This tale is the fourth part of a story started in Who Has the Right?
The four stories stand alone, but are part of a much larger story. The standard disclaimer. The characters of Xena and Gabrielle, belong to Universal. No copyright infringement is intended, and this all came from my brain, it is not taken from any literary source or any other source whatsoever. No one gets the blame for my stories except me.
Time to Live
Part 1 of 2
The young, strawberry blonde woman listened carefully. Closing her mind to the fears that Xena had caused to rise. Her heart thudded with the fear of her love being rejected. I always knew she didn't love me the way I love her. She looked thoughtful for a moment considering her answer carefully. Her heart pounded as she tried to understand her companion's attitude. The warrior had never wanted her to begin with. Had in fact tried to get rid of her on more than one occasion. Now she was ordering her around as though she were a child. Her temper flared and she fought for the right words. Gabrielle saw the intense look in the warrior's eyes and mistook it for the same look she'd seen in so many eyes. The desire to dominate her...to rule her...to cut through her determination...to break her independence...the desire to make her submit. That's what she had run away from...run back to when she'd married Perdicus. Her eyes flashed green fire and she opened her mouth. "I am going." She said determined to maintain her calm.
"I said no!" Xena scowled.
"And I told you I'm a big girl. I can make up my own mind."
"When I say no it's no."
"Who do you think you are?" Gabrielle glared, her anger at being treated like a child overriding her good sense. "You don't have the right!"
"I - I" Xena looked back shocked. "I don't have the right?! If I don't then who does?" She turned away -in disgust, whipped back. "I suppose if Perdicus were still alive he'd have the right!" Pain causing her to strike out in anger.
Gabrielle blanched. Her mouth worked, but words refused to come out.
Xena froze. Shock at her own words evident on her face. She bit her lip. "I'm sorry." She looked into emerald eyes filled with anguish, and flinched. Her fault it was all her fault. She took a deep breath, but no words could take away the pain she had caused. She turned and walked away. At least now Gabrielle would not follow.
Gabrielle stood still trying to breathe. It hurt. Her whole body ached. She felt as though she'd been slammed in the stomach with a staff. She stared unseeing as her best friend walked out of her life. How could she do that to me? How? Finally the words came out. "Noooo!" Tears fell. "Don't! Don't you dare leave me!" She was shaking. "Not like this" Her voice was breaking. "I can't take it. I can't live."
Xena paused midstep. She's speaking to me?! Her heart pounded. The ice that had started to form cracked. She couldn't bring herself to move. She felt more than heard Gabrielle glide up behind her. Shuddered as the young woman placed her hand upon the small of her back. She almost broke down when she heard the whispered words. "I'm sorry." She let her breath out slowly. "I should be the one saying that."
"No." The hand stayed still. The voice almost too quiet. "I asked for it. I goaded you into saying it." She admitted. "I don't know why I did that." The hand fell away. "I'm sorry." She turned away. Stopped and looked out over the small lake. "I," she hesitated trying to find the right words. "I, I guess I..." she brought her hand to her mouth in startled realization and spoke without thinking. "I wanted you to lose control."
Her eyes opened wide as she recognized the truth of her words, and sank in despair to her knees. "I wanted you to lose control." This time she said it in bewildered wonderment. "I wanted to see if you cared...enough to lose control...I couldn't tell. You're always so..." her voice trailed off. Tears continued to fall harder now and her voice fell lower, so low that if Xena didn't have keen hearing she wouldn't have heard her. "I'm sorry, so sorry. I didn't trust your love."
Xena shuddered. She turned and knelt next to her bard. "No. It's my fault." She spoke quietly. "I'm sorry." She reached out and turned the small woman to her. Enfolding her in a warm embrace. Accepting at last all she meant to the young woman. What she'd thought she'd accepted when she first made love to Gabrielle. That Gabrielle meant life itself to her she'd known, but she'd always thought that one day the young woman would tire of her and leave. She held a piece of herself apart for just such a reason. "I thought you knew." She whispered into the head of her beloved. "I need you so much." Her hold tightened. "I thought you already knew." She stroked the beloved head, that now rested comfortably against her chest. "Don't you understand?" She questioned in a low voice. "It's my fear that makes me leave you behind." She kissed the top of Gabrielle's head. "My fear that makes me want to keep you safe... far from my battles."
Gabrielle shivered. She felt so cold. Like ice. She blinked. Her eyes hurt. Xena's words were slowly penetrating the fog that clouded her mind. The ice within melting. She shivered again. Xena tightened her hold. She loosened her arms and wrapped them around the warrior. She shuddered. Eyes closed she took a deep breath. Leather. She loved the smell, it made her feel safe. She grinned. Relaxing in the strong arms. She listened as Xena murmured words of love and sorrow, and tried to remember what had started the argument.
Xena tilted the young head up and kissed her. Her heart almost breaking as she saw the young woman was still crying. "Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle shook with tremors. She blinked and stared into Xena's eyes. They were wide open and filled with a love and concern that could not be denied. She felt the last of the ice melt and sank gratefully into the warrior's warm embrace.
"Come on." Xena soothed, pulling her to her feet, supporting her with a steadying arm around her waist. "We need to talk." Slowly she walked to the large flat rock by the edge of the lake and lifted Gabrielle up on to it, before pulling herself onto the rock.
Gabrielle looked into soft blue eyes and bit her lip. How could her hardened warrior look so vulnerable? "I love you. You know that?"
Xena nodded gravely but didn't speak. She opened her arms and Gabrielle snuggled against her, rested her head against her breast, snaked her arms around Xena's waist, smiling as Xena's arms cradled her. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the warmth of the moment, trying to hold off the talk her partner would insist on having.
Finally she spoke. "I feel protected."
"It's all I ever wanted...since I first saw you." Xena admitted. "To protect you." She looked down at the red-gold head cradled in her arms. "I was crazy to ever let you go...I'm sorry about Perdicus."
Gabrielle sniffed. "I'm sorry too." She pulled back, smiling when Xena refused to loosen her grip. She looked up at the warrior woman, her eyes full of love. "I never should have married him." She shook her head. "I was afraid." She admitted, sitting up and pulling Xena's arms apart, she moved out of the protective hold.
Xena sat still. Her hands clenching and unclenching. She was unsure of why, but knew Gabrielle needed to sit apart for this talk. She ached to comfort her bard, but respected her young lover and forced herself to remain where she was. She tucked her hands under her thighs to stop from reaching for her and bit back the frustration that she was sure shone in her face.
Gabrielle glanced at Xena's face; the quiet face of the older woman was not easy to read, but she could see a patient acceptance in it. She studied her hands. "I married him because I got confused. He wanted peace and needed someone...someone to help him find peace and I..." She looked out over the water and drew her legs up. Gabrielle bit her lip. To her own ears it sounded as though she were a whining brat. "This isn't coming out right." She rocked back and forth. "I felt so all alone and I didn't know how to tell you."
Xena reached out one hand, let it drop. "But that was long ago." She protested, confused. "Since then we've become lovers. Didn't that tell you how I felt? How much I needed you? I know I've said the words more than once." She bit her lip. She could feel the sting of tears and refused to give in. "How could you doubt that I need you?"
"I doubt it every time you do what you did today." Gabrielle whispered so softly she might have been speaking to herself. "You make decisions without me...for me, and always it's for me to be without you. And when I am alone, waiting for your return I start to wonder..." She let the tears flow and wet her lips. "I think maybe this time you won't come back. I convince myself that you never loved me." She let her head fall onto her arms. "That you accepted my love because you felt sorry for me."
"I never guessed." Xena whispered pain in her voice. "I thought you knew." Her breath came ragged. "I always tried to protect you. Everytime I ask you to stay behind it's because I think it's going to be this time. This time that I might not be returning...because this time I won't be alive to return. Never ever because I don't want or need you." She couldn't believe the pain in her chest. It hurt to breathe. "And so I could die knowing you were safe."
Gabrielle gasped. A look of vulnerability and apprehension shone from Xena that cut her heart. How could she have been so wrong? She turned to face her lover with a look of profound surprise on her face. "I..." She wet her lips uncertain of what to say to set things right, and continued to look pleadingly at her lover.
Xena cupped her face between her strong hands, and gently brushed the tears away with hesitant fingers. She stared deeply into Gabrielle's eyes for so long and so searchingly that Gabrielle thought she surely must be reading the writing on her soul. She held the blue gaze, and tried to make her own eyes say that she was sorry, that she truly loved her, and would gladly die for her love. Finally Xena nodded, then slowly she leaned down, and sealed their bond with a kiss.
Gabrielle sighed with contentment and leaned into her love. "I love you."
"I love you." Xena stated clearly. "I need you." She punctuated each statement with a kiss. "I don't want to live without you."
Gabrielle shuddered, her eyes wet with unshed tears, she looked into Xena's still haunted eyes and placed both her hands on her shoulders. "I believe you." She touched her cheek. "And I need you. I don't want to live without you." She shuddered. "That's why I can't stay behind." Tears remained in her eyes. "Why I don't want to be safe somewhere while you are somewhere else..."
Xena put her own hand over the one touching her cheek, "Never again." She bit her lip. "I may not express myself often or well, but I need you, and now that I know you truly need me, I don't think I could bare to leave you behind for even one night." She stared into the luminous green eyes and felt her heart jump. "Even if I know it would be better for you."
Gabrielle felt her eyes start burning. She rubbed at them with her free hand and tried to figure out what to say. "Great I'm supposed to be the bard and I have no words to describe what I am feeling."
Xena grasped her free hand and placed it on her waist. "Shh." She smiled. "I know." Her own voice was thick with emotion. "No more words of apology for either of us." She kissed her love. "We start fresh from this point forward. No more hiding from each other. From now on we speak our fears and our joy." Her eyes searched her love's face. "Agreed?"
Gabrielle sniffed back her tears. She nodded. "Agreed." Her eyes glistened in the growing shadows. "No more words left unspoken." She kissed her love and the world faded away.
Much later Xena stirred. "This hasn't changed things." She murmured as she kissed her love awake. "I still feel uncomfortable having you near that man.
"I know." Gabrielle whispered with a smile. "But it's you he hated..."
Xena snorted. "But he wanted me to suffer. That's why you should stay as far away from him as possible."
"I will, but I am going with you."
"Yes." Xena grinned. "You are. I need you by my side." Xena said as she kissed Gabrielle. "But he is not our only worry." She smiled at Gabrielle's puzzled frown. "There were twelve of my men that stayed behind. That means other villagers suffered and they might want justice too."
"Oh." Gabrielle tightened her hold on Xena. "I hadn't thought of that. What will we do?"
"Cross that bridge when we get to it." Xena curled her lip upward. "For now we concentrate on taking him to his parents."
"Good." Gabrielle's eyes twinkled with love. "Should we go tell them?"
Xena looked at the setting sun. If they didn't head back soon one of them would come looking. "Might as well." She rose to her feet and lifting the bard into her arms jumped.
"Show off." Gabrielle swatted her lover and laughed as she was lowered to her feet.
Xena grinned. "Yup." She admitted. Keeping her arm wrapped around Gabrielle's shoulder she headed toward the cabin.
Xena frowned. She couldn't believe she had willingly volunteered her and Gabrielle's services to Makarios on his return journey to fetch his parents and bring them back to his sister's new home. The whole family would live in the new valley. She sighed. Why did she have such a bad feeling about this? So far the trip had proven uneventful and she was glad that Gabrielle had insisted on accompanying her. Her heart beat faster at the thought of her love. She glanced to her side, at the lithe form of Gabrielle talking animatedly with Makarios. So much for keeping her away from him. That was his village up ahead and now if they could get his parents and head back without any trouble she could breath a lot easier. Gabrielle sauntered undaunted by the fact that this village had once suffered because of her companion. She believed in the old adage good triumphs over evil. Xena tried to dissuade her from her belief, but so far the younger woman kept getting her belief reinforced by how they survived their many adventures.
News of the arrival of the Warrior Princess swept through the village, more and more people came out of their homes and shops to see. Children with expressions of fear and awe, adults with shock, curiosity and wonder, especially at the sight of the man that walked beside her. Whispers of; "It's Makarios." Followed the small troop of three. Xena grew more tense with each stride. Glad she'd chosen to walk beside her companions instead of ride atop Argo. She felt Gabrielle sizing the people up as they strode confidently down the street.
"Perhaps we ought to stop at the tavern." Gabrielle turned to Xena. "Things have probably changed a lot since either of them were home...it might be a good idea to..."
Xena's eyes lit with joy. Her bard was learning. "Good idea."
"But I want to see my family." Makarios protested.
Gabrielle laid a hand on his arm. "They may not be there." She said gently. "We can find out at the tavern. Make our plans from there."
Makarios faltered. He paled. "I didn't think of that. I just assumed."
Xena lifted her mouth in a slight quirk. "We all do that." She admitted, remembering her own fears when she returned to Amphipolis.
Xena studied the villager who squirmed uneasily, shifting his balance from foot to foot. "What aren't you telling us?"
He looked uneasily from the warrior to Makarios. "Your mother..." he shook his head sadly. "She's much too ill to be traveling anywhere."
Makarios sagged wearily collapsing onto the bench. My fault. The words rang through his head. He put his head in his hands. How do I tell Themis? He moaned.
Xena glanced toward Gabrielle. She bit back a smile. Her companion was already moving to comfort the man. She looked back to the bearer of the bad news. The man was studying his friend with a sorrow born of personal grief. "Parnet." She called softly. The tavern owner looked up. "What did the healer say?"
He shook his head. "My wife." He began as an explanation. "She said there is nothing she can do. All her herbs are wasted when the one that is ill desires death."
Xena frowned. Death. She raised one eyebrow skeptically. Until she studied the woman herself she would reserve judgment. "And his father?"
"Despondent, but healthy." Parnet bit his lower lip. "We're a small village. We take care of each other. Someone makes sure they have food...it's the least we can do."
"Thanks." Xena pressed his arm, before turning to her friends. "Let's go." She pulled Gabrielle up and stood arms folded in front of Makarios. "You need to pull yourself together. Your family needs you." Her eyes were like points of ice. "Are you man enough?"
Makarios felt the old anger flare. How dare she! It was all her fault! If not for her and her army none of this would have happened. He jumped to his feet his arm going for his sword. "YOU!" He roared.
Xena laughed. She knocked the sword aside with one swipe of her arm. "Come on." She egged the man on. "What's the matter, boy? No fight in you? Want to cry for mamma?"
Gabrielle backed up in shocked surprise. What was Xena doing? Makarios was in no condition to fight her. She moved to intercede and was stopped by the tavern owner.
"No girl." He held out a hand. "She's helping him in the only way she can." He spoke with admiration, his eyes following her every move. "I never thought I'd see the day when I would be glad to meet the Warrior Princess, but I'm glad to have really met her."
"I don't understand?" Gabrielle frowned.
"Your friend is helping him get all the anger and frustration out of his system. When you get to his parents home he'll be ready to help them instead of falling apart at the sight."
Gabrielle grinned. "Oh, she is good." I'll have to remember this little trick. She sat down to wait out the battle.
"Stand still!" Makarios cried in frustration. He swung his left fist toward her stomach and followed with a right cross to her head.
Xena blocked the left and ducked the right. "You'll have to do better than that." She taunted weaving in and out as he continued to try and pummel her.
Finally he collapsed on the floor, out of breath. Quickly she knelt by his side. She lifted his chin and looked into the tortured grey eyes. "I'm sorry." She held his eyes until she was positive he read the truth of her words in her eyes and let go. She lifted him gently to his feet. "Come on." She turned toward the door. "Go where?" He asked in a daze. "Home." She brushed the hair from his eyes. "It's time for you to see your momma and dad." "But?" he started to protest and she laid a finger against his mouth. "Shh." She shook her head. "It's okay. They love you. It'll be okay." She led the stricken man out the door, confident that her lover would follow.
Themis sat by the fire knitting. Time seemed to pass slowly now that her brother and the others were gone. She sighed. I wonder if mother and father will come. Her knitting fell unnoticed into her lap as she looked into the fire and saw again her parents as she'd last seen them over a year ago. Mother so pale and weak just sitting in her chair. She bit back her fear. Better not go there she let loose another sigh.
"Beloved?" A tall dark man stepped into the cabin. A sadness fell over his features as her saw the tears in his betrothed's eyes. "What's wrong?" He stepped over to her and knelt at her feet.
"I'm being silly." She ruffled his hair. "Thoughts of home. I just wish they'd hurry up."
A chuckle escaped as the giant of a man realized her fears lay in the waiting and not in them. "Beloved it's a long journey and they've been gone but a few weeks ."
"I know." She quirked her lips. "I said I was being silly."
"There's more isn't there?" He spoke quietly looking into her hazel eyes knowingly.
"Well," She bit her lower lip. "It's just how do we explain you?"
He laughed out right. "Explain? As in my long life? Or as in your choice of a husband? Whatever you wish to tell your parents we will."
"I'd like for them to know the truth." She said shyly. "I think hidden secrets cause more pain in the long run."
He sobered immediately. "If it's the truth you want them to know then it's the truth they shall be told." He lifted her up and slid into the chair, placing her comfortably into his arms. "And you little one? What else do you wish?"
She rested her head against his chest and marveled at how safe she felt cradled against his side. "Your name." She lifted one hand and cupped his cheek. "I'd like to know your name."
He sighed and looked into the fire. "My name?" Sadly he shook his head. "I've been called by so many names I'm not sure which if any are me."
He nodded. "Names are important, just as Gabrielle said. They ground us...give us a sense of belonging. My first name was in a tongue you never heard of. It meant son of the mountain. When I went to my new tribe I took a new name, again it was in a language you never heard, this time my name meant vengeance. You know what I did..." he fell silent remembering his past and wandering if after all this time he would truly be granted the peace he so longed for. Finally he stirred and spoke again. Since that time I have been called many things. Helmar which means warrior's fury, Amar the immortal and Arvad the wanderer and even Leander the lion man. Some of my names have been lost in history and others turned into legends. A few of my names are remembered with honor, for at times I was a hero to the people. Other times I was branded as a villain and my name became a curse. It's true; to one people I was the hero that slew the flesh eating monster who preyed on the villagers in the dark of the night. To another people; I was the flame that destroyed their homes and to another the monster that chopped their beloved king - he was still alive at the time - into little pieces of meat and fed him to the lions...he lived a long time and actually watched the feeding...and yet to another people; I was a demon of the forest attacking and murdering all who dared enter the forest alone. Those I captured died slowly. Torture was a an art I enjoyed." He shuddered. The memories threatening to overtake him. He started to rise. She pressed him back.
"No beloved." She cupped his face . "You're not that man." She stared into his frightened eyes. "Those times are long past. Those deeds were done by a different you. You have changed. The evil is in the past." She paused. An idea formed in her head. She rose to her feet and tugged gently on his hands. "Come with me to the lake."
He stood willing to go anywhere with this one. She was a breathe of fresh air to his sore heart.
At the lake she hesitated, unsure of his reaction, but knowing in her heart that this was the right thing to do. "Trust me?" She asked, smiling at his nod, reading the confusion in his eyes. She stepped into the water, moving outward until she was up to her waist. She gestured for him to join her. She looked deeply into his eyes searching. She nodded satisfied with the truths she saw there.
"When an infant is first brought into this world by the midwife it is covered in blood." Se spoke somberly as though to a crowd and not just one man. "The infant is taken and cleansed of the blood. The new child is no longer a part of it's mother but now stands alone to face the future." She placed her hand on his head and forced him to kneel in the water. "It is time to let go of the past. It is time for a rebirth. It is time for you to live your life anew. It is a time for rejoicing for today the Son of the Mountain is dead, Leander, Arvad, Amar and the rest are no more than dust beneath our feet. A new man stands in his place." And as she spoke she carefully poured water over her man's head. "As the infant is cleansed of the blood of it's mother I wash you clean of your past. No longer are you the same person. You are reborn today. From this day forward you shall be known as Anastasius." She finished pouring the water over his head and stood quietly as it dripped down his face and onto his chest watching his reaction.
He swallowed. What? Washed clean. I can't believe...how can? Reborn. No one's ever done anything like this for me before...she's wonderful. I am Anastasius. He swallowed again this time looking into her hazel eyes with eyes that brimmed with unshed tears. "How can I thank you?" He asked quietly.
She smiled. "Live life with me."
"I shall." He grasped her by the waist and pulled her close. "I shall."
"Mother." Makarios croaked the word in despair. Heart torn with pain at the sight of the frail wasted woman laying listlessly in the high feathered bed.
His father sitting despondently by her side heard the once familiar voice and lifted his head in disbelief. "Makarios?" The name was but a whisper. Eyes as grey as his own looked with awe upon his countenance. "It is you? Come back to us?" He looked past his son. "Themis?" His gaze fell on unfamiliar figures and turned surprised back to his son. "Themis?" His voice cracked.
"She's fine. Father." The young man fell to his knees. "Can you forgive me? I've been such a fool."
The old man held out his hand and rubbed the head that was bent over his lap. "My boy." He stroked the dark curly hair bewildered by this sudden change of luck. "I forgave you when it happened." He looked at the unknown females. Fear entering his eyes as he recognized the warrior. His hand unconsciously clenching his son's head.
"Slsssss." Makarios grabbed his father's arm. "Father." He twisted out of the grasp and half laughed as he looked toward his companions. "Come in Xena, Gabrielle." He turned to his father. "Father, I'd like you to meet two of Themis' friends." He glanced at the women who shrugged. "Ladies, this is my father. Odell. They offered to help me bring you and mother to our new home."
"New home?" The Odell scowled. "Whatever do I need a new home for?"
"Father." He wet his lips worriedly. "It's far from here. A beautiful valley. And Themis is marrying a man that has land and is willing to share with all of us. We can be a family again."
"No." He glared angrily at his wayward son. "You leave to kill this woman and come back claiming she's a friend, and wanting us to leave all we know. I don't know you. Though you wear the guise of my son I must ask...who are you?"
"Father." Makarios cried out in pain at the ache his father's words caused. "How do I convince you I am your son?"
The old man turned to look at the women his son had invited into their home. "Explain this."
Xena stepped forward. "We can explain ourselves." She spoke quietly. "Your daughter was ill. My mother nursed her to health. My friend and I agreed to take her to her brother. When we found him she fell in love with his friend. They are to be married and wish you to join them. As she still tires easily, not having fully recovered from her illness we," She gestured to Gabrielle, who stepped into the light. "volunteered to assist Makarios in bringing you and your wife to them."
She looked at Gabrielle and Gabrielle was surprised to see that her blue eyes were dancing with mischief. "I apologize if we five were wrong in assuming you would want to live where your children and future grandchildren would be, instead of so far from them." She bowed low. "We will take our leave of you. I hope you and your good wife will be happy in your life. Although, I imagine it will be hard to be so far from the little ones." She turned to Makarios. "Gabrielle and I will be staying at the inn we past on our journey through town. If you need us send someone, otherwise we will be here after we break our morning fast to help you gather Themis' stuff and yours." She headed for the door.
Gabrielle bit her cheek to keep from grinning. She'd never heard Xena string so many words together before. And what words. In less than one minute she had let them know what they would be missing and how lonely they would be if they stayed here. She could never have done that...hadn't even considered it. Wonder what made Xena think of it? I'll have to ask when we get outside. "I'm sorry I won't get the chance to get to know you better sir." Gabrielle smiled at the old man. He had Makarios' eyes. "Perhaps I'll get a chance to talk to you tomorrow." She smiled sweetly. "Good-bye." She walked past the still stunned Makarios. "Til tomorrow." She patted him on the shoulder.
"But..." An utterly confused Makarios followed the two woman out of the house. Surprised to see Gabrielle leaning on Xena laughing and the warrior herself chuckling softly. "What?" He looked from one to the other.
Xena placed an arm around her bard and turned a smiling face to her new friend. Friend? She paused in mid thought and examined the idea. Yes, she had finally stopped thinking of him as the enemy and accepted him as a friend. "Makarios." She twisted her lip up a little. "Your parents have been willing themselves to die. Without you and your sister they saw no reason to live. Now we gave them a reason to live...and to move."
"We did?" He glanced into the house and back at the women "How'd we do that? I thought he said no?"
"He did." Gabrielle chortled. "But now he's going to lay awake and wander about those nonexistent grandchildren."
"Oh!" He grinned. "I get it. Thanks!" He looked back to the house. "You really could stay here. There's plenty of room."
"We will." Xena pursed her lips together. "In the barn."
"Okay." He frowned, what was it with these two and barns? "Need anything?"
"No." Gabrielle smiled. "Night Makarios."
He watched in silent awe as the two walked away.
"Do you mind?" Xena asked her lover once they were behind closed doors.
Gabrielle murmured no and looked about in surprise. Other than Argo there were no animals. The barn had been unused for sometime. She moved to the center and twirled around. She smiled. All alone. She let her eyes rest on Xena. She still stood by the first stall, Argo waiting at her side. "What?" She asked. "Did you ask me something and I not hear?"
"No." Xena spoke slowly. "Do you remember our conversation at the lake?"
Gabrielle frowned. "Yes, but what...Oh love." She ran to the warrior. "I trust you...I said nothing, because sometimes when we are in public one of us will have to make decisions for both of us, besides I really, really wanted to be here alone with you." She reached up and drawing the raven haired beauty to her kissed her friend. "It's been too long..." She spoke softly nibbling at her lover's neck as she spoke.
"Husband?" A dry, raspy croaking came from the bed.
Odell leaned forward surprise and relief flitting across his face. "Love?" He whispered. "I'm here. I'm right here."
"Was that our boy?" Came the voice again. It hurt his ears to hear it so rusty from not being used. He reached for the water jug.
"Yes." He held a cup of water to her lips. "Sip, it'll ease your throat." He wiped the dribble from her face. "Our boy has returned and the madness is gone form his eyes."
"Themis?" She opened her eyes, blinking at the unexpected light.
"Not here, but safe." He smiled, brushing her hair from her face and stroking her cheek. "She's to be wed. They want us to go join them...in a new valley." Tears of joy filled his eyes as he gazed lovingly at his wife.
"Married?" Eunice's voice got stronger with each sentence uttered. "Without us?"
"She's waiting for Makarios to return." He shrugged. "When he returns without us I'm sure she will get married then. I'll have him give her my blessing.
"Not be there?" Her eyes sparked with life. "Why won't we be there?"
"Love you are not strong and..." he paused as he heard someone enter the room. He looked up and smiled. It was his son. "Makarios come speak with your mother."
"Son," She lifted a hand but was too weak and let it fall. He strode forward and clasped her hand to his breast. She looked over his head at her husband. "And don't think you can change the subject. Answer my question."
He smiled. "Eunice, the wedding is to take place in a valley a long way from here. If we were to go we'd never return."
She turned to her son. "And you? Where do you live?"
Makarios' eyes danced. "I am to build my own home in the valley next to Themis'."
"Both our children happy in a new valley? And you want to stay here?" She frowned. "Why?"
Odell shrugged. "I-I" then grinned. "We go if you want to go."
"Then rest dearest." He kissed her forehead. "You'll need to regain your strength if we are to make a long journey. Rest now." He turned to his son. "Come Makarios we need to prepare a room for you." He lead his son out into the common room.
"So." He turned and looked his son up and down. "I see before me a healthy man. No longer bent on revenge." He raised his bushy eyebrows. "Explain the presence of that woman to me. Explain how you could be gone so long and waltz into our life as though you'd never left. And explain to me where my daughter is."
Makarios lowered his eyes to the ground. Fear returned and he felt the pangs in his soul. "Father," he spoke softly. "I am sorry. Words can never tell you how sorry I am. I was in the grip of madness. A madness that caused me to lose my way. I became a killer..." He leaned his head against a wall. "The young woman that was with Xena," he swallowed the pain this memory brought him. "I kidnapped her. I beat her. I wanted to kill her and leave her for Xena to find." He shook his head. "So great was my hate that I became that which I hated...I sought to hurt an innocent woman because it would cause pain to someone else." He felt a hand on his back and turned to see his father standing bewildered before him. It was too much. He cried. Odell wrapped his arms around his grown son and lifted him as easily as he had when the boy was a little lad.
"Hush my child." He murmured to him. "It's okay. You are safe at home where you belong. You're gonna be okay." He sat the boy down on the cot he'd been using. "We're a family again." He wiped his son's face.
Makarios gripped his father's arm. "You don't understand papa. Even as I prepared to kill her she refused to tell me where Xena was...but more than that she forgave me. Said she understood my pain and anger. She pleaded with me to stop. Said Xena had changed. She was trying to atone for the bad she had done." He looked into his father's tear streaked face in wonder. "She made me remember Ilena and I knew I would never see my love again if I continued in my ways. I didn't know what to do. I panicked. I ran away. I left her tied there."
Odell held his son's hand. "How did you get from there to here? From all I've heard of the warrior princess she should've killed you for what you did." He brushed his son's hair from his eyes.
"If I had killed Gabrielle I would be dead today. But Gabrielle saved my life...Xena is changed. She brought Themis to me despite knowing that I was the one that had hurt her friend, and she volunteered to bring you and mother to our new home." He smiled ruefully. "Not that I deserve it, but she has become a trusted friend and a good allay. Without her I'd be afraid to take mother to Themis, but with her any trouble on the road will be for the ones that bother us."
Odell smiled. "I will trust her if you do."
"With all our lives." Came the sleepy reply.
"Okay." Odell rose from his seat. "Sleep my son. We will start our preparations in the morning. He walked with a lighter step out into the darkness of the night. He took a deep breath. It was good to be alive. He heard a noise. "Who's there?"
"It's me." Xena stepped into the moonlight. "Gabrielle and I decided to stay in your barn for the night." She took in the state of his eyes at a glance. Crying...hope it was a healing cry. "I hope that's all right with you. Makarios seemed to think it would be."
"That's fine." He nodded. Still a little fearful of this warrior that had caused his life to change so much.
"Did you need something?"
Xena grinned. "No. I was restless and thought I'd check the area, make sure all was quiet."
"Oh." He glanced around at his farm. He didn't know what he felt. Glad and sad. "Thank you."
Xena looked puzzled. "For what?"
"For not killing my boy. For taking care of my daughter. I should never have let her go." He shrugged, "But there was nothing left for her here."
"You raised good children." Xena looked toward the house. "Themis had to leave. It was the only way she could find her destiny." She smiled wryly. A certain bard would have loved to hear me say that.
"We'll go." The words blurted from his mouth.
"Really?" She raised one eyebrow, surprised the decision had already been made. "Does Makarios know?"
"I'm glad." She smiled. "Tomorrow Gabrielle will negotiate for a couple of horses. You and Makarios can repair the old wagon I saw behind the barn. I'll take care of your wife." She grinned at the look of astonishment on the old man's face. "If all goes well we can be on the road in five days." She patted his arm. "Now go rest, you'll need your strength."
Gabrielle screamed a warning as the bandits broke from the trees. Xena who had ridden ahead heard the warning and twirled around. "Ahya!" Argo broke out in a gallop. "Ayiyiyiyiyiyiyiyi." Xena let loose her battle cry as she flipped off Argo to land in front of one of the bandits. "Hello." She smiled, raising both eyebrows and pulling her sword out spoke. "You shouldn't have started without me."
"That can be remedied." The man said as he slashed at Xena.
She laughed and blocked his swipe with her own blade. The clang of sabers filled the air. Xena listened with one ear for the sound of Gabrielle's staff. Smiling as she heard Gabrielle warn one of the bandits before the thwack of wood against helmet reached her. She renewed her attack as a second swordsman joined the first. Flipping into the air and landing behind one, she tapped him on the head with her pommel. Hearing an unfamiliar step behind her she thrust the sword back, catching a second man in the gut. "Two down." She grinned evilly and advanced on the man left in front of her. "Come on." She wiggled her fingers at him. Or are you chicken?"
Enraged the man ran forward. Xena blocked his upswing thrust. He hit at her left, then her right, then aimed for her heart, but she kept blocking. He began to tire. She waited parrying and thrusting finally saw the opening she was waiting for and slipped past his defenses and felt her sword slide home. He crumpled to the ground and she pulled her sword free, turning to assist Gabrielle.
Gabrielle stood leaning casually on her staff. "Hi?" She smiled at her friend. Having a pleasant morning?"
Xena glanced around. Raising one brow at the sight before her. Half a dozen bandits lay all over the place. Makarios stood protectively in front of the wagon. His sword bloody and a couple of dead at his feet. A grim expression on his face. Xena looked back at Gabrielle. She tipped her head to her lover, one brow raised in surprise. "An invigorating morning. After last night's meal I needed a little exercise." Her lips curled up. "And you."
"Oh, not bad." Her grinned matched that of Xena. "I haven't been exercising enough lately."
Xena glanced at their friends. Sighing inward. At least that battle shock look had left Makarios' face. Actually now all three had a look of incredulity. She laughed at the expression on the faces of their traveling companions. "Come on, lets get out of here before they wake up."
Makarios looked at his bloody sword, looked at his parents, and then at Xena.
Xena stepped up to him. She took the sword form his hands. Wiped the blood from it. "It was necessary." She handed it back to him. "There's a difference." She squeezed his shoulder and turned to mount Argo. She held out a hand. "Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle sighed, but accepted the hand.
Xena felt a twinge of unreasonable guilt - as if she bore the blame for every bandit they encountered. She sighed. For a moment she wished they could end their journeys...hide away in some back village and while away the hours in blissful ignorance of the rest of the world. She laughed at herself. She'd be bored in two, three days top...
"What's so funny?" Gabrielle cocked her head at her partner.
"Me." Xena swirled her tongue around her gums. "I was thinking about retiring."
"Haaa," Gabrielle grinned. "As if!" She shook her head and glanced sideways at her love, her face sobered. "Are you getting tired of this?" She nodded toward their companions.
"No." Came the quiet response. "Tired of one attack after another but not them...or us." She touched Gabrielle's cheek. "Never us."
Gabrielle smiled, swallowed and nodded. Words not enough to express her thoughts on that subject. She glanced at the family they were escorting and her smile widened. "Doing this," she gestured at the wagon. "it's fun. Makes me feel good inside."
Xena tilted her head, slowing Argo to think about Gabrielle's words. It was true. She did have a good feeling inside. Similar to the feelings she got whenever she managed to exceed her bard's expectations and surprise her with some gift or other. She pressed Gabrielle's hands against her abdomen. Loving the feeling of her friend pressed against her back. "Love you." She whispered.
"It's mutual." Came the muffled response.
Gabrielle sighed exasperated with the small thin woman who stood before her. Eunice was quite headstrong. "I let you go the bathroom alone, but they'll have my head if I let you get into that water. Why it's freezing! And you just out of your sick bed!"
"I stink." She crossed her hands and glared angrily at Gabrielle. If she had her full strength she'd be able to teach this one a lesson or two.
Gabrielle's look softened. She understood how important it was to cleanse oneself after an illness. "I tell you what," she began. "You do like I say and wait, and I'll get water heated up for you and you can take that bath."
Eunice's eyes narrowed. How would this little thing do that? "Okay, I'll wait, but you better come through with that bath."
Gabrielle smiled. "I will." She moved to take the older woman's arm. "Now you rest here under this Oak tree and I'll get everything ready." She hummed as she worked. Filling the big soup kettle with water and placing it over the fire. She pulled the almost empty water barrel off the back of the wagon and rolled it closer to the fire. She glanced at Eunice and was pleasantly surprised to see the older woman had fallen asleep. She heard a noise and quickly grabbed her staff, smiling in relief when she recognized her lover. "Perfect timing." She gestured at the barrel. "Give me a hand with this."
Xena frowned, but moved to help. "What are you doing?"
"She wants a bath and there's no way that cold spring water is healthy for her, so I am making a bath for her."
Xena grinned. "Once again your creativity amazes me."
Finally the bath was ready to Gabrielle's liking. "You go keep the menfolk away for at least a candlemark." She shooed Xena away.
"Great now I get to play baby-sitter to a couple of grown men. Just my favorite thing to do on a sunny afternoon." Xena wondered off to catch the father and son.
Gabrielle stood back to look at the transformation that the bath had caused. Eunice stood slightly over five feet. Her hair once as dark as that of Xena's now streaked with grey, shone brightly now it was clean. She smiled. Themis' mother had obviously been a beauty in her youth. Her eyes were a dark brown and right now they were shining with joy. Gabrielle laughed. "You look great."
"I feel great." She smiled and her eyes crinkled "You were right. I feel more like my old self now."
Gabrielle shrugged. "Well you look great. But I think you need to eat a little more. You still look too thin."
She smiled. The young blonde was sweet. "I saw no reason to go on. Everything I had lived for fell apart. My family was destroyed. What was left?"
Gabrielle shook her head in puzzlement. "I don't understand. You had your husband...your daughter...surely that was reason enough?"
"No." She shook her head sadly. "My daughter was but a shadow of her former self when Ilena died. You see they were childhood friends. She was like a second daughter to me even before Makarios fell in love with her." A single tear fell from her eyes. "Makarios went mad and my husband..." She sat down. "He blamed himself. If he'd been home...and when Makarios left..." She shuddered. "I saw no reason to continue."
Eunice lifted her eyes to Gabrielle. "It's okay. We are a family again." She smiled. "All will be well." She nodded her head.
A noise caught their attention and a shout of hello came from the forest.
Gabrielle smiled. "It's Xena." She rose. "They're back. I hope they brought plenty to eat. I'm starved."
Gabrielle smiled as she recognized the woods they were entering. "Our journey is almost over." She smiled at the woman sitting in the wagon next to her. The village isn't far now. We'll stay there for the night and travel onto the valley tomorrow."
The strawberry blonde smiled as she spotted the tavern's owner. "Detriech." She called out to him. "Hi!"
"Gabrielle!?" The rotund man waddled over and gave the young bard a hug. "I thought you wouldn't be back this way ever again?" He peered behind the young woman expecting to see Xena. He turned back the question in his eyes.
Gabrielle laughed. "She's fine. She's at the stables with Makarios seeing to Argo and his horses. These are -"
"Makarios!?" The innkeeper interrupted. He looked toward the door. "But I thought - "
Gabrielle shook her head exasperated. "Detriech!" She interrupted. "I know what you thought!" She turned to point to the elderly couple behind her. "These are Makarios' parents. That's why we came back."
"Parents?" He looked from Gabrielle to the couple. "Makarios' parents?"
"Yes." Gabrielle nodded. "And we will need two rooms for the night and supper."
The startled man turned to Gabrielle. "Huh? Oh rooms. Sure. No problem." He glanced at the couple again. "I...I am sorry I didn't mean to be rude. My name is Detriech. Welcome to my tavern. Come in and sit down."
Odell stepped forward a slight frown on his face. The man's reaction to Gabrielle made him uneasy and he didn't know why., but she said he was a friend. "I am Odell this is my wife Eunice."
Detriech began to speak but was interrupted by the arrival of yet another guest. Looking up he broke into a big smile. "Makarios!" He stepped forward and grasped the man by the shoulders. "By the gods man you look good!"
Makarios chuckled. "Well between my mother and Gabrielle's cooking I haven't got a chance." He patted his stomach. "She's as good a cook as she is a bard."
"I'll second that." A voice said from behind the two men.
Detriech looked over his shoulder and paled. Xena stood at the entrance and her look was one of ownership. "He...he...hello Xena." He managed to stutter the words out.
Hmm, Odell noticed the reaction to Xena. So it's her he has a problem with. I wonder if maybe we're wrong trusting her? He shook his head at the thought. No. She's saved all our life's numerous times these past months.
"Detriech." She acknowledged his greeting and looked at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle smiled. "Detriech our rooms?"
"Huh?" Rubbing his neck he turned from Xena. "Oh, same rooms as before."
He turned back to Xena. "If you have the time and are interested?" His voice rose questioningly. "I can offer you the rooms and fare for free."
Xena forced a sigh back down. She was weary. The past month on the road had been tough, but then again they had few dinars to spare. "Deal." She stepped over to Gabrielle. "Take our gear to our room. I'll be back...and don't go anywhere."
Gabrielle bit back a grin. "I'll be here when you get back. I promise."
Xena gave the bard a half smile and turned to leave. Makarios placed a hand upon her arm. She glared at him. "No one touches me without permission."
He paled but held his ground. "Where are you going?"
"The first time I came through here I made a deal with Detriech. He provides the cook, the room, and food for a week and I provide him with a deer. I just made the same deal for our rooms and food."
"Let me go with you. I'm a good hunter and - "
"No problem." She interrupted him, enjoying his startled look. He hadn't expected her to agree. "Come on."
Gabrielle stepped up to Xena. Looked her in the eye and said. "Be nice."
Xena replied with a twinkle her in her eye. "Me?"
"Yes you." Gabrielle replied, knowing full well her partner's sense of humor.
Xena stood looking at Gabrielle for a full moment lips pursed together and tongue in cheek. "Okay, okay. I give up." She held her hands in front of her. "I promise no tricks. I'll play nice with him." She rolled her tongue in her mouth. "Okay mommy? Can I go now?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "Get outta here you big oaf."
Glancing at Makarios Xena tilted her head toward the door, "Come on let's get out of here well the getting is good." She ducked outside chuckling.
"How about we put our stuff in our rooms and then eat." Gabrielle smiled at Makarios' parents. "Eunice you can stay here. Save our seats in case it gets busy." She headed toward the stairs. "Come on Odell, I'll show you the way."
Odell chuckled. "Our two lady friends are something else, eh?" He brushed his wife's face with the back of his hand.
"Mmm." She looked thoughtfully at the young woman waiting by the stairs for her husband. "Not at all what you'd expect." She said out loud. "But then again life is full of surprises."
"Too true." He smiled. "I'll be back soon."
Detriech watched the young bard and the older man leave before turning to the frail looking woman at his side. "Xena prefers the back table." H nodded his head in the direction. "If you would go sit there I'll bring you a hot cider to take the chill off."
"You're kind." Eunice replied weaving through the tables to the one against the back wall. She sat facing the front. Hmm...so from here I can see the whole tavern. No wonder she likes this spot. "Thank you." She smiled as Detriech placed a steaming mug of cider before her. "Tell me something?" She stopped him from leaving. "How long have you known the warrior and her companion?"
Detriech hesitated. How much of Makarios' past did his parents know? "Not long." He glanced warily around the room. "They stopped in a few months back. Xena hunted for me and Gabrielle," he shrugged. "Well she's a bard you know."
"Yes I know." She let go of his arm. Still there was something no one would tell her. She could see it in her husband's unease, Gabrielle's quiet warnings, and even her son's tensing everytime he dealt with Xena. Actually it was only Xena that seemed at ease with all of them. I wonder if she would tell me what was going on? She sipped her cider and contemplated on ways she could approach the warrior.
Xena stepped silently through the lush woods pausing now and again to search for tracks. Having been this way once she had a good idea where to find the deer. Makarios followed quietly behind. Silently he marveled at her many skills. A supreme warrior, a healer, and an accomplished hunter. What else?
Suddenly Xena stopped turning to Makarios she whispered. "Men up ahead. We need to be cautious. I doubt they are good guys."
Makarios frowned. He heard nothing...saw nothing out of the ordinary. "How do you know?" He whispered back.
"It's one of my many skills." She grinned. "Follow my lead."
Xena crept behind a small bush and Makarios followed carefully. She peered through the branches. "Damn." She swore softly.
Makarios glanced questioningly at her.
"See the guy in the middle? She pulled a branch aside and at Makarios' nod smiled grimly. "I know him."
"Definitely." She looked around. "If he's around there's trouble."
"What should we do?"
Xena grinned. "Find out what he's up to. There's only a half dozen of them. You stay here." She slid sideways, before she stood up and strode into camp. "Hello Milan."
Milan jumped. "Xena!" He snarled. "What do you want?" The men jumped to their feet, pulling their swords as they moved.
"Now that doesn't look very friendly." Xena wagged a finger at the group. "And here I was just out admiring the scenery, until I came across you." She shook her head and sniffed the air. "Phew. Don't you boys ever wash?"
Xena grinned crookedly. "Bad move." She waited until they were almost upon her and leapt straight up, kicking out with both feet as she gave her famous battle cry. "Yiyiyiyiyiyiyi." She laughed. "Two down." As she landed Xena drew her sword, slashing at the man to her left, twisting and blocking a thrust from a fourth man, and throwing her chakram at the sword in the hands of yet another, she catapulted into the air. Landing in front of Milan. "Thanks for the exercise." She grinned evilly. "Now what are you doing here?"
Milan looked around at his fallen companions. Swallowed hard. "Nothing. We were just passing through."
"You don't really expect me to believe that do you?" Her eyes narrowed and she twirled her sword lazily watching his eyes follow it's path. She grinned evilly as she brought it to rest against his crotch. "The truth or..." She left the rest to his imagination.
He wet his lips nervously and looked furtively around. "I...I...I got an invitation to bring my men to the forest. There was a promise of a very big reward for all who heeded the message and came."
"And?" Her eyes took on an iciness that cut into his soul. She waited a few moments. "Don't make me angry." She sighed rubbed her nose and stepped closer to him. "I didn't want to do this." Two jabs at his throat. "Now I know you know what I've just done so tell me who sent the note? Where were you supposed to meet? And what is going down?"
Panic lit his face. "No." He choked. "Gregor the One-eyed sent it."
Blood dribbled out of his ear. "The edge of the Pel Forest by the grove where the White Tree stands. If you want in on the booty you have to be there by midnight tomorrow. I don't know anything else." His eyes rolled back in his head.
Xena jabbed his throat again, this time releasing the pinch. "My advice to you is to take your boys and turn around. If I see you in this forest or anywhere nearby you're dead." Her eyes held his. "Understand?"
He nodded, wiping the blood from his face. He glanced around the small clearing. No amount of booty was worth it if Xena was against it. "Good pick up your weapons carefully...and get out of here." She stood and waited while the thief gathered his men and turned away. Smiling she called out, "Makarios, you can come out now."
The man joined her and the look of awe was unmistakable.
"Don't you start." Xena warned. "I've enough problems with people I encounter looking like that. You've been hanging with me for a few months now. I think you know I am just another warrior."
"Just another human yes, but" he raised a brow. "Never just another warrior!"
"Oh great." She muttered and turned away. "Come on Gabrielle's going to be mad if we take much longer."
"Mad?" He asked shocked as he turned to follow her.
"Yup. She gets mad when I worry her by staying out too late." Xena grinned. "There's some berries here. If we pick them on our way back she might forgive us." She placed a finger to her lips. "Shh, there are deer over that rise."
Makarios bit back his question. How does she do that? He gripped his bow tightly and followed her lead.
Xena pointed to two deer. Pointed to him and back at one deer.
His? He pointed to the bow, smiling as she nodded. The other was hers. Together they lifted their bows and let loose. Both arrows struck true. Soon two deer lay dead. They set about preparing them for the journey back.
"Can I ask you a question?" Makarios said.
Xena could hear the trembling in his voice and wondered what after all this time could make him afraid of her. "Sure."
"Will you ever forgive me?"
Xena stiffened briefly. She knew exactly what he was talking about. "I forgave you a long time ago." She shuddered slightly, remembering the pain and the fear on discovering her lover had been captured. "She's my life and you threatened her...I didn't think I could ever forgive someone that did that, but she taught me how to." Her eyes darkened as she got lost in the memories. "She made me make a promise once...that I wouldn't go crazy if something happened to her..." She turned her brilliant blue eyes on him. "Ilena's gone, don't let the bitterness of that death warp you...there's enough evil in the world. You have a second chance at life don't blow it."
Makarios stood by looking at the warrior and knew he'd somehow stumbled across one of the things that made her tick. Honor. "Thanks."
She made no comment, but squeezed his shoulder before turning back to their kill.
Xena paused outside the tavern. "Don't tell anyone about the attack in the woods."
Makarios looked in shock at her words, "But I thought - "
She interrupted him. "I'll tell Gabrielle later." She shifted her feet. "I don't think we need to worry your parents about it."
"Oh." He looked down. "No. I don't think that would be a good idea. What are you going to do?"
"I'll think of something." Xena replied, before turning back to the doorway.
Gabrielle stood up as Xena stepped into the tavern. Quickly she made her way to the warrior. "Where have you been?" She asked quietly. "I was beginning to get worried."
"Sorry." Xena smiled at her lover. "We had a slight problem." She frowned at the fear that crossed Gabrielle's face. "Don't worry so. Everything is fine. We'll talk later."
Gabrielle nodded and looked to Makarios.
He smiled a greeting, but continued to move toward the kitchen. He was obviously tired from carrying the deer. Gabrielle bit back a smile. Xena wasn't showing any signs of tiring and her deer was obviously the bigger of the two.
"We'll meet you at the table as soon as we clean up."
Gabrielle nodded and made her way back to the table, to wait for her lover.
Gabrielle grinned and scooted over to give Xena room to sit. "Here." She pushed a bowl of venison stew towards her friend and handed her a mug of port. "I ordered it as soon as you arrived. Eat up." Xena smiled her thanks and took a sip of the port. Gabrielle continued talking. "Detriech asked if I would do my bard thing. That okay with you?"
"Sure." Xena flashed her a smile. "I don't think you should stay up for that." She said to Eunice. "You look tired and you have a long day tomorrow."
Eunice seized her opportunity. "My husband deserves some time with his son. Would you help me up the stairs when you finish eating Xena?"
Xena managed to keep the surprise off her face. "Sure." She raised one eye at Gabrielle as if to ask what's this all about? Gabrielle shrugged. Makarios arrived and talk turned to Themis and her betrothed.
Xena frowned. She'd known Eunice had something up her sleeve when she asked her to help her up the stairs, but this was not what she had expected. To tell her about her son's activities. To explain how she came to be his friend? How could she do that? How can I hurt this woman?
"Xena?" Eunice stared expectantly at the warrior woman.
Xena let out a breathe she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Gabrielle's the one that has a way with words not me. Why don't you ask her?" She looked away. "Or perhaps you should ask your son...it's his story."
"No." She shook her head. "Gabrielle, if she'll tell me will gloss over the parts she knows will hurt me. My husband refuses to speak about it, and I can't bring myself to ask my son." She stared at Xena. "I know you will tell me the bare truth. Please I need to know."
Xena had never felt so vulnerable before. If this had been her own mother asking it wouldn't have been any harder. "Okay." She turned sad eyes towards the woman. "I don't know what your son has done since leaving your home. I can only tell you how he entered my life."
"Okay." Eunice nodded acceptance.
"First you must promise me that no matter what I tell you, you know that he is a good man and you will continue to love him."
Eunice's mouth opened in surprise. Fear filled her heart. "That bad huh? No matter what you tell me, no matter what he's done, he's my son, I'll always love him."
Xena bit her lower lip, her mother hadn't reacted that way, but then again she'd been a lot worse. "Okay." How should she tell her? Straightforward. "Your son had let the death of his wife warp him. In his tortured state he decided others should suffer like him...specifically me. He learned about my friend...Gabrielle and decided to use her to get me." She wet her lips. "He kidnapped her when I was out hunting and he..." She couldn't stay impersonal. It hurt too much even now...knowing that Gabrielle suffered because of her love for Xena. She shuddered.
Eunice rose from her seat and took Xena's hands. "Child I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause you such pain." She rubbed Xena's back. Now she saw the side the warrior showed to that sweet girl. No wonder she loved her so. Who would ever have guessed. The warrior had such a tender heart.
Xena bit her upper lip and pursing her lips tightly to gain control she spoke. "I'm okay." She cursed her weakness. Control. It's in the past. I can deal with this. I can. She couldn't look. "Your son tortured her...trying to learn where I was. She wouldn't tell him. He was going to kill her, but she managed to cause him to rethink his ways and he fled." She looked now at his mother and relief shone from her eyes. "Thank the gods that he fled before I arrived, or I...we wouldn't be having this conversation." She felt the older woman shudder. "Yes. I would have killed him. I wanted to go after him, but Gabrielle convinced me to leave it alone." She took a deep breath and admitted, "If she hadn't I'd of missed out on a good friend."
"But how did you become friends?" She asked bewildered by the tale.
"You have your daughter to thank for that, and Gabrielle's forgiving nature." Xena chuckled. "And I guess my mother."
"Yup." Xena actually felt a grin forming. Talk about your mood swings! "My mother nursed your daughter back to health and then sent her to search for Gabrielle and me. Mother told her if anyone could help her find her brother it would be us. Little did she know!" A soft chuckle escaped from her throat.
"So I owe not only you and Gabrielle, but also your mother a debt that cannot be repaid." Eunice spoke softly, under her breath as though to herself.
Xena's keen hearing caught every word. "No, no debt is owed. It's between friends...friends do things for each other they don't owe one another. They just stand by each other." She rose to her feet. "Now I better leave before they come looking for me. You rest. Tomorrow night you'll see your daughter again."
She rose and headed for the door. Behind her came a soft whisper.
"Thank you." The soft voice said. "For making my family whole again."
Xena shook her head sadly. Why didn't any of them understand. If it hadn't been for her the family would never have been torn apart to begin with.
"Hey," Makarios paused on the fourth step. "I was just coming to get you. Gabrielle's on her fourth story." He glanced past the warrior to his room. "Is mother all right?"
"She's fine." Xena rolled her tongue along her teeth. "She just wanted to talk girl talk." She brushed past Makarios. Let him make what he will of that.
Makarios shrugged and after one brief look back at the door turned to follow Xena down the stairs.
Gabrielle rolled her head along her shoulders. Her neck was stiff. "Oh thanks Xena." Her partner's warm hands began a gentle massage "So where did you disappear to tonight?"
"Eunice wanted to talk."
Gabrielle spun around. "You didn't tell her?!"
"I did." Xena replied looking into the shocked green eyes, surprised at the anger she saw flare up.
"You shouldn't have."
"Why?" Xena asked truly puzzled. So Eunice was right, even Gabrielle would have hidden the truth from her. "She had a right to know."
"So she could hate him?"
Xena closed her eyes in pain. Is that what she thought? That I'd tell her the truth out of pettiness...the desire to hurt others left me long ago. Her hands fell from Gabrielle's shoulders. "No." She replied quietly. "It wasn't like that." She turned away.
Damn, I've done it again...I hurt her. Gabrielle stood up, and stepped closer to her lover.
Xena talked on oblivious to Gabrielle's action. "I asked her if what I told her could cause her to stop loving him and she said no...he's my son I'll always love him. No matter what he's done."
"Oh." Gabrielle's shock evident as her mind went back to the first time she'd met Xena's mother. She certainly hadn't been forgiving. How that must hurt. "Oh, love...I am sorry." She pulled Xena to her.
"It's okay." Xena raised the beloved face to look at her. "It's in the past." She kissed the sweet lips. How I wish I could get lost in her goodness forever. "But now I need to talk to you about what happened earlier today...in the woods."
"It's not what you think." Xena shook her, a small, sad, crooked smile the only sign that she knew Gabrielle thought she had done something to Makarios for his treatment of her so many months ago. "In a way it's much worse." She lifted her lover's face so she could look at her eyes. "We came across some men in the woods. It was Milan and his thugs. They were on their way to the Pel Forest to join forces with One-eyed Gregor. Tomorrow at midnight small gangs from all over will converge. One-eye said there would be enough treasure for all."
"So when do we go?"
"We don't." Xena watched her young friend carefully. Such a temper she had.
"Xena. No. It isn't gonna happen." Gabrielle felt the tears come. Why so soon after the last time! "I've told you before where you go I go."
"I know and a couple of months ago I agreed never to leave you behind again, but this time is different. This time - "
"No!" Gabrielle stomped her feet. "Everytime you say that!" She glared angrily at her lover. Tears filled her eyes. "Remember the lake a few months ago? I thought-"
A hand against her mouth effectively shut her up. Xena was grinning. "I don't want you to stay behind. Just listen okay?"
Gabrielle watched her lover in shock and quickly nodded. When the hand was removed she questioned her. "But you said not us?"
"True." Xena looked pointedly around the room instead of at Gabrielle. "Where are we?"
"Where are we?" Xena repeated the question.
"In an inn." Gabrielle replied slowly, confusion on her face.
Xena closed her eyes. Was Gabrielle being stubborn or did she really not understand. "What inn?"
Gabrielle reared her head back and looked at Xena in shock. "Detriech's. Xena what's going on with you?"
"Gabrielle I think if you concentrate on the answers to my questions you might figure out why I said not us." Xena sat down on the edge of the bed. "Why are we at this inn?"
"Okay." Gabrielle sighed. "I'll play along. We are at the inn to escort Makarios and his parents to Themis." She hit herself in the head. "Duh!" She looked at her lover...and fell into liquid blue eyes. Her breath caught in her throat. Gods I love her! Finally she recalled their conversation and shook her head. "So I get to play escort and you go straight into trouble without me."
Xena smiled wryly. "Sorta. You play escort and then ride like hell for the Amazons...I do mean ride." Her smile widened at Gabrielle's expression. "If I am right," She shuddered. "This will take more than the two of us to stop."
Gabrielle's eyes opened wide. "Help? You want me to get help?"
Gabrielle swallowed her fear written clearly for the warrior to read. Xena gathered the bard up in her arms. "I'm sorry love, but I have heard of the Pel forest and the demon like creatures that thrive there. If I am right they plan on joining with one of the two races that dwell there." She stroked her lover's hair. Despite her wish to comfort her lover Xena shivered.
Xena sighed. "The first type demands human sacrifices...at least one young virgin...sex of the virgin is immaterial...as long as he or she is delivered by midnight of the full moon. The second type eats the dead..."
"What kind of a man would join with beasts like that?"
Gabrielle looked into the eyes of her lover and shivered. There was a coldness there that froze her heart. What had placed it there? She caressed her warrior's cheek, surprised to find it cold. She brought her other arm up to touch her other cheek. Gently she held the beloved face within the warmth of her cupped hands. "Xena tell me about Gregor One-eye."
Xena shivered. Just the memories of that hateful time was enough to freeze the blood in her. How can I tell Gabrielle? Minutes ticked by and she looked silently through the bard into her own past.
"Xena." Gabrielle called softly, placing a light kiss on lips that tasted cold. Her heart skipped a beat. Her warrior...what was wrong with her? She pulled the tall woman closer willing her warmth into the too cool body. "Xena, you're scaring me. Please talk to me."
A tear fell from one eye. Scaring Gabrielle? The words brought her back to herself. She started to pull away. Scaring Gabrielle rang through her head.
"No love." Gabrielle pulled her back. Xena looked into her face. The love shone forth as bright as ever. She paused confused. Gabrielle smiled gently. "You're back. I was scared because you went away...somewhere inside yourself and I couldn't follow." She hugged her. "Now please tell me about it."
Xena nodded as relief flooded her body, making her insides tremble. "I'll try." She smiled as Gabrielle brought forth a wine cask. "Might as well get comfortable." Said the bard as she patted the bed, waiting until Xena had settled herself against the head and opened her arms before scooting over to join her. With Gabrielle tucked comfortably against her side and the first sip of wine warming her stomach Xena began her tale.
"It happened when I was still young. You've met Petricles. It was shortly after our breakup." Xena spoke in a quiet dead voice. It scared Gabrielle to hear her passionate lover speaking with no expression of any emotion. "I had led my men in another battle. This time against another warlord...Gregor. I don't remember much of what happened on that day. One minute I was fighting. The next I was hanging from a pole. I'd already been initiated into the fun soldiers like to have with women after a battle...until then I never thought about it one way or another..." Her voice trailed off as she momentarily got lost in her past. Just as Gabrielle began to despair she spoke again. "It was after Gregor that I made the rule, no killing women and children unless they try to kill you. To think I knew what those men were doing and never tried to stop it until I felt it." She shuddered. It was the change in her attitude towards people that began her journey out of the darkness. Until then she never cared one way or another who was harmed in her quest for power. The gods would never forgive her. She couldn't forgive herself. How could they?
Gabrielle turned into her lover and pressed herself tightly against the larger woman's side. She draped her arm over her and squeezed. "I love you." She murmured kissing the soft neck. "I do."
Xena laughed dryly and swigged some wine. "I know. I don't understand it but I know you do." She tilted Gabrielle's head up and gazed in awe at the beautiful green eyes that smiled at her. "I'm the luckiest girl in the world. She leaned forward and received a sweet kiss.
Gabrielle blushed. She wasn't used to the playful Xena and tended towards frustration when it came to speaking her own praises. She settled for rubbing Xena's stomach "No, I'm the luckiest." She returned the kiss enthusiastically, snuggling even closer to the warrior. She breathed in the aroma of Xena and sent a trail of kisses up her neck, ending at the tall woman's lips. She nibbled at her lips forcing her to open her mouth to the her and time disappeared.
Silence fell over the room for a few minutes as Xena allowed the warmth that was Gabrielle to fill her, chasing away her fears. She held the bard tightly as she gathered her wits and picked up her tale. "Anyway, I hung on that pole; bruised and battered beyond recognition. My insides were on fire. My head ached and my clothes had been cut off...with no regard to whether it cut me. How dare they treat me like that! An animal rage welled up inside me. I didn't stop to think. I leaped straight up screaming. As my body flew up I swirled around and around. Men came running. My chain snapped and still I swirled. The chain streaming out from my body whirled with me hitting all that came close enough. I started my descent, still spinning. The scream had stopped, but in it's place was a maniacal laugh. Everytime I heard the chain slapping another man I laughed. I heard someone yell she's possessed. Another yelled for an Archer to take me down, by that time I was on the ground. I lifted the chain and wielded it like a whip. Lashing first one and then another. I've no idea how many I took down before I saw the archer. I dropped the chain as he let loose the arrow and I stood still as the arrow came closer. I smiled. I felt so invigorated. I laughed and plucked the arrow from the air inches from my heart. The men stood silently by. No one knew what to make of it and then he was there." Xena stopped talking the rage was coming back. She could feel it. Just talking about it made it more real. She shuddered. Tightened her grip on the wine cask and raising it to her lips took a long drought. Slowly she focused on the present and smiled. "Gabrielle." She whispered the name and looked down at the young woman looking up into her face.
Gabrielle kept her tight hold on Xena and patiently waited, gazing lovingly into her face. Finally she heard her name whispered and the sound sent a delicious thrill racing through her body, but it wasn't time for fun. As Xena's eyes turned toward her she spoke. "Love, I wish I had been there for you. I never would have let them take you." Inside she added the words that burned in her heart. I'd kill for you before I'd let anyone touch you.
Xena shuddered. She'd seen that look in Gabrielle's eyes before. What had she done to deserve such devotion? Nothing...she'd been evil. Why didn't Gabrielle understand that she was worthless. She loosened her hold on the beautiful woman.
Gabrielle bit her lip. She saw the change in her friends expression and it frightened her. Gone was the confident warrior. In her place a scared and lonely child. "Xena no." In a movement to swift to follow Gabrielle was sitting on top of Xena. She reached for her warrior's arms and placed them around her waist.
Xena looked back bewildered. "Why?" She shook her head. "I don't deserve you."
Gabrielle's eyes were soft and wet but no tears fell. "Xena, love doesn't worry about deserving...it just is.. All we have to do is accept it. I accept my love for you. I accept your love for me. Do you accept your love for me?" She smiled at the quick nod. Now for the test. "Do you accept my love for you?"
Xena hesitated not sure what Gabrielle meant. Of course she accepted her love, she just didn't understand it. Finally she nodded.
Gabrielle released her breath. "So what's the problem?"
Xena trembled. She hated talking. Especially emotional talk.
Xena couldn't resist the small pleading note in the one word. She wet her lips, "I know you love me and I think I've shown you I accept that love," She raised one eyebrow and relaxed a little as Gabrielle smiled her agreement. "But I don't understand how you can love me. Why you love me...and it frightens me."
Gabrielle smiled sympathetically. "I won't leave you. I can't list all the reasons that I love you and I know that in the beginning I didn't always act as though I loved you, but that's because I didn't believe a woman as unique as yourself could ever love me back. Can't you stop trying to figure out the why and just accept it? She leaned back resting against Xena's legs.
Xena looked back shocked at the question. Just accept it? Stop trying to figure out why? But she always needed to know why? It was what kept her one step ahead of all the other warlords when she'd been one. It was what made her such a skilled fighter. She swallowed uneasily. "Just accept without understanding it?" Slowly she wet her lips and Gabrielle's eyes followed the tip of her tongue as it made it's way around her full mouth. She grinned. "I can accept it." How could she not accept it...to say no would be to cut off her own arm. A warmth entered her heart and the coldness that had entered when she first heard the name Gregor One-eye retreated.
Gabrielle leaned down for a kiss. "Good." She smiled and kissed Xena again. The warrior's arms moved up her back and pulled her closer. "Love you." She murmured as their lips touched again. A long moment past before the two parted breathlessly. The coldness completely gone from Xena's body. She was on fire and only Gabrielle had the sweet nectar that could quench her fire. She let her fingers play slowly with the bard's back, enjoying the way she arched into her.
"Xena." Gabrielle hesitated to break the spell, but Xena needed to purge this memory and that meant telling her the rest of the story. "Much as I want this," and her hand rested on Xena's breast lightly her thumb gliding back and forth over the nipple.
Xena breathed heavily. "Gabrielle if you want the rest of that sordid tale you are going to have to stop touching me."
"Oh." Gabrielle giggled. "Sorry." She placed one more kiss on Xena's lips before sitting up. Her eyes twinkled with joy as she watched the warrior struggle to control her raging hormones. It was going to be a fun night once they got through this part.
Xena struggled to regain control. Damn, but all she wanted to do was reach for Gabrielle and get lost in their loving. She slowed her breathing and took a small swig of wine. "Okay, where was I?"
"And then he was there." Gabrielle replied carefully watching Xena's reaction.
Xena shook her head laughing. "I'll never understand how you do that...remember every little thing I say."
"I think it's a bard thing." She shrugged. "I've always been good at remembering what people say, and when it comes to you..."
"You're better than good." Xena smiled briefly. "But than again you're better than good at everything you put your mind to."
Gabrielle flushed. "You think so?" She asked surprise in her voice.
"Yes." Xena kissed her nose. "I do."
"No problem...it's the truth."
Silence fell as the two women enjoyed the moment.
They laughed and both spoke "I know...the rest of the tale."
"Actually there's not much more to tell." Xena let her hands trace Gabrielle's body. "There he stood - Gregor." She shook slightly at the memory but continued her story. He spoke; He looked at me and laughed. "Pathetic. Kill her!" It was enough to break the spell that held me still."
"What spell?" Gabrielle cocked her head.
"Fear. One look at him and I had frozen in fear." She smiled at the look of unbelief on her lover's face. "I'm afraid it's true." She raised one eye-brow. "I wasn't always the cocky woman you fell in love with." Her face sobered. "Although I guess in a way I have always been cocky...just a few times in life I had the cockiness chased away and this was one of them." Her eyes turned distant as she remembered with a clarity that surprised what happened next. "Gregor didn't have a chance. I leaped forward and thrust the arrow I had plucked from the sky into his eye. He screamed and I ran. I ran as if Hades himself were behind me. Naked, save for the chain, into the woods I fled. I heard them behind me, but they were out of sight. I leaped into a tree, gasping at the pain in my side. I didn't know how long I could stay up there. I hurt all over. I was cold and gasping for breath but I wasn't going back there alive. I wrapped the chain around the tree and closed my eyes."
"So that's how he became Gregor One-eye." Gabrielle said fear for her partner welling up as she recognized the personal threat this man held for her. "I don't want to leave you."
"I know." Xena smiled sadly. "And for once I don't want you to." She shuddered. "I want, no I need your love. But this is about more than us."
Gabrielle sighed. Why was the warrior always right? "All right. I'll do it. I don't like it, but I'll do it."
Xena squeezed her tight. "I knew I could count on you." She kissed her gently.
"You said I'd have to ride?" Gabrielle rolled her eyes at Xena's nod. "Can you pick a small horse?"
"Pick?" Xena grinned. "Oh no love, there's only one horse I trust with you. You'll be riding Argo."
Gabrielle felt her insides go hot again. "You're giving me Argo? But what will you do without Argo?"
Xena smiled. "I'll be fine. I won't need her in the woods."
Gabrielle gazed into the bright blue eyes and knew she'd do anything Xena asked of her. Even ride Argo. "Okay." She swallowed hard. Gods keep her safe for me. "But don't you go doing anything without me."
Xena laughed. "Love I have no intention of getting myself killed. I intend to watch and learn what they intend to do. I want you to bring the Amazons here. I'll meet you here and we'll make our plans."
"What if they won't come?"
"Gabrielle, you're their queen. They'll go anywhere you ask them to."
"Oh." She shrugged sheepishly. "I forgot."
"Come here." Xena lifted the lithe form off the bed and laid her on top of herself. "I think that's enough talking for one night. Don't you?" She slid her hand down the bard's back and rested it briefly on the hem of her night shift.
So my warrior wants no words. I can handle this. She placed her hands on either side of Xena's face and pulled her in for a kiss.
Xena's smile turned feral and her hand slid under the shift, a small growl escaped her throat as she responded to Gabrielle's thrusting tongue.
"But I don't like it." Surprising enough it was Eunice that protested Xena staying behind. "What if something happens between here and Themis' new home? I want you with us."
Xena sighed. "I already explained something came up and they need my help here. Gabrielle and Makarios are good enough fighters that if bandits do attack you'll be fine. It's not even a day's ride from here."
"Wife." Odell stepped in. "If Xena no longer wishes to accompany us we must accept her wishes. We have no hold on her, or her time." Inwardly he wandered what could be important enough to make her leave her friend. He watched the way the two of them acted together...no way those two wanted to be apart. It was obvious they hadn't fought and he'd been talking to the innkeeper late last night, nothing was going on then that needed Xena, yet this morning Detriech went along with her story. We owe them too much to let this lay. I'll get to the bottom of it before Gabrielle leaves us..
"But - "
"Hush." He placed his fingers over her mouth. "Accept it."
"Fine." She closed her mouth and glared at her husband.
She turned away from the group and settled back against the blankets in the cart, staring at the road.
Xena stepped up to the wagon. Somehow this old woman had touched a chord in her that few people had. "Eunice." She rested one hand on the cart's side. "Truly I'm sorry. When I am finished with this task Gabrielle and I will come to your new home."
At the unexpected words the older woman turned and looked deeply into the eyes of the warrior woman. How could one person be both the cause of so much pain and so much joy. "Promise?"
Sparing a brief look at her partner Xena responded "I promise." Gabrielle reached out and clasped her elbow squeezing lightly. Xena turned to face her. "Be careful."
Xena nodded and led her friend over to Argo. She held the horse by the nose and looked into her beautiful brown eyes. "Take care of her for me." She stroked the horse and turned back to Gabrielle. "Take care of her for me."
"I will." Gabrielle placed one hand on Xena's arm. "Be careful." Xena nodded not trusting herself to speak. She held the stirrup for Gabrielle and grinned as her friend swung into the saddle with an ease that surprised her.
Gabrielle knew better than to look back. If she looked and Xena was standing there her resolve would dessert her and she would turn Argo around. Fear sat like a lump of cold meal in her stomach. I love her so much. Please Athena keep her safe.
Makarios moved up beside the young woman. ""You okay?"
"Ya." As okay as I can be without her at my side, she thought, but smiled instead of speaking those words. "Xena said we could be at the cabin by dinner time if we hurried."
Makarios ignored her attempt to turn the conversation. "It's because of those men we saw yesterday right."
Gabrielle wet her lips worriedly. Xena didn't tell her anything about Makarios knowing...was he just guessing or? "Yes." She admitted. No need to hide that. "Xena's worried. She thinks that whatever they are up to it bodes no good for the village we just left as well as those nearby and the Amazon Nation."
"Amazons?" He reared back in surprise. "Why would it effect them and why should she care?"
Anger flared up. Gabrielle forced herself to speak civilly. "Because I am their queen."
"You?!" He shouted in surprise.
His parents looked up. "Something's wrong husband." Eunice gripped Odell's arm.
"I know." He continued along the trail, not looking back. "Are they still talking?"
"Yes. But Gabrielle is angry."
"I hope he hasn't said anything against Xena." Odell sighed. Why did everything need to be complicated?
"No." Eunice shook her head. "Somehow I doubt he'll ever make that mistake." She watched the two arguing for a few minutes. "Stop the cart dear."
The cart came to a stop and the two elders waited for their young companions to join them.
As the two drew abreast of the cart, Eunice took control of the situation. "We refuse to go any further until you tell us what is going on around here."
Odell bit back a grin. His wife was back.
Makarios looked to Gabrielle. It was really her decision. Especially in light of the news he'd just learned. He had been guilty of underestimating this woman more than once. Her greatest strength lies in her appearance. No one would ever believe her to be an Amazon...never mind their Queen. And how come I lived here for over a year without knowing that the Amazons claimed a piece of this forest as their hunting grounds?
Gabrielle's face was still tingling from the anger she'd felt at Makarios' words. Despite his apology she couldn't help but feel that he only half believed her. "Fine." She glanced around, "But not here. This is not a safe spot to stop in. We continue on until I find a safe spot." She held her hand up, to forestall any arguments. Gone was the agreeable young bard they'd all come to expect. In her place stood a small but determined force to be reckoned with. She waited for no answer but kicked Argo forward. Expecting obedience.
Eunice moved to complain, but Makarios stopped her. "Mother, she'll do what she says she'll do."
"But..." Eunice turned exasperated eyes to her son.
"No buts." He turned away and followed the bard silently marveling at the change in her demeanor.
Odell watched the proceedings silently. At least another piece of the puzzle had fallen into his hands. She could bear Xena's company because she was an Amazon. He clicked at the horses and his cart surged forward.
Great now what do I explain and how much? Ooh I wish I were with Xena. She looked skyward. Love wherever you are be safe. She refused to look back. Xena had said that half of leading was expecting the followers to do as you said.
"The stand ahead looks like a good stopover point." Gabrielle pointed. "We'll talk and eat lunch there and we should make it to Themis just after dark." She moved forward without waiting for agreement.
Odell turned to his wife. "Whatever is up our son definitely angered her."
"Makarios?" Eunice called and watched silently as her son trotted his horse over. "What did you say to her?"
Makarios blushed. "Mother I...she" he looked away. "She's a lot more than she appears." He sighed. "I just hope she decides to forgive my foolish words before it ruins our friendship."
Her eyes narrowed. "You didn't try?" She looked down the path at Gabrielle and back to her son.
"Mother!" He turned red. "No! She's spoken for. I'd never risk that." He blew out a deep breath. "I just underestimated her abilities and she took me to task for it."
"And you won't explain that."
"No," he shook his head. "But if it makes you feel better I think it's part of the explanation she intends to give us up ahead."
"Oh?" Eunice fell silent, lost in thoughts of the warrior and the young bard and the changing roles people play.
Gabrielle slid off Argo. "Thanks girl." She patted the golden neck. "Now to set up camp." She stretched her muscles, before rummaging through the saddlebags for an apple to give Argo.
She was sitting comfortably by a small fire when the others arrived. "Eat first, talk after." She said as a greeting. I wonder what their reaction will be? Makarios was not pleased and when I questioned him he admitted he never met an amazon before. He disliked them...us...on principle...on rumors handed down through generations. She sighed. Xena I hope you're having a better time than me.
The object of her thoughts lay far away on the forest floor buried by discarded leaves and branches. She forced herself to remain still and breath shallowly. She'd chosen this spot early in the day because she had anticipated the camp setting up close to it. She'd underestimated Gregor's drive. The camp was all around her. As a matter of fact an inch or two to the right and one stake would have been driven right there her sword arm. She was tired, filthy, and sore and wanted nothing more than to stretch but if she did guards would surround her in less than a heartbeat. She felt her heat beat louder at the thought, and forced herself to remain disciplined when everything within was screaming at her to run. Gabrielle is depending on me I can do this. Footsteps nearby. She strained to hear.
"Are you positive it was Xena?" The familiar voice sounded in her ears and Xena whirled back in time.
Blackness threatened to overcome the warrior. Gods no! I can't believe he still has the power to send me into a panic. Breathe she reminded herself. Take another small breath. Calm. Stay calm. He has no power over me.
"Yes." Hmm. That was the man she interrogated. It would have been easier if she could have killed him, but...justice and a sense of fair play forbid it.
"Well," she heard a low chuckle. "Perhaps I'll get the chance to avenge myself. I happen to know she's not as invincible as some think she is."
She heard a flap open and the two men paused by a tent. "Perhaps this venture will bring an end to the warrior princess. She'd make a nice addition to my collection." Gregor loved the thought of the beautiful woman helpless at his feet. If he did succeed in capturing her he wouldn't make the same mistake again. He entered his tent and called for a servant. When the time was right she would be his. Time...he had all the time in the world. Especially if he could pull this merger off.
"So Xena has gone to keep an eye on him and try to discover exactly what his plan is and I will bring my warriors to assist her in ending his tyranny...hopefully before he joins forces with those demons." Gabrielle looked at her audience of three and tried not to laugh at their expression of awe. "Any questions? No? Good let's get back on the road then." She rose and strode towards Argo. She truly wanted to get to Themis so she could hurry up back to Xena.
"Gabrielle?" Odell spoke up. "What's to stop her from returning to her old ways?"
Gabrielle paused midstep and bit her tongue to keep from yelling. Why did everyone they meet think if she fought evil she'd become it again? Slowly she turned around.
Eunice didn't give Gabrielle a chance to answer. She turned on her husband in anger. "How can you ask that? Did you not just spend two months in her presence? Are you not as aware as I as to her desires? Hasn't she proven herself over and over to us? Why must you question her?" She looked at her son. "And you do you question her loyalties too?"
Makarios held his hands out pleadingly. "No! Not me. I owe her my life, Themis' life and yours and father's. I know good when I see it."
Gabrielle stopped. Her mouth dropped open. Eunice protecting Xena? Against her husband and son? What? She stared in shocked surprise.
"Don't stare with your mouth open!" Eunice barked. "Tell these two why she couldn't ever be that monster again!"
Gabrielle wet her lips and stared into the eyes of the older woman. Surprised by the strength and support she felt seeping into her. "Okay." She spoke softly half laughing. "She'll never turn back because she'll never be betrayed again."
"Huh?" Both men stared uncomprehendingly at the bard.
"Xena went slightly insane when the man she perceived as her great love betrayed her and ordered her death...I will never betray her."
"You?" Odell said shocked.
"Me." Came the quiet reply. "She is my everything." Gabrielle looked at Eunice. "How did you guess?"
"Why else would an Amazon Queen be wondering the countryside instead of staying safe within Amazon territory?" Countered Eunice.
Gabrielle nodded a slight smile on her face. "Now what?"
"We go to Themis' home and talk to her man." Makarios said. "If anyone knows about the demons of the forest it would be him."
Gabrielle broke into a smile. "I never even thought of him!" She exclaimed excitedly. "I'll bet he knows all the local folklore!" She jumped to her feet. "Let's hurry."
Makarios looked at his parents and shrugged, but followed immediately.
Odell turned to his wife. "Do you truly believe the bard?"
"Yes." She smiled knowingly. "But more importantly I believe what I have seen and sensed in Xena." She snuggled against her man. "She is a woman bent on righting all the wrongs she ever did and more...she is trying to stop others from having the same pain...I know because she was afraid to talk to me about our son when I asked her too." She felt her husband shudder. "Yes," She admitted. "I know what he did."
"She told you." Although he spoke quietly, anger laced his voice.
"Yes. I made her tell me." She chuckled. "But before she agreed to she made me promise not to hate him." She hit him lightly in the stomach. "Now tell me would she have done that if she were an unfeeling monster capable only of destruction?"
He lowered his eye, "No."
She placed a finger under his chin and slowly drew his eyes to her own. "So what do we do?"
"Help her...them. However we can."
She smiled and dropped her hand back to her lap. "Good. Then lets get going."
Odell watched his wife with pride. She stepped with more spry than he'd seen in years as she led the way back to their cart. If nothing else he owed the warrior for this. A few months ago he thought he'd be burying his wife and now he was following her around a wooded glade and thinking about battling scum. He chuckled to himself.
Time? Xena bit her tongue, what does time have to do with any...Chronos! Her eyes widened with enlightenment. She closed her eyes and stifled a groan. If I'm right we're in big trouble...she shuddered.
Chronos, father of Zeus...maybe I should send for Hercules? I can see that one: Hi Herc. You ever meet your grandfather? Want to? I think I found his stomping grounds and I don't like his playmates....She shook her head. There is no way I want that to happen. I guess I'll have to settle for the Amazons. She snorted silently. Well at least the Amazons are good fighters...it'll be quite the battle.
She was cold and wet. The rain had moved in shortly after Gregor had entered his tent. If she didn't get off the ground soon she'd freeze to death. The sounds from the tent ebbed and faded. Still Xena waited...once the guards went round...twice. Time to move. In one swift motion she rose and flowed into the darkness, slipping from tent to tent until she was back in the safety of the woods.
She laughed silently at her own thought. Safety of the woods? With demons living here? She shook her head. I need to find out what these demons are...and where does Chronos come into it? And just how can I stop them? She climbed up a tree. Time for a little rest. Maybe I can come up with a plan while I sleep.
A demon of the forest watched as the tall warrior woman laid herself along a branch of his tree. She made herself at home as few others ever had. The Sprite watched in wonder at the woman. So pretty...so dark...was she the evil one he'd been warned of? So many humans invading his forest. Which was the evil one? How to tell...how to tell? Father would know. Must go to the father. The father would know.
"Themis!" The tall man strode towards the cabin. "A wagon's coming."
The young woman came running out. "Is it them? My parents?" She rubbed her hands together nervously. "Oh Stas...what if they don't like it here? What if..."
The man laughed. "Little one," He opened his arms and she ran into them." "You have nothing to fear. Your parents will love what you've done here. They'll be happy for you." He couldn't say anything more. He couldn't assure hr that they'd love him...accept him...he wasn't sure that he'd accept himself as a man for his daughter...
They waited silently for the wagon to draw closer.
Themis tightened her grip on his arm. "One's missing." She swallowed her fear. "Can you tell who?"
He strained his eyes. "There's two on horseback. One has to be Makarios...the other must be Xena...he focused on the cart. There's two in the cart...I can't tell who is in it..." He shook his head. "Gabrielle should be walking, but I don't see her...Maybe she's in the cart?" He glanced at Themis. "Maybe someone's laying in the back of the cart...where we can't see." He attempted to reassure her, but his own fear was welling up inside. Silence fell as the two stood waiting.
"Odell!" Eunice smiled. "It's her, our daughter."
Odell smiled and clucked at the horses to move a little faster.
Makarios looked to Gabrielle and grinned. "Looks like our lovebirds are still happy."
Gabrielle returned his smile. She'd been a little worried that once the idea of loving a man who claimed to be immortal ran off Themis wouldn't be happy, but there the two were still arm in arm. She slowed Argo down, giving the family a chance for a brief reunion.
Time seemed to slow as Gabrielle watched the reunion. Makarios leaped from his horse as the wagon drew to a stop next to the couple that stood waiting. He offered his arm to his mother and she stepped lithely from her seat to the ground. Her eyes locked on those of her daughter. Tears sprang to Themis eyes and she ran forward.
"Mama." Themis buried her face against her mother's neck as she burst into tears.
"Hush child." Eunice closed her eyes and let her head fall against her daughter's. She murmured comfort with a fierce intensity that shocked herself as well as those standing by. Eventually the tears subsided and she brought her hands up to wipe the tracks away. "Daughter, forgive me." Her eyes held those of her younger child and the pain of the past few years were in both sets. "I wasn't there for you when you needed me..." She grasped Themis by the arms, "from now on I will be there...right here...for you."
Themis sniffed and wiped a hand across her face. She smiled tremulously at her mother, 'I'd like that." She turned to her father, he held his arms out and she stepped into them. He enclosed her in the circle of his arms and rested his cheek on her hair. "I am proud of you daughter...you started with nothing and found good friends and a new home." He pulled back and kissed her forehead. "How about introducing me to my future son-in-law?"
Themis turned to the tall man standing uncertainly behind her. "Father, mother, this is Anastasius." She grabbed his hand and pulled him forward. "Stas, these are my parents."
"Hi." He reached out to shake the father's hand and bent low as he looked to Eunice. "It's easy to see where Themis got her looks. Makarios it's good to see you again. Gabrielle?" He questioned as his eyes fell on the strawberry blonde girl sitting on top of the golden-haired war-horse that belonged to Xena.
"It's a long story." Gabrielle slid to the ground. "Let's get settled inside before I begin."
"But where's Xena?!" Themis looked bewildered from her brother to her friend. "She's okay? Isn't she?"
"Ya, she's fine." Gabrielle said unconvincingly, too worried about her friend to comfort the girl.
Anastasius waited for the others to enter first and stopped Makarios before he could enter. "Xena?" He looked into Makarios' eyes.
"The last time we saw her she was okay, but there is a problem. Gabrielle will tell you about it, as soon as we get settled." Makarios grinned at the look on his friend's face. "No it's nothing like what you're thinking. She's a good friend...thanks." He tapped the big man on the shoulder. "Anastasius?"
"Your sister's idea."
"I like it." Makarios entered the cabin Anastasius right behind him.
Odell listened with one to Gabrielle's story as he watched the man his daughter loved carefully. There was something different about him, but he'd hold off on making a judgment...Xena had taught him that.
Anastasius' hands curled into fists, "They said the demons of Pel Forest?" He asked a hard edge to his voice. He knew the forest and it's denizen's. They'd saved his sanity a time or two.
"We need to go to the forest."
Gabrielle stirred uneasily. "Xena told me to get the Amazons. I can't go back to the forest without them."
He looked at the young woman. So pure, she'd be fine in the forest. Xena alone out there... without knowing, without understanding, he had to get there as quick as possible. He glanced at Makarios. "And you?"
"I've done my duty. I'm free to go anywhere I want." He glanced at his parents and was heartened by their look of approval. "And I want to go to the Pel forest."
"Then we shall." He returned his gaze to the young Amazon. "So you feel the Amazons are needed?"
"Xena thought so."
"Oh? And I suppose Xena's thinking makes it so."
Gabrielle frowned. Anger flaring unexpectedly. "Yes." Green eyes flashed. "Xena was the best commander ever...if she says reinforcements will be needed reinforcements will be needed."
"Okay." He held his hands up. "Calm it down." He made calming motions. "I needed to ask. I'm sorry if it upset you."
She fought to contain her anger. She wasn't sure where it came from and that scared her. Xena be safe. "It's not your fault." She stood up and paced. "I...I just miss Xena." She turned to the fire and waited sorting her thoughts out. "I need to leave." She looked up. "When you meet up with Xena tell her I'm coming. I won't let her down."
"Gabrielle." Makarios stood up. "Can't it wait til morning? It's almost dark now...you wouldn't get very far."
Gabrielle closed her eyes. Fear for Xena welled up. The longer they were separated the harder it was. She needed to hurry back, but what would Xena do. Wait. Xena would say wait. Get a fresh start in the morning. "Good thinking." She gave them a brief smile. "I'll wait."
Xena woke suddenly. She listened to the forest. All was normal. Nothing out of place. She opened her eyes and blinked. "What? Her hand instinctively reached for her chakram.
"No need for that." The little sprite said sunnily. "The father wants to meet with you."
"The father?" So this is one of the demons of the forest...not so scary.
"Yes. I told him I saw you come from the smelly camp in secret and he said to fetch you to him.." The sprite stood up. "Follow me." He leaped from the branch they rested on to the large overhang from the next branch. "Come, come." He called waiting not all.
Xena watched as the small manlike creature leaped from one to another branch. Shrugging to herself she rose to her feet tested the branch and was soon leaping eagerly behind the sprite. The freedom of movement a joy to her. She grinned as she effortlessly kept up with the creature, reveling in the knowledge that even though the amazons spent their lives in the trees she was their equal in this...humph this is why I keep practicing...I love this ability. She slowed herself down taking in the changing forest and somehow knew they were near their destination.
The sprite stopped and waited for the warrior woman to reach him. He pointed to the forest ground. "Time to touch the floor. The father waits within." He leaped from the branch, grasping the one below and leapfrogged his way down the trunk.
Xena watched for a moment and looked around. Spotting a vine she moved to it. Quicker way down. She grasped the vine, placed her feet and slid quickly to the forest ground. She took advantage of the time waiting for the sprite to join her, by searching the area. Nothing unusual, but there was a cave. Impatient for action Xena headed for the cave. Drawing her sword she stepped inside the cave, prepared to wait for her eyes to adjust to the changing light her eyes opened wide at the unexpected light. There in front of her instead of a dark, cold cave was a bright, beautiful home. She turned around sword held ready, yup that was the forest behind her. She turned back keeping her sword ready. What the heck was going on? Carefully she walked forward looking for some sign of life. Noone. A fire burning brightly...the smell of stew filled the air...her stomach growled. Oh gods!
"Sit. Help yourself." Xena whirled at the sound. There sitting before the fireplace was a skinny, old man with a long flowing white beard a cane clasped lightly between his hands, his head cocked to one side. "Go ahead." He waved a hand at the table. "It's real food. My friends...my family made it for you."
Xena's eyes narrowed. She lowered her sword and tilted her head. "Who are you?" Her gut already telling her...Chronos. "I'm no friend of the gods." She declared. "What do you want with me?
"With you?" He smiled. "I thought it was you who was looking for something from me?"
"Ahm...ya...I guess I do." Xena hesitated. She wasn't used to asking for help...wasn't even sure what kind of help he could give her...of if she needed to protect him...how was one supposed to protect a dethroned god?
"So we have plenty of time and you are hungry..."
Xena quirked her lips. "Okay I can take a hint." She grabbed a bowl and scooped up some stew. She lifted amused eyes to the man, but said nothing. Gabrielle must be making me soft...I didn't even make him check this for poison. Gaia but I miss her...she'd better be all right." A pit formed in her stomach. Suddenly the stew didn't taste very good. Fear gripped her heart...if something went wrong...how could I live without her? I couldn't...Gabrielle be safe.
Chronos watched the dark warrior amusement playing across his face...such an interesting mix of dark and light. "What is it you want of me?"
"I'm not sure." She admitted. "There's a warlord...Gregor One-eyed camped not far from here I overheard him talking about having all the time in the world to take over the world..."
"And immediately thought of me. I'm flattered, but in case you haven't noticed, I'm an old has been...I was tossed out a long time ago."
"True, but I didn't think you would sell out to a blood thirsty murdering scum that would as soon rape as kill your little forest sprites...destroy your forest...is that what you want?"
"No." His smile widened. "You're not what I expected."
"And you are." She snorted. "A typical god changing the topic when you don't like where it's headed."
"No, taking a slight detour perhaps but not a change." He poked his cane at the woman. "What I expected was a warrior who cared not for Sprites and forests."
Xena hung her head, ashamed, there was a time when he would have been right. "That warrior is no more."
"I can see that." He rose to his feet. "So why do you persist in punishing yourself for her crimes?"
"Ah, I..." He had no right...she didn't need this. "I didn't come here to discuss me." She snarled the words.
"True." He bowed his head. "My Sprites..." he laughed. "...demons of the forest...an easy legend to portray...half eaten animals...humans that we did not kill left out for others to find...fear of the unknown is easy to work with. Of course I have a few tricks that helped...and time manipulation is my favorite."
"So how did Gregor find out about you and your talent? How does he intend to gain control of it, you?"
"I don't know." He walked towards the inner cavern. "Come we have very little time and a lot to do."
Xena stood and followed him warily. "Too trusting." She muttered to herself but continued to follow anyway.
The cave opened up as they walked deeper. Xena marveled at the beauty it showed. Drawings of a people and a history she knew nothing of were reveled along the wall. Gabrielle would love this place. She closed her eyes and sent her love flying toward her woman.
"Come warrior." The old man demanded. "Time enough to dream of your lover later." He pounded his cane, as he crossed a threshold. "Now is the time for you to learn of my secrets."
Xena paused at the threshold. She glanced around an oval room. Light shone from many candles. The walls were full of more drawings. The drawings showed the Titans...their fall from power...Zeus...his children...their battles...their fall... Xena stepped closer peering sharply at the wall. It seemed o come alive. The miniature figures moved and if she listened carefully she could almost make out words. She looked shocked and turned her eyes to Chronos. The old god sat on a throne draped in velvet. Xena's eyebrow rose and her lip curled in a snarl. "Am I supposed to worship you?" She asked contemptuously.
"You?" he laughed. "Hardly." He rose from his seat. "I require no more worshipers. My little Sprites are more than enough to keep me happy. Not only do they act as my worshipers they are my friends, my companions...and all they require is my company." He stepped closer to the wall. "Interesting stories for those that have the time to sit and watch them unfold.
"How did they get there." Xena nodded at the wall.
"The forest Sprites." He grinned. "They had time. They sat and watched, and as the stories unfolded for them they drew the pictures. Fascinating isn't it?"
"Hmm." She turned her steel blue eyes towards him, impaling him with their power. "And just what does all this have to do with saving my friends and family."
He swallowed. Amazed that this mortal had actually caused him fear however brief. "Look close. Look very close. The answers you seek are on the wall." He waved at the wall. "I can't tell you...it's a god thing...but you can look, find, and if you ask me the right question afterwards I can answer it."
Xena rolled her eyes. I hate getting involved with gods...any gods. She turned toward the wall and concentrated. The pictures seemed to grow larger, the words clearer. Once again she wished Gabrielle was with her. Then she let herself get lost in the creation of a world.
Continued..Part 2 of Time to Live (Conclusion)