With meticulous care, the bard glanced first at one, then another. Her brows were creased in deep concentration while her fingers gently poked and prodded. Not pleased with each selection, she frowned as she continued to sort through the basket.
"Gabrielle, would you just pick one?" the impatient warrior shifted in place, crossing her arms as a slight sigh escaped her control and a frown crossed her features.
"Xena, this has to be done carefully. This is a very special holiday, we can't just settle on the first one," the blonde shrugged her shoulders as she tried to explain her actions to her companion.
With a shake of her head, Xena glanced at the basket of fruits. Seeing one, she reached into the container, pulled out a round orb and held it out to her lover, "How about this one?"
Gabrielle glanced at the fruit, her incredulous expression visible as she took the offered fruit and inspected it. "Xena, this isn't even ripe yet, look," she said as she pushed the tip of her thumb into the unyielding fruit. "We can't have that tonight, it's not ready."
"Gabrielle?.." the warrior's tone was laced with impatience, "I just don't understand how difficult it can be to pick out a pomegranate."
"Not just any pomegranate, but one worthy of tonight's celebration," the bard's voice was laced with awe as she tried to convey the importance of their choice pomegranate with tonight's holiday celebration. At the thought of the night of love in store for them, Gabrielle's cheeks turned a slight shade of red as she glanced up at Xena, then she turned a dismissing glance toward the owner of the fruit stand.
"Xena, this is a very special night, it's Samhain," the small blond held her hands out as her brows rose in an effort to remind her soul mate of the upcoming events.
With a scowl, the tall warrior tried to decipher her lover's hidden message as she stood above her with arms crossed in front of her. When remembrance dawned on her of the intense night they had shared on the last Samhain, Xena broke out into a big smile. Her normally stoic expression took on a ethereal quality at the memories of last years love session. Although every time with Gabrielle was exquisite, the warrior princess had to admit that its never been better than during the various holidays that the bard adopted as their own.
"Oh yeah!" Xena nodded as her gaze got a blissful, far away look as her mind conjured up images of what the night would bring for them. Then, as an afterthought, she arched a questioning brow, "Gabrielle, not that I need an excuse to make love to you, but tell me again why we're doing this?"
"Because, it is believed that on Samhain, the world of the spirits and the living are temporarily merged and the spirits are free to either pass their blessings or tricks onto the living, depending if the living honor them through acts of powerful magic, and what stronger magic is there than through great se?."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," the warrior tried to quiet her animated lover as she glanced at the owner of the fruit stand. When the woman seemed preoccupied with making change for another customer, Xena looked back down at the small blonde. "I figured that out, Gabrielle. I'm just wondering why we need a pomegranate?"
"Because, Xena, the pomegranate is a symbol for the Goddess Persephone. Tonight is when she has to leave her mother, Demeter, to join her husband Hades. During her absence, her mother grieves for the loss of her daughter and the world is thrown into a dark coldness from Demeter's sorrow. The pomegranate is the not only the fruit of Persephone, but it's thought to be the symbol of women's magic," the bard explained with hushed words.
"But if we're not in Britannia anymore, why are we celebrating their Celtic holiday? Can't we just chose one tradition to follow?" Xena's impatience at shopping was starting to show through the tone of her voice.
"Xena, we could just celebrate the tradition of our people," the bard agreed, then smiled as her eyes got a far off look, "but we've traveled to far lands, and learned so many other traditions and beliefs. Some similar to what we know, yet others? so very different. I just thought it would be nice if we started our own tradition by incorporating what we like from others! Maybe by mixing up all of the traditions, we can create our own form of magic," the bard's excitement was contagious.
"Sort of like, making them our own?" the tall warrior's lips turned slightly upward as she smiled down at her lover. Gazing upward, the bard's green eyes sparkled in the afternoon sun.
"Why not have our own traditions, things that are just ours alone?" Gabrielle's voice lowered as she looked shyly away.
"All right, we start our own tradition by honoring the traditions of other cultures, but don't ever ask me to dress up and go from door to door!" Xena stated firmly as she returned her glance to the contents in the basket. "Tell me again, why is a pomegranate the symbol of women's magic?"
"Because, the pomegranate represent the Goddess Persephone and the sacrifice she is making," the bard explained. When Gabrielle saw her tall lover's arched brow, the bard smiled as she reached over to a pomegranate that had been sliced open and sitting on a plate.
"In many cultures, the pomegranate represents women's magic, but more importantly, it's been considered the image of women itself. See how womanly the pomegranate is?" Gabrielle asked with a hushed whisper as she showed the inner fruit to the Greek warrior.
For a moment, Xena glanced down at the multitude of seeds nestled within the fruit The tall warrior tried to understand her bard's words. Her lips scowled as she tried to understand her lover's words, then, as she focused on a single seed, her lips turned into a broad smile as dawning came over her.
"Oh yes, I can definitely see the similarities!" Xena agreed as she took the fruit from the small blonde and began to compare the shape of the seed to that oh so special, and sweetly delicious part of Gabrielle that was nestled between her neither lips. As if reading her mind, the bard grabbed the fruit from her hands and returned it to the plate.
"You'll just have to wait for that!" Gabrielle chuckled as she saw the innocent expression cross over her warrior lover. "For now, I have to find the right one, then tonight will be perfect!" The smaller woman said as she returned to her hunt for the ultimate pomegranate that they would share.
Glancing around, Xena released an audible sigh as she grew impatient. As an idea came to mind, she turned back to her lover. "Hey, Gabrielle, why don't I go ahead and set up camp, do a little hunting, get our dinner started, then you can come and join me when you're finished?"
"Yeah, ok. Where will camp be?" the bard absently asked, only half of her attention on Xena and the rest on her search.
"I'm not sure? I'll ask the stable hand if he knows a nice?umm, secluded area outside of the village to camp. I'll leave word with him as soon as I find out," the warrior explained before leaving her soul mate.
"Yeah?.ok," Gabrielle replied as she dug through the basket, her fingers touching every fruit as her eyes scanned for the best one available.
For Gabrielle, time seemed to stand still as she carefully examined each fruit. She took meticulous care to judge the weight, color, and ripeness of each fruit. After what seemed an eternity for the fruit stand owner, the blonde smiled as she held up her chosen fruit.
"How much for this one?" she asked. With great deliberation, the owner looked at the fruit, then named her price. "Hah! You're kidding! For this? Why, I've seen better fruit out behind the tavern in their trash heap!" The blonde customer stated in a slightly higher voice.
With a patient sigh, the owner shook her head as she glanced heavenward, praying to the gods for patience. Against her better judgment, the fruit merchant merely shook her head and allowed the stranger to haggle down the price. Once the coins were in her hand, the owner began to hurriedly gather her fruit together. It would bode ill to be caught out past dusk on All Hallows' Eve, she reasoned to herself as she watched the blonde walking away, whistling with each light step she took. No, would not bode well at all, the produce merchant thought with a shake of her head.
Gabrielle found her way to the stable. After inquiring about Xena, the young man handed her a small parchment. With an arch of a brow, she read her lover's words, then turned to the man.
"Excuse me, but do you know which way to ?.umm, the forest of tears?" Gabrielle asked. At her question, the man's eyes grew large, his face paled as he stared at her.
"The Forest of Tears! Why would you want to go there?" he asked with a shake of his head.
"That's where my friend said we were setting up camp, see, right here, the forest of tears," she showed the man the parchment with Xena's handwriting. He glanced at it, swallowed nervously, and then shook his head.
"Your friend is daft if she wants to stay there!" his voice was harsh as he shook his head.
"Why?" Gabrielle's brows furrowed as she tried to understand what could be wrong with Xena's chosen site.
"Why?" the man's voice was filled with shocked disbelief as he shook his head, "Because nothing good ever came of that place! Why, that forest is haunted! It's filled with all kinds of bad spirits, there is evil in that place! Everyone knows that!" he spat.
For a moment Gabrielle thought over his words. She watched him as he turned away and continued to sweep up the stable. Then, with a knowing smile she nodded her head.
"So, Xena, you were listening to me last night when I told the townsfolk the myths of trickster spirits that walk on All Hallows' Eve," the bard whispered to herself. "So, you want to have some fun tonight, Xena? Ok, we can have some fun," she slyly smiled as she turned to the man again.
"Ok, but how do I get to this forest?" she asked again.
"You mean after all I've said, you still want to go!" he hissed.
Seeing the look on his face, Gabrielle smiled and shook her head. "Oh, I see Xena put you up to this, right?" she chuckled, "You know, if she's trying to scare me, it's not going to work. Two can play at that game!"
"Beg pardon!" the man's expression was filled with confusion as he glanced down at her.
"I have to admit, you're good. But it's not going to work. No, Xena's got to get up pretty early in the morning if she's going to play a trick on me!" Gabrielle explained with satisfaction, "So, how do I find this spooky forest of tears?" she chuckled as she mimicked being frightened.
"Head out of town due east, follow that road all way due east," the man's frown was visible as he shook his head.
"Thank you," the bard all but chuckled at the man's dramatic abilities. As she left the barn, she heard the man mutter under his breath, "Foolish woman!"
"No, Xena, you've got to be pretty smart to fool me!" the blonde spoke out loud as she made her way from the village.
As she walked down the dirt road, she found herself chuckling. She had filled their prior evening with the tales and traditions of various lands and of monsters and demons who played tricks on unsuspecting villagers. With a shake of her head, Gabrielle only smiled. "Nope, this is one bard who will not be unsuspecting!" she reasoned as she made her way toward camp.
After nearly a candle mark, she noticed the sun slowly setting as she stood at a fork in the road. As she tried to remember the instructions, she reread the parchment from Xena, then glanced down the left fork in the road. In the distance, she noticed the road disappearing into the lush greenness of a small forest. With an arch of a brow, she looked toward the right fork in the road. The trees, like the left side, were large and looming in the distance. Before she could decide which way to go, a sound caught her attention. Glancing to the left road, she noticed a wagon moving slowly down the road. Harnessed in front of the wagon was a single mule.
The wagon itself was painted a brilliant blue hue. A brown canvas tarp covered the back of the wagon, which held numerous containers that rattled and clanked with each jarring movement of the large round wheels. The vivid yellow lettering along the side of the wagon was the name of the man's peddling business, Paidiko's Fine Utensils And Eating Supplies. When the wagon grew closer, the bard waved at the driver.
With only a slight clicking sound, the wrinkled, gray haired man pulled his mule to the stop. The curious expression etched his features as he glanced down at her, his scruffy beard moving slowly as he chewed on the tip of a thin stick.
"You're an awful long way from the village," his scratchy voice said as he assessed her. As sensing no danger, he looked back down the road she had come from. His eyes squinted as if attempting to focus on something, then he scratched his beard as he looked back down at the traveling bard. "If you don't mind me saying so, you shouldn't stay out here, All Hallows Eve will soon be upon us, you must get indoors, young lady," the old man advised.
"I know, but I'm looking for a friend. We're going to be camping out tonight." She explained as she smiled up at the wizen face.
"Camping?? Tonight! Oh no, Miss, you shouldn't be camping outside, especially not tonight!" he shook his head as he removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his forehead. "Trust me on this, All Hallows' Eve is not the time to be sleeping outside. The spirits, they can be mean sometimes," his voice whispered knowingly as his eyes grew to slits, while he stared down at her. "Especially if they judge you harshly!" His tone turned to a deep baritone.
"Thank you, but I'm sure we'll be ok. Would you happen to know which of these roads leads to The Forest of Tears?" the bard asked the man.
His eyes shot open wide as he stared down at her. "The Forest of Tears! Now why would you want to go there? Don't you know that there are horrible spirits living in there? Why, two years ago, two youths came up missing. They were swallowed by that forest! It's a hungry place, it will eat the very life and soul of anyone who goes in it, mark my word, young lady, you don't want to be there at night!" he stated, then asked again, "Why in hades would you even want to go there?" then waved away her question, "Bah, let me guess, your friend is there, yes?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, she is. Could you please tell me which road will take me there?" she asked again.
The old man shook his head as he looked down at the old mule that pulled his wagon. As if deep in through, he chewed on the twig, then crinkled his eyes as he glanced at the disappear sun behind the distant mountains. With a shake of his head and a scratch of his stubbly chin, he looked down at her.
"I shouldn't ought to tell you, but since you're so bent on going to meet up with your friend, it's that one on the right. Just keep going down and the forest will be the one to greet you, but remember, I told you not to go there!" he warned with a nod, then picked up the reins, whistled at his mule and coaxed it down the road.
Gabrielle shook her head as she watched the wagon's slow progression. She heard the man's soft voice singing a bawdy song about Athena and a Cyclops, then returned her attention to the fork in the road. At the sight of the distant forest, the bard sighed, then began to move down the dirt road. As the sun was slowly setting, she made it half way to the forest in less than half a candle mark.
The orange red hues of the sky cast an illumination over the tall tree tops. For a moment, Gabrielle stopped and watched the trees moving in the wind. The long branches fanned upward toward the sky then dipped down like clawed fingers toward the earth. Each time the wind blew through the branches, she saw the tendrils of the tree branches scratching at the ground as if to dig into the earth. With a shudder, the bard pulled her cloak closer around her body. When she realized the sudden chill, she smiled at her own reaction.
"Ok Xena, now you've outdone yourself, your little joke was almost going to work," she said out loud with a smile, her voice broke through the silence of the wind. "No, I will not let this little joke get the better of me," she added as she bolstered her courage and began to walk toward the dark forest.
Before she could take a few steps, a loud neighing sound rose from deep within the forest. Gabrielle felt her heart suddenly beating fast as she waited, alert for any danger. When she heard the sound of hooves, she absently dropped her travel bag and waited until the horse emerged from the thick tree limbs of the dark forest.
"Argo?" she recognized Xena's horse immediately. Riderless, the golden mare galloped from the dark shadows toward her.
"Woah, Argo, woah, calm down, girl," she coaxed the horse as she grabbed its reins, her heels dug into the ground as she tried to stop it from its full gallop. After a moment of physically struggling, the horse stopped in her tracks and looked down at the bard. The mare tossed her head up, then paced nervously.
"That's it girl, it's all right," Gabrielle soothed the frightened animal. "What happened girl, where's Xena?" she asked as she patted down the horse. She felt the damp sweat pouring from the mare's back, noticed the slight foam that came from her mouth.
As the bard inspected the saddle, she tried to understand what had happened. There was nothing to show that Xena had fallen off, the saddle was completely intact, and the fact that there was no blood anywhere reassured the bard. Despite these clues, Gabrielle found herself alert for any danger.
"Come on, girl, lets see what happened to Xena," the blonde spoke in a soothing voice as she grabbed her bag, then hoisted herself into the saddle. Once seated, she took the reins and brought the horse around. In a slight trot, they made their way back to the forest. As the bard's mind raced over the numerous possibilities, she felt the horse suddenly stop before entering the forest.
"Come on girl," she tried to coax her as she lightly tapped into Argo's side. Refusing to move, Argo stepped back, her head bobbing up and down as she bit down on the reins, her eyes rolling in her head from fear. When the horse almost bucked, Gabrielle jumped from her back.
"Ok girl?.all right," so cooed as she softly stroked along Argo's muzzle. "It's all right, you don't have to follow, just wait here for us, ok?" she said as she turned to the darkness. Dropping her satchel by the road, she removed her cape and draped it over the bag.
With a sigh, Gabrielle looked off in the distance and wished, not for the first time, that the sun would not be setting so soon. Shaking away this thought, the bard looked back at Argo who was now pacing nervously, her head turning toward the forest, then back toward the open clearing. As if she was too close to the darkness, Xena's horse moved to the open clearing and stood waiting for the bard.
"Ok, this is fine, it's going to be ok," Gabrielle spoke softly into the air, attempting to bolster her courage, as she moved toward the darkness. "You know, Gabrielle, this whole thing could just be part of Xena's little joke," she said to herself as she crossed the threshold of the forest, "Yep, just one big funny joke that she is defiantly going to pay for!"
For a moment, the bard wasn't certain why it felt so?.creepy, then she realized that the forest held an eerie silence. The insects that usually buzzed were silent. Not even the gentle chirping of crickets could be heard. Just as she realized this, a sudden sound screeched down from above her.
Who, who, who, the gentle cadence called down to her. Jumping at the sound, the blonde had her sais in her hands ready to do battle. When she saw the golden eyes looking down from a branch of a tree, she chuckled to herself.
"Calm down, Gabrielle, it's only an owl," she chided herself as she returned her weapons to her boots. Chuckling at her own reaction, she glanced up at the owl, then bowed regally.
"And how are you, my Who friend," she smiled as the initial fear dissipated slightly. The owl's eyes blinked once, then returned to its silent vigil.
"Ok, now to find Xena," she said to herself as if hearing her own voice kept her courage up. With only a slight sigh, she continued to walk down the dark, dirt road. The trees all around her seemed to close in, their tendrils reaching down for her. As a shiver crossed her spine, a soft, gentle howl brushed through the trees.
"Xena?" she called as she glanced into the darkness, the road below her feet all but disappearing in the darkness. From somewhere nearby, she felt a sharp branch cross over her cheek. Blinking at the sudden contact, Gabrielle ducked her head as she pushed through the trees.
"Xena?" she whispered as the forest grew cold.
"Xena, this is a really good joke, I have to admit that! You win, ok?" she called out a little louder.
Before an answer could be heard, she felt a cold hand resting on her shoulder. Turning suddenly, she was greeted with a glowing figure, the white, bony fingers reaching out for her. With a yelp, then a scream, Gabrielle turned and ran as fast as she could away from the hideous creature.
Through branches and over dirt, her feet carried her further into the dense, dark forest. Finally, panting, and out of breath, she turned behind her and searched for the creature that had tried to grab her. When nothing was seen, she looked around in hopes of finding a direction to go toward. Off in the distance, she saw a slight glow of a fire light. Sighing with relief, the small bard began to make her way to the camp.
"Xena!" She called out a bit louder as she climbed over fallen trees. "It's about time I found you!" her voice was loud enough to show her anger. "So help me, Xena!" she began to say, but grew deathly silent when she broke past the last branches into the forest clearing.
Gabrielle glanced around the empty camp. In the center of the clearing was a neatly made camp fire, the wood that had been gathered was left strewn around the camp. Xena's pack sat untouched by the dying embers. As the bard moved around the camp, she glanced at everything, hoping that she could find some clues to what had happened to her lover. After what felt like an eternity, Gabrielle became frozen in place as a low, wailing sound rose from behind her. As the hair stood on the back of her neck, she turned slowly around and glanced into the dark forest.
"Oooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," the deep, resonating moan of a man in pain echoed through the branches.
For a moment in time, Gabrielle thought her heart had stopped. Her mind was frozen and her body petrified with fear. As her hearing became acutely aware of everything around her, the sound reverberated through the darkness again.
"Oooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," it called out, beckoned for her like a phantom in the night.
"Oh?my?." Gabrielle said as she looked up into the thick branches of the trees.
A face, large and white glared down at her, its eyes casting rays of red heat. Instinctively, the bard turned and ran away from the sight, away from the camp fire. Panic and filled with fear, she found herself running through the dark forest, the low branches of the trees slapping her rudely in the face, her feet stumbling over hidden rocks. As she slowed her pace, the blonde glanced over her shoulders to see if she was being chased. Panting and out of breath, she turned back around and saw a large ghoul standing in the middle of her path.
"BOO!" it barked out as Gabrielle released a slight scream while her hands moved to protect herself. When the slight laughter came from the creature, she remained frozen, her weapons ready as she stared suspiciously at the glowing spirit.
"XENA!" the bard recognized her lover's laughter. With the danger gone, Gabrielle returned her weapons to her boots.
Unable to control her fit of hysteria, the warrior removed the blanket that was covering her head as she buckled over holding her side.
"Oh?.Gabrielle! Y-You ?.s-should see your face!" the warrior cackled in the darkness.
Angered, Gabrielle reached out and slightly slapped at her lover's shoulder, "Xena, this was all a joke!" she screamed at the warrior who was laughing so hard that tears fell from her eyes.
"Yeah?.I-I'm?..sorry?.oh, Gabrielle! Your expression was priceless," Xena giggled like a hyena as she fought to control her fits.
With only a shake of her head, the bard turned angrily away from her lover and stomped back to the camp fire. The sound of Xena's cackling followed her as they made their way back through the dense forest. When they entered the open clearing, the bard folded her arms over her chest and glared at the warrior who suddenly sat on the ground, her giggles breaking free as she tried valiantly to control them. Seeing Xena like this, the bard shook her head as a sigh escaped her control. Then with a smile, she began to echo her lover's contagious giggles.
"So? this was all a joke?" Gabrielle asked through her spasms of laughter.
"Yeah," Xena nodded as she wiped the tears from her eyes, then doubled over from more fits of laughter. "I-I'm sorry!" she chortled as she held her side.
"The camp fire?.the logs, the packs, it was all part of the joke?" the blonde asked Xena.
"Yeah?" Xena's cackled as she nodded yes, her tears of laughter falling unabated.
"The stable man?..and the old man out on the trail?even Argo, that was all part of the joke?" She asked as her giggles were raging out of control. At her sudden question, Xena sat up perplexed as she looked around the camp.
"Argo? What happened to Argo?" she asked as she stood and peered into the darkness surrounding the camp.
"Come on Xena, joke over. It's ok, I know you planned it all and I should have figured out that Argo was in on it!" Gabrielle laughed heartedly.
Now silent and with a look of concern, Xena turned to her. "No, Gabrielle, I'm serious. What happened to Argo? What do you mean?"
At the seriousness of her lover, the bard's laughter stopped. "You mean you didn't send her out of the forest all worked up?"
With a gulp and a shake of her head, Xena shook her head no.
"Oh, come on Xena, fun is fun, but the joke is over! You're not going to tell me that you didn't set this all up? That you didn't instruct the stable man and the peddler into scaring me, or Argo into running out of the forest in fear?" Gabrielle was starting to get annoyed at the length of this joke.
"No, Gabrielle. I swear, I didn't talk to anyone and I certainly didn't send Argo away. I had her right there," she pointed to a nearby meadow, "I was going to take her saddle off as soon as I set up camp, but then I thought of playing this trick on you, and?well, Argo became occupied with the grass, so I left her alone to eat," Xena explained, then looked down seriously at the bard, "And I most certainly didn't talk to anyone. I just gave the parchment to the stable hand to give to you."
"Then all of that talk about there being spirits here?" Gabrielle hoped that it was all part of the joke.
"Gabrielle, that rumor has always existed about this forest. I knew about it a long time ago, but my army never had any troubles." Xena answered.
"Then you've been here before?" the bard suddenly felt a chill cross her spine.
"Yes?well, I mean, we never camped in this forest, but we used it as a short cut to get to Amphipolis. We never saw anything that resembled spirits," Xena explained with a shake of her head.
"Then this place isn't?.haunted?" the bard asked in a hushed tone.
"No Gabrielle, its not haunted," Xena assured as she moved to gather the fallen wood, "And I don't know what spooked Argo, maybe a woodchuck, or something," Xena offered.
"A woodchuck!" Gabrielle snorted, "Come on Xena, maybe Joxer would be scared of a big furry rodent, but Argo would never be that spooked by one!"
Just as she spoke, a low, moaning sound came from the darkness of the forest.
Both women remained frozen, their gazes locked on one another. Gabrielle's green eyes were pleading for confirmation that Xena was still playing her trick. With a gulp and a negative shake of her head, the leather clad warrior remained silent as she glanced around their camp.
The moaning grew in intensity as the two women looked around the darkness. Gabrielle noticed her lover's wide eyes staring upward into the trees. When she turned and followed her gaze, the bard saw the hideous face glaring down at them from the tree tops.
"Oooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," it moaned deeply.
"Gabrielle?" Xena removed her sword, then moved slowly to the dying embers.
With only a nod, Gabrielle moved to Xena's discarded pack. As the warrior kicked dirt onto the embers, the bard hoisted the pack to her back, never once taking her eyes off of the glowing face. When the creature released a deep, howling moan, the bard took one glance at her lover. At Xena's nod, she turned and ran in the direction that led from the forest.
"Oooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh," the cry echoed in the forest.
"Run Gabrielle!" she heard her lover shout from behind her.
Gabrielle took only a moment to glance over her shoulder to insure that she saw the slight outline of Xena following close behind. The sound of their crashing footfalls were drowned by the wailing sound of the spirit. With slight curses and mutters under her breath, the warrior princess followed closely. Only when they broke out into the clearing did they slow their pace.
Panting, Gabrielle rested her hands on her knees as she was bent over fighting for air.
"I-I?g-guess you had nothing to do with that either?" she asked her lover who had sheathed her sword, the warrior's breaths coming out labored as she glanced back at the dark outline of the trees.
"No, that definitely was not me, Gabrielle," she said as she glanced down at the blanket she still held, then began to roll it up into a tight bundle.
"Xena, w-what was that?" the bard asked as she glanced around the darkness in the moonlight. In the distance, Argo neighed as she moved toward them. When the blonde spotted the outline of her bags and cape, she went to retrieve them.
"I?I don't know Gabrielle, but I suggest we find another place to camp out for the night," Xena, not usually prone to fear, now moved quickly away from the dark forest.
"Agreed," was all the bard could say as she followed her lover toward Argo.
Deep within the forest, a slight muffled laughter filtered through the trees. With an uncontrollable chortle, the little impish figure rolled over onto his side, his wings circling his body. Near him, his friend giggled uncontrollably as they watched the two human women running from their forest.
"O-Oh, did you see that!" the blonde haired pixie child giggled as he glanced up at his friend. With a broad smile and an impish chuckle, the dark haired pixie leaned against the tree as he fought for air.
"Oh, too, too funny!" he giggled as he took the hollowed out gourd, placed his mouth on the smallest opening, and wailed out a sound, "Oooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" he giggled, and fell down with hysterical laughter, his wings twitching in amusement.
"How about this!" the blonde pixie flew up to a pumpkin, pulled the leaf from in front of the face and allowed the candle within to brighten up the glowing, scowling face.
"Oh! That was such a good idea! And did you see how that little one jumped when the tree branch got caught on her shoulder?" the dark haired one giggled as his wings fluttered, carrying him slightly off of the tree branch.
Suddenly, from a nearby trunk, a stern voice called down to them.
"Aluishus, are you scaring the humans again!" the blonde pixie's mother yelled down at him.
"No mother!" he shouted up at her. With a deep set frown, she hovered near the entrance of their home, her eyes boring deeply into him. "W-Well?.not much, mother," he offered with a contrite look.
"Stop scaring those poor humans! Don't you think they have enough to worry about, lands sake, you're as bad as your father when he was your age! Now come on in, it's late!" she scolded, then flew into her home.
With only an apologetic smile, Aluishus, sighed, then waved at his friend. "I'd better go," he said as his wings began to carry him upward.
"Yeah, me too," the dark imp sighed before blowing out the candle inside of the pumpkin. "My mom will be looking for me too," he said as he made certain that the candle was out, then he felt himself soaring through the air toward his home.
Pixie children never needed to wander far for their amusement. All they had to do was wait in their trees and watch the unsuspecting visitors come to their land. Then, like their fathers before them, they would scare any humans who wandered into their land. As long as it was harmless, pixie children were left to their own devises. There would be enough time for seriousness, it was reasoned, because once they grew to be adults, they were expected to be guardians of the forest, as their parents before them had been.
The forest was all they knew, from as far back as they could remember, their people had lived in this forest. Although they knew that the world was much bigger than their trees filled land, their magic, their powers remained deep within the land and the trees that were their home. It was their duty to be the guardians of their forest. Knowing the awesome responsibility that the children would inherit, the Fae Folk gave liberal freedom to their children.
Pixie children were given broad freedom to do what they wished. And every once in a while, they actually did good, like the year before when they were able to help the two young human lovers escape the disapproval of their parents. With the pixie children's help, the two humans hid in the forest, then the pixies guided them to the other side and pointed them toward the human city that would take them and allow them to be with each other for the rest of their lives.
Pixie children were never considered bad, they were simply allowed to enjoy the amusements that were freely at their disposal.
"I'm telling you Xena, a peddler came down that road and warned me against going into the forest!" Gabrielle insisted as she stood at the fork in the road. Behind her, she heard Xena using a flint to start a torch.
"And I'm telling you, Gabrielle, that isn't possible," she said as she began to blow, then waited for the moss at the tip of the wooden stick to catch fire. When the flame caught, the warrior stood and moved to her lover. She pointed the torch out toward the left road. "That road is all washed up, it happened years ago. The road ends at a river. There is no way that a peddler could have come from that way."
With a shake of her head, the bard moved around the open clearing. Ever since retelling her tale, she was having a hard time convincing Xena about all that she experienced. By the light of the full moon, she searched for any proof that she could give to her soul mate.
"I know what I saw, Xena, and it came from that direction," she said as her foot hit an obstacle, a slight thumping was heard against her boot. Kneeling down, she felt where her boot had touched, then strained to pull up the slight board.
In silence, Xena moved behind the bard, the torch held high as she watched her lover brushing off the crusted dirt from a piece of old, rotting wood. At the sight of the lettering, the bard quickly tugged at the piece of wood until it broke from the earth. Leaning down, Xena began to help the blonde clean the dirt from the old piece of wood.
"Paidiko's Fine?." Gabrielle whispered the part that was legible as her eyes grew wide, a pale expression crossed her features.
"I can't make out the rest," Xena said as she tried to rub the dirt from the last part of the wood, her eyes squinting as she attempted to make out the partial letters.
"It says Paidiko's Fine Utensils And Eating Supplies," the fear in Gabrielle's voice was barely masked as she carefully returned the wood to the ground.
"How do you know that? I can barely make it out," Xena continued to stare at the wood in an attempt to decipher the words.
"Because?.t-that is what it said on the old man's wagon," Gabrielle words where a hushed whisper as a shiver crossed her spine. Xena glanced down at her lover as understanding dawned.
"Oh," was all the tall warrior said as she looked at the old, rotting wood.
"Ummm, Gabrielle, is there anything in the Samhain tradition that requires us to celebrate it outdoors, under the stars?" the warrior princess asked as she glanced cautiously around the darkness.
With an uneasy chuckle, Gabrielle brushed the dirt from her hands as she looked up at her lover.
"You know Xena, that is the beauty of creating our own traditions? we can make them whatever we wish!" she tried to smile easily as she saw her lover's stern expression through the flickering torch light that she held high.
"Then, my bard, I say we spend tonight's holiday back at the inn in the village," Xena suggested.
"You will get no arguments from me," Gabrielle glanced nervously around, suddenly afraid to be out in the open under the bright full moon on All Hallows' Eve. Without waiting for a response, Xena turned and moved toward Argo. With her pack secured, the warrior princess dropped the torch to the ground, stomped out the flame, then easily mounted the large mare's back.
"Ready?" Xena asked as she held a hand down for the bard. Nodding, Gabrielle took a hold of her lover's strong hand, then hopped upward as Xena pulled her onto Argo's back.
"I say the sooner, the better!" the warrior princess said as she felt the smaller woman's arms snake around her waist, then coaxed Argo into a fast trot back toward the village.
As Gabrielle held on tightly, she laid her head against her lover's strong back. The smell of leather wafting to her senses as she tried to find a logical explanation for what had happened. When she opened her eyes, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck rising as a cold chill seemed to touch her shoulder.
The bard knew she should not have looked back. Deep within her soul she knew that nothing would be accomplished by glancing back at the road where they had just left. But despite her inner warnings, she turned and caught a glimpse of the fork in the road.
By the full moon's light, she saw only the emptiness of the road, then as if reading her thoughts, she heard the distant clanking, rattling sounds of a wagon rolling over the road. With wide eyes, she watched as the wagon pulled into the moonlight, the slow, steady pace of the mule drawn wagon crossing past the fork in the road.
As she felt her heart racing out of control, Gabrielle shut her eyes tightly, then opened them, hoping that the apparition would be gone. With a wide smile and a tilt of his hat towards her, the old man nodded, then took the reins of his mule. With only a slight clicking sound, he urged the mule onward. The bard watched as the spirit wagon moved a short distance, then vanished into thin air.
With a shake of her head, the blonde buried her face against her lover's back. As the cold wind blew past their forms, she closed her eyes as the numbness of the night's events crossed her mind. Although she had heard many tales, this, she knew, would be one that many would not believe. From this day forward, Samhain, All Hallows' Eve would always be a night filled with magic, Gabrielle reasoned as she clung tightly to her lovers back.
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