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Chicken Soup for the Warrior's Soul
by Lisa Grandstaff
The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo, Cyrene and any other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, along with the backstory, are the sole copyright of MCA/Universal Television and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended by writing this "fan fiction" story. The characters of Jessora, Kerekes, Jori and Ocypete, as well as the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of myself, Lisa Grandstaff/WarriorScholar. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for the readers own use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
In addition: This story can be considered "alt"indicating that it contains some scenes of "same sex" love, so be forewarned if you dont care for it. I was asked by many readers who enjoyed my two previous efforts to explore the "sub-text" of the two main characters further, and hopefully I've done this in the passages contained herein. Thank You.
THE GROTTO HAD BEEN LYCEUS FAVORITE HIDING PLACE, and his big sister had always respected it for that very reason. Hed discovered the grotto while in flight from some boyhood trouble, stumbling across the rubble-strewn entrance by sheer happenstance. Eventually, he had gotten over wanting to keep it for himself and begged her to come join him. Many an hour had passed by, one or both of them hiding to avoid a beating, or laying low after stirring up trouble amongst the village bullies. Xena had only returned once since his death, and couldnt bear to go inside. She had remained standing at its mouth for two hours, her vision completely obscured by tears of rage and sorrow. Somehow, to enter it might have defiled what they had shared back in a more innocent time. That was many years ago. She felt confident that she could enter their hideout now.
She pulled back the scrub that had overgrown the pathway to the foot of the jumbled cliffs. This particular area wasnt all that far from Apollos Rock, but few visitors ventured here. The magnificent vistas were far above, not at the base of the promontory. The stiff-brackened growth resisted her initial exertions, but with renewed effort, she cleared a space by snapping branches and limbs with her hands and feet.
Once close enough, she could actually smell the rich fragrant loam of the grotto floor. Blooms hung ponderously from the brambled vines rooted around the opening. With a last rearrangement of the greenery, she cleared a space in front of the entryway. She paused, closing her eyes, and whispered the old secret password Lyceus had always demanded as a formality. She could hear the ghost-like echo of his voice granting her permission to enter. With a small hop-step, she landed on the edge of the rocky opening and passed beneath the natural archway.
Inside, the grotto was much smaller than she remembered it. Its ceiling topped out at about eight feet above the floor, and its sides enclosed a space about the size of a small horse shed. She dropped the bag her mother had given her, and began to explore the cool stony walls with her hands. She let her fingertips brush over the hardened surfaces, and closed her eyes. She imagined the profiles of war horses, the tips of lances; felt the edges of a chariot buttress, the yokes of the animals harnessed to it.
When she opened her eyes again, she was face to face with a scratched-in figure holding a sword. Lyceus had taken an old spear head theyd found at the edge of one of the grain fields and brought it to their hideout as a trophy. "Toris says its from a battle that some armies fought here a hunnerd years ago!" He shined it up as best he could, then vigorously scraped away at the surface of the rock, eventually carving a picture he proudly proclaimed to be his sister, Xena. "And Im gonna put me there" he pointed "right next to you!" Of course, in his boyish enthusiasm, he meant it, but never got around to it. He was constantly in awe of the big world surrounding him and could never seem to stay for long at any one activity. Xena thought of his wide-eyed sense of wonder with fondness.
"Lyceus, can you hear me? Ive come back. Im really back this time! I promise you this much... I will do my best to carry with me the joy for life you always had. I will honor you by looking forward to each day, and embracing each night as it comes. I will welcome life in all its confusion and serenity because my life is a gift. I will always strive to live up to everything you saw in me. I love you, brother."
In a silent salute, she bowed her head and pictured his grinning face. Warmth seemed to flow forth from the picture scraped into the wall, so she touched it gently and smiled. A distant rumble of thunder answered her gesture.
"HURRY ON IN HERE! IVE MISSED YOU!" Cyrene ushered her daughter-in-law in through the back door, gifting her cheeks with numerous kisses, and squeezing her shoulder affectionately. Gabrielle hugged Cyrene tightly. The familiar smells of the tavern brought a sense of home to the travel-weary bard. Poteidaia might be her birthplace, but Amphipolis, and even more importantly, The Four Coins had a connection to Xena that Gabrielle ached to share. Each time she came back, she felt more and more like a part of Xenas past, too. The thought comforted her somehow.
"Did Xena suspect anything? She doesnt know Im here, does she?"
"No, dear. She was suspicious of the strangers riding into town, though. I told her the truth-- it was a group of performers from Iolcus. I simply omitted the part about you joining them for a ride the rest of the way here."
"Good thinking. Im glad the message I sent got delivered into the wrong hands! This will be fun, surprising her... if I can, that is. Ive never had much luck with it before."
"I dont quite consider myself to be the wrong hands, but most messages do somehow find their way to me simply because my place is at the crossroads. I ought to keep a pigeon coop or something, but I cant bring myself to do it!" She laughed, amused at the thought.
Gabrielle wrinkled her nose. "I wouldnt want any part of a job like that! Thats another reason why I had to leave Poteidaia! Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia sounds a whole lot better than Gabrielle, Pigeon Mistress or Gabrielle, Goatherder. Dont you think so?"
"My dear, I doubt that youd have been either of those things, had you stayed put. I think the Fates had other things already woven into your thread. Had you remained in Poteidaia, youd likely have been the village herbalist, or maybe the local loremistress."
"Great. Gabrielle the Good Witch! I can see it now, all the village children gathering around my tattered skirts, pretending to listen to my little tidbits of wisdom, but really spying on me so they can go back home and scare each other silly with stories about my nasty powers and spells."
"Youd have been well-known no matter what, hmmm?" Cyrene shook her head mirthfully.
Gabrielle smiled, wanting desperately to be able to call this woman mother. Her own mother was so far away, and Cyrene stood before her, a delightful and comforting presence.
"Shes got a good headstart on you. Do you have what you need?"
"I think so." Gabrielle smiled broadly. "Thanks to you!"
"On your way, then! Youll be able to find it?"
"Why not? Your directions are pretty straightforward. So far, Id have to say Ive got surprise on my side. Now, if I can just keep it that way."
"Xena told me before she left to expect rain, that she smelled it... even saw it, though no one here has had a hint until about ten minutes ago. If shes right, that will give you the extra edge you need."
"Well, shes got a way with that sort of thing. If she says rain, then Im betting on it. Its not like we dont need it! Id better get going. Cyrene? Im not sure what to--"
"Hush! Get going, or youll be getting lost in the dark!" Cyrene reached out and took Gabrielles hands, held them for a moment while she searched the young womans face. "Thank you, Gabrielle."
"For so much, youll never know. Ask Xena; maybe she can tell you." Cyrene released her hands and stepped back.
"I guess Ill see you tomorrow?" Gabrielle asked.
"Sure. Til then."
Gabrielle shouldered her bag and bedroll, and exited the tavern the way she had entered.
THE LIGHT FROM OUTSIDE GREW DIMMER AS THE air sagged under the weight of its promised moisture. Xena got up from her cross-legged position, momentarily picking up a familiar smell drifting in on the stormy breeze. The sheep were out in the fields some distance away, probably huddling for shelter in the face of the weather. She left the grotto and walked about the area, gathering sticks and branches to keep dry for the impending deluge. The overcast evening sky rumbled sullenly, joining in the tense mood of the setting sun and turbulent clouds.
When she finished her harvest of firewood, she piled it neatly against the farthest inner wall, then once more stood at the entrance to await the storms fury.
IT BECAME INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT TO AVOID making extraneous noise as she moved through the bush. The branches were so dry and twisted together that taking the time to break a path through them with her hands was becoming pointless. Gabrielle lifted the long stick she had picked up a quarter of a mile earlier, and began using it to hack and push her way through the underbrush. She wondered how Xena had come along the same way without leaving obvious signs of her passage.
A bright white flash lit the tangled vegetation, lifting the hairs on her forearms. Shapes leaped out at her in grotesque caricatures of human forms, then reverted to the thicket to wait for their next moment of freedom. Gabrielle sighed, sensing a missed opportunity to sit and reflect on the coming tempest. She should be close now, though. Signs of broken branches and a footprint-like depression signalled her proximity to the cave. Another quarter of a mile, perhaps? More importantly, would the storm hold off?
XENA SAT AT THE MOUTH OF THE GROTTO, her legs extending beyond the shelter of the opening. She wanted to sit in the rain and let it massage her feet. Another dull concussion of thunder pealed forth from the ridge beyond, where the swollen purplish-gray clouds formed a looming bulkhead. Amphipolis should be under the leading edge of the rain by this time. She sat in quiet contemplation, enjoying the stark strength of the approaching storm in all its glory. It had been too long since shed sat through a thunderstorm alone, with the raindrops sliding cooly between her toes. Dense steaming droplets began to fall loudly around her, and she counted each one as it struck the skin of her ankles and feet.
It is in times of solitude that I feel you the strongest....
A gust of wind carried the fleeting hint of a scent so tantalizingly impossible that she jumped up without realizing it. She peered about in the gloom of the glade, then sat back down, sure she had lost her senses. For a moment, she believed she had smelled the aroma of honey and citrus, herbed soap and milky skin.
"First I think I hear Lyceus voice, and now this.... Im being haunted, all right!" The rain, as if in response, began falling more vehemently, coursing down through the creaking branches overhead.
She ducked back under the overhang, and settled herself on the lip of the rock floor, allowing her legs to protrude out into the rain. She wiped her forehead dry with the back of her hand and looked out over the dripping landscape. The alternating brilliance of the lightning strikes and the glowering blackness of the trees made the bushes sway in a supernatural glissade. A muted crash of thunder rolled over the plains, its impact slamming into the rocky edifice above. The drops flung themselves madly earthward, increasing in velocity and temper until they began to sting. She reluctantly withdrew herself, and made sure everything she brought along was deep enough inside to avoid getting soaked. She toweled off her legs with a fleecy drying cloth and removed the rest of her leather armor. The slim cotton shift she wore flapped in the the eddying force of the wind. It was a welcome breath of cool air.
GABRIELLE FORCED HER WAY THROUGH THE LAST FEW YARDS of sodden leaves and broken branches. She could smell the sharp scent of a freshly started fire through the teeming downpour. A quick burst of yellow flame shone out like a beacon, drawing her eyes to the illuminated grotto interior. A tall, shadowed figure crossed in front of the small blaze, then bent to rearrange something on the ground next to her feet.
Theres no way shell be able to hear me, Gabrielle thought, her spirits high in spite of the drenching rain. No one could hear normal sounds in the middle of a tremendous thunderstorm, not even Xena!
She skirted the bushes carefully, still not entirely confident she could surprise the hyper-sensitive warrior. Pausing just long enough to check on the silhouette inside the cave mouth, she advanced until she crouched, drenched, water dripping off the tip of her nose, at the rightmost edge of the archway. I can wait for the next thunderclap, she thought. Ive come this far, I might as well!
The sky flared sullenly, flickering heat lightning teasing the heavens with electrifying violence. No thunder followed the flashes of bluish light. Xena remained hunched over the growing fire, her white cotton shift still clinging moistly to her long, muscular back. For a moment, Gabrielle lost herself in a sudden tumult of emotions and yearning. It had been so long since shed last felt those arms around her, the caress of warm hands... lips... and here she waited, in the rain! She tensed expectantly, sure of an imminent burst of lightning and thunder.
The sky split open in a blinding explosion, and she made her move with the booming of the thunder. She jumped forward, clearing the stony sill of the grotto entrance nimbly, and grabbed her bag to prevent it from falling off her shoulder. The thunder had completely concealed the sounds of her arrival. She stood motionless, frozen in place, watching the woman in front of her rise to her feet smoothly and pull her glossy black tresses away from her shoulders.
The warrior whirled around, wearing a look of utter shock and surprise. Her mouth hung open and her eyes blurred instantly with tears. Before she could say another word, Xena lunged forward and encircled her in a tight embrace. She kissed Gabrielles forehead then brushed her soaked hair away from her face.
"How did you get here?" she asked gently.
Gabrielle looked up at her through wet eyelashes and blinked. "I walked from the inn."
"What could you have been thinking?" she said anxiously.
"That I love you."
Xena paused for a moment, then laughed incredulously. "So, you came right on up here...? I think my mother had something to do with this!"
Gabrielle shrugged nonchalantly. "Are you just going to let me stand here, sopping wet?"
Xena raised one dark eyebrow, then smiled broadly.
"No, Im not." She let go of the water-logged bard and stepped back, looking her over. The blonde hair was darkened with rain, the drenched clothing hung heavily about tired shoulders. "I think you need to get out of those wet clothes first. Come over by the fire." She held her hand out for the moisture-laden leather bag. Gabrielle didnt move. "Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle stood, unable to move her feet. They werent even connected to the rest of her body. Xenas thin chemise was plastered to her skin where shed made contact with the bards own wet garments. Looking away from the warriors barely clothed body was not an option. How many moon cycles had it been since they had last lain together? Gabrielle asked herself.
"Gabrielle-- give me the bag. And come here... whatre you doing, just standing there?"
Fantasizing about you! she thought, but no words formed in her throat. Gabrielle felt the leather strap of the bag lifted off of her shoulder and the gentle pressure of Xenas hand guiding her toward the fire. "Cmon, dreamer... just better tell me what youre dreaming about!"
Gabrielle sagged to the seat Xena had provided next to the fire. The old log might have been comfortable in spite of the fur placed on top of it, but for the time being, it didnt even exist. After days on the road without her close companion, Gabrielle had begun missing her tremendously, and now her very presence was stunning. She felt nimble fingers remove her top and tenderly dry her skin before draping a fuzzy coverlet over her shoulders. Shaking herself back to reality, she turned to find her partners face. "Ive missed you." she said matter-of-factly.
"And Ive missed you. Are you--"
"Going to tell you where I was? Yes. In good time."
"Isnt this a good time?"
"No, not until I get these soaked drawers off!" she laughed. "Give me a hand."
Xena grinned slyly. "Okay...."
Gabrielle stood and slid the wet clothing down her legs, caught them on her foot, and with a flick, sent them tumbling through the air towards Xena. Several crude pegs were set in the wall nearby; the soggy garments were wrung out and hung with care while their owner sat comfortably by the dancing fire.
"Now what?" Gabrielle asked teasingly. "Oh! You wanted to know where I was? Thats right."
"Yes, thats right. What was it that only you could supply... that you couldnt tell me about?"
"Well-- I didnt think youd understand if I told you that you needed some time away from me-- temporarily, of course. You were in such a funk!" Gabrielle combed her hair into place with her fingers, then resumed. "So I told you I had to go get something... but it was just an excuse to give you some time to yourself. You dont like to admit it, but youre a bit of a loner, deep down inside." She paused "No, no!" and held up her hand. "Its okay. I understand! You were starting to get on my nerves, anyhow."
"Thanks a lot!" Xena cried, feigning insult.
Gabrielle rose and walked over to where Xena stood. "Oh, come on... you know what I mean."
Xena reached out and tousled Gabrielles damp hair mischieviously.
"Hey, cut it out!"
"Make me!" Xena jumped backwards, avoiding Gabrielles outstretched grasp.
Xena grinned, feeling like a child again, here in her girlhood hideaway. "Youd better watch yourself! You might lose that blanket!"
"Dont you wish!" Gabrielle turned and stalked back to the fire. She sat down, careful to face away from her playful annoyer, and ran her hands through her hair to smooth it back down.
Xena approached slowly, giving her partner a wide berth. She stopped on the other side of the fire ring, then bent over, putting her hands on her knees. "Are you okay?"
Gabrielle looked up, then began to chuckle. "I am now!"
Xena followed her gaze, then straightened back up, smiling. "Are you hungry? I think my mother packed some things to eat in that bag."
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, actually. I snacked a little on the way up here. My minds not on food, anyhow." She watched Xena rummage through the pack against the far wall.
"Well, Ill be-- !" she exclaimed without looking up.
"What is it? What did she put in there?" Gabrielle asked.
"There is some food, but it looks like... she put candles in here?"
"I guess she thought you might need some light."
Xena looked back over her shoulder at Gabrielle. "Ill bet!"
"So dont just sit there... bring them over so we can light them later."
After digging in the pack a little longer, Xena rose, approached the fire and took a seat next to Gabrielle. She put the candles down on the floor by her feet. "We wont be needing these for a while."
Gabrielle pulled her blanket tighter.
"Warm enough?" Xena asked.
"Yeah, I guess. What about you? You were wet, too."
"Just a little. You were drenched. Is there anything else in your bag you can put on?"
"Want me to get it for you?"
Xena got up again and began searching through the damp leather bag. "What am I looking for?"
"Youll know it when you see it."
"I just love it when youre cryptic."
Lifting a satiny frock for examination, she called out "Is this it?"
Gabrielle took the frock from Xena, checking it for dryness, then stood up to pull it on. She dropped the blanket on the log and tugged the soft material over her head. When she was finished, she started folding the blanket.
"Dont bother. I was going to lay that out to sleep with. I bet your bedroll is too wet to use."
"It shouldnt be! If I cant pack it to keep the rain off of it, shame on me! Why dont we just get it opened up?"
Xena tossed the bedroll at Gabrielle without warning. The bard snatched it out of the air dextrously and snorted "Ha! You thought you had me, huh?"
"No, I know I didnt have you." she said sweetly.
Gabrielle laid her blankets next to Xenas bedding, smoothing their edges out and feeling for moisture. "Itll do. Just a tad damp around the bottom edge. I told you it would be okay."
"Good. So-- youre not hungry. Here we are alone, and left in peace. I know youre gonna want to tell me what youve been up to."
"Nope. I want to know a few things from you."
"Yeah. Cmere, lets sit by the fire." Gabrielle motioned to the space next to her. Xena walked over and sat down.
"Your mother told me I should ask you something. She thanked me, but wouldnt say what for."
"Oh, I... well, we talked."
"Thats nice. Wanna tell me what about?"
Xena took a deep breath, then began. "She started asking me questions, at first about Perdicas and Petracles... then about whether or not I was going to ever settle down, have a family, you know."
Gabrielle grimaced. "I can see where she was headed."
"So could I, but I decided she was going to have to come right out and ask me. I didnt want to say anything, in case I was guessing wrong. Ive hurt her enough already."
Gabrielle stared at her feet, but said nothing.
"Anyhow, she eventually came out with it."
"What did she say?"
"She asked me if you and I were more than friends and I said you could say that."
"Ah. Very articulate."
"It got sort of unhappy right after that, but Ill give her credit-- she gave me time to think it all over, then approached me again the next night to apologize."
What did she want to apologize for?"
"Shed made it plain that her hopes of being a grandmother were all but gone. She told me that she was being honest about the situation, about her assumptions and expectations. I told her I felt like I let her down, as usual. Truthfully, she had nothing to apologize for. It was me that ended up being the nervous one after all was said and done. I think I was being a little defensive."
"No! Not you! What happened next?"
"Well, then we talked about leaving the past behind us and moving on--"
"Sounds like a good idea to me." Gabrielle interrupted.
"--and she basically said she was happy for me, for you, for herself. She hinted that it was your presence in my life that let her believe she could trust me again, in her heart."
"She surprised me, I guess."
"Actually, Im not too surprised. She sure gave me a warm greeting when I came in on the wagon. Shes a special woman, Xena. Youre lucky to have her for a mother."
"Did you, by any chance, let anything slip about Solan?"
"You know me better than that... of course not! Besides, I think it would kill her."
They sat still for a time, listening to the rain outside. At last, Gabrielle broke the silence. "Doesnt it sound like a chorus? Gossamer voices and basso voices, all whispering in some kind of magical language? Wait! Do you hear that loud drop... drop... drop... splashing down at the edge over there? And the murmuring background of the steady rain farther out? The tiny streams of water trickling down along the crevices just outside of the archway?" she asked in an enchanted voice. "And theres a far away crash of thunder!" She leaned back and closed her eyes, breathing in deeply.
Xena watched her face closely... the long, thick lashes pressed against apple-kissed cheeks. Gabrielles arms were braced solidly behind her on the log. As she arched her neck back to draw in more air, she radiated a sensuous heat into the space around her. Xenas eyes were drawn into that space, traveling from Gabrielles nose to her lips, then to her neck, then continuing on down the front of her slip. The clingy material hid very little of the young womans athletic physique. Her breasts rose and fell with each of her steady inhalations, flowing down to the valley of her flat, hard abdomen. The act of traversing her lush outline swept Xena up in an appreciative thrill. Somehow, she felt, Gabrielle belonged here, in this private place that once before knew the loyalty of two devoted souls....
Gabrielle opened her eyes and caught Xenas gaze. "Do you hear it?"
"The rain? Yes. Its beautiful. Like you are."
Gabrielle smiled. "Do you know what it feels like when you say that to me?"
"I can see." Xena hesitated, then added "I have something for you."
"You do? What?"
The endless curiousity of her sweet bard amused her. The combination of rugged determination and courage played a silent harmony to her bright inquisitiveness. And had she not been so curious to explore new worlds, so open to new experiences...? "I thought up a song for you while you were gone."
"For me? Can I hear it now?"
"Sure." Xena cleared her throat, then hummed for several seconds. "Okay, Im ready." She reached over and took both of Gabrielles hands in her own.
|"I walked my path so long alone,|
abandoned in my need.
My strength and anger gave me life--
on those things I could feed.
Like magic from a priestess cup
you made all things undone...
Annointed all my secret wounds
and raised my face up to the sun.
Weve come so far together
from lives so far apart.
This couldnt be just another
accident of my heart.
My lifes forever different
in ways I cant explain.
You came along so willingly
and shared with me my pain.
So now I stand before you
and vow to never look away.
You are the other half of me--
my night fades into day.
Weve come so far together
from lives so far apart.
This couldnt be just another
accident of my heart.
I misplace the dawn, neglect the sun--
they simply disappear...
and in their jealous anger
its your cherished name they hear.
The stars, the moon, the heavens
all have their places in the sky.
And no matter when this lifetime ends
our souls will share their tie.
Yes, weve come so far together
from lives so far apart.
Ive grown to treasure all you are,
the magic of my heart."
"What do you think? I wanted to add more.... Do you like it?"
Gabrielle squeezed her hands briefly, then shook her head. "No, I love it! Xena, I am truly amazed and flattered. Its a song even Orpheus would beg to sing!"
"Well, I wouldnt go that far. Its not all that good, but I tried my best."
"Its good enough for me! What do you call it?"
"I havent got a title for it yet. I wasnt expecting to see you so soon, after all!"
"Oh, Im not complaining." Xena released Gabrielles hands, then stood up and began walking around the edges of the fire ring. "You know, I really did get a lot of thinking done these past few days. I owe you some thanks."
"So, first Cyrene, and now you. Im so full of thanks I dont know what to do!"
"No, silly." Xena stopped her circling. "I mean, Thanks for letting me work this stuff out."
"My acceptance of your Thank you is conditional." Gabrielle raised one fine eyebrow and smirked.
"Conditional? Whatre you talking about?" Xena posed, hands on her hips, just as her mother had done several hours earlier.
"If you really want to thank me, youre going to have to--"
"Now, wait just a minute!"
"--fill me in a little on what all that thinking you did was about."
"Come sit back down here. Your pacing is making me crazy."
Xena resumed her seat on the log. "Are you sure youre warm enough?"
"Yes! Dont change the subject. So, did you hang around the tavern? Kick any butt? Visit anyone?"
"No, no and no. I went up to the top of Apollos Rock and watched the sunrise."
"That sounds wonderful."
"Well, it might have been, but...."
"But what?" Gabrielle asked.
"I just couldnt seem to shake the ghosts of the last time I climbed up there."
"Gabrielle, the last time I went all the way to the top was to spy on Cortese army."
"I see." Gabrielle cleared her throat. "What else did you do?"
"I spent a lot of time tramping about. You know, through the streets, through the woods, the hills and trees. Something really strange happened to me while I was out the one day, though... I think I might have fallen asleep, but I could have sworn I saw and heard my old swordmaster, then I felt like I was flying through the clouds over the valley. It was then that I saw the rain coming."
"Maybe you werent dreaming."
"Maybe not. It doesnt matter. All I know is" she leaned over and kissed Gabrielles shoulder, allowing her tongue a fleeting taste of sweet-scented skin "I really missed you. Especially after that discussion with my mother."
"I just realized something."
"I cant even remember the last time we had a chance to sit and relax with each other alone. For the last how-many-weeks weve been either so dog-tired or behind schedule... or Joxer was along...."
"Heres our chance to make up for that." Xena said in a low voice, with just a hint of suggestion dancing in her throat.
Gabrielle felt something deep inside responding to that inviting tone. She reached out and touched Xenas face lightly.
"If you only knew how much I live for these moments... peace, privacy, you...."
"Of course I know. I wait forever for them to come along, too."
Gabrielle placed her head against Xenas shoulder, her cheek basking in the heat of her partners skin. She put one hand on Xenas leg, massaging the hard thigh and enjoying the feel of raw strength coupled with amazing softness. She traced a line down the top of a muscle with her baby finger until she reached a kneecap. It still gave her quite a feral thrill to think of the Bard of Poteidaia commanding the heart of a warrior princess...!
"Its odd, but I think I sort of miss your hair being long." Xena sighed.
Without moving, Gabrielle answered "Why?"
"Hmmm. Im not sure I can put my finger on it. Lemme see." She pulled Gabrielle forward across her lap, then bent over and touched her nose to the back of her neck and brushed her lips along the velvety-soft skin. She breathed in and out slowly. "Im used to your neck smelling a certain way, but its different now."
Gabrielle sat up. "Really? Thats strange."
"Dont worry. I know its still you."
"Thats good!" she exclaimed. "My turn." She faced Xena by straddling the log carefully and putting her hands in front of her. She leaned forward until her nose rested lightly against the warriors bare skin at the base of her neck and watched the strong pulse surge. Placing her lips in the small hollow between Xenas collar bones, she pressed them down in a tender kiss, feeling the rhythm of her lovers blood as it coursed ever stronger by the second. Her tongue found the bottom of the warm depression, then she pushed her nose against the smooth intoxicating flesh and inhaled until she could hold no more of the charmed air in her lungs. She straightened into an upright position.
Xena opened her eyes slowly. "Well?"
"Its you. Im convinced."
"No. I mean, what are we waiting for?"
Gabrielle smiled. "For the rain to stop?"
Xena groaned in exasperation. Gabrielle leapt to her feet, then darted to the end of the log. "Youre gonna have to catch me!"
Xena grinned wickedly. "Now this is what I like about chasing my prey down... the rewards are sometimes endless!" With a quick burst of speed, she dove from the log and made a grab for Gabrielles leg. Gabrielle felt the fleeting touch of fingers on her ankle as she spun away from the fire and ran toward the thick blankets. A momentary glimpse behind revealed her anxious pursuer hot on her heels, but she buried herself under the furs at once.
Bracing for the impact of Xenas arrival, Gabrielle noticed the sudden silence of the grotto. She waited patiently for her dark-haired huntress to lift the blankets high, exposing her not-so-secret hiding place. Several minutes passed. Where was she? Gabrielle wondered. Why did it get so quiet? I guess I better see whats going--
"Yah!" Xena shouted as she yanked the furs back, laughing uproariously. "Gotcha!"
Gabrielle swiped at her leg but came up empty. "Why you...!" She sat up and watched Xena return to the fire and poke it a few times indifferently, then go over to the bag against the wall. Now what was she up to? I can wait her out, Gabrielle thought. Ive got what she wants....
Xena, finding what she was digging for, stood up and walked over to the fire, then stooped to pick up the candles and headed over to the blankets. "Got room for me under there?" she asked.
"It depends on what youve got to offer." Gabrielle answered in mock indignation.
"How about a shortbread? Its got berries in it...."
"Dont you know youre not supposed to eat in bed?" Gabrielle retorted.
"You wait until now to tell me? It never bothered you before!" Xena brought the shortbread up to her nose and sniffed it. "You sure?"
Gabrielle chuckled and said "Get in here!"
Xena climbed in under the profferred covers, cradling her prize carefully. She laid on her stomach, elbows propped beneath her. She broke a piece loose from the dense, lumpy disc and presented it to Gabrielle. "Peace?"
They finished the cookie slowly, savoring each bite. When it was gone, Gabrielle looked over and said "Youve got crumbs everywhere!"
"No I dont!" Xena watched Gabrielles eyes scanning the blanket in front of her. "Do I?"
"Yep. Here..." Gabrielle shifted onto her side "...lemme show you." She picked up a tiny chunk of dough and presented it to her companion. "What do you call this?"
"Here. Give it to me." Xena took the crumb, then stared at it for a moment. "Seems a waste to just throw it away...." Calmly, she deposited it down the front of Gabrielles top.
"Lean back, my love." Xena urged in a silky voice.
Gabrielle laid on her back, but did not look away from her lovers abstruse, sky-blue eyes. Xena pulled the covers down to Gabrielles waist, then wrapped one of her long legs around the bards. "Close your eyes... this wont hurt a bit, I promise." She allowed her gaze to tarry on Gabrielles full lips, then lightly rested one hand on her stomach. She leaned forward and initiated a slow, hungry kiss, which was returned with equal fervor. She felt her partners slight tremble as their lips parted. Soon, two hands pulled her down, gripping her with astonishing vigor. Feeling as though she were falling from a great height, her stomach tightened involuntarily. They kissed again, then Xena drew back.
"I think we crushed that crumb."
"What a fate for that poor crumb." Gabrielle twisted in an almost feline way, seductively presenting herself for Xenas further exploration. "Think you can find it?"
Xena smiled, enticed by the lovely vision before her. She glanced at the well-muscled shoulders and arms, then delicately lifted the hem of the satiny garment barring her progress. Underneath she found the chiseled plateau of a sleek stomach, the gentle swell of hip bones... "Nope. Its not here. Let me see." She pulled the garment up further, and felt Gabrielle quiver as she removed it completely.
"Ah... I found what I was after!" Xena pressed on, her hands exploring a country she longed to live in and relish for all the remaining days of her life. Her lips followed, lovingly retracing the route her hands had taken. Gabrielle shuddered and ran her fingers through her lovers hair, pulling her ever closer, a low growl rising in her throat, arching her back to meet the devouring mouth and tongue.
"By the Gods...!" she cried, inhaling sharply.
Theyve got nothing to do with it, Xena thought, but didnt want to interrupt herself. She felt small strong hands stripping away her own flimsy shift.
"THEYRE BACK!" JORI CRIED AS HE SLAMMED through the kitchen door of The Four Coins. He pulled up short as Cyrene shot a telling glance at his muddy sandals. "Oh, uh, sorry." he muttered sheepishly.
"Go tell your mother then. Is she ready?"
"Yes maam. Im sure of it."
"Good. I want them to be surprised." Cyrene motioned him off, then returned to the stove. Jessora had the main dining room set up for a performance by their distinguished guests from Iolcus, plus a unique menu for the evening. Cyrene was putting the finishing touches on her own specialty, a seafood appetizer of crab meat, goat cheese, spinach and mushrooms.
"Make sure they get here right when I planned it."
"Yes maam! No sweat!" he laughed. "Im off!"
Cyrene smiled as she watched the boy exit the kitchen and head for the front of the building. She remembered her own sons at that age: not quite grown and still eager to please. Xena had never gone through that stage... but everything concerning her daughter ended up backwards, topsy-turvy and confused. Somehow, though, it felt right. Xena was Xena... and she was like no one else.
Cyrene wavered between pride and uncertainty when she thought of her daughter. There was so much more to learn about her, but with Gabrielle providing a stable foundation, the best was yet to come, she felt sure. One thing was certain, however... her love for her daughter had completely taken control of any other lingering reservations. Besides, so many of the songs, ballads and lays that were performed regularly right here in The Four Coins common room sung of the Warrior Princess heroism. There had to be plenty of reasons for that alone!
GABRIELLE SUCKED IN AS MUCH AIR AS SHE COULD MANAGE without making herself dizzy. "I sure hope that wonderful aroma is coming from The Four Coins! Doesnt it smell delicious?"
Xena sampled the breeze with appreciation. "Yes, it does make my mouth water. But then, so do you."
"Stop it, or youll make me blush! Were going to be eating dinner in public, so cut it out." She hesitated before adding "Did I mention how hungry I am?"
"How hungry are you?" Xena smiled.
"Hungry enough to bite the tail off the Nemean Lion!"
"No fair. Hercules took care of him a long time ago. Besides, that tail would break your teeth right out of your mouth!"
"Well, you know what I mean."
They reached the front of the tavern behind a small crowd of other patrons, all remarking on the performance scheduled for after dinner. Xena quickly realized she was in for it. Gabrielle would insist on staying to hear them play, and at this point in time, Xena was not going to deny her anything reasonable. She sighed.
"So heart-felt. Thinking of me?" Gabrielle asked sweetly.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am."
As members of the crowd shuffled in and were seated by Jessora, Cyrene approached the two women from her waiting place. "Xena! Gabrielle! This way!" she said loudly. A few diners looked up, but smiled indulgently at the threesome.
"Why am I getting that funny feeling again?" Xena asked. No one answered her.
Cyrene led them to a large table near the side of the bar, close to the performers seats. "Here. This is your table. And Im going to be joining you for dinner this evening."
Each one took her seat at the board, which rapidly assumed the notoriety of the table-of-honor for the evening. While Cyrene easily regaled the throng of diners from her place and Gabrielle basked in the attention of so many Amphipolites, Xena did her best to remain gracious but non-descript. It was a losing battle. Once most of the meal had been served, parents discreetly sent their children up to the Warrior Princess asking for her sign on any number of things... pieces of clothing, scrolls, tokens, a leather knapsack.... Even Gabrielle sat back and enjoyed watching her friend inundated by requests and unable to say no. One chi after another after another became too many to count.
When Cyrene sensed her daughter losing patience, she halted the flow of admirers. It was time for the music to begin. Excusing herself from the table, she helped supervise the last of the clean-up efforts, then gave the signal to the musicians. As they tuned their pipes and lyres, she stood at the front of the bar counter and gradually quieted the crowd.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight we are pleased to give you the music of Ocypete and his Menodice Men. Our performers are ready to play, so give them your ears, your hearts, and your minds, and you wont regret it."
OCYPETE AND HIS MEN ENTERTAINED THE GATHERING for close to two hours, alternating between ballads, molpadia, stirring dances and rhythmic poetry. As the show drew to a close, Ocypete took center stage alone. The dining room erupted loudly with cheers.
The slim performer waited for it to quiet down, then he raised his hands high. "The Menodice Men travel with a simple message... leave the making of war to the warriors, and leave the cause of making love and merriment to us! We hope you enjoyed the show. Thank you and good night!" The din of the resulting roar was said to be heard down many streets that night.
THE THREE WOMEN SAT UP LATE after returning to the house, talking and laughing until well after mooncrest. Cyrene felt thrilled by the stimulating conversation as she hadnt in many years. Finally feeling the effects of the late hour, she decided she could last no longer.
"Ive got to go to bed now, or Ill never wake up in the morning!"
"Okay, were willing to let you go-- for now." Gabrielle said affectionately.
They exchanged goodnights, kisses and hugs, then Cyrene left them for her room. Gabrielle reached across the table for Xenas hands. "Doesnt it feel like were never done going places? Like we never get where were headed for?" she asked.
Xena took her hands and folded them tenderly in her own. "I dont know about that. I think weve arrived somewhere, dont you?"
"Well, yes... thats what Im getting at. For once, I feel like weve reached a place where we can... I dont know--"
"Come home to?" Xena finished for her.
Gabrielle smiled broadly. " Yes, thats it exactly. Home." she sighed. "We can belong here, even if we cant actually stay here."
"Youre right. I think I finally figured that out for myself. It was all that alone time, you know?"
"You needed that. But what was it, exactly, that changed your feelings about Amphipolis?"
"So many things, I guess. The main thing, though, is love, in all its forms. My love for my mother and for this village... this valley... for you. My mothers love for me, for you, for her life in all its good times and bad. Your love for me-- that Ive never quite understood. I guess Ill never stop questioning the why of your love, but Im going to live within the boundaries of it for as long as youll allow me!"
"Ah, the Way of Love?" Gabrielle teased.
Xena pursed her lips. "Gabrielle, even the path of a warrior involves love. Ocypete wasnt exactly correct when he said leave the making of war to the warriors, and leave the cause of making love and merriment to us. In fact, a true warrior knows and respects the value of love; it shapes what she does, and gives meaning to her efforts! Without love, a warrior is nothing more than a cold-blooded killer. I know."
"Im not finished. I realize Im much more than a killer, and that it was by my choice to continue to grow and change. Ill never be able to undo the things Ive done, but if I can go forward and work to make our world a better place, all of it will be because of love and honor and integrity. Dont you see? Love is the protection of a higher power!" she insisted passionately. "Its all we mortals really have. Its no guarantee, but Ill take it...."
"Maybe thats what your mother was saying, in a subtle way... you know? Her love protected you when you needed it the most."
"Perhaps. Love has many faces. But Ive seen the ways it can create and color the entire fabric of a day. It was the way my mother greeted me when I rode into town three days ago. Its the way shes welcomed you into the family in a completely honest fashion, with no reservations. And its the way Ive finally accepted my past with this village... in a hundred years or so, Ill be nothing more than a whisper in the trees of the valley floor. Ill just blend in with every other event in the entire lifeline of Amphipolis."
"Thats true... It's the way all those kids came up to our table tonight. I lost count after the first bunch! And it wont take a hundred years for people to see how much good youve done already." Gabrielle smiled with the memory of Xena patiently handling each childs request.
"Maybe youre right."
"So you finally admitted it!" The bard smiled, then continued "Love is the key."
"Yes, I know. Its presence or its lack happens to shape the way we see everything around us. It's the way I loved Lyceus." she paused. "He was my heart once upon a time, but now youve claimed that place."
"Its the way I feel when I look at you and realize that I will always find home in your eyes." Gabrielle added quietly.
Xena smiled and squeezed her hands. "Ready for bed?"
THEY LAID WITHOUT MOVING, wound together under the covers of the old cedar bed. Athena presided over the headboard in the humble room where one of her mightiest warriors rested, her blade and her chakram quiescent, but her heart surging with a resplendent joy. The light of the moon slid over the open window frame and dropped to the floor delicately, illuminating the chamber in an ethereal glow.
Gabrielle rested her cheek on Xenas shoulder, her nose nestled happily in her partners warm neck. She kept her eyes closed and focused on the rhythm of Xenas pulse, steady and strong against her eyelids. The entire world could be shut out when this blood music filled her senses. With her left hand resting lightly on one breast, she felt the rhythm of the fierce heart within. She smiled contentedly, unwilling to let sleep invade her delicious enjoyment, and relishing her own place in her warriors transcendant arms.
Xena, too, remained still, preserving the sound of each breath, each scent and touch in her memory. The moist warmth of Gabrielles breath on her skin counterbalanced the tingling heat of the hand cradling her breast. Never, in all of her wildest dreams as a young girl lying awake in this very bed, did she ever envision holding someone so close that it could ache. Love was for other kids, not for her. So why did it take so long for her to realize what everyone else had grasped immediately? No matter, she answered herself wisely. Another paradox... but now, anything was possible.
She imagined small shapes dancing in the silvery beam crawling over the window sill. Figures, gliding gracefully in peace and joy to the sound of a melody only they could hear, splashed the night with tiny sparks, painting the sky with stars.
|It is in times of solitude that I feel you the strongest....|
In the sound of my own heartbeat, I hear your voice....
Each breath I take is anchored in the knowledge of love....
I savor the joy your spirit has showered me with
as I caress your name with my lips.
My soul is sheltered.
|Lisa Grandstaff 2/99 - 5/99|