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Complications part 4
'Kill him.' The Conqueror's low growl rumbled in her head. It was so tempting. Tempting enough to take a step toward him and grin at the thought of her chakram at his throat. 'Oh just think of the feeling when the blade slices the skin and the warm bloo ...' The Conqueror's seductive voice was silenced by the Warrior Princess' command. 'Quiet.' It was the iron grip around her waist and the shock of The Conqueror's words that gave him a reprieve from death. 'I thought you were gone.' Xena hadn't heard from her dark side in a while and hoped she had decided to leave. 'Leave?' The Conqueror chuckled. 'No. No. My sister. I will never leave.' Seemingly amused at Xena's confusion she continued sarcastically. 'You don't need me for the mushy stuff but this is my domain. Com'on let's kill him.' Xena felt the muscles in her legs tense and knew that if Gabrielle let go The Conqueror would pounce on the man. She looked into Gabrielle's eyes and responded to her dark sister. 'No. It would hurt Gabrielle.' That was unacceptable so The Conqueror backed off, for now. Xena could feel the tension in her legs relaxing and knew the critical moment had passed.
Gabrielle nearly lost her grip on Xena's waist as the warrior took a step toward the dripping new arrival. She moved with her and shifting her embace turned to face the warrior. Seeing the turmoil her arms were feeling, Gabrielle waited for the familiar blue to return her gaze before speaking. "Are you OK?"
"I'll be fine." She frowned at Gabrielle's worried face."It's you I'm worried about." She smoothed the Amazon's furrowed brow with her fingertips and brushed the hair back from her temple. "Is he why you were so upset about going back to Potidea?" The return of the wrinkles and shaking of the arms around her was all Xena needed for an answer. One eyebrow inched up. "I'll take that as a yes."
"He's part of the reason." She paused. "I need to talk to him." Slowly she began to release Xena's waist, watching her face intently. "If I let go, you won't kill him, will you?"
She glanced a the dripping traveler and noticed he was looking everywhere but their direction. "No, He's safe from me." Xena looked into the concerned green eyes.
"What about from her?" Gabrielle was serious. The Warrior Princess may not kill him but she wasn't so sure about The Conqueror.
Xena caught her breath, sighing heavily she nodded. "Her too."
Gabrielle slowly released her grip and turned to face her past. His dark brown hair was nearly black from the rain. It was almost comical to see his deep brown eyes darting around the room, looking everywhere but at her. 'He is cute.' She thought. 'Too cute for his own good.' Remembering the last scout's report she had received made her angry. On her orders, that particular scout had tested the man's loyalty to Lila. Gabrielle frowned at the results of that test. 'He cheats on her.' Suddenly she knew who the man was looking for and became not only a protective sister, but the Amazon Queen.
Perdicus watched Gabrielle talking to the tall warrior woman. It was obvious they were together and the thought of it made him sick. 'If she kisses her I think I'll puke.' His expression mirrored his disgusted thought. He didn't want to watch anymore and looked at the other occupants of the room. Solan and Karis caught his eye. Standing together in nearly the same position as Gabrielle and the tall woman they too looked like a couple. He appraised them critically. 'Those two look almost normal. He's a little young though.' He turned his attention to the servant. 'She is young too.' As Rayna handed him a towel, he looked again. 'No. Not young just small.' Glancing at the door to the back he wondered if Sari was here. His thoughts of the barmaid were cut off by Gabrielle's voice.
"She went home." Intense green eyes bored into him, with no trace of a smile. His puzzled expression prompted her to clarify. "Sari, the little barmaid, the one you cheat on my sister with, she went home." She felt Xena's hands drop to her shoulders and squeeze. That reassurance and a deep breath allowed her to clear her thoughts and continue in a more conversational tone. "She seemed quite anxious to go. Maybe she isn't always so happy to see you hmm?"
Karis saw the effect her Queen's words were having on the man. She released Solan and moved slowly to a position between Perdicus and Gabrielle but not interfering with their line of sight.
Perdicus looked at his former fiance in amazement. He knew she had not been home since she left with the Amazons over three years ago. It was impossible for her to know the things she was so calmly spouting. The last time he was here Sari had told him she had met someone else. Closing his hands into tight fists and taking a step forward, he decided not to defend himself but to attack Gabrielle. "So did the Amazons get tired of all your Xena stories too?" Seeing the momentary shock on her face as a good sign he continued with a sneer. "Does your tall friend there know that when your with her your fantasizing about Xena?" The memory of finding Gabrielle's journal and the knowledge that she would rather be with a woman, and not just any woman but Xena The Conqueror, was still painful.
Immediately reaching behind her to calm the bristling warrior, Gabrielle chuckled. She had never done more than kiss the man but that really only made her next statement cut deeper. "When I'm with her... I don't have to."
"Why you little..." Perdicus raised his fist and moved toward Gabrielle. He hadn't noticed Karis' change in position and was therefore surprised to find his arm pinned securely behind him and his face mashed into the table a split second later. He struggled to free himself from the girl's grip. That was a mistake.
Karis instantly held his elbows together and pushed upward toward his shoulders. "Move again and I'll break both of them." She gave him a sharp push to let him know she wasn't kidding. She leaned close to his ear and snarled. "You threatened Gabrielle. I could kill you for that alone." She looked at Xena. "Do they have a jail here?"
"Jail? What are you talking about?" Perdicus had just about reached his maximum confusion level.
Xena ignored the man's questions, stilled her own rage against the threat to Gabrielle, and answered Karis. "Actually they usually use the room you are in. It has the best lock and no windows."
A quick nod of her head and Karis agreed. "Fine. I'll put him there." With a glint of mischief in her eye she glanced at Solan. Pulling Perdicus to his feet she continued. "I don't need my own room anyway." It was all she could to to keep from bursting out laughing at the looks on Xena and Gabrielle's faces. 'Gods.... They really think I would do that. Wow.. Would they let me? Get a grip girl you can wait.' She let a grin cross her face and clarified her statement. "I can bunk with Rayna." She shoved her prisoner toward the back.
A surge of motherly instinct was controlled quickly when Gabrielle felt Xena's strong arms circle her shoulders and was grateful for the woman's support. She patted the arms around her, partially in thanks and partially to request release. When the arms dropped, she turned to look at the face of her love. "I need some time." Green eyes begged for understanding.
"You can tell me anything." Xena stopped her reply with two fingers on her lips. "When you're ready." Removing her fingers she replaced them briefly with gentle lips. "I love you."
"I love you too." Gabrielle smiled. She walked back to their room, lost in memories. The bard in her thought this was excellent source material for a story but her more practical side wasn't ready for that. She never liked the sad ones anyway.
Rayna watched Gabrielle leave and decided to approach Xena about Kima's snooping. She moved closer and began to sign her worries to the warrior. The puzzled expression on Xena's face made her stop the rapid sequence of gestures and with a look of comprehension at the warrior's confusion she began again, slower. "When I went to get the drinks, I found Kima in the hall. I think she heard the whole story."
'She won't have a chance to get a message out tonight.' Xena thought. 'Not with this storm.' Her response to the cooks little bit of information was cut off when Salla appeared in the doorway. If not for the smile on her face, Xena knew her heart would have stopped at the healer's words.
"Come quickly." Salla unnecessarily gestured to the already in motion warrior.
Solan tried to follow only to be stopped by Xena. "Wait here." She glanced at Karis, just returning from securing her prisoner. "I think you and Karis need to talk." Xena had seen the disappointment on her son's face when Karis announced the new room arrangements. "I'll be back in a minute." She decided not to bother Gabrielle yet and went quickly to her mother's room. As soon as she entered the room she stopped.
Heat from the fire kept the storm's damp air from permeating the room and allowed the pungent herbs the healers used in their treatment to assault her senses. She could almost taste the minty aroma. It wasn't the tang in the air that made her eyes water though, the sight of her mother sitting up in the bed, smiling, did that. "Mother!" Xena could not believe the change. It had only been a few hours but Cyrene's condition had improved so much that, if she hadn't seen her earlier, she would not have believed she had been so near death. She looked at the healers approvingly. "You are miracle workers."
"It was her idea." Both women pointed to each other at the same time and laughed.
Kima began to explain. "Salla had already started using hot chest compresses to loosen the congestion....."
Salla chimed in. "But it was Kima that suggested the mint leaves and the increased frequency of changes." Salla had been waiting for the compress to get cool before replacing it with a new one. She just couldn't risk raising the woman's temperature. Kima had insisted on changing them often enough to keep the compress and the affected area warm.
Kima continued. "When she could breath a little easier and cough harder the congestion cleared quickly." She crossed to the sick woman and felt her forehead. "As long as we can keep her fever down and she doesn't stress herself. I think we will be fine."
Xena nodded, tearing her eyes from her mother's smiling face, and looked at Salla. "Out of the woods?"
The amazon nodded, smiled and confirmed. "Out of the woods."
"Xena." Cyrene's rough voice was like music to Xena's ears. "You were here earlier? I thought I was dreaming."
She nodded a thank you to the exiting healers and moved to sit on the bed next to her mother, Xena smiled. "No. You weren't dreaming. I was here." She held the shaking hand in a solid grip. "I am here."
"I had almost convinced myself that you were real, then I saw Lyceus standing next to the bed and I wasn't sure." Cyrene was momentarily overwhelmed by a racking cough. "When I saw him again, stocking the fireplace, I was sure I dreamt it all."
Xena looked at roaring fire and saw the wood stacked in the neat little piles that were Solan's trademark. There were tears in her eyes when she looked back at her mother. "That wasn't Lyceus mother." She hesitated then continued softly. "It was my son, Solan."
"Your son?" Cyrene thought about all the stories she had heard regarding her daughter, The Conqueror. Not one of them mentioned a word about her having a child. "I didn't.... I mean I never...." She wasn't sure what her next question was, not to mention how to ask it.
"No one knew mother." She carefully chose her next words. "His father stole him from me shortly after he was born. The life I led then was too dangerous for a child and I let him stay hidden." She squeezed the woman's hand. "That's why I haven't been back to see you either. It's dangerous to be related to me."
"Xena?" A racking cough gripped Cyrene for a few moments, the muscle spasms forcing her to bend nearly double before it was over. The exertion was too much and she laid back on the bed exhausted. "Can I meet him?"
Xena worried at the sound of the cough. Despite the outward improvement Cyrene was still very ill. She kissed her mother's hand, smiled and stood to go. "I'll be right back."
Gabrielle stared at the ceiling. She barely felt the soft bed under her. Thinking about the turmoil of her last days in Potidea was enough to force her eyes closed and overload her brain into shutting down.
Xena knocked softly on the door to their room, but hearing no answer opened it quietly. She saw Gabrielle lying on the bed with her arms crossed over her chest. Talking with her mother had brought back a flood of memories and a flash of Lyceus in his coffin was laid over the present scene. Xena gasped. Rushing to Gabrielle's side she roughly shook her love awake. "Gabrielle....Gabrielle..." Her tone was slightly frantic. "Please Gabrielle wake up."
"Oww... Xena ..." The sleepy, mumbling Amazon was annoyed until she saw the look of relief and the tears in her lover's eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." She pulled her close. "You scared me for a minute. That's all." Releasing the embrace, Xena looked at the raising eyebrows and widening green eyes and almost laughed.
"I.. scared... you?" Gabrielle wasn't sure she heard right.
"Yeah." She took a deep breath and letting her relief guide her playfulness. "I forgot how hard it is to wake you without food." Xena smiled and tickled the exposed sides of Gabrielle's stomach.
"Hey!" Gabrielle laughed and squirmed to get away from the wiggling fingers. "No fair tickling."
"All's fair in love and war." Xena countered.
Gabrielle turned serious. "Hey, that's pretty good. Maybe I should write that down."
Xena rolled her eyes. "Spare me. The resistance does a good enough job misquoting me without giving them ammunition." She reached up to brush the mussed red hair away from Gabrielle's face.
"Right." Gabrielle was silent for a moment savoring the feeling of Xena's fingers running through her hair. "Uh.. Xena?"
"Hmmmm..." Xena was mesmerized by the silken texture of Gabrielle's hair.
"Do you think there is any cake left?" Gabrielle's plaintive tone and furrowed brow was enough to make Xena laugh out loud.
"I think so." She grabbed the bard's hand and pulled her toward the door. "We can take a piece to mother."
"Is she that much better?" Gabrielle was astonished. Only a few hours ago the outlook wasn't so good.
Xena stopped and grabbed her concerned lover in a great bear hug. Swinging her around in her enthusiasm and kissing her soundly before stopping the wild ride. "YES!" She stopped the swinging and steadied the dizzy woman by her shoulders. "And now I want her to meet you... and Solan...." Shifting her hands from, Gabrielle's shoulders to her neck she caressed the Amazon's jaw with her thumbs. ".....my family."
"Your family?" Gabrielle liked the sound of that. "Well then..." She grabbed the suddenly subdued warrior's hands. "..Let's go get them."
Perdicus was grateful for the room until he heard Karis say goodnight to Gabrielle and he realized it was right next to hers. He was just nodding off when he heard her... friend enter the room and call out her name. Their voices were too low to catch the conversation but he gritted his teeth at the laughter and sudden silences when he knew they were kissing.or doing who knows what else. He sighed when he heard the door close and tried to doze off again. 'Maybe I can be asleep before they get back.' He thought.
Brenin listened to the gentle rain falling on the roof. 'Lila's nice.' She thought. 'And the kids are too.' Smiling at the memory of the children's faces during the story and during supper, she snuggled back into the bed. 'I could have been out camping in this.' She shuddered at the thought of spending the night in the rain and was glad Lila had insisted that she stay in the spare room. She drifted off to sleep anticipating the familiar comfort of Gabrielle's arms, that always dominated her dreams.
It was Salla's turn to watch the patient so Kima went to try and get some sleep. Salla met the little group at the door. Shaking her head, she took the small piece of cake from Gabrielle. "She shouldn't have any cake right now." She looked directly at her Queen but spoke for Karis and Solan's benefit as well. "Normally I only let family in to see recovering patients."
Gabrielle felt Xena's tension but simply smiled and gripped the healer's shoulder with her now free hand. "There's no one here that isn't family."
Salla looked to see that Gabrielle's other hand was firmly held in Xena's. No big shock there. The shock came when she saw Karis' fingers loosely laced with Solan's. The quiet support was touching but Salla wasn't sure it was appropriate for the guard to be so familiar with the Prince. Unwilling to challenge her Queen, Salla shrugged and opened the door. "Don't take too long. She is still very weak." She waited for their nods of acknowledgement before motioning them in. "Call me if you need anything" She said. "I'll be right outside." The healer shut the door to give them a little privacy and keep the cool air coming down the hall from creating a draft in the room. She waved goodnight to Rayna as the little cook entered her assigned room and took her seat next to her patient's door. She made herself a mental note to compliment Rayna on the cake.
Immediately upon entering Cyrene's room, Gabrielle released Xena's hand and gestured for Solan to accompany his mother closer to the bed. She was surprised to feel a small stab of jealousy when, he turned to Karis, instead of following her gesture toward Xena.
Solan took both of Karis' hands and tried to pull her with him toward his grandmother's bed. "Come with me." His whisper carried the trepidation he felt and his eyes implored her to stay with him.
Karis smiled and, releasing her hands from his grip, reached up to touch his cheek. "Go with Xena. I'll be right here." She gestured toward Xena and watched as he slowly approached the bed.
Gabrielle and Karis both smiled when Xena circled Solan's shoulders with one strong arm. They also heard Cyrene's gasp.
"Gods.... He looks just like Lyceus." It was astonishing for the sick woman to see the boy standing before her. There was no doubt in her mind, this young man was family. She smiled. "Hello. Solan."
When he heard the woman say his name he turned on his brightest smile, the one he usually reserved for Karis. "Hello...." He wasn't sure what to call the woman.
The smile took Cyrene's breath away. 'His smile is even the same.' She thought. Understanding his hesitation at naming her she said. "I have other grandchildren so I am not adverse to being called grandmother." She smiled up at the boy and continued. "I'm also not going to break if you..... give me a hug?"
He sat on the edge of the bed and leaned forward to hug his new relative. Leaning back from the embrace he was grateful for Gabrielle's hand's dropping to his shoulders from behind him. He saw his grandmother's questioning expression and heard Xena introduce Gabrielle.
"Mother." Xena moved to stand behind Gabrielle and circle her shoulders with comforting arms. "This is Gabrielle." She gave her love a gentle squeeze. "She is Solan's mother too. She is also Queen of the Amazons."
Cyrene felt a nudge in her memory when she heard the name 'Gabrielle' but it was pushed aside at the revelation that she was also Solan's mother. The innkeeper deduced from the embrace that she had gained another daughter. It was the royal title that she commented on though. "So you are the Spider Queen the traders complain about?"
Gabrielle bit her lip and tried not to smile at Xena and Solan's reaction to that title. She had heard through the scout's reports of the name the traders had given her. "Yeah, that would be me."
"Spider Queen?" Xena looked down at the blushing woman. Shifting her gaze to Solan's astonished face, she raised an eyebrow.
Cyrene laughed. 'Gods it feels good to laugh.' She thought. "They say when you try to negotiate with the Spider Queen she will weave a web of words around you and you don't even know your trapped until you try to escape." Cyrene's smiling laugh turned into a cough. "One trader said when he tried to negotiate for passage rights through the northern territory, he ended up going the long way around, glad he still had the clothes on his back."
Gabrielle laughed. "If you saw him you know why I didn't ask him for his clothes." She rolled her eyes and wrinkled her nose.
"Point taken." Cyrene looked at Solan and smiled weakly. "Your mother is very wise." She relaxed against the pillows behind her and closed her eyes. The days revelations would have taken their toll on anyone, not to mention someone who had been sick for so long.
"Gabrielle.... Solan" Xena gently urged them away from the bed. "I think it's time to go." The trio began to walk out when Cyrene suddenly opened her eyes.
"Gabrielle." She smiled when the Amazon turned around. "Someone was here looking for you. A woman."
"What was her name?" The names of the scouts assigned close to this area ran through her head.
Cyrene settled down into her covers. "She didn't tell me her name. She just asked directions. Drank her drink and left."
Suddenly, Gabrielle got a sinking feeling in her stomach. "Directions to where?"
Cyrene managed to mumble, "Potidea." before drifting into the Realm of Morpheus.
Xena saw Gabrielle's hand shaking but didn't comment. It was the look Karis gave her Queen that forced speech from the warrior. "Gabrielle. Do you know who was looking for you?"
It took a moment for Gabrielle to calm down and think logically. "Brenin." She glanced at Karis who nodded.
"It almost has to be." Karis spoke through her gritted teeth. "The scouts would have at least given the code name."
The guard's confirmation of her thought solidified Gabrielle's plans. "She doesn't know who my family is. It will take her awhile to find them." She looked into Xena's concerned blue eyes. "I'm going to Potidea." She saw confusion and then comprehension in the deepening blue.
She thought of the story Gabrielle had told her in camp. 'Brenin' Xena's thought nearly made her growl. "We.. are going." Xena stopped her protest with a brief kiss. "WE.. are going." She glanced back at the sleeping woman. "Mother will be fine now." Gesturing for them all to preceed her through the door, Xena continued. "We can leave as soon as you want to tomorrow."
Salla stood when she saw the door opening. She waited for them to exit before moving to check on her patient. Xena's words stopped her momentarily. 'Good.' She thought. 'Gabrielle should get back to Amazon territory as soon as she can.' She watched the couples stop in front of the doors at the far end of the hall. She watched Xena pull a reluctant Gabrielle into their room and smiled at the tender kiss Solan and Karis shared before entering their individual rooms. She chuckled to herself when Karis and Solan reluctantly parted. 'He is too young for that.' She thought. 'Karis has always been one of the good ones.' She smiled to herself. 'Her mother saw to that.' Shaking off her thoughts, she refocused on her patient. Cyrene was still her main concern. There was no way she was going to let her patient have another relapse. She entered the room quietly, careful not to disturb the sleeping woman.
Xena entered their room and when Gabrielle hesitated to follow, grabbed the bard and pulled her into the room.
"Hey!" Her protest at the treatment was louder than she had planned and she clamped her hands over her mouth. Her wide eyes looked at the wall that separated their room from the room Perdicus was in. Removing her hands she whispered. "What's the big idea?"
Xena whispered. "The big idea is to get you alone. Why are we whispering?"
"I don't want him to hear us." Gabrielle spoke just above a whisper now. She groaned at Xena's wicked grin.
"The Spider Queen is scared of a little noise?" Xena clucked her tongue and smiled at the blush rising on Gabrielle's cheeks. She was measuring off the distance from the tavern's outside wall to a point on the dividing wall.
"I just don't want him to get the wrong idea." Gabrielle was trying to think of the right words to explain when Xena interrupted her thoughts.
"Oh I think he will get the right idea." Stopping where she knew the head of the bed in the other room was she leaned close to the wall and moaned loudly. "Oh.... Gabrielle." Seeing the stunned look on her lover's face she chuckled quietly and continued loudly. "Oh... yes... Oh... Gods...Gabrielle...." The look on Gabrielle's face nearly made her laugh but she held it in and continued. "Please Gabrielle... Please.. " Xena reached for her whip and smiled.
Gabrielle moved at that point to stop the game. She meant to say, 'Don't. Please, stop.' meaning for Xena to stop her little impromptu scene but it came out jumbled with a sultry inflection. "Please don't stop."
Xena cracked the whip once before letting it drop to the floor. She knew what Gabrielle was trying to say. "As you wish my Spider Queen." Gabrielle was close enough now for the playful warrior to scoop her up and carry her quickly to the bed.
She felt Xena's roaming hands and surrendered herself willingly to their explorations. Even as she succumbed to the minstrations, however, she was able to mumble a protest at the title. "I am not a spider and you are not a fly." Gabrielle had never liked the trader's nickname for her.
Forgetting about the torment she had intended inflicting on Perdicus, Xena looked deeply into her lover's eyes and smiled. "You're wrong. I was trapped in your web just like all the others. The difference is...." Silencing Gabrielle's retort with a single finger to her lips, she continued in a whisper. " .... I am the fly who dreams of the spider."
Lost in the loving blue of Xena's eyes, Gabrielle melted into the warm haven of her embrace.
Xena loved the feel of Gabrielle in her arms and wondered how long the Amazon would let her hold her.
"Forever." Gabrielle was pleased at the amazement on Xena's face. "You were wondering how long we could stay like this. I say.... forever."
"Then I say Mother was right." She looked into the deepening green eyes of the Amazon in her arms. "You are very wise."
They settled back under the warm covers and let the sound of the, now gently falling, rain lull them to sleep.
Karis crept into the room. It was funny to try and be quiet because she knew Rayna wouldn't hear anything but the woman had an uncanny sense of knowing when someone was around her. The guard had asked her once how she knew and the cook had told her she felt their presence. Stretching out slowly on the bed, Karis relaxed and allowed her mind to wander on it's own. Naturally most of her thoughts centered around Solan. 'Sixteen.' She thought. 'It's going to be harder to wait now than ever.' It was too soon after the revelation of his true age for them to move their relationship to the next level and she knew it. She recalled the conversation they had while waiting for Xena to return. 'Solan is my friend.' She thought. 'I want him to stay that way.' A vision of her mother's smiling face floated in her mind. She returned the smile to the darkness and heard the melodic voice teaching her about love. 'Love is a wonderful thing, Karis.' Her mother's wistful face turned mockingly stern. 'Don't back away from it when it comes. If you know in your heart it's right for you.' Karis felt a single tear make it's way to her ear. "Thank you mother." She said softly. Being very careful not to disturb the bed, she quietly got up and left the room.
Brenin awoke to full daylight streaming into the room and the unfamiliar sound of children playing. She lay in bed and listened as they taunted each other. "Oh no." "I'm gonna get you." "Momma can we go now?" "Yeah!" "Race ya." The laughing faded in the distance and Brenin thought. 'Lila must be out by the barn. I didn't hear her reply.' Brenin rose and stretched, surprised to find her tunic lying on the end of the bed. 'Lila must have cleaned it.' Brenin was touched. 'That was awfully nice of her.' She thought about the young woman and smiled. 'Of course she's nice. She's Gabrielle's sister.' The Queen's name made Brenin gasp as she realized. 'I didn't dream about her last night!' After being so long obsessed with the image of Gabrielle to not be able to call it up for a moment was an odd feeling but to Brenin's surprise it was kind of a good one.
She ran her fingers through her wavy brown hair and started out the door. 'I wonder if Lila needs any help.'
The sound of the door closing forced Gabrielle's eyes open.
"Well.... you're awake......" Xena's sarcastic voice filled with laughter at Gabrielle's groan. "....Sort of." She waved a package in front of her. "I guess I won't be needing this then."
"What is it?" Gabrielle eyed the package suspiciously. Xena was entirely too cheery. Gabrielle noticed the full armor and weaponry the warrior was wearing so casually. "Where have you been?"
"I went to make sure Argo was OK and survey the storm damage." She sat on the edge of the bed, careful not to poke the still sleepy woman with her armor, and offered her the package. "This is your breakfast of course. "
"Mmmm... Gimme." Gabrielle reached for the package only to have it snatched away by Xena's quicker hands.
"What do we say?" Xena waited for the polite request and laughed at the Amazon's response.
"Now." Gabrielle grabbed the package from Xena's amused hands. "Ha! Got it." She opened the package to find a small piece of leftover birthday cake. Smiling at the gift, she looked up at Xena. "So how was it?"
Xena, mesmerized by the smiling green eyes, shook her head. "Huh?"
"The storm damage..." Gabrielle prompted. "How was it?"
"Oh.. Oh it.. it was fine. Nothing major." The warrior stood and tried to clear her thoughts. "The stream beds are flooded though. It may take until this afternoon before they go down."
Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah, I figured..... with all the rain.... but luckily there aren't any to cross between here and Potidea. I want to leave as soon as we can."
Xena laughed. "That means after breakfast right?" When Gabrielle looked at the small piece of cake, Xena raised an eyebrow. "You don't expect me to believe that is all you want for breakfast, do you?" She smiled. "Rayna is in the kitchen right now fixing a breakfast fit for ... well a Queen."
"I don't suppose it will make that big a difference. If we wait to leave until after breakfast." Gabrielle had been creeped out by Brenin constantly watching her, but even after the woman had threatened her life, she still had a hard time believing that the scribe was dangerous. She didn't think her family was in any real danger she just wanted to make sure they were all right. She sighed and thought. 'I was going to have to go back soon anyway.' She tried to reassure herself with some logic. 'Brenin may have only stayed there long enough to figure out I wasn't there.' Calmed by that line of thought she continued the scenario. 'If that's the case then she would just be wandering around out there looking for me.' The Amazon Queen suddenly had a flash of memory. Once some of their sheep got out of the pen and scattered into the hillside. They found all of them quickly except one. She remembered thinking how lonely and scared that one must be all alone when it was used to having the rest of the flock around it. Three days later a neighbor returned the sheep saying it had mixed in with his flock. 'Brenin is my little lost sheep.' She was glad Ephiny had decided on banishment instead of death. 'It's what I would have done.' Still, she felt like she should go find the stray. Returning it to the flock was another matter. She finished the last bite of cake and licked her fingers clean of the sticky icing. "I need to talk to Perdicus."
Xena nodded. "When she wakes up, I'll have Karis bring him out after breakfast." Her nod turned to a shake that mimicked Gabrielle's head movement. "What do you mean No?"
"I mean I don't want to wait 'til after breakfast. He can eat with us." Gabrielle was up and dressed now. She turned to Xena quizzically. "You think Karis is still asleep?"
"I didn't see her anywhere so I just assumed....." It was not a pleasant expression that crossed Xena's face. She stalked past Gabrielle and barely noticed when the Amazon came up behind her at door to Rayna's empty room.
"She lied to us." Xena's low growling voice hinted at punishment.
Gabrielle immediately became the protective Amazon Queen. "I don't think so. At least not intentionally." She pointed to Karis' boots under the table and her belt draped over the back of a chair. "She loves Solan. She wouldn't push him." It was a fact that Gabrielle clung to with desperate fervor. She was surprised then to hear Xena chuckling and see the resignation in her mild blue eyes when she turned.
"Solan loves her." Taking a deep breath and remembering the disappointed look on her son's face, Xena continued. "She wouldn't have to push."
"I guess we could go see." Gabrielle's questioning green eyes were torn. They could go... but the question was SHOULD they go. The answer was probably not.... but they found themselves at the foot of Solan's bed anyway.
Gabrielle glanced at Xena to guage her reaction. The muscle in her jaw was working overtime but the look in her eyes could only be described as tender. 'Of course it's tender.' Gabrielle thought as she looked back at her son. 'Anyone's heart would melt at this sight.'
Karis was lying on her back. Her dark hair was slightly mussed up and splayed out on the pillow under her head. The serene look on her face was breathtaking. Solan was curled at her side her right arm around him. His right arm was draped over her stomach and his head rested easily on her shoulder. The gentle smile on his face spoke of absolute contentment. They were both fully clothed and it was obvious that they had done nothing but hold each other.
"Just like us." Gabrielle whispered. Her voice was awed.
"Yeah." Xena's barely audible reply. "I've missed so much." A single tear found it's way down her cheek. She remembered the feeling of Solan as a child in her arms. 'My baby.' The feeling that he was being taken away, again, was almost too much for her.
Gabrielle pulled Xena toward the door. "C'mon.... Let's go before they wake up."
Brenin found Lila trying to mend the corral fence. Apparently a few of the cows had been frightened enough by the storm to crash through it, but not frightened enough to go very far. They were just putting the finishing nails in the barrier when Brenin realized the children weren't anywhere around. "Where are the children?"
Lila continued working on the fence while she replied. "Oh they love to go to the riverbed and catch small fish that get trapped in the pools after a rain. They'll be back in a while."
Brenin was appalled. "WHAT!" She had seen the clouds last night at twilight and knew that the storm was worse to the north. The possibility of flash floods was enormous. "Where?" At Lila's pointing hand, Brenin took off to find the missing kids. Her panic infected Lila and she too ran toward the river bed.
When Lila arrived her stomach dropped and her heart lept to her throat. The river was swollen and churning, almost black with mud and chunky with debris from upstream. Nearly in the center of the turmoil were Gabe and Brie huddled together on a large boulder. She saw Brenin taking off her boots and couldn't believe it when the woman she had only known for one day dove into the icy water.
Despite her lack of ability with weapons, Brenin was an excellent swimmer. Still, the icy water was enough to take her breath away for a moment before she began to win her battle with the current and make headway toward the children. She climbed onto the rock and noticed that Brie had gotten wet and was shivering. Projecting her voice, over the sound of rushing water, she told Gabe. "I'm going to take Brie first. She is wet and needs to get dried off as soon as she can." Brenin held the girl and noticed that her lips were turning faintly blue. Looking directly into Gabe's little green eyes she promised. "I'll be back for you." She put her lips to Brie's cold ear and whispered. "Ready? Hold on tight." The little girl couldn't speak through chattering teeth but Brenin felt the child double her grip as she jumped back into the raging flood.
Lila was at the shore waiting with open arms for them. It was heartwrenching for her to see her little girl all blue and shivering. She held the child close when Brenin handed her over.
"I'm going back for Gabe." Brenin touched Lila's shoulder to get her attention. "Take Brie to the house. We need to get her dry as soon as possible." The scribe took a deep breath and turned toward the lone child on the rock. With a running start she dove into the water again. This time the temperature didn't shock her and she knew that she was in danger from the cold too. It seemed to take longer to reach the rock this time. Pushing on, she finally reached the child's position. Not bothering to climb up, not sure she had the strength to, she moved so the water was pushing against her back. Using her legs to brace herself against the side, she yelled up to Gabe. "Jump." At his hesitation she opened her arms wide. "I'll catch you."
Gabe looked into his savior's eyes and jumped. Landing squarely in Brenin's embrace, Gabe was quietly amazed. He didn't know anything about the dangers of hypothermia or how close Brenin was to succumbing to the lethargy it caused. All he knew was this woman was saving him. His father always said women weren't good for anything. Now Gabe knew different. It was with adoring eyes that the little boy admired his hero, as she carried him all the way home.
"C'mon Xena." Gabrielle gently pulled the warrior toward the door. "I don't want them to know we were here." She looked at the sleeping couple again. Her knowledge of her son's habits and the fact that it was so late in the morning, made it obvious to her that Solan was getting ready to wake up. She knew that as soon as he did Karis would rouse as well.
Xena removed Gabrielle's hand from her arm and responded with a low growl. "I do." She didn't, however, want to scare them too badly so she continued toward the door. Stopping as she exited, to hang her chakram on the inside doorknob. Silently she wished she really were a fly so she could see Karis' face when she found the weapon.
Perdicus sat on the edge of the bed, scrubbed his face with both hands and stared at the locked door. He hadn't slept at all and his patience was wearing thin. 'They are probably still asleep.' The thought made him slightly nauseous and brought back the reason he hadn't slept. He had been just about to drift off when the dark haired woman moaned Gabrielle's name. The sound had frozen every muscle in his body. His grinding teeth were nearly loud enough to drown out most of the sounds from the next room but when he heard the whipcrack and then silence it was almost more than he could stand.
He was in the middle of berating himself for spending the rest of the night straining to hear more from the next room when he heard the latch click on the door. He looked up to see Gabrielle, rested and confident, in the doorway with the tall warrior behind her.
"Your actions last night were out of line." She kept the royal confidence in her voice. "Karis was within her rights to arrest you but I have decided to pardon you." She smiled sweetly at his expression. "You hungry?" She inhaled deeply to savor the effects of Rayna's handiwork. "Our cook has made cinnamon rolls." Leaving the door to his room open she linked arms with Xena and headed toward the kitchen.
"Your cook?" Perdicus was confused at the possessive word and since he was a little hungry followed the women down the hallway, automatically pulling the door closed behind him.
When Brenin arrived at the house with Gabe, Lila had already dried off Brie, wrapped her in a large blanket and was rocking her by the fire. A sip of warm broth was being offered to the child when Brenin entered the room. Quickly setting Brie in the chair, Lila moved to take Gabe from the shaking woman. "I put some towels in your room and a dry change of clothes." Brenin reluctantly let the protesting boy be taken by his mother, smiled at the now rosy cheeked little girl and knowing Lila would take care of the boy stumbled toward the spare room. She had enough strength left to dry off and change clothes before sinking into the soft welcoming bed. Only as she drifted off to sleep did she realize the phrase Lila had used. 'My room?'
Solan felt a gentle hand stroking his hair. Waking slowly he looked up at Karis and smiled. "Good morning." His smiled turned to a frown of concern. "What's wrong?" He followed the guard's stricken gaze to the door. When he saw the chakram swinging on the knob he gasped and nearly choked on his own heart.
"Xena was here?" His whisper didn't adequately express the fear he was feeling. Karis tried to calm her love's concern.
"You don't have anything to worry about." Karis steeled her voice. "That was left as a warning to me." She smiled down at the not so young man as he tightened his embrace.
"She won't hurt you." Solan was confident that neither of his moms would hurt the guard.
Karis smiled at the reassurance but finished it with her own flat statement. "Unless I hurt you."
"You would never..." Solan began to protest the possibility when Karis' fingers on his lips stopped it.
"Unless they think I have hurt you." She clarified.
Solan removed Karis' hand and held it. "Xena won't hurt you." His eyes were fierce. "I won't let her."
Karis chuckled at the protective growl he managed. 'So like Xena' She marveled. She took a deep breath, detecting a faint trace of lilacs in the air. 'Gods Gabrielle was here too.' She saw a little hurt in his eyes. 'He thinks I'm laughing at him.' She quickly explained a fact that she just realized herself. "It's not Xena I'm afraid of."
"It's not?" His puzzlement was evident.
"No." Karis laid her head back on the pillow and reveled in the sensation of Solan in her arms, at being in Solan's arms. "The worst she could do is kill me. Gabrielle on the other hand...."
Solan was definitely confused now. "Gabrielle would never kill anyone." It was a statement of fact that they both knew.
"No. She wouldn't kill me she would do worse." Karis smiled and ran her fingers through his hair. "She would banish me." Whispering words finished her thought. "And I would never see you again."
A single heartbeat of silence was followed by Solan's quiet voice. "Yes you would." He reached up to silence her retort. "Because I would come with you."
"They wouldn't let you." Karis was grateful for the offer and a little scared at its intensity. 'Does he mean it?.... Gods... Would he choose me over his family?'
He was totally serious. "Karis. They couldn't stop me." He shifted his position and a lingering kiss took away any doubt the guard had.
It was an odd sensation for Karis to feel protected by the person she had been protecting for so long but she thought to herself. 'It feels kinda good.' She motioned for Solan to let her up and as she exited to get her boots from Rayna's room she gingerly took the chakram from its place. Unable to stop herself, she examined the legendary weapon. 'It's heavier than I thought it would be.' On the walk to Rayna's room she tested the edge with her thumb. 'Wow! Sharper too.'
Setting the weapon on the table, Karis sat in the chair and laced up her boots. A stray shaft of light from the window reflected off the jewel encrusted circle and made Karis blink. After stomping her boots into place, she tilted the golden loop toward the light and marveled at its beauty. 'How can something so beautiful be so dangerous?' Suddenly a picture of Xena herself entered her head. 'Oh! Beautiful and dangerous, I guess the weapon fits the owner.'
Her assessment of the weapon and its owner ceased when Solan appeared at the open door and offered his elbow to link. She couldn't help smiling in his presence. Her smile only lasted until she checked the door to Perdicus' room and found it was unlocked. She was about to panic when she heard Gabrielle's laughter from the main room.
Rayna outdid herself with the large batch of rolls. She had considered fixing the usual but quickly decided against it, she thought Xena appreciated a good pastry and she KNEW Gabrielle did. Yesterday had been very rough on everyone and she thought a nice treat was just what they needed, besides, she hated oatmeal. She was just finishing icing the last batch when, through the soles of her boots, she felt the vibrations of footsteps behind her. Controlling her elation at the familiar sneaking pattern she calmly finished the last roll and casually put down the icing bowl. For several heartbeats she surveyed the table in front of her and when she couldn't stand it anymore she finally put her hands out to her side and signed. "Are you going to just stand there all day?" She whirled to smile at Velasca's shocked face. "Or are you going to hug me?"
Closing the distance between them Velasca spoke clearly. "You are the only person I know that can do that." Embracing the smiling cook and thoroughly enjoying it, she looked down into the suddenly serious eyes.
"Good." Rayna was aware that her fears were marring the reunion but she knew the scout's ability to sneak was important and if anyone else could detect her presence...... Well, they might not have another reunion.... At least not one they were both alive for.
"Hey... I didn't mean to upset you." Leaning down to kiss away the cook's fears, she pressed close and continued. "I'm always careful." A smile against her neck and delicate fingers wrapped around her wrist forced a word into her mind. 'Busted.'
"Not careful enough." Rayna's eyes and raised eyebrows chided as she looked down at the scout's cinnamon roll thieving hand and her own hand firmly stopping the crime.
"Can I help it if you distract me?" Velasca's twinkling gray eyes absorbed Rayna's smile and without another thought of cinnamon rolls or food of any kind really, the wayward scout fully focused her attention on the little cook. Neither of them were aware they had been seen.
Backing away from the door slowly, Xena and Gabrielle suppressed chuckles until they were nearly back to Perdicus. Gabrielle directed the man toward the door to the main room. "Breakfast my be a little while. We can wait in the main room." They walked to the table Xena had decided was her favorite. From here she could see the entire room and still have her back to the wall.
He was tired and more churlish than usual. "What's the matter 'your' cook not as good as you thought?"
Xena pulled Gabrielle to sit next to her, leaving Perdicus sitting across from them with his back to the open room. The warrior's chuckling response made the amazon lose it. "No Perdicus. Rayna is definitely on top of things in the kitchen." Xena joined in with Gabrielle's laughter until she saw Karis and Solan appear at the door. Her smile gone, Xena absently rose from her seat. Her eyes never left the young couple. "I'll be right back." Silently she was wished for a way for to talk to Karis alone when she felt Gabrielle holding her hand. She looked down at the twinkling green eyes studying her and was amazed when her wish was granted.
"Solan." Gabrielle grinned up at the warrior then directed her gaze to the youth. "Come meet your Uncle Perdicus." She smiled fakely sweet at the man across from her, then genuinely up at the grinning warrior.
'Gods I love that smile.' Xena brought the hand in her hand up and bent to kiss the palm of her love. She noticed the disgusted look on Perdicus' face but didn't really care. Walking around the table she met Solan on his way to meet his boorish relative.
He put on his best puppy dog look. The one that always worked with Gabrielle. He saw the hard blue soften slightly and went for the kill. Hugging her tightly, he whispered in her ear. "Please don't hurt her, mother." He smiled when he felt the hug returned in an 'OK because you asked for it' kind of way. He was glad that three years with Gabrielle as a mother made him fluent in the language of hugs.
Releasing her hold, she pushed his bangs out of the way and kissed his forehead. "Go on now your mother's waiting." She gestured to the now standing Gabrielle and waited 'til his shoulders were firmly circled in Gabrielle's arm before turning to the nervously waiting Karis. 'I basically promised Solan I wouldn't hurt her....' She thought and a wicked grin crossed her face. "....but I never said anything about not scaring her."
Karis saw the grin and a surge of fear swept through her. 'Gods...' She thought her knees were going to buckle. 'I thought the hypnotic fear was bad!' It took her until Xena spoke to control the genuine terror coursing through her.
"I believe you have something of mine." Xena spoke in a low dangerous voice. It was just enough to momentarily send visible shivers down Karis' spine. She was impressed, however when the guard controlled her fear and responded calmly.
"I believe I do." Karis offered the chakram to the waiting warrior.
Taking the weapon and playing with it absently, Xena raised an eyebrow. "That's not all you have."
"That's all I'm prepared to give back." Karis put as much defiance in her eyes as she could muster and braced herself for an attack. She was therefore surprised at Xena's chuckle.
"Good." Xena softened her expression and explained. "If you're willing to stand up to me.... well..... you must love him very much."
Karis glanced at the far table and smiled. "I do."
"That's probably only going to make what I have to say more difficult." Xena gestured for the guard to sit, made sure she could see Gabrielle at a glance and related Rayna's observations of Kima and her own thoughts on Iolaus. "It will only be a matter of time before Iolaus remembers it was Gabrielle's name at the bottom of the Amazon treaty." Gabrielle was a fairly uncommon name. She thought Iolaus was smart enough to figure it out or at least his superiors in the resistance would eventually and she knew it.
Karis considered the implications of the resistance knowing Gabrielle's true identity. "The plan we started in India won't work now...not all of it anyway." She saw Xena's nodding acknowledgment. "...but what if we.." Karis began laying out a new plan.
Xena sat at the table, glancing occasionally at the far table and listening carefully as Karis quietly explained what she had in mind. She was impressed. Xena worried that, if she was actually involved in the resistance, Kima would be able to get a messenger to carry her information while they were in Potidea. Movement of Gabrielle's hands caught her eye and she answered affirmative. If they implemented Karis' plan however it didn't matter if the healer sent a message or not. She marveled at the young woman's tactical skills and agreed with the entire thing. There was only one immediate complication and she thought she should bring it up now. Xena's eyes flickered across the room at Solan.
"What about Solan?" She knew her son would be opposed to the plan, partially due to the danger it would place Karis in and partially due to the actions she would have to take to implement it.
Karis took a deep breath and scrubbed her face with her hands. "I love Solan." She looked directly into Xena's eyes. "Nothing will change that." She paused for the right words to come. "But loving him doesn't change who I am or my duty to the Queen and Nation."
Xena agreed but knew it would be a hard sell to Solan. "Discuss it with him." She softened her expression. "But if you need help explaining........" Her offer of help trailed off as the voices across the room rose in volume.
Gabrielle saw the puppy dog look and chuckled inwardly. 'Xena will never be able to stand up to that!' She thought she could see just a hint of smug satisfaction in Solan's eyes as he walked over to join her at the table. Circling his shoulders with one arm Gabrielle introduced him to the sullen man.
"Solan. This is your Uncle Perdicus." She shook his shoulders slightly. "He is married to my sister, Lila."
Solan wasn't exactly thrilled to meet the man that threatened Gabrielle last night. He knew that Xena wanted to talk to Karis alone and this was just a distraction to separate them. Even before he became Gabrielle's son, however, the Centaurs had taught him basic manners so he smiled and offered his hand. "Nice to meet you."
Perdicus apparently had no such training. Ignoring the offered hand and appraising the boy critically, he questioned Gabrielle. "What makes me his uncle?"
"He is my son." Gabrielle answered flatly. She sat down pulling Solan next to her. Releasing her hold on his shoulders she placed her hand on his knee reassuringly. Solan simply smiled as he clearly read the confusion on the rude man's face.
"Hold on. I know you don't have a child. Especially one his age." Perdicus' sneer conveyed his doubt that she would ever have a child.
Solan felt the tension in Gabrielle and decided to take over the conversation. "That is correct sir. I'm sixteen years old." He gave Gabrielle a little sideways smile that she returned. "Gabrielle adopted me about three years ago, when my village was destroyed by raiders."
"Why didn't you come home then? Where have you been living?" Perdicus wasn't an expert in Amazon customs but he knew that men were not allowed in the territory. Everyone knew that!
"I have a home with the Amazons." Gabrielle was momentarily taken back by the question. 'He knows perfectly well why I didn't return to Potidea.' She thought. 'Amazons or not.'
"But he is male!" Perdicus wasn't going to let this drop. He was confident that he had caught her in a lie.
Solan's chuckle was enough to momentarily stop Gabrielle's retort. "Sir, The Amazon Queen herself made an exception in my case."
Gabrielle caught Xena's glance and signed. 'I'm going to tell him I'm Queen.' She wasn't really asking permission but quietly sighed when Xena responded 'OK'.
"The QUEEN!" Perdicus was definitely not believing any of this. "Why didn't she adopt you then?" The man's sarcasm generated a low growl from Solan. This time it was Gabrielle's chuckle that cut off Solan's reaction.
"She did." She glanced at Solan's shocked face then looked back at Perdicus. He was turning red with anger. She leaned on the table with her elbows, rested her chin on interlaced fingers and calmly examined his face. "You really should calm down. I don't think it's healthy for your veins to pop out like that."
"You're trying to tell me you are the Queen!" He had just about reached his limit. He was tired and now very hungry. "I don't believe it."
Gabrielle had expected the disbelief but Solan was angry. "Are you calling my mother a liar?"
Perdicus' grating laugh filled the room. "That's all she did for YEARS." His raised his voice in mocking imitation. "No Perdicus I'm OK with the betrothal." "Yes Father everything is fine." "Oh Lila I'm so happy." His veins began to pop out again. "For YEARS you PRETENDED our betrothal was OK with you."
"I really didn't have a choice did I." She saw him wince and suddenly understood. "That's it isn't it. You're mad because when I had a choice I chose them. I chose the Amazon's over you and you can't stand it." She knew she was provoking him but couldn't stop herself from adding. "I'll tell you Perdicus." Pausing for effect she narrowed her eyes at the apoplectic man. "I would have chosen the slavers over you."
He stood suddenly to get a better angle to hit her when a soft voice in his ear, a warm arm around his shoulders and cold metal at his throat froze his arm in place.
"I wouldn't.." Xena emphasized her low growl by tightening her grip around his shoulders and tilting the chakram at his throat.
"By the Gods.. Xena...." Gabrielle didn't want to see Perdicus' throat cut right in front of her or Solan.
Unable to move his head, Perdicus' eyes darted to Gabrielle. His mouth was suddenly dry, but he managed to mutter. "X.Xena.." Before his frightened eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped forward.
Xena let him fall unceremoniously to the table and looked at Gabrielle quizzically. "Why does this keep happening?"
Karis couldn't believe it. She was still halfway across the room. 'I have never seen anyone move that fast!' She thought. One moment she was talking to Xena at the table and the next Xena was across the room holding her chakram to the man's throat.
Gabrielle's chuckle pulled Karis out of her thoughts. "You've almost made me faint a few times."
Xena raised an eyebrow. "Almost?" She grinned at the now laughing woman.
"All right, Geez.." Gabrielle looked at Karis and rolled her eyes. "One time and she never lets me forget it."
They were all still laughing when Rayna appeared with a large tray loaded with breakfast. She kept her eyes averted and quickly set the tray on the table. It was only with a questioning look and a glance at the unconscious man did she make eye contact with Gabrielle. "Is he OK?"
With a gleam in her eye that wasn't entirely for the cinnamon roll she was reaching for, Gabrielle responded quickly. "Sure. He just found out that Xena is well... Xena." She smiled at the little cooks nod of comprehension.
Rayna recalled the first time she had met Xena in the kitchen back home. "When I first met Xena she nearly made me faint." She wasn't sure what was so funny about that but smiled as they all laughed and dug into the breakfast.
Perdicus roused and eyed the women warily as he ate several of the delicious rolls. He didn't believe that Gabrielle was Queen of the Amazons or that the dark warrior was actually Xena. 'It was just a trick to make me look bad in front of the boy.' He thought. He looked at his so called nephew and the tender glances the boy was giving the girl seated beside him. 'They are poisoning his mind with all that 'women are as good as men' load of bull.' Sitting with his back to the door he didn't realize when new arrivals entered the tavern.
Halfway through the meal Velasca sauntered into the tavern. 'No surprise here' Gabrielle thought until a phalanx of guards followed her. They stood in a rough V formation behind Velasca. 'Whoa.... What's going on?' Several dire thoughts crossed her mind before she calmed down enough to acknowledge the scout. She stood and addressed her tablemates. "Excuse me."
She was slightly disturbed by the formality when all the guards simultaneously dropped to one knee at her approach. 'Gods... how long did they practice that!' Gabrielle was growing more uncomfortable by the minute with the ceremonial pomp. It had been a while since she had to be Queen. Velasca kept with the ritual and offered two messages to her. "My Queen, Regent Ephiny sends her regards and these pressing messages."
She took the parchments and suppressing a grin, gestured to the kneeling women. "Rise." She couldn't suppress the slight twinkle in her eye as she leaned close to Velasca. "If they were so urgent you should have given them to me before your little trip to the kitchen." She kept her face expressionless at the blush crossing the scout's face. "You made me wait for breakfast!" She spoke in low tones and narrowed her eyes to impress up on Velasca the gravity of the situation. "You made me wait..... for Cinnamon Rolls." Gabrielle had a good idea what the messages would be and based on one of them she continued her beratement of the scout. "You will have to be punished for that."
"Punished?" Velasca thought Gabrielle was kidding but a look at her Queen's expressionless face, even the twinkle in her eyes was gone, made her uncertain. She was grateful when the others spoke up for her.
"My Queen, we made very good time." "Yes, I doubt if Regent Ephiny even expects us to get here before tomorrow." "Please don't punish Velasca." It was a tug on her arm that pulled her attention away from the guards.
"It was my fault." Rayna signed. "Please." She had seen the stricken look on her love's face and reading the lips of the guards was aware of Gabrielle's threat.
Gabrielle simply smiled an amused little royal smile and broke the seals on the messages. One informed her of the official fate of Brenin and the other was as she suspected a recounting of an ancient law. 'I wondered when she would find that one.' Gabrielle looked up at Velasca and Rayna now side by side holding each other. "One persons punishment is another's reward." She looked directly at Velasca. "I'll deal with you later." Shifting her gaze to Rayna she signed. "Do you think you can find something for seven hungry Amazons to eat?"
Rayna did a double take at the Queen's request. Her words and her body language were at odds and it only took a moment for the cook to decide it was the actions she would rather believe. 'Gabrielle isn't going to punish Velasca.' She thought and was definitely relieved. "Sure." She gestured for the guards to follow her to the kitchen. "There's plenty."
Gabrielle had time to wink conspiratorially at Bekka and Solari before turning back to her own meal. She was startled to see three pairs of twinkling eyes watching her and a pair of astonished ones.
"You ARE the Queen!" Perdicus was blown away by the revelation. Part of the reason he had been skeptical of the claim was simply because he couldn't believe someone he knew could be royalty, much less Amazon royalty. His eyes widened at the correlation. "That means that..."
"I AM Xena." Xena finished for him and chuckled. "Not many people... no I take that back you are the ONLY person to have ever felt the edge of my chakram at their throat and lived to tell about it." She laughed as he turned to look at her. "It's because of Gabrielle you are still alive." Her eyes turned to steel as her voice dropped. "I would just as soon kill ya as look at ya." She saw the man swallow hard and was about to continue the verbal torment when Gabrielle stopped her.
"Xena we need to start for Potidea. It will already be late when we get there." Gabrielle was anxious to get going.
"Sure." Xena rose from her seat. "I'll just go say bye to mother and we'll be off."
Solan and Karis rose as well. "We will get the horses ready." Solan looked at Xena. "Do you think Argo will let me saddle her?"
"I think so." She smiled at her uncertain son. "Argo likes you."
Gabrielle was walking back to her room when Perdicus' sneering words stopped her in her tracks.
"If you get there too late, knock first. I wouldn't want you to interrupt Lila and Brenin." Perdicus' mood was deteriorating quickly. Near death experiences and no sleep tended to do that to him. Passing out in front of the boy didn't help either.
"What? Who?" Gabrielle was sure her heart was going to stop.
"Lila's new friend Brenin. They were best of buddies when I left." Perdicus' sneer implied a deeper attachment. He was looking for a confrontation and was surprised when they all suddenly ignored his presence went to their individual travel preparations at top speed.
"Gods..." Karis was up and moving with Solan hard pressed to keep up. "We'll hurry with the horses." They left quickly.
"I need to say bye to mother." Xena was torn between getting things finished up to leave and holding Gabrielle to comfort her.
"It's OK." Gabrielle patted Xena's forearm. "I need to talk to Velasca." She looked up at the concerned warrior. "I'll meet you at the stables."
Xena walked part of the way to the kitchen with Gabrielle before heading toward her mother's room. She smiled when she heard the shuffle of feet at Gabrielle's entrance to the kitchen.
Squaring her shoulders and putting on her best royal pose Gabrielle pushed open the door to the kitchen. The quick scramble to attention almost made her lose it but she held her composure and gestured for Velasca to approach her.
She waited for the scout to drop to one knee and look at the ground before she began. "You neglected your duty for personal reasons." Gabrielle stopped for a moment to keep a grin from crossing her face, then continued. "I have decided that until you get your priorities straight you will be taken off of active scout duty."
At that Velasca's head jerked up. Several of the others gasped and even Rayna who didn't believe that her lover was going to be punished clenched her jaw as she read the words forming on Gabrielle's lips. 'Off active duty. What does that mean?' Rayna couldn't begin to guess.
She gestured for Rayna to join them. Unable to suppress a grin any longer, twinkling green eyes looked down into concerned gray. "This tavern is owned by Xena's mother, Cyrene. She is very sick. I think she is going to need someone to stay and make sure things run smoothly while she is recuperating." Gabrielle saw comprehension in Velasca's face and continued. "I would feel better if someone were able to protect Cyrene in the process. I think you would be perfect for this.... assignment...." The smiling Queen offered her hands to help the kneeling woman up. "...You know you're going to need a good cook." Gabrielle took a deep thoughtful breath and sighed. "Oh well I guess you'll find one somewhere."
Velasca was speechless. She felt the little cook's arms circle her waist and dropped her arms around the shaking shoulders. 'Gabrielle is offering us our greatest wish.' She thought. 'It will be like a home with Rayna. No more missions. No more danger' She looked down into Rayna's liquid eyes. Her thoughts were interrupted by Gabrielle's voice.
"There is one catch." The Queen looked at the rest of the guards and gestured for them to go. Smiling satisfactorily as they let themselves out the back door quickly. She turned to the couple and taking a seat at the table, showed Velasca the message about the ancient law, noticing the slight widening of the gray eyes as the scout read the parchment.
"Gods Gabrielle what are you going....." Velasca's questioning was halted by Gabrielle's upraised hand.
"It has actually been taken care of..." She smiled at the astonished scout and quickly told her all about the plan to iron out this ancient, out of date and much in need of change rule.
Salla met Xena at her mother's door. "She is sleeping." It was obvious that the healer didn't want the patient disturbed.
"I need to tell her goodbye. We are going to be leaving soon." Xena didn't want to wake her mother but she didn't want to leave without saying goodbye either.
"I'll let her know you had to leave." Salla shocked Xena by patting the warrior on the arm. "Gabrielle should get back to Amazon Territory as soon as she can."
Xena gently removed the woman's hand from her arm and smiled. "We aren't going back just yet." She continued at Salla's puzzled expression. "Gabrielle wants to go to Potidea before she returns home."
"Gods above...How did you manage that?" Salla's shock was enough to put Xena on alert.
"Why?" It was a casual enough question but Salla's reaction was more than concerned.
"It's not my place to say." The healer wrung her hands indecisively. She wanted to help Gabrielle but she didn't want to betray her confidence.
Xena understood the woman knew something and wanted to wring it out of her. She felt her fingers momentarily stiffen to apply pressure points before a softer side took over. Looking directly into the healer's eyes she spoke softly. "Help me. Help her."
Salla would never have believed the Fates themselves if they had told her that Xena The Conqueror would be begging her for help. "You love her so much?"
Xena never broke eye contact. She knew Salla was talking about her begging plea and Xena responded the only way she could. Tilting her head slightly to the side, she whispered. "Yes."
The genuine love in the blue eyes made Salla relent. "I don't know exactly what happened but when Gabrielle first came to live with us she had trouble sleeping...." She gestured for Xena to sit in one of the chairs by the door. Making herself comfortable she continued. "... She had nightmares." The healer closed her eyes and drifted back to the time when the princess came to her. "I assumed they were about the slavers and her captivity." She opened her eyes and focused on Xena. "They weren't. She told me they were about her family. Her father specifically." She took a deep breath and continued. "Like I said I don't know exactly what happened but...." She paused and continued quietly. "He disowned her." Salla saw Xena's nostrils flare and the muscles in her jaw grinding her teeth back and fourth. "She doesn't think her mother agreed with him but understands why she didn't defy her husband."
Xena unlocked her jaw long enough to growl. "And her sister?"
Salla shook her head. "That I'm afraid is a story for Gabrielle to tell. All I know about that is the same as you. She was betrothed to Perdicus and now he's married to Lila. It really doesn't take a prophet to figure that one out."
"I'm glad you are taking care of mother." Xena smiled at the woman. "I will have to thank Gabrielle for sending her best healer."
Inclining her head to accept the praise, Salla's return praise startled Xena. "It was you that did the trick." She smiled at the shocked warrior. "Knowing that you were here was enough to make her want to fight."
"Thanks." She looked at the door. "Tell her I'll be back as soon as I can."
"I will do that." Salla poked her head in the door just to be sure the woman was still asleep. Assuring herself that her patient was comfortable she nodded at Xena. "Safe journey." She watched the warrior stride down the hall and whispered. "Good luck."
Gabrielle rechecked her pack as she walked to the stables and was astonished when she looked up. In addition to Karis and Solan all six of the new arrivals were mounted and ready to go. "What are you doing?"
Karis chuckled at her Queen's surprise. "They are going to guard you." She smiled knowing Gabrielle felt completely safe in Xena's care. "They didn't fight for the honor just to have you run away from them." She laughed as the guards all suddenly had better things to look at than the Queen. Several of them, it seemed, found the rafters quite interesting.
Studying the guards closely, Gabrielle noticed several of them sported bruises in various shades of purple and a few had some rather nasty cuts that were just starting to heal. "Fight?" She looked to Karis for an explanation, mostly because Karis was the only one that would look at her.
A quiet smile played on the head guard's lips. "Apparently Eponin would only allow six of them to come..... " She grinned at Bekka. "...... so they had a little contest."
Unable to help herself, Gabrielle gently teased the group. "Lost. Huh?" She smiled satisfactorily as every one of their heads snapped to look at her. Her chiding voice and wide smile made them all relax. "You can't guard me if you won't look at me." Green eyes were still twinkling at their sheepish grins when Xena entered the stable.
Smiling at Gabrielle's expression, Xena checked Argo's tack, mounted quickly and offered her hand to help the smiling Queen up. Xena looked at the Amazon's they would be traveling with wrapped one arm around Gabrielle's bare stomach, leaned close to her ear and whispered. "Gods..... Potidea is going to think they are being invaded." She chuckled. "We are probably going to scare them witless." She gave Argo the familiar signal to move and was reluctantly impressed as the others followed quietly and efficiently.
Gabrielle closed her eyes to absorb the sensation of Xena's arm around her. The warm breath at her ear sent a toe curling shiver through her. She did return Xena's chuckle and although she didn't answer aloud she had definite thoughts on their destination. 'They are close to witless now, my love, but I think you're right.' She snuck a peek back at the trailing guards and made herself a mental note to change into her formal Amazon outfit before they arrived. Silently she wished she had her Queen's mask. Hugging the protective arm around her, she laid her head against the oddly soft yet firm biceps of her love. It wasn't long before she was lulled into Morpheus' Realm by the soft rocking motion, steady hoofbeats and the warm comfort of Xena's embrace. 'Riding isn't so bad....' Her last concious thought as always was of Xena. '...as long as someone is holding you.'
Brenin woke in stages. She slowly became aware of a small bodies snuggled close to her. Cracking her eyes slightly, she saw the distinctive honey-fire hair of the twins. 'What the....' She checked the sun's position out of the window and thought. 'Sweet Artemis.... How long have I been asleep?' Gently disengaging herself from the sleeping children, Brenin rose and stretched, hoping her cracking joints didn't wake the children. She heard sounds from the kitchen and went to see if Lila was OK. She knew she hadn't always been the best mother but she did remember the panic she felt when Micha had been hurt in an accident. She had always been grateful for the support her sister Amazons had given her. A quiet pang of regret for what she had lost passed through her.
Lila looked up when she entered the kitchen. "They didn't wake you did they?" She had wanted to let Brenin rest and had intially refused the pleading children's request to curl up next to their hero. She found her refusal was useless. Checking on the woman a short time later, she discovered her twin terrors peacefully draped over their hero. It was a picture much too endearing to disturb and she hoped Brenin wouldn't mind that she left them there.
"Nah.." She smiled at Lila and at the memory of their sleeping faces. "They are still asleep." Taking a seat at the table she looked up at the frazzled mother. "They've had a rough day."
Lila widened her eyes at the understatement and nodded in agreement. "Yeah... I guess you could call it that." She slumped down in the chair across from Brenin, and sighed.
"I think maybe your day wasn't that great either." Brenin clasped her hands together and steepling her index fingers pointed at Lila's exhausted face. "You should rest too."
In a totally unconcious gesture Lila reached out to take Brenin's hands. "You saved them." She smiled and patted the woman's hands. "Gabe says you are his hero." Continuing in a whisper she admitted. "Your my hero too."
Brenin was too shocked at the admission to say anything. She simply sat at the table with Lila holding her hands and to her amazement the loss of the Amazons eased slightly.
Lila too felt the quiet comfort of the moment. Not since Gabrielle left, had she felt this type of rapport with someone else. She had conciously avoided friendship with other women in an effort to evade Perdicus' and her father's snide remarks but she missed her sister. She missed this... and, no matter what her husband or her father said, she decided she didn't want to miss it anymore.
Continued in Part 5