened to Xena's breathing, as it slowly quieted and became even, Xena's hand slowing and finally resting in the nape of her neck. She sighed contentedly at this as she was the source of this new behavior, sleeping nude in the middle of a clearing in broad daylight. Even she wouldn't have believed it herself if she weren't part of that picture. Gabrielle basked in the warmth of the sun on her back and slowly began to drift into a peaceful sleep.
Xena awoke to a slight chill, the sun having begun its descent from the sky, a cool breeze sweeping across them. Gabrielle was snoring softly on her chest and she was reluctant to wake her but knew that they really had to get moving if they were to make it to Arcadia before dark. She shook her gently. "Gabrielle?"
"Hmmm?" Gabrielle mumbled.
"Hey, we have to get moving." Xena whispered.
"Hmm?" Gabrielle replied sleepily.
By the gods, Xena sighed inwardly. They really had to get there biological sundials aligned here or it would be the death of them. "Come on." She said lifting Gabrielle gently.
"Just a few more minutes Xena..." Gabrielle pleaded.
Xena sighed, "The shops will close before we get there then."
Gabrielle opened her eyes. "Shops?"
"Yeah." Xena said. "We need to get some boots, remember?"
"Shopping!" Gabrielle perked up immediately into a sitting position. "We're going shopping!"
"Don't get too excited...it's only boots." Xena sighed rolling her eyes. Well at least she was up.
"I'm there!" Gabrielle replied jumping up. "Let's go!"
"Gabrielle?" Xena asked as she watched the bard race over to Argo and their supplies.
"What?" She asked breathlessly, looking down at Xena.
"Are you going to get dressed first or go naked?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle looked down at herself. "Oh, yah. Hmm. Dressed I guess. Maybe I can find some fabric for a new skirt or a different top with.."
"Gabrielle." Xena warned.
"Yeah boots, I know, boots..." Gabrielle replied but inside she was already formulating a plan. She wanted to get something really sexy for Xena. A nice dress perhaps, something silk, perhaps red or deep purple, and something for herself as well, perhaps a emerald one to match her green eyes or maybe something short black and...
"Forget it Gabrielle." Xena said as she got up and began to collect her discarded clothes, a reminder of their afternoon together.
"Xena," Gabrielle said with slight exasperation, "Stop reading my mind."
"Well if it wasn't written all over your face, maybe I would," retorted Xena.
Gabrielle stopped pulling on her skirt and looked at Xena. "Am I that obvious?"
Xena came over to her smiling. "You are to me." And bend down kissing her on the lips. She felt Gabrielle melt from her touch and the skirt slid out of her hands. Gabrielle reached her hands up and grasped Xena's hair pulling her closer and kissing her more deeply. She could already feel herself warming despite the coolness of the air.
Xena felt dizzy from Gabrielle's lips and almost took her, right there and then, but she reluctantly pulled away. "We'll finish this later." She whispered.
They finished getting dressed and Xena mounted Argo and pulled Gabrielle up behind her. They took one last look at the clearing.
"It is a beautiful place Xena." Gabrielle sighed.
"Yes it is, with you to light it up." Xena replied softly. She'd only seen it as a place to rest her injured men when she'd last visited it. Now everything was different. Now that Gabrielle was in her life everything had taken on a deeper meaning. She saw the beauty in life that she'd never stopped to notice until now. Everything was richer, time more precious. Gabrielle had brought more to her heart than she could ever have imagined. As she guided Argo out onto the main road she was almost overcome with tears. She fought hard to hold them back.
Gabrielle felt Xena tense on the saddle. She wrapped her arms tightly around her, careful not to touch her stitches on her back, a reminder of their encounter in Karyaes only a few nights ago. She had nearly lost Xena then and she was so grateful to be riding behind her once again, and away from the awful memories. "Are you ok Xena?" She asked worriedly. Perhaps the ride was hurting her back.
"I'm fine Gabrielle." Xena replied softly. "Now." She added and covered the bard's hands with one of her own. They rode in contented silence towards Arcadia. dum dum dum...da dum da dum da dum...
"The price is right."
"You can't be serious! I wouldn't pay more than ten dinars for this poor excuse for a pair of boots." Gabrielle ranted as she held up a red pair of boots in front of the merchant's face.
Xena stood behind her rolling her eyes. Gods she hated shopping and she hated bartering even more.
The man eyed the young pretty blonde up and down, his gaze stopping at her feet, that were bare. He looked over to see that the intimidating warrior woman behind her was also not wearing any boots. The man refocused, licking his lips with this new found arsenal. "Ways I sees it...you's in no position to bargain." He smiled at her.
Gabrielle noticed him glance at her feet. Hades, she hadn't thought of that. She could sense Xena's impatience growing behind her but she was determined to have her bargain. The bard braced herself for round two. "I'd lie, er, lay with a harpie before I'd pay that much for this poor excuse for a horse's hide!!!" She cried and dropped the boots back down on the table and twirled away from the wicked little man she was starting to get a real hate on for.
Xena's eyes widened.
"Good luck little one .. but you'll have to walk alongs way to get em." He said, a small grin spreading across his face.
Gabrielle hesitated and looked over at Xena that was starting to breathe through her teeth. She shot her a look to be patient. The warrior rolled her eyes and look away. Gabrielle knew she had very little time left and she was also well aware that this was the only merchant with boots her size. She turned around and looked into his eyes. "Fifteen dinars and I'll take them off your hands."
"Thirty dinars is my final offer." He spat.
"That's robbery!" She cried. "How about two pairs for twenty-five, and we'll be on our way." She leaned into him.
He laughed, spit flying from his yellowed teeth. "If you think...." He started into a gale of laughter and then stopped suddenly, swallowing hard. His eyes traveled to the warrior woman who's own eyes were burning deeply into his. She wore a slight evil grin that left a sickly feeling in the pit of his stomach that he finally realized as a primal fear response. The man swallowed hard again and looked away from the piercing gaze. "..that's a fair price, I'm ok with that." He finished and handed the red boots to the blond woman.
"That pair of black ones will do." Xena purred from behind Gabrielle. "Yes, those ones." She motioned with her eyes as the little nervous man handed them over to her.
Gabrielle looked back at Xena who smiled innocently back at her. Gabrielle's eyes narrowed but she said nothing. She fished out twenty-five dinars from her purse and handed it to the man, noticing with mild surprise, his fingers were shaking.
They walked away from his stall with two new pairs of boots. Gabrielle looked up at Xena who was trying hard to contain a smile but was doing a bad job of it. "What did you do back there?" Gabrielle asked with growing irritation. Xena had robbed her of the satisfaction of the deal.
Xena shrugged and continued on towards the tavern. "Hungry?" She asked Gabrielle innocently.
"Don't change the subject Xena...that wasn't fair play whatever you did back there. That was.." Gabrielle didn't exactly know what it was.
"Just a different bargaining tactic, you'd have got him down to that sooner or later, I just sped up the outcome." Xena explained. She had no patience for shopping and knew that it was unethical but then what was a little indiscretion here and there. She wanted to get an inn and lie down. This bargain hunting was bringing her headache back in full force, one she had not been able to fully shake yet. The head wound she had received from her encounter with the werewolf was still complaining and she figured she would be its sparring partner for at least another few days.
Gabrielle looked up at Xena's face noticing pain behind her eyes and her earlier irritation with the warrior was immediately replaced by worry. "You alright?"
"Fine." Xena reassured her. "But I need a massage." She added raising one eyebrow and looking down at her lover.
"Really," Gabrielle said. "I see. I believe that can be arranged...for a price." Gabrielle looked up at Xena with a sparkle in her eye.
"You let me buy you a dress." Gabrielle said throwing it out casually but bracing herself.
"A dress." Xena cried. "Not on your life!"
Gabrielle touched Xena's arm and they both paused in the market street. "Please." Gabrielle pleaded. "Do you know how beautiful you are in a dress?" She asked.
Xena sighed. The bard was working her and she was too tired to verbally spar. She looked down at her pleading lover. "A dress."
"Yes!" Gabrielle said excitedly, her eyes lighting up.
Xena sighed inwardly. "We'll see."
"Ok!" Gabrielle cried. "I think I saw something perfect over in the stall we just passed. We can go back now and I'm sure I can talk him down because he was looking kinda desperate and I'm sure.."
"Gabrielle." Xena warned.
"Right, ok, sure, tomorrow then?" She pleaded.
"Right." Xena relented. "Now let's go and see about a room before I collapse from shopping boredom." She would worry about getting out of this one later, she had all night to come up with some distraction for the bard. There was no way in Tartarus she was going to wear some dress, let alone waste good dinars on it. But she had to chuckle inwardly at her lover's enthusiasm and she felt part of her getting swept away with it - a tiny part, mind you, minuscule.
Gabrielle had a skip in her walk as she followed Xena towards the inn. She was already formulating her plan for the design of the dress. Finally, she was going to get to see Xena in something less intimidating, Gabrielle couldn't believe her luck. Xena must really be tired. But she wasn't going to question her fortune, especially since it was in her favor.
"How much did you say this room was again?" Xena asked the inn keeper with more than slight irritation evident in her voice.
"A very reasonable twenty dinars, as I've already told you." He replied. They were standing at the doorway of a room that was less than desirable, to say the least.
Xena closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. Part of her desperately wanted to give in but there was no way she was paying that much for this. But she knew she was not in a good bargaining position as it was already too dark to attempt to leave the city and set up camp. She hated cities with their inflated prices and disgustingly greedy merchants.
Gabrielle was standing there not daring to get into the middle of this one. She could see already that Xena was at the end of her tether. She was only hoping she would not bear the brunt of this mood for the remainder of the evening. Xena really needed to relax a bit more. She was way too uptight, and Gabrielle silently worried that it would take hours to work out the knots in Xena's muscles that were being further tangled with each passing moment. So much for the dress.
"I'll give you ten dinars for this poor excuse for a room and we'll call it a day." Xena said evenly glaring down at the innkeeper with the same eyes she had used successfully on the merchant. It wasn't working as well. She moved to stage two. "Fine." She quipped. She turned to Gabrielle, "Let's go."
Gabrielle's eyes widened as Xena grabbed her by the arm and proceeded back towards the main tavern.
"Alright, then." The innkeeper sighed. "Ten dinars, but you can forget about room service."
Xena stopped in the passage and stiffened. She turned back to glare at the man.
"Of course room service is really no...big..." She was suddenly making him feel very uncomfortable and he was starting to sweat. "Did you want the hot bath now, or..er..should I bring that later..."
"Now would be perfect." Xena smiled.
Gabrielle watched all this transpire in awe and silently gave up on ever attempting to be the barterer again. She sighed. Was there anything Xena wasn't good at? There was nothing worse than feeling like a mere mortal standing beside a demi god. However, this had its advantages and she was not one to be denied. "You don't have any bath oils do you?"
"Bath oils." He muttered under his breath. He was about to protest but he saw the look in the warrior woman's eyes and thought the better of it. "I may have something around.."
Gabrielle smiled and looked at Xena with a wicked grin. A silent high five was passed between them as they watched him scurry down the passage in search of the promised goods.
"Oh! but your lips were thrilling,
Much too thrilling.
Never before were mine so strangely willing.
But now I see what one embrace can do,"
Heart and Soul
"Here, let me help you with that." Gabrielle said softly to Xena who was trying to remove her breastplate without hurting her back.
"I can do it." Xena growled through clenched teeth.
"Xena, I want to do it and stop complaining, I can see the pain written all over your face." Gabrielle said as she sat Xena down on the bed and began to work the armor clasps. "Why don't you just admit you're lost without me." Gabrielle said smiling down at the irritated warrior.
"Because I..." Xena started but didn't finish. She wasn't sure why she acted this way. Part of her wanted to be totally consumed by this woman but there was her warrior part that raged against such a sign of submission. She really couldn't answer, not yet, she was still working out these feelings inside her. Xena relaxed slightly under the touch of Gabrielle's hands and closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensations of letting go, breathing in deeply the aroma of the bath oils rising from the steaming tub that she was about to lose herself in.
Gabrielle felt Xena relax under her touch and smiled inwardly knowing that only she had such an effect on the warrior. She carefully removed the breastplate and started to work on delicately removing Xena's leather tunic so as not to disturb the gashes. "I really need to stitch this leather up properly Xena." Gabrielle said looking down at the quick job she had done a few nights ago. The jagged tears of the wolf's claws in the leather had been difficult to repair and Gabrielle had not really done her best work - she had been too worried about Xena at the time.
"Later," Xena sighed. She was already anticipating the warm water on her skin and the promise of a much needed massage. She winced slightly as Gabrielle removed her leathers. Her back was still sensitive and it was a constant reminder of what could happen if she took anything for granted. She had not been prepared for there to be a secondary predator in that clearing the other night and she still silently scolded herself for making such an assumption - it had nearly cost her life. In this business one mistake could mean your end, and she was only now truly wanting to live, especially ever since Gabrielle and her had worked out their true feelings for each other. But a small fear had entered her heart, the fear of losing Gabrielle. It had always burned brightly inside her but now the flame had grown even brighter and she was sure she would not be able to go on without her by her side. Hades, she was getting emotional again and fought to hold back a fresh wave of tears that threatened to spill forth. Oh this was not good for business, not very good at all.
"Xena," Gabrielle bent down and whispered in her lover's ear. "Stop brooding, you are so much more beautiful when you smile." And then she bit gently on Xena's ear.
Xena inhaled sharply at the touch of Gabrielle's teeth on her and had to crack a smile, finally. She marveled at how Gabrielle always knew the right words. This was one of her greatest gifts and she was still feeling incredibly fortunate to be the recipient of such a special talent.
"That's better." Gabrielle whispered. "Now let's get you into that tub shall we?" Xena allowed her to lead her over to the bath. She was about to sink into the beautiful embrace of the steaming water when a knock came from the door. Both women froze, Xena's foot about to break the surface of the water. So close.
"Who is it?' Xena growled.
"It's Gallion, I'm the king's messenger." He explained from behind the door. "May I come in?" He asked tentatively.
"No!" Both women cried in unison.
"I mean, just one moment." Xena said looking over at Gabrielle who was equally wide eyed. Xena grabbed her shift and threw it on, heading for the door. She opened it a crack and peered out at the young fair haired man in the passage. He couldn't have been more than seventeen, if that. He was nervously peering back at her. She noted that he wore the Arcadian colours and looked to be a genuine messenger for the king. She sighed. "What do you want?"
"I've been sent to bring you to the king, he has requested you in his court." He said tentatively looking over the woman that was obviously not too pleased with his interruption. He had heard of Xena, the Warrior Princess, and he was nervously shifting from foot to foot. This was a woman you did not want to piss off.
"I'm not for hire." Xena stated and began to close the door.
"Wait," He pleaded. "Please, I ask only that you come to the castle..."
"I don't work for kings or dinars." She said. "And I'm on vacation." She closed the door in his face.
She sighed, resting her head on the door, and waited for the second knock. It came. She opened the door again.
"If you could just find it in your heart to come with me....I'm new and if the king finds out I've failed..." He stammered.
He was working her, of this she was sure. But he was just a boy, really. "Alright." She relented. "I'll be around tomorrow."
"NO!" He cried, "I mean, the king is awaiting your presence...I have orders to escort you to dinner...." He was begging now as he knew the king would not be pleased if he had held off dinner and Gallion had failed to produce the warrior princess.
"Now?" Xena cried.
"Well, er, yes, if you wouldn't mind actually." He begged with his best soft eyed look he could muster. He was young but he was fast learning how to get what he wanted. It was this skill that had landed him such a prestigious job in the first place. He silently fantasized that one day he would stand beside the king as his top supervisor, and he would do whatever it took to go after his dreams.
Xena eyed him warily and she wasn't buying the doe eyed look. "What exactly does the king want from me?"
"I can't say." Gallion replied. He peered past the warrior and caught a glimpse of the tub and her companion. "We have a hot spring in the castle." He said. "And only the finest food and rooms." The warrior wasn't biting but he thought he caught a sparkle in the strawberry blonde woman's eyes whom he immediately decided he must have as his own.
Xena followed his gaze towards Gabrielle who was showing far too much enthusiasm at the prospect of a visit to the castle. She couldn't deny the bard this. What could it hurt to listen to what the man had to say? Hot springs, hmm. "Wait outside, we'll be there in a minute." She closed the door in his face.
"Oh Xena!" Gabrielle said excitedly. "Do you think it will be a large feast? Pheasant? Duck? Delicacies? Sweets!"
"Calm down Gabrielle." Xena warned.
"I'm calm Xena, I'm calm." Gabrielle cried. "It's just that it's not every day we get invited to dine with royalty and." Gabrielle paused and looked up at Xena. "By the gods! what'll I wear??"
"Gabrielle," Xena said. "You only have one set of clothing."
"Well I do have my amazon clothing tucked away." Gabrielle said.
"Not on your life! You're practically naked in that!" Xena cried.
"Like this green top isn't?" Gabrielle retorted.
"The amazon one is for me alone." Xena grinned.
"Xena you are bad." Gabrielle smiled.
"And you are beautiful." Xena said softly as she came over and kissed her. "Now let's get going so we can get this over with."
"Over with?" Gabrielle cried. "Xena, you really must learn to enjoy the moment....life is so..."
"Come on Gabrielle." Xena interrupted. She was feeling the headache slip its fingers around her skull once again.
"Alright, alright." Gabrielle relented. "Let me help you get dressed then."
"Yeah." Xena brooded. She let the bard help her on with her leathers and breastplate as she silently pondered why the king was going to such great lengths to get her to his castle. The promise of fine dining and a posh room had to have its price - everything did when you got right down to it.
"Ain't it a laugh? Ain't it a treat?
Hob-nobbin' here Among the elite?
Here comes a prince There goes a Jew.
This one's a queer But what can you do?"
Beggars at the Feast, Les Miserables
"You don't know how much this means to me....you coming right away!" Gallion said excitedly as they approached the tall drawbridge that led to the castle. There were guards posted above on the walls, and Gallion nodded a signal and the drawbridge began its slow descent.
"Right." Xena replied. She was surveying the castle making mental notes for possible security breaches almost absentmindedly as it had long ago become second nature to view things in this way. She was somewhat impressed by the sheer size of the castle and its surrounding moat. It would not be easy to gain access to the fortress as there were guards posted at both visible turreted towers. And the height of the outer walls had to span at least three stories. Her eyes traveled down to the murky waters on either side of them. She thought she could see, or rather hear things sliding around in there. Perhaps it was best she didn't know what was making the silky, almost imperceptible sounds from beneath the slick black surface.
Gabrielle held onto Xena's arm as she watched the bridge descend. She was in awe of the grandness and beauty of the castle. She had never scene one so magnificent in its design. Or so big. She gazed at the tall turreted towers, the closest being much taller than the others, ascending high into the night sky. There were tiny windows illuminated from within that circled near its peak. She silently wondered who might be in there and if they enjoyed the fantastic view of Arcadia from their bird's eye location. "Oh Xena, isn't it beautiful." She whispered. "By the gods, we're underdressed!"
"Gabrielle....relax." Xena said as she put her hand over Gabrielle's and gave her a small squeeze of reassurance.
Gallion looked back at the women behind him. The warrior was being very nice to her friend. I guess even warrior women could be motherly. He found himself gazing at the petite blonde named Gabrielle. My, that was a nice name, Gabrielle. He rolled it over inside his head. Gabrielle. Yes. Perhaps flowers to start.
The bridge descended and the tall wooden doors opened to reveal an outer courtyard. Gallion nodded to the guards as they led the women inside the castle walls. They crossed the gardens to reach the main entrance to the central building. There were guards posted here as well, all standing stoically, with no show of emotion though a few sets of eyes discreetly traveled to the warrior woman who some knew to be the legendary Xena. These doors were opened to reveal a beautiful grand hallway with rich intricately patterned marble floors, expensively furnished sculptures, and wall hangings that bordered the long walkway that led to the main banquet hall and court of the king.
They walked in silence towards the tall gold carved doors that led to the banquet room. The only sound that could be heard was a tiny incessant squeak that kept time with each step. Gallion stopped and turned back towards the women. "What is that sound?"
"My boots." Xena replied looking down at them with growing irritation.
"Oh." Gallion said. "Well, wait here while I inform the king of your arrival....and, er...could you quiet those down somewhat?" He asked nervously. The warrior woman glared at him and he vowed silently not to push the matter further.
Gabrielle watched him enter the large golden doors. She turned to Xena. "What do you think the king wants?"
Xena's eyes narrowed. "Well I'm sure it's not to thank me for being a friend."
"Xena, why are you always suspicious of everyone? Maybe he's heard of all the good you've done and he wants to meet you!" Gabrielle said.
"Yeah, right." Xena replied. "Everybody wants something Gabrielle. And I'm sure the King is no exception."
"Hmm...." Gabrielle contemplated. "And me? What do you think I want from you Xena?"
"Why my soul of course." Xena smiled down at her lovely bard, "And I give it willingly." She said as she bent down and kissed her on the lips. They were interrupted by the opening of the doors. Xena jerked up and adjusted herself awkwardly. Gods she hated protocol, and Gallion was beginning to irritate her, though she wasn't sure exactly why yet. Perhaps it was the way he looked at her Gabrielle.
"The king is ready to see you. He awaits your presence at the lavish feast he has had prepared in your honor." Gallion stated.
"Yeah, whatever." Xena mumbled under her breath as they followed Gallion into the grand dining hall.
They entered a richly furnished dining hall, intricate red and purple tapestries hung on the walls that spanned at least two stories. There were lit torches along all four walls dancing across the stones and fabrics creating a warm ambiance that immediately took your breath away. There was a long dining table at the center of the room that could easily have seated over one hundred people. Various delicacies and appetizers had already been laid out on the feasting table and gold sculpted candle holders were placed every few feet creating a beautifully rich glowing line down its length. Gabrielle gasped quietly at the sight of such an enrapturing display and her mouth had already begun to water instinctively. She swallowed hard in fear she would have to speak and would drown in her own words.
Xena's eyebrow arched ever slightly. "Nice setup." Her eyes traveled to the far corners of the room where guards were posted at doorways on either side. One, she surmised, would lead to the kitchens and the other perhaps to the hallway and the rest of the rooms. She gazed back towards the table as your eye couldn't help but be drawn there and her stomach began to grumble from the sight alone. Somebody had gone to great lengths to prepare for this and though she longed to taste of it she was wary of what ultimate price she would have to pay.
The guards shifted and then the door to the far right opened and in walked a man wearing a rich gold and crimson robe with a jeweled crown ordaining his head. He was not an overly large man but his presence commanded attention. His hair, now graying, came to his shoulders, and he had a beard that was cropped short to his face that was handsome despite his advanced years. His eyes were a deep blue and lit up at the sight of Xena. He was followed by a small entourage of people as he walked over to the warrior woman and her companion. Gallion bowed slightly and removed himself to the corner of the room which was customary in front of nobility. Inside he was jumping for joy as he knew he had made great gains by producing the warrior.
"Hello Xena, I'm King Pelagos. This is my chief officer, Mensor." He gestured to a tall dark bearded man to his right with dark eyes and a distrusting look. He was dressed in full warrior armor in the red and purple colours of the Arcadian army. He eyed the warrior warily. The king smiled and pointed towards a beautiful chestnut haired woman with sculpted features similar to Xena's but with a far fairer complexion and not quite as tall. "This is Lynchia, my seer and confidant." She wore a rich blue silk robe with golden star patterns spiraling across it. Under this she wore a low cut dress that left little to the imagination. Her dark brown eyes looked over at Xena with more than an appreciative glance. The king then gestured towards the petite blonde that stood beside the warrior. "And you must be?"
"This is Gabrielle, my partner." Xena said. She curtseyed and elbowed Gabrielle to follow suit who appeared to be too awestruck to act on her own.
Gabrielle smiled at the king and gave Xena a side ward glance. Partner, she thought to herself, what was that supposed to mean? Partner? How business like, partner. She noticed the beautiful dark haired woman checking out Xena with more than mild interest and she took an immediate disliking to her. Her eyes locked with the mystic woman who met her challenge. Then she noticed the mystic looking at her neck, perhaps her necklace? What in Hades had Xena called it? A pentala, pentalpha, pentup something or other. There was an awkward moment of silence as each party sized up the other.
"Yes, well, I can't thank you enough for coming on such short notice." The king said breaking the momentary spell. Partner he thought to himself, she didn't seem to be much of a warrior from the look of her. Perhaps that was her secret weapon.
"Well, Gallion made it quite clear there was little choice." Xena stated. "So why don't you tell me why it is you've gone to such great lengths to bring me here." She was looking at the king but inwardly making mental notes about his advisor and seer. Xena had learned long ago not to trust anyone until they had earned the right.
"Yes, of course." The king replied. "But first, please, dine with me." He gestured to the table.
Xena hesitated only briefly as her stomach won her internal battle. They hadn't eaten anything since the Ritz crackers and that was early this morning. She looked over at Gabrielle who seemed to be far away in thought. She touched her gently on the arm to get her to move towards the table. They all stood at the table and awaited the king to be seated first.
Gabrielle continued to eye the seer woman as she crossed to the other side of the table. But her stomach finally got the better of her and she couldn't help but let her eyes travel over the lavish feast laid out in front of her. Her mouth began to water all over again as she realized they hadn't eaten for an eternity now. She had to hold herself back from diving into the dishes before the king could be seated.
Xena noted with mild amusement that the bard seemed to be jealous of the dark haired mystic. She couldn't imagine why she would possibly feel threatened by anyone as her heart belonged to Gabrielle only. She made a mental note to tell her just that later when they were alone.
Finally all the noble formalities were covered and everyone sat down to feast on incredible variety of food before them. No words were spoken for the longest time as each person explored the various dishes and the fine wine.
"So tell me again why you invited me here." Xena sighed in between bites of delicate mussels wrapped in lightly flaked pastry. She had to admit, the food was incredible, but they had waited long enough to get to the point of this meeting.
"Yes, of course, my apologies for keeping you waiting." King Pelagos said. "I was thinking you might be more pliable on a full stomach." He laughed.
Xena couldn't help but smile at the king. Well at least he was honest. She was beginning to like him despite the fact that she was sure she wouldn't like what she was about to hear. Xena tried to erect her warrior wall that was increasingly becoming more difficult to manage, especially since Gabrielle had tore it down not so long ago. Xena turned to gaze at her lover that was busily working the table making sure that every tray was sampled and silently wondered how someone so small could consume so much. This was just one of the many aspects of this woman that she marveled at, but this trait in particular made her more than slightly envious.
The king followed Xena's eyes to the small blonde that was still eating at a rapid pace and was concerned she perhaps hadn't eaten in days. He turned back to Xena. "Well, it came to my attention you were traveling through my land just yesterday when word came that you had slain the beast in Karyaes."
"Actually, the beast was a young innocent girl and her death was nothing to be proud of." Xena stated sadly.
"Well, I,.." The king started. "I was told that she was cursed with the wolf and it was unavoidable." He finished. He was choosing his words carefully as he desperately wanted the warrior woman to help him. Angering or insulting her was not what he needed at this stage of negotiations.
"Yes," Xena said. "And?" She prodded. She knew he was struggling but she needed to get the matter at hand.
Lynchia and Mensor exchanged annoyed glances at each other at this obvious sign of insubordination on the woman's part.
"Yes, sorry. Well I was hoping you might be able to help on a matter of utmost secrecy." He said.
"I'm listening." Xena leaned forward.
"Well it started a few months ago. Strange goings on Mount Lycaon. At first I dismissed it as old superstitious villagers with over active imaginations. There are some that say the alter of Zeus is haunted but I'm not one to fall prey to such superstition." He explained.
"What kind of strange things?" Xena asked.
"Well, some of the villagers have said they've seen figures at the alter of Zeus, performing evil rituals in the dead of night, calling to powerful demons. Now I'm not sure I believe in any of this but I do believe that there are some that would believe enough to be doing unnatural things in a sacred place. I will not have misguided men desecrating Zeus's temple. So I sent a small band of my men up there to look into the reports. They stayed a week but saw nothing out of the ordinary." He sighed.
Xena frowned. "So what's the problem then?"
"Well, in the last little while young maidens from the village and surrounding areas have gone missing. At first I thought it was isolated but the mysterious disappearances have increased. I have men posted up on the mountain and around Lycosura but no one has been able to capture the perpetrator." He sighed. "I'm in fear they are somehow tied into the reports that sacrifices have begun again on the altar. "
"But you say you have guards posted there, do you not?" Xena asked. She noticed Gabrielle had finally stopped eating and her mouth hung open slightly as the conversation unfolded.
"Yes we do, day and night but they swear up and down they have seen nothing." He cried.
"How reliable are these men of yours?" Xena asked.
"Excuse me." Mensor interrupted. "Are you questioning the integrity of my men?" He growled at Xena.
"Mensor!" King Pelagos barked. He turned to Xena. "They are some of my best men."
"I see." Xena said all the while looked at Mensor through slitted eyes as they stared each other down with growing distaste for one another. "Well how can you be sure there are sacrifices going on then?"
"Because when the sun rises there are traces of blood on the altar." He sighed.
"How can that be?" Xena asked.
The king looked over at Mensor and Lynchia. "We cannot explain it." He said quietly. "And when I had heard you had successfully dealt with the curse that plagued Karyeas I was hoping you might be able to help us."
"Well someone's sleeping on watch...." Xena said.
Mensor stood up and banged his fist on the table in anger. "My men DO NOT SLEEP on watch!"
Xena let him vent his fury before speaking. "Perhaps they have been drugged?" She offered.
"There is no eating or drinking on the job." He shouted back.
"SILENCE!" King Pelagos cried. "Please Mensor, sit down." He motioned. "We are all a bit on edge here." He explained. " And Xena is only trying to help."
"My apologies." Mensor said quietly. Lynchia grasped his arm and guided him back into the chair.
"Is it possible they could be under some sort of spell?" Xena asked Lynchia.
"I consider myself quite an expert in this field and I know of no spell or tampering that would make an entire group of men forget what they have seen. I have been to the altar and have felt no such vibes from it. Personally I think the girls have been sold to slavers, not an uncommon occurrence on our region. And with all this hype surrounding Zeus's altar people have just blamed it as the source of their problems." She said.
"But how do you explain the blood then?" Xena asked.
Lynchia leaned across the table, ensuring that she was showing full cleavage and stared intently at Xena. "I can't." She said.
The king turned to Xena again. "You see I'm trying to keep this under control. I don't want mass hysteria running through the kingdom. So far we have managed to keep it relatively quiet but if girls keep going missing..." His voice trailed off.
Gabrielle swallowed hard as she watched Lynchia practically offer herself on a platter to Xena and was no longer as interested in her meal. She was also worried that Xena was becoming attached to this problem. Gabrielle didn't like the sounds of this at all and she was beginning to have a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. The piles of delicacies she had recently gorged on slid around uncomfortably and she was beginning to regret her initial exuberance to sample everything. Looking over at Xena, who appeared to be thinking hard, her worry deepened, as she knew Xena was contemplating helping after all. Silently Gabrielle cursed herself for being naive enough to think this lavish meal didn't have strings attached.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Finally Xena broke it. "Well my expertise is not in smoke and mirrors but I will agree to check it out for you." She sighed. "And only, I might add, because it's more than likely the work of slave traders and I have a particular place in my heart for them." She said looking over at Gabrielle.
The king sighed. "Any help Xena, would be most appreciated, I assure you. Thank you!"