The characters belong to Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures and were used without permission. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made.
Comments: This is a very romantic, very sexual, very emotional story. While the sex is graphic the violence is not, even though there IS one important death involved in the storyline. This is also my personal favorite of all my stories.
Some violence and 'fairly' graphic love scenes between two women are present herein. Do not venture forth if this does not appeal to you. You HAVE been warned.
Send feedback to XeniteKING@aol.com
Learning to Love
"This is going to be SO much fun!" said Gabrielle.
Sitting astride Argo, Xena shook her head as she looked down at her companion. The bard carried her staff at her side, casually, but the warrior knew she could prepare it for battle in a moment's notice if necessary. "If you say so, Gabrielle..." she said with a wry smile.
"Don't you think so?"
Gabrielle stopped in her tracks, and Xena had to pull back on Argo's reins to stay close to the bard.
"Now Xena, I realize you're not real big on fun and stuff, but I happen to think a personal invitation from Hercules and King Iphicles is a pretty big deal. This Festival of Life IS important, so will you do me a favor when we get to Corinth?" She crossed her arms, and her beautiful face became somewhat stern. "Would you at least PRETEND to be enjoying yourself?!"
"I'm not THAT bad." Xena arched her eyebrow. "AM I?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, not ALL the time. It's just...you never seem to relax, Xena. You know, even the Warrior Princess should let her hair down once and a while."
"I suppose so." Xena reached up and took the tie out of her hair, letting the long raven locks pour freely onto her shoulders. She smiled. "There, is THAT better?"
The bard couldn't help but giggle. "Oh Xena, sometimes you're too much!"
"So, what's the verdict?" Gabrielle was leaning against a tree stump and twirling her staff while she waited for Xena. Having just finished a late lunch, they were just about to set out again when something at the side of the road drew the warrior's attention.
Xena--who was down on one knee--shook her head. "I'm not sure. These tracks...it looks like a lone traveler is being followed covertly by several others on horseback." She got to her feet. "This road is recognized territory for bandits. So why would someone come THIS way alone?"
"Maybe it's someone who doesn't know the area," Gabrielle offered. "Or else, doesn't care."
"Either way..." Xena vaulted into Argo's saddle. "If the bandits catch up, and I'm sure they will, that someone is probably going to need our help."
As it turned out, Xena was only half right. They eventually found five armored men--all brandishing swords--as they were surrounding a lone figure in a long, hooded robe. For several long moments they circled, laughing and shouting insults, yet the traveler neither moved nor spoke. Then--all at once--two of the men sheathed their weapons and attacked, hands outstretched.
"We have to help..." said Gabrielle. She started forward, frowning when Xena reached out to grab her arm and hold her back. "What are you doing?"
The warrior shook her head. "Hold on, I want to see this."
"Come on. Xena, it's five against one." Gabrielle's eyes widened as the hooded figure caught one of the men's wrists as he was reaching for the hood, and with a twist brought the man to his knees, howling in pain.
"Whoa, four to one. Did that person just use a pressure point?" The hooded figure grabbed the second man's arm as he was coming up behind, and drove an elbow directly into his windpipe. He collapsed, gasping for air and almost unconscious from the sudden blow.
Two more men charged, still wielding their weapons this time. The hooded figure didn't move again until both were almost upon it, and then it simply ducked, allowing both blades to miss their marks. There was a flash of a dark object--possibly some sort of a weapon in the figure's hands--and the two men went down, blood pouring from deep wounds in their legs. The figure then rose, and turned to the apparent leader of the group, who took one look at his fallen men and ran back to his horse.
Xena merely sheathed her sword, while Gabrielle was still stunned.
"That's amazing. Xena, how did you know he was going to be able to do that?"
The warrior shrugged. "I didn't, not for sure. But, I figured anyone traveling alone in an area like this, is either too good to be worried or too dumb to care. I wanted to see which was which."
"And if he'd really gotten in trouble?"
Xena shrugged again. "I would have stepped in."
Gabrielle shook her head. "So, what do we do now, Xena?"
"What else? Introduce ourselves." The warrior just stepped out of the bushes, holding her hands palm up to show she was not holding a weapon. At once the hooded figure turned to face her, and she could see the body beneath the robe tensing slightly in anticipation of another attack.
"Take it easy..." she said quietly. "We're not here to fight." Xena glanced over her shoulder at Gabrielle, and was pleased to see the bard holding her staff in a non-threatening posture in front of her. "We just want to talk."
The stranger relaxed only slightly.
"Look, I am called Xena, and this is my friend, Gabrielle."
"Do YOU have a name?" the bard asked. Her tone was gentle and soothing.
After a few moments--when neither Xena or Gabrielle made an attempt to approach or any sudden moves--the figure slowly reached up to draw back it's hood, revealing clearly feminine features. She had golden-hued skin, sparklingly brilliant green-gray eyes and an emotionless but otherwise beautiful face. Her hair, which seemed to flow down upon her shoulders, was a lustrous silver-blue in color, unlike anything either of them had ever seen before. "Yes." she said in a light, almost lyrical voice. "I am called...Nym."
Gabrielle smiled. "Oh, that's a beautiful name."
Xena crossed her arms. "So, Nym, what brings you all the way out here by yourself?"
"I am on my way to Corinth. There is a festival, and..."
Gabrielle gasped. "You're going to the Festival of Life? So are we!"
Nym nodded. "As for why I am alone...well, simply put, I had no one to travel with."
Xena saw the bard's eyes glimmer, she knew without question what Gabrielle was about to say.
"Well, you do now!" She touched Nym's arm--never noticing how she flinched--and smiled. "If you want you can come with us. I mean, since we're all going in the same direction anyway."
"It is a kind offer, but I would not want to intrude..."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Nonsense. The more the merrier, right Xena?"
The warrior nodded. "I saw you fight, Nym. Very impressive. You can obviously take care of yourself. But it's still three days journey to Corinth, and there IS safety in numbers."
Nym sighed. "I suppose so. I must admit, it has been dreadfully lonely these last few days." She smiled. "Yes, I think I would welcome your company."
"Then it's settled."
The three of them started walking, and after a few minutes Gabrielle cleared her throat. "So Nym, do you come to this festival often?"
"No. In fact, this is my first time away from home. But I have heard tales of Corinth, and of the Festival of Life, and just once, I wanted to see for myself." Nym glanced at Xena--who was leading Argo by the reins instead of riding--then turned her full attention back to Gabrielle. "And you?"
"Nope. First time for us too." She smiled. "I'm going to be in the bard's competition..."
"You're a bard?"
"Wonderful. I love bards. Could you, maybe, tell me a story?"
Xena held up her hand. "No, please, don't get her started."
Gabrielle and Nym both chuckled. "Sure," the bard said after a moment. "What would you like to hear?"
"I don't know. Something...exciting." Nym's eyes sparkled. "An adventure."
"Okay." Gabrielle handed her staff to Xena--who slid it into place on the side of Argo's saddle--and then took a deep breath. "Let's see...oh! I've got one." Her smile widened. "I sing of Prometheus..."
They continued to travel until well after the sun had gone down, and it was only when it finally go too dark to see the road any longer that Gabrielle strongly suggested they make camp. She got only a shrug from Xena, the warrior wouldn't admit to being tired even if she was, but Nym agreed with her that traveling the unfamiliar road at night was not just unwise but outright dangerous. They found a suitable clearing, Xena and Gabrielle setting into their usual nightly routine; unpack Argo, start a fire, have the warrior go and catch something to eat as the bard spread out and prepared their supplies.
Nym did not offer her help, as yet, she did not want to intrude. She stood in a corner of the clearing, watching her two new friends and learning all she could about them. The bond between Xena and Gabrielle was obvious, and from the stories the bard told her, they had shared many things. But not EVERYTHING. She noticed it each time Gabrielle would brush up against the warrior, or touch her arm. Xena would tense ever-so-slightly, though it passed just as quickly as it had come and Gabrielle never seemed to notice. Ever fiber of the warrior's body was crying out for release, but because the current object of her passions was a woman who meant the world to her, and whose friendship she desperately did not want to lose, her desires continued to mount. She resolved to do something to help, if and when the opportunity arose.
Soon Xena returned with two rabbits, which Gabrielle promptly set about preparing. As she was placing them on a spit over the fire Nym made her presence known once again. She approached, quietly, and offered to cook dinner for them as a way of saying 'thank you' for their hospitality, a task the bard happily relented. Using their own spices, as well as a few of her own which she produced from beneath her robe, the silver haired beauty did soon get their pallets to watering.
Gabrielle ate as if she was famished. She finished off her plate, then most of what was on Xena's and Nym's as well. When she was done she licked every drop of juice from her fingers. "Mmm...that was delicious, Nym. How many herbs and spices did you say you put into this?"
The bard shook her head. "Well, it WAS great. I HAVE to get your recipe."
"I'll see that you do..." Nym replied. "Though I must tell you, it's not mine. It was given to me by a man by the name of Sanderseous. He was an excellent cook."
Sitting across the fire, Xena finished sharpening her sword, and sheathed it. "Nym?" The silver-haired beauty turned, her eyes locking with Xena's, and the warrior felt her heart beating just a little faster as a result. "Could I ask you something?"
"Of course." Nym placed her hands in her lap and waited.
The warrior licked her lips. "I was wondering...when we first saw you, back on the road, you appeared to have a weapon of some sort with you. But, I haven't seen it since, and..."
Nym smiled. "You're curious?" Xena nodded. "Well, I can't say as I blame you. Still, it's not exactly something I like to display in public, for the very same reason I wear this robe. As I'm sure you must know Xena, to openly carry any weapon is to risk inviting trouble." Another nod. "That being said..." She rose, and started to remove her robe. "...I am happy to show it to the two of you."
Both Xena and Gabrielle were wide-eyed, stunned almost, at what Nym had been hiding beneath the wine-red material. Her body was magnificent, lissome yet solid, her bare arms and legs surprisingly muscular, her breasts firm and full, and her stomach as flat as a washboard. She was wearing a full torso suit of studded leather armor which--instead of the usual brown or black--had been dyed a shade of dark green. A belt around her slim waist held two weapons, each one two feet long. Almost half of their length was blade, straight and silver metal, both edges obviously razor-sharp. The handles were covered in intricate carvings, but made of a beautiful, polished ebony wood. The flat end of one had a small hole in it, and the other a connecting rod similar to those of Gabrielle's staff, it was apparently made to be fit together.
"I call these my striker blades," Nym announced as she drew the weapons from her belt. "Separately, they are a formidable combination of speed and maneuverability. But put it together..." She proceeded to do just that--in just the matter of seconds, she was clearly well practiced--and twirled the weapon in her hand. "...and you have what I like to call...the nightstrike. It was built by an ancient craftsman in my village, and has been passed down from daughter to daughter in my family. What do you think?"
Xena shook her head. "I've never seen it's equal." She held out a hand. "May I?"
"Umm..." Nym seemed hesitant for a moment. "Yes, of course." She passed it to Xena. "But please, it is VERY valuable. Be careful with it."
"I will, don't worry." Xena hefted the nightstrike, testing it's weight, then began to twirl it around her body as she had once done with Gabrielle's staff. "Light...but well balanced." She handed it back to Nym. "What kind of wood is it? I can't place the grain."
"I'm not surprised." Nym broke the nightstrike and placed it back on her belt. "It was carved from the wood of a darkling tree, and they are found only in the region where I was born. It is very lightweight, as you have seen, and exceptionally strong. I've used it many a time without so much as a scratch."
Gabrielle smiled. "It's beautiful, Nym. Really. I've never seen anything like it. Hey Xena's got a unique weapon too. You want to see it?" Nym nodded, and Gabrielle glanced up at the stern face of her friend. "Come on Xena, what's the big deal? Show her your chakram."
Sighing, Xena drew the silver and gold discus from her belt. Nym's eyes sparkled at the sight. "It is amazing. I have seen such a weapon before, but never up close, and never in use. Could you...?"
"Why not?" Xena turned, eyeing a tree at the edge of the firelight, and raised her arm. "Watch this." She took only a moment to aim and then let the chakram fly. It whistled through the air with incredible speed, glanced off the bark of the tree she had been aiming at and returned to her hand. "I can do more..." she said as she returned it to her belt. "...but I don't want to risk losing it in the dark."
Nym nodded. "I understand."
"Well, this is just great. Two warrior woman, talking about their favorite weapons." Gabrielle yawned. "I don't mean to be rude, but now, I'm sorry I brought the whole subject up." She giggled, it struck her as funnier than it really was, yet Nym also laughed, and even Xena smiled. "Now, if you two will excuse me..." The bard lay down on her bedroll and yawned again. "I'm going to say hello to my former fiancee."
"Morpheus." Xena explained. Seeing the confused look on Nym's face, she shook her head. "It's an old story, I wouldn't worry about it if I were you."
"As you say." Nym smiled down at Gabrielle--who was either already fast asleep, or else faking it surprisingly well. "I take it you two had a hard day?" she whispered.
Xena shook her head. "No more so than usual. But Gabrielle has learned to rest whenever she can get it, we're constantly on the road and it can often be a fleeting memory."
"Do YOU ever sleep?" Nym asked gently as she approached the warrior.
"Sometimes. As long as I know Gabrielle is safe."
Nym smiled. "You really care for her, don't you?" Xena nodded. "How did you two meet?"
"It's a long story, and one Gabrielle tells a lot better than I." Xena reached back to take off her scabbard. "You would probably be better off asking..." She hissed. "OW! Damn shoulder cramp!"
"Here." Nym was at her side in an instant. "Let me help."
She put her hands on Xena's right shoulder, and her strong fingers began to firmly knead the tight muscles--a process made easier by the fact she had already taken off her chestplate armor--through her leathers. Slowly, Nym felt the knot starting to loosen under her touch and she smiled. "Is that better?"
Trying her best to suppress a moan, for the contact DID feel good, Xena nodded. Nym moved her other hand to the other shoulder and gave it equal treatment. Now, though both of her shoulders were beginning to relax, a vastly different set of sensations was beginning elsewhere. The thorough massage Nym was giving her caused her breasts to rise and fall as the muscles in her chest moved, and she felt a fiery tingle of excitement every time the material of her shift and leathers rubbed against her hardened nipples.
"How do you feel?" Nym asked, leaning close enough to the warrior's ear to whisper.
Xena's eyes snapped open, she didn't even realize she had closed them, and she gasped. Too good. "I-I have to...umm, go check on Argo. I'll be right back." She dashed out of the clearing without a second thought, trying to ignore the flood of heat throughout her entire body.
Nym watched her go, a sad glimmer in her green-gray eyes.
Xena silently returned to their camp a short time later, to find Nym had doused the fire and gone to sleep. The silver-haired warrior had neither bedroll nor blanket, and instead she curled up by a tree and was using her robe to cover herself.
She felt a momentary pang of regret at running out on the lovely young woman, but Xena had not trusted her own body around Nym at that moment. It had been no small effort to keep from pulling her down right then and there and ripping all of her clothes off. Desire and passion was certainly nothing new to the warrior princess, in fact she used her body on numerous occasions to control her army, but ever since she and Gabrielle had begun traveling together she had only been with one person...Marcus. He returned to Hades' care shortly thereafter of course, and since had been forced to relieve the pressures within by her own hand.
Now it seemed the Fates had provided her with a new outlet. A part of her still hungered for Gabrielle, to make love to the beautiful bard until they were both just too exhausted to move, but Xena knew that approaching her so could ruin their friendship. She did not want to lose Gabrielle, so until recently the warrior had been satisfied with succumbing to her own fantasies when she got a private moment. Nym however, had seemed oh so willing during the sensuous massage, and Xena strongly considered the likelihood of making love to the silver-haired beauty as she approached her own bedroll.
Gabrielle woke to unfortunately familiar sounds. Metal clanging against metal. Grunts and cries.
A battle! Gasping, the bard rolled out of bed and reached for her staff.
This sort of thing happened so often it no longer surprised her and could even be an exciting way to wake up sometimes, but just once she wished the attackers would wait until a decent hour. It was barely daybreak for Zeus' sake.
As she looked around, Gabrielle wondered who it was this time. An old enemy who still held a grudge? Perhaps some would-be warrior trying to make a name for himself? Or--her personal favorite--a mercenary who was out to make a dinar or two by cashing in on the bounty any one of a dozen warlords had placed on Xena's head.
"Ayiyiyiyiyiyiyiiii!" The battle cry pierced the air, and Gabrielle spun around in time to see Xena cartwheeling backwards to avoid a sweeping blow from Nym's striker blades. For one moment she thought perhaps their new 'friend' was an assassin in disguise, until she realized that Xena did not even have her sword drawn. The longer she watched the more the bard noticed subtle variances in Xena's actions, indicating she was not threatened at all but was in fact just practicing. It was--for her at least --a way to relax.
Gabrielle lowered her staff and joined the two warrior's.
"Well, I trust this is all in fun?"
Xena nodded. "Sure. You're very good, Nym."
"Thank you, Xena." Nym smiled. "I have never had a more worthy opponent."
Xena crossed her arms. "But if you don't mind my asking, where did you learn to fight? I've trained with some of the finest warrior's in this world, and though I've seen some of your moves, I've never seen them used in this particular style before."
Nym shrugged. "I'm not surprised since I came up with it myself. Using my knowledge of pressure points and nerve holds combined with letting an opponents momentum work against him, I can take down an attacker who is bigger, stronger or better than me, all with a modicum of effort."
"Really?" Having missed part of the contest, Gabrielle's curiosity was peaked. "What about Xena?"
Nym nodded. "Even the warrior princess is not invincible."
Xena raised an eyebrow. "Would you care to put THAT to the test?"
"Gladly..." Nym said quietly. She spread her arms as Xena came at her.
The warrior threw her left cross first, in an attempt to make the silver-haired warrior dodge so she could hit with her right, but instead she ducked. That left Xena off-balance and--while it was only for an instant--it gave Nym an opportunity to stand up and jab two fingers hard into the middle of Xena's ribcage. Had she been wearing her chestplate the impact would have had little or no effect, but because she had stripped down to her leathers for this sparring session, Xena felt it strike deep within her chest. Her lungs ached. It was suddenly very hard to breath, and she dropped to her knees, her eyes glazing over with the inability to move or free herself.
Gabrielle's eyes widened. "Gods!"
"Fear not." Nym's hands flashed out, and Xena could breath easy again.
"That particular move isn't fatal. Had I left it on for much longer you would have simply passed out, relaxing your body and automatically releasing it anyway. I would NEVER kill without good reason."
"Xena?" Gabrielle rushed to the warrior's side, and helped her stand. "Are you all right?"
For a moment she looked angry, but Xena quickly let it pass and nodded. "I'll live."
"That was amazing." Gabrielle turned to Nym. "You're good. Most people would never be able to do anything like that to Xena."
Nym inclined her head. "Perhaps." She gazed at Xena. "Or perhaps not. I doubt I could be quite as successful a second time." Xena recognized the unspoken challenge and--taking a moment to catch her breath--rushed her once again. This time she did not try to avoid Xena's charge, but rather reached out and grabbed her arm, using Xena's own momentum to swing around and throw the taller warrior towards a nearby tree.
But, as Nym predicted, Xena was not caught so easily a second time. She took a few steps up the trunk of the tree, and flung herself into a rolling back-flip. "Ayiyiyiyiyiyiyiii!" Even Nym could not react before Xena landed behind her, spun around and swept both feet right out from under her.
"Nym?" Gabrielle crouched beside her, trying not to smile. "You okay?"
"Oh, I'm fine." Nym opened her eyes, and stared longingly up at Xena.
The rest of the day passed without incident. They set out shortly after breakfast, knowing even if they didn't rush they would be able to make it to Corinth by mid-afternoon the following day.
Nym proved to be a learned, charming traveling companion. She spent part of the journey with Xena--discussing fighting tactics and past military campaigns they had undertaken, and the rest with Gabrielle--learning they shared a hero in the great poet, Sappho. Neither had ever actually met her, but both had vowed in their childhood's to do so one day.
Every time they stopped to rest, Nym was persuaded to demonstrate more of her fighting techniques, not just to Xena but Gabrielle as well.
The bard insisted she was tired of being rendered virtually helpless whenever she lost her staff, and though the self-defense methods Nym could teach her would be her best bet. She took to the training easily and by the end of the day had all but mastered several of the simple moves, including one which almost let her bring down Xena.
But all of the rigorous exercise took it's toll on the bard. By the time they finally stopped and set up camp, she was exhausted, and barely able to help Xena and Nym with dinner, though true to form she DID assist both the warrior's in cleaning their plates.
Afterwards she told them a story--at Nym's request--but part way through was struck silent by painful cramps in her legs.
"Ow! Ow!" Gabrielle tried, and failed, several times to stretch out her legs. "Gods, it hurts!"
Reacting even faster than Xena, who was stoking the fire at that moment, Nym moved to her side and clasped the bard's left thigh with her strong hands. "Here..." She began kneading the offending muscles which felt tight as a bow-string to her. "Let me help."
"Mmm...that feels good." Gabrielle closed her eyes. "I can...feel it... relaxing...already..."
Sitting across the fire, Xena watched them closely, feeling anything but relaxed. She knew firsthand just how proficient Nym's hands were, and Gabrielle's reaction proved her correct. The bard tossed her head back and let out a soft moan as the silver-haired warrior shifted her attention to the other leg. At that point, it came to be too much for Xena, who got to her feet and cleared her throat. "There's a creek near here..." she said after a moment of consideration. "...and I think I'm going to go take a quick bath."
Gabrielle opened her eyes. "It's dark, you'd better bring a torch along with you."
"Good idea." Xena looked around for a suitable piece of wood, then reached into Argo's saddle-bag to get an old shift of hers which they used for scrap. She fashioned a crude torch and lit it, all the while doing her best to ignore the bard's muffled moans of relief behind her. "Back in a bit!" The warrior grabbed her sword as well and darted out of the campsite.
Xena stripped off her armor and leathers as soon as she got to the creek bank. She positioned her sword so it would be within easy reach from the water and then dove right in, without checking the temperature first. It was ice cold and she broke the surface a moment later, red-faced and gasping.
Instead of calming her down the cold water made Xena's heart beat faster. Her skin felt alive, it began to tingle and even made her thick brown nipples harden. It also got her imagination working overtime. In spite of herself, Xena began to imagine the effects Nym's hands were having on Gabrielle. She had often dreamt of touching the bard herself, caressing her full breasts, kissing her lips. "Gods!"
Xena pulled herself back to reality and swung the wet hair out of her face. "I've got to stop doing this! I can't, I WON'T, force myself on Gabrielle! She's too gentle, too pure!" The warrior shook her head. She forced herself to think about something else. Predictably, just when she managed to put the bard's face out of her mind, it was replaced by another, one framed with flowing locks of silver-blue. "Nym..." Thinking about the beautiful warrior woman brought a whole new set of fantasies to the surface.
Xena remembered Nym's hands on her shoulders, and now found herself wondering what they would feel like kneading her breasts, caressing her inner thighs. Of course it wasn't just her hands, but her lips and her tongue as well. She wanted to know everything Nym's body had to offer and return the attention in kind. She sighed. It had been SO long since she was last close to anyone, and Nym DID seem willing, but before she made any sort of move she wanted to be certain.
Xena lay back in the water and closed her eyes. She was confused and aroused, and not entirely sure what to do about it. Memories flooded unbidden into her mind as she tried to will herself to relax, and she saw the faces of all the people she had made love to and lost. In fact, of those she had been closest to, those who truly meant the most to her, only one was still alive. Marcus, Borias, Petracles, M'Lila, long dead--and part of her believed it was because they had shared their hearts and minds and bodies with the warrior princess. Hercules survived of course, but he was half-god and would most likely outlive her. As strongly as she was drawn to Gabrielle, Xena was not prepared to risk the bard's life for her own pleasure, so why--she wondered-- was she so easily thinking about making love to Nym? Was it because they were NOT close?
Without warning Xena sensed a presence. Footsteps. Someone was approaching, and so quietly she had not been able to detect them until now. The warrior rolled over and swam toward her sword, silently cursing herself for having been so careless as to get distracted. She crawled onto the creek bank and reached for her scabbard, but barely had the blade out of it's sheath before two bare feet appeared in front of her.
Xena's wide, sapphire blue eyes trailed slowly up the strong, equally bare legs. This was no threat. In a matter of moments she continued her gaze upward once again; noting the firm muscular thighs before hesitating at the triangle of downy silver-blue hair between the legs. Forcing herself to breath once again--not even realizing she was holding it until then--she moved her eyes over a washboard stomach, only to audibly gasp at the sight of a perfectly formed pair of full round breasts just inches from her face. The warrior finally rose to her full height, to look into the gray-green eyes and smiling face of..."Nym? What are you doing here?"
"I figured I could use a bath too." She arched an eyebrow, noting the peculiar look on Xena's face. "Oh! Am I disturbing you? Because, if I am, I could leave..."
"NO!" Realizing she had spoken more harshly than she intended, Xena sheathed her sword and dropped it to the bank once again. "I mean...that would be ridiculous." Nym's eyes were electric, she could feel her pulse was racing and it felt several degrees hotter than before. "You're here now...may as well get wet." The warrior took a deep breath to try and calm herself. Something else then occurred to her. "Gabrielle?"
Nym waved her hand. "Oh don't worry. She went right to sleep after I worked the cramps out of her legs." She stepped forward and tenderly cupped Xena's cheek. "Besides I'm here. You're here." She smiled. "Do you really want to talk about Gabrielle?"
Xena opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. Nym apparently took that as an invitation. Slipping once hand behind the taller woman's head, she pulled the raven-haired warrior's face closer, parted her own lips and kissed her with an obvious, hungry passion. After a few moments, the two women melted into one another, their arms striving to pull the other as close as possible. At one point during the embrace they lost their footing and tumbled to the creek bank, but neither seemed to notice as they ran their hands along each other's hips and groaned deep within their throats.
All at once Nym pulled her lips away and shifted around to roll Xena onto her back. She used her left knee to urge Xena's thighs apart and slid her body between them, both women gasping as their warm, wet centers were pressed together. Considering the possibilities for a moment, Xena lifted her legs so her ankles rested on Nym's shoulders and the silver-haired warrior placed both hands flat on the ground on either side of Xena's shoulders while they began to slowly but steadily grind their most sensitive areas together. Their eyes met, and both took pleasure in the other's face as they continued to writhe together, both drenched in sweat. Finally, their need for release was too much to bear any longer. Xena's fingers dug deep into Nym's arms as she tossed her head back and cried out while the sight and sound of her lover's explosive climax pushed Nym over the edge as well. Their mutual moans and cries of passion filled the air as they continued to shudder and tremble against each other for long moments afterward.
"Gods..." said Xena, when she was finally able to catch her breath and speak again. She lowered her legs, and smiled as Nym rolled off and snuggled up beside her. "...I needed that."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," Nym whispered as she kissed Xena's neck and lips. "I did too."
"I know. I think they heard us in Corinth." They both laughed, but then Xena arched her eyebrow. "So tell me, you vixen, how long have you been planning this little seduction?"
Nym propped her head up on one hand. "Honestly?" Xena nodded. "Not long. The opportunity just came up and so I took it." She sighed. "But I must admit, I've been watching you from the start, Xena. You are one of the most beautiful and desirable women I've ever seen in my life."
Xena's cheeks reddened slightly. She wasn't accustomed to receiving such praise and giving it was--for her at least--just as difficult. "You're pretty amazing too, Nym. I haven't felt this good in a long time." She rolled to her side and peered into the silver-haired warrior's equally beautiful eyes. "Now if you'll let me, I would really like to return the favor."
Nym lay flat on her back and sighed. "Go ahead, warrior princess. Conquer me."
Where the silver-haired warrior's assault had been heated, hungry, Xena took her sweet time. First, she began by caressing and kneading Nym's firm full breasts, smiling at the feel of hard pink nipples against her knowing hands. Just as Nym was writhing and moaning at her touch Xena ceased her erotic ministrations, prompting the silver-haired warrior to arch her back in search of further attention. She received it, but instead of her hands she felt Xena's mouth close around her right nipple, taking it gently into her mouth.
"Gods!" This continued for several minutes, during which time Xena alternated from left to right, until both of Nym's breasts felt like they were going to explode. "Please!"
Xena lifted her head and smiled. "Yes?"
"Please..." Nym could barely find the strength to speak. She had always believed herself to be an expert in the art of seduction, but Xena was proving to be an equal, if not her better. "Xena, please..."
Xena kissed her way down the silver-haired warrior's body, allowing her breasts to gently touch Nym's center while she used both hands to caress her inner thighs.
"Oh, gods...!" Nym found it hard to breath, her heart felt as if it was going to burst from her chest, and shards of white-hot fire burned every fiber of her being. "Xena, please...I-I want...I need..."
"Yes?" Xena ran her fingers across Nym's center, and found the downy silver-blue hair already soaked. "I am still waiting..." she said quietly, smiling as the warrior beneath her writhed and shuddered. She brought a finger to her lips and teasingly licked the moisture into her mouth. "Mmmmm...tasty."
Nym arched her back and cried out, her voice choked with passion. "Please! I need you inside me!"
"Hmm, THAT I can do." Smiling, Xena leaned down and grazed the silver-haired warrior's center with her lips, causing her body to bounce off the ground as she stifled a loud moan. Xena circled her arms around Nym's firm hips and probed her tongue deep into her sex, licking and kissing the soft folds as she searched for that bundle of nerves she knew would drive the warrior wild. Gasping and moaning and writhing, Nym entwined her fingers into silky raven hair and bucked her pelvis hard against Xena's mouth. Xena continued to delve deeply into her lover's womanhood, over and over until it became unbearable.
"GODS!" Nym entire body arched off the ground, her strong quivering thighs closing around Xena's bobbing head as joyous release seemed to erupt through ever pore in her body. An indescribable rush of heat and color passed over the silver-haired warrior, as she threw her head back and screamed for all she was worth. Her body was still trembling from the aftereffects of her explosive climax several moments later, even after Xena snuggled up beside her and lay her head on her shoulder. "How...? I-I mean......oh gods..."
Xena shrugged. "I have many skills."
Still trying to catch her breath, Nym smiled. "You can...say that again."
Next morning--and entirely too early as far as she was concerned-- Gabrielle woke to the unfortunately familiar sensation of someone's hand on her shoulder, gently shaking her as they tried to rouse her. But still half asleep she would have none of it, she grumbled and groaned and pulled the blanket back up around her neck. Even as it seemed she could drift off again the blanket was yanked off, waking the bard all at once and subjecting her to a rush of uncomfortably cool--or as it felt to her, COLD--air. She decided to voice her discomfort by rolling over on her back and snarling up at whoever had exposed her to this indignity.
"...up, sleepy-head. It's morning."
The bard froze, momentarily confused. It wasn't Xena's gruff but gentle morning voice like she was expecting, and it took Gabrielle a few sleep- addled seconds to remember they were traveling with someone. Once her eyes had begun to focus she saw that it was indeed Nym looking down at her.
"Gabrielle?" The silver-haired warrior saw something in the bard's face, and her lips pursed. "Are you okay? I didn't startle you, did I?"
"N-No, I'm fine." Gabrielle stared into Nym's dazzling green-gray eyes and for a moment she was captivated, it felt almost as if she were sinking. She cleared her throat. "Umm...where's Xena?"
Nym put her hands on her hips. "With Argo, getting ready to go. Exactly as we should be doing." She smiled, and the bard couldn't help but do the same. "But if you like, I could finish packing while you go find something to eat. How's that sound?"
"Perfect." Gabrielle got to her feet and began to stretch. "Thanks." With her back to Nym, she never saw how the silver-haired warrior appreciatively watched every move of her lean, firm body.
Gabrielle noticed some sort of change in Xena and Nym's interactions on this last leg of their journey, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Both of the warriors seemed to be more comfortable around one another, and Nym spent a great deal of the time walking beside Argo, talking quietly to Xena. The bard decided to give them room and walked far in front, her back to them so neither could see the look on her face. It wasn't anger or sadness, it was more a blend of confused curiosity; it was good to know Xena was so at ease--she had even heard a laugh or two at something Nym said--but at the same time it hurt the bard to know someone else was getting all of the attention to which she was so accustomed.
"What am I, jealous?" she said under her breath. "Of what?"
"Gabrielle?" The bard turned her head to find that both Xena and Nym were watching her. "You okay?" Xena asked. "You've been awfully quiet lately."
Gabrielle slowed her pace to let them catch up. "I'm fine. Just... thinking."
"About one of your stories?" Xena asked.
The bard shrugged. "Uh, yeah. You could say that."
"Hey!" Nym smiled. "I've got an idea. Gabrielle, Xena tells me you play the pan flute?"
Xena put her head in her hands. "Oh no, please don't..."
Gabrielle nodded. "I do, but as you can tell, SOME people are less than enthusiastic about it."
Nym looked from Xena to Gabrielle, and chuckled. "Anyway, if I had my lyre with me we could perform a duet together...but since I don't, why don't you play something for US?"
Xena groaned, but said nothing.
"Okay." Gabrielle reached into her pouch and drew out her flute. "What would you like to hear?"
Nym shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, something you can sing to."
The bard considered a list of songs and then her face lit up. "Okay, I've got one..." She started to play as they headed down the trail once again. After a few minutes, Nym indeed began to sing, linking the only occasionally off-key notes. It was a wonderful melody made even more so when Xena allowed her own beautiful voice to join their's a short time later, and soon the three were making beautiful music together.
Corinth was alive with sights and sounds. Banners of every size, shape and color imaginable hung from trees, windows, the tops of homes, announcing the annual Festival of Life. There was music; flutes, lyres, drums, and a wide variety of singers with a wide variety of styles. People were having the time of their lives--which was the whole point of the festival of course.
Nym was impressed, to see people in such close quarters, laughing and having a good time. There was not any urgency, everyone seemed relaxed and having fun.
Xena took it all in with a detached eye, such celebrations had never really appealed to her. She was only here, despite the personal invitation, because of Gabrielle.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, was wide-eyed and had a big grin on her face. It was just what she expected, and everything she had hoped. If only she could get Xena to enjoy it too.
After a few minutes, Nym shook her head and smiled up at Xena, who was still astride Argo. "Now, where did you say you were supposed to meet these friends of yours?"
"Fair-grounds..." Xena replied. "I think they're just past the square, to the west." She slid from the saddle, but held on to the reins. "You two wait here, I'm going to find a stable for Argo."
Gabrielle watched her walk away--virtually ignoring the crowd of celebrants--a stern look on her face. "How is it we can be in such a fun, relaxing place and she still looks like she's ready for battle?"
"It's the way of the warrior, Gabrielle," Nym replied. She sighed. "I've not been fighting as long as Xena, nor is my history quite as colorful, but it can be difficult to overcome your instincts. When one is constantly exposed to danger, one tends to constantly expect danger."
The bard nodded. "I guess that's true."
"Look." Nym lay her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and squeezed it gently. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't think you should spend all your time worrying about Xena. She's a big girl, believe me, and it isn't YOUR responsibility to see to it she has fun. It's HERS."
Now Gabrielle sighed. "I know, you're right, but it's hard. There have been times when I see that innocent part of Xena, the fun-loving and almost childlike humor she tries so desperately to hide from the world, and it makes me sad to know I can't help bring it out in her more. Plus, it seems like every time I DO something or someone is there to get in the way, like Gareth and Zagreas."
Nym nodded. Gabrielle had told her the story of how their peaceful day a few weeks back, had been shattered first by a warlord and then by a giant. While they did succeed in saving two villages, the easygoing manner the two had begun to share never really resurfaced.
"After that, it became one big life-threatening adventure after another; I was kidnapped and Xena nearly went blind while saving me, we met the Horde and nearly got trapped on Cecrops ship for eternity..." Gabrielle shook her head. "Then, to top it all off, Cupid's son Bliss makes Xena fall in love with Draco, makes Draco falls in love with me, and ME..." She shuddered. "Well, maybe this festival will be different."
Nym smiled. "One can only hope."
Xena returned, eyes narrowed and teeth clenched.
"Argo all taken care of?" Gabrielle asked. The warrior nodded. "Xena? What's wrong?"
"Two people asked me to dance in the street on the way back. You know I HATE to dance."
The bard frowned. "You didn't hit anybody, did you?"
"Of course not, Gabrielle. What do you think I am, a common street thug?" Xena turned. "Come on, I think it's high time we paid our respects to our host." As they started west, she glanced over her shoulder at the bard. "I don't think kicks will leave any lasting marks, do you?"
The fair-ground was hard to miss. There were tents and booths everywhere, with banners and flags and signs in even more shapes, and sizes and colors as in the square. Dozens of people were milling about various stages to hear musicians sing their songs, bards tell their tales, and numerous other entertainers including puppeteers, artists and dancers. Merchants had also gathered, intent on peddling their wares; a multitude of scents from an odd assortment of food servers, others selling pottery or sculpture, some even with weapons.
One particular booth caught Gabrielle's eye, and she stopped. It was filled was toys, lots and lots of toys, and no customers at the moment, but she was more interested in the man behind the counter. "Can it be?" Excusing herself from Xena and Nym, she approached the booth, and it took her only a few steps closer to recognize that it was in fact who she thought it was. "Senticles!"
A heavyset, jolly-looking man with a long curly beard and wearing red, he smiled. "Gabrielle? It is good to see you again my dear. What brings you to Corinth?"
The bard spread her arms. "Same as you I suppose. The festival. Say, how is King Silvus?"
"Oh, much better since his beloved Analia has returned to him. He has revoked many of the more constricting laws, including his ban on the Solstice."
Gabrielle nodded. "Are you still his scribe then?"
"Yes, but only part time. Since you and Xena helped him see the error of his ways, I have decided to return to my true passion. I am a toy maker again, Gabrielle. Thank you."
"It was your decision, Senticles. But I'm happy for you." She glanced over her shoulder, and even though the two warriors appeared to be waiting patiently, she knew it would not last. "Well, I have to go now. But, do you know where we can find the sponsors of this event?"
Senticles nodded and pointed. "Last I heard, they were over there at the main stage."
"Thanks. It was good to see you again, Senticles." Gabrielle waved good-bye and then rejoined her friends. "I just had to say hello."
Xena nodded. "I understand. Did you get better directions?"
"I think so. Follow me." Once again, Gabrielle took the lead. She walked in and out between booths and tents, before coming to an larger area filled with people. They were all gathered around a huge wooden stage adorned with flags and torches, and occupied by several imposing figures.
Jason, leader of the Argonauts and former King of Corinth stood near the rear with his wife, Alcmene. Near the front was King Iphicles, a tall handsome man with long brown hair and a golden crown. He wore crisp clean royal leathers, and carried a sword at his side. But, despite the presence of royalty, past and present, the star of the stage was right out front, and the crowd was drawn on his every word. With his leather breeches and trade- mark yellow tunic, long brown hair and charming smile, Hercules--the son of Zeus and Alcmene, spread both powerful arms to silence the throngs of people.
"Ladies and gentlemen...our tenth Festival of Life is already a rousing success. As you know, this festival is not only a way for the people of Corinth to get together, to see new friends or family and have a good time, it also serves a cause. Thanks to your generosity, we have already raised the funds needed to provide for the orphans another year, and there's still much celebration to come. We have more competitions planned for later today but until that time please...eat, drink and be merry!" He blushed slightly as the crowd hooped and hollered and chanted his name.
Xena shook her head. "Same ol' Hercules." She was just about to suggest they head on up to the stage, when she felt a hand coming down on her shoulder. Acting on sheer instinct, especially since she knew Gabrielle and Nym were on either side of her, the warrior drove her elbow back and heard a satisfying grunt as it collided with someone's stomach. She reached back and grabbed hold of whoever was behind her, doubled over, and flipped them onto their back in front of her. "You?"
A short but wiry man with curly blond hair, wearing long breeches and an ornate purple vest smiled dizzily up at her. "Uhh...hi Xena."
Gabrielle smiled. "Iolaus!" She offered him a hand. "When I didn't see you on stage with Hercules..."
"Did you really think I'd miss this? It's not every year my best friend throws a party." Iolaus gave the bard his most disarming smile. "Actually, in this case it IS."
Xena stepped forward and cleared her throat. "Iolaus, I'm sorry about that. I..."
"Don't worry about it, Xena...I don't know what I was thinking, sneaking up on you like that." Iolaus extended his hand, and she grasped it in the traditional warrior's grip. "It's good to see you."
Xena nodded. "You too."
"What about me?" asked a booming voice. The crowd parted to allow Hercules to approach his friends. "Like Iolaus said, it IS my party."
"Oh really?" Xena raised an eyebrow. "I thought it was for the people of Corinth."
Hercules shrugged his massive shoulders. "Them too." He held out his hand, and Xena clasped it. "But, he is right about one thing, Xena. It is good to see you again."
Again, Xena nodded. "It's been too long, Hercules."
Iolaus--who was openly staring at Nym--cleared his throat. "Excuse me... isn't anyone going to introduce us to your new friend here?" At least he guessed she was a friend, she was standing too comparatively close to Xena for the warrior not to know her.
Gabrielle spoke up first. "Oh, of course. Hercules, Iolaus, this is Nym. We met on the road here, and have been traveling together for the last several days. Nym's a warrior too."
Hercules glanced at the quiet woman in the wine-red robe, and then held out his hand. "Well Nym...any friend of Xena and Gabrielle is a friend of mine." She accepted his grip warmly, and the son of Zeus was surprised just how strong this woman seemed to be. "I welcome you to Corinth."
Nym inclined her head. "Why thank you. It is an honor to meet you, Hercules." She turned her head as Iolaus stepped forward. "And you..." She held a hand out to him. "Iolaus, right?"
"Uhh...oh yeah. Right." He took her hand, but was obviously stunned by her beauty.
Shaking her head, Nym turned back to Hercules. "I look forward to participating in your festival."
"Of course." Hercules swept his arm toward the stage. "Well Xena, Gabrielle, Nym, why don't I introduce you to my family? The mortal half, at least."
The remainder of the day was divided into five events. First was the bard's competition, which consisted of three rounds; poetry, narrative and free form. Of the nine original participants, three were eliminated in the first round, and four more partway through into second. In the end it came down to Homer--a young visitor from the Athens Academy-- and Gabrielle. Not surprisingly, during the free form competition, Gabrielle made up an adventure story involving her time with Xena. Not surprisingly, she was also declared the winner.
Next up was a pie-eating contest. Iolaus was thought to be the odds-on favorite, particularly seeing as he had won the last four years in a row. But a last minute entry caught most everyone off-guard. Of those present only Xena knew the possible extent of Gabrielle's appetite, especially after a long trip with a very small lunch, so she was the only one not surprised when the bard continued to match Iolaus pie for pie until the very last, and was somehow able to edge him out.
Third was a riddle competition, where the winner of each previous competition would lead into the next, again and again, until someone finally asked a riddle no one else could solve. Several people were expecting Gabrielle would be the winner, but she hadn't yet recovered from the pie-eating contest and never actually got around to entering it in the first place. As a result the competition was less than adequate, permitting Nym to defeat every other competitor with relative ease.
After a rest period came the fourth event, a tug-of-war. It consisted of teams of five, each holding the end of a long rope which was stretched over a pit full of wet, cold mud. The object was to yank ones opponents into the pit in order to be declared the winner. Twenty teams entered, competing one on one until process of elimination would leave one to face Hercules alone in the last round. Gabrielle, Nym, Iolaus and two hefty Corinth wrestlers managed to defeat all the others, but the son of Zeus proved strongest in the end.
The fifth and final event of the day was a 'triathlon'; consisting first of a foot-race, followed by swimming, and finally a ranged weapon demonstration. Nym entered, as did Iolaus and several other citizens. Gabrielle pleaded with Xena to compete in at least this one event since she had shunned the rest of the days activities, and in the end the warrior princess reluctantly agreed. She, Nym and Iolaus outshined all six of the other participants with their running and swimming prowess; but during the third round, neither Iolaus' bow nor Nym's nightstrike was able to compete with the utter speed and accuracy of Xena's chakram.
Later, after the other celebrants and his family had gone home for the night Hercules summoned his friends to his tent for a private celebration. They discussed old times and their recent adventures, while the wine and port flowed freely. Staying true to the day's events Hercules, Xena and Iolaus competed to see who would be able to consume and hold the most port. Nym politely declined an invitation to join them, explaining that she did not drink, and though Gabrielle did not actually take part, she did try to keep up as best she could with wine. Iolaus was the first to give up, in fact he passed out cold on the table. Try as she might, and she did, Xena wasn't able to outlast Hercules' demigod resilience. Conceding the victory, she got up and stumbled out of the tent, saying something about going back to their own tent to sleep. Hercules threw Iolaus over his shoulder and carried him to his own tent before insisting Nym and or Gabrielle could sleep in his if they wanted, as he planned to be with his family at Iphicles' castle for the rest of the night.
Once she got tired of staring at the wall, an obviously inebriated Gabrielle lurched to her feet, and approached Nym, who was watching her from a chair with a bemused look on her face. "Nimmmy...?" she slurred. "Can I axe yoo a quest-yon?"
The silver-haired warrior shrugged. "Go ahead."
Gabrielle plopped down beside her and sighed. It seemed she had forgotten whatever it was she was going to ask, but her eyes finally lit up again. "Oh, shah...I remember now." The bard moved her face inches from Nym's, the scent of wine palpable on her breath. "Doz yoo fine me attra...attract...bee-you-tee-full?"
"Yes," Nym replied. "Yes I do."
"I think yoo ish bee-you-tee-full, Nimmm..." She giggled.
Nym smiled slightly. "Thank you."
"Wood yoo ever want to kissh me maybe?"
After a moment, Nym nodded. "As a matter of fact, I would."
"Good." Gabrielle grabbed the silver-haired warrior's and--faster than Nym was able to react--planted a sloppy wet kiss on her lips. "Mee too."
She fumbled with the laces of her top. "Wanna doo more?"
"Gabrielle." Nym stopped Gabrielle's hands and pushed them down to her side. "No." She caressed the bard's cheek and smiled. "Look, I will admit I AM attracted to you, and I WOULD like to do more, believe me. But...not like this." She stood up and put her hands on her hips. "You're drunk, Gabrielle. Even if you think you want this now, you could regret it in the morning, and I'm not going to take advantage of you."
"Okay." Gabrielle, who was sitting on the ground, slumped to one side and sighed. "Yoor...loss..." In a matter of moments, she was blissfully unconscious.
Nym shook her head. "You shouldn't drink if you can't hold your liquor." She gathered Gabrielle into her arms and carried the bard over to Hercules bed. "I guess we're going to take him up on his offer." It took several tries for her to get Gabrielle under the covers, she kept kicking and writhing in her sleep as if she was already having a bad dream, and then returned to her chair. As much as part of her DID want to climb into bed beside the bard, she wasn't sure she could be so close to such a beautiful and vulnerable woman, without trying something that she knew they might both regret. Nor did she feel any particular remorse at being so attracted to Gabrielle, even though she and Xena had been intimate, they agreed it wasn't the start of any sort of relationship. Rather it was the expression of a strong mutual attraction and, of course, raw physical desire.
Gabrielle, meanwhile, tossed her head from side to side and moaned.
Later the next morning, Gabrielle's nose woke before the rest of her body. It detected a scent that it immediately relayed to her stomach, which in turn grumbled and caused her mouth to start watering. Her brain followed suit, there was food present and despite the advanced warning signs of pain it decided the craving being emitted by the nose and stomach were too much too resist.
"AAAH!" The bard sat up in bed and clutched the sides of her head. Tears of pain rolled down her face. "Oh, why doesn't someone just KILL me?"
"Hurts, doesn't it?" a quiet voice asked. Gabrielle turned her eyes slowly, to find Nym straddling a chair at the other side of the tent. She wasn't smiling. "That's why I don't drink. It's not worth the pain."
"Please, don't give me a lecture." Gabrielle lay back down and closed her eyes. "I'm not in the mood." A burst of pain caused her to groan. "Oh, it feels like one of Zeus' thunderbolts is in my head."
Nym picked up a tray sitting by her feet, and approached the bed. It held a loaf of fresh baked nutbread and a goblet full of strange, milky white liquid. "Here. The medicine will help you with your hangover, but you should really have something in your stomach first."
Gabrielle sat up and leaned against the headboard. "Okay, but I don't know if I can keep anything down." She took a bite of the nutbread and her face lit up. "Mmm...Nym, this is delicious! Did you bake this yourself? What ingredients did you use? How'd you know I liked nutbread anyway?"
"Hey." Nym stopped the bard's rambling with a gesture. "Now, let's see...thank you, yes I did, I'll give you the recipe, and, you told me."
She sat on the corner of the bed, watching in mute fascination as Gabrielle consumed that entire loaf of nutbread, then reached for the goblet. She brought it to her lips and was about to take a drink when the silver-haired warrior stopped her. "Before you do that, I should warn you. This medicine will help, but it does NOT taste good." Gabrielle took a swallow and, sure enough, made a sick face and gagged. "See? What did I tell you?"
"AACH! What do you call this stuff, Nym? It tastes like chalk."
"It is." Gabrielle blanched, glaring down at the goblet, and Nym touched her arm. "I'm just kidding. It's really a combination of sugar, io powder, and seltzer water. You may notice the bubbles as they roll up the back of your throat and tickle your nose."
Gabrielle swallowed the rest of the goblets contents, too fast, and began to cough as a result. Nym patted her gently on the back until she was able to breath again, but kept one arm around the bard.
"Guess I shouldn't talk and drink at the same time, huh?" She smiled. "I knew someone who used to sell seltzer water, but I think he got out of the business. Too bad, I heard it's really taken off lately."
Nym nodded. "Yes, there's a man outside selling bottles of it, and he seems to be doing quite well. A pleasant enough fellow, but he kept complaining his ex-employer running off to host some beauty contest." She shrugged her shoulders. "So, how's your head?"
After a moment, Gabrielle's eyes widened. "Hey, the pain is down to a dull roar. I can think clearly again, and I can actually remember yesterday. Including what happened last...night..." Her face went white, and then turned several shades of bright red. "Oh gods. Nym, I-I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me. Kissing you like that, believe me when I tell you I don't usually do things like that."
"Oh." Nym lowered her head. "So, you didn't mean what you said last night?"
"What?" Gabrielle asked. She got a terrible feeling she had said something wrong.
"You know, about my being beautiful...and you're wanting to be with me, and..."
Without thinking about it Gabrielle shook her head, and was surprised by the fact it didn't hurt, much. "No, it's not that at all, Nym. I DO think you're beautiful, really I do." She sighed. "See, the reason I don't get drunk very often, is what it makes me do and say. It's like my mind takes a holiday, and in a lot of cases, I let out stuff that I might otherwise be wiser to keep bottled up." She clasped the silver-haired warrior's hand and smiled. "You're a beautiful and talented woman Nym, and I would be a liar of I said I hadn't imagined going to bed with you. But I don't have a lot of experience, you see, and I never know what to do, what to say."
Nym placed her hand on the bard's cheek, and smiled. "Tell me, have you ever been with a woman?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "I-I was married for less than two days. My husband--Perdicus--and I made love on our wedding night, and again the next morning. Then, he was killed. That was, I'm afraid, the beginning and end of my sexual experience."
"You poor thing...he was killed during your first full day of marriage?"
"I'm so sorry."
"It's all right." Gabrielle wiped her eyes, where a tear had formed. "It's been almost a year since he died, I think even Perdicus would agree it's time I got on with my life."
Nym leaned in and kissed the bard on her cheek. "You are a remarkable young woman, Gabrielle."
"Hey I'm not THAT young." Gabrielle grabbed Nym's shoulders and pulled her into a passionate kiss, putting both arms around the silver-haired warrior to hold her close. After a moment Nym sank into the embrace and let out a gentle moan of contentment.
Eventually, it was Nym who pulled back, and smiled. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Well..." Gabrielle glanced down at her chest, and then began undoing the laces of her top. Her fingers were a good deal more nimble than the night before, it only took her a few moments to release the ties and let the sides swing apart. Her breasts were full and firm, larger than the tight top made them appear, and capped by small but pert pink nipples which hardened as she looked on. "What do you think?"
"Gods." Nym leaned in and kissed Gabrielle hungrily. "You are SO beautiful."
She put her hands on the bard's shoulders and lowered her to the bed, then in-between kisses, working to swiftly remove Gabrielle's clothing as well as her own. "So...beautiful." The warrior trailed her lips over the bard's chin and collarbone, but didn't stop until she was nuzzling the sensitive flesh between her heaving breasts.
Gabrielle arched her back and groaned. "Oh, yes..." Nym took a nipple into her mouth, suckling gently. "Gods yes, don't stop!" Nym gave the same treatment to the bard's other breast, all the while caressing her thighs with her fingertips. With each stroke her hands moved lower and lower, until she grazed her palm against the downy red-blond hair between the bard's legs.
Nym felt a shudder of pleasure pass throughout Gabrielle's entire body. She was trembling, and clawing at the bedsheets, already approaching the peak it seemed. Smiling, the warrior removed herself from the bard's breasts and kissed her way down Gabrielle's writhing body before delving right into that warm, wet crevice between her legs. The bard's hips bucked right off the bed and against Nym's hungry mouth as she threw her head back and wailed in delight, but the warrior threw her arms around Gabrielle's thighs as she continued to feast. Her tongue probed gently, first fast then slow, and caressed every inch of the bard's core.
"Mmm...yes. Oh gods yes!" Gabrielle entwined her hands in Nym's silver-blue hair, tensing and bucking while the warrior's skillful tongue continued to stoke the fires within. It wasn't long before she was writhing around in an uncontrollable fit of passion, drenched in sweat, and barely able to breath. "Don't...stop..." she said through clenched teeth. "Gods, Nym...PLEASE!" Unable to contain the fiery sensations any longer, her body arched up one last time as she let out a jagged cry of passion and pleasure. She was still quivering and trying to catch her moments later, when Nym crawled up and kissed her on the shoulder.
"How do you feel?" the warrior asked quietly.
Gabrielle wiped her brow and moaned. "Better. Definitely better. I-I've never felt anything like that before. Is it ALWAYS like that?"
Nym shrugged. "If you're lucky. But, surely your husband..."
The bard shook her head. "No. Oh, I mean, Perdicus DID make me feel good, but not quite this. And, he never did, uhm...you know...with his tongue? I'd heard stories of course, especially while I was with the Amazons, but this was the real thing. It...you..." She sighed. "Incredible."
"I aim to please."
"You did. Believe me, you did." Gabrielle frowned. "But, what about you?"
The warrior turned her head. "What about me?"
Gabrielle peered deep into the warrior's green-gray eyes. "Nym, you made me feel SO good, and I want to help you feel this good too." She sighed. "Except, I-I don't know how. Will you help me?"
"Of course ." Nym pulled the bard in close to kiss her. "I'd be happy to..." She jerked her head around and her eyes narrowed as she glared at the door. "Uh oh."
"What?" Gabrielle looked around, she didn't see or hear anything. "What is it?"
The silver-haired warrior barely had a chance to grab one of the blankets by their feet and bring it across their nude bodies before the tent flap was thrown open. Xena stormed inside, wearing her leathers but not her armor, teeth clenched in anger. As soon as she saw the two figures together in bed, watching her, a noticeable change came over the warrior's face; from concern and surprise back to her usual stoic neutrality.
"Oh. Ahem." Xena cleared her throat, her gaze moving past Nym to focus on Gabrielle. "When I woke up, and realized you hadn't come back to our tent, I-I got worried."
Gabrielle shrugged. "Well, as you see Xena, I'm fine." She put her arm around Nym's shoulders and the silver-haired warrior gave her a nervous smile. "In fact, I feel better than I have in a long time."
"Yeah. Uh...okay." Xena spun around and slipped out of the tent.
Nym followed the warrior with her eyes, remorse and concern etched on her face, then she slid out of bed and reached for her clothes. "Umm...Gabrielle? I think we should go after her."
"Why?" the bard asked. She patted the bed beside her and smiled.
"Because she, that is we...oh gods." The silver-haired warrior lowered her eyes for a moment. "Gabrielle, there is something I guess I should have told you before I allowed us to get so close..."
Xena rushed back to their tent, throwing on her armor and weapons while fighting back tears. "Gods! What is wrong with me? Gabrielle is a grown woman, she has the right to do whatever she wants...to BE with whomever she wants." The warrior's face fell. "But why couldn't she want ME?!" When she had seen the two of them together and felt the pangs of jealousy in her heart, Xena had first thought it was because of Nym, because of that night by the creek. But now she knew the truth, and it scared her.
It pained her to see--to even imagine--Gabrielle being with anyone else. Far more than any injury she had ever received on any battlefield. Xena thought she might be able to live without ever making love to Gabrielle, but to lose the bard to someone else was too much to bear. When Gabrielle had left her to go to the Athens Academy, a part of the warrior had gone with her, in spirit if nothing else. The same thing happened when she decided the two of them needed some time apart after a near-fatal hesitation in battle and returned to Poteidaia. But of course, the worst by far was when Gabrielle chose to marry Perdicus, ending their partnership, their friendship. Hunting down Callisto and her men was a welcome distraction after that, because Xena had known if she ever let herself acknowledge what Gabrielle really meant to her the loss would have been unbearable. Now she wondered if she was going to have to go through that heartache again.
"NO! Damn it to Hades, I promised myself I wouldn't do this!" She took a deep breath, and shook her head. "I can't deal with this right now. I can't! I have to clear my head." The warrior turned on her heel, and stomped out of the tent.
Hercules gripped a corner of the stage in one hand, his muscles barely even flexing in spite of the tremendous weight he held several feet off the ground. He used the other to pass tools back and forth to Iolaus, who was at the moment underneath, repairing a support which had mysteriously given way. It was just the latest in a series of such incidents, which had--he was beginning to realize--begun the day he and Iolaus arrived to help with the festival. If there was one thing the son of Zeus did not believe in, it was coincidences.
"Are you done yet?" he grumbled.
"Why?" Iolaus peeked his head out from under the stage and smiled. "You getting tired?"
Hercules frowned. "Just hurry up, would you? I'm starting to get a bad feeling about all this."
"You don't think it's..." Iolaus recognized the stern look on his friend's face and nodded. "Right." He slid back under the stage. "Be done in a minute."
From the corner of his eye, Hercules detected movement. He shifted the weight of the stage to his other hand, and turned his head. Someone was doing back-flips in the area they had cordoned off for foot races, and it took him only a moment to recognize..."Xena!"
In mid-air she changed direction, covering the distance between them in a matter of seconds. "Yiyiyiyiii!" She landed beside him with ease. "Hercules."
"Are you okay?" He noticed her bronzed skin was soaked with perspiration and she actually had to catch her breath. "Looks like you've been pushing yourself pretty hard."
Xena shrugged. "Personal problems. Nothing you need to worry about." She arched an eyebrow. "Besides, it looks like you've got some weighty issues of your own to deal with. What happened?"
"Fixing the stage. The support broke."
Iolaus climbed out from under the stage, holding the support he had replaced. One end of it was jagged. "Uh, think again, Herc. I took another look, this thing was cut."
"Sabotage?" Xena asked.
Iolaus nodded. "Looks like it. Oh, you can put it down now, Herc." "Right. Stand back." Hercules carefully released the stage, then reached for the support. His jaw tightened. "I was afraid of this. Xena, there's been a lot of this kind of thing the last couple of days. Iphicles and I have done our best to keep it quiet in order to preserve the festival, but if this keeps up, sooner or later someone's actually going to be hurt by one of these 'accidents'. Stay on the look-out, would you?"
Xena crossed her arms. "Okay. But why do I get the feeling you already know who's behind this?"
"Let's just say I've got an idea." Hercules raised his head, seeing something behind Xena, and got a wry smile on his face. "By any chance, did you and Gabrielle have a fight?"
"Why do you ask?" He nodded, prompting her to turn and see Gabrielle approaching, staff in hand. Nym was right behind her, but refused to meet anyone's gaze. "Uh oh."
"Xena." Gabrielle's voice was quiet as she stared blankly up at the warrior. "We need to talk." Before she was able to say another word, a deafening clap of thunder caused them all to look skyward.
An unnaturally dense mass of swirling gray clouds took shape directly overhead in an otherwise clear sky. In the center of the formation, a pair of huge, feather-like green eyes appeared. The thunder cracked again and the eyes seemed to vanish, but the clouds remained.
Hercules' face contorted with a mixture of anger and disgust. "Hera."
Without warning, men in black, red and green body armor seemed to pour out of every booth around them. A dozen of them in all, each wielding broadswords, they laughed and howled and chanted Hera's name while they surrounded the five heroes.
Xena unsheathed her sword. "What does Hera have against this festival of yours?"
"It's not the festival," Hercules replied. "It's me."
Iolaus drew his sword, while Gabrielle and Nym readied their weapons as well. "Yeah. Herc and I only manage to make it back every couple of years. Otherwise, she doesn't bother."
Xena twirled the sword in her hand and smiled. "Well, this should be fun. Still, she must be losing her touch if she thinks these punks are any match for US."
Another crack of thunder seemed to disavow Xena's protest. It was followed, an instant later, by a monstrous bolt of lightning which struck a nearby weapon's booth. They averted their eyes as it was engulfed in flames, and when they turned back, an inhuman figure was taking shape in the very center of the inferno. It just stood there for a moment, either not caring about or simply oblivious to the heat and flame they could feel even from such a distance, then approached with a slow, almost unsteady gait.
Hercules, Xena and Iolaus all had the same reaction, at the same time.
It was humanoid, but not even remotely human. The body and legs had been forged from a seemingly random fusion of various armors, while the arms were solid wood. Instead of hands, it had two massive battle-axes, and though it was wearing a horned helmet it had neither head nor face. Within the darkness beneath it glowed two crimson orbs, which looked suspiciously like eyes.
"Just had to go and tick off the goddess, didn't you?" said Iolaus.
Hercules cracked his knuckles. "You guys take care of Hera's goon squad." He stepped forward. "Metal-head over there is all mine." As he approached the metal giant, the armored warriors apparently took that as their cue to raise their weapons and attack.
Xena twirled her sword as the first group of men arrived. She desperately wanted to make certain Gabrielle was all right, but she did not have time, and deep down, she knew the bard could take care of herself. Besides, as much as it pained her to admit it, Nym was also there to be of help to Gabrielle. Distracted, she almost too late sensed an oncoming attack and raised her sword just in time to parry several thrusts to her chest. Her eyes narrowed as she realized just how close she had come to actually being struck, and what--or more precisely who-- was the cause.
"Ayiyiyiyiyiyiii!" Xena leaped over her three attackers and came down behind them with an angry grin on her face. Envy wasn't an emotion the warrior princess was in the habit of responding to, and knowing Gabrielle was choosing Nym over her just made it worse. She almost felt sorry for her opponents. Almost.
Iolaus was dealing with three attackers of his own, and did so in his own unique style.
He easily parried two sword thrusts and ducked to avoid a third, sweeping a leg out to keep the men trying to surround him off-balance. Laughing, he somersaulted forward to knock one of the men's feet out from under, he even brought his sword up to stab at the man as he fell. Such a maneuver left him momentarily weaponless, but not helpless, as the other two charged him.
Still smiling, the wiry warrior rolled backwards and kicked both feet up into their stomachs. Both men doubled over, unable to breath, and that gave Iolaus time to choose his next move.
Gabrielle and Nym stood back to back in order to fight off two opponents each.
The silver-haired warrior parried against the swords of her attackers with apparent ease. Her face was stern as her nightstrike became little more than a blur. One blade pierced the armor and cut deep into the chest of one of the men, knocking him off his feet. She twirled the weapon in her hand and swung it down on the blade wielded by the second man, breaking it right above the hilt.
The bard, on the other hand, was having more trouble with her opponents-- especially since she seemed to be trying to cry and fight at the same time. She knocked away several sword thrusts with her staff, and hesitated a moment to wipe her eyes, during which time another sword managed to penetrate her defenses. To avoid it, she leaped back, unfortunately hitting Nym in the process.
"By Athena!" Taken by surprise, the silver-haired warrior stumbled forward, losing her grip on the nightstrike in the process. It flew out of her hands, and--in following it with her eye--she invariably left her attacker with an opening he couldn't refuse. Tossing aside his now useless sword, he drew a knife from his belt and charged the momentarily distracted warrior.
Xena stuck her sword into the back of one of Hera's warrior's, then leapt straight up in the air and kicked the other two men in the head. All three went down at virtually the same time, but the one she had run through still had her sword imbedded deep in his lifeless body.
Iolaus chose not to retrieve his sword at the moment. Instead, he leaped at his two attackers, throwing his full weight into both of them at once. They both stumbled as the wiry warrior threw his legs around one man's head and snapped his neck, while punching the other repeatedly in the face.
Gabrielle swung her staff as hard as she could, striking both of her attackers in the face. They were both spun around by the sheer force of the impact and, even as they collapsed, she turned to apologize to Nym for having bumped into her moments before. Her eyes widened as she saw the man with the dagger. "NYM!"
Both Xena and Iolaus turned as they heard the bard's shrill cry. Neither of them was in any position to help at the moment; he was unarmed and Gabrielle was in the way of her chakram.
Nym snapped back to reality when she heard someone calling her name. Her eyes focused and she saw a man in red body armor rushing her, wielding a dagger, and she sighed. "Oh please." The silver-haired warrior simply ducked to avoid the clumsy swing, then brought her feet together around the man's right ankle. She laughed as the man's foot snapped and he lost his balance, then slammed face-first into her upcoming punch fist with such force that he was actually knocked unconscious. "Amateur."
"Thanks the gods." Gabrielle appeared at Nym's side, and helped her stand. "Are you all right?"
Nym pulled the bard close, and kissed her. "Yes." She smiled. "Thanks to you."
Iolaus approached, clearing his throat. "Uh, ladies? I don't think it's time to celebrate just yet."
"He's right." Xena--who was trying her best to get the image of Nym kissing Gabrielle out of her mind--came to their side as well. She nodded. "Look."
Hercules was standing face to face with the armor creature. It had swung both monstrous axe-hands down at him in an attempt to cleave him in two, an effort which likely would have been effective, had it's intended victim been anyone but the son of Zeus. As it happened, Hercules simply caught the creature's wooden arms, blocking the death-blow. However, he soon realized that it was even stronger than he expected--for even though it wasn't able to bring it's axes down any further, he could not push them any further up or away either.
Iolaus shook his head. "Oh, this is not good. Herc's in trouble, we have to DO something."
"Like what?" asked Nym. "Hercules is a demigod. If he can't handle that... that...whatever it is, what chance do we have against it?"
"Well I'm sure as Hades not going to just stand here and watch!" said Xena. She took her sword in one hand, and chakram in the other. "Coming, Iolaus?"
"You bet." He reached for his sword. "But somebody should keep an eye on Hera's goons, just in case one of wakes up from his nap early."
Xena nodded. "Think you could handle that, Nym?"
The silver-haired warrior sneered at her, but said nothing. "I'll help her," said Gabrielle.
"Figures," Xena mumbled. She twirled her sword. "Come on, Iolaus!"
Hercules heard the familiar battle cry, and turned his head to see Xena and Iolaus were heading his way. "Ah, here comes the cavalry!" Straining, the demigod managed to force the armor-thing's arms up just enough to get back to his feet, and then he smiled. "You know what? I've always wondered if armor could fly!" He leaped into the air and braced both feet against the thing's stomach, at the same time pulling back on it's arms with all of his god-spawned strength. Off-balance, it was unable to maintain it's footing, and flipped head over heels, twisting and turning wildly through the air, before it finally landed hard on it's back. Even the demigod was a little out of breath from the effort as he struggled to his feet and raised his head. "The axes!" he roared. "You've got to take out it's weapons!"
Without hands, the armor-thing was unable to push itself up. It rolled back and forth, without a sound, trying to regain footing so it could continue the attack. Xena and Iolaus recognized the thing's predicament, heard the advice from Hercules and readied their weapons at the same time. Iolaus wrapped both hands around the hilt of his sword and struck the thing's arm at the base of it's axe, slicing clean through the wood. Xena, meanwhile, let her chakram fly. It whistled through the air and pierced the head of the axe itself, sending up a shower of sparks as it rebounded off a booth and destroyed the axe with a second blow as it returned to her hand.
It continued to struggle wildly, to swing it's arms and kick it's feet even though there was certainly no way for it to get back to it's feet now. Xena and Iolaus went to finish the thing off but Hercules stopped them both with a firm hand on the shoulder. "Uhh, thanks for the help guys. But I think I can take it from here." He approached the armor-thing with a smile on his face. "You just don't know when to quit do you?" The son of Zeus drew his foot back and kicked the thing's helmet-head, ripping it clear off the rest of the body, and sending the crumpled metal rocketing towards the distant horizon.
Iolaus whistled. "Nice kick, Herc."
"Yeah." Xena nodded. "All the way back to Olympus."
Hercules shrugged. "Thanks anyway, Hera," he said as the rest of the thing's armored body collapsed, losing it's magical animation and returning to it's original components.
Gabrielle and Nym both smiled. "They did it!" the bard cried. "They beat the monster!"
The silver-haired warrior nodded. "Indeed, they make quite a team." She looked around. "Say, what happened to my nightstrike?" A flash of metal caught her eye, and she found the weapon laying in a pile of hay and grass nearby. "Ah hah!" She was just about to retrieve it when she heard movements, and turned again to see one of Hera's men getting to his feet. He had drawn a dagger from his boot, and was preparing to throw it at Gabrielle's unprotected back. "No!" Without stopping to think about any other courses of action, she raced straight at the man, yelling at the top of her lungs. "Gabrielle, LOOK OUT!"
Hearing her name the bard turned, but made the mistake of looking at Nym first and too late seeing the danger to her person. The man pitched the dagger, obviously intent on killing Gabrielle, but Nym threw her body out in front of the blade first. It struck her chest, imbedded to the hilt--and she crumpled to the ground, blood pouring down the front of her armor. Even as she was hit Xena's chakram whistled through the air, struck the man's face and knocked him off his feet, but it was too late.
"NOOO!" Gabrielle screamed, dropping to her knees beside the warrior. Hercules and Xena rushed to her side while Iolaus dashed off, mumbling something about a healer. "Gods...not again!" Tears poured down the bard's face as she gently caressed a paling cheek. "Nym? Oh gods no! No, don't do this to me. Nym please don't leave me! Please! Nym?"
The silver-haired warrior's eyes fluttered open. "G-Gab...Gabrie...?"
"Don't talk," the bard whispered. "Save your strength. The healer will be here soon."
Nym barely managed to shake her head. "N-No....too late...for that. Gabrielle..." Her voice was growing weaker with each passing moment. "Will you...do something...for me...?"
Fighting the urge to argue, to scream at her to fight, the bard nodded. "Of course, Nym. Anything ."
"Take...take me home. Please." Nym coughed up blood.
Xena and Hercules glanced at each other, both recognized the signs. It would not be long.
"North. Map, in pouch...shows way..." She looked up at the heart-broken bard, and for one last shining moment her green-gray eyes were crystal clear. "Gabrielle, you are beautiful." She was smiling as her head rolled to one side. "...so...beautiful..."
Gabrielle stared vacantly for a moment, almost as if she was unable to accept what she was seeing, while tears of sorrow poured freely down her face. Finally, hesitantly, she crouched and pressed her cheek to Nym's as the warrior's life drained away. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm so sorry." Xena and Hercules stepped back to give the bard her privacy, and to head off Iolaus and the healer as they approached. "If it hadn't been for me...maybe you would still be alive. Gods, why? WHY?!"
Eventually, Gabrielle relaxed enough to permit Hercules and Iolaus to take care of Nym's body, while Xena led the bard back to their tent. She refused either food or drink, yet when offered a kind ear she cried on Xena's shoulder for hours, until she finally succumbed to exhaustion. The bard's slumber was troubled, she shook and gasped, occasionally crying out for Nym, Xena, Perdicus and even her sister Lila. And, each time that it seemed the nightmares had passed they would return--worse than before. It took all the self-control the warrior had not to wake her friend, offer her comfort and support.
Xena stood in one corner of the tent, watching her friend with unabashed sympathy and love in her eyes. She even started to cry once, but as soon as the tear started to roll down her cheek the warrior heard a gentle knock at the tent door. She quickly wiped her eyes, and--with another glance to make sure Gabrielle was all right--then she slipped outside to speak to Hercules.
"It's all set," he said quietly. "Nym's body is embalmed, and has been placed in a coffin. But, are you sure that you and Gabrielle want to travel all that way alone? Xena I checked out that map she was talking about, and it's nearly a weeks travel north of here."
"You heard Nym. It was her last wish." Xena crossed her arms. "I know Gabrielle. Even if I tried to tell her that it was too dangerous, she'd insist on going anyway. She'd even go alone if she had to."
Hercules nodded. "You're right. Iolaus told me how determined she was to get your body back to Amphipolis that time he found her on the road. Well, this certainly isn't the best of circumstances, but at least you two get a chance to be alone. You know, to talk about...whatever."
Xena arched an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"Come on, you can't lie to ME. I've seen the way you look at her, the way you act when she's around. You are in love with Gabrielle, aren't you Xena?"
"I...that's ridiculous." She turned her back in order to hide the tears welling up in her eyes. "You're just seeing things, Hercules. One too many blows to the head."
"Okay fine, deny it all you want. But, like my little sister Aphrodite used to say...love wins out. Sooner or later Xena, you're going to have to admit it to yourself. Of course that's the easy part." Hercules smiled. "Cause then you'll have to admit it to Gabrielle."
"NOOO!" Gabrielle woke abruptly, eyes wide and gasping for air. She sat up in bed and ran her fingers through her hair, her brow furrowing as she tried to deal with all the myriad emotions she was feeling. It took several moments of calm for the bard to realize that something was not quite right about her surroundings; it was quieter and colder than it should be, and she looked around to find the tent was gone. Instead, her bed seemed to be sitting in the middle of an otherwise dark, empty mist- filled cave.
"What in Hades?" she asked as she slid out of the bed.
"Exactly." A black-clad figure appeared from the mist behind her, causing the bard to jump, and he didn't look happy. "I really hate interruptions. Persephone and I were just about to sit down to dinner."
"Hades." Gabrielle felt all of the blood draining from her face. "Oh gods. Am I...dead?"
The god of the underworld shook his head. "Hardly. You're asleep. Didn't Xena ever tell you dreams are a fine line between the real world and the underworld?"
"Yes, now that you mention it, I think I remember her mentioning something about it." Gabrielle felt a chill, not that she was actually cold, and rubbed her arms. "So, what can I do for you?"
"Actually, it's what I can do for you." Hades snapped his fingers and a doorway of light appeared in a nearby cave wall. "There is someone here who wants to talk to you, Gabrielle. She refuses to allow herself to be judged until she does, so can we just get this over with?"
Gabrielle turned. "But who..." She gasped as a familiar figure emerged from the light. "Nym!" The silver-haired warrior looked just as she remembered, even down to the dagger sticking out of her chest. "Gods, what are you doing here? You should be in the Elyssian Fields by now."
"Like I told Hades, not until you and I have a talk." Nym glared at Hades. "Do you mind?"
"What? It is my realm." Both women gave him a dirty look, and the god of the underworld sighed. "All right, I can cut you some slack, but don't take too long. Even I can only stretch the rules so far." Hades stepped back into the mists and vanished.
Nym smiled. "Ah, a little privacy for a change." She approached Gabrielle, looking down when she realize that the bard's eyes were focused on her chest. Or rather the hilt of the dagger sticking out of it. "Oh." She removed the bloodless dagger and tossed it aside. "Sorry. Until you're assigned a final resting place down here you tend to remain in whatever condition you were in when you died."
Gabrielle seemed to recover at least a bit of her composure and hugged the warrior. "You've only been gone a few hours, and I already miss you terribly."
"I know." Nym caressed the bard's cheek, and smiled. "I've been listening to your thoughts. Thank you." She took a step back, and her face fell. "But, there is something you and I need to discuss Gabrielle, and it has to do with your misplaced feelings."
Gabrielle couldn't believe what she was hearing. She shook her head. "Misplaced? Nym...what are you talking about, what are you saying? We are, were, as close as two people could be. We made love for Zeus' sake!" She was almost in tears again. "If you can really hear my thoughts..."
The silver-haired warrior gripped her friend's shoulder. "Gabrielle, this may be hard for you to understand, but I can see so much more now. I've looked deep into your heart, your soul, I know all of the love and compassion you have inside you. And as much as you might like to believe otherwise, it's not meant for me." Nym held up a hand to silence the bard's protests. "Don't get me wrong. I know you care about me, and I appreciate that...but I also know something else. You are destined to be with another, Gabrielle."
"What? I-I don't..." Feeling a sudden rush of warmth, Gabrielle looked around. Everything around her seemed to be growing darker, more transparent. "What's going on? What's happening?"
Nym lowered her head. "I had hoped we'd have longer, but our time is past." She was becoming as ethereal as her surroundings. "Good-bye, Gabrielle. I will miss you."
"Nym!" Gabrielle reached out, but her hand passed right through the warrior's. "NO!"
"NOOOOO!" Gabrielle woke suddenly, a second time, her lungs tight from screaming. She tried to sit up, but felt something holding her down. She turned her head to see a hand gently gripping her shoulder, and followed it up an arm to a dark, worried and wonderfully familiar face. "Xena?"
The warrior sat down on the edge of the bed and nodded. "Of course. Didn't I tell you, last night, that I would always be here for you?" She swept a stray lock of red-blond hair out of the bard's face, and smiled. "That must have been some nightmare you were having. Want to talk about it?"
"No." Gabrielle put a hand to her heart, which she could feel beating overtime. "At least, not yet."
The bard was noticeably sullen and withdrawn over the next several days. She refused to leave their tent for more than a few minutes at a time, and even then only to eat or bathe. If she was approached or spoken to she replied as succinctly as possible before returning to whatever she was doing before. Hercules, Iolaus, Senticles and even Homer came to see her at one time or another, but even though she was as polite as possible to each of them, they always left feeling sadder and more sympathetic than when they had arrived. The only person she would really ever talk to was Xena, and even around the warrior Gabrielle was unusually quiet; she spent virtually every waking moment studying maps, in order to find the best route to take Nym's body home. It was, Xena feared, becoming an obsession.
One morning, the third after Nym's death, Gabrielle abruptly emerged from the tent.
Ignoring virtually everyone and everything else in her path, she strode determinedly across the fair ground to the farewell bonfire, and found the three warrior's. She approached quietly, so as not to disturb them, and heard only the last part of their heated conversation. "...in that area Xena," Hercules was saying. "I'm just telling you to be careful, that's all."
"I appreciate the warning," Xena replied. She finished cleaning her sword and sheathed it. "Really. But I think we can both take care of ourselves. Okay?"
Hercules shrugged. "Whatever you say, Xena."
"Excuse me." Gabrielle cleared her throat as her friend's all leaped to their feet. "I don't mean to interrupt, but I was just wondering when you wanted to leave?"
"I told you, this afternoon." Xena smiled. "By the way, Hercules offered us the use of one of his family's plow horses to help take Nym's body home. Right?"
Hercules nodded. "I figured it would be easier on Argo. Besides, plow horses are used to carrying the kind of weight, and walking long distances. When you get to wherever Nym is from, you can keep the horse, or sell her and keep the dinars if you want. We've got plenty of both."
Gabrielle walked up to Hercules and threw her arms around his waist. "Thank you." The son of Zeus returned the embrace carefully, almost hesitantly, glancing at Xena and Iolaus. "I really appreciate this, Hercules, and I'm sure if she were here...Nym would too."
"You're, uh, welcome, Gabrielle. It's the least we could do."
After a few moments the bard stepped back and wiped her eye. "Now uhm, if you don't mind, I think I'm going to check Nym's sarcophagus, make sure it's ready to travel and all..." She started away, but didn't get more than a few steps before Xena grabbed her arm. She frowned.
"Would you excuse us?" the warrior said to her friends. Hercules and Iolaus glanced at each other, shrugged, and then walked away. Xena turned back and lay both her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. "Look, I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life, but don't you think you're going a little overboard here?"
"What?" Gabrielle pulled away and shook her head. "What are you talking about Xena? You're the one who's always telling me I have to grieve when I've suffered a loss. Well, that's what I'm doing. I lost Nym, and now I'm grieving for her. So what's the problem?"
Xena nodded. "Yes, but there's grieving and then there's obsession. Gabrielle, I know you cared about Nym, I did too. But, this just isn't healthy." She touched her friend's arm, and felt her heart skip a beat when she pulled away. "I know you don't want to hear this...but Nym is dead. She's crossed over to the other side, and until you die, you are not going to see her again." Gabrielle started shaking her head. "We'll take her body home because it was her last request, but Nym is gone, and you have to prepare to move on with your life."
"You're wrong, Xena. You're SO wrong." Gabrielle glared up at the warrior. "I HAVE seen her!" She moved so her face was only inches from Xena's, the warrior clearly stunned by her outburst. "Remember that dream? That one I had right after Nym died? It was no dream, it was real. I went down to the underworld, I spoke to Nym and Hades the same way you spoke with Callisto and Ares!"
The warrior's eyes widened. "Gabrielle...when you saw Nym, what did she say?"
"Oh no, don't you talk to me in that tone of voice."
"What are you talking about?"
Gabrielle frowned. "That 'I'm going to humor her for now' voice. If you don't want to believe me that's fine, but it happened. It was REAL! I could feel the cold, the death all around me. I felt Hades' presence and what's more, I touched Nym. We were together again, and she told me..."
Xena arched an eyebrow. "Yes?" The bard lowered her head. "What did she tell you?"
"Nothing. Never mind, it's not that important." Gabrielle looked around. "Like I said before, I'm going to check on Nym's sarcophagus. Why don't you saddle Argo? You know, get her ready to ride?" Without another word, she turned and walked away, leaving Xena watching her, wide-eyed.
They set out later that afternoon. After saying good-bye to Hercules and Iolaus, Xena climbed into Argo's saddle, and to her dismay she found Gabrielle had already started down the road. She was leading the horse Hercules had lent them--a big red mare-- which was easily pulling Nym's sarcophagus behind her. The warrior nudged Argo forward and quickly caught up to her friend, to find the bard staring at the ground, unwilling to meet her gaze.
Over the course of the day's journey, the overwhelming silence began to have an affect on Xena. As much as Gabrielle's oft incessant chatter used to annoy her--in their first few months together, she had come close to throttling the bard on more than one occasion--she had slowly grown accustomed to hearing it, even if she was not really listening. In fact, as night fell and the two of them set up camp, in silence of course, the warrior finally came to realize just how much she missed the bard's lovely voice.
Gabrielle talkative, peace-loving nature had subtly had an effect on the otherwise stoic Xena. In the two years they had been together, the warrior came to find herself smiling and laughing more, and in general just enjoying the world around her, than at any other time she could remember. Very few people had ever had a similar impact on her, and not all for the better either; Lyceus--her youngest brother and the first great joy in her life, Cortese--the destroyer of Amphipolis who darkened her heart, Caesar--the Roman soldier who'd conquered her mind and body, and almost her soul, M'Lila-- the beautiful Gaelic woman who had died while trying to save Xena from her own darkness, and of course Hercules--the son of Zeus, who helped her find her way back.
Yet none of them even came close to occupying as much of her mind and her heart, as Gabrielle. Her fantasies of making love to the bard aside, Xena was often shocked--and even frightened at times--by just how important Gabrielle was to her. Often, whenever they were preparing to go into battle, she imagined something happening to Gabrielle in spite of her best efforts, and the thought tore her heart to shreds. In fact, she was convinced that if anything ever did happen to her best friend, if Gabrielle ever did die, a part of her would die with the bard and travel with her to the other side.
As much as it had hurt Xena to see Gabrielle with Perdicus, and later with Nym, a part of her realized the most important thing was that her friend was happy. She desperately wished the bard could find that happiness with HER, but even if that never happened she just wanted to see Gabrielle smile, or laugh, again. It was bad enough knowing that one day she might leave--sooner or later, for good--but seeing her so sad and withdrawn was just as bad, if not worse.
Shaking her head, the warrior blinked away a few stray tears and glanced across the fire at Gabrielle. The bard was sitting with her back against Nym's sarcophagus, with a blank scroll on her lap, but didn't seem particularly interested in writing. In fact, she hadn't written anything since Nym died, and now she had her eyes closed and her head was laying back. She almost appeared to be meditating.
Xena took a moment to simply sit and study at her friend. She smiled. Gabrielle was beautiful.
Of course, even back in Poteidaia when they first met she had been attractive, but she merely thought Gabrielle cute. But the bard had done a lot of growing up these past two years, shedding that awkward, child- like naiveté she had once had, to ultimately become the strong-willed, compassionate young woman she was today. During their travels the two of them had seen much death and violence and yet--Gabrielle somehow managed to remain so wonderfully pure at heart. Perhaps not as much so as she had been, but Xena felt a little better knowing that there was at least one good person left in the world.
Xena sighed, then leaned forward and took a freshly-cooked quail off the spit. She placed a few of the smaller pieces on a platter and slowly approached her friend. The warrior was loath to disturb Gabrielle--who looked so peaceful--but she had skipped breakfast, and had barely touched her lunch. Given her well-known appetite, this was practically fasting, and she was determined to see Gabrielle got something in her stomach. "Hey, don't you think you should eat something? It's been a long day." When the bard didn't move or respond, Xena kneeled in front of her friend, and gently reached out to touch her shoulder. "Gabrielle?"
"Wha...?!" Startled, the bard jumped so forcefully that she sent the scroll flying right out of her lap. But Xena, reacting as quickly as ever, caught it with her free hand.
"I'm sorry," the warrior said quietly as she handed it back. "Did I startle you?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No. I-I mean yes, I guess. A little." She took a deep breath. "Ah." The bard put her scroll aside and accepted the proffered platter. "Thanks, I am kind of..." Her eyes widened when a familiar scent wafted up to her nose. "Hey, did you use some of Nym's herbs?"
Xena nodded. "I hope you don't mind. I remembered how much you liked it." She smiled. "I just hope you still like it after you try this."
"I'm sure you did just fine." Gabrielle took a bite of the meat, and her eyes lit up. "Xena, it's good!" She took a second bite. "In fact, it's great. You followed Nym's recipe, didn't you?"
"Yes, it was easy." Xena brushed a lock of hair out of her face. "You even write recipes well."
Gabrielle shrugged. "Thanks...but it was Nym's recipe. All I did was write it down like she told me." She stared down at her plate as she ate, silently and suddenly ending their conversation.
Xena stared at the bard for a moment, then got up and returned to her own side of the fire.
The next several days passed without incident, and they got into a comfortable--if quiet--routine. Up at dawn, travel with as few breaks as possible until dusk, then set up camp for the night, and repeat sequence over again the next day. Each time they did stop to rest or water the horses, often at her own insistence, Xena would try to try to start up a conversation-- but always with little or no success. She could see Gabrielle sinking deeper and deeper into her self-imposed depression, but the warrior knew without more cooperation on the bard's part they would continue to grow further apart.
The fifth day of the nearly week long journey started much the same as all the others. They rose with the sun, ate a modest breakfast, then traveled almost nonstop until mid-day. After a brief and silent lunch, they got back on the road once again. Xena took up the lead on Argo, stopping occasionally to let Gabrielle catch up, and the warrior to try a few more attempts at futile dialogue. She had pulled back on Argo's reins and was about to try it again when something caught the edge of warrior's attention.
A short distance behind, leading the plow horse by it's own reins, Gabrielle saw Xena stop suddenly and jerk her head up. She recognized the signs and instantly her other hand tightened around her staff as she hurried to the warrior's side. "What is it?"
"Trouble." Xena rolled out of Argo's saddle and drew her sword. "We're surrounded." Her dazzling blue eyes narrowed, as men in tattered gray and black armor leapt onto the road in front and behind them, eight of them in all. They each carried swords or clubs, and were trying to make intimidating noises. The warrior shook her head as she gave them the once over and quickly determined the men were little more than common bandits, out to try and make a dinar. Hardly worth the time or effort. "Look fellas, I'm really not in the mood and the odds aren't all that fair anyway...so why don't you get some more men and we'll catch you on the way back?"
"GET THEM!" one of the men roared, and the others did as they were told.
Gabrielle tossed away the plow horses' reins and readied her staff. "Oh good, STUPID bandits!"
Xena twirled her sword and nodded. "The best kind."
In spite of the difficulties they'd been having recently, and the emotional distance that seemed to be growing between them, Xena and Gabrielle still fought as one. For every sword thrust and club swing she parried, Xena knocked another man back toward Gabrielle, who incapacitated him with her staff. Gabrielle, in turned, knocked the feet out from under several men, and would occasionally send a particularly ornery one Xena's way so that the warrior could take care of him. As a result it was all over in a matter of moments.
"Nice moves, girls." Xena and Gabrielle spun around--both having momentarily forgotten about the apparent leader of the bandits, the man who had given the order to attack--and were stunned to find him standing on top of Nym's sarcophagus. He was holding a torch. "Now...I don't know who you've got in the box here, and I don't really care either. Unless you want 'em both prematurely cremated, I suggest you drop the weapons!"
Warrior and bard glanced at one another, each waiting to see what the other would do. "NOW!" Finally--reluctantly--Xena's sword hit the ground. Gabrielle dropped her staff as well, and the man started to laugh. But, as Xena shifted her heels in order to get in a slightly better position, the sunlight glinted off the chakram on her hip. The man's face grew angry once again. "That thing too, lady!"
Xena gave the bandit her most innocent smile as she unlaced the chakram and held it up. "Oh you mean THIS old thing? It's just a harmless toy I'm taking to my nephew."
"Yeah." The man snorted. "Get rid of it, or else!" Xena shrugged. "Okay, I never liked it much anyway." She eyed the trees around the man for a moment, then spun around and tossed it off towards her right. "There, how's that?"
"Think you're cute, don't you?! I ought to..." His eyes widened as he heard a strange whistling sound. "What in Ares's name?!" As he turned his head the man saw the chakram bouncing off a nearby tree, an instant before it blasted the torch out of his hand. "Oh for the love of Zeus!" He lost his balance and fell off the sarcophagus, but still managed to twist around to land near the torch at the last moment.
Xena's smiled as she caught the returning chakram, and leaped into the air. "Ayiyiyiyiyiyiyiii!" Her mid-air flip brought her down right in front of the man. One boot heel came down on the torch, preventing him from getting hold of it, while the other landed on his hand. There was a loud crunching sound as the man lurched back, face going bone-white as he howled in pain. "Didn't your mother ever warn you about playing with fire?"
Stumbling back to his feet the man turned and bolted away, several of the others--who had since regained consciousness, following his lead. She kicked dirt onto the torch, extinguishing it, then turned back to the bard as she sheathed her sword. "You get burned."
Gabrielle nodded. "Nice move, Xena."
The warrior shrugged her shoulders. "It's all in a days work."
Gabrielle was in remarkably lighter spirits for the rest of the day.
She answered --albeit using as few words as possible--when the warrior spoke to her, and once or twice could be seen sporting a brief smile on her face after Xena's all too infrequent attempts as humor. But as night fell, the bard's inner darkness seemed to descend along with it. She stopped responding to Xena, retreating into herself once again shortly after dinner. Eventually, she said goodnight, then curled up in a blanket by the fire and sank into a fitful slumber.
She opened her eyes, momentarily confused, and then looked around to find herself standing in the middle of a seemingly endless sea of tall green grass. Flowers of every imaginable size, shape, and color bloomed nearby, while trees held flowers as well a variety of fruits. Off to the left a small waterfall fed into the crystal-blue waters of a bubbling brook, and birds chirped overhead as they soared through the azure sky.
Gabrielle smiled. "Mmm...what a wonderful dream."
"Not quite." She spun around, to see a figure in ebony armor glaring at her. "Welcome back."
"Hades?" Gabrielle frowned. "This isn't the same place you brought me to before. What's going on? What do you want from me this time?"
The god of the underworld crossed his arms. "That was the judgment area, where all mortal souls must await the decision for their final resting place. That's where your friend was the last time. It is also the easiest place to bring the living and the dead together."
"So, if THAT was the judgment area, then this must be..." Gabrielle gasped. "The Elyssian Fields! Of course, I thought it looked familiar." She turned. "But Hades, I don't understand. I realize you brought me here that first time because Nym's soul needed to be laid to rest. So why am I here now?"
"So I could help YOU." The lyrical, feminine voice did not come from the god, who stepped back as a swirling column of light appeared in front of Gabrielle. It coalesced, in moments, into a tall, silver-haired figure wearing a flowing white robe. Her green-gray eyes sparkled as she smiled. "Hello, Gabrielle."
The bard gasped again. "Nym?! Y-You're...beautiful..."
"Thank you." Nym spread her arms as she looked around. "But, this place is truly beautiful. It is far more than you could possibly imagine Gabrielle. In fact, I have barely begun to look around, and it makes me wonder what I ever saw in life. Then I remember, my friend." She stepped forward and lay her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders, sending a tingle through the bard's body. "This may be hard for you to hear Gabrielle, but you have to get past my death. I am gone, and you must get on with your life."
"No." Gabrielle pulled away, shaking her head and trying not to cry. "No! You sound just like Xena. How am I supposed to just forget you?! I-I cared about you Nym, SO much, it hurts."
"I know. Remember, I have seen into your heart, and I can hear your thoughts."
"Then, what is happening? You must know I..." The bard lowered her head. "I-I think I, loved you."
Nym seemed to glow as she smiled. "Dear, sweet Gabrielle. You have so much love inside you, just waiting to emerge. I am truly honored you would think to share some of it with me, and know that I shall treasure the times we shared for all eternity." She lowered her hands and sighed. "But, that time is past. You and I were not meant to be Gabrielle, your soul belongs to another."
"Who? I-I don't understand." Gabrielle peered deep into Nym's eyes, searching for an answer she wasn't sure she truly wanted to find. "WHO are you talking about? I don't know."
"Don't you?" Nym gently caressed the bard's cheek. "Forget about me for a moment, and look within yourself to see the truth there. Who is already a part of your heart, as you are of hers? Who is always at your side when you are scared? Or sad? Who would do anything to keep you safe, to protect you from the evils of the world? I think you already know the answer Gabrielle, you just have to be willing to admit it."
Hades came forward. "She's right." He'd been so quiet that had both forgotten the god was there. "She is also overstepping her boundaries, and I can not allow this to go any further. Last time was as much for Nym's benefit as much as your own Gabrielle, a fact I took into account during her judgment. But this time I have pushed the rules almost TOO far, and I have to stop now. So please, say your good-byes."
Nym took Gabrielle's hand and held it against her cheek as she smiled. "We WILL meet again, I swear, but not for a long, long time. You still have an important destiny to fulfill."
The bard pulled Nym close, and kissed her. "Thank you. I think I finally understand what you...what my heart has, deep-down, been trying to tell me for so long. But I'm still going to think about you."
"You'd better. Elyssia or not, it could get pretty lonely down here."
"Oh, you won't have to worry about THAT," said Hades. He waved his hand, and several figures appeared in front of them. An older, silver-haired woman wearing long white robes, and two young silver-haired boys in the leather-like armor of mock warriors. "No one is EVER alone in my Elyssian Fields." Nym's gasped, her eyes filling up with tears. "Mother? Asor? Kean?" She rushed forward and dropped to her knees, embracing all three at once. "Gods, I've missed you SO!"
Gabrielle wiped her own eyes as Hades stepped up behind her. "Good-bye..." he whispered.
The word continued to rattle around in Gabrielle's head as she woke, suddenly but silently.
It had an even deeper meaning, for the bard felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. All the grief and anxiety and fear which had been seething within her these last several days was gone.
Well, not GONE exactly, Gabrielle knew. It was still there, and no doubt would be for some time to come. But it no longer filled her heart and burned her soul, and for the first time in a long time she saw the truth. She realized at last that the most important person in her life, the person she loved more than any other, was not with Hades on the Other Side. She was laying right across the fire.
Gabrielle turned her head and gasped. "Xena." The warrior wasn't where she was supposed to be. Her bedroll WAS on the other side of the fire, but it was empty. What's more, it didn't even appear to have been slept on at all. "Xena?" Looking around, she was relieved to see that Argo and the other mare were still in their places, and the warrior's armor still lay in a pile by her bedroll. Wherever Xena was--she hadn't have gone far, and probably had not been gone for very long.
"Maybe she's off swimming or something..." the bard mumbled as she got to her feet. She remembered seeing a creek nearby when they set up camp, and Gabrielle knew that Xena preferred to swim at night when she could be reasonably assured of privacy. "I probably shouldn't disturb her." Once she had accidentally startled Xena as she was rising from the water, and had found promptly dunked for her troubles. "But, I feel like I'm going to just burst if I don't see her!"
Gabrielle reached for her staff, and headed off in the direction of the creek.
Xena lay on her back on top of the water, eyes closed and breathing shallow. She was naked, her shift lay in a discarded heap on the shore, right beside her sword. Both were in arms reach--just in case--but she was hoping neither would be necessary, because there was nothing quite as relaxing as meditating in water, she felt better, more relaxed, than she had in quite some time.
"Gods..." Watching Gabrielle helplessly as she dealt with her pain and sank deeper and deeper into despair, it was just too much. She desperately wanted to take the bard in her arms, to kiss her, and tell her she would make it better, but she also knew that was wishful thinking. Only Gabrielle could truly help Gabrielle. Still, knowing all of her vast fighting skills-- her weapons--were of no help to her friend was discouraging for the warrior. "I really wish I could do something for you, Gabrielle..."
"You already have," said a quiet voice from behind her.
Xena rolled around in the water, and reached for her sword. This was the second time she had allowed herself to get so distracted. "Oh." Gabrielle was standing on the bank near the weapon, carrying her staff and wearing only her shift.
"You're awake. Is something wrong?"
Smiling, Gabrielle shook her head. "Not at all. On the contrary." She dropped her staff, pulled off the shift and stepped into the water. "It's great." She lay her arms across the warrior's shoulders. "Just perfect. I am so sorry, for everything I've put you through recently."
Xena just licked her lips. She could feel Gabrielle's firm breasts pressing against her own, and the contact sent a rush of glorious heat flowing throughout her entire body. As she looked down into the bard's sparkling green eyes, and saw the love reflected there, she felt her heart skip a beat.
"What do you mean?" the warrior asked when she finally found her voice.
"Oh, Xena." Gabrielle lay her head on her friend's shoulder and sighed. "You're one in a million. Here I've been so awful to you lately; ignoring you when you try to talk to me and snapping at you for no reason, and yet you still treat me like I can do no wrong. I'm sorry, Xena."
The warrior shrugged. "Grief can make people do strange things, Gabrielle. Don't worry about it."
"But I do." The bard looked up into Xena's crystalline blue eyes, and she was mesmerized. "You're ALWAYS there for me Xena, through thick and thin, no matter what. Most people would have gotten rid of me a long time ago, yet you're here, by my side. Gods, how could I have been so blind?"
Xena frowned. "Blind? What do you mean?"
Gabrielle leaned up on her tip-toes, and kissed the warrior softly on the lips. "I love you, Xena."
"I...I..." Xena was too stunned to speak. She didn't trust herself to say anything right now anyway so--as any good warrior would do--she let her actions do the talking for her. "Yes." She wrapped her arms around the bard and kissed her passionately. The embrace lasted for several minutes, until Xena suddenly stopped, and pushed Gabrielle's body out to arms length. "Wait, stop."
The bard raised her head, hazel eyes widening in confusion. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Xena caressed the bard's cheek. "Gods, I have wanted this for SO long. But, I don't want you to rush into anything, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle shook her head. "I'm not, I swear. I love you Xena, I DO."
"I know. I love you too." Xena put her hands on the bard's shoulders. "Gabrielle, you're my friend. Maybe the best one I've ever had...and I don't want to do ANYTHING to risk ruining that. I can't lose you Gabrielle, I won't allow anything to come between us that way."
"What are you talking about Xena? I don't understand."
"I'm talking about making love. That IS where this...encounter is leading, right?" The bard shrugged. "Right. I care about you more than I ever have anyone else in my life. And I DO want us to be together Gabrielle, you do believe that, right?" All she got in response was a nod, the bard seemed held fast by her every word. "But if we do this, everything changes. Understand? We could never go to what we were before, we could never JUST be friends again. Right or wrong, good or bad, that's it."
Gabrielle smiled. "If I didn't know any better Xena, I'd swear you were scared."
"I am." Xena could hardly believe what she was saying, and apparently, neither could the bard. "Gods, this is a MAJOR risk, Gabrielle. Besides how this will affect our relationship, one way or the other, let's face it... neither of us has a very good track record, when it comes to being with people we love. It's almost as if the gods or the Fates or someone has it in for us. If that's true, and we do this..."
"Xena...don't. Trust me, we'll be fine." Gabrielle took the warrior's hands in her own. "I love you, and you love me, that's all that matters. And even if, by some cruel twist of fate something DOES happen, then we'll just have to deal with it. Together. Understand?"
Xena smiled as she brushed a lock of hair out of the bard's face. "How did I ever get this lucky?"
"Well, you could call it luck, or fate, or chance." Gabrielle threw her arms around the warrior's neck and kissed her. "But personally? I prefer... destiny."
Before long it grew too cold for them to stand in the waist-deep water any longer. They got dressed and went back to camp, to warm up by the fire. Not that they weren't already generating heat of their own; Gabrielle could barely keep her hand's off Xena while she tossed some wood into the fire, and in return Xena had to constantly resist the urge to throw Gabrielle down and tear her clothes off. On the trail back they had decided to wait, both wanted their first time together to be special--and agreed that a ragged old bedroll, by a fire, out in the middle of nowhere did not count. Finally, they agreed the best thing to do was to take Nym home first, then decide where to go and what to do. It was only another half days travel after all.
The final leg of their journey led Xena and Gabrielle to a lush, peaceful valley, sheltered on all sides by the tall Iryn mountains. Within it they found a veritable sea of bright emerald grass, numerous trees filled with fruit and the widest abundance of flowers either of them had ever seen. It seemed untouched by the hands of man, a fact soon confirmed by Xena, who determined from the almost pristine look of trail that no one had passed this way in quite some time. That was good, it made them each feel a little better to know they probably wouldn't have to face any trouble in the valley ahead. Following that long, winding trail, eventually led them to the small wooden hut sitting on an outcropping overlooking a lake--it's smooth waters a crystalline blue--just as described on the map. It was ringed by trees and flowers, and appeared uninhabited.
"Are you sure this's the right place?" Xena asked as they approached the hut. She glanced over her shoulder at Argo and the plow horse, who were grazing under a tree.
Gabrielle nodded. "According to the notes on the map we're supposed to knock on the door and ask to speak to the Keeper of the Lake. I don't see any other huts around, do you?" The warrior shrugged. "Now you just let me do all the talking okay?" The bard took a deep breath as they arrived, then reached up and gently rapped on the red oak door. She waited patiently, until it was opened from the other side.
"Yes?" A small, hunched over man wearing a brown hooded robe emerged from the hut. He had only one eye and was leaning on a cane. "Can I help ye', lasses?"
"Perhaps. We're looking for someone. The Keeper of the Lake," said Gabrielle.
He nodded. "Aye lass, that's me. Name's Nessy. What can I do for ye'?"
The bard sighed. "My name is Gabrielle." She nodded over her shoulder. "This is my friend Xena. We're here with bad news, I'm afraid."
"Oh?" He raised his wrinkly old face, peering at her with his one good eye. "What would that be?"
Gabrielle turned, and gestured at the sarcophagus. "We bring back the body of..."
"NYM." Nessy shook his head. "I was afraid of something like this." He sighed. "I tried to tell her the outside world was too dangerous a place to be on her own. But, would she listen?" Turning, he started limping towards the lake. "Come on then, we'd best be telling her father."
Xena looked around, her frown deepening. "Where IS he? I don't see any other structures."
"That don't mean he ain't here." Nessy walked to the outer edge of the outcropping, and lifted his cane above his head. "Lord Archlon, we be needing to speak with ye!" For long moments nothing happened then--without warning--the water in the middle of the lake began to boil and churn. It erupted upwards into a towering geyser, from which stepped a humanoid figure. It was a man with dark blue skin and long blue hair, wearing robes that appeared to be formed out of the water behind him. "See?"
The water-being opened his eyes, and smiled. "Nessy, my friend. What can I do for you?"
"Not me, Lord Archlon. It be this ladies here who would speak to ye."
"Ah. How can I help you then?" he asked, turning to Gabrielle.
The bard cleared her throat. "Lord Archlon? My name is Gabrielle, of Poteidaia. My friend and I..." She nodded toward Xena. "...have brought Nym back home to you. I-I'm afraid..."
Archlon's face fell when he saw the sarcophagus. "My precious daughter? Gone?" He lowered his head. "My family is no more...I am the last." There was silence around the lake for several moments, then he looked back at Xena and Gabrielle again. "Tell me, please, HOW did Nym die?"
"I-I..." Gabrielle started to reply, but the question brought with it the memories of Nym's death, and in spite of herself she faltered. Tears poured down her face and she turned to Xena.
The warrior embraced her friend, allowing Gabrielle to bury her face in her shoulder, while she turned her eyes to face Archlon. "You may take some small comfort in the fact she died bravely. We were in a battle, and one of the attackers threw a dagger at my friend here. Nym reacted faster than any of us, putting herself in front of it in order to save Gabrielle. She sacrificed her own life to save a friend."
Archlon nodded. "Yes, such nobility. My daughter has always been willing to risk or give everything, to help those she cares about most. It had always been her dream to...to..." His dark blue eyes widened slightly. "Fates be praised, can it be?" He stepped closer to Gabrielle, and fingered a lock of her hair. "It IS. You are the one she spoke of so long ago. I had almost forgotten."
Xena arched an eyebrow. "What ARE you talking about?"
"Her visions. The prophecy. Didn't Nym tell you?" Archlon looked from Xena to Gabrielle and back again, the looks on their faces giving him the answer. "Aah, I see there is much we have to talk about." The strange being then turned his gaze to the sarcophagus, sadness apparent on his face. "But not just now. I thank you both for returning my beloved daughter to me, but now, there are things I attend to." He swept one hand toward the hut from which Nessy had emerged. "Whatever I have is yours, please make yourselves comfortable. After I return, I will be happy to answer any questions you might have for me." He stepped back off the outcropping and into the geyser, which sank back into the lake. And still, for a moment afterward, his voice carried. "I will see both of you again soon. This I swear."
Nessy cleared his throat to draw their attention. "If ye will come wit' me?" He shuffled toward the hut, leaving Xena and Gabrielle to follow along behind at their leisure.
"I'm not sure about this," the warrior mumbled. "That place looks cramped for one, much less three."
"Because it's polite," the bard replied. "Archlon offered, we can't refuse his hospitality."
Nessy held the door of the hut open as they approached. "After ye, ladies."
Xena frowned. "Wait," she said out loud. "What about horses, and...?"
"They're both being taken care of," said Nessy. "Don't ye' be worrying ye'self lass."
Gabrielle smiled as she moved inside, Xena right behind her. "Thank you N..." Her eyes widened, as did those of the usually stoic warrior. "Gods!"
Given the ramshackle exterior of the hut, they expected the interior to be much the same. Instead, it was as if a whole different structure had somehow been built within. It's smooth stone walls were far taller than should the actual size of the hut should have made possible, and the floor wasn't dirt or stone but a tile similar to what was usually found in the largest of castles or palaces. There were no windows, but several doors--which should not have led to anywhere since rooms would have been beyond the limits of the hut. In this room alone, which was as large as the outer surface of this structure itself, there were several pieces of furniture; chairs and a few small tables holding candelabras to give the place some needed light.
Xena licked her lips. It COULDN'T be, this was impossible, and yet... "Magic?" she asked.
"Indeed, lass." Nessy smiled, baring his crooked, yellow teeth. "Lord Archlon is a generous employer...gave me run of the place, and my choice o' rooms when I signed on wit' him. That was...oh, damn near fifty years ago I reckon, and this...house...never ceases to amaze me."
Gabrielle instinctively reached out for the comfort of Xena's hand as she looked around, and was delighted to feel the warrior squeezing it lightly in return. "Nessy? Can I ask you something?"
"Of course, lass." He stopped before one of the doors, and turned to face her. "What do ye need?"
"I was just wondering about Archlon. I don't mean to sound rude or anything, but what IS he? Some kind of a sorcerer or something?"
Nessy laughed. Or at least he started to until he was engulfed in a coughing fit. Gabrielle lightly patted him on the back until he composed himself. "Thank ye' lass." He rested his hands on his cane. "Now, ye' be wondering about Lord Archlon, aye? Well, it's rather a long story...one I have neither the skill or patience to relate to ye' at the moment. Better ye' ask the man himself." He pushed the door open and glanced inside. "Lights!" At once, a candelabra on a table within burst into flames. "There we go...I'll have food and drink brought to ye' lasses, and I can have the bath prepared if ye' like?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, don't trouble yourself Nessy. We'll be fine."
"If ye' say so lass. I'm here to serve." He nodded toward a door across the main room. "That there be the bath room lasses. If ye' change yer minds, the water'll be waiting for ye'." Nessy shuffled away, leaving Gabrielle and Xena to fully admire their new surroundings.
The bedroom was as splendid as what they had seen of the rest of the 'house'. Ornate carvings and tapestries lined several walls, and there was writing neither of them recognized on supports in the four corners. A square table by the bed held the candelabra, and a tall pitcher of the sweetest smelling flowers. There was a dresser on the other side of the room, with a lower compartment large enough to allow it's contents to be fully hung inside, and shelves for any additional, smaller items as well. Another table held a huge washing bowl and another fine-looking ceramic pitcher, this one filled with water. The bed itself was grander than anything they had ever seen in a tavern, carved from a wood so dark it was almost black, and a wooden panel supported by posts let a white silken cloth drape down over the sides.
"This is...amazing," Gabrielle whispered as she turned circles in the room looking around.
Xena nodded. "I must say, I'm impressed." And that was saying something, because the warrior princess was rarely--if ever--impressed by anything. "Archlon really takes care of his guests."
"Wow." The bard took off her shoulder-pack, and sat it beside the bed. "You know...I could really get used to being in a place like this."
"Not me," the warrior said as she unclasped and slid out of her breastplate. "I think all of this opulence would start to wear thin on me after a while."
Gabrielle sat down on the corner of the bed and sighed. "I don't know, maybe. I just wish we didn't have to be here under these circumstances."
"Hey." Xena sat down beside Gabrielle, and wiped a tear from the bard's eye. "How are you doing?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "Fine, I guess. I didn't mean to break down when I was talking to Archlon, but I started to think about Nym, and it just..." She shook her head. "No. No, I'm not going to cry anymore. Nym wouldn't want that." The bard rose. "I've changed my mind. I think I DO want a bath after all."
Xena chuckled. "Good."
"Good?" Gabrielle gave the warrior her best 'Xena-eyebrow arch'. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Taking a bath should help you relax, that's all."
"Uh huh." Gabrielle took Xena's hand, compelling the warrior to stand up.
"If I were you I wouldn't be so sure about that relaxing part. You're coming WITH me."
Xena arched an eyebrow of her own as she allowed Gabrielle to lead her out of the room.
They had taken baths together before, of course. Numerous times in fact. Xena never thought much of it either. After all, it only made sense to share a bath whenever possible, in order to cut down on how much hot water was needed. Most of the time they ended up sharing duties, washing each others hair and scrubbing each others back where they couldn't easily reach on their own.
Ordinarily, Xena made certain their skin to skin contact was kept to this minimum whenever they were in a tub together. It was always tough for her to be so close to the bard, catching 'accidental' glimpses of her firm naked body, and yet not being able to really touch her the way she wanted to.
But this was different. No limits existed on their interaction any longer, and they both knew it.
Xena stripped off her leathers and shift and climbed into the huge wooden tub first, and was surprised to find the water at precisely the temperature she enjoyed; hot. Not too hot, but moreso than Gabrielle, who preferred a more mid-way temperature. As she slid all the way into the water the warrior let out a contented sigh, she could feel her tired muscles beginning to relax already.
Gabrielle joined her a few moments later. The bard climbed into the tub behind Xena--who moved forward just enough so the bard could slip her legs to either side of her hips and snuggle up against her back. She smiled as she noticed how the water was perfect; mid-way between warm, and not that near boiling temperature Xena seemed to enjoy. She threw her arms around the warrior and sighed.
"You know Xena, these are the times I love the most."
Xena arched an eyebrow as she looked over her shoulder. "Oh?
"Here we are relaxing, together, and we don't have any warlords to fight, or giants to stop. We're not hurrying TO anywhere or running FROM anything." Gabrielle picked up the soap she had brought with them, and began to scrub Xena's back. "It's great, don't you think?"
"I suppose so." The warrior closed her eyes and sighed, relaxing into Gabrielle's strong hands.
"Gods, you're tense. Here..." Gabrielle dropped the soap--making a mental note to remember to sit on it so she could try to convince Xena to 'search' for it later, and started massaging the warrior's shoulders. "Your muscles feel as tight as bow-strings."
Xena shrugged. "Guess I've had a lot on my mind."
"Maybe, you just need a little...distraction." Gabrielle leaned forward, and kissed Xena's left shoulder. She felt the warrior jump slightly at the unexpected contact, but followed up with a similar caress to the right, and heard a low moan escape Xena's lips as a result. She smiled. "You like that?"
"Yeeess." The warrior turned her head to receive a real kiss. "Gabrielle, don't start something you're not ready to follow through on."
In response Gabrielle ran both hands down Xena's sides, touching the undercurve of the warrior's full breasts and feeling a shudder of pleasure rush through her muscular frame. "What makes you think I'm not ready?" she whispered into the warrior's ear. "I love you, Xena. I want to make love to you."
Xena abruptly twisted around in the tub so she was facing the bard. She swept the bard's hair out of her face, and kissed her. "Gods, yes, Gabrielle. I want you too. But I thought we agreed to wait. I thought you wanted to make sure Nym's affairs were taken care of before we...we..."
"Deepened our relationship?" Gabrielle offered. The warrior nodded. "I know, but I changed my mind. Face it, Xena you and I don't get moments like this very often. Most of the time we're off fighting warlords or monsters; and on those rare occasions when we DO get a little time off, we somehow end up on the receiving end of Ares' latest scheme or are forced to deal with a giant's rampage." She kissed Xena this time. "Right now, for this ONE moment in time at least, we're together. I think we both know it isn't going to last... sooner or later something will come up. Can't we make the most of the time we DO have? Please?"
Xena licked her lips. "I-I..." It was hard for her to argue, everything her beloved bard said made sense. "I want this just as much as you do Gabrielle, maybe more, but I have to be certain. I have to be certain you understand how much this will change things between us. If we do this, we can never go back. EVER."
"What makes you think I would want to?" Gabrielle peered into her warrior's face, her wide blue eyes, and the bard's heart skipped a beat. "You already know I love you, Xena. More than anyone in the world. We're already close, this will just bring us as close as two people CAN be. I want this Xena, I DO."
"Me too..." Xena said. She clasped the bard's face with her hands, and kissed her with all the passion surging in her powerful body. "Gods above, I love you SO much."
They barely made it back to the bedroom. Once out of the bath, Gabrielle took time enough to pull on a clean shift, and then looked around for Xena. To her surprise--or not really, once she actually stopped to think about it--the warrior had already thrown open the door on was heading back to their room, despite the fact she didn't have on a stitch of clothing.
The bard caught up and pounced on her love as she reached the bedroom door-- smothering her in kisses and caressing every inch of exposed skin as possible. Xena reacted quickly, she scooped Gabrielle up into her arms and stormed into the room, returning her kisses with equal fervor.
Xena lay Gabrielle on the bed and curled up beside her. "I've wanted this for so long. I've wanted YOU."
Gabrielle blushed slightly as she pulled off her shift and entwined her legs with Xena's. "I know. I'm just sorry I didn't realize it sooner. Gods, it must have hurt you to come into that tent, to see Nym and me in bed together, and I was so awful to you afterwards."
The warrior caressed her love's cheek, and kissed her. "Don't think like that. What's done is done."
For a moment the bard was quiet as she was swept up in her own thoughts. "Xena..." Gabrielle lifted her head and peered into the warrior's eyes. "Can I ask you something?"
"Of course. Anything. You know that."
"I was just wondering...how...I mean...have you..." Gabrielle sighed. "Xena...I know I've been with one woman in my life. I thought maybe..."
Xena smiled. "You want to know how many women I've been with? Is that it?"
"I-I know it's none of my business, I'm just curious, that's all." Gabrielle leaned in and kissed the hollow of the warrior's throat, feeling a light shiver of pleasure in response. "Look, if you don't..."
"Hey, I don't mind. But here, let's get you comfortable..." Xena shifted around so Gabrielle could rest her head on her shoulder as she spoke, and she took immediate notice of the bard's fingers lightly caressing the sensitive skin between her breasts. So did her nipples, which hardened almost instantly at the delicious contact. "First of all..." the warrior said, once she caught her breath. "...you have to remember the way I lived. As a warlord, I was accustomed to getting what I wanted by any means necessary. If having sex with someone got me the supplies or weapons or whatever I needed, then that's what I would do. Period. Back then it didn't really matter if it was a man or a woman, it was just business. Just sex. It wasn't like making love."
Gabrielle eyed the warrior curiously. "I don't get the distinction." Xena sighed. "You see, the way I looked at it...the way I still do I suppose, there is a major difference between having sex and making love. Sex to me was business, I derived no pleasure from it. Occasionally, there was also a physical need I had to fulfill while in camp, and I would welcome a soldier or servant into my bed. Again, male or female, it didn't really matter. It was just sex, pure and simple. Oh it was pleasurable at times I'll grant you, but it didn't MEAN anything. THAT Gabrielle, is the difference. Sex was commonplace, but I've only made love to a select few people in my life." The warrior paused a moment as her thoughts drifted.
"The men you already know about; Marcus, Borias, and Hercules of course. They all were--and, to one extent or another still ARE--important to me. But I've only made love to one woman, Gabrielle. Only one who REALLY meant something, and she is long gone from me."
"Who?" the bard asked quietly. She felt for her beloved warrior, she could see the pain in her eyes, and heard it trembling in her voice.
Xena nodded. "M'Lila. I've told you about her?" Gabrielle nodded. "After Cortese, and Caesar, M'Lila was the single light in my life during that period." She sighed.
"Oh Xena, I'm sorry. I'm dredging up bad memories, aren't I?"
The warrior shook her head. "I accepted M'Lila's passing a long time ago, Gabrielle." She put her arms around the bard, pulled her so close their breasts were pressed together, and kissed her. "Never forget, you are the one I love. You are the only woman for me, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle fought back tears. "I-I love you too, Xena. SO much!"
Their passions increasing while they kissed, Xena let one hand drift down the bard's hip and slip between her legs, to gently caress the triangle of moist reddish-blond hair she found there. "Ooh!" Gabrielle arched her back and cried out, her fingers digging into the warrior's unprotected shoulders. "Gods!"
"You like that, eh? Then you'll LOVE this." Xena slid one finger into Gabrielle's moist center, and felt the silky warmth closing around it as she began to slowly thrust in and out. She was gentle, terrified she might injure her beloved bard, but soon realized that she needn't worry.
"GODS! Yeeees!" Gabrielle's hips began to thrust against Xena's probing finger, while the rest of the warrior's hand caressed her inside and out. "Xena! Don't...don't s-stop...!"
"I won't." Xena continued her ministrations with one hand, while she used the other to toy Gabrielle's nipples to their full pink hardness. "I won't."
Gabrielle arched her back and cried out in pleasure, the heat within her building neat it's peak. "Gods! Xena I-I don't think I..." Her nails reflexively clutched at the warrior's shoulders with such force she actually drew blood, and even though she did notice Xena didn't seem to care--she was focused on the beautiful body of the young woman writhing and thrusting beneath her. "YES!"
Xena felt the muscles around her finger tightening, and knew Gabrielle was nearing release. She increased the speed of her pumping and then added another finger to the mixture.
"GODS! XEEENAAA!!" Gabrielle exploded, the climax taking her across the threshold in an incredible rush of wonderful heat and mindless sensation, her words becoming one long, guttural moan of passion. Her hips were still bucking and tensing against the warrior's hand some time later as the bard returned to earth, and turned her head to receive a kiss from her love. "Gods be praised..."
Xena smiled. "And to think, I'm just getting started."
"Started?" Gabrielle fought to catch her breath. "Xena, if that was just the opening act...I don't think I'm ready for the main attraction just yet."
"Don't worry." Xena nuzzled her love's neck, and smiled. "I'll be gentle."
She kissed her way across Gabrielle's throat, and down to the sensitive flesh between her heaving breasts. "I need you, Gabrielle. I want you to know all of the pleasures I can offer." She teased the bard's left nipple, and heard her gasp. "Talk to me, Gabrielle. Tell me what you want. Let me hear your voice."
"Xena. I...gods!" Gabrielle shuddered, feeling the heat within her rising again as the warrior moved to give the same loving treatment to her right breast. "You're so...unnh...gods!"
Smiling, Xena kissed her way from Gabrielle's breasts, over her flat stomach, and across one supple thigh. She gazed hungrily at the moist mound of red-blond hair for a moment, then raised her eyes. The warrior found dark hazel colored eyes staring back at her, the bard's mouth hung open and she was gasping lightly. "Are you sure about this?" she asked once more.
Gabrielle reached down and entwined her hands in Xena's hair, at the same time thrusting her hips up towards the warrior's lips and tongue. "Please! I-I want...I-I need..." Her gaze widened and she pondered her next words, decided the best way to express her desires. "Xena, take me! Please."
That was enough. Xena lowered her head and nuzzled the bard's moist, red-blond hair with her nose, then she lovingly darted her fluid tongue right into her depths. As Gabrielle bucked up, groaning in pleasure, the warrior carefully lifted the bard's thighs and placed them upon her shoulders. It gave her better access, as she wrapped her strong arms around the bard's hips and began to probe, firmly but gently.
"Oh, gods!" Gabrielle entwined her hands into Xena's hair in a desperate effort to pull her closer and push her away at the same time. It was too much, and yet, not enough. "Yeeesss!" The warrior's tongue was tireless, and obviously experienced, exploring and caressing every inch of her center before finally concentrating on the high, slick spot which threatened to drive her wild. "GODS!" Her entire body began to quiver as she lurched upward, forcing Xena's face and tongue even deeper into her, as only the third--and by far the strongest--great climax of her young life erupted outward. "XEEE--NN--AAA!!"
The warrior could only hold on for dear life as Gabrielle's body went through violent throes of passion, which triggered a reaction and pushed Xena over the edge as well. With a gasp, she arched her back and shuddered through a heady climax of her own, to find herself slowly returning to earth the same time as her lover. She took a deep breath and spooned her body up behind Gabrielle's, who the warrior found was still convulsing slightly, then kissed her on her sweaty forehead. "Are you all right?"
"Y-Ye..." It was several minutes before Gabrielle recovered enough to move or speak. "Gods that...you..." She laughed nervously and ran a hand through her hair. "Gods Xena you're amazing. I-I didn't know it was possible to feel this good, and live."
Xena shook her head. "Actually, it's feeling this good that helps you remember you ARE alive."
"Speaking of which..." Gabrielle rolled to her side, and looked deep into the warrior's eyes. "What about you? Isn't there anything I can do for you, Xena?"
"Don't worry." Xena smiled. "I'm fine, Gabrielle. Believe me." She pulled the bard close and kissed her, smiling further as she curled up against her and sighed. "I love you, Gabrielle..." she said quietly.
"I love you too, Xena..."the bard replied, just before exhaustion overcame her.
A gentle rapping woke them both.
Xena first, of course. Instantly alert and ready for battle, she leaped out of bed and reached for her sword. The fact she was naked meant little to the warrior, her only concern was protecting her beloved Gabrielle from what-ever new menace had awakened her so suddenly.
Behind her the bard sat up and stretched, marveling at the lack of tension within her body. She was tired, yes, but it was a good kind of tired. Gabrielle looked around and smiled as she stretched, trying to figure what noise had so alerted her warrior.
They both turned, as another gentle rap sounded on the door. Xena reacted by twirling her sword, eyes tight, while Gabrielle threw off the blankets, and looked around for their clothes. "Put it away!" the bard said over her shoulder. "There're no danger here, we're in someone's home for Gaia's sake!" She pulled on her shift and threw Xena her's to do the same, allowing the warrior to dress before she opened the door.
Nessy was waiting there, patiently, with his hands clasped behind his back. "Ah, there ye are, lass. I began to wonder if this was the wrong room."
Gabrielle smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, we're not used to such luxury. What's up?"
"I didn' mean to disturb ye, lass. But, I was just summoned to the lake, and Lord Archlon informs me that he is ready to speak with ye whenever ye's ready."
Xena nodded. "We'll be there shortly."
"As ye wish." Nessy turned and limped away. "I'll be outside when ye'r ready."
Gabrielle closed the door behind him, then after sharing a kiss, she and Xena hurried to get dressed.
A few minutes later, they joined Nessy outside.
Somewhat to their surprise, it was dusk, and was almost too dark to see. Neither woman realized that they had been in the magical house quite so long. Holding a torch, Nessy led them back to the rocky outcropping, which was now ringed with numerous other torches to provide them plenty of light. They learned Nym's sarcophagus had been moved almost to the waters edge, and Lord Archlon kneeling beside it, with his eyes closed and both hands resting on top.
He stirred as they approached, suddenly rising to his feet and adjusting his robes. "Good evening." His smile was forced but, given the circumstances, it was understandable. "I trust that you found your accommodations to be adequate?"
Gabrielle nodded. "More than. You have a wonderful home, Lord Archlon."
"Thank you. I designed it myself a century ago, but had no one to inhabit it until I met my wife, Una. She was a beautiful, wonderful woman. We had three children together, Nym and two sons--Asor and Kean." Archlon's face fell. "Unfortunately, my wife and sons were killed while Nym and I were away."
"Killed?" Xena asked. "By who?"
Archlon shrugged. "I do not know. One of the gods, most likely. I know of several who were unhappy when I married a mortal."
"So you're not a god?" asked Gabrielle. When they met she'd wondered, because Archlon bore a resemblance to Poseidon, but she realized now it was just her imagination.
"Not at all. I am what you would probably call an Elemental. My domain is the water, and I am specifically tied to this lake. The gods and I have never truly, gotten along, which is more of the reason I suspect one of them is responsible for my family's death."
Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Well, I-I don't know about your wife and sons...but, one of the gods IS indirectly responsible for Nym's."
Archlon's eyes narrowed in anger. "Who?"
"Hera," the bard replied nervously. "It was her forces we were battling when Nym was struck by the knife one of them had meant for me."
"Hera. I might have known. She, above all, holds contempt for those who dare to mate with mortals." Archlon shook his head. "I have little recourse against the queen of the gods." He looked at Xena and Gabrielle. "Again I would thank you for returning my daughter to me. I shall make certain her body rests for eternity with those of my wife and sons." He raised his hands and commanded snake-like tendrils of water to rise and entwine around the sarcophagus. It was drawn slowly in to the water, which bubbled and churned until it was out of sight. The Elemental then lowered his gaze and sighed. "It is done. I am truly alone."
"I wouldn' say that." Nessy cocked his head as he looked up at the Elemental with his good eye. "Immortality tain't all it's cracked up to be, is it?"
"No, my old friend. It is not." Archlon raised his head, now looking directly at Xena and Gabrielle. "Now then, I promised to answer your questions, did I not?"
Gabrielle started to speak, but Xena came forward and put an arm around the bard's shoulders. "You spoke of visions? What do they have to do with Gabrielle?"
Archlon clasped his hands behind his back and sighed. "Everything. Since her childhood, Nym was besieged by strange visions, most of a young woman she did not recognize. A young woman with hair the color of flame and sunlight combined." He glanced at Gabrielle's red-blond locks before continuing. "Deep down, she felt this woman was somehow important to her destiny. When she finally came of age Nym left home and set out to find this young woman."
"That explains the visions," said Xena. "But what about the prophecy?"
He nodded. "During her travels, Nym sent word she that she'd encountered a wandering Oracle who spoke of her future. This Oracle informed her that the woman she sought would be fleet of tongue and pure of heart, and the strongest source of light for one who was torn between darkness and light. She went on to say that the two of them would experience great joy together followed by great tragedy, for one of them would not survive. Nym was determined to see to it that this other woman would survive, at all costs."
Gabrielle was wide-eyed. "Gods! S-She knew...?"
Xena pulled the bard close and held her. "Archlon, I am truly sorry."
"I know, and thank you." The Elemental approached Gabrielle, who wiped her eyes and looked up at him. "By the extent of your grief, can I assume you and my daughter were close?"
The bard nodded. "Yes. Very."
"Excellent. I am glad to know she experienced some joy in her life. After her mother and brothers died, I feared Nym would never smile again." Archlon put a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Thank you for everything you did for my daughter." He glanced at Xena. "And you as well. I have not journeyed from my home in so long, but I'd wager it was a great effort to bring Nym's body this far. I would thank you both. Though I have little in the way of material effects, if any of my possessions please you, take them with my compliments."
Xena shook her head. "That is not necessary, Archlon. You hospitality was thanks enough."
Archlon smiled. "As you wish. But know this, my home is your home. Any time you are in this area, you both are welcome to stay here for as long as you choose."
"Thank you." Gabrielle clasped the Elemental's hand, marveling at the way his blue skin felt like rippling water against her palm. "I know I've said this before, but I don't think I'll ever be able to say it enough. I'm SO sorry. If there had been any way for me to save Nym..."
"Do not speak so, young one. My daughter would not have sacrificed herself for just anyone. She must have cared for you very deeply." Archlon smiled. "Even in death, she does me proud."
In the endless wonder of the Elyssian Fields, Nym and her two brothers were playing tag. As fast and agile as she was, they were faster, and she lost every time with a big smile on her face. Their mother sat nearby, under a tree nearby, and watched her reunited family.
The silver-haired young woman was just about to chase after Kean and Asor once again, when she a voice in her head caused her to pause. It was a deep, rich voice, one she hadn't heard in many years, but one she would always recognize. "Even in death, she does me proud."
Nym smiled, a single tear running down her cheek. "I love you too, daddy."