BY THE BUMBLING BARD www.thebumblingbard.com
PART ONE: LIFE NOW
DISCLAIMER: XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS IS A COPYRIGHT OF MCA/UNIVERSAL AND RENAISSANCE PICTURES. MOST OF THE CHARACTERS IN THIS STORY ARE NOT MINE AND ARE SIMPLY ON LOAN. THE CHARACTERS THAT ARE MINE HAVE BEEN SOLELY CREATED OUT OF MY IMAGINATION AND ANY RESEMBLANCE THEY MAY BEAR TO ANY PERSON OR CHARACTER IS UNINTENDED.
SALVATION BEGINS NEARLY 11 YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF THE WARIOR PRINCESS. NOW, AN OLD ADVERSARY THREATENS XENA'S FAMILY. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN LUCIFER ENLISTS THE PHOENICIAN GODS TO ATTEMPT TO BRING HELL INTO THE MORTAL REALM? WHO WILL FIGHT TO SAVE THE WORLD NOW? AN ADVENTUROUS STORY ABOUT FAMILY, UNBREAKABLE BONDS, FAITH, LOVE AND THE BELIEF IN SOMETHING GREATER THAN ONESELF.
THIS STORY DOES HAVE MILD VIOLENCE AND DOES EXPLORE THE INTIMATE NATURE OF RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN CHARACTERS BOTH OF THE OPPOSITE GENDER AND SAME GENDER. IT DOES NOT REQUIRE THAT YOU COVER YOUR WINDOWS NOR COWER IN YOUR CUBICLE TO READ IT. HOPEFULLY IT IS TACTFUL, RESPECTFUL AND STILL SHEDS LIGHT ON A BEAUTIFUL ROMANCE…
It was still difficult for Gabrielle to believe that more than 10 years had passed since she lost her soul mate on that mountainside. Every year as the anniversary of that day approached, she felt a sense of dread. The sadness was with her every day. It took her many years to learn how to navigate the loneliness. While there was a degree of comfort in knowing that she would one day be reunited with her lover in another life; the time alone in this one could still be nearly unbearable. After the warrior died Gabrielle had traveled south as they had planned to the land of the pharaohs, but when she arrived she found herself consumed with by an emptiness that she could not describe. She sent word to Eve in Chin that she was heading to Amphipolis. There was nothing to the south that held any desire for her now. The journey they had planned had been all about the two of them together. Gabrielle could fight with a sword, wield the chakram, battle with a staff, or inflict damage with a sai; almost as well now as her teacher once did. Those battles had become easy; too easy. Her sadness and her anger put her at risk, Xena taught her that. Without her partner to balance her; she was constantly in danger. It was time to confront reality; time to let go. She needed to go home. And it was Amphipolis where she had felt the most at home for many years now. That was where Xena and she often found comfort; and where they had 'family'.
Gabrielle paced the floor of the tavern, recalling when she had first arrived back here. She had been waiting for Eve and Virgil then too. She needed to see them both; so that the coldness of news in scrolls could be replaced by the truth in her voice. As she walked back and forth now, waiting for them again, she felt as though she were transported back to that day all those years ago. Looking at the door she could almost see them as they walked in.
Virgil had entered first. Gabrielle came from behind the counter and greeted him with a hug. His eyes were filled with concern for her. She pulled away and smiled sweetly at the handsome young man in front of her, "I'm all right," she said quietly brushing some dust from the journey off his shoulder. His head cocked slightly, searching her eyes for what he knew to be the truth. Gabrielle's smile grew, "you remind me of your father." She touched his hand gently.
It was then that she caught sight of Eve in the doorway. Eve looked beautiful. She had her mother's eyes. Their eyes met at a distance with a knowing expression as both moved toward the center of the room. "I'm so sorry, Eve," Gabrielle closed her eyes and pulled the woman close. It was so strange. In fact, they were only a couple of years apart in age, yet for Gabrielle; this was her child. She loved Eve. She loved Xena. Holding onto Eve now was the closest she'd felt to family in months.
Eve stepped back and lifted her hand to Gabrielle's face, "No, Gabrielle, I'm sorry," she said with a tear in her eye. "Mother loved you." Gabrielle tried to hold the tears in, to be strong, but hearing those words, seeing the worry and compassion in Eve's eyes; it made her feel as though the bridge she had been walking across buckled and she began to crash. The tears welled further as she found herself picturing the moment that Eve was born. It was Gabrielle who had first held her and put her in Xena's arms. The tears fell faster as the young woman before her pulled the bard into a tight embrace. "I know," she said, "I know."
Gabrielle wiped a tear from her cheek, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. 'They'll be here soon,' she thought. She was glad that they were due to arrive soon. She didn't have the opportunity to see them as often as she would like. They reminded her so much of she and Xena; traveling together constantly; Eve spreading Eli's message and growing the Elijan following with Virgil at her side, protecting her and recording their journeys. She felt a sad smile wash across her face and fell into another memory.
She thought about Xena - the day they had met for the first time. How she had been struck immediately at the sight of the warrior; in awe really. The feeling that had come over her was so foreign to the young girl. It was as if lightening had struck her; her entire being hummed with energy. She had thought about that many times all these years. How every time she would lie next to the warrior, every time their eyes would meet; she felt lightning course through her body. Lost and found all at the same time. Sometimes she could swear, even now, that she could hear Xena talking to her - usually as she sat in front of the fire. It was almost as if Xena reflected to her in the flames. Her smile faded slightly as her body gave over to a slight shudder and she closed her eyes, inhaling the thought and the feeling, "I miss you, Xena," she spoke softly aloud as if she hoped there would be an answer. As always the silence was deafening.
Eve was sitting in the back of the wagon when she felt it begin to slow. 'We're getting close,' she thought to herself. Traveling to Amphipolis was always filled with emotion for her. To nearly everyone looking in; Eve was the picture of serenity; offering those who chose to follow the spiritual teaching of Eli a pathway that consisted of light and love, peace and understanding. She was deliberate in presenting herself calmly and confidently to all those that heard her speak or sought her counsel. In truth, she was never far from her warrior self. She recalled those years of blood in battle often and understood that it was the forgiveness of her God that allowed her some semblance of peace in her life; that, and the abounding love of her parents. It was the love she witnessed between her parents; their love for her that allowed her to embrace Eli's teaching. It was, in many ways, that love that gave her this wonderful man as her husband, and it was certainly that love that taught her how to be a mother. Watching her mother with Gabrielle had always amazed her. The way Gabrielle could calm the warrior with only a glance or the touch of her hand. The way her mother would watch Gabrielle as she moved about a campfire, a room - or when she sat fixed on one of her many scrolls. She understood, completely, why her God had chosen them, why he had now chosen her. Without their devotion, to each other and to her - she could never have had the strength to become who she was now.
The slow pace of the wagon continued as it came to a complete halt. She could see Amphipolis just over the horizon. They were close now. "I thought you might want to stop for a few minutes and catch your breath," her husband spoke softly as he turned to face her. Eve was struck by the gentleness in his face. The gentleness of his forgiving soul. It was still amazing to her; his capacity to forgive her; to love her. He had learned that from his parents as well; learned that from his father; devotion, compassion. She smiled at him and sighed.
"Come on," Virgil beckoned to the young boy sitting beside her. The boy's eyes were sleepy and Eve prodded him gently.
"Gabriel," she said, "Go with your father." The boy huffed a bit but pulled himself from the back of the wagon and met his father's encouraging glance.
"Just going to take a short walk down to that stream we just passed," Virgil said. He thought it best to give his wife a few minutes alone before they made the last leg of their journey, the part that would allow her to watch her parent's home rise in front of her gradually as they moved closer.
She touched the back of the boy's head, meeting her husband's strong hand there and gripped it gently, "Thank you." He tightened his grasp and smiled coaxing the young boy to follow.
The boy stopped and looked back, "Mother?" he asked.
Eve smiled. "Your mother is going to stay here for a few minutes, Gabriel," Virgil said as he put his arm around his son. "We won't be gone long." And they were off.
Eve walked to the front of the wagon and leaned against it. Amphipolis had grown into a thriving town again over the last few years. She knew that Gabrielle's presence had made an enormous difference in the effort to truly revive the village. People loved to hear stories of the Amazon Queen, the Warrior Princess and their travels. No one could tell a story like the Battling Bard of Potedaia. And, it had helped that the bard had the skills of a warrior, wisdom of a queen, and heart of an angel. It brought a smile to Eve's face. She missed her mother. Missed her every day. She still thought of her every day and wished that she could feel her arms comforting and reassuring her in her moments of doubt. She wished that her mother could see them; her family. She imagined her son and his grandmother. She chuckled, "You would love that," the words passed audibly, "a young grandmother you would have been." As much as she missed her mother, she was forever grateful for Gabrielle. And she was anxious to see her, even if it always invoked a certain sadness and longing for Xena, for them both. "I'm coming home, Mother," she whispered aloud.
"Are we staying with Auntie Gabby?" the boy looked to his father who was standing beside him skimming rocks across the water.
Virgil smiled broadly. "We are."
The boy's face lit up and Virgil could swear that he could see his father there. He was all too aware of the love his father always held for Gabrielle - just like his son now. As much as his father had loved his mother; Gabrielle had always claimed a piece of his heart. When he had lost his father, Virgil felt inclined to reach toward the bard himself. It took them descending into darkness for Virgil to understand that his love for Gabrielle was quite different than that of his father's. His thoughts drifted like the stone he had thrown across the water.
Gabrielle was beautiful. She was everything Joxer had always described. Amphipolis had become a center of sinful delight in those days. Virgil fell prey to the desire sweeping the town; he desired everything and he desired her, to travel where his father never could. In the midst of his grief and the intoxicating lust that filled the air, he had tried to seduce the bard. It wasn't simply the spell of hell that had been cast. He wanted to take something - maybe even something from Xena and certainly from Eve. When Xena finally threw Lucifer into the pit of hell and the spell had been broken; he looked into Gabrielle's eyes and knew he had gone too far. He looked across the room at his father's best friend and saw the pain in her eyes. His heart began to ache. He worshiped his father. His father had worshiped Xena. Virgil loved Gabrielle, but it was so different from the love his father once held. When he turned that day from his father's best friends attempting to clean at least part of the mess he felt so responsible for, Eve had followed him. She, too, had seen the look in her mother's eyes and knew it was a time for the warrior and the bard to be alone.
They had learned how to speak to one another, Virgil and Eve. He was still reeling from his father's death; a death that had come at her hands. Regardless of what she called herself now Virgil could not help but see Livia, Rome's violent conqueror when he looked at her. But as they quietly began reordering the temple he couldn't help but be overtaken by the peaceful look in the once brutal warrior's eye. He was moving a bench when he heard her slight cry of pain from across the room. When he reached her she smiled nervously, holding her left hand in her right.
"What happened?" he asked
"It's just a cut," she said, "I've had much worse."
He didn't even think; at all; as he reached for her hand. "Let me see," he coaxed.
They were both focused on her hand where a large piece of glass shard remained embedded. Virgil found himself gently stroking the back of her injured hand. "We have to get that out," he said. They both remained centered, focused on her hand. When he finally lifted his head to speak to her again, he found that their eyes met. They stayed locked, frozen, looking into each other's eyes… one begging forgiveness and filled with regret, the other praying for the strength to forgive and filled with a sudden burst of compassion. He still did not know how long they had stood there, staring at one another, searching, before they proceeded with the task at hand. It was a turning point for them. The dam that broke and allowed them to speak more freely. It would take more than another year for him to realize that he loved her. It was Eve that had captured his heart.
It wasn't until they had seen Gabrielle in the tavern that day. The day they all mourned together, that he began to understand. They spent that week with the bard, cleaning the tavern, sharing stories and sitting in silence. At night Gabrielle would become quieter than usual; staring into the fire silently for hours. Then she would rise and smile at them both, silently touch both their shoulders and head to the room that she had so often shared with the warrior. He would sit with Eve, the silence continuing and they would often hear her tears when she thought they must have retired. Little was said between them. He couldn't be sure what Eve was thinking.
On their last night, Gabrielle followed suit except that he had noticed she had kept her gaze on Eve a great deal that evening and when it would usually be time for her to rise she spoke instead of continuing in silence.
"I am glad you both came," she said softly, a tear falling slowly. "I wish we could have seen you both grow up," she continued. "Your father," she looked at him, "and your mother," she looked at Eve, "They would be so proud of you." Then she rose as she always did and placed her hand on Virgil's cheek, "You are so like him." He felt his own tears begin to rise. She smiled softly and made her way to Eve. It seemed to him that they stayed locked in a compassionate gaze for an unusually long time, and he saw Eve's eyes begin to fill, the water shining an orange glow from the fire as it reflected in them. Gabrielle seemed unable to speak as she took Eve's face in her hands and gently wiped the young woman's tears. A smile, loving and gentle - a smile he had seen his own mother and father give him so many times, overtook the bard's face now. "I'm proud of you," she whispered as her own tears began to fall. She tenderly kissed Eve on the head as you would a small child. With that she was gone to her private place.
Both he and Eve remained still, no words, only tears. Both understanding now exactly how alone she must have been feeling. So many that she loved were gone. His father, her own parents, Cyrene, and the love of her life. The children they should have watched grow, already old enough to have their own. And, they realized, for all of her loss, for all of her pain, she was the strongest person either had ever known. Neither could stop their own tears as they fell silently. He reached across the short distance and took Eve's hand. "I'm sorry," he said so genuinely to her. "I am too," the woman whispered. All he knew in that moment was that he loved her. Eve had his heart and somehow, in spite of everything, that seemed to make sense.
Chapter Two: Family
When Gabrielle heard the wagon pull up, she felt her heart skip a beat. She had missed her family. Occasionally she would travel to Potedaia to see Lila, or Lila would make the journey with Sarah and her family to visit Gabrielle in Amphipolis. Most of the time the bard was busy. Busy with the tavern and busy with the town. Her skills as a warrior were well known throughout Greece; as well known now as her scrolls. Her experience with the Amazons as their queen was also now common knowledge. All of her journeys and experiences with Xena made her an understandable asset at the negotiation table. Her presence also helped keep bandits and warlords at bay. She was grateful for the business of her life. And, she even enjoyed the occasions that warranted her skills as a warrior. It kept her from being idle and it kept her from the loneliness that she so often felt.
Eve and Virgil seemed to travel as much as she and Xena had. It was Eve's path to be the messenger of the word of Eli and his God. Although Eve had never met Eli; she had gained a deep understanding and a sincere devotion to his teachings and his God. A God, like all Gods, that Gabrielle had all but abandoned. She was glad to still have the friendship of Aphrodite, but the few remaining Greek Gods were becoming less powerful by the day in the minds of the people and she feared that Aphrodite herself might soon become but a memory. For her, in her heart, the Gods had all abandoned them in Jappa. She believed in the greater good, she'd seen heaven, tasted hell, traveled to Tarturus and back again, but she felt no sense of responsibility to any God that would take them from their daughter for so many years, take their children, and after all of their sacrifices, take her lover. Gods were not something she talked about, not even with Eve.
The door swung open with more force than anyone could've anticipated. Gabrielle's gaze focused out the door expecting to see Virgil or Eve, but before she could even lower her sight she felt the exuberance of small arms wrapping about her waist.
"Gabriel!" His father called, "Slow down!"
The bard was instantly filled with joy. There he was, this small toe headed boy. How he ended up that way, she wasn't sure, but he was the light of her life now. He had hold of her harder than she could believe. Her smile filled the room as she crouched to look in his small blue eyes. "My Gabriel," she said. "I have some stories for you,' she winked, "and some tarts too," she whispered. She rose to greet his parents, all the while delighting in his never ending cling to her.
"Hi Gabrielle," Virgil smiled leaning in to kiss her on the cheek.
"Virgil," she glowed. "Is that a gray hair," she tugged at his short locks.
"Funny," he glared.
Eve was making her way through the door. Virgil bent down and gently peeled their son from his favorite auntie. They had decided that Auntie was best, Gabrielle was far too young it seemed to earn a grandmother title. She could easily have been the boy's mother herself had her life taken different turns.
"Eve…" she sighed, her smile never fading. Their hug lasted several minutes. Gabrielle finally broke the embrace to place Eve squarely in front of her. "You look beautiful," the bard kissed her on the forehead. Eve was so glad to see the light in Gabrielle's eyes. It filled her with a sense of hope.
"So," Gabrielle began, "Why don't you get your things settled down in the house. We'll have dinner here in the tavern tonight and catch up….. I have a surprise for all of you," she gloated.
"Is it nut bread?" the small boy jumped.
All three laughed. "No, sweetie, that's not the surprise," she answered receiving a disappointed hang of a small head in return. "BUT," she said, "I think there might be some in the kitchen." The boy sprang back to life. Eve laughed.
"Can I have some?"
Eve just nodded. Virgil interjected, "It shouldn't take us long to unpack," he said.
"I want to stay with Auntie Gabby."
Eve smiled again. She knew that this was Gabrielle's favorite thing in the world. "Well, Gabriel," she said, "You have to ask Auntie Gabby if that's okay."
"Is it?" he blurted. His energy reminded the bard of Xena, not to mention that at the ripe old age of seven he had figured out how to pull ALL of her strings.
"Yes, but you have to help me with the surprise. Deal?"
The bard smiled and waved his parents off to get settled as the boy pulled her in excitement toward the kitchen.
"They're home, Xena," she whispered as the kitchen door closed behind her, "They're home."
Chapter Three: Celebration
Gabrielle was determined that this year the occasion would be a much happier one. That is what Xena would have wanted and she knew it. She also knew that she was lucky. For all that had been lost, she had a good life now. She longed for Xena, but she knew that Xena would have been happy to see how her life had settled, and yet, how she was able to work toward all of their goals. Amphipolis gave the bard balance. She had briefly entertained returning to the Amazons or Potedaia and even thought of staying on the road; but this was the place she felt the closest to Xena. It afforded her the opportunity to be all of the things she was, warrior, bard and leader. The only thing missing was Xena; and she needed all of the other things in order to fill that gaping hole; if only for a few moments a day.
"Gabriel," she said, "Take these to Adera," she handed the boy eating utensils and napkins.
"ADERA!" He ran through the swinging door. Adera had worked for Gabrielle for six years now. She was a trusted friend and a welcome companion for the bard.
The woman was slight, only about Gabrielle's height. She had long brown hair, and a soft, peaceful smile. Sometimes she reminded Gabrielle a bit of Lila. "Your boy there dropped all the napkins," Adera laughed grabbing a fresh stack of linens. "He is going on and on out there about his Auntie Gabby, the Amazon Queen."
Gabrielle's eyes twinkled and she shook her head in amusement. "Do they have any idea about the surprise?" the woman asked.
"I don't think so," Gabrielle smiled taking a loaf of bread from the large brick oven. "If I pull this off until tonight I will be shocked," she laughed.
"Well, I think it is very sweet."
"Yeah, well, when they realize there are no customers in here they are sure to get suspicious."
Just then a voice called to her from the back door of the kitchen. "What are you doin' with that bread! EHH! Good Gods Gabrielle," a voice creaked from behind her.
Gabrielle spun around and set her eyes upon the older woman. "Meg," she smiled.
Meg's hair had now gone completely gray and she had a few extra pounds. Still, when Gabrielle looked at her she couldn't help but wonder if Xena had lived into her sixties, is this what she would look like? "That boy get here yet?" Meg asked.
Gabrielle was unsure which boy she meant, Virgil or Gabriel. She knew that Virgil had not seen his mother in a several seasons. "They are all here," she answered.
"Aphrodite?" Meg asked.
"Not yet," Gabrielle answered.
"Lila and Sarah?"
"Yes," she smiled. "I just sent Virgil and Eve down to the house to settle in. Hopefully, that will keep them occupied until dinner."
"Grandma!" A young voice bellowed thumping into the older woman. "Auntie Gabby made nut bread!"
All three women laughed at the child's overwhelming excitement over nut bread.
"Eh, I see that," Meg chuckled.
"Father never said you'd be here!" He exclaimed, turning now to his auntie.
"Your father and mother don't know, Gabriel," Gabrielle knelt down beside him in front of Meg. "That's part of the secret," she whispered in his ear.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh," he whispered back. "I won't tell Auntie, I promise," he said earnestly crossing his heart with his hand.
"I know you won't. Why don't you help your grandmother with her things?"
"Okay," he skipped to reach for a bag that was nearly as big as he was. They all watched as he heaved in determination and budged the bag only about an inch. Adera went to help the boy lift it, but Gabrielle grabbed her arm and stopped her. She saw the glint in his eye. She saw herself there. Those first days with Xena, how she was determined to prove herself. "Give him a minute," she whispered. Gabriel lifted and lugged, his frustration growing but never outweighing his determination to complete the task.
"Uuuuh," he groaned. Gabrielle kept a watchful eye but let him move the bag three of four feet before she intervened.
"You have gotten very strong," she said to the boy with a very serious look on her face.
"I'm as strong as an AMAZON!" He exclaimed, "''Cept they're all girls," he moaned under his breath.
"Yes, they are," the Amazon queen agreed. "You know, those stairs are really pretty steep," she looked at him as though very concerned, 'I'll bet grandma could use a STRONG pair of boy's hands to help her up to her room."
"I CAN DO IT!" He brimmed with excitement.
"Well, good then," Meg groaned. "Get to it, boy!" she directed trying to hide her smile.
"Coming Grandmother," he took her hand sweetly and firmly and began to lead her away.
Meg paused when she reached the bard and smiled, "She would have loved him," Meg touched Gabrielle's hand in a show of her tenderness that few outside her family saw.
Gabrielle's eyes were bright, no tears only happiness as she watched the young boy pull at his grandmother with some impatience. "Yes, she would." Her attention never wavered as the boy led his grandmother to the top of the stairs. "Last room down the hall," she called to him.
"GOT IT!" he bellowed.
Just then a face appeared on the stairs making its way toward her. Lila had arrived the evening before with her daughter Sarah and her two children. Gabrielle was delighted to have spent an evening with her sister alone. They had talked about the family. Talked about the children, both had lost their daughters for an unthinkable amount of time. Both had loved well and lost that love prematurely. Truly they were sisters. Gabrielle had laughed a great deal as they chatted and reminisced. She recounted some of her first days traveling with Xena and how the warrior struggled to deal with the young bard.
Lila never asked much about what had happened. She never asked much about the relationship that Gabrielle and Xena had, she just accepted it at face value. But last night she asked a nagging question in her mind, "When did you fall in love with her?"
Gabrielle responded as she always did to questions about her love for Xena; she stared into the crackling fire and pictured the warrior in its flames. "I don't know," she said. "I've thought about that many times." She was searching for the answer, "I suppose the truth is I loved her the moment I saw her."
Lila did not seem stunned. "Perdicus?" she asked gently.
Gabrielle smiled. "Oh," she let out a long sigh, "Of course I loved him. He was such a kind and gentle man. But, even that night, our wedding night, my thoughts were consumed with Xena; where would she go? Did she miss me? Was she safe?" She looked up at the ceiling and continued, "I do miss her, still," she confessed.
Lila took her sister's hand and Gabrielle was filled with a sense of 'home'. She had gone to bed shortly after and for a few minutes as she drifted away she could feel the warrior holding her. It comforted her, even if it was her imagination, "Always," she heard Xena's voice and she drifted off happily thinking that the next day would truly be a celebration.
Chapter Four - Sweet Memories
The afternoon progressed just as the bard had hoped. Meg got settled, Aphrodite finally popped in and things were on schedule. It had been a very long time, 'Too long,' she thought to herself, since they had all been together in one place; all the people she loved. She was sorry that Autolycus could not be with them. His health had been failing for some time now. She had visited him a few moons back and expected word at any time that he had passed. She simply hoped it would not be delivered now.
Gabriel scampered about the kitchen taking care of any and every little task he could for his Auntie Gabrielle. Lila helped the young boy, Adera prepared the tavern and Meg, in true form, took over in the kitchen. The bard found herself watching everything unfold and realized that she was happier than she had been in many years. Her thoughts traveled to the night before her life turned on its head and sent her to Jappa, a memory she had not allowed herself in many, many moons. She and Xena had been traveling for some time and had stopped to make camp. They had deliberately made camp in a spot that held fond memories for them, someplace that she knew they would stay for a couple of days before deciding where to travel to next. Eve was away in Chin, the Gods were no longer at their backs and life had entered one of its rare, uneventful phases. A phase much like the one that had finally allowed them to express their true feelings; crossing the bridge into a new and wonderful life together.
They were doing all of their normal things; together. Xena had said she wanted to go and catch some fish. Sometimes Gabrielle thought Xena should have been a fisherman. She laughed out loud often at that thought.
"You coming in?" Xena beckoned her.
The bard smiled and shook her head, "Not now," she said.
"Ahhh.. why not?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "Xena, this is your thing," she laughed. "I am the spectator."
"MMMMM," the warrior grumbled and she was suddenly gone to the depths below.
SMACK! The fish hit Gabrielle in the face and the bard shot her lover a look of playful disgust. Xena's grin was wide, ever pleased with herself for hitting her intended target. It was a game that she had played for many years.
"A hah," the bard began, "It's NOT going to work."
"Gabrielle," the warrior said attempting to convey a serious tone of concern, "I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Mmm, Sure you don't, Xena."
"I'm just fishing," she continued, disappearing again and rising to fling another fish in the direction of her partner.
After many years, Gabrielle knew this routine well - she no longer had the reflexes of a young, inexperienced girl and caught the fish mid-air, gloating and giving Xena a little pout, "Oops," she mocked.
Xena's eyes narrowed as she realized she might not be victorious in this game after all.
"You're going to need to wash all that off. You know," the warrior raised an eyebrow.
Gabrielle just sat still and made no change of expression. "Not coming in, Xena" she said.
"Hummph," the warrior grumbled seeming more like a child than a fierce some fighter, or grown woman for that matter.
Gabrielle snickered and got to her feet, turning to head back to camp.
"Where you going?" Xena called sounding a bit disappointed by the sudden turn of events.
Gabrielle turned with amusement. "To start dinner. That's what I do, then you can be the spectator," she quipped.
She heard Xena playing in the water as she went to grab hold of the fish and leave. She was startled by the feeling of cold, wet hands sweeping her off her feet, literally.
"Don't you dare," she warned, "Xena!" Xena was off at break neck speed, "Xena!"
There was no point in her protests. Before she knew it she was wiping her face from the cold water, Xena standing before her with a brilliant smirk of satisfaction. Gabrielle bit her bottom lip and squinted at the warrior.
"What?" Xena pouted, "The fishies were lonely."
"I suppose they told you that."
"Well, maybe they did," the warrior splashed her companion.
"Funny," the bard glared playfully. "Do you know how long it is going to take this to dry?" Gabrielle scolded.
Xena sighed raising her eyes in their sockets. "Guess, you really should take it off then, huh?" She winked.
Xena was incorrigible at times and Gabrielle loved the banter. She started to shake her head and make her way back to land when she felt Xena's arms around her, pulling her close. "I think you should stay," the warrior whispered in her ear.
Gabrielle closed her eyes. Xena always took her breath away. No matter what happened, how many seasons they were together, who tried to interfere in their lives; all it took was the slightest touch or a simple embrace and the bard became helpless. "Worried about the fishies?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Something like that," the warrior grinned spinning the bard to face her. Gabrielle brushed the warrior's thick, raven hair aside from her face, admiring the way the droplets of water fell from her forehead.
"Poor fishies," Gabrielle laughed and with that gave over to her lover's kiss.
It was a happy memory. A day they had spent in playful banter and an evening they had spent wrapped in the warmth of each other's embrace. Gabrielle felt complete, grateful; happy.
Her face flushed as the memory fled and she was brought back to reality. Aphrodite smiled at her. "Good thought?" she winked.
Gabrielle blushed slightly. She thought it was funny how even after all this time and all she had been through; battles, war and death - a simple memory of the touch of her lover could make her feel like a young girl. "It was," she winked. As she gathered herself now, entering the tavern through the kitchen door, she felt a sudden warmth overcome her entire being. "She's here," she whispered to herself.
Chapter 5 - Always a Surprise
The group had gathered near the fire place; Lila, Sarah and her two children, Iris and Simon, Meg and Aphrodite. It was an odd grouping in many ways, but then nothing about Gabrielle's life was ever truly "normal" and she learned to both expect and appreciate the unexpected nature of that life. Gabriel stayed close to his auntie's side. He was excited about all of the company and looking forward to surprising his parents. The next week would also be their anniversary, 9 years now. Gabrielle thought that this was the perfect time and the perfect reason to have a happy gathering. Enough sadness had befallen all that were gathered. Time, she had learned, if not a wonderful healer, was a great teacher.
At the sound of footsteps outside the door, the small boy pulled hard on Gabrielle's shirt, forcing her to bend over to his height, "I think they're here, auntie," he whispered, his face radiating his lively energy. She smiled and nodded. Virgil was facing Eve as he opened the door, in the midst of some conversation, when he noticed an expression of utter shock in her eyes. Her jaw had nearly dropped to the floor and she found herself completely without words. Virgil looked at his wife in confusion and slowly turned, immediately catching a glimpse of his mother. His grip on the door loosened, sending it flinging back and nearly hitting him in the face before he awoke from his daze and stopped it. The stunned look on the couple's faces elicited hearty laughter from the group as Gabriel howled a loud, "SURPRISE!"
Virgil and Eve both smiled. Virgil immediately set forth to greet his mother and welcomed the slap on the back that she had for him. "Good Gods, boy," she said, "I have to travel across Greece to get to see you."
He smiled, "I know…. Sorry."
Eve hugged Lila and Sarah and patted Simon and Iris on their heads, "They sure grow fast," she said.
Simon, who was all of 4 looked up at the woman in awe, "You're bootiful," he said. Eve chuckled at his sweet compliment - and his difficulty with the word.
Aphrodite stood with her friend the bard. In all of her existence she had never had a mortal friend that she loved so dearly. At times she wondered if she really understood love before she befriended Xena and her companion. She had her life now because of that friendship, and she was aware that without them, her existence would have had little meaning after the fall of the Gods. After Gabrielle decided to settle in Amphipolis, Aphrodite became a frequent visitor. The truth was that both were lonely and were trying to find their way in a world that seemed completely foreign to them. The goddess had worried about the bard and she was delighted to see that this occasion was turning out as her friend had hoped.
After a great deal of hugs and hellos Eve made her way to Gabrielle. She looked at the bard's face and saw a light that she had not seen shine quite so brightly in many years. The one exception being when Gabriel was in her presence. "I can't believe you did this," Eve smiled.
"It was time," Gabrielle answered. "I knew you expected to come home and to grieve your mother, again….there is too much to celebrate now. I wish she was here, but I know she would have loved this."
Eve looked deeply into the eyes of this woman who had always stood by her. She never told Gabrielle how she felt about her. It was a topic that neither truly knew how to approach. But, now, looking at the bard, watching her own son cling to the woman, she found herself wondering what life would have been like if her parents had been there to raise her. She was filled with happiness, but there was a tear in her eye.
"What is it?" Gabrielle asked with concern.
"My mother IS here," the woman answered.
"Yes," Gabrielle said, "I think so," she felt her smile widen.
Eve looked at the floor and then looked at the beautiful blonde woman who so many knew as a warrior, a bard or a queen, "No," she said firmly and then continued, "I came home to see my mother."
Gabrielle felt as though her heart had stopped. She couldn't be certain what Eve had just said or what it meant. It was as if time stood still and all of their friends, all of the sound faded into nothingness.
"I love you," Eve said as she moved to embrace the woman before her. Gabrielle understood.
"I love you too, always," Gabrielle kissed her on the cheek.
That was all that needed to be said. It had lingered for years in both their minds, always knowing and yet always wondering what the other truly thought.
"So, time to eat or what?" Meg called out.
"It is," Gabrielle said as they made their way to the long table.
It was a wonderful evening of memories, stories and laughter. There were tales of Xena pretending to be a princess and Gabrielle masquerading as a fence for stolen goods, laughter over the silliness of Joxer and his many antics and a great deal of interest in the many battles the warrior and bard had fought and won. Gabriel did not want it to end. "Another one, auntie," he begged. But, sleep was overtaking many of them. Meg had nodded off in a chair by the fireplace and was snoring loudly, the children were all fighting back yawns, even as Gabriel and his young friend, Simon pretended to trade swords.
"Okay, one last story," Gabrielle said, "But you have to promise to be quiet and go to bed as SOON as it is done."
"Promise," he said.
"Me too," a small voice echoed from across the room. Simon sat in front of his mother, Iris in Lila's lap, and Gabriel made his way to his auntie. This was HIS auntie, the Amazon Queen.
He didn't need to ask permission, he climbed right up onto her and settled against her chest.
"What's the story about, Auntie?" he asked as he looked into her eyes full of wonder.
Virgil chuckled. The scene reminded him of the many nights he had taken up residence in his father's lap for some tale about Xena and Gabrielle. He thought of his father and how he wished he could be here to see his grandson cuddled into his best friend's lap. 'Strange world,' he thought to himself. Here he was married to the daughter of his father's best friends. Joxer was forever tied to his companions. It seemed to Virgil, as Eve had said many times, that there is always a purpose in everything. If he hadn't lost his father, Eve might never have found Eli. If Xena hadn't died he might never have known Eve's love. Looking a Gabriel now, surrounded by these people he loved, he found himself grateful for everything; even the sadness.
"This is a story of a Mighty Warrior Princess, The Father of the Gods and the birth of a Prophet," Gabrielle began.
The entire group was enthralled as the bard told the tale of her trip with Xena to Tarturus to steal Hade's helmet of Invisibility. How they had met Solon and how Hercules had fought his father, Zeus to save the child of the warrior princess. She talked about the warrior's determination and strength and how in spite of her pain and fear she fought the Prosidici. It was a daring tale of adventure, risk and triumph. Even Meg, who had awoken during one of the bard's dramatic descriptions of Zeus's rage and Hade's fireballs, could not help but listen for an ending. It was an ending they all knew.
The ending was different than she had told it in the past. She detailed how Zeus threatened the birth with a lightning bolt and Hercules stopped him with the rib of Cronus, but then she continued.
"And the bard looked down at the tiny fingers and the tiny toes. The warrior's face softened and she took the bard's hand. It was the most beautiful thing either had ever seen. This tiny baby, perfection. The warrior held the baby to her chest and looked at the bard. And for once, the bard could not find any words to say. She had never known love like the love she had now. The most beautiful child ever to be born and the most beautiful woman she had ever seen," Gabrielle looked at Eve, paused and then continued, "And in THAT moment, there were no warriors, no queens, princesses, bards or Gods… there was just a family and it was the greatest gift the two had ever known."
Eve smiled softly, her emotions full. Virgil caught Meg wiping a tear from her eye and as he scanned the room he noticed Lila, Sarah and Aphrodite doing the same. There were no tears from either his wife or Gabrielle, it seemed this was a memory somehow just for them and both were at peace.
"Nope," Gabrielle smiled lifting him to the floor, "Time for you to go to bed," she said.
As the group began to rise Gabrielle paused, Eve paused, and then Virgil paused... all looking at one another with intent.
"Sarah, take your mother and Meg upstairs," Gabrielle's voice was deliberate and controlled but intense, "Aphrodite, take Eve and the children and get out of here," she motioned to Virgil who promptly headed to a cabinet she kept behind the counter to arm himself and to get Gabrielle's sai.
"I want to stay with you," Gabriel cried.
"Gabriel," she began, momentarily shifting her focus to Sarah, Meg and Lila before returning to him, "You go with your mother and Aphrodite," her voice had a firmness about it the boy had never heard.
Eve was corralling him now and leading him to Aphrodite. "I can FIGHT!" he exclaimed.
"GABRIEL," Virgil yelled, "That's enough."
The boy began to fight his tears. Gabrielle took a deep breath as Eve took hold of her hand.
"Go now," she instructed sounding much like an Amazon Queen would, "Aphrodite will take care of you," she nodded.
Eve looked at Virgil who nodded with a pensive smile of agreement.
"Be careful," Eve said as Aphrodite took them away. These were the times that Eve felt tempted to give in to her warrior side. The father of her son and the woman she had just called 'mother' for the first time were left alone to fight an unseen and unknown enemy. She had heard the approaching horses as well and part of her wanted to grab a sword and fight. But, she had made her choice and she knew that Virgil and Gabrielle could handle themselves in battle.
Virgil looked at Gabrielle, "How many?" he asked.
"Maybe seven or eight," she answered assuming a defensive position. There was an enormous crashing sound and then the sight of boots flying at Virgil through one of the planked windows. Virgil spun and kicked the large warrior in the chest knocking him across the room. At the exact same moment a rustle of thatch resulted in two large men collapsing through part of the tavern's roof. Gabrielle ducked and threw a rib shot at the first. He immediately countered by pulling his sword, but the Amazon Queen had anticipated that move and hit his arm with a high kick sending the sword flying into the wall. Virgil was backing up into the center of the tavern trying to anticipate the next move. It came quickly.
It seemed that in an instant there were 4 more large men in the room. Gabrielle and Virgil were back to back preparing for whatever they needed to do to stop the attack. Gabrielle had never learned Xena's trick with alcohol and fire, it was one of the few things she was always too afraid to attempt. She wished she had right now. There was a fire burning inside her. As one of the men lunged toward her, she jumped onto a long bench that was placed at one of the tables, landing on its far end. The bench began to tilt upward quickly as she rolled out of the way allowing it to connect with the full body of one of the attackers.
Kicks flew, the sound of Virgil's clanking sword filled the room. He pushed back on his opponent, seeming to gain the advantage when he found that he had another person behind him. He didn't see Gabrielle as she disarmed the large goon that was ready to stab him from behind. She picked up a broom that had been leaning against the bar and struck him in the face, then below the knees, sending him onto the floor so hard she thought he might crack the boards beneath them.
Virgil swung around with the grace of a warrior and stabbed his assailant in the stomach, thrusting the sword backwards behind his own back, dropping the man in a small pool of blood.
"Who are they?" Gabrielle asked with a strong and annoyed tone.
"I don't know," Virgil said as they both studied the men on the tavern floor.
"Well, we're going to find out," she said indignantly. She reached down and pulled one of her attackers to what was almost a sitting position.
"Who are you?" the queen asked. He just looked at her defiantly. "Okay," she said, "That's fine." She moved as though she were going to walk away but swiftly turned back and struck the man's neck. Virgil was awe struck. He had never seen Gabrielle do this; only Xena.
"So…. She began, "You have about 30 seconds to tell me who the hell you are and why the hell you are here or that blood trickling out your nose will seem like a summer picnic."
Gabrielle had only used the pinch that Xena taught her twice in the last 11 years. Both times were in battle. Now the battle was in her space. She wanted to know WHY.
"Okay," the man croaked his answer, "Baal. Baal sent us to look for the warrior princess."
"WHAT?" Gabrielle shook the man. "Xena's been dead for 11 years."
"Baal thinks she's here," he choked, "in this tavern."
Gabrielle was stunned and angry. She shook her head in frustrated disbelief and released the pinch.
"You tell your God that Xena is dead, but I am not. And I have no fear and no use for him or any another God," She pulled him close to her face as she said the words in disgust and then pushed him away hard.
As the remaining attackers came to and began to flee, she studied them, what they wore and how they wore it.
"What was that about?" Virgil asked as he made his way to check the man he had driven his sword into. "Dead," was all he said.
Gabrielle seemed to be scanning every inch of the room as she answered his question, "I don't know," she said, "but I don't like it."
"We need to get rid of this body," Virgil remarked.
"Take it to the stable," she said still searching.
He began to lift the large man but stopped to ask her, "What are you looking for?"
"I'm not sure," Gabrielle said, "Something doesn't fit…I'll know it when I see it. We need to get Eve back here soon," she said. Virgil looked puzzled. "Not to fight," she continued, "She thinks like Xena."
Virgil nodded and flung the body over his shoulder.
Gabrielle stood there surveying the wreckage. "Something is wrong, Xena," she said out loud as if Xena were in front of her. "I have a very bad feeling about this."