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Disclaimer: Most of the characters presented in this story are property of MCA/Universal (I'm sure I don't have to draw you a picture for you to figure out who they are) and I have shamelessly borrowed them for my own deviant activities. All other characters are figments to my twisted imagination and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. This is a work of fiction (not necessarily a good one) and it's mine, mine, mine. You (whomever you are) may not alter, reproduce or post without my expressed permission.

Subtext: Yeah baybeee! This story is based on the premise that two women are in love (sigh). If this gets your knickers in a wad then read something else, please.

Violence: Not much but just enough to make it a Xena story.

Author's notes: This story is not a sequel to anything. In fact, it's a drastic departure from my first story "A Third Death", which I am plugging shamelessly. Other things you might want to be aware of: The poems at the start of each chapter is actually one big poem called "Mr. Rochester's Poem," by Charlotte Bronte. It served as part of the inspiration for this story

The Bulgarian Women are creations of the very talented Joanna, author of "Bitter Treat". She has graciously loaned them to me, bet she's sorry now, and is responsible for the Bulgarian translations. If you have not read her stuff I suggest you run, like the fanatic Xenites you are, to the nearest Joanna outlet. Read my!

Okay enough of this chit-chat. Let the games begin!

Copyright©June 1998 by C.L. Bactad


Elemental Properties:

A Story of Magic


C.L. Bactad



Time passes to spite us. Like the wind lifting the dust at our feet, moments are carried away. Into the air and away from outstretched arms they inevitably leave us. What is left are fossils filled with memories. What a shame it would be if those memories were empty of warmth, barren of hope, absent of love and devoid of magic. I say, let there be love and so shall magic follow. This is a story of such love and its magic.


Chapter 1: Introductions, Ravings and Definitions

"The truest love that ever heart

Felt at its kindled core

Did through each vein, in quickened start,

The Tide of being pour.

Her coming was my hope each day,

Her parting was my pain;

That chance that did her steps delay

Was ice in every vein . . . "

What is magic? It is not science. It is beyond logic, it is supernatural, ethereal, practiced, tested and unexplained. Magic is less accepted than science because it scares a species bent on knowing and controlling. Oh sure, some magic is all smoke and mirrors but that isn’t real magic. Real magic can’t be explained or reasoned with. Yet, it may be less illusory than science. There is no pretense that magic will offer explanations. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. In magic there are no answers just more questions; it is a spiraling vortex of wonder. Just like love. To fight it is to be foolish. Love must be accepted and unquestioned, just like magic, or the wonder is lost. And that would be very sad.

For love is the greatest magic of all. It is an intangible force; love is a mere notion that, upon acceptance, is more solid than stone. It is a feeling, a joy, a tingling, and a yearning so great it has the ability to lift you higher than the furthest star or sink you lower than the deepest chasm. Real love is timeless, boundless and elemental. And like the most precious elements, real love is rare. It is beyond fate, beyond what we know. Real love is a perfect moment in time, when two lost souls find each other after an eternity apart.

Souls ripped apart at the beginning of time, found again. So quiet and unmoving that neither expect nor know. For the lost loves, it is only a feeling that something has changed. A subtle spark of energy that flows between the unknowing lovers. A look, a touch, a voice carried upon the wind, which brings back a memory hidden by time. It becomes a smile upon a golden face, an ache in a heaving chest or slight trembling of a hand. Like a cherry blossom that gently floats down to earth, love has come back to them. It is magic.


Indeed, love is the greatest magic of all and I am here to tell the tale of the greatest love of all. Who am I? I am a shadow cast against a tavern wall. I am a blade of grass swaying in a meadow. I am a battered tree along a well-trodden road. Does it really matter? In the grand scheme of things, I am unimportant. My desire is to tell a story and that I shall do. For I have been witness to a magic more remarkable than the rise of the sun and more pure than an artesian spring. This, my friends, is a love that is real.

And so the story begins. It was a time of ancient warlords, when the land cried out for . . . wait that’s not it. It was a time of . . . Hades! It was a hot and steamy night . . .


Chapter 2: Of Matters Most Discreet

"...I dreamed it would be nameless bliss,

As I loved, loved to be;

And to this object did I press

As blind as eagerly . . . "


"By the gods it’s hot and steamy out there," said the pudgy man to no one in particular. He was a merchant who had just stepped into the local tavern for some drink. No one paid much attention to the sweaty merchant as he made his way to a table. This was an ordinary tavern in an ordinary village and he, was most certainly, an ordinary man.

However, in the back, against the wall sat two women who weren’t so ordinary. Oh no, quite the opposite. They were absolutely gorgeous and had attracted the eye of every red-blooded, testosterone-laden gent in the place, not to mention a few glances from some of the fairer sex. This was ancient Greece, after all, and the writings of Sappho were quite popular. They sat relatively un-bothered (it did help that one of them was armed to the teeth) giggling conspiratorially. "How do you think they . . . you know," said the strawberry-blonde woman to her table-mate.

"Who?" The other woman spoke, confused by the change in topic.

"You know," the blonde waggled her eyebrows.

"Oh no . . . no way am I going near that again." The darker haired woman put up her hands and promptly turned away from her friend. Obviously, Gabrielle’s waggling eyebrows was a code for a topic of a rather delicate nature.

"Solari! Aren’t you just a little curious?"

"Sweet Artemis Gabrielle! You have such a dirty mind for such an innocent face." An innocent face indeed. Some have described it as that of a cherub but if one looked closer, they could also see a face wiser with time. Her soft green eyes had seen more than her share of innocence lost. Yet, she with her propensity for laughter chose to believe in good and kept her own innocence intact.

"Oh come on! I know you want to know."

"Do not."

"Do too."

You see, these women had been sitting in this tavern for quite some time. Gabrielle, that’s the blonde, and Solari, that’s the one heavily armed, were waiting for two other friends. However, these friends were late so being left with little else to do, they drank. And drank and then drank some more. Yup, these two were well on their way to becoming sloshed and didn’t mind it one bit. However, as it always happened, when these two drank together, the topic of conversation always turned to more risque¢ matters.

"Gabrielle, I assure you that I do not go about my day’s wondering how Ephiny and-"

"What about me?" Just as Solari was about to say something most unfortunate another gorgeous woman stepped up to the table. She too was heavily armed and . . . um . . . fully leathered. (Oh my).

"Ephiny! Glad to see you. Gabrielle and I were just talking about you." Solari’s cheeks turned a deep red but she was hoping that the dim lighting would cover it up.

Ephiny eyed her friend warily. "Yeah, I heard. What exactly where you two talking about . . . " She turned to face Gabrielle who she knew lied horribly. "Hmmm Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle fumbled with her mug of ale and tried to look as innocent as possible. With her soft green eyes it wasn’t a stretch. She opened her mouth several times but coherent words failed to form. Finally she spoke (well kind of). "We . . . um . . . were just talking . . . about . . . things like-"

"Oh holy helmet of Athena!" Ephiny cut off the stammering blonde. "You two are like freakin’ children. I swear I should ban you two from the liquor. Can’t you delinquents come up with a different topic other than my-"

Just then, a rather large man interrupted the three women. "Hi ya toots. Can I buy you gals a drink?" He was friendly but not too bright. He failed to recognize two of the international rules of interacting with Amazons as stated in the scroll, "Things to Know before Approaching an Amazon." First, unless direct eye contact has been made you never assume an Amazon is thirsty. Being independent women, they preferred to procure their own beverages. Second, you never ever call them ‘gals’ and you most certainly never call them ‘toots’. This is akin to calling them ‘chicks’ and that usually meant death for the offender. To top off his grievous error, standing before him was Amazon royalty and seated before him was the head honcho herself, Gabrielle. Although, she deferred her leadership to Ephiny, Gabrielle was officially Queen of the Amazon’s. Not good for the congenial, but ignorant oaf who stood before them with a naive smile.

Slowly, Ephiny turned toward the man. For all the emotion she had on her face, she might as well have been wearing her Amazon mask. Hard hazel eyes definitively conveyed a resounding ‘no you moron . . . do you know who I am . . . do you know who *she* is?’ The man gulped hard then looked over at the other two women. Gabrielle, who never did understand her important Amazon status, was adorably clueless about this man’s faux pas and flashed him a ‘I’m sorry but no thanks,’ smile. Solari, on the other hand, was silently sharpening her sword underneath the table. Nope, no luck for our brave suitor-to-be. Lamely, he smiled and abruptly retreated to the bar.

Rolling her eyes, Ephiny turned back to her friends. Gabrielle used the interruption to her advantage. "So where’s Xena?"

The Amazon narrowed her eyes at Gabrielle to let her know she wasn’t off the hook. Then she gave Solari a wink that said, ‘Watch this’. With a mischievous glint in her hazel eyes, she tried to act nonchalant. "She’s over there talkin’ to some guy," said the Amazon as she casually waved her hand into the air.

"Where!?" Gabrielle shot up to a rigid standing position and thoroughly scanned the crowded tavern. Her eyes were very intent on finding the conversing couple. She saw her, or saw them actually, standing by the door. Her statuesque friend was talking to a very handsome man. He was about Xena’s height (impossibly tall), had sandy brown hair and a finely chiseled face. Gabrielle reluctantly admitted that Xena and this stranger made a very attractive couple. Her brow then wrinkled at the thought. ‘I need another drink.’

The Amazon Queen watched the couple interact as time slowed to an agonizing crawl. As Gabrielle wished for their conversation to come to a speedy end, it seemed to do quite the opposite. The stranger reached out to lightly touch Xena’s arm and Gabrielle felt her own skin burn. Xena smiled at him. ‘She smiled? By the gods she smiled at him!’ The Amazon’s heart dropped to the floor (Xena didn’t grace just anyone with a smile).

Then, as if Xena sensed someone watching she turned her head toward Gabrielle’s questing eyes. In that instant, when gazes locked, the handsome stranger was forgotten. Xena, upon seeing her friend, bestowed a smile more radiant, more special and heartfelt onto Gabrielle. The smile she had given the stranger paled in comparison. In fact, this glorious showing of teeth was so bright and broad that it blinded most of the tavern patrons. Xena didn’t notice; she had eyes only for Gabrielle.

As Xena, by the strength of that smile, gently bent down and picked up Gabrielle’s heart off the floor, the Amazon Queen smiled too. A lopsided, slightly goofy but altogether endearing smile that had imprinted itself in Xena’s soul. Candles flickered and time returned to normal.

Gabrielle motioned for Xena to join them. Xena held up a finger to motion that she would be a bit longer. Gabrielle nodded then returned her attention to her forgotten friends. Ephiny and Solari snickered and passed each other knowing looks. Gabrielle looked back over to her friends. "What?"

"What?" The two Amazons mimicked and mocked their queen.

"I was just curious. Xena doesn’t talk to a lot of people . . . I just wanted to see if something was wrong?" Crossing her arms over her chest in the supreme pouting motion, Gabrielle sat back down.

Ephiny took the seat next to Solari and downed the other woman’s ale with one swift gulp. (Those Amazon’s really know how to pack it away). Ephiny looked at the blonde warily. "Yeah right." Solari snorted in agreement.

"Yeah right? What’s that supposed to mean? You know I don’t understand you two. I thought I was talking to intelligent . . . "

Ephiny and Solari rolled their eyes in unison as Gabrielle launched into a rolling diatribe, which was really meant to cover up her own confusion. Solari motioned for the barmaid.

"And one more thing, I don’t think that an innocent gesture of wanting to make sure . . . " Gabrielle droned on as the barmaid made her way over.

Solari smiled, somewhat sexily, at the barmaid. "I’ll take . . . " The dark-haired Amazon lifted her eyebrows at Ephiny who responded with a firm nod of her curly blonde head. "I’ll take two ales and a water." Solari looked over at the queen, who was still spouting out sentences, and whispered conspiratorially to the barmaid. "I think she’s going to be a bit thirsty once she’s done." With a wink, the barmaid left to fill the order.

The two Amazons sat patiently while Gabrielle vented and reasoned with nobody but herself. Her friends weren’t fooled by Gabrielle’s act. Even if Gabrielle didn’t realize it was an act. You see it was apparent to the two Amazons (and I dare say most of Greece) that their queen and Xena had rather strong feelings for each other. Who is Xena? Well she’s a beautiful warrior that travels with Gabrielle. Or should I say whom Gabrielle travels with. I suppose it doesn’t matter now, but it did matter . . . once.


Chapter 3: And Then There Was Light

"...But wide as pathless was the space

That lay, our lives, between,

And dangerous as the foamy race

Of ocean-surges green . . . "

Xena of Amphipolis, Warrior Princess and (secretly her favorite) ‘Destroyer of Nations’ was a warrior. Actually, the best warrior in the business and needless to say, she had a reputation. In fact, she had a very nasty reputation. You see, at one point in Xena’s life she was not a...friendly person. Nope, she was downright mean. ‘Destroyer of Nations’ was not a boast. It was a fact. At one unfortunate time in her life, Xena was the most feared warlord in all Greece. Her cruel deeds had become legendary and even instilled fear within the hearts of the bravest soldiers. She was bad . . . bad to the bone.

Yup, Xena was seriously evil and had a bad attitude to boot. For about ten years this combination of evil and crankiness proved to be a real pain in the ‘you-know-what’ for Greece, or anywhere else this comely warlord decided to travel. In her pillaging wake, she left a trail of . . . well heads actually, but that’s another story.

However, a lot has happened in the last few years. Namely, due to the . . . um . . . persuasion of a certain demi-god, Xena had given up her warlord ways. Although the darkness still called to her, the path she walked on was aimed toward redemption. Xena could see the light and although, she believed she was moving toward it, the warrior actually stood beside it.

Ahh Gabrielle. A lovely, sweet, innocent girl. Yes, that’s how Xena came upon her light. In a sleepy village called Potetitato ..Protazoa . . . anyway, about three years ago, Gabrielle had the great misfortune of being captured by slavers. They were a greasy lot with rotten teeth and bad outfits. Lucky for Gabrielle, and unfortunate for our badly tailored slavers, Xena was also in the vicinity of Potadata, Potato . . . well whatever. Xena was around. And in a rescue that would shame any fairy tale Xena, saved the fair maiden Gabrielle. The ex-warlord had not only rescued the girl from the slavers but also from an ordinary life spent in a village that didn’t understand a lost spirit.

Gabrielle was unlike most girls. She had a mind of her own and questioned implied truths. She had theories, thoughts, and words. Gabrielle wanted to be a bard and one of the best she was destined to be. Dormant, in her soul laid the stories of her life. The bard knew she was meant for more and for some inexplicable reason she was drawn to the woman in dark brown leather.

It could have been Xena’s ebony hair, which entranced Gabrielle’s hands as they sometimes reached out on their own volition. Or it could have been the ice blue eyes that held her own like a magnet. Or it may have been that subtle shift of time and space where everything freezes for a split second but your own beating heart; magic had happened.


So, on that fateful day almost three years ago, Xena had acquired her greatest friend. After much begging and pleading (and promises of edible meals) from Gabrielle, Xena allowed the village girl to accompany her on her journey. However, cranky and atoning ex-warlords do not become jovial and playful travel companions overnight. (Besides, jovial just isn’t Xena). With a heart hardened by spilt blood and a soul filled with guilt it was safe to say, ‘Xena had some baggage.’ It was amazing that they survived their first year together. The bard found out that conversation wasn’t Xena’s forte¢, while Xena found out that for Gabrielle, it was. Oh yes, the suffering warrior had wanted to gag her little friend more than once during their travels. (By the gods! The woman wasn’t even silent when she ate . . . which she did often.)

However, as time rolled along so did their growing friendship. At one point, Xena was not sure when, she had come to like Gabrielle’s chatter. It provided a normalcy to her life that the ex-warlord craved. The bard’s lilting voice would cross the campfire and surround the warrior in thoughts, questions and philosophies. It was the closest thing to home Xena ever had. She needed the bard, her voice, and her stories to let her know that she too was human. Then one night, as she silently watched Gabrielle writing in one of her scrolls, she tried to remember how she felt before the bard joined her in this life. To her amazement, the thought left her with a profound emptiness. Xena wanted redemption not only for her past deeds but to deserve her bard. The brooding darkness that followed such reflections covered their simple camp. Gabrielle always noticed.

"Xena what’s wrong?" The strawberry-blonde looked across the campfire to her silent partner.

Xena’s blue gaze hardened with an intensity that prefaced words, which should never be doubted. "Gabrielle I’ll always protect you," the words left Xena’s mouth before she could stop them. It just seemed like the right thing to say; it was the truth and yet it was a lie. The lie was that the word ‘protect’ was meant to be ‘love’ and that the heart provides vulnerabilities that nobody can protect. And for their two hearts, it was already too late. Love had claimed them both. (Of course, they weren’t ready to admit that yet.)

You see, bitter denial is sometimes stronger than sweet love and what is done out of fear hides the truth in our hearts. Xena, who is an expert in war, pillaging, weapons, equestrian events and leather repair knew little about affairs of the heart. Nope, she didn’t have the best record when it came to that department. In fact, it was horrid. Case in point, Caesar. On the other hand, there was Gabrielle. She was an expert in writing, philosophy, being held at knifepoint, and washing Xena’s hair. Naive as she was, she did know a little something about love, case in point, Perdicus. (Hey, don’t go all ballistic on me! She loved him . . . in her own way. Now let me finish.)

Gabrielle did love Perdicus. However, as it often happens, love for a friend is mistaken for true love. Gabrielle, who yearned to be loved with passion, accepted what Perdicus offered. For the bard, it felt good to be openly wanted, desired and touched. When Perdicus told her that he needed her, the bard’s gentle heart gave in. Before her, stood a man who ‘needed’ her and she thought he would be the only one who ever would. What did it matter that when she closed her eyes it wasn’t Perdicus she saw? So instead, she settled for a surrogate of the love that she thought she could never have. ‘He’ll make me happy,’ she tried to convince herself, when inside, she subdued the feeling that it was a terrible lie.

Indeed, the lie was perpetuated by both of them. Fear of rejection and loss kept their denial strong. So strong, in fact, that they refused to analyze odd occurrences when they were in the presence of one another. The sly looks of longing, the sweaty palms, the nervous laughter, the fleeting touches, the fluttering butterflies in the stomach . . . (and well, surely you have felt love before. You know the symptoms.) It was easier and safer to deny any such feelings. ‘We’re just good friends.’ They would try to reason. ‘I love her like a sister.’ Was their attempt at logic. (Although if I had those kind of thoughts about my sister I would seek out therapy . . . fast.)

So, we return to the tavern, in that ordinary village, where the magic had lost to logic and reason. The sweaty palms, the unbidden smiles, the fluttering stomach had often been diagnosed as too much wine, bad cheese or lack of sleep. However, that was about to change because the truth can only be denied for so long before the magic reveals itself.


Chapter 4: I Will and You Can’t Stop Me

"...And haunted as a robber path

Through wilderness or wood;

For Might and Right, and Woe and Wrath,

Between our spirits stood . . . "

". . .so there," Gabrielle finished indignantly.

Ephiny picked up the candle in front of her and contemplated it for a few moments. Turning to Solari she spoke. "Ha! I win! It took her exactly a quarter of a candlemark before she had to take a breath. Pass me the dinars."

Solari dug into her leather skirt (don’t ask me where) and slammed two dinars onto the table. "Suffering Persephone! Fine. You win." Ephiny smiled and pocketed the dinars.

Gabrielle narrowed green eyes onto her companions. "And what was that about?"

Solari snickered. "We bet to see how long you could talk without stopping. Impressive Gabrielle, sorry I underestimated you."

"Funny." Gabrielle rolled her eyes then brought her hand up to her throat. "My throat is a little dry."

"I would imagine," Ephiny said wryly. She then pushed a mug of water in front of the bard which, Gabrielle took thankfully. "So. . . . recognize the man?"

Gabrielle gulped hard. ‘Oh yeah the guy.’ She looked back over to Xena but they were gone. Again, the bard shot to her feet. "Where’d they go?"

"Who?" A low voice crept over her shoulder. Gabrielle gulped again and a slight tremor passed through her body. Slowly, she turned around to face six feet of Warrior Princess.

"You," mercifully, Ephiny answered Xena’s question.

Xena shrugged. "We stopped at the bar to get a drink."

‘We?’ The bard thought to herself before noticing the sandy-haired stranger standing slightly behind Xena. ‘Oh yeah, the guy.’ "Um . . . Xena who’s your . . . friend?"

Xena arched her eyebrow and turned to the man. "This is Xavier. He was in my army."

"Oh," all three Amazon’s said in unison with apprehension apparent in each voice.

"Before Caesar," Xena continued for clarification.

"Oh," the three Amazons said with relief. You see, Xena’s army before Caesar wasn’t as ruthless as her army after Caesar. No, before that pompous pig of a . . . (sorry) well her army was mostly made of villagers who had originally joined Xena to protect their villages. Some of them just lost their way. But Xena’s army when she was ‘Destroyer of Nations’, now those men were just plain nasty.

"Nice to meet you Xavier," Gabrielle offered her hand to the stranger but still wondered just what Xavier’s position was in Xena’s army.

The man smiled and graciously shook the bard’s hand. "You must be Gabrielle. Xena’s told me a lot about you. You are as beautiful as she sa . . . oompff." Xavier was cut off by a sharp elbow to the ribs.

Xena eyed Xavier coldly. "Xavier travels a lot. Who said Gabrielle was beautiful?"

Confused, Xavier tried again. "Xena you said . . . oompff."

Xena slapped the sandy haired man sharply on the back. "Geez, Xavier are you okay? Got a bit of a cough huh? Let’s go to the bar I’ll get you some water." With a shocked look on his face Xavier was hauled roughly to the bar.

Gabrielle smiled wryly to herself. ‘So she thinks I’m beautiful huh?’

Ephiny, noticing Gabrielle’s smile, nudged Solari in the ribs, which caused the Amazon, who was journeying closer to inebriation, to miss her mouth with her drink. "Hey! Why’d ya do that for?" Solari sulked as she wiped the (lucky) droplets of ale from her breasts. "Now look I shpilled on my boobs."

Ephiny shook her head and mumbled. "Never mind Solari."

Once again, they were joined by Xena and Xavier. "Anyway," Xena spoke. "Xavier was just passing through and he told me about this staff tournament at the next town South of here. Isn’t that right Xavier?" The man nodded mutely, as he was briefed at the bar that he should keep his mouth shut. "He also said that there was a pretty hefty prize."

"Really Xavier?" Ephiny asked while inwardly grinning at this whole scene.

"Yes," Xena answered for the sandy-haired man whom she had forbidden to speak. "So I was thinking I’d like to travel-"

"Sho Shaver what town is shis exshactly?" Even in her hazy state, Solari had picked up on Ephiny’s little game.

Xena narrowed her eyes at the two Amazons then let out a big breath of air. "It’s in Dundar. Now, if you’ll let me continue-"

"Xavier, are you entering this tournament?" Ephiny asked with barely contained mirth.

"For the love of Zeus! Hold on." Xena grabbed the suffering man and hauled him back to the bar.

As soon as Xena left with Xavier, Ephiny and Solari burst out into merry laughter (yeah, I said ‘merry’ have a problem with that?) Gabrielle, who was silently enjoying the show, just smiled and indiscretely exchanged her water for Solari’s ale. The Amazon’s laughter quieted to intermittent chuckles as Xena led Xavier back to the table.

Xavier and Xena stood near the table. Xavier looked at Xena for a moment as if he were waiting for something. The ex-warlord rolled her eyes and tilted her head toward the Amazons. The gesture was Xavier’s cue and he began to speak. "No."

Gabrielle’s brow furrowed to a concentrated point. "No what?"

"Um . . . No, I’m not going to enter the tournament." Xavier looked at Xena to see if everything was still okay. She hadn’t hauled him back to the bar so he assumed that it was. "Only the best staff wielders can enter and I’ve never been good at weapons."

"No?" Gabrielle was intrigued. "So what did you do in Xena’s army?"

"I was the bar-"

"Well so nice to see you Xavier. You don’t want to be late for that . . . thing you need to be at," said Xena as she pushed the sandy-haired man toward the door.

Gabrielle looked back and forth between the two seated Amazons. Her mouth was open in amazement. "Did I just hear him say what I thought I heard him say?"

"Yup," the two Amazons said in unison.

A wicked grin flashed upon Gabrielle’s face as she saw Xena coming back to the table somewhat shyly. "Oh Xena."

Xena froze in her tracks. She knew Gabrielle’s tone held nothing but trouble (although, she secretly liked it but would never admit that). "What?"

"You had a bard in your army," the sentence was almost sung as it floated out of the bard’s mouth.

"Gabrielle are you drunk? I did not have a bard in my army."

"Did too. Come on, admit it."

"Admit what?"

"You like stories . . . you big literary softy."

Ephiny snorted in surprise and ale shot out her nose.

Xena sneered at Ephiny then looked at Solari. "I thought I told you not to let her drink too much."

Solari shrugged as she reached for her mug of ale, which was now being consumed by Gabrielle. " She’sh my queen. She wants t’drink . . . what can I do? Beshides, I think I’ve drunk losh more than she did. Hey Queenie, gimme back my ale."

"Yeah, I can see that."

Solari chuckled then leaned closer to Xena. "I don’t think shesh really drunk . . . whaddya think?" Solari ended her sentence with a wink.

"Whatever, I’m going to bed. Gabrielle tomorrow we’re going to Dundar and I’m entering that tournament. Should be an easy dinar or two." With clear, malicious intent, she eyed the Regent and Solari. "You two can leave for Amazonia whenever you want."

"Wait Xena." The bard downed the last of Solari’s drink than stood up as if she were going to proclaim something important. "I’m going to enter that tournament."

"What!?" Two Amazons and one Warrior Princess said in amazement.

"Yup, I think I’m pretty good . . . I’d like to challenge my skills, test my endurance, go head to head in heated combat. Two fighters with nothing but gritty determination pushing themselves to the limit of . . . "

The three women slumped down into chairs and silently thought ‘There she goes again’. Solari called the barmaid over, Ephiny gave the patrons menacing looks, and Xena sharpened her sword as Gabrielle droned on about the human spirit and it’s strength in the face of adversity.

"...and so I think that I’m ready for this experience." Gabrielle finished with a triumphant slap to the table.

Xena sheathed her sword and with a bored look upon her face she said, "No."

"What do you mean ‘no’," Gabrielle said while narrowing her, slightly blurred but still functioning, green eyes.

"Exactly, what I said. No. Look Gabrielle, we need the dinar and I’m the best candidate to get it." (Oooh, not a good move by the Warrior Princess. Gabrielle had a rather competitive nature and once challenged it only got worse. Much worse.)

"So," Gabrielle’s tone was enough to make Solari and Ephiny scoot back from the table, just in case anything went flying. "What you’re telling me is that you don’t have confidence in my abilities."

Xena’s blue eyes (beautiful but sometimes oh so blind) rolled back in frustration. "I didn’t say that."

"No, what you said is that you could win but I could not."

Xena looked to the Amazons for help. They shook their heads in a way that said ‘You’re on your own Princess.’ Xena faced her friend; her angry and scowling friend. ‘Damage control . . . I need damage control.’ "Now Gabrielle, if you enter that means I can’t enter because I wouldn’t want to fight you. Might cause some tension." ‘There she can’t argue with logic like that.’

"So don’t enter."

‘Well, I guess she can argue with that.’ Xena realized that this was something that she wasn’t going to win. So reluctantly, she decided to concede. Of course, she would have never done this for anyone else, but this was Gabrielle. "Fine. You want to enter then do it. I’ll just . . . watch."

"Thanks Xena," Gabrielle said as she leaped over and gave Xena a huge hug. (A hug that both of them held just a fraction of a second longer than what was really necessary.) "I’m going to make you proud . . . just wait."

Xena’s stoic face softened with a smile. "Gabrielle, you don’t need a silly tournament to make me proud. You don’t need anything at all."

Gabrielle’s face reddened at Xena’s rare compliment. "Uh, thanks Xena."

Ephiny and Solari waggled their eyebrows at each other while inwardly they were thinking ‘ahhh’. Then Solari promptly passed out.

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