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Complications part 6
Xena continued quietly reading, waiting for Gabrielle and her sister to return from the kitchen. She glanced up briefly when Hecuba returned to the room and reclaimed her chair but when Gabrielle and Lila returned she totally forgot about the parchment in her hands. She knew it was show time when Gabrielle accepted the offered lap, nuzzled her ear, and whispered. "Ready?"
When Xena nodded affirmative, the Amazon turned toward Brenin, noting Lila had again taken her seat on the wide chair arm. "Tell me Brenin." She smiled at the woman. "What do you know about ancient Amazon laws?"
"Queen Melosa had me copy them all down once, and bind them into a great big book." Brenin looked at Gabrielle questioningly and thought. 'She already knows this.'
"Mmmm.... Yes, the one we keep in the council chamber. It has all the laws in it correct?" Gabrielle held her breath and thought. 'Please answer the way I want you to.'
Lila had reclaimed her right hand so Brenin waved her left hand in the air. "All the laws... all the traditions.. all the poems the Queen could get her hands on..."
"Hmmm... Do you remember any of them?" Gabrielle forced herself to breath and noticed all the guards listening intently to the exchange.
"Of course, I remember everything I copy." Brenin was proud of that fact but again knew that Gabrielle already knew it.
"I see." Gabrielle tested the waters. "So... if I were to ask you to recite one of them you could?"
"Of course, I know all of them...all the laws... all the traditions... everything in the book." Brenin was becoming more and more confused at the questioning. She looked up into Lila's shining eyes and felt a slight squeeze on her hand.
Gabrielle brushed an errant lock of hair out of her eyes and said. "Recite for my guards The Law of Successor, please."
"The Law of... Wow that would be an old one.. they don't call them 'the law of' anymore." She felt Lila's hand tighten and somehow knew it was important to get this right. Clearing her throat Brenin began. "The Law of Successor, sure.. " Swallowing hard, she closed her eyes and began reciting the law just as if she was reading it out of the book. Which in fact was what she was doing because she saw the picture of the finished page in her mind and was reading off that. "The Law of Successor states that, any Amazon Queen must have an heir of the royal bloodline, at least one year of age, before the fifth year of her reign or else...." Brenin's eyes flew open and looked at Gabrielle. "Gods...."
"or else she must relinquish the Mask of Queen." Gabrielle finished softly.
All the guards jumped to their feet, Karis included. Gabrielle stood and held up her hand to calm them. Looking at each one in turn she smiled. "I don't want anyone to strain themselves with the math so let me tell you. Even if I could find a man that Xena wouldn't kill.." She glanced at the warrior's scowl and heard her mother's gasp. "I still couldn't have a child in time to meet the requirements."
It was an outdated law from the time when the Amazons were divided into several tribes. Often the tribes were ruled by the same family for generations. The Law of Successor was written to insure the continuation of the ruling family. Now, however, since there was only one Queen, Gabrielle knew she needed to change the law to reflect the change in the Nation's makeup. One family, even hers, should not be allowed to rule the Nation indefinitely. For now though the law stood on the books and she had to comply with it.
She let the murmurs run their course and walking over to Lila, continued. "It doesn't have to be my child though, only my bloodline, Terreis was Melosa's heir, her true sister. Traditionally...... Lila, would be next in line to wear the Mask of Queen. BUT.." She spoke loudly to overrule the immediate protests and looked at Lila. "No Amazon would follow her. She hasn't been trained in the traditions. She doesn't know our laws... and she doesn't live with us." Gabrielle took a deep breath and glanced once at her mother before she swept her gaze around the room. "I have therefore decided to name Brie as my successor." Smiling at her sister and chuckling at the guards murmurs she explained. "Brie is old enough to be eligible and young enough to be trained."
"I had originally thought that Brie could come and live with me in the village." She held up her hand to forestall her mother's protest. "I see now that is impossible. Her bond with Gabe is too close and, unfortunately, Gabe can't come with us." That had been the main reason Gabrielle had been putting off this request to Lila. She had fought an internal battle against the necessity of separating the twins ever since she found the law. Now she didn't have to. "So someone will have to stay here with her and teach her our ways." Her original idea had been for Velasca to train Brie. Now, however, there was another option.
Gabrielle stood directly in front of Brenin and never took her eyes off the scribe. "Brie will need to be taught by someone who knows all the laws... all the traditions.. everything." She smiled at the slight widening of the scribe's eyes. "It will have to be someone Brie trusts and maybe..... even loves." She saw the tears forming in the scribe's eyes and quietly asked. "Will you do it Brenin? Will you be Brie's teacher?"
The entire room was utterly silent no one even breathed until Brenin's quiet "Yes." filled the void. "If Lila says it's OK." Brenin looked up to her friend's tear filled eyes and smiled when Lila enthusiastically nodded her approval.
Gabrielle's soft smile reflected her thought. 'My little lost sheep has found a home.'
Karis took a deep breath voicing her protest. "She can't train the Queen. She's not an Amazon."
"Hmmm... you're right." Gabrielle smiled at Brenin. "You're an Amazon again."
"WHAT!!!" Karis used her slight anger to fake being really angry. All the guards present knew that she spent weeks plotting to capture this nutcase she was even going to......... with her just to catch her and now Gabrielle was not just restoring her status but actually elevating it. None of them blamed her for protesting the Queen's decision, it was just too much to take. Karis saw the guards approval at her outburst and smiling to herself continued. "You can't do that."
"Karis calm down." Gabrielle turned to look at Karis. She waited until the guard was breathing slower and explained calmly. "The only reason she's not an Amazon is because Ephiny said so... Well I'm saying she IS an Amazon... and I'm the Queen."
Karis kept up the act. "What about weapon's training?" Everyone knew that Brenin was not the best at any weapon.
"That is a few years away but before we left Amphipolis, Velasca agreed that if anything should happen to me before Brie is of legal age to wear the Mask then she would be Brie's Champion." The mention of something happening to Gabrielle was enough to make the warrior gasp quietly but Gabrielle resisted the urge to comfort Xena, instead she turned to look at Lila. "Since Brie won't be coming back to the village with us and Velasca is staying in Amphipolis indefinitely, I'm sure that she would be more than happy to make regular trips down here for Brie's weapons training and to check her progress in other areas."
That qualifier eased each of the guard's tension slightly. At least Brenin wouldn't be solely responsible for Brie's training. Velasca was a well respected member of the Nation and no one would have protested if she had claimed the Mask of Queen when Melosa was killed. Her participation in Brie's training nearly assured the girl's acceptance into the Nation, village raised or not.
"It won't work." Hecuba could feel every eye in the room looking at her. "Perdicus will never allow Brenin to stay here."
Lila looked at her mother and wanted to cry. "Gods... she's right. I forgot about Perdicus."
Xena glanced at Karis' relieved sigh. Clearing her throat, she picked the parchment up off the table. "If this was signed... he couldn't say anything about it." She looked at Brenin. "Hand me that ink and quill."
Brenin handed over the bottle with the quill sticking out the top.
They all watched as Xena made some corrections and listened as she explained. "This was written before the children were born." She slashed through a clause and wrote some notes in the margin. "I am adding an amendment that says Perdicus can see them if he wants to but only if two Amazon guards and either Lila or Brie's teacher are present for the visit."
It was a concession she made for the children's sake, not for Perdicus'. Xena's own father had been absent most of her childhood and she thought she would rather have had him around no matter how bad he was. Gabrielle's continued hope for her own father's acceptance reinforced that belief. She reread a few more things and slashed a couple of things out before she handed the amended document to Lila. "Do you still want this?"
Lila read the amendment and saw what Xena had cut out. Her eyes widened at the changes.
Xena chuckled and glanced at Gabrielle. "At least I left him with the clothes on his back." She asked again. "Do you still want it?"
Lila nodded and handed the parchment back to Xena. She watched as Xena signed on the line King Silvas should have and was fascinated when the warrior pulled a small stick of red wax from a hidden pocket of her leathers. Xena held it to the candleflame, melting one end and smearing a blob on the parchment beside her name. No one in the room, except Gabrielle, had even realized it but Xena wore a ring. It was her royal insignia and she pressed it into the wax. No one would dispute the validity of a document with Xena's seal on it.
Karis was now pacing the floor from the couch to the door glaring alternately at Xena, Gabrielle and Brenin. She was obviously upset at the turn of events. Solan tried unsuccessfully to calm her. When he shot a helpless look at the room in general, Xena rose and moved to calm Karis. Gabrielle watched Xena grip the irate guard by the shoulders and speak quietly to her for a moment before she tapped the concerned warrior on the shoulder.
"Can I see you in the kitchen." Gabrielle smiled when she spoke but didn't seperate her teeth even the slightest bit.
That earned the Queen a glare from the warrior. She released Karis and the guard immediately began pacing. Xena took a reluctant step toward the kitchen door and the disapproval in Gabrielle's most regal voice stopped Karis' pacing. "You too Karis."
All the guards watched as Gabrielle, Xena and Karis went into the kitchen for a moment. Sounds from the room made it obvious they were arguing but only bits and pieces of the conversation could be identified.
"..can't...after all I did.... capture.." Karis' voice was agitated.
" ... don't blame...be upset myself..." Xena's rumbling tone.
"...took her side...signed.... how could...." Karis' obviously answering Xena's comment. The guards were amazed at their leaders bravery. Not everyone could talk to Xena like that.
"...Amazon matter... " Gabrielle's voice was easily identified.
"Karis... right to... upset." Xena's low tone barely carried out of the room.
".defend her......not question ... do what she is told...... Queen..." Gabrielle obviously upset and getting louder.
"I could overrule you." Xena's confident statement carried easily out of the room. The guards figured they were moving back to the door.
"You can't, this is an Amazon matter. Treaty or not. I am the Queen. You don't have any power here!" Gabrielle's triumphant voice rang through the room. All the guards knew she had won the argument.
Karis noticed the nervous glances each of the guards gave her when she returned from the kitchen. When Solan tried to go to Karis, Gabrielle pulled him away, keeping her back to Xena the whole time.
Xena crossed the room and handed Lila the signed and sealed document before meeting Karis halfway to the door. Everyone heard her low growl. "Let's get outta here."
All three guards exchanged looks when the two upset women left.
"Com'on." Gabrielle pulled Solan's hand. "I'll introduce you to your grandmother."
Brenin was already worried about the argument Xena and Gabrielle were having, knowing it was partially due to her so when she sensed a family moment approaching she excused herself. "It has been a really long day. I think I'll go check on the children and then turn in." She smiled at Lila. "Goodnight." It was easier than she thought to say goodnight to Gabrielle and remembering the Queen's words....thought "I'm an Amazon again." She was able to ignore the feeling of the guard's eyes on her back as she walked out of the room.
Gabrielle counted to twenty before addressing the guards. "Leave us." She gestured them out of the room. "I'm sure Jana has camp set up by now."
Although reluctant they followed orders and filed out of the house quickly. They didn't notice Gabrielle wink at Solan or the slight smile he gave his mother.
Norin stood solidly by the door when Karis and Xena exited. The guard was curious at the unlikely pair but remembering her last attempt at snooping she held her post when the women entered the barn.
"I had Jana set up a surprise for Gabrielle up here. " Xena explained. "I need to get my armor."
Karis nodded and lounged at the bottom of the ladder waiting for Xena to collect her gear. She called up to the loft. "I guess that went as well as could be expected." She ran her fingers through her wavy brown hair. The plan was to stay in the barn long enough to start the guards talking. Rumors were so easy to start.
"Hey, I can't find one of my shoulder guards." Xena poked her head over the edge of the loft. "Come up here and help me look."
Karis sighed and climbed up. "Where did you leave them...." Her voice trailed off when she saw the collection of flowers. "Gods...." She looked at Xena. "You set this up for her?" The tender side of Xena was something Karis was only just learning about. Traveling with someone tended to bring out all sides eventually. She was already starting to learn that Solan also had a romantic side.
Xena nodded. "Yup." She continued casually looking for her missing armor.
"When did you tell her about the plan?" Karis wasn't sure when the warrior would have had time.
"I explained it to her after dinner on the way here. You should talk to her she has some ideas for a few backup plans." Xena's search brought her closer to Karis' position. "You tell Solan?"
"We talked about it when we were gathering wood." Karis thought Solan understood but was still nervous about her Queen's opinion. "And she was okay with...... everything?" The guard's increasing nervousness was starting to show. Her hands shook as she pushed aside the hay to look for the missing gear.
"Yes." Xena stooped to look between some bales for the armor. "Gabrielle understands. She may not like it much but that will only help the act." Standing suddenly she turned to Karis. "Are you okay with.... everything?"
Karis licked her lips. "Uh.. I think so." She swallowed hard, suddenly realizing where she was and who she was with. She knew that there were hundreds of Amazons who would give their right arm to be where she was right now, alone in a hayloft with the hottest warrior in the world. But she was not just one of the masses and the hottest warrior in the world happened to be her boyfriend's mother.
"I think it was easy for you to act angry just then because it was Brenin." Xena leaned casually on a pile of hay and regarded Karis. "From the story I heard your seduction of her was quite intense. I don't think you've had a chance to put the experience of her capture in its proper perspective and now it's catching up to you."
"I agree that it was the anger I felt toward Brenin I was using." Karis nodded. "But your wrong about the capture. That wasn't real." She sighed and admitted. "It may be more difficult with you though." She held onto the frame of the loft door and looked out onto the countryside.
Xena smiled and began to move closer. "Because of Solan... because I'm his mother?"
Karis leaned her head out the loft door, suddenly the barn seemed to be closing in on her. "Yes." She saw movement in the shadows. "They're out there." She laughed nervously and joked. "You wanna give them a show?"
Xena's response was unexpected. "Sure." Anything the guards saw would only help the rumor mill produce better stories.
Karis swallowed hard and taking a deep breath confessed. "It feels strange to be about to kiss your boyfriends mother."
Xena chuckled. "You are one of the good ones. My son is very lucky to have found you."
"Thanks?" Karis was feeling very strange now. The warriors slow sensual advance on her position didn't help matters at all.
Xena was only inches away from Karis now and both of them were bathed in moonlight. Leaning forward she whispered in the guard's ear. "We can put on a little show for them and I can let you know what to expect." There was a slight silence before Karis responded.
"I know what to expect." She licked her lips. "You kissed me before... in India. Remember." Karis could feel the softness of Xena's lips on her own when she thought about the claiming kiss. The warrior's chuckling brought her out of her memories.
"Oh no. That was an act of the shallowest kind for Iolaus' benefit and you didn't know I was Solan's mother then." Xena was now warring with herself. Gabrielle knew this was necessary. Gods she even said she understood but somehow it still felt like a betrayal. The Conqueror's thoughts ran through her head. 'You want betrayal without guilt. I'm your gal.' Xena agreed and allowed the Conqueror to take over before she continued talking to Karis. "This will be an act too but we will have to be much more convincing than that little kiss. You will have to forget I'm his mother." Closing the slight distance between them she slid her arms around Karis' waist. "Are you sure you want to do this now?"
Karis was barely able to speak. "The guards need something to start a rumor with and it might help me... to prepare. I don't think I will be able to forget you're his mother though." Karis swallowed hard as Xena's purr ran down her spine.
"I'll do my best to help." The Conqueror stared into the deep brown eyes. "Just remember, you don't have to fight me this time." She leaned in to nuzzle the guards neck and whispered. "This time... you get to act like you enjoy it."
Karis thought she knew what to expect. But Xena was right, this time was different, this time when their lips touched Karis thought her whole body was on fire. She couldn't even think of a word that fit, intoxicating, powerful, sensuous, erotic, maybe none of them, maybe all of them. It took her breath away and became her breath at the same time. When Xena pulled back from the kiss, the guard was grateful for the arms around her. She wasn't sure if her legs could hold her up on their own.
"Now you know what to expect." Loosening her hold, Xena continued. "The question is...." She looked into the panting guard's eyes. "...Will you be able to do what we have to and still face Solan?"
Slightly taken back by the question Karis pulled her fingers through her hair and thought about it. "Yes." She nodded and looked up at Xena. "I love Solan and this..." She paused and licked her lips. "... or anything else we do won't change that." She hoped he felt the same way.
"Good." Xena hugged the guard. "I think they've seen enough. Let's go back in." She smiled and stepping out of the patch of moonlight, she gathered a bunch of flowers and headed for the ladder.
A comment Xena made earlier floated through Karis' memory. "That kiss was an act?"
Xena chuckled and nodded. "That was about what you can expect, it was just business though. My real kisses are a little more.... intense."
"Gods..." Karis was overwhelmed. 'How does Gabrielle deal with that!' She thought. Her already high opinion of the Queen went up a notch.
"What about your shoulder piece?" Karis had almost forgotten about the other reason they were out here.
Xena picked up the pile of armor and rolling her eyes, reached a little deeper in the hay under it. "Here it is." She grinned. "Let's go."
When Norin saw the pair exit the barn she narrowed her eyes. Karis seemed distracted and Xena's smile was bigger now than when she went in. 'It took them an awfully long time to get that armor.' Norin thought slyly. 'I wonder what else they were doing in there?'
Karis could practically read the guards thoughts and inwardly patted herself on the back. 'And she didn't even see the little show. It's too soon for that' She admonished herself. 'We are only just getting started.' Still she couldn't help feel a little proud at the execution of the plan, now when they went to Corinth and the resistance probed the guards about her relationship with Xena the rumors would insure her at least minimal acceptance into their ranks.
Solari and Bekka exchanged glances as they looked up at the loft door. Xena and Karis could be seen clearly in the moonlight. When Norin told them where the pair had gone the guards were worried about their leader being alone with the dangerous woman and by mutual consent went to check on her. They were both stunned when they saw Xena put her arms around Karis and kiss her.
Solari's mind whirled at the implications. 'How can they do that?' The betrayal of the Queen was something that she wouldn't discount from Xena. The stories of her legendary rise to power didn't discount anything, but for Karis to do something like this was inconceivable. Both guards were silent on the walk back to the campsite.
Hecuba watched Xena and the guard leave. She didn't know if it was the hopeful mother in her or just years of life experience, but she did know that despite the argument, her daughter and the warrior were very much in love. 'So that was Xena.' The older woman's eyes shined at her wayward daughter. 'She found her dream after all.' A slight smile played on her lips and she continued her thought. 'Good.'
Gabrielle smiled at the look in her mother's eyes and put her arm around Solan's shoulder. "Mother, I'd like you to meet Solan. He's my son." She gave his shoulders a little squeeze.
Hecuba looked at the young man. 'He doesn't look much younger than her' The older woman's
face betrayed her thoughts.
Gabrielle laughed. "I adopted him about three years ago." A proud glance at her son and
another little squeeze. "He was sixteen yesterday."
"Nice to meet you." She gave Solan a polite smile and a little nod.
Solan smiled at the older woman and offered his hand. "Nice to meet you, too." He was quietly
disappointed when his newest grandmother shook his hand politely. Xena's mother had
accepted him immediately.
Gabrielle saw the disappointment on Solan's face. She knew what her father's feelings about
adoption were but didn't think her mother felt the same way. "Mother. Father isn't here now." It
was a gentle reminder tinged with the hope that at least one of her parents would accept her
Hecuba realized that she had tempered her reaction to the boy based on what her husband
would expect. She silently berated herself for that and quickly pulled the boy into a nice to see
you grandmotherly type hug.
Gabrielle clamped her lips shut with her fingers and tried to hold back the tears she felt forming when her mother hugged Solan. She let out a short burst of laughter when Hecuba, looking over Solan's shoulder, reached one arm to her and made it a three way group hug. At that moment Gabrielle was absolutely positive that the only person who gave better hugs than her mother was Xena.
"Ahem..." Lila cleared her throat. "Can anyone get in on this?" She smiled as two arms reached out to include her in the family embrace.
None of them knew how long they stood there wrapped in each others arms but Gabrielle knew that her tears of joy had dried. She reluctantly began to disengage from the others and Solan did as well.
He notice the fire in the fireplace dying down and the meager supply of wood next to the poker. "Where is your wood pile? I'll go get some more wood for the fire."
Lila was floored and blurted. "Carrying wood is a woman's work!" There were many lessons her father had ingrained in her. The line between a woman's chores and a man's work was only one of them.
Gabrielle was about to berate her sister for the comment when Solan's quiet laugh and comment stopped her thought.
"Aunt Lila. In the Amazon Nation..... EVERYTHING ...is a woman's work." He smiled, laughed at her reaction and asked again. "Where's the woodpile?"
Lila quirked her mouth in an embarrassed half smile. "Out the kitchen door, to the left." Her eyes twinkled at his back when he turned to follow her directions.
Hecuba too watched him go quickly to his self-appointed task and commented. "At least there is one sensible man in the family."
Gabrielle was taken back by her mother's comment. 'Solan is still a boy.' She thought. Then she looked at the retreating form again. He was slightly taller than she was now and his shoulders were broader. The slight bulge of his biceps was noticeable even under the heavy tunic he wore. 'Gods... when did he grow up?' Two days ago he was twelve and today he was sixteen. 'I've missed four years in an eyeblink.' She knew that soon he would be making a life of his own and suddenly she felt a great empathy with Xena. 'She's missed his whole life.' The loss that must be to her love nearly drove her to tears, much to her mother's dismay.
"Gabrielle.... Gabrielle, what's wrong?" Hecuba and Lila both moved to comfort the teary-eyed woman.
"I just realized he IS a man." Gabrielle was at a loss to explain the feeling to her mother, but somehow Hecuba understood.
"Don't worry." She wrapped her arms around her oldest daughter. "He will always be your son. No matter how old he gets." She looked at the disbelief in her daughter's green eyes and laughed. "Just like no matter how old you get...." Holding the green eyes firmly in her blue ones she continued softly. "....you will always be my daughter."
Lila didn't try to get in on this hug.
Karis and Xena were nearly to the door when a shadow behind the house caught both their attention. Karis quietly told Norin to hold her post as she circled left around the house. Xena dropped her armor and went around to the right. Silently, the women crept toward the unknown presence. Pressed against the wall of the house Karis cleared her mind and waited for the approaching footsteps to be within a few strides of her hiding place before jumping at the intruder. She nearly got a armful of wood in the face when Solan was startled into dropping most of the bundle he was carrying.
"Karis!!? Whoa. Wait. It's me..." He waited a moment for Karis to recognize him before he came any closer. He had seen her in tactical games before and knew if she was focused on her objective it took a moment for her to control her reflexes.
"Solan? What..." Karis looked at the pile of wood at his feet and the larger pile behind him. "Oh...Gods don't do that!" She ran her fingers through her hair and smiled. "You scared a years growth out of me!"
Tossing the last piece of wood in his hand casually over his shoulder, Solan closed the distance between them. "Good." He smiled and pulled her close. "Now we are only 1 year apart."
Karis felt her arms slide around his waist and up his back completely on their own. When she felt Solan's arms circle her waist and his soft lips on her own, she couldn't help compare the feeling with her earlier experience in the loft. It only took a moment to decide that she liked this much better. 'Genuine love beats fake lust, everytime.' she thought.
Solan saw the look in her eye and swallowed hard. He knew what she was thinking about but wasn't sure the outcome. He forced himself to ask. "So.... how do I compare?" It was odd to think about competing with his mother in this particular area.
As intense as kissing Xena was at the time, Karis could barely recall it now. She gently smoothed his worried forehead and pushed his hair back over his shoulders. "I thought we talked about that? You know it's all just an act with her right?"
Solan sighed. "I know... but..." He tightened his grip on the guard. "... I didn't expect to feel so..." He didn't know the right word for his mixed emotions on the subject.
"Jealous?" Karis smiled at his sheepish grin. "Trust me." She found his ear and gently nibbled on the soft lobe. "You have nothing to worry about." Her reassurances were quieted as Solan moved to capture her lips.
Xena heard Solan identify himself. She watched until Karis recognized him and they embraced before she melted back into the darkness. 'They need to talk.' She thought. Retracing her steps she retrieved her armor and the flowers before making her way back to the front door. Shrugging at Norin's curious look she simply said. "Solan." before she continued into the house.
When the door opened all three occupants of the couch looked up. The sudden silence made the sound of Xena's armor hitting the floor echo loudly in the room. They had obviously been in a deep disscussion and Xena almost felt like an intruder, until Gabrielle smiled at her. 'Gods....' Xena felt her heart pound as the green eyes twinkled with happiness. 'She is so beautiful.' It was a thought that brought a smile unbidden to the warrior's face. Her smile widened as Gabrielle rose and crossed the room to meet her.
"Everything go okay?" Gabrielle had assured Xena that she was okay with the details of the plan. It was after all only an act right? Still she couldn't help feel a little....
Xena raised her eyebrow at the jealous tinge in the question. "Everything went fine." With a slight flourish and a bow she presented the small bunch of flowers to the Amazon. "You okay?"
Gabrielle covered the warrior's hand with her own to accept the flowers. She inhaled the familiar scent and threw her arms around Xena's neck. "I'm fine." She released the hug and echoed the warrior's own earlier comment. "I'll show you just how fine I feel...." She paused to glance at her mother and sister before adding a sultry. "....Later."
Xena smiled at Gabrielle's waiting relatives, leaned closer to the Amazon and, with a little sideways glance, spoke quietly. "Can't wait."
Brenin quietly opened the door to Lila's room. She smiled at the children's peaceful faces. 'I get to stay.' She thought. 'I get another chance.' It was something that she had never even considered a possibility. Wandering through the countryside, alone, was the only thing she had to look forward to until Gabrielle forgave her. 'I won't let you down Gabrielle.' The scribe's thoughts were echoed the gentle smile on her face. 'I'll be sure that Brie is ready when you are.' She knew that it was not only when the Queen died that the Successor took over. The Queen could also decide to step down in favor of the younger candidate. Brenin suspected that Gabrielle would do just that when she was sure that Brie could handle the job. She watched the sleeping children just long enough to assure herself that they were all right before moving to her own room. It had been a long day and she didn't even bother taking off her clothes before she collapsed on the bed, asleep nearly as soon as her head touched the pillow.
Xena noticed as she and Gabrielle joined Lila and Hecuba by the fire the Amazon's relatives became very nervous. She tried not to let it bother her. In the bad old days she had always wanted to see that look of fear in people's eyes. 'Yeah.' The Conqueror's chuckle echoed in her head. 'That's when we did our job right!' The Warrior Princess nearly snarled at the thought. 'This is Gabrielle's family.' The Conqueror's retort stunned her mostly because she agreed with it. 'NO! We are her family. You and me and Solan.' Swallowing hard Xena added quietly. 'AND Lila, Brie, Gabe, and Hecuba.' It was too soon to add Karis to the list but Xena had the feeling she would be doing just that eventually. She felt Gabrielle's hand on her forearm and focused on the Amazon's question.
"Xena are you okay?" Gabrielle could feel the shifting tension in the muscle under her hand and knew that The Conqueror was again tormenting her.
Patting the hand reassuringly Xena smiled. "Yeah.. I think she'll behave now." Clenching her teeth at the laughter in her head and the lilting voice. 'That's what you think.' Xena sat on the couch and pressed the palms of her hands over her eyes for a moment. 'Why are you back now? We aren't in any danger here. There are no enemies.' Xena was actually confused by The Conqueror's sudden reemergence. 'I'm just practicing for when we go home. I have to be ready. You can't act all mushy when we're there....... unless you want to die?' Xena took a deep breath. 'No. You're right.' The Warrior Princess conceded. 'You need to be ready.' She almost pleaded with her dark sister. 'But not now okay?' The Conqueror gloated at the victory and graciously granted the request. 'Okay. Not tonight....but soon.'
Gabrielle looked at the clenching muscles in Xena's jaw. Sitting next to the troubled woman she draped her arm around Xena's shoulder and spoke quietly. "Are you sure?"
Xena didn't care who was watching when she looked into concerned green eyes. She simply leaned over and kissed the woman she loved. "Yes. I'm sure." She held the green gaze in her clear blue eyes until Hecuba clearing her throat attracted their attention.
"It's getting pretty late. I think I should go home." Seeing the disappointment in Gabrielle's eyes the older woman promised. "I'll come back in the morning." She patted Lila's hand and rose from her chair.
Gabrielle walked to the door with her mother and indulged in a final hug before opening the door. Norin, who was leaning against the wall, straightened quickly when Gabrielle spoke.
"Escort my mother home." She nodded once at Norin's salute. Turning to her mother she continued. "Do you want the guards to stay with you tonight?"
Hecuba considered her daughter's offer before quietly refusing. "No." She smiled at the reaction. "I think it's better if there aren't any Amazons around when he wakes up."
Gabrielle nodded and continued her orders to the guard. "When you and Lucinda return you may go back to camp. We won't be needing a guard tonight." Tilting her head to acknowledge Norin's bow, Gabrielle turned to her mother. "I'll see you in the morning."
She watched until the pair were out of sight before reentering the house. Solan and Karis had returned with two great armfuls of wood and Solan was busy stacking it into the neat little piles he was so proud of. Lila seemed to have gotten over her reaction to Xena and the two looked like they were deep into a discussion until they noticed her at the door and stood quickly. 'Uh Oh.' Gabrielle's eyes narrowed suspiciously at the twinkling blue eyes. 'Now what's she got planned?' She watched a look of utter innocence pass over the face of her love and then no expression at all, except the twinkle in her eye. Lila didn't meet her eye, suddenly finding the floor extremely interesting. 'Double Uh Oh.' Gabrielle thought.
Lila took a deep breath and spoke quietly to her sister. "I put the children in my room so there is a room available if you want to sleep inside." She saw Gabrielle take a breath to answer when Xena spoke up.
"I think it would be better for Solan to sleep inside." Xena smiled at her son then looked at Lila. "Gabrielle and I can stay in the loft, if you have extra blankets."
Lila shook her head. "I only have two extras. That won't be enough.. it's really pretty cold tonight."
Xena and Gabrielle both laughed at that. Gabrielle glanced at her now smiling warrior and gripped her sister's shoulder forcing eye contact. "I don't think we will have any problem keeping warm." She raised an eyebrow and grinned as Lila's eyes widened and a quiet 'Oh' formed on her lips.
Lila quickly got the blankets and Gabrielle accepted them with a smile. "Thanks." The sisters shared a quick hug goodnight before Lila turned to her new nephew. "I'll leave the children's room door open for you." She hugged the boy tightly. "Goodnight. "
"Goodnight Aunt Lila." Solan was nearly overwhelmed by the last two days events. He had aquired two grandmothers in as many days and now he could add aunts and cousins to his family roster. He watched his new relative walk through the entrance to the hall and felt Karis' standing supportively next to him. 'It's going to feel weird sleeping without her.' He thought. He turned to hug the guard goodnight and was unprepared for the intensity of her return embrace.
Karis too was shocked at the strength of the emotions she was experiencing. The thought of sleeping without him, without his arms around her, twisted her stomach in knots. She wondered breifly if begging his mothers to let her stay with him would do any good. She released her hold and turned toward the watching women when she felt Solan's fingers on her lips. Hiding his lips from his mothers eyes Solan found her ear and whispered. "Watch this."
The amazed guard watched as Solan put on the most adorable puppy dog face and turned it full force on his mothers. From the corner of her eye she saw him tilt his head and raise his eyebrows. She couldn't be sure but she thought they both nearly took a step backward at the impact of the pleading gaze. She could see that Xena was nearly at the breaking point when Gabrielle spoke.
"I would feel more comfortable if Solan had a guard tonight." She looked at Karis. "Assign someone you feel will be able to watch him all night." She looked back at her now slightly smug son. "I don't want the children awakened by the guards changing shifts."
Xena added quietly. "He should be as safe here as he was in Amphipolis." Karis' nod assured the warrior mother that her message had been understood. 'Sleep only.' Karis thought. 'Yes ma'am.'
"I'll take care of everything." Karis assured them. She held their gaze until Solan's insistant tugs on her arm forced her to move toward the hall.
When the couple had disappeared through the doorway, Xena nudged Gabrielle playfully with her shoulder. "You shouldn't have given in so quickly." She smiled and chuckled. "He thinks he can get away with anything now."
Gabrielle returned the low chuckle with a melodic laugh. "Then he would be right!" She raised an eyebrow at Xena's expression. "Right?"
Xena held both sides of the Amazons face to secure her gaze. "Of course. " She rolled her eyes and kissed the smiling lips. Recapturing the twinkling green gaze, Xena continued with a slight shake of her head and a smile. "But he doesn't have to know it."
Tucking the blankets under one arm, the laughing Amazon pulled her love toward the door. "Com'on."
The delivery wagon rolled on through the night. Perdicus checked the stars position again and mumbled. "It will be after sunrise when I get there." He didn't have to speak clearly, there wasn't anyone around to hear his voice. Traveling alone never bothered him before but now he had so much to think about, he would have appreciated a sympathetic ear to tell his problems too. The horses plodded along as he began to verbalize his thoughts. "Lila will probably listen to them. She may even agree with them. I make too many deliveries for her to remember her place." 'At least Herotodus will be on my side.' He thought. 'He won't let them fill my son's head with all that women are as good as men crap.' He grimiced at the memory of Xena holding the chakram at his throat. "Well. Xena won't be able to stay forever. " He told the horses. "Then Lila will get a lesson she will never forget." He smiled viciously at the thought and urged the horses faster.
Solan and Karis stood at the open door and stared at the room's contents. It was a room for children no doubt. There was a small table to the left of the door, with blocks scattered on it's surface and a few underneath. A shelf full of toys stood to the right of the door and there was a small chest for clothing at the foot of EACH child's bed. They looked a the narrow beds a moment longer and then at each other in complete dismay.
"There is no way we will both fit on one of those." Solan was upset. He hated wasting his puppy dog look. He knew it wouldn't last too much longer. Karis' deep chuckle brought him out of his thoughts.
"Well then I guess we'll have to improvise." She pulled him into the room and shut the door. "Com'on give me a hand." She started to turn down the blankets on one of the beds. "Quietly."
Gabrielle shook out the blanket and laid it flat over a large pile of hay. "There. That will be soft enough." It was a thick blanket and she knew that the hay wouldn't poke through.
Xena laughed and leaned casually on a large bale of hay. "When was the last time you slept in a hard bed?" She admired her love's form in the moonlight. Graceful even when she wasn't trying.
"Before we met you in India we were sleeping on the ground." Gabrielle moved to twitch the corner of the blanket into place. She never saw the warrior move, all she knew was suddenly she was wrapped in warm loving arms. "Xena....what......"
"You should never have to sleep on the ground." Xena buried her face in the honey-fire hair, finding the softness of the neck underneath to tempting to refrain from kissing. It was her turn to be surprised when the Amazon pushed her away.
"Xena stop that!" Gabrielle took two steps back, pulled her fingers through her hair and sighed. "You are always doing that."
"What?" The question was echoed in her head.
Now the Amazon moved forward again slowly. "Holding me." She began to circle the silent warrior. "Kissing me." Gabrielle reached out her arm and traced a path around the warriors body with one finger. "Making me weak in the knees until I am helpless in your arms." She stopped her hypnotic pace and looked directly into deep blue eyes. With a whisper and a sultry smile she sent visible shivers through Xena. "Tonight it's my turn." Taking the larger hands in her own the Queen of the Amazons led the Ruler of the Known world to the single blanket laid over a pile of hay. Kneeling at the edge of the blanket, Gabrielle pulled Xena to her knees as well. Leaning in the Amazon found the exposed portion of Xena's neck just as tempting as The Empress had found hers moments before.
"Gods, Gabrielle....." Xena's attempt to speak was cut off by the most perfect lips she had ever seen capturing hers. Succumbing to the subtle pressure being applied to her shoulders, Xena laid back on the blanket.
Gabrielle never broke the kiss and moved with the warrior to the more comfortable position. It was several more moments before she found herself becoming dizzy and had to break for air. She looked at the warrior below her and gasped. Blue eyes filled with desire peered up from a halo of raven hair. A breathless whisper found it's way to Xena's ear. "You are so beautiful."
The feeling of Gabrielle above her was nearly enough to push her over the edge. The warm breath on her ear and the impact of her words forced a small groan to escape the warrior. Weaving her fingers into the honey hair, Xena pulled the young Queen down to meet her waiting lips. The crushing force applied spoke volumes to the young Queen.
"You need me so much?" She looked into the half lidded blue eyes.
"Yes." The admission wasn't easy for the warrior. She always tried to keep her desire to a manageable level.
"Then take me.... " Gabrielle saw the blue eyes go wide. "Take me Xena....." She watched the fire within Xena dampen slightly at her words and then flare brighter than ever when she continued. ".....If you can."
Xena rolled to put the little Queen under her and chuckled. "Oh.... I can." Running her finger lightly across the Amazon's abs she felt the muscles jump and smiled. "And I will...." Nearly of their own accord Xena's fingers found the fasteners on the Amazon's leathers. ".....even if it takes all night."
Gabrielle started to send a silent prayer to Artemis that it would take all night and then in a heartbeat reconsidered. 'Why bother Artemis?' She thought as the warrior concentrated her attention on the now fully exposed chest. 'Gods.. It's not like Xena needs any help.'
The wagon rolled on through the night. Perdicus was a little guilty over his treatment of the horses. He was pushing them very hard. Speaking as though they were human and understood him he addressed them almost kindly. "Sorry to push you so hard fellas, but I gotta get home." He sighed. "As soon as we get there I'll get you some nice hay and you can stay in the warm barn, okay?" He didn't get an answer. He wasn't expecting one. 'It will be just after sunrise when we get there.' He thought. 'Everyone will still be asleep, so I can take some time for the horses.' He thought a moment longer. 'I've been needing to pitch some more hay down out of the loft anyway.'
It was the silent time between night and day. The nocturnal creatures had already hidden from the advancing light and the other animals seemed to be waiting for the pink tinge to leave the sky before rising to their daily tasks. With quiet satisfaction Perdicus pulled the wagon up to the barn with not so much as a creak. He took great pride in the fact that he kept the wagon in such good condition. It was important for the delivery service, and his self esteem. No one could say he wasn't on time and he wasn't about to risk making a late delivery just because of poorly maintained equipment. Neat and orderly, that's how he liked things. He pushed open the door to the barn and was dismayed to see several hay bales had fallen from the loft and a large amount of loose hay covered the floor. Looking up he saw a bare leg hanging over the edge of the loft "What the...." He spoke softly and headed for the ladder. 'Who in Hades is up there.' He thought. He climbed the ladder quickly and almost missed the top step at the sight.
Gabrielle was collapsed across Xena, in what appeared to be a state of total exhaustion. The blissful look on her face nearly made him smile until the limbs protruding from the blanket forced him to realize that both women were naked. He felt his stomach turn at the thought and at the realization of why the hay was scattered. Even as he looked at the sleeping women the thought of them being together sickened him, and yet he couldn't look away. The scent of lilacs overpowered his senses and when his former fiancé stirred in her sleep, shifted her head to rest on the warrior's shoulder and sighed it was like a knife in his heart. 'She could have been with me.' He thought. Lost in thoughts of being with Gabrielle, he was startled when a sleepy voice cut through the stillness.
"Perdicus." Gabrielle's drawl almost made him jump. "I suggest you leave. Unless you want to be beaten senseless by a naked woman." She kept her eyes closed and snuggled closer to Xena.
"This is MY barn. I don't have to leave.... and I'm not afraid of her." He stood a little straighter in defiance, but moved slightly closer the edge and the ladder.
Clear green eyes opened and focused on him. "I wasn't talking about her." She felt the low growl rumble under her arm and heard The Conqueror's added comment.
"I wouldn't bother beating you. I would just kill you." It wasn't a threat, it was a factual statement. Pale blue eyes stared at him from a halo of dark hair. She remembered pushing several haybales over the edge of the loft, to make room, and judged his position casually. 'Maybe he'll miss.' She thought and, loosening her grip on Gabrielle slightly, The Conqueror snarled and lunged at the man. Instinct or fear, she didn't care which sent him over the edge of the loft. She listened and heard the oomph and rustle of hay as he rose unharmed from the fall. 'Can't win them all.' She sighed. She heard the barn door open as she settled back with Gabrielle to enjoy a few more moments of peace. Gabrielle had other ideas.
"Xena we have to get up." She tried to break free from the warrior's embrace. "He will go after Lila."
Xena didn't want to move and she countered reasonably. "Karis will handle him." The Conqueror tightened her grip and growled. "I don't want to let you go." Gabrielle's frightened whisper forced her to retreat.
"Xena.... let me go." Gabrielle was unable to hide the fear in her eyes.
The Warrior Princess released the Amazon and quickly helped her to her feet. "I'm sorry... She...." Her apology was quieted by gentle lips.
"Shhhh... It's okay.... It .... it just scared me for a minute, that's all." Loving green held regretful blue for a long moment. "I love you."
Xena drowned in the sea of green and admitted. "We love you too." She hugged the Amazon quickly and headed for the ladder. "Let's go help Karis." She started down the ladder then looked back at the motionless Amazon. "What?"
Gabrielle bit her lip but could only hold back her laughter for a moment. She reached down to the pile of clothes at her feet and offered a familiar leather outfit. "You might want to get dressed first."
"Oh.." Xena grinned and shrugged. "If you insist."
Lila loved this time of day. It was easier to remember the good times during the peace of early morning. Moving quietly she extracted herself from the children draped over her and tiptoed out of the room. She stopped to open the shutter at the end of the hall and out of three long years of habit, pushed open the door to the children's room.
Solan and Karis had done some rearranging. The beds had been pushed together. One was against the wall and the other was braced with the clothing chests against it's legs. She hadn't realized that Karis was going to stay inside too but somehow she felt better knowing the guard was here. Seeing the way they were wrapped in each other's arms, she suspected that Solan felt better too. The smile that crossed her face at the thought was quickly wiped away as Karis' deep brown eyes opened to regard her quietly.
Lila shrugged and whispered. "Habit. This is the children's room." She began to slowly close the door.
Karis accepted the explanation for the intrusion with a nod and closed her eyes in tandem with the door.
Lila thought about the young couple on her walk to the kitchen. 'They looked like they were in love.' She mused. 'I wonder if I will ever find someone like that.' As she passed Brenin's room she absently turned her head toward the door, surprised to find it open. Worried slightly for her friend she took a closer look inside the room.
Brenin was sprawled over the bed. 'She must have been exhausted.' Lila's eyes flicked over the still clothed former and again Amazon. 'Perdicus always says that is the most uncomfortable vest he has ever had.' She found herself moving into the room and kneeling next to the bed. This was the first time she had the opportunity to actually study the woman's face. Brown hair fell casually around the almost thin face. Lips, not too full but not thin. From memory Lila knew the woman's eyes were the same shade of brown as a thousand people she had seen in the market over the years. She heard Perdicus' voice in her head. 'Average.' Then she heard her own assessment override it. 'Beautiful.'
At that moment Brenin stirred. Brown eyes opened, a long arm snaked out to hold the side of Lila's face and before the young mother of two knew what was happening the sleeper kissed her on the cheek. Speechless from the unexpected action, Lila stood quickly and watched as Brenin turned over to continue her sleep.
Lila left the room quickly confused by the mixture of emotions she was feeling. Entering the kitchen, she opened the shuttered windows and suddenly she felt nothing but cold terror. "Gods....... " She blinked and looked again, hoping against hope that she was having a nightmare. No still there. Perdicus' wagon, next to the barn only meant that he was inside and that meant trouble. "Gabrielle...Xena...." Her mind was frantic. There was no telling what kind of reaction he would have if he found them in the loft. She didn't question her choice to go to Brenin's room first.
"Brenin.... Brenin wake up." Lila shook the scribe's shoulder frantically.
"Lila? What..?" Brenin rubbed her eyes.
"It's Perdicus... He's back." Lila was pulling her friend toward the door. "He has gone to the barn. I don't know what he'll do when he finds Gabrielle there."
Now Brenin was fully awake. 'The Queen's in trouble.' She thought. Gripping Lila by the shoulders she asked quickly. "Do you know where the guards camped?" Her heart sank as Lila shook her head no.
"One of them is in Solan's room though." Lila headed toward the children's room. Brenin got there first.
"Karis..." The scribe saw the captain's eyes open when the door did. "...The Queen is in trouble." Brenin barely had time to move out of the doorway before Karis was nearly down the hall. The others followed quickly.
Perdicus muttered to himself as he stalked out of the barn. 'Lila will pay for this.' He thought. 'How dare she let them stay here. She knows how I feel about that sort of thing.'
Karis saw the man emerge from the barn and even from this distance she could see his rage. She could also read a few of the words he was muttering. 'Lila will pay' Caught her attention and she whistled the alert to the rest of the camping Amazons. 'I hope I can hold him off 'til they get here.' She thought. 'He's not a particularly large man but he's mad.' She wished Lila, Solan, and Brenin would stay in the house and sighed as they moved toward the man when she did.
Each step sent Perdicus' anger a notch higher. He was so focused on his rage he nearly missed the group of people coming from the house. In actuality he didn't notice them until one let out an ear splitting whistle. 'Amazons.' He sneered. His hands opened and closed rapidly, advancing quickly on the group. The sight of his wife's new friend kept them in fist position. 'She is wearing my clothes!' For him that was enough to convince him that Lila had replaced him with Brenin and the thought of his wife, doing the things he did with other women, with another woman pushed his rage into almost blind fury. Close enough to the group now, he grabbed Brenin and punched her in the gut, hard. Grinning savagely as she doubled over, he didn't see Karis' open palm until it connected with his nose. Pain and rage exploded behind his eyes and in the same open hand style, he delivered a return blow.
As Brenin doubled over in an attempt to regain her breath, she looked up to see Karis flying backwards into Solan. They both ended up on the ground and the imprint of the back of Perdicus' hand slowly began to appear across the guard's cheek.
Lila was shocked when her husband grabbed her and raised his fist to hit her. He had hit her before but never in public and never with such a look of rage in his eyes. 'He's going to kill me this time.' She thought and closed her eyes.
"NO!" The scream in perfect unison cut through the morning and brought Lila's eyes open wide. She saw the twins running toward her and held out her hands to fend them off.
"Stay back." She didn't want the children within reach of their father right now. She watched in terror as Gabe, the faster runner, leaped at his father and was instantly flying backwards through the air. He landed a few feet away and Lila saw the impact of his head with the ground. She thought her heart would stop when he didn't move after that. It was with the fury of a mother protecting her children that she lunged for Perdicus but he was simply too strong and after landing one good punch to his jaw, she was also lying on the ground. Brie ran to her mother and tried to protect her. She flinched but held her ground as her father raised his huge fist above her head.
Brenin regained her breath and, knowing she couldn't take out the man, did the only thing she could think of to protect Brie. With a two step running start, the scribe dove to intercept the punch, catching the full force of the hit on her temple. Before her world went dark she saw the most incredulous look pass over the man's face.
Xena and Gabrielle emerged from the barn in time to see Gabe land on his back and Brenin's protective leap to Brie's defense. Xena had her chakram in her hand and was poised to bury it in the man's chest when suddenly her target was obscured.
Perdicus watched the woman wearing his clothes slam into the ground and pulled his arm back for another strike when he felt an unfamiliar pressure in his chest. He looked down and blinked as he saw two arrow shafts protruding from his body, the feathered ends still quivering from their delivery. He blinked twice before he was on his knees. Following the ends of the arrows to their origin he saw the Amazon archer lowering her bow. Falling to the ground he could dimly see the still form of his son lying a few feet away. 'I killed Gabe." He thought and even as his life's blood seeped onto the ground around him he snarled. "He's better off dead than living with these women." He watched as drops of blood formed on the tips of the arrows and as one fell to the ground, Perdicus drew his last breath.
Solari lowered her bow and watched the man fall. She berated herself for not moving faster at Karis' signal and whistled 'situation secure' before moving to check on the injured women and child. She saw the other Amazons moving from their places farther back and absently assessed their positions. 'I was the only one with a clear shot.'
Lila quickly reassured herself that Brie was unharmed and went to check on Gabe. He still hadn't moved and she approached him with a hesitant step. Kneeling next to the small still form she reached out to lift him up and hug him. Her action was stalled by Xena's commanding voice.
"Don't move him!" Xena dropped to her knees across from the grief stricken mother. She saw Gabrielle kneel next to her sister and hug her for support. She could feel both women's eyes on her as she examined the child's head for fractures. To her relief she didn't find any. Moving her hands slowly down to the boy's neck she felt for the tell tale signs of injury. No, that seemed fine as well. Knowing the women were nervous about the findings she spoke quietly. "No sign of fractures." It was a false hope that she berated herself for giving the young mother. She had seen injuries like this before. Many men on the battlefield had fallen without apparent injuries and yet they never woke up. Still, the look in her lover's eyes forced her to keep up the false confidence. The warrior was peripherally aware of Karis taking charge of the situation and knowing Solan was okay and in good hands, Xena carefully picked up the child. "Let's get him inside." Keeping him as flat as possible she walked slowly to the house.
Karis helped Solan up and assuring herself he was okay, she scanned the scene. Xena, Gabrielle, and Lila were kneeling next to the boy's still body. She looked back at Brie. The child was kneeling protectively over her hero's body. Noticing that Brenin too had yet to return to consciousness, Karis moved toward the frightened little girl. Seeing suspicion in the child's eyes she spoke soothingly. "I only want to help." She dropped to one knee next to the scribe's body. "Let me look." Gently she rolled Brenin over and winced as she saw the large bruise spreading from her temple. Not good. Not knowing which of the pack had grabbed it and not wanting to take the time to look she called out a general order. "I need the emergency kit." She continued her examination of the scribe's injuries and added. "NOW!"
Hecuba heard her husband's groans and gathering a water bowl and rag quickly went to their room. She waited for him to empty his stomach into the pail she kept next to the bed before she dipped the rag in the cool water and, sitting next to him, applied it to his forehead. This was a routine she knew well.
"Augh... What ..... " Herotodus held his hands over his eyes. "Oh..." He looked up at his wife. "She came back?"
The woman dipped the rag into the bowl again and nodded as she offered it to him. After he took it, she rose and crossed the room to set the bowl on the dresser.
The memory of the previous evening was slowly returning and he growled. "She brought those damned Amazons with her too." He looked at her suspiciously. "You went to see her, didn't you?" He forced himself to stand and was surprised that the room held steady, when he first woke it was spinning rather quickly.
She turned to face him and answered quietly. "Yes I did." She didn't even try to duck when he struck her. She knew that he would be angry and she knew it was her fault. Crumpling into the corner, she heard him mutter something about an Amazon invasion as he stalked out of the house. A few months after the slavers came, the town organized a militia. Hecuba recognized her husband's rallying cry and understanding that her children were in trouble stood shakily. She ignored the stinging sensation on her cheek and a wave of dizziness as she quickly headed to her daughter's house.
Xena held the boy's limp form as Gabrielle and Lila quickly separated the beds in the children's room. When enough space to walk between them was created, Xena placed the child on the bed next to the wall. The warrior surprised herself in her reluctance to release the child. It worried her that despite his unconscious state he was breathing erratically and rapidly. A small measure of rage found it's way into her thoughts. 'How could I have thought it would be better if they knew their father?' One of the pack appeared at the door, Xena absently named her, Bekka.
"Where should we put Brenin?" Bekka had never been a fan of the scribe. The woman's treatment of Micha was less than adequate in the guard's eyes, but when she saw the leap to protect the future Queen, her opinion changed. Gabrielle's reversal of Ephiny's punishment had not sat well with any of the guards but now she knew that the scribe really was an Amazon.
"Has she come around yet?" Gabrielle was worried, as she would be about any Amazon.
Bekka shook her head slowly. "No..... It's a really nasty looking bruise." She glanced at Lila. "I'm not sure she....." Lila's gasp and Gabrielle's order stopped the guard's thought.
"Bring her here." The Amazon Queen pulled the covers off the empty bed. "It will be easier to watch them both at the same time."
Bekka nodded and left quickly. Lila left and returned with a chair, placing it between the beds. Karis and Bekka brought Brenin in and situated her on the empty bed. Karis had bandaged the injury but wasn't sure how much good that would do. The Captain watched their host hold the scribe's hand and quietly thank her for saving Brie. 'Gods she's right.' Karis hadn't thought about it before but now realized that if Perdicus had hit the girl it would have killed the child. They all heard Brie's protests when the rest of the pack tried to keep her out of the room. Gabrielle went to check on the girl.
"What's the problem here?" All the guards snapped to attention when their Queen appeared and Brie took the opportunity to run past them. Gabrielle scooped the little girl up as she tried to enter the hallway. "Wait." The future Queen struggled in her aunts arms and Gabrielle spoke louder than she intended. "WAIT!" She felt the child go rigid with fear and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry." She hugged the girl. "I just want to tell you some stuff before we go in okay?" She smiled at the girl's nod. "Gabe and Brenin have been hurt so when you go in don't shake them okay?" Brie nodded. "And don't talk to loud, okay?" Another nod. "Okay." She smiled as the girl relaxed slightly. "Let's go." She carried the girl to the room and only put her down when she was inside the door.
Everyone was totally surprised when Brie went directly to Brenin's side. Lila spoke quietly to her daughter. "Don't you want to see your brother?" The girl's reply left the entire room speechless.
"No. He's worried about Brenin... I have to show him she's okay." Brie held her hero's hand and put it up to her cheek, it was warm and comforting. She climbed up and kissed the scribe's unbruised cheek. They were all amazed when Gabe's breathing slowed and deepened into a normal steady rhythm.
Gabrielle was the first to find her voice. "Brie. We need to get some more water. Will you take me to the well?"
Brie looked at her mother for permission and receiving a tearful nod, patted Brenin's hand once more before she left, hand in hand, with her Aunt.
Xena watched Gabrielle leave with the girl and resisting the temptation to check on the boy again moved to examine the scribe's injury. She was about to compliment Karis on her fine bandaging job when she heard Gabrielle's frantic cry. "XENA!" The Warrior Princess nearly knocked over three guards as she ran through the main room. Once outside she skidded to a brief halt when she saw Gabrielle on her knees with her mother in her arms.
Quickly joining them she heard Hecuba mumbling but couldn't understand the words. Gabrielle answered the warrior's puzzled look.
"Father has called the town militia to arms...." Gabrielle looked frightened. "... They're coming."
The frightened look in her lover's eyes, combined with the still bleeding cut on Hecuba's cheek poised the Ruler of the World on the edge of rage. She knew it scared Gabrielle more but she couldn't help the growl that escaped her. "Let them come."
Solan had also heard his mother's shout and was appalled at the condition of his grandmother's face. Even from this distance he could see a large cut on her cheek was bleeding rather profusely. He felt his hands clench into fists at the thought of someone hitting her, just because she didn't think the same way they did. He was grateful for Karis' presence at his side as he approached the small group.
Gabrielle saw the look on her son's face as he approached and knew he felt helpless in this situation. Quickly deciding to let him help she motioned for him to speed up. The relief on his face at her gesture reassured her it was the right decision. "Solan. Help your grandmother into the house." She turned to the worried little girl. "Brie... Run and tell your mother that Solan needs a rag, some water, and bandages. Okay?" She smiled as the little girl nodded and ran to the house.
Hecuba was struggling to her feet now and pleading with Gabrielle. "Run child. Get away from here."
Gabrielle gripped her mother's arms to steady her shaky stance and, glancing at Xena, looked directly into cloudy blue eyes. "No more running mother. Not from him. Not ever again." She smiled to try and relieve the woman's tension. "Everything will be fine." She motioned to Solan and he offered his arm to the injured woman. Motherly pride nearly beamed from Gabrielle as Solan took charge of his patient. One more protective act and the Amazon Queen could concentrate fully on the impending mob. "Solan." She waited for him to look up at her. "Try to keep Brie inside. I don't want her to see this." She smiled at the play of emotions across his face, defiance, anger, acceptance. He knew that in order to keep Brie inside he would have to stay in as well.
"I'll try." He promised. His mind whirling to figure a way to keep that and also help with the confrontation. He could already hear the sounds of the approaching militia.
Xena turned to Karis. "I want archers positioned there, there and there." She pointed to the respective places and started to give another order when Gabrielle's quiet voice overrode them.
"No." She remained expressionless as the women looked at her. "No more.. no more running, no more hiding. We will make a stand here...." She sighed. "... and fight if we have to." She ran her finger's through her hair. "Father's gone too far this time and he has to learn.... sometimes we fight back." Turning to Karis she gave her orders. "Form a line of defense in front of the house." She turned to face the direction she knew the militia would approach from. "I'll wait for them here." She didn't want to fight her father. In the back of her mind she thought she could reason with him and stop a lot of people from getting hurt. She was as grateful for Xena standing next to her as she was for the warrior's spoken words.
"WE... will wait." Xena felt the Conqueror stir and was suddenly keenly aware of the weight of the sword on her back. She knew that if it came to a fight the militia didn't stand a chance.
Karis would have protested but Xena's quiet support was enough for her to know that the Queen would be protected. She heard the approaching mob and went quickly to carry out Gabrielle's orders.
They didn't have to wait long. The speed the militia had organized dismayed Xena a bit. 'It will be too bad to kill such organized people.' She appraised the approaching group with narrowed eyes. Twenty five, not a bad number for a town this size. Five women, she frowned, dangerous. A woman protecting her home and children from a perceived threat could be as dangerous as any fighter. It was Herotodus that caught her eye however, leading the pack. She could see the hatred in his eyes. 'Maybe I won't have to kill them all.' Gabrielle's deep breath pulled her out of her plans.
Seeing her father at the head of a mob was bad enough but knowing the mob was coming to get her nearly shook her to the core. 'He really does hate me.' She took a deep breath. 'Why does that still hurt.' She looked up at Xena, unable to hide the pain in her eyes. "I don't think I can do this."
Xena held the sea green gaze for a moment and quietly reassured her. "Yes you can."
Gabrielle nodded and smiled gratefully at the warrior by her side, before she turned to the approaching mob. They were close enough now that her projected voice carried to them. "Father don't do this. This is not a job for the militia. Please let's work this out among the family."
Herotodus poured as much loathing in his voice as he could. "We are not family."
Gabrielle's quiet intake of breath gave Xena all the strength she needed to do what had to be done. Regretting that the mob was too close for her to comfort the Amazon the way she wanted to, Xena gripped Gabrielle's upper arm quickly and then moved to place herself between the oncoming people and the woman she loved. They were close enough now and she let the Conqueror take command of the situation. "STOP!" She hadn't really expected them to obey but was glad they did at least slow their advance at her command and then stop when one of the townspeople gasped...'Xena'. She quickly found the face of the man who recognized her. 'He wasn't in any of my armies.... great... that means he knows me knows me from when I took his town.' That was a wildcard. If the man joined the militia he may be brave enough to take her on, but if he remembered her well enough she might be able to use his fear against him. That was secondary to the goal though and she turned most of her attention to the leader of the group.
Herotodus had taken the brief opportunity to look around and spoke gruffly. "That is Perdicus' wagon." He pointed towards the barn. "Where is he?"
Xena growled at the man's name. "Dead." The Conqueror's eyes flicked to a woman who cried out at the news. Glancing at Gabrielle, she saw the Amazon make Rayna's sign for mother. The Conqueror sneered at the woman. "If he hadn't been so fond of hitting women and children he may have lived a little longer."
"My son would never..." The woman's indignant reply was cut off by Gabrielle pointing at the house.
"There are two injured women ........" The Amazon began only to be cut off by her father.
"They probably needed a lesson." His narrow eyed sneer turned to wide eyed fear as Xena's snarl drew his attention.
"A lesson." The Conqueror's voice was low and dangerous. She glided away from Gabrielle towards the so called man. "What lesson would a small boy need so badly that it takes a punch to teach it." She noticed the mob step back at her approach, leaving Herotodus slightly separated from the group. She circled the man waiting for his answer and cutting him even farther out of the herd, just like any good predator would. At his continued silence, she continued her verbal assault and her circling. "Maybe YOU need to be taught a lesson..hmmmm." She forced him to take another step away from the safety of the mob and continued. "Maybe I should teach you what it feels like to be beaten by someone bigger.." Another step away. "..and stronger." Another step. "..And maybe then you will see how wrong you have been." Another step and now she had enough room. "..Or maybe....... it will just Make ME Feel Better." The Conqueror snarled and struck him across the face with the back of her hand. "How does that feel?" She punched him in the stomach and when he bent over hit him on the back with both hands. "Have you learned your lesson yet?" She watched him rise to his feet and smiled. "No? Good." Jumping his feeble attempt to trip her, Xena landed a open palm punch to his nose and swept her leg to knock his feet out from under him. When he got up again, Xena was amazed. "Gods.. you are a slow learner." She looked him in the eye. "Are you sure Gabrielle is yours, she is brilliant."
"She is a fool for having anything to do with you." Herotodus was enraged by the implication that Gabrielle wasn't his. "You will only hurt her."
Gabrielle was filled with mixed emotions as she watched the fight. The man's comment only confused her more. 'He thinks she will hurt me? What does he think he's doing?' She didn't want the man killed, he was her father no matter how much he protested otherwise, but something inside her wanted to see him suffer. She felt very guilty for wanting to see her father beaten and decided he had enough. "Xena I think that's enough."
"No no Gabrielle. " The Conqueror countered, she turned a feral grin on the bleeding man. "Not yet." She glanced at Gabrielle's confused expression and spoke matter-of-factly. "He hasn't learned his lesson yet." She turned back to the swaying man. "Have you?" He yelled and ran towards her. She stepped aside and caught him in the neck with her stiffened arm. Looking at her Amazon lover she shrugged. "See?" She looked down at the man. He dragged himself to his feet and she could tell the fight was going out of him, but she wanted to beat him some more so she taunted him in a low playful voice. "Com'on pal, you can do better than that." Moving in quickly she punched him on the arm.
His eye's went wide at the realization who he had gotten drunk with the night before. "YOU!" Her laughter enraged him. He lunged at her only to find she had sidestepped his grasp and he was face down on the ground. He rose to his hands and knees, until a hard fist connected with his jaw, putting him right back, flat on the ground.
She smiled when he tried to get up and collapsed again, turning to the mob she asked. "Anyone else wanna play?" The Conqueror laughed coldly at the fleeing backs of the so called militia. 'Xena wins again.' She thought as her wildcard ran with the pack. She noticed Perdicus' mother stayed and Xena turned her full attention on the woman. "Yes?"
"Where is my son?" Her question surprised both Xena and Gabrielle, partially because they didn't know. Gabrielle gestured to the guards and Karis trotted over.
"Where is Perdicus' body?" Gabrielle unconsciously looked at the spot where he fell.
Karis replied casually. "The guards moved it around back, near the woodpile."
Gabrielle nodded and gestured to the waiting woman. "This is his mother. Take her to him please."
The Captain of the guard regarded the villager with a hard look. 'What kind of woman raises such a monster?' She thought but her spoken words were very formal. "As you wish, my Queen." She bowed to Gabrielle before gesturing the woman to walk with her. "This way." Karis only stopped briefly to disperse the guards at the door. One guard remained and the rest went to patrol the perimeter.
Solan left Brie with her mother in the sick room and tried to go back out. The defensive line at the door wouldn't let him pass and only because Karis herself asked him to he returned to the house.
From the window, Solan saw his grandfather point toward the dead man's wagon. He was too far away to hear the question but when the woman cried out and Gabrielle made the sign for mother he could guess the crowd had been told of Perdicus' death. He watched, facinated by the flowing movements of his mother as she taught his grandfather a lesson. 'Like Gabrielle when she fights.' He thought. 'Only Xena is ....' He couldn't think of the word to fit the difference in styles. Deadly may have been a good choice. While both women fought with similar intensity and flowing power, Xena went into fights knowing the other person may die, Gabrielle only sought to disable her opponent and never imagined killing her enemy.
Solan watched Karis guide the 'mother' woman around the house and when he saw his own
mothers moving back toward the door he quickly moved away from the window. They were
barely in the door before he hugged Gabrielle and asked. "Are you okay?" At her nod, he
"Where is Brie?" Gabrielle was a little worried that the girl had watched Xena beat up her grandfather.
"With her Mom." Solan gestured to the room with all the injured in it and followed his mothers
down the hallway.
Hecuba applied a damp rag to Gabe's small forehead and Lila did the same for Brenin The older woman, glanced at her daughter and suppressed a smile. She doubted Lila realized the tenderness she exhibited in carefully avoiding the worst of the teacher's injury.
Brie moved between one bed and the other. The obvious distress the child was experiencing eased slightly when her mother finally finished with Brenin and moved to dump the water from her bowl. Brie immediately curled up at the scribe's side and began murmuring in her ear. Lila let her daughter stay for awhile but didn't want Brenin disturbed too much longer and tried to move the girl.
"C'mon now sweetie. Let Brenin rest." Lila tried to move the little girl away from the injured woman.
"No! I wanna stay." Brie grabbed her hero's arm and gripped tightly.
Lila tugged gently on the child. "C'mon." She tried to distract the girl. "You can draw her a picture."
Brie stubbornly refused and held on tighter. "No!"
Lila took a deep breath. She was starting to become angry at the child. 'Brenin needs quiet.' She thought and began to berate her daughter in the low voice, full name usage of a mother losing her patience. "Brianna....." She stopped when a whisper reached her ears.
"Let her stay." Brenin opened her eyes to look at the upset mother. "Please." She started to rise from the bed.
Any amount of annoyance Lila had, dissipated as soon at she saw the pleading brown eyes. Kneeling next to the bed she put her hands on Brenin's shoulders to prevent her from rising. "Don't try to move."
Brenin lifted her hand to her face and winced at the light touch. Even though it hurt she was much more concerned about the children. She knew Brie was right beside her so.... "Where's Gabe?" She followed Lila's involuntary glance at the bed next to her and gasped. The child was so still and pale it frightened the Amazon. "Has he...." Her thought trailed off as Lila shook her head.
"No he hasn't been conscious since he fell." Lila berated herself for the wording. 'Gods... have I been trained so well?' She quickly corrected herself. "Since Perdicus hit him."
Hecuba glanced sharply at her daughter and then sagged her shoulders in resignation. It was shameful the way Perdicus treated her daughter and her grandchildren but it didn't really matter anymore now that he was dead. Even in her earlier frantic state the older woman knew the man she saw the Amazon's carrying was dead. She looked back at her grandson lying so peacefully on the bed. It was almost easy to fool yourself into thinking he was asleep. Then she realized. 'He may not wake up.' Fresh tears began to well up in her eyes.
Lila smiled slightly at Brenin and moved to comfort her mother. "C'mon Mom. Let me change your dressing." She guided the older woman to the chair and gently began to remove the blood soaked bandage, grateful the cut didn't reopen at it's removal. She heard her daughter talking to Brenin.
"....and they wouldn't let me see you, but Gabe needed to know you were all right. Aunt Gabrielle brought me in and...." She paused and smiled. ".... he knows you're awake now." Brie was patting her teacher's hand during the telling.
Brenin looked over at the boy's serene form. "How do you know he knows?"
"Cause it's like he's asleep and I can tell what he's dreaming." Brie curled up next to her hero. "We dream the same sometimes."
Lila was amazed at this revelation. She had often comforted the twins after a nightmare but she always figured that one of them had been dreaming and scared the other.
Brenin was facinated. "Do you know what he is dreaming now?"
Brie closed her eyes and smiled. "He's in a green field with lots of nice people. There are blue skies and birds." She opened her eyes and looked at the faces of the women watching her. "Everyone is happy there."
Lila and Hecuba smiled at the girl and almost simultaneously spoke. "That's nice dear." Brenin on the other hand was distressed.
"NO!.... Gods...." She struggled to get up, ignoring the wave of dizziness and the other women's protests knelt next to the boy. "Gabe, honey, it's Brenin..... Listen to me.... Come back to us okay? Please... we all love you and we want you to come back." She was crying now and she didn't care. She brushed the boy's hair from his forehead. "Please... I .... I know that you feel very safe now but.... don't leave us." Kissing the boy's hand and holding it to her unbruised cheek she continued pleading. "Gabe... You're mother needs you to come back.......I need you to come back." She took a deep breath and started to continue. " Gabe...." The rest of her plea was cut off by the boy's groan and the little green eyes blinking open.
"My head hurts." He tried to get up but Brenin held him down.
"Don't move too fast or it will hurt worse." She smiled at the boy. "You really had me scared for a minute." Scared was an understatement. Brenin was sure that if Brie's description of the Elysian Fields had been different she would never have known that the boy was about to cross over. She silently thanked whatever God made the girl's words identical to the healer's journal she transcribed a few years ago.
"Mom......?" Gabe smiled as his mother came into view. Then frowned at the bruise on her cheek. "He hit you." Turning to Brenin he continued. "You too."
Lila sat next to her son and rubbed his belly to soothe his fears. It was a voice from the door that verbalized her thought though.
"He won't be hitting anyone else....ever." Gabrielle found her voice full of emotion. She had remained quiet during Brenin's pleading with her nephew and she was very glad the boy was awake. She looked at the warrior standing next to her and smiled. "I don't think your Grandpa will be either."
Hecuba gasped. "Is he..." No matter how much she disliked him at times.... he was still her husband.
"No. " Gabrielle reassured her mother. "Xena just gave him a taste of his own medicine." She looked at Xena with pride. "I think he learned his lesson."
Hecuba looked at the dark woman standing next to her daughter. "You beat him?" At Xena's nod she looked at Gabrielle. "Where is he now?"
Gabrielle blushed. She just realized that she had left her father bloodied and beaten outside collapsed on the ground. She felt Xena squeeze her hand and looked up into twinkling blue eyes.
"I'll take her." Xena released her grip and retrieved the Amazon's emergency kit from the foot of Brenin's bed. "He'll need some of this."
As soon as Solan saw the boy open his eyes he left the doorway to tell Karis. He was grateful that Gabe was awake and also happy to have a legitimate excuse to find her.
He found Karis standing a few feet away from Perdicus and his mother. Circling her waist with his arm, he felt the warmth of her arm returning the favor. "Brenin and Gabe are awake." He smiled at the guard.
She started to reply when she noticed the woman trying to move her son. "Ma'am, wait here. I'll send someone to help." She didn't like being so polite but the woman had just lost her son, no matter what kind of monster he was. Maybe she wasn't so bad, maybe it wasn't her fault.
"I don't need help from the likes of you." The distraught mother sneered.
'Then again maybe it is her fault.' Karis thought, released Solan's waist and walked over to the woman and the body. "That's good." She knelt down and grasped the arrow shafts. "Because I don't want to help the likes of you." With one vicious pull both arrows came free and Karis stood quickly. She heard the woman mutter.
"Murderers! You will pay for this." It was a statement full of a mother's grief.
Karis poured all the venom in her voice that she could. "Your son hit women and children... and enjoyed it. He was about to kill his own daughter. He deserved what he got." She held up the arrows. "The person who shot these will get exactly what they deserve for their action." She finished the thought in her head. 'The highest honor I can think of, and Solari deserves it.'
Solan spoke up quietly. "What if I just help you get him to the wagon?" He hated to see anyone in so much pain. He could tell that she loved her son very much.
Karis looked at her love and sagged her shoulder's in resigned acceptance. She would have made the woman drag the jerk's body all the way home. "I'll go hitch up the team."
Lila started to put another ladle of oatmeal in the bowl. "Eat up. You need your strength." Brenin's warm fingers on her wrist stopped her.
"Lila. It's been a week. I'm strong enough." Seeing the hurt in her friend's eyes she continued with a smile. "Besides... I'm stuffed." Gabrielle's melodic laughter distracted their gaze from each other's eyes.
"Not everyone eats the way we do Lila." Gabrielle's twinkling green eyes caught her sister's blush and the fact that Brenin had yet to let go of Lila's wrist. She looked around the breakfast table. Everyone was here, Xena, Solan, Karis, Lila, Brie, Gabe, her mother and half of the Amazon guards. She took a deep breath. 'This is nice.' She thought and then she looked at the Amazons and sighed. She knew where the other three guards were and she knew they were probably finished. "I guess we should be going."
"Where?" Lila was not anxious for her sister to leave again.
"Back to Amphipolis first." She looked up at Xena who nodded.
"Yes... I want to check on my mother's condition before I return to Corinth." Xena hadn't wanted to speak her plans out loud. Just the mention of the impending separation from her love made her heart ache slightly.
Gabrielle continued slowly. "I need to speak with Velasca, too." She smiled at Brie. "You'll like her. She's nice."
"Will you ever come back?" Brie was curious about her Aunt. Both she and her brother loved the stories she told and didn't really want her to go.
"Sure I will...." Gabrielle paused, then continued slowly. "Maybe someday you can come and visit me too." She saw Lila take a deep breath and clench her jaw at her daughter's response.
She jumped into her Aunts lap in her enthusiasm. "REALLY! In a real Amazon village?" Brie was excited about that thought. The stories Gabrielle had told about the Amazons were fascinating and watching her Aunt spar with the other guards was exciting as well.
Gabrielle smiled down at the girl. "Yes a REAL Amazon village." She squeezed the girl's shoulders and laughed. Glancing at her distressed sister she continued. "But not for awhile and until then Brenin, Lucinda and Anna will stay and tell you all about the Amazons okay?" She decided to leave only two guards until they could get back to the village and send a proper contingent.
Norin appeared at the door. "The horses are ready, My Queen." She bowed at Gabrielle's acknowledgment and went back to the barn.
Gabrielle patted Brie's back and lifted her gently as she stood. "Time to go." She hugged Lila and her mother. "Don't let him hit you mother." She knew her father was in no shape to hit anyone now, but when he recovered from the pounding Xena gave him she wasn't so sure of her mother's safety. The older woman's smiling face reassured her immensely.
"Never again." Hecuba hugged her daughter fiercely and whispered. "Thank you."
Xena looked down at the woman cradled in her arms. "You're awfully quiet." They had been riding nearly all day and she wanted to make sure Gabrielle was okay before they got to Amphipolis.
"Just thinking." Gabrielle's soft voice barely carried over the horses hoofbeats.
"Mmmmm... dangerous." Xena let a wry grin touch her eyes as the indignant Queen playfully slapped her. "What about?"
"Well about lot's of stuff." Reaching up and tangling her fingers in the black silky hair, she pulled Xena's face closer. "Mostly I was wondering why you are letting that man follow us?"
To be continued in Part 7