A Heros Welcome
The usual disclaimers for copywrited material apply here. I wrote this story for fun and to see if I could write one . No offense is intended or profit is being made here.
While there are a lot of similarities between this story and season 5, some of the events are different . I have brought Eponin back into the mix ( she hasnt been mentioned since Hooves and Harlots season 1)and added a couple of characters of my own creation. Also involved are Gabrielles parents, sister and Xenas family.
I wish to thank the Bards Corner for inspiration along with the animated Disney Hercules movie whose soundtrack provided great inspiration as well.
I hope you enjoy my first effort in writing a Xena/Gabrielle story. Most of my previous efforts have been strictly sci-fi in nature. Comments are welcomed and I can be reached at the following email address
Now, onto the story
Xena studied her companion as they both walked along the well trodden path, the warrior leading Argo and Gabrielle leading her newly acquired horse which she still had yet to name. It was midday, the sun shining brightly overhead, its warmth welcome, despite the chill currently in the air. The forest around them was full of activity, birds calling to each other and other creatures going about their business. Gabrielle had not spoken very much since they had left Eponin and her three other sisters about a league outside of Potedeia. Xena had been surprised to see Eponin and after a brief explanation, the Amazons had left the warrior princess with the bard, heading back home to Arborea. Judging by the silence of the bard, Xena knew that the visit had not gone well.
Spotting a clearing nearby, Xena moved off the road, intending to set up camp and get some much needed down time. The past three moons had been traumatic if nothing else, and the last thing Xena wanted was to see her bard subjected to any more pain. Obviously, the visit home had done just that to her and it was all Xena could do not to leave Gabrielle here, go back and eliminate the problem. Her thoughts returning to Gabrielle, Xena called over to her
"Gabrielle, over here. I thought wed take a bit of a break. Amphipolis is only a half a days ride and rather than get there after dark, we could camp here overnight and ride there early in the afternoon."
"What? Oh, I guess so." Gabrielle replied, walking off onto the grass and helping Xena to offload their supplies from Argo and her horse.
"Do you want to talk? " Xena inquired, studying the rather somber expression still on the bards normally cheery countenance.
" I I dont know. I dont think I can talk about it now. Maybe later, but just not now. " replied the bard as she went about the task of preparing the campsite " Why did we stop here? Its only mid-day."
"I thought we could use a break. Im tired, Argo is tired and you and your horse both look like Tartarus. Like I said earlier, we can camp here tonight and reach Moms by early afternoon. There is a stream just beyond the trees over there and this area is easily defendable." Xena replied casually, as she stretched her long, muscular legs.
"My warrior ACTUALLY suggesting we take a break. Now, thats a change from miss hurry up and go get em. Next thing is that youll be suggesting that we find someplace to settle down with for the winter" replied Gabrielle, traces of a smile crossing her face.
Xena paused a moment as the words My warrior sunk in. Something really bad must have happened during that last visit
"Actually, I was going to suggest that very thing. It wont be very long before the heavy snows start. I know mother would love to have us nearby, especially for Solstice. I am guessing that it will be maybe a month or so before the snows start. "
"Amphipolis? Are you sure you want to stay in one place for so long? I know you and keeping you grounded for that long would drive you crazy. Are you sure you could stay there, even though some still dont welcome you there. You know, I will be happy to go wherever you think is best. " Gabrielle replied not like I can ever go back to Potedeia. The pain of that particular thought forcing its way to cross the bards features.
Xena studied the pained expression on her soulmates face. Hopping up from the log she had been sitting on and trusting her read of her bards expression, Xena decided to go and catch tonights dinner.
"Ill be back shortly with dinner. Any special requests? Can you get everything ready? "
"No problem, I should have the fire going fine by the time you get back. Dont forget the waterskins." Gabrielle called out to Xenas retreating form.
Gabrielle quickly and efficiently laid out their gear, getting a fire started, using some of the water from the remaining waterskin to start boiling water for tea. After laying out their bedrolls side by side, Gabrielle looked around the camp and was satisified with the results. Placing her staff within easy reach, Gabrielle paused a moment and turned her gaze upon Argo , her sometimes nemesis.
Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle saw to the needs of her horse and then approached the golden warhorse. Pulling another crunchy apple out of her sack, she held it up to Argos mouth and much to Gabrielles delight, Argo gently plucked the treat out of her hand, proceeding to munch it happily.
"Whew, that wasnt so bad now, was it girl? " Gabrielle said, proceeding to carefully remove the mares saddle and blanket. After placing bridle on top of the saddle, Gabrielle proceeded to first rub down, the brush Argo the way she had observed Xena doing so many times. Slow, deliberate strokes, beginning just behind the mares ears, finally ending with her haunches and mane. "I can see why she talks to you so much, Argo. You are easy to talk to."
Argo, not quite sure of this sudden show of affection from the bard, turned her golden head and nuzzled Gabrielle, as if giving her approval of the treatment and attempt to come to a better understanding between the two of them. .
"She wants us to find a place to stay this winter, Argo. I know that its a good idea and we all could use the down time especially since winter is only a month or so away according to Xena. Going to Amphipolis is a good idea or maybe even Arborea, I guess. Gods know I could sure use some time with my sisters. It might make it easier for Chilapa to settle in if were there. Its not like I have a home in Potedeia anymore. " Gabrielle said as buried her face in Argos mane.
A wave of sadness flooded through Gabrielle as she fought to suppress the painful memories of her final visit home, memories which were fighting to surface again. Throwing an arm around the mares neck, the tears began flowing freely as the bard could no longer hold back the pain of that final visit in Potedeia.
Xena watched in silence at the edge of the tree line as Gabrielle sobbed quietly into Argos mane. She had heard some of Gabrielles confession to Argo and hoped that she would tell the warhorse more, so Xena could understand the mood that Gabrielle was in. The bard had stopped talking to Argo, instead she clung to the mare, seeking comfort and strength from Argo. Quickly realizing the reason for Gabrielles state of mind, the warriors mood changed from one of comfort and love for Gabrielle to one of anger and utter hatred for one particular man, the man at the center of Gabrielles heartache. Taking a deep breath, Xena willed that dark fury into the background as Gabrielle talked between muffled sobs
"How could he do it? How could he? I came back to try and patch things up between us, at the very least try and explain what happened to us in Rome. But no, the first thing that happens is that " Gabrielle closed her eyes as the memories of the recent events flooded through her brain .
Gabrielle paused at the bend of the road leading into Potedeia and looked around, taking in the sights and sounds of her home, the village of her birth. The spot she was standing on was a special place for her. The place where her life changed forever. Where she had first met the feared Warrior Princess, Ares Chosen One, the Destroyer of Nations . Xena.
Until the day the Fates made their paths cross, Gabrielle was beginning to believe that she would never be able to realize her dream of becoming a bard. Until that fateful moment, she was betrothed to Perdicus by her father and expected to give up her dreams and become a dutiful wife and mother. But after Perdicus left to become a soldier and experience what the world had to offer, that part of her life had been put on hold.
Nonetheless, Gabrielles parents had decided to try and find their daughter a husband they deemed suitable for her. Tried until the slavers came and attempted to sell them and other captives into slavery. Until a woman, dressed in only a simple white shift, eliminated the threat with a dance of well rehearsed death. And in that moment, Gabrielle knew that this was where her destiny lay. To follow and chronicle the life of this woman.
And Gabrielle, sticking to her hastily formed plan did just that. She snuck out of her parents home with her few possessions packed in a small leather bag and left. Left to embark on a journey which would give her the greatest adventures she thought possible. A journey which took her through great joy, distant lands and utter heartbreak. A journey which she wouldnt trade for anything in the world and a relationship with someone that was only previously written about. Not a day passed that Gabrielle didnt take time to write in her diary or record the details of their most recent adventure in a scroll.
Shaking herself out of her brief reverie, Gabrielle took a firm grip on her staff and made sure her sais were secure in their boot holders. Pulling the edges of her leather cloak a little closer, she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and headed into her hometown.
As she entered the outskirts of town, Gabrielle could feel the eyes of the neighbors and friends fall upon her. Nearing the town itself, she also became aware of the whispers coming from her fellow townsmen and distant family. Some of the comments consisted of surprise at seeing her, others were of her attire and a few of downright outrage.
"Shes alive! Gabrielle is alive!"
"But how? That murdering bitch got Gabby killed."
"Rumor has it, that bitch is alive as well."
"What does she think shes gonna get here ? A heros welcome, after abandoning her family. "
"Certainly not. Going off and scaring her family like that certainly aint worth that."
"Look at what shes wearing. Herodotus wont have her wearing that around here. "
"She should be ashamed. Some nerve coming back here wearing that. Shes no better than that bitch who stole her from here."
Not looking towards the villagers making those comments, Gabrielles posture straightened even more and assumed an air of self confidence and grace, the attitude and grace befitting the Amazon Queen.
The villagers noticed a distinct change in the young woman as she walked by them, not sparing them a cursory glance. An air of confidence and grace flowed off the bard. The straight posture, purposeful stride and seeming ease at the way she walked down the main road of the village, heading for the inn.
Gabrielle could feel the stares from her distant relatives and fellow townsmen as she made her way towards the stables, intending to settle her horse in before heading to the inn. Staying at her parents place was out of the question, knowing the treatment she would most likely receive there. The treatment she was getting from the villagers was about what she had expected, but it still didnt make her feel any better. What more do we have to do. We died defending Greece from the Roman invasion.
If Xena had been here with her, the comments were more than likely to have been much worse and with the mood Xena was in, also likely to have been a bit violent. Not that Gabrielle didnt want to go and smack some sense in her fellow villagers herself, it was just that Xena wouldnt allow one bad word to be spoken about Gabrielle in her presence. Since their mysterious rebirth, Xenas protective streak had gone into overdrive and on some level, Gabrielles feelings towards her had changed too. The road back from Rome had not been an easy one for them, with Joxer tagging along for part of the trip and Amarice had accompanied them to meet with the northern amazon tribes. Another comment from her kinsman brought Gabrielle back to the present.
"Looks like one of those damn harlot Amazons"
"If she hadnt gone off after that murdering whore, Perdicus would still be alive and Hecuba would have a few grandchildren by now. "
"Its bad enough that theres a few of those harlots here now. But to have little Gabby dressed like one of em is even worse."
" Its all that Xenas fault. She probably made Gabby start dressin like them too."
Gabrielles head perked up a bit upon hearing that several of her sisters were here in town. It might make her visit here a bit easier, especially when it came to dealing with her father. And, if things became hostile, she knew that they would defend her with their lives if necessary. After settling her horse in at the stables, making sure that there was plenty of fresh hay, oats and water, Gabrielle left the stables, intent on seeing several of her sisters at the inn. She was so occupied with that thought, she didnt notice when she walked headlong into a young woman, knocking her to the ground.
Gabrielle reached down to help the young woman to her feet and noticed that it was her sister she had run into, Lilla.
As she was helped to her feet, Lilla noticed that it was none other than her sister Gabrielle who had run into her.
"Gabrielle, its you. Youre alive. " exclaimed Lilla as she threw herself into her sisters arms "We all heard that the Romans had killed you"
"Yes, Im fine. Its a very long story. " replied Gabrielle as she returned her sisters embrace. " Im going to check into the inn, get settled and then wait for Herodotus to come and bother me."
Lillas face fell as Gabrielle continued
"I wont tolerate him bothering me or berating Xena . Weve been through Tartarus together and I just wont stand for it. I lost two very dear friends and I am in no mood to be treated like sheep dung."
"Oh, Gabby. Why do you say things like that? Cant you at least change into something less daring? Father only wants what is best for us. "
"No, Lilla. I will NOT have that man harming me any longer. You may wish to overlook everything hes done to us, but I cannot. I am a grown woman and the Amazon Queen, for Gaias sake. I will wear what I want and be told how to dress by anyone. I will be treated with respect by him. I deserve that much."
The strength and conviction with which she spoke those words surprised Lilla. She hadnt seen her sister in almost a year and the scrolls that Gabrielle had sent were few and far between. Lilla paused for a moment as she studied her sister. Gabrielle had most definitely changed, Lilla decided. Gabrielle possessed an air of confidence, elegance and grace. A woman who was in complete control of herself and her life. Not a naieve farm girl, but a force to be reckoned with. Lilla was more than a little jealous of Gabrielle and honestly believed that their father only wanted the best for them, and traveling with Xena was definitely not the best for Gabrielle.
"Lilla, if you will excuse me, I need to get a room at the inn and get myself settled. Ill try to come by after the dinner meal. " Gabrielle stated, turning away from her sister.
"All-right. Try to wear something less revealing. Father wont be pleased."
Gabrielle smiled at her sister and thought silently
How about my ceremonial leathers. Its certainly different.
Continuing on towards the inn and her Amazon sisters, Gabrielle was unaware of the glare of a particular set of eyes. Eyes of a man that watched her walk by that were full of nothing but hatred and revenge.
Herodotus watched from a discreet distance as he saw his wifes eldest daughter walk down the main road of Potedeia, headed for the inn. He seethed with rage when he saw what the bard was wearing and made a vow to make her visit here short and as painful as he could possibly manage. He had formulated a plan to hurt her, once the rumors of her and Xenas return from the dead, and make her stay so he could keep her under his influence and beat the loyalty she had for Xena out of her.
" She dared come back here wearing that whores outfit. After all shes put me through, she has the nerve to do this!!!!" raged Herodotus, slamming his fist into the wall. " I will make her regret ever coming back here. Maybe, while Im at it, Ill hurt those damned whore friends of hers. If this doesnt work, then I will find someone to make that Xena pay as well. I will even the score with all of them. "
The thought of hurting everyone close to the bard brought a twisted smile to the cruel face of Gabrielles father as he left his observation post to meet with the rest of his friends and bring about the downfall of the bard and with any luck the warrior princess as well. Herodotus knew that his other daughter and wife wouldnt dare to interfere or they would get more of the same. He had them firmly under his control and it was only a matter of time before he had Gabrielle back as well. Walking over to the blacksmiths shop, he met with his other friends and continued filling them in on his plans
"Herodotus, are you sure this is gonna work. Im more than happy to bring that wayward Gabrielle in line, but if that Xena finds out, shes more than likely to kill us all. "
"Nidus, relax. Gabrielle wont let her. I have the law on my side, and being my child, I can dictate whom she is betrothed to. "
"But Herodotus, I thought that Gabrielle was of legal age"
"So what. She be my child and will do what I deem is good for her. To Tartarus with that damn Xena. Gabrielle has shamed our village and now that shes come home, she will do whats proper. "
The others looked at him, finally seeing the depth of hatred he had for Xena and Gabrielle, the child he had raised since her birth. Herodotus was a big man and was accustomed to getting his own way in everything, and the fact that his eldest child had defied him on more than one occasion only furthered his dark moods. Nidus went along with the plan because he needed another wife to keep his home clean, meals cooked and clothes clean and repaired. When Herodotus first came to him with the idea, just after the rumors of Gabrielles rebirth, he had been a bit reluctant, but eventually agreed when a traveling merchant mentioned actually running into them on the road.
"Look everyone. Even if things dont go right here, I managed to save a few dinars, enough to hire some people to bring her back here. I dont care if they have to go to that bitchs home and drag her out of there. She WILL do what I say, wear what I deem is appropriate and anything else I can think of. The law is on MY side, not Xenas. "
A round of grumbling from the other men as Herodotus excitedly lay out the last of the plans for Gabrielle
As soon as Gabrielle walked through the door of Potedeias only tavern/inn, she felt the eyes of every one in there immediately turn upon her. Her new outfit was sure to draw attention and anger from certain citizens, but the bard didnt care. The feelings, for the most part were not too friendly, except for four pairs of eyes, who watched her every step , from their table in the farthest corner of the inn. As soon as Gabrielle stopped at the bar, the four women sitting at that table, immediately stood up and rushed over to her position.
All four women were dressed similarly, leather halter tops with matching wrap around skirts, adorned with feathers and scabbards across the backs of their shoulders. Upon reaching her side, the amazons immediately dropped to one knee, bowing their heads in respect to Gabrielle, with the dark, curly-haired one apparently in the lead.
"My Queen. It is so good to see you. After what happened ."
Gabrielles face brightened as the uneasy mood she had been in since walking through the town gates began to lift. Gesturing with one hand, the bard spoke to the kneeling women.
"Rise my sisters and join me. It is good to see you all again. As for what happened, that is a long story. "
"Of course, my Queen. Please join us at our table over here."
The warriors escorted their Queen over to the table at the farthest corner of the inn, seating her with her back to the wall and between two Amazons with the other two seated in front, facing her.
Gabrielle took a moment to study the Amazons seated with her and recognition dawned on her face as she suddenly recognized the woman who had addressed her. The woman who had addressed her and was leading the group was the woman who had first taught her how to use her staff. Grasping the arm of the Amazon, the bard pulled her into a fierce embrace.
"Eponin! It is so good to see you again. Where have you been?"
"Ive been out in the world, exploring and discovering new places and spending time with some of the distant tribes. When word reached us of Caesar and Pompeys movements and " Eponins voice fell to a whisper " Ephiny and Solari I decided to return to my home village. Then I heard what happened to the two of you after all you both had done for us. We werent too far from here and thought it would be best to pay our respects before returning to Arborea. We were just about to go over there and you walked in and well "
"I am very glad youre here. I came home to try one last time to patch things up, but I know it wont be easy. I know my father all too well and Ive had this feeling since I walked in town, that something was up. I didnt expect a heros welcome, but I didnt expect the feelings to be so openly hostile. Since Herodotus hates Xena so much and me to an extent, I am fearful for my mother and sisters safety while I am here. "
Eponins eyes widened slightly at this news from her beloved Queen and she glanced around the table at her sisters with a silent command. A blink from each pair of eyes told her that the silent order had been received, confirmed and would be carried out. No one would harm the Queens mother or sister. The amazons would carry this out no matter who was responsible. None of these women would hesitate a moment to lay down their life for their Queen and would protect her from any harm from any source, even if that source was a member of the Queens own family.
Denine, one of Eponins prized elite guard signaled for a bowl of venison stew and a tankard of cider to be brought over to their table for the Queen. After making sure that her appetite was sated, the amazons continued their conversations, with their Queen graciously included. Conversation consisted of gossip, the travels and adventures that they had encountered and getting reacquainted.
About two candlemarks had passed before a group of local burst into the tavern, making their way deliberately over to where the five Amazons sat quietly talking and eating their meal. As the group of drunken locals approached, Eponin felt the tension rise quickly in the room and all her senses were on edge. Instinctively knowing that there was probably going to be trouble and that situation could put the Queen in danger, she issued a silent command to the three other Amazons sitting with her.
"Well, lookee here. Seems like we got ourselves a few of them Amazons. Mebbe we ought to show em a good time."
"Gods be damned, lookee whos with em. If it aint little Gabby all growed up and out "
"Yeah .Pretty good looking and feisty. Got some muscle there, ought to be good for child bearing now."
"Nows that you be back here, me and Herodotus can bes settling our agreement " his words trailed off as the meaning sunk into the women around the table.
Gabrielle looked at the man in shock as his words registered in her brain, while the men laughed lecherously. She knew of this man, he was one of Herodotus slightly younger friends and liked the drink as much as her father did. He had already buried two wives, both of whom had died young and broken in spirit. This is what her father had planned for her. Planned for her to get married again, bear children and support him in drink until he died or her spirit died. That wont happen Gabrielle silently thanked her goddess, Artemis for sending her sisters to Potedeia, it would make dealing with this a great deal easier.
"I cant believe he did this. I cant believe this "
Her train of thought was broken as Nidus smelly, filth encrusted arm reached down for her, a lecherous grin on his face. His hand never reached her as the sounds of swords being drawn, echoed through the inn, and were pointed directly at him. Eponin was instantly standing right beside her Queen and the three other Amazons took up a defensive posture around their Queen. The Amazon weaponsmaster spoke, her voice filled with barely controlled fury, and cutting eerily through the silence of the now quiet tavern inn.
"No one lays a hand on our Queen. Any attempt to do so will be interpreted as a hostile action and dealt with accordingly. "
"You sluts! Its bad enough that you live with women, doing gods only know what. But this one has shamed our village and now that shes home, she will be married to me and bear me children."
"HOW DARE YOU , YOU WHORE. How dare you defy me again !!!!" Herodotus voice bellowed with rage as he stormed angrily into the tavern, dragging Hecuba and Lilla with him. The two women exchanged looks as they saw the scene before them. Four heavily armed women surrounding Gabrielle, obviously protecting her from the drunken, lecherous intentions of Herodotus friends. "I made this arrangement and it will be done. You will wear what you are told to wear and bear him as many children as your body will grow. You will not be leaving here again! You have shamed this family and your home village with your whoring ways and travels. I wont have you out traveling again, not with these whores and especially not with that bitch, Xena !"
Eponin took a step forward, placing herself directly between Gabrielle and Herodotus, fully prepared to take his life in Gabrielles defense. His words caused the anger that she was trying to keep in check to break through the restraints and rise to the surface. Squaring her shoulders, the weaponsmaster chose her words carefully, not wishing to cause her beloved Queen any more pain than she was already in.
"You have no authority over Queen Gabrielle, old man. She is our Queen, a grown woman and subject to our law, and the chosen one of the goddess Artemis. Any attempt to harm her, force her to do something against her will, shall not only bring our judgement, the judgement of the authorities, but also the judgement of Artemis as well."
Herodotus seethed in anger as Eponin spoke, his eyes shooting daggers of hatred towards the young Queen. He attempted to take a step closer to Gabrielle, but immediately backed down as two razor sharp swords were pointed directly at him, the tip of Eponins blade a mere inch from his chest, directly in front of his heart. When she spoke again, her voice was cold and hard and there was absolutely no room for negotiation.
"Any further movement will result in formal charges being filed against you here, in Athens and Arborea. You will be forcibly removed to the nearest jail to await extradition or the closet traveling arbiter."
"You slut." Herodotus spat " You have no priviledges here or in Athens. You keep your slut goddess out of this. None of this concerns your kind."
The amazons and Gabrielle expected Artemis to appear in the tavern and strike him down for this heinous insult, but nothing happened. Hecuba and Lilla exchanged glances as well, but kept silent, not wanting to incur Herodotus wrath in public.
Eponin opened her mouth to speak, but closed it as Gabrielle stepped out from behind her, facing the man who had raised her, every bit a royal monarch. The sweetness was gone from her face, replaced by a strength Eponin hadnt seen before. Her voice was filled with quiet, controlled fury, something she had learned from the best teacher, Xena. Sparing a glance at her mother and sister, a shade of sadness was etched across her features.
"You no longer have any authority over my life. That ended when Perdicus died. I became an Amazon when I accepted the rite of caste from the dying Princess, Terreis. I became Queen upon Melosas death and have been Queen ever since. Nidus is a brutal, lecherous man who beat and worked his first two wives to death. And as for priviledges, I have more than you do. Athens is the protected city of the goddess Athena, sister to Artemis. Being Queen of the Amazon Nation makes me one of Artemis Chosen and that allows me an audience with her at my request. "
" You are nothing but a little whore who followed a murdering bitch. I am sorry I ever raised you. "
Gabrielles eyes hardened even futher and an air which Eponin had only seen come from the Warrior Princess herself, exuded from the bard/Queen.
"Be it known, Herodotus of Potedeia. If any harm ever comes to any of my sisters, I WILL have you arrested and tried for charges of attempted murder of members of the Amazon Nation. A copy of the charges, along with your description and all pertinent information will be sent to every town and village in Greece, both Amazon and non Amazon. "
"You wouldnt dare, bitch ." Herodotus eyes glanced in the direction of Hecuba and Lilla, still standing silently at the bar.
Gabrielle understood the implied threat directed towards her mother and sister. Looking him directly in the eye, the bard spoke, her voice indistinguishable from Xenas
"If any harm comes to them, in any way. I will have you tried and convicted of not only assault and battery here, but brought in chains to Arborea and tried there for attempted murder of the Queen mother and Princess. I think you should know, the penalty for that is death."
Herodotus looked at Gabrielle for a moment, then said
"And have Xena do it, I dont believe so ."
He didnt get the chance to finish as Gabrielle leaned in close and replied,
"No, I wouldnt allow that." Pausing for effect, Gabrielle finished, " I would do it myself."
Hecuba and Lilla looked at each other in complete amazement at Gabrielles last comment. They both knew that Gabrielle had changed, but didnt realize just how much until this moment. Her attire, and total lack of fear from Herodotus attempts at intimidation had absolutely no effect. With a nod, Eponin dispatched Denine to collect their gear and stood silently with the two remaining warriors beside Gabrielle.
"Now, leave me. Any further attempt to bother us, will not go well for you."
Herodotus spun around angrily, pushing aside his friends , grabbing his wife and daughter and pushing them through the door ahead of him. Tossing a glance back over his shoulder, he called out in contemptable rage.
"Dont ever show up here again. You are not my daughter, you have no family here."
With that last bit, Herodotus walked out the door and out of Gabrielles life.
Visibly shaken, Gabrielle allowed Eponin to guide her back to a chair and sit her down. She drank the tankard of ale down without question, its contents warming her insides a bit. After Herodotus had left, his friends followed quickly not sparing the group of warrior women a passing glance. The atmosphere inside the tavern was tension filled, but slowly leaving. A moment later, Denine returned with all of the Amazons gear and quickly distributed it to her sisters.
"Will you be all-right?" Eponin asked, gently laying a hand on her Queens shoulder.
"I guess so. I wont be staying here tonight after all." Gabrielle replied, only slightly numbed from the effects of the ale.
"We will escort you anywhere you wish to go" replied the weaponsmaster.
Gabrielle nodded gratefully and rose from her seat, headed towards the door, with Eponin and the other Amazons following closely behind, ever watchful for more trouble. Gabrielle didnt stop walking until she reached the stables, quickly saddling and bridling her horse, as Eponin and the others did the same. The bard walked the chestnut out of the stables and swung up into the saddle, motioning the horse forward, not stopping until they reached the gates of Potedeia. Pulling up the large chestnut, Gabrielle stopped a few feet from where Lilla was still standing, tears streaming down her face and holding a medium sized leather bag.
Mentally exhausted from her confrontation, Gabrielle was in no mood for another one with her sister, but at the anguished look on her face, she dismounted and walked over to her
"What is it Lilla? What do you want?"
" Gabby, please. I came to give you this. Its got all your stuff in it. Father went off to drink with his friends and rather than see this stuff destroyed, Mother gave me this bag to put your things that you left at home in. He wont let us speak your name in the house anymore and we can no longer see you again." Lilla said, between sobs.
"Lilla, stop it. I came back to try and make up. Perhaps come to some sort of understanding. He started all of this, not me. I meant every word I said to him. I will have him arrested if anything happens to you both. I will not hesitate to act. "
Lilla looked as if she had just been run over by a merchant cart.
"Gabby, pleeaassee . Hes just upset that you rejected Nidus. He only wants the best for you."
"What a load of centaur dung! He had this planned for a long time. He doesnt want whats best for me, he only wants someone to provide drink for him. Hes been trying to break my spirit since I was a little girl. Lilla, it WONT happen. I wont let it. He will never hurt me again. "
Eponin, Denine and the two other Amazons looked at their Queen incredulously, the anger very evident on their faces. A quick glance from Gabrielle silenced their thoughts of exacting justice for the abuse she had suffered, and the bard continued.
"It happened a long time ago, Eponin. He cannot and will not harm me again. Lilla, tell mother that I love her dearly and am so sorry that we couldnt talk at all. I will have people watching you both and if there is any, I mean ANY indication that hes hurt either of you in any way, I will have you both taken out of here and charged will be filed. "
"But Gabby, its our father. What about the farm, the house, where would we stay?"
"Lets hope it doesnt come to that, Lilla. He stopped being my father when he pulled this latest stunt. Its getting dark and we need to leave and you should get back before you are missed. I will find a way to keep in touch with you. Tell mother that I love her."
With that, Gabrielle remounted her horse and followed Eponin and the other amazons down the road out of Potedeia, not looking back.
Xena stared idly at the dwindling light of her small campfire, absentmindedly sharpening her sword. The night had taken on a real chill to it, and it seemed that even the activities of the animals had been affected by this sudden change in the weather. She hadnt moved from the small clearing where she and Gabrielle parted from, her instincts telling her to stay close to Potedeia. The few times she had stayed in the bards home village the reactions from the villagers had been, for the most part, very cautious and some reactions had been openly hostile. Every time Gabrielle returned to her home village, her father had started some kind of trouble, and thought the warrior This time there would be no exception
Gabrielle tried to get Xena to come with her, but the warrior princess had argued that it probably would be for the best if Gabrielle tried to resolve this on her own without Xena complicating matters. After a couple of candlemarks of arguments, Gabrielle saw the wisdom in Xenas side and had aquiesed. Not that she didnt want to go with her bard, Xena believed that things would go easier between Gabrielle and her family she wasnt present. After the second chance at life, Xena vowed to make sure nothing ever happened to Gabrielle. But that vow was tempered with the knowledge that in order to grow and mature even further, she would also have to let Gabrielle deal with some things on her own and in her own way. Dealing with her family and their feelings about Gabrielles travels with Xena was one, and the fact that they believed that she should come home, get married again and raise a family to make them grandparents was another.
" I know shes strong enough to do this. I just dont trust her father in this. Im staying right here, its close to Potedeia and I can be there quickly if need be. " was how Xena rationed staying where she was. " Solstice is coming soon, and I want do something special for her. I know, Ill do something shed never expect. "
With that, Xena proceeded over to Argos saddlebags, rummaging around in one of them until she finally found what she was looking for. Replacing the other supplies displaced by her search, Xena walked back over to the fire, tossing on another piece for more light and warmth. Sitting with her back resting against Argos saddle, and wrapping the edges of her cloak a bit tighter around her tall frame, Xena paused for a moment and dipped the quill in ink. Pausing for a moment, Xena drew a deep breath and began to write.
Gabrielle, Eponin and the three other Amazons were about a league away from Potedeia, when Eponin decided that they had traveled far enough and decided to pull up and make camp for the night. Directing her sister amazons to set up camp, Eponin dismounted her horse and walked over to where the Queen still sat motionless on her horse. Taking the reins from Gabrielles hand, she assisted the Queen as she slid down wearily from the saddle.
"My queen, we are about a league away and it is too dark to continue further safely. I thought it best to set up camp here and leave early in the morning. "
"What? Oh, youre right Eponin. And please just call me Gabrielle. Ive never been one for titles."
"Um, yes, .Gabrielle. Are you hungry? We have some fresh bread and cheese and some wine if you would like some." Despite the age difference between the two women, Eponin still had some trouble thinking of Gabrielle as just a regular person like her.
"No thank you. I really dont have much of an appetite right now. I think I will try and sleep a bit now."
Eponin sighed and motioned Denine closer, whispering in her ear
"Set up a perimeter watch. After what happened, I dont trust that man not to try something really stupid. Four candlemarks per shift, and I will guard the Queen personally."
"Yes, Eponin. What will we do next?"
"Gabrielle was going to meet up with Xena about half a league away from here. Well take her to Xena and then head home to Arborea to meet our new regent."
Denine nodded and left the weaponsmaster alone with her thoughts and the Queen. Eponin glanced down to find the Gabrielle fast asleep on her bedroll. Voicing a silent prayer to her goddess Artemis, the weaponsmaster positioned herself around her Queen in a defensive position, ready to protect her at any cost. It was about a candlemark later when Eponin noticed that Gabrielle was tossing and turning in her sleep apparently from a rather violent nightmare. Trying to ease her friends suffering, Eponin pulled Gabrielle close, and gently held her as she talked quietly to her thru the long night.
Gabrielle woke with a start, momentarily unsure of her surroundings, drenched in sweat, in the arms of the amazon weaponsmaster. Eponin, having been jarred awake, leapt to her feet, sword at the ready until Gabrielles hand calmed her.
"Im sorry, Ep. I didnt mean to startle you like that. Bad dreams I guess "
"Its all right, Gabrielle. Would you like a bit of breakfast?"
"Thanks Eponin. I really do appreciate all the help youve been and I know Xena will appreciate it as well. "
The usually gruff weaponsmaster blushed at the compliment from the bard. Pausing to study Gabrielle, Eponin noted that a great deal had changed since she had last seen the bard. The soft lines on her had been replaced by sleek, well toned muscle. She had the best trainer in the world to help her, Xena. Her attitude and demeanor spoke of someone who had traveled far and been witness to great joy and great sorrow. Someone who had not allowed those experiences to ruin her life, but used those experiences to strengthen herself in body, mind and spirit. Eponin, along with many other amazons had believed at first that Gabrielle didnt deserve the rite of caste, but acting upon Melosas orders trained her in the weapon of her choice, the quarterstaff. Now, Eponin thought with much amusement, had changed and become perhaps the strongest person she had ever known. Someone truly deserving the rank of Amazon Queen, a woman who ruled with wisdom and grace, someone who deserved her unwavering loyalty and support. After passing her Queen some fruit and cheese, Eponin took a chance and said,
"You have changed a great deal, Gabrielle. "
The bard managed a slight smile, put her breakfast down and looked directly at Eponin.
"Thanks. You have also changed a bit as well."
"I did have my doubts about you at first, many of us did. I can still picture your first training session with the staff. I think you had more bruises than Ive ever seen on someone."
That comment elicited a giggle from Gabrielle as she recalled that particular memory as well.
"I wasnt sure if you could adjust to being an amazon, let alone the Amazon Princess. "
"I wasnt too sure either. I had some serious doubts for a long time, that is until we came across Ephiny during the Thessilean/Mitoan war. My injuries, the birth of her son and I knew that it was important that the Nation would continue. And when it looked like I was going to pass over, I knew that Ephiny should have my rite of caste. She was supposed to get it from Terreis anyway."
"I am honored to have met you then and see how youve grown and matured. You are a true amazon, in body, mind and spirit. The Nation is blessed to have you as queen whether you believe it or not. And no matter what happens, you will ALWAYS have a home with us."
Gabrielle was momentarily stunned. She knew that she enjoyed certain rights and priviledges according to her rank, but to actually hear it from one of the Amazons she most respected, went a long way towards easing the pain of the loss of her biological family. Grasping Eponins hand, the bard said
"That means more to me than you will ever know. I know that we will always have a home in Arborea, but to hear it, especially from you, makes it all the more special. "
Now it was the weaponsmasters turn to be embarrassed. Gabrielle was the true Queen Eponin thought. Her wisdom, grace and skill put her on a level with the most legendary of the Amazon Queens
"Anytime, Gabrielle. I think that we should be headed out now. I dont trust them and your safety is our responsibility."
Gabrielle nodded and packed her bedroll quickly as Denine packed up the campsite. Nodding to Eponin, Gabrielle mounted her horse and rode off in the direction where she and Xena had parted just two days ago. Motioning her horse forward, Gabrielle took off in a gallop with the Eponin and the others following close behind.
"Im coming home, Xena. I am coming home"
Xena awoke from a fitful slumber, upset with herself for having slept so late. She was normally up with the sunrise, but Morpheus decided to keep her in his grasp for a little while longer. Not feeling hungry, Xena skipped her morning meal and decided to spend the time giving Argo some much needed attention. Picking up Argos brush, Xena began rhythmically brushing Argo, beginning at the mares neck and slowly working her way down to her withers and finally down her back, sides and haunches
Xena was just finishing up when she heard the sound of horses approaching from a distance. Closing her eyes, Xena concentrated a moment on the sound, a grin crossing her face as she recognized the rhythm of the hoofbeats of Gabrielles horse.
"Ill bet she ran into a group of Amazons. There are quite a few of them running around still, keeping a watch on things. Four is a rather small scouting party, however. Even though Caesar is gone, there still might be some trouble."
Just saying Caesars name brought the palpable rage Xena had worked so hard to lock away, bubbling to the surface. The man who had betrayed her so many years ago and the man who ordered their deaths by crucifixtion. The only thing that kept the warrior princess from giving into that dark fury was the sight of Gabrielle as she rode down through the stand of trees and into the clearing where Xena was still camped. Xena moved her gaze from her beloved bard to the four Amazons who had rode to a stop at the edge of the campsite.
A rather huge grin etched itself across Xenas face as she recognized the Amazon who had ridden just behind Gabrielle. Xena took one look at Gabrielles face and was immediately by her side, helping her down from her saddle. After nearly crushing Gabrielle in an embrace, Xena settled her by the campfire on her bedroll. Walking back to where the amazons sat patiently, Xena looked up at Eponin and said
"Eponin? Its good to see you again. What are you doing here?"
Eponin dismounted from her large bay horse and grasped Xenas arm in a warriors handshake. Despite their many differences, Eponin respected Xena greatly and didnt want to be on the wrong end of the warrior princess famed temper. Choosing her words carefully, Eponin replied
"Weve come home. As soon as word reached us of what happened over the past several moons, we left immediately. When we heard what happened to the two of you, we were so close to the Queens home village, we thought it best to pay our respects. We had only been there a short time, when Gabrielle walked into the tavern."
Xena noted the underlying anger in Eponins voice and silently encouraged her to continue.
"We were overjoyed when we saw that our Queen was indeed alive and we escorted her to our table. We spent several candlemarks talking, then it all went downhill."
Xena put up a hand, and Eponin paused. Taking a deep breath, the warrior princess straightened her shoulders and said with resignation and anger.
"Let me guess. Her father I knew she shouldnt have gone in there alone, without me . Gods curse that man. All he ever does is cause her nothing but pain."
Eponin looked directly into the warrior princess eyes, steeling herself for the response to her reply. Choosing her words carefully, she said.
"Yes, he did show up. Some of his friends too. We were there, so she wasnt alone."
Xenas face softened a bit, and so did her tone
"I didnt mean it like that, Ep. Its just that any time she has to deal with that man, its caused her nothing but pain. I am grateful that you all were there for her. "
Eponins tone also changed and her face softened as well
"I know, Xena. I think shell tell you what happened, just give her a bit to deal with it all. After what you two have suffered through and done for Greece, you should be treated a lot better than youve gotten. You both deserve a heros welcome. "
"Eponin, I dont know when or even if I will ever get that. I have a very long road to travel before anyone will ever cheer my arrival in any town or kingdom. The only thing that keeps me on this road is Gabrielle."
"Xena, you and Gabrielle will always be heros for us. And you will always have a home, especially with us. "
With that, Eponin swung herself back up into the saddle and rode off with her sisters, leaving Xena alone with her bard. Taking a moment to steady herself and her nerves, the warrior princess walked back over to Gabrielle and sat down next to her on the bedroll.
Silently acknowledging Xenas presence next to her, Gabrielle laid her head against Xenas shoulder, seeking and receiving comfort from the strength that radiated from the warrior. Instinctively knowing that the bard wasnt ready to talk about the events that had transpired in Potedeia, Xena cradled the bard close in a protective embrace and she softly cried herself to sleep. As the gentle grip of Morpheus realm claimed her, Xena thought,
"I will protect you, my bard. I will protect you."
Morning came bright and early, with a chill to the air and only streaks of sunshine was able to poke through the gray clouds overhead. The surrounding forest was quiet this morning as Xena woke up, yawning once and carefully extricating herself from the bards side. It hadnt been an easy night for either of them, with Gabrielles nightmares often waking the warrior and leaving the bard shaking in her sleep. Stirring the embers of the previous nights fire, Xena put two more pieces of firewood on the low flames watching as they caught fire, bringing some much needed warmth into the campsite.
Moving quietly, Xena put on a small pot to boil water, mixing a few of Gabrielles favorite herbs together to brew her favorite tea. A quick run to the traplines set several days ago, yielded a plump rabbit for their breakfast. Quickly skinning and dressing the rabbit meat, Xena placed the pieces on sticks to slowly roast over the fire. Setting out some bread and cheese, Xena waited for the aroma from the roasting meat to wake the bards appetite, thus waking her in the process.
The aroma of roasting rabbit meat and herbal tea quickly brought the bard to consciousness. Opening one lazy eye, Gabrielle saw Xena sitting on the other side of the campfire, polishing her armor and occasionally turning the roasting meat. Xena looked over to Gabrielle and flashed her a smile. The bard noticed the rather dull morning and the lack of activity coming from the nearby woods. Flashing a smile back at Xena, Gabrielle stretched her arms and legs, rolled over to one side, then sat up, pausing to take a look at the slowly roasting rabbit meat. Satisfied that Xena hadnt burnt their breakfast this morning, the bard yawned lazily, a question on her face.
"Morning, sleepyhead. Your tea is ready and the rabbit is just about done. "
"At least breakfast isnt burnt this time. The last time I let you cook breakfast, it was so burnt, that it didnt look like it had ever been alive. You must be adding to your many skills "
"Well !" Xena commented, in mock indignation " If I waited for you to get up and cook breakfast, we wouldnt be eating until noonmeal. "
Gabrielle shot Xena her best imitation of the look, which only served to elict a chuckle from the usually quiet and reserved (on her best day) warrior princess. Noticing the rare, cheerful mood that Xena seemed to be in , Gabrielle replied
"You certainly are in a good mood. What brought this on? "
"Truthfully, I am rather anxious to see my mom again. Then we can get back to doing what we do best, my partner "
"My partner?" thought Gabrielle "Thats the first time shes actually said that."
"Im anxious to see your mother again, and perhaps treat myself to some of that wonderful nutbread she makes sooo welll."
Trying to get the bard to talk about her visit home, Xena asked causally, as she ate her breakfast.
"How was your visit? I see that you met up with Eponin and her crew. "
Not quite ready to talk about those events, Gabrielle replied
"The visit was what I expected it to be. And as for seeing Eponin again, that was a wonderful surprise. Chilapa will really be able to use her help now. "
Shes not telling me everything. It must have gone worse than I thought for her. thought the warrior princess. Rather than upsetting Gabrielle any futher, Xena changed the subject to something she hoped would pick up the bards spirits.
"Hey, we can extend our stay in Amphipolis if you would like. Or, if you want, we could also visit with the Amazons for a bit. Theyre only a couple days ride from moms inn. "
Gabrielle perked up noticeable at the mention of the Amazons.
That did it. Xena thought, Could do me some good as well. Maybe even get Ep to go a few on the practice fields.
"Okay, its settled. Well first visit with my mother for a bit in Amphipolis, and then well move on to the Amazons for a bit, my Queen."
Gabrielle shot Xena a look of stop that queen bit, right now, miss princess of quiet before she replied
"All right, Xena. But if we dont get moving, well never make Amphipolis in two days ride. "
The warrior princess laughed as she finished gathering up their supplies, tucking them neatly into Argos saddlebags. Tossing a look over her shoulder to Gabrielle, Xena stated
"Lets go. Get up on that horse of yours and lets get moving. By the way, are you ever going to name him? Youve had him for how long and you still havent found a suitable name."
Securing her bedroll, Gabrielle mounted carefully, settling down into the saddle. Pulling her cloak securely around her, in an attempt to ward of the chilly air of the morning, Gabrielle thought for a moment, then replied
"How about Traveller?
At that moment, the bards recently acquired horse took the opportunity to turn its head, and snort at her, sending plumes of vapor into the morning air.
Xena regarded the horse for a moment, then looked at the bard
"Maybe. You might want to think of a different one. I dont think he likes that one very much."
"Ill come up with something on the trip. I think I can find a suitable name for him while we ride."
"Lets go, bard. I dont want to keep mom waiting any longer than necessary. "
Gabrielle and Xena turned their mounts down the small crested plain and onto the road, headed for Amphipolis and the start of the rest of their newly regained lives.
The two days travel time it took to get to Amphipolis passed rather quickly for the bard and warrior princess, with no interruptions from bandits or people begging for help with some kind of problem. While a well traveled road, Xena was silently grateful not to have to deal with the chance of bumping into any members of Gabrielles family. Xena trusted her instincts when it came to Herodotus and what he was capable of, and vowed not to allow him to hurt the bard anymore than he had apparently done. Gabrielles silence about her visit home spoke volumes to the warrior, and what Eponin had left out only further fueled Xenas anger towards that man.
The warrior princess was still simmering with anger until she and Gabrielle rode over the ridge into the valley where Amphipolis was situated. The fertile farmlands were now covered with a thin layer of snow and the activity evident in the village told Xena that she was indeed home. The warrior noted, with pride, the carefully placed sentry posts, manned by the watchful eyes of the guards and the militia training in the practice fields, also noticing the strategically placed barricades and two new wells. Amphipolis had grown a bit since Xenas last visit and looked all the better for it. This town had lost a great deal in the battle with Cortese and it had taken them a long time to rebuild from it in both material goods and citizens.
As they rode through the outskirts of town, Xena heard the calls being passed from the sentries in to the watch stationed inside the town, notifying the town of the new arrivals arriving at a leisurely pace, the tone of the call signified that they posed no threat to the citizens. Several new merchant stalls featuring some unusual goods, which Xena was sure the bard would love to check out, were very busy as they reached the stables.
Swinging down from Argo, Xena motioned for Gabrielle to do the same and follow her to the stablemaster. After handing the stablemaster ten dinars for room and board for both horses, Xena and Gabrielle placed them in adjoining stalls, both of them taking great pains to make sure that they were well fed, watered and brushed down. After arranging Argos saddle on the railing between the stalls, Xena walked out of the brightly lit stable, motioning for Gabrielle to follow.
The warrior princess paused for a moment at the door of her mothers inn, wanting to go inside, but strangely hesitant to open the door, unsure of what type of reception they would receive. Gabrielle sensed Xenas apparent reluctance to enter and placed a reassuring hand on Xenas shoulder. The warrior placed her hand over Gabrielles, drawing strength from her presence. Taking a deep breath, for what seemed the hundredth time since arriving, Xena pushed the door open and ushered Gabrielle inside, following close behind.
The Amphipolis Inn was a well run, popular place amongst travelers, merchants and the occasional soldier or two. The inn was noted for its delicious food, warm rooms and the extreme generosity of its owner, Cyrene . The well lit tavern was fairly busy and not uncommon for this time of year. It was nearing the winter Solstice celebration and merchants and travelers alike were beginning to head into this town for the annual festival. While most of the townspeople were anticipating the festival, one of Amphipolis citizens was only going through the motions, the owner of the Amphipolis Inn.
It had been nearly two moons since word had reached the innkeeper of the horrible fate her daughter and Gabrielle had suffered at the orders of the Roman leader, Caesar. Cyrenes heart ached uncontrollably not only for the loss of her daughter, but for Gabrielle as well. During the infrequent visits from the both of them, Cyrene had become captivated by the bards warmth and love for her daughter. A warmth that had tempered her daughters darkened spirit, the love the bard had for her slowly healing the terrible wounds inflicted on her soul by Cortese, Lyceus death, Caesars betrayal, MLilas death, Ming Tien, and the death of her son, Cyrenes grandson, Solon.
It had been through the bards stories , that Cyrene saw how her daughter had broken away from Ares, and the dark path she had been on. It had started with the intervention of Hercules, and continued with Gabrielle. The innkeeper saw how her daughter had fought impossible odds, prevented wars, exposed corruption, and even helped the Gods on a few occasions just for a chance to make some kind of amends for the ten long years of darkness. Gods knew that, Cyrene herself had disowned her daughter during that time and when she had first returned after Darphus betrayal, she had allowed her fellow citizens to start stoning her daughter. Had allowed them until, a young girl from Potedeia thrust herself between the angry crowd and the warrior and had gotten them to stop. The anger that Cyrene had for Xena was slowly replaced for love and acceptance as word reached them of her daughters exploits for those who needed help.
Cyrene was so engrossed in thought, she didnt notice that the tavern door had opened to admit two more travelers to her busy tavern. She failed to notice the looks of shock on the faces of her customers as the two new guests walked over to where she stood staring into the flickering light of the fire. Coming to a halt behind Cyrene, the two new arrivals smiled at each other, then the tall, raven haired woman tapped the innkeeper on the shoulder gently and said
"What does someone have to do to get a room here?"
The sound of that voice broke thru Cyrenes thoughts bringing her back into the present. A look of utter shock was plainly evident on her face as she slowly turned around to see the face that belonged to voice of her only daughter. The daughter that Cyrene had thought she would never see again.
Hesitantly, Cyrene reached out and placed a hand on her daughters face. As her hand made contact, all thoughts of this being a dream quickly vanished as her daughter pulled her into a deep, fierce embrace.
"Xena? Oh, thank the gods. I thought that you were were "
" I was, mother. Whatever you may have heard about us, did happen. As to how and why we are here now, I still dont know. All I am is grateful that were both here with you right now. "
Cyrene looked from Xena over to where Gabrielle stood quietly and pulled the bard into the embrace, not wanting to let go of either of her daughters.
"I have my family back now. Both of my daughters have come home."
Gabrielle knew that Cyrene had a special place in her heart for her, but actually be thought of as her daughter, made the pain of losing her own family fade quietly into the background. She had been accepted unconditionally into Xenas family, a family that had shown her more love and acceptance of who she was in just the few visits they had made than her own family.
"You dont know how much this means to me .mom."
Cyrene reluctantly broke the embrace and let her daughters over to a table with a view of the entire inn, knowing that Xena would want to be able to keep a watch over the comings and goings of the busy inn. A nod to one of the servers brought two tankards of warmed spiced wine and two huge helpings of her venison stew.
Gabrielle smiled appreciately as the food was set down in front of her. A grumble from her stomach let her know that it had been a long time since their last meal. Xena, upon hearing this mumbled something about a bottomless pit that couldnt be sated, then went back to quietly eating her dinner.
"Hey, princess of quiet. "
"Cool it, you two. Cant have the guests her going off on me now, can we?" came from Cyrene, happy just to be near her daughters again.
The meal continued on for over half a candlemark, occasionally stopping for a comment or look from either Xena or Gabrielle that would elicit laughter from the other two . Finally, Xena pushed her chair away from the table, looking at her mother affectionately.
"Do you have a room to spare?"
"Of course, daughter. The last room on the left at the top of the stairs. "
Xenas eyes lit up at the reply from her mother. It was her favorite room at the inn, large and quite comfortable with an oversized bed, small fireplace and a private bathing tub. Gabrielle will love this. Its perfect the warrior thought. She certainly deserves this.
"Dinar for your thoughts, Xena."
Gabrielles voice broke Xenas brief reverie
"What is so special about this room?"
"Trust me, youll love it. Very comfortable and quiet. Just what we both need for a while " replied the warrior, fixing Gabrielle with a friendly gaze.
Cyrenes eyes lit up a bit at the last statement from her daughter. She had a chance to renew the closeness that had been developing between them again and didnt want to risk saying things she had put off before. After all that both her daughters had endured, they really could use some quiet time together to heal themselves in body, mind and spirit. Taking a quick breath and steeling herself for possible rejection, Cyrene ventured
"Does that mean youll both be staying for awhile here?"
Xena did not miss the hopeful look in her mothers eyes, or the entreaty of her voice with that last question. Knowing that each time she left home might be the last, and after all that had happened, Xena was not going to lose this opportunity to renew the closeness with her mother. Casting a glance over at Gabrielle and getting a confirming nod, the warrior princess looked at her mother, taking her hands in a warm grasp.
"We would love to mom. If you will have us."
"I was hoping that the both of you would stay. You dont know how much this means to me. "
"Us too, mom " replied Gabrielle. "And I think I might be persuaded to tell a story or two. "
Cyrene laughed heartily, clapping her daughter on the arm, while Xenas heart skipped a beat when Gabrielle mentioned telling her stories again. It had been almost six moons since she had last told a story, right before Ephinys death at Brutus hands. She had been working on a story at that time, about Xenas last encounter with the shamaness Alti, when word had reached them about Caesar chasing Pompeii into Greece. They had packed their gear and left that very night, making for the closest port city. By the time they had reached Greece, and were rapidly closing on Amazon territory, Ephiny was dead and Gabrielle had taken up the Queens mask. The capture of Brutus, Pompeiis death, and Gabrielle naming Chilapa as the Amazon Regent had taken their toll on Gabrielle and Xena. And until Gabrielle had mentioned it in response to a comment from Cyrene, she had not told a story to anyone.
"Its late, and I think that Gabrielle is tired. "
"Xena ! I am not tired " the indignant bard exclaimed, unable to stifle a yawn. " If anyone should be tired, its you."
"Im not the one whos eyelids are drooping. Dont forget, you are still getting used the gait of your horse. "
The bard knew from seasons of experience traveling with the warrior princess, that once her mind was made up, there was absolutely no way to change it. Rather than having Xena bodily carry her up to their room, Gabrielle acquiesced gracefully, rising up from her chair, stopping once at the bar to snatch a freshly baked loaf of nutbread and mug of spiced cider.
"Ill be up shortly, Gabrielle. I need to talk with mom for a bit."
Gabrielle nodded and proceeded up the well worn stairs with the nutbread and cider secure in her hands, and saddlebags slung over her shoulder. Xena listened for the close of the door to the room, then satisfied, turned her attention back to her mother.
"What do you want to talk about, out of Gabrielles hearing, little one."
Xena smiled at the endearment. Little one. Gods, she hasnt used that on me in years.
"We stopped outside Potedeia on our way here. She went back to try and make amends with her family and explain what happened to us in Rome."
Cyrene was quick to note the edge of anger that had seeped into her daughters voice, and ventured forward with another question
"It didnt go well? I thought that her parents would have been overjoyed at seeing her again."
"From what Eponin told me, mind you it wasnt much, it didnt go too well at all. I know it was really bad, since she has refused to talk about the visit so far. "
"Eponin? Who is that?"
"Shes a friend mom. The Amazon weaponsmaster in fact. She taught Gabrielle how to use the staff. Apparently, she and three other Amazons were in Potedeia to pay their respects to Gabrielles family when she arrived in town."
" I didnt think that there was a Amazon village near Potedeia"
"There isnt one. Eponins had a small group of girls out traveling the world a bit, you know, expanding their horizons and such. They were headed back to Arborea after word reached them of Solaris and Ephinys deaths and what had happened to us."
" I see. So Gabrielle had some support while she was there?"
"Yes. And I am grateful for them being there. Gabrielles family is well, unique . They expect her to get married again and bear children. And I think that her father expects Gabrielle to support him. Rather than make the situation there any worse, we both agreed that it would be for the best if she went home to do this on her own. Shes a grown woman now, but her family refuses to see that. I had to respect her wishes and do this on her own terms. "
"I know it must have been extremely difficult for you to do that. All you can do now is just be there for her when shes ready. "
" I know, mom. Its not easy though. "
"You both are here now and that is all that matters to me. I do so hope that you will stay for awhile, maybe til spring."
"We might just do that, mom. A time to heal, thats what we need now. "
The next morning found the bard in much better spirits, having spent the night in a soft, warm bed and right beside the only person in the entire world where she felt completely safe and loved. Carefully extricating herself from the warmth and safety of the bed, Gabrielle dressed in her new attire, having picked it out in a market on their way back to Greece. The skirt was russet in color with a leather belt, fastening at the sides. Her new top was made from leather and woven cotton, having been dyed to match the skirt. Completing her ensemble, was the white wool and leather cloak which had done a good job of keeping the cold away on the long ride home. Satisfied that everything was on properly and securely fastened, Gabrielle exited the room quietly and headed downstairs, having been attracted by the wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen area.
Continued in Part 2
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