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Part 2 of 10
Hercules leaned over to James. "Would it be too much to ask exactly what that is about? Am I really expected to pound the head healer into the ground?"
James sighed. "Actually, the answer is sort of yes. I dont know all of it, but I think Saras cant believe that a blood stained maniac like Xena is allowed to get within 50 leagues of the Queen, much less joined, and Xena knows that Saras is related somehow to Valasca, and every time theres an injury they get into a turf fight over whos in charge...."
Hercules held up his hand and picked up what appeared to be a really dense tumbleweed, and looked over to the kids.
"I have an idea Ive been kicking around for a while. How about if I deal with the kids, and YOU pound Saras?"
"Sounds like a plan."
Hercules gave him a look at the familiar phrase. "Sounds like youve been hanging around them for a little toooo long."
Returning his smile, James got up, and Robin followed discretely.
Robin realized that she had been right. This was some sort of infirmary. Gabrielle was stooping over to talk to each of the patients, and as she listened to her conversations Robin realized that most of the infirm were here because of the Queens staff demonstrations. Picking her way through the tables, apologizing to each patient, she was forgiven by each with the same soft doe-eyed look she had first noticed on Iolous and James.
Meanwhile James was making his way to the main bout, Xena versus the head healer Saras. He was welcomed by Xenas patented look that seemed to say Oh Good. More people I have to kill before I can relax.
To Robins amazement, he ignored Xena and brought the older woman aside.
"Saras, how many years has this gone on? You and Xena, fighting over patients? Two, almost three years? And it looks to me, like its getting worse. Would you be willing to try a possible solution, no matter how dumb it sounded, as long as it worked?"
Saras suggestion of what the solution might be was imaginative, but obscene.
James spoke softly over his shoulder, knowing that with Xenas hearing she would have been following the conversation.
"What?" The warrior growled.
"A solution, are you interested?"
There was no answer, so he took that as a yes.
"Saras, you have to admit that Xena knows more about some types of combat injuries right?" Silence was again taken as assent.
"And Xena, you know that Saras is in charge here, right?"
"So Saras, if Xena would just ask permission, before bringing in a patient, do you think you could swear that you would always let her in?"
"What?" exploded from both women.
James continued as if they hadnt spoken.
"Now, Xena. If Saras swore that she would always let you in, if youd ask, could you swear that you would always ask?"
"This is nonsense." Grumbled an angry warrior princess.
"Lets try it. Xena. Please ask Saras if you can use her hospice to treat a patient."
Robin watched in amazement as James coaxed the words slowly out of the warrior.
Saras was next. And when she was done, he turned to the two and said, "and unless you both enjoy arguing, while sick and injured people go untreated, you can now swear to do this every time."
Robin watched disbelieving, as they did just that. Then he left the two women, both staring daggers into his back. Outside, she was astonished to see that Hercules had organized large group of the kids into teams kicking his tumbleweed about the common. Clearly deputizing a few of the older kids as coaches, he rejoined Robin and James at the benches.
"Just dont start having them wear numbers," James suggested.
The big man was puzzled for a moment. "What? Oh, thats another one of those things Ill get in two thousand years, Im guessing."
Hercules sat down with a satisfied sigh and reached for his drink. Then looked up to see a dark storm cloud now looming above him.
"I believe," said Xena, in a deceptively calm and deliberate manner, "that I asked YOU to pound someone into the ground? As my guest, it was just a small request," at this point she smiled sweetly," and I so seldom ask you for these little favours."
Hercules gave her a lazy shrug, saying, "I think youre just upset because for someone who conquered half of Greece, you cant admit to giving out the wrong assignments." He looked pointedly to James, and then to where the kids were playing.
James took a sip of his ale and added "Its called proper use of your resources." Both men nodded at each other.
Xena stared at them. Robin began to wonder where the steam would come out, and moved to safety down the bench away from the men.
Xena clenched her teeth for a moment, and finally spat out "Resources?" and then stalking away, continued to growl." Ill tell what proper use of THESE resources would be...."
James looked at the cringing Robin.
"See, shes really just a pussycat."
Taking another sip he said "Good ale eh?"
Smiled Hercules. "Tastes a bit better now, for some reason."
It was about half an hour and several ales later that Xena returned with a malevolent grin. Clearing a space across from Hercules, she set three sets of five mugs of the high proof port in front of the two of them. Knowing that Xena seldom drank excessively, at least excessively for her, Hercules raised his eyebrows but accepted the challenge. A look to James followed, and he too leaned forward and grasped a tankard.
Robin decided it was time for her visit to Gabrielle.
She found the Queens hut with some help, but hesitated at the door. There were two Amazon guards at the door, but before they could step aside, she was seized by a series of memories, so compressed that she almost fell. One of the guards steadied her, and she waved them away to concentrate on the images.
She was standing with James in front of two similarly garbed Amazons, also guarding the Queen. She knew that they were in a village called Amphipolis, and James was arguing with one of them, a curly haired blonde who was obviously in charge that he was calling Ephiny.
"I know that shes ill, thats why Im here. She must have told you who I am, she tells you everything."
Ephiny did not seem surprised that he knew her, Gabrielle had told her about this strange healer and friend who seemed to know all about them without ever having met them. But the Queen was in some kind of coma, in her ninth month, and Xena was off on some terrible search instituted by Gabrielle in a moment of fever. As desperate as things were, miles from home, was this man going to make things better or worse?
"I know I can reach her, I swear I wont give her any drugs or harm her in any way. Please, for her sake and the baby."
Robin watched the indecision flash over the womans face. In the end she had no choice, desperation was at hand, and someone the Queen trusted offered hope. She ordered the guards to let them both in.
Robin watched as James quickly shed his cloak and ran over to the pale pregnant woman. He touched her hands tenderly and with the other hand lifted her head and began speaking gently into her ear.
"Gabrielle... Gabrielle? Its James. Listen to me, Gabrielle, Xena and I need you. Xena needs you. Gabrielle, you have got to come back."
There was no change, but he never reduced the care and emphasis, never let his voice grow softer or less insistent and after a quarter of a candlemark had passed they were rewarded by a movement and then a flutter of the eyes.
In relief, James turned to Ephiny and asked for information of Xena. She began to explain why Xena had gone but he interrupted, "I already know the why, I need to know where."
Ephiny quickly went outside, and moments later a scout was galloping off.
Gabrielle opened red-rimmed eyes and looked about the room anxiously. "Xena, wheres Xena?" she entreated.
"Weve sent someone to find Xena. Youve got to relax. One problem at a time. We need to talk, Gabrielle."
"James?" her eyes cleared a little as she saw who was with her. " Oh Gods, James, Ive been so scared. Im afraid its all happening again, and... I dont think I could survive that." The sick woman clutched him convulsively. He reached over and gave her some fresh water from a wine skin, and waited until she had finished.
"I know. Its not that, I swear. Let me tell you whats going on, OK?" There was a slight nod. "For months youve known that Toris wasnt the father, but you kept trying to convince yourself that maybe you were wrong about the dates, right? But now when its almost time, you couldnt fool yourself anymore and the strain and worry was too much and you made yourself sick. But its going to be OK. I promise."
He looked down and then into her eyes. "When you were in the fever, you told Xena you had to know who the father was, and your warrior was crazed enough to follow your instructions. Xenas out interrogating potential males."
"The irony of it is, is that you already know who the father is. And when your child was conceived. You just cant believe it."
Gabrielle became very still. "Because it cant be....and if that is true... than that could be...the worst thing..."
"No. You remember what you experienced at Dahoks temple?" He felt her shudder and move away from him. "What were the emotions of your heart?"
He could barely hear the words, but they came. "Fear, Anger...Hate."
"And in the tree house?"
There was another shudder, but this one different. "Trust... peace... Love."
"So the million dinar question is, Gabrielle, if you can know that hate can conceive a child, why cant you believe the same of Love?"
Gabrielle swallowed, and pulled her hands up to grip his face. "How do I know that youre not Ares, or that this is not just another horrible trick?"
Words said so softly, Robin had to strain to hear them.
"Because `Ri, you already know in your heart and your soul, that Xena is the father. Im just here to confirm it for you."
He reached over to brush away a tear and felt her do the same for him. Robin was holding her breath; this was so intimate and, yet...
"If it helps," he added casually," Ive already seen the kid."
Gabrielle stopped breathing for a second. He continued "You know I dont always visit in sequence, I tried to explain that to you last time..."
"Youve seen my, our baby?" she said , her voice growing stronger, moving one hand to protectively hold her stomach.
"Yes, but one thing did worry me,... but then you explained it..."
Gabrielle reached up and pinched his ear, hard. "Ouch, jeez, who do you think I am, Joxer?`
Gabrielle stared at him, unrepentant.
"The kid had white hair, OK?"
Gabrielle gave him a smile, that as weak as it was, seemed to light up the room, and released him.
"My hair was white for over a year, my mother told me. It turned darker as I got older."
"Well I dont want to ruin all the surprises, so you get only one more question, eye color or sex?"
Now the glint was in her eyes, Ephiny could see the old Gabrielle was back.
"Well," she drawled, "since youve mentioned eye colour, I have to assume thats what you want to tell me."
"But is it more important than whether were talking about the potential heir to the Amazon throne?"
"Talk, you son of a Cyclops, what colour?"
"Blue of course. And not just blue, ice blue."
She gave a great sigh, and smiled the brightest smile Ephiny had seen in months.
"Now, you go find Xena." She commanded.
"Yes, my Queen."
But then the thought struck her, "You realize that Xena wont see you as a friend come to help, but more likely another potential father?"
"Then I better think of a good explanation in thirty seconds or less." Their laughter only further confused Robin.
"Of course," he added," on the positive side, Xena may already have come across Joxer." Gabrielle raised her eyes in mock censure, but laughed in spite of herself.
He gave her a kiss and left, pulling a very baffled Robin out.
"What is the big deal?" She asked once they were outside. "Why is this Xena guy so sure hes not the Father?"
Ephiny and Steven stared at her for a moment, blinked, and then Ephiny pulled him aside, ignoring Robin like a piece of wood, demanding: "She may need to know the colour of eyes, but I want to know about the future of our tribe!"
"Relax Ephiny. Were talking healthy, bouncing, all ten fingers and toes, female."
"Well, thats a possibility, but the votes arent in yet. Now how in Hades am I supposed to track down your scout?"
"We have a horse here, Titan, but theres no one to ride him and still have someone stay with the queen."
"I can ride." Robin startled them both. She was tired of being a stooge, and she was damned if she was going to tell them it had been eight years since she had been on a horse.
"Titan isnt just a big name, are you sure you can handle him?"
"Just show me how the bridles work, and point me in the right direction." Robin figured that Ephiny was used to confident women and would take her at face value, meanwhile little voices were screaming in her head, "Are you crazy?"
* * * *
It was already past sundown, but the road was clear. As they rode along, James was trying to adjust his balls so that they might have a future some day, but he was having his doubts he could succeed. Each slam along the road was taking him to a new place in pain, and he was still too shy to hold onto Robin tightly enough.
Finally Robin called back to him. "James, if you dont hold onto me tighter, youre going to fall off. Im not made of glass and my job is to get you there." He complied.
I could get to like this confident thing, she smiled to herself.
They met the scout who directed them to an inn in the next town. When they got there, James dismounted like an old man, and while Robin took care of the horse, he carefully walked up the stairs into the bar.
When Robin had ensured that Titan was all right and watered, she went to join him inside, and was immediately caught up in the most bizarre sight she had ever seen. Standing in the centre of this grungy tavern, this gorgeous woman, and it really did seem to be a woman, was holding a tall, rather handsome man against one of the walls, hoisting him above her with only one hand around his throat. Though somewhat constrained, he was attempting to speak.
"Not that Gabrielle isnt a wonderful woman, a wonderful, wonderful, woman, but I would never, ever..." It was difficult to tell exactly how long this had been going on, but to judge by the colour of the mans face, it would end soon.
To Robins amazement, James moved quickly to the middle of the room, and called out "Xena!"
Thats Xena? thought Robin. We just convinced some half- crazed prego that this was the father of her child?
Xena dropped Autolycus like a sack of potatoes, and turned to James. He couldnt help but be shocked by the madness in her eyes. He managed not to move as she seemed to fly through the air silently, landing directly in front of him, and struck a quick blow to his neck. He collapsed instantly.
"You know everything, so you must know the drill." Xena snarled, leaning over him.
"I didnt know how painful this was..." he gasped.
Without thinking, Robin launched herself at Xena, and was flung away backwards with one arm, without the warrior even breaking her gaze.
"Talk. You know what I want to hear."
James stared into her hate and pain filled eyes, and said only one thing. "Gabrielle sent me."
The seconds ticked by, James felt the blood begin to flow from his nose, and still they stared at one another.
Watching the eyes, James knew when the decision had been reached, and the removal of the pinch was almost anti-climatic.
He gulped in the fresh air and waited for the headache to subside.
Xena looked at him. "Now what?"
"What else, we sit down and we talk."
Something passed over her eyes for a moment.
"How was Gabrielle?"
"After our talk she was laughing and smiling, and Im going to try for two for two, OK?"
With an angry and bruised Robin on one side and Xena on the other, ignoring the other bar patrons, they helped James over to the far corner of the room.
Robin tried to read the older womans expression, but it was a mask. Xena waved away both the waitress and Autolycus before sitting down herself. They waited.
"Im not the father," he began." And you dont need to be out interviewing poor Autolycus because both you and Gabrielle know who the father is already."
"What nonsense have you sold Gabrielle?" the warrior growled.
"Look, I know when MY daughter was conceived, and I didnt have half the bond with her mother, you two have. I have to assume you know when and where Gabrielle became pregnant."
"So Im to believe that some God gave me my greatest wish, and then didnt ask for something in return, didnt even take credit for it!" she gave a bitter laugh.
"All I had to do, was ask Gabrielle if she accepted that if hate could produce a child, why not love? The truth was enough for her. But for you, Ill tell you my theory." He paused to massage his throat. "Xena, I dont have to tell you about Yin and Yang. Your whole life has been about balance. You know what Gabrielle is for you, and that night cant exist without day.
I dont think that Dahok could exist without his opposing force, for lack of a better term. I also know three other things.
"As a favour to you I asked Hercules and Iolaus to follow you nine months ago, Herc from Olympus, and Iolous on the ground. Im sure you noticed Iolous cropping up at the strangest times?"
"Any ways, they report no strange God-like activities, at least from the Olympian Gods."
He stopped. "Do you think that I could get a drink?"
There was a motion of the hand, and a full mug was immediately placed in front. Xenas eyes were still focused on James.
"Two." she barked.
"Two, how did I know when to watch?" Xena nodded almost imperceptibly. "Because Ive seen the kid. Held her in my arms."
Robin thought the warriors mask was about to crack at this, but instead she only nodded. James continued. "Knowing when the kid was born made it easier to tell them when to look.
"And three, why dont you just ask your friend Jessan? He can See it. Hell tell you the child is a product of your Bond, and nothing else."
This last part completely lost Robin, but she could see the effect that this had on the woman. But she shook her head, denying it.
"The problem, Xena, is in your own words, your greatest wish has been granted! You still cant believe that the little girl from Potadiea would stay with you. You cant believe that she would eventually love you... so you know you cant deserve this, right? You assume it has to be the another punishment for all youve been.
"Well, maybe youre right. Maybe a child made from your love is the perfect and final justice youve been waiting for." Xena gave only a grunt, but she was definitely listening.
"Now Im not talking about just a simple case of you trying to raise a miniature you. No, you live life too large for that to be sufficient. All the regular parent type stuff, the sleepless nights, and the worrying, the sicknesses, the spitting up, and the arguments. That wouldnt be sufficient penalty for the Warrior Princess. No. So, I want you to think about what was accomplished by a certain young girl, who started out with nothing, and lost everything she had that was important, and still became the conqueror of half of Greece.
"Now, consider another little girl, Princess of the Amazons, with hundreds of warriors at her command from the moment shes born. With one of the greatest warriors and tacticians the world has ever known as her devoted parent, and one of the most loved rulers, and the best negotiators Ive ever seen as her other parent, and you tell me, you dont think youd have Ares creaming in his leathers?
"You want interference from the Gods? Theyll be standing in line for her, from Artemis to Athena. Is that enough punishment for you yet?"
As James had began to describe the future, Robin was sure there was some movement on the stone face. But it was only when she heard the break in the voice that she knew she was accepting all this.
"What will she look like, was she healthy, strong?"
Those were tears in the crystal eyes now. James now moved forward to touch the warrior "I saw her as a baby, but she will have Gabrielles hair, and your eyes."
She pulled at her nose in a compulsive gesture, and mumbled, "all babies have blue eyes."
"I didnt say blue, I said your eyes. With the darkest eyebrows Ive ever seen on a blonde."
Now there was a storm about to break, but Xena surprised them by rising quickly," then I should be getting..." she pointed vaguely in the direction of Amphipolis.
"Yeah, I think so." Robin thought that she was going to shake James hand when she startled them both again by grabbing him in an almost crushing hug. Still, she wouldnt meet his eyes, and moving awkwardly for such a normally graceful woman, she quickly stumbled out leaving them alone.
"Tell Gabrielle well be along soon," James yelled at the closed door. At this point the waitress decided to take a chance and dropped a bill on their table. It clearly itemized breakage to the establishment as well as Autolycus bar tab.
"Now this," James said pointing to the bill," Is the kind of job satisfaction you just dont get from your nine-to-five employment."
Robin had just begun to congratulate herself on how well she was handling each shock, when she was again proved wrong with a shimmer of gold dust. Out of nowhere, there stood a beautiful, half dressed? undressed woman, and worse, James seemed completely non-plussed.
"Wow, like, you do good work." The apparition certainly seemed friendly." but I am a little bugged to find out Herc was just spying on us. I really figured he wanted a little quality family time." Now she was pouting.
Robins body was rigid. She felt her lips moving but no words came out.
James figured there might as well be introductions. "Aphrodite, this is Robin. Robin, the Goddess of Love."
"I like this one, a little quiet, though, isnt she?"
"Shes had a busy day. Listen, I would hesitate to put this as a favour, and you know that Xena would never ask for a Gods protection, but..."
"But it does seem to me that they are sort of a walking ad for Love Conquers All, and it might be in your best interest to, make sure they have a level playing ground when certain family members become involved?"
"A walking ad for Love, huh? Yeah, I can see that. Ill think on it. Anyways, just dropped in to say congrats and ask if you two..." pointing now at Robin quizzically.
"No, no." James said quickly. "Dont need any help, just working together temporarily."
"Whatever." said the Goddess as she swept the heavy tankard off the table on to James toes. Simultaneously both Robin and James grabbed their suddenly identically bruised feet.
"Just something I thought you should know." She smiled at the stunned and goggled eyed Robin.
"I like her. Very respectful. Dont get enough of that anymore. Ciao!" There was a flash and the Goddess vanished.
She opened her eyes to sparking green. Gabrielle was in front of her on her knees. Ephiny was behind her holding a struggling child.
"Robin, are you all right? We sort of lost you."
"I met Aphrodite?"
"What? When? How did she..."
"No, in Amphipolis, I just remembered meeting you the first time...."
Gabrielle face began to hope but then she looked deeper into Robins eyes and her face fell again. "But you only remember parts of it, right?"
Robin began to feel uneasy. "Is there something I should know about us, something..."
Gabrielle laughed, "Yes. No! Nothing like that, its..., Im being selfish. Its just that there are certain experiences, that are so...important... that when the people you shared them with are gone, or lost, you lose a part of yourself, do you know what I mean?"
"Dont let me put anymore pressure on you than you already have."
Robin looked up. "Is that...?"
Gabrielle grinned. "Yup, this is Lycea."
Her mother cocked her head and examined the golden haired child with a smile. "We think so. Would you like to hold her?"
Ephiny cautiously passed over the future ruler of her tribe, while Gabrielle remained with Robin kneeling on the floor.
"I have this memory, that there is a strange kind of connection between James and I, but..."
Gabrielle became still.
"Yeah. Thats something else we should probably talk about. Does it scare you?"
"What do you expect? I dont know him. I mean, we havent even been on a date, and suddenly..."
"Nobody is expecting anything. James is a good person to have as friend. He wouldnt rush you, so dont you go rushing yourself."
"Whats really weird to me," she said rocking Lycea in her arms, "is that Im calmly accepting all this. I met Aphrodite, for Gods sake! What is it about this place?"
"Well, from what James was willing to tell me about where you guys come from, I think Id consider that most of what you think as normal, is just as amazing." The little Queen pointed out. Robin just shook her head and began making cooing noises to the bundle in her arms.
"And Robin?" Gabrielle hesitated. "About the bed in your hut? That was a gift from Aphrodite. James and I knew nothing about it...James said he figures she passed some sort of Notell Motel?, whatever that is, on the way to pick you guys up, and liked it. We would have told you earlier, but James was afraid you might find the idea of Goddesses with bad taste a little more than you could handle right away."
Robin laughed. "He was right, but can you get it out of there?"
A galvanized Gabrielle leaped up. "Ive got a few ideas. Cause you see, its too big for the door, so I figure we can lift up the hut with these levers Xena uses. But then I was thinking, that if we put some wheels here and here..." she put some drawings in front of Robin.
"But dont you need something to attach them to, up above?"
Gabrielle wasnt phased. "Well thats where this tower comes in..." and she reached for some other sketches.
"What does Xena say?"
"She says sleep in the bed."
Meanwhile, the drinking had long since past the point of being casual. Hercules had already kicked back more than he could remember in his life. It really was nice, he thought, to have a place where no monsters or Gods could spring out at you. I wonder if Xena really appreciates being with the Amazons? He squinted across the table. She was relaxed, smiling. Gods, he thought, she must be pissed. No, he smiled. It wasnt just the alcohol, and he wondered again at the change from the hate filled woman he had once known. Not that she had lost any of the fire within, it was just...directed, he thought. He remembered when he had first heard that she was traveling with a young girl...who would have ever imagined...?
James had switched to tea, when he discovered that he was too drunk to stand to go to the toilet. At one point, the weapons master, Eponin had been playing some incredibly dangerous knife drinking game with Xena, but had then disappeared. James vaguely hoped she was all right. What was bothering him was that he suddenly seemed to have at his command, all of the tribal laws of the Amazons, and he knew he had to bring the subject up.
He turned to his companions, concentrated on basic tongue function, and said "I think I may have received a case file."
Xena was immediately serious. "For here?"
Hercules moved closer. "Whats a case file?"
Figuring that Xena knew as much as he did, and was more able to communicate, he made a gesture of invitation to her and drank his tea.
Xena had questioned James carefully about his assignments. She now trusted the traveler as much as she could, considering he seemed to be the pawn of unseen powers. Regardless of their proven good intent, Xena never trusted anything to do with powerful outside forces.
"When James arrives at a.." she searched her vocabulary unsuccessfully"...job,"
"Assignment" James interrupted.
Xena gave him a glare, which he ignored. "An assignment, he always has a complete scroll in his mind of all the information and profiles of the people he might need to bother..."
"...help, is the word."
"Yeah, right. Help, so he can do whatever hes there for."
"And what does he do, exactly?"
Considering the grin on Xenas face, James decided to field that one.
"Im usually sent to someone in emotional pain. Actually, all I do normally, is talk to them. And then, if Im successful in helping them deal with it, I pop back home, and for me, its as if no time has passed."
Xena added, "James is an empath, he finds these people by their pain. Emotional, not physical pain. He links with them," a glance passed between the two that Hercules just caught, "some, more than others."
Now James was really rolling "But this trip, cause ARP, Aphro, APHROdite... brought me, us, and it wasnt a , anassig , a job, of course I had no file."
"Until just now. This minute. But Im wondering if its really a case or..." He belched.
"You see, Robin and I have this connection, a bond, but somehow it disappeared when we got home, along with her memories of the whole trip. It was bad enough at home, but now were back here..."
He stopped and sipped at his mug.
"So, here I am, loving her, but totally useless. AND, she hates me. Im jealous of everyone she talks with. Surrounded by hundreds of women any of who, whom, could kick my ass in a second. Plus, in this corner, we have the Yin and the Yang of sexual attractiveness; the warrior Princess and the Amazon Queen, and if she doesnt swing that way, we have Iolous, Furking Autolycus, and, if that wasnt enough," waving his hand in frustration towards the demi-god "Fricking HERCULES!"
"I prefer the mighty Hercules, but never mind." that worthy responded amiably.
"Sorry, mighty. Anyways, Ive got to wonder whether this is a real file, or I needed something to impress the girl?"
"Tell us about the file." suggested Hercules.
"I suddenly seem to know all of the tribal laws of the Amazons."
Neither of his companions seemed impressed.
"Look, while weve been drinking, Ive been thinking. About the way we were greeted. About some of the stares Herc and I have been getting, and Ill tell you, some have been not too friendly. I saw maybe half of the troops loyal to Gabrielle in the infirmary having been Gabwacked... He stopped and sipped the tea. "So a while ago, I went and talked to one of the guards. Bam!" Xena ducked as he waved his hand, "I got a blast about feeble Amazons partying every night, children being assigned to watch men, and how this is supposed to be a warrior camp..., I mean no one came out and gave me the line about Valasca being right, or that Gabrielle isnt a real Amazon, but now I suddenly have all these regulations in my head..."
James faced Xena directly. "Did you know that as the Queens champion, there are still certain challenges that you must leave the Queen to take?"
"But as Consort, those loopholes close."
Hercules watched as the gears began moving in Xenas finely tuned brain. "So if anyone wanted to try a Queens Challenge directly against Gabrielle, their time is about run out, right? Tell me, what kinds of challenges?"
"Well, Heres a good one. Civil war. With the majority of the ACTIVE warriors supporting the contestant, the challenger can even choose weapons. Gabrielle wouldnt be able to use her staff. Thats the one I would worry about."
Hercules interrupted. "Wait, Civil War? Everybody loves Gabrielle."
Xena was grim faced "Maybe, but are they convinced shes what the Amazons need? All these peace treaties, her refusal to kill..."
"Valasca had a lot of supporters, and they werent all banished, and with the lack of discipline of the past few days..." James added.
"Well, we can fix that fast enough. "
Instantly sober at the thought of a threat to Gabrielle, Xena stood up. "Wheres Eponin? We need to roust some of these soft butts."
"And get some real Knives at the throat." James suggested.
Hercules was still confused. "Why would we want that?"
"Because as the only men here, were focuses of anger, especially you. Because, if theres a fight, they know where youll stand. Me, I may need someone with a horse who can act if I get another hunch about whats going on. And, oh yes," asked James nonchalantly, "what are you going to tell the Queen?"
"Ill tell her whatever we know, not what were guessing, which right now is nothing."
"Heres a prediction from this oracle. Youre going to get yelled at."
"Im a big girl. So where in Tarterus is Epinon?" Xena rumbled. "We need to get the watches out, security has to be checked out..."
From out of the dark came a complaining voice. "I told you all this days ago. But you were too busy building your fricking palace."
"Eponin? Where are you?"
"Where you furking left me, under the table with a knife pinning my arm to the chair!"
"Oh right..." Xena smiled. "You lost."
Leaving the planning of security in the hands of the experts, James decided to try to sober up with a stroll to the Queens hut to visit the now and future Queens of the Amazon Nation. He was almost there when he was struck by an anxiety attack that he recognized as coming from Gabrielle. He broke into a run, but just before reaching the hut he was passed by a blur he knew would be the Warrior Princess.
"Whats wrong? "he managed to gasp out when he finally got there.
Gabrielle was pointing to Lycea, standing alone in the centre of the room. Both Ephiny and Robin were tense, but Gabrielle was hyperventilating.
"Lycea, shes, shes walking!"
Seeing that Xena did not appreciate her fear, she emphasized "Shes less than four moons old! And shes walking!"
Figuring that he knew why Xena still didnt understand, James moved behind Gabrielle.
"Relax `Ri. Xena, when did you start to walk?"
With a shrug Xena answered "Three, four moons. Why?" This last said with a hint of asperity.
Gabrielle looked across to the child and the warrior to see two pairs of identically confused blue eyes. She sighed, and reached for her baby. James whispered in sepachrul tones, "I take it back, Be Afraid, Gabrielle, Be Very...Afraid."
Batting at him with one hand, Gabrielle kissed her child and then handed her over to her other mother and said to them;
"Shes walking, so thats going to mean You Know Who will be getting ready, sooner than we thought. So, I think we might consider Robin being here a Godsend. Maybe someone should talk to her and ask if shell help with the plan?" indicating a strawberry blonde hairpiece on a shelf. And with that cryptic remark, she grabbed her staff and asked James "Would you like to go for a walk? I think Id like to talk to Cyrene."
* * * *
Hearing that Cyrene was still involved in the decorating of the wedding site, or more likely being roped into working at Salmoneous tavern, the two had a pleasant stroll through the village to the border, being stopped occasionally by various young Amazons. When they came to the boundary, James was surprised to see Eponin carrying her ale as well as new guard patrol assignments, trying to explain her latest wound to Iolaus. It clearly wasnt his first mug of the day either, and both seemed rather relaxed.
"Hey there," grinned Iolaus, as he stood for Gabrielle. She waved him back down, saying "Were just looking for Cyrene, I have a few questions for her."
"She went to check out some supplies, and shell be right back." said Iolous.
"Questions? said Eponin, "Like what?"
"It was just brought home to me that Lycea may be more like Xena than I thought, and I think I should ask the expert."
Iolaus and Eponin looked at each other. Then at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle was not amused by their expressions. Eponin ventured out first.
"Youre going to ask Xenas mother... for advice about child rearing?"
"Yes, " Gabrielle responded patiently.
"Xenas Mom?" Iolaus repeated in a strangled tone.
"Ye-es. Does that seem STRANGE to you?" Still being patient, but a little colder.
"Well, of course not." said Iolous.
"Certainly." agreed Eponin.
"Wouldnt want the child to grow up..." Iolaus searched.
"Unfriendly..." put in Eponin.
Gabrielle was tapping her foot by now.
Then of course," Iolous considered, "of course, you want to avoid any problems with normal sexual orientation..." and froze.
Gabrielles foot was no longer tapping. He looked up to see the Queen of the Amazons smiling a cold smile.
"Ive always found Xenas orientation, to be quite..." she searched for the right word," ...unerring." Pleased, she turned, and taking James arm she regally walked away.
Behind them they heard Iolaus and Eponin say together "Unerring?"
* * * *
Night fell. Head aching, still buzzed from the afternoon and having learned more than he wanted to know about Xenas childhood, James made his way back to his hut under the stars. There was a light burning inside, so he was cautious as he opened the door. The giant bed was still there filling the entire room, but sitting in the middle was Robin reading what he knew to be one of Gabrielles scrolls. She looked up and to his relief, smiled.
"Have you read any of these? They are incredible. How much of it is true? Did Xena really do these things? And the story telling...."
"You have to hear the storyteller herself, the scrolls are only a part of the performance. Ive seen whole rooms of troglodytes crying in their beer when she gets going." And the scrolls really are only part of the story, he thought. He fell silent for a moment. This wasnt the time for a serious talk. The combination of the events of the day and the after effects of the marathon drinking had him running on empty for some time. He could barely keep his eyes open. Robin didnt seem to notice.
"Some of them are hilarious. Who is this poor sap Joxer? Is he here?"
He leaned over to see what she was reading, trying to ignore her proximity. It was titled Been There, Done That. He shook his head to try to clear it.
"Yeah, hes not only here, but I think I lost some sort of bet while drinking with Xena today, and now I have to have a talk with him."
"He has always had a thing for Gabrielle, and apparently he didnt see this coming. Xena wants him to feel better." He rolled his eyes.
"Xena cares about this guy?"
"She cares about all her friends. Loyalty is very big with her."
"So you have to make Joxer feel better about Gabrielle being Gay, or not with him or what?"
"You think Gabrielle`s gay?" he thought he mumbled before finally passing out onto the bed.
He was struggling to open his eyes, because it was important that he wake up. There was this terrible ache in his stomach and he wasnt alone. Everyone around him was groaning and he couldnt stay standing on any of his legs. Legs? He woke up.
Robin was gone. On their last visit she would disappear for hours with Titan, so he figured she probably still wasnt back from her late night ride.
The dream was important, he knew, but he was losing it rapidly. He tried to focus. He had been a horse? no human...Centaurs! What had Solari said? The Centaurs are securing the ...eastern entrance. Now, he thought, how sure am I that I know what it means? And where is a good Knife when you need one?
"Hello? Whos on duty?" hoping to the Gods that it was someone took their job seriously, not another sweet kid.
"What by Narcissus Nuts do you want?" came a familiar voice outside the door.
"Shit, is that you, Pony? What are you doing? Shouldnt you be sleeping it off, or in the infirmary or both?"
The door opened and the big weapons master shambled in and bumped into the point of the foot of the bed. She swore at it.
"Ill have you know that drinking helps me stay awake. Also, I took this duty because I would rather be on site, than dragged out of my bed if something happens. So," Eponin perched on the edge of the ludicrous bed, "Is something happening?"
"Would you believe, Id like you to try to put the whole village on as close to alert status as possible, but not wake anyone up."
She sighed loudly. "More information."
"I think we could be in big trouble, but I dont want to bother anyone in case Im wrong."
She rolled her eyes in disgust. "Civilians. Let me get Xena."
Outside they both heard the sound of an approaching horse. James turned to Eponin.
"You do what you can to prepare for an attack from the east side, but if thats Robin, Im going to hitch a ride and check out the Centaur camp. Soon as you can, you follow us, OK?"
"Wait, what kind of attack! Whats wrong with the Centaurs?"
"If I knew, Id have you roust everyone, but all Ive got right now is a bad feeling about the Centaur encampment. Tell Xena, and do what you can with whoever is already up. And get everything ready for whatever you do when theres an attack."
"Thanks for all the technical instruction."
The approaching rider was Robin on Titan.
"Is he rested enough to go for a quick ride?" He asked her.
"Another midnight ride?" Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were bright.
Realizing this meant she had recovered at least part of their previous excursion, he grinned back.
"Getting hooked on adventure?" he grunted as she pulled him up.
"There are worse things. Where are we going?"
"Whatever looks east. Its June, so the line should be right along the sunset, ride away from the sunset." The sun rise, shit, he thought. He yelled back to Eponin "My vague hunch is now centred around dawn. Does that help any?"
"Apparently not" he mumbled into Robins shoulder as they galloped away from the Weapon Masters cursing.
"I hope you have some better directions once we start through the woods." She called back to him as they left the village.
"What? Cant tell the direction from the stars? Oh, Miss Big Amazon in Training?"
"Whats that supposed to mean?" She yelled over the hoof beats.
"You asked Gabrielle about some sort of staff training, so she signed you up for the whole nine yards. As of this afternoon, you are a member of the tribe for as long as we stay. You already swore your oath last time you were here, so you join the rest of the trainees tomorrow. Unless you dont want to?"
"Are you kidding?" She made a credible Amazon cry and Titan moved into overdrive.
"Are you all right back there?"
"Bruises on top of my bruises but keep it up!"
"Yeeeaaahhh" yelled the Amazon in training.
All James had to direct her with was his gut, the sense of wrongness that had woken him early, but within a half hour they approached the silent camp. No guards or sentries were visible. They hastily dismounted and approached the larger of the tents. Sprawled out front were two Centaurs.
"Theyre still breathing," Robin told the relieved James after a quick examination.
"Of course. Whoever did this didnt want to make any permanent enemies. Not here, and not yet, at least. Give me a second to think." He looked up at the range of mountain cliffs that ringed the eastern gate.
"OK. Youve got to ride back and take a message. Lets see, One, describe the conditions here. Two, say that its got to be an attack at dawn when the sun will be in the eyes of anyone coming from the village. Now, we still dont know what kind of attack, who or what were facing, but they are probably working with people inside the nation. So" he made his decision. "Three. Tell Xena to get the wedding present I left with Ephiny the last time I was here. Make sure Gabrielle has it and points it ..." he followed the ridge with his eyes. "There, right where that tree stands alone in the cleft. Can you see it well enough to describe it to someone so they can find it?" She nodded.
"Are you sure? Now repeat what I said."
When they were sure she had it down, she mounted again, and hesitating, surprised him with a quick kiss before riding off. He stood watching her for a moment, and then started to make his way to the base of the cliffs.
Xena was not one for subtle alerts. When Eponin rousted her, she had immediately begun waking up the rest of the warriors she and Pony trusted. As they waited, already mounted, watching the preparations, the weapons master brought up her concerns.
"You know, that by bringing only loyalists to what is probably a trap, were doing exactly what whoever planned this wants us to do."
"I know, but if the choice is to ride into an attack with friends or traitors, I pick friends."
Gabrielle had been wakened without the usual struggle. Sleeping without Xena had not been conducive to deep sleep. So she was dressed and ready to take her position on Argo while many of the warriors were still putting on their leathers. Ephiny looked as though she might object when she saw Gabrielle on Xena`s horse, but she was satisfied with a reminder that neither was to leave Amazon territory. She was the first to see Robin, and they rode to meet her.
"Wedding gift? Ride halfway? " Sputtered Eponin. "I mean, I like him, for a guy hes OK, but hes got all the military smarts of a carrot. Id rather Argo was plotting this defense."
"We go with the man in the field until he makes a mistake." decided Xena.
Robin would not wait, and had already begun the ride back hoping that Titan still had one more trip left in him. The present was found with a parchment attached, and so with Argo in the lead, they began a slow march towards the eastern gate.
Aware of Ephiny watching her like a chaperone, Gabrielle dropped the arm that had been holding Xena and unwrapped the gift. She was able to read the parchment in the moonlight. It was mainly a series of warnings.
My dearest friends,
I hope you realize what you and your joining means to me. We
three all know that my visits could end at any time, and if I never
see you again, I need to give you one last gift to keep you both
alive and together. I am breaking every rule Ive told you about
not changing the past by giving you what is inside, but I have to
balance my honour with my love for you both, and I know that my trust
in your honour is merited. What is in this bag will not come into
use for over one thousand years. In this form, maybe two thousand.
The possibilities for altering the future are endless, especially
in your hands.
Xena, this could allow you to truly conquer the world.
Gabrielle, it could allow you to control it. I have designed it so
it can be hidden and carried safely without its true use being
discovered. Arrangements must be made for its destruction upon
your deaths. Please Xena, use it as a defensive weapon, Gabrielle,
please use the information gained for your own use, and may the
Gods forgive me.
I love you both,
`When we see him again, Ill tell him curtains would have been fine, Gabrielle thought. What has he got in here? Gingerly she unwrapped the heavy package revealing what looked like one of her regular leather scroll cases. By this time, Xena had finished the note.
"If its some new kind of black powder, Im all for destroying it now."
"It looks like a scroll case so far." She unsnapped the clips and almost dropped the two clear glass disks that slid out. "So thats what he had the glass blower make, at least that explains why he needed all those dinars. Wow! Theyre flawless!
"OK, theres more instructions. They snap in at either end apparently..." There was a click as they fit in position. "Now we pull on the ends..." and she watched as the scroll case extended until it was triple its original size. " Oh, thats clever, theres a series of smaller covers inside. Now what? Gabrielle, that would be me I guess, Look through the smaller end, that would be this one, and point the other at the moon. OK, I can do tha....GREAT APOLLO IN THE
"What?" Xena quickly brought Argo to a halt. She looked at her partner who was shaking.
"The moon is round." the bard said quietly.
"The MOON is ROUND."
"I know the moon is round."
"No round, all the way around."
"Is that what this gift is, the gift of insanity?"
"No, you dumb warrior, look through the small end and look at the hillside."
Then there was silence. Long and complete.
Xena began to rant, forgetting entirely the impending crisis.
"Do you know what I could have done with this? Do you know how many men I could have saved by knowing where to attack ahead of another force? I could have moved armies like pieces on a chess board! The signals I could have sent over ten times the distance of any other army, the..."
"Do you realize the secrets I could discover?" Gabrielle blurted." Things no one is supposed to guess at, I could prove!"
Then simultaneously, "We cant keep it."
"On the other hand, it could be a defensive weapon. We could do reconnaissance from a distance instead of risking our lives every time." Ignoring her Regent, Gabrielle moved up to behind Xenas ear and whispered, "we could finally not worry bout being surprised while on the road... we could... relax sometimes, hmmm?"
Crawling up a cliff in the dark had left James with several more scrapes and bruises, but he noted that nothing seemed to be bleeding seriously. He was in position, and watched the camp below him prepare for the attack. There was light enough now, and he shifted from time to time to watch the horizon where he hoped the Amazon forces would halt before approaching further. He figured that the renegades were waiting to capture or kill the dawn courier. When she failed to report, a small hand picked force would be sent out from the village to investigate, only to be slaughtered. Then the Queens slack reign would be blamed for the losses, the loss of loyalists. Simple enough, but who were the leaders? Not this group below him. What were clearly the banished Valasca Amazons were pointedly avoiding a dozen or more greasy males. It would still be an hour before the sun was fully over the horizon, what would they do when the courier never came?
It was then that he caught the sight of what he was hoping were horses moving in his direction, but was it only his imagination that saw the flash that might be glass? Please, he prayed, let them stop, as he watched the renegade Amazon archers move into position below him. And please, let Gabrielle have the telescope.
The Warrior Princess might have many skills, but one of them was not Charades. He stood up, and sheltered by the outcropping from the army below, began waving.
"I see him!" Gabrielle cried out excitedly. She pulled her eye away from the lens and marveled again at the change in perspective. She adjusted the lens and continued to view, calling out to Xena in front.
"Hes got his hand in front... hes motioning to stop."
"Great." groused Eponin sidling over on her mount. "Weve already stopped. Whats the next bit of strategic brilliance?"
"Hes doing something with his head, and neck..."
"No, its head dresses and necklaces.... Amazons?"
"Banished Valasca supporters." Xena said. "How many?"
"Hes holding out his palm... five." She watched as James mimed an imaginary drawstring. "With bows...now hes pointing... theyre ringed around to his right...."
"We would have ridden right into that," Xena called back to the waiting mounted warriors. "Dismount!"
"Now hes rubbing his finger and thumbs..."
"Now Eponin was amazed, "You can see that?" she said staring at the cliff face.
"Hes giving something to someone, paying them..."
"Mercenaries," Xena was already off Argo gathering the commanders together. "How many and where?"
"Five, ten, fifteen,.." Both Xena and Eponin tensed as the count continued and relaxed when it stopped. "Twenty. All grouped directly behind the archers."
"No back-up, no sentries?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "Why would they think theyd need them? Wait, hes indicating we split into two and circle behind them..."
"Gee, thanks James. Maybe well just try that." Eponin said sarcastically.
"Now hes pointing, theres someone approaching. He wants to know who it is? Oh Gods, its Robin!"
Xena already had split the forces into two groups of twenty-five and given command of them to Ephiny when she heard Gabrielle. She grabbed the telescope and grunted in dismay.
"Shes too far ahead for us to stop her, but James has left his position and is going down towards her. If we move fast on foot, well still be too late, but since we cant cross the border to fight, at least well be able to help them."
Tying off their horses the three crouched low and began to run.
Continued in part 3
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