Chapter 8: The Myth of One Night Stands
"..I care not in this moment sweet,
Though all I have rushed oer
Should come on pinion, strong and fleet,
Proclaiming vengeance sore:.."
The Rusty Sword had taken on an air of festivity. The dark wooden interior clamored with excited chatter. Spirits were liberally consumed and events of the day repeated for posterity. In the background a band was playing. The weather-beaten door opened and a single stream of light invaded the crowed tavern. Then a golden voice could be heard in the distance. "No, I really cant sign that for you. If you have some parchment, I would gladly put my signature on that."
Gabrielle had two more fights after her bout with Jackie. Fights, she won quite easily (it seems as if our fair-headed heroine had learned a thing or two from the dark warrior). This fact, and her natural charisma, had made her a favorite of the crowd. And now Gabrielle, who was partner to the greatest warrior to ever walk Greece, had her own fans. Indeed, she had her own entourage, groupies and Gabbites.
The bard entered the tavern surrounded by her people. They moved as an amoebae (okay, so this is ancient Greece and amoebae werent discovered yet. Cut me slack for artistic reasons). Gabrielle was at the center of the human mass. Where she moved, the group followed and when one person was lost another person was gained. (It was really an amazing sight)
On the outside of the group walked two Amazons and a rather perturbed warrior. Ever since the end of her second fight, Xena had not been able to get close to the bard. (This fact irritated her more than she would like to admit. She had come to yearn for the closeness of walking shoulder to shoulder with the strawberry-blonde). When another groupie hurled herself at Gabrielle in hopes of gaining the bards attentions, the Warrior Princess kicked it into warlord mode. "ALL RIGHT! THATS IT!" Xenas yell stopped all activity in the Rusty Sword cold. Except for the clueless groupie who remained intent on reaching the object of her affection. With a low growl, Xena launched herself into the air, executed a perfect backflip, landed on the heads of the patrons, ran over to the bard and intercepted the groupie who had just launched herself toward Gabrielle. The unfortunate fan ran full force into a heavily armored chest and slumped to the ground in a daze. A swirling print embedded in her forehead.
Xena looked down at the groupie with narrowed blue-eyes. "I said, thats it. Now, back off girlie." She smiled triumphantly when the woozy fan backed away. There was an insistent tap on her shoulder gauntlet. Irritated, the warrior turned to face the fool who would dare touch her. "Are you furkin insane . . . " It was Gabrielle whose sardonic gaze quickly quieted the raving warrior. "What?" Xena innocently asked.
"What was that about?" The bard motioned toward the stumbling groupie.
Xena shrugged. "I thought she was attacking you." Snorts of laughter erupted from somewhere behind Xena. They sounded suspiciously like Amazon snorts. Xena turned to give Ephiny and Solari the look but the two Amazons were suddenly interested in the fine craftsmanship of the ale mugs.
"What do you think Solari. Pre-Mycenaean structure with a hint of post modern deconstructionism?" Ephiny asked as she held up a mug for Solaris perusal.
"Yes, right again Eph. I believe this mug to be originally from Arcadia . . . "
Xena rolled her eyes at the Amazons and turned her attention back toward the bard. "Gabrielle, I honestly thought-" Xena was cut off by the strangest look she had ever seen come from her bard. It was happy, warm . . . loving?
Indeed, the warmth from Gabrielles soul was clearly manifesting itself through her eyes. Xena is jealous. Once again, as it had so many times before, the bards hand left her side to reach for her warrior. This time, however, she would not stop until she touched her loves face.
"Xena!" A voice from the, now active, crowd interrupted the path of Gabrielles hand. Xena turned her head toward the sound and her face went slightly dim with recognition. Out of the crowd a beautiful women emerged. She was tall, almost as tall as Xena, and her body was just as muscled. She had short brown hair and full sensual lips. Gabrielle noticed that her eyes were the lightest color of brown she had ever seen. The woman walked with a sense of confidence. She had experience and she showed it.
Oh no, the bard said to herself. When are the gods gonna cut me a break? Gabrielle had traveled with Xena long enough to know of the warriors sexual appetite. When they had first started traveling together Xena was blatant about her need. At a tavern, she would spot somebody, attractive and strong. Male or female it didnt matter. Then she would disappear and Gabrielle was left alone. Then as their friendship deepened things started to change. The looks more subtle the disappearances less often. And soon Xena never left Gabrielle alone. However, Xena had lovers in her past. The bard instinctively knew that this woman was part of this elite group.
Xena took two steps toward the approaching woman then turned around to face a slightly stunned bard. "Gabrielle find a table. Ill be right back." And then she was gone engulfed by the crowd.
Gabrielle craned her neck trying to find her friend but, as miraculous as it seemed, she couldnt. She started to move in the same direction but a firm grip on her arm stopped her. Ephiny smiled. "Gabrielle, I see a table over there." Dejected, the bard followed the Regent.
"Hello Tess," Xena said cautiously to the woman who stood before her. Her blue eyes discretely took in the woman whose attire was definitely masculine (white silk tunic, brown leather pants, boots and vest) but altogether feminine when it was upon her body.
Brown eyes moved up slightly but not before taking in the length of the warrior she had once known intimately. "Hello Xena." Then there was silence. That long uncomfortable silence that makes you keenly aware that not all memories are pleasant. Xena shifted her stance and the brown-haired woman relented. "Well this certainly brings back fond memories."
"Of how you once dazzled me with conversation." Tess smiled and it was neither malicious nor forgiving.
Xena shrugged off the remark with a smile of her own. In truth, she was glad for the tension breaker. "What brings you to Dundar Tess?"
"I suspect the same thing that brought you. To compete."
Xena was not surprised. "Im not competing and I didnt see you out there today."
Tess stopped the barmaid as she walked by. "Excuse me but could I get a cider and an ale for my friend here." She flashed a smile that charmed the barmaid to her very toes. Blushing, the barmaid nodded and quickly retrieved the drinks. The woman turned her attention back toward Xena. "I didnt need to compete today. I won the thing last year and the champion competes in the final rounds only. You know . . . its a little perk of winning."
"You must be very good."
Tess gave an affirmative nod of her head. "Do you remember what else I was good at?"
Oh you bet Xena remembered what Tess was good at. It had been a little over four years now. The brown-haired woman was younger then but her look was the same. Her rugged beauty marked her as a soldier, not one of Xenas but of some other warlord. Although, Tess had wanted to be Xenas . . . very badly.
It was in a tavern, much like the one they stood in now, late one evening. In a town under the warlord Xenas control, two armies met to discuss . . . business matters. One warlord was but a little fish in a big pond. A guppy really. The other was the predator at the top of this aquatic food chain. There was no mistaking who was calling the shots; her steel blue eyes left little doubt of that.
The guppy warlord was stupid and tried to push the boundaries of Xenas patience. Tess was there, a lieutenant in the other army. In a way that was neither disrespectful nor weak, she convinced her commander to back down. Xena noticed and appreciated the woman for her tactical mind among other things. And for Xena, appreciation usually turned into other more lustful thoughts.
Oh and Tess noticed Xena (like who wouldnt). That was never a question. Tess had zeroed in on Xena the moment the warlord set foot in the tavern. Her body sung at the site of the raven-haired warrior. The warlord was wild and her scent was the pheremone that lured Tess in. The women were primal in their need. The sex was raw and the caresses were hard. In the morning, as Xena put her armor on, Tess rolled over to face the woman who had taken her so completely. "Let me join your army," she said as her body still twitched with passion.
Xena smiled as if she knew that this was coming. As fun as Tess had been, she needed no complications or distractions. Xena had plans that didnt include jealous lovers. With a deliberate smoothness, the warlord stepped toward the woman who lay exposed upon the bed. She bent down and with the back of her hand, she stroked Tess face. Then, with a voice that made you yearn for things that would never be yours, she spoke, "You already have an army." With that she kissed the woman soundly and left the room. Yeah, Xena was cold.
Tess had never seen Xena again after that night. She had continued to travel with that warlord for a couple more years. She gained some measure of success but that life was never for her. Her need for rough adventure had been quelled but still she traveled. Searching and yearning for something she couldnt put her finger on. She never forgot that wild night or the sting she felt the next morning. To her, it was unfair that the warlord had affected her so much when she didnt even dent Xenas armor. So when Tess saw Xena again, standing in that crowded tavern her mind immediately raced back four years ago. Oh no, Tess thought. That would never do.
For Xena, the past was never far behind.
Do I remember what else youre good at? Xena let the memories rush over her body before quickly snapping her attention back to the present. Yes, I do remember, the warrior thought to herself. But I was different then. I was alone then. Xena shrugged. "That was a long time ago."
Tess smiled then looked down into her mug of cider. "Not that long ago." She looked up and her brown eyes challenged Xena to disagree. "I heard you had changed Xena. Traveling about, doing good deeds, righting wrongs, and . . . saving maidens. Tell me Xena, save any maidens lately? Of course, Im sure they didnt stay maidens for long in your company." (You think Tess had a little anger left?)
Xena let out a single biting laugh. She lifted her mug in a salute. "Thanks for the ale but Ive got someone waiting for me." She turned to leave but Tess wasnt finished yet.
"Yeah I know. Shes cute . . . if you go for that wholesome, innocent peasant girl look. I thought you would go for someone with more . . . experience. Honestly, she doesnt look like she could keep someone like you satisfied. However, her tight little body will probably keep you sated for a while. Let her down easy when youre done with her Xena. Some women dont take it so well."
The Warrior Princess smiled (not her friendly I kinda like you smile but her your in deep poop type of smile) and took a long pull off her ale. Then her left hand shot out to grab Tess leather vest. In less than a heartbeat Tess was thrust up against a bronze breastplate and dangerous blue eyes drilled into her stunned brown ones. "Her name is Gabrielle and you watch your mouth. Understand?"
Slowly, Tess brought her hand up and disengaged herself from Xenas grip. She took a step back and composed herself. However, she remained undaunted. "So that is Gabrielle? Well, I guess what they say is true."
"And what do they say?" Xenas tone was gentler but no less dangerous.
"That the great Xena has been whipped . . . so to speak."
The dark warrior almost choked on her ale (of course, she showed no outward signs of this distress). "Whipped?" Although, Xena had resigned herself to having very strong feelings for the bard (remember, shes not yet ready to call it love) being whipped was entirely unacceptable and made her most uncomfortable. That would mean that Xena wasnt in complete control of the situation. "Ridiculous."
"Yeah, oh really. We are just very good friends."
"Whatever you say. Regardless, Im going to have to whip your *friend* tomorrow."
Tess held up her hands in surrender. "In the competition. I saw her today. Shes good but not good enough."
"I wouldnt underestimate her."
"Please Xena," Tess snorted.
"Im better." (Do you get the sense that this conversation wasnt just about staff prowess?)
"I dont think so."
Okay, Tess knew she had Xena right where she wanted her. "All right Xena. If your precious is so good how about a small wager?"
Xena rolled her eyes. She had learned a long time ago that wagers were never small. "I dont think so."
"You see. I told you so."
Okay, you dont do a lot of things when youre in the company of the Warrior Princess. For example, you dont touch her uninvited, you dont wake her up, you dont talk bad about her horse, you dont touch Gabrielle (even if you were invited) and you dont say "I told you so." Xena really hated that.
Xena downed the last of her ale and slammed the mug on a nearby table. Consequently, the unsuspecting patrons of said table nearly passed out but that was to be expected. Xena focused on Tess. "Fine. Ill take your silly wager because I know Gabrielles gonna kick your butt. So . . . what is it."
Tess face lit up with a smile so seductive and cunning that it rivaled Xenas (when she was into that evil seducing type of stuff). Hook, line and sinker Xena. She moved toward the ex-warlord with predatory energy. " I have your word then. You accept the wager?" Xena shook her head yes even though all the warning bells were going off in her head. However, pride would not let her back down now. "The wager is this Xena: If you win, Ill give you fifty dinars. If I win then I . . . get a night with the Warrior Princess."
"W-what do you mean a night?"
"Like that night four years ago."
"Wait a minute I dont-"
"Too late Princess. Youve accepted the wager. Besides, it wasnt so bad last time was it? After all, you said that Gabrielle was just a friend."
Xena shook her head in defeat. Xenas tactical mind was getting rusty because she had just made a major error. "Yeah, just a friend."
Chapter 9: Why Does it Have to Be So Hard?
"..Though haughty Hate should strike me down,
Right, bar approach to me,
And grinding Might, with furious frown,
Swear endless enmity . . . "
Gabrielle sat at the table impatiently tapping her fingers on the rough surface. Xena was out there, somewhere, with *that woman.* The tavern was in full swing and in the background a chorus of women could be heard singing, "Rollinszya, Rollinszya . . . " The tune sounded oddly familiar but the bard had no time to ponder this. Nope, her thoughts were on two leather- clad women who obviously had a past (something that had become quite upsetting for our bard).
"Here you go bard-warrior." Solari, who was extremely proud of her triumphant queen (she loved it when Amazons kicked ass because she secretly harbored fantasies--harmless, healthy fantasies-- of Amazon domination over the known world), set a plate of food in front of Gabrielle. "Sorry it took me so long but the bartender is pretty taken with you." The Amazon gave the bard a nudge and a wink. "Wanted to know what you were like, if your hair color was real, and if you had a boyfriend." Solari snorted at the last remark. "Yeah right," she said as she gave Gabrielle a hearty slap on the back.
Gabrielle, shocked out of her jealous contemplation by Solaris hearty slap, shook her head in confusion. "What?"
Solari tilted her head at the bard. "You didnt hear a word I said did you?"
"Sure I did." Gabrielles tone was indignant.
"Okay, so its set. You have a date with the bartender."
Gabrielles eyes widened with confusion then turned her head toward the bar to see a lanky man with missing teeth wave shyly to her. Her head whipped back around to face Solari. "WHAT!"
The Amazon erupted into fits of gleeful laughter. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hands, she managed to get herself under control. "Take it easy. I was just kidding. Now, I know perfectly well that you werent listening and I know perfectly well where your thoughts were."
Ephiny had just emerged from the crowd and took a seat next to Solari. She had just caught the last part of the conversation and Gabrielles reddening cheeks. "Oh let me guess, were talking about Xena."
"Arrgh," Gabrielle screamed into her hands.
I would scream too. Wouldnt you? Oh my friends, things were not going well for our two fated lovers. Nope. Things had just become . . . well, how to put this gently . . . extremely complicated (in a way that made you feel like you were standing knee deep in a pile of Cyclops dung). Just when you think that these two are going to finally admit their feelings for each other then whammo! Something, like interrupting Amazons and angry ex-lovers, jumps into the picture. Hey, dont get all pissy at me. Im just telling you how it happened. If youre frustrated, just think about how Gabrielle feels.
Yes, poor frustrated Gabrielle. Every time the bard thought she was getting past the iron fortress around Xenas heart, something or someone clipped her from behind. If the bard had been more cynical (which is virtually impossible because hey, this is Gabrielle) she would have thought there was some cosmic conspiracy to keep them apart. Okay, so maybe a certain god would rather them not get together but there wasnt really a conspiracy. Nuh uh, just incredibly bad timing.
Of course, we have the benefit of knowing that they are destined to be together even when the prospects look rather dim right now. For these two, there will be no others. Through their angst beats a love that is timeless and fathomless. Remember love is like magic and for reasons beyond our comprehension, this love was meant to be. Trust me here.
So, what about Tess? Well, she certainly threw a curve into the whole story didnt she? And she certainly put Xena in a grumpy tizzy, as you will soon see . . .
Gabrielle continued to rest her face within her hands while Ephiny and Solari shared understanding looks. These two Amazons were not strangers to the exasperation of love. For Ephiny, the sadness of losing Phantes could still be heard in her voice and she wondered if she would ever love again (there is nothing sadder than a love lost). On the other hand, Solari had yet to find what she was looking for. Although a she had lovers, ( oh my did she have lovers) not one had come close to capturing her heart. So, for this sturdy warrior, the frustration came from not being able to find the one. Yes, both Amazons knew that love was never easy.
"Rollinsya! Rollinsya! Rollinsya downsk da Reeev-ah!" The lyrics brought the two warriors out of their reverie. "Hey," Ephiny said. "Doesnt this band sound familiar?"
Solari turned in her seat and craned her neck toward the stage. A group of several women were engaged in intricate dance steps while one rather hefty woman belted out the heavily accented lyrics. "Yeah, they sound familiar." She turned back toward Ephiny. "They look like Bulgarian milkmaids," she said as she waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
Oh nooo you dont. Stow that kinky milkmaid fantasy right now! Remember last time you *churned butter* with a milkmaid? Im not going to save your libidinous butt again." (And Ephiny still sported the scar from said rescue.)
"Hey, I didnt know she was marri-" Solari was cut off by a disgruntled Warrior Princess falling into the chair next to Gabrielle. Of course, to Gabrielle, a disgruntled Xena was better than no Xena at all (by the gods that girl can smile big).
"Hi Xena," Ephiny greeted the warrior.
"Hmmph," Xena returned the greeting.
The bard narrowed her eyes at Xena. "Whats the matter? Who was that woman?"
"Nothings the matter and that woman was just an old acquaintance. Im thirsty." With agitated movements, Xena looked around for the barmaid. Where the Tartarus is that barmaid. This band sucks. The band continued to sing, " . . . downsk da Reeev-ah . . . "
"Yeah I bet," mumbled Gabrielle. Thirsty for that woman? Okay Gabrielle get a grip.
Xenas supersensitive hearing picked up the sarcastic remark. "Whats that supposed to mean?" She asked the question but blue eyes warned that the subject should be dropped. However, Gabrielle rarely heeded such warnings. She was just about to answer when . . .
Suddenly, Solari snapped her finger. "Hey I got it!"
All three heads shot toward her. When Solari offered no response Ephiny rolled her eyes and asked, "What?"
"The band. The Bulgarian women . . . I think we saw them performing at some wedding. Remember?"
Ephinys brow creased in concentration. "Nope."
Xena whose agitation was increasing exponentially in relation to the grating lyrics of the Bulgarian women and the elusiveness of the barmaid had just about reached the end of her proverbial rope. Suddenly, this had all become too much. The sexual tension she felt in the presence of her bard, this stupid tournament, the bet with Tess, the annoying Amazons, the absent barmaid and that song! The same lyrics over and over again driving the super cool Warrior Princess right to the edge. "Rollinszya, Rollinszya . . . " In a blur of dark leather and crisp bronze, the warrior shot straight up from her chair. Rollinszya this!
The Bulgarian women werent really that bad it was just that Xena was in a very, very bad mood. Consequently, this was very, very bad news for everybody else. Because, in a cunning display of skill, she had been out maneuvered with few options for escape. Oh yeah, the woman who held the infamy of being the Destroyer of Nations had been duped (and not in a small way). Tess had managed to zone in on Xenas weakness, her bard. Thus, what had begun as the innocent defense of her beloved Gabrielle turned into a game of sexual conquest. Now, lets be honest here. Sexual conquest had been Xenas specialty in her darker days and she didnt mind a toss in the bedroll (as long as she was the conquistador). However, things had changed and she knew sex with Tess would be wrong.
But why was it wrong? This was the very question making our stoic warrior so cranky. Why? Well, we know why and the stubborn warrior did too. Slowly, dawning upon the raven-haired ex-warlord was the undeniable fact that, she indeed loved Gabrielle and not like a sister. However, our fearless Xena wasnt so fearless after all; for giving ones heart can be more frightening than facing a herd of raging minotaurs. And I do believe she would rather face that herd than tell Gabrielle how she felt. What if I scared her away? Xena thought to herself. No, Xena wouldnt risk it. However, she knew that doing the nasty with Tess would be wrong. Her love was taken and in a moment of sentiment for this hardened warrior, the sweetest notion engulfed her heart. She would wait for Gabrielle.
So, unknowingly they struggled together. Gabrielle with her own fears and Xena with hers. Silly isnt it? However, Im sure that weve all been there.
Xena stood, her hand poised on her chakram when she felt a firm grip on her arm. The bard looked at her with worried confusion. The warriors eyebrow shot up (you know the one) and Gabrielle released her grip. Xena softened her look instantly. She hadnt intended on scaring Gabrielle. This isnt going well. She turned her fury on the singing women. "HEY!"
Again, everybody froze in place. The wrath of the Warrior Princess was directed at someone and it was definitely safer to not move. "Im talkin to the band." Xena didnt have to yell because everything was deathly quiet. The lead singer, a hefty Bulgarian woman named Helga (yeah the name isnt important but what the heck) pointed at herself, obviously dumbfounded. "Yeah, Im talkin to you St. Pauli Girl. Dont you know any other song? Im getting pretty darn tired of rollinszya, rollinszya," Xena said with her best Bulgarian accent." This made the bard chuckle against her will but she quickly quieted when Xena shot her a warning glare. (Although, secretly Xena felt some of her tension ebb with Gabrielles laughter.)
The Bulgarian woman turned to look sheepishly at the other Bulgarian women who stood behind her. She shrugged and they shrugged in return. She pointed to the band. "A von, a two, a von, two thwree . . . " A pounding bass beat started and the Bulgarian women came to life. Each woman swaying and thrusting their ample hips. The tavern patrons began to move with the suggestive beat. Helga threw herself into the vocals."Shes a vaary kinksky gaerl.."
"Xena..." the bard gently turned the warrior to face her. "What is wrong?"
"Um, Solari . . . lets dance." Ephiny subtly eyed her friend.
"No, I dont think so. Im kind of tired-hey!" Ephiny grabbed the (somewhat clueless at times) Amazon by the arm and drug her out to where the other patrons where bobbing and gyrating to the Bulgarian womens song. "...De kind you dunt tek home to motherskya.."
Xena shook her head. "Nothing is wrong."
"WHAT?" The bard shouted because the music was becoming quite loud. "...shes a sooper freakskya, shes sooper freakskyazsyi!"
Xena bent down so she was very close to Gabrielles ear (a fact the neither of them minded one bit). "I said nothing is wrong." She stood back up to full height believing the conversation was over. She felt an insistent hand on the back of her neck pulling her down. The action brought a slight tingling to the area below her waist (if you know what I mean).
Gabrielle positioned her mouth next to the warriors ear, resisting the urge to delicately trace the folds with her tongue, and spoke firmly. "Dont lie to me Xena. I know when somethings wrong. Please tell me."
Xena, who had long ago realized the futility of arguing with the bard, reluctantly gave in. "Gabrielle I-" The warrior was drowned out by the whole tavern singing, "such da freaksky scene . . . whoo!" It seems like Xenas little pep talk got the Bulgarian women inspired. Xena grabbed the bard and ushered her out into the cool night air, past two Amazons who were treating the patrons to some rather provocative dance moves. "...dat gaerl is prettsky wild nowsk!" (After all, Amazons did dance a lot.)
They stood outside the tavern and the music became a dull thud in the background. The night was clear and warm and a breeze drifted upon their skin. Xena took a deep breath before addressing her bard. "Gabrielle you need to win the tournament."
Gabrielle tilted her head in confusion and placed a hand upon her hip. "Xena, Ill try my best but it is just a tournament."
Xena whipped around and walked a few paces from the bard before a hand stopped her progress. I cant tell her it would put too much pressure on her. The warrior plastered on her best everything is okay smile. "Look Gabrielle, Im just worried about you thats all. Im sure youll do fine. All those people are making me edgy I guess. Thats all."
The worry didnt leave Gabrielles green eyes. "Do you want to go for a walk? Promise I wont talk too much." (That was quite a promise from the bard. But then again, she would have promised Xena anything.)
Xena chuckled then cupped the bards face with her hand. "I love your voice my bard but I think what I need to do is go check on Argo. Now, go get some sleep . . . okay?"
Did she just say my bard? Gabrielle would have jumped into Xenas arms right then and there if she hadnt cultivated the iron self-control needed in such situations; a self-control which was only exceeded by Xenas. So instead, Gabrielle leaned into her warriors touch and nodded her head. "Xena please."
There it was again. The phrase that was the Warrior Princess eternal undoing. A phrase that turned this stolid warrior into a pile of mush. "Okay." Xena bent down to place a light kiss on Gabrielles cheek (of course, she was oblivious to the fact that this small act caused havoc on the bards life functions). "I made a wager Gabrielle. If you lose it kinda puts me in a difficult situation."
"What kind of wager . . . what difficult situation? Its that woman isnt it?" (Here comes that irrational jealousy that plagues us all.)
"Her name is Tess and we were-"
"Lovers." Gabrielle turned from Xena and tried to calm the uprising of her stomach. Why can she love everybody else but me?
"Not exactly . . . it was one night a long time ago. After we were done, I left and never saw her again."
"Oh." That fact didnt make Gabrielle any happier.
The hurt in her bards voice chilled Xena to the core. She didnt stop to wonder why Gabrielle was so hurt or why it hurt for her to hear it. No, the warriors first instinct was to comfort. A tendency that only the bard brought out. "Gabrielle," Xena pulled the bard close. Standing behind Gabrielle, she wrapped strong arms around her shoulders. "She was a mistake. When I was a warlord, I made a lot of them. Im sorry that I used her but she means nothing to me. The only person that I care about . . . " Xena stopped herself. The declaration of her love became trapped in her throat, halted by fear. She wrapped her arms tighter around her bard while silently cursing herself for the weakness.
Gabrielle reveled in the comfort of Xenas embrace. Softly she spoke, so soft that her voice could have been lost in the wind if it werent for Xenas hypersensitive hearing. "I know Xena . . . I feel the same way."
Oh our lovers were so close. Gabrielle with her gentle declaration had exposed herself to her warrior. And Xena with her loving embrace had displayed her own torturous struggle. Both of them afraid and unsure of the next step. Unfortunately, the mistakes of the past hung over them like an oppressive black cloud. Together they balanced between euphoria and pain.
Xena buried her face into the strawberry-blonde hair. Its sweet scent taking her to the place she was sure to never find. "Gabrielle this wager . . . "
"Yeah," Gabrielle turned in the embrace making sure to keep herself enfolded within Xenas arms.
"Tess is competing and if she beats you . . . then she gets . . . me."
The bard pushed off from Xena. "WHAT!" (It looks like they just edged over to the pain part.) The warrior reached out for Gabrielle but her hands were brushed aside. "What do you mean Xena! Tell me now!" (Oh yeah, Gabrielle was pissed. The little green monster was tap dancing on the bards logical mind.)
"Gabrielle, its just for one night. Not forever."
"It could end up as forever."
"Dont be ridiculous."
"I suppose by gets you she means sex?"
Xena looked sheepishly down at the ground. "Yes" Xena thought about denying this but, for some reason, Xena wanted everything out on the table.
"Can you get out of it?"
"I gave my word. I accepted before I knew the conditions and that was stupid but now its too late. When I was a warlord, my word meant nothing. Now, it means everything. I cant back out." She reached for the bard again. "Besides," she spoke in her best smoothing voice, "youll win." (And Xena desperately wanted the bard to win.)
Xenas words bounced off the images racing through Gabrielles mind. Her warriors words of assurance had no effect against the carnal thoughts of Xena and Tess together (and she was conjuring up some real dandies). Gabrielle whirled around in a frustrated circle; without thinking, the bard lashed out. (You see, jealousy and fear was making her heart hurt so very much.) "Why Xena? Just go and get it over with. You havent had it in a while. If you wanted to do her why make the stupid bet? Its not like were lovers or anything. You dont owe me your fidelity. Im not naive Xena. You have needs . . . I have needs." In fact, theres this cute little groupie that keeps following me around. Perhaps I should get to know her. " (Ouch! The bard certainly knew her marks.)
Xena moved fast and grabbed the bard by the arm. "I dont want to do her! I dont want to *do* anybody but you. Do you understand Gabrielle? I dont want anyone but you." (Whoa! Wait a minute. There it was, the declaration that the bard, and the rest of us, had been waiting for. Too bad that it was born out of hurt. But not everything is perfect . . . not like in fairy tales. Gabrielle had pictured this moment over and over in her minds eye and never had it been like this. However, things could always be fixed.)
Gabrielle blinked as she tried to fathom what Xena had just said. However, it was too late. Xena was hurt that much was clear in the cold blue eyes. Gabrielle had pushed too far and what had started out so promising had ended up a big fat mess. Instantly, she wished she could take back her stinging words. Xena let go of the bards arm. "Go find your groupie Gabrielle. Ill see you in the morning."
She turned to leave before Gabrielle managed to breathe again. Why does this have to be so hard? Tears formed in the lovely green eyes. "Xena stop!" It was now or never for our bard. The warrior stopped but did not turn around. "I love you . . . stupid warrior," Gabrielle pushed the words out with shaky determination.
Slowly, Xena turned, her eyes narrowed with hurt and confusion. They stood motionless, a few paces apart. The moonlight bathing their skin and the wind soothing the heated words from their lips. In this village, surrounded by rock, the only two creatures that mattered were the bard and her warrior. The words that had left Gabrielles mouth gently floated across the distance and landed in Xenas heart like cherry blossoms (ah yes, remember the cherry blossom?). The warrior brought her hand up to cover her armored chest; she accepted the fragile gift. There they remained, focused only on each other, and the only sound heard was the combined beating of their hearts. From the depths of their souls that spark ignited again. This fight was over and it was time to give in. Now, this is how it was supposed to be.
Gabrielle trembled where she stood. It seemed like an eternity since she voiced her love. "Xena . . . please say something."
Xena didnt say a word. Instead, she closed the distance like a bolt of lightning and gathered the bard into a crushing embrace. Through eyes shut tight, they desperately searched for the lips that held the promise of forever. The kiss was heated and it drove them to their knees. They fell together, holding on in fear that this was all a dream and the softness of each others mouths was an illusion. But it wasnt an illusion. This was more real than anything they had ever experienced. The magic enveloped them and the spark of love fused them together for eternity. For one another, this had become elemental. As flesh needed water, they needed each other.
Breathless, Gabrielle pushed against the bronze chest of her love. Her lips swollen from the passion she shared with her warrior. She looked into Xenas cloudy blue eyes. "Tell me Im not dreaming."
Xena tenderly touched her loves face. "It is a dream Gabrielle. It is my dream." The warrior who had always been economic in her word usage, nearly caused the bard to swoon with her simple speech. Xena bent down to kiss Gabrielle and lost herself when the bard parted her lips as a gentle invitation. The softness that she encountered caused a moan to erupt from deep within her throat. She had to stop or she would end up taking the bard in this dusty village center. Reluctantly, she broke the kiss and rested her face in the bards neck. Her body shook with barely contained need. "Gabrielle."
The bard stroked the raven-hair and tried to calm her trembling warrior. Although, her body thrummed with the same excitement. "Say it Xena," she gently urged. "Please say it."
"I love you Gabrielle . . . I love you."
The bard gripped her warriors face with both hands and brought her mouth up to meet hers. The kiss was deep and hard as they claimed each others souls. Gabrielle could feel her desire building to a blinding, pulsating need. "Xena," she moaned as the warrior nipped at her neck. "Xena if you dont make love to me right now Ill. . ." she lost her train of thought as a callused hand moved to gently squeeze her breast (oh my).
"Youll what my bard?" Xena moved her thumb over an erect nipple.
Gabrielle yelped then moaned out her response. "Ill never speak to you again."
Xena laughed against the tender skin at the base of Gabrielles neck. "Well I certainly cant have that," she growled. She stood up abruptly and dragged the (oh so eager) bard behind her.
So, our two fated lovers made their way, rather quickly, to the inn. Unbeknownst to them they had a silent observer. Emerging from the shadows stood Tess. Brown eyes darkened and followed the couple as she contemplated what was to come tomorrow. You didnt think that this tale was over did you? On no my friends there is always tomorrow.
Chapter 10: Will You Still Respect Me in the Morning?
"..My love has placed her little hand
With noble faith in mine,
And vowed the wedlocks sacred band
Our nature shall entwine . . . "
So, it seemed like the next logical (at least to me) step, for our heroic duo, was the consummation of their recently admitted love (oh goody). The way back to the inn was a blur for the bard. All she could see, smell or hear was the leather-clad warrior who led her there. They reached the door of their room but before they went in, and with a quick scan of blue eyes for strangers because Xena hated being interrupted, the bard was thrust up against the wall. The bards body went into automatic pilot, her ability to think clearly, leaving her as she felt the leather waist that was grinding (oh so wonderfully) against her.
Always one to return the favor she claimed the warriors mouth with deep thrusts of her tongue. Her hand wrapping itself within the ebony locks while she moaned Xenas name with abandon. Oh yeah, now this pushed Xena to her limit. (Hey, pent up sexual frustration and the Warrior Princess? You do the math.) Gabrielle felt the wood of the wall scraping along her back as her body was thrust up and down in an erotic motion. "Get me in the room Xena . . . now," Gabrielle groaned as one particular maneuver by Xena added new urgency to the bards plea.
Lips still tracing an oh so delectable pattern down the bards neck, Xena reached for the door latch and took a few steps in before she heard someone clearing their throat. Inside stood Solari and Ephiny, whose keen Amazon hearing (yeah right) picked up the sexual commotion outside the room. There they stood beaming proudly at the two heated lovers to be, with their bedrolls neatly tucked underneath their arms. Oh yeah, I forgot about those two, thought the ex-warlord through her love haze. She dropped Gabrielle to her feet and straightened out her battledress as if nothing was out of the ordinary. (Smooth Warrior Princess . . . smooth.)
The Amazons snickered, for it was hard to embarrass these two, and plowed past the eager lovers. "Dont mind us weve made other sleeping arrangements. Carry on," this was said with a wink toward the bard who blushed brightly. They closed the door behind them. Amazons knew when to beat a hasty exit.
Once outside the room Solari turned to her Regent. "Well its about gods-damned time."
Ephiny chuckled. "Youre telling me?"
"So where do we sleep tonight mighty Amazon leader?"
"Well my faithful warrior . . . the stables are always quite delightful."
"For some people," Solari said with a wry grin.
"Hey!" Ephiny landed a swift kick to her friends butt as Solari quickly raced down the stairs and toward the stables.
Early the next morning Gabrielle woke up to an empty room and as she always did every morning, she reached over to feel how long Xena had been absent. The coolness of the sheets told her it had been a while. She rolled over onto her back and became aware of the musky scent of their lovemaking. This, of course, brought a wicked smile to the face of our innocent Gabrielle. Oh how she wished that Xena didnt rise so early. However, she knew the Warrior Princess was a creature of habit and this one would be a hard one to break but gods if she wasnt going to try. (You see the bard had many skills of her own.)
Fighting the urge to stay in bed (in hopes of Xena coming to get her) she quickly dressed and joined her friends downstairs for breakfast. Ephiny greeted her first. "Gabrielle! Well its about time you got your lazy butt outta bed." She couldnt help but notice the glow of the Queen. "You did get some sleep . . . didnt you?"
The bard simply smiled and swiped a sweet roll off the Regents plate. "Wheres Xena?"
"Checking her horse. You know Gabrielle that warrior spends way too much time with that horse. Id be a little worried if I were you," Ephiny finished with a sotto voice. Gabrielle gave Ephiny a playful punch and then swiped another sweet roll. "Hey! Get your own breakfast." Ephiny made an unsuccessful grab for her roll before continuing. "She seemed a bit edgy this morning."
"Shes nervous about the tourna-" The bard stopped in mid-sentence when she spotted the brown-haired woman from last night. Well this is going to be dandy. she thought to herself as Tess made her way toward the table and stopped.
"Good morning Gabrielle." Tess looked and sounded pleasant enough.
The Amazon Queen swallowed her half-chewed sweet roll and fumbled out a response. "Good morning."
Tess smiled then gave the bard a long and appraising look; similar to that you would expect when buying a horse. Oh yes, looks strong, good legs, nice coat . . . I think shell do nicely. Tess smiled broadly which made Gabrielle quite uneasy. "Ill see you at the tournament." She moved away leaving a confused bard in her wake.
Ephiny nudged Gabrielle. "What the Tartarus was that about?"
"A Warrior Princess."
The second day of the tournament drew an even larger crowd. It also appeared that the number of Gabbites grew too. Within the crowd, devotees of the bard wore facsimiles of the trademark bilious top (and not only the women) and merchants were selling authentic Amazon war staffs. Solari had discreetly bought one of the said staffs (she was always a victim to consumerism) and had hoped to smuggle it home without the others knowing about it. However, the Regent, who was always aware of her warriors weaknesses, was one step ahead of the hapless Solari. (Lets just say it wasnt pretty when the two Amazons returned home and the staff was brought out with an autograph, To Solari my greatest Gabbite. Love Gabrielle.)
Anyway, Gabrielle and Ephiny waded through the sea of Gabbites toward the arena. They were almost there when familiar shadows loomed overhead. Eclipsing the sun were Hansuhl and Gretahl. Believe it or not, they looked bigger than usual. Beefy forearms crossed themselves over a full chest and stout Austrian eyes looked down upon the two Amazons. "Ah, zey are here Hansuhl, Zeenas little fwriends."
"Ja, right . . . fwriend." Hansuhl nudged his sister and laughed at their private (or not so private joke).
Gretahl snorted out her nose while contemptuously eyeing Ephiny. "Zis is ze infamous Amazon? Big deal . . . or small deal in vou case." Gretahl laughed and the sheer force of air coming out of her mouth almost knocked the Queen and Regent over.
Okay, so lets return back to the Scroll, "Things to Know before Approaching an Amazon". Gretahl had just made a faux pas of epic proportions: when first meeting an Amazon never, never ever, insult their size. Insult friends? Sure. Insult their horse? Maybe. Insult their size. Never.
"Now listen here you mutation!" Ephiny was particularly sensitive, although she wasnt small, she was the smallest in her family. Therefore, she had received some serious teasing when she was growing up. "I may be smaller than you but I can still run up that mountain you call an ass and kick it into next week!" (Oh yeah, she was sensitive all right and it made logical thought nil.) Ephiny was fierce but Gretahl was just plain huge (not to mention she had an equally large sibling) and pain was sure to be eminent.
"VHAT!?" The siblings said in unison.
Gabrielle grabbed Ephiny and quickly placed a hand over the cursing mouth."Now calm down. My friend here . . . shes on medication." This is what made Gabrielle such an effective queen; she knew when to retreat. Subtly, she moved herself and Ephiny toward the arena and away from the behemoths. "She is not well. In fact, we hardly let her out in public these days . . . "
"Whmmph temmph fphat bummph," Ephiny continued to mumble through her Queens hand. (She is so temperamental.)
"Ja, runt," Gretahl knew she would have her revenge soon enough. "I owe Zeena and I vill be glad to take zat out on vou and after Im done, manners I vill teach ze Amazon."
Oh, that did it. "Why you over grown freak of natmmph," Ephiny lunged but Gabrielles strong hold tightened and kept the regent firmly in place. Gabrielle smiled and pulled the feisty Amazon toward the arena. A bards work is never done.
Xena and Solari stood next to the arena waiting for their two companions. "You know, I dont think those bilious green tops are very flattering," said the Amazon as a Gabbite walked by. She was desperately trying to lighten the mood. You see the Warrior Princess had not uttered a complete sentence since Solari found her. No, all Xena did was grunt (and even those were clipped). "What do you think Xena?"
The ever stoic warrior tightened her fist slightly (this was downright fidgety for Xena) and continued to ignore the Amazon. Instead, she focused on the crowd in hopes of spotting Gabrielle. She was worried, not only about the bet with Tess but also of the change in her relationship with the bard. And oh what a change it was. If one were to look closely, they could see the faint flush in the warriors cheeks and the slight smile that touched the corners of her mouth when she thought about Gabrielle.
Indeed, that morning had been the best in this warriors hard life. She had never awakened more happy or giddy (well, as close to giddy as Xena could get). Xena was hopelessly head over heels in love with the beautiful bard and this scared her beyond belief. Never before had she felt more vulnerable. Even in battle with a dozen swords slashing at her, she felt more confident than she felt right now. This is what drove her from the bed before the bard awakened. This warrior, who was so adept at seduction, was an amateur when it came to love.
Oh yeah, Xena had been in love before, but it wasnt this love. This love could strip away the nightmares, it could bring a tingling of her stomach, an uncontrollable smile, an irresistible urge to touch and hold, and a black rage at the thought of anybody hurting her precious Gabrielle. In this love, Xena could be complete; she would find redemption.
So, for possibly the first time, the Warrior Princess was insecure (yes, even the strongest succumb). For even with all the whispered assurances passed between them the night before, Xena was afraid that Gabrielle would reject her. What if she wakes up and thinks that it was a mistake, was the thought the warrior could not shake. After all, Xena couldnt really blame her. She was dark and brooding while Gabrielle was light and joy. What would Gabrielle want in her? Never mind the fact that it was the bard who declared her love first. (Silly ol warrior.)
"Xena!" The bards voice shot straight to Xenas heart. She turned to see Gabrielle emerging from the crowd arms spread wide, with a smile, that could melt Xenas bronze armor, plastered on her face. The warrior had little time to react before her fair bards arms had engulfed her waist and a blonde head was firmly ensconced against her chest. In a heartbeat, Xenas fears had been dismissed. The ex-warlord smiled (yes, in public and it was such a wonderful smile too) and gently held her lover to her. It was at that moment they both wondered if there could be anything more perfect?
With a squeeze to Xenas waist, the bard pulled slightly back and spoke softly to her warrior. "I missed you this morning."
"I had to check on Argo-" Xena was stopped by two gentle fingers placed upon her lips.
The bard gave Xena that lopsided grin (you know the one we all find so endearing and a bit sexy). "Xena, I know." Nothing more need be said.
Chapter 11: Believe
"...My love has sworn, with sealing kiss,
With me to live--to die;
I have at last my nameless bliss:
As I love--loved am I!"
Gabrielle stood in the middle of the arena. The crowd chanted, "Gab-rielle! Gab-rielle!" Two beefy men were beating an aggressive beat onto drums placed outside the cage. Inside two women stalked each other, trying to find some advantage. It had come down to two fights: Gabrielle vs. Gretahl and the winner would take on Tess. Yes Tess, who stood confidently amongst the crowd silently waiting for her revenge. Brown eyes fixated themselves on the bard as a vulture might hungrily stare at a dead rodent. Just a friend Xena? Yeah right. That blonde doesnt stand a chance. Its for her own good anyway. Shes too innocent for the likes of you. (Anger is such a difficult thing to let go of . . . isnt it?)
On the outside of the cage, Xena watched, pacing back and forth following the action. There wasnt any pretense of being the stoic warrior. Nope, it was obvious to every one present that Xena would just as soon rip their heads off then stand outside the arena. However, she had no choice (and these days ripping off heads was no longer an option) so she paced relentlessly and no one dared get in her way. Ephiny and Solari stood behind the warrior silently praying to their goddess Artemis that nothing happened to the bard, because if it did, they had little chance of stopping a lovesick Warrior Princess.
Gabrielle and Gretahl continued to circle each other, staffs poised and ready to strike. "So vunt, zi pain ah vou veady to veel?" The gigantic woman taunted her smaller opponent.
The bard smiled then replied, "You know Gretahl, a wise friend of me once said something that might help you in this situation."
"And zat is vhat?"
"Fight now and talk later!" Then she struck, using her shorter stature to her advantage, she moved in and under Gretahls arms. It was just close enough for Gabrielle to attack and bind up the larger womans reach. Before Gretahl could take a step back, Gabrielle launched a series of strikes. A good shot to the ribs got Gretahls attention but it was the second, slightly harder, shot to the ribs that got her mad. (Oh dear) In a surprising display of speed the behemoth swung her staff and in an arching swing struck the bards back. Gabrielle thrust forward as her body tried to escape the blow. The resulting crack of wood on flesh reverberated throughout the crowd.
"OH!" The crowd groaned at the vicious hit and Xena lunged forward ready to kick some Austrian ass. Solari and Ephiny, who had been shadowing the warrior, each grabbed a deceptively lean but strong arm. (And believe me it took a lot to hold our Warrior Princess back.) The need to protect her bard was instinctive and gods help those who got in her way. "Let," the ex-warlord swung the two Amazons around, "me . . . " but the two women hung on valiantly, "GO!"
Ephiny gritted her teeth and held on for dear life even as she saw poor Solari being thrown unceremoniously into the crowd (later, she would have a good chuckle over this but right now she had her hands full . . . so to speak). "Xena, this is Gabrielles fight! You-OUCH!" she cried as she was butted up against a bony spectator. "You cant barge in there . . . LET HER FIGHT!"
Suddenly, the Regent was staring into clear blue eyes. With a low and measured tone Xena spoke, "Let me go." And Ephiny did as she was told (it was this quiet voice of Xenas that held the most danger). The Warrior Princess adjusted her arm bracers, nodded slightly to the Amazon then turned her attention back to the fight. Ephiny was right, and as much as every muscle in Xena body wanted to pummel Gretahl, this was up to Gabrielle.
In the ring, the women were exchanging heated strikes. Whack. The sound of Gabrielles staff hitting the Austrians head brought the crowd to its feet. Gretahl spun around from the blow her eyesight momentarily fuzzy (you know that had to hurt). Gabrielle moved in again but her strike was blocked and the hard end of a staff made contact with her abdomen (lucky for Gab she had a rock hard stomach . . . oh yeah.) "Uh uh vunt, better vuo will have to do. I vas vonce kicked in zi head by a horse wis no damage."
The bard stumbled back trying to regain the breath that had been knocked out of her. "Well, Gretahl that explains quite a bit."
"Hey! Vou mean by zat what?" Gretahl came in swiftly and was now unleashing a series of devastating overhead strikes, each one forcing the bard back and down. The Austrian woman was using her size and considerable power to her advantage. Gabrielles staff was poised over her head, muscled arms bracing against the jarring attack; Gabrielle fended off each blow. Using the strongest part of her body, her legs, the bard pushed up after the last bone-numbing strike. Using the increased space, she went for the sweep, hoping to at least knock the gigantic woman off balance. Nope. Gretahls legs remained firmly set. (Not good)
Gretahl smiled then winked at her small opponent. Then Gabrielle felt pain. It centered in her right knee blinding the bard to anything but the pulsing sensation of discomfort. Suddenly, she wasnt standing anymore but lying on the dusty ground. It was probably no more than a second between the Austrians hit to her joint and the results. Gabrielle was down, her face a window to the pain that was immobilizing her, while Gretahl moved in for the kill (well not really kill but the . . . surrendering blow). She advanced on the struggling bard, large hands tightening their grip. "All vight leetle von, vor vou is nighty night."
"GABRIELLE GET UP!" Xenas cry flew out over the arena. She was pressed up against the cage with the Amazons next to her (although at this point they would have just let Xena go . . . even they had their limits to seeing their Queen hurt). The warrior was just about at the end of her legendary control and she knew she wouldnt be able to hold herself back much longer. Please get up, the warrior silently pleaded.
In the crowd, Tess also heard the warriors cry. Brown eyes focused, not on the fight in the arena, but on Xenas face. In an unguarded moment of emotion, Tess was able to see what the warrior had once denied. Xenas heart had been claimed by the little blonde in the ring. It was so clear as Xenas body reacted and the stoicism was lost in the creases of the forehead, raise of the eyebrows and the biting of the lower lip. Then Tess saw the ex-warlord close worried blue eyes in an act that she instinctively knew meant fear and prayer. Xena had told her once that she didnt pray to the gods believing that she controlled her own destiny. It was just a moment but Tess knew it had happened. Love is the only thing that could make things seem so out of control. Tess tried to remain unaffected but inside her heart broke for things that could never be.
Xenas cry pierced through the numbing pain that Gabrielle was feeling. With a quick look to her anxious love, she found her determination. She directed her eyes back toward the advancing giant and struggled to a crouching position. Putting weight on her knee sent screaming sensations throughout her body. The bards adrenaline increased and sent signals to her muscles that tightened in response. Green eyes narrowed as Gretahl brought her staff up for another strike, but Gabrielle tucked and rolled.
Gabrielle scampered to her feet balancing most of her weight on her good leg. Focus bard . . . you can win this. And focus the bard did. She waited and dodged each blow sometimes using her staff as a crutch and or simply rolling out of the way of the Austrians strikes. Gabrielles poise on this day would go down in the annals of history (well maybe not the annals of history but for some time a traveler could hear the story of a feisty Amazon queen and a very large Austrian woman.)
"Arghhh!" Gretahl had become very irritated at the whole situation. In a desperate move, she charged at Gabrielle bringing her staff up to strike down one final time. However, the bard had sensed Gretahls desperation. This time she waited until the last possible moment to move. Green eyes narrowed at the approaching giant willing herself to stay until Gretahls staff came down to strike. As the Austrians staff descended toward the bards head she tucked and rolled once more. The unexpected miss hurled Gretahl off balance. She lurched forward and thrust the tip of her staff down into the dirt to brace herself. There she stood, most of her weight leaning on her staff, but she had prevented a most embarrassing fall to her face. She took a moment to breathe out a sigh of relief (yup, you guessed it major mistake). No sooner had the breath passed over her lips when she felt her body hurling (or rather toppling like a huge tree) to the harsh arena ground. Zis sucks. With a thud, she fell and a cloud of fine dust shrouded her body.
"TIMBER!" The crowd yelled before breaking out into a cacophony of noise.
Gabrielle had knocked out Gretahls staff from under her and now stood over the fallen giant, staff tip pointed menacingly at Gretahls face. "Do you give up?" The bard muttered out through gritted teeth. The pain in her knee was excruciating and she definitely needed a speedy end to this bout.
Gretahl rolled her eyes and ceded to the little blonde terror that stood before her. "Ja, given up."
"Oh thank the gods," Gabrielle sighed in relief then sunk to the ground. All she wanted to do was take the weight off her knee. " The bard jerked when she felt a stout hand on her back. Gretahl crouched down beside the hurting bard. The little blonde had just bested the large Austrian and Gretahl couldnt help but respect that. (You see Gretahl, under that big exterior, was really a nice person with a few insecurities. As a child she had been taunted all her life for being different and being different was never easy.) "I vill help you to Xeena . . . ja?"
Gabrielle smiled then nodded yes. She lifted her arm and allowed the bigger woman to slide in next to her. With a reassuring look from Gretahl, the bard was lifted off the ground. Gingerly, the two women made their way to the edge of the arena. Just before reaching the crowd that had assembled on the edges, they both heard a familiar, but somewhat frantic, voice. "GET THE TARTARUS OUTTA MY WAY!" Xena emerged with blue eyes slightly wild with worry. "Gabrielle!"
The bard couldnt help but giggle at Xenas state. Gone was the stoic warrior of lore only to be replaced by a woman who was so obviously worried about her lover. And for a moment, that thought made Gabrielles pain disappear. (Just for a moment.) As Xena neared, the bards arms reached instinctively toward her. The warrior embraced her love with pride and concern. "Are you okay?"
"Would you believe me if I said yes?"
"I didnt think so."
"Cmon let me have a look at that knee."
"Hold on," Gabrielle said as she turned toward her beaten opponent. "Gretahl . . . " The large Austrian turned toward the pair. "Good fight huh?"
"Ja, vittle one . . . good vas fight." With a smile the gentler giant walked away to find her brother.
"Hmm," Xena mused aloud.
"Oh nothing, just that was a switch for Gretahl."
"I have a calming effect on people." Gabrielle chuckled as Xena rolled her eyes. " Besides she wasnt that bad," the bard said as she winced in pain.
"Yeah, right. Lets get you fixed up." And the bard and warrior made their way to their room with two Amazons in tow, while a pair of sad but resigned brown eyes followed.
"Ow!" growled the bard through clenched teeth.
"Gabrielle, Im not going to be able to help you if you keep squirming," said Xena as she reached for the swollen joint once again.
"Oooo Gabrielle that knee looks pretty bad. I bet it hurts like Hades. Gods it might be brok--hey!" Solari looked over at her Regent who had just elbowed her sharply in the ribs. Ephiny brought her right hand up to her neck and made a slashing motion all the while mouthing the words shut up to the loveably clueless Amazon warrior. Solari shrugged her shoulders innocently and mouthed Im sorry.
"OW!" the bard yelped again as Xena found a particularly sore spot. "Thats it . . . Amazons I order you to attack Xena." (It was meant as a joke but at that moment, Gabrielle wouldnt have stopped her loyal friends.)
"Nuh uh, Ive grown very fond of living," Ephiny retorted trying to keep her Queens mind toward the banter and not on her knee.
Gabrielle smiled and then looked at Xenas face, which had suddenly become very serious. "Xena what is it?"
"Your knee is dislocated. Im going to have to pop it back in."
"That doesnt sound very pleasant."
"Oh great. Okay, go ahead . . . lets just get it over with." Gabrielle sat back and braced herself with her arms. As Xena reached for her knee, she put her hands up in a halting motion. "Wait, before you do that promise me one thing."
"Anything love." Ephiny and Solari snorted at the term of endearment (it just sounded really silly coming from the big bad warrior princess) but they were quickly quieted by the look from Xena. (You know, the look that says, let me introduce you to my concept of tough love.)
"Next time I wax poetic about entering staff tournaments whack me over the head," Gabrielle continued.
"I have a better idea," said Xena as she tenderly gripped the bards knee. "How about if I take you in my arms," she said as she gently rubbed the inflamed joint, "and . . . " she leaned over and whispered something in the bards ear. (It must have been something nice because Gabrielles face took on a positively dreamy look and she got that goofy smile on her face but . . . ) Xena tightened her grip and in a quick motion, applied pressure to both sides popping the bards knee back in place.
"Ooo," Solari and Ephiny said in unison as the resulting pop was heard.
"Arghhh!" Gabrielle screamed and grabbed for the offending joint but Xena quickly gathered the bard into her strong embrace. Gabrielle murmured against Xenas breasts (that she had conveniently snuggled closer to), "Wasnt there some pressure point technique you could have used."
Xena smiled and held her bard closer. "I never learned that one."
Gabrielle pushed herself away from the warrior and looked into the clear blue eyes. Then she punched her in the arm. "Learn it because the other method really hurts."
Ephiny cleared her throat. "Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Gabrielle you need to go out to the arena again. Your next fight starts soon."
"Oh right," said quickly and started to stand up.
"Gabrielle wait!" Xena grabbed at her bard.
"Yow!" The bard screamed and immediately took the weight off her knee. "Xena I thought you fixed this."
"Yes, I popped the knee back in place but its still gonna hurt like Hades for awhile. Im sorry Gabrielle . . . but youre not going to be able to fight."
"What? Xena I have too-"
"No Gabrielle, I wont allow you to-"
"You wont allow me to?" The bard said in a quiet but disbelieving voice. She cocked her head and stared at Xena for a long moment. A moment so long that the two other Amazons started to get a bit uncomfortable. Xena, on the other hand, was used to these standoffs and simply stood with her hands firmly placed on leathered hips. Then Gabrielle shook her head (the kind of shake that really says, I cant believe you just said that), grabbed her staff and limped out the door.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle wait," Xena screamed as she quickly followed her indignant lover. Once outside the room and in the hall of the inn she grabbed Gabrielles arm. "Look, Gabrielle you can barely stand on your knee. Youre not going to be able to fight at your full potential. If you go out there, you risk doing permanent damage. I wont allow you to do that. Cant you understand that?" Please understand that if anything happens to you Ill never forgive myself.
Gabrielle did understand but she also understood the bet Xena had made with Tess. And with that understanding, the bard knew that Xena would never go back on her word. The thought of Xena with anyone else but her was more unbearable than the pain she felt right now. Tears began to well up in her eyes. "Xena I have to fight . . . " Gabrielle looked down at her feet suddenly feeling very vulnerable. In a small voice she asked, "What about Tess?"
As our two lovers stood in the hall, around the corner and out of sight stood Tess. She had been on her way to her room. Surprised by Xenas voice she stopped in mid-stride and began to turn around. After al,l it was rude to eavesdrop. However, when she heard her own name all became fair in love and war.
Xena threw her hands up in exasperation, "What about Tess? This isnt about her its about you. I dont care about Tess." (Around the corner Tess felt her heart bruise.)
"Xena I care okay! If I dont go out there and fight she wins and it may sound petty but the thought of you sleeping with her is like someone ripping out my heart. Oh sure, I hear of some Amazons doing that open relationship thing but I cant. I have to know that you are here for me and me only. I have to have all of you or nothing. Im sorry. If you sleep with her I dont think I can . . . I can forgive you."
"Gabrielle I dont want to sleep with her . . . "
"I know Xena," Gabrielle said in a shaky voice, "I do." Tears began to fall from soft green eyes.
Xena felt her world become very small at that moment. When Gabrielle cried everything else ceased to have meaning. The only thing that was important was wrapping her arms around her bard. "I dont love her, I love you . . . with everything that I am. Good and bad Gabrielle, Ill always love you. Nothing," Xena lifted the bards chin, "will ever change that. If you only believe in one thing . . . believe that."
Gabrielle looked up and smiled at her princess. "When I was a little girl I used to dream about the day someone would say those words to me, but never in my dreams could I have imagined how it would feel when you spoke them." She brought her hand up to stroke the raven hair. "You could say "Hi" right now and I think I would swoon. "
Xena smiled brightly and as she cupped her lovers face with gentle hands she spoke, "Hi."
Gabrielle melted and molded her body close to her warriors. With her head tilted back and mouth slightly open she breathlessly whispered, "Kiss me Xena." And Xena did. In all the bards life, she would never have a more perfect moment in time. Everything that happened after this would never diminish the fact that Gabrielle knew how much her warrior loved her. No doubts, no questions. The magic was accepted.
When the kiss stopped Xena looked into her loves eyes reassuringly. "You know Gabrielle, I dont know a pressure point for dislocated knees but I do know a pressure point to stimulate short term memory loss."
The bard looked at Xena inquisitively. "I dont understand."
The warrior smirked, "Well, if Tess doesnt remember placing a bet she cant collect."
Gabrielle smiled but then it was quickly wiped away by a frown. "No, I cant let you do that Xena."
"Because, you told me that your word meant everything. I wont let you compromise your honor for me."
"Gabrielle, I would give my life for you . . . dont be ridiculous."
"Oh there you two are." The two lovers spun around at the sound of Tess voice. " I was just on my way to your room."
Gabrielle moved out of Xenas embrace as she knew the warrior was never comfortable with public displays but to her surprise Xena grabbed her hand and held on to it. "What is it Tess. The competition hasnt started yet," Xena said in her coldest tone.
The brown haired woman smiled (Tess was really quite beautiful when she smiled). "Actually, thats what I need to talk to you about. I...um . . . wont be able to compete because a friend of mine has fallen ill."
"Oh Im sorry," Gabrielle said sincerely. "Is it serious?"
"No, just some bad squid . . . hes allergic and didnt know it. Hes going to need some help and Im the closest thing to family hes got."
Xena smirked, as she knew that Tess story was a big load of dung. "Thats very kind of you Tess."
Tess winked but her brown eyes dimmed with a touch of sadness. "Unlike some of the stories you may have heard . . . I do have a heart."
Xena smiled and nodded her head. "That you do."
"Well, I really should be going. Congratulations Gabrielle, the tournament is yours. You really did fight superbly."
"Er . . . thank you. I hope your friend will be okay and if you ever need some help feel free to contact us," Gabrielle said without a hint of untruth.
Tess looked at the bard not believing that she could be so sincere after what had happened. But as she looked, innocent green eyes looked back and Tess knew the truth. She laughed, then patted Gabrielle on the shoulder. "You really are too nice Gabrielle. Xena, you better be good to this one or someone might just steal her away from you." With a wave, Tess walked down the hall and away from her past.
"Huh,"Gabrielle looked at Xena who stood there as if nothing had happened. (In fact, the warrior even yawned.) "Tess really wasnt all that bad. In fact, shes very nice."
"Uh huh," Xena said as the eyebrow went up (cmon you had to expect the eyebrow).
Gabrielle contemplated with her warrior for a few moments more, then with a whoop (that would rival Xenas battle cry) the bard quickly jumped (well, really limped) into her warriors arms. As for the stoic warrior, whose weakness for Gabrielle was surer than the rising of the sun, she cracked a smile and held her love in a tight embrace.
"Hey," the bard leaned back to look at Xena, "you know what this means dont you?"
"Yeesss, I think I do know what this means. It means that . . . "
"I have a lot of free time now. Wanna do something."
Xena chuckled. "Okaaay, what do you want to do."
Gabrielle waggled her eyebrows. "Well, it involves a bed and some privacy."
"Oh so you want to be alone? I guess I could go check on Argo-" the warrior joked before her head was pulled downed and her lips were claimed with a hungry growl by a rather ferocious bard.
Gabrielle released the now breathless warrior and spoke in a sultry tone that was only for Xena. "Like I said, it involves a bed and some privacy."
"Oh . . . yeah . . . right." Xena reached for the latch only to have it opened by two Amazons (who had spent the better part of a candlemark with ears pressed up against the door) beating a hasty retreat once again.
"Excuse us, pardon us," Ephiny said as she dragged Solari behind her. "We . . . uh . . . heard that theres a.. uh . . . poetry reading . . . somewhere. So were gonna go check it out. Bye."
Xena rolled her eyes then pulled her bard into the now empty room with a smile (that bordered on a leer). "I also plan on some poetry." The wooden door was closed as purple and orange tendrils of the setting sun embraced two lovers who had discovered that joy resides in the soul.
Well, my friends, so concludes this story of love and its magic. I hope you could see that the magic of love is not exclusive to our fated dynamic duo. Nope. Being the hopeless romantic that I am I believe that the love between bard and the warrior is so pure and real that it has the ability to thaw hearts frozen in time. For Tess, her heart just needed to be reminded of things it intrinsically knew. Forgiveness can be freeing. Yes, that is what I believe.
Return to The Bard's Corner