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For Better or Worse
This Xena: Warrior Princess© story takes place after The Gift of Gab. It is the fifth story in the
Xenaverse according to Enginerd. While not absolutely necessary, it is encouraged that you read
the previous stories to better understand this Xenaverse and the attempted development of the
1. Content: Contains some. This story also contains scenes involving: 2. Length: Long
- Enginerd (October 1997)
A. Love between two women B. Arguing, mild cursing, fighting, death threats, and other uncomfortable family situations
1. Content: Contains some. This story also contains scenes involving:
2. Length: Long - Enginerd (October 1997)
"Gabrielle..." Xena uttered slowly, her voice dripping with warning as she stopped her sword exercises in mid-stroke. Her eyes shifted to meet the source of her distraction, the bard sitting on the side of the grassy hill.
"Yes Xena?" Gabrielle responded invitingly, hopeful greens meeting piercing blues. As the warrior's eyes narrowed, the bard realized her subtle attempts to change warrior's mind would not be successful this beautiful day. The disappointed bard sighed as she broke her unsuccessful gaze and dipped her quill in ink.
Exhaling loudly, the determined warrior resumed her sword practice.
So much for a romantic afternoon, the uninspired bard sighed, staring at the blank parchment. She was not in the mood to write at this particular moment. And unfortunately, Xena was not in the mood to change her mind about practicing. 'The warrior and her conditions,' the bard thought with annoyance.
It was almost a week ago when Gabrielle was introduced to the warrior's conditions. Conditions like uninterrupted practice time. Actually, that condition had not been so bad to live with. Especially since the warrior had yet to get through her practice without an interruption, the bard grinned with satisfaction. That was, until now. The bard frowned, throwing an annoyed glance at the practicing warrior.
The warrior and her conditions, the bard sighed again, considering the first one she was introduced to which she disliked the most. Unfortunately, it was the one condition that the warrior was most adamant about. Sure, Gabrielle understood the reasons it was not wise for any public display of affection. How could she not? The morning after their first night together, Xena was determined to go through each and every reason why it was a bad idea - until the bard acknowledged each point and agreed with the wisdom of that condition.
Totally unfair, the bard reflected with exasperation, knowing that she would have agreed to paint her face blue if the Warrior Princess asked that particular morning.
Yet, she did agree to accept their 'public' relationship. And unfortunately, most of the time the past week had been 'in public' either helping villagers or fighting thugs, the bard sighed. But they were not in public now, the bard noted with annoyance. "And she chooses to be stubborn about her sword practice," the bard muttered under her breath as her eyebrows furrowed. Suddenly inspired, she scratched the beginnings of a poem on her parchment.
While deftly wielding her sword through the air, Xena stole a glance at the bard, relieved to find Gabrielle finally focusing on writing.
Xena was determined to practice and not allow herself to be interrupted by the bard - like every other time she had tried to practice the past week. She needed to practice.
Xena stole another glance between strokes and found the bard had stopped writing and was now staring at her parchment. Deep in thought, the warrior concluded, noting her look of concentration and how she gently traced the quill under her chin...over that extremely sensitive spot, one of many the warrior discovered during their first incredib.... "NO!" Xena silently ordered her distracting thoughts away, determined to focus on her sword practice.
She had to maintain her fighting skills, she quickly reminded herself as she parried an invisible attack. She let one of those thugs get just too damn close to Gabrielle, she remembered bitterly, thrusting her sword through the invisible attacker's gut and twisting it with a healthy grunt. Thankfully, the cut on the bard's forearm was healing fine and the stitches could come out soon, Xena considered, glancing over to the bard, who was writing again.
Practice was necessary for a warrior. If only her ever-romantic bard could see that, Xena grunted as she thrust her sword against another invisible enemy.
Staring at her small poem, the Gabrielle sighed, unable to find an appropriate phrase that also rhymed with 'stubbornness.' Well, that wasn't exactly true. She actually did think of a phrase, but thought better of using it. Seeking more appropriate words, the temporarily blocked bard took in a deep breath and looked to the rich blue sky for inspiration.
A single billowy cloud sailed across the ocean of air, reminding Gabrielle of an incredibly huge pillow. She watched the cloud continue its slow trek across the sky, granting the sun freedom from its temporary captivity and allowing its rays to once again burst forth and gently warm the bard's skin. A warmth like that her heart felt whenever near the Warrior Princess, the bard mused. Closing her eyes, a contented smile creped over her face as she enjoyed the warmth she received, from both the sun and the warrior.
Between a thrust and a block, the warrior caught another glimpse of the bard. Xena paused as she watched the relaxed beauty bask in the sun. She noted how the sunlight reflected off of the strawberry blond strands, making them seem to glow. A grin crossed the warrior's face as she wondered what thoughts brought that smile to the bard's face, hoping selfishly... "NO! Not again!" Xena mentally scolded herself for being so easily distracted. She thrust her sword with renewed determination. She had to practice!
Hearing the warrior's more energetic grunting and sword-whooshing through the air, Gabrielle's eyes opened. Wonderful, she just got her second wind, the bard silently moaned as her eyes rolled. At this rate, she'll be too exhausted for anything except sleep this evening, the bard concluded, growing more depressed. 'Torturous' popped into the bard's head. "Hmmmm," she considered thoughtfully as she looked down with empathy at the lonely words on her parchment.
Still without the right words, the bard lifted her eyes from her incomplete poem. Well, at least the warrior had good taste in practice fields, the bard silently admitted as she scanned the area appreciatively. The foliage framing the warrior's chosen field was densely packed with colourful wild flowers bursting from the lush greenery. Amazing how perfectly nature's untamed beauty complemented the untamed beauty of the Warrior Princess, the bard mused.
However, the warrior's grunts didn't exactly return the compliment to nature's soothing sounds of rustling leaves and bird song, the bard noted, softly chuckling at the contrast. A contrast that was minor compared to the contrast embodied in the woman practicing before her, she smiled with great appreciation. The bard pondered with amazement how this woman could bark out such harsh, fear-inducing sounds to her enemies yet privately, to her bard, utter the most tender and loving sound that Gabrielle had ever heard - when the warrior spoke the bard's name.
"GABRIELLE!" Xena snapped, interrupting the bard's appreciation and amazement.
"What?!?" Gabrielle quickly blurted with irritation.
"STOP it!" The warrior ordered.
"Stop WHAT?!?" She asked with annoyance. "Writing?!" The bard asked, holding up her quill, not sure what the warrior's problem was.
Gabrielle sighed with great exasperation, considering she was being unfairly blamed for something she wasn't even trying to do. She was ONLY looking for the right words to rhyme with stubbornness and so what if she happen to end up looking at the warrior? It IS hard to miss Xena, standing right in front of her, all by herself, in the middle of an empty field, she considered with annoyance. It wasn't like she was TRYING to distract the warrior from her practice...this time. She gave THAT up as hopeless, the bard noted with frustration.
Frustration which as some point turned into hope as it slowly dawned on her that perhaps she gave up too easily.
"Xena, I've watched you practice thousands of times before, what's the problem now?" Gabrielle asked with an innocent shrug.
"Watching and staring are two... different... things." Xena crisply responded.
"How...exactly?" The bard responded with a twinkle in her eye and challenge in her voice. Gabrielle smiled, considering if she kept the warrior talking, the better her chances were to convince her there were much more enjoyable things they could be doing.
"Gabrielle," Xena spoke with familiar warning, knowing better than to engage in a discussion with the bard.
"What!?!" Gabrielle blurted with exasperation, realizing her chances just got worse again. Judging the warrior's annoyance level to be rather high, she concluded she would be better off in a tactical retreat. "Oh ok, ok," she begrudgingly responded to the warrior's stare. "I'll let you practice - alone." Gabrielle sighed heavily.
As the disgruntled bard gathered her things, a light breeze blew her strawberry blond hair into the her face, further annoying her. Xena patiently watched as the bard guided the unwanted hair from her face with her hands. Hands that wielded her staff with surprising strength, yet could sooth the warrior's troubled soul with her tender touch. Her touch, the warrior slowly grinned, her incredible..... "Practice! PRACTICE!" Xena silently reminding herself, snapping out of her dangerous musings.
"I'll find another hill." Gabrielle muttered as she rolled up her unfinished poem. She stared at the rolled up parchment a moment and the word 'Idiotic' popped into her head, though it didn't rhyme with stubbornness. But 'ridiculous' was a definite possibility, the bard considered as she shoved her poem in her bag.
"A better hill. Yeah, a much better hill where I'll be able to finish my poem with no distracting sword exercises going on around me." Gabrielle muttered as she stood.
"I have to practice," Xena stated flatly.
"I know, I know...practice away." Gabrielle lifted her hand in defeat. "I'll be just over there," Gabrielle informed her, pointing down the trail with her staff. "In case you ...need...anything," Gabrielle added suggestively. Receiving a brisk nod from Xena, the disappointed bard sighed and departed, leaving her warrior with her beloved sword.
Finally able to continue, the Warrior Princess positioned the sword over her head and exhaled heavily. I have to practice, Xena reminded herself as she spun around and sliced the air in an intricate pattern.
In the Queen's chambers, Gurda and Raiz stood patiently before Ephiny and her senior Amazons. All were waiting for Trayla to finish her review of the old scrolls. Trayla looked up from the table and sighed.
"Queen Ephiny, the claim appears to be legitimate," Trayla relayed, scanning over the scrolls once again, hoping she was wrong. Eponin sighed heavily.
Ephiny quietly watched Gurda.
"As I have said all along your majesty, Amazonia has an official claim," Gurda replied. Feeling heady at the nearing victory of this small battle, she refrained from grinning. "As a citizen of Amazonia, I demand we get back the land that was once ours," Gurda spoke with an air of confidence and superiority which annoyed Ephiny and the other Amazons.
Ephiny's eyebrows raised upon the word 'demand'.
"I am only thinking of Amazonia, my Queen," Gurda quickly added, with a more humble demeanor, realizing her tone was inappropriate. "I am requesting your consideration on this matter, your highness." Gurda added with a slight bow of the head. A slight smile appeared on her lips. With the claim confirmed and her request now official, the throne had no choice but to respond. Let the games begin, Gurda considered with amusement and anticipation.
The senior Amazons looked with concern towards the woman who was pushing for more territory and finding favor among a growing faction of Amazons. "Your highness, we must carefully assess..." Eponin spoke aloud what the other senior Amazons thought.
"Carefully assess!?!" Gurda interrupted with contempt for the overly cautious court. "What is there to assess? The law is clear - the land is ours! And according to Amazon law the Queen MUST acknowledge this claim and..." Gurda relayed, once again taking on a superior tone.
"You DARE assume to teach ME about Amazon law?" Ephiny snapped, bolting out of her throne, coldly eyeing her opponent. An opponent Ephiny considered that one day, she might have to kill.
"Oh NO your majesty. Please forgive my words. Please know, while ill-spoken, I am only driven by my deep passion for Amazonia." Gurda bowed deeply.
"Your passion is evident Gurda," Ephiny responded and sat back down on the throne. "I have heard your request and according to Amazon law I must consider it," the Queen added. "You may take your leave,"
Ephiny commanded, finally able to take pleasure in being Queen during this uncomfortable meeting.
Gurda straightened up, struggling to hold her tongue. "Your majesty," Gurda responded crisply with a slight bow out of respect for the position. A position she intended to obtain.
After Gurda and Raiz left the Queen and her senior Amazons, Ephiny finally disclosed her great annoyance. "Can really she do this?" Ephiny blurted her senior Amazons as she rubbed her eyes, leaning back wearily.
"I'm afraid so Ephiny," Trayla answered. "You can read as well as I can your majesty," she motioned to the scrolls, inviting the Queen to review her findings. Ephiny moaned knowing she would not find any words that would make Gurda go away.
"I will just make a declaration that we are not interested in claiming the land," Ephiny stated standing up, eyeing the doorway where Gurda left.
"By not claiming the land, you open the door to an official challenge to the throne," Eponin informed her with worry, drawing a sharp look from her Queen. "Uh....not that she could possibly be victorious..."
Eponin quickly added, making Ephiny sigh. "But that land will always be a liability for the throne Ephiny. Even if...uh, WHEN...you are victorious," Eponin awkwardly counseled.
"I don't suppose any of you have anything to say that could possibly cheer me up?" The Queen asked, receiving a bunch of stares from her Amazons. "I didn't think so." Ephiny sighed. "Send out messengers." Ephiny ordered. "Gabrielle needs to know about this." Ephiny added, now rubbing her temples.
After a few uninterrupted drills, Xena's eyes drifted back to the trail the bard departed on. The inspiration this beautiful area provided the bard was not the literary kind that Xena had hoped for. She knows I've got to practice, Xena sighed, blocking the attacks of two invisible warriors. We've discussed this, the warrior reminded herself.
Xena continued her exercises, wielding her sword with less and less enthusiasm. Now Gabrielle was annoyed with her for practicing, Xena sighed as she executed another combination of blocks. NO! She's not going to do this to me again, Xena thought stubbornly, thrusting her sword at the imaginary opponents. After a flurry of strokes that whooshed through the air, Xena let out an aggravated grunt.
"I can't just drop everything and come running every time she looks at me like that," Xena thought as she somersaulted, landed and quickly lifted her sword over her head to block the next imaginary blow.
"If I NEED anything," Xena blurted with a short, annoyed laugh. Her eyes once again drifted back to the trail. She forced them back to her sword.
"I NEED to practice," the warrior reminded herself. She thrust the sword through the air again.
"I NEED to keep my skills honed," the warrior added to her list of reasons for being without her bard, in such a beautiful area.
"I NEED...." Xena paused, searching for another good reason for being without her bard in such a secluded ... area. Her eyes drifted back to the trail.
"Uggggggh!" Xena groaned, suddenly finding her needs changing.
CHAPTER 2 - A Conundrum
Having no trouble finding a suitable area, Gabrielle claimed a spot on the side of another hill. Now if only finding words was as easy as finding this area, she thought, plopping herself and her gear down.
Taking a deep breath, she sought inspiration from the scenery before her. The flora and fauna was just as beautiful as the flora and fauna around her warrior's practice field, she observed. Yet, for some reason, the scenery was not nearly as breath taking. Perhaps the absence of a certain practicing Warrior Princess had something to do with that, the bard considered. A certain, STUBBORN Warrior Princess, who was taking her sweet time getting here, Gabrielle grumbled.
Inspiration hitting her once again, she quickly unpacked her parchment and quill. Promptly writing down the previously elusive words before the inspiration fled, the poem was finally finished.
There once was a warrior princess
who chose her sword, not her bard to caress
when the bard taught her true stubbornness
Gabrielle read it over thoughtfully. "Just perfect, I'm not only frustrated - I'm writing bad poetry!" She blurted, shaking her head with an amused smile which faded when she glanced back to the still empty trail. She dipped her quill in ink and captured another wave of inspiration on fresh parchment.
There once was a woman from Amphipolis ....
As she finished her second poetic attempt, she heard the unmistakable sound of someone jogging towards her. A sound that brought a huge grin to the bard's face.
"You sure took long enough!" Gabrielle announced with a relieved chuckle as she turned towards the jogger.
"Well it took longer than I expected. My HORSE pulled up lame in the last town!" Meleager blurted between gasps for air. "And how in Tartarus did you know I was coming?"
Quickly recovering from disappointment and surprise, the bard bolted towards him. "Meleager!" She called out happily, giving him a big hug. "I was actually expecting Xena...but It's wonderful to see you!" The bard informed him with a warm smile and another hug.
"I'm glad to see you too Gabrielle," Meleager responded with an embarrassed laugh. After the affectionate bard pulled back, he looked around. "Where IS Xena?"
"Practicing...over there," Gabrielle pointed to the trail. "If you want to talk to her, you might just want to wait a bit. She's not in the mood...to be interrupted." Gabrielle explained flatly.
"Uh, actually I need to talk to you Gabrielle." Meleager admitted, his face suddenly grave.
Panic washed over Gabrielle. "Why? What's wrong?!?" Gabrielle blurted. "Is Sara all right? Lila? Meleager, they're both ok aren't they? Why are you here? What's going on ?!?"
"Whoa Gabrielle," he responded, holding up his hands to stop her barrage of questions. "They're fine. Well, they're not terribly happy, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are not fine...although...." Meleager muttered.
"MELEAGER!" The impatient bard snapped.
On her way to let the bard distract her, Xena found herself staring at a thick patch of wild flowers. The flowers that Gabrielle made a point of raving over as they rode through the area. The warrior stood contemplating the critical decision at hand. If she passed them without picking any, the warrior would miss an opportunity to show Gabrielle she really did listen to her and could be romantic. However, if she picked some for Gabrielle, the bard might think she was apologizing for something, which Xena had no intention of doing. She had to practice. "We've discussed that", Xena muttered to herself.
While pondering this floral conundrum, Xena knelt down and inhaled the wild fragrances. A grin formed as she remembered of the number of times the bard had implored her to stop and smell the flowers. Of course, the bard was only speaking figuratively, the warrior mused, and had no idea how much the warrior really enjoyed doing just that. If she did, Xena knew she would be cajoled by the bard to stop at every patch of flowers they passed. In all the time she knew Gabrielle, the bard had never been one for moderation, Xena considered. Looking at the trail, a knowing grin slowly emerged.
After Meleager relayed the news from Walsas, Gabrielle silently stared at him a moment, pondering the situation. She noted the slumped posture of the man sitting next to her. With elbows on his knees and forehead in his palms, the Walsasian Captain of the Guard stared at the ground between his feet. It looked as if he was going to face the biggest battle in his life and the odds were woefully against him. Little did he realize how big a battle and how woeful the odds, Gabrielle reflected.
"Well...mother DOES tend to get a bit ... overbearing when it comes to weddings," Gabrielle admitted the obvious to Meleager, who's head started to throb just thinking about his impending marriage to Gabrielle's sister Sarah. He rubbed his temples and sighed. "But she means well," Gabrielle quickly added.
"Uggg," he groaned. "She doesn't like me Gabrielle," he moaned. "I want her to like me. I really tried to put my best foot forward but she really has something against warriors...."
"I know," she agreed with a knowing sigh. "But once she gets to know you, how could she NOT like you? You've charmed all three of her daughters." Gabrielle smiled warmly, her attempts to cheer him up seemed to work.
"Really? You think she'll grow to like me?" He asked hopefully.
"Suuure. Absolutely!" Gabrielle responded with forced conviction, putting her arm around him and giving a reassuring squeeze. "You know, I really don't understand why Sarah invited her so early before the wedding...she knows how mother is." Gabrielle shook her head in amazement.
"She didn't invite her," Meleager revealed uneasily. "I did."
"WHAT!?!" Gabrielle blurted, making Meleager cringe.
"I thought ...she never said...I had no...." Meleager tried to explain to the amazed bard. "Well it seemed like a good idea at the time," Meleager finally muttered and shrugged.
"Oh I can imagine just how pleased Sarah and Lila are with you right now," Gabrielle responded.
"Maybe I can just travel with you and Xena for a while, until they forgive me....how about permanently???" Meleager suggested, only half in jest.
"Uh ...No," Gabrielle relayed bluntly. "Nothing personal," She added, patting the distraught man on the back.
"Ah, that plan wouldn't work anyway," Meleager sighed returning his head to his hands to stare at the ground.
"Why not?" Gabrielle asked, becoming concerned.
"She asked that I quickly bring you back to Walsas to help with the preparations," Meleager relayed the news. "She was VERY adamant about the quick part."
"WHAT!?! It's over month before your wedding. I can't believe this. Thanks a lot!" Gabrielle punched his arm.
"Ouch! It's not MY idea," he added, rubbing his arm, already sore from Sarah's and Lila's similar expression of gratitude.
"Ughhh," Gabrielle moaned, now her forehead rested in her hands.
"Well at least you don't have to go get those damn things for the ceremony," Meleager blurted as if that was consolation.
Gabrielle looked up at him in silent disbelief, remembering all the reasons she never wanted a traditional Poteidaian wedding.
"And what in Hade's name is a Furry Wegget? How can I get an egg from one if I don't even know what it is? But I've GOT to have it according to your mother," he blurted, throwing his hands up in frustration.
"It is considered good luck for the couple if the groom gets one." Gabrielle explained unenthusiastically.
"What about a good ol' fashioned lucky horseshoe?? I at least know what THAT is," Meleager blurted.
"Maybe so, but that is not a part of the Poteidaian tradition," Gabrielle relayed, then remembered her father's difficulty. "When my father was preparing for the wedding, it took him two full weeks to get the egg once they found the Furry Wegget. They say it is not easy to get an egg away from the Furry Wegget intact."
"Great. I know absolutely nothing about hunting down a Furry Wegget...and I have a feeling it wouldn't be wise to try to get married without one."
"Uh, I wouldn't advise it. Mother is BIG on tradition," Gabrielle added with a sigh.
"I had no idea Poteidaian weddings were so...complicated." Meleager sighed and shook his head.
"Yes... well...there's not a lot to do in a small village. You know Meleager, you...WE wouldn't have to go through any of this if you just invited her at the last minute - like everyone else in the family does."
"Sarah told me that...just before she stopped talking to me." Meleager sighed and rubbed his arm again. "So...where did your father go to get the furry egg?"
"It's NOT a furry egg! It's a Furry Wegget egg," Gabrielle blurted with annoyance to a shrugging Meleager. She sighed and shook her head before launching into her father's tale. "It was spring when my father...."
Hearing Gabrielle's voice from the other side of the hill, Xena guessed she was probably practicing her latest story about Verbinia. She took another sniff of the two dozen flowers in her hand and grinned, considering the ever-romantic bard would be pleased with the selection.
Her purposeful stride quickened as she climbed the hill with great expectations. Expectations that were immediately dashed when she reached the top and spotted her bard...sitting next to Meleager the Mighty. Seeing the two start to turn towards her, Xena quickly glanced down at the flowers and abruptly flung the wild bouquet into the trees.
"Ack!" Lila blurted when unceremoniously grabbed by her sister and yanked into the library from the hall. "Hey!" Lila blurted with annoyance, slapping Sarah's hands off her.
"Where is she now?" The Queen of Walsas interrogated her sister, apprehensively glancing between the doors and windows.
"In the garden, supervising the gardener. She's explaining how to best grow Poteidaian Posies," Lila responded, straightening her crumpled dress with a sigh. The news temporarily calmed the Queen, who exhaled with relief. "You can't keep hiding like this," Lila scolded her, shaking her head.
"I'm busy. I'm a Queen." Sarah blurted unconvincingly, her eyes darting between the doors.
"Oh that will go over big. 'She's too busy for her own mother?" Lila mimicked her mother's guilt-inducing voice, causing Sarah to cringe.
"But she's driving... me...crazy!" The desperate bride-to-be relayed as she grabbed Lila by the shoulders.
Once again, Lila broke out of her eldest sister's grip with annoyance. "And I'M having a picnic?!? You know every time you go off and do your 'busy Queen thing', I'm the one who's stuck," Lila shot back, unsympathetically.
"I am sorry Lila and I do feel bad about that," Sarah admitted to her sister as she started to pace.
"Bad enough to spend more time with her?" Lila asked skeptically.
Sarah stopped pacing. "Uh, no," she admitted, then quickly added, "But don't worry, you won't have to bear the brunt all by yourself. Meleager's bringing reinforcements!" Sarah smiled broadly.
"Xena," Meleager greeted the warrior coming towards them down the hill. Xena eyed the unexpected visitor and nodded, then turned her attention to Gabrielle.
"Is everything ok?" She asked the weary looking bard.
"Well...funny you should ask. You know how you wanted to get some uninterrupted practice time in? Well, how does a month grab you?" Gabrielle responded glibly.
"A month?" Xena repeated with some alarm.
"Wait a minute. Won't Xena be coming with us?" Meleager asked.
"Where?" Xena questioned the two. Now what, she wondered with annoyance, looking forward to the reprieve they finally found from the last hectic and frustratingly public week.
"There's really no need..." Gabrielle responded to Meleager, who started to worry.
"But who will stand up with me at the ceremony?" Meleager blurted, looking between the two women.
"Need for what?" Xena asked Gabrielle, who rolled her eyes at Meleager the Whiner.
"Meleager, the ceremony is over a MONTH away. She can still stand up with you, assuming she still wants..." Gabrielle snapped back to the groom-to-be.
"But who will help me get that DAMN stuff??" He interrupted the bard to whine some more. "You'll help me, right Xena?" He asked the Warrior Princess hopefully, putting on his best Meleager the Desperate look.
"No need for WHAT?" Xena asked the bard again, growing very annoyed.
"Meleager, if you really want to get on her good side, I strongly suggest you avoid calling the wedding items DAMN STUFF," Gabrielle blurted. "And you really should ask Father for help with the egg," Gabrielle added helpfully.
"GABRIELLE! What are you talking about!" Xena blurted with frustration.
Gabrielle shot a glare at Meleager. "Well, Meleager The Incredibly THOUGHTFUL invited my mother to Walsas," Gabrielle answered with irritation.
"So?" Xena asked, relieved it wasn't serious.
"She's determined Sarah and Meleager will have a Traditional Poteidaian Wedding," Gabrielle explained, rolling her eyes. Meleager moaned.
"So?" Xena asked again.
"And I've been summoned to Walsas to help," Gabrielle explained wearily. Xena looked at Meleager then Gabrielle.
"And you want to go..." Xena carefully eyed the bard. "...alone?" She questioned, not understanding how the bard could so easily accept a month apart.
The bard immediately saw the almost hidden sadness in those beautiful eyes. "Of COURSE not, I just thought..." Gabrielle quickly tried to erase that sadness. Instinctively, she reached out for her warrior's arm only to immediately withdraw it. She remembered the Warrior Princess' conditions on public displays of affection. She HAD made a promise and intended to keep it.
"I'll go saddle up Argo," Xena said cooly, leaving the bard with her future brother-in-law.
Meleager put his arm around the bard and squeezed. "This is great! Xena is coming with us!" Meleager blurted happily. "I need all the allies I can get."
"I think I'll go stretch my legs," Meleager muttered awkwardly, leaving camp. Gabrielle smiled at her future brother-in-law, despite his pleading that Xena come with them. She really couldn't blame him, allies were always important to have. But little did he realize it wouldn't make a difference with her mother, the bard noted as her smile faded. Her smile completely vanished, when she eyed the silent warrior who sat down against a tree, staring at the fire. Xena had barely said a word all day and didn't look too talkative now, the bard noted. But she had to try one more time for both their sakes, Gabrielle considered.
"Xena, I know you said you would help Meleager but there's really no need... for...you...."
Drawing the warrior's unconvinced eyes away from the fire, Gabrielle realized that line of argument was not going over well and switched tactics. "Uh...you know, this would be the perfect time to visit Amphipolis," Gabrielle suggested enthusiastically as Xena's eyes returned to the fire. "I'm sure your mother and brother would love to...."
"You don't want me there," Xena interrupted in an even tone, finally breaking her silence. "Why?" Her eyes shifted back to the bard for an answer.
Why. A fair and simple enough question, Gabrielle considered as she sighed and looked into the fire. "Xena, I've been through my cousin Huestis' Traditional Wedding and...well...let's just say it got pretty ugly," Gabrielle revealed with a weak smile, shaking her head at the memories. "I wouldn't even want to put Joxer through that," Gabrielle added, with a slight chuckle that lifted Xena's spirit. "I can't ask you to endure my family...my mother...for a whole month," Gabrielle added sincerely.
"You don't have to ask Gabrielle," Xena responded warmly. "And... I'm not afraid," Xena added with a sly grin that faded when the bard shift uncomfortably. "But you are," Xena spoke with hurt which she quickly buried. "You're worried about what she'll think...about us," Xena stated with a cold edge in her voice.
"WHAT?!?" Gabrielle snapped in amazement. "Xena, if you'll remember, I'M not the one who's worried about what others think," The bard blurted, surprising the Warrior Princess.
"You know..." Meleager announced as he entered the camp. "...the caves with those Furry Weggets are really not THAT far out of our way." Meleager eyed the women hopefully. Noting with great discomfort that no one was answering him, he coughed. The bard sat staring at the fire with an intense, angry gaze. The Warrior Princess' eyes were fixed on the bard.
Gods, I'd rather be in Walsas right now, he thought to himself. Ignore it and it will go away, he considered. Good plan. "Ok, ok...PLEASE help me?" He asked, sticking to his plan. "Please?" He added for good measure.
Xena sighed, removing her gaze from the bard and finally looked at him. "What caves and what's a Furry Wegget?" Xena asked.
"One of the many wondrous events in store for the lucky couple and their FORTUNATE family and friends," Gabrielle relayed in a grand, bardly voice.
"Now I've been thinking..." Meleager relayed to the bard, who eyed him.
"Careful Meleager, you know what happened the last time you did that," Gabrielle cautioned him.
"Hear me out..." Meleager urged her diplomatically, as he sat down. "With your help, we'll get all the damn...uh the items in no time...the egg, and the orchid and...."
"What orchid?" Xena interrupted.
"The Red Orchid of Love," Gabrielle informed her with a heavy sigh as she retrieved her bed roll and plopped on the ground.
Meleager pulled his sword out and started to sharpen it. "At least I know what a damn orchid looks like," he muttered drawing a sharp stare from the bard.
"Yes, but do you know where to get the Red Orchid of Love?" Gabrielle countered as she unrolled her bedding and sat down.
"There are orchids by the lake on the way to Walsas, I'm sure I've seen a red one there," Meleager noted with a shrug.
"Ah...but if it were only so easy." Gabrielle sighed.
Xena watched the two, wondering why they were making such a big deal out of getting a few things for the wedding.
"And don't even think of asking for my help with the last part." Gabrielle warned him.
"But," Meleager blurted with concern.
"I won't, don't ask," Gabrielle interrupted, firm in her convictions.
"BUT," Meleager blurted again.
"But why NOT?" Meleager was upset, almost panicking. "I'm not a bard, how am I supposed to come up with a wedding poem for Sarah?"
Still unclear about many of the things involving this "Traditional" wedding, the Wegget, the furry egg, the orchid...but the poem was something Xena finally understood the significance of. Xena immediately felt empathy for Meleager and his difficult task.
"The words are supposed to be from YOUR heart Meleager, not mine," Gabrielle informed him. "Don't worry you have time. Inspiration can come at the most unexpected times," Gabrielle added with a warm smile, attempting to help ease his concerns. The smile didn't help.
"Gods, a poem," Meleager blurted weakly looking sick. He turned towards Xena with his Meleager the Desperate look.
"Don't look at me," Xena warned, remembering the last time he used that desperate look and got her to help him when he was on uncertain ground with Sarah.
He practically begged her to help him with his attempts at a romantic interlude with Sarah at her balcony. No, he begged, she recalled. What transpired could only be summed up as possibly the worst romantic interlude ever planned or executed. No, the worst, she recalled. Meleager's attempts to woo Sarah were pathetic at best, even when the Warrior Princess gave him perfectly good lines to use, which he blew of course. The only thing Meleager succeeded in that night was to take them to the wrong balcony and embarrass them in front of the last person she wanted to learn of her involvement with the romantic fiasco - Gabrielle.
Meleager the Desperate ignored the Warrior Princess initial rebuff and continued to look to her for help. Xena was going to repeat her refusal when she heard the bard chuckle.
"Come on Meleager, you're not THAT desperate," Gabrielle relayed with a smirk, laying down and pulling her covers up.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Xena responded with irritation.
"Nothing." Gabrielle muffled a giggle, shifting under her blanket.
"You don't think I could write a poem?" Xena asked, annoyed.
Gabrielle sighed. She sat up and eyed the Proud Princess. "Xena, I'm sure if you REALLY wanted to, you could. But Meleager has to do this himself. They should be HIS words...even if they are really bad," Gabrielle explained to the Warrior Princess.
"HEY!" Meleager blurted. "They might not be REALLY bad...just BAD!"
He added defensively. Oh gods... a poem, he thought to himself.
Gabrielle sighed heavily at the two warriors, and laid back down. "Pleasant dreams my warriors," Gabrielle muttered as she shut her eyes.
As the warrior's settled in for the evening, Meleager noted Xena rolling out her bedding on the other side of the fire. Well, it WAS safer for them if they spread out around the fire in case of an ambush, he considered. But for some reason, he didn't think she wasn't sleeping way over there for safety reasons. Xena seemed irritated about something. When she caught him watching her, she gave him a cold stare. Yep, none of my business, he concluded, smiling awkwardly and laid back on his bedroll with a sigh and shut his eyes.
Meleager's nagging thoughts kept him from sleep. "A poem," he thought as he rolled over. "A poem," he thought and sighed. That was one task he had thought would be a piece of cake with Gabrielle's help. He rolled over to his other side. Now he didn't have that piece of cake...not even a lousy crumb. "A damn poem," he thought again, rolling back to his other side. He couldn't take it anymore. His eyes popped wide open. Abruptly sitting up, he looked at the bard. "Gabrielle?" He asked tentatively, eyeing the prone form.
"Sarah? Sarah?" A woman called out, looking around the Castle halls. "Have either of you two seen the Queen? I thought I saw her go this way," she asked two soldiers just getting off duty. The two looked at each other uneasily.
"Uh...I thought I saw her go to the library," one soldier answered.
"I just came from there!" She blurted with annoyance. "If you happen to run into the Queen, tell her, her MOTHER is looking for her," she ordered curtly, emphasizing her rank as mother, which obviously outranked Queen.
"We've got to finalize the guest list, dinner menu, travel arrangements... not to mention decide on which dress maker she wants for the wedding gown...they'll have to be good with beads. A second wedding makes it SO much more... complicated... off-white, yellow, light blue," she rattled off then noticed their glazed looks.
"Oh never mind..." she blurted with frustration. "when you see her, just tell her we have much to do!" She added, leaving them to continue her search.
Hearing her mother get closer, Sarah ducked into the kitchen. "Father!" Sarah blurted with surprise, finding him engrossed in sampling the cook's soup.
The surprised cook looked up from the soup towards his unexpected visitor and received an unmistakable glare of warning. Deciding his continued employment important, the cook quickly determined he really needed to look for more spices and left his soup to busily search the pantry.
"You know, your mother has been looking for you," he said nonchalantly, blowing on the steaming spoon.
"Uh, really? I guess I keep missing her," Sarah shrugged innocently, attempting to sound convincing as she watched her father.
"I've been terribly biz...." Her explanation was momentarily interrupted as she anxiously looked over her shoulder. "...zy.."
Her father slowly slurped the soup. His eyebrows furrowed. "Needs salt."
"Sarah?" Her mother's voice grew louder.
"You know, I just remembered something I need to do. Tell mother we'll talk later. Duty calls," Sarah blurted, kissing her father's cheek, and quickly escaping the kitchen.
A short moment passed before his wife arrived in the kitchen. "Hello dear," he greeted her casually, adding a pinch of salt to the soup and slowly stirred.
His wife looked around the kitchen, eyeing the cook who was busily inspecting his spices. From the rattling of the jars he touched, she wondered if he suffered from the tremors. It is so hard to get good help these days, she sighed, shaking her head.
"Dear, have you seen Sarah? I've been having the hardest time getting her to sit a moment and discuss the wedding. There are SO many things to be done. If she doesn't start now, it will sneak up on her before she knows it. She'll regret not making plans sooner, mark my words," she lectured to her husband who nodded.
"Yes dear. I know," he said softly, retrieving another spoonful.
"Honestly, I don't understand why she just doesn't have the wedding back home. I've TOLD her it would be so much easier to have a Traditional Poteidaian Wedding in Poteidaia." She sighed. "We wouldn't have to worry about as many travel arrangements and rooms for the Poteidaian guests and...."
"Dear, you can't expect a Queen to leave her own land to get married," he interjected then sipped his soup. "It wouldn't be right," he said softly. "Needs salt."
"I guess you're right dear, it's just that I've always wanted to see a daughter of mine married in Poteidaia, where WE got married," she explained, placing her hand on his shoulder.
He nodded with warm smile. "I understand dear."
"Well, I can't just stand here dear, I've got so much to do!" She kissed him on the cheek.
"I know dear," he remarked, slowly adding another pinch of salt to the soup as his wife left his side.
Passing at a most unfortunate time, Lila stopped dead in her tracks upon the bone chilling sound that bellowed from the kitchen.
"Lila! I'm so glad I've found you!"
The streets of Thaysa were bustling with all types...farmers, merchants, travelers, sailors and soldiers, much to the chagrin of the Warrior Princess. Too many opportunities for trouble. Just too many people to keep an eye on, the warrior worried. How easy it was for an innocent looking group of travelers to waltz up, ask for directions one moment and attack the next, Xena considered. Her eyes darted suspiciously through the crowd.
Gabrielle can be too trusting sometimes, Xena eyed the bard, who was in an animated discussion with Meleager. Yet, Xena remembered bitterly that a few days ago, it wasn't Gabrielle who let her guard down when Gabrielle got hurt. The Warrior Princess would not allow that to happen again, she promised herself.
The bad mood lingering a few paces behind Gabrielle and Meleager was not about to get in the bard's way of enjoying the sights. Watching all the different characters who filled the wonderfully busy streets delighted the bard. So many opportunities for a bard to find her next story, she smiled. She glanced to Meleager, thankful he at least was able to share his enjoyment with her.
"Look at that guy." Meleager pointed to a very tall farmer towering over his horse which he made look like a pony. "He'd make a GREAT lookout," Meleager added
"Unless he is blind as a bat," Gabrielle countered.
"Picky, picky," Meleager muttered, making Gabrielle chuckle.
"Alright...I guess you might say eyesight is kinda important in a lookout," Meleager admitted. The amused bard turned to the Warrior Princess to find her still eyeing the crowd suspiciously. Gabrielle sighed.
As the three made their way through the crowd towards the stables to pick up Meleager's horse, Meleager became distracted by a few trinkets.
Xena groaned, not at all pleased with the delay. However, Gabrielle was quite interested in Meleager's fascination with some jewelry.
"Hmmm..." He picked up a pair of earrings and carefully inspected them.
"Get them, they go with your outfit," Gabrielle joked, squeezing his shoulder. Embarrassed at being watched, he quickly returned the earrings to the table, as if they were hot coals. The bard chuckled at his uneasiness.
"Perhaps you're right not to go with the earrings, but that necklace...it's so you," she suggested, pointing to the hideous bobble on the table.
"Funny," he blurted with irritation, causing her to chuckle again.
Gabrielle's buoyant mood attracted the attention of two young men, who slowed as they passed to better appreciative the bard. That was, until they noticed the threatening glare of the Warrior Princess, which successfully discouraged their further appreciation and helped them remember they needed to get somewhere...fast.
"I wish I knew what to get her," he sighed, looking very perplexed as he eyed the wide variety of earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
"Sarah already has what she wants Meleager," the ever-romantic bard responded, placing her hand on his forearm and giving him a warm smile. He couldn't help but smile back.
"Thanks," he patted her hand gratefully. "But you're no help," he added bluntly, shaking his head and generating another laugh from the bard.
"Whatever you get, as long as it is from the heart, it will be perfect," Gabrielle informed him, patting him affectionately on the back. "Although, I'd stay away from that necklace." Gabrielle grimaced at the hideous bobble, causing the two to chuckle.
The merchant came over with a huge smile, feeling a big sale within his grasp. When affectionate couples shopped together it usually meant good business, the merchant greedily mused.
"She WOULD look lovely in these earrings," the merchant purred, picking up the same pair Meleager had hastily put back. "I can let you have them for a VERY reasonable price." He eyed the two, and winked at Gabrielle. "10 dinars," he offered warmly.
"Huh?" Meleager looked at the merchant then Gabrielle.
"Ten dinars! You're joking right? I could possibly see two dinars and that would still be a stretch," Gabrielle responded, unable to refrain from an economic battle or teasing Meleager. "Isn't that right...dear?" She added, batting her eyelids.
"What?" Meleager looked at Gabrielle then the merchant.
"Surely sir, with your great experience, you can appreciate the real value of this fine jewelry for your young inexperienced wife. Look at the workmanship...it is well worth the..." The merchant eyed an unconvinced Gabrielle and sighed. "...EIGHT dinars I am asking for." He focused his efforts on Meleager, knowing the young lady would not be as easily sold.
"Huh?" Meleager looked at the merchant then Gabrielle.
"He's talking to you...dear." Gabrielle grinned with amusement, squeezing his forearm. Meleager looked at her with wide eyes when he realized what was going on.
"Gabrielle!" He blurted with exasperation, peeling her hand from his forearm.
"You never get me anything anymore!" Gabrielle pouted as she picked up the earrings. "I DO so like these. They go so well with my eyes." Gabrielle grinned, holding them to her ears, then turned to their other traveling companion.
"What do you think Xena, don't ... you...?" Gabrielle looked around, finding no trace of the Warrior Princess. "Xena??"
Gurda barely broke a sweat sparring with Raiz, who was gasping for air. She took one final sweep with her staff, felling her opponent with ease. "Ooof." Raiz hit the ground hard. "Hey, are you trying to kill me?" Raiz looked up from the ground with annoyance.
"If I were, you'd be dead," Gurda responded melodically, whirling her staff around playfully, considering it more of an amusement than a serious weapon. Suddenly, she swung the end of the staff towards Raiz's head, stopping it within an inch. A more than adequately demonstration of her capability to inflict a fatal blow with this stick.
Raiz stared at the wooden weapon next to her head. "Point taken." Raiz picked herself off the ground and dusted herself off. "You know, you really should be practicing the sword...Ephiny will choose the sword you know."
"Yes, Ephiny's preferred weapon IS the sword," Gurda acknowledged, whirling the staff around with a smile.
As they entered the stables, Gabrielle curiously eyed the Warrior Princess who was waiting for them. "Your horse is ok Meleager," Xena nonchalantly informed him as she brushed Argo.
"Good. We'll make much better traveling time." He smiled and went to settle up with the stable owner.
"What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked Xena, who silently dismissed the question with a shake of the head and continued to brush Argo.
"Xena," Gabrielle said softly. "Tell me," Gabrielle encouraged her warrior, touching her forearm. Xena glanced towards the hand on her forearm then around the stable, spotting a stableboy busy saddling a horse. "SORRY...I forgot...not in public," Gabrielle blurted with exasperation also spying the boy and retracted her hand. Xena sighed.
"Gabrielle, we've discussed..." Xena's response was interrupted by a sound of sword fighting in the street accompanied by men yelling. Xena started out the stable but stopped when Gabrielle started to follow.
"STAY!" Xena barked, then quickly left the stables, leaving the stunned bard with her mouth wide open. Xena had just done something she had not done in a long time. It was something Gabrielle had never expected her to do again...order her to stay out of the way.
The bard stood, unconsciously clenching her staff in a death grip as her anger grew. It was then when her wound on her forearm started to ache. It was then when she realized why Xena did what she just did. It was then the bard's heart dropped...Xena had lost confidence in her.
A few moments later, Meleager came over to Gabrielle and Argo with his horse in tow. He looked around for Xena then heard fighting and her battle cry. He was amazed the bard was not in the midst of the excitement. "Why aren't you...???" Meleager started to ask when the bard looked up at him with a lost look. "Gabrielle?" He asked uneasily. "Are you ok?" He placed his hand on her shoulder.
After quickly remedying the situation in the street, Xena returned in a much better mood. Meleager looked at her curiously. "Just some bullies with swords...a couple axes...a few cross bows...and some spears," she explained with a shrug before he asked. "They won't be bothering anyone for a while." Xena grinned.
"Well, perhaps we should go see about getting that egg now." Gabrielle smiled politely at Meleager and Xena, then headed out the stables. She paused a moment at the doors, then turned back. "Well? You two coming?"
Xena grinned. "I've learned it's not wise to keep her waiting," Xena remarked to a confused Meleager.
Sustra and Solari stood in the waiting area of the impressive Castle feeling a bit uncomfortable. "So this is Walsas?" Sustra blurted, looking out the window then around the waiting area. She nonchalantly glanced over at the two unimpressive guards at entrance.
"Not too shabby." She smirked at Solari. "I think I could be comfortable here."
"Remember what Melosa told us...be careful of what you wish for," Solari relayed bluntly, also well aware of the two guards, now looking at them.
"Queen Sarah will see you now," a young soldier informed them with a warm smile. The Amazons looked at each other, amazed at how the Queen of Walsas was making time for them, especially considering how busy they heard she was.
"There's really no need to bother your Queen. As we have said, we could simply leave a message for Queen Gabrielle," Solari relayed, feeling very uneasy about the meeting.
Sustra continued her critical assessment of the Castle's defensive features, considering them impressive but not impenetrable to a typical Amazon force.
"Queen Sarah is most anxious to meet you. Please...follow me," the guard informed them, politely holding his arm out in the direction he wished them to go.
Sustra looked at Solari. "Why not," Solari responded with a shrug.
Riding on a narrow trail to the caves in search of a Furry Wegget, Gabrielle quietly sat in front of Xena, staring at Meleager's back. Ever since they mounted in Thaysa, Xena could feel the tension in Gabrielle. Xena had hoped the ride would be a pleasant distraction for the bard, for it certainly was for the warrior. However, the tension she hoped would go away after a few miles, unfortunately didn't.
"Gabrielle," Xena spoke softly in her ear, gently squeezing the bard around the waist.
"Hmmm?" Gabrielle responded.
"You're still mad at me for snapping at you back in the stables, aren't you?" Xena asked, prepared to argue her case. Gabrielle took a long breath.
"I'm not mad Xena." Gabrielle exhaled thoughtfully.
"You're not?" Xena relayed with surprise.
"No," Gabrielle relayed, looking at her forearm with sadness in her heart. "I understand why you did that."
"You do?" Xena asked, amazed to find the bard so reasonable.
"You don't want me to get hurt," Gabrielle responded. "You wanted to protect me."
"You DO understand," Xena relayed, still amazed Gabrielle wasn't mad. The warrior sighed guiltily, knowing she still shouldn't have been so insensitive with her sensitive bard.
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry I snapped like that ...but....I," a lump in her throat stopped her well thought out explanation. Overtaken by a wave of emotion, Xena pulled her into a tighter embrace.
"You know how much I love you?" Xena whispered desperately in the bard's ear, as if she needed to convince the bard.
Gabrielle turned in the saddle to look Xena in the eye. "I have never questioned that for a moment Xena," Gabrielle responded with fierce conviction and a gaze so direct and sure, it pierced through Xena's insecurity and grabbed her heart, with no intention of letting go.
The warrior's uneasy breath caused the bard's deadly serious gaze to soften with a warm smile of satisfaction. Reaching up, Gabrielle tenderly traced her fingertips along the side of the Warrior Princess' face.
Needing no more prompting, Xena gently kissed her bard. Small grins emerged on their faces before the gentle kiss became two...then three, then a fourth not-so-gentle kiss, and a fifth not-so-gentle-at-all kiss, which was not about to become a sixth kiss anytime soon.
Argo's loud snort successfully divided their undivided attention.
Reluctantly, they broke apart, their breathing now ragged. Remembering their traveling companion in front of them, they both eyed the warrior, noticing Meleager still focused ahead, obliviously looking out for the caves.
Their eyes refocused on each other. Unable to witness the intense desire she found, Xena shut her eyes with a heavy sigh. Their foreheads touched as they sadly admitted defeat in this passionate encounter.
"Soon, I promise," Xena relayed softly to her bard, smiling when she felt her head nod and heard her disappointed groan.
Facing forward and trying to think of discus throwing, Gabrielle gasped when the warrior's arm resumed it's position around her bare midriff, fanning her flame of desire into a full bore forest fire.
"Uh," Gabrielle coughed. "Maybe I should walk," she offered, patting the warrior's forearm, motioning to get down.
Her arm not budging from the bard's waist, Xena took a deep, calming breath before trying to respond. "You don't have to walk," she croaked.
"Fine, then maybe YOU should walk," Gabrielle countered, finding thoughts of javelin throwing no help either.
The Warrior Princess raised her eyebrow and leaned over to look at the ground then the bard.
"I don't think I can," Xena responded dryly.
Meleager the Oblivious scratched the back of his neck. Yep, none of my business.
When Solari and Sustra entered the throne room, they were immediately greeted by Sarah, the Queen of Walsas.
"Welcome to Walsas! Come, come." She smiled warmly, motioning them in. Both Amazons were surprised by her strong resemblance to Gabrielle.
"Your Majesty, we appreciate you taking the time to see us personally," Solari relayed while subtly encouraging Sustra to stop her impolite gawking with her sharp elbow. "But we could have left a message for her that we were here to see her with your guard. We really shouldn't be taking up any more of your valuable time," Solari added.
"NO!" Sarah blurted. "Uh, I mean...it's no bother at all. Please sit down. Take a load off. You two must be tired from your trip."
The Queen motioned to the Amazons to sit down. Sustra and Solari looked at each other, amazed at the incredibly personable, if not slightly quirky, manner of this woman. Then they grinned. She WAS Gabrielle's sister after all and apparently not just similar in appearance. They sat down, appreciating the hospitality and the break.
Sustra scanned the room. She noted with surprise there were no guards or attendants. Not very wise for a Queen, especially for one who was not skilled as a fighter.
"Would you like something to eat?" Sarah offered, seeing Sustra eye the plate of dates on the table.
"No thank you your Highness," Solari responded just as a hungry Sustra started to reach for them, causing Sustra to throw an annoyed look her way.
"Please, call me Sarah." Sarah smiled, pushing the plate towards a grinning Sustra who happily grabbed and inhaled a few dates.
"Your sister also dislikes the formal titles," Solari noted, trying to ignore Sustra's embarrassing behavior. Sarah smiled.
"I'm sorry she's not here right now. She's expected any day. My fiancé has personally gone to get her and I gave him strict orders to bring her back immediately," Sarah informed them.
"Is everything alright?" Sustra asked with concern.
They have absolutely no idea, Sarah thought to herself.
"Well...we just need her help with my wedding preparations," Sarah relayed unenthusiastically with a forced smile.
Sustra and Solari looked at each other, then the Queen.
"Congratulations," Solari and Sustra responded flatly. Sustra grabbed a couple more delicious dates, drawing another sharp look from Solari.
"Yes...well...I hope everything is alright with the Amazon nation." Sarah relayed, obviously curious about the visit.
She has absolutely no idea, Sustra and Solari thought to themselves.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Sarah offered, surprising the Amazons.
"Uh...no...thank you," Solari blurted. "We have a message we must relay to Queen Gabrielle," Solari relayed cryptically.
"Perhaps you could give me that message and I'll could pass it on to my sister as soon as she arrives," Sarah offered warmly, causing Sustra to swallow funny. Her eyes widened and she started to choke.
"Oh gods is she alright?" Sarah asked as Solari swatted Sustra sharply on the back, successfully dislodging the date.
"I'm fine," Sustra wheezed, then coughed and took a few slow breaths. Solari rolled her eyes.
"Sarah! There you are!" Sarah's mother barged in, startling the three. Solari and Sustra turned towards the older woman with their hands instinctively on their daggers.
"Oh, you do have visitors!" Sarah's mother seemed pleased. Solari and Sustra eased their hands from their weapons as polite smiles crossed their faces. "You must be Gabrielle's little Amazon friends, aren't you!" She smiled broadly as the polite Amazon smiles disappeared.
"MOTHER, I'm in the middle of a meeting with these Amazons WARRIORS," She relayed with great irritation and embarrassment.
"We were just..." Solari offered, considering retreat prudent.
"NO!" Sarah blurted, not so subtly stopping the retreat by grabbing Solari's arm. "I mean, no...please stay." Sarah added, immediately letting go when she saw the tense look on the warrior's face.
"Mother, we will discuss the wedding plans after my very IMPORTANT meeting with these women," the Queen informed her mother, mustering her best commanding tone.
Solari and Sustra glanced at each other.
"Yes dear," her mother sighed. "But we have much to discuss and time is not standing still you know. It's flitting away as we speak. Your wedding day will be here before you know it and I don't want you to regret wasting time in your preparations. If you don't spend more time planning now, you'll regret it later. You mark my words."
Sarah's glazed look as her mother lectured did not go unnoticed by the Amazons. "Yes mother," Sarah replied with a sigh.
"You haven't even made a list yet have you? We've got the dress, the guest list, dinner menu, the musicians and music...and gods only knows if Meleager will be able to get all the Traditional items," the Queen's mother rattled off.
"He'll get the damn items," Sarah responded curtly, causing her mother's brow to furrow.
"Excuse me your Highness, our meeting?" Sustra interrupted, feeling sympathy for her Queen's sister. It was the least she could do... considering.
Solari stood helplessly by as Sustra opened her big mouth.
"Yes of course! I apologize for this interruption," Sarah responded with relief. "Later mother?" Sarah eyed the older woman.
"Later, daughter," her mother cooly responded, nodding to the warriors, giving Sustra a cold glare that made even the fierce Amazon uneasy.
The three Furry Wegget hunters were crouched down behind a boulder just inside the mouth of the cave - waiting. They had waited for over an hour with no sign of a Wegget. The Warrior Princess' patience was in short supply.
"Are you sure this is where these Weggets live?" Xena asked, turning and sitting down with her back against the rock.
"This is where my father said he got his egg," Gabrielle responded with slight irritation as she kept watch over the entrance, just as her father said he did so many years ago.
Xena sighed pulling out her Chakrum and inspected it. Could use some polishing.
"I don't see why we don't spread out," Xena suggested and started to rock the Chakrum on her index finger like a pendulum.
"Xena, that's NOT how my father caught the Wegget," Gabrielle responded with annoyance.
"And your father said he had better luck catching it by waiting for it, like this, in a group?" Meleager asked, torn between Xena's good idea and a proven plan.
"Yes," Gabrielle relayed, continuing to eye the entrance of the cave. "They waited...just like we are doing," the bard repeated, getting tired of the questioning of her father's hunting tactic. So like warriors to want to do things their own way, the bard sighed with irritation.
"So this Wegget is furry," Meleager asked, carefully peeking over the boulder. "Can't miss it right?"
"All I know is what my father told me," Gabrielle exhaled for the hundredth time. "And it's furry." She added flatly.
"We could spread out," Xena offered again, drawing a sharp look from Gabrielle, who's eyes narrowed at a bored Xena now rocking the Chakrum on her pinky. It was a very good thing she loved that warrior woman so much.
"He said it was the about the size of a chicken," Gabrielle relayed the information to Meleager, trying to ignore Xena and her Chakrum.
"Hmmm. Shouldn't be too hard to get once we spot it." Meleager considered.
"We could probably spot it quicker if we spread out," Xena relayed nonchalantly, successfully balancing the sharp edge of the Chakrum on her finger tip and drawing another annoyed look from the bard.
"Well, actually they said it was very quick and hard to catch," Gabrielle relayed, struggling to ignore Xena's comments, her patience nearing an end with her warrior.
"How long did you say it took your father to get it?" Meleager questioned with concern, starting to show signs of impatience like the Warrior Princess.
"We are NOT sitting behind this rock for two weeks!" Xena barked, getting up and resuming her position next to the two lookouts. She eyed her bard, who sighed heavily.
"You know, we could spread..." Xena suggested again.
"Xena!" Gabrielle finally snapped, turning towards the annoying warrior. "Would you just..." Gabrielle paused just noticing the slightly raised eyebrow accompanied by small, yet effective, curl tugging at the corners of the Warrior Princess' mouth.
Gabrielle swallowed hard, torn between doing the right thing, helping her future brother-in-law in his noble pursuit of a Traditional Wedding item, or cruelly abandoning him for an incredibly selfish moment of pure passion.
"Uh... actually, that idea does have SOME merit," she relayed to Meleager. Xena turned to Meleager and nodded helpfully.
"Huh? I thought you said your father and his hunting party stayed close...that it was the best way to catch the Wegget," Meleager blurted with frustration.
"Well, yes...my father did mention that. But it is obviously not working for us now. Besides, as Xena pointed out, none of us is interested in sitting behind this rock for two weeks," Gabrielle explained as Xena nodded thoughtfully in agreement. "A new tactic couldn't hurt," Gabrielle added with a shrug.
"Yeah, I guess so," Meleager relayed.
"Ok, then." Xena got up with renewed enthusiasm. "Meleager, you stay hear while Gabrielle and I spread out."
"Just how long should we give this new tactic a try?" Meleager asked, looking back into the cave and scratching his head.
"I would say a couple of hours," Gabrielle relayed, glancing at the warrior, who appreciatively looked the bard over from head to toe.
"Three...minimum," Xena announced, making Meleager frown as he turned towards them.
"Well, they say good things come to those who wait," Gabrielle relayed wisely to Meleager, making Xena grin.
"Patience IS a virtue," Xena threw in her two dinars then looked at Gabrielle. "Can we get going??"
Meleager's eyebrows furrowed as he opened his mouth to respond.
"You want to get the egg right?" The bard interjected, quelling his objections before spoken. He nodded and sighed.
"Ok then," Gabrielle responded as the two walked over to Argo.
"We'll meet back here in about three hours," the bard relayed as she mounted.
"Maybe more," Xena added as she mounted behind Gabrielle.
Before Meleager could say anything, Xena shouted "Hiyaaaaaa!" The two left in a cloud of dust.
"Three hours..." Meleager moaned.
The Warrior Princes rode Argo hard, quickly putting distance between the caves and them. When she found an appropriate spot far enough away, Xena stopped and dismounted Argo.
Looking up to her bard, the warrior watched Gabrielle smile in appreciation as she surveyed the area. Xena smiled, amazed at how a simple gift of a smile from the bard could so easily lift her spirits, not that they really needed any lifting at this moment, the warrior's smile turned into a sly grin.
The bard's eyes were drawn to the wonderful stream which flowed lazily by. Xena curiously eyed the bard, then the water, considering a dip together not such a bad idea. She smiled broadly returning her gaze to the bard, who's eyes were now drawn to the comfortable looking grassy patch next to the stream.
Xena glanced over to grass and a crooked grin emerged. The dip could definitely wait. With a raised eyebrow, she eyed the bard, who was now gazing up, appreciating the natural canopy of branches over the grassy patch which provided excellent shade from the sun.
Xena's smile faded into an unamused grimace as she looked up at the trees then impatiently back to the bard.
Gabrielle took a long, deep breath...appreciating this spot, this wonderfully ro....
"Ack," blurted the bard as she was pulled off the horse.
Finding herself within the protective circle of the Warrior's arms, she looked up into a face more beautiful than Helen of Troy's. A face that grinned at the bard's initial look of surprise. The grin slowly faded as the warrior fell into the bard's eyes, which no longer reveled surprise, only desire.
"I promised we'd be together soon Gabrielle," the warrior uttered softly with a small smile.
Gabrielle's incredibly witty response about patience almost made it to the bard's lips. However, the response was quickly forgotten as her lips became otherwise engaged.
Meleager stretched behind the damn boulder for the thousandth time. Staking out the mouth of a damn cave waiting for a damn furry Wegget was not exactly what he expected to be doing in the name of love. He wondered why the damn egg was considered to be so damn lucky anyway. Perhaps it was because it was so damn hard to get - that you'd have to be damn lucky to get one, he considered. He sighed looking at the entrance of the damn cave again, hoping he'd get lucky soon. Get lucky, he snorted a laugh, willing to wager a month's pay his traveling companions were not hunting for Weggets at this moment.
Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, an exhausted warrior closed her eyes, appreciating the simple pleasures. The feel of the dozing bard's sweat-soaked body draped over her's, the rapid beat of the bard's heart which just started to calm...or was that her own heart, she wondered, unable to distinguish the two.
Before Gabrielle, she would never have imagined that the moments after could ever have been as pleasurable as the act itself. Yet, these moments were. Well...they were very very close, she considered with a sly grin. She took another deep, satisfied breath. The warrior knew these moments were so special because what they shared was more than a mere physical act...they shared their hearts and made love. Xena shuddered involuntarily, overwhelmed by that staggering truth. Gabrielle instinctively shifted within her arms, tightening her embrace around the warrior. Xena smiled, knowing if she were inclined to thank the gods for anything, it would be for the gift of Gabrielle.
A scurrying noise came from inside the cave. Meleager tensed with anticipation, perhaps he would get lucky. He listened intently, hearing the scurrying noise again. Meleager panicked. Now what?
"Xena?" The bard asked softly when she finally stirred from her nap, leaving a slow trail of kisses along the warrior's face, down her neck. A content smile crept over the Warrior's face as she enjoyed the tingling sensation the bard's soft lips so easily generated.
"Hmmm?" The warrior responded lazily, feeling the bard's smile against her neck.
"We probably should think about going back," Gabrielle whispered softly in the warrior's ear then kissed it.
"Ughhh," Xena groaned, not quite ready to admit the bard was right.
"If we don't get the egg soon, it will have to be on another trip. I was supposed to get back to Walsas quickly," Gabrielle relayed.
"Hmmm," Xena responded with her eyes still closed. The warrior smiled and sighed happily, enjoying the thorough attention the bard's gentle lips. Her smile turned into a slight frown when her roaming hand was caught. Her smile returned as the bard entwined the distracting digits between her own.
"You know how mothers are." Gabrielle kissed the warrior's brow and squeezed the warrior's hand.
"Mmmmm," Xena relayed with a knowing nod, squeezing the bard's hand back.
"If you disappoint them, you never hear the end of it," Gabrielle noted as she kissed the warrior's cheek. The warrior softly chuckled in agreement.
"Don't you think your mother will be disappointed, if she finds out you didn't visit her when you had a chance?" Gabrielle spoke softly.
Xena's eyes popped opened. "What??" Xena blurted, sitting up and staring at the bard.
"Your mother," the bard repeated also sitting up. "...will be disappointed."
"I know what you said Gabrielle, I just can't believe you said it," Xena relayed in amazement, shaking her head in disbelief and disappointment as she stood up. "I'm going to wash up," Xena said curtly as she headed towards the stream.
"What are you so mad about!" Gabrielle asked, following the annoyed warrior to the stream. Xena eyed her coldly as she stepped into the even colder water. The warrior was too angry to gasp.
Gabrielle entered the water, not too angry to gasp. "Gggggods!"
"What am I so mad about? You want to know what I am so mad about?" Xena snapped.
"YYYes!" Gabrielle shuttered from the cold.
"You...how DARE you try to manipulate me like that," Xena blurted, rinsing herself with the frigid water.
"Oh," Gabrielle relayed. "I sssee."
"You see? YOU SEE?!? Is that all you have to say?" Xena stood in the cold stream, dumbfounded, watching the bard leave the water.
"What is there to say? There are certain skills of yours you don't want me using," the bard spoke nonchalantly, drying herself off.
Still standing in the cold stream, Xena's mouth dropped. "One of MY skills???"
"Of course Xena, just another skill of yours I have tried and have, yet again, demonstrated my utter incompetence," Gabrielle spoke with venom and hurt as she put her clothes back on.
"But you have EVERY right for being upset," the bard added with surprising diplomacy, immediately defusing the Warrior Princess' question about just what in Tartarus she was talking about.
Xena's eyebrow raised curiously at this admission from the now dressed bard, who was tying her boot laces.
"I know how disappointing it is when I flounder at a skill you are SO adept at. Don't worry Xena. I'll just leave that skill in your more than capable hands," Gabrielle blurted, grabbing her staff and bag. "Like usual," the bard muttered and stormed off to the cave.
After a moment, Xena's mouth finally closed, though she still wondered what in Hades' name was Gabrielle talking about. Xena angrily waded back to dry land. Why was Gabrielle so mad when it the warrior who had every right for being mad, Xena fumed. Gods, why is EVERYTHING always so difficult with her, the Warrior Princess thought as she angrily dried herself off. How could she possibly try to turn around the warrior's justifiable anger like that, Xena wondered, stomping over to her clothes and quickly dressing.
After a few moments and a few deep breaths, her anger settled and her curiosity grew. Xena looked down the path the bard marched away on, wondering why Gabrielle was so mad. And more importantly, why didn't Gabrielle want her to go to Walsas.
When Gabrielle arrived at the cave after her calming forced march, she was concerned when she didn't see Meleager.
"Meleager? Meleager??" Gabrielle called out then noticed footsteps on the ground from the boulder towards the interior of the cave. She followed them to the cave entrance and hesitated entering.
"Meleager?" She called again, with no response.
Concern outweighing her uneasiness, she followed the footprints into the cave until they disappeared into a wall of darkness. Hesitating a moment, she took a confidence building deep breath. Lifting her staff to the ready position, she advanced past that wall and was quickly engulfed by the blackness.
She walked slowly, carefully listening for everything. She couldn't see even the staff she gripped tightly in her hands. Gabrielle shivered as a cold breeze blew from the depths of the cave, like an icy exhale. She progressed further through the blackness, calling out for Meleager again. Only her own voice was heard, reverberating through the caverns. She reached out, feeling for a cave wall and finding none. Her heart pounded, feeling the unnerving emptiness of this dark and cold space. Just beginning to question the wisdom of entering the cave without a torch, the bard tripped over something.
"Oooff." She tumbled to the ground.
"Ughhh," moaned Meleager the Something she just tripped over.
"Meleager, Meleager!" The bard called out as she crawled over to and shook the warrior, getting no more response. "XENA!!"
Hearing the faint cry of the bard, the Warrior Princess' head snapped up from her thoughtful stare of the trail before her. "Hiyaaa!" She ignited Argo's trot into a blazing blur. Arriving at the cave moments later, the Warrior Princess dismounted, immediately unsheathing her sword.
"Gabrielle?!?" She called out scanning the area.
"In here," the bard's voice escaped from the mouth of the cave. Xena's eye furrowed as she entered the cave, slowing to a stop when she was enveloped by the blackness.
"Gabrielle?" Concern filled her voice. "Are you all right?"
"Xena, over here. It's Meleager...he's unconscious." Gabrielle called back.
The bard's voice brought a sigh of relief to the warrior, who carefully proceeded towards it. "What happened to him?" Xena asked, advancing carefully through the darkness, listening for any sign of danger.
"He hit his..."
Gabrielle heard a dull thunk, then a muffled and very annoyed "damn it."
"...head." Gabrielle relayed with a grin, but wisely refraining from giggling.
"I see," Xena relayed flatly, rubbing her forehead. "Keep talking Gabrielle...there are many caverns connecting to this cave and I'm not in the mood for exploring."
"Really?" Gabrielle blurted loudly, shuttering at the thought of getting lost. Her voice echoed again. "Really....Really....Really?" Gabrielle repeated, suddenly finding the echo amusing.
"Really," Xena softly whispered in her ear. "Ah!" the bard jumped, and the warrior grinned.
"You do realize how foolish it was to enter this cave without a torch?" Xena asked calmly, reaching down to find and gently shake Meleager, who was still out cold.
"Good thing YOU brought a torch then," Gabrielle snapped back. Xena sighed heavily. Meleager moaned.
"Let's get him out of here," Xena relayed.
With Meleager slumped in Xena's arms on Argo and the Gabrielle on Meleager's horse, they rode towards Walsas. The silence between them was extremely uncomfortable for the bard, who was feeling a little guilty for her earlier actions.
"If you want to, we could rest a while," Gabrielle offered glancing over at the warrior, who probably needed a break by now from lugging Meleager around like that.
"No," Xena relayed, her eyes focused forward. "Unless you need to rest," Xena added curtly, the word 'need' grating on the bard's nerves.
"No, I'm fine. But thanks for your concern," Gabrielle said sarcastically. "How's your head?" Gabrielle asked with a thin smile.
"Fine. Thanks for asking," Xena responded flatly.
"Sarah, you are not taking this seriously enough." Sarah's mother trailed behind her daughter with a variety of fabrics. "Would you stand STILL for one moment?!?" She snapped.
"Lila, would you please tell your sister the colour and material of her dress IS important." The mother enlisted the aid of her quiet daughter in the corner, who cringed at being brought into the middle of yet another wedding argument.
"Sarah, the colour and material of your dress is important," Lila repeated in an unenthusiastic drone, making Sarah grin.
"I've always been fond of black," Sarah blurted, studying the fabrics.
"Well black WOULD go with the bridesmaids dresses," Lila relayed, thankful she had to only go through being a bridesmaid in a Traditional wedding once. Of course, she would have been much happier if Sarah had just avoided the Traditional Wedding altogether, like Gabrielle did.
"Lila! Sarah! You two are incorrigible!" The woman scolded her daughters, shaking her head wondering what she did to ever deserve such difficult children.
"Queen Sarah!" A young guard rushed in interrupting them, receiving a cold stare from the older woman and a look of thanks from the two younger women.
"Please excuse the interruption. Lookouts have reported your sister and the Warrior Princess are arriving," he relayed, bringing a big smile to the sister's faces for the reinforcements had finally arrived.
"You invited them?" The older woman asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Why wouldn't...." Sarah's question to her mother was forgotten when she noticed the concerned look on the guard's face and no mention of her soon-to-be-husband. "Isn't Meleager with them?"
"Lookouts report he's been hurt my Queen."
Queen Ephiny paced in her tent as Eponin watched uneasily.
"She still hasn't asked for my decision. She hasn't made any more demands." Ephiny shook her head. Trayla entered the tent.
"Well?" Ephiny asked.
"She's practicing again," Trayla responded.
"I don't suppose she's practicing the sword?" Ephiny asked hopefully, but knowing the answer.
"No my Queen, she is practicing the staff," Trayla relayed with a sigh. "Again."
"Gurda is shrewd, I'll give her that," Ephiny relayed appreciatively. "How is she at the staff?" Ephiny asked Trayla.
Rushing out of the Walsasian castle, Sarah, Lila and their mother saw for themselves what the lookouts reported. The three travelers rode in the front gate.
"My Gods, what happened to him?" Sarah gasped as she rushed to Meleager's side as Xena lower the still unconscious man to two guards.
Gabrielle dismounted, quickly going to Sarah and putting a comforting arm her. "He'll be ok Sarah."
Meleager groggily muttered something as the two men shifted him to get a better hold.
"He's not drunk again is he?" Sarah's mother asked caustically, Sarah gasped, eyeing her mother in disbelief and hurt.
"NO!...He hit his head." Gabrielle snapped, quickly defending him. "He was in a cave trying to get one of the Traditional items," Gabrielle added coldly, watching an upset Sarah leave with the two guards take Meleager into the castle.
Her eyes returned to her mother. "Oh, and don't worry mother...he'll be alright," Gabrielle relayed, her eyes as cold as her voice.
Xena finally dismounted, not even receiving so much as a glance from Gabrielle's mother, not that she wanted one.
"I see," her mother responded, standing rigid, offering no embrace or words of affection for her well-traveled daughter. Xena finally received a glance from the older woman when she stood behind her bard. In it's brief duration, that glance imparted all that the warrior needed to know. Gabrielle's mother despised her.
"Let me guess," Gabrielle eyed her mother with a polite smile. "You didn't ask Meleager to get me to help with the preparations."
"No dear." The woman's admission wiped the bard's polite smile off her face. "I know you have other, more pressing business than to bother with our family and our little Traditions."
The woman's pleasantly spoken words inflicted more damage to the bard's heart than a dagger ever could. Funny how important a mother's words were.
Lila looked at the ground feeling helpless.
Xena inwardly cringed, feeling that she was the cause of this reaction from the bard's mother. And they didn't even tell her about their relationship yet, Xena sighed. Perhaps Gabrielle was right about visiting her mother in Amphipolis, the warrior considered, torn between wanting to make it easier on the bard yet not wanting to leave her side. Xena grew angry with herself for worrying so much about her own feelings and ignoring Gabrielle's.
"Well, I have work to do, if you'll excuse me. Lila?" Her mother looked to Lila, who lifted her head, looking between her sister and mother.
"I'll be right along Mother," Lila offered, amazed that her response seemed to appease her mother, who nodded then left.
"Gods Gabrielle, I swear Sarah and I had no idea she was still so upset," Lila hugged her sister tightly. "You would think..." Lila blurted, interrupted by Gabrielle.
"Lila, I understand why you and Sarah were so desperate for reinforcements." Gabrielle forced a laugh. "But I'm afraid I won't be as much help as you two expected." Gabrielle shrugged. "On the bright side, I'm getting used to being a disappointment." Gabrielle forced a smile.
An uneasy Lila looked at Gabrielle then Xena, who was also disturbed by the bard's comment. "Not to me," Lila responded, hugging her. "Dinner will be in about an hour...amazing how you timed that," Lila joked, trying to lighten the mood. "See you then?" Lila pulled back looking at the two.
"Of course," Gabrielle responded, a polite smile still on her face. Her sister smiled uneasily, then left.
Just as Xena stepped to give the bard a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, Gabrielle headed towards the castle leaving the warrior to grasp the air. "I should freshen up for dinner," she relayed, turning to the Warrior Princess.
"First I'd better tend to..." Xena automatically began her usual reply, but with the vacant look in the bard's eyes, she realized this was not time for their usual routine. "Uh, the stable boy can tend to Argo and our stuff...lugging Meleager around has made me riper than usual...I wouldn't want anyone to loose their appetite on my account," Xena joked.
Gabrielle nodded silently and headed towards the castle. Xena's eyebrows furrowed with worry as she followed behind the bard.
"We should send messengers right away...to tell Gabrielle to stay away...until you finish up with Gurda," Eponin blurted, concerned for her absent Queen.
"Eponin, I can not "finish up" with Gurda until she challenges me...and I suspect she will choose to be very patient with her challenge to the throne." Ephiny sighed.
"But we can't have Gabrielle walk right into ...." Eponin's argument was cut off by the Acting Queen.
"Gabrielle is the Queen, in bad times as well as good, Eponin. For better or WORSE, she will accept her duty, as should you," Ephiny responded forcefully, successfully stopping further discussion on the matter. She sighed, wishing she could "finish up" with Gurda. Gabrielle seemed to keep getting the 'worse' part of the bargain.
When they entered the bard's room, Xena waited for the bard to say something. When they bathed, Xena waited for the bard to say something. When they dried off and dressed, Xena waited for the bard to say something. When the bard sat down and started to brush her hair, Xena waited for the bard to say something.
With each brush stroke, a weary sigh came from the bard, who usually took pleasure in the task.
Moving behind her chair, Xena gently took the brush from the bard's hand and proceeded to untangle the strawberry blond locks. "Gabrielle, do you still want me to go to Amphipolis?" She asked, bracing herself for an unwanted answer.
"No," Gabrielle answered weakly, shaking her head. "Unless..." Gabrielle turned towards the Warrior Princess. "...you WANT to go."
Xena sighed and knelt down to speak face-to-face with her bard.
"Not alone," Xena responded emphatically. "Bedsides," she grinned. "Who would talk to mother?"
Tears welled up in the bard's eyes.
"Hey..." Xena spoke softly, her strong hand cupping the bard's cheek. When a tear fell, it was carefully wiped away by the warrior's thumb.
Xena felt lost on this emotional minefield. The bard needed to talk and it was up to the Warrior Princess to make that happen. Unfortunately, her most successful method for getting someone to talk was out. Gabrielle would need way more than thirty seconds, Xena considered.
What would Gabrielle do if the situation were reversed, Xena asked herself. Slowly and carefully ease into the discussion. Obviously, the warrior sighed. From her admittedly sparse verbal arsenal, Xena selected an approach that had the benefit of being successful in the past as well as a relatively safe topic.
"Nice weather we're having," Xena blurted. Gabrielle's tear-filled eyes lifted from the floor and looked blankly at her. The bard's head tilted as if she didn't quite catch the last statement from the Warrior Princess.
"Huh?" The bard asked softly, sniffing and wiping away another tear.
"Uh...the weather," Xena stammered, now feeling the pressure of having gotten the bard's undivided attention. "It's nice," Xena added, pointing at the window. Gabrielle stared at the warrior for another long moment. "Don't you think?" Xena asked, nervous at the bard's silence.
Surprising the warrior, the bard leaned towards her and kissed her. "Thank you," Gabrielle whispered, her voice thick with emotion.
"We'll talk later...after dinner...Ok?" Xena asked hopefully. A small smile crept over the bard's face. When she nodded, a dazzling smile appeared on the warrior's face, making the bard chuckle warmly.
The bard's laugh subsided into a loving gaze. "You know how much I love you?" Gabrielle asked the familiar question, tracing her fingers over the warrior's cheek. Xena took the bard's hand from her cheek and kissed her palm.
"I've never questioned how much Gabrielle..." Xena responded, holding the bard's hand against cheek. "...only why," Xena admitted honestly.
The bard drew a sharp breath in for her response. But she slowly exhaled a thoughtful moment, realizing that she couldn't possibly find the words to adequately describe why she loved Xena so much.
After waiting for words that didn't come, Xena's eyes drifted down to the floor. Gabrielle immediately felt horrible for disappointing her warrior.
"Xena, anything I say to describe why I love you so much will be so grossly inadequate, incomplete and just plain lacking, that I have to admit," Gabrielle relayed with a dramatic sigh, "as a bard, I'm ashamed." Her head dropped in feigned disgrace. Peeking up, her theatrics were rewarded with a crooked grin.
"Perhaps," Xena slowly took the bard's hands in hers.
"If we put our heads together," Xena leaned towards her bard so their foreheads touched.
"We could find another way," Xena suggested, pulling back and kissing Gabrielle's forehead.
"For you..." Xena slowly kissed the bard's eyebrow.
"To express yourself..." Xena slowly kissed the bard's other eyebrow.
"Without words." Xena playfully brushed the tip of her nose over the bard's, evoking a small giggle.
"I wouldn't want... " Xena slowly kissed the bard's cheek.
"you to feel...." Xena slowly kissed the bard's other cheek.
"No?" Gabrielle asked innocently, her warrior's lips hovering over her's.
"No," Xena answered, waiting for the bard to better express herself.
"You know what?" Gabrielle relayed, closing the already small distance between them.
"What?" Xena whispered.
"Me too," the warrior agreed, nipping at the bard's lips. The bard grinned.
"I'm talking about dinner," Gabrielle relayed, causing the warrior to pull back and stare at her bard.
At the dinner table, two chairs at either end of the table were empty. Sarah decided the recovering Meleager needed her undivided attention.
Only after sitting down, did Lila realize that she was next to her mother and father on one side of the table with Gabrielle and Xena were sitting on the other side.
"Isn't this good soup?" Lila asked, eyeing the uncomfortable group.
"Yes dear, very good soup," their mother responded, with a polite smile and nod.
"Yeah, fabulous soup," Gabrielle added with a sigh.
"Needs salt," Xena relayed honestly.
"Think so?" Gabrielle's father looked up from his soup with genuine interest. Xena looked at the man who's gaze, unlike his wife's, appeared friendly. She nodded. "Me too," He agreed simply.
"Well, now that you mention it, it does need a little salt," Gabrielle's mother agreed quickly glancing at Xena with a nonchalant shrug.
A surprised Xena looked over to Lila, who shrugged, then Gabrielle, who stared at her soup while quietly sliding the salt dish towards her.
"OH...OH," Lila blurted, almost choked on her soup in her excitement.
"Calm down Lila. We've already established the soup is good," Gabrielle responded, making Xena grin as she added some salt to her soup.
"Very funny. I just remembered... you had two Amazon visitors....Sustra and what was ...." Lila tried to remember.
Gabrielle and Xena exchanged concerned glances.
"Solari dear," her mother added.
"Yeah...They had a message for you." Lila relayed.
"What was the message?" Gabrielle asked.
"They wouldn't say." Lila shrugged.
"Not surprising. Amazons are not very open with information," Xena relayed, causing Gabrielle's father to look up from his soup with interest.
"Where are they now?" Gabrielle asked.
"They are in town at Cumae's Inn," Lila explained.
"Why are they at the Inn?" Gabrielle asked, looking at Xena, considering Amazons usually felt more comfortable outdoors.
"Sarah invited them to stay here, but they refused," her mother relayed with irritation. "Rather rude of your little 'subjects' to refuse an invitation like that."
Xena and Lila cringed as Gabrielle looked blankly at her mother who continued.
"Sarah is your sister you know. But I guess if their 'Queen' doesn't think much of her family, why would her subjects?"
Xena eyed the woman, both shocked and angry at her entirely inaccurate and heartless remark. Not wanting to make things worse for Gabrielle, she debated whether or not to say anything. But looking over to bard who stared blankly at her mother's bowl of soup, her decision was made. As Xena opened her mouth to challenge this woman's hurtful words, Gabrielle's mother stood up.
"Dear, your not finished din..." her husband called to her.
"I've lost my appetite dear, excuse me," she interrupted him and left.
The bard stood up immediately after her mother's departure.
"Gabrielle..." Lila called to her sister.
"I'm going into town," Gabrielle stated calmly. She turned to leave but stopped and looked to her father. "Excuse me?"
With sadness in his eyes, he nodded weakly and Gabrielle left.
As Xena stood up from the table, she glanced down at the two remaining diners. They looked as lost as Xena felt. Xena shook her head and sighed with annoyance before she left to follow her bard.
Xena caught up to Gabrielle as she left the castle.
"Gabrielle?" She asked uneasily, making Gabrielle stop and turn towards her.
"Xena, I'm not interested in talking about my mother right now," she relayed firmly. "What I am interested in is finding out why the Amazons are here," Gabrielle informed her as she started walking back towards town. Xena sighed and followed.
Entering Cumae's Inn, they were immediately greeted by Xena's old friend.
"Well Hades! Look what the cat drug in!" Cumae's voice boomed happily as she came towards the two, giving Xena a huge bear hug.
Even Gabrielle had to smile at Cumae's greeting. Her smile faded, realizing Cumae was allowed that simple indulgence, yet she wasn't.
"You look good yourself Cumae," Xena responded with a smirk.
"Guess you're here to see the Amazons?" Cumae blurted, now giving Gabrielle a bear hug. Gabrielle nodded as the woman released her hold. "Upstairs, second door on the right," Cumae informed her, noticing the usually talkative bard quietly nodding again.
As Gabrielle left up the stairs, Cumae grabbed Xena's arm and pulled her aside. "What's wrong with her? Cat's got her tongue?" Cumae asked with a chuckle.
"Wrong animal," Xena said bluntly, making Cumae even more curious.
"What's going on Xena?" Cumae asked.
"Don't know yet," Xena relayed, her eyes drawn to the stairs.
Gabrielle knocked on the door in a familiar rhythm. It quickly opened. "Your highness! We heard you had arrived." Sustra smiled broadly, bowing slightly. Gabrielle noticed with concern the sword in Sustra' hand, which the Amazon promptly sheathed.
"Sustra, I just got the message you were here to see me. What is going on?" Gabrielle asked, looking in the room to find Solari coming to the door as she was putting her dagger back in her belt.
"We shouldn't talk here," Solari informed her with an air of mystery as she scanned the hallway, finding it clear. "It is best we leave town," she added.
"Why?" Xena asked, appearing out of nowhere and surprising the Amazons, who didn't like surprises.
"Because these walls have ears," Solari relayed gravely.
As the four women walked through the streets, the people of Walsas warmly greeted Gabrielle and Xena with many hello's, glad you're back's, and genuinely warm smiles.
"They like you very much here." Solari eyed the people as they passed.
"I'd like to think so," Gabrielle responded, her curiosity growing with each step. "They are good people."
"And strong, they fought well together against Grickas," Sustra added, assessing the people as they walked by. Gabrielle thought it odd Sustra would bring up Grickas. The man who murdered Sarah's first husband, the King of Walsas, and unsuccessfully attempted to take over the kingdom.
Gabrielle noticed Xena keeping a suspicious eye on the Amazons.
Finally far enough away to satisfy the Amazons, the group stopped at a clearing. Gabrielle and Xena silently looked at each other, then the Amazons. Finally, Solari explained the troubling situation.
"Queen Ephiny has been formally petitioned by Gurda to claim Walsas as Amazon land," Solari blurted with Sustra nodding in agreement.
Gurda was familiar name to the Warrior Princess, who's eyebrow raised.
"What gives Gurda the right?" Gabrielle asked calmly.
"Amazon Law," Solari informed her with a sigh. "Gurda found an old scroll that establishes the Amazon claim for this land, now called Walsas." She motioned toward the land and town. "According to our law...."
"Gurda can challenge the throne if the Queen refuses to claim the land," Xena interjected gravely, her concern not well hidden.
Gabrielle laughed, surprising the three. "How convenient for her. And just where did she find these scrolls?" The bard challenged.
"A northern tribe in Ratheos, they keep a large collection of Ancient Amazon scrolls," Solari explained.
"Ephiny had them brought to Amazonia after Gurda's discovery. Kinda late now," Sustra interjected with a sigh.
"They are mostly boring historical accounts of land and kingdom management. Without battles, they make for poor fireside stories...and I'm afraid our sisters have not been very interested in reading these scrolls," Solari relayed honestly.
"Until now," Xena noted.
"How do we know they're not fake?" Gabrielle asked, starting to feel as uneasy as Xena.
"Trayla has looked over the scrolls very carefully. She believes them legitimate," Solari relayed with a sigh.
"Oh," Gabrielle spoke weakly, trying to think of a good next step.
"Don't worry Gabrielle, Ephiny has no intention of claiming Walsas." Sustra tried to console her.
"Then she'll be challenged," Gabrielle relayed with concern.
"Ephiny can EASILY take Gurda." Sustra laughed, having great confidence in the Acting Queen's skills.
Xena nodded and smiled, agreeing with Sustra. Ephiny would be able to handle this situation and Gabrielle wouldn't have get involved, Xena sighed with relief.
"Yeah but how many challenges can she take?" Solari relayed, shaking her head. Xena suddenly didn't feel so relieved anymore.
"What do you mean?" Xena blurted with irritation.
"Gurda has many Amazons who are loyal to her, and are just as power hungry. If she fails in her challenge of the throne, I don't expect it will be long before they figure out they have same right to challenge the throne over Walsas," Solari relayed.
"I want to read the scrolls myself. There's got to be something Trayla missed," Gabrielle relayed thoughtfully.
"NO!" Xena blurted vehemently. "Once you step foot on Amazon land Gabrielle, Gurda will challenge YOU."
"Gabrielle, this is not like a personal challenge, Xena won't be able to be your champion for a challenge to the throne," Solari quickly informed her that important detail.
"I KNOW," Gabrielle relayed with irritation, eyeing a very unpleased Warrior Princess.
"Gabrielle, this is EXACTLY what Gurda wants," Xena blurted with frustration. "THINK Gabrielle, why else would she choose to go after Walsas. There's got to be other lands that the Amazons have claim to. But she KNOWS Ephiny won't claim the land, she KNOWS you won't want Ephiny to have to constantly defend your sister's land, she KNOWS you will come and ..."
"And she knows she can easily beat me," Gabrielle calmly interrupted, quickly defusing the Warrior's impassioned argument. Though the bard's voice was calm, the look in Gabrielle's eyes revealed great hurt.
Solari and Sustra looked at each other uneasily. Insulting their Queen like that could mean they would have to try to arrest Xena. Or if Gabrielle was in a really bad mood....they really didn't want to think about that.
"Isn't that right Xena? Tell me," Gabrielle challenged the Warrior Princess, who's heart dropped knowing the bard was questioning Xena's faith in her. "Come on Xena. I want to hear you tell me what you think. That I have no chance of winning a challenge. Say it."
"Gabrielle..." Xena spoke with great pain, in her voice and on her face.
"SAY IT!" Gabrielle commanded, finally disclosing her anger and hurt.
With each word, she had managed to injure the woman she loved. Xena's heart ached knowing her next words would be no different. Yet, she had to utter them. She had to convince Gabrielle it was foolish to even risk a fight with Gurda.
"Gurda is a better fighter Gabrielle," Xena admitted with cold honesty.
Solari and Sustra tensed, disturbed by the Warrior Princess' admission.
Gabrielle looked at the ground, drawing in a long breath. She nodded slightly as she exhaled slowly. "I have no desire to fight, Xena." The bard spoke quietly as her eyes lifted to meet Xena's. "But I have no intention of letting Walsas remain a constant thorn in Ephiny's or my side." Gabrielle informed her. "I need to go to Amazonia and review the scrolls myself," Gabrielle explained with unnerving calm and confidence. "I will tell Sarah what's going on. We'll leave in the morning."
"Uh ...Your majesty..." Solari started to question the Queen's wisdom to tell her sister but Gabrielle's piercing gaze immediately silenced the Amazon, who slightly bowed in acquiescence.
"Shall we meet you in the morning at the castle gates?" Sustra interjected, causing Gabrielle to nod before leaving for the castle.
The Amazons stood awkwardly, waiting for the Warrior Princess to explain how this really wasn't such a bad plan. Xena closed her eyes and exhaled. It was a long moment before she opened her eyes again.
"Uh, Xena?" Sustra dared to bother the warrior when she opened her eyes. "What should we do?"
Xena abruptly drew her sword, making the Amazons nervously jump back.
Xena eyed them coldly. "Care to practice?"
Finding her sister in the kitchen putting together a tray of food for Meleager, Gabrielle sighed not knowing where or how to begin. "How's Meleager?" Gabrielle asked.
"There you are," Sarah looked up with relief. "Oh, he's up and very hungry," she relayed with a smile which faded seeing the concern on her sister's face. "I heard about mother at dinner Gabrielle. She had no right to say ...."
"We have to talk." Gabrielle relayed gravely.
"Yes, I know," Sarah agreed reluctantly. "I really had no idea mother still so upset with you. I guess I should have known by how obsessed she is with my Traditional wedding." Sarah relayed with a weary sigh. "She's just wrong to...."
"There you are!" Lila interrupted Sarah, coming in the kitchen. "You know mother was dead wrong to treat you like..."
"Great, she's wrong," Gabrielle interrupted, rolling her eyes. "Now listen, I just found out what the Amazons wanted to tell me," Gabrielle relayed with urgency. "Uh ....you might want to sit down."
The three sat in silence around the kitchen table, staring at their plates of nutbread after Gabrielle explained the situation.
"WOW," Lila finally blurted in amazement, breaking the silence. "You know, one day you'll both look back on this and laugh and laugh and la..." Lila realized her humor was not exactly going over well, from the glares from her sisters and sighed. "Don't worry, you'll figure something out," Lila encouraged her sisters, stuffing her mouth with nutbread.
"I'm not sure what I can do, but ...." Gabrielle relayed with a sigh.
"You'll do your best," Sarah rubbed her temples. "That Gurda sounds pretty dangerous," she relayed with concern.
"Yeah. I'm hoping for a peaceful solution," Gabrielle relayed, picking at the nutbread on her plate. She suspected her continued good health depended on it.
"If not, Sarah could make her a bride's maid," Lila suggested with her mouth full, munching on another piece.
"Huh?" Her older sisters blurted in confusion as Lila slowly sipped her water to wash down the treat.
"Yeah, mother could nag her to death," Lila explained, successfully evoking giggles from her older sisters.
"Yeah, sick mother on her!" Sarah readily agreed, laughing harder as Lila threateningly wagged her motherly finger of reprimand at them.
"She'd nag her to death or at least die trying," Lila added.
"I don't think I hate her THAT much," Gabrielle blurted.
"Gurda or Mother?" Sarah asked seriously. All three howled.
"Well, it would be a toss up on what would kill Gurda first...mother's nagging or the embarrassment of wearing that hideous pink bridesmaid dress!" Lila burst out laughing, making Sarah laugh even louder and almost fall off her chair.
Gabrielle wasn't laughing. "Pink?" Gabrielle questioned her.
Sarah looked up at her sister and took a deep breath as she wiped the tears from her eyes, trying to calm herself long enough to answer her sister. Lila coughed, also trying to regain her composure. Looking at the upset face of their middle sister proved very sobering.
"Uh," Sarah uttered uneasily, then looked at Lila, who's eyes grew wide just before they burst out laughing again.
"You're making me wear PINK?!?" Gabrielle was not amused.
"Uh...it's not so bad...really. Lila looks great actually," Sarah added nervously, with an unconvincing smile thrown in.
"Lila...doesn't...have...RED...HAIR!!" Gabrielle blurted slowly, making her sisters giggle more.
"How could you do this???" The upset bard abruptly stood from her chair, knocking into the table and causing the plates of nutbread to violently lurch.
"Now Gabrielle...stay calm," Sarah held her hands out as if they could deflect her sister's temper. Lila rolled her eyes and sighed, grabbing her plate back.
"You of ALL people, a fellow RED head! How could you!!" Gabrielle snapped. "PINK!!" She blurted as she slapped her hand down on the table punctuating her displeasure with the colour, which happened to hit the edge of her plate of her uneaten nutbread. While nutbread normally doesn't fly, it did take flight long enough to cross the table, hit Sarah square on her chest, and fall down snugly between her ... attributes.
Gabrielle's mouth dropped as Lila coughed on her nutbread. Sarah sighed, looking down at the nutbread. Lila made no effort to contain her amusement. She grabbed her stomach and let out an obnoxious belly laugh that drew stares from her older sisters which stopped her abruptly.
"Now wait just a damn minute!" Lila protested angrily, seeing a familiar conspiratorial gaze exchanged between her older sisters. "What did I do??" Lila quickly got up from the table, realizing if she wanted a chance to escape, now would be the prudent time. With incredible speed, Lila fled from the kitchen.
"Oooff," blurted the fleeing Lila as she barreled into the Warrior Princess.
"What's wrong?" Xena asked, pealing Gabrielle's youngest sister off her.
Lila looked back. "They're plotting again. If you know what's good for you...you'll stay clear of the kitchen," Lila warned, looking over her shoulder at the kitchen. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
Xena sighed and shook her head as Lila proceeded with her escape.
"Boy, Lila is FAST." Gabrielle laughed.
"And awfully nervous...did you notice?" Sarah relayed with feigned concern then chuckled. She sighed when she sat down, eyeing her the nutbread lodged between her attributes, then her sister.
"Uh...sorry," Gabrielle responded with a guilty grimace.
With a unconvinced smirk, the Queen of Walsas proceeded to extract the nutbread. Succeeding in generating a lot of crumbs, she shuddered. "Ugh...where's Meleager when you really need him," Sarah relayed with a smirk at her crumby predicament, making Gabrielle howl.
"Give the poor guy a break, he was just attacked by a Furry Wegget," Gabrielle relayed, wiping tears from her eyes.
"I hope he comes through on the items," Sarah sighed. "Or that will be something else Mother will hang over our heads until we are all visiting Hades." Sarah sighed and giggled her shoulders again, trying to get more crumbs to fall through.
"She wouldn't let death stop her," Gabrielle joked wearily.
"I really am sorry for bringing you here so early. I had no idea," Sarah apologized holding her sister's hand.
"Funny thing is, I was kind of glad to hear she wanted me here, in a masochistic sorta way," Gabrielle joked sadly. "I never meant to hurt her...." Gabrielle relayed with a sigh, wearily rubbing her eyes.
"Gabrielle, you should never have to apologize for living your life. She should have been quite pleased you got back with Perdicus, if you remember how happy she was announcing your betrothal at cousin Huestis' rehearsal dinner," Sarah relayed. "A lot happier than you, as I recall."
"I was EIGHT, Sarah. I hadn't even kissed a boy yet and mother already had my life with Perdicus planned out," Gabrielle complained, shaking her head at the unpleasant memory.
"Yeah...well...it was always mother's goal in life to marry off her three daughters. You know, I was thinking of inviting cousin Huestis to the wedding," Sarah relayed. "Do you think he'll come?"
Gabrielle let out a laugh and shook her head no. "I think he's probably had enough of mother and her Traditional weddings for a lifetime," she relayed making Sarah nod. "Promise me one thing," Gabrielle asked her. "You won't let mother keep you and Meleager from going through with it. I still have nightmares from poor Huestis' fiasco," she sighed and sat back.
"Well, you know what they say, 'For better or worse'...and poor Iphigenia couldn't take the 'worse' part," Sarah remembered.
"Yeah...but the worse is supposed to come after the wedding not during the wedding," Gabrielle relayed grimly. "I would have strangled her if it was my wedding."
"Is that why you didn't want a Traditional Wedding?" Sarah asked with surprise.
"Well, killing your mother, even if justified, would still constitute loss of blood innocence," Gabrielle joked. Sarah sighed and sat back waiting for a serious answer. Sarah's patient gaze caused Gabrielle to shift uncomfortably and look at the table.
"You know," Gabrielle spoke softly, picking through a plate of nutbread crumbs. "Your wedding day is supposed to be a celebration."
Gabrielle looked at her sister and smiled warmly. "Two people... publically declaring their love for each other, in front of the Gods, their family and friends," Gabrielle softly preached her romantic vision. "It's not supposed to be a trial," Gabrielle sighed. "Our village has made the most sacred and wonderful ritual into a painful ordeal. Well, at least mother has seen to it it turns out that way."
Sarah nodded knowingly, quietly listening.
"I don't think I...I don't think we...." Gabrielle stumbled over her words as her eyes filled with tears. She paused and took a deep breath. "I loved him," she added as if needing to convince her sister. "but..." Gabrielle sighed and stared at her empty plate of nutbread. "...if I had to go through all that, to justify my love ...to my family...friends...." Gabrielle sighed and shook her head, leaving many thoughts unspoken.
"Perhaps this Traditional Wedding stuff has its place after all." Sarah smiled with new understanding. "And maybe you'll have one yet," Sarah suggested with a mischievous grin, causing Gabrielle to laugh softly.
"Not likely," Gabrielle laughed, sitting back in her chair and shook her head with an amused smile. "Besides the obvious of not being very traditional, you'd have to call that a public display of affection," Gabrielle informed her sister. "We agreed that public displays of affection were out," Gabrielle added with a sigh.
"NO public displays of affection?" Sarah repeated in amazement.
Gabrielle sighed unhappily and shook her head no.
"None?" Sarah asked.
Gabrielle shook her head no.
"Not even hugging?" Sarah asked, incredulously.
Gabrielle sighed heavily and shook her head no.
"No casual touches?" Sarah asked, almost in shock.
"Xena doesn't want me to be a target...so no public disp.." Gabrielle explained.
"That's the most ridic...." Sarah interrupted.
"Sarah," Gabrielle blurted with irritation.
"And you're HAPPY with that?" Sarah related incredulously.
"I promised," Gabrielle snapped. As Sarah opened her mouth again, Gabrielle quickly stopped any further discussion on that topic. "Drop it," the bard blurted with a warning glare.
Xena heard footsteps approaching. Maneuvering behind the unsuspecting man, she placed her hand over his mouth. "No you don't," Xena spoke quietly in Meleager's ear. Before he knew it, he was no longer entering the kitchen but the library across the hall. When she released him in the library, she curiously eyed the confused man with a raised eyebrow.
"Nice pajamas." Xena smirked, still eyeing his silky yellow pajamas with a big black M embroidered on the right breast pajama pocket.
"Think so?" He looked down and inspected his big M and smiled warmly. "Sarah actually had this made....Hey! Why in Hade's name did you yank me away from the kitchen? I'm starving! I haven't eaten all day." Meleager whined.
"Sarah and Gabrielle are talking." Xena informed him.