Disclaimers: These characters are not mine (well some are mine) but most belong to Mr. Tapert and Co. This is a story of heartbreak and moving forward. The two ex-love interest are women so if that bugs you then hit the highway. If you like it and wanna see this series continue make sure to email the author…me…cnwinters@hotmail.com

Changes of Heart: Astonishment

By CN Winters

It’s a gloriously sunny day; not that one could tell by the dim in here.

Gabrielle sat at the bar in the dark tavern, her back to the barkeep and her eyes watching the patrons around her. Perhaps it’s an unwritten rule in every drinking establishment that they have poor lighting and even poorer clientele. She was on the verge of taking a sip of her ale when she noticed a woman approaching her on the left with a crooked grin. She looked like a walking tree, as tall as Xena but not nearly as beautiful. A small scar ran down the right side of her cheek and her broad shoulders were protected by armor that looked like it hadn’t seen polish in about three years. Oh boy Gabrielle sighed nervously to herself as the woman got closer and the smile got wider.

"Gotta name?" the woman asked cocking her head waiting for a reply.


A few seconds passed and Gabrielle added no more. Get a clue Adonis wannabe. The woman released a chuckle at Gabrielle’s ‘hard to get’ demeanor. "Why don’t I buy you a drink? It will loosen you up I’m sure," she replied, running her fingertips down the bards arm.

"No thanks," Gabrielle said finally making eye contact. "I have one already. See?" the bard replied, showing her mug of ale before taking another sip.

Gabrielle didn’t notice but a cloaked woman at the far end of the bar was taking the scene in with a great bit of interest but said nothing.

The admirer was starting to lose her patience however and her finger trail became a firm grasp on the bard’s arm.

"Don’t go acting like you’re too good for me missy or I’ll show you just how well suited I am for you." With that the woman tried to nuzzle against Gabrielle’s ear but the bard reared back and hit her square in the forehead knocking the intruder a good four feet back.

"I don’t want any trouble," Gabrielle announced. Damn it my head hurts. How in the hell does Xena do it so easy? Right. She’s hard headed. Shake it off. Shake it off. "I’m not looking for a one night stand or happily ever after. I’m looking for . . . me. Thank you for the offer but I’m not interested."

The woman cracked her neck and menaced closer to Gabrielle. "Well that’s not good enough," she said getting closer.

Gabrielle held her ground, keeping an eye on the intruder but also staying aware of her surroundings. Stay focused Gabrielle. Even breaths. Be bold. The advice of Xena came to her mind - 60 percent of any battle is between the ears, the other is just muscle. Who ever can psyche the other will always be the winner. Gabrielle threw a cocky grin on her face, although at the moment she felt anything but confident. "Do I have to kill you? How about if I just beat the stuffing out of you instead?"

"Ooooo a gambling woman eh?" the admirer taunted.

Hey, that’s not a bad idea. "Yeah I’m a gambling woman. What do you say? Do you feel like you’re in a winning mood? I’ve got a proposition for you if you do," Gabrielle offered in a lusty tone, taking a step closer in challenge, teasing her, taunting her.

The admirer grinned. Knew she was just playing hard to get. "What do you have in mind beautiful?"

"Money," Gabrielle proclaimed with a wide grin. "Winner take all to the warrior left standing. How much do you have on you?"

"20 dinars," the woman answered.

"I can meet that bet," Gabrielle answered confidently. "So pick your weapon and your conditions."

"Oh no," the woman laughed heartily. "I’ll battle you but it’s not your money I want when I win."

Oh lord. Could she leer and drool any more? How disgusting!. . . Okay. Think Gabrielle. Could you really go through with this if you lost? No you couldn’t but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to lose. Sure she’s big but you knocked her back with one headbutt. She obviously doesn’t have your speed either. The bard’s grin widened, "Okay," she replied confidently. "I’ll take that bet. 20 dinars vs. my . . . ahem . . . virtue," she teased with a wink. "Show me the money and we’ll get it underway," Gabrielle instructed.

"I got it," the woman said defensively.

"Okay," Gabrielle said staying as cool as the Ganges. "Show it to me then."

"Well it’s upstairs," the woman grunted, motion her head toward the rooms upstairs.

"It’s upstairs? I thought you said you had it?" Gabrielle toyed. All part of the game. All part of the game. "Anyway, doesn’t matter where it’s at right now. Later it will be in my hands so I’ll wait for you to get it," Gabrielle counted with a grin. "Unless of course you’re not a warrior of your word," she added in challenge.

That put the woman in motion. She stomped up the stairs and Gabrielle casually went back to her drink as all eyes on the tavern were on her. "Ahh . . . this is good ale," she told the barkeep in a friendly tone.

The cloaked figure came behind the bard and whispered, "She’s gotta glass jaw. Go for the face."

Gabrielle recognized the voice but couldn’t quite place it. She tried to turn to see who was giving her instructions but the clang of change purse next to her got her attention.

"You can count it if you like," the woman said.

"Thanks," Gabrielle answered. "Don’t mind if I do."

Just as the woman said 20 shinny dinars were in the bag. Casually the bard tossed it back to her. "Shall we?" she asked with a grand gesture toward the door.

At this point the entire tavern had come to a stop – no one was eating, speaking or even moving for that matter. As the intruder made her way out Gabrielle followed close behind. Before they could clear the door, the tables began to rise spot by spot, following the women outside. THIS they had to see.

They walked outside, toward a weapons hut located adjacent to the tavern. "Mind if we try out a few weapons," the woman called over to the shopkeeper.

"No, be my guest," he said hoping to make a sale. He did start to wonder however if that was the intention when the bar patrons all followed behind them.

The woman then turned back to Gabrielle. "Since we’re going to be getting to know each other much better after this little duel perhaps we should be on a first name basis. I’m Gailes," she introduced gallantly.

I can play along. "Pleasure to meet your acquaintance . . . And I’m sure that’s all it will be . . . an acquaintance . . . With that aside let’s get down to business. I made the challenge so you pick the weapons."

The woman could tell this little blonde was a queen at being evasive. After all this trouble, she STILL didn’t have her name. Gailes noticed the sais on Gabrielle’s boots so she opted for a more ‘traditional’ and ‘old school’ weapon, something she was sure the young woman would be unfamiliar with.

"Fighting staffs," she said firmly, taking one in her hand.

Gabrielle gave the largest of grins and went over to collect her weapon. She walked back into the street to meet her challenger but asked for a small moment to ‘get acquainted’ with the weapon.

"Take your time," Gailes answered, certain she had made the right choice. Her smile crept away more and more with each drill she watched the bard preformed, getting faster and faster as the weapon settled into her hands as if it were an extension of her body.

"By the way," the bard told her, coming to a stop. "My name is Gabrielle of Potiedaia."

"The amazon bard who travels with the warrior princess?" the woman asked, a sudden quake coming to her voice.

Is she starting to sweat? "Yep that’s the one . . . well at least I USED to travel with Xena but I’m on my own now . . . I must confess it’s been a few years since I seriously picked up one of these," she said with all the confidence in the world. "But I’m sure I’ll get back into my groove. The staff was one of the first weapons I mastered incidentally. . .Good choice," she mocked. Gabrielle watched the woman give a hard swallow but say nothing. "Anytime you’re ready," she told Gailes.

Gailes took a deep breath to steady herself before taking an uncertain step toward Gabrielle. That’s all the bard needed. She opened up with a yell deep from her diaphragm and rushed Gailes with blow after blow. Gailes tried for a sweep but Gabrielle on pure instinct jumped and avoided it. She chuckled loudly. "Not bad but you did it wrong," the bard teased.

Without adding more Gabrielle made two strikes and one sweep that promptly took Gailes on her backside. Gabrielle moved to give her a chance to stand and grinned down at her. "That’s the proper way to sweep," the bard remarked egotistically.

The folks who gathered to watch the battle began to chuckle, especially the cloaked figure. Gailes confident facade began to unravel but instead of backing down, just the opposite occurred. She got angry. And when she got angrier she was unable to even strike Gabrielle, let alone do any damage. She got sloppy. At one point Gabrielle tried the turn and pivot move the amazons had shown her years before but as times past she nearly knocked herself in the head. Enough of getting fancy bard. Take her down. And with that, Gabrielle saw her opening and took it.

With Gailes trying to regain control of the staff, Gabrielle let loose and whacked her clean across the face. The warrior dropped the staff and wobbled back on her heels. A second later she fell backward, the force so great that the impact lifted the warrior’s legs off the ground before they came crashing back to the dusty main street. She was out cold.

A cheer went around the crowd and the spectators began to throw their own dinars at Gabrielle’s feet.

What?! Why are you-?! "What’s going on?" she asked taking one of the on-lookers by the sleeve.

"We’ve waiting years to see someone put Gailes in her place," a man chuckled. "Congratulates sweetie. You’re one helluva fighter," he chuckled. "Here," he added putting five dinars in her hand. "This is well worth it."

Group by group, the villagers made their way back to the tavern. Since a bet was a bet Gabrielle snatched Gailes change purse that was on her waist and filled the bag with the rest of the dinars she’d earned from the townspeople. After she was finished she looked back at the unconscious woman. Gabrielle took 10 dinars from her pouch and closed them in the woman’s hand.

"You might need an ale later to nurse that jaw," Gabrielle teased, although the woman couldn’t hear a word. The bard wasn’t about to leave her ‘penniless’. She’d put up a good fight.

Gabrielle picked up the staff and gave it a few light tosses feeling the weight. The shopkeeper looked at her and grinned. Gabrielle returned the gesture and asked, "How much?"

"For you," he smiled, "Five dinars."

"Sold," the bard answered and handed over the coins. That’s when Gabrielle noticed the reflection of the cloaked figure behind her in a shield that hung outside. Before the informant could move away Gabrielle went over to her.

"Your turn and pivot is off," the unknown figure told her.

Who are you? "Yeah," Gabrielle said slowly, trying to find out who the figure was behind the cloak, not quiet able to see. That voice - I know that voice. "Seems the problem lies with my-."

"Footing," the two said in harmony.

The cloak hood came down to reveal a woman with salt and pepper hair, perhaps in her early 50’s, maybe late 40’s. "After all these years I figured you’d have mastered that by now. But I can see you still nearly chuck yourself in the head," she laughed.

"It can’t be . . . Is it really you?"

"Yes, Gabrielle it’s me . . . But first things first, what’s your secret? How did you manage to stay so young?"

Sweet Aphrodite, the bard thought as her jaw fell and she gathered the woman into a tight embrace.



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