The Silent Bard

By B L Miller
IQ139@aol.com

 

"Damn that impertinent brat!" Ares stormed around his realm. "Sheís always ruining my plans." He looked into the scrying bowl. It contained an image of Xena and Gabrielle sitting by a fire. As he moved closer, he heard Gabrielle telling Xena one of her stories. "And that voice! Ooh, how it grates on my nerves!" He stomped around, getting even more furious. "Sheís always talking Xena out of doing things my way. With her influence, Iíll never get my warrior princess back. If only there was a way to shut her up!" he scratched his beard, as if it might give him some new ideas. "I canít kill the bitch, Artemis would never let me kill her precious Queen of the Amazons!" He walked closer to the bowl. Gabrielleís voice filled the air again. "Arggh! Doesnít she ever shut up?" An evil smile formed on his godly lips. "Thatís it! Iíll shut her up! Without her voice, she canít tell Xena what to do. Sheíll be helpless to stop me!" The room vibrated with his evil laughter.

As usual, Xena woke with the first rays of Apolloís chariot. She took a moment to check on her sleeping companion, then headed to the water to catch breakfast. The rabbit she caught last night was small, but Gabrielle didnít complain. Xena decided to make it up to her this morning. She would catch enough fish to fill her bardís belly. Of course she knew that Gabrielleís belly didnít stay full for long. That girl could eat. In all her summers as a warlord, Xena had never seen anyone who could eat more than Gabrielle. The maddening part of it was that the bard didnít have an ounce of fat on her. Xena knew that if she ate even half of what her companion did, she would be bigger than a hut. Chuckling at the image, Xena entered the water.

Gabrielle squinted against the bright sun. There was no use trying to go back to sleep now. She didnít have to look to know that Xena was off somewhere getting breakfast. She did her normal morning all over body stretch and yawned. A quizzical look came over her face. She normally grunted when she stretched. This time she didnít hear a sound. "Xena?" She called out, but no sounds came from her lips. She tried again. She felt her mouth move, her lips and tongue forming the necessary motions to make noise, but all she heard was silence, a deafening silence. Maybe itís a dream, she thought. A painful pinch on her leg told her that she was quite awake. Scared, she tried again and again to call out for Xena, still with the same results. Her vision blurred as tears started to fall. Looking at the smoldering campfire, she spotted their frying pan. She crawled over and picked it up, smashing it again and again on the rocks that rimmed the fire.

Xena had just finished cleaning a small trout when her ears picked up the sound of metal against rock. There was an urgency to the banging. Fearing for Gabrielleís safety, Xena dropped the fish and ran back to the campsite. Gabrielle was wildly banging the pan against the rocks, tears streaming down her face. The look on the bardís face was something that Xena had never seen there before, stark terror. She knelt down next to her and took the pan out of the crying womanís hands.

"Gabrielle, whatís wrong?" The bard shook her head back and forth. Not understanding, Xena grabbed her by the shoulders. "Gabrielle, tell me whatís going on." Those words served only to increase the amount of tears. More disturbing for Gabrielle was that even her sobs didnít have sounds. She pointed to her throat and shook her head, desperately trying to make the warrior understand. "I donít understand, Gabrielle. Calm down and tell me whatís got you so frightened." Frustrated with the lack of speech and angry at herself for not being able to communicate, Gabrielle pushed Xenaís hands away and ran towards the water. Totally confused, Xena quickly followed.

Gabrielle stopped at the edge of the water and frantically started to move her fingers through the muddy dirt. Xena almost reached down and pulled the bardís hands away until she realized that Gabrielle was trying to write something in the wet earth. Xena waited until Gabrielleís fingers stopped moving. Two words were written. Canít talk. Xena looked from Gabrielle to the dirt and back to Gabrielle. "You canít talk? Is that whatís wrong?" Gabrielle slowly nodded her head up and down. Without warning, the bard threw herself against Xena, wrapping her arms around the warrior and holding tight. "Iíve got you, itís okay." Xena put her arms around the crying woman and stroked her hair. They didnít move for almost a full candlemark, Gabrielle needing comfort like never before and Xena not certain how to provide that comfort. When she felt that Gabrielle had finally calmed down, Xena pulled back to look at the tear stained face. "GabrielleÖhey, look at me." She put her hand on the bardís chin and forced her to look. "I donít know how this happened, but I swear weíll find a way to get your voice back." Gabrielle nodded and wiped her eyes. "Thatís better. Are you hungry?" Xena was surprised when the bard shook her head from side to side. "Are you sure?" Another shake. "Okay, Iíll tell you what. Iíll get camp packed up and weíll head toward Athens. Weíll go see Hippocrates. If anyone can figure out whatís wrong, he can." Xena moved her thumb back and forth across Gabrielleís cheek in a comforting motion as she waited for the young woman to agree. After several heartbeats, the storyteller finally nodded.

The silence was eerie as Xena packed up the rest of their gear. She continually looked over at Gabrielle, who spent most of her time staring at the ground. The bard made no effort to help. Once everything was packed, Xena vaulted onto Argo. Gabrielle started walking, her head down as if the weight of the world was on her youthful shoulders instead of on Atlasí. Normally, Gabrielle would follow behind Argo, constantly chattering about their previous adventure or about a story that she was working on. However, Xena found herself holding Argo back, keeping the bard within her line of sight. Xena never realized how much she depended on Gabrielleís chatter to let her know that the bard was still with her. Looking down now, Xena watched as Gabrielle walked slowly, staring at the ground. The warriorís heart ached to take the pain away. Gabrielleís voice was one of her biggest assets. It opened inns for them, eased the way for Xena to enter new towns, haggled for the best prices on goods. Now it would be up to Xena to handle all that, and the warrior knew that she was nowhere near as proficient with words as her beloved bard.

After an candlemark of deafening silence and painfully slow progress, Xena could stand it no more. Hopping off of Argo, she walked over and put her arm on Gabrielleís shoulder. "Would you like to ride for a while? Weíll get there quicker." The bard turned to face her and Xena realized that she had been crying. "Hey," Xena said softly as she wiped away an errant tear. "Why didnít you tell me?" Quickly realizing the mistake in her words, she corrected herself. "Iím sorry. Gabrielle, would you ride with me?" The bard shook her head. "Please?" Gabrielle looked at her thoughtfully. Xena never said please. "Gabrielle, I really want you to ride with me." Seeing no reaction, Xena took a deep breath and contemplated her words carefully. "It would make me feel better. I canít hear you but at least I would be able to feel you. Please Gabrielle, I need some kind of contact with you." It was an admission of Xenaís own helplessness over the situation. As upset as Gabrielle was, she still understood the importance of the warriorís words. The bard walked over and put her foot in the stirrup. Xena pushed her up, then climbed up behind her. Holding the reins in her hand, Xena wrapped her arms around the younger womanís waist. Gabrielle continued to cry silently, but allowed herself to take comfort in the strong womanís arms. Xenaís mind raced as she tried to figure out what happened to the bardís voice.

Argo stopped quickly when Gabrielle pulled back on the reins. "Whatís wrong?" Xena asked, then mentally berated herself for being so stupid. "Iím sorry. We have to figure out a way to communicate with each other." Gabrielle nodded slightly and pushed her hand against Xenaís leg. "What? You want to get down?" A nod. Xena slid off and held her arms out to aid the bard. As she lowered Gabrielle, Xena wrapped her arms around and held her close. "Gabrielle, you know there isnít anything in the world that I wouldnít do for you. Weíll find a way to make this better. I swear to Artemis that we will." She released the embrace. Gabrielle started to walk toward the thick underbrush. "Where are you going?" Xena said as she reached out and grabbed the bardís arm. Gabrielle pointed at the woods. "Why do you want to go there?" Gabrielle looked at her, trying to figure out how to tell her without embarrassing either one of them. Finally she pointed between her legs, then waved her arm, indicating the woods. Xena arched her eyebrow as understanding set in. "Oh." She smirked. Gabrielle rolled her eyes in the first pleasant gesture all day. The bard headed into the mass of trees and undergrowth when she heard Xenaís footsteps behind her. She turned around. "I have to make sure youíre all right. What if you fell over a log and hit your head? How would I know? Iím just looking out for you." Gabrielle scowled and kept walking, well aware of the six foot shadow behind her. When she found the spot she wanted, she reached up and pushed on Xenaís left shoulder while pulling on the other one. "I was going to turn around, Gabrielle. I didnít need your help." She turned around and looked up at the treetops, smirking at the bardís modesty. Her ears told her when the bard was done, but she waited until she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder before she moved. They walked back to the road in silence.

It was two candlemarks past mid-day when Gabrielle pulled on the reins again. They dismounted. Xena assumed that Gabrielle had to go to the woods again, but the bard stood there and rubbed her stomach. "Oh, itís time for lunch, isnít it?" Gabrielle nodded. Xena looked up at the sky. "Iím sorry. I guess I lost track of time. Usually youÖ" She let the words trail off, realizing her mistake. "Come on, Iíll catch us a rabbit and I swear itíll be bigger than the one we had last night, okay?" She had hoped for a smile from her bard, but all she received was an indifferent shrug.

Xena quickly unsaddled Argo and let the war-horse munch on the sweet grass. Gabrielle made no attempt to unpack their foodstuffs or cooking gear. Uncertain if the bard even wanted to eat, Xena walked over and sat cross-legged next to her. Gabrielle quickly wrote something in the soft dirt. Xena looked over to read the words. "Youíre scared? I know you are." Xena reached over and put her hand on the bardís knee. "This isnít permanent, Gabrielle." She said the words although she feared the opposite. "Look on the bright side, at least your hand isnít broken. You still can write, even if you canít talk." Gabrielle frowned and wrote in the dirt. "Big deal? Gabrielle, it is a big deal." Gabrielle turned her head away. "No. Look at me, Gabrielle." Xena used her hand to move the girlís head. "It is a big deal." She sighed, wishing that she knew what was going on in her bardís head. "Gabrielle, maybe you should take some time and write down what youíre feeling." The head shook. "Gabrielle, I mean it. I really think it would help." There was a long pause. "It would help me. I have no idea whatís going on in your pretty little head and I would give anything to know. Use your parchment and talk to me, Gabrielle. Donít shut me out like this. I donít deserve it." Xena stood, unable to deal with the feelings anymore. She needed something to do. "Iím going to get something for lunch." She reached into the saddlebag and pulled out the frying pan. "You go get some wood and start the fire. If you need me, use this." She held the pan out and waited a few heartbeats for the bard to take it. Unsure of what else to say, Xena turned and headed for the woods, making certain that she was within earshot of her precious friend.

Xena returned with two small rabbits, neatly skinned, to find that Gabrielle had indeed started the fire and made a spit. To her disappointment, however, she saw that the bard had made no attempt to write anything down. The warrior was not used to Gabrielle keeping her feelings inside. Usually Gabrielle was very forthcoming about her feelings. Xena realized the irony of the situation. The stoic warrior trying to get the passionate bard to express her feelings. She felt a twinge of guilt. Gabrielle tried so hard to get Xena to express even the tiniest of emotions, most of the time failing. I have to be more open to her about my feelings, the warrior thought to herself. "Well, I couldnít get a large rabbit, but I got two small ones." She knelt down and put them on the spit. "Donít feel like writing right now, do you?" Shake. "Okay, I wonít push you, Gabrielle, although I should. Zeus knows you push me enough to express my emotions." The bard looked up at her, acknowledging the remark. "What Iím trying to say is, Iím here for you." She took a chance and sat down next to her. "Iíll always be here for you, no matter what happens." Gabrielle maintained the eye contact, her face revealing a contrast of emotions. Xena saw the pain, fear, and sorrow mixed with a despondency that didnít belong on a face so young. Xena moved over to the fire and turned the spit. I never realized just how difficult it was to keep up a one sided conversation, she thought to herself. How does she do it? Smiling to herself, Xena thought about just how lucky she was to have the copper haired woman in her life.

"Yes, Xena. How lucky are you?" Ares chuckled as he looked down on them. "How lucky will you think you are when you end up using your last dinar to get food for her, Mmm? Sheíll be totally dependent on you, Xena. Sheíll drag you down until youíre her personal servant. Sounds real lucky to me, Xena." The skies rumbled with the God of Warís laughter.

"Do you want more?" Shake. "Okay, Iíll go saddle Argo and you can pack up." Xena tossed the remains of her food into the fire and went to go take care of the horse. She was quickly getting frustrated with herself for not being able to get through to Gabrielle. Gods, how she missed that voice. How she missed closing her eyes and listening to Gabrielle weave a tale. The bard knew just the right words to say to bring Xena out of her shell, and the right words to comfort. As she brushed Argoís back, Xena wished she knew what words to say to comfort Gabrielle. Nothing she tried had worked. She privately feared that her precious bard was slipping into a depression.

After dinner, they sat next to the fire. "Gabrielle, I want you to try to write." Xena set the ink down on the ground next to the bard and handed her the quill and parchment. Gabrielle dropped the objects on the ground next to the ink. "Gabrielle, you need to write down whatís going on." Shake. "Why?" Shake. "Tell me how your feeling, Gabrielle, please." Shake. Xena felt her anger rising and her patience thinning. "Gabrielle, I canít stand not knowing what your thinking." That got a reaction. The bardís blue-green eyes flashed with anger as she grabbed the quill and parchment. The angry scowl was still on her face as she wrote. She tossed the quill on the ground, something she never normally would do, and shoved the note at Xena.

"Howís it feel? Now you have a glimpse of what I go through every single day, and the funny part is, YOU CAN TALK, YOU JUST DONíT!!!"

Xena looked up from reading the note, her face clearly showing her shock. Gabrielle watched her until eye contact was made, then turned her face back to the fire. The orange flames reflected off the tears that rolled down the face of the amazon. Xena moved the ink and quill out of the way and sat down next to Gabrielle. Both women looked into the fire. "You know, there was a time when I liked the silence. It was calming after a battle. After all the screams and shouts, the thundering of hooves, the sound of metal against metal, the silence was a blessing. Right now the silence is anything but calming. You mean more to me than anyone else in the world, Gabrielle." The bardís head turned, Xena continued to stare into the fire. It was hard enough just trying to talk. "I guess I never told you that, huh? You do." Xena quieted. Gabrielle reached out and touched the warriorís shoulder. Xena turned and looked at her. "More than anyone." Gabrielleís bottom lip quivered as her eyes brimmed with unshed tears. "Come here." Xena pulled the bard in and held her close, burying her head in the coppery hair. When Gabrielle pulled back, she had a sad smile on her face. "What?" Gabrielle pointed at the warrior, then held up two fingers. "What? One two?" Shake. Repeats the motions. "Me?" Nod. "Okay, me" Two fingers held up. "Two? Me two? Oh, me too." Nod. Xena looked down at the ground. "Iím not good at this, Gabrielle." Xena said softly, "Iím trying, Iím better than I was two summers ago, arenít I?" Gabrielle nodded, then smiled and held up her thumb a forefinger, a thin flicker of light between them. Xenaís eyes widened. "Oh you." She leaned over and ruffled the coppery hair, receiving a good-natured shove in return. Xena sat there for a moment, unsure of what to do next. Deciding that she needed to keep her hands busy, she threw more logs on the fire. "Why donít we make it an early night so we can get a good start in the morning?" She looked over to see a shrug from Gabrielle, who made no effort to move. "GabrielleÖ" She arched an eyebrow to make her point. Her body making the motions of sighing but without the sounds, Gabrielle got up and moved over to her bedroll.

Xena moved to the opposite side of the fire and laid out her own. That was the way they always slept, unless it was a cold night. Only then did they sleep together. Xena didnít feel the cold as much as the young bard did, but she never minded when Gabrielle asked to sleep with her. Xena sometimes wished that the beautiful young woman would sleep with her more often. The warrior loved the way Gabrielleís hair felt against her face, how soft the bardís skin was against her own. Xena had just settled into her bedroll when she saw Gabrielle stand up. Xena propped herself up on one elbow and watched Gabrielle pick up her bedroll and walk over to the warriorís side of the fire. "Come here." Xena said affectionately as she pulled back her cover and made room for her bard. Gabrielle quickly took refuge in the warriorís strong arms. Xena covered them both with the bardís bedroll and put her hand on Gabrielleís hip.

It felt so good to be held in the warriorís strong arms. Gabrielle snuggled in closer, feeling the heat radiate from the warriorís body wherever their bare skin touched. Reaching down, she took Xenaís hand and moved it off of her hip and down across her stomach. She needed to be held, be comforted. If something happened during the night, Gabrielle had no way to let Xena know. She decided that she needed to feel her warriorís body during the night. Even in her sleep, Xena would be able to protect her. Xena tightened her grip around the young womanís midriff. Pulling the bard closer, she wrapped her tall body around the soft, smaller one, and fell into an uneasy slumber.

Gabrielle thrashed about, instantly waking Xena. She watched the bards lips move silently. Even with no sounds, Xena knew the girl was in the throws of a bad nightmare. Xena could usually tell what kind of dreams the bard was having just by listening to her from across the fire. Some nights she would hear giggles. At first, Xena would sit up and see if the bard was awake. After a while, she realized that Gabrielle was dreaming about something funny. One night, Gabrielleís giggling had been so bad that after a while Xena couldnít control herself and started to giggle at the girl giggling in her sleep. Other nights werenít quite as pleasant. After becoming Queen, Gabrielle had terrible nightmares reliving the recent deaths over and over in her sleep. She would scream out the name of the person who died in her dream. At first, it was Perdicus or Xena. In recent moons, the occasional nightmare was always about Xenaís death. Although they never spoke about it in the mornings, what Xena witnessed at night spoke volumes to her about the depth of the bardís feelings. On rare occasions, Xena woke up to hear sounds of pleasure part from the lips of the young sleeping bard. When those nights happened, Xena would quietly sit up and watch Gabrielle, enthralled with the movements and sounds she made. Gabrielleís moans would start out soft, gentle. Then they would become more passionate as her dream progressed. The bardís body would move beneath the bedroll and Xena would sometimes catch uninhibited gazes at Gabrielleís smooth, soft breasts. They never talked about those dreams either, though Xena noticed that Gabrielle was more pleasant and easier to get up the next morning.

The way that she was thrashing about, Xena worried that the bard would hurt herself. Xena hated to wake up anyone in the middle of a nightmare. She knew what she was like when she was woken up from one. She almost knocked Gabrielle out one time when the bard tried to wake her from a nightmare. Sheíd even heard of people just plain dying from being woken up. She looked down at her best friend again. Whatever terror had itís grip on her, it was too much for Xena to bear. She grabbed hold of Gabrielleís shoulders and shook her.

Gabrielle stood there, looking at the three sword-wielding thugs. Her staff was out of reach. She knew Xena was nearby. She tried to shout but no words came. The men came closer. She tried to run but her legs got tangled up in the bedroll. She fell down just as they reached her. The men laughed lecherously as they realized that she couldnít speak. She felt hands grab her shoulders, shaking herÖ

"Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Wake up!" She opened her eyes to see a very concerned Xena looking down at her. It was a nightmare. Just a nightmare. "Boy, Xena, you wouldnít believeÖ" Her mouth moved, but no sounds came out. It wasnít all a nightmare. She had no control over the wave of tears that coursed down her face. Xena let go of her shoulders and pulled Gabrielle close. She stroked the coppery hair, gently rocking back and forth. "OkayÖitís all right nowÖIíve got youÖI knowÖ" Xena repeated the words over and over like a mantra. Her voice low and throaty, she spoke in a hypnotic tone, hoping to calm the silent woman down.

Gabrielle listened to the deep voice of her warrior. She loved this woman so much. When needed, Xena was her calm port in a storm. Gabrielle never ceased to be amazed at how fierce and rough Xena could be one minute, yet gentle and soft the next. There were many dichotomies like that about Xena. She was a warrior and a healer. She hunted animals for food and pelts, yet spent candlemarks brushing down Argo. Intelligent about so many things, yet completely helpless in many social matters. Listening to Xenaís voice speaking gently to her, Gabrielle finally calmed down enough to fall back asleep. Xena waited until she heard the familiar rhythm of breathing that indicated sleep before she slid out from between the bedrolls.

She knew there would be no more sleep for her tonight. Between worrying about Gabrielleís nightmares and the new horror of the day, she was lucky she had been able to sleep at all. Staring at the fire, Xena contemplated the new problems raised by Gabrielleís sudden muteness.

The most obvious problem was the financial one. Keeping a full grown war-horse fed gets expensive quickly. Put that on top of the ravenous appetite of the bard and the situation became even more grim. Another new realization to hit Xena was that Gabrielle was responsible for most of the money that they earned. Whenever they were low on funds, which was most of the time, Gabrielle willingly told her tales to whoever would listen. It was the dinars that she earned that kept them clothed and fed.

With the concern over money heightened, Gabrielleís haggling skills would be needed more than ever. But without the bardís voice to sway the merchant, Xena was at the mercy of whatever mood the merchant was in. Xena never haggled. To tell the truth, she wasnít always sure just what was a fair price. Gabrielle knew those things, she knew what everything cost, how much profit was being made, and how firm the merchant was on his price. Xena would be lucky if she could make the few dinars they had last until they got to Athens. Once there, there was no way Xena could afford to pay for a place for them to stay much less whatever it would cost to heal Gabrielle, if a cure could be found.

The problem that pressed on her mind and her heart the most was not Gabrielleís physical state, but her emotional one. Xena could understand how upsetting it was for the bard to lose her voice. She could understand the mood swings between anger and sadness. But the bard seemed to be spiraling downward into a deep depression. Communicating was a lifeblood to Gabrielle. Xena watched many times as Gabrielle reached out and talked to people, not just with her mouth, but with her heart. They once came across a young boy who spoke a different language and Gabrielle worked and worked until she found a way to make him understand her and be understood. Xena sadly thought that Gabrielle was making no move to try to communicate with her. The most disturbing action was the amazonís refusal to put anything down in writing. Even in their most troubled times, Gabrielle found comfort sitting by the fire and putting her thoughts and feelings into words on parchment. Xena feared the bard would lose herself in the sea of emotions that were bottled up inside her. She knew from personal experience just how difficult it was to live with hidden feelings. She often had to battle within herself to maintain control over her own emotions. How could Gabrielle, a woman whose heart is so pure, so free, handle the intensity of caged feelings?

Gabrielleís safety. The young woman had become so proficient with her staff that Xena had become more and more confident about letting the bard wander off on her own. That would no longer be possible. There was no way that Xena would let her precious Gabrielle out of her sight now. She knew the dangers a mute could face in an unfriendly village. The bard was much too vulnerable now for Xena to think about anything else but protecting her. The warrior only hoped that they didnít run into any problems between here and Athens.

Rubbing her temples to ward off the impending headache, Xena impatiently waited for dawn, knowing that the new day would bring new problems for the two of them, especially if Gabrielle still refused to reveal her feelings. Xenaís inability to get Gabrielle to communicate with her was wearing on her patience. She wasnít used to having to work hard to get her questions answered, especially from Gabrielle. Xena only hoped she could keep her frustration and anger in check until the bard could work out her feelings.

"Gabrielle, itís going to be a long enough trip as it is. It would be a lot easier if we could work out some hand signals so I donít have to ask a dozen questions to find out what you want." Xena said as she double-checked the straps on Argoís saddle. Satisfied with the tension, she gave Argo a pat and walked back over to sit next to Gabrielle. "All right, letís think about what we need." Xena smirked. "Letís start with a trip to the woods." Gabrielle frowned at her friendís attempt at humor. "Come on, we have to think of something. I canít very well have you pointing atÖ" She raised her eyebrow. Gabrielle blushed slightly. Her sexuality wasnít something she was comfortable with. The one and only night with Perdicus was her only experience and she felt sorely disappointed. Her mother had done an excellent job of instilling a sense of modesty in her. "Gabrielle, are you listening to me?" She was pulled out of her revelry by the warriorís voice. "Good. Now, what are we going to use for you to tell me that you have to go to the woods?" She watched as Gabrielleís face went thoughtful for a moment, then watched her decide on something. Gabrielle held out her hand and pointed two fingers at the forest. "Fine, two fingers pointed at the forest. Thatíll do. Now, what else?" Gabrielleís hands started to move rapidly. "Whoa, I canít keep up with you. What are you trying to say?" Gabrielle held her hand out in the shape of cup, then held it to her lips. She did it a couple of times before Xena spoke. "Drink?" Nod. "Good. Thatís a good one for drink, Gabrielle." Xena tried to remind herself that Gabrielle needed more compliments than ever now. "Yes, a very good one." She was rewarded with the first real smile she had seen on her bardís face since the incident started. Unable to resist the joy at the moment, the warrior revealed a rare emotion. "Thatís nice, Gabrielle. I wondered if I was ever going to see your beautiful smile again." Gabrielle looked at her thoughtfully, then lowered her eyes. Uncomfortable with the current mood, Xena quickly took the opportunity to go back to their original subject. "Okay, we have the woods and we have drink. What else do we need?" They spent a few more minutes going over different hand signals before packing camp and getting back on the road.

They were fortunate that no other travelers were on the same road. Xena worried about the dangers of a possible ambush. Her fear over Gabrielleís safety already caused one fight earlier in the day when Xena insisted that the bard ride rather than walk. At least having Gabrielle on Argo made it easier to make a run for it, if need be. She tried being nice, then being firmer, then growling. When none of those methods worked, she used the tone reserved for when she would broach no argument. It was extremely rare that she used that tone with Gabrielle because she knew that it hurt to bard to hear Xena talk like that to her. Even if Gabrielle could talk, Xena figured that lunch would have been a silent affair anyway. The bard refused to write anything that evening, inciting another argument between them, if one could call Xena stomping around the fire, ranting and raving, an argument. Several times Gabrielle stood up to walk away and Xena followed her, making it clear that the bard was not going to be let out of her sight. Despite the hostile feelings during the day, when it came time to settle down for the night, Gabrielle pulled her bedroll over and snuggled up against Xena. Just before Gabrielleís breathing eased and deepened into full sleep, Xena swore she felt the bardís lips brush against her arm. Deciding to take it as a sign of truce, Xena pulled her closer and cuddled up for a semi-restful sleep.

As much as Xena wanted to climb into a hot bath and sit down to a good meal, she didnít dare take a chance on bringing Gabrielle into a strange town. That was on top of her concern over their funds. Their foodstuffs were dwindling, despite her increased effort to use food found around the campsite. She could usually catch enough fish and rabbits, but she still had to provide more than dry grass for Argo. She held off having tea because she had so few leaves left. She realized that Gabrielle was aware of the food supply. Xena watched the way she filled herself with berries and nuts before taking any of the dry goods. Xena felt a twinge of guilt at her inability to take care of the bard the way she wanted to. It was nearly nightfall when they first spotted the small upcropping of huts and houses that signified the edges of Athens. They turned off into the woods and found a small private spot to camp out for the night. For the fourth straight night, they followed the same pattern: Gabrielle refused to touch her quill, yet still curled up in Xenaís arms at bedtime. Xena growled with frustration at Gabrielle, yet willingly took her into her arms when it was time to sleep. Each time, Gabrielle laid a gentle kiss on the warriorís arm. Xena had been tempted to return the kiss, but she didnít want to do anything to scare Gabrielle. The young woman didnít need that on top of her current problem.

They found the medical building near the city entrance. "Weíd like to see Hippocrates." Xena said to the young man holding a piece of parchment attached to a piece of wood used for support. He twirled his quill between his fingers. It was a habit that Xena found endearing in Gabrielle and utterly annoying in him.

"And who shall I say is calling?" His whiny, nasally voice grated on Xenaís nerves after days of quiet.

"Xena and Gabrielle." She said evenly. The young man stopped twiddling his quill and looked at her nervously.

"UmÖXenaÖ"

"And Gabrielle. He knows us." She was quickly getting annoyed with him.

"YesÖI see, wellÖweíre really quite busy now and urggff." He was quickly picked up and pressed up against a near wall, the fingers around his neck keeping him a good two feet off of the ground.

"We need to see Hippocrates." Her tone was still even, her face devoid of emotions.

"See here, whatís going on? Michael, what are you-oh, hi Xena." Hippocrates came through the door. Xena released her grip on Michael and let him slump to the floor. He stayed there for a moment before deciding that the threat was over and stood up.

"Gabrielle needs help." Xena said as they followed him into the next room. He turned to face the bard.

"And what seems to be the problem, my dear?" He noticed, frowning, that she had a few more scars than last time they were here.

"She lost her voice." Xena answered for her.

"Hmm." The healer rubbed his chin as he contemplated what the possible causes could be. He walked over to the table and picked up a piece of wood as long as his hand. It was thin and flat, not much wider than a finger. "Hop up here on the table." Gabrielle looked at Xena, as if gathering courage, then climbed up and sat down on the table. Hippocrates walked over and stood in front of her. "Open your mouthÖwiderÖthatís good, now hold still." He held her tongue down with the stick and looked down her throat. "Looks fine to me." He put the stick down and put his fingers on either side of her throat, moving them around as he felt about. "Lie down." Gabrielle flashed another look at Xena. This time the warrior saw fear in the bardís eyes. Like a protective mother, Xena stood next to Gabrielle and held her hand. "Now Iím going to perform a few more tests on you. They shouldnít hurt, but they might be uncomfortable." Gabrielle nodded in understanding.

"Be gentle." Xena said softly. She knew he would do that without being asked.

"You did fine." Hippocrates said to Gabrielle as he helped her sit up. He made a notation on a piece of parchment before addressing them again. "Gabrielle, could you wait out in the other room for a moment? I need to talk to Xena." Gabrielle hopped off of the table and started waving her arms animatedly in tune with her silent lips. She pointed at herself and stamped her foot in anger and frustration.

"Hippocrates, I think she wants to stay. It is her body, after all." Xena finally understood and came to Gabrielleís rescue. Satisfied with her small victory, the amazon walked over and stood next to Xena. The healer cleared his throat and thought about what to say. He wasnít sure which one he feared more at the moment, the warrior or the feisty bard.

"I find no signs of an infection or any other physical reason for the muteness." He watched solemnly as both women allowed their disappointment to show on their faces. "I wish there was something more I could do." He walked over and put his hand on Gabrielleís chin. "You have such a beautiful voice and you tell such wonderful stories. I donít know why the gods saw fit to remove that gift from you." Gabrielle turned away as fresh tears brimmed her eyes. Hippocrates looked over a Xena. "Iím sorry, there isnít anything more that can be done." He worried about Gabrielleís mental state. In his years of healing, he had known of people who lost a precious gift; sight, hearing, or a limb. Most survived and adapted, some did not. He worried about what would happen if she did not adapt soon.

"Youíve done all that you could, I appreciate that." Xenaís tone gave away nothing of her emotions. "What do we owe you?"

"Oh no." He held up his hands. "I canít take any money from the two of you." Xena nodded in quiet thanks. He looked at the bard for a moment. She still had her back to them, obviously not wanting to be involved in any more conversation. Turning back to Xena, he asked "Where are you two staying?" Xena stiffened slightly. Even without having to pay him, they still didnít have enough money for an inn.

"Thereís a cave a half-candlemark or so out of town." It was a lie and he knew it. Quickly assessing the situation, he smiled as he thought of a solution.

"Xena, why donít the two of you stay at my house while youíre here? I have more than enough room." He shook his head when he saw Xena open her mouth to protest. "I insist. You two have done so much to help both me and the people of Athens out over the last summer or so. I wonít take no for an answer." Satisfied with the slight nod he got from the warrior, he continued. "Now, my servant Philos is there. Iíll write a note for you to take with you. Heíll arrange for a clean room, hot baths, and a warm meal for the two of you. You are welcome to stay as long as you like. Besides, it would be a good opportunity for me to monitor Gabrielle for any signs of change." Although he doubted there would be any change, it seemed to help sway the argument to his direction.

"Itís up to Gabrielle." Xena finally said. She was so unsure about what the bard was thinking that she didnít want to make the decision on her own. Having heard the conversation, Gabrielle only nodded, keeping her back to them. Her mind was far away, trying to figure out why this tragedy happened to her. What had she done to deserve this? She allowed her mind to drift into the dark thoughts until she felt Xenaís reassuring hand on her shoulder. She followed the warrior out of the hut, the sad, depressed look never leaving the bardís face.

Despite the warm food, hot bath, and clean clothes, Gabrielle still hadnít lifted from her dark mood. Philos offered to make up a second room for them, but Xena refused. She needed to be as close to Gabrielle as she could get. Even one room away was too far for the warrior. She sadly wished she knew a way to get past the walls that Gabrielle was building up within herself. Xena knew better than to try and force the bard to write. It hadnít worked yet and each time she tried, Gabrielle got angrier and closed down even more. No longer able to reach Gabrielle, Xena turned in early out of frustration. The warm food and hot bath did their job, Xena fell asleep quickly.

Gabrielle laid awake, listening to the deep breathing of her sleeping companion. She knew she was hurting Xena by not writing about her feelings. No matter how hard she tried, she couldnít bring herself to put the quill to parchment. She thought about what Hippocrates said. Perhaps the gods did take her voice away as punishment for some unknown deed. She didnít know what it was that she could have done to make the gods so angry. Which god? Artemis? No, she looked over at her staff. It still bore the markings of the Amazon Queen. If Artemis was mad at her, she would have taken away Gabrielleís right-of-caste. Athena? Hermes? Calliope? Her eyebrows furrowed. Calliope. The Muse. The goddess of the bards. Of course! She must have said something to upset the muse and her punishment was eternal silence. Her mind went over every story she had told, every song that she had sung, trying to find the one thing that cost her the gift of speech. The first fingers of dawn peeked through the window before she finally fell into an uneasy sleep, her mind tormented with guilt over an unknown deed.

"Gabrielle." Xena gently shook the bardís shoulder. The blue-green eyes fluttered open. The bard moved her mouth to speak, then closed it when she realized that no sounds were coming. Xena watched grimly as the bardís face went sullen and hard again. It was going to be yet another long day, the warrior thought. "Gabrielle, breakfast is on the table if you want it." Gabrielle nodded, acknowledging the words, but she didnít care if she ever ate again. Xena sighed, her frustration was closely reaching a breaking point. She didnít know how much longer she could take the bardís depression and anger. "Look, I have to go take care of Argo. Iíll be back in a couple of candlemarks. Can you stay here while Iím gone?" A thought formed in Gabrielleís mind. She nodded to Xena while her mind worked out her plan. Thinking that she had convinced the queen to stay put, Xena went to go take care of Argo.

Once Xena left the room, Gabrielle quickly rummaged through the saddlebags, pulling out all of her scrolls, finished, unfinished, and blank. She found her ink and quill. Taking a blank piece of parchment, she quickly wrote a short note and left it on the table. Gathering the rest of the items into her bag, she grabbed her staff and left. She felt guilty about not staying where Xena wanted her to, but this was just something that she had to do.

Gabrielle walked through the busy streets until she found Polderís scroll shop. Once inside the small hut, she waited for him to finish with another customer. "Gabrielle? It is you." Polderís face beamed with happiness. It had been so long since he had seen her. A puzzled look came over his face when she didnít respond. "Gabrielle, is everything all right? Whereís Xena?" Gabrielle pulled out a piece of parchment and quickly scribbled something down. Handing the note to Polder, she waited for him to finish reading it. "You lost your voice? Why? How?" She shook her head, refusing to tell him of her shame. Taking the paper back from him, she wrote more words down, then handed it back. "You want to sell your blank scrolls? I donít understand, Gabrielle. Arenít you going to keep writing your stories?" She shook her head solemnly. Obviously Calliope didnít want her to tell any more stories, verbally or otherwise. "Well, it is almost time for the bard academy finals. Iím sure theyíll need all the blank scrolls they can get. Iíll give you a fair price for them if thatís what you really want." Polder didnít like the look in his friendís eyes. It was a look of hopelessness, as if she had resigned herself to her fate without a fight. She reached in the bag and pulled out the blank scrolls. Handing them to him, she waited for Polder to figure out a fair price. She didnít care if he gave her only one dinar for the whole pile. "I can give you twenty dinars for all of them. I wonít make any profit when I sell them, but I figure thatís probably what you paid for them in the first place." Gabrielle nodded with acceptance. He reached into his pouch and pulled out the dinars, handing them to her. Gabrielle put them in her bag and turned to leave. "Wait." She turned to see Polder looking at her anxiously. "Is Xena still with you? If you canít talk, then youíll need her more than ever." She nodded to indicate she still was with the warrior. Polder still wasnít at all comfortable with the mood of his friend. "Gabrielle, can I walk you to wherever youíre going? Iím sure Xena would appreciate it if she knew that someone was watching out for you." She shook her head. She had to do this alone. "If you need me, you know where to find me." Polder said, waving his arm to indicate the small hut. Not acknowledging the remark, Gabrielle left the hut and headed toward the edge of the city.

Xena knew something was wrong when she entered the house. Philos saw her and quickly decided that a trip to the cellar was in order. Entering the room, she frowned when she realized that Gabrielle wasnít there. A quick look around told her that the scrolls were missing from the saddlebags and Gabrielleís staff was also missing. She picked up the note on the table and read it. Brief and to the point, not at all like something that Gabrielle would have normally written. "Iím going to a temple." It didnít say when she would be back or even if she would be back. Now nervous, Xena made a thorough search of the saddlebags. All the scrolls were gone as well as the packet of ink and Gabrielleís quill. Perhaps she went somewhere to write? Xena hoped for that possibility, but seriously doubted it. She read the note again. Temple. She went to a temple. In a city as large as Athens, almost every god had a temple. They were scattered throughout the city. Xena had no idea whose temple Gabrielle would have gone to. Angry at Gabrielle for leaving and angry at herself for not staying with the bard, Xena stormed out the door to look for the amazon.

The priestess watched as a young amazon entered the temple. Unlike the many other bards that visited, she went nowhere near the dais. Instead, the young woman sat in a corner and started to write. The priestess watched as tears fell from the quiet womanís face, spilling onto the parchment. Just as quietly, the woman rose and walked to the dais. Removing several scrolls from her pouch, the woman wrapped the parchment around the scrolls and tied it off with a thin strip of leather. She placed the pile on the dais, then set the quill and ink next to them. Without looking at the priestess, the woman bowed her head for a moment, then left. The priestess was stunned. No one ever entered Calliopeís temple without speaking a prayer to the muse, and certainly no one ever left their quill and ink, much less their scrolls. Many people visited the temple daily. Most were bards, asking for help with a story or thanking the muse for inspiration. Never had anyone come in and left their scrolls. She wasnít sure how the gentle goddess of prose would handle this.

Xena checked six different temples before returning to Hippocrates house. Gabrielle had not been seen at any of them. It had been six candlemarks since she found the note. Now frantic with worry, the warrior paced back and forth across the room, afraid to leave in case Gabrielle returned and afraid to stay in case Gabrielle needed help. Why did Gabrielle leave? If she wanted to go to a temple, she knew that Xena would escort her. The warrior ran her fingers through her hair in frustration. Nothing she tried was getting through to Gabrielle. Now the bard was out there, all alone, by choice. By choice. The words played again and again inside the warriorís mind. Gabrielle walked out by choice. Whatever was going on inside, she chose not to share it with Xena. Hiding her hurt behind anger, Xena continued to pace, this time with more force in her steps.

Gabrielle watched from behind the edge of a building as Xena left the temple of Artemis. She knew there would be a massive fight when she returned to their room, but this had to be done. Her heart full of guilt and shame, her head hung low, shoulders slumped, she entered the temple of the moon goddess.

Artemis smiled when she saw her queen enter the temple. It was so rare that her chosen came to visit. The goddess pulled her scrying bowl close so she could hear the soft, melodic voice of the Queen of her beloved Amazons. To her surprise, her queen said nothing. Gabrielle stood there, looking at the statue of the moon goddess, tears flowing down her face. Artemis frowned. What could be troubling her beloved queen that she would come to the temple and cry? She watched Gabrielle look down at her staff, then back up at the statue. What was she doing? Gabrielle took a hesitant step toward the dais. Anger welled inside the goddess as she realized what the queen was contemplating. She was almost ready to go down to the temple and confront the queen when she saw Gabrielle fall to her knees as sobs racked her mortal body. Artemis was tempted to read the amazonís thoughts, but hesitated, waiting instead to see what the leader of the amazons would do. After several moments, Gabrielle rose and left the temple, staff in hand. As tempted as the goddess was to intervene and find out what was going on, she decided to wait and see what the fates brought to her chosen one. The moon goddess had no idea that another god had already intervened.

Gabrielle stared at the statue of Artemis. "I really should relinquish my title." She thought to herself. She looked down at the staff, then back at the statue. If she had angered Calliope, then surely the moon goddess was upset with her as well. She looked at the staff again. If Artemis didnít want her to be queen, surely she would have taken the staff herself. Perhaps that was another punishment that had yet to be given. She collapsed to her knees as her tears poured out. She didnít know if she should leave the staff or not. She didnít dare call out in her mind for the goddess to appear, she was terrified that Artemis was angry with her. All the strain of the past few days came out in her tears. She was so confused. She rose and took a step toward the dais. What if Artemis wasnít mad at her? If she relinquished the staff, that would certainly make the goddess angry. What if she didnít? What if she was supposed to give up her title and she didnít? Gabrielle decided that if the great goddess wanted the staff, she would take it from her. She had apparently already upset one god, upsetting another was not a good idea. She decided to wait and see what Artemis would do. Gabrielle turned around and left the temple, staff in hand. She fully expected a bolt of lightning to come down and kill her on the spot for making the wrong decision. It didnít happen. Maybe even Artemis didnít care about her anymore. No one cared except Xena and Gabrielle was sure that Xena would grow tired of her soon. What good is a bard that canít talk? It wouldnít be long before Gabrielle found herself alone, she was certain of it. She had ended up being the liability that she always feared she would be. Fear controlled the bard. She wandered aimlessly through the streets of Athens, afraid to return to the room, afraid that Xena would be gone. Gabrielleís biggest fear was that Xena would leave, now she was sure that the warrior had no reason to stay. Looking up at the sky, Gabrielle realized how late it must be. She looked around to get her bearings and headed back to Hippocrates house, expecting Xena to be long gone.

Calliope entered her temple and met with her priestess, Milaas. Several minutes later, a very angry muse left to search for the God of War.

Gabrielle opened the door to the room. It was dark inside, only the embers of dying fire gave any light to the room. Standing in the doorway, she looked to see if their belongings were still there. The dim light made it hard to see. She stepped forward. The saddlebags were still there. Her eyes fell upon the chakram sitting on the table. If the chakram was there, then so was...

Xena moved quickly from behind the door, kicking it with her foot to shut it. Before Gabrielle could react, the warrior grabbed both her wrists and pushed her back against the door. The bard struggled, but Xena was too strong. "No!" Xena growled as she kept the bardís arms pressed against the door. She pressed her six foot frame against the smaller bard, pinning Gabrielle. "Calm down, Iím not going to hurt you." Xena said, but she continued to keep her trapped against the door. The warrior moved her head so that her mouth was close to Gabrielleís ear. She felt Gabrielleís muscles relax slightly and she lessened her own grip, keeping it just strong enough to hold the bard in place. Xena took a few deep breaths to calm herself down. "Do you have any idea how worried I was about you? I didnít know where you were or if you were hurt." Xenaís hands started to move up and down the bardís arms, as if to make certain that she really was there. "Iím scared for you, Gabrielle. Youíre sinking into a pit of despair that I canít pull you out of. Itís killing me to see you in such pain. I feel so helpless." She released Gabrielleís arms but continued to press against her. "Gabrielle, promise that you wonít leave me." Xena pressed her cheek against Gabrielleís, her lips almost touching the bardís ear. "Promise me. I canít live without you, Gabrielle. It hurts too much."

Gabrielle was more confused than ever. She had expected Xena to be gone, to have left her. Yet here Xena was, begging her to stay. Gabrielle put her arms around Xenaís waist and gave her a gentle squeeze. She wasnít sure why, but she was sure that Xena wanted her around.

Xena felt the bards gentle arms encircle her waist and give a squeeze. She pulled back and looked into the blue-green eyes she loved. "Promise?" Nod. Xena smiled, it was the first positive reaction she had gotten from the bard in days. Xena leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. She took the bardís hand and led her to the table, motioning for her to sit down. "Gabrielle, we canít go on like this." Nod. "I know itís hard, but we have to accept that this has happened. Iím not leaving you and your not leaving me, is that clear?" Nod. "Good, now letísÖ" Xena picked her word carefully. "discuss." Gabrielle allowed the edges of her lips to lift slightly, acknowledging the catch. "Where did you go?" Gabrielle pointed to the parchment note she had left for Xena. "I know the temple, but which one? I walked all over the city looking for you." Xena gazed at the now-dead fire. "I was worried, Gabrielle. I thought that you left." Her last words were said so quietly that the bard almost didnít hear it. She reached over and laid her hand on Xenaís muscled arm. The warrior turned her gaze from the fire to the blue-green eyes. "I know you didnít mean to worry me." Gabrielle mouthed the word Ďsorryí. "Itís all right now." Xena took a deep breath and assumed her letís-solve-this manner.

"Letís take a look at our options." Xena looked around quickly. "Gabrielle, where are your scrolls?" The amazonís head dropped down. She was so happy that Xena didnít leave her that she forgot about her trip to the temples. "Gabrielle, what happened to them?" Xena watched Gabrielle thinking about how to explain the missing scrolls. "Okay, how about this, Iíll ask questions and you can tell me if Iím right or wrong." Nod. "Good." Xena thought for a moment. "Were they taken from you?" Shake. "Did you give them to someone?" Nod. "You gave your scrolls away?" Reluctant nod. Xena concentrated on her breathing as she forced herself to remain calm. "Gabrielle, those scrolls are your most cherished items. What could possess you to give them away?" Gabrielle raised her head to look at Xena. She pointed to her mouth. "I donít understand, Gabrielle. Those were your stories, your dreams, your songs. I didnít even get to hear all of them." Xena couldnít disguise the hurt tone in her voice. "What does losing your voice have to do with getting rid of your stories?" Violent shake. "You didnít get rid of them?" Nod. "I missed something." Xena sat back in her chair and rubbed her eyes. Looking around the room, she realized just how dark it was. She rose and lit several candles. This was going to take a while.

"Okay, letís try something else. Whereís your quill?" Xena asked as she sat back down at the table. Gabrielle picked up the parchment and pointed at it. "You gave your quill away too?" Xenaís patience was slipping again. "Anything else?" She asked wryly. Gabrielle made motions of dipping the quill into ink. "The ink too?" The warriorís eyes rolled. "Gabrielle, how am I supposed to communicate with you?" Gabrielle looked downward again. "All right. Weíll talk about the missing things later." The bard looked back up, grateful for the change in subject. "Whose temple did you visit?" Xena received a glare for her question. "What?" She feigned innocence. "Iím not asking you about the scrolls." Gabrielle shrugged in resignation. She pointed to the parchment again. She waited a minute to see if Xena would figure it out, but she didnít. With an exasperated look on her face, Gabrielle pointed to the parchment again, then pointed toward Mount Olympus. "The god ofÖ" Gabrielle pointed frantically at the parchment, then imitated writing on it. "Calliope?" Xena was rewarded with a relieved smile on the bardís face. "You went to Calliopeís temple?" Nod and a smile. Xena lost herself in thought for a moment. Her eyes widened and she leaned in close to Gabrielle. "You left your scrolls at Calliopeís temple, didnít you?" Gabrielle stared at the cold fireplace and nodded slightly. Xena tried to think of Gabrielleís reasons for doing something like that. "GabrielleÖlook at meÖDid you leave your scrolls there because you thought the Muse was mad at you?" Nod, eyes starting to glisten. "Do you think she took your voice away?" Gabrielle looked down at the table as the tears started to spill. "Gabrielle, I admit that I donít know much about the muses, but Iíve never heard of them being malicious to their people. Even if she was, why would she go after you?"

Gabrielleís shoulders shook as the unlabeled guilt surfaced. She didnít know why Calliope was so mad at her. She couldnít remember saying anything that would have upset the goddess. Thatís what made it so hard to bear. She felt Xenaís strong arms wrap around her. "Itís okay, Gabrielle. We donít have to talk about it any more." Gabrielleís head shot up and she turned to look at the warrior. The bard put her hand in front of her face and moved the her hands to mimic talking while her head moved from side to side. It took a moment for Xena to catch on. She rolled her blue eyes. "Iím sorry, Gabrielle. You know Iím not that good with words." Gabrielle forced herself to smile for Xenaís sake. This whole thing must be hard on her, the bard thought. The guilt she felt for hurting Xena piled up on top of the guilt of not knowing what had upset the goddess, weighing heavily on the bardís heart. Xena was tired from playing twenty questions. "Gabrielle, letís get some rest. Weíll talk about this tomorrow." The young queen nodded, eager to stop the questions.

Calliope stormed into Aresí realm. "Ah, my dear Aunt Calliope, how are you, my dear?" He leaned over to kiss her on the cheek, stepping right into her slap. He recoiled and raised his arm, ready to bring the full wrath of a war god down, then remembered who he was with. Hera would turn him into a mortal or worse if he dared hurt her sister. He quickly put his hand down. "What brings you to my realm, dear?"

"You know damn right well why Iím here!" He stepped back from the furious woman. Her grandmotherly features had changed to a more hardened look. Her silvery hair was now a steel grey. "What did you do to my Gabrielle?"

"What is it about that girl?" He growled angrily. "Is there anyone on Mount Olympus that isnít fooled by that bratís charm?" He paced around, collecting his thoughts. He had been so concerned about not tipping Artemis off about his plans that he forgot about Calliope.

"Remove whatever it is you did to her. Give her back her voice." Calliope sounded stern, but inside she was nervous. Her nephew was not one to pick a fight with.

"I donít think so." He sneered. "You canít interfere with what another god has done. You have no power to make me give that whining little brat back her voice." An evil smile played on his lips. "I could give her a chickenís voice, though."

"Donít even think about it." Calliope warned. She knew the rules as well as he. "I protest your involvement with her. You canít do anything else to her until I withdraw my protest, and I wonít do that until you give her back her voice."

"Oh, Iíll give it back to her eventually." He teased. "I donít want her. I want Xena back."

"What makes you think that taking that poor childís voice away will bring Xena back to you?"

"My dear Calliope, youíve spent too much time reading scrolls. The only thing keeping Xena from me is that infernal bard. If Xena were to leave her, it would only be a matter of time before I had her back in my fold."

"What if Xena doesnít leave her?"

"She will. Sooner or later, she will. You see, my warrior princess is in love with that farm girl. Every day it gets harder for her to keep her feelings in check. Eventually the strain will be too much and sheíll walk away from the dumb one." He smiled at his play on words.

"What if she admits her love to Gabrielle?" Calliope couldnít see why anyone wouldnít freely admit their affection for the young mortal. Her heart was so pure, so free. It was little wonder why Artemis chose her to lead the amazons.

"She wonít." The smirk returned to his face. "You see, Xena has many skills. Talking about her feelings isnít one of them." He walked around Calliope, circling her like a vulture. "Sheís not one to initiate such talk. Sheíll wait for the bard to tell her first."

"And she canít do that without her voice." Calliope said softly.

"Right you are, dear aunt. Right you are. Eventually it will be too much for Xena to bear and sheíll come running back to me."

"But if they tell each other of their love, you lose." The muse said thoughtfully. Ares looked at her, trying to figure out what the old bat was thinking about.

"If they admit their love to each other, then Iíll give the bitch her voice back." He was confident that there was no way for the bard to express her love. She was a bard, after all. They talk about their feelings, without her voice, she was helpless.

"You have to give Gabrielle her voice back and give your word that youíll leave them alone." She cowered slightly when Ares growled and grew in size, towering over her.

"Donít try to negotiate with me, old woman!"

"AresÖif youíre so convinced that they canít express their love to each other, then you should have no problem agreeing." Calliope forced herself to keep her voice level. She watched as Ares turned himself back into a less threatening form.

"I enjoy a good bet, my dear aunt." He chuckled slightly. "You have a deal."

"No tricks, Ares." She warned, knowing that he now had to honor his bet. "No interference from any gods in any form, is that clear?"

"As long as itís clear to you too, my dear. No contact at all. You canít even tell her that youíre not the one whoís mad at her." Ares laughed evilly at the museís predicament. "You have no choice but to let her continue thinking that she did something wrong. Perhaps her guilt will take her over the edge for me, hmm?" Ares evil laughter filled the museís ears as she left his realm.

Gabrielle awoke to the smell of fresh breakfast. "Good morning. Breakfast is still warm." Not eating the night before made the bardís stomach growl at the smell of fresh meat cooked to perfection. Xena couldnít stifle an uncharacteristic giggle. Seeing Gabrielleís frown, Xena tried to explain. "Iím sorry, Gabrielle. Itís just thatÖ" She lost herself to her giggles for a moment. "Itís just that Iíd forgotten howÖloud your stomach could be. You sure can convey a message with that." Gabrielle tried to stifle her smirk, but Xena saw it and gave her a lopsided grin in return. "Come on, letís feed it before it growls again." Gabrielle gave a sheepish grin as she headed to the table. It was a grin that Xena would have given her last dinar to see.

After breakfast, they worked out a few more hand signals and decided to take a walk in the city. As they walked along, Gabrielle took in the sights and sounds with her bardic senses, memorizing as many details as she could for use in a future story. She stopped when she realized what she was doing. She wouldnít be able to write any more stories. She pondered over it for a few moments before the feeling of the warm autumn day and Xena by her side brought her back to a reasonably good mood.

Turning a corner on the west side of the city, they came across a row of inns. Gabrielle noticed two amazons enter one of the inns. A small wooden carving depicting a labrys swung from an overhead signpost. Remembering the dinars in her pouch, Gabrielle tugged on Xenaís arm and pointed toward the inn. "What? Oh, the inn? Gabrielle we donítÖ" Xena stopped when she saw the dinars that Gabrielle was holding. "Where did youÖoh never mind. Iím sure I donít want to know." Xena looked over at the inn that her bard was pointing so frantically at. She looked back at Gabrielle and arched her eyebrow. "You want to go in there, my little bard?" Animated nod. Xena chuckled. "Anything you want, Gabrielle, anything you want." This was going to be very interesting indeed, Xena mused to herself as they walked over to the inn. It would turn out to be more interesting than Xena thought.

Gabrielle reached for the door handle and felt Xenaís strong arm grab her own. "Let me go in first and make sure itís safe." The blue-green eyes flashed with indignation and anger. Her hands started moving in the air as her silent lips tossed a tirade of silent words at the warrior. "Okay, okay." Xena held her hands up in defeat. "You first." She waved her arm in front of her, gesturing to the door. "Iím just trying to protect you, Gabrielle." She said as the bard passed by her. Gabrielle stopped and turned her head to look at the proud warrior. ĎAlways trying to protect me.í The bard thought as she raised a small smile to her lips for Xenaís sake.

No sooner did they step in than four well-armed amazons rose to their feet and quickly drew their weapons. Gabrielle quickly assumed a battle stance and positioned her staff accordingly, causing several of the amazons to stare at her in surprise. A sandy haired amazon wielding a vicious looking blade spoke up. "We donít want any trouble here, Xena." Her tone indicated a familiarity with the warrior.

"Neither do we, Halla. Gabrielle and I just want to sit down and have a drink. After that, weíll be on our way." Xena kept her tone even. She didnít want to fight with amazons.

"Gabrielle?" Halla looked at the young queen, then her staff. There was no mistaking it. That was definitely the queenís staff. Halla quickly knelt down and bowed her head. "My Queen, I apologize." Gabrielle looked down at the amazon and watched as the several others knelt down. Murmurs swept through the crowd of women, many of whom wore amazon garb. The queen stepped forward and put her hand on Hallaís shoulder, urging her up. Gabrielle looked to Xena for help. She couldnít explain to them what was going on.

"Halla, Gabrielle has been injured." Well, it was true, sorta. Before the amazon could speak, Xena pressed on. "She lost her voice." A look of relief swept over Hallaís face. She motioned for the other amazons to put their weapons down. Several of them looked at the well-armed warrior and were decidedly reluctant to part with their only means of defense against the former destroyer of nations. Gabrielle sensed that she had to show them that Xena was not a threat. ĎHow do I do that without words?í An idea came to her. She quickly moved up against Xena and put her arm around the warriorís waist. Xena arched an eyebrow and looked down at the bard. Halla interpreted the message just the way Gabrielle had meant her to. Xena was no threat. The amazon cleared her throat and ran her fingers through her short, sandy brown hair.

"My humble apologies, my queen. Please take any seat you want. Iíll arrange for someone to bring you some drinks." Gabrielle looked nudged Xena and rubbed her own stomach.

"The queen is also hungry. Would it be possible-"

"Say no more, weíll make sure that food is brought to you shortly." Halla showed them to a comfortable table in the far corner. It provided an excellent view of the room and all the exits. Xena was quite pleased with the table and it let be known by the approving look on her face. A woman not much younger than Gabrielle brought over two large mugs of port. Xena chuckled and held out her hand to stop the serving girl.

"Uh, perhaps something a little milder for Gabrielle?" The bard reached forward and grabbed the mug. "Okay, guess not." Xena smirked as she watched Gabrielle take a large swallow and grimace. The serving girl nodded and moved away quickly. Xena looked around at all the amazons that were staring at them. "GabrielleÖ" Xena whispered, "Youíd better smile or nod or do something so they stop looking at us." Gabrielle smiled and nodded at the women, who seemed satisfied with that for the moment. They slowly turned around and returned to their conversations, not forgetting that the queen was sitting with a former warlord over in the corner.

They sat there quietly, watching the activity around them. Xena spent a few minutes sizing up the crowd, then turned her attention back to the bard. Gabrielleís eyes were glued to something going on at a far table. Xena followed the bardís gaze and smirked when she saw what had captured her friendís attention. Halla and another woman were sitting with their chairs so close that their thighs were touching. Unable to resist, Xena leaned close to Gabrielle and whispered. "Youíre staring." The bard sat bolt upright and looked at Xena, a slight blush creeping up her neck. Unsure of what to do, the bard took another sip of the port. She crinkled her nose at the strong taste. Sometimes she paid for her stubbornness. Gabrielle decided that she had to pick her fights more carefully.

As they ate their dinner, Xena couldnít help but notice Gabrielleís continued interest in the amazon couple. When Halla put her hand on the other womanís thigh and started to caress it, the bardís eyes grew wide and her mouth opened slightly in surprise. Xena couldnít help herself. She was genuinely amused by the bardís interest in the couple. "Gabrielle, what is so fascinating about that couple? Youíve seen women touch each other before." Gabrielle turned her attention back to her companion. She nodded then waved her hands around, as if to encompass the room. "Oh, you havenít seen that in public." Nod. Xena looked quickly over to the aforementioned couple. "Well, take a look now, Gabrielle, because things just started to get interesting over there."

Gabrielle turned her attention back to the couple and saw exactly what Xena was referring to. Halla was kissing the woman passionately while her hand kneaded the womanís thigh. "They wonít last long." Xena chuckled. Gabrielle lightly elbowed her. Xena was sure that if Gabrielle could talk that the warrior would be receiving a hades of a tongue lashing right now. She arched her eyebrow as she watched the two amazons get up and head upstairs. I bet Halla is going to get a good tongue lashing tonight, Xena thought to herself. She looked over at Gabrielle, who had watched the couple leave. Xena worried that the depths of her feelings for Gabrielle would be too much for the young woman to bear. The warrior worked hard not to entertain erotic thoughts of Gabrielle. Xena knew it would be too hard to distinguish between reality and fantasy if she indulged herself like that. She was interrupted from her thoughts by the serving girl.

"Miss Halla wishes to extend the two of you use of a room and bath for tonight. If you wish, I can show you to your room right now." Xena looked at Gabrielle, asking without words what the bard wanted to do. Gabrielle took one more look around the room and nodded.

"I guess we accept then. Please extend our thanks to Halla." Xena rose and followed Gabrielle and the serving girl to their room.

It was rare that Xena had ever stayed in a room this nice, and never with Gabrielle. The bed was huge! It could easily accommodate four people. A large tub took up the far corner. There was a comfortable sized table in the other corner. The room was well lit with multi-pronged candelabras resting on sconces. Gabrielle noticed with glee that the fireplace was heating up two large pots of water. "Please be sure to thank Halla for me." Xena breathed as her eyes took in the sight. Two more girls brought in pots of water and dumped them in the bath. The serving girl dismissed them, then turned back to face the women.

"There are clean shifts on the bed. If you need anything else, donít hesitate to ask. You are guests of Hallaís and you are welcome to stay as long as you wish." She bowed slightly, then left. Gabrielle immediately rushed over to the bath and started to undress. Xena walked over and sat on the bed. The bard noticed and stopped undressing. She walked over and stood in front of the warrior, topless. Gabrielleís soft mounds were at the warriorís eye level. After a brief glance at them so close up, Xena turned her attention upward to meet the bardís gaze. Upon eye contact, Gabrielle held out her hand. "Gabrielle, I can wait. You go first." The bardís tugging increased. "All right, all right. You just want me to scrub your back, thatís all." Xena said as she rose and trudged out of her clothes. Gabrielle met her eyes and smiled playfully as her head bobbed up and down.

Gabrielle climbed into the tub and waited for Xena to join her. In a way, it was easier to get what she wanted from Xena right now. The warrior guessed that she wanted help washing, which was fine with her. Gabrielle didnít have to think of an excuse to tell to get the warrior into her tub. Gabrielle liked the playful hair ruffles, the gentle back rubs, but most of all she loved the feeling of Xenaís wet naked body against hers. There was something so strong, so sensual about the feel of her warriorís body. So many times she had wished to tell Xena of her true feelings, now she would never get the chance. She would never get to tell the woman who protected her just how the bard truly felt. She almost lost herself in her sadness when she felt Xena slip in behind her.

"You comfortable?" Xenaís low voice rumbled in her ear. Nod. "Good, you relax and let me pamper you for a change." Xena worked the soap into a lather and rubbed put her hands on Gabrielleís shoulders just below the neck. Starting with her thumbs, Xena massaged the muscles in Gabrielleís neck, working her way down to the shoulders. She marveled at the softness of the skin beneath her fingers. "This okay?" She asked softly, her blue eyes never leaving the sight of her hands caressing the bardís smooth back. Nod. "Good." Her hands continued their decent.

Gabrielle slumped her head forward as she relaxed into Xenaís ministrations. With every touch, Xena was removing the stress of the last quarter-moon. Gabrielle allowed herself to give in to the sensation, not fighting her bodyís urge to moan. She closed her eyes when she felt Xenaís hands move down her back, the long fingers splayed out to massage every rib, every muscle. The hands reached her waist, then stopped. Gabrielle frowned at the disappointment. She couldnít see the same look on the warriorís face.

Xena reluctantly pulled her hands away. "Youíre backís clean." She said softly. She cursed herself. Every fiber of her being begged her to reach forward and cup the bardís soft breasts, to feel the heavenly weight of them. She caught herself at the last moment and pulled her hands back, but it was too close for the warriorís comfort. She never made mistakes like that before. It was finally happening. Her desires were crossing over into her reality. She handed the soap to Gabrielle. "Here, go ahead and finish up."

Gabrielle took the soap and haphazardly washed the front of her body. When she reached between her legs to clean, she found herself leaning back against Xenaís powerful body. Closing her eyes, Gabrielle concentrated on the feelings against her body. The softness of Xenaís breasts against her shoulder blades, the firmness of Xenaís stomach against her back, the rough swirl of curls that tickled her lower back. All those touches mingled with the realization that she was laying naked against Xena with her hand between her legs. Quickly coming to her senses, Gabrielle sat up and finished washing.

Xena took it all in with amusement. She desperately wanted to know what the bard was thinking about with her hand between her legs. There was no way that Xena could have mistaken the look of desire that was evident on the bardís face. ĎWho is it that you think of, Gabrielle?í Xena thought to herself. ĎWho is it that makes you feel that way? Who do you think of when you touch yourself? Perdicus? Maybe the Perdicus you wanted, not the one you had. What can a country boy like that know about loving a womanís body? Who moves you like that?í She was pulled from her thoughts by the movement of the body in front of her. Gabrielle tossed the soap over her shoulder and stepped out of the tub. After enjoying the close up view as the bard left the tub, Xena moved forward to give herself some room and started to wash up. She reached up to wash her shoulder when she felt Gabrielle climb back into the tub, this time behind her. Xena moved forward to give the bard plenty of room.

She slid in behind Xena. Reaching forward, she wrapped her arm around Xenaís stomach and pulled her back across the smooth tub. She held her hand out and waited for the soap to be deposited into it. She rubbed and massaged the warriorís back with the same slow, lazy circles that she had felt on her back only moments ago. She listened carefully to Xenaís breathing, catching the intake of breath when her hand strayed around the side to stop just before the side of the warriorís breast. She repeated the whole massage, noting that she didnít receive any protest from the relaxing warrior. Between listening to Xenaís breathing and concentrating on the feelings beneath her fingers, Gabrielle caught several times where Xena had moaned silently. Despite the lack of sound, Gabrielle was certain they were silent moans. She felt the rumbling under her fingers. She felt Xena stiffen and pull forward slightly. "Thanks."

They quickly got out and dried off. Xena handed the bard a clean shift and donned one herself. After a quick trip around the room to extinguish candles, Xena climbed into the bed. Gabrielle curled in next to her and reached out for the arm that she knew would be there for her to take. As she did every night, Gabrielle reached down and placed a light kiss on the warriorís arm. She felt Xenaís arm pull her closer. It was such a safe and comfortable place to be, wrapped up in Xenaís arms. This was where she wanted to be. She stared out into the night, thinking of the scene she had witnessed earlier. While her mind was replaying the loverís kiss, her fingers were lightly stroking the warriorís arm.

Xena was well aware of the feather light touch on her arm. ĎGabrielle, do you know what youíre doing to me?í Xenaís mind screamed at her to pull away, to end this delicious torture. Her ears picked up another sound. Through the wall next to them, Xena heard the unmistakable soft moans of pleasure. Gabrielleís fingers stopped moving when she heard the increasing sounds coming from the next room. She rolled over to look at Xena quizzically as moans became grunts. Xena shrugged her shoulders. "Donít look at me, I donít know what theyíre doing." Although she knew exactly what they were doing. She could tell from the change in tempo and the muffled sounds. Halla was getting her tongue lashing. The two of them sat there, enthralled at the activities taking place on the other side of the wall. At least Gabrielle was paying attention. Xena was paying more attention to the bardís reaction to the sounds. She watched as Gabrielleís eyes grew wide with thought and vision. She watched the bard lick her lips involuntarily when Halla cried out a request for urgency. Then with an arched eyebrow, Xena watched Gabrielleís expression change to amusement at the extreme increase in volume.

Gabrielle was propped up on one elbow, facing the wall. She looked down at Xena to make certain she was hearing the same thing. When they heard the pallet banging against the wall rhythmically, Xena was unable to stifle a chuckle. Gabrielle slapped her playfully on the belly and held her fingers up to her lips. "Sorry." Xena whispered as she regained control. One long howl signified the climax next door. That was all Gabrielle could take. She collapsed against Xena in fits of laughter.

At first, Xena was worried that Gabrielle might have been crying. She pulled the bardís head up long enough to realize what the true emotion was and lost herself to a laughing fit. Gabrielle laid down on her back as the giggles wore off. "Well, Gabrielle, I guess that was our entertainment for the night." She said, sending Gabrielle into another giggle fit, for which she received another playful slap.

Gabrielle leaned up on one elbow again. She pointed at the wall and mouthed the word Ďloudí. Xena nodded in agreement. Gabrielle pointed at the warrior and looked at her questioningly. "What?" The bard pointed at the wall, then at Xena. She looked at her again with a question in her blue-green eyes. "Her? Did I everÖ" Shake. "What then?" Gabrielle mouthed the word again. "Am I loud?" Xena propped herself up on both elbows. In a low, throaty voice, she asked "Gabrielle, are you asking me if Iím loud?" There was a hint of dangerousness to the question. Gabrielle nodded shyly and blushed when she saw Xenaís eyebrow rise.

Xena leaned back with an amused look on her face as she pondered how to answer the question. "You really want to know?" She asked without looking. After a moment, she realized her mistake and looked up. She smiled sheepishly at the bard. "Sorry." Gabrielle smiled back her acceptance of the apology. She nodded. "You sure?" Aggravated nod. Xena broke her gaze from the bard. "I can be, at certain times." Without looking, she felt the blue-green eyes bore into her, asking the unspoken question. "SometimesÖif itís with the right personÖI can become ratherÖvocal." She turned to look at the bard and quickly added. "But only if itís with the right person. Normally Iím not soÖ" She looked for the right word. Gabrielle mouthed Ďvocalí. "Vocal, yeah, thatís it. Normally Iím not so vocal." She laid back down and pulled the blanket up to her chin. "Enough questions for one night. Letís go to sleep before they decide to perform act two." She closed her eyes and felt Gabrielle curl up against her. The sounds of passion from the next room started again, this time it was Halla who made the other woman moan. Xena felt the bardís body shake against hers with giggles. Sighing to herself, Xena realized that it was going to be another long night.

Xena went to see Hippocrates and gather the rest of their belongings. Gabrielle was still sound asleep but she didnít want to be gone for long in case the bard woke up. A quick conversation with the healer let him know that there had been no physical change.

"What about her mental health, Xena?" The warrior looked up from the saddlebag she was packing and looked at Hippocrates.

"Her spirits were better yesterday. I hope itís a sign that sheís coming out of her depression."

"Perhaps." The healer mused as he stroked his chin. "Xena, she needs you more than ever now."

"I know." Xena replied quietly as she tied the last strap on their saddlebags.

"Just remember that if you need anything my door is always open."

"Thank you, I will remember." She looked down at the floor, then back to the healer. "You did everything you could to help Gabrielle. I appreciate it and I owe you. If you ever need anything, donít hesitate to ask." It was a rare admission of gratitude and itís significance wasnít lost on the healer.

"She means everything to you." Hippocrates said quietly, almost hoping that the warrior didnít hear him. Only a fool would delve into a former warlordís feelings. Xena threw the bags across her shoulder and looked at him thoughtfully.

"She means everything to me because she is everything to me. I couldnít survive without her. Thank you again for your help." She left quickly before she could say another personal thought. On the way back to the inn, Xena mentally cursed herself for revealing too much of her emotions to the healer. When it came to Gabrielle, there was no limit to Xenaís emotions. She would do whatever it took to keep the bard in her life, with or without her voice. On the way back to the inn, Xena stopped at a small merchandise cart and bought a quill, ink, and small roll of parchment.

Gabrielleís dark mood settled in and took hold of the bard. It took all of Xenaís will not to throttle the young woman as the day wore on. She was angry that Xena had bought the writing materials. She had no desire to write anymore. Xena put the parchment, ink, and quill in front of the bard and practically begged her to write something down, anything. Gabrielle simply stared at the paper, refusing to pick up the quill.

"Gabrielle." Xenaís voice held enough anger to let the bard know that the warrior was near her breaking point. Shake. "Gabrielle, you have to write something. Itís the only way I can find out what youíre feeling." The blue-green eyes flared at her. Xena threw her hands up in frustration. "Fine, be that way." Xena stomped over to the bed and laid down, rubbing her temples. They sat there in silence for several heartbeats. Staring at the ceiling, Xena finally broke the deadly silence. "Gabrielle, please tell me what youíre feeling. I donít know how to help you anymore."

Gabrielle looked over at her warrior. Xenaís eyes were misty and she watched as the warrior blinked several times to keep the tears from spilling out. There were so many words she wanted to say, so many things she needed to tell Xena. How could she tell the person she loved more than anything how she felt? ĎI canít tell you, Xena, but I can show you.í She thought to herself. Gabrielle couldnít fight the feelings that were churning within her anymore. She rose and walked over to the bed. ĎItís now or never.í She laid down next to Xena and rested her head on the warriorís shoulder. She felt Xenaís strong arm wrap around her back and hold her close. Yes, this was where she wanted to be. She reached up and put her hand on Xenaís cheek, stroking it lightly with her thumb. She watched the blue eyes close as Xena reacted to the soft touch. Gabrielle pulled herself up on one elbow to better watch the warriorís face. ĎI love you, Xena.í How she wished she could say the words aloud, to tell the proud warrior just how much she meant to her. She stopped moving her thumb and continued to gaze at Xenaís face.

Xena opened her eyes when she felt the fingers on her face stop moving. She felt her heart skip a beat when she looked into the blue-green depths of Gabrielleís soul. There was an expression on Gabrielleís face that Xena had never seen before on the young bard. Uncertain of how to react, she remained still. Whatever Gabrielle was thinking about, she had to be the one to make the first move. There was no way that Xena was going to jeopardize their friendship unless she was certain of the bardís feelings. Gabrielle closed her eyes and leaned forward, placing a feather light kiss on the edge of Xenaís chin. Pulling her head back slightly, she gazed at her warrior. The look on Xenaís face encouraged the bard to continue. She kissed Xena on the chin again and felt the warriorís body stiffen. Fearing that she may have gone too far, Gabrielle pulled away and laid on her back.

Xenaís body protested the sudden withdrawal of the bardís lips. She rolled over and looked at Gabrielle, her face a mix of emotions. "GabrielleÖ" Her voice was low and throaty. Xena brought her hand to the bardís face and gently stroked the cheek with one strong finger. "Why didnít you ever tell me?" Her finger traced the outline of Gabrielleís mouth, reveling in the softness of the pink lips. There was no going back as Xena lowered her mouth to Gabrielleís. The kiss was tentative, questioning. Xena needed to know that this was what Gabrielle truly wanted. She pulled back to gauge the bardís reaction. She got her answer when she felt Gabrielleís hand wrap behind her neck and pull her down for a more passionate kiss. Gabrielleís kiss became more demanding as her confidence grew. Her tongue snaked out to taste the soft lips and was quickly met by the warriorís own tongue. She demanded entry and Gabrielle complied, allowing the warrior to explore the insides of her mouth, to take whatever she wanted. Xenaís hands moved down to rub the bardís shoulders, waist, arms, anywhere she could reach. Both women were gasping for breath when their lips reluctantly parted. Gabrielle looked up into the blue eyes that she loved. ĎI love you.í Her silent lips formed the words that echoed over and over in her mind. Xenaís eyes misted. She heard the words as if Gabrielle had shouted them from the top of Mount Olympus.

"I love you too, Gabrielle." Gods, how she wanted this. She wanted to take Gabrielle to those private heights. Her mouth trailed down to taste the bardís neck. The softness and warmth of Gabrielle made Xena heady with passion. She felt the bardís body responding to her touch, her tongue. Xenaís fingers slipped in-between them and untied the laces to the amazonís shirt. Gabrielle smiled as she saw Xenaís reaction to the soft mounds being freed. "By the gods, you are beautiful." The warrior murmured as she let her hands roam over the bardís breasts. Xena looked at Gabrielleís face, watching her reactions. When Xenaís fingers closed around the pink nipples, Gabrielle arched her back and closed her eyes.

Xena wanted their lovemaking to be slow, gentle. Gabrielle wanted none of that. Her body was burning up with passion. The last thing she wanted was for Xena to be gentle. Again she couldnít tell Xena what she wanted, but she could show her. Taking Xenaís hand in her own, the bard brought in down to rest between her legs. Xena involuntarily groaned when she felt the flood of dampness on Gabrielleís breeches. Gabrielle arched her hips, pressing her sex against Xenaís hand, begging for fulfillment. "Gods, Gabrielle." Xena exclaimed as she pressed her fingers against the damp cloth. She quickly moved her hands to untie the amazon skirt, then pulled down the breeches that blocked her way to the soft, damp center of Gabrielleís sex. Separating their bodies for a moment, Xena quickly discarded her own clothing. She settled back on top of the bard, using her arms to support most of her weight. Gabrielle inhaled sharply when she felt Xenaís leg press between hers, parting them. She raised her own thigh, pressing it against Xenaís dark curls. She was rewarded with a soft groan from the warrior. Xena bent down and kissed and nibbled her way to Gabrielleís breasts. Her mouth captured one and started to lick gently. Gabrielle intertwined her fingers into Xenaís hair and pressed down, encouraging more passion. Xena held back, unsure of just how much Gabrielle needed. There was no denying the urgency as Gabrielleís body writhed beneath her. She sucked and nipped the tender bud as her fingers twirled through the soft blond curls between the bardís legs. Gabrielle arched her hips impatiently, begging for more. Xena repositioned her body so she was on her side, supported on one elbow. Keeping her eyes focused on Gabrielleís face, Xena slipped one finger between the folds, soaking it with the abundant fluids that Gabrielleís body released. "So wet." Xena murmured as she brought another finger into play. Gabrielle tried to keep her eyes open, to watch Xena make love to her, but the feelings that the warrior was producing within her were too much. Xena ran her finger lightly over Gabrielleís clit and watched with satisfaction as the bardís body arched upward. "I take it you like that?" She teased. Gabrielle nodded her head rapidly as she brought her hand down to grip Xenaís wrist. ĎPlease.í The silent word formed on her lips.

Xenaís mouth explored Gabrielleís upper body while her fingers explored the lower. She feasted on the bardís generous mounds before taking Gabrielleís mouth again. The bard had no control over her body anymore as she felt her crest approaching. She responded to Xenaís tongue with a fervor, trying to convey her impending climax. She didnít need to worry, Xena was well aware of Gabrielleís rising passion. The trickle of juices had now become a flood. Gabrielleís grip on her wrist was like a vise. Suddenly Gabrielle wrenched her mouth free and threw her head back, her mouth open. Xenaís fingers became a blur as she moved them back and forth against the swollen clit. Gabrielleís body arched, her eyes tightly shut, her fingers digging into Xenaís wrist. A blaze of color and lights danced before the bardís closed eyes as her orgasm tore through her. After several heartbeats, her body finally slumped back down on the bed. Xena pulled her hand back from between the folds and rested it on the damp curls. Gabrielle released her death grip on the wrist and let her arm fall limply to the side. Xena waited until she saw the beautiful blue-green eyes open before she spoke. "I love you, Gabrielle." The bard mouthed her own reply as she brought her fingers up to caress Xenaís cheek.

"It doesnít count!" Aresí angry voice boomed through the room. Xena bolted off of the bed and positioned herself between the god and Gabrielle. The bard quickly leaned over and grabbed two shifts, handing one to the naked warrior.

"Ares." She spat. Realization hit her. "Youíre the one responsible for Gabrielle losing her voice." She growled angrily. Gabrielle stood up next to Xena, her blue-green eyes burning with her own anger. Ooh, if only she could speak, boy would she give that overgrown god an earful. The bardís eyes narrowed when the god broke out laughing.

"Oh, you stupid little mortal. Didnít Xena ever tell you that a god can read thoughts?" He taunted.

ĎOh yeah? Well then read this, you pitiful excuse for a god. Youíre nothing but an overgrown bully with power. Youíre so stupid that you donít even know when youíve lost!í Her hands clenched into fists as her mind hurled insults at the god. Xena watched the exchanged looks between the god and bard. She feared that in her anger, Gabrielle wouldnít think about who she was talking to. Xenaís fears were realized then Ares shot his arm out and struck Gabrielle with his open hand. She fell backwards against the bed and slumped to the floor. Xena crouched down in front of her, checking the injury and trying to protect her from more of the godís wrath.

"Even without a voice, you still have a sharp tongue, bard! If you werenít under protection, Iíd send you right into Hadesí arms for such disrespect!"

"But she is under protection, Ares." The room shimmered as Artemis appeared. "What made you think that you could strike my chosen and not have me know about it?" She gave him a cold stare before turning to look at Gabrielle. Xena moved back to allow the goddess to see the beginning signs of a huge bruise. She touched it lightly, causing the bruise to glow and disappear. Smiling softly at the bard, she said "My dear Gabrielle, you really should learn to control your temper." Casting a look at the warrior, she continued. "You really donít need to learn Ďeverythingí from Xena." Xenaís eyes narrowed at the insult, but she knew enough to keep her tongue, and her thoughts, quiet. Artemis turned her gaze back to her queen. "Gabrielle, itís not really like you to be so quiet." Her immortal fingers glided to touch Gabrielleís throat. Artemis rose and spun around, her face full of anger and fury. "Ares! How dare you touch my queen in such a manner! You take that spell off of her right this instant!" Xena wasnít certain, but she could have sworn that Ares took a slight step backward under the Moon Goddessí lash of words.

"Canít do that." A smile crossed his lips. "You see, I have a bet going with Calliope, and I canít remove the spell until one of us has won."

"You made a bet using MY CHOSEN?"

"A bet is a bet, Artemis. I canít do anything about it now." He shrugged his shoulders as if to say Ďif I could, I would." Artemis took a step forward, looked upward, and yelled.

"Calliope! Aunt Calliope, get down here this instant!" Calliope materialized at the far side of the room. "What is the meaning of all this? Gabrielle is one of your bards. How could you involve yourself in a bet with him?" She pointed at Ares.

"Artemis, I had no choice. It was the only way I could think of to get her voice back. His plan would have worked otherwise."

"It did work." He corrected. "What they did doesnít count. She didnít tell her."

"Yes she did, Ares. You saw her lips move."

"Wait a minute." Artemis put her hands up to silence the bickering gods. "What are the two of you talking about?" Gabrielle nodded in agreement with Artemis.

"In order for Gabrielle to get her voice back, she had to tell Xena of her true feelings." Both mortalsí faces registered shock. Artemis rolled her eyes.

"Are you sure Aphrodite wasnít involved in this? It doesnít seem your style to play matchmaker, my dear aunt."

"I wasnít trying to play matchmaker, Artemis. Ares made Gabrielle mute so he could win back Xena." Understanding, then anger, flashed in Xenaís eyes. "He figured that if Gabrielle couldnít talk, then Xena would get tired of her and leave her." Gabrielle looked over at Xena, demanding reassurance.

"No matter what you do, Ares, I will never leave Gabrielle." Xena said firmly. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Gabrielle visibly relaxed.

"Besides, Ares, you lost. Gabrielle did tell her." Calliope said confidently.

"No, she didnít. Her lips may have moved, but no words ever came out. It doesnít count."

"It has to be in her own words, huh?" A thought was forming in the museís mind.

"That was the deal." He reminded. "No voice, no words. How ironic." He said dryly.

"But she did say it in her own words, Ares." Calliope reached into her cloak and pulled out the scrolls that Gabrielle had left upon the alter. "Itís all right here." She pulled out a piece of parchment. "This is a piece of Gabrielleís journal writing. Do you want me to read it out loud?"

"Give me that!" He reached over and yanked the parchment from the museís hand. He glanced at it, quickly reading the words. His eyes grew wide at one passage in particular. Right there, in the bardís own hand, were the words that spelled victory. "With everything in my heart, I love you, Xena of Amphipolis." It was a line from Gabrielleís private journal. Gabrielle had given the muse all of her written work, completely forgetting that her private thoughts were on some of the parchment. She had written those words one night as she watched Xena go through her evening ritual of sharpening her sword. He crumpled the parchment into dust in his godly hand as he glared at Gabrielle. "You are very lucky, bard." He knew when he was defeated. Turning his head away in disgust, he pointed his finger at Gabrielle.

A burning sensation pierced through her throat. The pain brought her to her knees and she found herself instantly in Xenaís embrace. All air seemed to leave her lungs and for a moment, she couldnít breathe. Spots started to dance before her eyes. Suddenly, the pressure released and she was able to take a breath.

"You didnít have to be so harsh!" Artemis hissed.

"I never agreed to be gentle." He replied.

"But you did make another agreement, Ares." Calliope reminded.

"I remember!" He growled. "You are a cunning woman, Calliope." He nodded with respect. He really didnít think the muse could outsmart him. "Artemis, no harm done." He nodded at the moon goddess, then disappeared.

"Xena?" Gabrielleís voice was shaky, but there. "Xena!" Her face exploded with joy as she heard her own voice again.

"Gods, how Iíve missed that beautiful voice." Xena responded as she put her arms around Gabrielle.

"Oh Xena, I can talk, I can really talk!" Tears of happiness rolled down her face. "You wouldnít believe all the things I want to tell you, all the things I want to say. I thought I would go mad! You donít know how hard it is to think about something and not be able to say it and-."

"Gabrielle," Xena put her finger on the bardís lip. "Thereís plenty of time for talk. Right now," She helped Gabrielle to her feet and motioned toward the goddesses. "We still have company."

Artemis laughed. "Itís all right, Xena. Iím sure itís been very hard on her."

"You can say that again." Gabrielle said. The goddess turned to face her.

"Gabrielle, why did you come to my temple?" The bard turned her gaze downward, guilt written plainly across her face. "Were you thinking of abdicating your throne?" Artemisí tone had a touch of anger to it. Gabrielle looked at her fearfully.

"My goddess, I thought that I was of no use, that I couldnít perform my duties."

"If I felt that you were no longer able, then I WOULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING ABOUT IT!" Her voice rumbled throughout the room, scaring Gabrielle. Xena moved in front of Gabrielle.

"Youíre scaring her. Donít you think sheís been through enough?" Xena was tired of the games the gods played with them.

"Iím sorry. I was only thinking of what was good for the amazons." Gabrielle offered in her defense. It seemed to have struck the right cord. Artemisí features softened.

"I believe you, Gabrielle. Your heart knows nothing other than goodness. I suggest that the next time you think about giving up your title that you consult with me."

"Yes goddess." The bard said reverently. Artemis smiled at the gesture.

"Well, I suppose this matter is settled. Xena, take care of her. Gabrielle, be good to yourself." With that the goddess disappeared.

Gabrielle looked at Calliope and began to cry, burying her face into Xenaís shoulder. The muse stepped closer, depositing the scrolls, quill, and ink onto the table. "My child, you thought that it was I who took your voice, now you know that it wasnít true. I gave you the gift of prose and you use that gift wisely. You have always brought me joy with your tales, please continue." Her form shimmered, then was gone.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Xena asked when they were finally alone. "Talk to me, Gabrielle. I want to hear that beautiful voice again. Iíve missed it so much."

"I love you." Gabrielle followed the words with a brief kiss. "I had to tell you. I couldnít bear the thought of not having ever told you." She held her finger to Xenaís lips. "Please. I havenít been able to talk for almost a quarter-moon." A mischievous grin crossed her lips. "And now I have a captive audience. I could talk to you for candlemarks, but right now I want to do something else with my mouth." She brushed her fingers across Xenaís cheek. "I love you. I want to make love to you."

Her voice flowed through Xenaís ears, healing all the pain that the past quarter-moon had brought. How she longed to hear that soft voice again. Gabrielleís fingers brushed her cheek. Xena brought her mouth down, claiming Gabrielleís. Without breaking the kiss, she gently lowered them to the bed. "Talk to me, Gabrielle. Let me hear you."

"Oh, Xena. Iíve missed talking to you." Their eyes locked, each expressing their love. "I love you, Xena."

"I love you, Gabrielle. I do." Xenaís mouth claimed Gabrielleís again. The bard moaned with pleasure when she felt the warriorís tongue enter her mouth. Xena pulled her head back to look into the eyes of the woman she loved. "Thatís nice." She murmured.

"What is?" She tried to pull Xena down for another kiss, but the warrior held back.

"Your moan. Thatís nice." She placed a gentle kiss on the bardís lips. She moved her mouth until it was close to the bardís ear. "Gabrielle, I want you to moan for me. I want to make love to you and hear you." Xenaís throaty voice rekindled the fire within the bard. Her teeth locked around Gabrielleís earlobe and gently nipped. "Iíve felt you react to my touches, now I want to hear you react to them." Her knee forced the bardís legs apart. Gabrielle twisted her body and rolled on top of the warrior, straddling her hips.

"I will." The bard said with a promise in her voice. "But first things first." She reached down and pulled up her shift, tossing it unceremoniously onto the floor. She lifted herself to allow Xena to remove hers, then settled herself back down on the warriorís stomach. Gabrielle closed her eyes and gasped audibly when she felt Xenaís hard abdomen press up against her. "Thatís nice." Gabrielle said as she looked down at Xena. The warriorís hands moved around to cup Gabrielleís buttocks. The bard lowered herself until she was only a hairsbreadth away from Xenaís lips. "I love you, Xena."

"I love you." The warrior replied. The kiss was long and sensual, filled with moans of pleasure from both women. Gabrielle lifted her head up.

"Now Iím going to find out if Iím the right one." She said mischievously. Xena looked at her in puzzlement.

"You said that if it was with the right person that you could be vocal." She said playfully as her fingers closed around one dark nipple. Gabrielle was rewarded with a sharp intake of air from the warrior.

"Mmm?" Xenaís concentration was on the activity on her rapidly hardening nipple. "Gods, Gabrielle." Her hands squeezed the firm buttocks beneath them. "Feels good." She croaked. Words were quickly becoming more difficult for Xena.

"I guess Iíll just have to find out on my own." Gabrielle murmured as she brought her mouth down to feast on the hard nipple.

Xena was reduced to whimpers as Gabrielleís bold hands and bolder mouth explored her body. Her hands led the way, touching every inch of skin she could find as she worked her way downward. She kissed Xenaís navel as her fingers brushed across the dark, damp curls. Her finger slipped in-between the folds and Xena let loose a deep groan. Gabrielle smiled against the hard abdomen. "Yes. I want to hear you, Xena. I want to hear what my touch does to you." She pressed her fingers forward, searching for the opening to Xenaís womanhood.

"PleaseÖ" Xena croaked. That was all the encouragement the bard needed. She entered with one finger, easily sliding in all the way. She closed her eyes to the sensation of warm wetness surrounding her finger. She pulled it back and added another. Xenaís hips arched in time with her moans as Gabrielle started to slowly stroke. Her fingers slid easily in and out of the well lubricated tunnel. "MoreÖ" Xena begged. Gabrielle closed her eyes in anticipation as she slid another finger deep inside. It wasnít long before the bard was pumping her fingers in and out with a fury. Xenaís cries of pleasure increased as she rocked against the gentle fingers. Gabrielle felt the inner wall muscles grip and release her fingers, sending pulsing throbs into her own center. "OhÖoh GabrielleÖyesÖohÖ" Xenaís words fueled the fire between them, causing the amazon to increase her pumping to match the increased thrusts from the warrior. Xenaís fingernails dug into the soft cheeks of Gabrielleís ass as she neared her climax, but the bard didnít feel it. Her mind was completely focused on the river of juices that flowed across her fingers. Xenaís back arched, lifting them both off of the bed. She screamed out her loverís name as one final thrust sent her over. Gabrielle held on, her fingers deep inside, until she felt Xena relax. Reluctantly, she pulled her fingers out. Xena watched through half-closed lids as Gabrielle licked her fingers clean. Her enthusiasm told Xena that the next time she could expect to feel the bardís soft mouth on her. She waited until Gabrielle was finished feasting before she spoke. "I take it you like?" Gabrielle took another lick of her fingers before answering.

"Mmm, this must be ambrosia." She moved up to kiss Xena. The warrior tasted herself on Gabrielleís tongue as their mouths expressed their love. Gabrielle laid her head down on Xenaís shoulder. "You are loud." She teased, rewarded with a low chuckle.

"Was I? I was trying to control it." Her hand made lazy circles on the bardís back.

"Yes you were." Gabrielle kissed the soft flesh beneath her. "I like it." She added softly. Before she could react, she was rolled onto her back, Xenaís body on top of her.

"Now itís my turn to hear you."

Gabrielle looked at the sleeping form beside her. It was so rare that Xena slept later than her. She looked down with uninhibited gazes at the warriorís naked body, clearly visible in the morning sunlight. Her eyes focused on the dark curls between Xenaís legs. Gabrielle let her fingers lazily run through the soft curls, delighting at the sensation.

"Donít get me started." Xena said softly. "You wore me out last night."

"I couldnít help it. I was enjoying myself. Besides, I didnít hear you complaining." Gabrielle teased, her fingers still playing with the dark hair.

"Gabrielle." Xena chastised as she pulled the bardís probing hand away from her apex. The bard frowned. "Later, I promise." She kissed Gabrielleís hand before releasing it.

"Okay, but Iím going to hold you to that." Gabrielle said as she vaulted off the bed. "Iím going to go get us some breakfast. Iím starving."

"Iím sure you are." Xena chuckled. Her face got serious as she looked at Gabrielle.

"What?" Gabrielle said softly.

"Iím just so happy to hear you again. Iíve missed your voice. Iíve missed listening to you."

"Well just you wait." Gabrielle said as she scooted in for a quick kiss. "I hope you didnít have any plans for today because after breakfast you and I are going to talk." She donned her shift and left to get breakfast. Xena rose and walked over to the basin to clean up.

Xena brought her hand down on Gabrielleís back several times before she finally heard coughing. She moved around to see the tears rolling down Gabrielleís cheeks as the bard fought to regain her breathing. "Thanks." Gabrielle said meekly.

"Youíre welcome." A lopsided grin formed on Xenaís face. "Try to swallow before you put more in, okay?" She rose and went to her side of the table. Gabrielle quickly put another piece of food in her mouth.

"Sorry, mmh. Iím just so happy to be able to talk that I forget about everything else." She finally swallowed the food that was in her mouth.

"Well, I donít want to keep saving you from choking. Take a minute to finish eating and then weíll talk."

"Okay." Gabrielle mumbled as she took another piece of fruit. "Boy, Xena. This is going to make a hades of a story, wonít it?"

"Gabrielle." Xena arched her eyebrow. Gabrielle grinned sheepishly and quietly finished her fruit.

"So tell me, Gabrielle. What was it like not being able to tell me off every day?" Xena teased, opening the way for Gabrielle to express her feelings. Despite last night, there were still unresolved feelings from both of them about the recent events. Gabrielle thought about the question for a few moments before speaking.

"It was definitely a learning experience. I discovered things about myself that I didnít know." She paused for a moment, then added. "I also learned some things about you, my big dumb warrior." Ignoring the arched eyebrow from the warrior, she continued. "When it first happened, you know, at the camp, I was scared. I didnít know what had happened. I looked around, but you were nowhere in sight. I tried to call out for you, but no sounds came." She watched the emotion of pain flash briefly across Xenaís face. "Itís okay, Xena. You had no way of knowing." Gabrielle quickly reassured the warrior. "All I could think of was getting to you, that you would know what was wrong and take care of it," She lowered her eyes slightly. "take care of me." Xena reached out and put her hand on top of Gabrielleís, giving a reassuring squeeze.

"That was good thinking, banging the fry pan against the rock." Gabrielle beamed at the compliment, her smile enough to earn one in return.

"Yeah, that was good thinking, wasnít it?" Gabrielle seemed to ponder that one for a moment. "Pretty good, huh?"

"Pretty good." Xena said, her low voice raspy. Gabrielle blushed slightly.

"Not that, silly. I was talking about the fry pan."

"Oh, weíre back to that are we?" Xena sounded bored. "Yes, Gabrielle, that was good thinking on your part."

"Right." She beamed at her victory. "Anyway, at first, all I could think of was how scared I was. I was terrified that something would happen and I wouldnít be able to let you know."

"Was that what the nightmares were about?" Xena asked softly. Gabrielle nodded.

"Yes. Those were pretty scary." She turned her gaze to the window, lost in thought for a moment. "Thatís why I slept next to you each night." She returned her gaze to the warrior. "I needed to feel you. It was the only way I felt safe."

"It made me feel good too, Gabrielle." Xena admitted. "When I held you in my arms, it made me feel like I was protecting you, keeping you safe. Thatís all I want to do, Gabrielle. All I want is to hold you and keep you safe." She quieted herself, amazed at the sudden release of emotions. Her silence spoke volumes to Gabrielle. It told the bard that there were more feelings than were spoken, and that Xena wasnít ready to talk about them. Picking up the unspoken cue, Gabrielle continued.

"So anyway, where was I?"

"You were talking about why you kept sleeping with me." Xena reminded.

"Yeah, that was kinda fun." Gabrielle beamed at the memory of Xenaís hard body pressed up against her. "But it was still hard, you know, not being able to tell you what I was feeling."

"It was hard for me too. I tried to get you to tell me, but you wouldnít. Gabrielle, why did you refuse to write down your feelings?" Xena refused to remember the hurtful note, the only thing that Gabrielle had written since the muteness.

"Iím sorry." The amazon said softly, aware of what they both were thinking. "It was too hard for me. I felt I had done something wrong. There was so much that I wanted to say, but couldnít. It was maddening. I lashed out at you, the one person who was trying to help me. You didnít deserve my anger, Xena."

"Itís all right, Gabrielle. You take gruff from me that you donít deserve sometimes. Itís the least I could do."

"You know what I learned about all this?"

"What?"

"I learned that thereís some things to be said for silence."
"Youíre kidding." Xena said incredulously.

"No really. I found that I paid more attention to what was going on around me. I understood why youíre so quiet when we first enter a new place. Youíre checking out the surroundings, not only with your eyes, but with your ears too. I didnít know you did that. It must really bother you a lot that I jabber everytime we first enter a place." Xenaís eyes betrayed her thoughts as they flickered slightly. Gabrielle noticed, but chose not to mention it. She had gotten her answer. "Anyway, it was interesting."

"I learned some things about myself too." Xena admitted. Gabrielle stayed quiet, giving Xena the opportunity to share her feelings, something the warrior did rarely. "It must be hard for youÖhaving to guess at what Iím feeling all the time. I never realized how difficult it is to not know how your feeling."

"Iíve gotten used to you, Xena. I can pretty much tell what youíre feeling most of the time." Gabrielle offered. Xena smiled her appreciation at the gesture. They talked quietly for several candlemarks, Gabrielle speaking most of the time. The warrior was all too glad to sit back and listen to the soothing sound of her best friend and loverís voice. They stopped at sunset to make love, the sounds of their passion filling the room. After a quiet dinner, they spent the rest of the evening wrapped in each otherís arms. They spoke in low tones, each expressing their feelings for the other. Gabrielle fared much better than the normally stoic warrior, but was still pleased with the amount of feelings that the warrior did express. All the days of being the voice for both of them had worn off on Xena. She found that she was more forthcoming with her thoughts and feelings. Gabrielle took the time to listen, not constantly interrupting with her own thoughts. Sleep eventually overtook them, and morning found them still cradled in each otherís arms.

"So where are we headed next?" Gabrielle asked as Xena vaulted onto Argo.

"I thought we would head toward Poteidaia for a short vacation. You need some time to write your story and we need to drop some of our things off for storage, your scrolls, for one thing." Xena said, patting the overstuffed saddlebag. "Besides, I canít wait to see the look on your sister Lilaís face when you tell her that you couldnít utter a sound for almost a quarter-moon." Both women chuckled. Gabrielle grew thoughtful.

"Xena, do you think we should tell them about us?" She asked as she looked up at the magnificent figure on the horse.

"Gabrielle, thatís a personal decision that we both have to make." Xena leaned down to touch the bardís chin. "Iím sure that Mother will be happy. She likes you." Gabrielle smiled at the image of Cyrene. She had been so nice to her the last time they had visited Amphipolis. "However, I donít think that your family will be as glad." Xena thought back to the last time they were in Gabrielleís home village. Her parents were cool toward the warrior. Xena could live with that. She understood that she wasnít Gabrielleís parents first choice for a traveling companion for their daughter. Gabrielleís sister, Lila, was quite another matter. She didnít like Xena one bit, and let the warrior know it in no uncertain terms.

"Iím sure their feelings have changed. Hey, Iíll bet by now they even like you." Gabrielle beamed at the thought, as ridiculous as it was. There was no way her family would ever be happy with their daughter traipsing around Greece accompanied by a former warlord.

"Iím sure." Xena said wryly. Both broke out into a short chuckle. "If Iím lucky, Lila wonít try to arrange for my hanging."

"She better not." Gabrielle summoned up her most commanding tone. "Or Iíll use my power as Queen of the Amazons to make her see the light." She moved her arms in a mock gesture of power. "Mess with my woman, will she?"

"Ooh, I love it when youíre possessive." Xena purred, sending the bard into a fit of laughter.

"Just remember that youíre mine." A lecherous smile played across Gabrielleís lips. "If you need any remindingÖ" Her eyes turned toward the forest suggestively.

"I think Iíve unleashed a monster." Xena said, rolling her eyes. "Gabrielle, there are other things besides sex."

"I know." Gabrielle flashed a playful smile. "But I so enjoy listening to you." She grinned sheepishly. "My big loud warrior."

"Said the grain of sand to the desert." Xena retorted, causing the bard to blush furiously. Last nightís adventures caused Halla to pound furiously on the wall, shouting comments about other people trying to sleep.

"Itís not my fault. You stir my passions." She teasingly fingered the laces on her blouse.

"GabrielleÖ" Xena growled. "Youíll pay for teasing me."

"Is that a promise?" Gabrielle teased back, running her fingertips suggestively across her nipples, forcing them to poke against her shirt. Xena unconsciously licked her lips, remembering the pleasure of feasting on the bardís breasts only candlemarks before. A quick look around told her that the road was deserted. She jumped off of Argo and swept Gabrielle up in her arms.

"Tease me, will you?" She playfully threatened as she pressed Gabrielle up against a tree, her hands quickly slipping under the bardís shirt.

"What about Poteidaia?" Gabrielle asked breathlessly as she felt Xenaís mouth against her neck.

"Itíll still be there, Gabrielle."

"I guess it will." The bard agreed.

THE END

I hope you liked the story. If you did, take a moment and let me know. Comments may be sent to me at IQ139@aol.com. B L Miller