Chapter 35

Gabrielle ran her hands over the smooth linens of the bed she and Xena were to share. She watched as Xena prepared for bed. As always, she was entranced by the play of muscles in her lover's body. Not obviously strong, Gabrielle thought, that's what makes her so dangerous. There was no outward sign of the steel that lay underneath this cool exterior. The bard purred with the thought. Lately, she considered, she had been almost, well, reveling, in Xena's preternatural abilities. If she was honest, she was even a little jealous.

The bard rolled over onto her stomach and supported her head in her cupped hands. Xena shook out her hair, drying it with a towel, a sight which set Gabrielle humming. Gods, she is beautiful.

The warrior smiled over her shoulder. "You like that, hmm?" Her voice was low, suggestive.

Gabrielle's heart began to pound. "Yes, I do." She answered throatily. She sat up, then swung herself off the lush bed and approached the naked warrior from behind. Gabrielle took the mane of dark hair out of Xena's hands and held it up, letting it trickle down slowly across the taller woman's neck. The bard held up the mass of hair a second time and planted a series of small kisses in between the strong shoulder blades and up to the neck. She could see goose bumps emerge where her lips touched.

Letting the hair fall, Gabrielle buried her face in Xena's neck, caressing the hair with her lips. Her hands felt their way around the slim torso and cupped the warrior's breasts lightly. Xena chuckled and placed her hands over those of the bard. She leaned into her lover's body, feeling the warmth travel between their skin. Xena leaned her head back and shook her head, her hair swirling around the bard's face. Gabrielle positively thrummed, moaning into Xena's back.

The warrior slipped around in the bard's arms, until they faced one another. She lifted the lowered face and gently kissed the upturned lips. Gabrielle closed her eyes in delight. Xena traced her ears, then leaned down and
followed the path with her mouth. Small gasps came from the bard, followed by soft moans. Xena's tongue lightly edged the one ear, then tentatively traced the outer edge of the ear canal. Gabrielle's breathing was faster, her moans more insistent and Xena moaned herself in response.

She picked up Gabrielle's body and laid it on the bed. Gabrielle smiled up at the magnificent woman who leaned over her. She saw Xena's skin, amber in the lamplight, and saw too, the excitement that shone in the warrior's eyes.

Gabrielle reached out to pull Xena closer. "I feel like I haven't seen you in days." She purred. She kissed her lover deeply, looking into those blue eyes the whole time.

Xena broke the kiss, and moved to the bard's neck, nipping at it, and tugging down the straps of the bard's bodice.

"You've been out on a daring adventure and a long campaign. Its to be expected..." Xena murmured.

Gabrielle slapped her shoulder lightly. "That's all you think this is? Battlelust?"

Xena looked up sharply. "I'm sorry...I didn't's just that I know what it feels like." The concern in her eyes made Gabrielle pause before she answered.

"*Is* this what it feels like?" She finally asked. "I mean, is this how you felt?"

Xena leaned on one arm and swept her hair back. Gabrielle lightly caught it up with a hand and stroked it.

Her silence was deafening. Gabrielle could see that a great deal of thought was occurring, but she could not read any of it in her lover's face.

Xena looked back down at her. "Yes. This is how I felt." She said simply. Gabrielle was silent now, considering the implications. Finally she looked up at her lover and smiled happily.

"Good." and she drew Xena down towards her. Xena smiled ferally and kissed the bard so hard that Gabrielle literally gasped for air when they drew apart.

Any tension remaining from the past few days was washed away in sexual energy. Gabrielle hadn't been lying, she did feel as if they had been separated for a week. The bard devoured her lover, lips and hands covering Xena's skin with strokes and touches. Xena responded like an animal in heat, grinding herself into the bard. Gabrielle's breath was part of one long sound, a noise that came from her throat and conveyed everything and nothing. She pushed back into her partner with an increasing need. Her eyes were open, but she saw nothing. The bard's hands gripped the strong back above her, nails biting into the flesh. As their motion increased in tempo, Gabrielle threw her head back in passion and nearly screamed with pleasure as she felt Xena's hand enter her, moving with her. The bard began to thrash beneath her, but Xena rode her lover like a wave, pressing into her, her own need mounting with every push back.

The dark head lowered itself to nip and suck at Gabrielle's throat and collarbone. By rearranging herself, Xena managed to lick at one breast, taking a nipple into her mouth. She felt Gabrielle approaching climax. Xena licked the nipple, then nipped at it, causing Gabrielle to buck in pleasure. As the slow waves of orgasm flowed over the bard's body, Xena drew the hardened nipple into her mouth and sucked hard. Gabrielle burst over the edge with a low intense noise. Somewhere within that animal noise Xena heard her name and she nearly climaxed herself, hearing that voice calling her, that voice so filled with passion and love, so filled with desire for her.

When Gabrielle caught her breath again, she looked up at her partner, the one thing in the world she truly desired. What she saw in those blue eyes kindled a new flame within her and she flipped Xena over, leaving the warrior surprised.

Xena's eyebrow shot up, but Gabrielle never saw it. The bard made her way down the long, lean body, visiting nooks and crannies with her tongue. She ran her hair over Xena's breasts, and heard the break in the warrior's breath. Then, without warning, Gabrielle dove between the long legs and attacked Xena's center. Tongue, teeth, hands all filled Xena with a sensation that was indescribable. Her chest heaved and she could feel her own climax coming, quickly. So could Gabrielle, who ran her tongue around Xena's labia, hard and sharp, and she could feel each spasm she caused. As the hard body in front of her began to spasm, Gabrielle thrust her hand in to Xena and pushed hard. Xena's body jerked upward. In surprise, in pleasure and in pain, she shrieked Gabrielle's name into the bard's hair as she crashed into climax.

Gabrielle continued her actions until she could feel the energy and tension pour out of Xena, leaving her spent. Gabrielle lifted her head and smiled at her partner, who had thrown herself limblessly back on the bed cushions.

The bard crawled back up the warrior's body and curled herself around the indolent form. Xena moaned contentedly and looked at the tousled red hair in front of her.

"Feel better?" She inquired with a laugh.

Gabrielle purred again. "It'll have to do." She leaned forward and kissed the warrior, marveling once again at this magnificent woman in her arms.

"You know," Gabrielle said, watching as Xena's eye's closed, "for all that the Gods aren't our friends, there's got to be one or two of them watching out for us."

Xena opened one eye. It glinted with mischief. "What makes you say that?"

"Well, look at us. If someone hadn't been watching out for me, we wouldn't be here. I'd be a slave, or dead and you'd be... what would you be?" Gabrielle lifted her head and watched the face beneath her. She recognized the tension beneath the placidity. Gabrielle thought better of this topic and was about to tell her to forget it when Xena replied.

The warrior had lifted her head and was leaning on one arm. The other arm, pulled Gabrielle closer, laying her head on Xena's chest.

"I'd be alone." Xena said and leaned down to kiss the forehead beneath her.

They laid like that, limbs entwined, idly stroking a head or a back, for some time. Gabrielle laid her head against Xena's chest and listened to the warrior's steady heartbeat. She yawned hugely and stretched, reaching up to touch the tall woman's face.

"So that's battlelust, huh?" Gabrielle joked. "It's not as bad as I expected."

"Why, what did you expect?" Xena asked, looking down at the green eyes regarding her.

"Oh, I don't know really. I guess I expected it to be more impersonal, less, um, fulfilling." She blushed a bit at the look in Xena gave her. Zeus's beard, this woman can make me melt, she thought.

Xena kissed her gently, and nuzzled one of the bard's ears. "Y'know, Gabrielle, after all this time, you still surprise me." I don't think I'd noticed how much her body has changed these past few years, Xena thought as she ran her hands over the bard's arms. There are new muscles here, and she looks so strong these days. I wonder if she's noticed? She's certainly capable of handling pretty much anything anyone throws at her.

Gabrielle drew back. "Really?"

Xena laughed. "Yeah." She reached out to draw the bard back towards her, laying the copper head on her chest. Her hand stroked the bard's hair. "You're right of course. Battlelust can be colder, more impersonal. All lust can be and battlelust is more about anger and tension than about sex." She paused for a moment, " But it can bring things into focus, too, sharpening perceptions. But you can't rely on them, because bloodlust, or battelust also makes you blind to other things. Important things."

"Like what?"

"Like compassion, caring, mercy." Xena closed her eyes, once again thinking of her past. Gabrielle said nothing, but she could feel the heartbeat underneath her pound harder and more quickly. She felt the warrior take a deep breath to calm herself.

"I wonder how the others are doing?" Gabrielle thought out loud, trying to distract the warrior. "Do you remember, " she asked Xena, "how I used to get nightmares when I was first out on the road with you? I thought it was a reaction to the slavers, but now I think it was a reaction to all the violence I was getting caught up in."

"I know." Xena's voice was tight. "That's why I wanted to keep you out of it."

"But that wouldn't have worked." Gabrielle stated firmly. " It wasn't the violence itself, it was the fact that I was powerless, swept up by it. Do you know when the I stopped having nightmares? It was a few months after you had started teaching me how to fight with the staff." Gabrielle sat up and spoke quietly.

"In most of my dreams, I would be caught, and I couldn't fight back or even scream. One night I had a same kind of dream as usual. A band of mercenaries attacked us and you were surrounded. Two of them caught me and held me. This time, instead of being afraid, I just threw myself into one of them and pulled the other one down with me. While they were tangled up, "the bard laughed at the memory, " I ran over to help you. When I woke up I realized that some kind of bridge had been crossed. After that, no more nightmares." She looked up to see Xena gazing at her intensely.

The warrior shook her head in amazement. "That's exactly what I mean. You never cease to surprise me."

"So," The bard drew the conversation back to her original thought, "do you think the others are going to be okay?"

Xena thought for moment. "I expect there'll be some strange dreams tonight." she said.

The two women settled down in their luxurious bed and slept the dreamless sleep of the babe, the virtuous or the exhausted.

Chapter 36

The next morning found all seven of the companions equally ready to face the day. They met for breakfast and discussed the day's plans. Aglaia insisted she must return to the Temple for purification and Leah agreed to accompany her. They promised to return by the evening.

Petros interrupted their breakfast with the announcement that the "Eagles" had been assigned to escort Gabrielle and Xena wherever they planned on going that day.

"You two are heroes here," he chuckled at their discomfiture, "and our magistrate doesn't want anything untoward to happen to you."

"I thought you said it's been made a holiday, "Gabrielle protested. "Doesn't the guard get a day off too?"

Petros laughed . "No, ma'am, not the Third. We've been named Honor Guard on account of our heroic bearing the other day." He proudly fondled a new medallion attached to his leather armor.

Xena stood up. "Look, Petros, old friend. We can't have you tagging along all day. How about we make a date to meet at the "Swans" for a fine old tale-telling, drinking and eating bout. It'll be like old times." She clapped him on the shoulder. He smiled crookedly.

"If you promise not to tell..." He ventured. Xena nodded, "Then it's settled." Petros agreed. "At the "Swans" after evening watch. D'you think we can get a tale of the days events from the Bard here?" He looked at Gabrielle, who looked a little panicky.

"I, uh, haven't had time to work out the story." she prevaricated, "But I promise to give you at least one story just as good." Petros nodded, saluted to Xena, then the whole party, winked at Marcus and took his leave.

Marcus waved after the old man and looked down at his own medallion. "I wonder if I'll ever find out what I did to deserve this." Xena put a hand on his shoulder.

"You saved Eudore, that's all you need to know. From what I saw you deserve that commendation and this, too." She rubbed her hand over a gleaming new insignia of officer's rank that lay on his shoulder. The young man blushed deeply and then even deeper as her looked up to see the young woman with chestnut hair staring with open admiration. He stood hastily.

"I have to report to my commander, but I'll see you this evening." He looked down at Eudore. "And I'll see you later at your parents." She nodded, smiling slightly and the young man hastened away.

"I have to go as well. My parents are expecting me and..." Eudore cut herself off. She turned to Xena and Gabrielle. "You'll be leaving soon, won't you?" She asked sadly. They nodded. "I just wanted to tell you that I owe you everything and I'll always consider you my best friends." She leaped into Xena's arms. The warrior hugged her back, ignoring the tears that flowed down the girl's face. Gabrielle rose and embrace Eudore. She brushed the tears away and smiled at the young face.

"We haven't left yet! And anyway we'll be back. I expect to get an invitation to the wedding, do you hear?" She said firmly. Eudore nodded and smiled through her tears.

Leah stood. "We all have things to do today and we'd better get started soon. Tereus, I'll need your help more than ever if we're really to move the Library." She turned to the two women. "You'll return for the dedication too, I hope?" but she continued before she received an answer. "Anyway, let's save our goodbyes for tonight and tomorrow. Today is a holiday." The libarian held out her hand and helped the priestess to her feet. Gabrielle couldn't help noticing that Aglaia looked as if she hadn't gotten any sleep, but that there was a certain something....

The bard looked away with a smile as she caught a look that passed between priestess and librarian. Had she ever been so obvious, so... in love? She looked at Xena who winked back. Yup, she thought, and probably worse than that....

She smiled with the thought. Yeah, I guess we were pretty obvious to everyone. Well, everyone but Joxer, that is. Gabrielle shook her head at the continued obliviousness of their sometime traveling companion.

The morning was passing quickly so they all agreed to meet before Gabrielle's performance that night for supper and some time together. Gabrielle and Xena watched as their friends went their separate ways.

The two women returned to their room at the "Swans" in companionable silence. Once past all the well-wishers and questioners in the common room, they made their way to the own room. They began packing their belongings, still not speaking.

Xena poured some ale and brought a cup to Gabrielle, who was puzzling over the best way to pack some new items they had bought. Market day seemed so long ago...Gabrielle had fallen into a reverie. She started at Xena's offer of the cup.

"Sorry. I just wandered off." She sipped at the ale. It was a fine ale and she stopped to take a deeper draught.

Xena looked past her, deep in thought. "S'okay. This alright with you, isn't it?" She asked, waving her hand to cover the disarray of the room. "Leaving, I mean."

Gabrielle nodded. "I don't think we're cut out for vacations. Anyway, what are we going to do with all this stuff?" She gestured to the piles of new cloth, supplies and accessories that were, according to the landlord, "gifts" from the populace in thanks for their heroic efforts. They had stared in dismay at the fine clothes, elegant glass and other items completely inappropriate for a life on the road.

Protest would be seen as insulting, but what were they to do with the silken embroidered slippers?

"Maybe we could give them to the poor?"

"That would be insulting, wouldn't it?" Gabrielle furrowed her brow at the conundrum.

"Leave it behind?" Xena suggested.


"Donate it, Hades." Xena looked disgusted as she picked up a finely crafted krater, with a painting of a heroic scene. "It's us." She gestured with the pottery. Gabrielle walked over and looked. Xena pointed out a figure with a lyre.

"See? That's you." Gabrielle could see her name written out in red on the black pottery. She blew out a breath of resignation, but she smiled as she noticed the krater's fine depiction of the Warrior Princess in action.

A slow smile spread over Xena's face as she surveyed the room. "I think I have an idea..." She said. Gabrielle waited to be let in on the secret, but Xena was perversely silent.

"Oh boy, " The bard joked. "Someone's gonna get it." But she didn't press Xena for details. Gabrielle just hoped that the "someone" wasn't her.

They returned to their packing with renewed vigor. By late afternoon, most of their gear was stowed and ready to go. The two women cast a glance over the room, checking that all was ready for their departure, then headed down the stairs.

"Back door?" Gabrielle asked quickly, as she heard the noise rising from the common room. Xena nodded, then slipped around the corner. She came back and gave the "all-clear" signal to the bard, who moved quietly to join Xena in the kitchen entrance. Gabrielle held her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle, as they waited for a moment until no one was in sight, then slipped out the back entrance.

Xena smiled at her partner, pleased with their easy escape from the inn. "Phew. I really hate all that "hero" stuff, y'know?"

Gabrielle nodded. "I know. It makes me uncomfortable, too. Especially when it comes from a man whose hand I broke two days ago."

The two women moved quickly through the twilight, keeping to the shadows. In a few moments they had joined their friends at the taverna they and Leah had eaten in that first day - so long ago, it seemed.

Leah looked up in surprise. "I didn't even see you come in."

"We're incognito." Xena said.

"In hiding, you mean." Gabrielle jabbed the warrior in the ribs. "We're trying to stay out of the spotlight. All that hero worship is hard to take sometimes."

Aglaia laughed. 'I'd think the two of you would be used to it by now."

Xena smiled wryly. "You never get used to it." She and Gabrielle sat down at the table.

Supper was a quiet affair. Gabrielle took stock of their friends. Aglaia looked refreshed. Downright glowing, she thought with a mental smirk, as she noticed the same glow in Leah's face. Marcus spoke of his engagement to Eudore, now made formal. The young woman spoke of her reconciliation with her parents. They had approved of the young soldier, now a well-known hero and rising officer, as well as her choice to enter the service of the Goddess Athena.

"So. I'm very glad that's been settled." Leah remarked. "In that case, I have an announcement of my own." Everyone smiled in anticipation. "I would like to formally request that Tereus become my apprentice, in training for the position of Librarian as my successor." She turned the boy, who looked, if not overwhelmed, then certainly surprised. Leah smirked a bit, knowing full well that everyone expected a different kind of announcement.

"Gotcha." She chuckled. "And if any of you think that I'm going to make some speech about my new circumstances," She glanced with a wink at Aglaia, who smiled at her winningly, "then you've got to get yourselves a new hobby. What say you, Tereus? Are you up for it?"

The young man had made an admirable recovery. "Yes, Leah. I think I am." He responded seriously, but his eyes twinkled with joy.

For the rest of the meal they spoke of inconsequentials and joked, leaving their good-byes until later. Tonight was their last night together as companions and they were determined to enjoy it to the fullest. Toasts went around and they were all in a pleasant mood when they escorted Gabrielle back to the "Swans" for her final performance.

Chapter 37

The house was full to bursting. The crowd was eager to hear the bard speak and their entrance was greeted with a tremendous roar. Tryon rushed up to them and grinned.

"No rest for the weary, I'm afraid." He gripped Gabrielle's arm. "Can you start right away? I'm afraid there'll be a riot if you don't." He gestured at the animated crowd, already in the preliminary stages of chanting Gabrielle's name.

The bard nodded. "I'll get right on it." She stepped onto the stage once again and was greeted by an even louder roar of acclamation. Immediately her heart began to pound with excitement. She loved this - the energy of a crowd, ready to hear a good tale. Behind her, her friends settled themselves and were served drinks. Gabrielle looked around the room, noting the eager faces, so many that had become familiar to her. Much to her surprise Aristeus and his wife were present, looking, if not pleased, then much less dour than before. Stichius was there, beaming at his nephew, looking as proud as if the boy had been his son. Gabrielle nodded in response to his wave. She held up her hands to quiet the crowd. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tereus step forward with a flagon and place it by her side. She began to breath evenly and deeply.

When she spoke her voice was low and soft, forcing the crowd to be quiet. She began with the formulaic invocation of the Muses and the appropriate Gods. When she announced the story she was to tell, she gladly registered to sounds of surprised choking that came from her friends beside her. Well, I thought I'd make good on my threat to Ares, she thought.

"Tonight I shall tell the story of the great Battle between Hercules, son of Zeus and Ares, God of War." She pronounced.

Xena let herself slip into a reverie as the melodious voice of the bard rang out. She watched Gabrielle, not listening to the story, but hearing the tones of her voice, watching her movement, her gestures, her face. Xena smiled at the memory of the first time she really watched Gabrielle perform.

They had been on the road for a long while and were running low on money. Quite reasonably, Gabrielle had suggested that she tell a few tales at the next inn, saving themselves a few dinars, and possibly raising some pocket money as well. Xena was tired, partially from the long road, but, if she were to admit it, mostly from fighting herself about this young girl who she couldn't, alright, didn't want to, shake off. The inner turmoil was exhausting her. She agreed to a break.

The town was small, but looked to be strong and thriving. The inn was on a busy road and had a fair amount of trade. Gabrielle negotiated with the innkeeper for a room for two nights for two night's performance.

"We'll have to pay for our food, though..." Gabrielle said, disappointed.

Xena reassured her that the terms were fair and together they brought their packs to the room the innkeeper showed them. It was small, but clean. To be honest, Xena admitted to herself, she was ready for a rest. She had been somewhat short to the girl recently, and it wasn't fair. Why, she wondered, do I treat her like that? She hasn't done anything to deserve it. In fact, she's trying like anything to be useful and helpful. She's even learned a few decent skills. And she cooks better than I ever will. Then why do I try tokeep snappping at her? The warrior shook her head, trying to drive these thoughts away for the umpteenth time. No matter how hard she tried, her mind kept coming back to this young girl who would not leave, not even from her thoughts.

Xena stole a glance a Gabrielle, who was curled in a corner of the room, looking through her most prized possessions - her scrolls.

Clearing her throat she asked roughly, "Picking out some stories for tonight?"

Gabrielle looked up, surprised. She was always amazed when Xena took an interest in her behavior. "Yeah." she responded happily. "Would you like to help?"

The warrior shrugged. "I'm not a bard."

"No, but you like to hear stories, don't you? Well, maybe not mine, but..."

"That's not true!" Xena interrupted, surprised at her own vehemence. "I do like your stories!"

"Really?" Gabrielle asked. She had no idea. She always assumed that the warrior would just as soon she go mute.

Once again, Xena had turned sullen. "Yeah. Uh, look, I'm going to brush down Argo. I'll be back in a little while. The look of happiness in the bard's bright green eyes had completely taken Xena aback. That anyone could want her, the infamous Warrior Princess's approval, well, it just wasn't right. And why in Hades was her heart beating so quickly? She had to get out of here.

At the door, Xena had turned to say something else, but Gabrielle had already returned her attention to the scrolls in her lap. Xena opened her mouth, but then closed it and without a word, left the room. When the door closed, Gabrielle looked up, her eyes glinting with moisture. She whispered the warrior's name and stared at the door, willing the older woman to return. After a few moments, the girl had returned her gaze to the scrolls in front of her, a smile twitching the corner of her lips.

Their meal had been decent and the price reasonable. Xena was in a pleasant mood from the ale.

"It's a good night for a tale." Xena commented to Gabrielle and threw her an encouraging smile. The young woman smiled back warmly and took a sip of water. The bard built up her courage and settled herself with a few deep breaths. Xena watched her from under hooded eyes as she stepped up to the front of the room.

In the months they had traveled together, the girl she had rescued was already becoming a young woman. Xena noticed the lithe way Gabrielle now moved, the light tone of her voice as she joked with the people around her. In a short time, Xena had stopped listening to the tale, and had transferred all her attention to the teller. She noticed the way Gabrielle moved her hands, accenting each scene with her gestures. She noticed how the bard's voice manipulated the audience, drawing from them laughter, or tears as the story demanded.

Xena was enthralled by Gabrielle. She couldn't take her eyes off the bard's face, as she continued with the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Xena leaned forward, enrapt, when all of a sudden she realized that Gabrielle was looking back at her.

Their eyes locked. Xena could feel the electricity between them. With a start she began once again to listen to the bard's words, but she could not tear her eyes away from Gabrielle's.

As Gabrielle told a tale of love so deep that death could not destroy it, Xena found herself drawn in by the green eyes that bore into hers. She saw the story as it unfolded, but oddly enough, with herself in the role of Orpheus. She walked out of Hades, with the shadow following behind. When she reached the light, she turned to see Gabrielle, only to watch her fade away from sight, just out of arm's reach.

Gabrielle? Xena thought in great consternation. That's not possible. But nonetheless, she kept her eyes fixed upon the bard, who told the story just for her, she was sure of it.

When Gabrielle had finished the tale, and released both the warrior and the rest of the audience from her spell, Xena sat back with a deep breath. She felt something in her eye and lifted a hand to find her cheeks wet with tears. Tears? For what? But somewhere, deep inside, she knew. She was crying for a love that she would never have, a love she could never even mention. It wouldn't be fair to...

That night, before they went to sleep, Xena sat on the bed, next to Gabrielle. The young woman had been quiet the rest of the night and Xena wasn't sure what to say to her. She couldn't just let this go.

"Gabrielle, I really liked your stories tonight."

"Yeah? You did?" Once again, those aventurine eyes gripped hers. Once again, Xena's heart pounded within her chest.

"Yes, I did. Um, especially the one about," Her voice choked a bit, "Orpheus. I've never heard it told so...." She faltered.

"So what?" Gabrielle prompted eagerly. There was something that glinted in her eyes, something mischievous. Xena would not allow herself to explore that something. But what, a little voice in her mind said, if it's not *your* choice?

Xena found herself drawn into those green eyes. "Never so...real. It was like I was in the story somehow." She caught herself moving forward and stopped. her heart was beating rapidly. Gabrielle cast an amused glance at the warrior. She moved a little closer, then pulled away slightly.

"So you liked it then?" Gabrielle asked coyly. Xena inwardly shook her head to clear it. Was this what it seemed to be? If it were anyone else, she'd swear that she was being....seduced?

"Yes!" Xena stood up quickly and paced the room, grabbing for her weapons. A safe haven in time of stress, she pulled out her sharpening stone and sat on a stool, sword in one hand, stone in another. The soothing, automatic motions of sharpening began to relax her. Her breath deepened and her heart began to slow. She didn't lift her head for quite a while, focusing all her energy on her sword. When she finally put it away, she was positive that Gabrielle was asleep. But what had that noise been, right before the bard had laid down? It had sounded remarkably like a low chuckle. Xena crept to the bed and slept fitfully, dreaming of loss and love...and Gabrielle.

"And that is how Hercules defeated Ares, the God of War in a fair fight." Gabrielle concluded. Xena returned to the present with a start and a smile at her own, what? Naiveté? She looked with open admiration at the bard she now acknowledged as her life partner. By Hades, she had been slow, hadn't she? It's a wonder Gabrielle didn't throw me over, I was so unreasonable. Xena joined her applause to that of the entire audience and watched as Gabrielle bowed, thanked her audience and turned away from the center stage.

Chapter 38

The next morning they took their leave. It was early and mist still shrouded the hills surrounding the town. Only Leah saw them off, all the others having said their good-byes the night before.

"It'll be quiet without you." Leah joked. She was trying not to cry, and failing miserably. The occasional tear ran down her cheek unchecked.

Gabrielle hugged the librarian. "You'll do okay. There's plenty to keep you busy for the next few weeks." Leah laughed and embraced Xena, who returned the affection warmly.

"Seriously, Leah," Xena said, as she released the librarian, "If you need anything, leave a message in Athens for us. We'll get it."

"In any case, we expect to hear from you soon." Gabrielle added meaningfully.

Leah nodded. "Eudore has already told me that she wants to have her wedding at the dedication of the new Temple complex, so you'll have to come back for that." The two women agreed enthusiastically.

"Now leave already! How can I miss you, if you won't go away?" Leah cracked and shooed her friends out the gate. Xena took Argo's reins in her left hand and Gabrielle fell in at her right. They both turned to go, looked back and waved, then without another look backwards, headed out into the hills to the north.

Leah watched them disappear, then turned, threw a quick salute to the guard and headed back to her Library. She had a lot of work to do and no time to waste.


Tereus finished reading, rolled up the scroll and took a deep breath.

"That's one titan of a story." Leah's voice broke the momentary silence.

Tereus's face cracked in a grin. He looked around at his little audience. Leah and Aglaia, both long retired, reclinined on a couch in the sunny courtyard of the Temple of Athena/ Library complex. Sharing a couch with
Tereus was Marcus, now Captain of the Guard. Eudore clapped her hands and one of the junior priestesses ran forward with wine and refilled all their cups. Eudore dismissed her with a thanks and smiled at Tereus.

"If I hadn't been there, I wouldn't believe a word of it." She grinned at him. The serious young man had grown up, literally. In the year after the adventure, he had grown at least a foot and now towered over almost all his constituents. Tereus the Tall, Magistrate and Librarian, his reputation for wisdom was as large as he was.

"And no one else knows this version?" Marcus asked, drinking from his refilled cup. He glanced at his wife, still radiant with beauty and ennobled by her maturity, as well as her responsibilities as High Priestess of the Temple of Athena. "It's strange to think that we five are the only ones to know this story."

"And Gabrielle and Xena, of course." Leah added.

"Have you heard from them?" Marcus asked.

Leah nodded. "Tereus received a new scroll just last week. Gabrielle sends her greetings to all of us. She and Xena are still having adventures., can you believe it?"

"Do you remember that conversation we had, Leah? You told me that some people walk with the Gods."

Aglaia agreed. "If there are two people in the world that the Gods have touched, it would be Xena and Gabrielle." They all nodded.

The sun was warm and relaxing in the Temple's courtyard. They drifted in and out of conversation. Marcus congratulated Leah and Tereus on the fine new Academy that had been attached to the Library portion of the complex. Eudore and Aglaia discussed the upcoming Panathenaia celebration.

Marcus waved at the scroll Tereus still held. "So what are you going to do with it?"

Tereus looked at it. "It was a gift to the Library, did you know that?" Marcus shook his head. "Gabrielle brought it when they returned for the dedication ceremony."

"All I remember are the other gifts..." Eudore laughed.

Marcus threw back his head and barked. "Gods! That's right! I was never so embarrassed... Do you remember? After Gabrielle finished her story that last night at the "Two Swans," Xena stood up to make a speech. That wasn't surprising, I think we all expected it. But then she went on and told everyone about our engagement and how she thought of us as her kin. I wanted to sink into the ground." Marcus laughed.

"Then she thanked everyone for their kindness and all their gifts. But, she added that being on the road so much, she and Gabrielle had nowhere to put them all." Eudore took up the tale with relish. "So she was giving them all to us as wedding presents! Hera, I never felt so small in all my life as all those people stared at us, cheering and screaming our names." she shuddered in amused horror.

They all laughed at the memory.

Tereus lifted the scroll and carefully tied it up. "Gabrielle also wrote up another scroll. The "official" version of the story, we entered it into the Library as the only version. But I've kept this one privately." He fell silent.

Leah prodded him with a foot. "So...what are you going to do with it?"

"I've been thinking about it. Most of the people who were involved are dead. except us, of course. It wouldn't do any harm now for the truth to be known." He closed his eyes for a moment. "But it would do no good, either.

"So, I'm officially handing it over to the Oracle of the Temple of Athena. The true story should be remembered, but I don't think that everyone needs to know it." He handed the scroll to Eudore, who received it with a formal nod. "Who better to receive it that the Priestess whose powers were restored by the events contained therein?"

Eudore thanked him formally. "I promise you that we shall not lose the scroll, nor shall it be forgotten. Each appointed Oracle will memorize it and remember the events that happened. It will become as sacred a property as the Mask of the Gorgon."

They all sat in companionable silence for a time and pondered the future and the past, as the day ended and evening fell.

Finally Aglaia sat up and yawned. "I'm getting too old for all this work." She joked. "How about some supper?"

That night, in a small taverna near the town walls, five of the most influential people of the town were heard making toasts to Xena, Warrior Princess and her partner, Gabrielle, Bard of Potedaia.

The End

Author's End Note: I would like to give my thanks to Robert Graves, who in some deep and abiding way inspired this story. May his vision one day be recognized as the scholarship it is. I would also like to thank all the readers who make it through this monster of a story (no pun intended.) I had no idea it would be this big when I began it and am still a bit shocked at the outcome. If you liked it, I'd love to hear from you. And you can look forward to my next story, "In the Hall of the Mountain Queen. (I came across the title in a dream. Really!)

Finally, I'd like to thank Aglaia, my bright one, and all the Gods who consent to be present in my stories.



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