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The Conqueror Series
Tale Three: Time's Fell Hand
Chapter 8: There Is A Road That Turning Always
"I missed you so much," Gabrielle said with her arms wrapped tightly around my neck.
"You don't know how good that is to hear, my love" I replied.
We stood toe to toe in our private room, although I believe Gabrielle's feet barely touched the floor. She had fairly launched herself at me once we were alone, a good thing, too. She met our party, along with a few of the Amazons, our friends, and family, outside in front of the inn. We arrived late into the afternoon and by the reception we received, I felt as though we had been gone much longer than a fortnight. When Gabrielle met me, her reception was slightly reserved; one might even say cool. Instantly I worried. Had she found out about my deflection of the truth?
I needn't have been so concerned. The very moment good manners allowed us to retire for the evening, Gabrielle had tugged on my hand, leading to our room. She left me breathless with her first kiss and proceeded to weaken my knees with further caresses.
"You know," I began. "I was a little vexed when I first arrived and you acted so aloof."
"My Conqueror, you worry much too much," she replied, followed by her customary lilting laughter. "It's all part of the new, mature me."
"Oh, I didn't realize that the old version needed improvement."
"That's sweet of you to lie like that, but you know as well as I do that I've looked a little less than regal lately."
"It's all part of your charm, love."
"Well, thank you. I just thought that it might help if I looked a little less like a doopa."
I laughed aloud at her verbiage. "I'm almost afraid to know. What, may I ask is a doopa?"
She laughed along with me. "It's sort of my own word, I suppose. Sort of like, uh a harebrain."
"I see. Well, love, not that I would ever think you a harebrain or a doopa, I'm sure your personal guard welcomes the change."
"Ephiny's words exactly," she said with a smirk. "Now, how about a warm bath to wash off all the road you brought back with you?"
"Excellent suggestion. Join me?" I asked with a hint of a smile.
"Even though scrubbing your back does happen to be one of my favorite
past times, I'm going downstairs to fetch us some dinner. I'll even bring you
back some port. How does that sound?"
"Significantly more lonely, but I admit that I'm famished. All right, leave me if you must," I said dramatically.
"Try not to perish before I return, My Conqueror," Gabrielle added saucily. She hurried through the door, narrowly avoiding my slap in the direction of her backside.
I held Gabrielle in my arms, feeling that pleasant sensation that comes from lying between clean sheets, next to a beautiful woman, and feeling a little lightheaded from an extra mug of exceptional port. I had not forgotten about my recent journey, the young man in our camp outside of town, or that I had to discuss all of this with Gabrielle. It was simply that at that moment, I cared about nothing beyond the perimeter of our room. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with anything much further past the edge of our bed.
Gabrielle displayed a heartfelt affection that told me I was not the only one that had missed my lover. She placed delicate kisses on my neck and chest, wherever she could reach from where she lay with her head on my shoulder. Her fingers stroked my skin absently. Her naked skin brushing against mine was all that it took to cause a delightful wetness to begin between my legs. I was tired and slightly high from drink. I wasn't drunk, though. I merely experienced that light, floating sensation that came from being warm, well fed, and touched in an extremely gentle and loving manner.
Gabrielle's fingertips grazed my nipple and I let out an almost inaudible gasp as the skin there tightened. I could nearly feel the tip elongating, hardening in an attempt to follow the source of the pleasure. I thought I had been quite silent, but not so. Gabrielle heard my small gasp and leaned up on one elbow to look at me. After pushing aside the light sheet that covered the both of us, she appeared to concentrate more on gazing at my body rather than looking me in the eye.
I had no complaints, however. The look in her eye simply increased the level of my own arousal. Frankly, with Gabrielle, I had been used to an excitement that quickly swept me into a passionate frenzy. Usually I was so intent on reaching that point of heart stopping physical release that I occasionally lost focus, my mind ending up in some sort of sexual haze. The feelings I experienced just then were different than in the past. It may have been due to the drink I consumed, but I doubted that alone was the cause. For the first time in my life, I was able to relax. Not just to relax my body, but my mind, as well. What I felt under Gabrielle's tender, yet erotic, ministrations became soothing and decidedly arousing at the same time. I could feel that small part of my libido, which the beast controlled, easing back. It was as if Gabrielle's gentling touch tamed the very beast within my physical body.
Gabrielle continued to touch me, only letting her fingertips lightly traverse my quickly warming flesh. She leaned down and placed the lightest of kisses upon one breast, then leaned in again and surrounded the nipple within the warm wetness of her tongue.
I moaned quietly and when she raised her head again, I placed the palm of my hand behind her head, indicating with a gentle pressure that I wanted more. She gave me what I desired, softly licking, and sucking each breast. She made a noise of contentment and when she rose up on one elbow once more, I smiled at her through half closed eyes.
"Like that, do you?" I teased her over the sounds of pleasure she had made.
She smiled back at me. "I believe the question should be, do you?" She didn't wait for an answer before she returned to her caresses.
"Oh, Gods, yes!" I cried out when she took my nipple between her teeth and increased the pressure. She continued to nip at my skin as she positioned herself over me, straddling my body. They weren't sharp bites, meant to cause pain, but rather pressure, merely to cause me to feel.
She sat up and ground herself against me, sliding down my belly until our mounds came together. We both moaned at the feel of our combined wetness. Unconsciously my hand went to the small of her back and pulled her down for a fiery kiss, lifting my hips at the same time to increase the pressure there.
She pulled away from the kiss, each of us quite breathless. She whispered only one word. "Slowly," she breathed into my ear. She then sat up again and reached for my breasts, gathering their fullness within her two hands. She changed direction, bent down, and kissed me, just as her fingers pinched and rolled my nipples.
I groaned into her kiss, experiencing a small orgasm from that action alone.
She moved once more and it felt as though she was sliding down my body as effortlessly as liquid along my skin. There was nothing quick or explosive about this seduction. It was making love in every sense of the word, all emotion and smoothness, sensations and quiet intensity. I did not beg for my release, nor push myself to that goal. For once, I enjoyed the journey as well as the final destination. I allowed myself to float along on the passionate cloud that Gabrielle not only created, but controlled.
I pressed the back of my head into the pillow and sighed with a shiver as I felt Gabrielle's mouth on my sex. She had pressed her palms against the inside of my thighs, gently encouraging my legs to open fully to her. I denied her nothing and no part of me. She rewarded me with a new pressure point.
Her hand encircled my thigh and I felt her fingers press sharply into the space somewhere on the back of my leg where my thigh and backside met. I briefly wondered how a pressure point would react with this slow, floating type of sensation I currently experienced. It took the tic of an eye to discover what this new pressure point would do. Suddenly, I felt a fullness within my lower belly. As illumination dawned, I realized exactly what I felt.
Gabrielle's tongue began a warm exploration of my folds, just the tip of her tongue occasionally rolling across my clit. I breathed in sharply, a combination of surprise and ecstasy. The fullness inside of me felt as though she had penetrated me with her entire hand. There was none of the pleasurable pain involved only the sensation of being filled. Soon, I could feel the pulling and pushing motion, just as though she was using our favorite phallus-like toy inside of me.
I tried to rise up slightly to look down at Gabrielle. I needed to see for myself. Yes, she still had one hand around my thigh, the other reaching up to tease my breast. Her tongue lapped insistently against my increasingly wet sex, and still I felt the imaginary penetration.
I fell back upon the bed in pure rapture. "Oh, Gods Gabrielle!"
She paused and raised her head. "Are you all right with this, Xena?"
"Yes, yes Gods, yes."
"I'll take that as a yes," she teased. "How does it feel?"
It took my brain a long moment to convince my tongue to react to the question and verbalize an answer. "Incredible," I answered. "Just incredible. It feels like Gods, it feels like you're fucking me."
I could imagine her smiling up at me. She often shook her head at my vulgar language, but in this instance, she said nothing about my choice of words. Instead, she answered me in a most erotic voice, low and purring.
"And so I am, love. With my mouth "
I could suddenly feel my passion rising.
"My tongue "
She flicked her tongue across that most sensitive spot. The edge of the precipice neared and my hips kept up with the imagined penetration.
"My body "
I heard her words as though standing behind a waterfall. A sound like rushing water filled my ears and a curtain of wetness surrounded me.
"My mind "
An indescribable heat attacked my belly, swirling just as my hips ground themselves against Gabrielle's tongue. The heat was so intense that I actually felt my body backing away from it instead of rushing toward it.
"But what you feel now, my love is me making love to you with my heart."
I felt the deepest penetration yet, and the breath caught in my throat. I felt as though I had caught on fire from the inside out. I cried out again and again as one orgasm quickly blended into another. By the time Gabrielle released the pressure point, my sex was drenched, my body trembled with pleasure, and I couldn't seem to choose whether I should be laughing or crying. I ultimately chose both.
"Gods above!" I kept repeating.
I never even felt Gabrielle rise and move up next to me. I suppose I must have blacked out, for the next thing I became aware of was Gabrielle holding me in her arms. I was floating again, but this time it wasn't a part of any seduction. It was a reaction to Gabrielle holding me, sensing that I was safe and protected in her arms.
Gabrielle stroked my hair with one hand and rubbed small circles against my back with the other. From behind a veil of fatigue, I heard murmured words that comforted me love mine forever.
"Sleep, My Conqueror," she said.
And, so I did.
I woke to the sight of Gabrielle sitting by the window. She leaned toward the open casement, one elbow propped upon the sill and her chin resting in her cupped hand. Her other hand reached out the opening toward the tree that came so close to the outside wall that its branches came right up to our window. Her other hand reached out and I watched, my arms wrapped contentedly around a pillow, as a large native squirrel hesitantly crept along the edge. Slowly he moved toward the tidbit of bread that Gabrielle held in her outstretched fingers. The animal appeared frightened and nervous, but still he moved close. Finally, braving all, he plucked the morsel from her hands, scampering off with his prize.
"How do you do that?" I asked sleepily.
Startled by my voice, Gabrielle's head turned quickly. She smiled at me, a look that rivaled Apollo's sun. "Do what?" she asked in reply.
"Tame a wild beast to eat from your hand." I think we both knew that I hadn't really referred to the animal outside, but the one that resided within my own psyche.
"I don't know, but it's a wonderful feeling. Perhaps it was ready for a little human kindness or grew weary of its own kind. Maybe it was just hungry."
"Most probably all three," I added. I thought of my own reasoning and all three explanations certainly did apply. "Come here, you."
She slipped between the sheets and I spooned my body around hers. "It was pretty indescribable last night."
"I'm glad you approve," she replied.
"I know this is going to sound quite absurd, but I'm actually sore. Not in a bad way, but you know, the sort of aching reminder of what a pleasant night we had. The silly thing is, I'm sore in a spot where penetration didn't actually happen."
"But, in your mind it did. The nerves that were affected sent a message to your brain and your muscles literally responded as though the physical part was real. Was it really pleasant, Xena?"
"Do you truly need to ask? Then let me answer in detail. Yes, love, it was far beyond anything I expected, anticipated, or even about which I've dreamt. Tell me, how many more surprises do you have there in your pleasurable arsenal?"
She smiled coyly. "Enough to last us a lifetime, my Conqueror."
We heard a light rap on the door and Gabrielle started to rise, but I held her back with a gentle touch to her shoulder.
"Come in, " I said.
"Xena! We're not--"
The door opened and Gabrielle dove under the sheet. I admit, it was shameless of me, but there were times when I simply did things to see a person's reaction. Gabrielle had not tamed the Conqueror too much for that. I even enjoyed such innocent actions as a way of teasing Gabrielle. I was constantly amazed that a woman who had lived her life as a body slave could get so embarrassed over something as natural as being found in bed with her legally wed spouse. As I said, to poke fun in such a manner was shameless, but it did make me smile.
"Morning meal is served," Selene said as she smiled brightly at me and walked into the room carrying a tray laden with a teapot and some morning pastries.
She looked like another person altogether, with her cheerful disposition, something we had seen precious little of until just recently. She didn't blink an eye at the fact that Gabrielle and I were still in bed or that, quite obviously, I wore nothing but a smile.
"Morning, Xena and " She cocked her head at the slightly quivering mound of sheets that was my wife. "Um Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle popped her head out, pulling the sheet up to just under her chin. "Good Morning. Thanks for bringing that up. You didn't have to."
"Well, I figured you two might want to just relax and um, you know talk, since you haven't seen each other in a while."
"Those pastries look great," I said.
"Gabrielle helped mom and Delia," Selene responded.
"Did she now," I answered, looking down at Gabrielle.
"Don't be fooled. I think I helped the most by staying out of their way," Gabrielle added with laughter.
"Xena, I can read almost the whole first learner's scroll," Selene said. She looked fairly bursting with happiness. The learner's scrolls were a series of parchments that taught youngsters how to read. I had no idea where Gabrielle got her hands on a set out here.
"Outstanding! See, I knew you could do it."
"Yes, she's doing extremely well," Gabrielle responded. I noticed she suddenly looked uncomfortable.
"I feel like I'm learning a lot," Selene said
"Well, Gabrielle is a superb teacher," I responded.
"Oh, Gabrielle hasn't been tutoring me."
"Oh?" I questioned as I looked down at Gabrielle's suddenly fidgety form.
"What does it really matter who tutors who as long as Selene is doing so well," Gabrielle said.
"And who is this amazing teacher?"
"Ephiny," Selene replied. "You know," she added due to my silence. "The Amazon Captain."
"I see." I forced a smile on my face for Selene's benefit. "It's wonderful news."
"Thanks. Well, I better go and leave you two to uh, have your tea," she finished, her cheeks tinged with pink over thoughts of what we might do after she'd left the room.
"Gabrielle," I drawled once Selene had left.
"Now, Xena. She and Ephiny get along so well, and Ephiny's really a patient teacher."
"Yea, I'm just afraid letters may not be all she's teaching."
Gabrielle rose and put on her dressing gown as I did the same. She poured two steaming mugs of tea and placed one before me at the table. "For one thing, Ephiny would never disrespect you or me by doing that. I think you already know that. For another, it's all been very innocent. They've studied every evening at the table in the kitchen in plain sight of your mother. She and Delia are both being very protective of Selene."
It seemed as if they had me outnumbered and already outvoted. I did the only thing the Conqueror could do under such dire circumstances. I pouted.
"You're so cute when you do that," Gabrielle said.
"I'm a warrior, Gabrielle. Please don't call me cute."
Gabrielle stood up and laughed. As usual, when she laughed, I couldn't manage to keep a straight face. I smiled just to see her happiness.
"Still love me?" Gabrielle asked.
"Always. I think I just want to be in a mood for a while longer." Childish behavior, yes, but it was all I had to make me feel good just then.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around my shoulders from behind and kissed my neck. "Well, you just go ahead in be in your little mood, my Conqueror."
She turned away after another kiss, still chuckling over my behavior.
"Hey," I grabbed her hand and physically pulled her back toward me. "Thanks," I said before placing a tender kiss in the palm of her hand.
Sometimes I could be such a child and I knew it, too. Deep down, I knew what Gabrielle said was true. Ephiny would never disrespect her Queen, or a friend, by taking advantage of my younger sister. My much younger sister; I planned to remind the Amazon. It was all just conjecture at this point, anyway. I broke my morning fast with Gabrielle and prepared for the day thinking that perhaps I had actually imagined the Amazon's intentions.
It was some time later in the day when I eventually made my way to Yu Pan's room.
"Tong zhi zhe," he addressed me when he opened the door.
"Master Yu Pan, good day," I replied as I bowed.
"Please enter, friend."
I walked into a room that I barely recognized as belonging to my mother's inn. Yu Pan was a man with no vices, of which I knew, anyway. The closest thing to one was that he felt an important need to surround himself with pieces of home when he traveled. He had once told me that he never journeyed far from home, even though he had crossed the known world many times over.
The spacious room that I entered looked much like the rooms that Yu Pan occupied back in the castle in Corinth. Long silk tapestries covered the walls and the same material had been thrown over the bed. The customary table and chairs had been removed and Yu Pan's many large cushions covered the floor close to the fireplace. Incense rose into the air from a miniature makeshift altar set upon a reed mat. Oddly enough, Yu Pan had already poured tea. I looked down and saw steam rising from the two clay cups, fashioned with the same design as the teapot.
"I'm sorry, you're expecting company," I said. "I can--"
"Indeed, and you are right on time."
I arched an eyebrow in his direction. "I don't even want to know how you do that, do I?"
"Perhaps some things are best left as elusive mysteries," he replied. "Please, shall we sit?"
"I think I need to."
Once seated Yu Pan took a sip of his tea and my brain tried to formulate some sort of plan as to what I even wanted from the man. As usual, he anticipated my thoughts.
"You wish to speak of a difficult subject?" he asked, but I suspected that he already knew that.
"I do, Master Yu Pan. I'm not even sure what I want to ask you."
I smiled. "How is it that you can read my mind so well?"
I saw amusement in his eyes, but there was only the slightest twitch of his lips to indicate that he smiled at all.
"There are no mind tricks involved, only simply logic and deduction. It is no secret, Conqueror, that Gabrielle is always close to your heart and your concern for her is placed above all."
"I guess that's so. Master, I need to know something about Gabrielle's past, but I don't want it to sound as though I'm accusing you of anything."
"There is no fear of that. Please, ask what you will."
"It's a long tale and I've not a great deal of time to tell it," I began. I related a most abbreviated version of my tale. I told Yu Pan about my discovery of the child I suspected of belonging to Gabrielle and all the details regarding my journey to rescue and obtain the girl.
"So you see, I fear I'll never know if the child belongs to Gabrielle or not."
"And what would you have me do for you what part do you envision me playing in order to assist?"
"If only she could tell us more specifically, if she named the child, we have records that might help us, but "
"She has no memory of that day," Yu Pan said.
"That's right," I answered slowly. "I wondered you see I mean, I know that you "
"Xena, ask of me what you have come here to learn."
I sighed. Hoping I wasn't about to ruin a friendship with my own curious and suspicious nature. I had already accused one man falsely and didn't want to repeat the same mistake I had made with Telamon. I nervously licked my lips before answering. "Did you alter Gabrielle's memory of that day?"
"It was I, Conqueror. Forgive me, but it was the only way."
"Does she realize? I mean, did she know you did such a thing?"
"At the time, yes. She no longer has any memory of the day we speak of, at least not in any detail, nor does she remember the moment that I hid it from her conscious mind."
"Hid it?" I asked.
"It is never a good thing to erase the past from one's mind. We must be able to see the past in order to know ourselves. On the same day that I helped Gabrielle to accept and deal with the memories of the entire incident over her child, I realized that even I could not ease Gabrielle's suffering over that final day, the day on which she gave the baby up. It was with great sadness that I offered my nuér the only alternative that would help her. It was the only cure I had left."
Yu Pan stopped to refill the pipe that had always been his constant companion. He relit the fresh tobacco with a brazier from the fire under the teakettle and slowly sucked on the long tapered mouthpiece. "You disagree with my actions. I can see it in your eyes."
"I think I'm actually a little surprised is all. It's not like you, of all people, to play with a person's mind lightly."
"Lightly?" Yu Pan's eyes narrowed and I believe it was the one and only time, even in seasons to come, I had ever seen the man anything close to angry. Then again, this was Gabrielle and she was as much a daughter to him as if she had been born of his blood.
He lowered his head and breathed in deeply, the pipe in his right hand forgotten. "I believed at the time that it was the only choice to be had. I felt Xena, her pain was so great that I truly feared she would do harm to herself over her guilt. It was because of that powerful and frightening feeling that I granted her wish."
"That's when she asked you to hide it the memory?"
"She no longer wished to remember that day, but she was adamant that I not touch her memories over the incident as a whole. She could not stand the pain of her own guilt, even though she always wanted to remember that she had a child, alive or dead."
"How does one go about hiding a memory?"
"It is not very complicated. Actually, when one wishes to forget, to find relief from the grief of a painful memory, it is quite easy. My nuér's past is safely hidden away, but ready to be remembered with one uttered phrase."
To say that I pondered the old man's words would have been an enormous understatement. Thoughts rushed through my mind, as though I raced along at a breakneck speed atop Tenorio's back. I hadn't the time to examine them all, but there they were, hurrying past in a tangled mass of emotions.
The thought that hit me with enough force to double me over was that Yu Pan had felt Gabrielle capable of doing harm to herself, killing herself. Had I been blind? Had I somehow missed the magnitude of Gabrielle's situation? Had she been in so much agony that she had been ready to end her mortal life? I was suddenly at a loss as to how to proceed.
"Is it so important that you know whether the child is truly of Gabrielle's body? Could either of you love a child less who was born of another, yet loved as your own?"
His thoughtful question brought me up short, just as many of the old Healer's remarks had always done. He merely had the ability to look at a situation from a different perspective than the rest of us did.
"I'm not sure how to answer," I replied. "I mean, I suppose the answer would be no, of course. I look at the extended family, which Gabrielle and I have developed, and I realize what you're saying. My mother deeply loves Gabrielle. In such a short time, she looks at her as a daughter of her heart. In the same way, I see that you have been more of a father to her than any other in her life. There are only a few who care for her the way in which you do."
"And yet you seem adamant about discovering the child's true identity."
"For Gabrielle. I think it would mean so much to her. I only want to give her what was taken from her to please her." I could think of no other answer or explanation. Did I really want Gabrielle to remember the day of her greatest pain and suffering?
Before I could agonize further, Yu Pan seized the decision from my grasp with his next remark. He looked at something far off in the distance of his own mind, for his eyes never landed upon me as he spoke. His features filled with something akin to distraction.
"It would seem that it is time for Gabrielle to remember," he said.
I didn't want to simply walk in and hit Gabrielle with all of this. Not only would it be embarrassing for her, but she might also consider it even more painful should others know of her secret. Because of this, I decided to bring only Yu Pan and Artus with me to speak with Gabrielle. Actually, I only wanted Artus to look at Gabrielle to see if he remembered her face, or that perhaps seeing her would jog his memory for a child's name. After that, I would dismiss him for privacy's sake.
Yu Pan suggested that I actually speak with Gabrielle privately before we began, to give her a chance to decline any of it. It had never really occurred to me that Gabrielle might not want to go through this. Suddenly a thought slipped into my conscious mind. Who had I been doing this for all along?
"I'm getting a little worried, Xena," Gabrielle said.
Her voice pulled me from my introspection before I even had time to examine that last thought in any further detail. That last question still echoed in my head.
"Oh, no, love, it's nothing bad. Nothing like that."
She let out a sigh and placed her palm on her chest. "I was beginning to think--"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. It's actually rather good news in a manner of speaking."
"Good news? How can good news be 'in a manner of speaking'?" Gabrielle paused and then chuckled. "Xena, for someone who has good news to spread, you're pacing the floor a good deal."
I stopped and looked down at my feet. I had indeed been pacing back and forth. It was something I only did when I was nervous, couldn't make up a good lie fast enough, or when simply trying to put my random thoughts into some sort of a coherent arrangement.
"Well, it's only that--I thought it was a good thing, but things have become so jumbled, and I just don't know whether I'm doing the right thing anymore." I sat down beside her, dejected and tired. I suddenly had no idea if this was a good idea, let alone if it was the right thing.
"All right, you're making me worry again," Gabrielle said as she laid a hand on my back.
"Please don't, little one. My brain is just trying to put my thoughts into some sort of order. I just don't want to blurt it out to you, I want to discuss, maybe give you details of--"
"Xena, blurt it out, okay? You're making both of us so stressed that we won't even be able to enjoy our good news. Even if--"
"Gabrielle, since before we left Corinth, I've been searching for your child, your little girl."
She just sat there and stared at me. Her eyes blinked once or twice, but otherwise she was still, hands resting motionless in her lap.
"I I don't understand," she said. "I-- I--" She looked at me as if she couldn't remember my name.
Gods above! I look back in my memory as I write this and realize what a fool I was. I was Xena, the Conqueror! I was articulate, intelligent, and, by that time, had become somewhat compassionate. I should have been comforting Gabrielle, gently leading up to that moment of revelation. Instead, I acted like some witless what was that word Gabrielle always used? Yes! Doopa!
"S--Say that again," Gabrielle said.
"All of it, I suppose."
"Gods, I know this is coming out badly, but--" I took a deep breath, determined to begin again. "Gabrielle, the day you told me about your child, I began to do what I could to see if perhaps the Fates had allowed her to live."
"You did what?"
"Yes, I know. I had a feeling you might be angry about me going behind your back." I could tell by the strange look on her face that I was in trouble. "But really it's all been for you, love. I couldn't stand to see you so miserable, not knowing what happened. It took quite a bit of intrigue and a bit of money, but well, I only did it because I love you."
She looked out of the window for a quick moment. When she faced me again, I could see a sadness there, but she almost smiled. "I knew something odd was going on. Acasia always showing up and those silly riddles you talked in to hide what you were really saying, and I just knew you weren't telling me why you really went to Ambracia."
"You did? How did--" I closed my mouth in mid sentence. This was getting off the path and I decided I would come back to it later.
"Xena," she began as she took one of my hands in her own. I could see that she was on the verge of tears, but handling it all much better than I ever thought she would. "You searched spent money and time for me?"
"Of course, love. Don't you know that when you hurt, I hurt and when you're happy, I feel as though I could do anything in this world. I guess I want you to be happy more than anything else in this world. I had a feeling finding out about this would give you a sort of I don't know, maybe closure. So, you wouldn't think you failed in that part of your life."
She threw her arms around my neck, which I hadn't really expected. I had actually anticipated something emotional, but more in the way of anger. Wouldn't I have grown cross if Gabrielle had planned some aspect of my life without my consent? I was thoroughly confused now, but I held to her tightly. That was when I realized what had struck me as the oddest part of the whole scenario. I just told Gabrielle that, essentially, I had found her daughter, the one she thought dead all these seasons, and so far, she remained silent about the child.
Of course! Yu Pan had told me that Gabrielle remembered this incident from her past as though it had happened to someone else or ages ago. It was the only way that her mind could deal with the trauma. Yu Pan had only erased from Gabrielle's memory the specific day that she had been forced to place the child into the waiting arms of one of Abdular's soldiers.
"Gabrielle?" I gently disentangled her arms from my neck. "Do you want to know about the child?" I asked and hoped it wasn't tactless or inappropriate of me to draw her attention back to the focus of our talk.
"I was too scared to ask. I think I'm afraid to know, Xena."
Tears slowly fell down Gabrielle's cheeks and I pulled her into my embrace. Her sobs were silent, but I felt the strain and release of her muscles. Perhaps Yu Pan's hypnosis had worked on the surface, but on some deeper level, the pain still existed for Gabrielle.
"It's all right, love. Gabrielle, listen to me. I found her. I mean, I think I found her. Well, I hope it's her. I think your daughter is alive." I kissed and petted her until I could feel her body respond to my words.
"You found her?" she asked, wiping the back of her hand across her tear stained face.
"I think maybe "
"Oh, Xena!" Once more, she grabbed me in a vise-like embrace. She began to cry again, but this time, I felt no pain associated with her tears.
"You just think you know?" she asked as she suddenly pulled out of the embrace.
"Well, that's where this whole thing gets a little mucky." I indicated that we should move over to the more comfortable chairs in the middle of the room. I then began my tale. I told Gabrielle of everything I had accomplished with Acasia's help.
"You managed all of this with only Acasia?" she asked.
"Um and Atrius."
She continued to stare at me in silence.
"Yes?" she finally said.
"Um mother pretty much knows, too. Oh, okay, I'm sure almost everyone knows by now. I'm sorry."
She slid her hand within my own and squeezed, as a smile crossed her face. "Go on. Tell me more."
I stopped my story at the point before we had met the younger Artus in Ambracia. Actually, I never really admitted as to precisely what I had seen in those scrolls of Telamon's.
"So, we really have no way of knowing if this little girl is mine."
"Would that matter a great deal, love? I'm not saying that I don't want to know for certain, or that you should ever give up wanting to know, but--"
"There's a little girl in the Amazon village who has no one," she finished for me. "And, she deserves a family."
"That's rather what I was thinking." My answer came without any forethought. If I had taken the time to evaluate my response, I would have realized why Gabrielle looked so surprised.
Actually, she sounded more than surprised and I understood why. I was certain that I had never made an impression upon anyone as a family oriented woman, especially when it came to starting a family of my own. Gabrielle and I had skirted around the issue of starting a family a great deal, but we had never actually spoken of it at any length. She prayed to Athena daily for a child sired of us both, and, due to my more practical nature, I felt rather assured that it was never going to happen.
"I know that surprises you, and you don't have to look embarrassed," I said as her cheeks turned pink and her eyes gravitated toward the floor. "I've come to some conclusions during this trip. Seeing mother again, Selene, and Cor. Just watching the way we all get along with one another and the huge family we've become. I can see now the deep relationships that exist between me and Delia, Atrius, you and Yu Pan. Gabrielle, it's made me want that for us. Our own family."
"I knew you would feel that way someday," she said with a smile.
"Oh you did, did you?"
"Well I hoped. Besides, I knew you'd make a wonderful mother."
"Ahh, I see." I reached over and kissed her forehead. "I'm glad you're so certain because just the thought really scares the Tartarus out of me."
"So, we've sort of decided that it doesn't matter who she really is she'll be ours?"
"I guess so." Suddenly, my stomach didn't feel at all well. I knew it would pass, but at that moment, what we were about to do felt incredibly frightening.
"Is she--wait a moment. I can't keep saying she. What's her name?"
"That's more trickiness," I answered. "Gabrielle, did you name your child before you gave--before that day?"
"No, I didn't," she answered. Her eyes squinted as though trying hard to see something in the distance. "I I don't think I did."
"You don't think so?"
"I--I Xena, I don't remember. How could I not remember something as important as that?"
"It's all right, really," I tried to assure her. I heard the rising panic in her voice. "Master Yu Pan told me that you couldn't remember that day."
"Master Yu Pan knows? But, how would he--did he do something to me?" she asked in confusion.
"You asked him to, love. You just don't remember because he hid all reference to it from your conscious mind."
"Because of the pain I was in." She seemed to have a vague memory of why, at least, she would have asked her mentor to do such a thing.
"Yes, love, but it seems as if it can be reversed. He told me that anything that can be hidden could be made visible again."
I briefly wondered if I should say anything about why Yu Pan had decided to accommodate Gabrielle's wishes at that time. As I said, it was merely a brief thought. I quickly dismissed it at a terrible idea. Such emotions seemed a private thing between Gabrielle and Yu Pan. Perhaps someday, I would tell her, but not now. She didn't need the stress when everything was so raw and tender.
"He felt that you were in a terrible way," I continued. "When you asked him if there was a way, he gave in and performed one of his I don't know what to call it healings?"
"I suppose that's close enough. So, do we never find out her name was it changed?"
"I'm afraid we all neglected to get her name. I don't know if it was changed, but Ephiny sent riders to the village to find out, but we're talking a matter of days before they get back here. If her name was changed, then that information does us no good, anyway. I do have an alternative, however."
"They kept very detailed records of these adoptions. The scrolls I read had the mother's name, when it was available. Gabrielle, your name wasn't on the scroll and it should have been if this girl is yours. Unfortunately, three women had babies saved on the day we guessed that this all happened. Two of them were marked simply as slaves. The only way to find out if you're the mother is to to know what you named her."
She looked at me and read my thoughts. Without us exchanging another word, Gabrielle's face took on a look of stalwart determination.
"It's time for me to remember. Isn't it?"
To be continued in : Chapter 30: Out Of The Night That Covers Me
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