CHAPTER 2 (cont)
Gabrielle woke the next morning to an empty bed. She stretched languorously before rolling over again and trying to decide whether she should attempt to go back to sleep. Finally deciding that she might as well get up, she sighed and got out of bed, stretching once again for good measure before leaving in search of Xena.
"Ishalia, Ill go get the water for you," she heard Xena offer as she approached the kitchen.
"No no. I can handle it. Youre the guest here so just stay put," Ishalia informed the warrior sternly.
By the time Gabrielle reached the kitchen, Ishalia was gone. Seeing Xena leaning against a table, wearing her leathers but no armor or weapons, Gabrielle smiled and approached her. "Morning," she said huskily, as she slipped into the warriors arms to kiss her.
"Morning," Xena replied softly, holding the bard tightly. "Sleep well?"
"Mmmhmm," Gabrielle murmured, as she held her lover close, resting her head against Xenas chest. "So," she said after a few silent moments. "When do you want to leave?"
"Well actually...I told Ishalia we would stay for one more day," Xena said hesitantly.
Gabrielle pulled away from her slightly to look up into her lovers face. With a puzzled expression and a somewhat bemused smile, she studied the warrior for several seconds. "Xena...just what is it with you and this woman?" she finally asked.
"What do you mean?" Xena asked guardedly.
"I mean that youve been acting funny ever since you met her. I mean, you offered to help clear the dishes last night, and just now you offered to go fetch water. And I heard you doing the same thing countless other times yesterday, offering to help with this or that. Its just not like you."
"So youre saying Im rude?" Xena said, arching an eyebrow.
"Oh no," Gabrielle said with a wide grin. "Im just saying you hate doing chores," she finished diplomatically, trying not to laugh. "Seriously though, Ive never seen you act so polite and respectful to someone youve just met," she said with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "And I dont remember the last time I saw you blush the way you did yesterday when she chided you on your bad manners for not introducing the two of us."
Xena smiled ruefully. "I know. And youre right. I guess its just that she reminds me of someone I used to know back in Amphipolis." Seeing Gabrielles curious expression, the warrior reluctantly continued. "There was a woman there...a widow. Her name was Riash. She didnt have any kids, so she sort of adopted all of us as her own and we all adored her. All she had to do was say the word and we were falling all over ourselves to do whatever she asked of us."
"Even you?" Gabrielle asked with a smile.
"Especially me," Xena replied, chuckling softly.
"What was she like?"
"Riash? Riash was the kindest, sweetest woman you could ever hope to meet. One of those people that you just want to be around because they do everything they can to make you feel good about yourself. She never told me I was wrong to want to learn how to use a sword or fight. She always accepted me just as I was." Xena grinned as thoughts of Riash filled her head. "Of course, that didnt stop her from trying to instill a certain amount of discipline in me as well. Roughhousing was all well and good, but not inside her home. And no weapons either. I made the mistake of carrying my sword into Riashs house one time, and it was the last time I ever tried that again. Inside her home I was expected to be well-behaved and well-mannered...and it was probably the only time back then that I ever was."
"The only time back then?" Gabrielle asked, a broad grin covering her face.
Xena smiled ruefully. "Okay...probably the only time in my entire life that I was well-behaved and well-mannered." Xena paused, as she continued to think about the woman from her past. "Riash was...well she wasnt really a mother or even a grandmother. When I was unhappy I went to Riash and with a word or a gesture she could make all the pain go away. And when I had good news to share, it was Riash I wanted to tell first. She was my confidant, my protector...my friend."
Seeing Xenas far away expression, Gabrielle hesitated for a moment before gently asking, "She was?"
Xena nodded as she closed her eyes. "Riash died a long time ago."
"Cortese?" Gabrielle asked softly, naming the warlord who had attacked Xenas village so long ago, setting her on the path of darkness that she had followed for years to come.
"Yes, Cortese. It always seems to come back to him, doesnt it?" Xena asked in a strained voice. Shuddering slightly as she felt Gabrielles arms tighten around her, Xena pulled the young woman closer, losing herself in her lovers embrace. Finally regaining control, she began to speak again, her voice slightly unsteady. "Riash was killed by one of Corteses men. It happened right in front of me, but I couldnt get to her in time to save her. I tried...the gods know I tried...but I was too far away. I was too slow and helpless to do anything but watch as he drove his sword into her and then laughed as her blood spilt onto the ground. I finally managed to reach her side but there was nothing I could do. She died in my arms. I dont think she even knew it was me holding her," Xena finished, her voice cracking despite her best efforts to remain in control of her emotions.
Gabrielle leaned back slightly to gaze up at her lover. Her heart constricted painfully, when she saw the sorrow in Xenas eyes. Reaching up, she brushed away the tear that was making its way down Xenas cheek before hugging her friend tightly once again. "You must have really loved her," she said quietly.
Xena hesitated for several moments before speaking. "Yeah, I did," she finally admitted. "She was the one person other than the members of my family that truly cared about me, and that I truly cared about as well. I loved her, and I would have done anything for her."
Taking a deep breath, Xena forcefully banished the painful memories of the past. "Ishalia is so much like Riash. She even looks a lot like her. I guess I just want to spend a little more time with her," she admitted quietly.
Gabrielle smiled. "Well Im definitely not complaining. I havent seen the warrior make even one appearance while weve been in Ishalias home."
"Yeah, you know. The big tough warrior image you always put on whenever there are other people around," Gabrielle said with an impish grin. "The one who I cant put my arms around and lean against. The one whose shoulder I cant fall asleep on."
Gabrielle quickly put her hand over Xenas lips to stop her. "Its all right. I know why you feel that you have to do it. But just because I understand it doesnt mean that I have to like it," she said. "Xena, we can stay here as long as you want. The Amazons arent going anywhere."
Hearing Ishalia returning, Gabrielle reluctantly moved out of Xenas embrace. "Too little, too late, Im afraid," Xena said wryly. "We blew any chance of keeping our relationship a secret from Ishalia last night," she said, as she reached out and caught Gabrielles hand, drawing her back to keep her close. "She already knows all about us."
"And youre okay with that?" Gabrielle asked, wanting to be sure.
"And Im okay with that. I dont think I need to be the warrior in front of her," Xena said with a small smile.
"Gabrielle," Ishalia exclaimed happily as she entered the kitchen. "I was just talking about you."
"Oh?" Gabrielle replied, smiling as she watched Xena move to help the woman with her bucket.
"Yes. I saw the wife of the innkeeper, Fellia, while I was getting water and I mentioned that one of my guests was a bard, and a good one at that. She said to tell you theyd love to have you visit their tavern if you could. She assured me they could work something out to pay you for your time."
Gabrielle considered the offer. "Sure," she said after a few seconds. "Sounds good. Its been awhile since I had an audience of more than one or two for my stories. And maybe I could even tell a few of my forbidden tales if you would agree to keep Xena busy for me," she said with a wide grin.
Gabrielle laughed when she saw Xena roll her eyes. "Yes, you see, the big, brave warrior you see standing before you gets easily embarrassed whenever I tell stories about her. So I have to tell them in secret."
"Ahh, well Im sure that any stories, forbidden or otherwise, would be welcome," Ishalia replied. "But Ill do my best to keep Xena distracted for you."
"Good, now if I could just get some breakfast, Ill get out of your hair and go find out what kind of arrangement I can make with Fellia."
Xena spent the rest of the day in Ishalias company, taking a tour of the town, meeting various people and, despite the womans protests, helping her with her chores. Late in the afternoon the two finally settled down in Ishalias living room to relax. Ishalia told Xena more about her husband who had been a master craftsman. She showed Xena several of the items that he had made, before finally reaching what was obviously the one that meant the most to her. Taking a small lyre down from a shelf, she lovingly ran her hands over it, as she carried it to the warrior so that she could examine the piece.
Xena took the instrument carefully, amazed by its beauty. "Its incredible," she finally said. "Did he do all the carvings on it as well?"
"Yes he did," Ishalia said with a look of obvious pride. "He made this for me on our 20th wedding anniversary. It was probably the best work he ever did."
"I dont doubt it," Xena said sincerely, as she carefully traced the carvings on the lyre with her fingertips.
"Do you play?" Ishalia asked curiously.
"No," Xena replied with a chuckle. "Im pretty hopeless when it comes to musical instruments like this. But you must," she said, as she handed the lyre back to Ishalia. "Id love to hear you play something."
"Its been quite awhile since Ive played for anyone else," the woman protested. "I wouldnt even know what to choose."
Xena shrugged. "Anything at all. Please?" she asked with a smile.
"All right...let me think for a second," Ishalia said as she began stretching her fingers to loosen them up. Finally, she smiled as she reached a decision and, moving to get comfortable, she began to play.
Xena smiled and sat back in her chair to listen to the music. Ishalia, despite her protests, was actually quite good, and Xena was enjoying herself thoroughly. All too soon the music ended, and Xena smiled broadly in appreciation. "That was wonderful," she said sincerely. "How about another?"
Ishalia cocked her head curiously at the warrior. "You dont play...but do you sing?" she asked.
Instantly, Xenas expression became more guarded. "Why?"
"I noticed you humming while I was playing. It was quite lovely. Im guessing that you must sing equally as well."
"I sing a little," Xena admitted. "Mainly just for myself."
"Ahh...well why dont you sing while I play then? After all, I mainly play the lyre just for myself. It will make a good match," she said with a glint in her eyes.
"No...its been a long time since I sang for anyone other than myself...I wouldnt even know what to sing," Xena protested weakly.
"Sounds familiar," Ishalia said with a grin. "Look Xena. If you really dont want to sing, I wont make you. I just thought it would be nice. I dont often get to play for an audience as appreciative as you. I just thought it would be fun to have you join in with me. If you want to sing, then just pick something and Ill follow along."
"Okay, okay. Let me think," Xena agreed. Finally, recalling a song that had been one of her favorites when she was younger, she hesitantly began to sing, her voice growing stronger and more confident as she saw Ishalia smile and join in. Feeling more at ease, she began to relax and enjoy herself, smiling as the small home was filled with music.
Gabrielle was in exceptional spirits as she wandered through the village towards Ishalias house. The patrons at the tavern had been well behaved and they had loved her stories - an excellent combination. Her pouch was filled with dinars and she was on her way to what promised to be an excellent meal. It had turned out to be a great day.
As she approached Ishalias home, she heard the sound of singing coming from inside. Drawing closer, she was astonished when she realized that it was Xenas voice that she was hearing. Gabrielle had heard Xena humming on numerous occasions, but actual singing was a rarity for the warrior. She remembered Xena telling her once that she only sang when she was "moved" or when there was "something behind it". Apparently, Ishalia had managed to touch something deep and personal within her warrior friend.
Moving forward, Gabrielle carefully opened the door to Ishalias house and stepped inside. She stood quietly, transfixed by the scene before her, as she watched Ishalia play the lyre while Xena sang. The song was unfamiliar to Gabrielle, but there was a haunting beauty to it that drew her in and kept her spellbound. She remained silent and motionless for several seconds after the song had ended, before finally moving all the way into the room where Ishalia and Xena were sitting. "And I thought I was the performer," she said softly.
The two women looked up in surprise when Gabrielle spoke. Ishalia laughed as she rose and placed the lyre back on a shelf. "Dont worry Gabrielle. My playing is mainly the result of the quality of my instrument, not my skill. And I had to work hard to get Xena to sing even one song, so I dont think you have to be concerned about too much competition from her either."
Gabrielle smiled and nodded, turning her attention from Ishalia to Xena, who was sitting quietly, intently studying the chair she was sitting in. "Well thats reassuring. Id hate to be out of a job," Gabrielle said with a smile.
"Are you hungry? Dinner should be about ready."
Gabrielle reluctantly turned her gaze from the Warrior Princess to the older woman. "Im famished. Ive been looking forward to your cooking all day," Gabrielle replied, as she watched Ishalia walk into the kitchen to check on the meal.
Turning to study her friend again, Gabrielle moved closer to sit on the table in front of her. "That was beautiful," she finally said softly.
"Yeah, Ishalia plays well," Xena agreed, deliberately misunderstanding Gabrielles words.
"Yes she does. But that wasnt what I was talking about and you know it," Gabrielle said, as she reached out to gently stroke Xenas cheek, smiling when the warrior turned her face into her hand to press her lips against the bards palm. She continued to study her friend for several more seconds before speaking again. "Did Riash play the lyre?" she asked quietly.
Xena chuckled and shook her head in wonder. "Yes she did," she replied softly. "And yes," she continued, seeing the unspoken question in Gabrielles eyes. "I used to sing while she played."
Gabrielle smiled. "Im not sure how Im going to manage it, but somehow Ive got to figure out a way to inspire you to sing more often," she said, as she stood and then reached down to help Xena rise as well.
Xena smiled and looked down at her lover. "You already do Gabrielle...It wasnt Riash that I was thinking about while I was singing, it was you," she said softly, before leaning down to kiss the young woman and then leading her into the kitchen to join Ishalia.
"Youre sure I cant convince you to stay longer?" Ishalia asked hopefully.
Looking over at the older woman. whom she had grown to care deeply for over the past several days, Xena chuckled. "Ishalia, Im afraid not. Its time for us to be moving on."
"Well, you cant blame me for trying," the older woman said with a grin, as she handed a small bundle to Gabrielle. "This is for you," she added, shooting a quick glance at the warrior.
"For me?" Gabrielle asked curiously while she unwrapped the package. "Nutbread!" she exclaimed. "But how? I cant believe I didnt smell this baking," she said happily.
"Thats because we made it at a friends house so that it would be a surprise," Ishalia told her, a wide grin on her face.
"Well, Xena helped a little," Ishalia said in a conspiratorially whisper. "She actually can cook you know. You just have to push her long enough."
"All right you two thats enough. Come on, Gabrielle. We need to get moving, before Ishalia tries to tell us its too late in the day to be starting out and that we might as well stay one more night." Although she spoke firmly, she couldnt quite hold back the smile that tugged at her lips.
Gabrielle nodded. "Good-bye Ishalia," she said, as she hugged the woman. "And thanks for everything."
"Youre welcome dear," Ishalia replied, smiling warmly, before turning to look at Xena.
Xena hesitated for several seconds, uncertain what to do and feeling unbelievably awkward. "I uh...well...good bye Ishalia," she finally stammered. "It was nice meeting you," she finished lamely, feeling like a complete idiot.
Ishalia looked at the tall woman kindly, understanding the difficulties she was having. Finally deciding to throw caution to the wind, she moved closer and wrapped her arms around the warrior, hugging her tightly. She smiled when she felt Xenas arms slowly move up to embrace her. Pulling back, she looked up at the warrior and smiled gently. "Good bye Xena. Ill miss you."
Xena nodded. "Ill miss you too Ishalia," she said softly.
"Promise me that you two will come back and visit." She tried to speak sternly, but her smile belied any semblance of harshness in her words.
"We promise," Xena said, returning her smile.
Moving out of the other womans embrace, Xena walked to Gabrielles side. Taking Argos reins, she swung up onto the horse and settled in. Turning back to Ishalia, she smiled and waved, before nudging the mare into a slow walk, knowing that if she didnt leave right away she would be sorely tempted to accept Ishalias offer to extend their stay.
They traveled for several minutes along the road leading west out of the village, before Xena leaned down towards the young woman walking beside her. "Here," she said, as she extended her arm to Gabrielle. "Come on up here."
Gabrielle considered the offer briefly before shaking her head. "No, Ill just walk for awhile," she replied, not really wanting to be up on a horse at the moment.
Xena hesitated for a second. "Please?" she asked quietly. Startled, Gabrielle turned to look at her friend, confused by Xenas request. "I just want to hold you," the warrior admitted.
Gabrielles heart melted at the look in her lovers eyes. Nodding, she silently took Xenas arm and allowed the warrior to pull her up into the saddle in front of her. Moving slightly to get comfortable, she sighed when she felt Xenas arms wrap around her to hold her tightly. They rode along quietly, both absorbed in their own thoughts, until Gabrielle finally broke the silence. "Im glad we stayed as long with Ishalia as we did," she said softly.
"Whys that?" Xena asked, her breath warm against the bards ear.
"Because it made you happy," Gabrielle replied simply. "Shed never heard of you before and had no preconceived notions about you. You were able to relax and just be yourself," Gabrielle said, as she lightly caressed Xenas forearm. A wicked grin spread across the bards face, before she twisted in the saddle to look at the woman sitting behind her. "And because you finally took time off to fully recover," she said, thumping the warrior lightly in the chest.
Xena grinned back at her lover. "Trust me, Gabrielle. Im fully recovered. And I intend to prove that fact to you repeatedly," she said, before leaning in to capture the bards lips with her own.
They traveled without incident for the next few days, finally reaching Amazon territory early in the afternoon of the third day. Gabrielle had agreed to ride on Argo again that morning to speed up the journey. She figured that it was worth it to reach the Amazon village before nightfall, and enjoyed the added bonus of having Xenas arms wrapped around her. However, after they had ridden through the forest for quite some time without seeing any signs of Amazons, Gabrielle began to grow restless. "How much longer do you think it will be until we see some of them?" she finally asked.
Xena chuckled softly at the young womans growing impatience. "Id guess when they decide to stop watching us and show themselves to us instead."
"Watching us! You mean theyre watching us now?" Gabrielle asked, as she twisted to her right and left, peering into the surrounding trees but still seeing nothing.
"Yup. They have been since right after we entered the forest."
"Then why havent they come out to meet us? Do you think we need to give the peace symbol?" she asked in a concerned voice.
"Gabrielle, I doubt they think their queen has come to attack them," Xena replied with a wry grin. "Most likely theyre keeping an eye on us to make certain were safe. Theyll reveal themselves when theyre ready." They rode for awhile longer before Xena began to sense a change in their unseen escort. "Okay, time to get off the horse," she told Gabrielle as she helped the young woman dismount, before jumping down from Argo to land beside her. Grabbing the reins, she and Gabrielle continued towards the Amazon village, while Xena carefully tracked the women who had surrounded them.
They hadnt been walking for long before thick ropes began to fall out of the trees around them. Within seconds, they found themselves surrounded by the numerous masked warrior women who had descended from the trees. Out of habit and protocol, both Gabrielle and Xena performed the traditional Amazonian symbol of peace, as they watched the women remove their masks. Gabrielle, however, had already recognized one of the masks and was rapidly moving forward to embrace the woman who was wearing it. "Ephiny," she cried in a happy voice, as she hugged the Amazon tightly. "I didnt expect you to come out to meet us," she said, before stepping back to look at her friend.
"The Amazon Queen returns and you think Im just going to wait around back in the village for her?" Ephiny asked with a grin. "Its good to see you both," she said as she extended her arm to Xena, smiling as the warrior clasped it firmly in greeting.
"Ephiny," Xena said, smiling in return, "Its good to see you too."
"Come on. Lets get you two back to the village. Everyones getting ready to celebrate the return of the Queen. It wouldnt do for you to be late for that, would it?" Ephiny asked. She signaled to the surrounding warriors, who melted back into the forest, and then turned to lead Gabrielle and Xena to the village.
"How have things been going Ephiny?" Gabrielle asked, as soon as they were on their way.
"Good. Peaceful as a matter of fact. No problems with warlords or centaurs. No desperate attempts to find ambrosia in time to revive a corpse. No insane gods torching the village. Its been a rather pleasant change of pace," she said solemnly. She looked Gabrielle and Xena over carefully, before continuing, "And lets try to keep it that way for once, okay!" she said with a smirk.
In no time at all they had reached the camp. Xena led Argo to where the Amazons kept their horses, handing Gabrielle a couple of the saddlebags before she left. Ephiny escorted Gabrielle to the hut that had once belonged to Terreis. It had become Gabrielles, when she had received the dying Amazons right of caste, the year before. "We got your hut ready for you as soon as we saw you enter the forest," Ephiny said as they entered. "I assume Xena will be staying here with you again?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Yes, she will," she replied. Despite her best efforts, she felt herself beginning to blush. She quickly turned away, hoping that Ephiny hadnt noticed, and began moving around the room to study the various objects it contained.
Ephiny watched Gabrielle curiously for a few seconds, before a slow smile began to spread across her features. "So how long are you going to be here?" she asked.
"I dont know; we havent decided yet. Probably at least a week though," Gabrielle replied.
"Well, in that case, Ill have another bed moved into the hut. Theres no reason for you two to have to share a bed for that long, when we can easily get another one in here."
"Oh thats not necessary," Gabrielle protested, as she turned to face Ephiny. "We dont mind...." She stopped when she saw that Ephiny was doing her best not to laugh. "I mean, one bed...." She stopped again, still not certain what to say and feeling her cheeks growing redder by the second.
Ephiny allowed herself to enjoy Gabrielles obvious discomfort for several more seconds, before finally taking mercy on her. "So I take it that you two finally got around to admitting you were in love with each other," she remarked in an amused voice.
"How...how did you know?" Gabrielle stammered in amazement.
"How did you not know Gabrielle? You and Xena were apparently the only ones who didnt." Ephiny smiled as she changed the subject. "As long as youre going to be here for awhile, you should dress as an Amazon, and youll also be expected to act as the Queen while youre here."
"All right...but are you okay with that?...I mean, I dont want to step on your toes here," Gabrielle said hesitantly.
Ephiny placed a reassuring hand on the young womans shoulder. "Gabrielle, I told you when I accepted the mask of the Queen from you that I was only holding it in your absence. I want you to act as the Queen while youre here. Its your duty and your right. Besides, this way I get a vacation."
"I didnt know Amazons took vacations," Gabrielle said with a grin.
Ephiny shook her head with mock sorrow. "Obviously were going to have to spend more time teaching you our customs, Gabrielle. I hope you werent planning on a vacation when you came here. Were going to work you til you drop."
"As long as I get a chance to spar with Eponin first, you can do whatever you want to me. Ive been looking forward to this rematch for quite awhile now and I want to be at my peak," Gabrielle replied, a determined glint in her eye.
"I think that can be arranged. Oh," Ephiny said, as a new thought occurred to her. "Do you want me to get something for Xena to wear too?"
Ephiny shrugged. "I just thought that since you were going to be dressing in Amazon clothing, she might prefer to wear something besides her usual armor too. After all, youre going to be here for awhile."
Gabrielle thought about it for a second before nodding her head. "Yeah, that would be great, if you can find something to fit her."
"Shouldnt be too much of a problem; Ill find something and have it sent over, and Ill get a couple of women in here to help you with whatever you need. Once youre dressed and settled in, come find me and we can talk about whats been going on around here while youve been traveling."
"Sounds good. Ill see you in a little while," agreed Gabrielle, as she watched Ephiny leave.
Gabrielle had nearly finished changing into her Amazon clothes by the time Xena returned. Looking up as the warrior entered, she smiled gratefully. "Am I glad to see you! I told them that, for once, I wanted to dress myself. Now I cant get these straps tightened to save my life," she said, as she pointed to the armor she was wearing on her right shoulder, before focusing again on the leather bracer on her left arm.
Xena simply stared at Gabrielle for several seconds, completely captivated by the vision before her. She swallowed several times and reminded herself to breathe, but watching Gabrielle was making even the most mundane things seem difficult. She dropped the rest of their things by the door and crossed the room to stand near Gabrielle, forcing herself to examine the shoulder guard that was giving Gabrielle so much trouble. Goddess shes beautiful, Xena thought to herself. Thank the gods she doesnt dress like this when were out on the road. I dont think Id be able to manage rational thought if she looked like this all the time. "Going Amazon on me huh?" she finally managed to ask with a smile.
Gabrielle nodded. "Ephiny told me she thought I should, so I figured what the heck. It looks pretty nice dont you think?" she asked, as she reached for the other bracer.
Xena nodded as she sent silent thanks to Ephiny. Finally figuring out how to attach the shoulder guard to the rest of what Gabrielle was wearing, Xena quickly tightened the laces and then straightened it slightly, before stepping back to look at her lover. Gabrielle looked magnificent, every inch the Amazon Queen. "Very nice," she finally managed to say in a low voice, before moving closer to take Gabrielle in her arms.
Gabrielle sighed as Xena lightly caressed her cheek and then leaned into the warrior to kiss her softly on the lips. Pulling back to look into Xenas eyes, she hesitated for a moment before speaking. "Xena, I sort of told Ephiny about us."
Xena shrugged her shoulders. "And?"
Gabrielle sighed in relief. "I just didnt know how youd feel about that. I mean, you dont usually like talking about these kinds of things...and I know you dont like everyone knowing the details of your life. I was worried youd be irritated."
Xena leaned down to kiss Gabrielle once again. "If you hadnt told her she would have figured it out soon enough. I have no intention of spending the next week pretending we arent lovers," she said with a grin. "Especially if youre going to be dressed like this!"
"Oh, that reminds me," Gabrielle said, as she pulled out of Xenas embrace. "Ephiny sent over something for you to wear too." She crossed the room to a table, picked up several items of clothing, and brought them back to where Xena was standing.
"For me? I dont need anything to wear," Xena replied guardedly.
Gabrielle grinned. "Well neither did I when you come right down to it. But as long as were going to be here for awhile, why dont you just try wearing these," she said. She handed the clothes to Xena, anxious to see her lover in the things Ephiny had found.
Xena shook her head. "No thanks. I prefer what I have on," she said firmly.
"Xena," Gabrielle said in an exasperated tone. "You wear that all the time. Try something a little different for a change. It wont hurt you to dress like an Amazon for a couple of days. Besides, Id really like to see the way youd look in this," she said, as she deliberately lowered her voice to speak in a throaty whisper. "Come on, lets see what kind of Amazon youd make," she said with a grin.
As Gabrielle watched her lover, she was momentarily taken aback by the strange expression of rage and frustration that crossed Xenas features. "Gabrielle, I said no and I meant it. Im comfortable in what Im wearing. Now just drop it all right?" Xena said harshly.
Gabrielle stared at the warrior in shock, hurt by Xenas response. Her pain was quickly replaced, however, by her rising anger. "Xena, what in Tartarus is wrong with you? It was just an idea."
"Theres nothing wrong with me Gabrielle. I just dont want to wear those stupid clothes. If you want to dress like an Amazon, thats fine, but dont expect me to do it too. Dont try to change me Gabrielle."
Gabrielle stared at her friend in disbelief. "Change you? Im not trying to change you. I simply suggested you try on some different clothes. Look, if you dont want to wear them thats fine," she said as she tossed the clothes onto a table. "This has got to be the dumbest fight weve ever had. Why are you acting like this?"
"Im not acting like anything." Xena took a deep breath as
she collected herself. "Im going for a walk. Ill see you later
"Fine, I have to go talk to Ephiny anyway," Gabrielle replied as she pushed past her friend. Grabbing her staff, she stormed out of the hut before she said something that she would only end up regretting.
Hours later, Gabrielle found herself in the middle of one of the biggest parties shed ever seen, as the Amazons pulled out all stops to celebrate the return of their Queen. There were countless tables covered with food and the sound of drums and a variety of other musical instruments filled the air. Everyone was in fine spirits. The peace of the past few months had been a blessing after the tumultuous period that had preceded it. The position of Queen had changed hands rapidly, going from Melosa to Velasca and then to Gabrielle. The rift that had developed when Gabrielle and Velasca had struggled for control of the hearts of the Amazons had caused even more troubles and Velascas ascendancy to godhood, after eating ambrosia, had nearly resulted in the destruction of the entire Amazon village.
But all that was behind them now and, even though Gabrielle had passed on her duties as Queen to Ephiny, she was still the official leader of the tribe. It was obvious that the women of the village were overjoyed to have her back amongst them. As the evening wore on, Gabrielle laughed and talked with dozens of women, all of whom expressed their happiness at seeing her again. To her surprise, Gabrielle realized that she felt more comfortable and more welcome in the Amazon village, than she had ever felt in her home village of Poteidaia. For once she wasnt considered the odd ball, the one that didnt fit in. Here she was respected and, if it werent for one small detail, she would have been having the time of her life.
The problem was, that one small detail was Xena. The gulf that had suddenly come between them, had only widened since the celebration had begun. Both women were determined that the other would have to make the first move. Thus, they deliberately ignored each other, even when they had been sitting right next to one another during dinner. The worst part about all of this was that Gabrielle didnt even understand why they were fighting in the first place. All she knew was that Xena had been completely unreasonable about the clothing issue and she wasnt quite ready to forgive the warrior for yelling at her.
Xena kept mainly to herself, while she wandered around the party. She managed to keep a close eye on Gabrielle at all times and, despite her irritation with the bard, she was glad to see Gabrielle was getting the attention and recognition she deserved. It was obvious that the women truly accepted Gabrielle as their Queen, despite the fact that she had not been born an Amazon. It was equally obvious that they had missed the young woman while she had been apart from them. Xena acknowledged to herself that it really wasnt surprising. Gabrielle tended to have that effect on people. She was the kind of person that you wanted to be around.
Xena sighed to herself. This was definitely not how she had pictured spending their time together in the Amazon village. Gabrielle had been right; that fight earlier probably was the dumbest one they had ever had. Xena had reacted badly and she knew it; it was no wonder Gabrielle had gotten so angry with her. However, that still didnt mean that Gabrielle needed to keep this up any longer. The bard had made three pointed remarks during dinner about clothing, all of which Xena knew had been directed towards her. It was obvious that Gabrielle wasnt going to give in anytime soon, but Xena had most definitely had enough. She still had no intention of changing her clothes, but she could at least make the first move. It wouldnt hurt her to be the one who gave in first for a change.
Straightening her shoulders, she walked over to where Gabrielle and another young Amazon were standing. "Gabrielle, would you like to dance?" she asked with a smile, holding her hand out towards her lover.
Gabrielle looked up from her conversation to gaze calmly into Xenas eyes. "No thanks. I dont know this dance," she said flatly.
Xenas eyes narrowed slightly but she maintained her smile. "I can teach it to you," she said patiently.
Gabrielle appeared to consider her words, but then shook her head. "No. We both know Im not very good. Id probably just trip you up. Youd fall down and get your clothes dirty, and then where would you be?" she asked innocently.
Xena gritted her teeth as she glared at the bard. Another stupid crack about those clothes, Xena thought to herself. All right, its time to give her something to think about besides what Im wearing. "Fine," she said tightly. "I appreciate your concern." She turned to the striking young woman standing next to Gabrielle. "How about you, Talia? Ill bet youre an incredible dancer." She extended her hand to the young woman as she added, "Join me?"
"Id love to," Talia purred, as she reached out to take Xenas hand, allowing the warrior to lead her away.
Gabrielle stared at the two in shock. She couldnt believe that Xena had asked that woman to dance. Fine. She can be that way if she wants. Im not going to give her the satisfaction of getting a rise out of me, she swore to herself. There are plenty of people around here I can spend time with. I dont need Xena to enjoy myself.
Looking around, Gabrielle saw that Eponin was standing off to one side with several women she knew. She forced a smile onto her face and walked over to join them, deliberately standing with her back to the dancers, in an attempt to resist the temptation to watch Xena and her new friend. She tried her best to join in the conversation with the others, and it wasnt long before they began telling stories about the first time they had met her, when she had just become the Amazon Princess. Finally, after several stories, including one about Gabrielles less than stellar attempts at dancing, one of the young woman grinned at her Queen. "So Gabrielle, are you going to be dancing for us while youre here?" she asked, a teasing glint in her eyes.
Gabrielle blushed slightly at the question, as images of Xena and Talia began to rush through her mind once again. Forcing a smile onto her face, she replied casually, "Well, I dont know about that. Well have to wait and see," she finished, hoping that no one had noticed the tightness in her voice.
"Maybe she should have Xena give her some lessons," said another of the women. "She certainly looks like she knows what shes doing out there," she continued, as she nodded towards the dancers.
Unable to resist, Gabrielle turned and looked for Xena. After a few moments, she caught sight of her dancing amongst the others. Her eyes widened slightly when she saw the gracefulness of her lover, while she moved in time to the music, but then they narrowed when she caught sight of Talia. The two women seemed oblivious to everyone around them and, even from this distance, Gabrielle could recognize the look of desire plastered across Talias face.
Several of the women in the group laughed, as they began discussing the couple. "Talia always does end up with the most beautiful woman, doesnt she?" she heard one woman remark. Gabrielle continued to watch Xena and Talia dance while she listened to the others discuss the pair. Half of the women were convinced that Xena was out of Talias league, while the other half appeared to be convinced that, before the evening was over, they would end up in bed together. To Gabrielles growing irritation, however, no one seemed to be aware of the fact that Xena was not available; no one seemed to consider that Gabrielle might be the one Xena would choose to be with.
Xena smiled warmly at Talia as they danced together, but she continued to keep watch on Gabrielle out of the corner of her eye. Xena had had it with Gabrielles refusal to drop the clothes issue. She had tried to make the first move to apologize, but all the bard wanted to do was play silly little games. Well if thats the way she wanted it, then thats the way they would handle it. Xena knew all about diversionary tactics. She would give Gabrielle something else to think about and pretty soon the bard would be more than willing to forget about something as ridiculous as Xenas choice in clothing.
Xena knew she was making Gabrielle jealous by dancing with Talia and it was rather interesting to see this side of the young bard. More than anything, though, the warrior wanted Gabrielle to forget how harshly she had spoken to her earlier that afternoon. She had even surprised herself with the force of her outburst and shed regretted it almost immediately. But while she didnt want to hurt her lover, she also wanted the matter of clothing to be dropped once and for all. It was time they moved on to more important issues.
When the music stopped, Gabrielle saw Xena say something to Talia and then watched as the young Amazon laughed, placing her hand on Xenas arm in a familiar manner. Continuing to hold the warriors arm, Talia leaned in close to speak directly into Xenas ear, her breasts pressing intimately against the warriors arm as she did so. As Gabrielle watched, Xena smiled and nodded her head, before moving to take Talia into her arms as the next dance began. Gabrielle observed them for several seconds before she had finally had enough. "Excuse me," she said tersely to the women who were standing around her, before making her way to where Xena and Talia were dancing.
Reaching the two women, Gabrielle placed her hand firmly on Talias shoulder, drawing her attention away from Xena. "May I cut in?" she asked politely, but with a hint of command in her voice that indicated that no would not be an acceptable answer. Talia bowed her head slightly as she acquiesced and then moved away, casting one last appreciative glance towards Xena as she did so.
Turning towards Xena, Gabrielle moved into the warriors arms, refusing to give her a chance to protest the change in dance partners. "So now you want to dance?" Xena asked, her eyebrows arched perfectly.
"I actually know this one," Gabrielle pointed out as she began following Xenas lead. "You did go to a lot of trouble to teach me these steps, so I figured I should put that knowledge to good use," she finished calmly, determined not to show the warrior how much seeing another woman in Xenas arms had affected her.
Xena just shrugged. Gabrielle was finally thinking about something other than those damn clothes and, with a little more work, shed have the bard right where she wanted her. "Well youre doing fine," she said casually, acting as if everything was normal between them. "Im glad to see the time and effort wasnt wasted."
Gabrielle nodded silently. They continued to dance without speaking for a minute or so before Gabrielle finally looked up at her friend. "Shes very attractive."
"Who?" Xena asked, feigning ignorance.
"Talia, who else? Or is there someone else around here youve been dancing with?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Oh yeah, Talia. Yeah shes attractive...beautiful really," Xena replied absently.
Gabrielle scowled slightly at Xenas words but hastily covered her reaction. "Shes a good dancer," she said calmly.
Xena nodded her head in agreement. "Uh huh...one of the best Ive ever seen," she said matter-of-factly.
This time, Gabrielle was unable to keep the glare off of her face as she looked up at her partner. Xenas face, however, was the picture of innocence, as she continued to dance with the bard, seemingly unaware of Gabrielles growing ire.
As the music ended, Gabrielle began a hasty retreat, determined to put some distance between herself and Xena. Knowing that she had pushed the bard far enough, Xena reached out quickly to grab her arm, pulling the young woman back to her side. "Talia is beautiful....," she murmured into Gabrielles ear. "But she cant begin to compare with the woman who holds my heart."
Stepping back slightly to look up at her lover, Gabrielles heart warred with her mind. "Do you really mean that?" she finally asked.
Glancing around and noticing how many others were nearby, Xena stepped forward and looked deeply into Gabrielles eyes. She leaned in and, in a throaty whisper that only Gabrielle could hear, said, "I couldnt care less about Talia or any other woman here." Reaching out, she caressed Gabrielles cheek with the back of her fingers as she moved closer, continuing to hold Gabrielles gaze. "I want you. I want you in my arms, naked, moaning, calling my name, begging me to touch you, telling me you want me as much as I want you."
Gabrielles face flushed when she heard her lovers words. Her breathing grew uneven as her heart began pounding wildly. "Then lets go back to our hut so that you can prove it," she finally managed to say, her mouth suddenly dry.
"Lead the way, your Highness," Xena replied, her eyes dark with passion. "Im right behind you."
Gabrielle nodded and began leading her lover towards their hut, stopping only long enough to tell Ephiny that she was retiring for the night. The moment they stepped inside the hut, Gabrielle moved into Xenas arms. She pulled the warrior to her tightly and kissed her passionately, groaning when she felt Xenas body pressed against her own. Forcing her tongue past the other womans lips, she probed deep within her lovers mouth, moaning low in her throat as their tongues thrust and parried with one another. Her hands began moving across Xenas back, stroking the warrior as she sought to draw her even closer. It wasnt enough, though, to touch Xena through her armor. She tugged at her lovers leathers helplessly, trying to remove the offending garments that were keeping her from touching the woman standing in front of her. "Off," she finally growled against Xenas lips, pulling on the leathers one last time. "Get these off. I need to touch you," she said throatily.
Stepping back slightly, Xena hastily complied, while Gabrielle began rapidly removing her own clothes as well. Everything was quickly tossed aside and then the lovers were back in each others arms, naked skin rubbing against naked skin. Xena reached down and lifted Gabrielle into her arms, bringing the bards breasts up to press against her own. As her mouth hungrily captured the younger womans, Xena began slowly maneuvering them towards the bed. Carefully depositing Gabrielle on the pallet, she joined her an instant later, laying her body over the bards and glorying in the feel of her lovers skin against her own.
Xenas hands moved across Gabrielles body rapidly, rubbing, teasing, and caressing, before finally moving to cup the young womans breasts, lightly brushing her thumbs across the nipples. Gabrielle groaned loudly and reached down to cover Xenas hands with her own, arching into her lovers touch. "Dont" she said, her voice laced with passion. "Dont tease. I want you too much...I need you too much for that," she begged hoarsely.
With a satisfied grin, Xena began stroking her lovers breasts more firmly, manipulating the nipples between her fingers, as she began running her tongue along the line of Gabrielles neck. Leaning down, she followed the line of her shoulder to the spot that the bards "Amazon" armor would normally cover. Biting down and then sucking firmly on the tender flesh, Xena marked the young woman as her own, while her hands began moving more insistently against her lovers body. Pressing Gabrielles breasts together, Xena moved down to take both nipples into her mouth at once, swirling her tongue around them and sucking hard, while the bards moans of pleasure filled her ears.
For several minutes, Xena continued to lavish her attention on her lovers breasts and then slowly moved down Gabrielles body to position herself between the younger womans thighs, her face near the bards heated center. She used her thumbs to stroke her lover, before parting her labia. Moving forward, she hesitated momentarily as she looked up at the bard. "Gabrielle," she said softly, her warm breath a soft caress against Gabrielles skin. "Do you want me?" she asked huskily. "Do you really, really want me?"
"Gods Xena yes," Gabrielle gasped, as she thrust her hips towards the warriors face, moaning when she felt Xenas tongue plunge into her. Reaching down, she buried her fingers in Xenas thick mane, guiding her head and holding her securely in place while she arched against the other woman. She felt Xenas tongue moving in and out of her, and she thrust her hips against her lovers face, matching her rhythm. Her breath was coming in ragged pants and she began to shake, as a delicious warmth began flooding through her, spreading outward from the point where Xenas tongue was caressing her heated flesh. The warrior shifted slightly to drape Gabrielles legs over her shoulders and then buried her face even deeper into the young womans soaking wet center. Reaching upwards, she captured the bards breasts once again and began stroking them firmly, bringing her lover closer and closer to the edge. Trailing her tongue through Gabrielles cleft, Xena moved upwards to reach her swollen clit and sucked hard on it as she drew it into her mouth.
With a low moan, Gabrielle arched against Xenas mouth one last time and then went rigid; her heels digging into the warriors back as she climaxed; her fingers clenching and unclenching spasmodically as she continued to hold Xenas head. As she slowly came back to reality, she felt Xenas mouth moving against her once more. Groaning loudly, she moved her hips helplessly against the warrior, unable to resist her lovers touch. It didnt take long to reach the edge once again and, with a soft cry, she surrendered to the raw passion that filled her body. Her head slammed back against the bed, as her fingers curled into the blankets and shuddering sobs escaped from her throat.
As Gabrielles breathing gradually returned to normal, she felt Xenas tongue beginning to stroke her again. "Gods Xena, wait," Gabrielle begged weakly. "Let me catch my breath," she said, before pulling the warrior up to kiss her. With a smile, the warrior slowly slid up to face her lover, moaning with pleasure when she felt Gabrielles wetness against her skin. Lying face to face with the young bard, Xena leaned in to kiss her, delighting in the feel of Gabrielles breasts pressed against her own. Gabrielle eagerly returned her kiss, loving the taste of herself on the warriors lips. Xena stared down at her lover for several silent seconds, feeling the connection between them that shed never felt with anyone else in her entire life, before slowly pressing her hips against Gabrielles. The bards eyes widened when she felt the other womans wetness pressed against her own, and then began responding in kind. Reaching down to grab Gabrielles hips, Xena began rocking against the young woman, grinding her sex into her lovers. Xena groaned loudly when she felt the bards legs encircle her waist and lock behind her, drawing her closer still, and she began thrusting harder and faster against the young woman beneath her.
Seeing Gabrielle biting her lip, as she struggled not to cry out, Xena shifted slightly to move her hand between them. Drawing her fingers first through her own wetness and then the bards, she brought them up to her lips and began sucking on them, savoring the taste of her essence mixed with her lovers. Reaching down again, she brought her fingers up once more, this time offering them to Gabrielle who eagerly took them between her lips. Xena groaned softly when she felt Gabrielles tongue moving over her fingers. She hastily removed them from the bards mouth and replaced them with her tongue, as she covered Gabrielles lips with a fiery kiss.
Moving her hand back down, she began stroking the younger woman once again, as her hips continued to press against the bards body. Gabrielle whimpered softly when she felt her lovers fingers caressing her and, after several seconds, she tore her mouth from Xenas to look up into the warriors eyes. "Please," she begged, her voice trembling with need. "Take me now," she moaned, as she moved helplessly against Xenas hand.
Unable to deny herself or her lover any longer, Xena drove her fingers into the bard, shuddering when she felt the warm wetness that surrounded them. Moving her hand rapidly, she thrust deeper and deeper into Gabrielle. The young woman clutched the warriors back, pushing her hips forcefully against Xenas hand, as a slow fire began coursing through her veins. Xena shivered when she felt the bards fingernails raking across her back. She shifted to straddle Gabrielles thigh and then groaned when the younger woman pressed her leg hard against her center. She rocked against the bards leg, matching the movements of her hips with that of her hand, while she watched Gabrielles sweat covered body twist and writhe beneath her.
"Harder," Gabrielle pleaded as she strained against the other womans hand. "Oh gods," she moaned, as Xena began thrusting harder and deeper inside of her. "Yes, please, more," she gasped, as she frantically moved against her lover.
Seeing Gabrielle struggling once again to stay quiet, Xena leaned down and began running her lips across the younger womans breasts. "Let me hear you Gabrielle," she said softly. "The hut is set off from everyone elses...No one else will hear you...Let go," she said, as her lips moved to capture a nipple. Swirling her tongue around it, she began stroking Gabrielles sex in the same pattern. "Tell me Gabrielle; I want to hear you," she coaxed one last time, before moving to the other nipple and giving it the same treatment.
Gabrielles voice came out in a choked sob. "Gods Xena, that feels so good," she said as she clutched the warrior to her tightly. "Yes...gods yes," she groaned loudly, as Xena bit down lightly and tugged on her nipple.
Xena moved her hand harder and faster, as she felt Gabrielle nearing the edge of her limits. Rising up slightly to gaze down on her lover, Xena reached up and caressed Gabrielles cheek. "Come for me Gabrielle," she whispered throatily. "Come for me now," she urged.
Gabrielles last bit of restraint vanished when she heard Xenas words. Her body bucked against the warriors hand once more, her fingernails digging into Xenas back. She clutched her lovers shoulders, powerless to do anything else, as waves of release swept through her body. Xena ground her hips against Gabrielles leg and then allowed herself to slip over as well, moaning loudly when she heard Gabrielle call out her name, and then collapsing against her lover.
After several minutes, Xena finally found the strength to move once again. Shifting her weight off of Gabrielle, she rolled onto her back as she gathered the young woman into her arms. "Well," she finally said after a few more minutes had passed and she had regained the ability to speak. "Did that prove it to you?" she asked with a grin.
Gabrielle lifted her head to look down on the warrior. "No, it didnt," she replied, a hint of a smile tugging at her lips.
"Oh?" Xena asked, arching an eyebrow at the bard. "So what do you want?"
Gabrielle grinned wickedly as she leaned towards her lover. "I want you in my arms...naked...moaning...calling my name...begging me to touch you...and telling me you want me as much as I want you," she said, punctuating each phrase with a lingering kiss.
Xena sighed in mock resignation. "All right. If thats what its going to take, then I guess Ill have to agree," she said, before she pulled Gabrielle in for a kiss.
When Xena woke the next morning, Gabrielle was sound asleep in her arms. Moving carefully to avoid disturbing her lover, Xena leaned on one elbow and looked down at the young woman lying beside her. She savored every one of these opportunities; the peaceful quiet of the morning when the rest of the world was still asleep and it seemed as if she and Gabrielle were the only ones alive. Reaching her hand out, she lightly traced the lines of Gabrielles face, trailing her fingers down across her neck before moving back up to touch her hair. The young womans eyes remained closed, but she smiled as she reached up to capture Xenas hand in her own. Bringing it to her lips, she brushed a kiss across the palm, before opening her eyes to look at her lover. "Good morning," she said softly.
"Yes, it is," Xena agreed, before leaning forward to kiss Gabrielle gently. Breaking away after a few moments, she propped herself up on both elbows to gaze down on the young woman and smiled at her. "And a busy one for you if I overheard correctly...your rematch with Eponin is this morning?" she asked.
Gabrielle nodded. "Yup. Ill finally get to see how much Ive learned with my staff," she replied.
"Well my moneys on you. Whens the match?"
"Sometime this morning, whenever we get around to it...but I dont want you there."
"Why not?" Xena asked in surprise.
"Itll just make me nervous, and if I lose...I dont want you to see that," Gabrielle replied as she looked down.
Xena caught her chin, forcing the bards gaze back up to meet her own. "Gabrielle, if you dont want me there, thats fine. But losing isnt anything to be ashamed of. Ive lost my share of battles too you know, and Im not going to think any less of you if Eponin beats you. Youre still going to be the one I want with me, watching my back, the next time I go into a fight."
Gabrielle smiled gratefully. "Okay...but I still dont want you around. For some reason I find it difficult to concentrate when youre close by. Surely youll be able to find something to occupy your time, with while Im busy with Eponin and all the Amazon training Ill be doing over the next several days," she said with a teasing grin.
"Im sure Ill find something to do," Xena replied. "So youre busy all afternoon?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Ephiny was generous enough to give me the entire morning to myself but after lunch theyre hitting me in full force.
Xena smiled lazily as her fingers began to trace circles across Gabrielles stomach. "But you have the whole morning to yourself? Nothing scheduled but the match with Eponin?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Nope. Nothing scheduled for this morning."
"And your match?" Xena asked, as she leaned down to trail kisses along Gabrielles jawline. "You said your match with Eponin was just sometime this morning," she murmured, before reaching up to cup one of Gabrielles breasts in her hand, rubbing her thumb lightly across the nipple.
"Anytime this morning," Gabrielle agreed. "And late this morning will be just as good as early," she said, before burying one hand in Xenas thick hair and pulling the warrior down to kiss her, effectively ending any further conversation between the two of them.
**************************************************Continued - Part 3