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The Isle of Women

by Simahoyo

Xena was sitting alone. The cup of wine felt good in her hands. It was her third. She knew she was drunk and the warmth of the alcohol was far better than the icy cold she had been feeling for the last two months.

Gabrielle was across the room, wrapped around some young soldier. Xena focused her eyes. She missed the old, virginal Gabrielle. This Gabrielle was taking some awful chances. Xena had already lectured Gabrielle, showed her how to use sponges and pennyroyal tea and talked until she was blue in the face about diseases a girl could get and how she wasn't--repeat, was *not* putting up with a baby on the road. Gabrielle kissed the soldier again and Xena's gut churned.

"When I was seventeen, I was pregnant with Solon. Would I have listened to me?", she reasoned to herself. She got up and weaved her way to Gabrielle, leaning over and whispering,

"I told you--no kids!"

Gabrielle frowned at her.

"I'm an adult, besides, *you* do it."

Xena almost growled she was so angry. If she hadn't been drunk she would never have let the words slip out, especially not so loudly.

"I'm infertile. You're not."

The soldier suddenly backed away from Gabrielle. Visions of responsibility were haunting him.

"I, uh, just remembered a meeting our squad has." and he was gone.

Gabrielle looked angry enough to slap Xena. Xena walked away and very carefully went up to her room. She didn't expect Gabrielle to join her. Gabrielle would probably find another guy to sleep with.

"Seventeen. Gods preserve us from ever being that age again."

Xena undressed and went to bed. She woke up in the middle of the night to feel Gabrielle join her. The feelings inside her were like the big wooden gears in a grist mill. They went together from both sides like teeth. Xena wanted to cry. She was furious with Gabrielle for taking such chances. She felt responsible for her and she wanted, even now, to take her in her arms and show her how love--not sex, but real love, felt. Xena turned in bed and looked at Gabrielle.

"What happened?"

"I decided to take a break. You're right, I'm taking too many chances."

"Good for you. You know, I had Solon when I was seventeen."

"Oh, no wonder you keep warning me to be careful. It's just that I was a virgin for so long, I've tried to make up for lost time--and it feels so good. I like sex."

"What about love? Isn't that important?"

Gabriellle was silent for a long time.

"Do I even know what love is? I thought I loved Perdicus--but now I think I just felt sorry for him. You've been in love before. How can you tell the difference?"

"Gabrielle, when you care enough about somebody to let go of them--to let them be who they need to be, then it's love."

"Like you did with Marcus."

"And Hercules and--well, you get the idea."

Gabrielle was suspiciously quiet again.

"I know you're supposed to feel different when the man you love touches you--but all these men have felt the same so far. The only time I felt any different was when *you* kissed me. I suppose that's because I wanted to be with Perdicus *and* go with you and I couldn't do both."

Being drunk didn't help Xena follow Gabrielle's line of reasoning at all. She wanted to kiss Gabrielle again and ask if she felt any different, but she knew better. Then she had a thought. Maybe Gabrielle just didn't know that women could love each other.

"Gabrielle, how would you like to meet the greatest poet in Greece?"

Gabrielle sat up, her eyes bright with excitement.

"You mean Sappho? Oh boy, I'd give anything just to kiss the hem of her garment. She's an absolut genius. When?"

"We can start the journey tommorrow."

Gabrielle hugged Xena hard, kissing her cheek and making her want to kiss back, but Xena reined herself in. Gabrielle was about to get a real education. Now, if Sappho only remembered her.

The journey to the Isle of Lesbos was not hard until they got to the ferry. They barely had the funds for a one-way trip and Xena wondered how they would get back. The ferry trip was long and Gabrielle chatted excitedly. At least she wasn't comming on to every man on the ferry.

When they pulled into the odck, Gabrielle jumped on shore as Xena went back and got Argo, leading her carefully to land. They handn't gone far when two amazon-like women stopped them

"Halt. This is private land. What are you doing here?"

"I've brought my friend to meet Sappho."

"You and every other woman in Greece. Do you know her?"

"Sorta. Ask her if she remembers Xena, Phineus' niece."

The one woman ran off to check while the other stood, looking officious and bored.

"Does she have a lot of admirers?"

"Oh yeah. We turn away about thirty people a day."

"A day? Wow!", said Gabrielle. "I'm glad you know her, Xena."

"Gabrielle, she may not remember me--it's been a while."

Then a rich contralto voice spoke.

"You never forget your first kiss. It's been a long time, Xena."

Gabrielle turned to see a short, dark, and not very pretty woman. This was Sappho? But she and Xena hugged. Then it registered. First kiss? But she and Xena were both women. Maybe it was a joke. The next thing she knew, Gabrielle was meeting Sappho. She was clasping her hand, actually touching the hand that wrote all those great poems. Her knees were weak.

"I love your work. The Muses really favor you. I've read everything I could find by you. I try to write poetry, but I'm not very good. I'm better at telling stories." and Gabrielle's words tumbled over each other like a basket of seeds turned onto a threshing room floor. Sappho's dark eyes rested on her, and the great poet smiled.

"It's always nice to meet another writer. You're welcome to stay as long as you need to. There is a guest cottage over there."

And she pointed out a pretty little stone cottage.

"Your horse should be alright in the yard. There is a little stream you can get your water from and lots of grass for your horse to eat. We like to have communal dinners. We'll let you know when dinner is ready."

"Thank you, Sappho."

And Sappho turned and looked at Xena with a smile that transformed her face.

"No, thank you Xena, for the memory of moonlight and orange blossoms and the taste of your lips. I will always remember."

Gabrielle could see the red coloring Xena's neck.

"So will I.", said Xena.

They went into the cottage. It was cosy and boasted a nice, big bed, a table and bench, a pitcher of water and a basin, and some beautiful cut flowers in a vase, almost as if they had been expected.

Xena put the saddlebags on the floor in the corner and took off her weapons and armor. She was down to her chiton and even took off her boots, replacing them with sandals from her saddlebag. Gabrielle had never seen her so relaxed.

"Xena, I don't understand. Sappho said you were her first kiss. I didn't think it counted if, well, you know--if it wasn't a boy--I mean man. I mean, I know men kiss each other and sometimes they even have sex, but...I don't understand."

"Sappho and I were fourteen. I was visiting my Uncle for the summer and she lived next door. i spent so much time in her family's garden I think I can still picture evry plant in it. I liked her so much--we talked every night and she had this way with words. And she liked my singing. Then one night, things suddenly turned romantic, and ...well, we kissed. It was really nice. Too bad I had to leave the next day."

"So you were just kids. So, was it different from kissing a boy--I mean man?"

"Yes and no. My experience is a little different. I had plenty of problems and I was beyond promiscuous--not unlike somebody we both know..."

Gabrielle blushed deeply. She didn't like being called promiscuous, but had to admit she was.

"It was thrilling because it was my first real kiss, and it was better than my first encounter with men--remember, Cortez' men raped me."

"I forgot."

"It took me a long time to get over that. I think Hercules was the first man I actually loved. I loved Marcus too, but I had a bad habit of screwing around and that doesn't help a relationship, not at all."

"Is that what you've been trying to tell me?"

"Partly. But I'm wondering if you can stop yourself by now."

"I, uh, I don't know. Maybe if I was in love I could just stick to one person, but I really like sex. I'd rather do it than eat."


"I'm just being honest. Look, I've been with seven men since Perdicus died. I guess I ought to be embarrassed, but I'm not. I'd like to be in love. It would be nice. Maybe I'll meet somebody nice here."

Xena guffawed. Gabrielle looked shocked.

"What's so funny?"

"This whole place is women only."

"Oh ho, so that's it. You wanted me to go cold turkey, huh? Gods, you're cruel, Xena. What am I supposed to do here? Polish your sword?"

"Maybe you can learn something about poetry. You profess to be a writer, you know."

Gabrielle glared at Xena. Xena felt as if Gabrielle had gut punched her.

There was a knock at the door and a pretty little girl of about sixteen, with long, brown hair, told them to follow her to dinner. As they walked along, Xena watched Gabrielle. Her eyes opened wider and wider as women in couples sauntered along, arm in arm or holding hands. Some stopped for a kiss. Xena was especially taken with a woman who walked along with her hand on her partner's rear...right where Gabrielle usually liked to rest her hand on Xena. Gabrielle's eyes were scoping everyone in sight, but when she saw the couple that looked so familiar, she clenched her jaw and looked away.

Gabrielle packed away an amazing amount of food and returned alone to the cottage. Xena knew she was angry. Her heart ached. Gabrielle was not going to make this easy.

They spent the night hugging opposite ends of the bed. Gabrielle was especially short with Xena all morning, then went for a walk, leaving her alone. Xena threw herself on the bad and cried.

Gabrielle walked along, teeth gritted. the woman who called them to dinner the night before caught up with her.

"Hi, I'm Phyllis."

"I'm Gabrielle."

"You don't like it here, do you?"

Gabrielle stopped and looked at her.

"No, I don't-- but mostly because I'm mad at my friend."

"Aren't you going to the lecture?"

"What lecture?"

"Sappho talks to us every day about poetry and writing and philosophy."

"Wow, I want to hear that.", said Gabrielle.

So Gabrielle sat with the other women, who crowded into the greatroom to hear the Great Woman. Gabrielle found her eyes wandering as women sat snuggled close.

"Damn that Xena," she thought. "Trying to keep me celebate. Just because she's made of iron doesn't mean I am."

Still, she was fascinated with the women touching each other so intimately. Sappho stood up before them and started to speak. She talked about form and sound and about how these were containers for the ideals and feelings the poet put inside. Gabrielle started to think about her misadventures in writing poetry. She usually tried to force things to rhyme and the result was--well, pretty awful. By thinking of building a container for the fluidity of her feelings, she could see a way to escape the trap of her forced rhymes.

Her mind was still whirling away when they broke for a quick lunch. The food was set out on large wooden platters and grape juice relaced wine. Good, she was hungry and didn't want alcohol clouding her thinking. She loaded up a big piece of flatbread with meat slices and raw vegetables. She chewed away, washing everything down with white grape juice. Women couples fed each other, looking totally absorbed in each other. An electric charge went through her. Then she felt the desire surging through her loins. She needed a man--now!

"Damn that Xena!" she said under her breath.

Then Xena walked in. She was beautiful. Gabrielle caught her breath. She remembered the taste of Xena's lips on hers, and wondered what it would be like to kiss her again. But then Xena walked over to Sappho and gave her a hug. Gabrielle turned her back, furious. How dare she toy with her? Then she felt Xena behind her. Gabrielle refused to turn around. Xena cleared her throat. Gabrielle stayed where she was.


Gabrielle turned slowly.

"What?" The edge to her voice cut like a knife.

"Please don't do this. I...I can't stand for us to be like this."

"You should have thought of that before sticking me here with no men around. You should have told me."

Xena put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. Gabrielle shook it off. She turned to fix Xena with a penetrating gaze and to her shock, the look on Xena's face was exactly the the one after Marcus dies. Why was she so hurt? It wasn't like they were like these women. They both liked men. Something pulled her toward Xena. She pulled back. No, Xena wasn't going to win this test of wills. But, was that a tear in Xena's eye?

"I'm sorry.", said Xena in a tiny, chocked voice.

Gabrielle walked away. She heard Xena turn and walk away too, so she turned back and watched Xena walk out, her shoulders drooping.

Phyllis came over and pinned Gabrielle with a look.

"How can you be so mean to her? She loves you."

"She likes men, not women."

"Lots of people like both, including you. I've seen you watching us. All you need is permission. Well, I'll give it to you. Go to her."

"Gods, I wish people would mind their own business."

Phyllis left and Sappho walked over. Gabrielle thanked her for the lecture.

"I'm happy to help. Gabrielle, do you know what you're doing to Xena? Gabrielle couldn't go off on Sappho, so she bit her tongue. She kept her mouth shut and looked at Sappho.

"She loves you so much she's dying a little inside every day. You know she has a hard time with words. She thought that if she brought you here, you'd see women who really love each other--whose feelings and hearts are united, not just bodies moving together for fun. She's committed to you, as a friend and whatever else you are able to give her."

And Gabrielle remembered how she had felt when they had kissed.--something else. The look on Xena's face a few minutes ago matched the one she had glimpsed at her wedding.

"Fool!", she thought.

"Thank you!", she said to Sappho, and ran after Xena.

Gabrielle went back to the cottage and found her on the bed, tears running down her face. When Xena saw Gabrielle, she desperately wiped the tears away, turning her head in shame. The stone in Gabrielle's heart melted. The pain from losing Perdicus drained out of her.

"I've been absolutely rotten to you. I'm so sorry."

Then she took Xena in her arms and held her while Xena finally trusted her enough to cry in front of her. Xena shook with sobs, and Gabrielle started to cry too. They wept together for several minutes, then held each other longer because it felt right. A current ran through Gabrielle as she faced Xena, looking into her eyes.

"Dying inside a little every day." The words haunted her. She kissed Xena's cheeks, then her mouth. Better and better. Suddenly Gabrielle couldn't get enough. She opened her mouth and touched her tongue to Xena's teeth. Xena's mouth opened and as their tongues touched, a warm rush came over her whole body. This felt different from anyone else she'd ever kissed, and not because it was another woman. It was because she loved Xena. She had to say so--to stop herself from hurtling into another sexual mess without telling Xena how she felt. Gabrielle held Xena's face in her hands and looked into her eyes.

"Xena. I love you. I need you to know it. I do know the difference and this is love--It's love.'

And Xena smiled her radient smile.

"I know. I know. I'm so glad you do too. Oh Gabrielle, you are my heart."

The End

This story is dedicated to all the young people who are mature enough to be expected to act more than their age more often than they are ready for. "Make mistakes, ask questions, get messy." Miss Frizzel.

Anya Dot Tethl (respect for kindred) simahoyo

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