Disclaimer: The characters all belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal Pictures and Xena Warrior
Princess. No copyright infringement is intended. There is absolutely no profit for me in this. Any characters mentioned that are not in the syndicated television show are of my own creation, as is the story line.
Content Warning: This story contains references and descriptions of intimate activity - however it is not detailed. If you do not wish to read about this type of relationship or are under 18, please feel free to go elsewhere.
COMMENTS: This tale follows where the series Building Our World left off. I would recommend reading previous stories related to this series in order to be introduced to several of the characters.
Building Our World: Birth and Death
Anxious to begin their life as husband and wife, the wedding of Tara and Andros moved from winter solitise to the beginning of the autumn harvest. Tara was much too excited to wait any longer and Andros could not refuse the woman he loved so dearly. Thus word was sent to Xena and Gabrielle in Amphipolis and together with Autolycus the trio ventured east into the land of hot sand to attend the marriage. Despite the apparent morning sickness that seemed to overtake the Bard from time to time, Xena and Gabrielle journeyed to Taras homeland, as promised, without difficulty or interruptions from the common thief or murderer. Together they reminisced about the days spent convincing the village that dancing was not sinful.
The ceremony and celebrations that followed were breathtaking and wonderful. Tara was a picture perfect bride and Andros the most handsome of grooms. With Autolycus' constant entertainment and humor, along with the insistence from the village youth that Xena still owed them a lesson or two on self-protection the trio decided to stay through the winter solitise.
Through the winter season the Warrior watched protectively, as Gabrielle bloom with child. Immediately after the solitise Xena insisted they must venture home in order to beat the harsh north winters of their mountain cave, which is where the Bard wanted to be when she gave birth. Plagued with sleepiness, the Warrior teased that she never thought Gabrielle could enjoy sleeping more than she already did. Therefore, rather than go by land, which would be tiring for Gabrielle, the Warrior decided it might be easier and indeed quicker, if they traveled from land by sea and then they could make a stop on the Isle of Lesbos before heading to the cave. Both women estimated that the baby could be born within two moons. While Xena promised to take Gabrielle to the cave, she made her preference known that it would be best to stay around Amphipolis and the Amazon Village until after the baby was born. The Bard, however, being just who she is and in one of her finer moments of stubbornness refused and wished to give birth on the mountain in their cave of rebirth.
Leaving the hot desert sand behind, the couple boarded the ship that would take them to Lesbos. Xena watched the Bard intently, as the ship's Captain doted over having a pregnant woman on board. Over an evening meal, shared in the company of the Captain, the Warrior was proud of Gabrielle's ability to capture an audience with her tales of days long gone.
"Oh yes Captain, Xena did defeat the entire Trojan army with the use of pressure points. I imagine there to be well over 400 men."
The Captain, First Mate, ship's physician and the two other passengers on board, both traders in fur, roared with laughter. The Captain found the Bard's stories to be comical in nature. Although he was aware of Xena's reputation, he was not ready to believe she drove 400 Trojan's away. "Now my sweet young Bard, the next thing you will be trying to tell us is that Xena helped Ulysses win his island back and string his bow!!!!" The men once again roared with laughter.
Gabrielle looked to Xena with a smile. "Well.....actually......."
The Warrior quickly interrupted. "Gabrielle......I think there has been enough story telling for one night. It is time to turn in."
"Xena!!!" The ship's physician bellowed with enthusiasm. "Let her tell more tales....she is an excellent Bard."
Reaching for Gabrielle's hand, the Warrior smirked and was indeed proud of her soulmates ability. "Maybe tomorrow gentlemen. For now she needs to rest."
Goodnights were exchanged with promises of tales to come. As the couple maneuvered their way to their cabin, Xena swatted Gabrielle on the behind.
"Ouch...." Although Xena did not hurt the Bard, she reacted and exposed a pouting lower lip. "What was that for?"
"My little Bard, I think you might be embellishing that story just a bit. 400 men and only with pressure points?"
Giggling followed until the soulmates arrived at their cabin. In less than a candlemark the pair were snuggling under a warm blanket. The Bard fell asleep quickly and Xena took this moment to reflected back to one of her wife's more persuasive moments. Over time Xena discovered that she was at her weakest, when Gabrielle was snuggling within her arms.....and Gabrielle was well aware of this weakness.
"Xena, the baby should be born at our cave of rebirth."
"NO? What do you mean NO?"
"It is too dangerous and if there are any complications....well...."
The Bard cuddled up into Xena's arms. "Oh..but.. honey....you will be there....everything will be okay."
Xena rolled her eyes, feeling defeat settling in. Determined to keep both Gabrielle and their child safe, the Warrior knew she had to remain firm. "No Gabrielle. It will be during the coldest time of the season, the wild wolves and other predators will be in search of easy prey.....no....I won't allow it. NO - and that IS FINAL."
Silence ensued and Xena wondered if she was too harsh. Gabrielle was always a softy emotionally and the pregnancy made her more sensitive.
Without tears or anger, the Bard snuggled deeper into her soulmates arms and began kissing the exposed neck of the dark hair Warrior. "Xena."
The Warrior braced for whatever Gabrielle was up too. The Bard was kissing her neck and Xena could feel Gabrielle's breast pressing up against her. Although very pregnant, Gabrielle remained extremely sensual and seductive to Xena. Slowly the Warrior felt her control slipping, as she responded to the passionate kisses traveling over her neck. Quickly Xena's body betrayed her and when her hands moved to cup the Bard's breasts, the Warrior knew it was all over. Gabrielle will get what Gabrielle wants.
Gently crawling up to reach the Warrior's earlobe, Gabrielle at first sucked gently and then whispered into her soulmates ear. "If we need help Im sure Ephiny and Solari will be close by.....AND Artemis is surely not going to allow anything to happen to the Amazon's Queen heir apparent." Sure enough the young Bard was sneaky and quickly followed her reasoning with several hungry kisses preventing Xena from speaking. The strong Warrior soon caved to her wifes wishes and soon forgot why they were even talking.
Now tucked away warm and safely within the confines of the ship's small cabin, Gabrielle slept soundly in Xena's arms. The Warrior kissed the blonde head allowing her hand to slide down to the ever-growing pregnancy. *Our child.* With a smile and an overwhelming rush of pride Xena continued to relive the experience they shared, the miracle at Iasons temple. Not caring whether the child was a boy or a girl, the dark hair woman found she was continual caught up in the emotions of a parent to be. An emotion she once swore she would never allow herself after the death of Solan. Xena discovered there was no sense in battling or controlling these emotions, as it only caused her to relive painful memories. Therefore, eventually she surrendered to the wave of emotions and became grateful for the chance to once again be a mother. Thus they shared this pregnancy on a deeper level. Chuckling softly, Xena mused, *Hmpf, Im glad, however, that I did not get the physical symptoms my sweet wife. Especially when you were going through all that morning sickness.* Unable to suppress the humor she found in this, her body reacted and shook slightly, as she laughed. The movement was enough to awaken the Bard, who only proceeded to roll slightly so Xenas hand was more completely touching her belly.
"What my Warrior do you find so funny?"
Xena glanced down to green eyes sparkling up at her. There was a special glow about Gabrielle that Xena found irresistible. "You are funny my love." Bending down to kiss her gently on the lips, the Bard responded willingly.
Within moments the passion shared by the two women increased and they each fell deeply into the arms, body and love of the other. As the ship kept pace with the westerly wind and the rocking helped calm all aboard, the soulmates renewed their commitment and love for the other.
The ship docked in the Port of Lesbos by midmorning. Over a morning meal Gabrielle entertained the crew with several more stories, thus when they departed the ship and bid their farewell, the atmosphere was jolly and promising of a good day ahead for all. It did not take Xena long to secured a room at one of the local inns. The Captain assured the Warrior that she could depend on the safe reputation of Bydder's Inn because it was overseen by one of the island elders. After a mid-day meal of lamb stew, bread and hot tea the couple ventured to their room for the Bard to rest. Gabrielle wanted to shop and see Lesbos however, the Warrior insisted she rest a while and promised to take Gabrielle exploring later.
As soon as they were in the room, Gabrielle rolled on to the bed and her eyes were closed before a single breath could be released. Deciding a warm bath and some fruit might be good for both of them, Xena removed Gabrielles boots and left with the intentions of securing both.
The innkeeper was a young woman and in conversation learned she was the first daughter of the elder Yuozes. With an order for both fruit and a bath to be sent to their room in two candlemarks, Xena ventured to the town square in search of a messenger. The Warrior wished to send word to an old friend located on the other side of the island. It had been a long time since Xena saw Neoma and she wanted Gabrielle to know the woman who had befriended her so many seasons ago.
The rebel Leandra heard about the arrival of the Amazon Queen and was overwhelmed with her good fortune. Like a wild dog stalking its prey, the rebel watched from a distance, moving in and out of the shadows, as Xena and Gabrielle entered the inn. Hiring a peasant in the street, Leandra paid the beggar handsomely to enter the inn seeking information. The old woman did not disappoint the rebel. With her opportunity to finally fulfill the vengeance she so desperately desired the pot was only richer, when the old beggar informed Leandra what she thought she had seen - that the blonde was with child.
All of a sudden the Warrior emerged from the inn and ventured into the town square alone. Leandra made the decision to trail Xena. Her thoughts became totally emerged in vengeance *Yes, my Queen. You will be mine totally. In fact so totally you will beg me for the sake of your child.* With an evil laugh that scared a few stray dogs and the beggar, Leandra observed Xena speaking to a young woman. Placing an object in the hand of this woman, Leandra realized Xena hired a messenger. Leandra hung back until the Warrior finished her instruction and returned toward the inn. Once she was out of sight Leandra turned to follow the messenger, as she left the village.
"Sssshhh, Thais, we are almost there." Knowing full well that the puma was not fond of ships, Aleka realized this was the only means to the island. Arriving too late in Tara's village, she overheard a pompous thief bragging about his friendship with the Warrior and Gabrielle. In his bragging he mentioned they were on a journey to Lesbos.
"Soon, my friend. Soon we will have Gabrielle." The master and the puma curled up together on the floor of the ship's hole. The only section the captain was willing to allow the wild animal. Although Aleka managed to pay a generous sum of dinars for passage, she knew the fear Thais presence elicited. Most of the time she found humor in this fear and yet a part of her was grateful for the privacy.
Looking down at the beautiful blonde curled up apparently lost in what appeared to be a pleasant dream Xena hated to wake her. Somehow the Bard managed to sleep through all the noise that accompanied the splashing water and even the one empty bucket that was accidentally dropped by the innkeepers helper. The Warrior thought for sure the banging would wake Gabrielle but it did not. Bending over so as not to startle her soulmate, the Warrior began kissing Gabrielle lightly and gently on the cheek. Gabrielle did not fail to please Xena in any way and she responded by moving her head slightly in order to capture the subtle lips of her lover. As the Warrior melted into the kiss, her thoughts of the tub vanished and were replaced with only devotion for the woman she was kissing.
"Mmmm .Xena." Not really wanting to break away from the tender affections Xena was showing, Gabrielle realized the more she was kissing Xena the more her mind was waking. A dream was bothering her and while normally the Bard could toss it aside, when Xena was affectionate, this dream seemed to gnaw on her more than necessary.
"Yes my love." Protectively holding on to Gabrielle, she realized intuitively that something was amiss.
"Just a dream Xena.....odd, I can't seem to shake it."
The Warrior sat up bringing Gabrielle with her. "Want to talk about it?"
Looking down at her protruding belly, Gabrielle placed her hands over her pregnancy. Xena wrapped one arm around Gabrielle's shoulder and positioned her free hand gently over the top of Gabrielle's. "Is everything okay? Is it the baby?"
Gabrielle shook her head no. Searching within her dream vision Gabrielle frowned slightly. "There is a black lion in my dream.....and......oh Xena......no....."
"What? A black.....oh, I think the ancients call them puma's." Xena wondered why Gabrielle would dream of a black lion, especially since they never encountered any in their travels. The Warrior did not think Gabrielle knew this type of animal existed. "Do you know anything about pumas?"
"No.....are they evil?"
Xena smiled at the love of her life. "No, they are just an animal....a very dangerous animal." Pausing long enough to give her wife a gentle kiss on the cheek, the Warrior wanted to hear more about the dream.
Scooting to the edge of the bed Gabrielle stood and was pleased to see the fruit and hot bath. "You, my Warrior are very sneaky."
Assisting each other lovingly and without question the couple undressed and slowly slipped into the warm bath water. "Sweetheart, tell me about your dream."
By now, Gabrielle realized the complexity of the dream....or was it a vision she was foreseeing. At this point, she was not too sure she wanted to share the vision, as it seemed incomplete. But her Warrior, as usual, was two steps ahead of her and Gabrielle understood that Xena would not be denied the truth. Allowing Xena to wash her back the Bard organized her thoughts before speaking.
"Gabrielle........are you avoiding me?"
The Bard turned to face the Warrior. "The puma is hunting."
"Yes, they are predators. What is he hunting?"
"It - is a she. And she is hunting me."
Silence was first then fear of the unknown followed. The Warrior arose from the bath without saying a word. Gabrielle understood that Xena would now automatically prepare for battle.....or for the possibility of battle. Xena was shaken to her soul at the thought that something - this puma was hunting Gabrielle. The Warrior had no doubts about the Bard's dream......she had proven so many times over that she was blessed or cursed with the ability of prophecy. Therefore, Xena knew all she could do was prepare and attempt to stop the vision from happening. If need be she would call for the Fates.
Xena glanced over at Gabrielle and chastised herself for leaving the Bard alone in the tub. Dropping her boots the dark hair woman returned to help the Bard.
"Honey....please, it will be okay, it is only a dream. Are these types of lions - pumas native to Lesbos?"
"No, and they are not native to our homeland either."
"Then Xena, don't worry about it. Not all my dreams are true...and maybe it means something else."
*Maybe so my love, but I am not taking any chances.* While Xena assisted Gabrielle with her boots, as it was difficult for the Bard to bend over and lace them, she instinctively felt that this dream was not false. *I need to get you to Neoma's where I know you will be safe. Then with only a few moons to go before the baby arrives, I think it would be best to stay there.* Kissing Gabrielle lightly on the lips, Xena smiled when the Bard wrapped her arms around the Warrior's shoulders for a hug. *Now...the question is, how do I convince you.*
The Isle of Lesbos was an active island for traders both good and bad. Thus protecting the island from pirates thieves and murderers was constant. The Guard of Lesbos is comprised of women warriors, some Amazons and some just women with a sense of responsibility and adventure. For many it also fulfilled a need and a desire to live in a community that accepted them for not wanting to be tied to the patriarchal way of life. The Guard took on the duty of protecting the island, the scattered villages and farms - the people and a way of life. A position as a Guard was voluntary and each woman fit uniquely. If a woman was not one of physical strength, she was not refused. Instead the Guard would build off of each woman's strength. From mapmakers to cooks, from soldier to teacher, each woman in the Guard carried their responsibility with pride and seriousness. And each woman would do whatever was necessary to protect her small island. In exchange they were each given a small parcel of land to build a small home or the option to live within the community stations surrounding the island. Men were not refused entry to Lesbos however they were looked at with a careful eye and must approve and accept the way of the island. In addition the male population was compelled by law to contribute to the community with a trade or skill. Included in this contribution ten-percent of their earnings were given to the Guard. Lesbos did not have a supreme ruler, but rather a board of seven elders governed the island. Neoma was one of those elders.
Neoma was extremely pleased to receive word that Xena was on the island and with the Amazon Queen. The elder had heard tales of this young queen and for moons had thought of journeying to the mainland requesting a council with the Amazon. And now, the Warrior she befriended so long ago, worried about, trained, cried and laughed with was planning to visit. The graying woman quickly responded handing the messenger a parchment with a reply that the Warrior and the young Amazon Queen were always welcomed within the boundaries of her land. "Please see that this gets to Xena and the Queen immediately. I am anxious to see them both."
Leandra chuckled, as she left behind the wall of Neoma's home. Tucking the parchment in her shirt, the rebel mounted the messenger's horse commanding it to a gallop. *Stupid old woman! You will never see that young Queen.....at least not alive.*
By the morning of the third day in their stay at Bydder's Inn, Xena tired of waiting for the messenger to return and decided they would travel to Neoma's. It was possible that her friend was traveling and not home. Knowing full well that she was always welcomed in the elders home, Xena would secure a small traveling cart and horse to carry the two across the island. The Warrior estimated if they left before midday, they should make it to Neoma's home by sunset. After packing, Xena thought it might be best to leave Gabrielle at the inn while she secured their transportation. Here her soulmate might rest and have a small meal before they began the journey. She had hoped it would not take too long and the stable master, an old acquaintance of Xena's would not begin rambling of old days. Plus the Warrior did not want to take any chances that the puma may be lurking in the area of the stables. Realizing immediately that her logic might be irrational, the Warrior quickly dismissed questioning her logic. Through her own rebirth Xena would take nothing for granted, no matter how silly or irrational it might seem. It would only take a blink of an eye for a predator like the puma to end Gabrielle's life.
"Gabrielle, stay in the dining room, order something for yourself and I will bring the wagon."
"XENA - I'm pregnant - not helpless!!!" Although Gabrielle understood Xena was trying to be protective, she knew full well that the Warrior was concerned about the dreams. Each time Gabrielle slept she saw the puma getting closer and the Bard realized she talked in her sleep.
"Don't argue with me Gabrielle!" Stern but not yelling or loud, Xena hesitated before speaking further. Reaching out, Xena pulled the Bard in close wrapping her arms around her soulmate. "Sweetie, please....let me protect you. Please that is all I ask."
Relinquishing any desire to argue with the Warrior, Gabrielle snuggled deeply within Xena's arms. The couple drew strength and hope from each other without words. Then as if, each read the other, they separated. Gabrielle smiled, and headed toward the dining room in search of some milk. "I'll wait for you my brave-hearted warrior."
Only the gaze of blue eyes meeting green was necessary. Xena watched, as Gabrielle slipped into the dining room. Once she was safely within, the Warrior set herself in motion to secure their transportation to Neoma's.
The stables were located close to the waterfront. The walk was pleasant and while the couple intentionally stayed rather isolated from the villagers, Xena noticed many of the women in town recognized her. Maintaining a polite but continual walk to the stables the Warrior soon observed the elder woman Yuozes approaching. Yuozes was a newer addition to the elders, filling the seat left behind by Xotus who was killed in battle, when a Roman party attempted to invade the island several seasons ago. The death of Caesar ended their invasion. Unfortunately not before a number of women had been killed.
As appropriate, the Warrior extended her arm in greeting to the elder. "Yuozes, good to see you." Although Xena knew of Yuozes reputation and position with the elders, she did not meet the woman until yesterday when the elder invited the soulmates to share a meal. She liked the woman immediately.
"Ah Xena....you look rushed." Yuozes admired the Warrior and the Amazon Queen. She was pleased to hear that the two bonded and were expecting a child. "I am on my way to see the puma, will you join me?"
Blue eyes grew wide and cold. "WHERE?"
Yuozes could not help but notice the instant change in Xena's personality. The elder also recognized the fear and anxiety the word puma caused. "A woman and her puma arrived on the ship docked in the harbor. She...."
Before the elder could finish Xena bolted towards the docks. Frantic and searching desperately, the Warrior had chakram in hand ready to end the life of the puma and the woman with it. It only took a few moments for Xena to be standing in front of the ship. Her frantic state caused people to back away and stare. Suddenly the Warrior could feel the presence of danger and turned. The world around Xena suddenly moved in slow motion. The Warrior was not fast enough, as the puma landed squarely into her tall frame. The weight of the predator pulled the brave-hearted warrior to the dock, causing her to lose consciousness.
"Excuse me my Queen."
Gabrielle looked up from the scroll she was working on to see a young girl standing nervously before her. While in Tara's village, the Bard decided to once again take quill to parchment and write of not only Ephiny and the Amazons, but also of spirits and visions. "Yes, can I help you?"
"Xena is out back. She...she said the horse is a bit spirited, so she does not want to leave it." The young girl pointed to the rear door of the dining room.
"Thank you." Gabrielle assumed that Xena already paid the young girl to deliver the message but handed her a dinar anyway. *Probably a bit too much, but why not...who makes these crazy rules about life anyway. The poor girl was nervous enough.* The Bard thought little of the girl's jitters, as many young people stood in awe of the Warrior's reputation and subsequently were nervous. Happy and pleased with herself for the moment, the Bard gathered her things, paid the waitress and proceeded out the back door. Sure enough the cart and horse were several steps away. Before she could call out for Xena the Bard's world became black and disappeared, as she felt a terrible sharp pain striking the side of her neck.
Leandra grabbed Gabrielle before she could hit the ground. "Neat trick don't you think my Queen. These little darts with a dab of dark potion do wonders." Lifting and then setting Gabrielle onto the floor of the cart, Leandra removed the dart from the Bard's neck and covered her with several blankets determined to hide the Queen.
Leaving behind the village rather quickly, Leandra noticed the commotion down by the docks. Not too sure what was going on, she assumed Xena was in the middle of it, which gave the rebel more time to place distance between the Warrior and herself.
Yuozes placed another cool cloth over the Warrior's head. "She is going to have one Hades of a headache." The elder did not anticipate a reply from the strange woman and sensed the woman and puma meant no harm to the Warrior. Whether it was instinct or knowledge gained through her seasons of training in the cold northland of Amazon's, Yuozes was no ordinary woman. She had heard the legend told many times over the span of her life about the coming of a woman, a puma and the Onyx Talisman, which was split in two parts. One part was currently hanging from the neck of this woman warrior. Yuozes wondered if the woman had the second half or knew of its location. And if so, was this woman the Kleidi, the one chosen to join the halves or did she know who was.
"You are rather young for an elder." Aleka spoke softly but firmly, as she stroked the fur of the watchful puma.
"And you are rather disrespectful for a warrior."
The dream continued.......and Gabrielle found she was face to face with the puma. The animal wanted Gabrielle to follow. Uncertain how she knew the puma's thoughts, the Amazon Queen decided to step into the dimension between sleeping, dreaming and life.......thus following the puma.
The puma led Gabrielle through empty darkness into a sudden bright flashing of white light that gave way to a cave entrance. Memorizing the characteristics of the entrance, the Queen followed the puma, as she continued into the heart of the cave. A fire seemed to burn in the center. The puma went to the far side of the fire stopping Gabrielle on the opposite side. Suddenly as dreams may go, the Queen realized the puma changed shapes. Across the fire appeared an old woman with hair the fire of a precious onyx gem. The woman motioned for Gabrielle to sit.
"You my child are the missing guardian....Kleidi. The waiting is over, the rebirth began with you."
"Kleidi....what....rebirth...... oh....do you mean......." Gabrielle paused, as a warming sensation surged through her body. The name Kleidi was familiar to the Bard, as she uncovered the legend while spending time in the vast library of Artemis' palace.
"The Onyx Talisman is here." The old woman pointed to the middle of the fire.
Gabrielle looked to the fire.
The old woman reached into the flames causing them to burn with more ferocity. "Amazon accept your providence and take of guardianship of the Talisman." Gabrielle directed her attention from the fire back to the old woman and discovered eyes filled with the spirits of the ancients. "You are Kleidi."
Leandra threw another log into the fire and continued to listen, as the Bard muttered broken patterns of words. The rebel recognized quickly the term Onyx Talisman and the name Kleidi. Suddenly the kidnapping of the Queen became more prosperous. Gabrielle could lead her to the source of a power that would allow the rebel to rule forever.
"Ohhhh...." The Warrior held her head between her hands. The pain in the back of her head throbbed and she felt a bit unsure of what happened.
"Stay still Xena."
Recognizing a friendly voice the Warrior opened her eyes. At first blurry, the profiles of Neoma and then Yuozes came into focus. Reality quickly struck deep within her heart and she clumsily pushed her way out of bed to her feet. The room spun for a second, as her friends grabbed hold of her. The Warrior reluctantly sat back down.
"Where is Gabrielle? How long have I been like this?" Xena continued to shake her head slightly hoping the dizziness would wear off.
When Neoma's gardener found the body of the messenger, Neoma immediately came to the village to warn Xena. By the time she arrived the Warrior was unconscious with Yuozes caring for her. Leaving Yuozes to care for Xena, the elder woman searched for Gabrielle and instead found a young girl frantically spending more dinars than she would normally have. With the help of several additional witnesses, including the stable hands, both elders concluded that the Queen had been kidnapped. But by whom and why......they hoped Xena would be able to answer that.
Before either could respond to Xena, Aleka stepped forward. "Xena...Thais and I mean you no harm." Pointing to the now very awake and watchful puma, Aleka continued. "You must shake off any weakness now. I do not need some old weak Warrior at my side."
The puma fascinated Xena and she tuned out completely what the woman was saying. Which was probably a good thing for Aleka. Quickly, however, she was drawn back to the woman, when she noticed the fire dancing from a peculiar onyx, which dangled from a leather strap close to her neck. Legends and memories from her shaman training flooded the Warrior. At first dismissing the onyx as the actual Talisman, experience instead directed Xena to believe her instinct. Musing to herself that possibly the legend was accurate, the Warrior's thoughts came tumbling to a halt, as she realized this strange woman would also be a part of the legend......and thus she was not completely.......human.
"You are rather wise for an angry Warrior." Aleka had the uncanny ability of hearing the puma's thoughts, which in turn was listening to the Warrior's internal questions and conflicts. The dark skin woman was aware of Xena's reputation as someone with a quick temper. Unfortunately her isolation over the past several seasons left Aleka with somewhat distorted and old news.
Neoma stepped between, as she watched Xena stand in defense. "Aleka, you are too quick to judge and base your word on seasons long gone."
"Perhaps." The mysterious woman smiled at Xena and turned to kneel in front of the puma. "Where is Gabrielle?"
Before Xena could confront Aleka, Yuozes approached standing between the two Warriors. "Xena, you've been unconscious for two days now.....and Gabrielle has been kidnapped."
"TWO DAYS!!!!" Angry with herself for not protecting her wife, the Warrior gathered her clothing haphazardly still feeling the affects of unconsciousness for so long.
"Get dressed Warrior. We have no time to lose." Aleka led Thais from the room in a determined march. Xena, Neoma and Yuozes followed quickly.
Just as the foursome reached the dining room, they could hear a voice screaming for Xena from the village square. The Warrior's eyes gleaned with ice blue hate, as she recognized the voice of Leandra. The Warrior quickly regained her coordination and bolted into the square. The rebel was astride a spirited black horse and shouted for Xena to stop in her tracks, if she dare hope to find Gabrielle alive.
Xena approached Leandra sternly and mindful of the words the rebel spoke. "Where is she Leandra? If you...."
"OH STOP BLOWING YOUR MOUTH XENA." Leandra settled into the saddle a bit more relaxed, however not enough to be caught off guard. The rebel was no fool and had a crossbow aimed at the puma. After successfully kidnapping and hiding Gabrielle, she spent a day surveying the best location to deliver her demand to Xena. When Leandra first arrived back in the village, she quickly learned of Xena's confrontation with the puma. This was all the rebel needed to hear......Gabrielle's dreams were truth. Thus she waited until word spread from the inn that Xena was alive and moving about. Leandra knew the Warrior would not wait to find Gabrielle.
For the moment, Aleka kept Thais at bay allowing Xena to handle the situation, while villagers scattered in an attempt to find cover from danger. A large number of Guards surrounded Xena, her companions and the rebel. They were ready on command to apprehend and kill Leandra, if necessary. Many of the Guards also wondered which would be more dangerous.....Leandra or the puma, thus both caution and tension filled the air.
"Your precious Gabrielle is safe and all tucked away. You kill me and she will more than likely die before the sun sets.....along with that baby of yours." Leandra lowered her crossbow realizing that Xena would not allow anything to happen to her until she knew Gabrielle's location. "Warrior, I'm planning to take that wife of yours. I made her a promise long ago and I plan to keep it." Feeling overconfident the rebel continued to speak to an all hearing and quiet audience. "The bitch can lead me to the power I deserve and YOU......" Leandra pointed to Aleka, ".....will quickly hand over that onyx you are wearing."
"No." Aleka answered simply and calmly, as she had no intentions of handing the Talisman over to Leandra. It was forbidden and she would not break her code of guardianship.
If the legend was accurate, Xena knew that Aleka could not be separated from her half of the Talisman. She had been charged with its protection until it could be joined with the apparent missing or hidden half. Unsure how much Leandra knew about the Talisman, Xena decided to be direct and prayed the idle conversation might give hints to where Gabrielle was being held. "Leandra, the Talisman is a legend - that is all. Now where is Gabrielle?"
"Maybe it is a legend - but I'm willing to take my chances and play this out. Your precious Gabrielle knows where the other half is. Which means she is Kleidi, the missing guardian. And THAT ONE standing behind you is guardian of the other half." Leandra's horse was quickly tiring of the crowd surrounding them and the agitation showed. "NOW GIVE ME THE TALISMAN!!!"
Aleka gripped the talisman with one hand and smiled.
Leandra quickly realized Aleka was not going to give up the Talisman and there would be no way to force it from her at this point. The rebel began planning how to trap and kill the woman in order to gain the Talisman. Suddenly Leandra caught her thoughts drifting. Learning from past mistakes, the rebel understood that Xena was stalling for time with her attempts at distraction. Leandra had to take stronger control of the situation before it was too late. "XENA, YOU HAVE UNTIL SUNSET TOMORROW....or Gabrielle and your baby will die!!!" Kicking the horse in the flanks unmercifully, the horse reared and bolted through the barricade of guards sending many of them diving to keep from getting hurt. Within moments Leandra was out of sight.
Xena was livid and stormed over to the elders determined to chastise them for not forcing the guards to stand their ground. Just as she was about to confront them with all the anger she had been storing and all the fear she felt over not protecting Gabrielle, the puma firmly but gently snatched Xena's arm in her mouth. The dark hair Warrior instantly felt the power of the predator and froze in place. Looking directly into Thais eyes, Xena saw Gabrielle.
"Thais, where is she....you know, don't you." As Thais released her grip, Xena felt Aleka's strong and firm hand on her shoulder. The puma settled in close to Xena and a respect was formed instantly. The Warriors looked directly into each other's eyes and grasped forearms. "The legend is true?" Xena realized she did not need a response to her question. Searching her memory, Xena recalled the time she was living with the Momatyca Tribe in the far northeast. The legend was told by only the most senior of Amazon elders in the Ceremony of Light, held only once every sixty seasons.
The elder Chikasha appeared from the center flames of the ceremonial fire with brilliance and authority. For the past six seasons, the young dark hair Xena attempted to figure out the trick behind this entrance. She had witnessed Chikasha's entrance before through the fire and remained skeptical. Her mentor Neoma, demanded respect for all elders, especially Chikasha, thus Xena never verbally questioned the old woman. Xena sat on the dirt floor of the cave among many other women, both young and old. By the end of tonight she realized a totem would be planted like a seed within her spirit. A number of other young women would also receive their totems but the young warrior did not care for anyone but herself. Neoma warned her of the sadness her uncontrollable arrogance and intolerance would bring, but Xena did not pay attention to Neoma's warnings. For now the legend of the Onyx Talisman would be told and Xena was curious.
Chikasha surveyed quickly the women that sat before her. Her life-season was coming to an end and tonight was important for her, as it would be the last time she would tell of the legend that bound all women together. Closing her eyes for a moment, Chikasha settled her spirit among the flames.
"Of time - long ago - there existed a league of women that travel in the spirit world crossing seasons, as they pleased. When a woman of warrior or shaman status died before her time, the League decided her fate. Should she be returned to her previous life or a future one? In rare cases the woman's strength was such that she became a member of the League in the spirit world."
Xena noticed how Chikasha's eyes penetrated the group listening and her voice commanded attention. Musing that the old woman's power was unlimited, the young warrior desired that kind of power in order to destroy all around her. A sudden controlled explosion of flames pulled Xena from her thoughts.
With a piercing scream of betrayal the flames she was immersed in exploded sending sparks into the night sky. Chikasha continued her chronicle. "Darkness came into the League after many seasons. A cult of male shamans began to cast evil on all earthly women who became warriors. They infiltrated our league pulling several members to their evil teachings, thus destroying the purity within. This disruption of the spirit sent many of our warriors tumbling into an alternative land."
The elder paused long enough to step from the flames changing from spirit form to physical. Many of the young women gasped with wonder......Xena however, just smirked. "To protect the League the eldest members chose one warrior and set her spirit in a space of fire, a talisman for all women. The Chosen Warrior was Eklego. One day Eklego will restore the League and those warriors who have been trapped. Our ancient elders then assigned Guardians to protect and hide the Talisman until Eklego could be safely brought.............."
Neoma shook Xena by the shoulders. "HEY WARRIOR - SNAP OUT OF IT. BREATH XENA!!!"
Disrupted from the memories Xena discovered she was holding her breath. Quickly regaining air, she looked wide-eyed at her old mentor. "I always thought this was just a story told by an old cranky woman? I....I remember wanting her power.....to destroy.....I..."
"Xena, the legend is very real." Aleka placed her hand on the tall Warriors arm. "If Leandra gets both halves or even one half, Leandra power over life and death will be unstoppable. The rebel can bring back evil and condemn good women. You must remember Eklego's knowledge and fire of the spirit is trapped within the Talisman in a dormant state...and that state is innocence. If it is freed falsely, the woman who releases......well, the results would be catastrophic." The dark skin woman heard clearly Xena's desire for power, but chose to ignore this. *I remember you Xena. You, however, do not remember me. Soon...we will awaken your totem.*
Xena looked up to the sky and appeared to pray in silence. She then looked to the puma and then Aleka. "The Talisman was split into two pieces." Xena reached for the half hanging from Aleka. The guardian did not stop the Warrior. "You obviously have one half.....who has the.....wait....you are saying Gabrielle has......"
"Too many of the Guardians were destroyed soon after the creation of the Talisman; something the League elders feared might happen. These women were wise and crafty and just before their banishment into the alternative land they broke the Talisman in two and transferred the portions to two Guardians. A warrior named Kleidi and....yes Xena.......myself. To confuse the evil overtaking the league, Kleidi was hidden in time. Gabrielle is Kleidi.....her rebirth ignited the spirits and set destiny in motion." Aleka started to walk toward the stables.
All three women fell into stride with Aleka. Neoma had many questions and could no longer remain silent. "Aleka, the legend states there are many guardians. Where are the others?"
"The guardians were false trails for evil to follow. Unfortunately most were destroyed......by false gods, such as Ares and shamans, such as Alti. They have destroyed what they can not gain."
"How many guardians are left? And how is it that you are unharmed?"
Aleka's eyes penetrated the Warrior's deep blue. "I am the last......and of course Kleidi." The time was not right to reveal the origins of the puma so Aleka kept her answer brief. "Thais has been my protection and soon she will be a part of what the ancients call the Final Joining."
"And who is Thais.....the....Joining?" Neoma declared with a slight questionable raise of her eyebrows. Only a select few knew of the Final Joining and Neoma, although aware of the legend surrounding this miracle, was not privy to its secrets.
The dark skinned woman smiled. At this point, Aleka's secret of the puma would remain just that - a secret.
Securing horses was not difficult and both elders insisted on traveling with Xena and Aleka, who easily picked up Leandra's tracks. The first few candlemarks were confusing, as Leandra managed to backtrack and attempt to toss in false trails. Eventually the light of day faded and Xena knew they had to stop for the night. It was agreed upon that a fire would not be lit, as they did not wish to draw any unwanted attention. While the elders dozed into a deeper sleep, Xena remained on watch in the treetops. Before long, Aleka joined her.
"Where did you send the animal?"
"The ANIMAL has a name."
"Yeah....well, I'm just....." The Warrior paused to wipe a tear that was begging to fall from blue eyes. She missed Gabrielle and it hurt terribly. Wondering where her Bard was, and if she and the baby were okay, Xena found she could not speak.
The ability to feel the pain of a warrior was what Aleka sometimes called a curse. Yet she understood the love the Warrior and the Amazon Queen shared. "We will find her Xena. Thais is close by Gabrielle and will protect her."
Hearing clearly that the puma knew where her soulmate was Xena reached out to Aleka grabbing her by the wrist. "If the puma.....Thais....knows where Gabrielle is then what in Hades are we doing here."
"Warrior, we must choose our battles wisely. At this point, we may do more harm than good."
"Don't preach to me about battle tactics......we are talking about my wife and child." While Xena attempted to remain patient she found it increasingly more difficult to do so.
"Yes, Xena." Aleka began her descent from the tree. "I can see you still have a thread of that young arrogance. The same edge you had while with the Momatyca."
"How....." Watching Aleka slip from the treetop to the ground, Xena wondered how she knew of her stay with the Momatyca. There was only one person alive who knew of her training there - Neoma, and Xena was certain that Neoma would never reveal to anyone the Warrior's days with the tribe. It was all too highly secretive, which was the nature of the tribe.
Hands immediately reached for the baby. *Thank you.* Silently thanking her Creator, Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes to find only darkness. Cautious not to move, as she did not know where she was, the Bard leaned on her elbows while adjusting her sight to the darkness. There was a slight sting in her neck and she quickly understood that the pain was from a sharp point. Slowly Gabrielle sat upright. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, a voice came from somewhere above her.
"I wouldn't recommend moving too much my Queen. You might fall."
The rebel's laughter bounced between the close walls that surrounded Gabrielle. The Bard had no difficulty recognizing the evil laughter or voice of her captor. "Leandra.....what do you want?"
"Many things.....but first you will take me to the Talisman."
"I don't know what you are talking about."
Anticipating that the Queen would not be cooperative, Leandra dropped a lighted torch towards Gabrielle. Quickly the Bard scooted closer to the wall and the flame dropped next to her. With Amazon speed, the Bard picked up the torch and discovered she was on a rather small ledge next to a pit that appeared to have no bottom. Looking upward, Leandra was leaning over another ledge at least six horse-lengths high. The rebel definitely had her trapped. Being this far along in her pregnancy, Gabrielle understood the dangers of any careless maneuvers. For now, she was at the mercy of Leandra's goodwill.
"Now that I have your attention my Queen, I will ask you nicely." For the moment, the rebel felt generous and very much in control. Tossing a waterbag and several figs to Gabrielle, Leandra reminded herself that the Queen could be tricky, if she was not careful. "I will pull you out and you will.....pleasssssseeeee......take me to the Talisman."
Gabrielle drank the water and ate the figs knowing that she must keep her strength, if for nothing else than for the baby. *Think.....think....how does she know about the Talisman? Hades Xena....where are you?*
Leandra was feeling extremely superior and decided to goad the Bard. "You are thinking - how does this rebel know about the Talisman? Well, I do know of the legend.....and you my mouthy Queen talk in your sleep." Laugher once again echoed through Gabrielle's prison. "You have until first light to decide or I will take your baby from your body and kill it in front of you. Do we understand one another?" The rebel did not anticipate an answer from Gabrielle and moved away from the ledge. "You think about it my Queen."
Just then the haunting scream of a large predatory animal filled the night air. Leandra shuttered slightly wondering which spirit was prowling the night wind and decided the treetops might be the safest place to catch a candlemark of sleep.
In a soft whisper the Bard also heard the predator. "I'm here.......my baby and I are here."
As the sun was rising, Xena and Aleka found the remnants of Leandra's camp and the well that held Gabrielle prisoner. The Warrior backed away from the ledge noting the symbol engraved on the dirt ledge that held her soulmate.
"And the engraving is?" Aleka also noticed the symbol and was puzzled.
"Very good Aleka. Gabrielle must be tired or it would not be as obvious." Wiping the dirt from her hands, the Warrior looked to the sky and the time of day.
"You are not going to tell me....are you."
It was now Xena's turn to smile. "They are heading towards the sea." The Warrior feared that Leandra would force Gabrielle onto a ship, further distancing the woman she loved more than life itself.
Aleka mused that Xena's instincts were extremely in tune and accurate, when she was focused.
Without further need of conversation the pair immediately picked up sight of the puma's paw prints and confidently decided that tracking Thais would lead them to Gabrielle. The women moved swiftly up the path. Both counted on Gabrielle's pregnancy slowing her down, and both were sure that the Amazon would use this to her advantage.
Neoma and Yuozes left behind by the warriors mused that is was probably for the best. Xena and Aleka could move swifter without the elders. Neoma knew this part of the island extremely well and speculated that Leandra would probably move Gabrielle north toward the sea. The traveling would be easier for the rebel to cover their tracks and the shore was riddled with caverns, fissures and sand dunes in which she might hide Gabrielle. If Xena were not careful, she could walk right by Gabrielle and never know.
Yuozes easily allowed Neoma to take the lead, as she would know the quickest route to the seashore. Along the way the elders spoke of the legend and the possible hiding places of the missing Talisman piece. Yuozes believed the Talisman to be on the island. Neoma disagreed.
Continuously curious Yuozes decided to question her friend further. "Neoma....were you ever a part of the Momatyca Tribe?"
For the moment Neoma could not see the harm in sharing at least some information. "I did have the chance to be with this tribe.....many seasons ago, when I was a young shaman."
The friends paused, as they reached the beachfront. "Is that all you are going to say?"
Neoma looked to her companion. "My dear Yuozes, it is all I am allowed to say. Please - let us leave it at that."
Unwilling to give up so easily, the younger of the two looked out to sea. "And the Final Joining that Aleka mentioned.....what will happen?"
As Neoma began walking, she picked up the pace. "Come, we will have time for this later. I fear Gabrielle will soon be in need of our medicine."
Puzzled by the Neoma's statement, Yuozes, a warrior by trade, shook her head and smiled. *Hmpf, must be a shaman-thing. Someday my friend I will learn how you know, when people need help.*
Gabrielle knew where the Talisman was and at this point, it was important for her to let Leandra believe it was on the Island of Lesbos. The Bard's thoughts drifted to that of her soulmate. *Xena.....please be safe. I can feel you following me and if you can hear my heart, watch out for Leandra.....I believe the woman has gone completely mad.........I love you my......*
Leandra's harsh voice tore Gabrielle from her thoughts and angered the Bard. "YOU KNOW YOU ARE REALLY IRRITATING ME."
The rebel pulled Gabrielle by the hair, yanking her to the ground, which caused her to land on her backside. Forcefully Leandra reached down slapping the Bard across the face with the back of a closed fist. The strength of the fall and the slap surprised Gabrielle.
In a sudden change, Leandra reached her hand out to help Gabrielle to her feet. "I really don't give a Hades whether I am irritating you or not. You will do as I say or I will take your baby. Do we understand each other?"
The Amazon Queen chose not to acknowledge the rebel's statement and instead ignored the offer of her hand and the comment. Struggling to her feet, Gabrielle felt the stinging in her cheek but refused to react to the pain. "OH!" Unexpectedly the Bard doubled over grabbing at her stomach and lowering to her knees. The fall had upset the baby and something felt very wrong.
"GET UP GABRIELLE, I WILL NOT FALL FOR YOUR TRICKS." Leandra was angered at this turn of events. If Gabrielle were pretending, it would further delay them, giving Xena time to catch them. The rebel observed the Bard become pale and fearful. *HADES - she is not pretending.*
An Amazon cry of fear pierced the sky and the puma observing the interaction between the Queen and her captor understood the danger Gabrielle was facing. Knowing the time was at hand Thais retreated in search of Aleka and Xena. The Final Joining must happen now without ceremony or not only would the Talisman never be recovered, the Queen - Kleidi would die.....and with her the legend....the spirits would die. Aleka would never be strong enough to prevent evil from entering the world of women.
Lunging from the rocks above the puma pounded with all strength towards the approaching figures. Aleka saw the approaching puma and stopped. The time was now. "XENA - don't question me. Run to Thais......don't stop. Trust that in the doing will come the understanding."
The dark-hair warrior paused to look back at Aleka. She too had seen the puma approaching and if she did not believe that Aleka had total control of this wild animal, the Warrior would have already released her chakram. Without question, puzzlement turned to answers of long ago questions. Generations of ancient teachings and languages flooded through Xena, as she turned to face the charging puma. The Warrior raced to meet the puma, while her total being was consumed with the fire and teaching of an ancient league of warriors. As their physical forms blended into one, Xena became the puma and together they became dangerous. Formidable and almost impossible to defeat, Xena felt the power of the ancients coarse through her veins burning its mark. Peering through the eyes of a wild predator, the Warrior allowed the puma in her surefootedness and speed to take her to Gabrielle. Hidden memories from the Ceremony of Light flooded every portion of her body. Flashes of Chikasha and Neoma entered her memories....her training and trials....the crossing of space and finally the one warrior Xena admired more than any, lost memories of Aleka came through. This was Xena's Final Joining......her spirit with that of her totem......the puma. It all made sense to Xena....why her totem was never revealed....why she was banished from the tribe. She was not ready for the power her totem would hold. And yet the ancients....the elders believed in Xena and waited for her rebirth.
Doubled over in what Gabrielle feared to be contractions, the screaming Leandra did not help the situation. *No, no...it is too soon. Please my baby - settle back down. It is too early for you........oh.....please...no.* Although Gabrielle attempted to listen to what Leandra was screaming, she could not concentrate. Gabrielle knew that if the baby were born, it would be too soon and would more than likely die. With tears flooding her eyes, the Bard looked up to Leandra who had raised her sword overhead.
Out of nowhere the ground beneath Gabrielle began to pound and shake. The distraction caused Leandra to look up from her deadly need to strike the Queen dead. As Gabrielle directed her sight to the sky, the passing force of the puma she had seen in her visions forced her to the ground. Then there was silence.
Shaken and in tears, Gabrielle felt the strength of her soulmate scooping her from the hard ground. Without words the Bard wrapped her arms around Xena allowing her tears to flow. Xena moved Gabrielle away from the death that now bled into the ground. Leandra was lying in a pool of her own blood. The puma had ripped into the rebel's neck with her powerful canines bringing an end to a very evil woman. The rebel did not even have time to scream.
The puma circled the body of the dead woman twice then moved towards the Bard and the Warrior. The sky darkened, lighting struck nearby trees and thunder claimed the atmosphere, as Xena moved Gabrielle into a nearby cave with Thais guarding her Master and Queen closely.
"Baby....it will be okay. I need you to calm down...please." Well aware that Gabrielle was having contractions, Xena needed to calm her down.
Within moments of entering the cave, Aleka, followed by Neoma and Yuozes from afar joined the couple. The elder shaman had predicted trouble correctly and in haste but together a potion she hoped would stop the contractions. Kneeling next to Xena, Neoma handed the potion to the Bard. "Here, Gabrielle take this.....it will help stop the baby from coming so soon."
Gabrielle looked to Xena, who just nodded her approval and winked. "Thank you." Pausing to drink the potion, Gabrielle leaned in against her Warrior. The potion reacted quickly with Gabrielle and within a candlemark the Bard slept peacefully and the contractions grew milder.
"Thank you Neoma." Tears filled the now soft blue eyes of the Warrior. Thais positioned herself behind Xena so that the Warrior may lean up against her for support. Willingly, Xena accepted the offer and held on to her soulmate, allowing the puma to protect and support them both. With some comfort Xena allowed one hand to drift and settle behind one of Thais' ears. Giving the puma a little scratch and rub, the Warrior looked up to Aleka.
Aleka raised her hand to stop Xena from speaking. "Rest my friend." While Neoma and Yuozes gathered driftwood for a fire, Aleka smiled, as Xena drifted off to sleep.
Both Xena and Gabrielle slept through the night and by morning all signs of a baby arriving early in the world had passed. Once Neoma and Yuozes knew Gabrielle would be okay, they allowed sleep to claim them in the early morning hours. Thais slipped out of the cave early to join Aleka on the beach.
Nuzzling next to the woman Thais both respected and grew to love the puma realized their journey had come to an end. A quick friendly scratch behind the ear, Thais' favorite place, caused the puma to purr playfully.
"Xena is a good warrior. You belong with her." Aleka always knew this day would come, when Thais would join with Xena. "You are her totem.......and she is yours." It still was sad for Aleka to see her companion of so many seasons leave.
The dark skin warrior turned facing her sister of long ago. "Xena, how is Gabrielle?"
"Sleeping.......doing wonderful." The Warrior closed the distance between them. "Thank you Aleka." Thais happy to see Xena began nuzzling the Warrior with her rather large head. "Hey Thais, thank you too." Xena scratched behind both of the puma's ears eliciting a few rather loud purrs of contentment. "Aleka, my memories became rather overload yesterday while I was joining with Thais. I have questions.....and I need answers."
"Walk with me sister."
Xena smirked slightly, as she joined Aleka, followed playfully by Thais. "When joining with Thais, I realized she was the totem that was kept from me.........actually by you."
"You were very angry....very brutal back then. You would only have abused the power of the puma. I could not let that happen. I had to believe the day would come, when your soul would be ready. Only then would you be able to join with your totem."
Nodding her head in approval, Xena understood today that the right decision was made. "I remember being angry that you denied me the totem, although I did not realize it was a puma."
"Xena?" Aleka stopped and faced the Warrior. "Do you know who I am? Yes.....I am one of the guardians, and you realize Gabrielle is the second. But do you know your place in all of this?"
Having spent the past few days mulling this over and attempting to put pieces of the puzzle together, the Warrior's understanding increased dramatically, when she and the puma became one. She understood that Aleka was indeed her sister by blood many generations ago. In fact the memories of that generation were overwhelmingly clear to Xena. Since her rebirth the Warrior had discovered that she once was a man....a warrior in a past time, and now she knew generations before that she was also a warrior of the ancient Momatyca Tribe. When Neoma brought Xena to the tribe, the elder had hoped the young Xena was ready for her rebirth, ready to unite on a conscious level with her totem of so many generations ago. Ready to take responsibility for the Talisman. "Yes, Aleka.....you are my sister of long ago. But why Gabrielle? What do you want from us?"
The warriors spun around to find Gabrielle approaching. Thais pounced gently to greet Gabrielle. The Bard comfortably scratched Thais on the head. Quickly Xena and Aleka moved to greet the young woman. Happily Gabrielle opened her arms to hug her soulmate.
"You are feeling well I trust?"
"Yes, thank you Aleka."
With her arm draped protectively around the Bard, Xena desperately wanted to continue the conversation and Aleka sensed this. "Gabrielle, you are Kleidi..........do you remember anything of your past life?"
"Yes.......the second Talisman must be joined with Aleka's half. The puma......well no, I know now it was Chikasha in my vision............showed me the location."
Just then the wind picked up off the ocean and the clouds turned dark and ominous. "We better get you to shelter." With Gabrielle in her present state of pregnancy, Aleka wanted her to be safe. The trio moved back to the cave, where Neoma and Yuozes were sipping on some hot tea. Soon the group was huddled around the campfire consuming tea, berries and fish.
"When the storm lifts, we need to get you to my home Gabrielle. There is more protection and comfort there."
Darkness consumed the light of day and the rain began to pound outside of the cave. The five women and Thais remained warm and dry, as long as they stayed within its confine and close to the fire. A strange, but warm breeze entered the cave and danced around the flames. Abruptly the flames increased with passion and power, causing the women to move back and away from the sudden ferocity. Gabrielle suddenly let go of Xena's hand and stepped toward the dangerously dancing flames.
"Chikasha." The Amazon Queen called out.
The elder ancient suddenly appeared in the flames, just as Xena remembered that night of the ceremony, when she should have received her totem. The watchers of the flame sat respectfully around the elder. Without warning Chikasha stepped out of the flames from spirit to physical and embraced Gabrielle.
Gabrielle warmed within Chikasha's embrace. "Grandmother........I..."
"Hush child." Chikasha pulled back slightly to look at the body her grandchild Kleidi possessed. "You are still my favorite, even after all these generations.....and finally with child......oh...my..."
Xena jumped to her feet, surprised and shocked by Chikasha's announcement that Gabrielle was her grandchild.
The movement of the Warrior did not surprise Chikasha and she addressed it immediately. "Mmmm, still riding the edge Xena." The elder liked Xena, but was not about ready to give the Warrior that advantage of knowing. "Warrior, I see you have finally gained the wisdom necessary to accept your totem."
"What do you mean accept.....she was kept from me by Aleka."
"Yes...well, not really. The totem was always yours, your inability to accept the gift made it a requirement for Aleka to keep it from you." Chikasha keeping one arm around Gabrielle extended her hand for Xena to accept.
Hesitant at first, the puma nudged Xena on the leg. *Okay Thais, don't push.* Ignoring her masters thoughts, Thais pushed again and this time forced the Warrior forward.
Chikasha laughed softly. "Hmm....I see we still have to work on your stubbornness. Kleidi I leave that to you."
"Oh gee, thanks grandmother." The Bard giggled, as she smiled at Xena. "Joining the Onyx Talisman will be much easier." Neoma, Yuozes and Aleka joined in the laughter.
Xena shook her head pretending to be irritated but could not help but let a small laugh escape. Accepting Chikasha's hand, the Warrior was slightly surprised when the elder rested it on Gabrielle's stomach.
Keeping her hand over the top of Xena's, the ancient shaman spoke clearly. "Xena feel with your spirit....with the strength of your totem.......tell us what you find."
Throwing her normal caution to the wind, Xena closed her eyes drawing on the strength of the puma. Shock registered and she quickly opened her eyes. "No........." Then a smile began creeping across the chiseled face and Xena looked directly into Chikasha's eyes. "REALLY?"
The shaman smiled and nodded her head.
Xena took Gabrielle's hand in hers and gently placed it underneath so that she was touching her stomach. "Sweetheart, feel..........two heartbeats."
The Bard felt them instantly and tears pooled in soft green eyes. "Two........we are having twins."
The noise level in the cave soon increased with laughter and congratulations, as Xena and Gabrielle held each other and laughed over their discovery.......blessed twice.
"Kleidi...." Chikasha knew her time was limited within this dimension. Gabrielle, Xena and the rest turned their attention to the elder. "After the babies are born, you will go to the Talisman. You must take it back to the Tribe for the joining of the onyx."
"Grandmother will...." Before Gabrielle could finish her question Chikasha stepped back into the flames beseeching Aleka to join her.
Aleka obediently stepped into the flames. "Bring the Talisman to the Tribe. I will wait there for you." Within a blink of an eye both were gone.
"Gabrielle..." The Warrior gently placed both hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. "Sweetheart....did you feel anything else when.....well when we touched the hearts of our children?"
Indeed the Bard did discover a new memory of long ago. Chikasha allowed the couple to discover more than just the fact that the Gabrielle was carrying twins. "I love you Xena." Time stood still, as Gabrielle reached up pulling Xena down for a kiss. The Warrior was not about ready to argue the desire and took her wife in her arms.
"Neoma....what else did Chikasha show them?" Yuozes was slightly puzzled and at the same time extremely overwhelmed by the occurrences of the past two days and the events she had been witness too.
Neoma chuckled softly. "Gabrielle and Xena were promised to each other generations ago. Xena lost her physical life in battle with the evil shamans. Before they could throw her into the alternative land, Chikasha and the elders hid her spirit in Thais, the puma. Kleidi was devastated and swore revenge. The elders worried that Kleidi's strength and power would transfer to the evil shamans and thus pleaded to her wisdom. To make a long story short.....she was charged as guardian for the missing Talisman and cast into time."
"So they were always....soulmates?" While believing in the philosophy of soulmates, Yuozes questioned on numerous occasions whether they truly existed or were just a form of human emotion caught up in wishful fantasy.
"Yes.....their rebirth.....marked the time for the Tribe to awaken the Talisman."
"And your roll in all of this?" There was no way Yuozes was going to let Neoma get away without explanation.
"Hmmm.....well my friend, in due time.....in due time." Neoma gave a half smile to Yuozes and began packing what little belongings they brought with them. "Right now....we need to get a very pregnant Amazon Queen to my home."
Realizing that Neoma was not ready to share, the younger of the two elders chuckled softly. "Neoma....you always were a stubborn old woman. Are anyone of us what we appear to be now?" Yuozes realized during the course of events that Aleka was not as young as she appeared......and be it magic, miracles or illusion, the elder believed that life for her would never be boring again.
The journey to Neoma's home took a day and a half for the four women. Thais fit into life with Xena and Gabrielle with ease, although the Warrior wondered how Argo would take to the puma, when they returned to the mainland. For now, Gabrielle needed a safe place to deliver the babies and when they were a few moons in age, Xena would help the Bard find the Talisman. With all the turn of events, the Warrior hoped this might be the time to talk her soulmate out of returning to their cave of rebirth and instead give birth in Amphipolis.
The first day of their arrival at Neoma's home was spent eating, sleeping and generally enjoying each other. Over the course of the next several days Gabrielle learned more from Neoma about the Tribe and also about the young Xena. By the third day, the Bard noticed a pattern with her soulmate. Each time the topic of conversation drifted to the Momatyca Tribe the Warrior would slip outside. Sometimes she would state a reason for leaving, but more than not she just left. At first the Bard assumed her wife was just restless and needed a reason to politely leave the conversation, but after a while Gabrielle noticed that it was more than just that. There was something bothering Xena, and Gabrielle could not quite figure it out. The women had been gabbing about the upcoming birth of two babies and the conversation once again drifted to the Tribe.
"Xena's hunger for learning the ways of a warrior......" Neoma continued her reflection of the days when she was first chosen to be the young Xena's mentor.
As Gabrielle listened, she suddenly felt the tension build in Xena who had been standing next to the hearth with a cup of hot tea in her hand. The tension crept across the few paces that separated the soulmates and dropped heavily into Gabrielle's heart. While attempting to focus on Neoma's words, Gabrielle also understood that Xena would be leaving soon. *What in Neoma's words has you so nervous.....?* Just as the Bard predicted the Warrior moved from the hearth to the kitchen table setting her cup down. Thais noticing the movement popped her head up waiting for her master's command. Xena nodded her head and the puma immediately rose and joined Xena at her side. Neoma continued to ramble basically ignoring Xena's movements. Within a blink of an eye, the Warrior and Thais were out of the room.
Gabrielle was not going to let this pass so easily. "Excuse me Neoma.....I don't mean to interrupt, but...." The Bard did not look directly at Neoma, but rather at the door her soulmate just passed through.
"Let her go Gabrielle." Both Neoma and Yuozes had also noticed a pattern in Xena's sudden departures and sometimes-crazy excuses for leaving. "It is important for you to focus and understand the Tribe and each woman's roll in the Tribe." Neoma stood and approached the now-standing Bard. Immediately realizing the harshness in her tone she gently placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "My child...Xena is resilient....she will be okay."
Taking a few moments to debate internally whether she should follow Xena or stay, Gabrielle found her heart was extremely heavy. "Neoma.....I have to go to Xena. I have to know why she is hurting about this."
Neoma smiled. *Xena, you are one lucky woman.* The old mentor nodded her head in understanding and watched Gabrielle depart in search of the Warrior.
Yuozes who carefully observed all the players involved approached her friend. "Neoma, what is going on with Xena?"
The old woman faced her younger friend. Yuozes was about 15 seasons younger, however her dark brown hair was already turning gray with age. Yuozes was and still is an extremely adept warrior and did the island proud during Caesar's raids. Her specialty however, the skill that gained her the votes to become an elder was her ability and knowledge of the sky, the stars and architecture. Several moons ago Yuozes began mapping the heavens according to what she believed was there, not what the gods or rulers of the world wanted. She took a newer approach than many of the older stuffy scholars. She also understood what it took to build a village and construct a home that would withstand the storms. All in all, Neoma was very pleased that her choice was the one the elders agreed upon unanimously.
"Yuozes..." Neoma stretched her arm across Yuozes and squeezed her shoulder pulling her in closer. "I do believe this is something that one might consider a personal struggle."
Yuozes stopped in her tracks and softly chuckled. "You mean it is none of my business."
"You are very perceptive my friend." Laughter filled the room, as the women crossed through the kitchen toward the library where Yuozes was designing a map of the universe.
By the time Gabrielle was able to get outdoors she discovered the puma waiting patiently outside of the stables across the courtyard. "Smart Xena.....not too sure Thais would be will accepted by the horses." As the Bard approached, Thais greeted her hoping for a scratch behind the ears. She was not disappointed. "Hey Thais, is Xena inside? Sure she is. What is going on with her anyway." Gabrielle did not anticipate an answer but believed that the puma had a way of understanding her words, therefore decided to voice them. "You wait here Thais." With those final words Gabrielle entered the stables. It took her a moment to focus her eyes to the dim light. Before she could call out for the Warrior, the Bard felt strong, protective arms encircling her very pregnant body from behind. Sinking back into the embrace, Gabrielle sighed with delight.
"Shouldn't you be inside listening to Neoma's stories?"
"Xena....those stories are important."
"Mmmm.....maybe." Xena started to nibble on her soulmates ear. "Do you know how beautiful you are?"
Gabrielle turned to face the Warrior. "Honey....don't change the subject. Why did you leave the room?"
Xena released her soulmate and stepped around to leave the stables. "Thais was getting restless."
An Amazon hand quickly gripped the Warrior's hand. "Not so fast my beautiful wife. You and I both know that is not why you left. What is going on Xena?"
The Warrior answered abruptly. "Look Gabrielle, I don't appreciate being questioned. So let it go okay."
Over the past three moons the Bard has been quick to tears, today would be no different and the Bard's green eyes promptly filled with tears resulting from Xena's reaction. Not wishing to argue with her soulmate, Gabrielle turned away covering her eyes.
The Warrior immediately chastised herself for being abrasive and before she could regroup and approach Gabrielle, the puma bumped Xena from behind sending the Warrior flying through the air causing her to land very awkwardly on the stable floor. The sound of Thais' growling drew Gabrielle's attention in time to see her soulmate flying through the air. Unsure whether to laugh or cry at the sudden turn of events, the Bard looked to Thais. The puma seemed to smile. "Oh Thais.....I'm not so sure that was a good thing." By the time Gabrielle looked back to Xena the Warrior was standing and brushing the hay and dirt from her clothing. "Xena, you're hurt." The Bard could see several abrasions on the Warrior's left knee and lower arm.
At first Xena wanted to strike back.....she felt foolish and the Warrior disliked that emotion terribly. Thais had protected Gabrielle, which is something the Warrior wondered if the puma would do, without being prompted. Part of her was pleased with Thais' actions. The other half wanted to thrash that animal. Either way before Xena could assess which pleased her more Gabrielle was bending over in an attempt to look at the abrasion on her knee. Gently the Warrior reached down to direct the Bard to stand. "Baby....I'm okay. I deserved that." Cupping a still tearful Amazon Queen under the chin, Xena looked directly into loving green eyes. "Sweetheart, I am sorry. Can you forgive me?" The Bard quickly nodded her acceptance and pulled the Warrior closer in order to kiss her. Xena needed no further encouragement and swallowed Gabrielle in passion.
After several moments of tender affection, the couple retreated to Neoma's home in order to care for Xena's injuries. Gabrielle never approached the subject of Xena's departure when the topic of the Tribe came up. She decided that when Xena was ready, she would tell her.
Two days later, Xena felt the time was right to return to the mainland. Neoma and Yuozes would accompany them.
As the foursome and Thais boarded the ship, Gabrielle wondered how Xena managed to talk the Captain into allowing the puma aboard. That evening as the soulmates were watching the sunset over the horizon, Gabrielle asked. "Honey.....what did you do to the Captain? I was surprised he was so willing to allow Thais on board."
Acting innocent and as if she was accused wrongfully, Xena chuckled. "Do.....me??? What makes you think I did anything?"
Thais gave a low growl and plopped her body onto the deck. Gabrielle giggled at the thought of Xena and Thais approaching the Captain. "Yes Xena....what did you do?"
"Oh....I...just demonstrated my ability with the chakram. You know....sliced up a few melons, parts of his clothing....the normal stuff."
The Bard shook her head and laughed. "Oh my love.....you are a handful."
"Yes....but I am your handful."
"Come here Warrior." The soulmates slipped into each others arms......arms and bodies becoming more and more familiar with the passing of time. Without words they walked entwined to their cabin. Thais followed but instead of entering remained posted outside the closed door. There would be no disturbing her master or Kleidi tonight.
The Warrior had purchased passage as far as Thessaly, knowing that while the journey at sea would be longer it would at least be safer than by land. She still had not spoken with Gabrielle about delivering, what would now be two babies, in Amphipolis rather than the cave. The ship docked before dawn after four days at sea.
While Yuozes stayed at the dock with Gabrielle, Neoma accompanied Xena and Thai in search of a wagon to transport them to Amphipolis.
"It will be good to see Cyrene again." Neoma, much to Xena's disapproval at the time, had the opportunity to spend several days with Cyrene after the young Warrior ventured to a life on the sea. Since then the women stayed in touch, which included Cyrene's occasional visits with Neoma on Lesbos. The women found they had a great deal in common, including a love for one strong-willed warrior. Neoma was only a few seasons younger than Cyrene and thus enjoyed the bond formed between them. A number of times Neoma attempted to convince Cyrene to stay with her on Lesbos. The innkeeper, however, felt a strong attachment to Amphipolis and deep within always prayed that if she stayed in the village, one day Xena would return.
Aware of the relationship between her mother and Neoma, the Warrior did not want her mother to be hurt. "Look Neoma....don't push mom. Okay."
The elder smiled and patted Xena on the back. "Have no fear brave-hearted Warrior....I would just assume die than hurt Cyrene."
Before long the four women and one puma were on the road to Amphipolis. Having left Thessaly just as dawn broke, Gabrielle insisted that Xena push the horses without hurting them so that they could spend that night at the inn. The Warrior estimated that it would be after dark before they would arrive, but would do her best to get them there safely. Neoma worried that the constant jarring of the wagon over the sometimes-rough road might be an invitation for the babies to make an early entrance into the world. In her wisdom, however, she kept this concern to herself. Having had the experience in seeing twins born before, Neoma believed the Bard would be delivering those babies sooner than anticipated.
Good to her promise, Xena had the group more than halfway home by the time the sun was high overhead. Insisting they stop and rest, the Warrior chose a secluded area by a small stream where she would be able to catch fish for their meal.
With cool water up around her knees, Xena quickly caught several eels, which quickly ended up in Thais' stomach before anyone else could retrieve them. Neoma and Yuozes had a small campfire burning to keep everyone warm in the cool winter season, as well as cook the fish. As they waited patiently for Xena to fill Thais' belly, the elders made hot tea for all.
"Xena.....how much is Thais going to eat?" Gabrielle was sitting on a log wrapped in a blanket slightly humored by the puma's appetite.
The Warrior's legs and feet were starting to get pretty cold. "Well, this is it....after this she has to learn how to fish for herself." Laughing over Thais' appetite, Xena tossed one more eel her way and began searching for a tastier fish. Eel was okay....just a bit to rubbery for the Warrior's liking.
Thais licked her muzzle and purred, as she finished off the last of the eel. The puma knew how to fish....a skill taught to her by Aleka, but as long as her master Warrior did not know.....Thais was not about ready to show her.
Before long, Xena managed to catch several trout and joined Gabrielle on the banks of the stream. Welcoming the warm blanket, Xena dried her feet and legs, put on her boots and followed the Bard back to the camp. Within a candlemark all four women had their fill, extinguished the fire and continued the journey.
Thus far the trip from Thessaly had been without interruption. The roadway was basically barren of travelers due to the cooler weather and distant threat of snow clouds hovering in the mountains to the north. Xena allowed Yuozes to lead the horses so she could snuggle up with Gabrielle under the blanket. Together they leaned up against Thais who on numerous occasions proved to be a wonderful pillow and support. Before long sleep claimed the soulmates and Neoma kept Yuozes company.
Amphipolis was covered in a light snowfall by the time the foursome arrived. The village was quiet and appeared tucked away for the evening. As usual, lights burned brightly at Cyrene's Inn, a friendly invitation to any weary traveler passing through. Something, however, was wrong......the Warrior's keen senses could feel sadness in the village.
Gabrielle noticed the worry that crossed her soulmate's beautiful face. Rubbing the Warrior's hand softly, the Bard caught Xena's attention. "What is it Xena?"
Xena brought Gabrielle's hands to her lips and kissed them lovingly. "I'm not sure.....something is wrong."
The wagon stopped in front of Cyrene's, as if the horses knew exactly where to go. Xena jumped down and immediately helped the Bard to the ground. Thais jumped off the wagon and nuzzled her nose into the fresh fallen snow. "I think Thais wants to play." Neoma chuckled at the huge predator acting like a small kitten.
"Not now Thais." Xena with her arm around Gabrielle opened the front door. "Stay here Thais.....and stay out of trouble. Don't hurt or scare anyone."
Thais understanding the master Warrior's directions jumped back into the wagon and burrowed under the blankets.
Upon entering the inn, the party was immediately recognized by several local patrons. Greetings were exchanged quickly and within a blink of an eye Cyrene was in her daughter's embrace. Giving the typical motherly hugs, kisses and pats on the arms the innkeeper turned her attention to Gabrielle.
"Ohhhhhh......look at you.....the baby looks like it is ready now!!!" Cyrene and the Bard hugged and giggled.
"Babies.....my Warrior Mom....babies." Gabrielle could not keep the news a secret and blurted it out rather quickly.
"W-H-A-T........WHAT - TWO????" Cyrene stood back, her mouth agape with tears of joy filling her eyes.
Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. The babies were moving and kicking up a storm and the Warrior could see the movement. "Mom....come here....feel."
Cyrene let her hands gently follow the little feet and fists, as they pushed from the inside of their mommy's warm and protective nest. "Oh....they are strong little ones."
Just then Neoma and Yuozes came through the doorway and removing their hoods to expose their identity. Neoma smiled when she saw Cyrene. She could not help herself.....Cyrene was beautiful to Neoma. The innkeeper's reaction did not disappoint Neoma.
Shocked to see a friend of long ago standing before her, the innkeeper's memories flooded her mind and her heart. A smile covered Cyrene's face, causing Xena's eyebrows to raise. Promptly Gabrielle gave her soulmate a swift and firm swat on the behind and tugged at the Warrior's coat. Moving further into the inn, closer to the fire, the soulmates were joined by Yuozes.
In a whisper the Bard observing Cyrene and Neoma embracing in a rather questionable hug wondered just what this relationship was. "Xena....are mom and Neoma....."
The Warrior shook her head not sure she completely understood or approved. "At one time....I believe they were, but then again....I'm not sure. Mom would never talk about it and neither would Neoma."
Yuozes removed her cape and took a seat by the fire to warm her feet. "Well it sure looks obvious to me...so what is wrong with the two of you?"
Refusing to acknowledge Yuozes comments, the Warrior took Gabrielle's cape and mumbling under her breath headed to their room. Gabrielle on the other hand was interested in Yuozes observations and decided to join the elder in front of the fire and throw her two dinars into the wind.
By the time the Warrior returned the four women were sitting around the kitchen table conversing in a very low manner. On the way to the bedroom and back the Warrior still felt uneasiness in the air and decided to be direct in asking her mom if there was trouble in the village.
"Oh...honey...come sit by your wife and have a cup of hot tea."
Hot tea and being close to Gabrielle sounded wonderful to the Warrior, thus, she joined the table of women. "Mom, I'm sensing that something is wrong - what is it?"
*Yesss, my daughter....your senses are accurate, but now how do I explain. More so, how do I explain this to Gabrielle.* Pouring tea for Xena, the innkeeper returned to her seat and began fiddling with her own tea cup.
Suddenly frantic screams severed the quiet night causing all five women to rush to the front of the inn along with the few patrons still sipping on their ale. The horses in a panic just about had the wagon tipped over and both elders rushed to calm the animals. Off to the right were scattered footprints of both human and puma leading towards the stables. Before the women could form an opinion of the situation shrieks from horses and people came from the stables. The Warrior bolted into a run, while Gabrielle, Cyrene and the elders followed, as quickly as possible. The building came into view quickly and Xena found Thais pacing the front entrance with two individuals yelling, throwing snow and screaming from the rooftop of the stables. Immediately recognizing the women the Warrior slowed her run to a casual walk.
"XENA.......GET AWAY QUICK!!!!"
The Warrior casually approached the puma who recognized the Warrior immediately. Abandoning her game of chase Thais welcomed the scratches Xena was giving her behind the ears. Soon the Warrior was joined with her spouse, mom and elders.
"Xena...what have you brought home this time?" Cyrene not too sure she trusted the animal watched with wonderment, as her daughter played with the predator. Before she could react the puma was next to her and Gabrielle.
"It's okay mom. This is Thais, are newest family member." The Bard proceeded to make the puma purr with happiness, as she rubbed the puma's ears.
Ignoring the women on the rooftop the Warrior joined her soulmate. "My Queen, perhaps you should reconsider the bravery of your Amazon's on the roof. Is it possible they should be cooks instead."
"OH VERY FUNNY XENA." Epinon and Amarice jumped down from the rooftop. "Just what we need, a Warrior with a sense of humor."
The women all greeted each other and the Amazons met the elders for the first time. As the group walked back to the inn followed by Thais, Epinon addressed Gabrielle and Xena. "I'm glad you are back. We have trouble. Cyrene have you told them anything yet?"
"Actually, Epinon, I was about ready too when we heard the crying of these two little Amazon girls....and..."
"Cyrene....not you too. I thought you would at least side with us." Laughter followed the party of women until they arrived back at the inn.
Xena bent over to speak directly with Thais. "Girl....stay out of trouble! I know the temptation to play is......"
"Xena....let Thais come in. She can stay in the kitchen or your room as long as she behaves." Feeling particularly brave at the moment, Cyrene rubbed Thais behind the ear and the puma followed her new friend into the inn.
The Warrior watched in surprise at her mom's newfound bravery. "I'm beginning to think that Thais is the master....not me."
"Oh honey.....it's okay...everyone but you knows that." Gabrielle chuckled, joined by the elders and the Amazons, as they returned to the warmth of Cyrene's inn.
That night Gabrielle could not sleep and found she had to battle tears over and over again. Once again the Warrior sat up in bed and pulled her soulmate into her arms. "Sweetheart...everything will work out. Trust me...okay?" The very pregnant Amazon Queen could do no more than cry and cling to the strength her Warrior shared.
The Gargarans have always been a closely watched threat for Amazon tribes located seventeen days west of Amphipolis. For moons several of the scattered tribes located in the foothills continued to keep the Gargarans at bay with trade and the birth of male children. Over time the Amazon's fled the tribes in search of safer living conditions. According to Epinon the tribes in the west for the most part no longer exist. None of them have leaders, elders, shamans or warriors. Therefore the men now have their sites set on the Amazons northwest of Amphipolis. Shulapa lost her life, when she attempted to meet with the Gargaran's leader for the sole purpose of establishing a treaty that would keep the Gargaran barbarians from capturing and moving Amazon's eastward to foreign lands. Xena never fought against the Gargaran people, however they were considered unmerciful once they decided to kill. She did not approve of the Amazon's agreeing to mate with a Gargaran man for the purpose of a son, however never involved herself enough to change their ways. Apparently with the death of Caesar and the retreat of the Romans, the barbarians found this a prime opportunity to kidnap and bring Amazon's east to inhabit the abandoned camp's in their territory.
Xena was unpleased with the timing of the Gargaran's threat of invasion. The most practical action would be to grab Gabrielle and go into hiding until after the babies were born. She knew, however, that as Queen, Gabrielle would never allow this. With the death of the Regent, the Amazons needed a leader within the village. Gabrielle would have to be that leader until a new Regent could be selected. The Warrior stared off into space contemplating. *Maybe retreating to the cave might be a better idea.....it will offer more protection than out in the open from an invading army.*
Both Argo and Gabrielle's horse had been stabled in Amphipolis during their journey to Tara's homeland. Once again reunited with Xena, Argo was pleased to see the Warrior, however she was not thrilled with Thais.
"Argo, what do you think. I'm right....yes. I have to get Gabrielle to the cave."
Thais lay patiently outside of Argo's stall listening to the words of her master. The puma understood that Argo did not like or trust Thais. Horses were always skittish around the puma and never quite as smart as she was. Licking her paws contently, Thais instinctively realized that because this was her master's horse she would attempt to befriend it rather than eat it.
"I think you are never going to get Gabrielle to the cave."
The Warrior glanced over her shoulder to find Epinon observing her interaction. "And why is that Epinon?"
"You know darn well why. Because she is the Queen.....especially now. The Amazon's need her."
Tossing the horse brush to the ground Xena turned to face her friend. "Yea...well I need her too."
Surprised by Xena's admission of need Epinon closed the distance between them. "I know Xena. I do understand. I will help you get her to the cave and after that we will deal with the Gargarans.
As Xena started to thank her friend, a sudden whirlwind picked up inside the stable. Artemis was soon standing before them.
Thais growled intensely. Xena smiled at Epinon. "Smart animal, wouldn't you say."
"Warrior!" Artemis snapped at the sarcastic remark made by the soulmate of her Chosen One. "If it were not for Gabrielle you would no longer be standing. I will not tolerate insolence."
"Oh come on Artemis....surely you do not wish to displease your Chosen One?" Neoma entered the stables to face down Artemis directly.
"Neoma.....it has been awhile. I see my words to you long ago have come back to haunt you." Artemis displeased with the elder's forward comments would not engage in a physical battle.
"No Artemis. Xena is the Warrior I always believed she could be. She has not disappointed me or the League."
"Hmm, yes the League." Artemis waved her hand in the air, as if to dismiss the topic. "For now my concern is the Amazons. I will deal with the League another time."
At this point, Epinon was unaware of the events that transpired on Lesbos, and beyond meeting Neoma and Yuozes, she only knew the legend of the League and no more. "Xena, what are they talking about?"
Artemis would not have side conversations going on in her presence. She was mad about the Gargarans and Shulapa's death. Unable to prevent it from happening Artemis wanted to protect her Amazons, as well as revenge the death of one of her leaders. This one time she would tolerate Epinon speaking out of turn. She would need Xena and Neoma's help to protect her Amazons and was aware that Xena would call upon Epinon.
"Look Artemis, my concern is Gabrielle - not the Amazons." No longer interested in Artemis' thoughts or wants, the Warrior turned away and headed for the doorway.
Neoma snickered at Xena's boldness and turned to face Artemis. "Let her go Artemis. Without Gabrielle, your Amazons and you will be gone - destroyed. Get the picture? Let Xena handle this battle in her own way and in her own time."
Abruptly Artemis vanished leaving behind a wind strong enough to blow Neoma and Epinon off their feet.
"GABRIELLE, GABRIELLE!" The Warrior began yelling for her soulmate as soon as she entered the inn. She discovered her wife in the kitchen with Amarice sipping on hot tea. "DIDN'T YOU HEAR ME CALLING YOU."
"Whoa.......grumpy....what's with you?" Cyrene approached her daughter directly blocking her path to the Bard. "YOU MY DAUGHTER BETTER SIT DOWN AND COOL OFF."
Covering her face with her hands it was obvious to all, as Xena's shoulders slumped in defeat that the dark hair woman was filled with frustration. "I'm sorry honey."
Gabrielle patted the chair next to her and motioned for her soulmate to sit. Accepting the invitation, the Warrior was pleased, when the Bard reached over and kissed her tenderly on the cheek. "Honey, calm down....don't you always tell me first things first?"
Returning the kiss Xena nodded her head in agreement. "Yes." Pausing to take a sip of the tea her mother set down in front of her, the women were soon joined by Neoma and Epinon. "Gabrielle....we have to leave for the cave."
"What do you mean no?"
Leaning over Gabrielle looked directly into the blue eyes that she so often falls into. "No, I'm staying here."
At this point, attempting to stay patient was becoming more and more difficult for the Warrior. "Why Gabrielle? It is not safe for you here."
Unexpectedly Cyrene slapped Xena behind the head. "How dare you insinuate that we can not protect Gabrielle."
"No....mom...I just mean..."
Gabrielle gently placed her fingers across the sweet lips of her lover. "Ssssshhhh....Xena....Cyrene - please don't argue." Returning her gaze to her wife, the Bard smiled, as if she had something to hide.
"What?" Xena raised an eyebrow and wondered what her soulmate was up too.
"I'm not traveling Xena.....my labor has started."
So startled over the sudden news Xena yelled incomprehensible words and stood so fast that the chair went flying across the room. "WHAT....WHO...WHY........NOW.......YOU'RE KIDDING...........RIGHT?"
The women burst with laughter over Xena's flustered state. Gabrielle stood up placing Xena's hands over her belly. "The babies are ready.....it's okay honey."
"But but but but....."
Epinon slapped the Warrior on the back. "Stuck Xena?" The laughter continued, as Yuozes brought the Warrior another chair.
"Gabrielle.....the babies are just a little early."
"Oh Xena...calm down mighty Destroyer of Nations. It's normal for a woman carrying more than one to deliver early. We just need to prepare for them." Neoma was amused by Xena's state of mind.
"But what? WHAT DO WE DO?" Xena never felt so helpless before and quickly thought it might indeed be better if they stayed in Amphipolis.
Over the course of the next few candlemarks the women prepared a room for Gabrielle to give birth along with special bedding for the babies. The shaman from the Amazon village was summoned, as well as the Memmos, the old village healer. Medicine, herbs and all the necessities of giving birth early were brought to Cyrene's inn. Needless to say the word spread through town quickly that the Amazon Queen would give birth to twins in Amphipolis.
"Breathe sweetheart.....breathe slow and steady.....come on baby....in - out - in - out - in - out - in - ou.......... OUCH!! WHY DID YOU DO THAT?" The Warrior rubbed her cheek with one hand, still holding Gabrielle with the weight of her body.
Sweating and panting the Bard backhanded her soulmate to get her to be quiet. Gabrielle knew Xena was only trying to help, but at this particular moment she just wanted everyone to stop coaching and be quiet. She would not allow the Warrior to apply pressure points and at this point so close to delivery had lost most of her patience. The contractions were extremely strong and Memmos announced he could see the crowning of the first child.
"X...ena....sorry.......qui....qui....I need qui..."
"Quite?" Xena kissed the top of Gabrielle's head. "Sorry honey."
Cyrene closed the inn to all business as soon as Gabrielle's contractions increased, ensuring there were no interruptions to this wonderful event. The Bard insisted that only Xena and Memmos be present, along with the shaman, when and if she arrived. So desperately wishing she could give birth in their cave, she now became silently grateful that they were not alone. The fact that twins would be born made the danger increase and Gabrielle was appreciative for the presence and assistance of the village healer.
"Good Gabrielle, now start pushing.....that's it, you are doing just fine." The old healer spoke gently and reassuringly to Gabrielle.
Xena found she too was following the instructions of the doctor and could not help but feel herself pushing in support of her soulmate.
"What is taking so long? Gabrielle has been in there for over six candlemarks!!!" Amarice paced up and down the kitchen floor. Waving her hands in the air and appearing totally frustrated Epinon snickered over her lover's apparent need for answers.
"Calm down Amarice. This is all a part of having a baby." Cyrene sipped on her tea while attempting to maintain control. She too was nervous and anxious, but yet was all too aware that labor could go on forever. She prayed that it would not be too much longer for the Bard.
"If anything goes wrong....I'll........"
In unison Epinon, Cyrene, Neoma and Yuozes yelled. "AMARICE CALM DOWN!!!"
The puma, which Cyrene allowed in the kitchen, cautiously approached the overly excited Amarice causing the young Amazon to stop in her tracks.
"See...." Cyrene laughed, "Thais says to sit down."
Laughter followed which also prompted Amarice to join in.
Cleaning up the second born Memmos glanced up long enough to find two pair of anxious eyes focused directly on him. "Your second born is a very healthy boy. Sounds as if he has some great lungs." The healer wrapped the tiny boy in a warm cloth and placed him alongside his sister on Gabrielle's chest. The boy immediately stopped crying.
Xena looked down at the two tiny bundles with fingers stuffed in tiny mouths, apparently at peace and happy to be so close to their mom. Stroking Gabrielle's hair tenderly Xena bent over to kiss her soulmate on the cheek.
The Bard looked up to her Warrior. "Lay down with me.....help me hold them.....please."
The Warrior helped Gabrielle reposition for comfort before slipping under the blanket that now covered her soulmate. Together the women held the children, letting the tiny ones feel their hearts beating, lungs breathing and the love surrounding them.
Just then Memmos heard knocking on the door. Realizing the women needed to be alone for awhile, he decided to chase away the curiosity seekers......just a bit longer. Quickly he opened the door and slipped out, closing it behind him.
"Well?" Cyrene questioned him.
"Everyone is doing great." Memmos smiled rather pleased with his roll in the birth. "Two very healthy babies..... a......"
"How is Gabrielle?" Amarice spoke up rather loudly interrupting the healer's announcement. Feeling somewhat selfish, the young Amazon was not as concerned about the infants, as she was her Queen.
His attention drawn away from his announcement, the old man smiled at the young Amazon. Fully aware that this young woman would demand only a straightforward answer he would give her just that. "Gabrielle is resting, as is Xena. But young lady, she is doing remarkable well. Gabrielle is strong and recovery will be quick."
Just then Cyrene poked the doctor in the ribs. "And......the babies are?????"
"Oh....." Memmos chuckled softly. "A girl and a boy."
Joy and excitement followed the announcement. With mixed conversations of celebrations and ceremonies.
Never having the opportunity to enjoy Solan, Cyrene had every intention of being 100% involved with her grandchildren. "When can we see them?"
The old man explained that they were sleeping and should be left alone for at least a candlemark, or until Xena and Gabrielle were ready to have visitors. Disappointment was obvious in the faces of the women, but they would respect their wishes. At least for now.
"Well Memmos, I suppose you could use a cup of port?" Cyrene quizzed the old healer.
"Yes....actually that would be wonderful Cyrene." Together the party of supporters followed Cyrene and Memmos into the main dining area for a small celebration. If they had to wait.....they unanimously decided to have an enjoyable time while waiting.
"You have me totally overwhelmed sweetheart." The Warrior with one arm wrapped around her soulmate and the other holding her infant son kissed Gabrielle on the forehead. Together the four of them cuddled as close as possible, without squashing anyone. "How are you feeling honey?"
"Mmmm....tired and......" Gabrielle paused momentarily to peer into the warm blue eyes of her soulmate. "...and very much in love with you."
The Warrior found she never needed an invitation to kiss Gabrielle, as the Bard always welcomed the Warrior's affections. Slowly and softly their lips found each other's. As the infants slept, the soulmates enjoyed sinking into the love one had for the other and the kissing remained tender, affectionate and reassuring.
"Honey?" Gabrielle pulled back slightly.
"Yesssssss my most beautiful wife and mother of my children?" The Warrior was also beginning to feel the fatigue caused from the excitement of childbirth.
"Names?" Gabrielle gently stroked the fuzzy blonde hair of their infant son. "Any preferences on names?"
Both babies were fair skinned with peach-fuzz like blonde hair. The boy was slightly longer and weighed a little more but not by much. At this point, the soulmates could not decide who they would look like more. They were just still too tiny and it would probably be a few moons before they took on a similarity to either mom.
Suddenly Xena's eyes popped wide open. "OH WAIT - GABRIELLE!" Sliding to a position that allowed her to lean against the headboard, neither baby stirred from their sleep.
"Xena what is wrong?" As Gabrielle lay on her side, still holding the baby girl, Xena removed the wrap surrounding the boy. "What are you doing Xena?"
"Counting.....wait....1, 2, 3, 4......"
The Bard burst with laughter while she watched her brave-hearted Warrior counting the toes and fingers of their son. "I suppose you will want to count....."
Quickly re-bundling the boy, Xena traded babies before Gabrielle could finish her statement. Within a blink of an eye their daughter was stripped down to a point where the Warrior could count toes and fingers. A giggling Bard just shook her head admiring the woman she was so deeply in love with and devoted too. Finally satisfied that all toes and fingers were accounted for, Xena scooted down in bed with her daughter reclaiming her snuggling position with Gabrielle and their son.
"Now...names." Xena had not forgotten Gabrielle's question and had actually thought about what they would name their children. "Actually I did think of names.......ummm.....and you?"
"Yes." Gabrielle spent a great deal of time thinking about names and often wondered if Xena was doing the same. The Bard was not sure why they never spoke about the topic.
"Well......are you going to tell me your choices?" Reluctant to tell Gabrielle her choices the Warrior hoped the Bard would speak first.
"Why do I have to go first?" Gabrielle had no difficulty with a name for a boy, but had trouble deciding on a girl's name.
"Because...." Abruptly both babies awoke and began to whimper, which distracted the soulmates. "I think they are hungry." With Xena's help, Gabrielle managed to feed their son and daughter.
"No...you knock." Epinon stepped back from the doorway and faced Amarice
"I'm not knocking....you're the big bad Warrior - you knock." Both Amazon's were tasked by Cyrene to listen for any movement behind the door from Xena or Gabrielle.
"No way Amarice. You're Gabrielle's buddy - you knock."
The young redhead crossed her arms determined not to be the one who disturbs the soulmates. "Yea....but you have a better chance against Xena when she starts swinging than I do."
"Coward." Epinon was aware that if they disturbed Xena and Gabrielle before they wanted to be, the Warrior would indeed be angry. The dark-hair Amazon had no desire to fight the Destroyer of Nations.
Amarice punched Epinon in the arm. "COWARD? Look who is talking!!! You're a bigger coward than I am."
Rubbing her arm where Amarice managed to make it sting with her knuckle punch, Epinon did not like being called a coward......even if it was her lover. "Watch it Amarice."
"Or what old mighty Amazon." Feisty and excited over the events of the day, plus the scare by the puma Amarice discovered too much had transpired over the past moon. Add in the death of Shulapa and threat to the Amazons, the young redheaded warrior found her emotions getting away from her. "You are just a coward Epinon." Unsure why she reacted physically, Amarice once again moved to punch Epinon, who caught her hand and pinned her forcefully to the door.
Needless to say, the force caused the door to burst open and within a blink of an eye Amarice looked up from her position flat on her back to find one angry Warrior Princess poised with her sword ready for battle.
"Just what are you doing Amarice?" Xena calmed down fairly quickly when she saw Amarice under her feet. Moving to replace her sword by the nightstand Xena rejoined Gabrielle who was now sitting.
"S..ss....sorry Xena....Gabrielle." The young redhead stood quickly. "OH BY THE GODS....." Slowly Amarice moved toward the babies who were nestled next to their mothers. "Ooooo.....look how cuteeeeeeeeeeeee." As the young Amazon cooed over the infants, Epinon joined her and all was forgotten about their early conflict.
Naturally because of the noise made by the two Amazons the bedroom was soon filled with the others. Cyrene quickly moved her way through the Amazons to hug both Xena and Gabrielle. Tears filled her eyes as she sat between the soulmates and they placed an infant in each arm. "Oh.....ohhhh.....thank you........oh thank you." Overwhelmed by her grandchildren, Cyrene silently promised she would always and forever be a part of their lives.
Outside the window two Amazon spirits looked on. "Solari.....this is why we are here."
"I know Ephiny....I know."
For the first time since they entered the odd world of spirits the two Amazons realized their purpose. Ephiny and Solari did not care whether the children were female or male. Holding each other tenderly they understood their responsibilities and accepted them thankfully.
"You know what this means Solari?"
Solari understood perfectly that as guardians to the children of Gabrielle and Xena they would go against all others but the Creator to watch over the children. This included defying Artemis and even the parents, if necessary.
Nodding her head, Solari smiled at her charge. "Why do you suppose I am guardian for the girl and you the boy?"
Ephiny wondered this also but had no answer.
Feeling impish Solari giggled. "Oh...I know...because you are stubborn."
"What the Hades does that have to do with it? WAIT JUST A FLAME FLICKER! I'm not stubborn.....I'm just strong willed." Ephiny attempted to suppress her grin. She would be Hades if she let Solari get away with that even though she knew it to be true.
"My point exactly.....STUBBORN."
The spirits chuckled with ease and continued watching the celebration of their friends.
"Can we join them Ephiny?" Solari felt some sadness and even though she knew the answer, the Amazon had to ask.
"Not yet. The time is not right." Ephiny pulled her spirit wife closer. "The day will soon come when the children will know us."
Without warning Ephiny and Solari noticed Xena was watching them. In unison the Amazons smiled and mouthed their congratulations. With a deep respect for the two spirits the Warrior smiled and nodded her head in approval.
"She knows.....Ephiny...she knows - HOW?" Both spirits saw the Warrior's approval of their guardianship in that simple smile and nod.
The curly blonde Amazon shook her head and chuckled slightly. "Who knows how Xena finds things out. But it is good that she does."
On the edge of Amphipolis a man and his son steadied their spirited horses. He had waited a long time for this moment and decided moons ago that once his daughter returned he would wait no longer.
"Why are you stopping Father?" A brother anxious to meet his sister would not let his father back down now. It took a great deal of talking and sometimes pleading to get to this point.
Hawk looked to his son and prodded his horse to move forward. Together father and son set their direction towards the little inn located on the other side of the village square called Cyrene's.
Return to The Bard's Corner