As characters, Xena and Gabrielle, and any others borrowed from the show, Xena: Warrior Princess, belong to MCA Universal and Renaissance Pictures. As fantasies, they belong to us all. In this series of therapeutic vignettes, Ive borrowed them for my own perverse purposes as a hopeless subtext romantic. This session contains specific references to several, episodes, among them: "Giant Killer," "Return of Callisto," "A Fistful of Dinars," "Ulysses," and especially "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
I SING OF DAVID
Session Two at Sapphos Couples Counseling Service
"Gabrielle, were going to have to do something about all these scrolls," said Xena, cinching the saddlebag closed as best she could. "Argo says shes beginning to feel like a pack mule."
Gabrielle shook out her wet hair, pointedly shaking the water in Xenas direction. "Yeah, yeah," she said, drying her neck with the towel. "And I suppose the crossbow you bought in Corinth doesnt weigh the ole girl down."
"The crossbows not permanent," said Xena. "I told you, its a gift Im taking to Toris." She smacked the bulging saddlebag. "These scrolls multiply faster than Harpies."
Gabrielle gawked at her. "I cant believe you said that," she said. "I guess thats what you really think about my writing, isnt it?" She turned on her heel and walked back to the riverbank, tossing a final remark over her shoulder. "Sorry to be such a burden to your nag."
Argo looked up at the bard and whinnied.
"Gabrielle!" Xena said in exasperation. "I didnt mean to hurt your feelings. Its just that, you know I like to travel light."
"Then maybe you should travel by yourself, Xena."
Zeuss nuts!, Xena said to herself, striking her thigh. Whyd I have to go and open my big mouth? Now she was going to have to explain herself, beg forgiveness, wait for Gabrielle to decide she wasnt mad anymore, and they probably wouldnt get on the road till the sun passed its zenith, which would get them to Amphiboles well past moonrise. No hope of sharing a birthday meal with her brother now.
"Gabri-elle!" Xena said again. "Come on! You know thats not what I meant." As she expected, no answer came from the offended bard.
She sighed and went to apologize. "This is your fault, Argo," she told the horse, who only snickered and went back to munching on the grass. She picked a small daisy growing wild by the riverbank and approached Gabrielle softly. The bard was sitting with her ankles in the river, her shoulders shaking, and her face buried in her hands.
The bane of loving a bard is all the drama, Xena almost mumbled out loud, then remembered she had to act contrite. She knelt down behind Gabrielle and with one hand started combing out the wet blonde hair. With the other, she tickled at Gabrielles neck with the flower.
Gabrielle yanked her head away. "Leave me alone," she snapped.
"Come on, Gabrielle! Im sorry. That was a stupid thing to say."
Xena tried the tickling trick again, moving the daisy closer to the hollow spot on Gabrielles throat.
"Leave me alone, Xena." Gabrielle said again. "Im not interested in your half-assed apologies."
Xena grimaced. More and more, Gabrielle was resorting to foul language when they fought. She never wouldve talked to her like that before. Before what? she asked herself, already knowing the answer to her own question. Before that incident on the beach. She still cringed at the image of herself in complete abdication in Gabrielles mouth. No way she was going to let that happen again.
She shook off the memory and sprawled herself on the grass. "Alright, then, Ill just lie here and wait for you to forgive me. No use wasting my energy telling you how sorry I am, how much I love your stories, and how disappointed Im going to be if I dont get to see Toris today."
But Gabrielle wasnt buying. She was off on her own tangent. "If it werent for my scrolls, none of your adventures would be recorded, Xena. No one, but us, would know all the good deeds youve done these four years to make up for your past. Youd think youd show some appreciation."
She was about to respond, but decided it was best to check her tongue and let Gabrielle get it out of her system. At least she wasnt crying anymore. She plucked the petals off the daisy one by one, alternating between mutters of "she loves me, she loves me not" with each petal she removed.
"Of course, you never read the stories, so its not like you even know what Ive written."
Again, Xena almost blurted out that she preferred hearing Gabrielle tell the stories than reading them for herself. Arent you the one whos always saying a storys got to be told? she thought, but again, she kept her comments to herself.
"I dont even know why I bother," Gabrielle continued, sniffling. "If only you knew how much work it is to write a story. Just keeping the quills from breaking, scrunched in between the frying pan and all the other junk I have to carry in that pack, and making sure not to tear the parchment when I write on rocks and bark, since its clear were never going to settle down long enough for me to have a real table."
Mighty Aphrodite, thought Xena, so thats what this is about.
"Those scrolls are my life. You insult my scrolls, Xena, you insult me. Dont you get it?"
Xena rolled over on her stomach and crept up Gabrielles side slowly, gingerly laying her head in her bards soft lap. "Im sorry," she mumbled into Gabrielles skirt.
"Get off me, Xena, I mean it!" The bard pushed Xena so hard she almost fell into the river. "Just give me some space, alright?" Gabrielle added, getting to her feet. "Dyou think you can do that, for once?"
Xena stood up, too, quickly losing patience with her partner. "We gotta go, Gabrielle. Its getting late."
"Well, go. Whos stopping you? Just throw my scrolls off your precious Argo and get goin, for Heras sake."
Hera? If Gabrielle, the Amazon Queen, was invoking Hera rather than Artemis, it could only mean one thing: she was close to her moons, and it was going to be a rough ride. Xena crushed the daisy stem under her boot. Dont get angry, she told herself. Just give her her gods-be-damned space.
She went to lift the saddle and bags off of Argo. Didnt look like they were going anywhere, at least not anytime soon, just as shed predicted. With nothing better to do, she unlatched Gabrielles side of the saddlebag and started sorting through the scrolls. Eighteen of them, and one--Gabrielles diary-- as thick as all the rest put together. She plopped herself down in the shade of an old sycamore and unfurled one of the scrolls to read the opening.
I sing of Xena, Warrior Princess, who brought peace between the Amazons and the Centaurs.
She unfurled another one.
This is the story of Xena, once Destroyer of Nations, now the Warrior Princess and guardian of the feeble and the good.
Xena rolled her eyes and selected another.
In a time of ancient gods, warlords, and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero. She was Xena, a mighty princess, forged in the heat of battle.
So far, she liked that one best. She set the scroll down on her lap then grabbed another.
I sing the song of Perdicus, the boy I knew, the man I loved.
She winced at the knowledge that Gabrielle had written down the story of Perdicus. His bravery as a Trojan soldier. His nobility on their wedding night. His death at Callistos hands. She couldnt hold that story against Gabrielle; she and Perdicus had gotten married, for Hestias sake. Not that the marriage hadnt hurt her, but Gabrielle had belonged to Perdicus before she belonged to Xena.
Xena chewed on a twig for a moment, allowing herself to remember Callisto. Poor mad Callisto, who reminded Xena so much of herself. The same raw rage and cruel lust for power. To think I used to be just like her, she thought, till Gabrielle came into my life. She shook her head to dispel the image of Callisto sinking into the quicksand and Xena kneeling right next to her making no effort at all to give her a hand. She chose her own path, thats what Gabrielle would say. Her own evil consumed her. Yeah, and I turned her into an immortal. Real smart.
She picked up another scroll, this one written in tiny letters, and held it up to the light to see the writing better.
I sing of David, the warrior poet of Israel. His courage shown on the battlefield. His gentle nature in his home. His passion in his psalms.
"David?" she asked Argo. "The kid with the sling who killed Goliath?" Argo nodded slowly. "Why is Gabrielle singing about him?"
This story she read all the way to the end, frowning the whole time. On and on it went about the boys beautiful voice. His dreamy eyes. The lilting words of his poetry. His odd faith and fierce devotion to his people. And then the part that really stung.
I wouldve given myself to him if he hadnt already been betrothed. I wouldve let him be my Shepherd.
Since when had Gabrielle taken to David? I guess I was too preoccupied with the thought of killing Goliath, to notice. Warrior poet, indeed! She remembered, now, that Gabrielle had seemed very withdrawn after theyd left the Israelites. It was about a year before the wedding to Perdicus and just a few months after the passion had started up between her and Xena, even though they were still not sleeping side by side, yet, or opening up each others secrets. Still, it wouldve never occurred to her that she couldve lost Gabrielle to some shepherd boy.
She leaned her head back against the tree trunk, stunned by the revelation. She knew that Gabrielle had a tendency to get smitten on the spot, especially at the beginning of their travels. Witness how shed fallen for the terminally-ill, Sophocles-loving Talus, and that kid shed spent the night with when they fought the Titans, and her total swoon at seeing Perdicus again in Troy. Couldnt leave out Petracles. He had sure spun Gabrielles head around. That time Xena couldnt hide her jealousy, not because Petracles had been her own betrothed back in the old days, but because she saw how clearly his charms were working on the innocent Gabrielle. So shed kept him at bay with the point of her sword and a warning. But the shepherd boy with the slingshot? And right under my nose, while Im torturing myself over having to kill a good friend to protect that boys people? Talk about gall. She folded her arms over her breastplate and let herself seethe.
A thought itched around the edge of her brain. She paid no attention to it at first, filled as she was with the awareness of her own jealousy. Like everything else she felt, this emotion was overwhelming, exaggerated, impossible to contain. She had half a mind to tear up that scroll and take the pieces to Miss Give-Me- Some-Space. Sure, take all the space you need and let me kill myself while youre off flirting with some useless son of a sheep farmer. The thought itched again, and this time, she paid attention.
Read the scrolls, Xena. Everything you need to know is in the scrolls.
She craned her neck around the side of the tree to see where Gabrielle was, but the bard had skulked off somewhere and Xena probably wouldnt see her again till she got hungry, or till trouble found her. Xena turned to the scrolls and got to work. First, she separated all the "I sing of Xena" stories, and stacked them to one side. Seven of them were about men. Other than the stories of David, Perdicus, and Talus, there was one about a bard named Orion whose real name was Homer that Gabrielle had met at the Athens Academy for Bards, another about how Xena had fallen in love with the king of Ithaca, rivaling the Sirens for his heart. Xena squirmed at her own near-unfaithfulness. Truth is, shed only flirted with Ulysses to get back at Gabrielle for Perdicus; shed had no intention of going any further than that kiss. There was the story of Marcus, another of Xenas ex-flames, which was really more about how the power of Xenas loyalty had rescued him from Tartarus. And, as she feared, the story of Khrafstar and Dahok, which, no doubt, culminated in Hope. She couldnt read further than the first few lines in that story. Despite the heat that was already making the sweat gather between her breasts, Xena felt a chill. The thought of Hope always brought back the memory of Gabrielles betrayal and the loss of Solan. Brought back too many ugly thoughts, too much pain and a vision of herself gone berserk that no amount of forgiveness could allow her to forget.
The only scroll left was the thick one of Gabrielles diary, the one scroll Gabrielle had asked her never to read. That had never been a difficult promise to honor until now. Now, Jealousy had the reins, as well as the whip, and Xena was nothing but the obedient beast following Jealousys lead, allowing Jealousy to torment her with the evidence of Gabrielles disloyalty. Pick up the scroll, Jealousy ordered, see for yourself how youve been manipulated by that little blonde. Xena obeyed.
"What do you think youre you doing, Xena?"
Continued in Part 2
"Now, then," Doctor Love smiled at both of them. "What is the issue for today?"
"Spying." Gabrielle didnt waste a breath. "Eavesdropping. Promise-breaking. Need I go on?"
Why is it always my fault? Xena was thinking as she sat there with her legs astride either side of the fur-covered couch, sneezing into her armband. Not only had they not made it to Amphiboles, but Gabrielle had insisted they turn right back around and take the next boat back to Lesbos.
"Im not going anywhere near that bat-shit cave, Gabrielle," Xena had said, and yet, here she was.
"I see," said Sappho, looking even more radiant than the last time they had visited. She wore a loose emerald gown trimmed with gold netting at the breasts. Her large nipples were very clearly etched against the gossamer fabric. The girl standing behind her chair, deeply massaging her bare brown shoulders, was evidently responsible for Sapphos radiance (or so the doctors assistant had confided in Xena out in the waiting room). "Intimacy got a little frightening, did it?"
"I dont know if it had anything to do with intimacy," said Gabrielle. "Xena violated my privacy."
"Wait a minute, Gabrielle," Xena stepped in before her reputation got completely dragged through the loam, "those are strong words and you know thats not true."
"What do you mean, not true, Xena? You were sitting there reading my diary to your hearts content when I specifically asked you not to do that. I caught you."
"I wasnt hiding what I was doing," Xena parried, "youre the one who stalked off all mad at me, nearly pushed me into the river when I went over to grovel for your forgiveness--"
"Lets take five, here, shall we?" Doctor Love said, then turned to her handmaiden and winked at her to stop the massage. The girl retreated quietly from the room. "Forgiveness for what, Xena? Why were you groveling?"
"She wasnt groveling," Gabrielle said.
"I made a stupid remark about how heavy the saddlebags were getting with all of Gabrielles scrolls, and she took it the wrong way and acted like I was saying I didnt appreciate her writing. I tried apologizing to her, but she wouldnt cut me any slack, and when I--" By the gods, I hate all this tattletale stuff, Xena thought, rolling her eyes, but went on with her rendition, "--when I begged her to forgive me, she nearly shoved me into the river and told me not to give her any half-assed apologies. Those were her exact words. Gabrielle didnt say things like that before--" Xena bit her tongue and glanced at Gabrielle.
"Go on," Sappho prompted. "Before what, Xena?"
"Before the last time we were here," Gabrielle chimed in. "Xenas got this theory that just because we were able to work out that little problem we came to you about last time--"
"Oh, so you worked it out?" Sappho beamed.
"Just once," said Gabrielle.
"Its a start," said Sappho. "And that means progress."
Xena scoffed at Doctor Love.
"You dont agree, Xena?"
Xenas lip curled into a smirk. Shed said enough, and shed had her fill of these little meetings.
"Shes just shy," said Gabrielle, slapping Xena on the knee. "She doesnt like to talk about it."
"May I fill in the blank, then?" asked Sappho. "I think I see the pattern here."
"Hmmm," said Xena, lifting an eyebrow. "I got another pattern for ya." Getting smitten by every Tom, Dick, and Joxer that comes around, she added in silence.
"Do you want to tell us about it?" asked Sappho.
"Ladies, first," said Xena, still smirking.
"From what I hear, you were able to trust Gabrielle enough to allow her to do what she wanted to you,
and thats a very good thing, Xena. I know how hard that mustve been for you, and you probably havent fully recovered from that, have you? Theres probably a tinge of resentment somewhere in you that Gabrielle coerced you--" Doctor Love held up her hand before Xena contradicted her. "--not that she forced you to do something against your will, but that you went through with it because you wanted to please her, and in that sense, you felt coerced by your own love for Gabrielle and her love for you." She paused and watched the effect of her words on Xenas face.
Xena drew her impassive warriors expression and stared back at her, focusing her gaze on the dark ridge of the womans eyebrows.
"Gabrielle? Does this feel like an accurate assessment of the situation?" asked Sappho.
"I guess it makes sense," said Gabrielle. "She really was very hesitant about it, at first. Hesitant or in pain, I dont know, but then, it did feel like she gave in."
"Did you enjoy it, Xena?"
"Im not going there!" Xena said. "All I know is that ever since then, Gabrielles been short-tempered and rude to me, shes been using all this language she never used to use, and, the real story is that shes mad at me because I found out about all the boys she wanted to throw herself to while I was busy saving a race of people from the Philistines, for example."
"Thats what you discovered in her diary?"
"mong other things."
The handmaiden came back into the room and whispered something in Sapphos ear, playfully tickling the older womans neck with the tip of her tongue before leaving again.
"You promised you would never read my diary, Xena," said Gabrielle, oblivious to everything.
"I didnt read that in your diary, Gabrielle. Your diary has nothing to do with it. Im sorry you caught me reading it, but there wasnt anything in there that you hadnt already written about in your stories. Does I sing of David, warrior poet of the Israelites ring any bells to you? That wasnt in your diary, that was in one of the permitted scrolls, thats how I found out, and thats why I read your diary. I wanted to see how many other times youd cheated on me. End of story."
"Not quite, Xena," said Sappho. "Storys just beginning. Multiple levels of trust and betrayal here, all interacting with each other but conveniently hiding behind this issue of the scrolls. Unfortunately, I dont think its something well be able to resolve in this session. Ive just been told that Aphrodite and the other Muses have arrived a day earlier than expected--its our monthly Muse Council, you see--, so Im afraid Im going to have to cut it short for today. I wont charge you, of course, but I do want you two to meet with me again--"
"Look, no offense, but Im tired of coming here," said Xena. "Gabrielle thought you could help us. Okay, so you cant, thank you very much for trying. Well be on our way, well figure it out as best we can. Lets go, Gabrielle. Im not coming back to this cave."
"You wont have to," said Sappho. "I want both of you to be my guests tonight. My home isnt far from here, and I trust youll find the surroundings much more civilized than this cave, Xena. No bats, I promise. We can continue our talk in the morning, after breakfast. Im sure Aphrodite would love to see you again." A knowing look passed between Xena and Doctor Love.
Gabrielle looked at her partner. Already she was beginning to look like the old Gabrielle, imploring her with those deep green eyes that could look so gentle and beguiling, at times, but Xena knew that was just a facade for the little firebrand underneath.
"Wed be honored?" said Gabrielle, not quite sure if Xena was going to gainsay her. Xena let it slide, even though it meant delaying their arrival in Amphiboles by another two days. She wasnt looking forward to seeing Aphrodite again, either. That goddess always stirred trouble between her and Gabrielle.
"Splendid," said Sappho. "And I want to ask you to do something in preparation for tomorrows chat, if I may? Ill leave you two to yourselves tonight, think of it as a well-deserved respite from your travels, and Ill have your dinner and wine sent to your quarters, so you neednt bother mingling with the guests. Well be in Council till late, anyway. After youre all settled in for the night, I want you to tell each other a story, a memory, perhaps, of something sexy that you did together that you never talked about. Will you do that for me?"
"Sounds easy enough," said Gabrielle, gesturing at Xena with her head. "If this one will cooperate."
Without meaning to, Xena reached across and yanked Gabrielles head back by the hair, then planted a lewd kiss square on the bards mouth, for Sapphos benefit.
"That answer your question?" said Xena.
Continued in Part 3
They followed the handmaiden through a grove of olive trees to a clearing at the crest of the hill, where a house worthy of a Turkish palace suddenly loomed into view. The white walls and turrets were glazed to an apricot color by the light of the setting sun. The sea wind sloughed through the cypresses that lined the stepped path to the house. The surf pounded the cliff on either side. From where they stood, Xena swore she could see clear across the Aegean to Vesuvius. Argo neighed contentedly behind them, anticipating, already, a hefty bushel of oats for dinner.
"This is a gift from the gods," Gabrielle said in a low voice. "Itll be so nice to take a real bath and sleep in a real bed."
At the mention of a bath, Xenas muscles started to ache. But she felt something else, as well, a distinct tightening of her nipples as though soft fingers had suddenly tickled her back. Yes, a bath would be nice.
The doors to Sapphos home stood wide open, no sentinels posted anywhere in sight, just a boy who took Argo to get rubbed down and stabled. Xena lifted the saddlebags off and slung them over her shoulder, but immediately, another boy rushed out of the shadows to carry the bags to their room.
Gabrielle gasped at the sight of the interior courtyard. The blue and white tiled fountain, the potted flowers, tables and chairs arranged in intimate corners and under the shade of great magnolia trees.
"This is how Id like to live," Gabrielle said, more to herself than her partner, but Xena heard the nesting tone to her voice loud and clear.
"Too much work," said Xena, though in truth, she was grateful not to have to spend the night on a beach or by a river somewhere. There was a lot to be said for the civilized life, at times.
"More work than fighting for a living?" asked Gabrielle.
"I dont fight for a living, Gabrielle. I fight to live. Thats the path Im on, a path youve chosen to take with me. Its not glamorous by any stretch." She tousled Gabrielles hair. "But it does have unexpected moments like this one."
The handmaiden led them through yet another courtyard, this one with two pools in it and a grape arbor held up by tall statues of naked men, their marble bodies twined with old vines, their crotches dangling huge clusters of red and green grapes.
Xena bent over and whispered in her lovers ear: "Hey, Gabrielle, wanna grape?"
Gabrielle jabbed her in the ribs, but laughed aloud anyway.
They walked up a circular staircase to a gallery that overlooked the pools. A row of miniature lemon trees, fragrant with blossoms, took the place of a balustrade.
"This will be your chamber," the handmaiden said, standing outside an arched door. "Sappho wanted to put you in the east tower, far from the central activity of the house, to make sure you werent disturbed. Can I get you anything? Refreshments are on their way."
"A bath," said Gabrielle, "if you dont mind."
"The waters being poured and scented as we speak. If you think of anything else--"
"Matter of fact," said Xena, sniffing at her underarm, "our clothes could use laundering."
Gabrielle scowled at her. These women werent Amazons, at the Queens beck and call. "I wouldnt want to impose," she said.
"Not at all," said the handmaiden. "Just leave out the things you want washed and Ill have someone take care of it. There are fresh shifts you can use, if you need something to sleep in." She smiled. "If there isnt anything else, Ill bid you both good night, then." She reached down to hug Gabrielle and gave Xena a kiss on each cheek. For an instant, Xena expected to feel the tip of the girls tongue on her skin, but, alas, it didnt happen. Good thing, too, given Gabrielles eagle eye.
The room was appointed in silks and rich walnut furnishings. A pair of slave girls was just finishing casting the last of the rose petals into the steaming water in the bath. All around the tub, thick candles had been lit, and in between the candles stood different colored bottles of oil and jars of salts, a pile of thick, fresh sponges at the foot of the tub. One of the slaves curtsied to Xena and asked if she needed any help undressing. Before Gabrielle could protest, Xena acceded to the help, and the girl deftly removed the scabbard and breastplate while Xena pulled off her gauntlets and bracers. The other slave followed Gabrielle into the bedroom.
The girl helped her off with her boots and then Gabrielle stepped out of her skirt, halter, and underwear. She pulled out the rest of their clothing from their bags, and threw in their towels and blankets, too. Those hadnt seen a good washing in weeks. The girl bundled everything up in one of the blankets and curtsied to Gabrielle before leaving the room. She was about to head for the bath, but was stopped by a knock at the door and a voice announcing refreshments. Gabrielle draped herself in a silk sheet from the bed and went to open the door.
It was Sappho, herself, carrying the tray. "I trust youre making yourselves at home," she said, smiling and eyeing Gabrielles covering.
"Thank you so much for your invitation, Sappho. Its much more than--"
"My pleasure, I assure you." Sappho didnt let her finish. She swept into the room and set the tray down on the sideboard. "It isnt every day one gets the opportunity to house the Goddess of Love, the Nine Muses, the Warrior Princess, and the famous Bard of Potidea in one evening. Actually, if I hadnt given you your little assignment, Id ask you to entertain us later with one of your stories."
"Id be happy to oblige," said Gabrielle.
"Well see," said Sappho. "These Councils sometimes last all night. May I pour you some wine?"
"Oh, no, really, thats too much. I can pour it. Youve done enough, really." Gabrielles mouth was watering at the scent of roasted meat and fowl rising from the tray.
"Very well," said Sappho, "Ill leave you to your bath." She let her gaze linger a little longer than necessary on the soft swell of Gabrielles breasts under the silk wrap. "That fabric suits you," she added.
Gabrielle blushed and thanked her again, and found herself wishing that Sappho would kiss her goodnight, which she didnt. Just the slightest graze of her fingers on Gabrielles shoulder that gave the bard goose bumps. After Sappho had gone, Gabrielle touched her hand to her chest and was surprised at the quick beating of her heart. Shed never felt such instant attraction to any woman other than Xena, a woman as feminine as herself and yet with Xenas same, almost feral, sensuality.
"Gabri-elle?" Xena called out. "Whats taking you so long?"
Gabrielle lifted the clay jug--in the shape of a womans torso, she couldnt help but notice--and poured their cups full to the brim. The wine smelled of cinnamon and blackberries. She carried the cups into the bath and found Xena already neck-deep in the rose petals, her face flushed from the steam, and the slave girl pouring water over her hair with a conch shell.
"I can do that," Gabrielle said, feeling her usual twinge of jealousy at the sight of any woman getting familiar with Xena. The girl bowed, collected Xenas shift and knickers from the floor, and left them alone.
"Ah, wine," sighed Xena, holding out her hand to take her cup. "Please, Im so thirsty."
"You should see the food," said Gabrielle, unwrapping the silk around her and letting it slip to the floor.
"Im looking at it," said Xena, tongue inching out between her lips.
"First we wash, Xena," said Gabrielle, "you know the rules." She stepped seductively into the tub, pointed toe first, followed by sleek calf, tanned thigh, blond pubis, tight torso, full white breasts, nipples like pink rosebuds. Xena almost came just looking at her. Gods, she loved looking at her sweet young bard.
Gabrielle moaned as the hot water penetrated her tired muscles. Xena gulped down her wine. After soaking for a bit, they took turns rubbing each other down, first with the salts, then the oils. They lathered each others hair with the lavender-scented soap, scrubbing hard at the scalp, shaping the lather into tall bouffants and Medusa-like coils, laughing like girls at their silly creations. For a final touch, they layered rose petals on their cheeks and eyelids and let their heads float back in the water.
"Sweet Artemis," Gabrielle breathed through her mask of petals, "thank you for this gift."
Xena slipped down into the water for a last rinse. "Are we clean enough, now?" she said when she came back up, her eyes gleaming silver with desire.
Gabrielle reached out with her foot and parted Xenas thighs, letting her toes wriggle into the dense patch of hair there. Xena shivered as Gabrielles big toe hit the spot.
"Oooh," said Gabrielle, "someones juicy."
Xena lifted Gabrielles foot out of the water, and brought it up to her lips, kissing each toe, first, before suckling it. Gabrielle crooned with pleasure, her hands already beginning to fondle herself.
"So what story are you gonna tell me," Gabrielle murmured. "Remember, we have homework."
"Thought youd never ask," said Xena, pulling that irresistible little body towards her in the water. "Ive got just the thing." Gabrielles legs wrapped around Xenas waist and Xena held onto the round, sleek globes of the bards buttocks. Unbeknownst to Gabrielle, shed tucked a favorite toy between her legs which she could squeeze without needing any other manipulation.
"Remember that night with the Bacchae?"
"Are you kidding? How could I forget?"
"Do you remember when Joxer rescued you from that bar?"
"Joxer rescued me?"
"See what I mean? You dont remember. Least not the early stuff. You were under the spell of those two women you were dancing, with. Really nice moves, too, by the way. Too bad you couldnt see yourself, and the way those Bacchae were lusting after you. If I hadnt been afraid they were gonna take a bite outa you any minute, I wouldnt have let Joxer interfere. Quite a show. Even straight-laced Orpheus was impressed."
"I remember walking into the bar, the music was awesome, Id never heard music like that before, all that syncopation that seemed to be shaking the house. And there were all these women dancing together. But I dont remember dancing. With two women, huh? Were we dancing close?"
"Like a sandwich, and you were the meat." Xena slid a hand over Gabrielles silky breast.
"Hmm?" said Gabrielle, nuzzling Xenas wet neck. "Sounds like a picnic."
"You know what else you dont remember? Didnt you ever wonder how you became a Bacchae in the first place?"
Gabrielle pursed her lips. "I was always confused about that, but since we never talked about it, I let it go." She shrugged, and nibbled on Xenas earlobe. "I chalked it up to just another one of those weird experiences in my travels with Xena."
She tilted her head sideways and Xena kissed her, sliding her tongue in and out of the bards mouth.
"You taste so good," said Gabrielle.
"Maybe thats why that woman took a bite out of me," Xena joked.
"Why didnt you tell me right away that youd gotten bitten? I remember Joxer thinking you were going to become a Bacchae because he saw the wound on your neck."
"One of the Bacchae managed to get a fang into me before I wasted her, but I wasnt really worried that Id become one, since it wasnt a real bite, just a taste."
Gabrielle ran her teeth along the vein in Xenas neck. "Good thing I didnt see that," she growled, "or the bitch wouldve felt my staff in her face."
"You were too busy flirting with those two women to care what I was up to," said Xena, squeezing the firm flesh of Gabrielles ass cheeks into a two-fisted pinch.
"Mmmm," said Gabrielle. "I like it when you get jealous. Then what happened?"
"Well, that night, after we set up camp and ate that strange turnip stew you prepared for us--I knew something was wrong with me when you cut yourself and I felt this instant urge to suck the blood from your finger. Anyway, after Orpheus totally pissed me off blaming me for Eurydices death for the hundredth time, remember I left?"
"I remember you almost sliced Joxers head off with your knife. I told Joxer you only throw knives when youre really upset, so hed better leave you alone and not follow you if he knew what was good for him."
"Yeah, he woulda lost a body part that night if hed followed me. I went for a walk to calm myself down, make sure there werent any Bacchae following us, and when I came back, the fire was banked and youd already spread out our blankets on the other side of the tree. I thought you were asleep so I crept into bed as quietly as I could, and then I realized you were still awake, sort of. You wanted me to tell you what it had felt like, to be bitten by a Bacchae. There was a quality to your voice that made me doubt you were really awake, more like talking in your sleep, as you tend to do, and then I realized you were doing more than talking. Your hand was humping away under the blanket."
"Xena!" Gabrielle pinched Xenas nipples. "Youre making that up!"
"Am not. You said you didnt know what was wrong with you, but that you just couldnt get that image out of your mind, the image of being bitten, so you wanted me to tell you how it was, and I understood that, somehow, you were still under the influence of the Bacchae spell, and that you wanted me to help you, you know, get there, so I said, if ya want, I can show ya. That sure got a rise out of you. But you have to keep your voice down, I whispered, we dont want Joxer to wake up."
Gabrielle had started sucking on Xenas neck, pulling at the flesh delicately through her teeth. Xena felt a streak of heat run through her loins at the memory of Gabrielle masturbating, and her thighs got to work.
"And then what happened?" Gabrielle murmured.
"I kissed you and your mouth was all over me like you hadnt eaten in weeks. I massaged your breasts hard, keeping one hand clamped over your mouth because you had started to make noise. You had your legs spread wide under the blanket and who knows what was going on down there, but from the juicy sound of it, I could tell you were working it, big time. Each time I released your mouth, you said Bite me, Xena. Bite me, hard."
By now, Gabrielles hips had started to grind against her, and Xenas fingers were exploring the soft crack between the oil-sleek cheeks.
"And then, what?" Gabrielles voice was thick as honey.
"Of course you hadnt bitten me, yet, so there was no way for me to know how good that really felt, to have those teeth buried in your vein like that, to have your blood slurped out of you, but I guess I mustve been convincing, because you sure liked it when I started sucking on your neck. I did it gently, at first, cuz I didnt know how much pain you could really take, but your breath was all quivery and your hand was going wild under the blanket, sound of a juicy cunt --"
Her right hand had found the wet entrance between Gabrielles wide-open legs, and she jammed her thumb into the squirming bard, slipping the tip of her middle finger into Gabrielles anus at the same time. The double-impale move that shed perfected in the bath.
"Oh yes, Xena, yessss!" Gabrielle clenched her thighs tight around Xenas hand.
"--and youre whispering, harder, do it harder, let me feel your teeth. So I pressed my mouth down as hard as I could until I felt your skin break--"
At that, she felt Gabrielles teeth break the skin of her own neck as she rode Xenas wrist like a saddle.
"--and at that point, I just let myself go. I dont know if I turned into a Bacchae, or what, but I latched on to you and sucked your blood till you shuddered--"
Gabrielle was shuddering now. "Oh, Xena, oh Xena, oh Xena," she kept saying.
"--so hard and loud I had to cover your mouth with mine to keep you from yelling out." Xena doubled over with her own climax, remembering how shed kept time with Gabrielle that night.
Gabrielles legs untwisted from around Xenas back and she slipped a hand down between her lovers thighs. "Hey!" she said, pinching Xenas nipples again. "The old sponge trick again, huh?"
"Im starving," said Xena, grinning with a tad of mischief at having tricked Gabrielle. "Water sports make me ravenous."
"Food must be cold by now." Gabrielle looked disappointed that Xena had come without her help.
"Sos this water," said Xena.
Gabrielle stepped out of the tub, but Xena pulled her back in and gave her another long, deep kiss. "Youre not getting off that easy," she said, winking. "Theres more where that came from. I promise."
"First, we dry, then we eat," said Gabrielle. "Then well see if you can still keep a promise."
Xena couldnt resist smacking Gabrielles wet butt when she stepped out of the tub.
Continued in Part 4
The meat--a pork roast and two pheasants--was cold but they finished every scrap of it, anyway. Xena scraped the bone clean on the roast with her breast dagger. Someone had come in while they were in the bath and left a bowl of grapes and a platter of dates and figs for dessert, another pitcher of wine, this one clear and sweet. They ate their fill, licking each others fingers and lips, feeding each other the sweet, sticky fruit till their teeth ached and the wine was gone.
"Im stuffed," Xena said, rubbing her naked belly. "How bout you?"
Gabrielles eyes twinkled in the firelight. "Not quite," she said, her teeth biting lightly on her lower lip as she watched Xenas body. The square shoulders, dark-nippled breasts, flat belly, sharp bones at the hip, wide, strong thighs, thighs that could crush a Cyclops to death, black pubis hung with the gold chain mail of the loin belt shed buckled on as soon as they were out of the bath.
For once, the loin belt didnt bother Gabrielle. Maybe it was all the wine, the heavy satedness that the food had given her, the pleasure shed taken in the bath. Maybe it was just the recognition that--except for the breasts and the missing organ between her legs--Xena had the strength and contours of a mans body. You couldnt see it so much when she wore her leathers, what with the whip and the chakram dangling off the sides and the armor accentuating her breasts and cleavage, the skirt announcing her gender loud and clear. But naked like that, sitting at the end of the sideboard with one long, hairy calf thrust over the back of a chair, rubbing her belly and picking her teeth with a chicken bone, there was nothing feminine about Xena at all. Even her breasts looked more like over-developed pectoral muscles than female organs. The thought made Gabrielles eyes twinkle, made her bite her lip and stare at her lover in a way that said I want you inside me as only one other person had ever gone.
"Dinar for your thoughts," said Xena, who had felt more than seen the energy emanating out of Gabrielle, like a sudden shimmer of heat lifting all around her.
"Lets go to bed," Gabrielle said, her voice almost hoarse with desire. "Its my turn to tell a story." She reached out her arms. "Take me," she said.
Xena responded so quickly it felt like a shadow had suddenly moved in the room and lifted Gabrielle out of her chair. Gently, the shadow laid her down in the cool silky softness of the bed, then stretched its long, lean body beside hers and held her close, a warm, weapon-callused hand stroking Gabrielles skin.
"I dont know whats softer," Xena whispered. "These sheets or you."
They kissed. Only that for a while, the tangling of tongues and sucking of mouths, moans punctuating the stillness. And then Gabrielle nestled her head in the crook of Xenas shoulder and gently touched Xenas face with her fingertips, like someone blind feeling the lips and nose and eyelids of her beloved.
"After Perdicus died," Gabrielle began her story, "after all those months of mourning him and hating Callisto with equal amounts of intensity--"
Xena rested her head back against the downy pillow and listened to the voice she loved, the storytellers voice, the voice of the Bard that was Gabrielles truest self.
"--I came to the realization that, though I loved him deeply and though I felt enraged at the unfairness of his death, and at my own foolish innocence that believed love could conquer cruelty, though I lusted for revenge, I could never have been a normal wife to him. I could have never settled down in Potidea, or any other town, and started a family with Perdicus, living happily ever after, bringing up children and taking care of a farm, or whatever. It would have been a life of love, yes, but also, of servitude and entrapment. I had to accept that Id been on the road too long. Id been with you too long. Id shared too much with you to ever be able to give it all up for marriage or a family. I missed you, Xena, more than I ever missed my mother or my sister. Even in the chapel as Perdicus and I said our vows, I missed you. I felt you standing behind me, and I could tell you were hurting but were being strong for my benefit, and I ached for you, Xena. I ached for the loss of you in my life.
"At the inn that night, my wedding night, the big night when I was at long last going to become a woman for the first time, do you know what I was doing? While my husband sat on the bed waiting for me, I was staring out the window thinking about you, wondering what you were going to do without me. I knew Joxer was with you that night and that your mind was focused on putting Callisto away for good, but I was way beyond that night in my thoughts. I was thinking about all the other nights you would be spending alone, sleeping alone, eating alone, traveling here and there without me. I cant tell you how the thought of your loneliness hurt me, a loneliness that I had caused by leaving you for Perdicus. Just before we made love, I asked him if we could name our daughter after you. I needed to test him, you see. I couldnt have given myself to someone who didnt understand how much you meant to me."
Tears trailed down the side of Xenas face into her hair and the silk of the pillow covering. She had never told Gabrielle about the wrenching pain in her gut that had started the moment Gabrielle announced she was going to marry Perdicus, after all. By the time of the ceremony, the cramp in her belly was worse than birth pangs. Had it not been for Joxer keeping her company, annoying her with his jokes, staying awake through the night with her, she might have gone and fought Callisto, just to change the focus of the pain. Only a physical beating administered by someone who hated her as much as Callisto could have helped her forget for a moment the pain of an organ being cut out from inside her.
"When he started to touch me and I him," Gabrielle was saying, "I kept comparing his hands to yours, his kisses to yours, his awkwardness to your well-experienced love making. I understood pretty quickly that I was going to have to show him what to do, what I liked, but at the same time I was experiencing something that was totally new for me, something my body had been wanting for years without my knowledge. The feel of a mans sex in my hands. The hardness of it, the sensitivity of it, the way it seemed like a third presence between us. Where my husbands hands and lips felt clumsy and insecure, his sex moved surely between my legs, and seemed to be in no hurry to reach its mark. It seemed content caressing the insides of my thighs, exploring the wet opening of my body, waiting for me to be ready. In its self-assuredness, it reminded me of you, and in my mind (forgive me, Perdicus, if this offends your memory in any way), in my mind, it became you, Xena, that third presence, that knowledgeable lover."
Xena felt her nipples harden and her crotch grow moist at Gabrielles description. If only you knew, she thought, how much I have wanted to take you in that way, to make you mine entirely.
"The times you and I had been together youd never attempted to penetrate me, thinking, perhaps, that I wanted to preserve my virginity the way you guard your warriors chastity. And I guess it never occurred to me, either, that I could have had you inside me the way I imagined you now, in my husbands phallus, pushing into me, tearing through the fabric of my girlhood, and filling me with the hard, full presence of your love. I know youve had other women, Xena, have you ever done that to a woman?"
Xena didnt know what to say. If she admitted that, yes, shed done that before, shed done only that and nothing more, no gentleness, no sweet loving words, no pleasuring of the other before herself--Gabrielle would want to know the details, and the details were part of the past that Xena tried daily to forget. She shook her head and grunted something noncommittal, then reached for Gabrielles breast and filled her mouth with it, rubbing her hand over the soft, warm flesh of her lovers belly, the downy hair between her thighs. She knew what was coming next and secretly she thanked the gods that at last Gabrielle had come to it on her own.
"Go on," she murmured, "go on with your story. Well talk about me later."
"Dont get me wrong," Gabrielle continued. "The pain of it was excruciating and I knew I was bleeding into the bedclothes. But beyond the pain, there was an ache inside me, a kind of throb that Id always felt when you and I were together and that never seemed to go away, despite the intense pleasure you always gave me. I didnt know I needed to be filled, I wanted to be filled. Thats what the throb was about, you see. Needing to be filled, to be fully connected with another being. Of course, there wasnt any pleasure for me that night, just the pain followed by the knowledge that, at last, Id been touched as deeply as possible. And I understood months later, as I mourned Perdicus and raged against Callisto, that my love and my hate were rooted in that same place where the throb had been, a throb that, I thought then, would never be quelled again. Thats the lesson I learned from Perdicus. Thats why he came back into my life. Not to make me a wife and a mother, not to take me away from my soulmate, but to learn the lesson of deep physical love, which is the only way for two people, two bodies, two souls to really be connected. Without that connection, we leave room for hate to take root inside us. And hate is the root of cruelty. Thats what was happening to me with Callisto."
Silently, Xena marveled at Gabrielles wisdom, the way she could draw these universal conclusions that explained everything and yet remained very personal to her own experience.
"You were so patient with me," Gabrielle was saying. "I had to ask you, remember? I had to ask you to make love to me once the mourning ceased and I realized no one could ever make me as happy as you."
Xena remembered the first time Gabrielle had asked her to go inside her, and a shudder coursed down the middle of her spine. She had used nothing but her hand, having buried her phallus when she buried the warlord long ago. First, her index finger, in long, slow thrusts that brought the wetness gushing out of Gabrielle, but Gabrielle kept writhing and asking her to go deeper. She added the middle finger, and pumped her some more. "Harder," Gabrielle said, "do it harder, Xena," and Xena plunged into her with three fingers, and pumped her as hard as she could until she climaxed.
As if she could read the images in her mind, Gabrielle climbed on top of her and started kissing her breasts, pressing her pubis against Xenas.
If only I had what you want, little one, thought Xena, wondering what she could use for a phallus. How she regretted, now, that burial ritual, not because she missed the crazed and evil warlord she used to be, nor the way that instrument had brought pain and torture to so many innocent girls and good women, but because of that gold shaft shed had forged in Athens, a blacksmiths shop called The Midas Touch which specialized in sex toys and armor for the bed, as the smithy had called it. Her loin belt was all she had left of that useful device. It had been the length of two of Xenas fingers, tip to tip (Midas, the smithy, had been very exact about measurements), and it had a good, solid girth, slightly curved and ringed at the back end with a leather band, and it worked in tandem with the loin belt. It slipped through a hinged opening that Gabrielle knew nothing about, and a tight cinching of the buckle at her waist would make it rise from her body like an erect, golden phallus, held securely in place by the chain mail against the leather band at the hilt.
"Fuck me, Xena," Gabrielles breath felt hot against her ear. "Fuck me hard and deep. Fuck me like youve never fucked me before." She sounded intoxicated, from the wine, from the story, from the feel of their breasts rubbing against each other.
Quickly, Xena glanced around the darkening room. The fire had died down to a red glow and the candles had burned down in their sconces. She squinted as her eyes raked over the furniture, the sideboard, the plate of fruit. Thats it, she thought, spotting something she could use. She jumped off the bed as suddenly and silently as a cat after its prey. She approached the board, took the pork shank from the platter, wiped off the grease with a napkin, then bent over to unhinge the opening on her loin belt. She knew Gabrielle was watching her from behind, but it was too dark for her to make out what she was doing. The bone was too wide and wouldnt work with the loin belt. Shed have to try something else. Now, her mind was possessed with this idea. By the love of Aphrodite, she entreated in silence, something had to work, even if she had to go down to the kitchens and ask for a sausage.
And suddenly, a flame flickered to life in the hearth, and the light caught on something shiny sticking its head out of the saddlebag. Xena took two long steps and fished the thing out. There it was, her golden phallus. Only a trick of the gods could have done this. And then she remembered shed sworn by Aphrodite and Aphrodite was in the house and had, no doubt, heard her appeal. Xena was too excited to ponder the situation any longer, or wonder what payment the goddess would expect in return. She slipped the phallus into position, tightened the belt, and turned around for Gabrielle to see her.
Usually, she went by another name when she was so-equipped, but she didnt want to use the same old name; she wanted no associations with that past. A new alternative occurred to her as she approached the open-mouthed Gabrielle waiting for her on the other side of the veils that enclosed the bed.
"I sing of David," she said, and she could feel her own eyes glittering with passion, "Warrior Phallus of Xena."
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