DISCLAIMER: Please refer back to "Step 1" for specific disclaimers

Feel free to e-mail me at <poorldl@earthlink.net>






Gabrielle sat down in the chair and leaned her staff against the wall. She pulled her goatskin bag from her shoulder and placed it between her feet on the floor, then waited for Xena to join her at the table. The warrior was staring at the tavern owner as he attempted to explain their policy on weapons in the tavern.

"You must hang your sword and that round thing here." The man said, pointing to a rack on the wall. "I want no weapons in my tavern."

Xena did not respond. She stared at the man, stared at the rack, stared back at the man, but made no move to relinquish her weapons. The tavern owner began to squirm under her gaze.

"Please, warrior. We want no trouble. Hang your weapons, then sit and enjoy the food. It’s good food. You’ll be glad you did."

The lack of response caused the man to begin to sweat.

"Tell you what," he whispered moving a bit closer to her ear, "hang your sword and you can keep that round thing on your belt. No one knows what it is anyway."

Gabrielle grinned to herself, knowing that this was what Xena wanted all along. Amazing how the warrior could get what she wanted with just a look. She smiled up at Xena when the warrior sat next to her at the table. The bard lost her smile as she suddenly remembered the long forgotten fact that they were practically out of dinars.

"What’s wrong?" Xena asked, noticing the change of expression on her partner’s normally bright face.

"Xena, I don’t think we have enough dinars to pay for lunch."

Gabrielle watched the warrior’s face carefully. She knew Xena hated to think about money, hated the fact that they never had any, and hated having to deal with earning it.

"Looks like I’ll be working tonight," Gabrielle whispered under her breath.

"Gabrielle." Xena said her name apologetically, "You don’t have to, if you don’t want to......"

"Oh no, Xena, you know me better than that. When have I ever turned down the chance to tell stories?" Besides, the bard thought to herself, maybe I can earn enough to buy that healing salve.

Gabrielle began to look around the room for the tavern owner. This was a busy tavern and every busy tavern needed a bard. One of her many skills was the ability to negotiate a very profitable deal in exchange for her bardic talents.

Gabrielle could not locate the owner, but her eyes settled on the tavern’s barmaid and stayed there.

The beautiful, slight woman, with black, thick, curly hair hanging down to her shoulders in waves of ringlets had just tripped over the leg of a chair and splattered a tray full of drink and food across a table full of ruffians.

Gabrielle started to laugh; the girl looked so innocent in her actions, but the faces of the ruffians wiped the smile right from the bard’s face. They were very, very angry.

Somehow, Xena was out of her chair helping the girl to regain her composure and her dropped tray before Gabrielle or the ruffians could react.

"Are you all right?" Xena said, her strong voice capturing everyone’s attention in the room.

The young girl didn’t know whether to be more afraid of Xena or the ruffians she had just pelted with lunch. She backed away from the warrior woman, promptly slipping on a puddle of spilt wine and sitting unexpectedly, with a thud, in another customer’s lap.

This time the patron did not seem to mind. The barmaid stood up with a quick ‘excuse me’ and continued to move away. Xena did her best to hide a smirk, but Gabrielle saw it.

"What an unfortunate accident." Xena stated slowly and loudly, staring at several of the barmaid’s victims who had made the mistake of starting to stand up from their seats. They paused in mid-motion to size up the warrior.

"Why don’t you go get them another serving? I’ll help clean up here." Xena suggested amicably to the young girl, who nodded in agreement and quickly headed back towards the bar.

Xena turned her gaze towards the ruffians and lost the smile.

"You’re still hungry, aren’t you boys?" Xena asked, voice silky smooth and the words dripping danger.

The men grudgingly settled down and began to wipe off their tunics as the shaken barmaid hurried away. Xena moved a step closer to the table.

"Start any trouble and I’ll be happy to serve you each a knuckle sandwich for lunch," she hissed softly before turning to walk away.

"Enjoy your meal." She finished cheerfully and sauntered back to join Gabrielle at their table.

"Well, I don’t know if you helped the waitress or scared her to death." Gabrielle grinned up at the warrior as she sat back down in her seat. "Now we probably won’t get served at all."

Xena smiled briefly at the bard, but kept her eyes on the ruffians as they accepted new plates of food and drink from the clearly ruffled waitress. They behaved themselves, glancing occasionally towards the warrior to see if she was still in the tavern. Xena had no intention of leaving until those goons finished their meal and were gone.

Gabrielle was just thinking to herself that it was going to be a long, hungry afternoon when the barmaid shyly shuffled over to their table.

"I wanted to thank you for helping me." She said smiling and stooped down to pick up the napkin she had just dropped.

"You’re welcome." Gabrielle answered for both of them, noticing that Xena was still occupied with staring down one of the troublemakers.

"Can I get you anything?" The waitress asked with a bright smile.

"Two bowls of stew, bread, one port and one cider." Xena ordered, finally satisfied that the ruffians had been properly intimidated.

The waitress nodded and started to walk away.

"Wait!" Gabrielle called, stopping her retreat. The bard leaned closer to Xena’s ear to whisper, "Xena, we don’t have enough for that."

The warrior sighed, "Make that one bowl of stew, bread, one port, and one cider."

"Aren’t you going to eat?" Gabrielle asked, concerned and checked her pouch once more. "Better just make that two bowls of stew."

The bard looked at Xena and shrugged her shoulders. "That’s all the dinars we have."

Xena looked at the barmaid, "Give her a bowl of stew and bread. Give me a port."

The barmaid hesitated and looked at Gabrielle. The bard was about to protest when the warrior placed her hand over the bard’s mouth and smiled at the girl.

"Stew and bread for my friend, and wine for me, please." Xena said with a smile and waited until the barmaid left the table before removing her palm.

"Xena, you need to eat." Gabrielle admonished.

"I’ll eat later. After you earn some more dinars."

The waitress returned to their table with a tray full of food. She was carrying two bowls of steaming hot stew, a large basket of bread and fruit, a goblet of cider and a huge tankard of port.

"We don’t have enough for all this." Gabrielle admitted shyly.

"It’s all right. It’s the least I could do. Besides, who knows how much damage you just saved the tavern, let alone me." The young barmaid smiled at Xena, bending to put down the bowl of stew in front of the warrior. The tankard of wine tilted and then flipped off of her tray. Gabrielle could only watch as the wine spilled all over the table, covering Xena in the process.

"Great Zeus’s balls! I’m sorry!" The poor barmaid exclaimed as she fumbled with the tray in an effort to stop it from knocking the warrior in the head.

Xena reacted fast enough to avoid the tray, but not fast enough to prevent the tankard full of wine from spilling all over her chest and filling up her cleavage.

"It’s all right. It’s all right." Xena said, looking down at the damage, "No harm done. I can clean it up. Just get me a towel or something."

"Just wait right here. I’ll be right back." The waitress dropped the tray down on the table, almost spilling the cider goblet, and rushed away. (Luckily, Gabrielle caught the goblet as it spun threatening to add itself to the wine that sprinkled the table in puddles.)

Xena squinted a warning at Gabrielle. The bard was fighting a losing battle against laughter.

"Here, let me help." Gabrielle squeaked and dipped her finger into the puddle of port that had formed between Xena’s breasts. She slid the wine soaked finger into her lips.

"Hmmm, good vintage." The bard went to dip her finger again for another taste.

The warrior slapped her hand away.

"Cut that out." Xena could not resist a smile, however. Then her eyes narrowed mischievously. "Save some for later."

Xena dipped her own finger in and tapped it against her tongue. She rolled the wine against her pallet and smacked her lips like a fine connoisseur. "Hmm, you’re right. Not bad."

For a brief moment, Gabrielle thought about breaking quite a few more of their agreed upon ‘rules of conduct’, when she was distracted by a presence at their table.

"Excuse me." The barmaid had returned, accompanied by another young woman.

The barmaid’s friend smiled and regarded Xena and Gabrielle a little warily. She had never seen anything like the two of them before, and being in a tavern, she thought she had seen it all. The dark haired one was as fierce a warrior as she had ever seen, despite the fact that she was a woman. Her companion, in complete contrast, was as bright and friendly as the girl next door. The young woman shrugged to herself; they had helped Lakme and that was all that mattered.

"Lakme told me what happened. We’re very grateful that you interceded on her behalf." The young woman smiled at the dark warrior and handed her a cloth.

"Here. Use this to clean up."

Xena took the cloth without taking her eyes off of Gabrielle. She wiped the soft fabric across the wine stains on her chest and, much to the bard’s disappointment, did not save the puddle nestled in between her breasts for later.

Gabrielle sighed, turning her gaze to smile sweetly at the waitresses.

The barmaid’s friend placed another tankard of wine in front of the warrior, very carefully.

"Here’s another drink. I hope you enjoy this one."

"I liked the other one better." Gabrielle whispered under her breath. Xena’s boot kicked her in the shin.

"Thank you, very much." The warrior answered eloquently, reaching for the new tankard of wine.

"My name is Mallika." The young woman began, "this is my friend and our waitress, Lakme. My father owns this tavern. If there is anything else at all you need, just let me know."

"Thank you, but all this food is more than adequate." Xena smiled at the two women and waited for Gabrielle to concur.

"Actually, there is something else." The bard added, causing the warrior to cast her a wary glance. Gabrielle patted Xena’s arm, asking her indulgence. Relax, I’ll handle this.

"This looks like a very busy tavern. I was wondering if you would have need of a bard for entertainment this evening?"

"You’re a bard?" Mallika asked, more than a little surprised. She had assumed that the smaller woman was an amazon warrior.

"Yes, my name is Gabrielle. I’m a bard. And this is Xena. She’s....."

"The Warrior Princess!" Mallika exclaimed, "You’re Xena and Gabrielle?"

The bard’s hopes brightened a bit at Mallika’s expression. At least she wasn’t backing up in fear of Xena’s old reputation.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, we are. I guess you’ve heard of Xena."

"We’ve heard of both of you! I can’t believe it! Wait until I tell my father. We would love to have you tell some tales of the Warrior Princess! Oh, this place will be packed once word gets out! How much do you charge?"

"Well, I usually charge 50 dinars plus room and board..." the bard began, before taking another very hard and sharp kick to the shin. "I mean, I usually trade stories for room and board. Plus I get to keep tips."

Another softer kick.

"But the tavern gets 10% of the tips as a commission for providing the crowd." Gabrielle finished and then kicked Xena back.

"That sounds more than fair. I’ll talk to my father. Stay and enjoy your lunch. If there’s anything else you want, just let Lakme know. Lunch is on the house at any rate."

Mallika smiled at the bard and warrior, and then pulled Lakme away by the hand. The barmaid smiled shyly, nodded, and left with her friend.

Gabrielle lifted a spoon and filled it with stew.

"Well! Now we’re all set. Room, food and more dinars on the way." The bard stated smugly before filling her mouth with stew.

Xena took a long sip of wine and smacked her lips. She looked at Gabrielle and put down her tankard.

"Fifty dinars for stories." She grumbled and shook her head, "Since when do you charge fifty dinars for stories?"

The bard stuffed a piece of bread behind another mouthful of stew.

"You were thinking of that over-priced healing salve, weren’t you?" Xena accused the guilty bard.

"I think we could really use that salve." The bard mumbled with a full mouth, "I mean, look at that wound on your shoulder. It took almost a week to get all the infection out. It’s still not healed all the way."

Gabrielle touched the wound gently, the light fading from her eyes as she remembered watching the bandit’s sword slip past Xena’s defense to strike the blow. It was only a gash, but it could have been worse.

Xena, reading the bard’s thoughts, gently grabbed her hand and moved it back to the table.

"It was only a small cut, and my regular salve worked just fine." She patted Gabrielle’s hand once in reassurance and then continued to eat.

"It could have been worse."

"But it wasn’t."


"Gabrielle." Xena stated firmly, putting her spoon down on the table, "I refuse to have a ‘what if’ conversation with you now and ruin a perfectly good meal."

The bard held the warrior’s gaze stubbornly. Xena picked up her spoon and continued to eat.

"We’ll see how much you make tonight and then we’ll talk about it."

The brightness returned to Gabrielle’s face as she smiled and resumed her meal, content to know that she had won the argument. Xena took another long sip of wine to wash down some bread, pausing to frown as she watched Lakme barely miss knocking another customer in the head with a tray full of food as she turned.

"I don’t think waitressing is the right line of work for Lakme." Xena commented wryly.

Her attention was taken away from the barmaid by the light tap of the bard’s soft hand on her leg. The warrior followed the bard’s eyes to the entrance of the tavern. Two heavily armed guards had just entered the establishment and Gabrielle had a sneaking suspicion they weren’t coming in for lunch.

The two guards spotted them and headed directly for their table.

"No rest for the wicked," Xena mumbled under her breath. The comment earned her a reproachful glance from her partner.

The warrior reluctantly put down her spoon and prepared for the worst. She may have looked like she was relaxing and enjoying a good meal, but her reflexes were primed and ready to react. Long fingers tapped against the shiny surface of her chakram. Neither the warrior’s nor the bard’s eyes left the guards as they slowly approached their table.

Gabrielle took another mouthful of food and smiled at their new companions. The effective result was to draw their attention away from the warrior.

"Hmmm, the food is good here if you’re looking for a meal. But then, you two don’t look like you’re looking for lunch. Can we help you with something?" Gabrielle asked, smiling disarmingly. Xena planted both feet firmly on the ground and wound her fingers around the chakram just in case.

"Are you Xena, the Warrior Princess?" The guard asked Gabrielle.

"Am *I* Xena?" Gabrielle snorted and pointed to herself. "Well, this is a first. No one has ever mistaken me for Xena before. Although, I can see how it would be easy to make that mistake. (Now it was Xena’s turn to snort.) No, no, I am most definitely not Xena, the Warrior Princess. I’m Gabrielle the Bard."

Gabrielle smiled sweetly and then nodded her head in the direction of the warrior.

"This is Xena the Warrior Princess. Makes more sense, don’tcha think?"

As the guards turned to the warrior, Gabrielle grabbed her staff and pulled it close just in case Xena needed her.

"You’re the Warrior Princess?" The guard inquired again.

"Some people call me that." Xena drawled, calmly waiting for the first move.

The guards bowed slightly in acknowledgment. Xena quirked an eyebrow.

"We’ve been sent by King Democritus. He welcomes you to our city and requests your presence at a dinner in your honor this evening."

Xena looked at Gabrielle. Gabrielle looked at Xena. Mallika came over to the table and looked at all of them.

"Is there a problem?"

"No." Gabrielle answered, "No problem, I guess. The King has invited Xena to dinner this evening."

"The King!" Mallika exclaimed, "What a honor, Xena."

The warrior did not look impressed.

"I guess you won’t be telling stories tonight, then?" Mallika asked Gabrielle, sounding a little disappointed. "My father has approved our deal and was looking forward to it."

"The invitation was for Xena, the Warrior Princess. No others." The guard stated flatly.

"Oh, well. I guess I haven’t been invited." Gabrielle said, a little more than insulted.

"No bard. No warrior princess." Xena stated simply, looked down at her plate and continued to eat. Mallika smiled at the comment.

"King Democritus was quite insistent. He requests your presence at dinner tonight." The guard explained forcefully.

Xena put her spoon down again. "Well, looks like ‘The King’ is going to be eating alone tonight. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to finish my lunch!"

Gabrielle placed her hand on the warrior’s arm, "Xena, why don’t you just go and have dinner with the King. I’ll stay here and do my bard thing."

Xena, who had just resumed eating, put down her spoon. Again.

She glared at the two guards. Gabrielle recognized the signs of a hungry warrior about to loose her patience so she interceded quickly on the guard’s behalf.

"I tell you what. Why don’t you let Xena finish her lunch. We’ll discuss your King’s gracious offer and then Xena will give you her decision."

"After I have ..finished...my....lunch." Xena added, growling between clenched teeth.

Xena picked up her spoon, turned her eyes down to the bowl and started to eat. The conversation was finished. The guards stood there staring. It took only one more look from Xena to let them know that she was not going to ask them to join her.

"We’ll wait outside." And with that, the guards left.

Gabrielle waited until the guards exited the tavern before speaking.

"Xena, why don’t you just go and enjoy the dinner. By the gods, this is the first time you’ve been summoned to dinner instead of jail!"

Mallika raised her eyebrows at that comment.

"I’ll let you two talk it over...and finish your lunch. Call me back when you’ve decided what you’re going to do. But we’d love to have you tell stories Gabrielle. My father was most definite about that." The woman smiled and left them.

"Gabrielle, I’m not leaving you here alone in a roomful of....of...well, I’m not leaving you here alone." Xena’s eyes dropped back to her plate and she took another bite.

"I can handle it here. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. Besides, you hate to sit and listen to me tell stories."

"That’s not true. I enjoy watching you tell your stories."

"Well, maybe hate’s a strong word. Let’s just say you get bored. You roll your eyes at all the good parts. Then you start to fidget. Then you start trying to make me laugh. Then I lose concentration."

"Then you shouldn’t be looking at me. You should be watching your audience."

Gabrielle smiled, "It’s too hard for me to keep my eyes from you."

That earned a smile from the warrior.

The bard moved her chair closer and stopped Xena’s hand from placing another bite in her mouth.

"Xena, go and enjoy the dinner. You deserve it. I’ll stay here and tell stories. We need the dinars. By the time you’re done with dinner, I’ll be done with barding and then we can relax and enjoy a nice, hot bath and a comfortable bed. Whaddya say?"

Xena leaned back in her chair and smirked.

"So, you’re telling me that this time you actually want to stay behind and wait?"

Gabrielle hadn’t thought about it like that, but that was exactly what she was suggesting.

"Yeah, I guess you’re right." She confirmed with a grin, "This time, it’s okay if I stay and you go. This time."

"All right." The warrior shook her head in dismay and lifted a spoon full of food. She offered it to Gabrielle with a smile. The bard took the food in one bite and smiled back.

"Whatever you want, Gabrielle."

"Hmmm, I could get used to that." Gabrielle grinned and went to gobble another spoonful of food offered by the warrior. Xena whisked it away at the last moment and deposited it behind her own lips.

"Don’t get used to it." The warrior replied with her mouth full.


Continued in Step 3


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