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All characters appearing in the t.v. series are the sole copyright of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. This story and all other characters belong to me.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two women. If you are under 18 or live in the bible belt, go read something else. You have been warned.
This story is copyrighted by...me.
"GABRIELLE!" Xena was frantic. She had been crashing about the undergrowth of the forest for the better part of an hour searching for the bard, but the torrential summer afternoon downpour made it nearly impossible to see or hear anything and had washed away any trail that might have been made. She came to a stop and closed her eyes focusing all her attention on her hearing, bowing her head she listened to her surroundings. Finally she heard Gabrielle's voice, weak and barely audible to her left. Following the sound Xena found the redhead curled up under an overhanging rock which offered scant protection from the deluge.
"Gabrielle!" the warrior rushed to her and started to take her into her arms when she saw the cuts and bruises on the tiny body. "Gods, Gabrielle! What in Hades happened to you?"
"Oh, Xena!" the bard put her arms around the warrior's broad shoulders moving stiffly. "He tried to..., he was going to..." she buried her face in Xena's neck, sobbing.
"Who?!" snarled the leather clad woman looking around quickly, her body tensing.
"He was so big! I tried to fight him off with my staff but it was like I was hitting him with a feather." The staff was nowhere to be seen.
Xena took Gabrielle's face in her hands and looked into her blue-green eyes. Ever since they had become lovers and she could spend as much time as she wanted watching that beautiful face without having to worry about getting caught, Xena had learned to read the bard's many emotions well. At the moment she saw intense pain and shame, "What did he do to you, Gabrielle?" she growled pushing the strawberry blonde hair back and trying to wipe some of the blood away.
Gabrielle closed her eyes trying to block the images, "I was gathering wood while you were hunting for our supper," she said nearly whispering, "I guess I had gone further from camp than I thought because when he attacked me and I called for you, you never came. He tried to... take me, and when he couldn't... perform he beat me and left me for dead. Good thing I buffed up, huh!" she joked weakly and put her head back on Xena's shoulder, took a deep breath and shuddered violently.
As Xena listened to Gabrielle's story her vision darkened and a roaring began in her head. The hot tears falling on her breast felt like hundreds of knives piercing her skin and her stomach knotted with rage. She took a few moments to get herself under control then asked Gabrielle if she thought she could walk. "I think so," the redhead said and got shakily to her feet leaning heavily on the warrior. "You're going to have to go a lot slower than you're used to!" she laughed feebly.
"I'll carry you if I have to," Xena said wrapping a powerful arm around her lover's waist supporting most of the bard's weight.
"I don't think that'll be necessary."
"We'll see." It took nearly another hour for Xena to get Gabrielle back to their campsite. The rain stopped as they slowly made their way through the forest and by the time they found their supplies the sun was throwing rainbows everywhere in the remaining mist. The beauty of the aftermath was lost on the two women as Xena took Gabrielle into the small cave they had found. She stripped Gabrielle's wet clothes off of her and set about cleaning off the blood and dirt and dressing the wounds. As she worked she berated herself for not pushing on the rest of the afternoon and finding a village to stay at overnight.
After saving the children in the village of Klio from the striges, Xena and Gabrielle had gone west across Lesbos to Eressos so the bard could visit Sappho's birthplace. They had spent two days sightseeing there, and this morning started north to Sigrito to catch a boat back to the mainland. Xena cursed herself for agreeing to camp out in a territory she wasn't familiar with, but Gabrielle was so taken with the beauty of the area that the warrior just couldn't tell her no. 'I'm not leaving this island until I find the man that did this,' Xena thought as she applied some left over serpyllum paste to the many cuts and scrapes to ward off any infection.
After getting the bard cleaned up Xena took off her own wet clothes and draped them and Gabrielle's things over some rocks to dry. She got down on the bedroll and curled up behind the bard, wrapping her arms around the shivering form and covering them both with a dry blanket. The warrior lay awake as Gabrielle slept, plagued by bad dreams. Each time the redhead flinched or cried out in her sleep Xena's resolve to find the attacker strengthened, thinking of the many different ways to kill the man. Two hours later when Gabrielle awoke Xena got some dried meat and fruit out of one of their bags. She would like to have started a fire but they had no dry wood so, the two ate huddled together wrapped in the blanket. Actually, Xena ate; Gabrielle merely nibbled at her share.
"You're going to have to eat, Gabrielle," the warrior said putting her arm around her lover's shoulders.
"I'm just not hungry right now," the bard said softly, she touched the cuts on her face gingerly. "Maybe I'll feel more like eating in the morning." She stared blankly into the deepening gloom of the twilight.
"Do you remember what he looked like?" Xena asked, her mind going back to her plan to exact revenge on him.
"I'd rather not talk about it," Gabrielle said lying back down on the bedroll.
"You'll need to sometime," Xena said softly. Propped up on her elbow she looked down at the woman she had come to depend on for stability and peace of mind.
"Later, Xena," Gabrielle said curtly, "but not now; please."
"Alright," the warrior whispered and brushed the bard's hair away from her face, "later."
She leaned over to place a kiss on Gabrielle's forehead and was startled when Gabrielle turned away from her and onto her side with her back to Xena. Stunned, the muscled woman just stared down at the back of Gabrielle's head. She started to say something but bit her tongue and chalked the behavior up to shock.
Neither woman slept well that night, Gabrielle because of nightmares and Xena jerked awake each time she felt the bard move. The two awoke exhausted the next morning and ate a meager breakfast of more dried meat and fruit. "Will you be all right here for a bit?" Xena asked as she put her still damp leathers on, shivering as she did so.
"Where are you going?" the bard asked, her eyes growing wide in alarm.
"I was going to go look for your staff," Xena put her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders in reassurance but felt the muscles under her fingers tense up so she took her hands away. She noticed Gabrielle couldn't look her in the eye, "Gabrielle?" she questioned.
"I'm sorry Xena," the redhead's voice wavered. She looked up into her lover's pale blue eyes, "it's just..."
"It's all right," the warrior moved to touch the pale, scared face but stopped short. "It'll take some time for you to recover from this. I was just going to go alone to find your staff because it's in the opposite direction from where we're headed and that way we wouldn't have to double back when we got ready to leave."
"You're right," Gabrielle conceded, "you go ahead. I'll pack up our stuff while you're gone."
"I won't be gone long."
"Please don't!" With Gabrielle's plea ringing in her ears
Xena took off at a trot.
"Barkeep!" Darius pounded his wooden goblet on the counter, "Another round of ale for me and my men!" He looked around the dim interior of the small tavern, fifteen or twenty well armed soldiers lounged about and at the words of their leader began to bang their own mugs. The tavern owner, an older man, shuddered but silently rounded the room refilling the cups of the rowdy men. In a corner two men argued over a beautifully jeweled necklace and eventually the disagreement turned into a full scale fight. A free-for-all broke out with chairs flying and tables breaking. The owner cowered under the bar alternately praying to and cursing the gods.
Eventually the intruders tired of their fight and sport with the tavern owner. "We'll be on our way now, Barkeep." Darius rounded the bar and knelt down in front of the terrified man. "We'll be back in about a month for your village's next payment. A messenger will be sent in a few days to let you know what Prince Stephano will expect. By the way," he belched loudly, "the lunch was excellent!" The soldier patted the man's cheek roughly then he and his men left the village, leaving destruction and chaos in their wake.
An hour and a half later Xena and Gabrielle walked into the devastated community. Taking in the clutter and vandalism, they made their way to the tavern to ask about lodging for the night. "I'm closed!" the pair heard as they entered the coolness of the building. Looking around they picked their way through the mess to the bar where the owner was trying to make a dent in the cleanup job.
"We were just going to ask about a place to stay the night," Xena said. "What happened here?" she said jerking her back towards the rest of the room. Gabrielle leaned on her staff (which Xena had found after thirty minutes of beating the bushes) and looked around for something to sit on, her eyes finally resting on a small three legged stool that got missed in the fray.
"The army of a small kingdom to the east comes every month to collect a 'protection payment'," he nearly spat out the words. "This happens nearly every time! My name is Antonius, by the way." The tavern owner looked at the bard and noticed her wounds, "Is your friend all right?" he asked.
"Nothing that a few days' rest can't fix, she's tougher than she looks," the warrior said not mentioning the fact that she was more worried about the redhead's mental state than her physical condition. "I'm Xena, and my friend's name is Gabrielle. Can we get a room anywhere?" she asked.
"This is a small, poor village and there is no inn, but you're welcome to sleep in my barn if you don't mind the smell of hay," he said taking pity on Gabrielle who sat with her head resting on her arms, having used nearly all her strength on the half day's walk. Since Antonius made no comment about Xena's name she wondered if they had not heard of her here, or if the man's manners were just that good.
"We would greatly appreciate the use of your barn," Xena said thanking the tavern owner. "Let me get Gabrielle situated and I'll come help you clean up." A short time later as warrior and barkeep worked side by side Xena asked him to tell her about the situation.
"The sad thing is," he started, "Prince Stephano is a weak, spiteful man and what he calls his kingdom is nothing more than a small walled town. But he has the means to support an army. Even though it is a small one, it's more than any of the surrounding villages have, and we are all at his mercy... or lack of." As he spoke he grew increasingly angrier and soon was slamming debris into the pile in the middle of the room. Xena listened silently but her mind was racing. "This time the soldiers took a necklace from a young girl that she had just gotten from her betrothed who lives in Sigrito. A messenger is supposed to return a few days from now to let us know what payment is to be made next month," he finished.
After the tavern was cleaned and the debris carried out to a communal
pile to be burned, Antonius took Xena to his home where his wife gave the
warrior some bread, cheese, fresh fruit and a torch. The couple tried to
thank her for helping with the cleanup but she dismissed them kindly saying
it was the least she could do for the use of the barn.
"Gabrielle," Xena said softly stroking the bard's cheek. "Wake up, Gabrielle, you need to eat something!"
"Mmmm," the little redhead started to stretch, but caught herself with a grimace. "Ow!" she squinted her eyes open looking up at her lover. She grinned crookedly, "I was sure I'd be feeling better by now!"
"I don't think so," the warrior helped Gabrielle to a sitting position and gave her a portion of the food. "With the beating you took, it'll probably take a few days," "...not to mention how long it will take your mind to heal...' she thought. She sat across from the bard in the fresh, aromatic hay and looked at her intently, noticing how the amber glow of the torch hanging beside the door highlighting her eyes and hair. Even with all the cuts and bruises Xena thought Gabrielle had never looked so lovely, and she ached to reach out and take the tiny woman into her arms. But after the bard's reaction the past couple of times she'd been touched, the dark haired beauty didn't dare.
"How do you feel?" Xena asked softly as they ate. She was hoping Gabrielle would be able to give her a description so she could start trying to find the assailant. "Do you think you can talk about it?"
"I'll tell you what he looked like Xena, but that's all," the bard said fiddling with her food and not meeting the warrior's gaze. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to talk about what happened."
"That's OK, Gabrielle," Xena said quickly. "All I want to know right now is what he looks like."
"He was huge," the redhead stared at her hands and spoke softly causing Xena to lean forward in order to hear her. "I think he was probably the biggest man I've ever seen! Bigger than Vergillius. Remember, he was one of those ten warlords you fought when you were in Callisto's body?"
"I remember Vergillius," Xena snarled.
"He had long, curly, dark brown hair that looked like it hadn't been washed in months. There was a scar running down the right side of his face, and a couple of his teeth were missing. He had on filthy white shirt, brown leather breeches and boots." She stopped for a few moments, her hand and teeth tightly clenched, "There was something else," she whispered.
"What?" Xena leaned forward even further.
"I don't know... just... something about him wasn't quite right but I can't put my finger on it."
"...not quite right?"
"I'm not sure..." Gabrielle shook her head and blinked rapidly coming out of her reverie. Tears shone in her eyes and sparkled in the torch light, "Oh, Xena! I was so scared!" she threw herself into the warrior's strong arms and buried her face in crook of her neck. "More than I've ever been in any fight!"
Xena held the bard with all her might, her cheek against her lover's forehead. "I know
you were scared, Gabrielle," she said in a low voice. "And I know it's going to take some time for you to work through your pain but I'll be here for you."
"I know you will," Gabrielle squeezed back, "I'm sorry I've been so distant."
"You can't help it, and it's all right. When I said I loved you, I meant all of you... body, mind and soul. If you let me, I'll help you get through this."
"I love you so much, Xena."
"I know. I swear by the gods, Gabrielle, I'm going to find whoever did this to you..."
"Shhh," Gabrielle put her fingers on Xena's lips, "I don't want to think about it! Will you lie down with me and just hold me?"
"Of course," the warrior's heart broke at the childlike sound of the redhead's voice. Taking the torch outside she doused it in the dirt then made her way back inside to the pile of hay where Gabrielle was stretched out on their bedroll. She curled up behind the bard and wrapped her arm around the tiny waist, her skin flushing when Gabrielle wriggled further back against her.
In the morning after finishing off the food from the previous night, Xena and Gabrielle helped the villagers finish with the cleanup and repairs. They took lunch with Antonius and his wife, who fussed over Gabrielle the entire time. After all the food was gone and the dishes cleared away Antonius took Xena to the side. "Will you stay and help us do something about Prince Stephano?" he asked in a low voice throwing a glance in his wife's direction.
"You know who I am?" questioned Xena.
"Indeed!" Antonius replied surprised. "It's our way here not to seek outside help for our troubles, but this case I don't believe we have any other choice. I will speak to the other villagers and take the responsibility of any payment myself."
The warrior listened quietly to Antonious. "There's no need for the rest of your people to know you've asked for help, and there'll be no talk of payment. Gabrielle needs time to rest before we resume our journey. In return for giving us the use of your barn and food I'll do what I can against this prince!"
"Thank you!" he grasped the warrior's hand and pumped it up and down. "Thank you so much!"
"Don't thank me now," Xena smiled at his excitement, "I haven't done anything yet." She put her finger to her lips and winked, "This is just between you, Gabrielle and me."
"Yes, of course."
Xena and Gabrielle walked slowly through a large field of wildflowers that bordered the village to the east. Xena told the bard of the villagers' predicament as she watched the redhead stretch her limbs and torso trying to work out the soreness. "How're you doing?" she asked.
"Better," Gabrielle grimaced bending over trying to touch her toes but only managing to reach her shins. "I still can't move very fast and it hurts like Hades to swing my staff!"
"Give it time, Gabrielle, and don't worry, we're not in any hurry."
"What about the prince and his army? You'll need help with that!"
"We'll cross that rope bridge when we come to it. You just concentrate on yourself for right now. OK?" She put her arm around the bard's shoulder and gave her a light squeeze.
"Yes, Miss Xena," Gabrielle put her own arm around her lover's waist and hugged her back. "Yes, Mistress!" she stood up on tiptoe and kissed the warrior's cheek then laughed as Xena gently knuckled the top of her head. "Thank you for being so patient with me."
Xena laughed and looked down into Gabrielle's upturned face, "I love you, Gabrielle. I would wait till the end of time for you." she said taking the bard's small hands into her large strong ones. "And you always know how to make me laugh."
"Well, I try! You can't be dark and brooding all the time!" the redhead countered. "Though that's probably part of what drew me to you in the first place," she added as an afterthought.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," the warrior grinned and kissed Gabrielle's fingers, "I hear you!"
Two days later around mid-morning Xena and Gabrielle were outside the tavern; Gabrielle was working with her staff under Xena's watchful eye. "How does it feel?" The warrior was leaning up against the side of the building, her arms crossed over her chest.
"Pretty good," the bard panted, the pole spinning slowly through the air over her head.
"Why don't you take a break. We'll pick up again after..." she stopped as an armed soldier galloped into the village and pulled to a stop in front of the tavern.
"Good morning little lady!" he leered at Gabrielle who was standing in the spot that had just been occupied by Xena. The bard just curled her lip at the man and looked away. He grunted and walked inside. "Barkeep!" he shouted, looking around in the dimness.
"Can I help you?" he heard a female voice over his left shoulder. The soldier grinned and turned to see what the owner of the sultry voice looked like. The last thing he saw was a fist coming at him.
"Ohh, my head," the soldier groaned. He eased his eyes opened and saw the blurred image of a dark headed woman standing over him, one foot planted on each hand and an extremely sharp looking sword pointed at his neck.
"Would you like some water?" the tall beauty asked sweetly.
"Uh, yes miss..." he said hesitantly figuring he better humor the woman who had him in such a compromised position.
"Gabrielle..." the warrior took a step back and splash of cold water hit the man in the face.
"Oh!" he gasped as the cold water taking his breath away. "What?!"
The warrior knelt over him her knees digging into his forearms, leaning over until her nose was almost touching his. Xena looked at him for a few seconds then made a sour face, "You have really bad breath!" She felt him try to struggle so she put a powerful hand around his neck and started to apply pressure to his windpipe, "Now you listen to me. I could break your neck but I want you to deliver a message to Prince Stephano. You mind if I call him Steve?"
The soldier's eyes were wide and he shook his head vigorously, "No, miss! Call him whatever you like!" he gurgled.
"Thank you!" Xena said sarcastically and loosened her grip. "You tell Steve that there's a new girl in town here, and we're not going to pay his so called protection money any more. Can you remember that much, or do I need to write it down for you?"
The man shook his head again, "I can remember, I can remember!"
"Good! Tell him to meet me day after tomorrow when the sun is overhead, in the field, with five of his best soldiers. I'll be waiting for him there."
"The day after tomorrow, with five soldiers!"
"When?!" she tightened her fingers around his throat again.
"When the sun is overhead!" he said quickly.
"Alright," the warrior released him and stood up, her sword tickling his chin. "Get out of here," she said stepping to one side while leaving her weapon in contact with his skin just as a precaution. The man scrambled to his feet and backed out the tavern door, his eyes never leaving Xena's, which at the moment were like blue ice.
"What are you doing Xena?" Gabrielle said as soon as the man had ridden out of the village. "The Prince and his army will probably attack at dawn after a challenge like that!"
"They'll never have the chance." Xena said grimly.
"What are you talking about now?" the bard demanded. "I hate it when you do this!" she moved to stand in front of the warrior her hand on her hips
"Do what, Gabrielle?" the tall woman grinned down at the redhead and put her hands on her hips too.
"OK, OK," Xena raised her hands in feigned defeat, "come with me to find Antonius and I'll tell you what I'm going to do." They found him and several of the villagers in a group at the well talking animatedly among themselves.
"What happened?" Antonius questioned anxiously.
"I asked him very nicely to take a message back to Prince Stephano for me that there will be no more protection payments made. In return for the kindnesses you and your people have shown us I'll help you."
"We can't ask you to do that!" one of the men said.
"You don't have to. I want to do this for my own peace of mind."
"We thank you, warrior," an older woman came forward. "we don't have much left for the prince to take."
Xena put a hand on the woman's shoulder and smiled at her. "You're welcome, mother. I hope I can bring peace back to your village."
"The gods be with you, child," the woman patted Xena's hand.
Xena and Gabrielle walked with Antonius towards his home. "How
far is it to Stephano's town?" Xena, asked absently squinting up towards
the sun and feeling the warmth on her face.
"About a two hour walk. Why?"
"Perfect," smiled the warrior.
"Yes, why?" echoed Gabrielle drawing next to her lover.
"Because I'm going to pay Steve a visit tonight and talk some sense into him," she smiled down and put her arm around the bard's shoulders. "You're going to stay here."
"What do you mean?!" the redhead twisted out of Xena's grasp then quickly grabbed her ribs and grimaced in pain.
"That right there is what I mean!" the warrior stopped and took the redhead's face in her hands. Antonius could see what was coming and headed on home. "You're not ready to fight yet, and if you go in there with me at less than full power you'll get hurt again... or worse. I'm not going to have that."
"Xena, you can't just go off without me!" Gabrielle said taking the warrior's hands in her own.
"Gabrielle, we've done stuff separately lots of times!"
"Please don't leave me!" the bard pleaded.
"I'm not leaving you Gabrielle, I'm just going to be gone for a few hours! Anyhow, I remember you leaving me a time or two."
"Yeeaahh," the redhead dragged out, "but that was... before!" she quickly added.
"Maybe; but it still hurt." she took off after Antonius leaving Gabrielle staring after her with her jaw hanging.
"Hey, wait for me!" the bard yelled.
At Antonius' house Xena told them of her plan to sneak into the castle that night. "I'll leave in a couple hours. That way it will be dark by the time I get there allowing me to look around and find a way into the castle." "You will be careful won't you, Xena?" begged Gabrielle. "Aren't I always?!" the big warrior grinned at her sidekick. "Well...," "Within reason?" "I don't know..." Gabrielle shook her head. "I never get hurt on purpose!" Xena argued her point of view.
"That's what I'm afraid of!"
"Gabrielle. I'll be just fine and back here before you even wake up in the morning!"
"Hah! You think I'm actually going to sleep?!"
"No reason not to! Antonius, could I bother you for some more bread and cheese?" she asked before Gabrielle could retort. "I think I'm going to go rest for a bit." She took the proffered food and stood to leave, "Care to join me for a meal, Gabrielle?" The bard muttered under her breath and followed the warrior to the barn. Antonius just chuckled and shook his head.
"Please, Xena, can't I at least walk with you?" The two women were in the barn eating. Xena was sitting with her back against a bale of hay and Gabrielle was between her legs reclining against the warrior's chest. "I won't have to go into the castle!"
"Gbel," Xena tried to talk with her mouth full then swallowed her food. "Gods! That bread is dry!" She took a large swallow of port, "Gabrielle, I'll probably run most of the way or at least walk fast. You wouldn't be able to keep up. It's not that I don't want you with me. You know I'd rather have you there watching my back and fighting beside me! But you're just not ready and I'm not going to put you in that position. If anything was to happen to you again I wouldn't be able to live with myself. I want you to stay here where I know you'll be out of harm's way until I get back."
Gabrielle turned so she could look at Xena, and for a moment all she could do was stare at her lover, a look of amazement on her face. "What?!" exclaimed the warrior and backed her head away a couple of inches. Gabrielle's face in such close proximity was making her want to throw the bard down in the hay and make love to her but she knew the redhead was not ready yet.
"Oh, I'm just trying to remember the last time you said that much at one time!" said the bard with a grin spreading across her face. She went back to resting against Xena.
"That's very funny, Gabrielle," Xena said dryly, burying her face in the strawberry blonde hair and deeply inhaled the familiar scent. She put down her bread and port and wrapped her arms around the tiny waist. Gabrielle rested her head on Xena's shoulder and the two women stayed like that, cheek to cheek, taking comfort in each other's arms.
The sun began it's descent towards the horizon, "I need to go get some directions from Antonius," Xena said softly her voice low and near breaking.
"Promise me you'll be careful," Gabrielle turned halfway around so she could put her arms around Xena's waist and her head in the crook of the warriors neck. "If you're not back by sunrise, I'm coming after you!"
Xena smiled at the bard's bravado and tears stung her eyes. "I promise I won't do anything I haven't done before...," she kissed the top of Gabrielle's head. "I'll be back long before sunrise!" She tried to get up but the redhead wouldn't let go. "I've got to go, Gabrielle," she said giving her lover a strong hug.
"I don't want to turn loose," Gabrielle whispered tears streaming down her face. "I keep thinking of Larissa and how she lost Deandra so soon after they found each other. I feel like we just found each other too, and I don't want the same thing to happen!"
"Oh, Gabrielle!" Xena took the bard's face in her hands and kissed the tears away from the wet cheeks. She felt as though her heart had been wrenched from her chest. "Gabrielle, I love you! There's no way I'm going to let anything keep me from coming back to you, you'll see!"
"I love you so much, Xena!" Gabrielle gasped through her tears then kissed the warrior's lips. Xena's pulse quickened but she did no more than chastely return the kiss. "Now go," the bard said standing up and moved to the back of the barn, "go before I change my mind!"
Xena stood and started to go to Gabrielle, then she thought better of it and turning on her heel she walked out. After receiving directions and a dark cloak from Antonius, she took off at an easy trot and reached the town an hour and a half later. Keeping to the shadows the warrior walked around taking note of all the gates in the walls in case she needed to make a quick exit... which she really didn't foresee happening, but better safe than sorry, she figured.
The castle (a very small castle in her estimation) gate was guarded by one very tired looking soldier who was easily distracted by a tossed stone. As soon as his back was turned Xena slipped into the courtyard. The warrior skirted the courtyard and found the soldiers' quarters. There was much revelry and feasting going on, in anticipation of tomorrow's activities, she imagined. The food was abundant and the ale was flowing. Lurking in the shadows Xena watched as the men ate and drank. 'Lurking in the darkness... again,' she thought 'I need a new job. Lurking, lurking, lurking... always furking lurking.' The warrior wasn't sure if furking was a word but it was all she could think of that rhymed with lurking; and then, since it didn't sound very polite she decided to try to forget it. She watched the soldiers gorge themselves a moment longer. 'Good,' she thought, 'they won't hear anything later on. They'll be sleeping off all the food and drink.' Xena found the barn and made herself comfortable to wait till the castle was dark and quiet.
A short while after the midnight hour Xena exited the barn and made her way into the castle proper. It didn't take long to find the prince's room. It was the only door that was guarded. She easily took the soldier out of the picture using a blow with the butt of her sword to the back of his neck. Catching him before he could hit the ground the warrior dragged the unconscious man to an empty room and unceremoniously dumped the body on the cold floor.
Once inside Prince Stephano's room Xena looked for more guards, and finding none, she went to the prince's bed. The warrior discarded her cloak and with her sword she lifted the satin sheet and pulled it down to the foot of the bed exposing the monarch. Then she cut off the buttons on his satin pajama shirt, and the drawstring to his matching satin pajama pants. "Stephano," she said standing with the tip of her sword just touching his nose. "Stephano!" she repeated a little louder when the prince did not stir. This time he groaned and attempted to turn on his side toward Xena.
His nose felt the cool of the steel and his eyes flew open wide, "Wha....!" Stephano scrambled backwards to the far side of the bed and in the process nearly came out of his clothes.
"You're losing something," Xena sneered looking contemptuously at the pants around the prince's knees. "Looks like you've already lost something else!" she added her eyes moving up to his penis which had shrunk up to a nub. "I'm sorry," she said coldly finally looking into the terrified man's eyes, "I didn't mean to scare you!" She took a step back and lowered her weapon, "Why don't you stand up and cover yourself? I promise, I won't hurt you...yet."
"Guard!" the price tried to yell but all that escaped his throat was a pitiful whisper.
"You know," Xena said shaking her head, "I could barely hear that. I seriously doubt that the soldier I knocked out and put in a room down the hall could hear it either! Now get up and let's go over to your desk where we can have a civilized talk!" she growled and raised her sword back up to Stephano's eye level. Shakily the prince made his way off the bed, pulling his pajama pants up around his waist and holding them with his right hand while trying to hold his shirt closed with his left. His eyes swept the room frantically.
"If you're looking for weapons, I took the liberty of throwing them all out the window, except for your sword. Wanna have a go at me?" the warrior reached behind her and out of her scabbard pulled the prince's blade. "Here," she tossed it to him, "catch!" Xena watched as his pants slipped down to around his ankles, "You might want to fix those. I want this to be a fair fight," she grinned and took a few steps back.
Stephano retied and knotted his drawstring then removed his shirt never taking his eyes off the warrior. His skin was pale and he had no discernible muscular definition. Xena wondered if he ever got out much. "Yyaaaahhhhhh!" the prince suddenly charged across the floor in an attempt to catch Xena off guard. The warrior sidestepped and swung her sword in an upward arc leaving a six inch shallow cut on his flank. He turned and stood facing Xena, breathing hard, his face flushed. Touching his side he brought his hand up in front of him and when he saw the blood on his fingers he yelled and rushed at her again.
Xena neatly eluded the onslaught and left a similar wound on his opposite side. "C'mon, Steve," she teased, "can't you do better than that?" She tensed as the prince's eyes narrowed at the heckling then raised her sword to meet his downward slice. The two moved around the room, Stephano striking blow after blow, each one parried easily by the warrior with a small cut given in return. After a few minutes he came to a stop and faced Xena leaning on his sword and bleeding from his numerous wounds.
Xena kept her sword raised menacingly, "You're not very good, are you?" she taunted. "I bet you were a mama's boy when you were growing up!"
"Harlot!" Stephano bolted at the warrior. She whirled and slashed the back of his knees as he passed her. He screamed in pain and tumbled to the stone floor his sword flying out of his grip. Xena stood over him her weapon at his throat, "Now, now. Do I look anything at all like a harlot to you?" She reached under his arm, dragged him to his bed, roughly deposited him on it and tore strips from the sheet to bind his knees .
"Alright," she said untying a small, flat pouch attached to her belt and pulling from it a shimmery silver owl's feather. "I assume," the warrior said holding it up in front of the prince's face, "you know what this is."
Stephano's eyes were wide and his entire body trembled, "Athena!"
"That's correct," Xena twirled the feather in her fingers causing it to blur. Her own eyes opened wide and she nearly dropped it when it began to glow but she recovered herself and thinking quickly, kept talking. "When it glows like this I know someone is in trouble. I light a small fire to Athena and she tells me where I need to go. She's the reason I'm in this gods forsaken part of the island," she said which was partly true; after all, it was Athena who had sent her to Lesbos in the first place!
Xena rose from the bed and crossed to the prince's ornate desk. She quickly scribbled something on several scrolls carefully stamping each of them with Stephano's seal. "I have written here," the warrior said holding up the scrolls, "that you will no longer be requiring protection payments from the surrounding villages. I'm going take them to Antonius and he will distribute them for me. Each village will put their decree up in their tavern or other public meeting place for all to see." She crossed back to the bed and bent over the prince, her eyes boring into his, "Do I make myself clear?" she snarled at him menacingly.
"Yes," Stephano whispered shaken to his very core.
"Good," Xena stood up and twirled the still glowing owl's feather under the prince's nose. "Remember, I'll know the moment anything happens to these people!" Stephano's eyes flew open wide, terrified of the beaming feather. He scrambled backwards across his bed putting distance between it and himself. "Don't make me have to come back here!" She retrieved Antonius' cloak and draping it over her disappeared into the corridor. On her way out of the castle the warrior crept into the barracks, quickly and silently searched the belongings of the unconscious soldiers, found the stolen necklace and left.
Dawn was breaking as Xena crested a small rise about a quarter of a mile from the village. She spotted Gabrielle pacing back and forth across the road where it entered the village. At the sight, a lump the size of her fist rose in her throat and her breath caught in her chest. It brought back to mind all of the times the bard had waited patiently and faithfully for her without questions or reservation. 'How could I have been so blind to her feelings for so long when it was so obvious?' she thought as she watched her lover.
Gabrielle caught sight of the warrior striding down the hill and froze. "Xena!" she shouted and ran up the road toward the woman she had come to depend on as her reason to live. The two women stopped short about five feet from each other, looking into each other eyes they said nothing but volumes passed between them. "Xena," the bard whispered again.
"I know," Xena said softly and held out her hands to the redhead, "me too." Gabrielle went to her warrior and was enveloped in the warm strength of Xena's embrace.
"I missed you so much," the bard looked up to see tears shimmering in Xena's eyes. She choked back a sob, stood up on her toes and kissed each eye tasting the salty tears. "I was so worried! Every minute you were gone felt like an hour to me! But you're back and I swear to the gods I'm not letting you go off without me again!" Burying her face in the thick, dark chestnut hair flowing around the warrior's neck she inhaled deeply, then slowly let out her breath sending with it all the fear and anxiousness she had suffered.
"Gabrielle," Xena rested her cheek on the top of her lover's head, "those few hours away from you were like a lifetime to me but I was so afraid for your safety. Please understand that!" She took the bard's face in her hands searching the ever changing eyes for acceptance of her decision.
"I understand that you're willing to sacrifice yourself to keep me out of danger," Gabrielle smiled, her lips trembling with emotion. "I just wish you wouldn't feel the need to do so quite as often!"
"I know," Xena said wryly dropping her hands to the redhead's shoulders, "but I have to."
"That's why I love you so much," Gabrielle said putting her hands on Xena's waist. "You always think of others before yourself."
The warrior gave the bard a hug and said, "Let's go get some sleep!" Before going to the barn Xena slipped into Antonius' house and placed the decrees and necklace on the table.
In the barn the two women curled up on the bedroll and fell immediately into exhausted, dreamless sleeps.
Xena awoke around noon. She slipped out from behind Gabrielle, placed a soft kiss on her exposed cheek, and went to talk to Antonius. Again, she found him with a crowd of villagers at the well. The group was already aware of the decrees and recovered necklace the warrior had left with Antonius, but they clamored around her wanting to know how she had managed to persuade Prince Stephano to stop demanding payments. Xena was giving a brief description of the events of last night when Gabrielle joined them.
The warrior was recounting the look on the prince's face when she noticed the bard was frozen where she stood, her face ashen and her eyes wide open in shock. "Gabrielle?" Xena put a hand on the redhead's shoulder and was shocked to find her body rigid. "Gabrielle!" she took the bard by the shoulders and shook her, "Gabrielle!"
"Xena!" Gabrielle whispered hoarsely unable to focus on the warrior's face. She began trembling violently, "It's him! I saw him in the trees, Xena, it was him!" Xena gathered the bard into her arms and looked wildly around.
"Antonius! Take Gabrielle back to your house and don't let her out of your sight. She's seen the man that attacked her and I'm going after him!" Xena guided her lover into the waiting arms of their host and before anyone could protest, she ran off into the forest in the direction Gabrielle had been looking. The woods that bordered the other three sides of the village were thick and lush, but the warrior's senses were fully heightened. Following a trail of broken branches, oversized footprints and noise she followed Gabrielle's assailant through the woods.
After several minutes had passed Xena realized the forest was quiet. She stopped and strained to hear any sounds that would indicate a large man moving about but could hear none. Slowly moving in the direction she had been going she began to hear the sound of running water. 'He's going to try to lose me by crossing a river,' she thought, 'but he's got another think coming!' Xena started to run again and in only a few seconds burst into the open to see an enormous man standing at the edge of a deep gorge staring at the remains of a rope bridge.
'By the gods!' Xena thought, 'Gabrielle was right, this man is the size of a small house! No matter, he's not as big as the Titans, Gareth or Goliath; I defeated them all and I can conquer him, too.'
"Hey!" she shouted at him, drawing her sword. Startled by her voice he turned to face her. She drew in a sharp breath upon seeing his face. The man was huge but had the face of a boy. "An innocent!" she exclaimed out loud and lowered her weapon beside her. In his eyes she saw only confusion and fear. 'Zeus!' she prayed, 'what do I do? He nearly took away my only reason for living and I could kill him for that. But he probably didn't know what he was doing and I doubt he even remembers it, so how can I hurt him? Oh gods! Help me!'
She and the huge man stared at each other. 'Why doesn't he attack me like he did Gabrielle?' Xena wondered.
"Xena!" she heard from behind her in the distance. "Xena!" the voice came closer.
"Gabrielle?" the warrior shouted over her shoulder never taking her eyes off her foe.
"Gabrielle, what are you doing?"
"Don't hurt him, Xena!" Gabrielle yelled as she rushed into the clearing. "He doesn't
know...." she skidded to a halt. "Oh!" she gasped when she saw her assailant again and unconsciously stepped behind Xena putting her hands on the warrior's waist. In turn, Xena reached back and reassuringly touched the bard's thigh.
When the man caught sight of Gabrielle he let out a horrible wail and turned to run along the chasm. He slipped on the unstable dirt along the edge and fell over the side his hands scrabbling to find a hold in the soft earth.
"NO!" Xena cried, dropping her sword she ran and dove to the ground at the edge of the chasm desperately reaching for his hands. "Oh, no!" she exclaimed as he skidded out of her reach then plunged to the rocks far below. The warrior put her head down and groaned.
"Xena," Gabrielle knelt down beside her lover and put a hand on her broad back. "It's not your fault."
Xena raised her head and looked down at the broken body. "He was an innocent, Gabrielle. He didn't know what he had done! He didn't deserve to die!"
"I know." Gabrielle tugged on the warrior urging her to move away from the edge of the gorge. "You did what you could, Xena. You tried to save him."
Xena sat up and looked at the bard, what Gabrielle said dawning on her, "What do you mean... you know?" she asked searching the redhead's face.
"Antonius and his wife told me about him," Gabrielle answered softly. She stood up and held her hand out to Xena, "Come on," she said with a sad smile, "I'll tell you about it while we walk." The warrior took the hand stretched out in front of her, hauled herself to her feet and dusted herself off. The little redhead reached up and brushed some errant strands of hair out of her lover's face then took her by the hand and began walking slowly back in the direction they had come.
"His name was Claudius," the bard began. "He was about a summer older than I. His father died when he was three so he was raised by his mother who had never wanted a child. His mind stopped growing when he reached his fifth winter. He never learned to talk and only understood a few words. His mother hated him even more for that; she started beating him for no reason, locking him in cages and doing... things... to him." Xena listened silently as they walked. Her mind reeled at the thought that someone could do that to a child, even a child that wasn't "normal".
"When Claudius grew big enough to fight back," Gabrielle continued, "he began running wild and living in the forest. The villagers would put out food for him, and clothing when he needed it. Sometime in his eighteenth year he killed his mother," she stopped and looked up at Xena. "Guess who she looked like?" she whispered.
Shocked Xena said nothing but took Gabrielle into her arms. "By the gods!" she said when she found her voice.
"I can't blame him for what he did," Gabrielle said into Xena's shoulder.
"Nor can I," Xena said hoarsely. "He probably thought his mother had come back from Tartaurus to abuse him again."
"I hope the gods allow him into Elysian Fields," Gabrielle said turning her head to rest her cheek on the warrior's breast listening to the comforting rhythm of Xena's strong heartbeat.
"I'm sure they will," the warrior said combing her fingers through the thick, strawberry blonde hair. "He was an innocent. Even though he did wrong things he didn't know why. He's not to blame for what he was."
"I love you, Xena," Gabrielle looked up into the pale blue eyes that had touched her heart the first day they met. "You could have killed him for what he did to me, but in the end you tried to save him because you saw his soul. I can honestly say I've never known anyone like you."
"Gabrielle," the warrior said as a tear spilled over and ran down her cheek. "I'll never know how I made it from day to day before we met. Your love for me is without a doubt the brightest light that shines in the darkness that was my life. It's because of you I didn't kill him." She smiled as the bard reached up a hand and softly wiped away the tear. Taking the hand in her own she kissed the fingers and tasted the salt. "I love you more than life itself. If you had been killed I'd have taken my own life just to be with you."
"Xena," the bard whispered, "make love to me..., now. I need you. I need to feel your lips on mine, our bodies together. I want you on me and in me and I need you to heal me. I want you to kiss away the pain of my injuries, tell me my fear of being intimate again was real, but no longer needed, and I need you to reaffirm my faith in the love we share." She reached up and touched Xena's lips with her own in awe as always at their impossible softness. Taking the warrior's bottom lip in her mouth she gave it a brief suck then flicked her tongue into the eager mouth of her lover.
With an eagerness borne of desperation, warrior and bard worked at Xena's armor fastenings. Under the canopy of a small copse of trees the two women disrobed, and using Xena's shift and Gabrielle's skirt as a makeshift sheet the warrior placed her lover on a soft bed of grassy turf and leaves. Starting with the bard's face Xena softly kissed the healing cuts and bruises. As she worked her way downward, her thick, raven hair trailed over Gabrielle's body sending delicious shivers coursing through her.
Xena leaned up on one elbow beside the redhead, one leg draped over Gabrielle's thighs. With her fingers she traced over the injuries which less than an hour ago had her on the verge of killing. Gabrielle had never known the warrior's touch to be as gentle as it was at that moment. Tears flooded Xena's eyes when she imagined the pain the bard must have felt. With her hand on the side of her lover's face, she turned Gabrielle's head so she could look directly into the blue-green eyes, "I love you, Gabrielle," she whispered, her voice husky with emotion. "Are you sure you're ready?"
"I want you, Xena," answered the bard. Tangling her fingers in Xena's hair she drew the warrior's face to her, "Let me show you how much." She kissed her lover, softly at first then thrusting into Xena's mouth so that their tongues might meet and dance over each other. Running her hands across and down the warrior's muscled back she pulled Xena onto her so she could feel the responses of the warrior's body. Xena was enflamed with the passion she felt in both of them but forced herself to move slowly and prolong the pleasure of their lovemaking.
Their hands and mouths were everywhere. Gabrielle was ravenous for Xena's body, needing to feel the strength and safety the warrior possessed. The warrior responded slowly and softly, showing more caring and gentleness than she ever had before. Gabrielle felt a warmth spread through the very core of her being and her mind and soul were released from the terror of the past days. Xena's love flowed over Gabrielle and wrapped her in a new sense of well being. The bard released herself and allowed the warrior take her to another level of joy and tranquillity.
In the warmth of the afterglow the two women rested under the thick cover of tree branches. Wrapped closely in each other's arms it was as though the rest of the world had ceased to exist. For what seemed hours they stayed there, not wanting to break the spell of the magic they had shared. Again and again they made love, renewing and strengthening the bond of love and trust between them.
Late in the evening they made their way back to the village to break
the news of Claudius' death. The villagers took the information with little
surprise, saying it was unfortunate he had to end that way but that it
was probably for the best. Xena and Gabrielle took supper with Antonius,
and the next morning after receiving food for their journey, bade a fond
farewell to their host. They departed for Sigrito leaving behind them a
village with a new lease on life.
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