CHAPTER 3 (cont)
The next several days passed by quickly for Gabrielle. From sunrise to sunset she was involved in learning about the Amazons: their culture, their traditions, their laws. When she wasnt learning about Amazonian intellectual pursuits, she was being trained in the art of warfare; not only in the use of her staff but also in tactics and strategy. Nearly every opportunity was taken to educate the young Queen about her adopted people, and Gabrielle was a willing student, wanting more than anything to be worthy of the great honor she had been given. The only real problem was the fact that she wasnt able to spend as much time with Xena as she would have liked. The only free time she had was in the evenings, but even that was often occupied with various celebrations or meetings. Only her nights were really her own. Fortunately, she and Xena made good use of this time and made up for being apart during the day.
Gabrielle wasnt quite certain how Xena felt about all of this. On the one hand, the warrior was obviously more relaxed and at ease than she had been when theyd first reached the village. The fight they had had on the first day had been put firmly behind them, although Gabrielle still wondered about it. She found it hard to believe that Xena could have gotten so upset about clothes. It was more likely that something else entirely had been bothering her friend, but whatever it was seemed to have been forgotten, and Gabrielle was in no mood to remind Xena about it. The warrior had grown decidedly more open and affectionate over the past several days, and had even started acting that way when they were around Ephiny and the other women they were closest to. Gabrielle wasnt about to start a fight again when Xena was in such a good mood.
However, she could also see that Xena was getting restless. There was very little for her to do while Gabrielle was occupied with all of her lessons, and the warrior was obviously getting bored with so much time on her hands. She knew that Xena was more than a little frustrated by the fact that they were getting to spend so little time together, which probably helped to account for her increased attentiveness when they actually were with one another. The problem was, even when they did get the chance to be together, there was almost always someone else around, keeping them slightly apart.
This evening was a perfect example. Instead of getting to spend the time alone or with just a few of the women they were closest to, they were going to be attending another celebration. It would be one more evening where Xena would have to share Gabrielle with the women of the village and, since she was the Queen, Gabrielle didnt have the option of skipping the party or leaving it early.
Gabrielle looked up as Xena entered from the other room. "Ready to go?" the warrior asked.
"Almost," Gabrielle responded, as she slipped on one of her bracers and then reached for the other. Xena stepped forward to help her friend tighten the laces, and Gabrielle smiled slightly. "This certainly is a switch isnt it? You helping me with my armor."
Xena chuckled. "Well, we have to be flexible, dont we?"
Gabrielle looked up at Xena thoughtfully. "Xena...Im sorry about all of this," she said suddenly.
"Sorry? Sorry about what?" Xena asked, genuinely confused by Gabrielles abrupt statement.
"About being so busy with all this Amazon stuff...for leaving you by yourself all this time. I doubt this is what you had in mind when you suggested we come here, and I can see that youve been bored senseless."
Xena started to reply and then stopped, wanting to consider her response carefully. "Gabrielle," she finally said. "Youre right. This isnt what I had in mind, but I should have realized that this is what was going to happen. I knew the Amazons would want to spend time teaching you their customs...I just didnt realize how much time they were going to take up to do it."
"So youre not upset?" Gabrielle asked hopefully.
Xena shook her head and moved forward to take Gabrielle into her arms. "Id be lying if I said I wasnt bored, and Id be lying if I said I wouldnt rather have you all to myself. But I know how much you mean to the Amazons, and how much they mean to you. You need to learn about them and this is the best way for you to do it," Xena said with a resigned sigh. Reaching up to caress Gabrielles cheek, Xena smiled down at her lover. "I also know how important it is to you that you follow Amazon customs and traditions and that makes it important to me too. Well spend as much time here as you need to. Eventually Im bound to find something to do to keep myself busy," she finished with a grin.
"Youre sure? It will probably be at least another week before they start letting me having my life back again," Gabrielle warned her friend.
"Well, Im not going to wait around here for the next year and a half while you learn Amazon folk tunes," Xena said, smiling broadly at the woman in her arms. "But its not going to hurt me to stay a little longer. Just remember, the Amazons can have your days, but your nights belong to me."
"Dont worry warrior, Im not about to forget something as important as that," Gabrielle promised, as she drew her lover in for a kiss. Breaking away, she smiled ruefully as she looked up Xena. "Come on, lets go get this over with. We have to get through this evening so that we can get to the night," she said, as she led Xena out to join the celebration.
The party that night was pretty much like all the others had been. Lots of food, music, dancing, laughter...everything necessary for a good time. Despite the fact that Gabrielle would have preferred to have simply spent a quiet evening alone with Xena, she had to admit that she was enjoying herself. The only damper on the evening was the continued attention that so many of the other women kept paying to Xena. It wasnt that Gabrielle didnt trust her lover, it was the fact that she was beginning to find the whole thing a bit demeaning. It was one thing to see someone casting an appreciative glance in Xenas direction, but it was quite another for someone to come up and make a play for the warrior right in front of her. It was obvious that the majority of the women in the village assumed that Gabrielle and Xena were still just friends, and that Xena was fair game. Logically, she admitted it made sense. All the times they had been in the village before they had just been friends; there was no real way for the women to know that their relationship had finally changed. Unfortunately, logic didnt help much when gorgeous women were fantasizing about the woman she loved.
"You okay?" Xenas soft voice interrupted her thoughts. "Youre being awfully quiet."
"Yeah Im fine," Gabrielle answered, as they continued to walk through the crowd. "I guess Im just tired," she said truthfully. "Its been a long day."
Xena nodded and started guiding Gabrielle around the women who were dancing near them. "Maybe we should find someplace to sit down then," Xena said with a smile. "It wouldnt do for the Queen to drop over from fatigue."
Gabrielle smiled back at her friend and started to reply, before noticing Talia approaching them, a determined look on her face as her eyes moved hungrily over Xenas tall form. Gabrielle frowned slightly before reaching out to grab Xenas hand, lacing her fingers with the warriors as she pulled Xena closely to her side. Talia hesitated momentarily as she observed Gabrielles actions and looked at the bard more closely. Seeing the haughty stare directed at her, the Amazon wisely decided to move on to another target, one that wouldnt involve direct competition with her Queen.
Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief before glancing towards Xena. To her surprise, Xena was struggling to keep a straight face and she could see the laughter in the warriors eyes. "Nice move. This queen stuff really seems to agree with you."
"Its good to be the Queen," Gabrielle replied calmly.
"You know, I only danced with her because you turned me down. I told you, Im not the least bit interested in her."
Gabrielle blushed slightly. "I know. But Im getting a little tired of every woman here thinking she can just walk up and start fawning all over you right in front of me. No one here seems to realize that were finally together. They think were still just friends."
Xena shrugged. "I told you the first day we got here that I didnt care who you told about us. If it bothers you, then just tell everyone the truth."
"Oh sure...Im supposed to just go up to everyone here and say Hey, Xena and I are a couple now," Gabrielle said sarcastically.
Xena pretended to consider her suggestion. "No, youre right. That would take too long, and youd probably just miss someone anyway. I have a better idea," she said, before pulling Gabrielle to her tightly and kissing her passionately.
Gabrielle was so stunned by Xenas sudden action that for a moment all she could do was stand frozen in Xenas arms. A few seconds later, however, she melted into Xenas embrace and returned her kiss with equal passion, while she pressed up against the warriors body. She moaned softly when she felt Xenas hands caressing her back and she wrapped her arms around her lover to hold her close, completely ignoring the crowd that was surrounding them.
After several timeless moments, Xena broke their kiss to look down onto her lovers face. "There. I think everyone should get the point that you wanted to make," she said huskily, as she reached up to lightly caress Gabrielles cheek.
"And then some," Gabrielle agreed with a smile.
For several more seconds, Xena held Gabrielle in her embrace. "Come on," she said softly as she started to lead Gabrielle further away from the dancers. "There has to be some place around here thats a little less crowded and a little more quiet."
Gabrielle nodded as she began following Xena away from the dancers. Noticing Eponin trying to get her attention, Gabrielle squeezed Xenas hand gently and told her she would catch up with her soon and then moved to join Eponin. Xena nodded and continued on to where Ephiny, Solari, and a few other women she recognized where standing. Reaching the group, Xena leaned back against a large rock that formed a natural chair and turned to face the crowd. Noticing Ephiny smirking at her, Xena returned her gaze steadily, arching an eyebrow in silent question. "That was unexpected," Ephiny quipped lightly. "Do you and Gabrielle have any more entertainment planned for the evening?" she asked innocently.
Xena shrugged. "Nothings planned. Well play it by ear," she deadpanned.
The others laughed at her comment before drawing Xena into a conversation about her most recent exploits. After several minutes had passed, Gabrielle joined them as well, moving to stand beside Xena. Xena, however, caught her arm when she drew near and pulled the bard close to her, kissing her gently. Seeing Gabrielles questioning look, Xena smiled before leaning close to speak directly into her ear. "Just in case someone missed our earlier demonstration," she murmured softly, smiling when she felt Gabrielle shiver in her arms. "Hope you dont mind," she finished as she leaned back. Turning Gabrielle in her arms, Xena shifted slightly, before pulling the young woman back against her chest and wrapping her arms around her. Reaching down to capture Gabrielles hands, Xena interlaced her fingers with her lovers. She smiled when she heard Gabrielles sigh of contentment, as she settled herself more comfortably against the warrior.
They remained that way for the next couple of hours, while they talked to Ephiny and her friends. The conversation was lively but, as time passed, Xena could feel Gabrielle beginning to drift off in her arms. She wasnt surprised that Gabrielle was so tired. Between all of her lessons and the responsibilities of being Queen of the Amazons, the last several days had been exhausting ones for her friend. Gabrielle struggled to stay awake and listen to the stories that were being told. Eventually, though, her slow, even breathing told Xena that she had finally fallen asleep. Xena continued to hold her for several more minutes, enjoying the luxury of simply having Gabrielle in her arms, an experience that, lately, she hadnt had nearly as often as she would have liked. Eventually, though, she leaned in close to her lover. "Gabrielle," Xena whispered gently into her ear. "Gabrielle wake up," she whispered again when the bard didnt immediately respond.
"Hmmm?" Gabrielle finally asked as she yawned and stretched.
"Time for bed. I think youll be more comfortable sleeping on a bed than standing up out here," Xena said, straightening up and moving them away from the rock she had been leaning against.
"I dont know," Gabrielle murmured, stepping back into Xenas embrace. I was pretty comfortable where I was you know," she said softly. "But youre right, a bed would probably be better...certainly it would be more private," she said with a grin. Turning to face the women who were still there, Gabrielle smiled before wishing them all a good night and then started to walk towards her hut, Xena following closely behind.
"Xena...I need to talk to you for a minute," Ephiny called, as she looked up from her conversation with Solari.
Xena looked at Ephiny curiously for a moment, before turning back to Gabrielle. "Go on. Ill be there as soon as I talk to Ephiny," she told her and then leaned down to kiss the bard. Gabrielle nodded and watched Xena make her way to where Ephiny was standing, then turned and wandered back to their hut.
It was almost an hour later, before Xena finally made it back to the hut she was sharing with Gabrielle. The lights had all been extinguished and Xena could see the young bard sleeping in the bed. Sighing to herself, she acknowledged to herself that, considering how tired Gabrielle had been, she really couldnt have expected her to be waiting up. Quickly getting undressed, she slid into bed next to her young lover, resigning herself to just holding Gabrielle in her arms for the night. As she slipped her arms around the young woman to pull her close, however, she was startled to discover that Gabrielle was completely nude, and she groaned slightly at the feel of Gabrielles naked body in her arms. Gabrielle opened her eyes sleepily, whether from Xenas touch or the sound of her voice the warrior was unsure, and then smiled and moved closer to her lover. "What took you so long?" she asked, as she began pressing soft kisses along the line of Xenas collarbone.
"It took Ephiny a while to finish talking to Solari," Xena replied, swallowing hard. Gabrielle noticed and moved her lips to Xenas throat, sucking gently at the base and leaving a small mark while her hands began roaming over Xenas body. "And then after I got done talking to Ephiny, there were a few other women who wanted to speak to me about various things....," Xena continued, finding it more and more difficult to concentrate as Gabrielles hands efficiently removed the shift she had worn to bed.
Gabrielle nodded. "And what did Ephiny want to talk to you about anyway?" she asked, before leaning down to capture one of Xenas nipples between her teeth.
Xena groaned and arched against her lovers mouth, before reaching down and pulling Gabrielle up to face her. "Nothing that cant wait until later," she gasped, before covering Gabrielles mouth with her own as her hands began an exploration of the Amazon Queens body.
Gabrielle woke up slowly, smiling when she felt the security of Xenas arms wrapped around her. As she began trailing her fingertips across her lovers arms, she felt Xena stir behind her. "Morning sleepyhead," Xena whispered into her ear.
"Morning," Gabrielle replied, before turning around and kissing the warrior. "Have you been awake long?" she asked, as she hugged her lover tightly.
"Not too long. Just been lying here thinking."
"Trying to come up with something to do while Im busy?" Gabrielle asked with a smile.
"Actually, I already found something to do, assuming you dont have any big problems with it," she replied.
"Its what Ephiny wanted to talk to me about last night. Shes decided that since your lessons are going well, shes going to go visit Tyldus and the centaurs for the next couple of days. Xenon is over there at the moment and Ephiny thought I might want to go along with her."
"You want to go visit the centaurs?" Gabrielle asked, the surprise in her voice obvious.
Xena shrugged. "I want to see Xenon. Ive only seen the little guy once since I helped bring him into the world; Id like to see how hes doing. And I wouldnt mind seeing Tyldus again. We were enemies for a long time and its hard to patch up those differences with just the few short meetings weve had. Besides, I think Ephiny would feel a lot more comfortable with someone else along. Even if Tyldus is her father-in-law, I doubt shes at ease being the lone Amazon in a centaur village."
Gabrielle nodded. "How long would you be gone?"
"Not sure, a few days anyway. Ephiny wanted to leave today. I told her Id think about it and let her know if I wanted to go."
"Ill miss you," Gabrielle said as she reached up to caress Xenas cheek.
Xena smiled. "And Ill miss you. But well only be across the river and well be able to get back right away if theres any trouble."
Gabrielle nodded again. "What time were you planning on leaving?" she asked, as her hands began moving across Xenas back.
"Ephiny said she wanted to leave sometime this morning," Xena said, a slow grin beginning to spread across her face.
"Sometime this morning huh," Gabrielle said as she began nibbling the line of Xenas jaw. "So I guess late this morning would probably still count wouldnt it?" she asked, while her mouth began to move down Xenas throat.
"Late this morning will be just as good as early," Xena agreed throatily, before she rolled Gabrielle onto her back. "And very late would be best of all," she said as she leaned down to trail her tongue across Gabrielles breasts.
It had been days since Xena and Ephiny had left the village, but despite the fact that Gabrielle missed her lover terribly, she wasnt particularly concerned. As Xena had said, they were only across the river; the Amazons would hear about any problems over at the centaur village soon enough. Still, she was looking forward to Xena getting back as soon as possible.
Taking a break from her studies, Gabrielle took her staff to a quiet location and began practicing with it. Slowly moving the staff in intricate patterns, Gabrielle closed her eyes and listened with her body, the way Xena had taught her. It was good practice and it helped her focus her mind and relax, something she needed to do after the intensity of the past few days. As she continued to sharpen her senses, she became aware of a presence sneaking up on her from behind. Quickly whirling around, she swung her staff at her unknown attacker.
Xena caught Gabrielles staff just before it struck her in the face. "Youre getting good at this," she told the bard. "Its no wonder you beat Eponin. But," she added with a grin, as she released the staff, "I almost got you that time."
"You got me a long time ago Warrior," Gabrielle said with smile, before she wrapped her arms around her lover. "Gods I missed you," she said emotionally, as she pulled Xena down to kiss her. "When did you get back?" she asked happily, stepping away but still remaining within the circle of Xenas arms.
"Just a few minutes ago," Xena replied, smiling as she looked down at the young woman in her arms. "And I missed you too," she said softly, before she kissed her lover once more. Breaking the kiss but still maintaining her hold on the bard, Xena smiled down at Gabrielle for several moments before speaking again. "Tyldus sends his regards. He wants us to stop by there after we leave the village so that he can pay his respects to the Amazon Queen himself. I told him wed do our best," she said, while her hands began caressing Gabrielles back.
"Fine with me," Gabrielle agreed, as she smiled and leaned towards Xena. Stopping as a thought crossed her mind, she looked at Xena curiously. "Did Ephiny come back with you?"
"Yup. I dont know where she went though."
"I should find her. The tribunal wanted to have a meeting tomorrow. She should be there since shes back," Gabrielle said, as she began to pull out of Xenas arms to go off in search of the Amazon.
Xena pulled the bard back against her chest. "You can find her later," she said, her voice soft and low. "At the moment I have other plans for you."
"What sort of plans?" Gabrielle asked with a sly smile.
Xena leaned close until her lips were brushing up against Gabrielles right ear. "Plans that involve slowly driving you insane until youre out of your mind with passion," Xena said in a throaty whisper, before her tongue flicked out to trace the outline of her lovers ear. "Interested? Or would you rather go look for Ephiny?"
"No," Gabrielle gasped, her legs becoming decidedly unsteady. "Your plans hold more interest for me at the moment," she agreed as she allowed Xena to lead her towards their hut, grateful for the arm the warrior wrapped around her waist. "Definitely, much more interest."
Finishing her meeting with Ephiny and the tribunal, Gabrielle wandered around the village for several minutes, enjoying the feeling of peace and contentment that filled the air. Eventually she found herself standing apart from everyone else on a short rise overlooking the village. It was hard to believe that just a short time ago the Amazons had been divided into two factions; the wounds from that split appeared to have healed completely, and Gabrielle was glad she had been able to help. As she continued to look over the village, she caught sight of the spot where Xenas sarcophagus had once sat on a funeral pyre and, despite her best efforts, her mind wandered back to that terrible time when Xena had died, and she had felt more alone than she would have ever thought possible.
She heard someone walking up behind her and knew, without looking, that it was Xena. She smiled when she felt her lovers arms wrap around her and sighed contentedly when Xena pulled her back against her chest. She covered Xenas forearms with her hands as she leaned back against the warrior, loving the feel of Xenas embrace. "Ive been looking all over for you," she heard Xena say softly. "I saw Ephiny, so I knew you were through with your meeting."
Gabrielle nodded. "It seemed like it went on forever. I had to stretch my legs after sitting down for so long. Not quite sure how I ended up here," she said with a smile.
"You looked like you were deep in thought. What were you thinking about?"
Gabrielle hesitated for a moment. "I was just thinking about the last time we were here...when you were...when you were dead. I was thinking about the moment I had to signal them to light your funeral pyre," she finished quietly.
Xena felt Gabrielle shudder and pulled the bard to her tightly. She held her securely for several moments before turning her in her arms to cover her lips with a kiss. Pulling back slightly, she caressed Gabrielles cheek with her knuckles. "Thats all in the past," she said softly before pulling Gabrielle close once more, resting her chin on the top of the young womans head.
"I know...I just cant help thinking about it sometimes. And Velasca...the things she said and did." Gabrielle chuckled to herself. "You know, it was really bizarre meeting Velasca the way I did. She made the strangest comment about you when we first met."
"Whats that?" Xena asked, as she began to trail kisses across her lovers collar bone.
Gabrielle sighed softly when she felt Xenas lips and had to concentrate for a second before she could answer. "Oh, she just made a comment about you being a true Amazon even though you denied it. I remember wondering....," Gabrielle stopped abruptly when she felt Xena go rigid. "Xena whats wrong?" she asked as she looked up at her lover.
"Nothings wrong Gabrielle," Xena replied, feigning a lightness she definitely did not feel.
Puzzled, Gabrielle tried again. "Xena?" Getting no response and growing worried by Xenas white face and the wild look in her eyes, she tried one last time. "Xena whats wrong?" Seeing that her friend had no intention of answering her, Gabrielle quickly reviewed the conversation they had been having. "Xena...did Velasca know something I don't know?" she finally asked.
"Im sure she knew a lot of things you don't know Gabrielle. We should probably be getting back. Ephiny will likely be looking for us," she said as she started to turn and leave.
Gabrielle reached out to grab her arm. "Xena, did Velasca know something about you that I dont know?"
Exasperated, Xena rolled her eyes but deliberately avoided making eye contact with her friend. "Gabrielle, how am I supposed to know what Velasca did or didnt know about me? I had never met her in my own body until she showed up at the village after her fall."
"Fine. Was she right? Are you an Amazon?" Gabrielle asked, as she began to grow angry.
"Gabrielle...I grew up in Amphipolis. Remember, my home village hates me? Besides, youve met my mother, you know she wasnt an Amazon."
"You still havent answered my question, Xena." Gabrielle looked her friend directly in the eyes before asking, "Are you an Amazon?"
Xena stared back at her for several endless moments. "Yes I am," she finally answered quietly. "I received the right of caste from an Amazon warrior a long time ago."
Gabrielle stared at her in shock for several seconds. "Why didnt you ever tell me about this?" she finally demanded furiously.
Xena shrugged. "It never came up."
"It never came up?" Gabrielle asked in disbelief. "It never came up? Not when I received my right of caste and we talked about what it meant to be an Amazon? Not when we talked about my decision to give you an Amazon funeral, even though you werent an Amazon?" Gabrielle paused for a second as things finally fell into place. "Not when I suggested you try on the Amazon clothes so that we could see what kind of Amazon youd make?" she demanded, her voice as cold as steel. "I cant believe youve been lying to me about this!"
"I never lied to you about this," Xena protested.
"No? What about when you were teaching me all those Amazon rituals and I asked you how you knew so much about them. You said it was because youd had some in your army."
"That was the truth. I had Amazons in my army and they taught me a lot of their customs."
"And it never dawned on you at that time to mention that you were an Amazon too?" Gabrielle asked sarcastically.
"Look, I don't want to talk about this."
"Too bad because I do. Who was she?"
"Don't treat me like a fool. Who was the Amazon who gave you her right of caste? One of the Amazons in your army?"
"No, Kaylana was never in my army."
"Kaylana. So who was she?" Gabrielle asked, knowing the answer already by the expression on Xenas face.
"She was my lover," Xena replied evenly. "When she died she gave me her right of caste."
"How did she die?"
Xenas expression suddenly reflected a mixture of pain, anger, and fear unlike anything Gabrielle had ever seen before. "I dont intend to discuss this issue any further," she finally ground out. "Im sorry I didnt mention it before, but frankly I dont see the big deal. It has nothing to do with you."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to reply but was interrupted by the calls of an Amazon approaching them, informing her that Ephiny needed to speak with her. "Ill be right there," she replied, before turning her attention back to Xena. She studied her friend for a moment, knowing by the way she was acting that there was something Xena wasnt telling her, something she was trying to hide from her. "Well talk about this later," she said as she turned to leave.
"No we wont...because theres nothing more to talk about," Xena shot back.
"And after the feast is over....Gabrielle are you listening to me?" Ephiny asked impatiently.
"Huh? Oh...Im sorry Ephiny. I guess my mind is somewhere else," Gabrielle said apologetically. "What were you saying?" she asked, as she tried to focus on Ephinys words.
"Gabrielle, is something wrong?" Ephiny asked, a note of concern in her voice.
"No, nothings wrong." Gabrielle replied. Seeing the look Ephiny was giving her, she shrugged slightly as she admitted, "I just had a fight with Xena."
"You could say that. I just found out shes been lying to me for months now," Gabrielle said heatedly as her anger resurfaced.
"Lying to you?" Ephiny asked in surprise. "That doesnt sound like Xena."
"Well...maybe not actually lying to me," Gabrielle relented. "But shes been deliberately misleading me, and theres not much difference."
"Uh huh...So what has she been misleading you about?"
Gabrielle hesitated, unwilling to reveal Xenas secrets, despite the fact that she was still furious with her. "About something from her past," she finally said. "Something she should have told me."
"Gabrielle," Ephiny said cautiously. "You dont think Xena has told you everything about her past do you?"
"No, of course not. I know she doesnt just volunteer information. But this was different. She should have told me. Certain people...things...shouldnt be kept from me."
"People?" Ephiny asked, watching Gabrielle carefully.
"A former lover," Gabrielle replied. Seeing the look on Ephinys face she shook her head. "This isnt about jealousy...Okay, okay. Maybe I am a little jealous, but that isnt what this is about. Its about trust...and the fact that Xena still doesnt trust me enough to tell me the truth. Even now shes still hiding something from me...I can feel it."
Ephiny had no desire to get in the middle of a fight between the Amazon Queen and the Warrior Princess. "Maybe you should just give her some time Gabrielle," she finally suggested.
"Ill give her time Ephiny, but I guarantee that this is one time Xena is not going to get away with the silent routine!"
Gabrielle avoided Xena for the rest of the day, knowing that, in the mood she was in, she would only yell at Xena again if she tried to talk to her. Of course, the task of avoiding Xena was rather simple since it was obvious that Xena was avoiding her as well. Except for one or two brief instances, Gabrielle didnt see Xena for the rest of the day.
At the party that night the pattern continued. Gabrielle caught a few glimpses of Xena as she wandered around talking to others, but the warrior didnt come within 20 feet of her during the entire evening and was clearly ignoring her presence. Xena vanished long before the party ended, leaving Gabrielle to wonder where she could possibly have gone. Unfortunately, as Queen, she didnt have the luxury of leaving early, so she was unable to try to find Xena and attempt to work out their problems. However, without Xena there with her, Gabrielle really wasnt able to enjoy herself, no matter how hard she tried and, as soon as she was able, she excused herself and retired to their hut. She wasnt particularly surprised to see that Xena wasnt there when she returned, and she decided to wait up until the warrior got back. After a couple of hours had passed and there was still no sign of her, however, Gabrielle eventually drifted off into a fitful sleep.
Gabrielle woke the next day to find Xena had already left the hut and wondered briefly whether she had actually even slept there the night before. Refusing to let her thoughts follow that direction, Gabrielle got up and went out to face the village, hoping to be able to speak with Xena before much more time had gone by. Soon she found herself involved in the countless little duties and discussions that came with being queen, and the hours quickly sped by.
She was relieved to see that, although Xena was still avoiding her, she was at least still in the village. Time after time Gabrielle tried to catch the warriors eyes, but Xena was still intent on ignoring her. Finally Gabrielle had had enough and, after excusing herself from the conversation surrounding her, she deliberately approached Xena to try to talk with her.
Xena saw her coming and, for a moment, Gabrielle was certain that she was going to try to get away from her. After several seconds of indecision, however, the warrior straightened her shoulders and watched silently as Gabrielle approached. "Hello," Gabrielle said simply, as she reached Xenas side.
"Hello," Xena replied stiffly.
"So, are you ready to talk about this yet?" Gabrielle asked with a determined look in her eyes.
"I told you I didnt want to talk about this," Xena replied brusquely. "Look Gabrielle, it doesnt have anything to do with you. Its in the past. Kaylana is part of my past."
"Did you love her?" Gabrielle asked, gazing unflinchingly into Xenas eyes.
"Not the way she deserved to be loved."
Gabrielles fury exploded around her. "Xena...could you please just answer the question directly? No evasions...just give me a yes or no answer!"
"No...I didnt love her," Xena said tightly. "Frankly, I dont think I was even capable of that emotion at the time I knew her."
"Was she the first woman you were ever with?" Gabrielle finally asked, after several long moments of silence.
"No, although she was the first woman I was ever with more than once."
Gabrielle took several deep breaths while she struggled to control her jealousy, knowing that it was completely irrational to feel that way about someone Xena knew so long ago. "How long were you together?"
"For several months," Xena sighed. "Gabrielle, it was a long time ago. My relationship with her is no threat to you...or to us."
Gabrielle looked at her appraisingly. "Then why have you been keeping this a secret from me? What arent you telling me?"
Xena looked at her in amazement. "You mean you want me to make a list for you of every one of my past lovers?" she asked sarcastically.
"No of course not. But when the subject of one of them specifically comes up, I do expect you to at least be honest about it."
"Gabrielle, its nothing...."
"No! Damnit Xena, dont try to tell me it was nothing. If it was nothing then you would have told me about this a long time ago. I know you dont just hand out information about your past, but the subject of Amazons and the right of caste has come up too many times between us for you to have never said anything about this."
Xena glared at Gabrielle silently, her face like stone, giving no indication as to what she was thinking. "Gabrielle...leave it alone," she finally said, her voice dangerously soft.
"No," Gabrielle replied, refusing to back down. "You do this all the time and Im tired of it. Youre always keeping things from me and I only find out when the issue gets forced. Its just like with Solon. You never trusted me enough to tell me you had a son for Zeus sake, and if he hadnt suddenly reappeared in your life, I still wouldnt know about him. Im fed up with the way youre always hiding things from me. Its time you started to trust me Xena. I dont know whats going on here, but if you dont have more faith in me than this....," Gabrielles voice trailed off as she calmly looked up at Xenas face.
"Then what? What are you saying?" Xena asked in a confused voice.
Gabrielle simply looked at her for several long seconds, before shrugging and walking silently away.
The two spent the rest of the day apart, neither one willing to back down on the issue. Gabrielle spent the evening with Ephiny and several of the other warriors, trying to pretend that everything was fine, but knowing deep down that she wasnt fooling anyone, least of all herself. For once she found herself to be the quiet one at a gathering, as several of the women told tales about Amazons they had known. The warmth and affection of the Amazons for one another, and their obvious pride in who they were, never failed to impress Gabrielle, and she again wondered why in the world Xena would want to deny the fact that she was an Amazon.
As the hour grew late, Gabrielle reluctantly returned to her hut, knowing that Xena wouldnt be there waiting for her. She tried once again to stay awake until Xena returned, but eventually fell asleep, exhausted and frustrated, and certain that Xena would not be there when she woke up the next morning.
Xena got up the next morning long before Gabrielle and left the hut without waking her. If she could have managed it, she would have slept anywhere other than in Gabrielles hut but, as it was, she was already on the receiving end of more than a few stares and sidelong glances. She didnt see any need to give the Amazons any more to talk about than they already had, especially when Gabrielle slept so soundly that she could easily get in and out without waking her.
Xena had no intention of discussing her right of caste with Gabrielle. She knew that the young woman was upset and acknowledged that she probably had a right to feel the way she did. But that didnt change anything. Xena had done her best to put her Amazon right of caste behind her and she didnt want to start thinking about it now. She certainly had no intention of discussing it with Gabrielle. To tell her lover the truth about the caste would mean that shed have to tell her things about her past that would destroy the bards love for her completely; there was no possible way Gabrielle would be able to accept the things she had done.
Damn Velasca! If she hadnt made that stupid, meaningless comment in front of Gabrielle, then none of this would have ever happened. Xena had never lied to Gabrielle about being an Amazon. Shed ignored comments the bard had made and shed misled her, but shed never actually lied. All right, that was a shaky distinction at best, but it was still there. Shed been safe as long as Gabrielle had never asked her a direct question about being an Amazon. Now thanks to Velasca, shed had to admit something she had tried her best to forget.
But this was as far as it was going to go. She was not going to discuss the matter any further with anyone, least of all Gabrielle. The bard would get over this soon enough and it was better to have Gabrielle temporarily angry at her, than to tell the young woman the truth and have Gabrielle hate and despise her forever. All she had to do was avoid Gabrielle for another day or two and the whole thing would blow over.
With this plan in mind, Xena spent the rest of the day avoiding her lover, spending little time in the village and instead going hunting with a few of the women. When they returned several hours later, Xena quickly looked to find Gabrielle and was relieved to see that she was busy talking with several women. It was much easier to avoid Gabrielle when she was occupied with other concerns.
Xena was so focused on watching what Gabrielle was doing that she almost failed to hear the sounds of someone approaching her. Looking up, she saw that Ephiny had nearly reached her side. Sighing with resignation, Xena sat down with her back up against a tree and looked up to study the Amazon. "So, are you going to start in on me too?" she asked sarcastically.
Ephiny raised an eyebrow at her question. "Would it do any good?" she asked.
Ephiny shrugged. "Then I wont bother," she replied, as she sat down next to Xena. "I was curious, though, as to how much longer you were planning on staying. This is certainly the most time you two have ever spent here."
"I dont know...Hadnt really thought about it," she answered, as she turned to watch Gabrielle thoughtfully.
Ephiny studied her briefly, before glancing over to where Gabrielle was standing. "So will Gabrielle be going with you when you leave?"
Xena quickly turned to face Ephiny. "Of course," she replied, her shock at the question evident in her voice. "Why wouldnt she?"
Ephiny shrugged once again. "I was just thinking that if thats the case, then you two may be here for quite awhile."
"Why?" Xena demanded suspiciously.
"Because apparently you arent going to tell Gabrielle whats going on...and Gabrielle is not going to let the matter drop. As mad as she is, Id be pretty surprised if she was willing to go anywhere with you at the moment. So it looks like I wont have to deal with the responsibilities of leadership for quite awhile. This vacation is turning out to be a lot longer than I ever thought possible."
"Youre not funny Ephiny," Xena said tightly.
"Im not trying to be. As a matter of fact, Im being perfectly serious."
Xena shook her head. "Gabrielle will get over this. In another day or so this will all blow over and shell forget about it."
"Are we talking about the same Gabrielle here?" Ephiny asked, her tone clearly mocking the Warrior Princess. "You dont honestly believe that shes just going to forget about this do you? Ive never noticed Gabrielle to be the type who really just drops anything, let alone something that she is so obviously upset about. If waiting around for her to forget about this is your plan, Xena, Id suggest you come up with something else," Ephiny said as she stood up.
Dusting herself off, Ephiny looked down at the warrior. "I dont know whats going on between the two of you, but I can see that whatever it is, its more than just some minor disagreement." Ephiny sighed as she looked back over to where Gabrielle was standing. "Xena, Im telling you this as your friend and as someone who cares about both you and Gabrielle. I dont think Gabrielle is going to give in on this matter. In her mind, its become an issue of whether or not you trust her, and I think we both know how important that is to her." Glancing back down at Xena, she cocked an eyebrow at the warrior before continuing. "I guess you just need to decide whether keeping your secrets is worth the risk of losing Gabrielle," she said and then turned and walked away.
"Thats just it Ephiny," Xena said softly, as she watched the Amazons retreating form. "Keeping my secrets means I risk losing her...Telling her means Ill lose her for sure."
Gabrielle was lying on her bed with her back to the door when she heard Xena enter the hut and settle down near the entrance. She waited for a few seconds before rolling over onto her side and propping herself up on her elbow to look at Xena. "Hi," she said quietly.
"Thought youd be asleep by now," Xena said tonelessly.
"I know you did...Otherwise, you wouldnt have come back yet."
Xena didnt bother to deny what they both knew to be the truth. "Gabrielle...please cant you let this go?" she finally asked helplessly.
"No...I cant," the bard replied.
Xena nearly growled with frustration. She was in a lose-lose situation. If she didnt tell Gabrielle the truth, this whole damn thing was going to fester and grow until it finally became a wedge between them. And if she did tell Gabrielle the truth, then Gabrielle would definitely hate her. No longer caring, just wanting the whole thing over and done with, Xena finally looked at her friend, a defeated expression on her face. "What do you want to know?"
Gabrielle released the breath she hadnt even realized shed been holding. "How did you meet Kaylana?" she asked, trying to start with the simplest question she could think of.
Xena paused for several seconds as she thought back to the events that seemed like they had occurred a lifetime ago. "I met her near Amazon territory while I was hunting one day. Id been more or less looking for Amazons anyway...I thought it would be a good idea to learn from them and about them. I knew the Amazon symbol of peace so I was able to get close enough to her and her hunting party to talk. After wed talked for awhile, they invited me back to their village and I went."
"What about your army?"
"I didnt have an army at that time." Seeing the expression on Gabrielles face, Xena shook her head ruefully. "No Gabrielle, I wasnt having a change of heart about my life...I guess I was just bored again with all the fighting and conquest. Living with the Amazons just seemed like a good idea at the time. Its hard to find better teachers. After all, not only could they provide me with plenty of trainers for weapons skills, they could also teach me tactics and strategy...especially tactics and strategy for dealing with centaurs."
"We became lovers fairly quickly. I lived with her and she taught me most of the Amazon rituals and customs that I know," Xena admitted.
Gabrielle was silent for several seconds, digesting what Xena had told her. "So what happened?" she finally asked.
Xena swallowed several times before speaking, her voice strained. "Kaylana wanted to have a commitment ceremony. She said she loved me and she wanted to make our relationship official, but I balked. I told her we didnt need any stupid ceremonies to tell us how we felt about one another...but that wasnt the real reason I refused. I refused because, even though I knew she was in love with me, I never truly loved her. Cared for her, yes, but it was never love. We ended up having a huge fight about it and I stormed off and left the village."
Xena closed her eyes, as she tried to control the surge of emotions that was threatening to overwhelm her. Finally she got herself reined back in enough to continue. "Eventually Kaylana came looking for me. There was a town not far from the Amazon border that was relatively friendly to the Amazons, so I guess she figured Id gone there. But...while she was on her way there she ran into an army led by a warlord named Ramsircs."
Xena stopped speaking again as her voice began to tremble and her breathing grew uneven. Clenching her fists, she struggled to regain her focus, knowing she had to get through this ordeal soon or she would never make it through at all. When she was able to speak again, her voice was raw with emotion. "They captured her and, after beating and raping her, they left her to die. I was headed back to the village to warn them about Ramsircs when I found her; she was barely alive. I tried to help her but it was too late." Xena took a deep breath before continuing. "She wanted to die on Amazon land, so I got her on my horse and managed to get her that far. Scouts found us before she died; they heard her pass on her right of caste to me, so no one ever doubted my claim. It was known in that tribe that I was an Amazon, even though it was never widely known amongst any of the other tribes. I suspect Velasca must have spent time with that particular tribe if she knew the truth."
Xena bowed her head as she finished speaking, feeling emotionally drained and utterly exhausted. She heard Gabrielle rise from her bed and approach to sit in front of her, but she couldnt force herself to raise her head to meet the bards eyes.
"Im sorry," Gabrielle finally whispered, her heart aching at the pain she had heard in Xenas voice. Xena simply nodded, her emotions too out of control to do anything else.
Gabrielle studied Xena intently for several long moments. The story Xena had told her was obviously extremely painful for the warrior, but something here didnt make sense. Xena had been adamant about not telling her this story; in fact shed been downright afraid. Gabrielle knew that Xena was worried that something about this incident would change the way she felt about her. After hearing the story, Gabrielle couldnt believe that Xena honestly thought that learning about a former lover would make her so jealous that she would stop loving the Warrior Princess. It didnt matter to her that Xena hadnt been able to return Kaylanas feelings, and the bard was confused by the depth of Xenas fear. Looking at her lover more closely, Gabrielle knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the warrior was still not telling her everything and that it was the rest of the story that was causing Xenas terror.
"What else?" Gabrielle asked softly.
Gabrielle sighed. "Xena...I know theres something else...something youre afraid to tell me because you think that it will change the way I feel about you." Taking a deep breath she watched the warrior carefully. "You told me before that you trusted me. Im asking you to trust me now...to tell me whats wrong."
Xena remained silent for several long moments, and Gabrielle began to think that she wasnt going to answer. Finally, Xena looked up at Gabrielle. She made eye contact with the bard and held it for several seconds, before asking, "Why did you almost kill Phantes?"
Gabrielle was completely thrown by Xenas question. It was the last thing in the world she had expected the warrior to say. "What?" she finally managed to ask.
"Why did you almost kill Phantes?...You dont kill...and hed never done anything to you...So why did you almost kill him?"
Gabrielle struggled with her confusion, not comprehending Xenas thoughts at all. "I...Queen Melosa told me that it was my duty...That when Terreis gave me her right of caste she made me her avenger...We thought Phantes was the one whod killed Terreis, so I was honor bound to kill him."
Xena nodded her head at Gabrielles response, but otherwise remained silent.
Understanding began to light the corners of Gabrielles mind. "Is that what this is all about? That you had to kill Kaylanas murderer?"
Xenas eyes were cold and lifeless, her voice devoid of emotion, as she answered Gabrielles question. "I didnt know who her murderer was...."
"Oh," Gabrielle said in a puzzled voice.
"....I only knew he was someone in Ramsircs army...."
Gabrielles expression reflected first confusion, then understanding, then astonishment, as she realized what Xena was saying.
"And I was honor bound to avenge Kaylanas death...so I did."
"I mean I killed every man in Ramsircs army with Kaylanas sword. Singly, pairs, small groups...I cut their throats while they were sleeping. I buried her sword in their hearts while they were on their knees in front of me, begging for mercy. I stabbed them in their backs while they were running away from me. I did anything and everything I had to do to get close to them and, eventually, every one of them fell to her sword."
"How many of them were there?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Ninety-three?" Gabrielle gasped, her mind reeling in shock.
"And now I assume you understand why I never told you about this, and why I dont exactly parade my Amazon status around for others to see," Xena said harshly, as her voice finally began to betray the pain and anger she was feeling.
Gabrielle looked at Xena silently, her heart going out to her, knowing how painful this was for Xena to admit. Unfortunately, it fit the pattern she knew of the Warrior Princess almost perfectly...lose someone she cared about and then go to extremes in her grief...Lyceus...MLila...her "father"...It was probably even worse in this case, since she could see that Xena felt guilty about Kaylanas death.
"Her death wasnt your fault Xena," she said gently.
"Yes it was. If she hadnt been coming after me she would never have run into Ramsircs army." Xena took in a shuddering breath before continuing. "She loved me and I gave her nothing in return for that gift except a painful death."
"You cant make yourself love someone just because they want you to. Youre talking to an expert on this remember?" Gabrielle said with a small smile. "And none of this makes any difference in the way I feel about you."
"No difference?" Xena asked in disbelief. "How can it not make a difference? How can you possibly forgive me for this? Gabrielle, were not talking about a warlord that was trying to achieve some military goal. There was nothing in my heart but hatred and bloodlust. I stalked those men like some kind of crazed animal. I made certain that as many of them as possible suffered slow, torturous deaths. I was nothing more than a murderer, a cold-blooded assassin," she spat out. Xena held her hands out in front of her and looked down on them in disgust. "These hands murdered over 90 men, simply because they might have been the one who killed Kaylana," she ground out, her voice filled with self-loathing.
Gabrielle reached out and grabbed Xenas hands. Turning them over, she pressed soft kisses into the palms, before holding them tightly between her own hands and looking directly into Xenas eyes. "Xena, Ive told you before...Your past means nothing to me. Its what you do now that matters. I love the person you are today and, as for forgiveness, its not me that needs to forgive you, its you."
Xena couldnt believe what she was hearing. "Damnit Gabrielle! You arent listening to me," Xena swore in frustration, as she started to pull away from the young woman sitting in front of her.
"And youre not listening to me," Gabrielle said quietly, as she tightened her grip on Xenas hands. Taking a deep breath, she paused while she tried to find the words to explain. "Xena, Im not the wide-eyed, hero-worshipping kid that followed you from Poteidaia any more. Im the woman who loves you. Im fully aware that there are things about your past that would shock me, horrify me, and frighten me if I knew about them. But there is absolutely nothing about your past that will ever change the way I feel about the person you are today. I love you. Its as simple as that."
Xena stared at Gabrielle, wanting desperately to believe what she was hearing, but her mind kept telling her that it was impossible. As she looked into her friends eyes, however, she slowly began to allow herself to hope that it could be true. It didnt make any sense, but there was no disgust, no hatred, no disappointment in Gabrielles eyes. There was only love - pure, unconditional love. "Gabrielle...."
"Shhh," Gabrielle whispered as she stood up, pulling Xena up with her. "Come on. Lets get you to bed. Youre exhausted, and Ive missed holding you," she said, as she pulled Xena along behind her. Reaching the bed, she laid down on it before pulling Xena down next to her and wrapping her arms tightly around her. Gabrielle could feel the tension in her lovers body as she pulled Xenas head to rest on her shoulder. She slowly stroked the warriors back, while she murmured soft words of comfort and love to her, urging her to let go of her fears. After several minutes, her efforts were finally rewarded and she felt Xena begin to sob quietly against her shoulder, as she tightened her hold on the young bard. Gabrielle held her lover tightly, until she felt Xenas tears slacken as the warrior finally allowed sleep to claim her. Gabrielle shifted slightly to get more comfortable, but maintained her hold on Xena, enjoying the chance to be the strong one in their relationship for a change. She brushed a kiss across Xenas forehead before pulling her lover close to her once more, content to drift off to sleep in Xenas embrace.
Early the next morning, the sound of someone knocking on the door and calling her name, roused Gabrielle from her sleep. Looking down, she saw that Xena was still sleeping in her embrace, head resting on Gabrielles chest. She hesitated for a second, before smiling slightly to herself. "Come in," she called softly.
The door opened and an Amazon, who she had met the day before entered the hut and bowed slightly. The tall woman started to speak but stopped abruptly when Gabrielle placed a finger against her lips, indicating the need for quiet. "My Queen, last night you asked for someone to come get you so that you could have breakfast with Ephiny," the Amazon said softly, a hint of a question in her voice as well.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and nodded when she remembered that she was supposed to be eating with Ephiny and a few others that morning. "Thank you. Give me a few moments and Ill be ready to go," she replied softly.
The woman nodded briefly. "Ill wait for you outside," she said and then turned and left.
"Breakfast?" Gabrielle heard Xena ask sleepily.
Gabrielle looked down to see that Xena had yet to move from her comfortable position, but was now regarding her with a curious expression. "Sorry about that," she said, as she reached down to lightly stroke Xenas hair. "Yeah, Im supposed to be having breakfast with Ephiny and a few others this morning...Do you want to join us?"
"Breakfast at Ephinys...No...Im not quite up to that at the moment. Go on without me," Xena said self-consciously, as she started to pull away from Gabrielle. She felt embarrassed by the events of the night before and more than a little worried that, after more reflection, Gabrielle would have changed her mind about the way she felt.
Knowing what Xena was thinking, Gabrielle quickly reached out to stop her and then held the warrior until Xena finally looked at her. Shaking her head at the pain in her friends eyes, Gabrielle reached down and caught Xenas face in her hands. Pulling the warrior up to her, she covered her lips and kissed her thoroughly. Breaking the kiss, she rubbed her thumbs across Xenas cheeks, while she gazed into her eyes. "I love you," she said quietly.
Xena stared into Gabrielles eyes, seeing the love in them and knowing that Gabrielle was telling her the truth. "Why?" she finally whispered brokenly, a note of wonder in her voice. "Why would someone like you ever love someone like me?"
Gabrielle smiled and Xena felt her breathing grow more difficult as she gazed on her lovers beautiful face. "Because someone like me can see the real someone like you," Gabrielle replied. "And because someone like me has no choice. You hold my heart," she said huskily.
Xena looked down for several moments while she struggled to find the courage to speak. Finally she looked up again and moved closer to her lover. "And you hold my soul," she said as she kissed Gabrielle.
Gabrielle moaned softly and parted her lips under the pressure from Xenas mouth. They continued to kiss as Gabrielle began sucking softly on the warriors tongue, loving the low groan of pleasure that came from Xenas throat when she did so. She began pressing against the warrior while her hands roamed over her lovers body, sighing in frustration when Xena reluctantly pulled away from her. "Youre supposed to be meeting with Ephiny," Xena reminded her tightly, as she desperately tried to control her rising passion.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior for several long moments, seeing the need she felt in her own body reflected on Xenas face. She swallowed several times and cleared her throat, as she tried to regain the ability to speak normally. "Tyressa?" she called out, having finally remembered the name of the Amazon who was waiting for her.
"Yes my Queen?" she heard the warrior respond.
"Would you tell Ephiny that I wont be joining her for breakfast?...I have some things I need to discuss with Xena. Tell Ephiny Ill catch up with her later," Gabrielle said, as she smiled at her lover.
"Of course. Anything else?"
"No that will be all," Gabrielle replied and then reached for Xena to pull her close.
"So my Queen, youre just gonna blow them off?" Xena asked with a grin, as she gently caressed one of Gabrielles breasts through the fabric of her shift and began trailing kisses down the bards throat
"Its my prerogative," Gabrielle said, burying her fingers in Xenas thick hair, encouraging the warriors progress downward while Xena began untying the laces of her top. "I told you," she said thickly, gasping when Xenas lips moved to her breast. "Its good to be the Queen."