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.
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
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.
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."
"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!"
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