Standard Disclaimer - These characters, most of them, belong to Universal, and Renaissance Pictures, and whoever else has a stake in Xena: Warrior Princess. This is written just in fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.
Specific Story Disclaimers:
Violence It's a Xena story. There are forest dwellers, bad guys, pregnant bards, sly Amazons, several troublemakers, and one very persistent mincemeat pie. Of course there is violence. Not too much though. Maybe one head, maybe two.. it depends on how it goes.
Subtext - I'm not disclaiming subtext anymore. If you've gotten this far in the series, you know what it's about. I don't personally think there's anything in their relationship that needs disclaiming. It's not like they're vegetarians, or something.
This is, of course, PG13 level involvement here, no more. That never changes.. for those of you who are waiting for me to stick in a rip roaring, no holds barred graphic orgy scene, make sure you have plenty of coffee and doughnuts handy. And a comfortable chair. And a good book. I can recommend some excellent altfic bards for you if you drop me a note.
If you read this story, and are offended by the love portrayed within, too bad. No raspberry brownies for you.
Any and all comments are always welcome. You can email them to:
Circle of Life - Part 4
By Melissa Good
"You want me to what?" Jessan's voice rose almost to a squeak, goofy in the extreme coming from a seven foot tall fanged man. "Xeeennaa! Even if I could find them.. who says they'd do what I asked them to?"
"Try." The warrior advised him shortly. "If it doesn't work, just come back.. we'll use you, and maybe paste some sheep's wool on my brother."
"Hey." Toris put his hands on his hips. "I am not into sheep, Xena.. I thought that's what got us into this in the first place."
"Just do.. it." Xena growled softly, as she gave her brother a look.
"I don't know, Xena you want me to act like a hibernating bear.. " Jessan objected doubtfully. "I mean.. they've got these.. " He waved his claws. "And their faces.. " he pantomimed a snout. "And they kinda waddle."
Hand wrapped themselves in his chest fur and pulled hard. "Look.. if I can act like a feckless village girl, you can act like bear. Got me?"
"Uh . Roar." Jessan rocked from foot to foot. "See? I can waddle."
"That's better." The warrior released him. "Now listen up we can't slip up with this. Baracus is not a stupid guy and he knows what I look like, so I'm gonna stay out of sight." She glanced up. "All the stuff moved?"
Solari flexed her arms. "Yeah half of it was frigging bricks, I think every damn thing became a priceless heirloom." She looked out the window at the silent, twilit courtyard. "And all of them sure disappeared." She turned to Gabrielle. "What's that all about?"
The bard was sitting at a makeshift table, in the stable they'd taken over as a command center. It was more comfortable than being the object of all the furtive curiosity in the homesteads, and, as Solari noted, they could at least munch on their travel rations in relative peace. Gabrielle was writing in her journal, and now she paused and looked up. "Near as I can tell, they take one day a week as a day of rest.. their religion dictates that. All work stops.. that includes cooking, cleaning, farming.. anything except for rest, and worship."
Everyone considered that. "Well " Solari made a face and shrugged. "I've heard of worse customs.. it would be nice to have an excuse to loaf around once a week."
"Oh? What's the excuse you usually use?" Cesta commented, from the end of the table, with a wry twist of her lips. "I've seen you guys sneak off after lunch.. let me see.. was it.. uh.. patrols?"
Xena snorted. "I can't understand how they need to be ordered to rest."
Gabrielle started laughing, then quickly covered her mouth and went back to writing, not looking at her partner. He shoulders shook gently, however.
The warrior cleared her throat. "All right.. so tomorrow we let them just go about their usual routine Gabrielle, you know what to do when Baracus gets here?"
"I welcome him in." The bard replied promptly. "And I tell him a strange sickness is spreading madness through the village." She made a note in her journal. "I try to convince him it's something in the mountain that we've been digging out."
"Right." Xena nodded. "Solari, you guys can handle the sheep?"
The Amazon cracked her knuckles. " Yeah but that's gonna be messy."
"S'allright.. I thought you liked mud." The warrior replied, with a wry grin. "Toris, you and Johan stay in the cavern.. if Jess doesn't find any of the local forest dwellers, we'll need to use you."
"Xena, I'm not really good at this kind of thing." Her brother protested. "Can't I just.. "
"No." The warrior cut him off. "Look, all you have to do is curl up and go to sleep.. how hard is that?"
"Naked.. with a bunch of armed, pissed off dudes looking at me?" Toris shot back. "Could you??"
His sister let a sly grin cross her lips. "Sure." She drawled. "But you've already got fifty percent of the hair and a few other attributes that I fortunately lack."
The door creaked open, and they all looked up. Sarah was standing there, in a long skirt and painfully white shirt, her hands clasped in front of her. "Matthias sent me to see if you would like to join us in our worship."
They all looked at each other, then as if by common consent, at Xena.
She blinked. "Um "
"We'd love to." Gabrielle replied firmly. "Wouldn't we?" She closed her journal and stood. "New experiences broaden the mind, right guys?"
"At this rate mine's gonna be the width of the River Styx." Solari muttered.
Xena gave her partner a dour look, but sighed. "Sure, Sarah um.. we still have some planning to do.. is it very long?"
"Not very we'll have our service, then Isaac will speak on the scriptures, and we'll go to our homes for a cold dinner you all are welcome." The young woman mustered a wary smile, trying not to look at the nearly naked Amazons.
"We've.. um.. we've got stuff with us." The warrior hastily told her. "We'll be fine here are you ready now?"
Sarah nodded. "Yes he sent me to see if you would come.. and to show you where to sit."
"All right.. c'mon." Xena waved at them, and moved towards the door. "Lead on, Sarah."
The woman glanced at her, then at the Amazons, then back to her. "Um you can't go into the house of the Lord so."
The warrior's brows knit. "So.. what??" She asked, puzzled.
Sarah appeared very embarrassed, and she turned her eyes towards Gabrielle. "Our laws forbid us to bare ourselves so." She cleared her throat a little. "It's unseemly."
The bard strolled forward, and cleared her throat, forestalling the sarcastic response she could feel tickling her partner's tongue. "Sarah.. see, it's like this.. you know the blacksmith?"
The woman blinked at her. "Of course, but what does that have to do with this?"
"He wears an apron, and hide trousers, because his job makes it necessary for him to do that, right?" Gabrielle told her. "It's kind of like a tool."
"Yes." Sarah nodded.
"Okay.. well Xena's job is being a warrior, and these are her tools." The bard ran a hand over the dark leathers. "They protect her, and keep her safe." Her fingers traced a brass whorl. "And since she's working to try and protect your people, I don't think your Lord would mind if she wore this to listen to your service."
The woman studied the silent warrior for a moment. "If she wears that for protection, though, why is there so little of it?"
Ah. "Well.. " Gabrielle scratched her nose. "That's because she's such a good warrior, she doesnt need that much protection." She let her touch linger down Xena's thigh. "If she wore more, she wouldn't be as fast as she is."
"I see." Sarah glanced at the Amazons. "What about them?" She looked closer " Are those feathers?"
"They're Amazons." Gabrielle took Sarah's arm and started guiding her outside. "It's part of their sacred customs.. in fact, when Xena was inducted into the Amazons, she had to undergo a trial that involved feathers."
"Really?" Sarah mused. "It's all so different.. but you don't dress as they do."
Gabrielle glanced back at the group, now strolling along behind them with smiles on their faces. "No.. well, actually, when I'm not pregnant I do.. in fact, I wear less than the Amazons."
Sarah looked at her. "Your husband does not object?"
"I don't have one." The bard found herself saying, before she could stop the words.
"I thought you said you were " The woman faltered. "Or was that a lie as well?"
Gabrielle sighed. "No.. I am married.. I just don't have a husband." She could hear the soft chuckles from the group behind them.
"Would you do me a great favor?" Sarah finally responded to that.
"Please dont' explain yourselves any further. My head is aching."
"No problem." Gabrielle agreed briskly. "So.. tell me about this service? "
The worship hall was packed full, and they entered in the rear of the building, as Sarah directed Toris, Johan and the very reluctant Jessan to the men's side before she timidly led the rest of them to the women's side of the divided room.
A low murmur was ebbing and flowing, which ebbed right out of the building as the demure Sarah edged down a row followed by her exotic looking companions.
Xena made a point of standing there, collecting the torchlight and returning all the disapproving gazes before she seated herself, and folded her arms across her chest. She was used to being stared at, for one thing, and for another, the benches were damned uncomfortable. She gave Gabrielle a steely eyed look as the bard tucked her booted feet under the seat. "Broadening the mind. Huh?" She uttered softly.
Gabrielle simply patted her on the thigh. "You lived through the Twelve Acts of Sophocles with me outside Thebes.. you can live through this."
Xena winced, remembering the production, then glanced around at the group of women. They were all now pointedly directing their attention the woven screen which separated them from Isaac, and the room settled.
A poke in her ribs. "Don't look so grumpy."
The warrior inclined her head. "I feel like a lion in the middle of a flock of sheep." She grumbled.
"Baaa. " The bard replied very softly. "Xeeennnaaas beeen a baaaaad girrrl."
"Stop that." Xena bit her lip to keep from laughing
They both quieted down, after several disapproving stares from their neighbors, and listened as Isaac started to speak.
Which didn't do much good, because it was in a different language. "Great." Xena gave her partner a wry look.
"Do you understand it?" The bard whispered.
"No." Her soulmate replied.
"Good.." Gabrielle answered. "Then the dogma won't bother either of us."
She had, Xena realized, a point, and she contentedly turned her thoughts to the plan, ignoring the rising and falling of the melodic, fluid language.
"Well, that was interesting." Cesta remarked sarcastically, as they escaped into the cool night air. "The most fun I had was watching that one woman get attacked by that beetle two rows up from us."
"Hey.. how was I supposed to know it was going to be held in a different language?" Gabrielle protested. "The chanting was sort of.. um " She waved her hands. "And Isaac's singing was.. um.. "
Atonal, was what Xena considered it, her perfect pitch having gotten a severe beating about the head and neck. "Consider it a learning experience." The warrior told them, giving the Amazons a glare over her soulmate's head. "Besides, we didn't really have anything better to do."
"I coulda thought of " Cesta stopped in mid word, and clamped her mouth shut, having been the recipient of a Warrior Princess special direct look. "So.. what's for dinner?" She glanced behind them "Think the guys are going to join us?"
"Their part goes on longer." Gabrielle advised her. "They talk about important stuff." The sarcasm in her voice was very evident. "The women get to go home and take care of the kids and the house, and put out a nice dinner for them when they get back."
"That's a bad thing?" Solari quipped. "Hades, I can tell ya I'm glad to be out of that stuffy place they can flap their jaws all night if they want"
Gabrielle merely shook her head, and sighed, as they reached the barn and Xena opened the door. "Well, I guess we pool our supplies.. let's see what we've got."
It wasn't much. Some jerky, some dried fruit, several nutballs, and a couple of trail bars. Gabrielle studied the small pile. "Better than that damn soup last night, and I'm hungry enough to start munching on the hay in here, so.."
Xena was rooting around in the corner, and now she stepped back. "Got a small brazier back here." She pointed. "Solari, start a fire in there."
"Why?" The Amazon inquired. "It's not that cold out."
Xena counted to ten. "Because I said so." She replied evenly, before she muttered something under her breath and stalked out, slamming the door behind her.
The Amazons all stared. "What is up with her?" Solari asked, putting her hands on her hips and turning to look at Gabrielle. "She's been acting like a b.."
The bard held up a hand. "Hold it." Now her face was serious. "Xena always has a reason she does things.. and if she asks you to do something, it's because there is a reason behind it. Not because she just felt like telling you to do something, okay? In this case, she probably wanted a fire started because we're going to end up having fish, or rabbit, or something for dinner."
"Oh." Solari scowled. "Why didn't she just say so?"
Gabrielle sighed. "She hates when people question her. She really hates when everyone questions her, which is basically what's been going on all day. I mean she didn't ask everyone to get involved in this, and now we are, and she's responsible for all of us." She walked over and settled herself down at the makeshift table. "So.. do what she asked, and start a damn fire in there.. okay?"
"Okay." Solari meekly agreed, giving Cesta and Feldan a look as she regarded the small stove. "I'll go get some firewood."
"I'll go with you." Cesta said, hastily, as she met Solari at the door.
A little silence fell over the room then, as Feldan trudged over and settled herself on the bench near where Gabrielle was writing. Aileen knelt and examined the stove, while Ellis and Lista moved around, clearing space for bedrolls and arranging their stuff.
"Is Xena really mad, your majesty?" Feldan asked quietly.
The bard looked up at her, chewing on the end of her quill thoughtfully. "Well aggravated, yeah not mad as in really angry, no." She replied. "It takes a lot to get her really mad."
"Oh." The smaller woman said. "You seem to be really good at dealing with that."
Gabrielle paused, and cocked her head. "Dealing with her, you mean? Well we've been through a lot.. I've learned a thing or two." She smiled ruefully. "We've had our moments I think what I realized finally is that it's just better to be honest we used to get mad at each other, and then wait for the other one to say something.. and with Xena, you can wait well into the next year, you know?"
Feldan laughed, and ducked her head.
"So what I do now is just be really honest, and ask her what I want to know.. and it works out." The bard finished, as she turned back to her journal.
"Do you ever get scared of her?" The Amazons asked softly.
Gabrielle leaned on her elbows and twirled her quill between her fingers. "That's a hard question because sure, there have been times when I've been scared half to death by things that have happened, and, yes, things she's done." She paused, considering the question seriously. "I think I can say I've been scared by her a number of times, but I've never been scared of her, if that makes any sense."
"Yeah." Feldan answered quietly. "I think you're a really brave person, though."
Gabrielle gave her a tiny smile. "Thanks." She sighed, and reread her entry, then scribbled a note on the bottom.
Cesta and Solari came back with neatly split firewood and went to the stove, stocking it expertly and adding tinder. The dark haired Amazon struck a spark, and the fire started to burn steadily. "They think we're heathens for doing this, by the way." She called over her shoulder to the steadily scribing Queen.
"Fine.. I'll be a full heathen." Gabrielle muttered. "You can tell them my religion dictates not going hungry after we've been working on saving their butts all day." She glanced up several heartbeats before the door swung open, to reveal her soulmate's dripping, mud covered body. "Um..hi."
Xena edged in the door, tossing her head back to clear the damp hair from her eyes, and swinging around to reveal a string of fish. "Someone wanna take these?"
A scramble of bodies almost overwhelmed the warrior, and she blinked as hands took the still twitching fish from her, as she glanced over the Amazons heads to where her soulmate was closing up her diary and standing. Green eyes met blue, and Gabrielle smiled warmly, rolling her eyes a little at the other women. "Found something interesting in the stream."
"Other than those?" The bard inquired, glancing appreciatively at the trout.
Xena nodded, and walked over, dripping water and mud on the straw covered floor. She closed with the bard, and held out a hand. Gabrielle obligingly turned hers palm up, and blinked as a small rock the size of an acorn was dropped into it.
Then she looked closer, and noticed the candelight was reflecting back in an intense, rich, buttery golden shade. "Good grief.. this isn't what I think it is, is it?" She looked up at her partner. "A gold nugget?"
The muddy warrior nodded. "Yep." She glanced at Solari. "Explains those heavy sacks and baskets."
The Amazons clustered around, and stared at Gabrielle's outstretched hand. "Artemis' Headpiece." Cesta breathed. "There must be enough gold around here to buy Athens."
Xena snorted. "Try Rome, if that's any indication." She moved over to a corner of the barn, and started stripping off her armor, draping it over a stall divider.
Gabrielle grimaced, then glanced at the still goggling Amazons. "Let's get those cleaned and on the fire.. I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving." She watched them scatter, before she closed her hand over the nugget, and walked over to where her partner was standing. "Here.." She tried to hand the nugget back.
Xena looked at her, then peeked over towards the Amazons, who were clustered around the stove. "No..it's for you." She muttered softly. "You could get the merchants at the winterfair to make it into a necklace, if you want."
"Tch tch." The bard clucked, moving closer. "You're going to ruin your grumpy image that way, Xena." She smiled, and patted the damp, leather clad side. "Thank you very much for getting something for dinner, by the way."
The blue eyes warmed, and a wry grin found it's way across the warrior's face. "Gave me a chance to relax a little." She admitted in a low tone, as she unlaced and pulled off her boots. "I'm gonna go rinse this muck off."
Gabrielle carefully knelt, and retrieved a soft, blue tunic from their pack, handing it to her with a smile. "I'll go make sure they don't burn those." She stood, then grabbed the stall divider as a wave of dizziness almost made her knees buckle. "Whoa."
Xena's arms were around her instantly, holding her up and taking the weight off her legs as she blinked. "Easy."
The bard waited a moment, then nodded. "Okay I'm all right. Wow.. haven't had one of those in a while." She muttered. "Guess that's from not eating all day."
"Good guess." The warrior gave her a stern look. "Go over there and siddown " She walked over to where they'd put their communal food stockpile and retrieved two of their trail bars, which she handed to the bard. "Here munch on that."
For once, Gabrielle didn't argue. She took a bite of the sweet, fruity snack and chewed it, then went quietly to the bench Xena had indicated and seated herself, keeping an eye on the busy Amazons. Cesta, she noted, apparently knew how to clean and cook fish, and seemed to be doing a good job at it. With a sigh of relief, the bard settled back to wait.
Xena watched her, then wiped the worried look off her face and ambled outside, heading for the trough of water. She was glad she'd gotten the fish, and more than a little surprised and discomfited to find the nugget resting in the bottom of the stream winking at her.
It meant trouble, that was for sure, and not just with Baracus. If word got out of ample gold in the area, there'd be a stampede to get it, Greeks and others, and she knew that while her own little militia could handle the odd warlord or two, an army was a different matter.
She picked up a bucket of the cold water and dumped it over her head, rubbing her hair to get the gritty grains of sand from the bottom of the stream out of it. She followed that with another couple of splashes, scrubbing the black mud from the banks off her arms and legs.
Footsteps made her look up, and she tossed her head back, flinging dark, wet hair out of her eyes and focusing into the dim, murky light. A pause, then. "Rebekah?"
"Yes." The girl's voice sounded nervous, and unsure. "I brought this from my mother." She moved a little closer, and held up her hands, which contained what looked like a loaf of bread. "She said she felt bad, with you doing all the moving for us, and not having supper." Her eyes stared at Xena's damp form, covered only by her brief leathers and grew round and huge.
The warrior put her bucket down and walked over, kneeling down to put her eyes at the girl's level. "That's really nice of her." She glanced over her shoulder. "You want to bring it inside? My hands are pretty wet."
Rebekah nodded, a little uncertainly. "I've never seen someone take a bath like that." She mentioned, curiosity getting the better of her. "Wasn't it cold?"
Xena smiled. "Yeah.. a little.. but I just went fishing in the stream.. and I was pretty muddy.. we don't have a bathtub in there."
"You went fishing at night?" The girl asked, incredulous. "Did you catch anything?"
The warrior nodded. "Sure did." She stood and motioned towards the barn door. "Come on.. I need to go dry off." She opened the door and watched the girl enter cautiously, peering around at the now strange surroundings, then she followed. Her eyes caught Gabrielle's, and she indicated the girl. "Sarah sent over some bread."
The Amazons looked up, and smiled, as Gabrielle untucked her legs and stood, walking over to Rebekah. "That was really nice, Rebekah thank you for bringing it over."
The girl handed her the loaf, which was covered with a linen cloth. The bard removed it, exposing a shiny brown surface of what appeared to be braided twists of bread. "Oh.. how pretty." She complimented the girl. "I've never seen bread like that."
Rebekah smiled and relaxed a little. "The mothers make it it's got eggs, and raisins in it.. it's my favorite."
"Oh yeah?" Gabrielle set the loaf down on her table, aware of the sizzling scent of cooking fish that now comfortably permeated the barn. "Well, it must be good then." She picked up the small knife she'd been using to sharpen her quills, and sliced off a small end, taking a gingerly taste. "Mm." She made a surprised sound, delighted by the rich, sweet taste. "That is good."
A warmth at her back revealed a curious Xena, who peered over her shoulder. "Here." The bard sliced off another small bit, and offered it to her soulmate who took it in her teeth with a wary expression. "Go on.. it's good. You'll like it."
Xena gave her a look, but chewed the bit and blinked. "It sure is." The warrior had changed into her dry tunic and fluffed her dark hair out to dry in the candlelight. "Wanna join us for dinner?" She asked Rebekah.
The girl looked very startled "Oh.. I um " She looked around. "I've never " Then she stopped and thought. "Is this what you do when you're out in the woods alone?" She asked Xena, looking up at her with open curiosity.
"Sort of." The warrior replied. "We're usually outside, and not in a barn, but we just catch things, and cook them, yes - if that's what you mean." She gently nudged her soulmate towards the low, makeshift table the Amazons had created, and were clustered around. "C'mon it won't hurt you." She smiled at Rebekah.
The girl surrendered, and moved timidly towards the table. "All right " She seated herself down at one end, staring wide eyed at the Amazons, who smiled back at her. "Goodness, you're all naked."
Gabrielle laughed gently, as she eased down next to her, very aware of the warm hand steadying her back. "Not quite." She put the bread down on the table, next to the wooden planks containing the grilled fish, and the assortment of other edibles they'd dug up.
"Do you say a prayer, thanking the Lord for the food before you eat?" Rebekah asked.
"We'd have to say one to Xena." Solari chuckled. "She got the fish." She reached over and neatly sliced the bread up with her belt knife. "And she'd probably kick our.. "
"Solari." Gabrielle gave her a look.
"Uh kneecaps." The Amazon grinned at her Queen, taking a slice of the bread and adding a side of trout to her trencher, along with some dried fruit.
"Here." Feldan put a smooth travel plate down for Rebekah, and portioned some fish onto it for her. "Your house is that big one on the corner, isn't it?"
The girl nodded, and picked up a bit of fish, tasting it cautiously. "Oh " She nibbled it more eagerly. "That's really good.. mother always boils our fish."
Everyone winced. "Well.. " Gabrielle mused. "If you eat it cold, and have a sauce on it, that's not bad."
"No.. we have it warm." Rebekah told her. "With dill."
Xena tasted her fish, then gave Cesta an approving nod. "Nice job."
"Thanks." The redhead preened. "Our village is coastal, so we take a lot of pride in our fish and we have the best summer clam bakes." The conversation turned to the differences in their villages, and Rebekah merely listened, nibbling on her fish and watching the faces in fascination until the door opened, and deep, male voices were heard. She stiffened, her eyes widening.
"Bout time you guys made it back here." Xena glanced over her shoulder, spotting her brother, Johan and a very disgruntled looking Jessan. "What in Hades did you do marry one of them?"
"Ha ha." Toris glared at her. "No.. we got stuck in a debate." The three of them ambled over, and collapsed on the other side of the table. "Hey.. where'd the fish . " Blue eyes flicked and met their twins across the table. "Oh.. dumb question thanks, sis."
Xena leaned back against a stall support and gave him a gracious nod. "Anytime." She noticed that Rebekah was staring at Jessan open mouthed, and she smiled quietly. "Beats being in that cage, huh Jess?"
"Oh please." The forest dweller mumbled, around a mouthful of trout. "That was worse than the time our training group got stuck in a peat bog, and had to be rescued." His golden eyes flicked up, finding Rebekah's and blinking. "Hey.. it's a kid." Jessan remarked. "You're not going to ask me to show you my fangs, are you?"
The girl shook her head emphatically.
Jessan smiled, showing all of his impressive white teeth. "Great."
"Rebekah brought us over that bread." Gabrielle hid a grin, and indicated the half eaten loaf. "Try some.. it's really good." She stretched a little. "Long day. "
"I'll second that." Johan sighed wearily, munching on a slice topped with some fish. "Lassie, this has been more adventure than these bones have seen in a dogs age."
"And it's not over yet." Solari sighed. "I shouda known that I figured, hey.. two days, get the guys loose, we're outta here." She shook her head. "I forgot who we had with us."
"Hey!" Gabrielle protested. "It's not my fault things got so complicated!"
They all looked at her.
The bard poked out her lower lip, and gazed up at her soulmate. "Is it?"
Xena let her wait a moment, then she smiled, and circled the bard's body with her arms, pulling her back to rest against her chest. "No." She told her. "It's my fault." She told her, then gave everyone a look. "Got that?"
Everyone laughed, and resumed eating. When they finished. Xena glanced across the table. "Aileen, would you walk Rebekah back to her house, please.. and tell her mother thank you for the bread?"
"Please?" A soft whisper tickled her ears, and she felt a gentle nudge in the ribs.
"Sure.." Aileen smiled at the girl. "C'mon " She led Rebekah to the door, and opened it. and the girl turned to face them.
"Thank you." She said carefully.
They waved at her, and watched as the door closed.
Gabrielle nestled closer and poked her again. "That was very subversive."
Blue eyes batted innocently at her. "Subversive? But Gabrielle.. all I did was ask her to eat with us." Then the warrior grinned, and glanced around. "So interesting accommodations." The barn was tall, and well made, with hay lofts in either corner, and strongly built stalls around the perimeter. The area in the center was open, and had posts with thick, iron rings inset to allow animals to be hitched to them. Most of the stalls were occupied by placidly chewing beasts, not a few of whom were giving Jessan sideways looks.
"Relax." He told them, burping gently and patting his stomach. "I've already eaten."
Everyone chuckled a little, then glanced at each other. "So.. do we draw straws, or what?" Solari finally asked wryly.
Xena let out a low laugh. "Ten years as a warlord taught me one real important thing." She got to one knee, then gently scooped up the startled Gabrielle and stood, cradling her. "When it comes to sleeping.. never draw straws." She stalked across the hay littered ground and mounted the thin ladder to the nearer hay loft, balancing both herself and the bard with effortless grace and strength as she moved upwards. Once at the top she turned, surveyed them all gaping at her, then smiled at them. "Night."
She picked her way carefully across the uneven surface, and settled her burden down in the back corner, on top of a particularly comfy pile of springy hay.
"You know." Gabrielle regarded her fondly. "There are times when I really like that little bit of the warlord that comes shining through."
Xena put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow. "Oh really?" She purred.
"C'mere." The bard crooked a finger at her.
The warrior slowly dropped to one knee, then extended out onto one side, stretching her long legs and propping her head up on one hand, close enough to her soulmate to feel the warmth coming off her skin. "Yeeesss?" She drew the word out teasingly.
Gabrielle studied her in the very dim light afforded by the candles flickering below. She reached a hand out, and gently stroked the warrior's cheek, letting her fingers run back into the dark hair as she pulled herself up on an elbow and leaned forward, kissing her.
Tasting the spices Cesta had used, and the tangy hint of raisin from the bread and feeling the soft, silky hair as it shifted under her fingers as Xena moved closer, sliding a hand up along her hip. She let her eyes drift open as they parted for a moment, and saw the pale blue eyes darken and the faint, teasing smile edge Xena's lips as the warrior studied her.
She felt so attractive, reflected in those eyes. It was a really good feeling, putting solid patches on the insecurity she'd felt after she'd started showing, and was awkward and unsure of what to expect from her partner. But Xena had never let her down.. never made her feel ugly or unwanted, not even for a second. She loved her for that.
She loved her for a lot of reasons, of course. But that was one of them. "You know I really love you." She murmured, letting her eyes show it.
Xena's widened a bit, and the lashes fluttered. "Even when I'm being grumpy?" She asked, lightly.
"Yeah." The bard replied, simply, leaning forward again to kiss her, and finding herself unexpectedly enfolded in warm, linen scented warmth as she was picked up and cuddled in a pair of strong arms. She let her fingers search along Xena's skin, parting the tunic edges and slipping beneath them, as she felt the warmth of their connection soak into her like sunlight.
I wonder She reflected, as Xena's hand traced a tingling path down her back. If the baby can feel this.
She hoped so.
She also hoped she remembered not to squeal. Otherwise, it was going to be one Hades of an embarrassing morning.
Xena leaned back against her impromptu mattress, and lazily watched the setting moon's light stream in the high windows of the barn. It was almost dawn, and she was curled up very comfortably with Gabrielle, enjoying this little bit of peace before the start of what she knew was going to be a hectic day.
Everyone was sleeping. She could count three male snores, and four female ones, and idly considered trying to match snores with owners, then decided she really didn't care much one way or the other. Only she was awake to hear the soft hoot of an owl up in the rafters, it's translucent eyes turning ever so often her way and catching the fading moonlight.
Only she was awake to smell the strong hint of rain on the air, and hear the gentle rumble of thunder that could, possibly, buy them a bit more time, depending on if Baracus chose to ride in a storm or not.
Only she was awake to feel the subtle movement under her protective hands, as Gabrielle's baby also woke, and stirred, tumbling about in lazy somersaults that pressed erratically against the bard's belly.
It was a beautiful time of the morning. Xena smiled up at the moon, and gently kissed the fair head tucked under her chin. A patter overhead sent her eyes that way, as the rain started, and the breeze brought in a scent rich with water and earth, and the dampness of wood. The baby moved again, and she wondered if it could hear the thunder, and sense the rain as well no one really knew, though.
No one remembered, at least not when they were awake. Xena remembered a child who had grown up with her in Amphipolis, who was, from an infant, frightened of thunderstorms almost to the point of irrationality. She'd found out later from Cyrene that the child had been a month from birth when one of the worst storms in the village's history had struck, and half the buildings destroyed including the one her mother was sheltering in.
So.. who knew? Maybe the baby could hear the rumbling.. certainly she seemed to hear singing, and would tumble around if Xena started singing to her.
She. Her. The warrior rolled her eyes. They both tended to do that, as though it wasn't up to chance, but some knowledge they both had. Wishful thinking, but Xena found herself becoming intensely curious about the baby, wondering what it was thinking, what it was doing.. would it be smart? Cute? The warrior glanced at Gabrielle and smiled. Yeah, it would probably be both.. if it took after it's mother.
She tried not to get excited, but sometimes she couldnt help it, wanting the months to go faster so she could, at last, meet this child. So that Gabrielle could meet this child, and at last hold her own infant in her arms, without fear or Xena's lips tightened. Without worrying that I want to kill it.
She wondered if Gabrielle thought about that. If the bard would ever be reluctant to let her be a part of the child's life because of it. Or was Gabrielle scared on her own behalf, given what had happened before?
The warrior sighed soundlessly. This time was different. There was no Dahok, no supernatural influences, just a regular, very ordinary pregnancy that was going along outstandingly well.
The baby moved again, apparently doing somersaults from the feel, and now Gabrielle stirred a little, disturbed by it. Xena pulled her a little closer, then started singing, a low, soft melody from her childhood. It took a few minutes, but the baby settled down and the warrior smiled.
Definitely different this time. Thunder rolled overhead, and the rain got stronger, the sound outside changing from the drumming of water on earth to a slight splash as puddles formed. Xena let her head rest back against the straw and let herself feel a brief moment of contentment.
Gabrielle blinked sleepily, and edged her head so she could look up at her partner. "Hi." She yawned, making a tiny noise. "Is that rain I hear?"
"Mm hmm." Xena confirmed. "Just started."
"Think that'll put a damper on things?" The bard inquired.
A shrug. "Dunno maybe."
"Were you just singing?"
"You know, Xena.. I can remember days when you and I wouldn't have this much conversation between sun up and sundown."
Xena sighed. "Yeah."
"You're turning into quite a chatterbox." Gabrielle murmured, giggling a little. "Who'd have thought." She smiled as she felt the chuckle shiver through her tall soulmate's body. "Mm." She closed her eyes in quiet joy, just loving the feel of the warm skin under her, and the steady sound of Xena's heartbeat. Safe.
She almost started laughing again, despite the rain.
Or maybe, because of it. All she knew was that it felt very good to be with Xena, and to feel their relationship, their friendship so solidly around them. Suddenly, she felt an almost irrepressible surge of excitement, and she wished she could make the next two months go faster, just to see Xena's face when presented with their child.
She could almost see it, if she closed her eyes tightly. The warrior would first kind of give that pleased smirky thing, then, Gabrielle knew, those blue eyes would focus on the baby, and all sorts of interesting things would go on across the warrior's expressive face. She'd end up with that frank, all out grin that the bard saw so seldomly, and her eyes would light up from it.
Yeah. I want to see that. With a satisfied sigh, she glanced up. "Whatcha thinking about?"
Xena yawned. "How damned slow time is going." She admitted, stroking the bard's belly. "I wonder if the baby will come out sooner if I offer it some nutbread?" She mused, in a serious, thoughtful tone.
"Ha ha ha.. how about if we offer it some sweet dumplings?" The bard retorted, giving her soulmate a little poke in the ribs. "It could go either way."
A chuckle. "Yeah, that's true." Xena admitted easily.
They both stopped, and looked at each other, the only sound in the hayloft two sets of breathing. Then Gabrielle simply put her head back down and didn't say anything at all, afraid that words would bring denials and she wanted none. Silence would do just fine.
The rain rattled down harder, drumming an insistent rhythm.
The owl hooted, watching in contentment.
A cool breeze blew in, heavy with moisture, and possibilities.
Xena stood, leaning against the doorjam as she watched the torrents of water come down, drenching the village and sending racing streams of water across the soaked ground. Behind her, twitching was happening.
The Amazons were pacing, Johan was whittling, and Jessan was working with Toris to pitch hay to the hungry horses.
Only Gabrielle was at peace, ensconced at her table, one hand propping up her fair head as she scribbled into her diary. Every so often she'd lift her eyes, study the restless motion, shake her head, peer at her soulmate's calm form, and return to her writing.
Xena simply watched the rain, fairly well convinced Baracus wasn't going to be making the ride in this weather, for one thing, he had two large rivers to cross, and with this heavy a downpour, he was looking at possible flash floods. That could sweep fifty men and fifty horses down in less time than it took to think about it, and from what she knew of the warlord, he wasn't stupid.
Unfortunately, that left them here, with very little to do unless she started up some drills, which she really wasn't in the mood for, or some unexpected emergency happened.
Xena held her breath as the words formed in her mind, wincing and glancing around with a pained expression.
Nothing happened. She relaxed again, and returned her eyes to the courtyard. Across the muddy expanse she could see the worship hall, well lit from within, and almost, if she concentrated, hear the rising and falling voices of the people inside it.
It seemed strange to her, spending all day inside, thinking and talking about the gods. Or their one god, in this case. Xena never considered the gods interesting enough for all that, and she put these people in the same category as she did other religious fanantics.
Like the Hestian Virgins. Now that was some kinda devotion. Xena chuckled to herself, and shook her head. But they seemed at peace, as did most of the other devotees she'd ever run into, so maybe there was something to it. She turned as she felt Gabrielle approach, and eyed the bard, who slid in next to her and leaned against her shoulder. "Hey."
"It's still raining, Xena." Gabrielle commented.
"I know." Her soulmate replied. "Not gonna let up anytime soon we'll probably be reprieved until it slows down."
Green eyes slowly tracked to the pacing Amazons then back to you. "And.. you consider this a reprieve, I take it?"
The warrior chuckled wryly. "I could run a few lessons on them, I guess I just wasn't really in the mood to." She turned her eyes outward. "Weather maybe.. but I'm just in a lazy mood today."
Gabrielle sighed. "It's a really good day to be inside, near the fire roasting a few apples " Her eyes tracked up Xena's tall form. "Telling a few stories "
Their eyes met, and the both smiled. "Mm . I think I like that idea." Xena replied. "Wish this whole damn thing was over with."
"Jessan why is your head in that bucket?" Toris' puzzled voice got their attention. "What are you doing?"
"Corlffrnf ofsf." The words came bubbling out, followed by a dripping wet, furry head. "Ah.. that's better." He turned, and gave Xena and Gabrielle a pathetic, rueful glare. "I need to talk to you two about.. um energy.. sometime."
Blue eyes and green met, and both sets of brows creased. "Well " Xena indicated the weather. "Now's as good a time as any. Go ahead."
Jessan darted a look at the Amazons, at Toris, at Johan, then back at them. "Uh .now's not maybe..um "
"C'mon, Jess.. we're all friends here." Xena walked over to a water barrel and perched on it, swinging her long legs and crossing her ankles. "We've got time and there's not much else to do here unless you guys want to give a wrestling exhibition." She kept her face blandly expressionless.
"Squeek." Jessan closed his fanged jaw on the odd sound. "Uh well okay.. if you say so." He ran a hand thorugh his wet fur and shook his head. "You.. uh.. you know how my people we sort of can sense strong emotions, right?"
Gabrielle had wandered over, and was now leaning on Xena's thigh, observing him. "Oh yeah.. sure we do." She idly traced a pattern on the tanned skin, and felt the warrior's hand start a gentle rubbing against her back.
Jessan coughed, then sat down, crossing his legs and clearing his throat. "Let me try putting this another way." He scratched his jaw, aware of the now interested looks from the Amazons and Toris. "No.. never mind.. just um "
"No no.. go on. You're doing fine." Xena protested, moving her gentle massage lower, and feeling the bard's body press against hers. "Really."
Jessan glanced up at her, and bit his lip. "You're doing that on purpose. " He barked accusingly.
Xena grinned at him evilly, starting to laugh as Gabrielle looked up at her with a puzzled expression.
"What?" The bard inquired. "What's he talking about , Xena?"
The warrior just kept on laughing, holding her sides and leaning back against the wall. Finally, she edged forward and whispered into her partner's ear. It promptly turned beet red, along with the rest of Gabrielle's face.
"Oh centaur farts." The bard covered her eyes. "That explains the crack your mother made during our joining." She accused Jessan, whose muzzle was blushing a deep brick red. "About us being good for your population count."
Solari and the Amazons had been shifting their eyes back and forth to follow this confusing speech, and now the dark haired Amazon held up a hand. "Whoa! I'm lost!"
"We make them horny." Xena explained seriously, ignoring the splutter from her soulmate. "It's an energy thing."
Solari started laughing. "Hera's tits, Xena you don't need to be fuzzball to feel that why do you think we're always so damned glad to see you two?"
"Oh crackers." Gabrielle just hid her face in Xena's leathers.
"Excuse me.. what's a fuzzball?" Came a childish voice from the door.
Ten adults and one aforementioned fuzzball cleared their throats. "Uh.. I am." Jessan raised a furry hand. He plucked a bit of his chest hair up. "See, fuzzy."
"Yes.. but where does the ball come in?" Rebekah asked innocently, tugging her younger brother inside the barn with her.
Everybody looked at Xena. Blue eyes looked right back at them. "Oh no." The warrior shook her head. "I did this the last time. " She poked her soulmate. "Your turn."
Gabrielle drew a breath to protest, then she sighed. "It's just a saying, Rebekah forget it." She pushed away from Xena's barrel and went over to the children. "Did you come over here in this weather?"
The girl nodded. "Everyone's in service mother left me at the house to get things ready for the Sabbath dinner, but I finished all my chores, and Ruben wanted to see the horses, so I thought it would be all right to bring him over here." She paused. "We ran under the porches, and the wagons, so we didn't get too wet."
:Little Ruben blinked at them owlishly, his eyes taking in the leather clad Amazons and Xena with wide eyed interest.
"And I thought maybe if I asked, you 'd tell us a story." Rebekah gave Gabrielle a tiny smile. "The ones you told the other day were so interesting."
"Sure. "Gabrielle walked over and held out a hand. "Come on..let's go sit down over there."
Ruben worked his tiny hand free and trotted over to where Xena was standing, stopping about three feet from her, and tilting his head way, way back to look all the way up her tall body. He put a finger in his mouth and chewed it, blinking at her.
The warrior dropped to one knee, and rested her elbow on it. "Hi."
An almost soundless "Hi" answered her back.
"You like horses?" Xena asked quietly.
The body nodded vigorously.
"C'mon." Xena motioned him towards the stalls. "Wanna sit on one?"
Rebekah smiled, then turned to Gabrielle. "Do you mind if a few of my friends come in too? They sort of sent me on ahead.. kind of.."
"To check things out?" The bard grinned. "Sure the more the merrier." She watched the girl run to the door and wave her hand, then her eyes widened as a barrage of children pushed through the opening. "Oh boy." She muttered, watching the Amazons slowly backing away as they were surrounded. "Hiya, guys."
The crowd was mostly girls and younger boys, and they stared at the Amazons, Jessan and Xena with goggling eyes. "Wow.. you were right, Bek." One whispered, giving the brown haired girl a nudge. "This is wild."
"Okay let's all sit down over here " Gabrielle seated herself on a bale, and took a breath. "So.. what kind of story do you want to hear more about David and Goliath?"
The kids looked at each other, then one of the older girls pointed at Solari. "What are they?"
A dark eyebrow lifted and Solari put her hands on her hips. "Hey!"
Gabrielle muffled a smile. "They're Amazons."
A low whisper went among the children. "You know any stories about them?" The older girl asked, with a rakish grin. Three of the children broke off out of the group and headed back to where Xena was busy showing Ruben a large hoof. "Or about him?" The girl pointed at Jessan."
"Matter of fact, I do." Gabrielle smiled. "How about one of each?" She received an approving chorus, and noticed the Amazons settling down in the straw at the edges of the group. "Okay well, we can start with the Amazons, and I'll tell you how I first met them "
Xena let the familiar, engaging sound of her soulmate's voice float over her, as she directed her small audience about the tall draft horse, showing them different parts of the animal and trying to get used to the small faces watching her every move. It felt nice. She lifted Ruben up and set him on the horse's back.
"Now.. you can hold on, but you really ride here." She tapped his knee. "You grip with your legs, and that way, it leaves your hands free to um " She nibbled her lip. "Read a scroll or something."
"Read a scroll.. why'd you want to do that while you were riding?" The little boy on the ground asked. "Wouldn't your horse bump into something?"
Xena chuckled. "No.. horses know where they're going I've fallen asleep when I was riding, and my horse made sure I got where I needed to go." She told them. "They're pretty smart.. you can teach them all kinds of things. My mare Argo comes to me when I whistle, and she knows what to do if I get hurt, or if I need help in getting up on her."
"Wow." The boy answered, impressed. Then he walked forward and touched her knee armor. "Is that heavy?"
"Well.. it is a little.. but I'm used to it." The warrior told him. "It keeps my legs in one piece."
"When you fight?" The boy asked, giving Ruben a glance.
Xena paused. "Yes."
"Do you get scared?" The girl asked, now coming closer herself.
"Sometimes." Xena admitted. "When there's a lot of fighting, or when one of my friends is in danger."
"I've never heard of a girl fighter before." The boy objected. "My father says that's not right."
Xena knelt down and gazed at him. "Why not?" She asked, reasonably.
He had to think. "Because girls have to take care of the family.. and we have to have mommies."
The warrior sighed, pushing aside a sharp jolt of guilt. "Well, sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do when I was a girl, bad people attacked where I lived, and I had to help protect my family."
He considered that. "Oh."
"My father went away to war, and he wasn't there..but I was." Xena told him. "And so I learned how to fight."
Fair lashes flickered in the low light. "Are you a good fighter?"
Xena hesitated, then gave him a half grin. "Yes."
"Is your family okay?"
Another sigh. "Mostly my younger brother was killed, but my older brother is the man standing over there and my mother runs an inn where we live."
He studied her. "Oh. Well, I guess you're okay then, for a girl."
In an odd way, it was a touching compliment. Xena chuckled. "Thanks." She ruffled his hair and stood up, catching a pair of mist green eyes which found hers over the stall divider. She read Gabrielle's twinkling amusment and gave her a sheepish shrug in return, then she herded the children out of the stall, lifting Ruben down easily. "G'wan and listen to the story.. I'm going to see if we're flooded out yet."
She was pacing across the floor when her ears picked up the sound of running footsteps, and her head snapped up as she froze. "Trouble."
The door slammed open wide, and a tall, thin young man fell inside, gasping. "The river." He sucked in breaths of air. "It's over it's banks and headed this way."
Xena whirled, and pointed at Gabrielle. "Stay here." She warned. "Keep the children here, too." She added. "Until I figure out how much trouble we're really in." She pushed past the panting young man, and stuck her head out the door, peering out into the downpour and shading her eyes with one hand.
Sure enough, she could see the rising edge of the water down the road, and it occurred to her that the village was situated right in a semicircle of high cliffs. "Oh damn." She bolted out into the rain and ran out towards the road, then whirled, and looked at the village.
There was no where else for the water to go. It would slam up against the rocks, smashing the village apart along with everything in it, and it was too late to escape down the road. People were running back and forth carrying personal items, and animals were frantically bolting here and there. With a curse, Xena dashed back into the barn and faced the small crowd there. "We have to get into the cavern." She paused, and took a breath. "Now!"
Everyone scrambled forward, and Xena rushed past them, to where the horses were restlessly stamping. She unbuckled their leader lines and kicked the stall doors open, hoping they'd back out without trying to bolt. "Jess Toris get all our stuff." She yelled over the din. "There might not be much left of this place after that water hits."
Gabrielle was busy tucking everything in their bags, and slinging them both over her shoulder, as she tried to keep the children from panicking. "Okay guys.. you heard her.. let's go on to that big cave in the back of the village, right?"
"That's the dungeon!" Rebekah protested. "Only bad people go there."
"Well, right now, we're going to go there, so the water doesnt catch us.. okay?" The bard took a few deep breaths, then she gave Rebekah a gentle push. "Go on."
"You got that?" Solari caught up with her, one of the Amazon's bags thrown over her own shoulder. "I can take that other one."
The bard gave her a grateful smile. "I'm okay, thanks.. let's just get over there Xena has that 'we're in deep poop' look." They followed the children outside, and the water hit them. Gabrielle threw her arm over her face, and leaned into the wind, putting her other arm around little Ruben. "Okay.. come on.. this way." She yelled, as the Amazons clustered around her. "Take care of the children come on.." She spotted several women dashing around. "Hey! Over here!" They looked up, then ignored her, and went on with what they were doing, carrying bags back and forth across the courtyard.
Matthias ran towards them, waving his hands. "We've no more room.. go back to the barn."
"What?" Gabrielle stepped up next to him. "You can't stay in your houses the water's going to come all the way in here.. we need to get into the cavern." Her breath was coming hard, and she fought the desire to wipe her eyes.
Toris put his arm around her shoulders. "She's right.. you're in a culvert here the water's coming in over that ridge the only safe place is the cavern."
"But.. " Matthias glanced around, his eyes wild. "We can't "
"Come on.. we've got to go.. we're out of time." Toris insisted.
"Our homes we can't just leave them." The man protested.
"Matthias man, ye're gonna die in em if ye don't." Johan came up, his beard darkened and plastered in the rain. "C'mon now, be sensible.. get a move on."
He hesitated then let out an long breath. "All right. " He turned and raised his arms. "Everyone everyone take your things.. go to the cavern!!!"
For a long moment, they stared at him, then they started moving, tripping and stumbling in the mud and rain, dragging boxes and bags back towards the rear of the village.
"You all right?" Toris asked gently, peering at Gabrielle.
She nodded. "Yeah just out of breath.. come on." The rain came down harder, slamming against her back, and she was glad of Toris' secure presence as they slipped and skidded across the muddy ground, hearing an ominous rumble at their back. They skidded around the corner of the worship hall, only to stop short.
"What in the bla " Toris barked.
Three men were desperately trying to herd thirty or so sheep into the small opening, squeezing the animals through one by one. "There's no time fer that!" Johan yelled.
The shepherds glanced up. "We're not losing these.. it'll just be a minute." Another wooly animal jumped through the doorway.
Pounding footsteps behind them advertised Xena's arrival. "What.. " The warrior skidded to a halt. "Get those sheep out of the way.. that water's coming down!"
Another sheep popped inside. The shepherds glanced at her stubbornly.
Xena unsheathed her sword and stalked forward lowering her head and balling her free hand into a fist. "The children are more important than these damn sheep." She growled, raising her sword arm threateningly. "Now get out of the way, or there's going to be little sheep bits all over that mountainside." She brought the flat of the sword down sharply on the rump of a bleating sheep, who jumped to one side, kicking backwards and catching the warrior on her knee armor.
Xena growled at the sheep, and slapped it again, and it moved against it's mates, jostling away from the warrior. "C'mon.. follow me." She yelled behind her, then started swatting sheep.
"Hey!" The shepherds ran after the bolting animals.
The children stumbled inside the cavern, and Xena's group followed, but the warrior paused at the entrance and glanced behind her. "Move it!" She yelled, encouraging stragglers.
The roar of the water was louder now, a deep, angry rumbling that shivered the ground. Men and women ran past Xena, more afraid of the river than of the glowering, dark haired woman. Matthias came stumbling up, a huge sack on his shoulders. "Is that it?" Xena's eyes scanned the village, seeing no other human forms, only the odd, running sheep and a scattering of boxes and bags.
"Yes." Matthias gasped. "Close the door." He ducked inside.
The warrior hesitated, searching out all the parts of the village she could see, then she reluctantly eased through the door into the noise some darkness of the cavern, and closed the door behind her.
It was oh gods. Xena almost backed right out the door. The cavern was filled to bursting with goods, people, and sheep, the mixture of children crying, adults yelling, and animals bleating nearly overwhelmed her. She closed her eyes and concentrated, almost missing the sudden impact of a hand against her leathers. Her eyes popped open, to see Leah's frightened face. "What?"
The older woman backed off. "I can't find Isaac." She lifted shaking hands. "I can't find him.. he's not in here."
Xena looked over her shoulder. "How can you tell? It's dark in here, Leah he could be in the back somewhere."
She shook her head and tried to push past the warrior. "No.. no.. he's not here.. I have to go find him."
Xena grabbed her. "Stay put." She sighed, and shoved the door open, poking her head out. The water's roar was now so loud, it almost hurt her sensitive ears, and she thought a moment. "Would he have tried to get your scrolls?" She yelled back at Leah. "In the temple?"
"Yes!" The woman pulled at the warrior's leathers. "Yes.. he would.. "
Xena took a breath, then turned, and grabbed Solari, who was standing next to her. "Listen you watch that water.. if I'm not back by the time it hits the edge of that building, you shut this door, hear me?" She told the Amazon fiercely.
Solari swallowed. "No." She took a shaky breath, scared, but unrepentant. "You get back here, Xena, because I am not going to tell my damn queen I locked you out."
Xena cursed, then just shook her head and bolted out across the water filled courtyard, where the first, uneasy wash of the river was already racing. Her boots splashed through it, and she felt the sucking draw of the mud, but ignored that as she headed for the worship hall.
She reached the door as the first rumbled of rocks crashed into the outer buildings, and she ducked inside, her heart pounding and her senses racing, eyes flicking everywhere in the building the focusing on the altar in front. She powered up the aisle, her boots slamming against the wooden planks, then she was up on the platform, and spotted Isaac kneeling by the square cabinet. "Isaac, we're outta time!"
The older man turned and held a hand up. "Get back.. .you must not come into the presence of the holiest of holies."
The warrior didn't even break step. She hurdled the low table separating them, and grabbed his arm.. "I don't have time to argue." She pulled him up, and with her other hand, grabbed the intricate wooden case he'd be loading. "Gotta go."
He stared at her in shock.
"Now!" Xena pulled his arm, and headed for the back door. He stumbled after her, and they made their way down the aisle , just as the door burst open under the pressure of the water, and it cascaded down sweeping Isaac off his feet, and throwing Xena against the wall. "Damn."
She scrambled over and got ahold of his arm, pulling him toward her. "Hold still " She got her other hand on him, and lifted him up, throwing him like a sack of potatoes over her shoulder. "Hang on.. this is gonna be tough."
Xena fought against the water's pressure, driving forward step by step until she was outside, seeing the water start to lap up against the cavern wall. A glance behind her showed a wall of dirty, cold river headed towards her, and she realized there was no way she was gong to make it before it caught her.
Her eyes went to the doorway, and found a pair of green ones, wide with anxiety looking back at her.
Time stood still, as she watched Gabrielle shift her gaze to the oncoming water, then deliberately step outside the cavern.
Xena bolted, throwing every single bit of energy she had into every step, plowing through the water as though it wasn't even there. The roar grew at her back, and she felt the sting of a rock hit her. Then another. A third, which rippled across the backs of her thighs and almost made her stumble.
She couldnt feel Isaac's weight. She couldnt feel the tug of the water against her legs. All she knew were those eyes, and the lessening distance between herself, and her soulmate.
A limb cracked against her shoulders.
The roar deafened her. She felt a searing pain along her back.
The water surged, and she knew it would take her legs out from under her, so she shoved off against the ground, leaping the last distance with her burden and taking herself, and her soulmate into the darkness beyond.
The door slammed behind her, and she heard a heavy body throw itself against it with a grunt, then the sliding scrape as the solid bar slid into place and held against the water and debris. Xena took a breath, then lifted her head, to see Gabrielle sprawled next to her, blinking a little in surprise "You okay?" The warrior rasped, trying to ignore the pain her back.
Gabrielle nodded shakily. "Yeah.. are you.. gods, Xena.. you're bleeding.."
The warrior slowly lifted herself up on her elbows, wincing, and peered past the bard into the chaotic mixture of shadows and flickering firelight. Isaac was surrounded by six or seven men, all kneeling next to where he'd fallen when Xena lunged into the cavern.
The cave was full of people and animals, and the sounds and smells assaulted the warrior's overly sharp senses. Every breath she took pulled against whatever it was that was embedded in her back, and she felt very much like just putting her head down, and trying to block it all out. A gentle hand touched her neck, and she gazed at the concerned bard. "You were going to let them close you out."
Green eyes gone cinnamon colored in the low light glinted. "Us." She gently corrected. "Besides, I knew you could make it.. you just needed a little poke." She reached out and pushed the wet hair out of Xena's eyes. "The Amazons are over in that corner.. trying to clear a little space for us." Gabrielle looked in that direction. "Better get you over there so I can clean off those cuts your leathers are drenched, and it's not with water."
Xena nodded. "Yeah feels like it." She half rolled over and pulled out the box she'd rescued, running an idle finger over the fine carving. "Nice."
A strange silence suddenly made her look up, aware of only the shifting of hooves and the soft baaing of the sheep. Isaac tottered forward, and she pushed herself up to a sitting position, lifting the box in one hand and extending it to him. "Here sorry I had to just grab it."
A collective indrawn breath moved the air, and the old man dropped to his knees, bowing his body forward and back in a bobbing motion. He then straightened and peered at her. "The Lord has spoken. He works in mysterious ways, but his propehcy has been fufilled." He bobbed at her. "Before me, the Lord has placed his messiah."
Xena resisted the urge to look behind her. "Excuse me?" She raised one
eyebrow in question.
"You are the one spoken of. The messiah.. who may drink from the cup of
life, and hold the holiest of holies without harm." Isaac intoned, in a sing song voice. Then he broke into his own language, bobbing up and down, and the group of men around him joined in.
Oh, this isn't funny. Xena closed her eyes, and tried to ignore Gabrielle's twitching face. "Isaac, I'm not any kind of whatever it is you think I am." She sighed. "Here.. take your box." She stretched her arm out.
Still bobbing, he reverently took the case from her, mumbling over it. "The Lord has spoken.. I serve the Lord." He kissed the box., then turned to the men around him. "You will serve the messiah, and attend to all her wishes."
He motioned two of them. "We must get this under the holy covers.. come."
Xena muttered a curse under her breath, and eased into sitting position "Stop laughing." She growled softly at her partner.
"I can't help it." Gabrielle whispered back, as she watched the remaining elders edge attentively around them. "Come on.. I think Solari's ready over there.. let's just get you taken care of."
"Right." Xena slowly got to her feet, water and trickles of blood running down the backs of her legs in warm streams. She gazed down at the bobbling elders, who were chanting softly under their breath. "Um we're fine here.. thanks."
"What are your wishes?" The oldest of them asked, peering at her from under grizzled eyebrows.
"I'm.. " Xena stopped, and exhaled. No sense in pissing them off again. "I'm going to go over there and sit down, okay?" She gave them a forced smile, then turned and studied the door just behind her. The wooden panel was leaking, rivulets of water seeping down from the top and side edges, butit was a slow leak, since the wood had swollen to fill the doorway and effectively sealed it. She put her hand against the surface and felt the chill right through it, hearing the rush and crash of water against the rocks above it and to either side.
They were stuck here for a while at least until the water subsided. Xena hoped fervently that it woudn't be long. She eased past the older men and several sheep, and headed towards the far corner of the cave where a tiny cul de sac afforded some clear floor space. "You.. um why don't you take it easy for a while okay? I'll be fine." She told the following elders.
"The messiah speaks." The leader of them intoned, bobbing at her. "Amen."
Xena sighed, and shook her head, then gladly followed Gabrielle towards
where the Amazons had staked out space.
"You all right, Xena?" Solari asked, as they came up. "That was quite a
"Yeah" The warrior grunted. "Got some splinters, that's all.. and we're
stuck in here until the water goes down." She looked up as Gabirelle took her arm, and pulled her towards the rock wall, where their bags had been tucked.
"Sit down." The bard urged. "I'll get your kit out. " She nudged Xena
towards a boulder near the wall, then knelt and dug into Xena's bag. She pulled out her medical kit, then she hauled herself to her feet, and moved around in back of where the warrior was seated, wincing at the raw red wounds she could see through her soulmate's ripped leathers. "I need to get this armor off, Xena."
"Yeah." The warrior reached under one arm and unbuckled the straps, then started on the other, sucking in a silent breath as the motion pulled against her wounds. The armor plates lifted off her shoulders and she felt the bard's fingers against her leathers. "Bad?"
Gabrielle didn't answer for a moment. "Little bits of sharp, thin stone is embedded all over back here, Xena." She murmured. "It's a mess.. and there's one big piece right near your spine."
"All right." The warrior bit her lip. "Take my armor tools and pull them out." She paused. "Start with that big one."
Reluctnatly, Gabrielle did so, wincing every time she felt her partner's skin flinch under her touch. She cleaned the small cuts, and put a few stitches in the big ones, including the deep, angry gash that had come very close to her backbone. When she was done, she spread a bit of herbal salve over the cuts, and put a linen bandage over them, putting her hand on Xena's shoulder. "So, messiah.. what's the plan now?"
"What?" Solari had been seated against the wall, peering morosely at the crowd, and now she turned to look at Xena. "What did she call you?"
"They think Xena's their messiah." The bard informed her. "She grabbed their magic box, and didn't get zapped from above." She smoothed her fingers over the torn skin, knowing from her soulmate's silence just how much pain she was in.
Solari snorted. "Well.. their god gets s point for knowing when not to mess with someone."
"Mm." The bard agreed, letting her hands slip up Xena's neck, and probe her skull gently. She was relieved to not feel any telltale bumps, and gave her partner an encouraging look as the blue eyes glanced inquiringly back at her. "That any better? That one big piece was really nasty, love."
"I know." Xena answered quietly. "Things were going a little numb." She
admitted softly. "You did a good job getting it out of there."
Gabrielle almost stopped breathing. "Xena, why didn't you say something?" She murmured fiercely.
Blue eyes studied her. "I didn't want to make you nervous you did fine." She flexed her hands and rubbed her fingers. "Tingling's almost gone."
The bard slowly lowered her head to rest against Xena's. "Gods."
The warrior reached up and patted her hands. "Relax." She peered around the crowded cavern. Sheep milled around, uneasily bunched into a makeshift corral formed from barrels of water and boxes of supplies. Men were clustered in a large circle, heads bent together, and the women had herded the children over to the other side of the cavern, near the back. They were walking back and forth through the boxes of belongings, collecting food and water and chattering among themselves. The smell, of all those people and all those sheep was almost indescribable.
Xena sighed, and briefly wished she was home. She didn't feel much like
being a messiah today. Or any other day for that matter. "We're stuck here. "She informed them all, nodding at Toris and Jessan who had come back with full waterskins, which they passed around.
"Well, on the bright side, we don't have to worry about Baracus." Gabrielle commented.
A sheep escaped it's corral and dashed by them, baaing frantically as a
young shepherd chased her down, The boy's feet slipped on the wet rock and he went sprawling, knocking into a basket of assorted nuts, which scattered across the floor. Two women carrying baskets of cheese slipped on them, sending bits of crumbling, old cheese across everyone with pungent accuracy.
Xena plucked a bit of it from her partner's hair, and lifted a brow. "Does the term lesser of two evils have any meaning for you, Gabrielle?"