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Warning: This story contains references to an intimate relationship between two women, nothing graphic but exit here if you don't like that sort of thing.
Humour alert: Well, I have tried. Those with no sense of humour might want to quit too.
Disclaimer: Xena and Gabrielle belong to Universal TV, although the gods belong to no one but themselves. No offence intended against either all-powerful group of deities.
Editor's Note: Because the author is British, I have left the UK spelling conventions as well as the use of a single mark to denote dialog, -- Rana
CALL ME MISTER!
Visit my Xena Page - http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Academy/1966
Never trust a God.
Xena had long ago decided that this was a fine code to live by. Her experience with the inhabitants of Mount Olympus had made her wary of Gods bearing gifts, and when she heard the beating of tiny wings and saw Hermes' mischievously smiling face lit by the glowing embers of the campfire, she was instantly on her guard.
The circumstances leading up to this divine visit were a sorry mix of chance and coincidence. Xena and Gabrielle had, after many months of circling each other, decided that all this unresolved sexual tension was too much like hard work and admitted they fancied each other something rotten. After a bit of thought from Xena and a lot of talking from Gabrielle, they had decided to become a couple. It had been difficult for Xena to commit at first, being the strong, silent type, but she was devoted to Gabrielle in more than a platonic way and the young bard, although surprisingly inarticulate at times, found other ways of expressing herself that certainly got her feelings across.
They were still in the honeymoon period, having been together, in the biblical sense(if the bible had actually been written then) for about a month. Xena was not the demonstrative type in public or private, and was only now beginning to learn to loosen up under Gabrielle's tutelage. Gradually they were becoming more comfortable with the changes in their relationship.
After an especially frantic bout of passion, they lay tucked up beside the glowing embers of their campfire one night, talking quietly.
'Erm . . . Xena?' asked Gabrielle hesitantly.
'What is it?'
'Do I . . . I mean . . . is what we do . . . OK? Are you . . . you know . . . satisfied?'
Xena laughed out loud at Gabrielle's question. The younger woman frowned, pouting like a little girl in response to her partner's attitude. Xena caught Gabrielle's expression.
'I'm sorry Gabrielle, it's just you obviously haven't been with many women have you? I think you'd know that things are just peachy if you had.'
'Xena, you're my first, you know that! But are you sure, I know you are more, well, experienced than me.'
'Don't worry about a thing Gabrielle. It's me that should be thinking of things like that. You deserve the best of everything. ' she said gently.
'You know I sometimes think what it would be like to be a man and make love to you,' Xena mused aloud. 'I've often wondered how it is for men. Still, it couldn't be any better for us my sweet.' Xena hugged Gabrielle closer to her and settled their bodies more comfortably on the bedroll.
Unbeknownst to Xena and Gabrielle, just beyond the hill they were camped near, was a temple dedicated to Hermes and Aphrodite--it was uncommon for a temple to be dedicated to TWO gods, but the original villagers couldn't afford to build two temples and decided to hedge their bets and worship both of their favourites. Nowadays though, it was little used. A new building development group had recently put up a modern, all-purpose temple to ALL the Gods that was open from 8 til late and few villagers made the trek out to the old temple. However, it was of Hermes' favourites because of a particularly pretty lake nearby that the local girls sometimes swam in. (Remember swimming costumes weren't invented then.)
This particular night Hermes was buzzing around watching the fish and bemoaning the lack of swimmers when he saw the pair of travellers set up camp for the night.
That evening he watched Xena and Gabrielle fishing, cooking, eating and bathing in the cool clear waters of the lake and listened in on their conversation. Suddenly Aphrodite appeared at his side on the roof of the stone temple.
'Hey Herm! What ya doin' dude?'
Hermes hated Aphrodite's beach babe look, and the speech patterns even more. She had spent too long in her oyster shell bobbing around in his opinion. It had made her soft in the head and very facile. Hermes had decided that he was going to try for the geek look himself. It certainly worked for some of the more popular minstrels who were so cool and such a hit with the girls. He fancied himself as an intellectual and had been chatting to Plato to pick up some of the patter. So far though he hadn't been that successful.
He'd been dismissed by two shepherdesses as 'thick', an old crone had told him to smarten up, a harassed looking woman with four children had told him to 'stick his head where the sun don't shine'--he was still trying to figure that one out.
Now here were these two attractive young ladies that Hermes thought might be interested, and Miss Surf Babe shows up!
'Hello Aphrodite, how are you?' he asked rather politely.
'Hermes, I hope you ain't eyein them up. No chance man!' the blonde goddess drawled.
'What do you mean Aphi? They look like nice girls.'
'Hell-oo! Take a good look Herm. They're an item, you know? Together.'
'Don't be silly Aphrodite. I just heard one of them say she wished they had a man. So there,' he added petulantly.
'Hermes, the feathers from those winged sandals of yours must be blocking up your ears. Go on man, go listen and watch. Anyway, don't you know who they are?' asked Aphrodite.
'Who are they?'
'That's Xena, the warrior princess Ares is hung up on.'
'No! Damn I thought she looked sweet in that nice smart leather. Oh well. What about the little one?' Hermes asked.
'That's Gabrielle, Xena's girlfriend. No chance for you Herm, sorry . . . Later.' And she disappeared before Hermes could ask anything else.
He thought to himself. Hermes had always been the mischievous type before deciding to change his image. Zeus seemed to have hundreds of human girlfriends, but he was hopeless with them, how come all the best ones were always taken? OK so maybe he wouldn't get lucky, but there was no reason he couldn't have a little fun. He drifted closer to listen to the women, with a plan forming in his head.
'Xena, have you ever *really* wanted to be a man, I mean, you could have been an even stronger warrior and would have escaped a lot of the prejudice if you were . . . Xenos Warrior Prince!' Gabrielle said dreamily as she lay cuddled up beside her girlfriend.
'Actually I bet they would have called you Warrior King! Just think, you could be king of all Greece by now, Xenos the Great or maybe have your own palace with hundreds of soldiers and your own personal guard and . . . '
'Hey Gabrielle! Calm down,' said Xena laughing. 'You'll have an entire alternative life mapped out for me soon!'
They lay facing each other on their sides beside the now bright fire. Xena had fed the flames again and they could see each other clearly. It was a beautiful night, clear and crisp with a bright moon shining down on them.
'In answer to your question, when I was in my warlord days, I occasionally thought how my life would have been more straight forward if I were a man. Sometimes, about once a month, I definitely still wish it!' Xena said grinning.
'Oh tell me about it! It's obvious Zeus was a man. The monthly curse was probably all his idea.' said Gabrielle.
'But, there is no point in wondering. I am what the Gods made me. And if you're happy, I'm happy,' she smiled warmly at the young bard. 'Besides, just think what Hercules would have had to have done to start me on the road to goodness if I were a man! No, I would have been a meaner warlord as a man I think Gabrielle. Although I'm sure YOU could have still saved me,' she said, rolling Gabrielle onto her back and beginning a campaign of serious tickling.
Hermes eyes lit up as an idea for some fun came to him as he listened to their merriment.
'Well, if I can't score, at least I'll get to watch!' he said to himself.
'Hermes, you are one wicked son of a-- ', a voice spoke softly in his ear.
He almost fell off the tree he was perched on.
'Aphrodite, I wish you wouldn't creep up on me!' he whispered crossly.
'You are a *god*, man. You should have known I was here. Anyway, I like your style dude. A bit sneaky, but hey, what else can us gods do?'
'What do you think they'll do?' he asked the goddess of love.
'You know me Herm, they'll get it on! Could be hot stuff!'
'No, I think not my dear.' he replied.
'Oooh a bet! OK we'll discuss terms later. Get on with it. See ya on the Big Mount O later.'
The moon was high now, and Gabrielle was fast asleep. Xena was watching the stars and thinking of their journey the next day. They were en route to a small village that had a bit of a problem with raiders. Gabrielle had a friend there who had sent word. Xena thought of the hills between here and Cressola. Gentle, quite pretty really. She wasn't in a hurry, wanting to enjoy the scenery with Gabrielle. Besides, Argo had a sore fetlock and she didn't want to tire her. Another three days at a slow pace would still get them there in plenty of time to chase off a few ill disciplined thugs.
Gabrielle was curled up beside the warrior princess, with her head on Xena's shoulder, and an arm thrown across her body. Xena looked down at her friend. It had been a good day when she had met this girl she thought to herself, not for the first time.
Xena's sensitive ears picked up a rustling noise, and she was instantly alert. Gently moving Gabrielle to the blanket she was crouched and scanning the surrounding woodland in no time at all.
A birdlike noise preceded the ethereal figure of Hermes as he approached the clearing, with what he thought was a friendly grin on his face.
* Bloody Gods!* muttered Xena to herself, lowering her sword just a touch.
'Hermes, what do you want?' she asked suspiciously.
'Hello Xena, I am so glad to finally meet you. You are quite a celebrity on Mount Olympus, Ares just can't stop talking about you.'
Xena 'hmmphed' under her breath.
'Yes, well, I could do without Ares attentions. What do YOU want?' she repeated.
'Xena, Xena, don't be so grumpy. I am here to do you a favour. You have led a most fascinating life, experiencing the highs and lows most mortals only dream about. Great acts of courage and cruelty, barbarism and humanity. What an intriguing mixture. Well, there's one more experience for you, and I am going to help you LIVE it.'
'Look Hermes, I appreciate the gesture, but I want no favours, but to be left alone so--'
'No! Do not argue with me human!' he snapped angrily. 'Besides,' he continued with a big grin, 'I think you will like this . . . You'll be seeing me again soon.' And with that the messenger god disappeared.
Xena wondered what Hermes had in store for her, but she was suddenly overcome with a weariness and exhaustion that sapped her strength in an instant. She sank to the soft forest floor and fell into a deep sleep in seconds.
Gabrielle woke slowly as a shaft of sunlight fell on her face. She rolled over expecting to bump into Xena, but she soon realized her lover was not there. She lay for a moment, listening for Xena's morning rituals of cleaning up, cooking and getting their gear packed. Nothing.
Gabrielle sat up abruptly and looked around. No Xena.
She felt a twinge of concern, but reassured herself that the warrior would be nearby. However, it was quiet . . . too quiet.
Standing up, she began to look around more carefully when suddenly Gabrielle saw a figure slumped on the floor near the edge of the clearing. It was someone tall and dark, with broad shoulders and ripped clothing. She thought it must be some vagrant attracted to their fire, but she was worried about approaching this person without Xena as support.
Suddenly, Gabrielle noticed the sword next to the body. It was Xena's! This person must have attacked her. She grabbed her staff and cautiously approached.
It was a very tall, strong looking young man, with black hair and a dark bearded face. There was something familiar looking about that face thought Gabrielle. Pretty hunky too!
The heavily muscled body was that of a warrior, although the strange leather tunic looked ridiculous. It was several sizes too small, and tattered and torn. Even the boots were split with large hairy toes poking out of the bottom.
Gabrielle knew she should be frightened, but for some reason she wasn't. She reached out and poked the man in the chest with her staff.
'Hey, you!' she shouted. 'Wake up.'
The figure groaned and began to move.
'Come on stranger, get up. Why do you have my friend's sword? Who are you?'
The stranger rolled over and opened his eyes.
Gabrielle gasped. This man had eyes that were identical in colour to Xena's.
The bright blue but bleary eyes stared back at her uncomprehending.
'Who . . . Who are you?' Gabrielle whispered. Something was very weird here.
'Ga . . . Gabrielle?' rasped the man.
She narrowed her gaze. This man knew her name. How could that be?
'Gabrielle, what are you talking about?'
'I don't know you sir. I've never seen you before. What have you done to Xena, she would never give up her sword.'
'Oh . . . my head! By the Gods Gabrielle, I wish I knew what you were babbling about. Come here and help me up, I feel really strange.'
Gabrielle eyed the stranger warily. He was an odd one indeed. He spoke to her as if he knew her, but she would never have forgotten a gorgeous man like this. She shook herself mentally. *Stop oggling and find out about Xena*.
The man slowly climbed to his feet but as he did so, his face paled as he looked at his hands and arms in wonder. He raised a hand and felt his glossy black beard then leaned over to look at his legs. Gabrielle had seen warriors check themselves for injuries before, but this man seemed surprised by the very existence of his own body!
He looked over at Gabrielle and his mouth opened and closed, but no sounds emerged.
'Are you alright sir?' she asked.
'I . . . I don't know.' he replied shakily.
'Gabrielle, I don't know how but I've been . . . changed. It's me . . . Xena' said the man.
Gabrielle stared at the man coldly.
'What are you talking about? How could YOU be Xena. If you've harmed her, I swear I'll kill you!'
She was scared. This man couldn't be Xena, so he must be making up this story for a reason. Maybe she had been kidnapped. Gabrielle opened her mouth to say something.
'No, listen Gabrielle,' said the stranger, 'it really is me. I remember now, Hermes was here, he said something about doing me a favour. I think this is it. Do you remember what we were talking about last night? About if I had ever wanted to be a man? I said about . . . well . . . you know, you and me. I think this is Hermes' idea of a joke. Never trust a God! Come on Gabrielle, do I have to tell you how I know what drives you crazy in bed?'
Gabrielle blushed. Could it be true? This man certainly seemed to know things, but he could have been spying on them and heard much of it. Looking closely, he *did* look how Gabrielle imagined a male Xena would look.
He was about 6 inches taller than Xena, very strong and athletic-looking without being too heavily built, those striking eyes, high cheekbones and a noble, handsome face. Gabrielle could see quite a lot of his body as he only wore what she saw now was Xena's leather tunic. His larger body had burst out of it. Gabrielle could see a strong broad chest lightly covered with dark hair, long muscular legs and brawny arms. Strangely her/his hair had got shorter! It was still dark and straight, but now only shoulder length and not plaited like her friends.
They looked at each other, cautiously accepting the unexpected changes.
'Xena . . . is it you?' Gabrielle asked quietly.
'Yes, my love, I don't know how or why but it is really me.'
'Oh . . . my . . . GOD!!' shrieked Gabrielle unexpectedly. 'Look at you! Xena, wow, this is like when you were in Callisto's body isn't it? Only . . . much more . . . handsome!' she said with a smile.
Gabrielle had never considered falling in love with another woman when she was younger, it wasn't something she ever imagined could happen. Since falling for Xena though, she had been forced to reassess her views on her sexuality. Looking back Gabrielle could see that she had been attracted by both men and women when she was younger, only had not considered the women as partners in that way. She had come close to kissing Deidra, a girl from the next village when she was 15, but after that her eyes had followed mainly men. Erasmus the teacher, older and brainy; Colum the stone mason, ultimately too thick though; Studos the handsome baker, who most of the girls in town fell for and, of course, Perdicus who was always faithful if a bit dull.
Looking back, she acknowledged that she always enjoyed meeting Pella, Studos' sister, as she was as beautiful as her brother and Mena the blacksmith's daughter had a certain something about her, possibly the smell of sweat, leather and horses.(A bit like Xena actually!)
Gabrielle did almost as much thinking as she did talking, and she often tried to analyse her relationship with Xena and her early attractions. She knew that most people either like the opposite sex or their own, but she honestly looked at the individual not the sex of a person. There were some women she found physically repulsive AND some men. Gabrielle liked to think of herself as open minded and open to various possibilities. However, being in a committed relationship meant that it was all theoretical, although it didn't hurt to just LOOK.
But here in front of her was an incredibly handsome and sexy man, with her best friend and lover inside! It was the answer to an inquisitive girl's prayer! She was crazy about Xena and enjoyed the physical side of their relationship immensely, but there were intriguing possibilities opening up now.
'Gabrielle, what am I going to do?' asked Xena in her new resonant bass voice. It sounded strange to Gabrielle, but familiar at the same time.
'I know this is a trick, but I don't know how long he'll leave me like this. And I can't carry on my work. I think people would spot the difference.'
Gabrielle forced herself to stop fantasizing and tried to imagine how her friend must be feeling.
'Come on Xena, don't be downhearted . . . '
'I'm not!' thundered the Warrior Prince(ss?)'I am livid! How dare Hermes do this to me. I'll kill him. Well . . . I would if he wasn't immortal.'
'Look calm down Xena. We have to think what to do. And we'll have to get you some new clothes. Those were your favourite leathers too.'
Xena looked down, examining her new body once again. She noticed the extra distance to the floor, the extra weight of the muscular arms and legs, the flat chest! Great! No painful breast plate now! Xena also saw how all the clothing on this body was ripped and torn beyond repair. Damn, it had taken ages to break in those leathers, and they weren't cheap.
'Look,' said Gabrielle suddenly. Why don't you become Xenos, like I was saying before. You can carry on your good deeds and all that.'
'Gabrielle, you can't just appear as a warrior. I'll end up fighting tons of people just to prove myself because they've never heard of me.'
'So? You have all the old fighting skills but extra height and strength. You'll beat anyone. Erm . . . you are stronger aren't you, I mean I assumed . . . ' Gabrielle said hesitantly.
*Hmm . . . good point Gabrielle* thought the warrior.
Xena looked around. She caught sight of a rabbit nibbling at the grass, and watching it carefully she flung her chakram at the animal. She missed. But only because the weapon flew too high and instead killed an unsuspecting squirrel scurrying up to its drey with a mouthful of nuts. Xena sprinted over to the tree, trying out her legs, and leapt up to grab the chakram and squirrel. This was great! This body was indeed stronger and faster. Xena could feel the extra weight as she somersaulted over a branch, narrowly missing it. Hmm, some practice was going to be needed to get to know her body's capabilities. But on the whole things looked promising. Reaching down the front of the leather tunic for the breast dagger, Xena was surprised to find it wasn't there. Looking down though, it became clear that the lack of cleavage meant she'd have to find a new spot to hide THAT weapon. Instead, Xena picked up a stone and took aim at a branch high up in another tree. Throwing with all her might, Xena felt the extra power surge through her as the branch splintered and flew off in all directions. So, her eye was still good. Finally, what about the reactions of this body.
She jogged back to an interested Gabrielle, who was enjoying the show.
'Gabrielle, I need to see how fast I can react to an attack. I want you to ambush me in the woods. Go on up there,' Xena pointed, 'and I'll come up in a few minutes. Don't hold anything back, I'll be ready, I just need to see how quickly I can do it. OK?'
'Anything to help Xena but . . . be gentle with me!' she smirked.
After seeing Xena's eyebrow rise Gabrielle thought again how this new body of Xena's had all the best of the old one, and more. She loved that eyebrow trick and had spent ages trying to do it herself. It was so cool looking.
She chose a large tree and scrambled up to a branch 7 feet or so from the ground. Gabrielle sat as still as an owl as she heard the heavy footsteps approach. She let Xena pass, deciding to bide her time. When Xena returned along the path a few minutes later looking puzzled, Gabrielle leapt from the branch towards the shoulders of the warrior. She never made contact though. Before she knew it, Gabrielle found herself flat on her back and pinned underneath the masculine body of Xena.
'Hmm, pretty sneaky Gabrielle, you're getting better,' Xena smiled.
'Well . . . you seemed to cope alright,' Gabrielle gasped hoarsely.
Xena realized that she was crushing her bard and leapt to her feet instantly, lifting the smaller woman up.
'Oh gosh, I'm sorry Gabrielle, I keep forgetting how much bigger I am. Are you OK, did I hurt you?' Xena asked anxiously.
'Don't worry, I'm fine Xena. By the way I think your reactions are unaffected, don't you?'
Xena gave a sheepish grin.
'Yeah, I guess.'
Xena was dressed in a shift, with a few leather straps, and looked frankly ridiculous. There was nothing else that fitted. Her feet were bare--nothing at all fitted these huge things. They had decided that Xena would indeed become Xenos, Xena's cousin. They were far enough from Amphipolis that no one would question whether this cousin really existed. Gabrielle had thought up a story involving Xena's cousin taking her place as Xena was sick. Xena herself thought this was a terrible excuse and complained that Gabrielle could have come up with something far more imaginative.
'Hey, I learnt a long time ago, keep your lies simple. You only run the risk of tripping yourself up if you make it too complicated. Xena has the flu, Xenos is here. OK Xenos?'
The newly christened Xenos gave Gabrielle an all too familiar sidelong smile.
'You know, this is just sooo weird!' commented Gabrielle.'You have all Xena's expressions and phrases and yet there's *this magnificent body*'
'I thought you liked my body. You always said you did. I think you prefer this body Gabrielle,' she said angrily and with a touch of hurt. 'Well I am sorry, but this isn't me for long. So don't get used to it.' And with that Xena stormed off at a very fast walk.
*You idiot Gabrielle!* she berated herself.*Xena's trying to come to terms with the changes and you make her feel worse.*
'Xena!' she called. Gabrielle was leading Argo, and giving the horse a weary look, the pair ran after their wounded warrior.
Xena was leaning against a battered looking tree not far along the path. The poor tree had clearly taken the brunt of Xena's hurt. The male figure stood looking at the ground as Gabrielle approached.
'Oh Xena! I didn't mean it like that. Don't be upset. I love you no matter what body you've got--although it was hard when it was Callisto's body by the way. It's *you* I love, and you're still you in there. But even *you* must admit, you look good. Not better,' she rushed on before Xena would misinterpret, 'but sexy in a different way.'
Xena looked up and gave a deep sigh.
'Seems I'm as touchy as ever hmm? Look, this is just so strange for me Gabrielle. I am used to being in control, knowing exactly what my body can do. I'll get used to . . . if I have to. Come on, I have to get into some proper clothes before I die of embarrassment.'
She put an arm around Gabrielle's shoulder and took Argo's reins.
'Do you really think I'm sexy?' Xena asked quietly.
'Gods, yes! You'll be fighting off the women as well as the men! I'll have to keep my eye on you.' said Gabrielle with a smile.
They arrived at a village that was fortunately having a market day. Xena hung back as Gabrielle ploughed through the modest crowds looking for a clothing merchant. Second hand clothes weren't very common in Ancient Greece, but luckily she found a stall selling bits and pieces that had some tunics and boots.
'Xen . . . Xenos!' she called to the bashful looking warrior. Xena was tall for a woman, and was even more conspicuously tall for a man, towering over everyone no matter how she stooped in the shadows. Gabrielle dragged Xena over, holding up various tunics against the man's body to see which would fit. They looked for all the world like any couple out shopping for clothes at any time in history; the reluctant and embarrassed looking man with his wife choosing the clothes.
The merchant cast a sympathetic look at Xena. Gabrielle was enjoying herself though. Soon she had chosen a couple of tunics and had Xena sitting trying on boots.
'Women, hey friend!' said the merchant. 'Looks like she's got you well trained,' he continued with a grin.
Xena gave a tight smile to the man. This was so unsettling!
Thankfully, Gabrielle finished her shopping soon after. The pair retired to a local inn where Xena tried on her new attire. The tunics were fine, but the leather trousers were tight, and the boots pinched her toes.
'Gods Gabrielle! These clothes hurt. Couldn't you get anything bigger?'
'These were the biggest trousers there. Sorry Xena, but you are a big guy now. Don't worry, they'll soon loosen up with wear. At least you look better now. But I'm not sure about the chakram. Makes you look too much like you . . . I mean Xena.'
'I think I need my favourite weapon Gabrielle. So much is different, I need something that is the same as always. Come on, lets eat, we have to be on our way again soon.'
It was a beautiful afternoon as Xena and Gabrielle walked along a sunlit path between huge, spreading trees that stretched to the sky. A gentle breeze swept through the trees, stirring the leaves gently. The birds sang and swooped, animals scurried in the nearby woods. It was a good day to be alive.
Argo was having problems coming to terms with a new master. She had loved Xena, was still confused over the Callisto business, and now there was this man. He was heavy, but had a familiar smell. His hands on the reins felt comfortable, but the horse was uncertain. The new Xenos recognised this and had been talking to the horse and re-introducing himself to the animal.
Gabrielle watched, amused.
Suddenly Xena looked up. She stared into the trees.
'Gabrielle, there's someone up ahead. Now I'll get a chance to test my fighting skills. Stay back . . . '
But before Xena had finished speaking, four men on horses rushed out of the forest towards them. Xena drew her sword, and Gabrielle readied her staff.
The warcry was different.
'Yayayayayay!' A deep roar that immediately scared the horses came from the fierce looking warrior. One of the horses bolted, taking a bandit with it. The other three men looked a bit worried.
Xenos leapt into the air and kicked a man from his horse. Lifting his sword, he blocked a thrust from another bandit, and grabbing the man's arm, pulled him from the horse. Xenos then picked the bandit up bodily and threw him through the air, to land in a crumpled heap at Gabrielle's feet unconscious.
The remaining horseman turned his mount and charged at Xenos. The warrior quickly flung his chakram that buried itself in his chest armour, knocking him from the horse, winded.
Xenos ran up as the man began to rise unsteadily to his feet, and retrieving the chakram from the twisted metal, he picked the man up and flung the bandit at the first attacker who was trying to mount a surprise assault. The two men knocked heads and sank to the floor. Xenos looked around for any more danger, and looked a bit disappointed to discover it was all over.
Gabrielle broke into applause.
'Wow! Impressive stuff!' She walked up to the now smiling warrior. 'That looked quite easy for you Xena, sorry Xenos. You're hardly sweating are you?'
'Thanks. Yeah, I enjoyed that, but I could have done with them putting up more of a fight, I need the practice. Oh well, we might get attacked again I suppose.'
'Hey! You sound as if you WANT us to get attacked!'
'Sorry Gabrielle, but actually, I do need a bit more hand-to-hand practice before I feel comfortable with this body.' replied the warrior, grinning.
'That looked very comfortable Xena, I mean you barely broke into a sweat seeing off those men.'
'Exactly Gabrielle. They were undisciplined and ill trained. However, I must be prepared for much more skilled opposition.'
The pair were walking back to where Argo was patiently waiting, Xena wiped off her sword as they walked and returned it to the scabbard that was now at her waist. It didn't feel comfortable on this broader back. Actually, she thought a new slightly heavier sword would probably suit her new body, but there was unlikely to be an opportunity to visit an armoury in the near future.
'So . . . Xenos', Gabrielle saw the grimace, 'are we still heading for Cressola?'
'Don't call me that Gabrielle, I'm still me you know. And yes, of course. Those raiders are still there whether I am a man or a woman.'
Xena swung herself into the saddle and then reached down an arm.
'Come on, we'd better get moving Gabrielle.'
Gabrielle felt herself yanked up like a rag doll. This new Xena still didn't quite know her own strength.
'Ommph!' she gasped.
'Sorry Gabrielle, are you OK?'
'Just about. Wow those muscles of yours really work don't they?' she smiled.
Gabrielle was very unsettled by the sensation of riding with Xena. For a start off, she couldn't grip this wider body in quite the same way. And the body underneath felt very different. Harder and flatter. She couldn't see a thing past the huge frame, not even a peek over the shoulder as she could sometimes do with the old Xena.
For the warrior too it was strange. She always enjoyed riding with her bard, but today they were both tense. She still liked the feel of Gabrielle's hands around her waist, but the stirrings in her body were different to the usual ones. All the feelings, sensations and emotions were somehow different. Gabrielle was still her loved one, but Xena had no idea how to approach her now.
They had travelled all day, and were both weary. Xena stopped Argo and the two travellers dismounted in a small clearing well away from the path. Xena always chose their camp sites with care. It had to be a safe place above all else. Also, a slightly secluded place was usually necessary for the lovers to have some privacy.
They established camp as usual. Gabrielle was strangely quiet, as she thought about all the events of this remarkable day. Xena was also preoccupied with her thoughts.
It was not until they sat next to the fire to eat that the pair really spoke to each other that night.
'Gabrielle, I know this has been very confusing for you, but don't worry, it'll all work out,' said the deep voice of the altered Xena.
'I know. And I'm not worried Xena. I've just been trying to work things out. About . . . us, you know.'
'How do you mean Gabrielle?'
'Well, how we can be . . . together what with you being . . . different now.'
Xena looked at her companion with a slightly shocked expression.
'Gabrielle, I don't think I'm ready to do ANYTHING about us at the moment. I don't think it would be right what with me not being me. Erm . . . that didn't sound right,'she finished with a frown.
'Xena, do you mean to say that we're not going to be together while you're in this man's body? But that might be ages! Anyway, at least it isn't Callisto or Autolycus or someone else's body this time, it's still you, just a male you.' Gabrielle had been secretly looking forward to getting to know this sexy new body all day, and Xena's coyness was most annoying.
Xena got up suddenly and Gabrielle almost put her neck out craning up to see her with the extra 6 inches height. Xena's face had flushed bright pink, and she stood clenching and unclenching her fists. Xena was obviously upset.
'Gabrielle, you're doing it again aren't you?' She accused. 'You're thinking of this body. Admit it, you prefer men don't you? You just been making do with me because you had no current offers.' Xena was clearly VERY upset.
'What are you talking about Xena?' Gabrielle got up and tried to approach the angry warrior.
'I think you're talking out of your muddled hormones! It's YOU I love, no matter what you look like. I'm not allowed to like you now? That's ridiculous! You're being too sensitive. Come here,' she was trying to touch Xena, but as Gabrielle approached, Xena retreated. They were conducting a rather strange dance around the fire at present.
Gabrielle grabbed Xena's arms, but the extra strength of the warrior meant a mere shrug was enough to dislodge her hold.
'No! I can't do this at the moment Gabrielle. PLEASE!'
'By the Gods Xena, anyone would think I was going to molest you!'
'I'm sorry Gabrielle, you know you mean the world to me, but you have to give me some space, I have to get used to my body before I can . . . share it. You know?'
Gabrielle smiled wryly. Her warrior was SUCH an emotional mess. Xena had been the innocent in a way when it came to relationships. She knew little about love and sharing, being one half of a couple. Xena was always so self contained that it had was still a struggle to get her to let Gabrielle into her life fully, now this body swap thing looked like it had set her back even further.
'Look Xena, lets make a deal. I'm not going to jump you OK? But I'm not going to spend the night over the other side of the fire. It's too cold, and I've got used to sharing. But don't worry, your virtue is safe, right?'
Xena looked embarrassed.
*As well you might* thought Gabrielle.
'Gabrielle, you really are too good for me you know. I don't know why you bother sometimes, I'm such a mess.' said the now calmer Xena sorrowfully.
'I bother because I love you of course. Idiot!' she said, gently swatting Xena's arm.
It was late, but for once it was Gabrielle who was awake and Xena who slept. Another change in the male Xena that Gabrielle had discovered was that she now snored with considerable volume! *Must be something about men* she thought, remembering her Uncle Auleos who was nicknamed the Trumpet of Poteidaia.
Xena's snoring wasn't all that kept the bard awake though. Despite her promises of inaction, Gabrielle couldn't help but be aware of the body of her lover next to her, and the completely different shapes and contours.
She and Xena had become comfortable with lying curled up together at night, Gabrielle always between Xena and the fire. Xena would lie on her back with one arm around Gabrielle and the other touching her sword. So romantic! But Gabrielle knew that was the only way she felt comfortable.
This new Xena lay sprawled in a much more untidy heap, but the arm around her was heavy, and the snores deafening. The shoulder that Gabrielle usually cushioned her head on was now harder and the collarbone poked out too far. The rounded hip she was used to leaning against was now narrow, and the legs against hers were rough and hairy.
*I want MY Xena back* thought Gabrielle, and was shocked and ashamed to realize that this was the first time she had thought that. She had been so busy thinking up new possibilities that she had been insensitive.
What made it worse was that Xena slept so soundly.*I know I'm being illogical, but at least SHE could be uncomfortable too!* thought the bard.
She elbowed the firm ribs and reached up to pinch Xena's nose. Maybe that would stop the snoring.
Xena woke with a jump.
'What . . . wh . . . Gabrielle? What is it?' she asked groggily, half rising to rest on her elbows as she looked down at the obviously wide awake bard.
'I'm sorry Xena, but you were snoring so loudly I couldn't sleep.'
'I don't snore.' replied the slightly stroppy warrior. 'You woke me for THIS?'
'Well, you do now.'
Xena lay down grumbling under her breath and reached for the smaller woman to settle her down too.
'Do you know how late it is Gabrielle? Go to sleep, now!'
And with that the warrior quickly returned to unconsciousness, but thankfully, a now quiet slumber.
Gabrielle could hear Xena's heartbeat thumping steadily in her broad chest as her head lay on her lover's body.
It was a reassuring reminder that this amazing person, incredibly, really loved her and chose to be with her above all others.
Xena had never lacked for admirers wherever they went, although most were put off by her fierce manner. It may have been the eyes, the hair, the wonderful body, the sexy voice, the leather or even the quite attractive horse! Xena wasn't someone people were indifferent to. Sure, they had had to leave some towns at double speed after a disagreement, or a fight. But there were just as many towns Xena wanted to leave quickly to escape the attentions of a lovesick farmer, or obsessed merchant. There had also been a few serving girls that Gabrielle had 'accidentally' tripped up with her fighting staff after the girls' flirting with her warrior became too much for the normally very easy going bard to bear.
*Gorgeous whether she's a man or a woman*, Gabrielle mused dreamily.
*Just the one* she thought, and reached up to kiss the rather rough but chiselled cheek. Xena's beard prickled, but it was strangely familiar. Gabrielle looked down at her love. So beautiful . . . well, handsome . . . no still beautiful she decided. She lowered her head again and gently kissed the firm lips, but this time she lifted her head more quickly. That felt much more different. Not like kissing Xena at all. Gabrielle couldn't decide if it was nice--different, or not, but as she went for a second attempt, Xena suddenly rolled over and pinned the bard underneath her.
'Now what ARE you doing my sweet?' she asked half teasing, half annoyed, and half asleep. 'I thought we agreed to leave the kissing stuff.'
'I . . . I was just trying it out, I didn't mean to wake you Xena.' gasped Gabrielle. She was wondering how long she could lie here and not get crushed.
'My dear Gabrielle, you KNOW I'm not a heavy sleeper . . . '
'Heavy is right Xena, you're squashing me!', interrupted a groaning Gabrielle.
Xena raised herself up off the bard, but stayed in position.
'I'm sorry Gabrielle, I keep forgetting how heavy I am now. But you really shouldn't tempt me.'
With that Xena bent and kissed Gabrielle swiftly on the mouth. It felt strange to her too. Xena depended on Gabrielle for so much. She had given her hope, self-belief, showed her how to love and taught her an awful lot about hair braiding. She adored her. Xena leaned in for another kiss, but was surprised when Gabrielle turned her head away. Xena kissed her cheek and then gently turned the bard's head towards her.
'What is it Gabrielle? I thought you wanted this?' she asked.
'It doesn't feel right Xena . . . It's like kissing a stranger, and I want YOU back. I'm sorry I kept making comments about liking this body. You ARE handsome, but I prefer the old Xena, MY Xena! What do you think we have to do to get you back?'
Xena gave Gabrielle the biggest grin, then reached down and almost crushed her again in a massive hug.
'Oh Gabrielle, I am SO glad to hear you say that. I not that keen on this body either. It might be strong, but it's too heavy for any of my favourite somersaults. And it's taking me ages to re-learn how to fight effectively. And I smell strange, have you noticed? And I hate all this hairiness', she went on holding up her arms. 'About the only thing I like is being able to pee standing up!'
Gabrielle grinned back at her now animated warrior. Slapping her arm playfully she said, 'Yes, but surely even you can't hold a sword at the same time?'
'Not yet, but I'll practice' Xena replied with a grin.
'So, Hermes didn't give you any idea how long this was for Xena? He didn't say anything to give you a clue how to undo it?'
'No', she sighed. 'He just went on about doing me a favour and letting me experience something new. Face it Gabrielle, I am just a plaything for whichever God is in the mood to tease us mortals', she said gloomily.
'Who knows what they want us to do. He might leave me like this, or switch me back tomorrow, but I'm betting he is watching and hoping to have a bit of a laugh at my expense first.'
Gabrielle gently stroked the bearded cheek of her love. Actually it felt quite nice.
'Look Xena, I think we should just carry on with this business in Cressola and see what happens. You'll be fine. I want you to know I love you more than ever,' she finished tenderly.
Xena smiled at Gabrielle, and gathered her up in a hug as they settled down to sleep for what was left of the night.
Meanwhile, Mount Olympus--the city, well mountain, that never sleeps was abuzz. Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares and Hades were having a disagreement.
'Look, you feather brained prat!' boomed Ares, 'Xena is MINE, got it! I don't want anyone messing her up but me!'
The feather reference confused Hermes and Aphrodite. Neither of them were the masterminds of the Mount, and they weren't sure which of them Ares was yelling at.
Feathered-footed Hermes took up the challenge first.
'You have no hold on her anymore though, you . . . bully! I can do what I want, and you can't stop me, so there!' he finished rather childishly.
'I'll stuff those sandals down your throat in a minute you . . . '
'Hey, Ares, just chill out! Come on, time out you two!' called the feather brained goddess of love. 'Ares, man you have to learn to be a bit less . . . well, aggressive ya know.'
Ares glowered. His eyebrows gathered and he took a deep breath ready to tell Aphrodite where she could stick her words of peace, but as he opened his mouth, Hades interrupted him.
'Look, all of you, we can't spend all day arguing.' Hades had been up for a visit with the family. Judgements and deaths could hang on for a bit. He felt a bit isolated down in the underworld when Persephone wasn't there. However, his initial amusement at the latest news and gossip from the gods had gone. He had been looking forward to hearing how everyone was, but instead was having to act as referee to this childish squabble. Enough was enough.
'Ares, you know that you can't do anything about another god's spells. Hermes, this is a pretty mean trick even for you. And Aphrodite, what is this about a bet?'
Ares wasn't in a chatty mood, so with a 'go to hell Hades', he stomped off.
'Charming!' said Hermes snootily.
'Woah! What a bummer' said Aphrodite girlishly.
'Prat!' said Hades quietly.
'So, come on then Aphro,' said Hades after a while.'What bet have you two got going?'
'Well, you know me and my views on love and all. I bet Hermes that Gabrielle and the new Xena would be at *it* together pretty soon. He seems to think they won't. Want to join the wager?' she said.
Hades was intimidated by the warrior princess, but she had done him a couple of favours and he knew her heart was good.
She still scared the shit out of him though.
He was glad he wasn't the one who would have to suffer her wrath for playing this trick on her.
'I'll tell you what Aphro, I'll have another bet with you. Hermes won't get out of this without Xena duffing him up. I know her, and I reckon she'll find a way of getting him for this.'
Hermes smug little smile faltered a bit. Aphrodite, on the other hand, looked much more interested.
'Yeah, I hadn't thought of that. But even Xena can't hurt one of us . . . can she? I'll take your bet Hades, I have faith in us gods.'
Hermes looked positively terrified as he imagined a REALLY angry Xena, but smiled at Aphrodite.
'Thank you my dear for your vote of confidence,' he said.
'Yeah right Hermes! I'm sure you're safe from Xena . . . I just wonder what Ares will do to get you back though.'
This didn't make Hermes feel better.
'Oh dear' he said weakly.
The strangers in town were welcomed by a stooping, elderly man who seemed to be the leader of some sort.
*Obviously didn't fight for the job* thought Xena.
'Whoever you are, I have to tell you, this town has nothing of value', said the old man in a surprisingly strong voice. He had an air of authority and integrity about him.
Gabrielle rushed forward.
'No, you have it all wrong sir. My name is Gabrielle and this is Xena. . . Xenos', she swiftly corrected herself.
'My friend Cassia sent word that your town needed help.'
A young girl rushed forward from the small but interested crowd watching the exchanges warily.
'Gabrielle? Is that you,' she said as she approached the girl and gave her a big hug.
'Cassia, it's so good to see you again! How have you been?' Gabrielle returned the embrace, while Xena watched the crowd for any trouble. Looks OK she thought.
'Gabrielle,' began Cassia in a whisper, 'I thought you travelled with the warrior princess. Who is this hunk?' she said eyeing Xena speculatively.
'Cassia, this is Xena's cousin Xenos from Amphipolis. Guess what! He is a warrior too. Almost as good as Xena. Anyway, Xena couldn't come she's aah . . . recovering from an arrow wound. Xenos will be great, you'll see.' she finished.
The townspeople had listened to this conversation. Xena's transformation from warlord to fighter for the needy was well known, and the tales of her exploits--spread by Gabrielle--were popular fireside entertainment. Cassia was also a bard, a fellow Academy student from Gabrielle's days at the Athens Academy for Performing Bards. She had enjoyed Gabrielle's stories of Xena's adventures and had suggested Xena as a solution to Cressola's raider problem.
The old man approached the warrior.
'I am Nicos, I speak for the people of this town. I welcome you Xenos, and Gabrielle', he added looking at the bard, 'and I hope you can help us. We are simple farmers. We cannot fight against these villains. Already five good young men have perished, and we can give no more. The other towns around here are in a similar position. This is only a moderately prosperous area. Our crops feed us, with only a little over for trading. Soon it will be winter and we will surely starve. Please, can you help?'
Xena admired his style. He put their case well.
She approached the man, towering over him like a giant.
'Nicos, I will do all I can, and I am sure these cowards will soon be gone,' the warrior boomed.
A murmur of anticipation went through the crowd.
'Now, I want to know all the details of what has happened.' Xena was ready to get down to business.
Aphrodite found Hermes in the darkest corner of the top floor of the palace on Mount Olympus. She hadn't even realized there were floors here. The room was a small attic like place which contained a chair, table and a muttering Hermes.
'Hey Hermes!' she called. The messenger god almost leapt out of his skin.
'I've told you before Aphi DON'T creep up on me!' he said shakily.
'Why are you up here Herm? IS it Ares you are hiding from? It can't be Xena.'
'I am just wondering how I always manage to mess everything up Aphi.' He said disconsolately. 'I just wanted to have a bit of a giggle, you know. I mean we gods mess up peoples lives all the time. It's in our job description to be annoying.'
'Look Hermes,' said the goddess of love sympathetically, 'so you messed about with Ares' fave babe, he can't do anything to you, you're a god. And Xena, so she is one scary chick, but you'll survive. Probably.'
Hermes was slightly reassured, except by the last word. It was true he would be OK.
'Hermes, we need to resolve this situation one way or the other now. Wow . . . didn't I sound brainy there!' Aphrodite grinned. 'So far Xena and Gabrielle are still chaste. Lets make this a timed bet. I still think they are a hot couple and love will triumph. Lets give them three days. If they are still taking cold baths by sundown three days from now, you win and I'll turn Xena back and take the strife from her, but if they succumb before that I win so you have to do the deed and face the music from Xena. Deal?'
'OK Aphrodite, you got a deal.'
Hermes had listened in on last night's chat and was confident that they would resist each other for a bit. He might get away with it after all.
It had been a long few days but productive ones. Xena reclined in a hot bath relaxing.
After an examination of the woods surrounding the village, she had located the raiders tracks and had followed them to the disused former camp of the villains. By her reckoning it had been deserted about 2 days ago. It looked as if they had moved on and were about to terrorize a new village. Strictly speaking her job was probably already done. The danger was past in all likelihood. However, Xena was not one to leave a job half done. Pushing Argo on she had once again followed the raiders' trail, and by late afternoon had traced them.
The camp was a messy one. The raiders sat around drinking and gambling their money away. Xena estimated that there were about 15 of them. A fairly easy fight for the new stronger Xena. Their leader was the only one not relaxed. He was a tall swarthy man who actually looked fairly clean compared to the others. He sat in front of a tent sharpening his sword and casting his eyes around the camp moodily.
*Hmm . . . he is the one to watch out for* thought Xena.
She had a few options. Attack now. Disable them in some way and return tomorrow with a larger group. Lie low and wait until later. This was the one Xena chose. She climbed a large tree and rested her body. She wanted to capture as many as she could alive. The element of surprise would also help her.
It was an hour or two before dawn when Xena slipped down from the tree and tiptoed towards the leaders tent. She had spotted two half asleep guards earlier but they had passed out drunk about two hours earlier and no one had come to relieve them. Very casual and disorganized.
Xena drew her sword. She had cut lengths of rope ready to bind her captives. The two drunk guards were a doddle. Even Gabrielle could have captured them she thought with a smile.
She slipped into the leader's tent. He lay slumped on a pile of rugs but stirred as Xena approached. As the man sat up with a start Xena leapt at him and pinned him to the floor easily. He couldn't move at all.
'Hello. My name is Xena . . . I mean Xenos, and I am here to capture you. My friends back in Cressola aren't very happy right now,' she said in her trademark sardonic way, just deeper and a bit louder.
The man looked up at Xena startled and frankly worried. He knew the game was up.
As Xena raised her body though, he made a grab for a hidden dagger under the bedding, but Xena was too quick for him and had disarmed him and flipped him onto his stomach before he could do anything.
As the man lay stunned and tied up, Xena gave him a triumphant grin and swiftly punched him on the chin to knock him out.
Within the hour all of the bandits were either tied up or unconscious. To Xena's disappointment not one had put up a decent fight. It had all been incredibly easy. She yearned for a decent punch up as she returned to the head bandit's tent.
As she entered, she got her wish as the man while still tied up, now had his hands in front of him and had swung a chair at her head. Xena heard the whoosh and ducked just in time to avoid the wooden missile. The man jumped at Xena and landed a double fisted punch into Xena's belly. She doubled over and also got a heavy jab in the side of her head before recovering to leap away from the man. Xena could so easily have drawn her sword and the contest would have been over in seconds, but she chose to punch it out. *Finally!* she thought.
The fight still didn't last long. Xena was incredibly charitable and didn't go for the winning punch or kick despite having countless openings. The man fought bravely but desperately. Consequently he was all over the place, even with his hands tied in front of him. After a few minutes Xena tired of the man's nasty body odour and a kick to his knee followed by a punch to the side of his head soon put him back to unconsciousness.
It had taken the rest of today to move the bandits to the nearest jail en masse. The main problem had been getting them to move as they were generally badly hung over. The men were slow and sluggish--they knew their raiding days were over. Looking at them, Xena thought they should have quit a few years ago as most of them were past it. They had only succeeded here because the villagers were so unaccustomed to fighting. She had taken possession of a horse and cart and returned to Cressola with the sacks of grain stolen and a few extras that the raiders wouldn't be needing where they were going.
Her reception had been a good one--unsurprisingly. The people were delighted, and Xena had asked for no other reward than a nice hot bath. Even though she hadn't had to do much, it was still a nice way to relax and get clean.
As Xena dozed, a noise at the edge of her consciousness brought her back to full alert. There was someone creeping up to the door. Xena realized she hadn't locked it and her weapons were back in her room.
The door creaked quietly as it opened, and a small figure tiptoed in, only to have the door crashed closed as Xena grabbed the intruder and slammed the person back against the wooden frame, with a strong forearm pressed against the intruder's throat.
'Oh . . . er, hello Xenos,' gasped Cassia nervously. 'Did I startle you?' *Dumb question* she thought.
Xena released the young woman's throat and lowered her feet back to the ground.
'You know it really isn't a good idea to go creeping up on trained warriors Cassia, I could have killed you.'
The young woman was trying to regain her equilibrium after being almost strangled, and now having an excellent view of the naked of body of this handsome warrior.*Gosh, I feel quite overcome!* she thought.
Xena followed the young woman's stare and suddenly realized why she had gone so quiet. Grabbing a towel and wrapping it around her body--then moving the towel down to her hips as she realized men didn't cover their chests usually--Xena tried unsuccessfully to hide her blushes.
'My goodness Xenos, you are a big guy aren't you!', Cassia said, then blushed herself as she realized how that must have sounded.
'Er, I came to tell you that the banquet is ready, although we are fairly simple people, so its not that lavish. Still its the best we could manage and I'm sure you'll enjoy the meal.' She was a babbling idiot she decided.
'OK Cassia, I'll be right there,' said the warrior.
Cassia stood watching the way the water ran down the arms of the handsome man.
Xena stood waiting for Cassia to leave.
Cassia began her third erotic fantasy in a minute as she gazed at the dark hair slicked back, the rippling muscles and the beautiful blue, blue eyes . . . that were giving her a strange look.
'Oh, sorry Xenos, I'll see you soon,' said the embarrassed girl as she hustled out.
'Hermes, if I ever catch you I'll . . . ' Xena muttered as she grabbed her clothes, unable to think of *what* she would do, but determined to come up with something painful.
'What took you so long,' whispered Gabrielle as Xena slipped into place on the bench beside her
'Ask your friend Cassia, I barely escaped from her in the bath.' Xena replied in a low voice.
'Gabrielle! Keep your voice down!' Xena hissed. 'I'll tell you later, but don't worry, I fought valiantly and preserved my virtue. Just,' she teased.
'I told you Xena. I think I should claim you now. Right here. That'd do the trick. I don't trust that Cassia as far as I could throw her.' Gabrielle said looking daggers at the girl, who at that moment was giving her best come hither look to Xena from across the room.
Xena was torn between exasperation and amusement.
'I thought she was your friend? I mean we trekked all this way to help her village.'
'Yeah, well, she's no friend when she starts eyeing you up.' Gabrielle replied letting her green eyes flash.
Xena put her arm around her lover and gave her a hug.
'How's this?' she asked.
The warrior bent her head and gently kissed the bard on the cheek.
'Is she watching love?'
Gabrielle cast a glance around the room. Most people were chatting and eating. One or two looked fondly at the hero of the hour and his lady friend. Gabrielle noticed Cassia's look of intense disappointment with satisfaction.
She hugged Xena back.
'That's perfect Xena. I think you are definitely sending the right message. Feels right to me anyway,' she murmured seductively into Xena's ear and felt the warrior shiver.
It was late and Xena couldn't sleep. Gabrielle was at Cassia's, although relations looked a bit strained between the two of them. Xena had opted to share a rather nice stable with Argo although Cassia's brother Diocles had gruffly offered to share his pallet with the warrior. Xena wished that they had left tonight after the banquet and camped out but Cassia insisted, and indeed Nicos and the town council were keen to honour Xena.
*That was one of the worst banquets I've ever been to* thought Xena. They weren't kidding when they talked about food shortages. Small pieces of tough and stringy mutton, tasteless vegetables, poor quality wine. Oh well, at least Gabrielle was happy, thought the warrior.
Gabrielle had taken little persuading to tell stories, but she had felt odd telling her usual batch of Xena stories. After her usual opening--Prometheus--she had taken a break with Xena and Diocles.
'So Xenos, I've never heard of you', said the big and rather dim farmer.' Have you had adventures like your cousin?'
Xena looked slightly panic stricken. Gabrielle leapt into action.
'Of course he has Diocles! You mean you've never heard of how Xenos defeated the warlord er . . . Dra . . . er . . . Tox . . . Dratox! Why it was one of the bravest things I've ever seen.'
Xena looked down at the bard amused. *She can talk better than I fight--I think*
Nicos had heard the end of this conversation.
'Gabrielle, please, we would all love to hear about our hero Xenos. Come, tell us all the story.'
The bard looked a little worried as Xena sat down with a smile.
The crowd quickly settled down to hear Gabrielle's tale. They hoped it would be as exciting as the last one and sat staring expectantly at the bard.
Gabrielle cleared her throat. Xena could tell she was thinking furiously.
The warrior grinned wider than ever. How would Gabrielle's improvisational skills hold up now?
Well, naturally she had triumphed again in a completely fictitious tale of skill, intelligence and goat throwing.
Xena was quite impressed that her alter ego Xenos had fought so well! However, she just wasn't used to sleeping alone anymore, and she was cold.
She shifted her mind to the most pressing problem, Hermes trick. How could she get him to turn her back into herself?
Xena's usual approach was to fight her way out of things. It had always worked pretty well for her so far, but that wasn't an approach that worked with Gods. Trying to fight Ares had almost got her killed. She would have to get Hermes to appear first of all. Nothing else could be done until she had seen that little pipsqueak.
It was about two hours before dawn, but Xena knew that sleep would not come now so she rose and went out into the town square. Temples could be anywhere, and Hermes was quite a popular god. All she had to do was find the nearest. Easy.
At the entrance to the town, a sleepy guard got the shock of his life when a huge fully armed warrior appeared before him. The guard thought this was some sort of punishment dream for nodding off, but then realized who it was.
'Oh . . . er hello Xenos, is something wrong?'
'No, I just can't sleep friend. Tell me, are there any temples to the gods near here?'
*Strange bloke*, thought the guard. *Temples at this hour?*
'Temples . . . hmm well, there is a shrine to Zeus in the centre of town. Erm, then there is the Aphrodite site down by Hunter's pool in the woods. Very pretty there and very popular too--nice and private if you know what I mean. My favourite is Dionyses' place, out on the Athens road. Lots of the men get together every moon for a . . . '
Xena cut him off.
'I'm looking for a temple to Hermes. I NEED to get . . . er worship him.'
'Hermes? He isn't that big around here at the moment. Let me see . . . I think you'd need to go to Cillus, that's the next town south of here. It'll take about 2 candlemarks but the road is a hard one. The path is very narrow and slippery over the hills.'
'Oh don't worry. That's great. Thanks soldier,' replied Xena, turning back to the stables to rouse Argo and get moving.
The warlord Metronomos was not a happy man. His younger brother Pilaus had a nice little looting operation going on in the pitifully defenceless villages around here, that Metronomos had helped him with. Metro fancied himself as a teacher and had spent a while tutoring his brother in the ways of crime and lack of punishment. He had just heard about Pilaus' army being captured single-handedly by a warrior that was supposed to be related to that Xena. Metronomos had his spies, and was on his way to Cressola to take care of this Xenos. It was early, but Metro was a morning person and besides, he was still royally pissed. Behind him, his sleepy troops, some on equally weary looking mounts plodded in the eerie pre-dawn. Metronomos was thinking of the best way to kill this warrior. Quick and efficient? Or slow and painful, and maybe a nice little mutilation job to go with it. Hmm. Or maybe this would be his chance to lure and kill Xena and earn a bit of respect from his fellow warlords at next months AGM.
Suddenly the ground vibrated with the hoofbeats of a cantering horse, and a massive figure rounded a bend, fast approaching the attack party.
Metronomos was quickly alert, and shouted a quick order to wake up his troops. This man was big, very big. Big and dark on a light coloured horse.
'Attack! It's him!' shouted the warlord, his face twisted into an angry snarl.
The men prepared themselves to take the stranger.
'I want him alive--for now,' he shouted.
*The first rule of survival--RUN!* Xena remembered telling Gabrielle that half a lifetime ago, plus a whole list of other tactics that avoided fighting. She decided that now might be a good time to take that advice.
'Ya! Argo, lets go', she yelled, and turned the horse towards the woods.
They thundered over the turf, and Xena saw with glee that they were leaving the mercenaries behind.
Suddenly a second group emerged from the trees, with fresher looking horses. Damn.
Argo was the best horse Xena had ever had, but unbelievably, she was tiring! Xena couldn't understand it. OK, so they had ridden out from Cressola early, and had gone at a fair pace, but her warhorse had fantastic stamina usually.
Suddenly, Xena remembered that she was probably a quarter times as heavy now. An extra six inches, and a lot of extra muscle was taking its toll on the horse. At full gallop, she just couldn't keep going for as long. Not for the first time, Xena wished that she had her own body back.
There was nothing else for it. Slowing the mare, she somersaulted from the horse and landed facing the fast approaching troops.
Xena hadn't expecting trouble at this time of the morning, but like the true warrior that she was, she quickly prepared herself. This wasn't going to be easy, there were a lot of soldiers. It would all depend on how awake they were.
Metronomos caught up but hung back as his first four soldiers charged at the warrior.
There was a strange whooshing noise, and all four were left lying on the ground before Metro could figure out what happened. The next four were upon the warrior before he could use that whooshing weapon again, but Metro was amazed that a few slashes later, the next four also lay in a heap.
'All of you! Get him!' The time for playing games was over.
The soldiers quickly circled Xena and approached, determined that no more of them would be defeated. Most of them were wrong in this. Xena leapt into a twisting somersault, and took out two more men as she kicked them into unconsciousness on her way down. She looked around. The open ground was not the place to fight when it was twenty against one. She took off at a run towards a small hillock, and glanced over her shoulder to see half the soldiers dismount and follow. She also saw three load up their bows and take aim. Damn. Three arrows were tricky to catch. leaping over a bush and somersaulting to the ground, she heard the first lot of arrows whiz over her head, as the fastest two soldiers raced up the slope.
Xena reached over her shoulder reflexively once again. Damn! She had forgotten that her sword was at her waist. It was only a momentary delay, but it allowed an extra couple of soldiers time to reach her. She eventually drew her sword and readied herself.
One soldier was more of a runner than a fighter and ran straight onto her sword, but the other was better. It took about eight clashes of swords before Xena caught him across the throat. Xena usually tried not to kill so much these days, but in a fight like this, it was kill or be killed. No mercy.
However, the split second delay because she couldn't find her sword cost Xena, and two soldiers engaged her quickly. The extra strength had to count for something, and Xena swiftly slashed the men across the throat. This was no time to be squeamish.
The archers were ready as soon as their comrade went down, but Xena ducked under them easily, and sent her chakram flying to take care of the archers and more specifically, their bows. While she was waiting for it to come back though, another five men arrived, and they were beginning to realize that this opponent was something special.
Xena fought them bravely, wielding her sword ruthlessly and spinning over their heads, keeping the men off balance. However, she had not noticed Metronomos in the battle. He had crept around behind the attacking soldiers and when a crossbow bolt sank into her shoulder with enough force to knock her from her feet, Xena realized that the battle was almost over. She looked down at the bolt driven halfway into her right shoulder.
'Ouch,' the warrior moaned quietly.
*One last try* she said to herself, and leapt into the air, catching the approaching group of soldiers by surprise.
One soldier was in the middle, and she intended to use his head as her pivot.
Xena tried her favourite, running-in-a-circle-and-kicking-them-in-the-head trick, but was surprised and a bit shocked that she couldn't maintain the arc of her body. It wasn't the crossbow bolt, it was the sheer weight of her male body.
*Damn!* she cursed as gravity caused her body to slump. The hilt of a sword hit the side of her head and she sank to the ground.
The odds had always been against her, but Xena mentally prepared herself for death, and said a silent goodbye to Gabrielle in her mind as she waited for the fatal blow.
'Stop! Don't kill him!'
Xena opened her eyes and painfully turned to see Metronomos dismount and walk toward her, tossing the crossbow to a soldier. He was a mean looking man, with black greasy hair and a straggly moustache, but he had an air of authority about him. He loomed over Xena.
'You have killed ten of my men! Give me one good reason why I shouldn't skin you myself? What is your name?'
Xena didn't reply. She gave him her best threatening glare, and was not surprised to see a little apprehension pass over his unattractive face.
He gave a kick to the shaft of the bolt protruding from Xena's shoulder.
Excruciating pain shot through her entire body, but amazingly she managed to keep from making a sound. Her face showed her pain though.
'You attacked me,' she gasped. 'I was just defending myself.'
'You are Xenos aren't you?' the warlord asked fiercely.
Xena looked up sharply. She was amazed that she had managed to build up a reputation already. Although, come to think of it this was probably not good news in her current predicament.
Metronomos jerked his head at two battered soldiers behind him.
'Pull that bolt out, bind it up and shackle him. I think this could turn out to be a good trip.'
Xena knew that pulling the bolt out would cause a lot more damage, so before she could consider the pain, she reached up and broke off the end of the shaft, then slammed the bolt through her shoulder and out of the other side with the hilt of her sword. Almost passing out from the pain, she slumped onto her stomach and dropped the sword. The two soldiers approached at a run and grabbed the sword thinking she intended to try and fight again.
'It's OK, I'm not going to resist, I just wanted to get this bolt out properly boys.' she said with a wan smile up at the soldiers before finally passing out as one of them reached and pulled the crossbow bolt from her back.
Hermes was preening the feathers on his winged sandals when Aphrodite appeared. It was important to keep them in tip top condition, just like a bird. Hermes thought the feather was one of his better inventions and was mightily annoyed that Zeus and Mother Earth claimed the credit for his idea. The hollow bit on the middle had been HIS innovation, strong but light. Before Hermes' feather, birds could only fly for a few minutes at a time before their wing muscles got tired. A lot of birds had drowned or got themselves splattered in the early days of heavy wings.
He was pulled from his self satisfied contemplation by the goddess of love.
'Hey Hermes, are you ready to LOSE!! Love will out you know! I see a right battering in your future bro, and it's Xena's name that's on the gloves!'
Hermes smirked at her.
'You should keep an eye on things more Aphi, Xena almost got killed this morning. She's been taken prisoner, and there is *no way* that her and Gabrielle will manage to talk, never mind anything more. So, sun down today, you'd better get ready to go see Xena for me.'
He was actually incredibly happy that Xena had been beaten up, not because he wished her harm, but Hermes had decided that he needed to stay well away from the warrior princess for the next millennium or two. He was confident of winning his bet.
Aphrodite looked a bit worried.
'You let her get injured you cheat!' She had just had a peek at the action down in the real world. Xena looked pretty bad. Aphrodite was pissed. She *hated* losing, and thought Hermes had set this up, but she was powerless to change things. A non-interference pact was implicit, even if feather-feet probably had cheated.
She quietly hmmphed to herself. She wasn't looking forward to having to face Xena either.
It was almost midday, which gave Xena and Gabrielle about 6 candlemarks. In normal circumstances that was plenty of time to get it on, but things were looking bad for the goddess of love.
'Which way did Xenos go?' asked a frantic Gabrielle.
She couldn't find the warrior anywhere, and she hadn't been seen for ages. Gabrielle had just learnt of the early morning consultation with the guard. Xena was obviously trying to solve this herself.
*Damn her! Why didn't she wait for me?* the bard cursed to herself.
It was past midday, and she knew in her bones that things were not right. However, Gabrielle was no fool, and knew better than to go rushing off into the countryside to look for her.
She'd send some of these useless villages off into the countryside to look for her while she tried to figure out what had happened.
Just then, a commotion near the gate to the town caught her attention. People were milling around a rock that had hit a soldier right on his helmet--luckily. The soldier with the dented headgear sat on the ground a bit dazed, while Nicos, the town leader unwrapped a piece of parchment from around the rock.
His quick but worried glance up at Gabrielle caused her heart to race.
It was about Xena, she knew it!
'Give it to me,' she said, grabbing the parchment.
It was incredibly badly written, the bard in Gabrielle noticed immediately. Awful spelling, very poor penmanship, and absolutely clueless when it came to grammar. A very poor example of our fine Greek language all in all. However, the content was even more worrying;
'if you whant to see Xenos agen
then get Xena we whant her to
take the rowd to Athens at furst
lite tomorow or the man dies. no triks.'
Gabrielle gave a silent gulp. They were really in the horse droppings this time.
'Gabrielle, we are so sorry about this,' said Nicos. 'But isn't it strange that Xenos was kidnapped? I mean our local warlords aren't usually the bargaining kind. Look, we'll send our best messenger to Amphipolis right away. Xena can come and save her cousin. I'm sure she will be recovered by now.'
Gabrielle had to think quickly.
'No Nicos, you can't. She isn't in Amphipolis.' Gabrielle improvised.
'But you said she was recovering from an arrow wound,' piped up Cassia. 'Where is she then?'
'Yes she *is* recovering from an arrow wound, but she's in . . . Sparta!'
Gabrielle tried to think of somewhere more than a day's journey away.
'We were fighting an evil warlord named . . . Hermestos, and in the battle to save the good king . . . Cyrenes, she took an arrow. Cyrenes was so grateful that he said she could rest up there for a while. It was a nasty wound, it nicked her heart and even Xena admitted that she had to rest for . . . oh, at least a month.' (*hmm, not bad* Gabrielle congratulated herself.)
'So how come you left her Gabrielle? Surely she needed her loyal friend now more than ever?'
* Damn that Cassia! Trust her to ask the awkward question* Gabrielle thought.
'Well, I had to leave. My mother is ill, and I had to get back to Poteidaia, and then of course there was your problem with raiders, and then I had to help Xenos get going in the good-guy business. It's a busy life I lead!' Gabrielle wasn't sure if that all had been a bit much, but she was frantic.
How could she save Xena?
The towns people seemed to accept this story--even Cassia, but were still eager to help Gabrielle and their hero Xenos, but Gabrielle knew that this was a task for her alone.
'Look, I think you should prepare. If these raiders have Xenos, then once Xena fails to arrive, they are going to attack you again. You should get busy fortifying the town and prepare for them,' she said with conviction.
Gabrielle had no idea if this was true, but she knew that the townspeople were completely hopeless as fighters. There was no way they could free Xena by battling the raiders, it would be up to her to use her skill and cunning to free her lover. Now all she had to do was work out how to do it.
*Well there's a toughie Gabrielle!* she said to herself, sinking to a nearby seat with a desolate sigh.
Xenos the warrior was tightly bound, and unconscious. The guard looked at the massive warrior in awe.
'Wow, I'd love muscles like THAT', he said quietly to himself.
The man sat staring at Xenos intently, keeping strictly to the 'don't-take-your-eyes-off-him ' instruction, as he was not the most intellectually gifted of Metronomos' army. He wondered if he was allowed to blink as Metro had been very explicit about what would happen if the warrior escaped. However, it had been a long day, and despite the desire to please his boss, his eyelids were drooping.
Gabrielle tried to remember all that Xena had taught her as she approached the camp.
crept stealthily through the sparse trees and watched the camp for clues as to where Xena was being held. There were just three tents in the camp. Metronomos liked a bit of comfort and naturally had the biggest, the second tent was for the wounded, Metro believed in taking care of his men. Well, those that stood a fair chance of fighting for him again anyway. The hopeless cases didn't get such treatment. Finally, the booty collected from their various raids took up the third tent, and was always guarded. It was this tent that was doing double service tonight.
Xena came round slowly. She was disappointed that her male body seemed less tolerant of pain. There was no way she would have passed out so quickly in her own body.
*Good job this body didn't have to experience child birth! I don't think I would have made it,* she mused.
She was bound to the centre pole of the store tent, the thick ropes wound tightly around her chest and arms, and her legs were stretched out in front on her, tied at the ankles. Despite the pressure she was exerting with her bunched muscles, there was no prospect of breaking free right now. The breast dagger trick that she was able to do out when Cortese's man Malik had held her captive was not an option when you had no cleavage. Xena sighed to herself. What now?
It was an hour or so before sundown, and Gabrielle knew she had little chance of doing anything before then. There was plenty of activity as some soldiers sparred, others were huddled over the fires cooking the evening meal, and a few more stood around chatting. It was an organized camp, even Gabrielle's untutored eye could see that. She saw a large man with a moustache stride across to a tent. He had an air about him, and the way the men jumped to attention at his approach told Gabrielle that this was the commander. He nodded curtly to the guards outside the tent and flipped the flap before ducking his head to enter.
Gabrielle watched and listened.
Was Xena in there?
Suddenly she heard a shout, that sounded like someone in pain. There was no way she could wait, so the bard began to edge her way around the back of that tent. It was like playing Mother's Headache, trying to watch the soldiers and freezing each time they looked her way. However, Gabrielle had always been Poteidaia's Mother's Headache champion and was soon behind the tent.
Listening again, she heard a pained groan. It sounded like a large man, but she wasn't too sure if it was Xena or not, as Gabrielle wasn't as familiar with her new voice. However, it was obviously someone in pain, so it must be her.
*Poor Xena!* she thought. *I must save her*
Without further thought, Gabrielle levelled her staff and ducked under the edge of the tent, leaping into a fighting stance as soon as she was clear, ready to defeat those who would harm her love.
She was face to face with a naked Metronomos and his masseuse.
The warlord looked up from the table he lay on, frankly shocked, but the masseur was a lean athletic man who was also a bodyguard. With a few slaps of his oiled hands he had Gabrielle disarmed and face down on the floor as he knelt on her back and grasped her wrists tightly.
*Abso-bloody-lutely typical!* thought Gabrielle. *That's the last time I try and play the hero.*
'For the last time, what were you doing at my camp!' yelled a now rather angry Metronomos at the trussed up Gabrielle.
She was tied to the tentpole in the centre of the tent--well, there wasn't much else to attach your captives to in those particular constructions. Gabrielle was standing, leant against the thick wooden post, cursing her own stupidity.
*Why did I leap in here! Haven't I learnt anything from Xena?!*
Metronomus was not as cruel as some warlords, and had been quite gentle with her so far. Slaps and a few half hearted punches. To be honest he wasn't keen on hurting women. His mother had brought him up well, and the warlord business was purely for profit and power. He liked a good fight, but had never enjoyed this sort of thing. However, this pretty young thing must have had a good reason. And Metro had a suspicion he knew what it was.
'It's the warrior isn't it?' he said, looking at the girl.
Gabrielle gulped inwardly and tried to put on an air of nonchalance, as she replied.
'Who? I don't know what you mean.'
'Ha! You lie badly girl!' Metro cried. The girl looked as guilty as a cat with cream all over his whiskers, sitting next to an empty milk bucket!
'He's your lover isn't he? Tell me!' he thundered.
Gabrielle thought quickly.
'Please . . . kind sir, I mean, noble warlord . . . er . . . warrior, don't hurt my husband!' she improvised.
'Husband? You are married?'
'Yes sir. Xenos and I have been married for,oh, two seasons now. I just had to see him. I thought I heard him and . . . well, I beg you, please, don't hurt him.' She managed tearfully.
Gabrielle was quite impressed with her performance, but she still wasn't sure how they were going to get out of this. Still, at least her reason for being here might seem more understandable.
Metronomos watched the sobbing girl, and his hardened heart softened just a touch.
'You know my demands. I want his cousin Xena. She has a price on her head from more warlords than I could count,' he began.
*Bet that's not many* thought Gabrielle.
'Apart from the way he fought and killed my men when we tried to capture him and the fact that he took my favourite brother prisoner and had him arrested, and then he confiscated their loot, which I would have had a share of, I have nothing against him personally. I will be merciful,' Metro replied with a sardonic smile--he had been practising those.
Gabrielle's hopes rose just a touch.
'Yes girl, I will be merciful. He will die QUICKLY! But I tell you what, you may see him before hand. How's that?'
Gabrielle's hopes took a nose dive again.
It was getting dark and Xena was getting tired. She had been conscious for a while but was pretending not to be so she could work her way loose. But despite the bulging biceps, plump pecs and tremendous triceps, the warrior was still tightly trussed.
The not too bright guard was now dozing by the tent entrance, having exhausted himself by staring at Xena for too long. His occasional snorts punctuated Xena's musings.
*What am I going to do?* she thought.
Through a small gap in the tent, Xena could see the setting sun. It was a beautiful evening, but the warrior was in no mood to appreciate the wonders of nature.
As the sun disappeared, she heard an odd noise. It sounded like distant laughter and heavy sighing. Then a tinkling sound filled the air, and there in front of Xena was the goddess of love herself.
'Aphrodite! What are you doing here?' Xena asked abruptly. She noticed that the sleepy guard seemed to have frozen. More godly doings apparently.
'Xena. Xena, Xena, Xena! I am so pissed at you! You do realize I was counting on you, and you failed me.'
'What are you talking about? Hey . . . does this have something to do with my . . . little alteration?' Xena was very, VERY suspicious. Aphrodite and Hermes were known to hang out together.
'Well, kinda. See, the transformation was Hermes doing, I just had a little bet with him. I thought you and Gabs would . . . well, hey Xena what does it matter. The good news is I am here to change you back. Ain't that swell! I bet you are chuffed to bits hey?'
Xena gave her a hard stare. One that had terrified many others, mortal and immortal.
Aphrodite stuck it out well.
'So, are you ready Xena?' she asked with hardly a tremor.
'Hang on a moment Aphrodite. Where is Hermes? This is his doing and I would like to . . . discuss it with him.'
'No chance! Hey Xena, the guy is scared shitless of you! Or is it Ares, well anyway, I lost this little side bet so I am the one to return you to your natural self. Course, if you don't want to . . . '
'Do it.' barked the warrior.'Now.'
'Man of few words! You know I sort of like you, Xenos is it? The domineering macho routine is just SOOO butch! Hmm, you sure you want to be a woman again?'
Xena looked sharply at the goddess
'Positively, definitely, absolutely. Now just do it. Please.'
'OK but what a waste . . . ' Aphrodite replied and lifted a perfectly manicured hand in a godly wave, rather like the royal wave the Queen of England does.
There was a slight flash as Aphrodite moved her hand, and Xena's eyes went blurry. She felt like the world had just speeded up and a horrible nauseous sensation began to build in her stomach. Closing her eyes tightly, Xena leant back against the tentpole and groaned.
*Urgh! This was awful.*
Xena felt strange pains all over her body that felt like sadistic tailors stabbing her with blunt needles. It lasted for a few moments only, but felt much longer even to the stoical warrior.
Thankfully, things soon calmed down, and gradually the fog in front of her eyes cleared.
Xena opened her eyes to see Aphrodite staring at her.
'Wow, that looked really impressive from here. Can I change you back a few times so I can watch?' She asked.
'No! No, I refuse to be your plaything Aphrodite. You've done your task. Now leave me alone!'
Xena noticed absently that her voice sounded different. It had taken days for her not to jump at the sound of her own new deep voice, but it sounded like she was back to normal.
'Well, you aren't a happy bunny are you Xena. Chill out girl. Look, I'm off. People to see, places to visit, mortals to meddle with. See you around Xena. Oh, and if you see Hermes? Don't hurt him OK?' And with that she shimmered away.
Xena looked down at her body. She was dressed in Xenos' now baggy clothes, but was delighted to see and feel her old self again.
'YES!' She couldn't resist a little cheer.
Even better, those oh-so-tight ropes were now nice and loose.
Glancing up, Xena saw the guard slumped on his side and fast asleep. By the looks of him, he was out for the night.
*OK let's get going,* Xena thought.
In one leap she was up and out of the ropes. She quickly removed the enormous boots and rolled up the sleeves on her shirt. Silently tip toeing over to the guard, she swiftly put him into complete unconsciousness with a few well placed blows. Xena grabbed his belt and fastened her trousers.
The guard was kind of small. Xena examined his boots. No, too dirty, and still a bit big. However, his sword would do, and Xena also retrieved a small and rather blunt dagger from his boot. No time for sharpening.
Just as Xena made her way to the entrance flap, a familiar sound reached her ears.
There was no mistaking her voice.
At present she could be heard trying to talk her guards into something.
'Look, you really don't have to tie my hands up, I'm just a village girl. And it is the last time I shall see my beloved husband. Won't you let me . . . '
'Shut up girl!!' cried an exasperated soldier.'Your mouth is a lethal weapon. It's going to get someone killed--YOU!' The guard then went into hysterical laughter at his own feeble joke.
Just at that moment, the pair entered the tent, and Xena positioned herself to one side of the flap. Gabrielle was shoved in first, and as the soldier came in, Xena's fists stabbed out and swiftly punched the unfortunate soldier. He crumpled to the floor gasping for breath, and a quick blow with the hilt of her sword knocked him out.
Gabrielle turned at the sound to be confronted with her very own Xena, now once again female and grinning at her with those beautiful twinkling blue eyes.
'Well, so nice of you to drop in Gabrielle.'
'Xena! It's you!' Gabrielle stood stunned for a moment before the pair of them reached for each other and a particularly bone crunching hug followed.
'Oh Xena, it is SO good to have you back. I thought they were going to kill you and I would never see you again.' By now Gabrielle was overcome and her words were mixed with tears, tears of emotion but mainly tears of relief and joy.
Xena didn't say anything. She too was feeling a bit choked up, so just clung to her bard tightly.
A slight sound from outside broke into Xena's consciousness. She pulled away and looked at her beloved Gabrielle's face. There was still a bit of work to do here, but somehow it all seemed fine now. They were back together, and anything was possible.
'Look Gabrielle, we have to get out of here.'
'OK. Any ideas Xena?' Back to business.
Xena had a decision to make. Escape and run or try and defeat this warlord. She was inclined to leave him to it and just get away, but for one important factor; Argo.
Xena wasn't sure where her horse was, but was confident that no harm had come to her. However, it meant that she and Gabrielle couldn't just bolt.
'Alright Gabrielle, I think we need to get out of here first, and hide in the trees. Then we have to figure out where Argo is and rescue her. Once we've done that we're away. '
'Fine, but the camp is really busy, it's some sort of celebration out there,' the bard replied.
'Yeah, they're up for tomorrow's execution I think. Shame to disappoint them, but I don't like being thought of as entertainment. Maybe I could put on a bit of a show when I beat them up?' Xena said with a quiet smile.
'No! Xena, we don't want any trouble. I am so pleased to have you back and I just want us to get away from here. Please, don't take any unnecessary risks.' Gabrielle said with considerable feeling. It had been a hard week.
Xena looked at Gabrielle's flushed face. The young woman did looked a bit stressed, and Xena never could resist her in begging mode. She grinned and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead.
'Alright my sweet, I'll be good. Come on.'
With that, Xena moved not to the entrance, but to the rear of the tent, and slashed an opening for them.
Leading the way, Xena lead them through the woods along the back of the tent until they reached a large tree behind which they stopped. Peering around Xena counted more than twenty soldiers busy with camp chores. A large brightly blazing fire dominated the scene and she had to admit it seemed a well organized group.
Scanning around, Xena looked for where the horses were kept. A shift in the wind brought the unmistakable scent of horses to her nose. They were in a compound on the other side of the camp.
'We'll have to get right around to the other side, that's where Argo is,' she told Gabrielle.
Gabrielle gave a nod and the pair crept silently to the location of the horses.
It was feeding and grooming time, and a couple of young lads were rubbing and watering the various mounts. Xena thought there must be about twenty horses altogether, quite a lot for an army this size. They were probably delighted to capture a prize like Argo.
Motioning Gabrielle to wait in the bushes, Xena crept out to look for her horse. The moonlight and distant firelight made it hard to tell the colours of the horses, but Xena knew her horse.
Argo was tied at the end of a line of horses. Xena's saddle had been flung on the ground beside Argo, but no one had searched her saddle bags yet. She could also tell that Argo had been watered but not fed.
*Savages!* she thought angrily.*Mistreating a fine animal like Argo.*
Just at that moment she had to flatten herself against a tree as a young man appeared and came towards her horse. He had his arm in a sling and judging from the glare he gave Argo, and the wide berth he also gave the horse, Xena thought she realized why Argo had been neglected.
*Good girl* she thought.
When it was clear, Xena crept towards her horse, and untied the reins from the nearby rail.
Argo gave a delighted little whinny and bent her head to nuzzle her mistress.
Xena couldn't resist giving her equine friend a quick hug before quickly saddling her up and looking around for the best way to unobtrusively retrieve horse and bard and make a quick exit.
Xena decided that Gabrielle needed to join them and so had another opportunity to practice her Amazon bird calls. Xena was no great expert, but Gabrielle appeared after the second hoot.
'Over here Gabrielle!' Xena whispered as the bard trotted along the edge of the trees.
After a moment to get mounted the threesome were soon flying out of the camp before anyone even realized what had happened. Just to spice it up a bit, Xena gave her trademark yell as they galloped away.
'A-la-la-la-la!' (Gabrielle had told her she must spell it right.)
Metronomos was having a bath at the time and wondered idly at the strange night time birds indigenous to the region before returning to scrubbing his back.
Gabrielle was happy. Very happy. Really extremely happy.
It hadn't really been all that long, but it had felt it. She had her Xena back and they were once again camped out under the stars, it was a beautiful night, and Xena had obviously lost none of her skills as a lover!
The two of them lay together by a nicely glowing fire, cuddled together under the blankets enjoying being together again.
It had been a thoroughly weird experience for both women.
'I tell you Gabrielle, I thought it would be OK, but I didn't like being a man at all. I guess I would have adjusted but there were so many things I couldn't do. Poor old Argo couldn't carry me, my pain threshold was lower, I had no where to keep my breast dagger. It was just awful. And the worst of it was me and you. It just mixed me up so I felt like you would be cheating on me with me . . . if you know what I mean. Thank the gods Aphrodite came to turn me back when she did.'
'Xena, what do you think this bet was that Aphrodite told you about?'
I don't know Gabrielle, but if it was her and Hermes then I guess it would have to do with love, and mischief. Anyway, lets get some sleep. Tomorrow we'll have to go visit Cressola and come up with yet another cover story for Xena and Xenos.'
'Goodnight love. It is SO good to have you back,' replied the bard as she settled herself comfortably against Xena. All the right curves cushioned her once more and she gave a little contented sigh as she sank into a happy sleep.
Xena awoke suddenly and sat up, while managing not to wake Gabrielle. Quite a feat.
Someone, or something was out there, and Xena had no intention of ignoring it. She was not in the most tolerant of moods with unwanted visitors. Swiftly rising, she drew her sword while watching and listening to the sounds of the pre-dawn. Stealthily she crept towards the edge of the clearing.
Then she got the shock of her life as someone tapped her on the shoulder. Xena sung around swiftly, swinging her
sword only to find Hermes sitting crosslegged behind her. Well . . . he was sitting, but not on the ground. He kind of hovered in mid air.
'Hermes! You meddling no good son of a . . . '
'Now Xena, don't go calling my family names, they wouldn't like it.' He warned. Hermes was trying to look godly and butch but was a little nervous. Aphrodite had talked him into going and trying to straighten things out with Xena but he was still not sure if this was a good idea.
'If you were any sort of man Hermes I would kill you. Do you know what sort of trouble your little game caused me! I was almost killed, as was Gabrielle, and I ruined my best set of leathers!' fumed the warrior.
'Look Xena, I came to apologize. It was just a little prank. No hard feelings hey?'
'You what! Honestly, you bloody gods, you think you rule the world! Well . . . OK, so you do, but I just wish you would stop meddling. I tell you, we'd be fine down here if you lot would just stick to Mount Olympus. What's the matter, is life too dull up there? Why do you all keep plaguing us?' Xena was getting up a good head of steam.
'Now Xena, I know you're not happy but you mustn't get paranoid. We're not ALL out to get you . . . '
'Oh no?' interrupted the warrior, 'Lets see shall we? Which gods have been messing around with my life? Well there is Ares, of course. You, naturally. Aphrodite and her love games. Cupid and his son and those arrows. Hades and his little jobs for me. Poseidon is no big fan, and Hera is always after my friend Hercules. I think I have had my share of godly interactions thank you Hermes. Do me a favour. *Leave me alone!*' she yelled.
Hermes looked a little sheepish.
'OK, Xena, I agree you are kind of popular, but do you know how boring it being a god? No danger, no falling in love, living forever. Gets kind of samey. We need a bit of excitement and you mortals always look like you're having such fun. I think we're basically jealous. And bored. But . . . I will try and make sure that you and Gabrielle are left alone for a while. I promise OK?'
'Fine Hermes. I would appreciate that. Goodnight.' Xena said curtly and turned to head back towards her still sleeping partner.
'I still don't trust you damn gods though,' she muttered under her breath.
'I heard that!' Hermes annoyingly chirpy voice called after her.
'Why don't you take . . . . . . ' Xena murmured a stream of the most viciously filthy obscenities she could think of that are far too rude to repeat here.
'Well! I really don't think that was called for Xena! And its not anatomically possible even for a god!' replied a miffed Hermes before he vanished in an indignant puff of smoke.
Xena crept back under the blanket and gathered Gabrielle to her with a big but rather nasty grin on her face.
If only Ares was as easy to intimidate.