For Better or Worse

By Enginerd
ajpotts@vais.net

This Xena: Warrior Princess story takes place after The Gift of Gab. It is the fifth story in the Xenaverse according to Enginerd. While not absolutely necessary, it is encouraged that you read the previous stories to better understand this Xenaverse and the attempted development of the characters.

Disclaimers:

1. Content: Contains some. This story also contains scenes involving:

A. Love between two women

B. Arguing, mild cursing, fighting, death threats, and other uncomfortable family situations

C. Amazons

2. Length: Long

- Enginerd (October 1997)

 


CHAPTER 1 - DISTRACTIONS

"Gabrielle..." Xena uttered slowly, her voice dripping with warning

as she stopped her sword exercises in mid-stroke. Her eyes shifted

to meet the source of her distraction, the bard sitting on the side

of the grassy hill.  



"Yes Xena?" Gabrielle responded invitingly, hopeful greens meeting

piercing blues. As the warrior's eyes narrowed, the bard realized

her subtle attempts to change warrior's mind would not be successful

this beautiful day. The disappointed bard sighed as she broke her

unsuccessful gaze and dipped her quill in ink.  



Exhaling loudly, the determined warrior resumed her sword practice. 



So much for a romantic afternoon, the uninspired bard sighed, staring

at the blank parchment. She was not in the mood to write at this

particular moment. And unfortunately, Xena was not in the mood to

change her mind about practicing. 'The warrior and her conditions,'

the bard thought with annoyance.



It was almost a week ago when Gabrielle was introduced to the

warrior's conditions. Conditions like uninterrupted practice time. 

Actually, that condition had not been so bad to live with.

Especially since the warrior had yet to get through her practice

without an interruption, the bard grinned with satisfaction. That

was, until now. The bard frowned, throwing an annoyed glance at the

practicing warrior. 



The warrior and her conditions, the bard sighed again, considering

the first one she was introduced to which she disliked the most. 

Unfortunately, it was the one condition that the warrior was most

adamant about. Sure, Gabrielle understood the reasons it was not

wise for any public display of affection. How could she not? The

morning after their first night together, Xena was determined to go

through each and every reason why it was a bad idea - until the bard

acknowledged each point and agreed with the wisdom of that condition.



Totally unfair, the bard reflected with exasperation, knowing that

she would have agreed to paint her face blue if the Warrior Princess

asked that particular morning.  



Yet, she did agree to accept their 'public' relationship. And

unfortunately, most of the time the past week had been 'in public'

either helping villagers or fighting thugs, the bard sighed. But

they were not in public now, the bard noted with annoyance. "And she

chooses to be stubborn about her sword practice," the bard muttered

under her breath as her eyebrows furrowed. Suddenly inspired, she

scratched the beginnings of a poem on her parchment.



While deftly wielding her sword through the air, Xena stole a glance

at the bard, relieved to find Gabrielle finally focusing on writing.



Xena was determined to practice and not allow herself to be

interrupted by the bard - like every other time she had tried to

practice the past week. She needed to practice.  



Xena stole another glance between strokes and found the bard had

stopped writing and was now staring at her parchment. Deep in

thought, the warrior concluded, noting her look of concentration and

how she gently traced the quill under her chin...over that extremely

sensitive spot, one of many the warrior discovered during their first

incredib.... "NO!" Xena silently ordered her distracting thoughts

away, determined to focus on her sword practice.  



She had to maintain her fighting skills, she quickly reminded herself

as she parried an invisible attack.  She let one of those thugs get

just too damn close to Gabrielle, she remembered bitterly, thrusting

her sword through the invisible attacker's gut and twisting it with a

healthy grunt.  Thankfully, the cut on the bard's forearm was healing

fine and the stitches could come out soon, Xena considered, glancing

over to the bard, who was writing again.  



Practice was necessary for a warrior.  If only her ever-romantic bard

could see that, Xena grunted as she thrust her sword against another

invisible enemy. 



Staring at her small poem, the Gabrielle sighed, unable to find an

appropriate phrase that also rhymed with 'stubbornness.'  Well, that

wasn't exactly true.  She actually did think of a phrase, but thought

better of using it.  Seeking more appropriate words, the temporarily

blocked bard took in a deep breath and looked to the rich blue sky

for inspiration.  



A single billowy cloud sailed across the ocean of air, reminding

Gabrielle of an incredibly huge pillow.  She watched the cloud

continue its slow trek across the sky, granting the sun freedom from

its temporary captivity and allowing its rays to once again burst

forth and gently warm the bard's skin.  A warmth like that her heart

felt whenever near the Warrior Princess, the bard mused.  Closing her

eyes, a contented smile creped over her face as she enjoyed the

warmth she received, from both the sun and the warrior.  



Between a thrust and a block, the warrior caught another glimpse of

the bard.  Xena paused as she watched the relaxed beauty bask in the

sun.  She noted how the sunlight reflected off of the strawberry

blond strands, making them seem to glow.  A grin crossed the

warrior's face as she wondered what thoughts brought that smile to

the bard's face, hoping selfishly... "NO! Not again!"  Xena mentally

scolded herself for being so easily distracted.  She thrust her sword

with renewed determination.  She had to practice!



Hearing the warrior's more energetic grunting and sword-whooshing

through the air, Gabrielle's eyes opened.  Wonderful, she just got

her second wind, the bard silently moaned as her eyes rolled.  At

this rate, she'll be too exhausted for anything except sleep this

evening, the bard concluded, growing more depressed.  'Torturous'

popped into the bard's head.  "Hmmmm," she considered thoughtfully as

she looked down with empathy at the lonely words on her parchment. 



Still without the right words, the bard lifted her eyes from her

incomplete poem.  Well, at least the warrior had good taste in

practice fields, the bard silently admitted as she scanned the area

appreciatively.  The foliage framing the warrior's chosen field was

densely packed with colourful wild flowers bursting from the lush

greenery.  Amazing how perfectly nature's untamed beauty complemented

the untamed beauty of the Warrior Princess, the bard mused.       



However, the warrior's grunts didn't exactly return the compliment to

nature's soothing sounds of rustling leaves and bird song, the bard

noted, softly chuckling at the contrast.  A contrast that was minor

compared to the contrast embodied in the woman practicing before her,

she smiled with great appreciation.  The bard pondered with amazement

how this woman could bark out such harsh, fear-inducing sounds to her

enemies yet privately, to her bard, utter the most tender and loving

sound that Gabrielle had ever heard - when the warrior spoke the

bard's name.  



"GABRIELLE!"  Xena snapped, interrupting the bard's appreciation and

amazement.



"What?!?"  Gabrielle quickly blurted with irritation.



"STOP it!"  The warrior ordered.



"Stop WHAT?!?"  She asked with annoyance.  "Writing?!"  The bard

asked, holding up her quill, not sure what the warrior's problem was.



"Staring!" 



Gabrielle sighed with great exasperation, considering she was being

unfairly blamed for something she wasn't even trying to do.  She was

ONLY looking for the right words to rhyme with stubbornness and so

what if she happen to end up looking at the warrior?  It IS hard to

miss Xena, standing right in front of her, all by herself, in the

middle of an empty field, she considered with annoyance.  It wasn't

like she was TRYING to distract the warrior from her practice...this

time.  She gave THAT up as hopeless, the bard noted with frustration.



Frustration which at some point turned into hope as it slowly dawned

on her that perhaps she gave up too easily.  



"Xena, I've watched you practice thousands of times before, what's

the problem now?"  Gabrielle asked with an innocent shrug.



"Watching and staring are two... different... things."  Xena crisply

responded.



"How...exactly?"  The bard responded with a twinkle in her eye and

challenge in her voice.  Gabrielle smiled, considering if she kept

the warrior talking, the better her chances were to convince her

there were much more enjoyable things they could be doing.



"Gabrielle," Xena spoke with familiar warning, knowing better than to

engage in a discussion with the bard.  



"What!?!"  Gabrielle blurted with exasperation, realizing her chances

just got worse again.  Judging the warrior's annoyance level to be

rather high, she concluded she would be better off in a tactical

retreat.  "Oh ok, ok," she begrudgingly responded to the warrior's

stare.  "I'll let you practice - alone."  Gabrielle sighed heavily.



As the disgruntled bard gathered her things, a light breeze blew her

strawberry blond hair into the her face, further annoying her.  Xena

patiently watched as the bard guided the unwanted hair from her face

with her hands.  Hands that wielded her staff with surprising

strength, yet could sooth the warrior's troubled soul with

her tender touch.  Her touch, the warrior slowly grinned, her

incredible..... "Practice! PRACTICE!"  Xena silently reminding

herself, snapping out of her dangerous musings. 



"I'll find another hill."  Gabrielle muttered as she rolled up her

unfinished poem.  She stared at the rolled up parchment a moment and

the word 'Idiotic' popped into her head, though it didn't rhyme with

stubbornness.  But 'ridiculous' was a definite possibility, the bard

considered as she shoved her poem in her bag.    



"A better hill.  Yeah, a much better hill where I'll be able to

finish my poem with no distracting sword exercises going on around

me."  Gabrielle muttered as she stood. 



"I have to practice,"  Xena stated flatly.  



"I know, I know...practice away."  Gabrielle lifted her hand in

defeat.  "I'll be just over there,"  Gabrielle informed her, pointing

down the trail with her staff.  "In case you ...need...anything," 

Gabrielle added suggestively.  Receiving a brisk nod from Xena, the

disappointed bard sighed and departed, leaving her warrior with her

beloved sword.



Finally able to continue, the Warrior Princess positioned the sword

over her head and exhaled heavily.  I have to practice, Xena reminded

herself as she spun around and sliced the air in an intricate

pattern.



In the Queen's chambers, Gurda and Raiz stood patiently before Ephiny

and her senior Amazons.  All were waiting for Trayla to finish her

review of the old scrolls.  Trayla looked up from the table and

sighed.                                                              



"Queen Ephiny, the claim appears to be legitimate,"  Trayla relayed,

scanning over the scrolls once again, hoping she was wrong.  Eponin

sighed heavily.  



Ephiny quietly watched Gurda.



"As I have said all along your majesty, Amazonia has an official

claim,"  Gurda replied.  Feeling heady at the nearing victory of this

small battle, she refrained from grinning.  "As a citizen of

Amazonia, I demand we get back the land that was once ours,"  Gurda

spoke with an air of confidence and superiority which annoyed Ephiny

and the other Amazons.  



Ephiny's eyebrows raised upon the word 'demand'.  



"I am only thinking of Amazonia, my Queen,"  Gurda quickly added,

with a more humble demeanor, realizing her tone was inappropriate. 

"I am requesting your consideration on this matter, your highness."  

Gurda added with a slight bow of the head.  A slight smile appeared

on her lips.  With the claim confirmed and her request now official,

the throne had no choice but to respond.  Let the games begin, Gurda

considered with amusement and anticipation.        



The senior Amazons looked with concern towards the woman who was

pushing for more territory and finding favor among a growing faction

of Amazons.  "Your highness, we must carefully assess..."  Eponin

spoke aloud what the other senior Amazons thought.



"Carefully assess!?!"  Gurda interrupted with contempt for the overly

cautious court.  "What is there to assess?  The law is clear - the

land is ours!  And according to Amazon law the Queen MUST acknowledge

this claim and..."  Gurda relayed, once again taking on a superior

tone.



"You DARE assume to teach ME about Amazon law?"  Ephiny snapped,

bolting out of her throne, coldly eyeing her opponent.  An opponent

Ephiny considered that one day, she might have to kill. 



"Oh NO your majesty.  Please forgive my words.  Please know, while

ill-spoken, I am only driven by my deep passion for Amazonia."  Gurda

bowed deeply.   



"Your passion is evident Gurda,"  Ephiny responded and sat back down

on the throne.  "I have heard your request and according to Amazon

law I must consider it," the Queen added.  "You may take your leave,"



Ephiny commanded, finally able to take pleasure in being Queen during

this uncomfortable meeting.



Gurda straightened up, struggling to hold her tongue.  "Your

majesty," Gurda responded crisply with a slight bow out of respect

for the position.  A position she intended to obtain.  



After Gurda and Raiz left the Queen and her senior Amazons, Ephiny

finally disclosed her great annoyance.  "Can she really do this?" 

Ephiny blurted her senior Amazons as she rubbed her eyes, leaning

back wearily.  



"I'm afraid so Ephiny,"  Trayla answered.  "You can read as well as I

can your majesty," she motioned to the scrolls, inviting the Queen to

review her findings.  Ephiny moaned knowing she would not find any

words that would make Gurda go away.



"I will just make a declaration that we are not interested in

claiming the land,"  Ephiny stated standing up, eyeing the doorway

where Gurda left.



"By not claiming the land, you open the door to an official challenge

to the throne,"  Eponin informed her with worry, drawing a sharp look

from her Queen.  "Uh....not that she could possibly be victorious..."



Eponin quickly added, making Ephiny sigh.  "But that land will always

be a liability for the throne Ephiny.  Even if...uh, WHEN...you are

victorious,"  Eponin awkwardly counseled.



"I don't suppose any of you have anything to say that could possibly

cheer me up?"  The Queen asked, receiving a bunch of stares from her

Amazons.  "I didn't think so."  Ephiny sighed.  "Send out

messengers."  Ephiny ordered.  "Gabrielle needs to know about this." 

Ephiny added, now rubbing her temples.



After a few uninterrupted drills, Xena's eyes drifted back to the

trail the bard departed on.  The inspiration this beautiful area

provided the bard was not the literary kind that Xena had hoped for. 

She knows I've got to practice, Xena sighed, blocking the attacks of

two invisible warriors.  We've discussed this, the warrior reminded

herself. 



Xena continued her exercises, wielding her sword with less and less

enthusiasm.  Now Gabrielle was annoyed with her for practicing, Xena

sighed as she executed another combination of blocks.  NO!  She's not

going to do this to me again, Xena thought stubbornly, thrusting her

sword at the imaginary opponents.  After a flurry of strokes that

whooshed through the air, Xena let out an aggravated grunt. 



"I can't just drop everything and come running every time she looks

at me like that," Xena thought as she somersaulted, landed and

quickly lifted her sword over her head to block the next imaginary

blow. 



"If I NEED anything," Xena blurted with a short, annoyed laugh.  Her

eyes once again drifted back to the trail.  She forced them back to

her sword.  



"I NEED to practice," the warrior reminded herself.  She thrust the

sword through the air again.



"I NEED to keep my skills honed,"  the warrior added to her list of

reasons for being without her bard, in such a beautiful area.



"I NEED...."   Xena paused, searching for another good reason for

being without her bard in such a secluded ... area.  Her eyes

drifted back to the trail.



"Uggggggh!"  Xena groaned, suddenly finding her needs changing.  

CHAPTER 2 - A Conundrum


Having no trouble finding a suitable area, Gabrielle claimed a spot

on the side of another hill.  Now if only finding words was as easy

as finding this area, she thought, plopping herself and her gear

down.  



Taking a deep breath, she sought inspiration from the scenery before

her.  The flora and fauna was just as beautiful as the flora and

fauna around her warrior's practice field, she observed.  Yet, for

some reason, the scenery was not nearly as breath taking.  Perhaps

the absence of a certain practicing Warrior Princess had something to

do with that, the bard considered.  A certain, STUBBORN Warrior

Princess, who was taking her sweet time getting here, Gabrielle

grumbled.



Inspiration hitting her once again, she quickly unpacked her

parchment and quill.  Promptly writing down the previously elusive

words before the inspiration fled, the poem was finally finished.

There once was a warrior princess

who chose her sword, not her bard to caress

her mind was made up

but was soon out of luck

when the bard taught her true stubbornness

Gabrielle read it over thoughtfully.  "Just perfect, I'm not only

frustrated - I'm writing bad poetry!"  She blurted, shaking her head

with an amused smile which faded when she glanced back to the still

empty trail.  She dipped her quill in ink and captured another wave

of inspiration on fresh parchment.

There once was a woman from Amphipolis ....

As she finished her second poetic attempt, she heard the unmistakable

sound of someone jogging towards her.  A sound that brought a huge

grin to the bard's face.    



"You sure took long enough!"  Gabrielle announced with a relieved

chuckle as she turned towards the jogger.



"Well it took longer than I expected.  My HORSE pulled up lame in the

last town!"  Meleager blurted between gasps for air.  "And how in

Tartarus did you know I was coming?" 



Quickly recovering from disappointment and surprise, the bard bolted

towards him.  "Meleager!"  She called out happily, giving him a big

hug.  "I was actually expecting Xena...but It's wonderful to see

you!"  The bard informed him with a warm smile and another hug.



"I'm glad to see you too Gabrielle," Meleager responded with an

embarrassed laugh.   After the affectionate bard pulled back, he

looked around.   "Where IS Xena?"  



"Practicing...over there,"  Gabrielle pointed to the trail.  "If you

want to talk to her, you might just want to wait a bit.  She's not in

the mood...to be interrupted."  Gabrielle explained flatly.



"Uh, actually I need to talk to you Gabrielle."  Meleager admitted,

his face suddenly grave.  



Panic washed over Gabrielle.  "Why?  What's wrong?!?" Gabrielle

blurted.  "Is Sara all right?  Lila?  Meleager, they're both ok

aren't they?  Why are you here?  What's going on ?!?" 



"Whoa Gabrielle," he responded, holding up his hands to stop her

barrage of questions.  "They're fine.  Well, they're not terribly

happy, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are not

fine...although...."  Meleager muttered.



"MELEAGER!"  The impatient bard snapped.



On her way to let the bard distract her, Xena found herself staring

at a thick patch of wild flowers.  The flowers that Gabrielle made a

point of raving over as they rode through the area.  The warrior

stood contemplating the critical decision at hand.  If she passed

them without picking any, the warrior would miss an opportunity to

show Gabrielle she really did listen to her and could be romantic. 

However, if she picked some for Gabrielle, the bard might think she

was apologizing for something, which Xena had no intention of doing. 

She had to practice.  "We've discussed that", Xena muttered to

herself.



While pondering this floral conundrum, Xena knelt down and inhaled

the wild fragrances.  A grin formed as she remembered of the number

of times the bard had implored her to stop and smell the flowers.  Of

course, the bard was only speaking figuratively, the warrior mused,

and had no idea how much the warrior really enjoyed doing just that. 

If she did,  Xena knew she would be cajoled by the bard to stop at

every patch of flowers they passed.  In all the time she knew

Gabrielle, the bard had never been one for moderation, Xena

considered.  Looking at the trail, a knowing grin slowly emerged.



After Meleager relayed the news from Walsas, Gabrielle silently

stared at him a moment, pondering the situation.  She noted the

slumped posture of the man sitting next to her.  With elbows on his

knees and forehead in his palms, the Walsasian Captain of the Guard

stared at the ground between his feet.  It looked as if he was going

to face the biggest battle in his life and the odds were woefully

against him.  Little did he realize how big a battle and how woeful

the odds, Gabrielle reflected.



"Well...mother DOES tend to get a bit ... overbearing when it comes

to weddings,"  Gabrielle admitted the obvious to Meleager, who's head

started to throb just thinking about his impending marriage to

Gabrielle's sister Sarah.  He rubbed his temples and sighed.  "But

she means well,"  Gabrielle quickly added.



"Uggg," he groaned.  "She doesn't like me Gabrielle," he moaned.  "I

want her to like me.  I really tried to put my best foot forward but

she really has something against warriors...." 



"I know," she agreed with a knowing sigh.  "But once she gets to

know you, how could she NOT like you?  You've charmed all three of

her daughters."  Gabrielle smiled warmly, her attempts to cheer him

up seemed to work.



"Really?  You think she'll grow to like me?"  He asked hopefully.



"Suuure.  Absolutely!"  Gabrielle responded with forced conviction,

putting her arm around him and giving a reassuring squeeze.  "You

know, I really don't understand why Sarah invited her so early before

the wedding...she knows how mother is."  Gabrielle shook her head in

amazement.



"She didn't invite her,"  Meleager revealed uneasily.  "I did."



"WHAT!?!"  Gabrielle blurted, making Meleager cringe.



"I thought ...she never said...I had no...."  Meleager tried to

explain to the amazed bard.  "Well it seemed like a good idea at the

time,"  Meleager finally muttered and shrugged.



"Oh I can imagine just how pleased Sarah and Lila are with you right

now,"  Gabrielle responded.



"Maybe I can just travel with you and Xena for a while, until they

forgive me....how about permanently???"  Meleager suggested, only

half in jest.



"Uh ...No,"  Gabrielle relayed bluntly.  "Nothing personal,"  She

added, patting the distraught man on the back.



"Ah, that plan wouldn't work anyway,"  Meleager sighed returning his

head to his hands to stare at the ground.



"Why not?"  Gabrielle asked, becoming concerned.



"She asked that I quickly bring you back to Walsas to help with the

preparations,"  Meleager relayed the news.  "She was VERY adamant

about the quick part."  



"WHAT!?!  It's over month before your wedding.  I can't believe this.

Thanks a lot!"  Gabrielle punched his arm.  



"Ouch!  It's not MY idea," he added, rubbing his arm, already sore

from Sarah's and Lila's similar expression of gratitude.  



"Ughhh,"  Gabrielle moaned, now her forehead rested in her hands.

    

"Well at least you don't have to go get those damn things for the

ceremony,"  Meleager blurted as if that was consolation.    



Gabrielle looked up at him in silent disbelief, remembering all the

reasons she never wanted a traditional Poteidaian wedding.    



"And what in Hade's name is a Furry Wegget?  How can I get an egg

from one if I don't even know what it is?  But I've GOT to have it

according to your mother," he blurted, throwing his hands up in

frustration.  



"It is considered good luck for the couple if the groom gets one." 

Gabrielle explained unenthusiastically.



"What about a good ol' fashioned lucky horseshoe??  I at least know

what THAT is,"  Meleager blurted.



"Maybe so, but that is not a part of the Poteidaian tradition," 

Gabrielle relayed, then remembered her father's difficulty.  "When my

father was preparing for the wedding, it took him two full weeks to

get the egg once they found the Furry Wegget.  They say it is not

easy to get an egg away from the Furry Wegget intact."  



"Great.  I know absolutely nothing about hunting down a Furry

Wegget...and I have a feeling it wouldn't be wise to try to get

married without one."                  



"Uh, I wouldn't advise it.  Mother is BIG on tradition,"  Gabrielle

added with a sigh.  



"I had no idea Poteidaian weddings were so...complicated."  Meleager

sighed and shook his head.



"Yes... well...there's not a lot to do in a small village.  You know

Meleager, you...WE wouldn't have to go through any of this if you

just invited her at the last minute - like everyone else in the

family does."



"Sarah told me that...just before she stopped talking to me." 

Meleager sighed and rubbed his arm again.  "So...where did your

father go to get the furry egg?"  



"It's NOT a furry egg! It's a Furry Wegget egg,"  Gabrielle blurted

with annoyance to a shrugging Meleager.  She sighed and shook her

head before launching into her father's tale.   "It was spring when

my father...." 



Hearing Gabrielle's voice from the other side of the hill, Xena

guessed she was probably practicing her latest story about Verbinia. 

She took another sniff of the two dozen flowers in her hand and

grinned, considering the ever-romantic bard would be pleased with the

selection. 



Her purposeful stride quickened as she climbed the hill with great

expectations.  Expectations that were immediately dashed when

she reached the top and spotted her bard...sitting next to Meleager

the Mighty.  Seeing the two start to turn towards her, Xena quickly

glanced down at the flowers and abruptly flung the wild bouquet into

the trees.



"Ack!"  Lila blurted when unceremoniously grabbed by her sister and

yanked into the library from the hall.  "Hey!"  Lila blurted with

annoyance, slapping Sarah's hands off her.



"Where is she now?"  The Queen of Walsas interrogated her sister,

apprehensively glancing between the doors and windows.



"In the garden, supervising the gardener.  She's explaining how to

best grow Poteidaian Posies,"  Lila responded, straightening her

crumpled dress with a sigh.  The news temporarily calmed the Queen,

who exhaled with relief.  "You can't keep hiding like this,"  Lila

scolded her, shaking her head.



"I'm busy.  I'm a Queen."  Sarah blurted unconvincingly, her eyes

darting between the doors.



"Oh that will go over big.  'She's too busy for her own mother?" 

Lila mimicked her mother's guilt-inducing voice, causing Sarah to

cringe.



"But she's driving... me...crazy!"  The desperate bride-to-be relayed

as she grabbed Lila by the shoulders.



Once again, Lila broke out of her eldest sister's grip with

annoyance.  "And I'M having a picnic?!?  You know every time you go

off and do your 'busy Queen thing', I'm the one who's stuck,"  Lila

shot back, unsympathetically.



"I am sorry Lila and I do feel bad about that,"  Sarah admitted to

her sister as she started to pace.



"Bad enough to spend more time with her?"  Lila asked skeptically.



Sarah stopped pacing.  "Uh, no," she admitted, then quickly added, 

"But don't worry, you won't have to bear the brunt all by yourself. 

Meleager's bringing reinforcements!"  Sarah smiled broadly.



"Xena,"  Meleager greeted the warrior coming towards them down

the hill.  Xena eyed the unexpected visitor and nodded, then turned

her attention to Gabrielle. 



"Is everything ok?"  She asked the weary looking bard.



"Well...funny you should ask.  You know how you wanted to get some

uninterrupted practice time in?  Well, how does a month grab you?"  

Gabrielle responded glibly.



"A month?"  Xena repeated with some alarm.



"Wait a minute.  Won't Xena be coming with us?"  Meleager asked.



"Where?"  Xena questioned the two.  Now what, she wondered with

annoyance, looking forward to the reprieve they finally found from

the last hectic and frustratingly public week.



"There's really no need..."  Gabrielle responded to Meleager, who

started to worry.



"But who will stand up with me at the ceremony?"  Meleager blurted,

looking between the two women.



"Need for what?"  Xena asked Gabrielle, who rolled her eyes at

Meleager the Whiner.



"Meleager, the ceremony is over a MONTH away.  She can still stand up

with you, assuming she still wants..."  Gabrielle snapped back to the

groom-to-be.



"But who will help me get that DAMN stuff??"  He interrupted the bard

to whine some more.  "You'll help me, right Xena?"  He asked the

Warrior Princess hopefully, putting on his best Meleager the

Desperate look. 



"No need for WHAT?"  Xena asked the bard again, growing very annoyed.



"Meleager, if you really want to get on her good side, I strongly

suggest you avoid calling the wedding items DAMN STUFF,"   Gabrielle

blurted.  "And you really should ask Father for help with the egg," 

Gabrielle added helpfully.



"GABRIELLE!  What are you talking about!"  Xena blurted with

frustration.



Gabrielle shot a glare at Meleager.  "Well, Meleager The Incredibly

THOUGHTFUL invited my mother to Walsas,"  Gabrielle answered with

irritation.



"So?"   Xena asked, relieved it wasn't serious.



"She's determined Sarah and Meleager will have a Traditional

Poteidaian Wedding,"  Gabrielle explained, rolling her eyes. 

Meleager moaned.



"So?"  Xena asked again.



"And I've been summoned to Walsas to help,"  Gabrielle explained

wearily.  Xena looked at Meleager then Gabrielle.



"And you want to go..."  Xena carefully eyed the bard.  "...alone?"

She questioned, not understanding how the bard could so easily accept

a month apart.



The bard immediately saw the almost hidden sadness in those beautiful

eyes.  "Of COURSE not, I just thought..."  Gabrielle quickly tried

erase that sadness.  Instinctively, she reached out for her warrior's

arm only to immediately withdraw it.  She remembered the Warrior

Princess' conditions on public displays of affection.  She HAD made a

promise and intended to keep it.   



"I'll go saddle up Argo,"  Xena said cooly, leaving the bard with her

future brother-in-law.



Meleager put his arm around the bard and squeezed.  "This is great! 

Xena is coming with us!"  Meleager blurted happily.  "I need all the

allies I can get." 

 

CHAPTER 3 - Damn Things

"I think I'll go stretch my legs,"  Meleager muttered awkwardly,

leaving camp.   Gabrielle smiled at her future brother-in-law,

despite his pleading that Xena come with them.  She really couldn't

blame him, allies were always important to have.  But little did he

realize it wouldn't make a difference with her mother, the bard noted

as her smile faded.  Her smile completely vanished, when she eyed the

silent warrior who sat down against a tree, staring at the fire. 

Xena had barely said a word all day and didn't look too talkative

now, the bard noted.  But she had to try one more time for both their

sakes, Gabrielle considered.  



"Xena, I know you said you would help Meleager but there's really no

need... for...you...."  



Drawing the warrior's unconvinced eyes away from the fire, Gabrielle

realized that line of argument was not going over well and switched

tactics.  "Uh...you know, this would be the perfect time to visit

Amphipolis," Gabrielle suggested enthusiastically as Xena's eyes

returned to the fire.  "I'm sure your mother and brother would love

to...."    



"You don't want me there,"  Xena interrupted in an even tone, finally

breaking her silence.  "Why?"  Her eyes shifted back to the bard for

an answer.



Why.  A fair and simple enough question, Gabrielle considered as she

sighed and looked into the fire.  "Xena, I've been through my cousin

Huestis' Traditional Wedding and...well...let's just say it got

pretty ugly,"  Gabrielle revealed with a weak smile, shaking her head

at the memories.  "I wouldn't even want to put Joxer through that," 

Gabrielle added, with a slight chuckle that lifted Xena's spirit. 

"I can't ask you to endure my family...my mother...for a whole

month,"  Gabrielle added sincerely.  



"You don't have to ask Gabrielle," Xena responded warmly.  "And...

I'm not afraid,"  Xena added with a sly grin that faded when the bard

shift uncomfortably.  "But you are,"  Xena spoke with hurt which she

quickly buried. "You're worried about what she'll think...about us," 

Xena stated with a cold edge in her voice.



"WHAT?!?"  Gabrielle snapped in amazement.  "Xena, if you'll

remember, I'M not the one who's worried about what other's think," 

The bard blurted, surprising the Warrior Princess.



"You know..."  Meleager announced as he entered the camp.  "...the

caves with those Furry Weggets are really not THAT far out of our

way."  Meleager eyed the women hopefully.  Noting with great

discomfort that no one was answering him, he coughed.  The bard sat

staring at the fire with an intense, angry gaze.  The Warrior

Princess' eyes were fixed on the bard.  



Gods, I'd rather be in Walsas right now, he thought to himself. 

Ignore it and it will go away, he considered.  Good plan.  "Ok,

ok...PLEASE help me?"  He asked, sticking to his plan. "Please?"  He

added for good measure.



Xena sighed, removing her gaze from the bard and finally looked at

him.  "What caves and what's a Furry Wegget?"  Xena asked.  



"One of the many wondrous events in store for the lucky couple and

their FORTUNATE family and friends,"  Gabrielle relayed in a grand,

bardly voice.  



"Now I've been thinking..."  Meleager relayed to the bard, who eyed

him.  



"Careful Meleager, you know what happened the last time you did

that,"  Gabrielle cautioned him.



"Hear me out..."  Meleager urged her diplomatically, as he sat down. 

"With your help, we'll get all the damn...uh the items in no

time...the egg, and the orchid and...."



"What orchid?"  Xena interrupted.  



"The Red Orchid of Love,"  Gabrielle informed her with a heavy sigh

as she retrieved her bed roll and plopped on the ground.        



Meleager pulled his sword out and started to sharpen it.  "At least I

know what a damn orchid looks like," he muttered drawing a sharp

stare from the bard.   



"Yes, but do you know where to get the Red Orchid of Love?" 

Gabrielle countered as she unrolled her bedding and sat down.  



"There are orchids by the lake on the way to Walsas, I'm sure I've

seen a red one there," Meleager noted with a shrug.  



"Ah...but if it were only so easy."  Gabrielle sighed.  



Xena watched the two, wondering why they were making such a big deal

out of getting a few things for the wedding.



"And don't even think of asking for my help with the last part." 

Gabrielle warned him.



"But," Meleager blurted with concern.



"I won't, don't ask,"  Gabrielle interrupted, firm in her

convictions. 



"BUT," Meleager blurted again.



"No." 



"But why NOT?"  Meleager was upset, almost panicking.  "I'm not a

bard, how am I supposed to come up with a wedding poem for Sarah?"



Still unclear about many of the things involving this "Traditional"

wedding, the Wegget, the furry egg, the orchid...but the poem was

something Xena finally understood the significance of.  Xena

immediately felt empathy for Meleager and his difficult task.



"The words are supposed to be from YOUR heart Meleager, not mine," 

Gabrielle informed him.  "Don't worry you have time.  Inspiration can

come at the most unexpected times,"  Gabrielle added with a warm

smile, attempting to help ease his concerns.  The smile didn't help.



"Gods, a poem,"  Meleager blurted weakly looking sick.  He turned

towards Xena with his Meleager the Desperate look.



"Don't look at me,"  Xena warned, remembering the last time he used

that desperate look and got her to help him when he was on uncertain

ground with Sarah.  



He practically begged her to help him with his attempts at a romantic

interlude with Sarah at her balcony.  No, he begged, she recalled. 

What transpired could only be summed up as possibly the worst

romantic interlude ever planned or executed.  No, the worst, she

recalled.  Meleager's attempts to woo Sarah were pathetic at best,

even when the Warrior Princess gave him perfectly good lines to use,

which he blew of course.  The only thing Meleager succeeded in that

night was to take them to the wrong balcony and embarrass them in

front of the last person she wanted to learn of her involvement with

the romantic fiasco - Gabrielle.  



Meleager the Desperate ignored the Warrior Princess initial rebuff

and continued to look to her for help.  Xena was going to repeat her

refusal when she heard the bard chuckle.  



"Come on Meleager, you're not THAT desperate,"  Gabrielle relayed

with a smirk, laying down and pulling her covers up.



"What's that supposed to mean?"  Xena responded with irritation.



"Nothing."  Gabrielle muffled a giggle, shifting under her blanket. 



"You don't think I could write a poem?"  Xena asked, annoyed.



Gabrielle sighed.  She sat up and eyed the Proud Princess.  "Xena,

I'm sure if you REALLY wanted to, you could.  But Meleager has to do

this himself.  They should be HIS words...even if they are really

bad,"  Gabrielle explained to the Warrior Princess.  



"HEY!"  Meleager blurted.  "They might not be REALLY bad...just BAD!"



He added defensively.  Oh gods... a poem, he thought to himself.    



Gabrielle sighed heavily at the two warriors, and laid back down. 

"Pleasant dreams my warriors,"  Gabrielle muttered as she shut her

eyes.



As the warrior's settled in for the evening, Meleager noted Xena

rolling out her bedding on the other side of the fire.  Well, it WAS

safer for them if they spread out around the fire in case of an

ambush, he considered.  But for some reason, he didn't think she

wasn't sleeping way over there for safety reasons.  Xena seemed

irritated about something.  When she caught him watching her, she

gave him a cold stare.  Yep, none of my business, he concluded,

smiling awkwardly and laid back on his bedroll with a sigh and shut

his eyes.  



Meleager's nagging thoughts kept him from sleep.  "A poem," he

thought as he rolled over.  "A poem," he thought and sighed.  That

was one task he had thought would be a piece of cake with Gabrielle's

help.  He rolled over to his other side.  Now he didn't have that

piece of cake...not even a lousy crumb.  "A damn poem,"  he thought

again, rolling back to his other side.  He couldn't take it anymore. 

His eyes popped wide open.  Abruptly sitting up, he looked at the

bard.  "Gabrielle?"  He asked tentatively, eyeing the prone form.    

  

"NO!"



"Sarah?  Sarah?"  A woman called out, looking around the Castle

halls.  "Have either of you two seen the Queen?  I thought I saw her

go this way," she asked two soldiers just getting off duty.  The two

looked at each other uneasily.



"Uh...I thought I saw her go to the library," one soldier answered. 



"I just came from there!"  She blurted with annoyance.  "If you

happen to run into the Queen, tell her, her MOTHER is looking for

her," she ordered curtly, emphasizing her rank as mother, which

obviously outranked Queen.  



"We've got to finalize the guest list, dinner menu, travel

arrangements... not to mention decide on which dress maker she wants

for the wedding gown...they'll have to be good with beads.  A second

wedding makes it SO much more... complicated... off-white, yellow,

light blue," she rattled off then noticed their glazed looks.  



"Oh never mind..." she blurted with frustration.  "when you see her,

just tell her we have much to do!"  She added, leaving them to

continue her search.



Hearing her mother get closer, Sarah ducked into the kitchen. 

"Father!"  Sarah blurted with surprise, finding him engrossed in

sampling the cook's soup.  



The surprised cook looked up from the soup towards his unexpected

visitor and received an unmistakable glare of warning.  Deciding his

continued employment important, the cook quickly determined he really

needed to look for more spices and left his soup to busily search the

pantry.



"You know, your mother has been looking for you," he said

nonchalantly,  blowing on the steaming spoon.  



"Uh, really?  I guess I keep missing her,"  Sarah shrugged

innocently, attempting to sound convincing as she watched her father.



"I've been terribly biz...." Her explanation was momentarily

interrupted as she anxiously looked over her shoulder. "...zy.."  



Her father slowly slurped the soup.  His eyebrows furrowed.  "Needs

salt."   



"Sarah?"   Her mother's voice grew louder.



"You know, I just remembered something I need to do.  Tell mother

we'll talk later.  Duty calls,"  Sarah blurted, kissing her father's

cheek, and quickly escaping the kitchen. 



A short moment passed before his wife arrived in the kitchen.  "Hello

dear," he greeted her casually, adding a pinch of salt to the soup

and slowly stirred.  



His wife looked around the kitchen, eyeing the cook who was busily

inspecting his spices.  From the rattling of the jars he touched, she

wondered if he suffered from the tremors.  It is so hard to get good

help these days, she sighed, shaking her head.



"Dear, have you seen Sarah?  I've been having the hardest time

getting her to sit a moment and discuss the wedding.  There are SO

many things to be done.  If she doesn't start now, it will sneak up

on her before she knows it.  She'll regret not making plans sooner,

mark my words," she lectured to her husband who nodded.



"Yes dear.  I know," he said softly, retrieving another spoonful.  



"Honestly, I don't understand why she just doesn't have the wedding

back home.  I've TOLD her it would be so much easier to have a

Traditional Poteidaian Wedding in Poteidaia."  She sighed.  "We

wouldn't have to worry about as many travel arrangements and rooms

for the Poteidaian guests and...." 



"Dear, you can't expect a Queen to leave her own land to get

married," he interjected then sipped his soup.  "It wouldn't be

right," he said softly.  "Needs salt."



"I guess you're right dear, it's just that I've always wanted to see

a daughter of mine married in Poteidaia, where WE got married," she

explained, placing her hand on his shoulder.  



He nodded with warm smile.  "I understand dear." 



"Well, I can't just stand here dear, I've got so much to do!"  She

kissed him on the cheek.



"I know dear," he remarked, slowly adding another pinch of salt to

the soup as his wife left his side.



Passing at a most unfortunate time, Lila stopped dead in her tracks

upon the bone chilling sound that bellowed from the kitchen.

"Lila! I'm so glad I've found you!"

 

Part 2


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