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Disclaimers: The characters Xena and Gabrielle are owned by MCA/Universal, and are used here without permission. This is a work of Sapphic fiction. If you are under 18 years of age, you may read this only if a parent is reading it with you.
Emerging from the water, Gabrielle pulled herself up on the stone slab at the center of the secluded cove, and stretched herself out languidly on its surface. The rock might have felt hot, save for the coating of water which now spilled off her and coated the slate. She could feel the mottled sunlight peeking through the canopy above, and it was just enough to warm her from the cold water she had emerged from.
Funny... The last time I was lying on stone like this was in the temple of... Gabrielle stopped her thought where it led. She pushed it out of her mind, and directed her thoughts towards simply existing. She concentrated on the light breeze, and on the prickling sensation of her body hairs drying out, one by one. It felt good.
The sensation of her skin drying all over tickled her with a thousand shadowy itches. All the senses of her skin screamed at her, imploring for her to scratch. If I don't scratch an itch, she wonders, is that a form of denial? Fortunately, she hugs herself, grinning wickedly, I'm such a swell person, I don't have the heart to deny myself anything!
The hollow of a collarbone is rubbed, followed by the gentle slope of a breast, and then the other. Callused fingers slide luxuriantly along sculpted abdominal muscles, and then back up along her sides to her armpits. She caresses a hard bicep with her hand, smiling at its prominence, and then her forearm, and then her other arm. Guiding her knee up, she pulls her thigh to her chest, and then extends her calf as far as she dares, just barely touching her face with her big toe. Her hands start at her ankle and work their way along her skin, brushing a light haze of hair up her calf and cupping around her thighs. Then she lowers her leg and starts on the other one.
Returning her palms to her chest, she distractedly plays with an aureole, letting her mind go blank for an indeterminable time. Then a thought occurs. A mischievous thought. What if these were not my hands? she wonders, dreamily looking up at the sky. What if they were the hands of a lover... my lover? she thinks idly as she closes her eyes. Her hands begin exploring her body as before, but now with new meaning, as a smile spreads across her face.
"Man, what a show!" Hama chortles to himself under his breath. He breaks into a semi-toothed grin as he adjusts his view through the maple leaves. "Baal! Those jugs... that panke..." he sniggers. "They will be mine!" he swears with authority as he fingers his curved dagger.
"They're already taken." Xena coolly notes behind him.
To his credit, Hama whirls around as fast as one could while perched on a tree branch. He brings his stiletto around just as he faces his surprise company, but it is too late.
"Uuukkkkk!!" he chokes as his nerve points are struck.
Xena is about to give him her standard speech, when her eyes go wide. Unable to move, the peeping tom tilts over like a poled ox, sending him on a thirty-foot drop. Xena braces her feet against the tree trunk and launches herself towards the ground, faster than the man is falling. Xena grabs him, focuses her internal power, and holds her breath.
The soft crinkling of six leaves is all that marks the landing of 300 pounds of deadweight on the forest floor. Xena lowers the man to the ground, and darts her intense gaze back at the alcove. Her eyes narrow. Good, she thinks, Gabrielle didn't hear us.
She watches the man shudder as his face turns blue. Sometimes their faces would turn red, and other times blue. It all depends on the timing. I must be pulling my hand to the left, she reflects as the would-be rapist shakingly brings his gaze up to hers.
"Now where was I..." Xena coos. "Oh yes. I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You'll die in seconds... less now, unless you tell me what I need to know."
In short order, Xena learns that he is alone, is a member of the self-styled 'Warlords of Chaos', and that his ne'er-do-well compatriots are some two miles west.
"I'm going to release your points now." Xena says, pausing significantly as she puts her finger to her lips, waiting for his reaction. He nods. She jabs him again.
"Nnn..." he struggles against himself, wanting to scream, but trying hard not to.
"Good boy." Xena commends, crouching before him. Then her expression viciously flares as her hand lashes out faster than sight can track, grabbing his skin just above his left breast and giving a subtle twist.
Anticipating pain, he winces, only to change his expression to surprise as his arms drop to his sides. He cannot feel them! He tries vigorously to command them to rise, to move, but they do not. He looks up in fright at the demon who looms before him. Her gaze is that of a pitiless she-wolf! he realizes in shock and horror.
"I've turned off your ability to move your arms." Xena whispers in a voice of steel. "It'll come back in about a month. But for now, I want you to leave the way you came, without disturbing my friend, and tell your like-minded associates to steer clear of here, or I'll turn off parts of you permanently. You got all that?"
"Nnn-Hnnn. Yes-Yes!" he exclaims, his voice rising, but quiets down as Xena raises her finger to her lips again. Leaving his dagger where it lay, he manages to get up without his arms and backs away slowly into the brush.
Xena watches him until he is gone, gone beyond the trees, far beyond ordinary vision, and then smiles. Crouching again, she vaults straight up the tree and lands lightly on a branch, taking care not to make her ear-rattling battle cry. Finding a comfortable spot, she straddles the branch and swings her legs without a care in the world, contentedly watching her bard.
Gabrielle cradles her hands together and stretches them out as far as she pleases. She feels a leaden sensation leach through her bones, making her want to doze off. But was it safe to sleep here? Was it not madness to lie naked on a rock in the middle of a pool? Were she home in Poteidaia, it would surely be foolish to do so at the local watering hole. Were she in a city, in a public bath, she still would not feel safe. Yet here in the countryside, with not a soul in sight, she felt truly secure reclining on a rock, and catching the lingering heat of the afternoon sun. Why should she not relax so?
For here she was guarded by a protector. Her protector. She did not know where she was, or what she was doing. Xena could be out doing a hundred different things, but Gabrielle knew she was safe. How did she know? Was Xena standing there watching her from the shore? Was she holding her breath underwater three feet from her? She smiled at the thought. None of those things. She simply knew. Knew she was safe, knew she would always be safe, as long as she was with her. And so she dozed off, without concern, and without fear.
"Catch!" Gabrielle calls as she throws the bag to Xena.
Xena easily catches it, and begins shaking the crumbly contents into a stone bowl. Mashing the chunks with her sword pommel, she pours a little water on them and begins stirring the morass into a foam.
"Did you sharpen our razors?" the strawberry-blonde asks, tossing her battle skirt on the shore as she gingerly steps into the water.
"Yes." Xena responds distractedly, stirring her bowl. "They've just about had it, though."
"I know." Gabrielle agrees, looking her razor over. "I can't wait till we get some new ones in Alexandria. Those Egyptian blades are perfect!"
"They're better than what's available at home." Xena observes with a wince, shaking her head.
Stepping out of her wrap-around leathers, Xena joins her bard at the pond shore and offers her the shaving bowl.
"Sometimes I wonder if it is worth the bother." Xena broods, lathering up the bard's legs.
"Because," Gabrielle begins sternly in her best Xena impression, "All of your assets as a woman can be used to distract your opponents in battle, end of quote."
"Uh huh." Xena dryly confirms, reaching up with a flick of her hand to dab some cream on Gabrielle's nose. "You mean you actually listen to my lectures?"
"Always." She responds with an exaggerated grin. "At least, as long as you don't direct those baby blues at me while you're talking."
"You mean like this?" Xena innocently notes as her eyes meet the bard's. She glides her lathered palm up Gabrielle's thigh for effect.
"Especially like that." Gabrielle hastily relents, halting Xena's hand from its upward journey.
Xena busied herself shaving her bard's legs. It wasn't something she asked her to do. She didn't even consider it a chore. She just liked doing things for Gabrielle. On the surface, their relationship seemed unchanged from when they first met, but now... She would always be older than Gabrielle, but they seemed more like contemporaries now than warrior and sidekick. Gabrielle still tended to all of their mundane chores, but Xena felt herself wanting to do more and more for her companion. Ares, and certainly her earlier warlord self, would have called it weakness. She preferred to think of it as something else.
Xena swished the razor in the water, stirring up the ever-growing cloud of foam on the surface. She took the bowl and began lathering herself, only to have Gabrielle take the razor from her.
"That's all right." Xena says quickly, reaching for the blade. "I've got it."
"Xena, you always shave me..." the bard asks, twirling the blade. "Let me shave you, too."
"Uh... alright." Xena relents. "It's really not..." she adds, and then drops her hand again.
"It's just." Xena sighs. "I don't know..."
"Xena... I thought our time of keeping secrets from each other was over." Gabrielle prods with a twinkle in her eye. Then her expression gets serious. "Tell me."
"It's just..." Xena anguishes, and then continues, "Here, look."
Xena was pointing to the back of her thigh, and Gabrielle lowered herself down to look at her leg. "Xena, I don't see what..." and then she looked closer.
"You see?" Xena said wretchedly.
Although she could hardly notice, Gabrielle could see the tell-tale signs of vericose veins starting to show on Xena's legs.
"Oh Xena!" Gabrielle scolds, slapping her leg as sat back on her haunches. "Is that all? It's just spider veins! Come on now, we all get older. It's just a part of life."
Seeing the growing pain in Xena's face, she decides to continue. "You know I'll always love you no matter how you look."
"Then I am getting old." Xena says coldly, looking to the opposite shore.
"Oh, nonsense!" Gabrielle attempts to comfort. "I can hardly see it, what with your tan and all. I didn't even notice until you pointed it out."
"Thanks a bunch." Xena adds, numbly lathering the area in question over.
Gabrielle spun the razor in her hand. What could she say to make Xena feel better? Beautiful women were often insecure with their looks, but Xena was not other women. Sometimes she would let that warrior guard down, and you could see the woman beneath.
"Don't try to play for sympathy with me." Gabrielle chides, trying a reverse strategy. "You'll always be the one who turns heads when we walk into a room."
"Well, you've got me there." Xena allows, giving a crocodile smile when Gabrielle looks up to her. Gabrielle returns her smile.
"Watch it now," Gabrielle warns as she eyes Xena's calf. "I'm the one with the razor."
"Uh huh." Xena responds gloomily.
"To change the subject," the bard brightly continues as she begins shaving Xena. "I hear that Egyptian women shave other things, too."
"Well, yes they do." Xena acknowledges, shrugging her face into a coquettish expression. "But I hear that makes you itch for weeks down there, so I wouldn't try it."
"Huh?" Gabrielle looks up at her in confusion. "Xena, what are you talking about?"
"What are you talking about?" Xena responds in equal bafflement.
"I'm talking about when they're in mourning." Gabrielle replies peevishly, rolling her eyes. "They shave their eyebrows."
"Oh. Yeah." Xena inclines her head without skipping a beat. "I knew that."
"Sure you did." Gabrielle says under her breath as she begins shaving along the back of Xena's rock-hard calf. "Yep." she can't help but add.
"Don't go there, Gabrielle." Xena warns, hinting caution.
"Oh. Wouldn't dream of it." Gabrielle raises her eyebrows. "I mean, I would never comment about where your mind-"
"Drop it, Gabrielle."
"Okay Okay... Sheesh!" the bard mutters, resuming her chore.
Straightening his turban, the leader of the Warlords of Chaos puts his hand on the shoulder of the leather-clad woman before him. Her companion looks anxiously to the raven-haired woman, but she stands rigid. The leader speaks:
"Perhaps we can get a fair price for you... slightly used, eh?" he grins, nodding confidently. The woman doesn't move, but her expression curls into a grin. Perhaps she is ready to beg for mercy, he thinks.
"Unhand those maidens!" a voice shouts from the grove, as a staff cracks into the head of a gang member, doubling him over.
A man charges screaming out of the brush. Waving his staff back and forth in stiff movements, he starts decking gang members left and right. Xena takes the distraction to jab the heel of her boot into the foot of the smelly man standing beside her. That felt good, she thinks to herself, as he opens his mouth in a voiceless scream.
"Sheeee-Yiiiii!!!!" the warrior princess screams as she slams her palm into his face, breaking his jaw.
Gabrielle snaps her foot out and stomps her staff, striking it up to her grasp. She stands ready as she spins it around in her grip, but no one is moving to attack her. They don't see me as a threat, she grins deliciously. Seeing one ruffian turn to attack their rescuer, she acts. Running forward with her staff raised, she jabs it sharply into the man's neck. His vital points hit, he crumples to the ground in jerking spasms as she whirls her staff in a display of intimidation to his friends.
Their "rescuer" takes a cut to his shirt, and desperately whirls his stick in counter, snarling in surprise. He rolls on the ground to separate himself from two converging attackers, only to have to raise his staff to block another strike. An axe cuts into his weapon, cleaving it in two. Wrenching it free, his opponent raises it again, planning to bring it down on the head of the one who would dare oppose the Warlords of Chaos.
Philecus watches his life flash before his eyes, only to see a yard of steel sprout from the gangster's chest. The man pauses in his attack out of surprise, and looks down at the foreign object that now protrudes from his chest. Then it is abruptly withdrawn, and he collapses to the ground lifelessly.
Xena looks at something out of the corner of her eye, and then turns her gaze to the fearful bandit next to her. Keeping her eye on him, she hefts her Chakram up and hurls it away.
The Chakram nicks an inch-deep gouge out of a tree, angling it into the neck of a gangster who was coming out of the bushes. He grasps his throat in pain and surprise as his life spurts from between his fingers.
Gabrielle freezes as hot liquid splashes the side of her face, and begins dripping down her chest. She shudders inwardly as she takes in the tangy scent of blood, shocking her with its familiarity. It's just like when I was in the Cave of Memory, she revulses as she watches the surviving gangsters decide to take to their heels. Within a few moments, all is quiet in the light-speckled grove.
Wearing a brilliant grin, Xena offers a hand to help up her would-be rescuer.
"Thanks. -pant-" He gratefully accepts her assistance, giving an equally wide grin to the beautiful woman before him. He looks at her in wonder, marveling that she is not even breathing hard. "I thought I'd -pant- had it there."
"No problem." Xena warmly responds, looking back to Gabrielle. "We can always use a helping hand." Then she notices the bard is shaking.
"Hey, are you alright?" she asks her.
"Great... Just great." She responds. Gabrielle turns, half her face covered in gangster blood. She slicks her hand along her face, and holds it in front of her, looking at it. She tries to sling the blood off her hand, only to find that it won't come off.
"Ohhhh... Yuck!" she recoils in abhorrence, trying to blink dripping blood out of her eye. She turns and starts to walk over to Argo, nearly tripping on a corpse on the way.
Xena watches her with sympathy, and turns back to their new ally. "She's had a bad day. I'll have a talk with her. What's your name, friend?"
"It's a- Philecus. Philecus." He repeats, watching the girl wander over to their horse. Wow, what a looker! "And what are two lovely ladies like you doing out here, if I may ask?"
Xena smiles at the compliment, and begins inspecting her sword for nicks. "We're on a journey to Alexandria."
"Really? Such a beautiful city. It's worth the trip." he recommends. "Well, my farm is only three hours up the road there. Why don't you and your friend come and join me for supper?"
"Oh, I don't know if we-" Xena dissembles, sheathing her sword.
"Nonsense!" Philecus shushes. "Tell me how long it's been since you've slept in a nice bed, hmmm?"
"Too long." Gabrielle calls out as she rejoins them, toweling her face and bra off. "But aren't you worried about those bandits?"
"No, child!" he beams, as he inspects the pieces of his walking staff. "I know the man that leads them. He is called Gadir."
"Why are men always out raping and killing?" Gabrielle asks in frustration. "Don't they have families to go to? Can't two women simply walk through the forest without being accosted?"
"Hah Heh!" Philecus laughs jovially. "You amuse me, child. Gadir has a family. I've seen his wife." He draws close to her. "She will not be pleased that he's coming home empty handed this time, if you get my meaning..." he adds, drawing his finger across his throat with a mischievous grin.
"I... apologize." Gabrielle manages, patting him on the shoulder. "I just always seem to run into the wrong sort of men."
"You're starting to sound like Glaphyra." Xena wryly observes as she takes Argo by her bridle.
"Perish that thought!" Gabrielle retorts with an amused look, then frowns as she tries to untangle her blood-clotted hair.
"This way." Philecus leads, as Xena and Gabrielle follow.
"Well... Gadir won't be returning home completely empty-handed." Xena remarks, nudging Gabrielle with her shoulder. "I gave him three broken toes."
"Good." Gabrielle beams, mollified somewhat. "Xena... what were those clothes they were wearing?"
"Huh? Oh, I don't know." Xena shrugs. She hadn't really been paying attention to the attire of dead men. Or soon-to-be dead men, anyway.
Gabrielle watches Xena grin and seem to fade out, going into her little world. Sometimes I wonder what's going on in that pretty head of hers, she thinks.
"Hey Philemon, what were those men wearing?" Gabrielle asks.
"It's Philecus." He responds over his shoulder. "And they wore trousers. It's uh, a Persian garment."
"Xena!" Gabrielle whispers conspiratorially. "When they were running away from us, did you see how easily they moved? Those 'trousers' looked so comfortable to wear. I wonder if I could get a pair. Do you think you could see me in-"
"No." the Warrior Princess instantly replies.
"And why not?" Gabrielle asks, crinkling her face.
Xena pauses as she watches Philecus walk on up ahead of them.
"Because I like to see your legs." Xena whispers with a sidelong glance at her.
"But if I wear trousers, I won't have to shave them as often!" Gabrielle revels, clutching her tongue between her teeth at Xena.
"Then I'll stop shaving mine, too."
"You wouldn't dare..." Gabrielle hisses, but catches the mischievous look in Xena's eyes.
"I can play dirty, too." Xena trails off enigmatically as they clear the forest canopy and emerge onto a road. "I still owe you for that one time, remember?"
"You're not still angry about..."
"You mean when I snuggled up and wrapped my legs around you," Xena recites, "and you cried out 'It's a Satyr! A Satyr is on me!'"
"You know I was only joking." Gabrielle chides as she bumps her shoulder back against Xena.
"I just hope you like sleeping in the barn with Argo." The warrior promises with just a hint of menace.
"So Queen Atossa invented trousers?" Gabrielle asks between slurps of broth.
"Yes," the bachelor nods as he places the lid back over the simmering stew. "or so my wife told me."
"You're a very good cook." Gabrielle enthuses, wiping her chin off with the back of her hand. "That must be why your wife married y- Oww!"
Gabrielle winces at Xena's jab, which caused her to bite her tongue. She looks up at Philecus, who smiles sadly in response.
"No, I had to learn how to cook after she died." he says, as if thinking back through the veil of years.
"I'm sorry." Gabrielle apologizes, glancing wretchedly back at Xena. "I didn't know."
"As for why she agreed to marry me..." the farmer trails off, as if in a haze, "I'll never know. But I'm glad that she did." he adds with a somber smile.
"So your wife was educated?" Xena asks to change the subject a little.
"Oh my, yes!" he enthuses, taking off his apron. "She was the scribe to Lady Gera, a prominent member of the Royal Court. She would bring her work home and read it to me."
Gabrielle's eyes flashed as she sipped her cider. Swallowing carefully, she nodded and asked, "Did your wife leave you any um, books?"
"Yes," he says, sitting down, "but sad to say, I had to sell all of her scrolls years ago."
Seeing Gabrielle's expression, he adds "After all, I couldn't read them."
The bard nods and finishes her cider. She stretches back to relax as Xena lightly plays with her shoulder strap.
"You know," Philecus announces, a thought occurring to him, "there is a bookmaker in town by the name of Rodon, who is in search of a bride."
Putting her hands in her lap, Xena looks up at him, and then allows her gaze to slowly trail back to Gabrielle.
"I could put in a good word for you, if you like." He finishes confidently.
"That's quite alright." Xena speaks up. "She's already spoken for."
"She is?" the farmer asks with a puzzled expression. He looks at Gabrielle's hands, but doesn't see any rings on her fingers. "By whom?"
Xena reaches her hand up to the table and takes the bard's with it, never taking her gaze from the farmer. She simply sits and waits for his reaction.
Comprehension seems to dawn slowly across his face, and when it finally does, he almost jumps. "Oh! I mean, ah..."
"Is it a problem for you?" Xena evenly asks, watching him carefully. She hadn't intended to just blurt it out, and now felt extremely silly sitting there as her face reddened.
"Hmmm? N-No.. No, it's not." Philecus considers thoughtfully, rubbing his nose. "It's just... a little surprising is all. Now that I think of it, I have heard of how Greek masters are wont to take an acolyte, as such men are said to do. B-But I didn't know you women also did the same with... young girls."
Now it was Gabrielle's turn to blush, making her think back to her parting with her sister. Lila had warned her against taking Xena as a mentor, rolling her eyes suggestively. She made no bones about what she thought Xena was up to. And Bree had coolly responded that she wanted to be like Xena, to be with her, and see the world with her, and that was that.
Gabrielle knew it was common for wealthy men in large polis like Athens to take a young boy as a pupil. Although it was not spoken of in polite conversation, it was understood that the boys performed other tasks for their masters, tasks that would make a courtesan blush. Then it finally dawned on her what the farmer was assuming.
"That's not why I joined her!" Gabrielle blurts out, then corrects herself, "I mean, we started out as teacher and pupil. Our relationship was strictly Platonic." Hades, that didn't come out quite right, she curses herself mentally. Plato's a bad example.
Reaching out to cradle Xena's grip with both hands, she adds "It started out as a marriage of friendship, but over time it has grown into something more."
"Gabrielle is an adult now." Xena smiles in response to her bard's statement. "I would never take advantage of a child."
"A child?" Gabrielle repeats, withdrawing her hands. "Xena, I'll have you know that I had already passed marriageable age in Poteidaia!"
"No wonder." Xena replies while bugging her eyes out at the bard.
"Hey!" Gabrielle exclaims, her finger pointing. "You are the last one to talk about-"
"Ladies, ladies, please!" Philecus waves his hands, laughing. "You don't have to convince me anymore. My word, you two bicker like old shepherd Malco and his wife!"
Gabrielle grins at that. Despite herself, she gives Xena a nudge with her shoulder.
"Point taken." Xena accepts, pushing her chair back to get up from the table. "If you'll both excuse me, I'm going to go check on Argo."
"Well, I'm not one to judge." Philecus says by way of dismissal, "If you're happy, that's fine with me."
"Very happy." Gabrielle says quietly, watching Xena walk through the hallway.
"Are you coming?" Gabrielle calls through the closed door.
"Right there." Xena calls, coming down the hallway in a cotton robe. Then she notices Philecus coming her way. "Yes?" she asks richly.
"Xena, um, I've been thinking about what you said." Philecus declares, clasping his hands together fretfully. "And I want you to sleep in my bed tonight."
"Sleep in your bed." Xena repeats.
"Yes!" the farmer eagerly replies, his forehead shiny with sweat. "I can sleep in the barn. It's no hardship and-"
"What are you saying?" Xena asks, puzzled.
"Well..." the farmer smiles kindly at her. "It seemed strange to me at first, but I can see now that you are a couple. And that bed in there is made for a couple." He looks away with sadness in his eyes. "Or it was a couple's bed. For me, that bed's been too large for too long. I turn over, and there's room. I turn the other way, and there's more space." Then he stops himself, as if upset he allowed his mind to drift like that. "Well, it would be good for that bed to have a couple again, if only for a little while. Go on, you take the bed, and I'll stay in the barn."
"Are you certain? I can't ask the master of the house to-"
"Of course you can!" he wags his finger. "You'll upset the 'master of the house' more by refusing. It's alright. I'll see you sharp in the morning for breakfast."
Xena watches him go, shaking her head in wonder. There's so many places they could have gone to and gotten a different reaction. Public stoning, exile, or imprisonment come readily to mind. Too readily. Yet here, out in the wilderness between realms, she never would have expected to be met with kindness. Just goes to show I guess, she thinks as she opens the door and enters the bath.
Gabrielle is reclining in a large wooden tub, which appears to have been patched here and there over the years with pitch. She languidly raises an arm up to Xena, trailing water as she moves. "Please, join me. I've been waiting with bells on."
"That makes for an interesting mental picture." Xena banters, closing the door behind her as she unties her robe with deliberate slowness and lets it fall to the floor.
Gabrielle gasps audibly as she takes in Xena's form. Xena's raven mane is kinked out in several uncomplimentary directions, and her makeup is a faded memory. The dirt of the road dusts her legs and arms, her toenails are blackened from the local soil, and her belly button seems to have a nice accumulation of navel lint.
"You look a complete disaster." The bard cheekily observes, grinning evilly.
"Thanks. Your hair is quite a match for my attire, if I may so add." Xena responds as she steps into the tub, wincing at the heat.
"You may." Gabrielle laughs and gives her a splash, well aware that Xena's tolerance for temperatures makes her immune to something as mild as hot water.
Gabrielle watches Xena slip completely in and dunk her head underwater, scrunching her legs past the bard's body in several interesting ways. Then she surfaces, and slicks her hair back. Clearing the water from her eyes, Xena notices that Gabrielle has a peculiar expression on her face. She wonders why for a few moments until she nearly jumps a foot out of the water.
"Gabrielle!" Xena admonishes, hastily pushing the bard's foot from between her legs. "You do that again, and you'll have Philecus in here to see what's going on. We're supposed to be bathing, remember?"
"Uh huh." The bard nods unrepentantly. "I heard your little chat with him outside. He's giving us total privacy. I heard him."
"Well, I do need to get clean." Xena responds, reaching over the side to the shelf, which contains strange little lumps. She picks one up and sniffs it. It's a piece of pine soap, pressed into the shape of a seashell. She starts to rub it between her hands.
"No!" Gabrielle yelps, trying to take it from her. "You're not supposed to use that! It's for decoration!"
"Well what's it here for if we're not supposed to use it?!" Xena asks irritably, palming the soap to her bard, only to have the younger woman drop it into the water.
For a moment, Gabrielle says nothing, but simply looks at Xena as an expression begins to creep across her face. Xena motions with her eyebrows for Gabrielle to get it, and Gabrielle wiggles her eyebrows back, for Xena to get the soap. Finally Xena asks:
"Are you sitting on the soap, again?"
"I don't know what you mean." The bard innocently responds.
"You know I'll have to find it."
"Time to put those many skills to use, then." Gabrielle says simply, sighing with great exaggeration as she folds her arms behind her head.
"Uh uh." Xena shakes her head. "I'm not falling for that again." she adds as she reaches over to the counter and takes another piece of soap. Gabrielle sighs.
"C'mon, turn around so I can wash your hair." Xena asks, spinning her finger in the air.
Gabrielle dunks her head underwater and surfaces, slowly scooting around the tub until her back is to Xena. She pushes against the tub with her feet, launching her bodily against Xena. Xena responds instantly to her contact, wrapping her legs contentedly around Gabrielle's sides. Rubbing her hands together, Xena lathers up the soap and then begins sudsing the bard's water-darkened locks.
Such a simple thing to wash Gabrielle's hair, but she took great pleasure in it. Hands which could maim or kill were now devoted to a simple task, a delightful task. She knew Gabrielle liked having her scalp massaged, but it was more than that. To Xena, this simple task seemed a luxury that she would never get tired of. It was life-affirming to her.
She took the bucket at the side of the tub and began filling it and dunking the contents over Gabrielle's head. When she was sure she got all the soap out, she sudsed her hands again and began washing the bard's face. Carefully avoiding her eyes, she let her submerse herself again when she was done.
"Sit up a little." Xena asked.
She began washing Gabrielle's shoulders, enjoying the feel of muscle tone along her trapezius and collarbone. She lathered her hands again, and cupped the bard's breasts. Xena not so much lathered them as squeezed them out of her grip. As her soapy fingers played across now-prominent nipples, Xena smiled to herself. Earlier in our relationship, this would have been an unstoppable turn-on to me. I would be taking her right now, and probably sending all the water out of the tub. She lost herself in the pleasant thought. Now that I feel more relaxed around her, washing her breasts has simply become another chore to do. They're just lumps of fat, after all. I wonder, does this make us an old couple? I've heard of how long-time mates slow down after a while, and are only intimate once a week, if that. I've never had a long-time mate. They've always died on me for some reason, or I've ordered them killed. She smiled ruefully at that. I never thought our relationship would need some spicing up, but it may come to that. Maybe I could dress provocatively. No wait, I'm already dressing in leather. So much for that. I wonder...
"Xena?" Gabrielle inquires.
"Hmmm?" Xena murmurs distractedly.
"I think they're clean now." The bard hints, as Xena's fingers continue little circles around her aureoles. It was nice at first, but the soap was really starting to irritate her.
"Oh. Sorry." Xena apologizes, sliding her hands down Gabrielle's ribcage. "I got a little distracted."
"Well, when they stop distracting you, then I'll get worried." Gabrielle sighs as she sits up out of the water, so that Xena can wash her belly and back.
Xena thinks of a rejoinder, but wisely keeps it to herself. Instead, she whittles the soap between her hands again, continuing her most pleasant of tasks.
Xena begins undoing the straps of her leather undergarment, when all of a sudden a piece of fabric lands on her head. "What's this?" she asks, pulling it off.
"It was Habrosyne's." Gabrielle responds, not looking up from her parchment. "Philecus said you could have it."
"Hmpf. Doesn't look like much." Xena says skeptically, stretching the opaque fabric out. "And I thought my leathers were revealing."
"That's the idea." Gabrielle says, taking her quill between her teeth. "Ah!" she exclaims to herself, finding something to pen down.
Completely undressed, Xena slips the flimsy garment up her legs and over her hips, smoothing the texture over her skin. Nice, she thinks. From Warrior Princess to Warrior Mistress.
"How do I look?" Xena asks her companion, doing a small pirouette.
"Mmm Hmm." Gabrielle murmurs , looking down again quickly. "If I really tell you what I think, I'll never get done writing this."
"Might be worth it." Xena opines, clambering under the bedsheets beside her.
"What'cha writing?" she asks interestedly. "A narrative?"
"No, it's more of a... I don't know." Gabrielle hem-haws as she chews on her quill again. "Some more love poetry."
"Oh really?" Xena hushes. "I think I like this..." she whispers as her hand begins a playful exploration of the bard's figure.
"Cut it out!" Gabrielle convulses, fidgeting away. "If you tickle me I'll never finish this!"
"Sorry." Xena excuses, withdrawing her hand. She watches the bard's features for a moment. "What's the inspiration?"
"Um, Philecus gave me the idea." Gabrielle gave her chirpy half-chuckle as she wrote. "I think it's pretty funny... That he thought I was just some teenage girl you seduced."
"I refuse to answer that on grounds that it might incriminate me." Xena says to her in a mock serious tone.
Gabrielle puts her quill down and looks at Xena strangely, raising one eyebrow. Xena keeps her face for a moment, and then breaks into a brilliant grin.
"Anyway, I'm writing about my first experience... with another girl." Gabrielle said softly.
Xena felt her heart almost skip a beat. Gabrielle was reluctant to even discuss her brief marriage to what's-his-name, let alone her adolescence. Xena had never inquired about what it was like for her growing up in Poteidaia, being "different" from the other girls, as she had later admitted. In truth, she was afraid to ask. She was comfortable with Gabrielle being her true love now, and that was enough. Gabrielle twisted the wick up in the lamp a bit, and continued to write, as Xena patiently waited for this latest scrap of information from her bard.
"Mmmmm... done." Gabrielle decides after proofing her writing. She hands the mottled parchment to Xena.
Xena reads it aloud:
Melitta drew close to me betwixt the covers, and whispered to my ear in a manner most conniving:
'Gabrielle, tell me, tell me whom you love.' she urged.
'Try to guess.' I whispered raptly to her. 'He's fair, and blonde, and tall...'
She slipped her thigh across my own to warm me sweetly. And she whispered into my mouth: 'I know, Bree, whom you love. Close your eyes, for I am Lykas.'
I answered, touching her, 'Can't I tell that you are just a girl? Your joke's a clumsy one.'
But she went on: 'Truly I am Lykas if you close your lids, here are his arms, here are his hands... '
Xena paused in her narrative as her breath caught. She cleared her throat and resumed:
And tenderly, in the silence, she flushed my dreaming with a stranger dream.
Xena was silent for several moments. Gabrielle watched her face carefully during her reading, looking for any reaction. Xena's expression never changed, but now her gaze could not meet the bard's, and she was looking at their sheets.
"Well?" the bard asks.
Xena did not say a word, but leaned over to snuff out the lamp, and all was darkness. Gabrielle heard the rustling of fabric, the shifting of the weight on the bed, and then felt the indescribable sensation of Xena's thigh sliding intimately along her own. She felt a fingertip brush her lips in the dark.
"Truly, I am Xena..." she whispers inches from the bard's mouth. "Here are my arms, my hands, and you are my heart."
The scroll clattered to the floor.
Xena arrives in the kitchen next morning, surprised to find Philecus already up. He glances up at her while beating some eggs.
"Early enough for ya?" he grins at her.
"Yes, it's fine." Xena slowly responds. "It's just that I'm used to waking up earlier than anyone else."
"Well, that's our way, too." the farmer notes.
Gabrielle slips a nightgown on and shuffles out of bed, rubbing the sands of sleep out of her eyes. On the way out, she stumbles into the door and catches herself. Drawing herself up to her regal Amazon height, she opens the door and strides out into the hallway.
Upon entering the kitchen, Gabrielle is surprised to see Xena helping Philecus make breakfast. It's about time somebody made breakfast other than me, she thinks groggily as she slumps into a chair.
"Sleep well?" Philecus asks. Then he remembers the woman helping him was her bedmate, and mentally curses his foolish tongue.
"MMm- Sort of. I had a bad dream." Gabrielle mumbles, pushing her clumped hair out of her eyes as she reaches for a glass of water.
"What was it about?" Xena asks, careful not to let any concern show in her voice.
"I dreamed I got turned into a giant bird." Gabrielle wretchedly responds, slumping her head against her palm.
"What kind of bird?" the farmer asks.
"Well that doesn't sound so bad." Xena offers as she chops bits of ham at an impressive speed.
"Yeah, well," The bard continues, "I spent the whole dream pinning bunny rabbits with my claws and tearing their heads off with my beak."
"Well, as long as you've worked up an appetite!" Xena suggests as she places a steaming plate of bacon and eggs before the bard.
Gabrielle thanks her, as Xena also brings her a napkin and a vial of salt. She thanks her again.
"You're welcome." Xena cheerily responds, starting to whistle as she goes about her routine.
What's going on with her? Gabrielle ponders. Then she shrugs and eagerly digs into breakfast.
"Ready?" Gabrielle asks, bowing to her opponent.
"Ready." He responds, bowing low to the incredibly sexy girl before him.
"Hah!" Gabrielle cries out as she begins with a staff-play classic, which the man before her recognizes and easily blocks. Grinning at each other now, they begin circling as Gabrielle tests his defense with a series of feints.
Philecus warily blocks and probes lightly with his own attacks, careful to keep his eyes locked with the girl's. If he didn't, his eyes would be drawn to her incredible figure. That must be the idea, he thinks wryly to himself as he quickly backs up, to avoid being dumped on his butt.
Xena calmly watches their staffs clash, pleased that Gabrielle had a sparring partner other than she. While Gabrielle knew she was holding back during their practices, Xena had to admit that Gabrielle could block about seventy-five percent of her attacks now. It wouldn't save her from the follow-up blow or the other twenty-five percent, but it was quite an achievement nonetheless.
When Lao Ma healed my legs those many years ago, Xena reflected, she gave me a portion of her own internal power, her essence of Chi. It has saved my life many times over, amplifying my own skills and those that M'Lilla taught me. If only I were powerful enough to transfer some of that power to you, Gabrielle. Your life would never have been in danger from that poisoned Persian arrow. But I expended most of my store of Chi in Ming Tien's court, and that took years to accumulate. How many more years will you stay lucky, and unharmed? If only I could give you some of my essence, I could keep you safe.
"Oof!!" Philecus bellows, as despite his best efforts, he finds himself planted on his rump with a smarting forearm for his trouble.
"You have to keep your grip level after the undersweep." Gabrielle lectures, tapping her staff on the ground. "Or else you leave yourself open to that."
"Beaten by a slip of a girl." Philecus laughs. "I'm glad my neighbors can't see me."
"That's not just any girl." Xena warns with a smile. "That's the Queen of the Amazons."
"You're an Amazon?" Philecus asks, motioning for her to continue as he gets up. "It explains a lot."
"Oh? Like-- what!" she shouts as she jabs him in the midsection. He dodges, just enough to escape the brunt of the blow. "What have you heard about us?"
"Nnnn! For one thing..." he recounts, circling around her as she follows him intently. "Amazons are said to cut off one of their breasts so they'll have a freer sword-arm!"
The distraction works beautifully, knocking Gabrielle's timing off enough for him to catch the back of her knee with his staff, taking her legs out from under her. Gabrielle refuses to allow him to follow through, defensively rolling on the ground and translating her movements into a counter.
Philecus almost does a double-take as his advantage is cut off, his attack blunted, and faster than a heartbeat he finds himself on his back once again, staring up at the sky. The polished end of a staff hovers over his nose, with Gabrielle standing over him, panting.
"I surrender!" he exclaims, holding his hands in like fashion.
"That's just a rumor spread by the Greeks that we defeated." Gabrielle explains, helping him up. "They also say Amazons cripple their boys at birth to prevent them from taking over. Not true. And as you can see, I have both of my breasts."
"Well, you've got me there!" the farmer grins widely at her. He draws a dipper of water for her from his well, and then for himself.
Xena shakes the farmer's hand and thanks him for his hospitality, and Gabrielle stands up on her toes and gives him a kiss.
"You've been a wonderful host to us." Gabrielle enthuses, smiling as Xena mounts Argo.
"Oh, it's been plenty treat enough for this sod-caked farmer to have such beauties at his home!" Philecus chuckles, marveling as he looks up at Xena. "Oh, that reminds me."
He fishes around in a bag for something, and pulls it out and gives it to Gabrielle.
"A scroll!" Gabrielle notes, taking it. The texture is of parchment, not papyrus, indicating high quality. "What is it?"
"It's something my wife had for a book she was going to write." Philecus sadly notes. "But she never got the chance. When I sold her other material, I forgot she had this tucked away in her desk."
"Thanks." Gabrielle gives him a final hug, making Xena clear her throat. Gabrielle releases him and, taking her fighting staff, begins to depart with Xena.
"Wait!" Philecus cries out as Xena starts to trot Argo. "Before you go, I must seek a blessing for your trip. To do so otherwise would be bad fortune!"
Xena stops Argo and wheels her around, as Gabrielle leans on her staff to listen.
"I call now for the blessings of the one who sits on high... the one, true god!" he intones with awe, gesturing up at the sky dramatically.
The women look at each other, as Xena rolls her eyes and Gabrielle starts picking her teeth distractedly with her fingernail. They've heard this speech before.
"The one, true god... Chemosh! And his consort, Asherah!" Philecus shouts, waving his staff. "May they speed you on an uneventful journey!"
Xena chuckles under her breath, and catches the grin that is quickly hidden on the bard's face. "Thanks, Philecus. We appreciate it. Be well."
Xena flips Argo's reins, as she and her companion resume their endless journey.
"Oooo... Aha!... Yup." Gabrielle murmurs while reading her new scroll, causing Xena to look over occasionally as she trots Argo beside her.
"Give me a break!" Gabrielle cries out again, laughing, causing Xena to finally interrupt.
"What?" Xena asks, now interested in what the bard was reading. "What is it, anyway?"
"Oh. Well..." Gabrielle mulls while nibbling a hangnail. "It appears Philecus' wife was working on a book on 14 noteworthy queens, all of them warriors. This scroll is little more than a bunch of obituaries. It must have just been a reference."
"So you think she wrote this, too?"
"Oh, definitely." The bard gushes, "This was not written by someone like Euripides. Every woman in here is described by her bravery or intelligence."
"So?" Xena asks.
"So?!" the bard responds. "There is no mention in here at all about what these women looked like, what their sexual adventures were. It's quite unusual!"
"Unusual as opposed to what?" Xena asks, smiling. "I hope you're not putting down my sexual adventures in your scrolls."
"Please. I have standards to maintain as a respectable bard." Gabrielle asserts suggestively.
"I think I'll pass on that line of discussion." Xena concedes. "Tell me about one of them."
"Well..." Gabrielle demurs, looking through the scroll. "Most of them are pretty boring... Ah! Here's one like you."
"-Ahem!- When Queen Nitocris learned her brother had been murdered by Egyptians, she invited the men responsible to a feast that was in an underground chamber. There she opened a channel and let the river in on them."
"Nitocris of Babylon?" Xena interjected.
"That's someone else. This Nitocris was Egyptian."
"Okay. Then what happened?"
"It says she flung herself into a room with ashes."
"Ashes? What does that mean?" Xena asks, confused. "Were they hot ashes? Was she killing herself? Or did she jump into the ashes for safety?"
"It doesn't say." Gabrielle shrugs. "I wish there was more detail here."
"I'll say. Your account of our battle with Agathon was thicker than that entire scroll."
"Don't remind me." The bard winces. "I got writer's cramp recounting all the twists and turns from that one."
"Rattle off some names to me." Xena prompts, "Maybe some of them will ring a bell."
"Let's see... Rhodogyne, Elissa, Artemisia, Thargelia-"
"Wait! I know her." Xena exclaims. "Or knew her, anyway. What does it say about Thargelia?"
"Thargelia, the Milesian." Gabrielle begins, reading aloud. "She ruled Thessaly for 30 years after the death of the king, Antiochus. When the Persian king came to attack Greece, she received him and sent him away, in no way diminished."
Xena waits patiently, and then looks to her bard. Gabrielle was done reading, and is looking back at her. "What, that's it?"
"It figures." Xena ruefully comments. "Let me tell you why Xerxes decided to leave her kingdom unharmed."
"Xerxes was the Persian?" Gabrielle asks in surprise.
Xena nods, smiling deliciously at her. Nothing held her bard's attention more than an exclusive story.
Gabrielle starts to run forward, but Xena grabs her and holds her back.
"But why?" the bard asks, looking again to the scene on the other side of the trees.
Seven men were throwing a cowering victim back and forth between them. Each time the man was caught, he received a brutal punch or kick, to the accompanying laughter of all.
"He needs our help!" Gabrielle insists, stroking the furry wrapping of her staff.
"No, he doesn't." Xena observes, letting her go. "He's trying to join their gang. It's his initiation."
"Oh." Gabrielle realizes, watching as the man takes a hard kick to the groin. "Well, whatever floats your boat."
"Come on." Xena urges, spurring Argo. "We've got to hurry if we're going to make Iberia before dark."
They arrived at the sprawling village just before dusk, and it looked pretty much like the others they have come through recently. On the outskirts lived the poorest of the poor, further in resided the merchants and moderately well-off. Off to the right was the open market, and off to the left was the local temple/palace. Xena obtained boarding for them while Gabrielle waited outside with Argo. Even here it was not safe to leave a horse by itself. Xena returned with a stablehand, whom she let lead Argo off to the stables. The two women went into the adjoining tavern to get a bite to eat.
"You want me to ask the bar owner if he needs a storyteller?" Xena asks as she stomps an outstretched foot on the way in. The drunken owner of that foot correspondingly reaches for his injured member and keels over in a stupor.
"Nah..." Gabrielle waves as she steps over the sot. "I'm sick of telling stories to a tavern audience."
They pass one table with a particular denizen, who directs his reddened vein-streaked face at them.
"What's a matter?" he asks. "You too good for us here?"
"Yes." the Amazon Queen responds without blinking. She starts to move past him, but he grabs her arm as she passes.
That was a mistake, Xena thinks as she watches with detached amusement. Gabrielle allows her arm to travel in the direction he is pulling it, only to imbue it with much greater speed.
Gabrielle and Xena resume walking through the tavern until they reach an empty table, leaving the man behind them clutching his nose.
"You didn't break it." Xena observes as they sit down.
"Xena, when will you learn that I am devoted to non-violence?" Gabrielle chides, sitting down. A clunk sounds behind Xena, and Gabrielle looks to see that the man she had hit was now facedown on his table. "Oops."
"It's the thought that counts." Xena dryly observes as a burly man comes up to their table holding a tray.
"Good evening, my name is Sardanapalus. I'll be your server tonight." He notes as he places two mugs of water before them. "Would you like some time to peruse the menu?"
Xena looks at the menu, which is carved into the table. She points to two items, and looks to see what Gabrielle is getting.
The bard has her finger in her mug. Removing it, she sees that her finger now wears a thin coat of mud. With the server waiting for her choice, she wipes her finger off on her bra without comment and points to the bottle of wine and bowl of soup.
"Thank you." he bows obsequiously. "If you need anything else during your meal, please let me know."
"I'm glad to see you open yourself up to new cultures, Gabrielle." Xena commends as she takes a gulp from her mug.
"How is that?" the bard asks, tracing her finger around the menu.
"You just ordered the goat horn stew."
"Goat horn stew?" the bard asks skeptically, wrinkling her nose. "How do you know that?"
"It's on the menu."
Gabrielle looked closely at the carved menu. There was her picture of soup, and over it was a picture of a goat's head.
"I thought that was separate."
"Live and learn." Xena smiles as she swallows the rest of her water with one swig. "If it's any consolation, this region is renowned for its goat horn stew."
Gabrielle gives her a look, and then settles onto her stool, drumming her fingers on the table.
After an interminable time, their meals are brought to them. Gabrielle eyes her stew with suspicion, but she doesn't want Xena to rag her for being fussy. Taking her wooden spoon, she tentatively slurps the murky stew.
"Well?" Xena asks between chomps of mutton.
"Mmmm. It is good goat horn stew." Gabrielle decides, hunger overriding doubt. She dips the spoon in again, this time producing a round little eye. The eye spins in a circle, looking at her.
Xena looks up from her meal only to see the bard fling something with her spoon across the room.
The eye lands with a splash in a pewter mug. A pewter mug held by a man. A large man. A man wearing strips of copper and bronze banded mail. He sets his mug down, looking down his nose at the ale dripping off it. Pushing his stool back, he gets up, looking around the room.
Gabrielle is trying to pick through the rest of her soup, when a mug is slammed on the end of the table. Liquid splashes out, along with a little eye. The eye rolls across the table and bumps into Xena's hand.
"Excuse me, ladies. I believe this is yours?" the man growls, drawing himself up to his full height.
At this moment, Sardanapalus arrives. "Will Sir and ladies be interested in an appetizer tonight?"
Xena covers her face with her hand. I'm getting too old for this.
Gabrielle hovered in the mist, her staff tightly gripped in her hands. A figure appeared before her, a menacing figure. Crying out, she decked him with her staff, only to have another take his place. And another, and another, and still another, and it seemed endless as they continued coming at her, reaching and grasping in voiceless moans. Growling a guttural Amazon war cry, she unleashed a veritable whirlwind of blows, sending them all tumbling around her. They all laid in neat piles as she stepped around them, although for some reason she couldn't see her legs as she walked. She began looking them over to make sure they were all dead.
Towering over one assailant, she was surprised to recognize him. It was the farmer, Philecus. He looked up at her with watering eyes. She could tell from his expression that she had crippled him. Somehow, she knew that he was maimed for life, and would never walk again. Lifting the end of her staff to his trembling chin, she propped his mouth open. Shifting her grip, she positioned her staff over his open mouth and began pushing it in. It is a mercy... she thinks to herself as his eyes widen in terror. She leans in with all of her weight, and pushes down hard. It is a mercy, it is a mercy, a mercy a mercy a mercy a mercy a mercy...
"No!!" Gabrielle cries as she sits bolt upright in total darkness. "What is this place?!" she cries again, feeling the darkness press in on her like a great weight.
"I'm here, Gabrielle, I'm here!" Xena calls to her in the darkness, groping out blindly. Finding her with her arms, she pulls the younger woman to her.
"Death is not a mercy, Xena!" she sobs into the warrior's chest. "Death is not a mercy, it's not a mercy, it's..."
"It's alright. I know it's not." Xena comforts in bewilderment, herself jolted out of a pleasant dream and completely clueless about what her mate was talking about.
"It's alright." She comforts again, gently rocking the bard with her as all her systems became fully awake. While trying to calm Gabrielle down, she had to calm herself down as well, her own heart pounding in her chest.
"It's alright. Just go back to sleep." Xena coos as she pulls the bard down to her to nestle her against her chest. Gabrielle snuffles a wet nose against her breast and begins to relax, as Xena strokes her hair. Within a minute, she was back to sleep again.
And Xena laid there fully awake, every sense alive and active, her eyes darting back and forth in the darkness, searching for she knew not what. She used to have dreams like that, dreams that would wake her in a terror or in a confused sweat. After she switched bodies with Callisto, the nightmares had stopped. She still dreamed, but only rarely. Either that, or they were not interesting enough to remember in the morning.
Gabrielle had been sleeping like this for months, ever since she had been raped by Dahak. Despite all their adventures and mutual expressions of reunion and closeness, at night Gabrielle's sleep was often not a restful one. Even going to Illusia and The Cave of Memory could not fully ease her pain. Like she said, she had wanted to keep the good memories with the bad. It was inevitable, Xena knew, she foresaw it from the day she met the chatty storyteller. In fact, that was why she had tried to shoo her away at first. She knew that in their travels that Gabrielle would become hardened, become callused, and quieter. That she would see horrors to curl the very soul. So much pain, so much blood. Could any innocent, even one as resilient as Gabrielle, remain untarnished from traveling with her? Malignance swirled around Xena, it was attracted to her. And anyone with her would be subject to its ravages as well. It was inevitable.
Put a rusty sword in its scabbard, and in time the scabbard would also rust. Do I not tarnish everything around me? She cursed inwardly. My loves, my son, and now my soulmate. Must I lose everything I hold dear?
Xena ran her fingers along the bard's shoulder until she found the delicate traces of the scar on her chest. The scar that went all the way through to the other side. So close... she mused. I came so close to losing you. Yet it could happen again. Easily. Like I told you long ago, people in our profession don't live very... long...
Xena felt herself drifting off, then suddenly awoke with a start. What if we were no longer in my profession?
Xena took a solid crack from the bard's staff across her back, doubling her over. She rolled with the attack and spun to face her, barely bringing her guard up in time. The staff was in her face again, and once again she batted it away with her sword, careful not to cut it in half like she would with anyone else. Something seemed off though, and there was that staff again, darting for her face.
"Ay-Yi-Yi-Yi Yip!" she keened as she executed an incredible backflip that took her out of harm's way, and landed her twenty feet away from her sparring partner.
"Alright, that does it!" Gabrielle avows, throwing her staff to the ground. "What is with you today?"
Xena lowers her sword as the bard storms up to her. Gabrielle's hackles are all red as she stands panting before her, coated in a sheen of workout sweat.
"Whatever happened to 'How are you feeling Xena, do you want to talk about it?'" Xena slurs as she walks beside the Amazon Queen.
"I've known you long enough to know that the 'sensitive chat' stuff doesn't work." Gabrielle asserts. "So spill it. Tell the bard what the burr is under your saddle."
Across the way Argo neighs as if the question were directed to her. Both women warriors look to the horse, and then smile at each other.
"Well put." Xena chuckles, flicking her towel up to her face and wiping herself off. "I've been thinking."
"That's always a-"
"Don't say it." Xena admonishes, throwing the towel to Gabrielle. "I have been a little distracted."
To emphasize her point, Xena walks back a few steps, and then seems to carelessly fling her sword at the tree behind Gabrielle. The bard spins as the sword flies past her.
-Vwoop Vwoop Vwoop Vwoop!-
The sword hits the tree broadside with a splang, and drops straight down into the scabbard beneath. Gabrielle holds her breath for a moment as she takes it in, and then turns back to Xena, who has an impudent look on her face.
"Okay. Distracted for you." Gabrielle admits, putting her hands on her hips. "Well?"
"Gabrielle," Xena begins wearily, facing her directly, "have I paid my Debt?"
"Your... debt." Gabrielle repeats slowly, looking down her nose at her. "You mean with Lao Ma?"
"No, I mean with you." Xena continues with an awkward expression on her face. "I meant those things that I said to you when we were fighting the Persians. I'm done paying for my past mistakes. My responsibility now is you."
"What do you mean?"
"Through all our travels, you've willingly placed yourself in danger to be at my side. Through all the people and places, you've been with me. You've been here for me. But I haven't been here for you. I want to change that."
"What would you change?" Gabrielle readily answers. Perhaps too readily, she ponders to herself, but it was too late to take that back.
Xena looks at her for a moment, as if taken by surprise. "By giving up our life as we know it." Xena explains with intensity. "To settle down, and live the quiet life together."
"You mean... stop helping people." Gabrielle prompts while shaking her head, not clear on Xena's meaning.
"No, I mean..." Xena stops, rethinking her words. "Yes, we'd still help our neighbors, the people who live around us. But we'd stop our wanderings. We'd have a home."
Gabrielle was shocked into silence for a moment. "You're really serious?" she asks, incredulous. "You'd do that for me?"
Xena rushes forward and takes the bard's hand. "For you? I... I'd move the world, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle lets her hold her hand for a moment, searching the warrior's eyes. Finding them steady, she shakes her head and pulls her hand away. Gabrielle turns around, and then back again to the Warrior Princess.
"Why now? Why didn't you ask this before? Long before?" she asks with narrowing eyes. "I could have done without our last couple of adventures, you know."
"I... know." Xena agrees reluctantly. Then she lifts her gaze up to the strawberry-blonde again. "But I... already did."
"You did?" Gabrielle asks in astonishment. "When?"
"When I let Perdicus take you from me." She says simply, looking away.
Gabrielle let the words churn through her mind, digesting each one. She thought they had laid him to rest, in several ways, long ago. But now she realized she was mistaken. Not knowing how to respond, she just waited for Xena to continue.
Xena turned back to her, having found her words. "Yes, I walked away! I put aside my own needs, my own feelings, so that you might find some measure of happiness, a life of your own. A life that was not a shadow of mine."
"I was happy with you." Gabrielle says in a toneless whisper, her emotion catching in her throat.
"And I you." Xena responds hotly, whether she meant to or not. "But I couldn't give you what you needed. A home, a family! I was too busy roaming the land, helping the indigent, remember? I was on my quest, my crusade to atone for past misdeeds, and all that! You know the drill: villains beware, the Warrior Princess is here!"
Gabrielle was shocked into silence by her display. It just seemed to be gushing out of Xena like a river, and she found herself not wanting to dam it. Hey, she thinks, I should write that down.
"And along comes Perdicus!" Xena snarls, forgetting any reverence for the dead, "With all his, forgive me, nonsense about never standing up in defense of himself, laying down his sword, and being done with fighting. And I looked over at you, expecting you to roll your eyes, expecting to see a joke coming from you, only to see something else."
She paused as she locked eyes with her bard. "I saw his words resonate in you. I saw the effect it had in you. And despite myself, so help me, I liked what I saw. I knew you were also tired of fighting. Tired of all the blood, the disappointments, the pain. I knew you were sick of it all, the would-be conquerors, thugs, rapists, and Zeus knows what else we encountered week after week after week!"
Xena saw her words having an effect on the bard. Whether it was a desired effect, she did not know. She didn't even know if saying all this was right to begin with, but she had to continue.
"I couldn't shield you from that, protect you from that. I couldn't give you a home. I couldn't give you a family. He could."
Gabrielle held her hand up, as if to wave away the pain in Xena's reddening eyes.
"I refuse to let you flagellate yourself over this!" Gabrielle insists. "The past is the past. Yes, a part of me still loves him, but he's dead! He's dead, and I'm with you now. You. Even death couldn't keep us apart, Xena."
"I know." Xena relents, her gaze roving the countryside. Then her expression hardens again. "But can you say that ever since he died, on all the paths we've taken, you have not been harmed on the way?"
"I... only know that I need you." Gabrielle dodged. Then her voice grew determined. "And I know that there are many other people out there who need you, too. That's what we're here for."
"Are we?" Xena asks sharply, pacing around her. "I made the right decision when I let you go to Perdicus. I've always known that, and I still believe it. This is not the life I want for you! And I'm making the right decision now."
Xena drew herself back for a moment, exhaling deliberately. "Are you saying that you don't want to settle down with me?" She knew it was childish to ask, but it felt good to say.
"You know the answer to that." Gabrielle responds with an amused glint in her eye. "Oh... I want to tell you..." she trails off wistfully, then remembers where she was trying to go with this. "But the world needs you Xena, people need you. Yes, even more than I need you."
"Am I being selfish?" Xena asks rhetorically. "Is it being selfish to want some measure of happiness in my life? In your life? I'm not a super-woman, Gabrielle. I'm not a Goddess. I'm only one person, a mortal. I can't be everywhere at once. I can't be everything at once! Warrior, Peacemaker, God-Slayer, and lover to you? It's too much!"
"Don't forget Beauty Pageant Contestant."
Xena cast her a withering glance, and Gabrielle backs away with her hands up.
"Sorry! You were getting just a little too morbid there." The bard apologizes. Then she reaches out and takes Xena's callused hand, her swordhand.
"You can't know how tempting your offer is to me. I'm very flattered. I... just need some time to think it over, okay?"
Xena looks at her for a long moment. "Okay." She says evenly, something seeming to pass over her eyes.
Ramming her sword into the ground, Xena steps away from it, and lowers herself into the Lotus position. Clearing her mind of uncertainties and distractions, she focuses on the one thing in the Universe, the object before her. She stares at her sword.
Xena brings her internal power up through her power meridian, pulling trickles of Chi from every corner of her body, gathering it and nurturing it.
The sword jiggles. It jerks again. Xena's eyes bore into it with all the power she can muster. But there it sits. When she faced execution in Ch'in, she sent half the weapons in the throneroom flying around. Her internal power surged in waves, allowing her to blast holes in the wall as well as guards. But that was several months ago. Now, it was all she could do to make her sword shake in the ground.
Xena edges the sword half an inch out of the ground with her power, and then feels her energy sag, her Chi depleted. Her power starts going the wrong way, giving her an electric jolt that knocks her unceremoniously onto her back.
Xena stared up at the sky for a moment, panting. Lao Ma warned me about reversing the flow of Chi, she thinks ruefully to herself, getting up.
There was no way for her to transfer her internal power to Gabrielle. She couldn't do for the bard what Lao Ma had done for her. She simply didn't have enough. Were she to try now, it would destroy her own power, making her an ordinary person. And then how could she protect them? Sometimes there just aren't any easy answers in life.
Xena's reverie is interrupted by a peculiar noise off in the distance. Whipping her sword out of the ground, she alights to a nearby treebranch.
"Annnnndddd Ooooooooonnnnnnnnnn-- Agghht!!" Gabrielle cries out in annoyance, her head feeling light.
Gabrielle clears her throat, and prepares to try again. She looks around to make sure that Xena isn't nearby, and then flutters her hand up like Vidalus had taught her. It puts me in the right mood, she ponders as she takes a deep breath. She begins to sing:
"Love was wheeeeeeen I looooooved.... -still not right." She chastises herself. Maybe a different line would sound better.
"Oooooonce mooooooore... You OOOOOOPEN th- @#$% it!!!!!!" she curses loudly, then ducks as something swoops by her.
"Ay-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi!!!!!!!" Xena ululates as she somersaults through the treetops, hitting the ground hard as she draws her sword.
"Gabrielle!" the warrior cries, then lowers her voice. "Are you alright?"
"Of course I'm alright!" Gabrielle replies peevishly.
"You sounded like you were in pain." Xena asks with concern, sheathing her sword behind her in one motion.
"I was trying to sing." She says through clenched teeth.
Gabrielle rolls up her scroll and glares at Xena, putting her hands on her hips as she stands there looking at her.
How do I get out of this? Xena ponders. "You uh, sang fine in Illusia."
"And you know darn well I can't sing like that in real life." Gabrielle blurts out. "That was just part of the illusion there. Unlike you, I don't have a good singing voice."
"What were you trying to sing?"
Gabrielle lowers the scroll and hands it over. Xena opens it and begins reading it. Then she raises an eyebrow and nods with exaggeration.
"It's uh, fine." Xena opines, trying to convey some enthusiasm.
"Look," Xena says curtly, handing the scroll back to Gabrielle. "I'm sure it's lovely and all that. But it's just not me. It's not my style."
"What's wrong with it?"
"It's... I don't know, syrupy." Xena states, giving up.
Gabrielle looks at her hurtfully, and then her expression changes to complacence.
"That stuff just isn't a part of me. I wish it were, if that helps."
"I wish it were, too." Gabrielle agrees, tossing the scroll down at Xena's feet and walking away.
The warrior watches her go, and then looks down at the discarded scroll.
Alexandria! Gabrielle exults, taking in all the neat rows of architecture. The only planned city in all the world! Every other polis grew up out of a primitive village, and sort of sprawled outward as time passed. Streets intersected at crazy places, and often went nowhere. But not here.
Quartering their steed, the two women walk around in wonder until they locate their destination, the great Library of Alexandria. Walking through the massive pillars, they take in the grandeur that this city has devoted to learning. They walk across the mixed marble floor until they reached the main desk, behind which looms an impressive statue of-
"Poseidon." Xena says flatly, snorting at the work of art. Not a bad rendering, come to think of it.
"May I help you?" a clerk struts out, seemingly displeased at their intrusion.
"I'm, ah, Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia." She says nervously, taking some scrolls out of her bag. "I'm looking for the Muse section."
"Gabrielle!" the clerk exclaims, his entire demeanor changing. "Of course! It's an honor to meet you. Allow me to conduct you, hmmmmm?"
Exchanging surprised glances, the women follow the clerk through the halls, passing row upon row of alcoves filled with scrolls. All the accumulated knowledge of the known world brought together here, Gabrielle muses in wonder. They stop at a table of seven scribes, who are all diligently copying texts onto new papyri.
"These men are working on The Way of Lao Tzu that you brought us some months ago." The clerk enthuses. "Truly a marvelous work."
"You like it?" Xena pipes up, curious.
"We like any commission that is prepaid." The clerk clicks his tongue. "Upon completion, the copies will be shipped up along the Spice Trail to Ch'in as requested."
"Perhaps some copies could be made for Greek readers, as well." Gabrielle hints.
"Hmmmm, I... suppose." The clerk wheedles, stroking his chin in reflection. "But what could compare with Epicurean thought or Stoicism? Ha Ha!"
They continue onward through the great halls, coming through an area which has more tables stacked together than Gabrielle has ever seen in one place. Each table is occupied by a scribe, and great stacks of scrolls are everywhere.
"Here is something that is being translated into Greek." He notes haughtily. "It is a royal commission, and it is so massive, we are using seventy scribes to translate it!"
"Personally, I don't see any market for Hebrew holy texts." He adds with disdain.
He continues on his tour, leading them past another statue, this one of Hermes, and into the Hall of the Muses. The clerk looks around as they continue walking, searching for someone.
"Phaedra. Phaedra!" He calls, as they see a head peek up from a desk. She gets up.
"Here, the bard Gabrielle is here to see you." He calls as she makes her way over. Turning to Gabrielle, he adds, "She will see to your needs. If you will excuse me..." He walks off, eyeing Xena's leather attire with distaste as he goes.
A plump woman approaches them, brushing crumbs off her robe and grinning. "A female bard? This is quite an honor. You are quite the rarity."
"No more than a librarian with a name like Phaedra. You can read, yes?"
"In three languages, going on four." The scribe says proudly. Then she turns to the other woman. "And who's your master?"
"This is Xena. The Warrior Princess." Gabrielle proudly gestures.
"Pleased to meet you, but I am not her master." Xena offers her hand.
"Oh? Sister?" Phaedra takes it, pleasantly confused.
Xena does not answer, so Gabrielle decides to correct her.
"I thought we had agreed on the term 'lifemates'." Xena admonishes.
"I know, but 'lovers' sounds so much more scandalous, doesn't it?" Gabrielle beams.
"Oh my..." Phaedra responds, a knowing smile coming over her face. Then she recovers her composure. "Well then, you might be interested in our Women Muse section."
"You have a Women Muse section?" the bard asks incredulously. "Can I see it?"
"Right this way."
They pass row upon row of slots in the wall, containing the works of all the great muses of the world. They continue through the chamber until they come to a small alcove, which is set aside from the rest. This wall contains seven rows of scroll slots, and all the slots but one are filled.
"Here they are. Or here she is, I should say. The 69 scrolls of Sappho, poet of Lesbos." Phaedra declares proudly.
Gabrielle's eyes widen in wonder as she reaches for a scroll at random, and pulls it out. The thick papyrus is bound with a string, and she unties it and unfurls the scroll. Phaedra waits patiently as the bard begins eagerly scanning the lines, and then decides to speak:
"You have something to bring me?"
"Hmmmm? Oh, yes." Gabrielle responds distractedly, tearing her eyes off the writing. "This is wonderful, could I read this sometime?"
"Yes, but you may not check it out."
"Well, I have here two scrolls for submission to your library. One is a list of 14 warrior queens, the other is written by myself. It is a work of... love poetry."
Taking the scrolls from the bard, Phaedra grins, "That's the best kind, if you ask me."
Phaedra takes the scrolls to her desk, and then raises her finger. "I just remembered, there is a Muse competition tonight at the Amphitheater. All are welcome to attend, of course."
"Thanks. We will." Xena acknowledges, stifling a sneeze from all the dusty scrolls. "Gabrielle?"
"Hmmm?" the bard murmurs, not taking her eyes off Sappho's scroll.
"I've some things to do, you want to stay here for awhile?"
"Yes." Gabrielle says intently, sitting down at the nearest table with her book.
Xena looks at her and then to Phaedra, and begins walking off, shaking her head.
Phaedra returns with the scroll, to find the poetess still buried amidst a heap of Sappho's poetry. "Gabrielle?"
The bard raises her head up, and the librarian is surprised to see she's been crying. She offers her a handkerchief, and the bard accepts it, wiping her eyes.
"Sorry." Gabrielle apologizes, sniffling. "It's just... This is so beautiful... I never..."
"She's one of a kind, isn't she?" Phaedra agrees, then taps her with her scroll. "Well, I have doubly good news. Asoka has agreed to take the anonymous scroll into the historical preserve, and your poetry scroll has been approved to be placed in the Women Muse archive!"
"Really?" Gabrielle smiles, gathering up Sappho's scrolls. "That's wonderful!"
"Now we have two poets in our women's section." Phaedra confides as they walk over to the alcove. "But Asoka did raise a fuss that as we already had the tenth Great Muse, we didn't need another!"
"Humphf." Gabrielle humphfs as she begins slipping the precious scrolls of Sappho back into their slots. When she is done, Phaedra importantly puts her scroll up to the last slot and slides it into place, its new tag hanging from it.
"And Gabrielle makes seventy!" Phaedra beams, hugging the successful bard. "Here, your poetry will be preserved till Atlas sets down his burden at the end of time."
Later at the Amphitheater...
The Master of Ceremonies takes the stage, and the crowd grows raucous, giving boisterous calls, as he motions for silence.
"And now..." he begins importantly, "a brief play by the playwright, Theokritos."
Xena and Gabrielle watch two actors take the stage, or try to watch anyway, as Xena fiddles with the bard's strawberry-blonde locks.
Girl: What shall I do? A married life is sad.
Lad: Sad? It's not sad, it's dancing day and night.
Girl: I hear that men in bed give girls a fright.
Lad: But wives all rule the roost, and so why fear?
Girl: O childbirth is a dreadful thing, I hear.
Lad: Artemis your Queen, she lightens your throes.
Girl: But won't it spoil my skin? I know it shows.
Lad: New sunlight comes with every son you see.
Girl: What bridal gifts will you then give for me?
Lad: My herd, my field, my pasture, all I own.
Girl: You'll never leave me weeping and alone?
Lad: Though you should kick me, I won't go from you.
Girl: You'll build a bedroom, house, and farmstead too?
Xena drew near to Gabrielle, her breath on the bard's neck.
Lad: Ah, apple-ripe.
Girl: I'll swoon by Pan I'll swoon
Unless you take your fingers from me soon.
Lad: Now, little coward, do I truly hurt?
Girl: You'll push me in the ditch and soil my skirt.
Lad: I'll put a sheepskin underneath your back.
Girl: Take care, my girdle, now you have it slack,
and now it's off.
Lad: This girdle I now lay
to Cypris on the firstling of the day.
Girl: Hey, stop, there's someone coming.
Lad: Yes, above,
the cypresses are whispering of love.
Girl: You've torn my wrap and now I'm naked too.
Lad: I'll wrap you closer, warmer, from the view...
"Xena!" Gabrielle whispers in a high voice, as the warrior kisses her along her neck. "I'm trying to watch the play, behave yourself."
Xena pops her mouth off the bard's now-wet neck and rights herself, putting her hands primly in her lap. Three young men behind them are staring slack-jawed at them, having found a more interesting play than what was on the stage.
"Sorry, I was inspired." Xena shifts uncomfortably in her pastel-colored gown. She was so used to her leathers that even comfortable fabric felt strange, but it was nice to dress up on occasion.
The lad lays the girl down on the stage, their lines finished. He gives her a kiss. Then they get up, and bow to the audience.
Gabrielle begins to applaud, but is startled as a high ululation rises from the rest of the audience. Their cries rise to a fierce pitch, as they tap their throats with their fingers.
"How are they doing that?" Gabrielle leans over to yell into Xena's ear.
"What?" Xena shouts back. "Oh, you just say 'la la la la la' really fast."
"Oh!" Gabrielle yells back. "That must be the winner, then."
The 'applause' dies down, and the host takes to the stage again.
"And now, for the last entrant in the Muse competition, a recent addition!" he begins importantly. "She will perform... a song of love. Please welcome the Bard of Poteidaia, Gabrielle!!"
Gabrielle feels her feet grow ice-cold, as the ululation rises from the crowd again. She reaches out to grip Xena's arm in fright, but Xena is out of reach, getting to her feet.
The bard looks at her in total shock.
"Wish me luck." Xena grins as she begins stepping through the crowd beneath her.
Gabrielle watches in astonishment as Xena reaches the bottom and alights the wooden stage in an effortless leap. Seemingly aware that she shouldn't have done that, Xena turns to the crowd and does her best proper curtsy. The crowd grows hushed. Xena takes her scroll out of her pocket and, reviewing it, puts it away.
She glances to Gabrielle, and then turns her gaze to the crowd and begins to slowly sing:
Every night in my dreams,
I see you... I feel you
That is how I know you... go on
Far 'cross the distance,
And spaces between us,
You have come to show you... go on
Near... Far... wherever you are
I believe that the heart does... go on
Once more... you open the door
And you're here in my heart and,
My heart will go on and on.
Xena pauses in her song, feeling confident, and resumes:
Love can touch us one time,
And last for a lifetime
And won't let go till... we're gone
Love was when I loved you,
One true time I hold to
In my life will always... go on
Near... Far... wherever you are
I believe that the heart does... go on
Once more... you open the door
And you're here in my heart and,
My heart will go on and on.
She pauses again, gathering her vocal powers to close the song:
You're here... There's nothing I fear!
And I know that my heart will go on.
We'll stay... Forever this way!
You are safe in my heart and,
my heart will go on and on
Xena's voice reverberates across every building in Alexandra, causing people to look up from their chores in wonder. Gabrielle clasps her hands to her mouth, her eyes watering at the intensity of Xena's delivery. The crowd sits stunned for a moment, as Xena's voice seems to ring throughout for several moments. Then they recover, delivering the loudest ovation that they've mustered the entire evening.
Xena takes in their adulation, being used to such, just in a different way. She bows again and again to their accolades, as the crowd takes up the cry:
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Gabrielle!"
She looks up through the cheering throngs to the one face she wants to see, to see her reaction. The strawberry-blonde is easy to find, and Xena is shocked to see tears streaming down the bard's cheeks. It was her own writing, after all. Then the crowd rushes the stage, reaching for her, touching her, and Xena plays down the urge to somersault to safety. She allows them to surge around her, thanking them and smiling. She mentally concedes that she will have to thank her bard later, in private.
Many admirers later...
"I thought you said it was syrupy." Gabrielle says in wonder, her eyes reddened.
"It's all in the delivery." Xena deadpans, then grins at the bard.
Xena held Gabrielle to her in a longing embrace, not wanting to let go. It was then that she heard someone cry out. Someone in pain.
She let go of her and raced behind the Falafel stand, to find the young actor whom they had seen on-stage before, being whipped with a riding crop.
"Master, please!" the slave cries, crouching into a fetal position as he lurches in shock, the fresh welts joining old ones on his back.
"Only your pain will please me now!" the figure replies, lashing him all the harder. "I was supposed to win that competition! Me! Do you hear me? The great Theokritos!"
He brought his hand down again, only to not have his blow connect. Someone had caught it!
"We hear you." A voice snarls, and the playwright finds himself pulled up bodily to look into the eyes of-
"Gabrielle?!" he exclaims in shock.
"That's Miss Gabrielle to you!" Xena snarls again, punching him in the jaw. He drops hard, unconscious.
"Master!" the slave cries, getting up from the ground to protectively cover his fallen master. Ignoring his own pain, he grabs his master by the shoulders and begins dragging him away.
Gabrielle draws up next to Xena as they watch him struggle to drag the unconscious man to safety. Then Xena speaks:
"Gabrielle, remember what I was saying before about finding a home and settling down?"
"I don't think I want to settle down here. I don't like the neighborhood."
"Where to, then?" Gabrielle asks, wondering where Xena is going with this.
"I haven't decided yet." Xena continues. "I don't like any of the towns we've visited around here."
"I suppose we'll just have to keep wandering." Xena drawls, a mischievous spark appearing in her eyes.
"And, if we meet any people along the way," Gabrielle continues her line, "you know, people who are defenseless and need help..."
"Well, I suppose we would have to stop long enough to help them."
"I see." Gabrielle nods.
"What do you think?" Xena asks.
"Oh, uh, I've made up my mind, too." Gabrielle announces. Then her expression turns cheery. "I've decided I like where I am right now."
"Here?" Xena asks incredulously.
"No..." Gabrielle admonishes, nudging Xena with her shoulder. "I mean you, Warrior Princess. You are my home."
"Glad to hear it." Xena admits as she hugs the bard's shoulder. They start walking together.
Gabrielle looks up at the sky, and then looks to their destination, wherever it might be.
"Let's go home, shall we?"
--- The End ---
Vignettes by Ogami.
All Verse by Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia.
The anonymous Tractatus De Mulieribus was translated by Deborah Gera in her book "Warrior Women" © 1997.
Seduction is by the Greek playwright Theokritos. (His depiction as being cruel to slaves is pure artistic license. Sorry Theo!)
The lyrics of My Heart Will Go On are © 1997 Will Jennings, all rights reserved.
Portions of this story were inspired by the prose of Pierre Louys and George Stour.
Shade and Sweet Water to all of my readers!
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