Legends Legacy by T. Novan

Legends Legacy 2

Legends Legacy by T. Novan
Continuation of the The Raising Melosa Series.

Legends Legacy begins as the Warrior Princess and her Amazon Queen recall their life together and anticipate the coming marriage of their beloved Mel. This story takes place about six months after “As One Journey Ends…”.

~Another Begins~

I watch as the village is decorated for the ceremony. I can’t believe this day has come. Mel is getting married.

My baby. Our baby. Our beautiful and wonderful gift.

Gods it just doesn’t seem possible. I swear it was only yesterday that I was sitting next to Ri’s bedside watching them sleep. Watching her eat for the first time, feeling her wrap her tiny little hand around my finger for the first time. It’s just not possible.

Closing my eyes, I see her growing up.

The first time she smiled at me as I held her tiny body close to mine. Kissing little fingers and taking in the scent of her after a bath.

Lying with her under the big tree by the river. Feeling her fuss in her sleep as she lay on my chest. Rubbing her back and feeling her settle into me for a peaceful nap.

How Ri grumbled at me. Telling me that I would spoil her by holding her so much and my standard answer of, “She’s my daughter, I’ll spoil her if I want to.”

Ri finally gave up. She realized it was almost as useless as trying to keep a blanket on Mel when she was a baby.

The way she used to squirm around in my arms to see everything and anything. She paid attention to everything.

The first time she tasted something she didn’t like and the face she made at me as she spit it out all over me. I have to laugh. Those carrots were the first in a long line of things my daughter would cover me with.

Her first word, which was “Ma!”, as she reached to Ri. I knew she was gonna be a little traitor from that moment forward.

Her first steps. Gods I was so blessed that day. Returned from the dead to my family with a son I thought long lost.

The day we tried to explain to her that Ri couldn’t pick her up anymore because there was a new baby on the way. She was not a happy little girl and pouted for two days, refusing to let either of us hold her. Then she got tired of doing all her own walking and I became a good second mode of transport.

She was always into something or the other, I remember the season I had to put a tether on her because the moment I set her down she was off and running. Then she’d get to the end of the tether, get pulled down to her little backside and I’d reel her in. We went through three tethers that season.

The first time she touched a fish or rode a horse with me. The squeals and the clapping, along with uncontrollable giggling. I feel the tears forming in my tears and I wipe them away. Yeah, my little girl is all grown up now.

“What you doing Warrior?” Ri’s voice is soft. She joins me at the table, wrapping her arms around my neck, giving me a little kiss.

“Thinking about Mel.”

“You too huh?”

I nod. Kissing her hand, then rubbing it against my cheek. “Umm-hmm. Just can’t seem to help it today.”

“And you should. Three days from now she’ll take that final step that will….”

“Ri, please just don’t. Don’t say it.”

“Oh Xe, honey please it’s not that bad and you know it. Mel’s in love and by the God’s Bri worships the ground she walks on.”

“It’s mutual, Mel feels the same way.”

“It’s the second best match I’ve ever seen.” She smiles at me as her hand comes to rest on my cheek. “We did good Warrior.”

“We certainly did Ri. We most certainly did.”

“And it’s not as if we’ll be done anytime soon either.” She grins and lifts a knowing brow as she taps the circlet on my head.

“This is very true. Speaking of which, you and I need to start doing some serious training together again.”

“I know I’ve been thinking about that too.”

“So what do you say toooo,” I stand and pull her into my arms, “that after the wedding, you and I go see if we can find a little trouble to get into.”

“Are you suggesting that we go back out on the road?”

“Yes ma’am, I most certainly am.”

“What about the village?”

“Ri, I’m not suggesting that we leave forever, just for a month or so. Eph can handle everything and it’ll be good for the girls to take over, without you looking over their shoulders.”

She nods, considering my words. “And what kind of trouble would you like to try to get into.”

“Oh I don’t know” I grin, as I begin walking away from her. “We could go to Rome and see what old Caesar is up to.”

I hear her groan, then I feel her at my side. “You really know how to hold a grudge you know that?”

“That’s another of my many skills. You should know that by now. The only thing that has kept me from putting a price on his head, is the fact that I know I’m going to have the last laugh.”

“Yes you will. So why don’t we just sit back and enjoy it?”

“I intend to.” She slides her hand into mine and we continue our walk. I know we have a destination and she knows it too. It’s just time for a visit to our special place.

“Just like we need to relax and enjoy our daughter’s wedding.”

“I’m really happy for her Ri and I know when the time comes I’ll be fine. Until then, let be grumpy and irritable.”

“Like I could stop you.” She gives me a friendly nudge. “Being irritable and grumpy are among your many skills too.”

“Okay now you’ve done it!” I sweep her off her feet and hold her close to me. “Now you’re gonna pay!”

“Gladly.” Her lips are soft on my neck as I carry her a spot that we’ve kept hidden from the world for the last twenty or so seasons.

This is our private place. No one except us even knows it exists. I’m very careful to keep it well hidden, especially now. Ri and I need our time alone to make our plans and prepare for the inevitable.

I place my hand in the indentation in the rock to have the wall slide back. Ri has attached herself very firmly to my neck and I’m hoping to make it to our sleeping chamber, but I’m not holding out much hope. If she hits ‘the spot’, we aren’t going to make it.

The rock slides back and with a wave of my hand the torches light.

“Show off.” She mumbles against my neck, just before she goes for ‘the spot’.

I watch her sleep, brushing back the hair from her face. It’s happening so gradually that no one can even see it. I know though. Every time we make love in this place she is restored a little more. There are times when I just want to stay in here in bed with her for days.

“Time to wake up.” I whisper with a kiss to her ear.

“Nooooooo.”

“Oh yeah. We have to get back so you can do the Queen thing.”

She opens one eye and looks at me without ever lifting her head. “The ‘Queen thing’? You make it sound like a part time job.”

“Well it is. Part of the time you’re the Queen, part of the time you’re the mother of our children, part of the time you’re my wife, part of the time you’re a lazy bag of bones I can’t get out of bed.” I give her backside a smack as I stand up and look for my boots. Seems like I spend a lot of time looking for my boots.

“If someone,” she rolls over and stretches, “didn’t bring me here and wear me out. You wouldn’t have these problems.”

“Did I say it was a problem?” I grin at her, tossing her a robe.

“True you didn’t.” She sighs, eyeing the robe and knowing she has to get up. “I wish we didn’t have to go back. Can’t you do something about that? Talk to Artemis or something?”

“Ri you know better.”

“Yeah, yeah I guess I do.” She finally gets up and moves across the room to me. “I love you Warrior.” She wraps her arms around my waist and just holds on to me, laying her head against my shoulder

“Something wrong Ri?” I wrap her up, running my hands up and down her back slowly.

“No. I guess it’s all just starting to sink in.”

“Regretting it?”

“Oh no! Don’t you ever think that! I’ll never regret the decisions that we have made.”

I pull back and take her face in my hands. “Are you sure Ri?” I swallow hard before I let the next words leave my lips. “This is my destiny, not yours. I can still let you pass. When your time comes you can still go to the….”

She places her hand over my mouth, shaking her head emphatically. “No. We are in this together. Now and always.” She removes her hand then leans in and kisses me quite thoroughly. “I will never leave you.”

“Stuck with you huh?”

“You know it.” She grins. “You married me. You get to keep me.”

“Good. I can’t imagine my life without you. I can let everything else change. I can learn to live with the kids growing up and I can even learn to live with the changes that we face, but I just can’t imagine being without you.”

“You never will be. I promise you.”

I watch Mel tug on her robes. I can’t help but smile. Gods I remember that feeling.

“Oh…” She moans, as she swallows hard and wipes the back of her hand over her mouth. “I really just wish I would throw up and get it over with.”

“You’re not going to do that. You just think you are.”

“That’s not fair.”

“You’re getting married runt. From now on things won’t be fair.” I grin as I move forward and help her adjust her robes.

“Thank you.” She says quietly as I smooth out the back of the robe.

“For what?”

She turns to face me. “Everything.”

There are tears in her eyes as she looks at me. I smile and wipe one away as it slides down her cheek. “I love you Melosa.” Holding her face in the palm of my hand I continue to look into the eyes that mirror my own. “Seeing you here, today, like this is one of the best things that has ever happened in my life. I am so proud of you.”

“There is no way I can ever tell you….”

“Shhh, don’t even try. You don’t have to tell me. You’ve shown me Mel. Everyday that I see you healthy and happy, you continue to show me.”

As she puts her arms around me, I return her hug, holding my little girl for the last time. When I let go of her she will be a grown woman who is about begin her own life. Some part of me doesn’t want to let her go, but I know I have to.

The door opens and the big, bad warriors are busted by the Queen. We both wipe our eyes and give her a smile.

“You two look great.” She lets us off the hook and doesn’t mention it. She just nods approvingly at our robes. “Two peas in a pod.”

Mel chuckles just a bit as she tugs at the collar of her robe. “A very odd pod Mom.”

“True.” Now it’s Ri’s turn to take stock of our eldest daughter. “Brianna loves you Mel. Be good to her.”

“You know I will. I love her too.”

“I know you do baby, I know you do.” I watch as she caresses Mel’s cheek. “My how you’ve grown up on me. When did that happen?”

“It was a gradual process over the last eighteen seasons or so.” Mel grins, kissing her Mom’s hand. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I watch as they embrace. Mel is so protective and tender with Ri I understand how and why she fell in love with Brianna. For all of Bri’s bluster and arrogance she’s a lot like the mother who gave birth to Mel. It’s a natural match.

Just like Ri and I.

We gather at the temple. Mel is with me, pacing nervously as the temple fills with our family and friends who have gathered for this wedding. Ri has gone to see how Brianna is doing and to offer some support there.

I turn and smile when he enters. I never thought myself the type to be glad to see a God but I’m always glad to see him and it still amazes me.

“Xena.” He smiles, removing his gloves and slapping them into my chest as he walks right by me to Mel, taking her into a hug.

“Hi Dad nice to see you too.” I offer, tossing his gloves down to a small table.

“Grandfather.” Mel returns his embrace and they hold each other for a long time. “What are you doing here?” She asks as she pulls back from him.

“I am here to see my granddaughter get married. Congratulations Melosa.”

“Thank you.”

“All the Gods send their best to you and your lovely wife to be. Artemis and Athena should be arriving soon to bless you both.”

She nods, giving him another hug.

“It’s about time to go Mel.” I tell her as I see the priestess take her place.

“I’ll go find a seat.” Hades turns to me with a grin. “If that’s okay with you.”

“By all means. I don’t think anyone will object. You can keep Ri company until I get there.”

“That in itself is a good reason to take a seat. I’ve missed her.”

I roll my eyes as he scoops up his gloves, giving me a hug on the way out. “The circlet suits you my daughter.” He lifts his brows at me then turns away.

My family. I just shake my head.

I wrap my arm around Ri’s shoulders as we watch Mel and Brianna kneel before the priestess. I feel her shiver and look down to her. “You okay?”

She nods, brushing a tear away. I give her a kiss on the top of the head, pulling her close to me. “I love you.”

“Love you too Warrior.”

The End

——————————————————————————–

~Wives, Warriors and Gods~

I cross my arms as Xe stands behind me with her hands on my shoulders. “Do you think we should give them a hand?” I ask, with a quick glance over my shoulder to my Warrior.

“Nah they got it. Besides, Mel will probably get all bent out of shape if I go over there and show up in front of the wife.”

I chuckle and nod as we continue to watch our daughters beat the living daylights out of the six bandits that tried to sneak into our camp. “True. Then again, Bri might get bent out of shape too. Look at her.” I gesture to Mel’s partner. She truly is a little ball of Greek fire.

“She’s really good. Mel chose very well.”

“Mel didn’t have any choice. The moment they laid eyes on each other it was over.”

“Umm-hmm.” I turn as I feel Xe move away from me. She kneels down, pouring two cups of tea. “I’m just glad they didn’t waste two seasons being afraid of it.”

“Are you insinuating I was afraid of you?” I drop down in front of her, taking my mug. Then offering her a glare. “Hmmm?”

“Terrified.” She grins at me.

“In your dreams.” I nudge her, making her slide over to give me a seat as we return our attention to the remaining moments of the fight. “Oooo that’s going to hurt.” I grimace at the sound of the nose breaking. Bri landed a beautiful right jab to a very surprised young man’s face.

“Un-huh.” She nods, then whispers. “I remember a time when I intimidated you.”

“Hate to break this to you,” I pat her leg, “If you had intimidated me, I never would have followed you. I was young, not stupid.”

She laughs as she wraps her arm around me. I feel her kiss the top of my head. “Okay have it your way.”

“I will, thanks.”

“You know the younger you get, the mouth….”

“Yeah? Finish that sentence Xe and you’re sleeping with your horse.”

“Not a word out of me. Nope, not a sound.”

I laugh as I watch the bandits gather their wits and take to the road. “Well that’s not like last night then.”

“Behave!” She nudges me playfully.

“You started it.”

“I didn’t not. What has gotten into you today?”

“I’m just in a really good mood. By the God Xe this feels good. On the road with you, watching Mel and Bri together. It’s wonderful.”

“I’m glad you’re happy my love.”

“Very.” I sigh, settling into the crook of her arm, sipping my tea.

Mel and Bri take the time to clean weapons before returning to camp. Mel stands over us with her arms crossed. “Well, don’t you two look cozy?”

“We are runt, thanks.” Xe chuckles.

“Appreciate all the help.” Her hands move to her hips.

“We discussed it.” I offer. “Decided you didn’t need our help.”

Bri gives Mel a nudge dislodging her hands from her hips. “We didn’t Mom. Ego here is trying to be difficult.”

“She comes by it naturally.” I grin at my own Warrior.

“Hey!” Xe defends. “I resemble that comment.”

Mel turns to Bri, leaning in toward her, growling. “And you, Shorty, just stay out of this.”

“Make me.” She grins, taking a step back.

I smile. I know what’s coming next. Xe hums contentedly, giving my shoulder a squeeze, she knows it too. Very soon we are alone as the chase begins.

Xe cocks her head slightly, smiling. “Well that didn’t take long. Bri isn’t as fast as you were.”

“They just got married. Maybe she wasn’t trying as hard as she could.”

“Are you saying you were?”

“What?”

“Trying to get away from me?”

“Never. I just really liked making you work for it.” I laugh.

“So, what you’re saying is you’ve always had an evil streak?”

“Just a little one,” I show her by holding my thumb and finger apart just a bit, “but you always seem to enjoy it. I know I do.”

“True.” She puts her mug down, turning to me, caressing my cheek. “I think they’re going to be tied up for a bit….”

“Only if they’re lucky.” I can’t help myself for some reason today.

She just shakes her head. “Ah, my point being, would you like to join me over there in that nice soft bedroll?”

“Warrior, I’ll join you any where.”

Mel and Bri are riding just slightly ahead of us. Just watching them, you can tell they are newly married. They’re just trying too hard not to look too obvious while they steal glances and little touches. This is why I choose to ride with Xe and not on my own horse. I have to touch her to hold on. Bri may figure that out one of these days.

“You’re awfully quiet back there.” Xe gives my leg a little slap. “You sleeping on me?”

“Nope. Just thinking.”

“About?”

“Being young and in love.”

“They do a pretty good job of it don’t they?”

“Now how did you know I was talking about them? Maybe I was talking about us.”

“Hmm good point. All things considered I guess we would be young and in love.”

“Oh you better believe it.”

Before our conversation can go any further Xe reins her horse. “We have company.”

“Who?”

“He, who is, a pain in my ass.”

“Ares.” I chuckle, sliding off the horse. Xe drops down next to me, sending her horse off with a slap.

I decide just to get out of the way for this one. I take a seat on a tree stump at the edge of the road. Xe gives a sharp whistle, which brings Mel and Bri back to us. They both dismount then join me at the side of the road.

“What’s going on?” Mel asks, drawing her sword.

“Relax. Your Mother is about to play with Ares a bit.”

“Oh Gods!” Mel groans, rolling her eyes as she re-sheaths her sword. “What’s he doing here?”

“I don’t know he hasn’t shown up yet, but your Mother says he’s here.”

“Ah, excuse me here guys,” Bri waves her hand in front of us like we’ve lost our minds, “are you talking God of War? That Ares?”

“That’s the one.” I nod.

“And it doesn’t concern you that he’s here.”

“Nah.” Mel drops down into the grass next to me and pat the ground next to her. “Have a seat this should be fun.” She smirks as we wait for him to show up.

“All right Ares!” Xe shouts. “Show yourself! Come on let’s get this over with!”

He walks out of thin air to stand in front of Xe. “Hello beautiful.” He smiles at Xe.

“Hello Stupid.”

“Xena I’m hurt. Come on now. Is that any way…”

“Oh cut the crap Ares. What do you want?”

“Just to say hello and to let you know that if you need any help getting a handle on things, feel free to yell.”

“I’m handling things just fine thanks.”

“Really?”

“Un-huh. I’ve got it under control.”

“Tell me,” He looks over to me. “How did you cut such a sweet deal for the annoying blonde?”

“Hey!” Bri jumps to her feet.

I grab her by the arm, shaking my head. “Don’t worry about it. He’s been calling me that for twenty seasons. It’s almost a term of endearment now.”

She grumbles a bit but retakes her seat next to Mel.

“Oh great,” Now he addresses Mel. “You got one too.”

“Now that was un-called for.” Mel gets to her feet.

“Don’t do it brat.” Ares hisses. “You might look like your Mother, but you’re certainly no match for me.”

“No,” Xe steps forward. “But I am Ares, and you damn well know it. So why don’t you just go away.”

“Aw come one Xena let’s do a little sparring.” He tosses a ball of blue energy at Xe, which she catches and tosses back, knocking him back a bit. “Oh good one.”

“I told you I had everything under control. Now if you don’t mind. We are on our way to Corinth for a little rest and relaxation.” Xe turns to join us.

Ares, true to his nature can’t seem to resist on last strike at Xe, even though her back is to him. He fires another bolt of energy at her, hitting her square in the back. She furrows her brows a bit at the jolt thumps her between the shoulder blades.

“He’s worse than a small child.” She grins at me before turning around and sending back a flash of energy back at him, knocking him from his feet. She saunters over and places her boot on his chest, holding him on the ground.

“You know that all our powers are different in one way or another Ares and the more accustomed I become to mine, the less of a chance you have of doing any damage. Now why don’t you go away before you make me angry and I do something that you’ll regret for days.”

“I look forward to an eternity of this Xena. It is a dream come true. To bad the annoying blonde will be along or the ride.” He laughs before he disappears.

She just shakes her head, turning around to face us. “The down side to our situation.” She lifts a brow at me, offering me her hand.

“Could be worse,” I take her hand, getting to my feet. ” He could actually pose a threat.”

“True.”

“Whoa!” Bri staggers to her feet, backing up just a bit. “Would somebody like to fill me in on what in Tartarus just happened here?”

I turn to my daughter. “Mel didn’t you tell her?”

“No.”

“Why not for Zeus sake?”

“You two told me not to tell anyone.”

“We didn’t mean your wife.” Xe groans.

“Oh.” Mel turns to Bri, offering her a hand. “Honey come with me, there are a couple of things I need to tell you.”

“No kidding Ego.” The young woman says, giving Mel a punch to the arm. “Come on.” She walks away purposefully. Mel drops her hand, shakes her head, then follows.

“Heh, she’s whipped.” Xe laughs.

“She comes by it naturally.” I laugh as I stride ahead of Xe.

“Oh very funny. Very funny!” Xe calls as she follows me back to her horse.

——————————————————–

~Big Trouble, Little Packages~

“Oh lucky me!” I growled again, trying one more time to get out of it.

“Nope! No way! Forget it! You promised now come on.” Ri grabbed my hand pulling me along behind her.

“Are you sure you can’t get Bri to go with you?”

“Oh please, she’s worse than you are about this sort of thing. Besides have you seen a trace of them since we got to the inn?”

I considered the question as we headed for the market. “No, actually I haven’t.”

“They did just get married and a soft bed is more appealing to them right now than anything, including food.”

“Hmm that’s true. Wonder if they’re smart enough to figure out they need food.”

“I’m sure they are, it’ll just be awhile.” She laughed, tightening her hold on my hand as I tried dragging my feet just a little more. “Stop it!” She chastised without turning around to face me.

I finally just gave up and went with her. I did after all promise her a vacation and for Ri a vacation meant shopping. Gods an eternity of shopping, what have I done?

“Stop that little thief!” She dropped my hand as the call came to our ears and we both immediately went on alert. It was amazing how quickly all the old senses were returning to us.

As I scanned the crowd for any sign of a disturbance she was at the ready right next to me. “See anything?” She asked as I craned to see into the crowd.

“Not ye-” Before I could finish my sentence a young boy came running at us. The crowd was parted to let him through, mostly because of the long, sharp knife that he held out in front of him.

I stood firm as the crowd parted and he ran right into me, bouncing off and falling on his backside. Before he had a chance to react and use the knife, Ri pinned his hand to the ground with her foot before jerking the knife from his hand. “Give me that! You could hurt someone with it.” She pulled the knife from the boy’s hand, giving it to me before she released him.

I snorted as I tucked the knife away, then assisted the boy to his feet with a quick jerk.

“What?” She arched her brow at me as she dusted her hands off.

“You sounded so much like a mother. ‘Give me that!’” I mimicked as I held the boy by the scruff of the neck.

“Well, could that be because I am a mother?”

“Could be I guess.” I offered as the little ruffian struggled in my grasp.

“Do you mind? Let me go!” He yelled, struggling more.

“Nooooo I don’t think so.” I didn’t tighten my hold on him as I forced him back through the crowd. “Someone just stole something from the market and you are my prime suspect.”

“Now why would you think that?” He argued, twisting in my hold, still trying to break free.

“Could be because you were the only one running away?” Ri offered as we made our way into the crowd.

He remained silent, but continued to struggle as we returned to the scene of the crime. The blade merchant looked at the boy then made a lunge for him. “C’mere you little thief!”

I pulled the boy back, taking the blade from my belt and tossing it in the air. Catching it by the blade I handed it back to the merchant. “I believe this is yours.”

He looked surprised to be getting it back, slowly making eye contact with me as he accepted the blade. “Yes, yes it is. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Not if you will point me to the local magistrates office….”

“That way.” The merchant, who still seemed to be in shock about getting his knife back, pointed to a stone building a short distance away.

“Thank you.” I nodded, then the three of us headed for the building.

“What are you going to do with me?” The boy started dragging his feet a bit.

“Turn you in.”

“You can’t!” He yelled and the fight was really on. After wrapping him up in my arms so I had a good hold on him from behind Ri came round to face him.

“You stole something. You have to….”

“They’ll cut my hands off!” He screamed fighting and kicking, trying to make me put him down.

My eyes met Ri’s and I knew we were in trouble. “NO!” I said before she could utter a word. “We are turning him over.”

“Xe! He’s just a boy! Not much older than Kessa and Rosa.”

“He’s a thief!”

“Your best friend is a thief.”

I dropped my head a little as the boy began to relax in my arms. “Ri he’s still a thief and he needs to be punished.”

“I agree, but he doesn’t need to have his hands cut off to prove the point.”

“So do you have a suggestion Your Majesty?”

“Excuse me, I’m having trouble breathing here.” The boy mumbled.

“Like I care.” I growled in his ear, knowing that his appearance was about to complicate my life.

“Actually I do. We’re going to be in town for a few days, right?”

“Yeah.” I agreed, wondering if we could pack and leave now. No, that wouldn’t work, she’d make us take him with us.

“So for the next few days you can teach him a lesson.”

“Me? Why me? You want him, you take him.”

“I’m not a pet!” The boy yelled, beginning to struggle again.

“You are if she wants you to be. Now hold still.” I tightened my hold on him.

“Bite me!”

“Keep it up and I will.”

“Xe!” Ri sighed as she laid a hand to the boys shoulder. “Would you both just calm down?”

“Make Medusa put me down will ya’?” He tried again to kick my leg.

“Ri I’m gonna be forced to hurt him in a moment.”

“Xe, he’s boy how much damage can he do?”

“Tell you what why don’t you hold onto him and find out.”

“Boy you’re cranky this morning. Didn’t you get enough to eat.”

“No and I’m thinking he’d make a great snack.”

She just shook her head at me, giving me ‘the looked and I resigned myself to hanging on to the little terror for the moment.

“What’s your name?” Ri asked so calmly, I wondered if she had been paying attention to the last few moments.

“John.”

“Okay John, here’s the deal. I get her to let go and you behave. Otherwise she snatches you back up and we’re headed straight to the magistrate. Got it?”

He nodded and I could feel him relax. She nodded to me and I loosened my arms from around his arms and chest. Then he made his next big mistake. He tried to make a run for it, again. Ri thrust her arm out and simply caught him across the shoulders knocking him to the ground. She placed her booted foot firmly in his chest and her staff in his throat. “So you want your hands cut off? Okay we can do that.” She looked to me. “Guess he wants to go to the magistrate.”

“So it would seem.”

“Well, we can most certainly accommodate him. Why don’t you just haul him back to his feet and we’ll take him-”

“No! No!” He yelped from his position under her foot. “I swear I won’t try anything just let me up.”

“You know,” I growl as I lean over and pull him to his feet again. “If I were you I’d be a lot more afraid of her than having my hands lopped off.” I jerked my thumb at Ri.

“Her! What about you?” He stammered looking me up and down comparing my size to Ri’s.

“Who me? Compared to her, I’m harmless.”

“Oh shit.” He groaned, letting his head drop.

She gave him a good smack to the back of the head. “Watch your language.”

He looked up to me as his brows came together. “Told you. She’s raised six children, don’t piss her off. She wields a mean switch.”

“Gods you don’t just don’t give a guy a chance.” He just shook his head.

“We gave you plenty of chances and you blew them all.” Ri reminded him. She turned away from us and disappeared into the crowd for a few moments.

When she returned she held a length of rope out to me. “Remember when Mel was a baby?”

“Yup.”

“Do it.”

After a few minutes I had him securely harnessed up and walking ahead of us. “Now what?” I whispered to the wife, giving him a little shove to keep him moving.

“I’m working on it.”

“A plan would have been good here Ri.”

“I said I’m working on it. Just give me a little time will ya? Geeze.

“Well, time is something we definitely have.”

“Yeah I know. We could try to find his parents.”

“Oh yeah I’m sure they’re around here somewhere.” I gestured after offering my sarcastic opinion.

“Dead.” He mumbled.

I stopped, pulling him to a stop then pulling him back to us. “What did you say?”

“I said they’re dead. My parents are dead.” He looked up at us as we tried to find something to say to him. “What, you think I like stealing to survive?”

Suddenly I felt my life getting really complicated. “Oh Gods.” I groaned a little, letting my own head drop. It’s when I heard the sniffling that I finally looked up to find the little goon held firmly in the arms of my wife as he cried against her tunic.

Oh yeah, a lot more complicated.

Mel snickered, as she looked us over. “What shop did you buy him at?” She crossed her arms against her chest, leaning against the stairs of the inn, watching the boy consume his fourth bowl of stew.

“Thieves R Us.” I offered dryly as I drained another mug of juice.

“What?”

“Never mind I’ll explain later. Where’s Bri?”

“Sleeping.” She wiggled her eyebrows at me and I knew I didn’t need any more information. “I thought I’d come down and get us something to eat.”

“Told you they were smart enough to figure it out.” Ri chuckled as she sliced more bread from the loaf on the table.

“Figure what out?” Mel asked, leaning over to take a piece of bread.

“I’ll explain that later too. So are you going right back upstairs or do you have some time you can spend to help me out a little?”

“For you, Mother dear, anything.”

“Good. We have an attitude to adjust.” I jerked my hand at John.

He looked up from his stew for the first time and swallowed really hard when he got a good look at Mel. “Oh Gods there are two of them.”

“Yup, and one is just as bad as the other. You had the unfortunate luck to run into the three most stubborn people in all of Greece.” Ri grinned at him offering him another piece of bread. “We don’t give in and we don’t give up.”

“The fourth most stubborn person,” Mel leaned in close to his ear. “Is upstairs asleep.”

I watched as he gulped and turned two or three different shades of green. Personally, I didn’t think the stew here was that bad.

——————————————————-

~It’s all in the Presentation~

“Put it back!” Mel growls, grabbing John by the scruff of the neck.

“Gods do you people have eyes in the back of your head?” He grumbles at her as we continue through the market. Xe is keeping a close eye on him and then letting Mel deal with him when he steals something.

“Yes! And if you don’t behave I’ll show you where I keep my claws and fangs too.”

“Aww save it for the wife.” John argues, trying to pull away from her.

Oh I knew that was a mistake the moment he said it. Xe, Bri and I stop and wait for Mel to stop dunking him in the barrel of water.

“Mel don’t drown him.” Xe calls, leaning on a fruit cart. She looks to her left, picking up a pair of very nice, ripe apples. After paying the vendor, she tosses me one.

“Thanks. You know I’ve been thinking. You know what John’s biggest problem is?”

“He’s stupid.” Mel offers as she sends him back into the water for about the fourth time.

Xe signals Bri who manages to coax Mel into letting him up.

“What?” My Consort cocks her brow at me, biting into the apple.

“He’s not a very good thief.”

“Oh no, Mom, do tell.” Bri grins, handing the half drown young man a cloth to dry off with.

I can only smile at my daughter. She is a handful. She’s going to keep Mel on her toes for quite sometime to come. “Well seems to me that if he wants to be a thief. He needs to be a good thief.”

“True,” Xe takes another bite of her apple, chewing slowly, then a smile spreads across her face. “Oh I know what you’re thinking. We need to ship him off to someone who can make him a good thief.”

“Well, it would make sense.”

“Wonder if Autolycus is up to the challenge?”

I can’t help but laugh. “Autolycus has always been up to the challenge to hear him tell it.”

“True, very true.”

I take her hand and lead her into a small alcove where we can have a mostly private conversation. Getting my entire body as closer to her as possible, I run my hand up the front of her shirt and offer a suggestion. “So, future Lord of the Underworld, I would like to further suggest that you, ummm, use your considerable powers to deliver him back to Autolycus so that we don’t have to give up our vacation just yet.”

“Oh is that so?” She grins down at me.

“Un-huh. I hate to say it, but I know all is going well in the village. There’s no need for us to rush back there and I’m just not ready to go home yet. So if you would just get that fancy cloak of yours and…”

“Okay I get it. Let’s go back to the inn.

****

Traveling like that still makes me nauseous. Hades says I’ll get over it eventually, but it can’t be soon enough for me.

I open my cloak. John steps out looking a little dazed and confused. “Where…where are we? How did you do that?”

“We are at the home of one of my oldest friends and you really don’t want to know.”

“Right.” He swallows hard, trying to get his balance. I know how he feels.

I take a deep breath, putting my arm around the boy, walking toward Autolycus’ place. “Ever hear of The King of Thieves?”

“Autolycus, of course.”

“Prepare to be amazed.” I tell him as we climb the steps to the porch. It doesn’t take long to get an answer to my knock.

“Gods on Olympus, is it necessary to knock the door from the…Oh, hi Xena.” Autolycus grins when he finally looks at us.

“Hello my friend.”

“Oh boy what do you want?” He crosses his arms, giving me a look as he leans against the doorframe

“Now how can you…”

“Because the only time you open with ‘Hello my friend’, you want something.”

“Okay I can’t argue with that.” I present John to my friend. “Autolycus this is John. John is a thief, a very bad thief.”

“Got caught did he?”

“Un-huh.”

“Lemme guess. You want me to make him a good thief.”

“If it’s not to much trouble.” I grin at my friend.

“Xena, Xena, Xena, you know that there is more to being a thief than….”

“Tell you what Autolycus. Save the lecture for him. I need to get back to Ri.” I make a rather hasty retreat from the porch.

“COWARD!” I hear him call after me as I head into the woods. I knew he’d take the boy on, but he’ll make me pay for it later.

****

There’s a certain shiver that runs down my spine now. It always did before, but now it’s more intense. I turn to find her, wearing a very silly little grin as she becomes more solid.

“John’s all settled?”

“I hope so.” She tosses the cloak to a nearby chair. “I’m in big trouble when we get home though.”

“Like that’s anything new. You’re generally in big trouble with someone. It’s been that way since the first day I met you.”

“Seem to recall it being you that was in big trouble then.”

“So you’re going to stand over there and pick nits?” I laugh, opening my arms to her.

“Oh no, now that you put it that way.”

Now I’m happy, wrapped in my Warrior’s arms, beginning lifted from my feet, kissed senseless and carried to the bed. I’m definitely finding all the advantages to this immortality thing. An eternity in these arms, I can most definitely enjoy this. No matter what our future holds.

There is, however, one major disadvantage to this whole thing, which comes in the form of a knocking on our door. I just groan when I feel Xena push up to answer the door.

“Kill whoever that is.” I tell her, rolling over on my side to see who the victim will be.

She laughs pulling the door open. Mel is just about to knock again when the door is pulled open.

“Oh hi.” She seems a bit surprised. “You’re back. Hmm, well I was going to see if Mom want to join Bri and I for the evening meal. But you know what,” she grins, looking back and forth between us. “I’ll just take the look on your faces as a great big old no and be on my way.”

“Good choice runt.”

“Hey, how was I suppose to know? Not like I have any special powers here. Remember me, the mere mortal?”

“You, brat, are no mere mortal. No matter how you cut it.” Xe gives her a wink. “At least that not what your wife says.”

“Oh Gods!” Mel groans. “I’ve got to talk to her, about being more careful with what she says to you.”

I can’t help but laugh from my spot on the bed. I’ll never get tired of watching these two together.

“Oh sure!” Mel gestures to me. “Encourage her, go ahead. Thanks Mom. I love you too.”

“My pleasure.” I offer with another laugh.

“And speaking of her pleasure,” Xe turns Mel to the door. “Get out!”

“I’m leaving, I’m leaving! No need to shove.” Mel stops just before leaving, turning to Xe with a wicked little smirk. “So you think you’ll be up to sparring in the morning?”

“I hope not.” Xe gives her one last shove, closing the door in her face. She turns back to me clapping her hands together. “Now where was I Your Majesty?”

I point to a spot at the base of my neck. “Right about here.”

“Ah yes!”

****

Returning to my own room I find Bri tucking a small throwing knife in her boot. “Where’s Mom?”

“Otherwise engaged. We’re on our own for the evening meal.”

She nods, understanding completely. “Well, then, I think you should take me some place very expensive and show me a really good time.”

“Oh you do huh?”

“Un-huh.”

“Why don’t you take me out?”

“Not in my job description.”

“Is that a fact?”

“It is Ego. Let’s go, I’m starved.” She moves to me, wrapping her arms around my waist, placing a little kiss to the base of my throat. “I worked up quite an appetite while we were otherwise engaged.”

“Speaking of that. What in the name of Tartarus are you telling my parents?”

“Only the absolutely truth.” She smirks, turning me to the door.

“Yeah, well, stop it.” I laugh wrapping my arm around her waist.

“I’ll consider it.”

I just shake my head, taking my wife from our room and heading out to find something to eat.

****

“No matter how many times I deny it, you just aren’t going to believe me are you?” I ask as I sip my wine.

“No way Ego. I know you set me up and one of these days I’ll get my revenge.” Bri smiles at me from across the table. “I know you had your class ambush us.”

“I swear to you, I did not.” I defend again knowing all to well, it is simply falling on deaf ears.

Just as I am about to respond a tall and very large man about my own age comes to our table. He looks us both over, then he lays a hand on Bri’s shoulder. She must see it in my eyes, because she immediately shakes her head.

“Can I help you?” She turns slightly, to look up at him.

“In more ways than one, I would imagine.” He leers at her.

“Sorry, not interested. Now why don’t you go be a good little drunk and go pass out somewhere?”

“Look woman,” His grip tightens on her shoulder, and the grip tightens on one of the small daggers in the small of my back. “I want company for the night and you’re it.”

“Really? Well, I’m sure I should be honored, but I’d have to lower my standards to nearly nothing before I’d even consider spending more than a moment with you.”

I can tell he’s getting ready to pull her from the chair by the way the muscles in his arms are flexing. I know my better half is more than capable, but the fact that this scum has his hands on my wife at all is really starting to piss me off.

Bri reaches for the hand on her shoulder, taking three of his fingers in her hand she gives them a twist, which snaps them all. Before he can respond to that, I’m on my feet, driving the dagger through his other hand, which was resting flat on the table.

He crumples to his knees, his hand still pinned to the table by my blade. I move to him, grabbing him by the shirt, pulling him to his feet. “Mistake number one, touching my wife. Mistake, number two, hurting my wife. Mistake, number three, pissing me off. My Mother taught me never to let there be a four. So, do I kill you now or do you leave the way you came?”

“Leave.” He croaks, looking at the dagger sticking through his hand into the table.

“Thought so. Bri, you want to get my knife?”

“Sure.” She pulls the knife from the table, very slowly. Our friend grimaces with each excruciating moment. Once it’s free of the table she pulls it from his flesh, wipes it on his sleeve, then she hands it back to me.

I place it at his throat. “The next time a lady says no. She means no. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Good.” I release him, letting him crawl away to nurse his two busted hands.

“Think it’ll be awhile before he does that again?” My wife asks, retaking her seat, straightening the table.

“I hope so.” I put my knife away, retaking my place at the table. “Now what were you saying about taking revenge on me?”

She gives me a sweet smile from behind her own cup of wine. “I wouldn’t think of it darling.”

“Yeah right.”

—————————————————————-

~Home Again~

I stretch, slowly waking and gaining very grumpy protests from my queen. While we were on the road she had fallen back into the old routine of using me as a mattress. Now that we’re home she is still doing it. Not that I’m complaining, she always has made a great blanket.

I rub my hands up and down her back to soothe her into wakefulness. “No.” She protests, shaking her head. “Too early.”

“Council.”

She groans, snuggling into me. “You go. Just put the pinch on them and then come back to bed.”

“Doesn’t work that way.”

“It can work any way I like.” She buries her face in my neck. “As a matter of fact, I quit.”

“You can’t quit.

“Then tell them I died.”

I laugh softly, hugging her close. “Ri, sweetheart, we’re home and we have things to do.”

“Name two?”

“Well, let’s see you have council to attend and I have a hunting party to organize.”

“I hate you.” She groans, rolling off of me. Now I’m cold. Dumb warrior, very dumb. I would pull up a blanket, but if the truth were known I’d just go back to sleep too.

“Where are you going hunting?” She asks, rolling over the face me, propping herself up on her elbow.

“I was thinking we’d send hunting parties out in four or five places this season. I have a feeling we are in for a very hard winter. Hades mentioned to me the other day that he and Persephone’s mother had another argument.”

“Oh wonderful. Maybe we should…”

“I suggested that Gabrielle, but he’s so mad at her right now he’s refusing to leave the underworld this season.”

“The stubborn streak in your family is a league wide, you know that?”

“Un-huh, and you still married me.”

“I like a challenge.”

“Imagine that.” I roll over to face her, brushing my hand through her hair. “Love you.”

She tilts her head slightly, smiling at me. “What brought that on?”

“I need a reason? Other than the obvious one, which is simply, I love you. You know you’re getting picky in your old age.”

“Watch it!” She warns, moving closer to me. “I can make you pay for that you know.”

“Yeah, but you have a council meeting to get to.”

She falls back to the bed, tossing her arm over her eyes, whimpering a bit. “I repeat, I quit!”

Standing at the steps of the council hall, she just stares at the doors. “I got spoiled on our trip Xe.”

“Yup.” I agree with a nod. This gets me an elbow to the ribs. “Hey! I was just agreeing with you.”

“Stop it.” She turns to me with a smile, patting my chest. “Go plan your hunting party. I’ll go be a good queen now. I just needed to whine.”

Leaning in and kissing her, I whisper. “I’ll give you a back rub tonight.”

“Oh yeah something to look forward to.”

“You better believe it.”

“I knew there was a reason I kept you.”

“There are many reasons you keep me my love.” I wink, giving her one last kiss before she sighs, then heads up the steps. I wait until the door closes behind her then I head off to meet with my hunting parties.

Mel is taking inventory when I arrive, actually she’s suppose to be taking inventory. However, when I arrive she’s merely standing in the storage hut staring up at the very top shelf.

“What’s,” I pause, stifling a chuckle. “Up?”

“My wife.”

“What?”

“We noticed there’s a hole in the roof. Bri went up to have a look.”

“Well, we’ll need to get that fixed.”

“Nothing like stating the obvious.”

“What is it with the women in my life today? Did someone put something in the water around here?”

“Hey!” Bri’s face pops up in the hold in the roof. “The rest of it,” She smiles at me. “Hi.”

“Hello daughter dear. How did you get stuck crawling up there?”

“What? Let old clumsy down there, do it? Don’t think so. She would have fallen through.”

“Oh har, har. So you were saying about the roof?” Mel gets us back on track.

“Oh yeah. Umm it seems solid enough. Looks like maybe some birds picked away the thatch for nesting materials.”

“How long will it take to fix?” I ask, making my way up one of the shelves to get closer to the hole.

“Half a day at the most.”

“Then we need to get a work detail on it so that it will be ready when we get back from hunting.” I run my hand around the edge of the hole. “Can you take care of it Bri?”

“Consider it done.”

“Thanks.” I drop back down next to Mel who is still staring at the hole. “What’s with you today?”

“Is it possible to be more in love everyday?”

“Oh you had better believe it. I’ve had that very problem for more than twenty seasons.”

“Lucky you.”

“Yup.”

“Hope I have the same problems.”

“You will runt. Come on we have work to do.”

There are perks to being queen. There are even bigger perks to being queen with two very competent heirs. I’ve been sitting here very quietly watching my daughters handle just about everything. Very soon I will be able to step aside if I choose to do so.

“That’s not the point!” Kessa leaves her seat next to mine and begins pacing the council hall floor. “We have had a long standing treaty with the centaurs that our Queen and her champion worked out many seasons ago and just because the centaurs are experiencing difficulties because of Tyldus’ retirement that is no reason for us to try and take advantage of them.”

“I beg to differ Princess Kessa.” A younger woman stands from her position to face my daughter. “Now is the perfect time to do it. It could mean great expansion for our nation.”

“It would mean,” Rosa offers from her place on my other side. “That we would be barbaric scavengers with no honor.”

“My sister is right. We should be helping the centaurs, not trying to determine if we can take advantage of their situation. How large does our nation have to be before we are satisfied? It is already united from many tribes into one, under one Queen.”

“Three queens.” The young woman, who had been standing, mumbles this before retaking her seat.

“Excuse me?” Kess is quick across the room. When I see her move like that she reminds me of Xe. Same motions, same short fuse.

“This nation is ruled by three Queens.” The young councilwoman is firm in her opinion.

“This nation,” Kess stops and leans in on the table, staring the young woman down. “Is ruled by one Queen.”

“All right! That’s enough.” I stand, taking a deep breath. “It’s time to take a break. Tempers are flaring and it won’t help this debate. Council is adjourned for one mark.”

I watch as the room empties. Rosa stands next to me, Kessa turns to us both and shrugs. “Sorry. What was I suppose to do?”

“Tact sister dear.”

“Tact is for diplomats.”

“You are a diplomat.” I remind her.

She gives her neck a little scratch. “Good thing I’ve got Rosa to keep us balanced. Everyone knows she’s the real diplomat.”

“Well, we’ll just have to work on you approach.” Rosa says quietly.

“I’ve always rather enjoyed Mel and Mother’s methods of break bones now, ask questions later.”

I just roll my eyes as my daughters and I make our way out of the hall. “Un-huh.”

“It’s very effective, their method.”

“Right.” Now Rosa is patronizing her sister as we cross the village to the food hut.

Inside, I find the other three women in my life, seated and enjoying the mid day meal. They are laughing and talking about the upcoming hunt.

“Is this a private party or can anyone join?” I ask as we approach.

Xe looks up at us. “Well I guess they can.” She gestures to Kess and Rosa. “But you look like trouble. Maybe you should go eat somewhere else.”

“Maybe, I’ll just have the Royal Guard come in here and clear the royal table Warrior.” I cross my arms, staring down at her. The girls just laugh as they take their seats.

“They could try.” Mel smirks.

“Be good Ego.” Bri growls, giving Mel a little nudge.

“Yes dear.” Mel nods, sipping from her mug.

Xe laughs giving Mel a tap to the back of the head. “You are so whipped.”

I take a quick look around until I find what I’m looking for. After retrieving it from the hip of one of my guards I returning to the table and lay it down directly in front of my warrior. “Speaking of whipped…” I let the comment linger as her eyes drop to the coiled leather on the table.

She grins, standing up and pulling out my chair for me. “Should I fetch your food Your Majesty?”

“No.” I grin up at her. “You’ve done more than enough. Mel can get it.”

“Gods.” Mel groans, pushing back from the table.

“Care to make it three?” I gesture to her sisters.”

“Oh sure why not.” She grumbles. “I’m supposed to be a warrior not a waitress.”

“If the shoe fits.” Bri grins. “Come on Ego I’ll give you a hand.”

I watch them leave, then I look to the table. I watch Xe with Kess and Rosa as they debate diplomacy over breaking bones.

I am a very lucky woman.

—————————————————

~The News~

“Gabrielle?”

I look up to find Bri standing in the doorway. Setting aside my latest scroll I wave her in. “What’s up?”

“I need your advice.” She pulls out a chair, taking a seat next to me.

“With?”

“Mel.”

I grin and offer. “Cold shower.”

She laughs, shaking her head. “It’s not that kind of problem.”

“Ah, okay. Sorry. It usually is with Xe.”

She shakes her head again. “Nope. We have no problems there at all.”

“Soooo…” I raise my brows, trying to get her to open up further.

“We’ve been married almost two full seasons now.”

“Un-huh.”

“I umm…well, I want to have a baby.”

I sit back in my chair. I wasn’t expecting that. “And Mel?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I need your help. I want to figure out how to ask her.”

“Just ask her.” I shrug.

“Direct approach?”

“That’s always a good one. Less confusion that way.”

“How about over the evening meal with you and Xena tonight?”

“Do you really want Xe and I there? It’s an awfully personal conversation.”

“You’re her mother’s. Don’t you want grandchildren?”

“Of course we do, sweetheart.”

“Then you can offer me some support here. Please?”

Oh boy. Now I have to tell Xe. I smile at my daughter. “Of course. We’d be happy to.”

****

“She wants a what?” Xe tosses her gloves down on the table, turning to me.

“A baby.”

“Great Gods on Olympus! Doesn’t she know that we’re on the verge of a rebellion among the amazons? This thing with the factions over the centaurs may end up in a war.”

“Xe you won’t let it come to that. I know you. And you know as well as I do when a woman decides it’s time to have a baby there is very little you can do to talk her out of it.”

I watch as my Warrior settles down on the couch in front of the fire. I pour a glass of wine and offer it to her. She shakes her head.

“Oh, come on Xe. Go ahead and drink it.”

“I quit a long time ago and I have no intentions of starting again.” She looks up at me. “Tea?”

“Sure.” I place the kettle over the fire. “This really has you bothered Xe. I thought you’d be happy that Bri wants a baby.”

I watch as she unhooks the first few catches on her tunic, letting it fall open just a bit at her throat. She takes a deep breath, scratching the back of her neck, looking to me. “I’m worried about how Mel is going to take it.”

“Why?” I ask, curling up next to her. I feel her arm come to rest on my shoulders. “Mel’s a big girl. She knows how the birds and the bees work.”

“Yeah, and she’s as thrilled about the concept as I was.”

“Ah, the green eyed monster.”

“Un-huh. The thoughts of Bri…” Xe just shakes her head. “Mel is not ready to let Bri be with a man. Even for the purpose of a baby.”

“Hmm, maybe it is better that they’re coming over here for the evening meal then.”

“They’re what!?” She pulls back from me, looking at me like I’ve just grown another head. “Oh no Ri! We are not going to get caught in the middle of this. This is for them to work out.”

“Xe! What in Tartarus is wrong with you tonight?”

She sighs again, letting head drop a bit. “We’ve got problems of our own Ri.”

“What?”

“Hades says it’s time.”

I feel my shoulders slump, my eyes closing tight. I wondered how I would take this news. “When?”

“This winter.”

“Damn.” I mutter, getting to my feet to fix her tea. “Damn!” I pour the tea, turning to Xe I see the pain in her face too. “Not as easy as we thought it would be is it?”

“No.”

“What about Kess and Rosa?”

“They’re grown. By amazon standards they’re adults.”

“I thought I was prepared. I thought I could just…” I let my comment die when I hand her the mug and look into her eyes. “Oh, don’t you say it. Don’t you tell me how I can stay behind!”

“You can.”

“I won’t.”

“Even if it means leaving the girls?”

“Yes. They are grown and they are ready to take the throne. Ephiny will be here to guide them.”

She pulls me into her arms. “I’m sorry love.”

“Don’t be sorry Xe. We made a deal.”

“You didn’t make it, I did.”

“You? Me? There’s no difference. You’ve stood by me while I led the amazons and I’ll stand by you while you rule the Underworld.”

****

Xe and I look back and forth at each other over our meal. Bri still hasn’t brought the subject up to Mel, who has been rambling on all night about every subject known to man and the Gods. Finally, Mel stops and looks at all three of us.

“Okay I give up. Getting any conversation out of you three is like trying to get Ares to play nice. What gives?” She drops her spoon to her bowl, then settles back in her chair.

“Well…Mel…” Bri starts then stops.

Mel looks to Xe and I. “I suppose you know what’s going on and are choosing to keep quiet.”

“Pretty much.” Xe offers from behind a mug of tea.

“Thanks a lot pal.”

“No problem. This is between you and your wife.” She stands, offering me her hand. “So, my wife and I, will be on the porch.”

I can tell there is no arguing with her so I join her. She places her hand in the small of my back guiding me to the door. Pausing briefly, she grabs our cloaks from the hooks by the door. Outside she drapes my cloak over my shoulders then pulls her own on.

“That was…”

She cuts me off. “Yeah I know. Rude.”

“To say the least.”

“Well. they weren’t getting anywhere with us in there.” She moves in behind me wrapping her arms around me. “Now they’ll have to.”

“You know if Mel agrees we won’t be here to see the baby.” I settle back in her arms.

“I know, but we won’t be here anyhow.” She leans in kissing my ear. “Besides, who says we can’t make discreet trips back to see them. I will be after all, a full God. There should be some perks to the job.”

I can’t help but laugh a bit, feeling her breath on my ear. “True. Hmm, I wonder what it’ll be like to make love to a God.”

“Pretty much the same as it have been for the last twenty-five seasons.” She chuckles in my ear.

“Ooo you are so arrogant.” I tease, poking her in the ribs.

“Only,” Now she’s nibbling on my ear and her voice has taken on that deep, husky tone it always gets when she not thinking the most chaste thoughts in the world. “It’ll be for eternity.”

“Ohhh stop it.” I moan a little, my knees feeling very weak.

“I’ve got you.” She whispers in my ear. “Relax.”

“Please stop.” I beg half heartedly. “You know that in just a few moments they are either going to come out of that house with the big announcement or fighting. I’d rather not be aroused when it happens.”

“You mean you’re not already? Huh, I’m losing my touch.”

“You’re touch is just fine and that’s a big part of the problem here. Just behave until they’re gone.”

“And then?”

“Then my darling Warrior,” I turn in her arms, placing my hands on her shoulders. “I will drag you upstairs and make you beg for mercy.”

“I don’t surrender.” She smirks down at me.

“No, but I know for a fact you will beg.” I smirk back

Just as she’s about the respond the door opens. Mel and Bri come out with rather large smiles on their faces.

“Looks like they worked it out.” Xe whispers.

“Yes we did. No, thanks to you.” Mel offers. Xe forgets Mel’s hearing is just as sensitive as her own.

“We didn’t want to interfere.” I add then stop and wait. When the information isn’t forthcoming I give my daughter a swat on the arm. “So? What did you decide?”

“We’re going to have a baby.” Bri tells me with a grin and a shrug.

“Oh sweetheart that’s wonderful!” I throw my arms around her neck hugging her close to me. “You enjoy it. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world.”

“Oh boy.” I hear Mel and Xe groan together.

Looking over at them they shuffle back and forth. “What’s that suppose to mean?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Xe defends looking guilty.

“It had better be nothing or all you’re plans have just gone south.” I tease.

“Funny that’s usually where they go anyhow.”

I can’t help but groan. I return my attention to Bri. “When?”

“We’re not sure. We’re going to have to start looking for a father.”

“You okay with this runt?” Xe quirks a brow at Mel.

She nods. “You remember when you told me you would have done anything to make it Mom happy when she told you she wanted a baby?”

“Yeah.”

Mel shrugs. “Same thing.” She embraces Bri close to her. “But right, now we’re gonna go home and see if Artemis will bless us too.” She lifts her chin at Xe. “You could put in a good word for us.” She takes Bri’s hand and I watch them walk away.

Xe leans against the post of the porch watching Mel and Bri walk back toward the village. Mel wraps her arms around Bri and picks her up, swinging her around once before putting her down. It is clear they are very happy about their choice.

I pat Xe on the back and turn for the house. I hear her turn to follow me. “Where are you going?” She calls.

I ignore her.

“Ri?”

I continue in, tossing my cloak on the back of the couch.

“Ri? Honey?”

I let the smile on my face linger as I hear her come in, closing the door. I just continue up the steps to our bedchamber.

“Okay you win!” She yells up the stairs. “I’ll beg.”

I knew it.

———————————————————–

~Back From School~

“So,” I hold the parchment up again. “What do you think it is?”

I watch as Xe stretches out in front of the fire. She apparently dozed off on me over there, the rat. “Hmm?”

“This letter from Kai. What do you think the surprise is?”

“Oh that.” She rolls over, away from me to face the fire and mumbles something.

“Oh you didn’t say what I thought you said?” I get up from my desk and go over to her. Lying down with her, I roll her on her back. “Repeat yourself Warrior.”

She grins at me. “He got married.”

“You don’t really think that’s what it is do you?”

“I’ll bet good dinars on it.”

“Why wouldn’t he have sent word before this?”

She shrugs at me. “Maybe it was spur of the moment.”

“Xe, he certainly wouldn’t have gotten married without telling us would he?”

“He’s been on his own for over two full seasons now Ri. I don’t see why not.”

“I’ll kill him.” I grumble, trying to get back up.

I feel myself being pulled back. “No you won’t.”

She pulls me into her arms, forcing me to relax with her on the floor next to the fire. As usual, the feel of her fingers combing through my hair is very calming. “Okay, I won’t kill him, but I’ll be very upset with him.”

She chuckles at me. “No you won’t.”

“Why isn’t this bothering you?”

“Because, my love, if that’s what it is, there isn’t anything I can do about it. And there isn’t anything you can do about it either.”

“True.”

“It’ll be good to have the boys back.” She hugs me close.

“Even if one of them brings a wife we’re not expecting?”

“Especially if. And Bailus leading a legion of Athenian soldiers for a post here makes me very happy. Solves a lot our problems between the amazons and the centaurs.”

“This is a very good point.”

“Hmm. I thought so.” She stretches, yawning a bit. “Guess we’ll find out in a couple of days.”

****

“All right! Enough! Everyone just stop moving!” To my great surprise they do. Xe is even in mid step.

She slowly lowers her foot to the floor and smiles at me. “Yes dear?”

I look at my family. All of them have gathered to meet Kai when he gets home. This house is huge, but so is my family and when they all come in at once things get a little hectic.

“Kessa, Rosa. Please go into the kitchen and make sure that everything is going all right there for the evening meal.”

They nod and quietly leave the room.

“Mel would you please bring in more wood for all the fireplaces please?”

“Yes ma’am.”

I watch her retreat as well. “Bri we need to make sure the scouts know Kai is due today. Can you double check on that for me so they don’t put an arrow through my son?”

“Of course. Back soon.” She makes a quick exit.

Taking a deep breath, I’m finally feeling in control again. “Solan, did you bring up the wine cask liked I asked?

My eldest son shuffles a bit, grinning at his own wife. “No, but Alana and I will do that now if it will make you happy.”

“It will make me very happy.” I agree.

They head for the cellar. Looking to my eldest two grandchildren, I can’t help but smile, they’re waiting for their orders too. Xe is now leaning against the back of the couch, studying her nails, waiting for my tirade to come to an end.

“Gabrielle?”

“Yes Grandma.”

“Would you please make sure Kai’s room is ready?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Dante?”

“Yes Grandma?”

“Will you make sure the stall is ready for his horse?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Xe just continues to study her nails, licking her lips and making that little clicking noise with her tongue that irritates me to no end.

“And you!”

She looks up at me with amused blue eyes, pointing innocently to herself. She looks around quickly then back to me. “Who me?”

“Yeah you.”

“Whaddid I do?”

“Nothing. Thanks so much for all your help.”

“My pleasure.” She smirks a bit.

“You are going to get a beating if you don’t straighten up.”

“Promises, promises.” She holds out her arms to me. A silent offer I can never refuse. Once safely wrapped up there, she kisses the top on my head.

“Just relax honey. It’s Kai coming home. It’s not as if he’s bringing the governor of Athens with him.”

“You never know. That could be what the surprise is.”

“Better not be or I’ll have to kill him.”

****

Xe is settling Mother Cyrene into her place near the fire. The elderly woman still has very sharp senses even if moving around is difficult for her. Xe is so sweet and tender with her it’s a pleasure to watch.

“Are you comfortable Mother?”

“Very, Daughter, now stop fussing over an old woman and get ready for my grandson to come home.”

“Yes ma’am.” She gives our mother a kiss on the temple, taking the chance to tuck just a bit more of the blanket around her shoulders.

My warrior plans to escort her mother personally to the fields in a few short months when we make our transition as well. It’s going to be a difficult time for our family. I’m glad Kai will be home to help Mel, even if he doesn’t know the details like she does.

Looking around the house I am pleased that everything has come together so well. Now as long as my son is on time…

“Ri?”

“Huh?”

“I asked of you’re all right?” She’s standing in front of me now, stroking her hands up and down my arms in a soothing fashion.

“Yeah I’m fine. There was just so much to do today.”

“And as always, you managed it with your usual grace and charm.”

“Un-huh.” I know I sound sarcastic and skeptical, but I also know she’s lying to me like the old warrior she is.

She laughs a bit, knowing she’s been caught too. “Okay then, you handled just like this family expected you to.”

“That’s better.”

The door opens with a bang. We look to see our son in the doorway. He stands there for a moment with a grin on his face. “Hi Mom I’m home!”

I step past Xe and take in my son. “You certainly are. Still banging doors like a two-year-old. Wipe your feet.”

He does as he’s told then steps inside, still grinning.

“So you ready?” He asks, jerking his head toward the door.

I nod. I feel Xe move in behind me, placing her hands on my shoulders.

He turns around, offering his hand. He escorts in a young woman. Xe was right. He seems to have brought home a wife and, I can’t believe my eyes, a baby.

They step inside, closing the door. I seem to have grown roots. It’s only a little nudge from Xe that moves us from the spot.

I was prepared for a wife. I was not prepared for the small bundle in her arms. We move across the room, I’m still trying to find the right words to greet them as they hang up their cloaks. Kai draws a deep breath, offering us a broad smile.

“Mom. Mother. This is Maya and this,” He pulls the blanket back from the baby’s face. “Is your grandson, Drake.”

Xe clears her throat as she peers down at the baby lying in his mother’s arms. “You, ah, certainly did learn the, ah, proper meaning of the word surprise while you were away at school.”

He shuffles a bit. “Yeah I know. I’m sorry, but…”

She waves him off. “Don’t worry about it. Welcome to the family Maya.”

The girl just smiles at Xe and nods, offering her the baby with a sweet smile.

“Ah guys. Maya can’t hear. She’s deaf, but she reads lips very well and we have a system of hand signals we use so I can speak to her for you.”

More surprises. Great. I look to the girl with a smile. “Welcome.”

Once again, she nods and smiles as Xe takes the baby.

I look to my Warrior and my new grandson. He’s beautiful. “How old is he?” I ask, rescuing him from Xe. She just smirks at me and hands him over.

“Two weeks. We left Athens almost as soon as he was born.”

“You traveled with my grandson…” Xe places her hands on her hips.

“Un-huh and a legion of Athenian soldiers led by one very proud uncle. We were in no danger. Balius sends his love by the way, and says he’ll be over as soon as he gets his men settled.”

Xe points to Mother Cyrene and herds us in that direction. “Go say hello to you grandmother.”

Kai takes Maya’s hand leading her over. I continue to look at my grandson, sleeping so peacefully in my arms. Oh I swear. It was only yesterday that I held his father like this for the first time.

Very soon the rest of the family starts to come in and the reunion is about to begin.

****

“A grandson.” I know I’ve said it over and over again, but somehow it’s not sinking in.

Xe looks back at me, removing her tunic, tossing it to a chair. “Yes, dear, a grandson.”

“I just can’t believe it. He brings home a wife and a baby.”

“Hmm, yes he did.”

“And to top it all off they had to get married.”

“Hey, he did the right thing. And he loves that girl.” She shrugs into a shift that’s too small then stretches out next to me.

“Why do you wear this?” I tug on the shift.

“I like it.”

“It’s too short.”

“That’s your opinion. I think it’s very comfortable thanks. You’re trying to change the subject. We we’re talking about our son and his family.”

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I have a headache from even thinking about it.”

“Drake is wonderful.”

“Yes he is.”

“And Maya is a very sweet, intelligent woman who adores your son.”

I sigh. “Yeah, she seems to be.”

“So the problem is? What?” She pulls me into her arms.

“My baby boy is married. He’s a grown man now.”

“Yeah. Isn’t is wonderful?” She hugs me close. “Another generation has started. Our line continues to grow. Ri we should be very proud.”

“I am. I just couldn’t believe I was holding Kai’s son in my arms. Do you remember how we nearly lost him?”

“Only in my worst nightmares. In my dreams he’s always that strong, rambunctious little blonde kid who followed you around all the time. I hope our grandson is the same way.”

I snuggle close to her. “So do I. I hope he drives him nuts.”

“Now you’re getting it.” She laughs as we settle in for the night. “Now make sure to tell him tomorrow that you hope his son grows up to be just like him and you practically seal it.”

———————————————————–

~In the Arms of a God~

Removing my cloak and helmet, I hang them on the hooks in the cavern as I make my way into our living area. As has become Ri’s custom since our arrival, she has a meal ready for us, even though we don’t need it. She tells me that it just makes her feel better. As long as it makes her feel better I’ll eat every meal she prepares.

She has it settled down in front of the fire tonight with a thick pile of blankets and pillows, where she is waiting for me while writing a scroll. Still writing. I wonder if she will continue to do that for the rest of our lives? I drop down next to her, kissing the back of her neck and snitching up a piece of meat from a plate.

“Hmm that’s nice.” She hums a bit, tilting her head to one side to give me more room.

“Umm-hmm.” I can’t argue the point as I drop the meat back to the plate and continue to nibble her neck instead.

“So what did you do today?” She asks, her quill and scroll coming to rest in her lap.

“Same thing I do everyday. Go to some battlefield where Ares has started some little skirmish and collect the bodies. I’m a glorified undertaker.” I settle back, once again reaching for the meat. “Hades did this for thousands of seasons. I only have to do it for thirty or so until Solan passes naturally. It’s going to be a long thirty seasons.”

She sets her scroll aside and curls up next to me as I kick off my boots, stretching my feet toward the fire. I yawn, tired from my days activities. It does take a lot out of you, even for a God. I can understand why Hades wanted out.

“To make matters worse they’re having a warmer than normal winter. Lots of rains, causing flooding that they’re not prepared for.” I yawn again.

“Is everyone at home okay?”

“Last time I checked. Kess and Rosa have things well in hand. For them, the rains have actually been a blessing. They used it to their advantage to bring the centaurs and the amazons together. They had to dam the river to keep both villages from flooding.”

“Ah, those are our girls. Use a bad situation to their best advantage.” She seems very pleased with herself.

I hug her close to me. “You trained them well my love. They are excellent rulers. They will lead the amazons to great things.”

“You’re biased.”

“And you’re not?”

She snuggles closer to me. “No, not me. Not at all.”

“Liar.” I give her ear a little flick with my fingers.

“How can you call me that?”

“Because you’re laying here lying to me.”

“I am not!”

“Yes you are.” I laugh a bit, pulling her back as she tries to struggle away from me. “I am a God Ri. I can tell when people are lying to me.”

“Brat.” She gives my stomach a little slap. “You are so damn smug.”

“Love you.” I kiss the top of her head.

“Oh sure, you say that now.”

“Now and for eternity.”

She draws a deep breath. “Xe, Bri will be giving birth in a few months. Can we go see the new baby?”

“Oh, I think we could make a trip up top for that. Wouldn’t want to deny you a chance to see your new grandchild.”

“Like wild horse could keep you away too. Now who’s lying?”

“And being immortal tells you I’m lying?”

“No, being married to you tells me that you’re just as anxious for that baby to come as I am.”

I nod. “Okay, okay. Yes I am. I’ll be interested to see what the child looks like. It was a unique solution they came up with. Not one I’m sure I could have chosen for us.”

“It makes perfect sense.”

“I never said it didn’t. I just said, I wasn’t sure I could have used it.”

“Keeps the baby in our line and makes Mel feel like a part of it really belongs to her.”

“I know.”

She sits up, tosses another log on the fire, and then returns to my arms.

I gesture toward the fire. “You don’t have to do that you know. You really should learn to use your powers for thing like that.”

“I used them to start it.”

“Couldn’t get the tinder to catch huh?”

“No. It was damp.” She sighs a bit.

“What were you writing?”

“Oh I thought I’d play around a little bit. I’ve started a chart of our line. I thought I might keep track of it as it progresses.”

“That’s going to be quite a task Ri.”

“I know, but think about how interesting it’ll be if I can keep track of it.”

“Given enough time it’ll be voluminous.”

“Oh I know, and I know eventually, I won’t be able to keep track of everyone, because we can’t be everywhere, but I’m enjoying myself so far.”

“This is good. I know you must be bored silly down here most of the time. I wish there were more for you to do.”

“Eh, I’ll live.” She snickers a bit. “Besides, given enough time you know me, I’ll find something to get into.”

“I’m sure you will.” As I pick through the food on the plate at my right hand, I feel her tug on my belt. “Umm Ri? What are you doing?”

“Making you more comfortable.”

“Is that a fact?”

“Sure.” She tugs my belt away, tossing it across the room. Then I feel her start on my tunic.

“How comfortable do you want me to be?”

She purrs in my ear, giving it a little nip. “Very.”

***

Lying on top of me, she feeds me an olive from her own lips. The kiss is long and passionate. My hands run up and down her back, massaging it and caressing away the dampness from her skin. “You’re bad for me.” I grin, kissing the tip of her nose.

“Un-huh. Didn’t hear you complaining a little bit ago.”

“I was otherwise occupied.”

“Yes you were. Thank you very much.” She giggles a bit, feeding me another olive.

“Oh, it was indeed my pleasure. I assure you.”

“Xe what do you think the future holds for us?”

“I have no idea Ri, but I’m sure it’s going to be interesting.”

“Based on our past I don’t see how it could be anything but.”

“Keeping an eye on our heirs for eternity? How could it not be? If nothing else we do have adventuresome children. I don’t see that trait dying away in our line anytime soon.”

“Very true. You’ve been a really bad influence on them in that department.”

She jerks her head up, pointing to herself with a look of shock. “ME? ME? The little innocent village girl from Poteidaia, I think not!” She grabs my hands, pinning them above my head, meeting me nose to nose. “You’re the one with the wanderlust in your system.”

“Nope. I was on my way home to make peace and settle down. Rescued your butt and well,” I pause and sigh dramatically. “The rest, is history.” I wiggle my eyebrows and kiss her nose.

“You are so full of it. You were gonna get your butt beat, warrior. I saved you.”

I roll her over, pinning her under me. “Oh pluuleeze. You know what?”

She smiles at me, pushing a strand of hair behind my ear. Her look is loving, but somewhat more serious now. “Yeah, I know it doesn’t matter when or how. I’m just glad it happened.”

“Oh now how am I suppose to tickle you until you beg for mercy after that?”

“Hmm you’re not, but there are other things we can do.”

“Repeat performance?”

“More of an encore really, wouldn’t you think?”

“Yeah I guess it would be.” I offer her a soft kiss, which turns long and deep when her fingers tangle in my hair signaling that she won’t be letting go anytime soon.

Hmm, and eternity of making love to this woman. Yeah, I can live with that.

***

With my head propped again my fist I watch her sleep. Curled contentedly, with her back to me as we face the fire, my arm over her waist, holding her close. Brushing her hair back from her face I realize I love her more now than I ever have before.

She sighs in her sleep, tugging my arm back down and tighter around her waist, pushing her body back into mine. I pull the covers over us to keep her warm, kissing her temple when she snuggles into the warm blankets.

She has followed me no matter where the road has led us. When I got tired of leading, I followed her. Followed her home.

I followed her home, to my true destiny, to my family. She gave me children and a life beyond the fighting and the darkness. Our life with the amazons gave us place to belong and a purpose. She ruled them well, with a wisdom that no one would have given her credit for if they had known her when we first met.

Our children have grown up so strong and proud. They have given us grandchildren. I smile at the thought, placing another kiss to her hair. Our grandchildren, who I am sure, will do the same. They are a part of my world and they always will be.

But she truly is…

My world.

My love.

My Gabrielle.

——————————————————–

~Stalemate~

“Xena!” She groans a little when I land in the middle of our bed and give her a shake. “Come on Xe! It’s time. We’ve got to get up top!”

She groans again and pulls the blankets over her head. I don’t hesitate to yank them back and straddle her waist.

“Come on Xe! The baby is coming. You said we could go up!”

“Ri, honey you gave birth. You know that baby’s take their sweet time in coming. Please just give me another mark to sleep. Ares has been on a rampage and he’s been annoying me…”

“You know I’d like to enjoy something in this existence just once without Ares ruining it.”

“You’re pouting.” She runs her thumb over my bottom lip.

“I’m not pouting. I’m having a conniption.” She gives me a very serious look. “What?”

“Never seen a real conniption before. Just wondered what it looked like.”

“Oh very funny. Come on please get up.”

She draws a deep breath, pulls me down for a long kiss then tosses me off her waist and sits up on the side of the bed. “You’re acting like this is your first grandchild.”

“It’s Mel’s first baby.”

She nods, “Yes dear.” Getting to her feet, she stretches and turns to me. “Can’t I take a bath first?”

“If you insist.”

“I promise to make it fast.”

“Good plan.”

She heads off to our bathing chamber and I get ready for the trip up top. We’re not really supposed to do this, but occasionally we go. Xe gets up top more than I do these days, but it’s generally just to clean up battlefields. Ares really is being a pain in her butt. He’s not happy about her taking over the Underworld and he’s doing everything he can to make her miserable. They are going to end up having it out before it’s over with. I really feel for him when that happens. He’s not accustomed to her having powers that equal his own, and I think she scares him just a little now. He does do his best to avoid her at all costs. Maybe he’s got more of a brain than I’ve given him credit for all these seasons.

Xe was good to her word and she hasn’t kept me waiting long. She’s smiling as she fastens her cloak around her shoulders. “Are you ready my love?” She offers me her most charming smile and her hand.

***

Xe raps on the door. We decided it would be best to knock instead of just appearing in their home. Xe says it really unnerves Mel when we do that. She remembers being unnerved every time Ares or Hades showed up and she doesn’t want to stress Mel out. She says it’s very unpleasant and doesn’t want Mel to feel her approach as an unpleasant experience.

The door opens and the smile that breaks across Mel’s face is truly priceless. “I wondered when you two were going to show up. Come in!” She ushers us inside, closing the door behind us. “Bri is going to give birth anytime now. I’m feeling a little stressed.” She grins, taking Xe’s cloak.

“Mel, it’s okay. Having babies is the most wonderful, natural thing in the world.” I offer, giving my daughter a hug. Oh, I’ve missed hugging her.

She pulls back from me, nodding. “I know, but I’m a nervous wreck. I’m very glad you two are here. Come on.”

She leads us into the room where Bri is laying, she’s resting right now, but I can tell the labor has already been long and hard. She opens her eyes and manages a slight smile in our direction. “I knew you’d come. I knew you couldn’t pass up the chance to see this baby born.”

“Never.” I give her a big smile as I move next to the bed and take her hand. Xe and Mel stay back and have a quiet conversation in the corner.

“I’m glad you’re here. I’m worried about the baby.” A tear slides down her cheek.

“Don’t you worry about a thing.” I wipe the tear away and cup her chin in my hand. “Mel is perfectly capable of delivering this baby. Babies just like to be stubborn and think about the line this one belongs to. Those two,” I motion over my shoulder at Xe and Mel. “Have made an art of being stubborn.”

She gives a tired little laugh. “True. Very true.”

She grips my hand, gasping as another pain takes hold of her. Mel is at her side immediately, checking her progress and wiping her brow. “Soon sweetheart.” She whispers. “Very soon.”

“Not soon enough!” Bri growls through clenched teeth.

“Mel, I’ll take care of her. You just get ready to deliver this baby.”

“Thanks Mom.” She moves away and starts preparing everything she will need to deliver their first child.

I settle down next to Bri to offer my as much support as I can. “Everything is going to be just fine.”

Xe joins us on the other side of the bed. She places her hands on Bri’s stomach and does a quick exam. “Seems my grandchild is going to take its sweet time in arriving. How many marks has it been?”

“Close to thirteen now.” Mel offers very quietly from a spot near the end of the bed. The looks they exchange do indeed allow a bit of worry to show through, but I know if any one can handle a difficult birth it’s Xe and Mel.

“The baby?” Bri whispers, knowing something is up at the end of the bed.

“The baby is fine.” Xe, winks and pats her knee. “We’re just trying to figure out when it’s going to make its grand entrance. My grandchild, bound to be a little difficult. You have to expect these things.” Her voice is teasing and reassuring at the same time. “Wait til it’s a teenager.” She turns to Mel and grins. “May this child be just like you.”

I laugh and lean over, giving Bri a kiss in the forehead. “The dreaded family curse.”

She smiles and nods, breathing through another pain.

***

Xe finally takes me off to the side. “We’re going to take the baby Ri. She’s not going to be able to deliver it.”

“I know. It’s been too many marks now.”

She nods. “Yeah. We’ve waited long enough. I want you to mix up some herbs to help her relax while we get her ready.”

“Okay, I’ll be back soon.”

Moving into the main room of the house, it doesn’t take me long to find Mel’s own supply of herbs and other medicines. Xe trained her and her system is almost identical. I feel a strange sensation and turn around to find her. Celesta.

I drop the herbs and take up a position between the bed chamber and the woman in white. “No.” I say to her warning her away from the doorway.

“Gabrielle, I must.”

“No.”

“It is simply meant to be.” Her words are soft, but then again they always are.

“I won’t let you go in there. I won’t let you take Bri. It would kill Mel to lose another mate.”

“I’m not here for Bri. I’m here for her child.”

“Xena!” I call, never taking my eyes from Celesta. I won’t let her take our grandchild. I hear her coming in a hurry. She knows something is terribly amiss. I never call her by her full name unless something is very wrong.

“Xena.” Celesta says very softly when my warrior enters the room.

“Go away!” She growls low and from right behind me. “There will be no death here this night.”

“I must Xena. I must take the child.” She repeats softly.

Xe moves in front of me, further blocking her. “No, not my grandchild. It is an innocent.”

“Yes.” Celesta nods. “And as God of the Underworld you know that innocents die.”

“Not tonight they don’t.”

“Xena, please don’t make this any harder than it has to be for your family.”

“I’m not going to let you take Mel and Bri’s baby.”

I move back next to Xe and stand my ground as well. “Neither am I.”

She sighs and smiles at us. “I can wait just as long as you can. But the longer you wait you only cause Mel’s mate more pain. She suffers while trying to give birth to a child she can’t deliver. Let her pain end.”

“One pain ends and another begins when you take her child from her.” I hiss, remembering losing a child. “A child that you have waited until now to claim. You should have taken it sooner if you wanted it. The same way you took my child. At least I never felt that child move. I didn’t have time to really love that child. But to take a child from a mother now is beyond cruel.”

“There will be other children.” She’s trying to reassure us. It’s not working.

“No. Celesta I won’t let you. I’ll take this to Zeus himself if I must, but I won’t let you have this baby.”

“Xena be reasonable.”

Xe looks to me and caresses my face as Mel calls for her. “You stay here. She can’t cross the threshold with you in the way. I’m going to help Mel and Bri, then we’ll deal with this.”

I nod to Xe then turn to face Celesta. “Don’t worry sweetheart I’m not moving from this spot.”

“That’s my girl. Back soon.”

Xe gathers up the things she needs and returns to the bed chamber. I cross my arms and make it very clear that she’s not getting past me unless she intends to try and take me too. I seriously doubt that idea has crossed her mind. Xena is not in a mood to be trifled with now.

“Gabrielle. You know better than this. You know how these things work. I will accomplish my task.” Celesta gives me a slight smile. It’s not cold or hard. That is not her nature. It’s almost warm and loving, but this is my grandchild she wants and I won’t let her have it.

“Over my dead body.”

She sighs. “And you know that’s not possible. I have been forbidden to take you. The Fates have been forbidden to do you harm, Xena has seen to that.”

I smirk. “I know. Seems we have a stalemate don’t we?”

———————————————-

~The Deal of a Lifetime~

After putting Bri under the influence of the herbs, Mel and I work quickly to take the baby. It’s best for Bri and the child. I know I’ve got to get back out there and deal with my aunt as well. Now how in the world am I going to convince her not to take this child?

When the final cut is made and I can grasp the child, removing it from its mother’s womb. I notice briefly that I have a granddaughter. I also notice that she is not breathing and I fear that Celesta may have already won. No.

I take the child aside, while Mel deals with taking care of Bri. I clean her tiny face, then empty her mouth and nose as best I can. I take in a breath and gently blow to begin breathing into my granddaughter’s mouth and nose. “Come on, little one. Fight!” I whisper to her. Another breath. “Come on! Breath!” After a moment she finally hiccups and lets out a cry worthy of, well, me. “That’s it sweetheart! You cry. You cry all you want.” I’m overjoyed at the noise as I clean and wrap her up.

I take the little bundle back to her mothers. Mel already has Bri tended to and is bringing her around from the herbs. “Come on sweetheart. Come see our baby.”

“Baby?” Bri mutters, opening her eyes slowly.

“My granddaughter.” I announce proudly, placing her in Mel’s arms so she can be with her wife and baby.

I watch Mel settle down next to Bri with the baby. Helping her wailing daughter find it’s mother’s breast for the first time. Bri is still too weak and tired to hold their little girl but this is a perfect time for them to become a family. Now I just need to keep it that way.

I begin to wash my hands and clean up when Ri enters. “I heard the baby cry…”

“Ri? Celesta…”

She throws her hand up to stall my words. “She left Xe. She mumbled something about Ares and disappeared.”

I’m actually relieved that Ares chose this time to start a fight somewhere. Once I dry my hand I take Gabrielle to the side. “You stay here with them and don’t let Celesta near that child. I’m going to see what Ares is up to.”

She nods, actually looking past me to the bed. She’s anxious to see our granddaughter. I lean in and whisper in her ear. “She’s beautiful and perfect and I intend to make sure she stays that way.”

She returns to me and caresses my face. “You be careful.”

I grin and wink. “I’m a God, what can they do to me?”

“I don’t want to think about it.”

“Then don’t. Go be with our family. Go meet your granddaughter.” I lean in and give her a little kiss. “I’ll be back soon.”

***

I shake my head as I look at the battlefield. Once again I’m surrounded by death. It occurs to me that these next few seasons as the God of the Underworld, must certainly be some kind of pay back for my warlord days.

I hear the rumble and know the sound of my own chariot. I remove my helmet to see it coming through the mist. The one upside to this god hood thing is the silly special effects. Totally unneeded, but fun.

My aide stops the chariot and steps down with a smile. “Xena, I didn’t expect to see you here. I thought you were with your daughter and her family.”

“I was Galen, but something came up.”

“Ah, that might explain this.” He hands me a scroll. “It was delivered for you right after this battle.”

I take it and unroll it. Taking a deep breath, I take in the short note

You’re welcome.

You owe me.

Come see me.

Ares

I turn to my assistant. “You can handle this?”

“Of course. The list will be ready for you when you return to the Underworld.”

“Thank you.”

I watch him walk through the field making notes at each fallen form. He’s deciding on the Fields or Tartarus. I’m glad I don’t have to do this today. I glance back at the note. I have something far more annoying to deal with now I’m sure.

***

There’s nothing worse than a cocky God of War.

He’s in his throne, one leg thrown casually over the arm of it. He’s sipping from a goblet of wine and smirking at me even before I take off my helmet.

“Hello Xena.”

“Ares.” I remove it and tuck it under my arm.

“Thank me Xena.” He swirls the goblet and grins at me as he sips from it again.

“For?”

“Thank me Xena.” He’s almost singing it.

I quirk a bow, silently repeating my question of ‘for’.

“For saving the life of Mel’s child. Brilliant don’t you think? Starting that little skirmish to lure Celesta away while you delivered the baby. But it did cost me something to get her to agree to leave Mel’s baby alone, so… you… owe… me.” He points at me with the hand holding the goblet.

“Thank you. Now what?”

“Well,” He smirks and swirls the goblet, looking into it as if he’s giving serious thought to his request. “It cost me ten of my best warriors to save the life of the brat’s brat. Celesta took them as even trade. Sooooo…what’s that worth to you?” He leans forward in his throne and grins at me. “What’s that worth to you Xena? The life of your firstborn’s firstborn.”

“Cut the crap Ares. What do you want from me?”

He leans back and stares at the ceiling of the chamber. “Hmm, what do I want from the God of the Underworld?” A smile breaks across his face as he lowers his head to look at me. “Your god hood Xena. I want your god hood.”

“You want me to give up being God of the Underworld?”

“Noooo…that little deal you made is,” He pauses, sipping from his goblet again. “Insignificant in the long run. It’ll only be thirty seasons or so until Solan comes to take over. That’s merely a flash in our lifetime. I can deal with you being a God for that long. It’ll be fun.”

He stands then moves to a table heavily laden with food and begins picking through various plates. “Hungry?”

“No, actually I’m feeling a little nauseous at the moment. Get on with it.”

“After you leave the Underworld I want you to give up your powers. I want you to be merely immortal, like the annoying blonde.”

I give my head a little shake and snort. “Fine. I’ll agree to that.”

He seems shocked when he turns to face me. “Really? You’re getting soft Xena. I expected more of an argument.”

“Ares it doesn’t matter to me. You know why?”

“Oh do tell.”

“Because there will come a time when the masses will no longer believe in us anyhow and then we will be powerless. And while you try to deal with that, Gabrielle and I will be living our life together.”

He laughs out loud, pouring another goblet of wine. “It’ll never happen Xena. The people need us.”

“No they don’t. They just think they do. One of these days they’ll know what Gabrielle and I have always known. You make your own destiny. When that happens you’ll be scraping and clawing, trying to save your miserable existence and I’ll be on a sunny, sandy beach somewhere, being fed fresh fruit from Gabrielle’s lips and making love to her.”

“Well,” His grin widens. “Thanks so much for that mental image. I’ll cherish it always.”

“You do that. Because a mental image is all you’re ever gonna get.”

I turn to leave his chamber, but before I can, he calls to me. “Yes?” I inquire without turning around.

“Make sure to tell Gabrielle I said hello.” I hear him laugh. Then his laughter fades away.

I put on my helmet and prepare to return to my family.

***

Stepping quietly into the room. I see Mel sitting on the floor next to the bed. Bri is asleep, the baby cradled in her arms. Gods, history is repeating itself. Ri moves from her spot in the corner and immediately wraps her arms around me.

“Is everything okay?”

“Everything is very okay.” I tell her after placing a kiss to the top of her head. “How are they doing?”

“They’re fine. The baby is strong and eating well. Bri has taken in a little water and Mel has finally calmed down.” She smiles at me, running her thumb across my bottom lip. “They named her Xena. She has the darkest hair. It’s so dark it shines blue black.” She replaces her head on my shoulder. “I haven’t mentioned…”

“Good, don’t. They don’t need to know. It’s all over. Celesta won’t be coming for her.”

“How?”

“I made a deal with Ares.”

“Ares? She pulls back from me, looking up at me with concern cut deeply into her features. “What kind of deal?”

I smile at my little namesake. Then look to my soul mate. “The deal of a life time.”

—————————————————

~When in Rome~

“Stop smirking!” I give her arm a slap as we watch from the balcony of our room.

“I’m not smirking. I’m gloating.” She laughs, her smile growing wider.

“It’s not very becoming Xe.”

“I’ve earned the right. Look at him,” She points to the subject of our current conversation. “He’s an old man.”

“He’s only in his early fifties. Might I remind you that in reality, you’re nearly sixty-f…”

“Don’t!” She holds that annoying finger up in my face, which I just grab and pull down. “Don’t say it Ri. Part of being a God and an immortal is never having to admit your true age.”

“Oh you’re gonna be a riot when you’re a thousand.”

As the procession passes by our window, Xe returns her attention to him. “Too bad he’s Roman.”

“Excuse me?” I look up at her, not believing what I’m hearing.

“I said, it’s too bad he’s Roman. If he were Greek, I’d be there when he passes. I’d get to send him to Tartarus. I’d show him destiny then.”

“You’re gloating again.”

She crosses her arms, leaning against the wall. She sighs, “Yeah, I guess I am. I guess I’ll just have to learn to live with the fact that,” she pauses and grins at me. “I’m gonna live forever and he’s not.”

I just shake my head and turn for our room. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Nah, I gave up being ashamed of myself a long time ago.” She follows me inside, closing the doors to the balcony and shutting out the sounds of the street below. “You taught me that. It was a good lesson.”

“I should have taught you gloating isn’t nice.”

She tosses herself down on the bed and stretches out. “Nice, no. But it’s fun and very satisfying.” She looks to her fingernails and then looks to me and grins. “Not as satisfying as some other things I could suggest.” She gives the bed a pat and wiggles her brows at me.

“You brought me to Rome to make love to me?”

“No, I brought you to Rome so we could just get away for a while. I know that being in the Underworld for so much of the time stresses you. Making love is just a suggestion. You have something else you’d rather do?”

“Not necessarily.” I smile at her, moving to the bed, then settling over her hips. “Why Rome Xe? Of all the places we could have gone. Why Rome and why now?”

“I don’t know. Just thought it would be a nice change of pace.” She gives me the ‘look’.

“You don’t lie very well. You know that?”

“I don’t lie to you very well.” She runs her hands over my back. “I just want to be here when it happens.”

“What?”

“When he dies. It’s coming sooner than he thinks.”

“Xe that’s just mean!”

“Like breaking my legs and spending a great deal of time tormenting us wasn’t?”

“I know, but I thought we were past that.”

“Ri,” she leans up on her elbows, giving me a very serious look. “I can forgive a lot and I can overlook a lot, but I’ll never forgive him. Some things just can not be forgiven.”

I sigh and nod. She has been very good about not living in the past and always looking to our future. Can I hold this one little grudge against her? No, not really. He did make her life miserable at every given opportunity.

***

I’m amazed when she steps out of the dressing room wearing Roman robes that drape to the floor. She does look magnificent, but then again when doesn’t she?

“Well?” She lifts her hands, then turns in a circle apparently awaiting my approval.

“You just want me to tell you how beautiful and gorgeous you are.”

“That’d be nice.”

“You know, Zeus made a wise decision when he made you temporary God of the Underworld. You certainly have the ego for it.”

She leans against the door frame, crossing her arms. “Thanks. I’m very proud of it. Took me a long time to get it just right.” She smirks. “Just enough not to annoy you, but big enough to impress everyone else.”

“Ah ha! That’s it. That’s what it is about him! His ego is so damn big your’s doesn’t impress him and that makes you mad.”

“Oh please.” She rolls her eyes, pushing off the door frame.

“No, no. That’s it. You’re mad because he’s not impressed by you.”

“Ri did you read a new book on trying to figure out your spouse or something? You’re putting an awful lot of energy into this.”

“It’s just not like you.”

“I’ve just waited so long for this. Allow me to enjoy it.”

“Like anything I say is going to keep you from that.”

“I’m sorry to admit it, but that’s true.” She moves across the room and wraps her arms around me. “Let’s not talk about this anymore. Let me take you out of a nice meal instead.”

“Now that is a plan I can get behind.”

“Good. Glad to hear it.” She leans in giving me a sweet, tender kiss. “By the way, have I mentioned lately how much I love you?”

“Not recently. You’ve been a little preoccupied.”

Caressing my cheek, she looks deeply in my eyes, then smiles. “I love you.”

Ooo how can I resist that?

***

Looking across the table at her, she smiles at me. “What?” I ask, taking a sip of my wine.

“You are beautiful.”

“You are biased.”

“Hmm could be.” She nods. “Maybe I should ask someone else here.” She starts to stand, but I grab her wrist and pull her back into her seat.

“Behave.” I grin.

She settles back into her seat, leaning over, she brushes her lips past my ear. “I was just going to get a second opinion.”

I find myself holding her head in place near my neck, encouraging her to nuzzle in, which she does. “I don’t care about second opinions. As long as you think so, that’s all that matters.” She murmurs something. I can’t quite make it out though. Not that I particularly want to I’m pretty happy with what she’s doing now. “Xe?”

“Hmmm?”

“Let’s go back to the room.”

She pulls back and grins at me, licking her lips. “Whatcha got in mind my little Bard?”

“All kinds of things and they require us being naked and sweaty.”

She lifts a brow. “Naked and sweaty? My, my Ri. Sounds like quite the workout.”

“It will be.” I lean over, giving her a tender kiss. “Are you up to it?”

“I think I could keep up.”

“Prove it.”

“Ah, a challenge. One of my favorite things.”

***

Looping my arm through hers, we begin a slow walk back to our inn. I feel her hesitate as a Roman officer rides by us. She stops, turns and watches him.

“What?”

“Not what Ri. Who. Brutus.”

“Who?”

“Exactly. Brutus, he’s one of Caesar’s generals. Wonder what he’s doing in Rome?”

“Gee Xe, a Roman in Rome, how odd. Kind of like a Greek in Athens. That’s a real head scratcher.”

She slowly turns, narrowing her eyes on me. “Caesar tends to keep his generals occupied and away from the city. A strategic move, to keep them from trying to form coups against him.”

“You know more than your saying.”

“Let’s just say a little birdie told me this might be a good thing.”

“Un-huh. So you want to stand here all night and try to figure out why he’s here, or are you coming back to the room with me? Hot and sweaty, remember?”

Her hand comes up taking mine in a tight grip. “How could I forget? Let’s go.” We resume our walk back to the inn. “So do I get anymore clues on this?”

“Nah. Let’s just say, when in Rome…”

***

Lying in her arms, I find myself trying to get air in my lungs. She pushes hair back from my face and grins.

“Is that what you had in mind?”

I gulp for air. “Oh yeah! That was is.”

“Did I keep up with you?”

“Un-huh.” I nod, finally managing to get in a badly needed deep breath. “Oh, you kept up just fine.”

“Glad to hear it.” She laughs a little, planting a kiss to my brow. “You weren’t saying much there at the end.”

“I could talk for Gods sake!”

He entire body shakes with laughter, even as her arms tighten around me. “That’s was the plan, speechless Bards are cute when they’re reduced to moaning, whimpering masses of flesh.”

“I must have been just adorable.” I push up and look down at her. “You are so rotten.”

“Yeah, I know. Don’tcha just love me for it?” She teases, pulling me back down.

“I don’t know why, but I sure do.”

I can feel the evening about to start heating up again, when there is a knock on our door.

——————————————–

~Up the Nile without a Paddle~

Oh, I hope this is important.

I don’t take well to being taken out of Ri’s arms, especially when we’re engaged in such interesting explorations. I leave the warmth and comfort of our bed, pulling on a robe, then throw the covers over Ri, who is chomping on a pillow to keep from yelling a long line of foul words.

She doesn’t like being interrupted either.

“I won’t mind if you hurt whoever is on the other side of that door.” She grumbles from under her pillow.

I might just take her up on that.

Pulling the door open I find a young Egyptian slave girl. She looks up at me with shy eyes then lowers them again, staring at the floor. “Xena of Amphipolis?”

“Once upon a time, yes.”

“My Queen, Cleopatra of Egypt, requests your immediate assistance.”

I look back Ri, who is now sitting up in bed. “We are still in Rome, aren’t we?” I lift a brow.

“Last time I checked.” Ri agrees, climbing out of bed she finds a robe and joins me at the door.

The girl nods, raising her head. “Yes Xena, you are in Rome, so is my Queen. Or at least she is not far from here. She needs your help.”

“Why?”

“Caesar has been assassinated Xena. My Queen and her son are here, and now…”

“Now they need to get out before the same fate lands on their shoulders.” Ri offers with a nod of her own head. “How did she know Xena was here?”

“I do not know.” The slave answers. “I only know I was sent to find you. My Queen believes Xena is the only one who can get her and her son out of Rome now that Brutus and Cassius have slain Caesar.”

I look down to Ri. “So much for our vacation. Even dead, that bastard can mess up my plans.”

“Xe!” She gives me a hard slap on my shoulder, then pulls the slave inside and closes the door to our room. “Give us a few minutes to get dressed and pack our things.”

“I would be happy to serve you. I can assist by packing for you while you dress. Time is imperative, my Queen fears for the life of her child.”

Oh, she said the magic word as far as my darling wife is concerned. Child. I simply shake my head, giving into defeat then move into the bathing chamber to get dressed.

We should have gone to Lesbos.

Me and my bright ideas. ‘Let’s go to Rome’, I said. ‘It’ll be fun’, I said.

I am an idiot.

* * *

The Queen of the Nile looks positively terrified when Ri and I arrive at her home just outside Rome. I take in the surroundings and realize this must have been the home she shared with Caesar.

He had great taste in women, but her taste in men sucks.

“Cleopatra?”

She turns to us, relief falling across her face. “Xena, Gabrielle. Thank you for coming.” She crosses to us and offers us both hugs. “Please, will you help me?”

“We’re here aren’t we? It was a long way to come to tell you no in person.” I cross my arms. “So you’re ready to leave Rome?”

“Xena, Caesar, is dead.” She tells me needlessly.

“Yeah, and I’m all choked up over it.” I feel the poke skillfully delivered by Ri, but I ignore it.

“Brutus and Cassius will certainly kill Caesarion if he finds out we are here. Please help me get my son safely back to Egypt.”

I notice that Ri has moved to the window. I’m sure she’s looking for Roman troops no doubt headed our way.

“You’ll do as I say? No questions asked?”

“Every word Xena. No matter what is required.”

Ri clears her throat, calling me across the room for a quiet word. “How are you going to do this.” She gives a little gesture. “You planning on just…zapping them back?”

“Nah. Let’s have some fun and do this the old fashion way.” I wiggling my brows and smile at my darling wife. “Little horseback riding, little fighting if we’re lucky…”

“A ships crossing.” Ri grumbles.

“I’ll make sure you don’t feel any ill effects of the trip. Come on,” I give her a little nudge. “It’ll be fun.”

She nods. “All right, but we need to do this quickly. No doubt Brutus is on his way here now.”

“Rush, rush, hurry, hurry.” I sigh, turning back to Cleopatra. “Get yourself and your son together. Put on the clothing of Roman slave and be prepared to leave in half a mark.”

“Yes Xena.” She motions her servants out of the room and they all leave to make the preparations I have ordered.

I turn back to Ri, who has her head tilted to one side, arms crossed against her chest and tapping her foot.

Boy does she look annoyed. “What?”

“You’re enjoying this.”

I throw my arms up in protest. “I’m the Lord of the Underworld, I’m suppose to enjoy this kinda thing.”

“Not this much.” She sighs, crossing to me. “So, what’s the plan?”

“We get horses and make for the docks.”

“This is a plan?”

“Yup. We ride right up to the docks and find the first ship headed for Egypt.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“And if we run into Brutus or Cassius before then?”

“We kick their butts and ride faster.” I glance around taking inventory of the room. “Okay come with me.”

* * *

“Well I never thought I’d be doing this.” She grumbles when I try to hand her the helmet.

“You look great.” She does look good in Roman uniform.

“Sure you say that. You’re in a captain’s uniform and I get a foot soldiers uniform.”

“Rank has its privileges.” I tease.

“You’re rank all right.”

“Be nice.” I slip the helmet on her head and kiss her nose. “You ready?”

I watch her adjust the sword at her side, then her armor. “As ready as I can be.”

“Then let’s do this and go to Egypt. I’m sure Cleopatra will be happy to make us comfortable there.”

“Oh I’m sure.” She rolls her eyes.

I can’t help but chuckle. “You’re jealous.”

“I am not!” She huffs, adjusting her bracers, refusing to meet my eyes.

I step forward, lifting her chin so our eyes meet. “I love you. You are so cute when you’re jealous.” Leaning in, I give her nose a little kiss.

“I am not jealous.” She says again. “By now you had better know who warms your bed.”

“No doubt there. A job you have done very well, for a very long time now.”

She pokes me in the chest. “And don’t you forget it!”

“Oh I won’t. Believe me, I won’t. I have to spend the rest of eternity with you. I have no desire to have to have you mad at me. Eternity could be a very long time.”

“Especially with a pissed off wife.”

“Exactly.” I agree. “Come on let’s get going.”

***

I ride point with Ri behind me and Cleopatra and her young son on a horse next to her. Our disguises are good and we look like Roman soldiers taking a slave back to Rome.

Hopefully, the soldiers riding at us will fall for it.

The leader of the squad holds up his hand to slow his unit. I stop and give them time to approach.

Counting quietly, hmm, twelve of them, two of us.

Seems like a fair fight.

The Roman cocks his head, appraising us. “Where are you headed?” He barks at me.

Careful, you don’t want to make me mad.

“I am under orders to deliver this slave to the market. She has failed in her duties.”

“Who gave this order?”

“Queen Cleopatra, of course.” I lift my brow.

“You have seen the queen?”

“Yes. She is at the home of Caesar.”

“You haven’t heard?”

I just look at him and question with my eyes. I can play stupid when I have to. The Roman uniform I’m wearing certainly helps it along.

“Caesar is dead. Rome is now under the protection of Brutus and Cassius,” He pauses shifting in his saddle. “And the senate of course.”

“Of course.”

“However, Octavius has ordered that Queen Cleopatra be brought to Rome.”

“She is at the house.” I gesture behind me, knowing it will take them another half day to get there and we’re only about two marks from Rome. “I’m sure she will come without a fight.”

He laughs, motioning his men around him. “I’m sure of it.” He looks to Ri and our ‘prisoner’. “Careful, she looks like she could be trouble.”

“I’m sure of it.” I return his grin.

He rides on. I nudge my horse gently, moving slowly, giving them time to move further away. Glancing back, to make sure they are out of sight I motion Ri to my side. “You remember that ride faster part of the plan?”

“Un-huh.” She nods

“Now would be a good time to implement that.”

“Somehow, I knew that was coming.”

Even as we continue moving, I take Caesarion into my arms, holding him securely as we begin a dash for Rome and hopefully a way out.

This could get tricky.

Good thing I like tricky.

—————————————————–

~Cupid’s Arrow~

“I could tell her I want one of those.” Xe smirks, pointing at one of the pyramids.

Cleopatra was grateful to Xe and I for getting her safely back to Egypt and now we are enjoying the hospitality of her land. That’s why the side trip to Memphis before we go back to Greece and return to our duties. She offered to reward Xe with anything she desired. It was a dangerous offer to make. “And what would you do with it, my dear?”

“Hmm, I’m not sure. It just wouldn’t look right in Greece would it?”

“No. How about something more practical, like the lighthouse in Alexandria?”

“Nah, too flashy. That damn light would keep me up all night.”

I chuckle softly, taking her hand and tugging her toward our tent. “Come on Xe. I got something else to keep you up all night. Besides, you take something like that back with us, you’d have historians throughout the ages wracking their brains trying to figure out how it got there. It’s not like you’d be able to take credit for it.”

“Oooo you know that could be fun.” She snickers, looking back at Khufu’s pyramid.

“Xe, behave.” I chastise her. She is going to be impossible as the ages pass us by.

I definitely get the feeling my spouse intends to become the consummate practical joker before it’s over with. She’s going to make scholars crazy with the things she’s planning. I’m sure they’ll have a delightful time trying to figure out exactly how a statue of a bound and gagged Greek God of War ended up in a remote part of Chin. Not to mention the fact that she has taken to dropping coins all over the known world. The sack of things she hid in the cave in India will have them scratching their heads for a very long time.

Inside our tent I turn to her and offer her a smile. “So my dear,” I loosen the knot of my tunic and let it fall from my shoulder. “See anything here you like?”

“Oh yeah. I’ll take two of those please.” She grins, gesturing to my bare chest, before picking me up in her arms and tossing me in the center of the bed.

****

I step back into her arms, she wraps her cloak around us and we take once last look at the great pyramids before us. “You sure that wouldn’t look good right in the center of Athens, Ri? I could just zap it back there with us.”

“Just take us home Xe. You try zapping something that big, and you’ll probably hurt yourself.”

“Spoil sport.” She mumbles, before the area around us begins shifting and shimmering.

It only seems like a few moments before we are once again back in our living chambers in the Underworld. Xena waves her hand, bringing to life the lamps and the fireplace. She really loves to show off.

“You’re as cocky as Ares.” I tease, slipping out of her embrace before she can retaliate.

“No one is as cocky as Ares.” She hangs up her helmet and cloak before moving to the couch in front of the fireplace to remove her boots.

The first boot is tossed away, but before the second one can be discarded, Aphrodite suddenly joins us. She shimmers to life right in front of Xe, wearing an outfit that can only be described as ‘what outfit’. If they weren’t related, I’d smack her for that.

“Aphrodite…” Xe grumbles a bit, removing her other boot. “What do we owe the pleasure of this visit?”

“Umm well cous…” She starts, and I watch Xe’s head drop. She hates it when Aphrodite calls her that. “There’s been a little accident up top I think you need to come look at.”

“Is someone hurt?” I move forward quickly, already grabbing Xe’s cloak and helmet.

Aphrodite places her hands on her hips, chews the inside of her lip and gives it some thought. “No. Or at least not really.”

Xe is pulling her boots back on, sighing deeply. “Cut to the chase. What’s going on?”

“I really just think it’ll be better if you come up top and have a look for yourself.”

Oh this just can’t be good. I shake my head, placing Xe’s cloak over her shoulders, handing her the helmet and then taking my place in her arms.

“You know you can use your own powers to take you up top Gabrielle.” Aphrodite reminds me as the cloak closes around me.

“Yeah, but, why would I want to?”

“Good point. Let’s go.”

****

I recognize the area almost immediately. It’s the small village that has sort of started to flourish between the Amazons and the Centaurs. It’s on the piece of land that Xe and I live on and raised all our children on so many seasons ago. My how things have changed.

The most amazing, and I think the most ironic part of it all, is that Autolycus has been elected the village magistrate. I have to laugh a bit; it’s kind of like letting the wolf look after the sheep.

Aphrodite leads us to an area where Cupid is standing with a look of total fear on his face. “I didn’t mean for it to happen Xena! I swear!” He defends, before we even have a clear picture of what’s going on.

“I’m going to rip your wings off aren’t I?” She growls, advancing on him. “What did you do now?”

He backs away, putting his hands up. “I swear, I didn’t mean for it to happen. It was just kinda like that time Bliss…” He stammers. “Everyone just kinda got in the way.”

I look over to the spot that Aphrodite has nudged my attention to. I find John, Autolycus’ son with his arms and his lips wrapped soundly around Kessa. I’m speechless as I watch my daughter return his affection. “Xe…” It’s all I can mutter.

Her head snaps around and I point.

She grabs Cupid by the arm and drags him over as she stares at our daughter. “Oh yeah, I’m gonna kill you.”

“Xena,” Aphrodite steps forward in defense of her son. “Is it really that bad? All that happened was that Cupie caused them to find each other.”

“What in the name of, well me, happened?” Xe demands from the younger God.

“I was just doing a little spring time love and Kessa stepped in front of an arrow I meant for someone else.”

Xe turns to Aphrodite. “Fix this!”

She plants her hands on her hips. “Now, like, you know I can’t to that, old tall, dark and grumpy.” She looks at the two. “It’s not that bad Xena. He’s cute. They make a cute couple.”

Xe releases Cupid’s arm, then turns on his mother. “Aphrodite, my daughter is Queen of the Amazons. Amazons, I might remind you, do not take kindly to men in their midst.”

“They seemed to tolerate you…” She tries to joke, but it only serves to make Xena angrier. “Okay, okay I’m sorry.” She defends ducking back from Xena just a bit. The Goddess turns to me. “Absolutely no sense of humor.”

“Lord of the Underworld. It’s in the contract.” I tell her without ever taking my eyes off John and Kess. “Xe?”

“What!?”

“Maybe Kess and Rosa can work something out here. I’m mean…”

“Forget it Ri! Let’s forget just for one moment that it’s against Amazon tradition, but that boy is the son of the King of Thieves.”

“That boy is also the son of your best friend!” I take the time to remind her. “You and Autolycus would have died for each other and very nearly did a couple of time if I remember right. Do you remember when Kess was sick?”

“Yes…” She drops her head a little.

“Who helped you get to Artemis?”

“Auto…” It drops a little more.

“And did he hesitate?”

“No…” Now she gives it a little shake

“Did he even so much as blink when you told him you needed his help?”

“No…”

“So,” I take her hand, giving it a tug. “I would not be a bad thing if Kess and John…”

“Oh all right!” She tosses her hands up in the air. “But if, and only if, it’s without his help.” She glares at Cupid. “No interference from the family on this one.” She stalks back over the Cupid. “Which means you find a way to undo the spell.”

“I’m not sure I can.”

“Well I suggest you find a way or I’m going to bed with a new feather pillow tonight.” She plucks one of his feathers for good measure and hands it to me. “Need a new quill?”

I sigh, taking the feather. “Xena please be nice. It’s not going to do anyone any good if you stay cranky. We’ll all put our heads together and find an answer to this.” I move to Cupid, at least he doesn’t flinch when I approach him. “That time that Baby Bliss caused all that havoc you just zapped us all back to normal.” I shiver a bit with the memory. Except for Draco but he was never normal to begin with. “Why can’t you do that this time?”

“Well, those were not my most potent arrows. These on the other hand,” He offers me one of the arrows. “Are my best work. It’s not easy to undo these. Not to mention it could have really bad side effects.”

“Such as?”

“Well since it was Kess that was hit, she might feel rebuffed and if she does I don’t want to be here when the Amazons ride in and destroy this village.”

Xe is standing with her arms crossed still watching our daughter. “How about we just try throwing a cold bucket of water on them?”

“Then they’ll just be wet and horny.” Aphrodite answers with a giggle.

I turn and warn Xe. “Not one damn word!”

She puts her hands up and shrugs. “I said nothing.”

“You didn’t have to.”

****

Kess is pacing back and forth, completely furious. She stops, glares at Xe then turns to me. “Mom this is completely ridiculous.”

I take a deep breath. “Kess, sweetheart,” I get up from the table and move to our daughter. “We had to bring you back here until we can find a way to undo this.”

“I don’t want you to undo this. I love him.”

“You only think you love him.” Xe offers from her spot leaning on the wall.

“So, because you disapprove, you’re going to hold me here in the underworld against my will? Somehow that doesn’t seem quite fair. I thought you weren’t allowed to interfere.”

“You’re my daughter. I’ll interfere if I want.”

“Lovely set of double standards Mother.” Kess turns to me. “Mom isn’t there anything you can do?”

“Un-huh, I can agree with your mother in this one. If you truly love him then that’s fine, but if the affection you’re feeling is because of Cupid’s arrow then we need to find a way to take that spell off. Freewill is the most important thing Kess.”

“Well isn’t that just a little hypocritical coming from the wife of the God of the Underworld?”

“No. Your Mother never uses her powers to influence others.”

She gestures around her. “Oh yeah I can see that.” She grumbles.

They just had to get Xe’s argumentative, stubborn streak didn’t they? “Kess just give us a couple of days.”

“Not, like I have a lot of choice. Does Rosa know I’ve been kidnapped or is she going to have the entire Amazon nation out looking for a missing Queen?”

“We sent a message to your sister via Mel.”

“Ah yes, big sister. Did she agree to this?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Xe grumbles a bit. “It’s what your mom and I think is best.”

“So what I think doesn’t matter?”

“Of course it does, sweetheart,” I offer before this can turn into more of an argument. “We just want to make sure that you’re making the best decision.”

She finally nods. “All right, but I want you,” She turns to Xe. “To promise me you will not do anything else to John. It wasn’t necessary to throw him in the lake like that.”

“Yes it was.” Xe says dryly before moving to the table and pouring a cup of tea.

“Why?”

“It was better than killing him.”

————————————————-

Sometimes the Best Thing You Can Do…

I watch quietly as Xe rubs her temples. I know better than to say a word. Kess stomped off to the room we prepared for her.

“Ri, tell me again why we had so many children.” She mumbles at me, giving me a look through the slits that used to be her eyes.

“Because we love each and everyone of them.” I rub her shoulders, hoping to release the tension there.

“I knew there was a good reason.” She pats my hand tenderly. “But do they all have to be as stubborn as you are?”

“Every last one of them and I hope the grandchildren have it too.” I tease, hoping to lighten the mood for my partner.

“The world may not survive it.” She kisses my hand. Then she turns impossibly blue eyes on me. “What are we gonna do?”

“About?”

“This whole mess with John and Kess.”

“We could just let it happen. Come on Xe, they’ve known each other since they were kids. What makes you think that it wasn’t going to happen anyhow?”

She sighs dropping her eyes back to the table and picking at the surface. “I suppose.” She drums her fingers in the tabletop for a moment. “Okay, he wants my daughter.” She raps her knuckles on the table, contemplating her next move. “He’s going to have to prove he’s worthy of her.”

“Xe what are you thinking?”

“Well, I think a little series of tests are in order.”

“Oh no they’re not! Xe what a ridiculous idea. You’ve known that boy almost his entire life. You know he’s a good man.”

“I know the boy was a good boy. I have no idea about the man he’s become.”

I drop my hands from her shoulders and take a seat next to her. “Come on Xe. At least give Kess a little credit…”

“She’s under the influence of Cupid’s arrow.”

“Okay, give Mel and Rosa a little credit then. Did they seem unhappy at the thought of Kess being with John?”

“No.”

“Don’t you think that if they thought there was a real problem they would have spoken up? I mean Rosa and Kess co-rule and Mel is their champion. They are the three most powerful women in the Amazon Nation and they don’t have a problem with it.”

She sighed, shaking her head. “She’d have to give up being Queen.”

“So.”

“So? So? How can you say so?”

“Mel gave it up.” I remind her. “And Rosa is a strong Queen in her own right.”

Xena moaned, letting her forehead drop to the table. “Okay, okay. I give up. Go get her. I’ll take her back up top.”

I lean over and give my suffering partner a kiss on the cheek. “You won’t regret it sweetheart and you know it in your heart.”

***

My daughter hugs me tightly as I put my cloak on and I wrap my arms around her. “I love you Mom.”

“I love you too. I must to do this crazy thing.” I give the top of her head a kiss.

“It’s not crazy. We won’t disappoint you. I promise.”

I lift her chin, so I’m looking into eyes that mirror Ri’s own. “You could never disappoint me. I just want you to be happy.”

“He makes me happy.” She says shyly.

“Did he make you happy before this thing with Cupid? Did you feel anything for him before that?”

“Yes.” She nods. “I just found the courage to act on it.”

“Very well then. But if he hurts you Kess…”

“The Amazon Nation will tear him limb from limb Mom”

I have to laugh. She right, they would. “True. And if they don’t, I will.”

“He loves me. Trust me to know that.”

“I do trust you.” I wrap my cloak around her. “Let’s get you back to your young man.”

***

Xe’s arms wrap around me as we stand well back, in the shadow of the trees and watch the wedding. I feel her resting her cheek on the top of my head I stroke her arms. “They are very happy.” I whisper. “Kessa is a beautiful bride.”

“Almost as beautiful as you were.” Her arms tighten around me. “Well, it’s seems they all did it doesn’t it Ri?”

“What?”

“They all grew up on us, Solan, Mel, Kai, Bailus, Kess and Rosa. They all grew up and became adults. With minds of their own.”

“Yes, they did. We gave them everything we could. Showed them right from wrong. Taught them about the greater good.” Tears creep down my cheeks as we watch the festivities. “Look at them Xe. There’s your redemption. Six children, four of which have taken mates. And our grandchildren, there’s the goodness you wanted for so long. You did a remarkable job of it.”

“We did it, my love. You and I together. Partners, now and forever.”

I turn in her arms. “We should go now.”

She looks down at me. “You want to go down there don’t you?”

“Of course I do. I want to hold my grandchildren and hug my children.”

She draws a deep breath. “Then do it. You go see them. I’ll come back for you later.”

“Xe…” I know it hurts her that she’s not suppose to come topside or be involved on a regular basis. A rule she breaks far too often when it comes to our family.

She kisses the top of my head. “No go on. I’ll go pick on Ares for a bit.” She grins. “I know I can goad him into a fight.”

***

“Come on Ares! I need a good tension reliever!”

He appears before me, leering. “What did you have in mind?”

“Don’t be stupid. Stupid.” I draw my sword. “Thought you might be in the mood.” I wave the tip of my blade in his face.

He smirks and takes a step back, drawing his own blade. “For you, I’m always happy to oblige.” He twirls his sword and lunges.

We cross at the hilt and I shove him back. He stumbles a bit then straightens. “What’s got you in such a bad mood? The annoying little blonde lock you out of the bedroom?”

“You wish!” I charge and we battle for a few moments in earnest. He’s learned a few new moves since we did this last. I’m impressed. I jump to avoid his blade and land on a ledge a few feet up. “Come on! Even you can do better than that! You fight like a first season amazon.” I grin. “Training with a staff.”

“Now that was not nice!” He joins me on the ledge and our fight resumes. The one thing Ares and I have always agreed on is, that we love to fight. And we do it so well. I guess, in an odd sort of way, for Ares and I this is kind of our version of making love. It’s as close as he’s ever gonna get and he knows it. And it’s as close as I’d ever let him get.

Besides, he always enjoys a chance to show off his sword.

I dodge slightly to the right, then fake to the left before just flipping over his and turning to kick him in the butt. He’s so cute when he’s confused. “Pretty sloppy for the God of War.” I taunt. “I’ve got guards in Tartarus’ lower levels that fight better than that.”

“Why,” He lunges and I sidestep letting him pass by me. “Do you,” He spins around and twirls his sword two or three times. “Say those things to me?”

“Awww did I hurt your whittle Godwy peelings?” I pout at him, slashing my blade back and forth.

“I don’t wanna play anymore!” He says, right before he vanishes.

Yup, guess I did. Well, that was a nice distraction for all of ten minutes. “You big baby!” I yell before I take myself topside again.

***

I have little Xena in my arms. She’s six months old now and so beautiful. How I wish I could spend more time with them. I miss not being able to watch them grow up on a daily basis. The party continues around us as I cuddle her close to me. She is the spitting image of Xena. Same dark hair, same blue eyes, same smile, same attitude, she’s adorable.

“Grandma?”

I look up to find Dante, my eldest grandson. My how he’s grown. He’s so tall and handsome like Solan. He’s going to be a full-grown man in his own right soon and the group of girls that are watching him from across the field laughing and casting almost lustful looks at him are a testament to his good looks. “Yes?”

He takes a seat next to me. “I was wondering if you would talk to dad for me.”

“Dante what is there that you can’t talk to your father about?”

His gaze drops a bit. “I want to leave home and join the Greek army. Father says I’m too young and…” He shakes his head a bit, interlacing his fingers. “I’m old enough to go to the Military Academy in Athens, like Uncle Bailus did.”

“What does your father want you to do?”

“He wants me to raise horses like he does.”

“What’s wrong with raising horses?”

“There’s nothing wrong with raising horses. But it’s just not what I want to do. You and Grandma Xena always said we should be allowed to do what we want, when we’re old enough to make our own decisions. Why am I allowed to make my own decisions about so many things, but not this?” He sighs and his shoulders slump.

I’m about to say something when the sun is suddenly blocked. I look up to find Xena.

She gives me a grin and winks. “Ares didn’t want to play.” She shrugs. She offers her arm to Dante. “Come on son. Let’s go talk to your father.”

I cuddle Little Xena close to me, watching the festivities surrounding my daughter’s wedding. Every member of my family is here. Happy. Healthy. Alive and celebrating. Their friends surround them. There is only love here. No war. No hate. None of the things that Xena and I suffered through.

I smile. Glad for my own pain. It made me who I am today.

It made her who she is. I knew she wouldn’t be able to stay away.

This is her greatest glory.

————————————————–

~Released~

I look down into a very content face. I run my fingers through her bangs. “You are so spoiled.”

She opens her eyes, a slow smile creeps across her face. “Why, yes I am. But hey, I am God of the Underworld. I’m suppose to be spoiled.”

“What was your excuse when you were just the Warrior Princess?”

“My dear bard, thanks to you, and all those lovely little scrolls of yours, I was never ‘just the Warrior Princess’.”

I can’t help but snort. You’d think I’d be use to this ego by now, but occasionally she gets one by me when I’m not expecting it. I just shake my head. “What am I going to do with you?”

“I can make some suggestions. Most of them include you licking food from various parts of my body.”

“Can I tie you up first?”

“Oh, would you? Please? It’s been a long time.”

I laugh and slap her arm. “You are so bad.”

“Then why do you love me so much?” She tangles our fingers together before lifting my hand and kissing my knuckles.

“Because I have a thing for bad girls.”

She leans up and begins untying my blouse. “How bad would you like me to be? Collar and leash bad, or whips and chains bad?”

“You know, I think you’re more insatiable now than you were the first time you were thirty.” I know that in a matter of seconds I’m going to be completely naked and at her mercy. And I can’t think of a reason why this should bother me. I’m glad it doesn’t.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Her lips manage to slide slowly down my neck and I feel every nerve in my body tingle and my nipples tighten.

“No!” I growl and wrap my hands in her hair, gently digging my nails in her scalp. “Not a bad thing.” I feel her head moving down my shoulder and then lower. I find my hands guiding her there with the simplest tugs on her hair. After all this time I’ve finally got her trained.

“You sure, my bard?” I feel her laugh against my extremely sensitive nipple.

“Damn it, Xena!” Then I feel her shift and change positions so she can lay me back. It is amazing how much I love the feel of her over me. Never once have I felt trapped, grounded maybe but never trapped.

“You’re beautiful,” she purrs into my skin, right before the tip of her tongue flicks across my nipple. The heat pouring off my body feels like it’s bouncing off her in waves. It’s so heavy I can all most feel it radiating in the air around us.

She shifts again and a strong thigh finds its way, quite easily, between my legs. “Tease.” I groan, even as I begin pulling away the belt of her tunic.

“You betcha.” She surges forward, pressing fast and hard into me. This causes my nails to dig into her shoulder and a earns me a very loud moan. “Like that, huh?” Her lips find their way to the back to my neck, biting and sucking very gently.

“Oh, yeah….” I push her tunic from her shoulders, aching to feel her skin as much as I ache for her to touch me. She gives me a lovely deep groan when I graze my nails up and down her back. “We need to be naked.” I pull up and kiss her earlobe. “Completely naked.”

“No problem.” I feel the air rush over us and know she’s used her powers to rid us of what clothing was left. A chill chases across my shoulders and down my spine ending in a hot flash between my legs.

Before another noise can escape, she catches my lips in a kiss that only stays friendly until her tongue caresses my lips. That has always had the same effect. She has this thing she does where she runs the tip of her tongue over the roof of my mouth and I swear there have been nights where if she had kept it up too long, I would have climaxed from that alone.

One thing I’ve learned after being with her all these years is she needs as good as she gets. I’ve also learned a few tricks of my own, but she always looks surprised when the tables are turned and she finds herself on her back.

“You,” I press my finger to the tip of her nose. “Are a tease.”

Her head snaps up and she tries to bite the tip of my finger. “You like to be teased.”

“I must. I’ve spent all these years with you.” I ‘pin’ her hands above her head. I have to laugh to myself. She’s so easy. “So Lord of the Underworld, seems the Queen of the Amazons has you at her mercy.”

She chuckles. “If you say so.”

“Mmmm.” I lower my head and take a warm, hard nipple into my mouth.

“Mercy,” she whispers.

I let go of her wrists so that I can touch her with my hands as my mouth explores the skin I know so well. Her hands move to my thighs and stroke gently. Gods, she does know how to play me too. I stretch out along her body and we instantly twine around each other. Kissing, touching, seeking. It never fails to amaze me when we make love. Even after so many years we still learn something new every time. Like that squeak. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her do that before.

“Yes…” she whimpers in my ear when my hand slowly crawls down her body and finds its favorite spot between her legs. It never takes long for her to open up to me, her hips finding a slow and gentle rhythm with me. “So good.”

“Mmm, yes it is.” I find that spot on her neck and give it a little nip as I apply more pressure in her warmth. “Feels good,” I murmur against her neck.

Not only does touching her feel good, but being touched by her is a simply wonderful feeling. She runs one hand over my backside, while the other reaches between our bodies and she finds her way between my legs as well.

“Oh, yeah.” I groan, nipping her shoulder with the edge of my teeth. I didn’t mean to, but I draw a little blood, which I lick off her shoulder. There’s something about her blood now that she is a full God. It’s…intoxicating — like a drug or rich wine. I could learn to crave it.

Passion takes over us and soon we are reduced to creatures with only primal need and demands.

“Harder, love,” she growls, forcing her body closer to mine. I am helpless. I must grant her wish.

Her breathing is hard and hot against my face. Her body is taut and feels like a trap about to be sprung. And I am her prey, caught every time by her, with no desire to escape.

“Xena…” I moan as she touches me, kisses me, and brings me to the point of no return.

“Together.”

It’s not a question; it’s a command. I obey, arching hard into her as she does the same to me. We shake and quiver together, our moans as intertwined as our bodies. Our breath mingles as our lips find each other and we sink together into our bed.

We hold each other, our hands caressing each other to cool flesh heated and soaked from well-spent passion. My mind only wonders in the sensation that it will be like this forever.

She growls, like she always does before she pulls me close and lets me settle against her. “Good.”

I laugh and run my hand over her chest, between her breasts, where I let it rest. “Glad you’re pleased.”

“Very,” she hums. She has a sweet smile on her face, her eyes are closed and she is completely relaxed.

“You’re going to go to sleep, aren’t you?”

“Un-huh.”

“Well, at least you don’t roll over any more.” I tweak her nipple for effect.

“Be nice,” she growls, capturing my hand. “Just a short nap. Come on, Bri, rest with me. Enjoy this.”

“I do enjoy this.”

She kisses the top of my head. “Glad to hear it.”

–*–

I smiled and look over at the Bard who is still out cold. She gives me grief for wanting to sleep after we make love but she always sleeps longer and deeper than I ever could. I give her a kiss on the shoulder and cover her before I get up.

I reach for my pants then realize that it’s a waist of good movement. Snapping my fingers attires me without all the bending and reaching. I’ve learned to call it conservation of movement.

Glancing back I watch her curl under the covers. I do love her so much. I’m very proud she chose to be with me and I have eternity to prove that.

Leaving our bedchamber, I move through the caverns that have been our home since I took command of the Underworld. Instead of it being a dark and dreary place, Gabrielle has made it a home. She has managed to make it a wonderful place regardless. Then again that is one her many skills.

As I settle at my desk, there is a knock on the door. “Come!”

I watch as my assistant, Dorian enters the room. “My Lord, there’s something–” He pauses and looks to the floor. “You need to come. Now.”

I get up and follow him, without question. I’ve never known him to act like this so something must be wrong. As we approach my judgment chamber I feel the pain shoot to my heart and I charge into a full run. “NO!”

Throwing the door open, I find him standing there. Solan.

“Son! What…”

“I’m here.”

“Why? You’re not due to arrive for–” I approach him and run my hands over him. “For years yet.”

He laughs a little and looks at me. “I got a fever.”

“No. I can send you back. I can fix this. I can–”

“Mother, it’s all right. I’m ready.”

“What about your family? They need you.”

“Mother they are capable of taking care of themselves. Alana knew I wasn’t going to make it. She prepared them.”

“You were suppose to die an old man!”

“You didn’t know that. You hoped that. I’m ready to take over my duties, Mother. You’re free to go.”

“Go?” I hadn’t even considered this. Where will we go? We can’t go back to the Amazons. I guess this means the bard and I will start all over again. Wandering the world. Forever.

“Yes. You and Mom can leave now. Go topside and,” he gestured, “get on with your life.”

Stunned is the only word to describe what I’m feeling. “I don’t know…”

He lays his hand on my shoulder. “It’s over for you. This is my calling. My destiny.”

Destiny.

I’ve always hated that word.

–*–

“Gabrielle.” Her voice is soft in my ear.

I brush my hand past my ear in an effort to get rid of her.

“Come on love. We need to talk.”

Rolling over I find her seated on the bed. “What?”

“Solan is here.”

“What?” I sit up to try and understand what she’s saying. “Why?”

“He’s passed over.”

“What?” I still can’t quite get what she’s saying. I shake my head. “He’s dead?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Xe. Wait, you can–”

She puts my fingers over my lips to quiet me. “No. He’s ready to take over.”

“We’re free?”

“Yes, my love. We are free to go anywhere we like.” She looks down and then back to me. “Except…”

“Home.”

“Yes.”

I take her hand, grasping it close to my heart. “You are my home. It’s anywhere we go, as long as we’re together.”

–*–

Gabrielle saddles her horse as Solan watches us. I turn to my son, looking at him in full armor. “Thank you.”

“No, Mother, thank you. You have made me what I am. You made me ready.”

“I feel like I should stay.”

“That’s not possible. You know that. Go. Be happy. Enjoy your life and know that everything you have done and everything you will do will be important.”

Gabrielle joins us and hugs our son. “I love you,” she says to him, holding the hug.

“I love you too, Mom.” He pulls back and looks between us. “Promise me you’ll keep her out of trouble.”

She laughs, looking back at me. “I’ll try.”

“I have to go.” He steps back, giving us a wave before he simply fades away. “Take care of each other.” His voice fades slowly into the night.

I gather our horses and hand her the reins to her mount. “Where to?”

She takes a deep breath of the fresh cool air. “It doesn’t matter. Where you go, I’ll be there.”

“I knew you’d say that.” I wrap my arm around her shoulder and kiss her head.

“So,” she wraps her arm around my waist as we begin walking together. “How long do you think it’ll be before Ares shows up?”

“What time is it?”

———————————————————

~The Family that Plays Together…~

“Get up!” I snap her backside with a piece of linen I used to dry off with after my morning dip in the river. “You lazy thing, you.”

She rolls over and opens one blue eye. “Why are you up so early?”

“After all these years of living with you, it was bound to rub off on me eventually.”

She groans and pulls the furs over her head. “I don’t wanna get up. I’m very warm and happy here.”

“Xena, don’t make me come in there after you. You promised me we’d get an early start today.”

She draws a deep breath and pushes the furs down. “The sun isn’t even up yet, Gabrielle. Come back to bed. I’ll make it worth it, I promise.”

“You promised we’d leave early so we could meet the kids.”

“Why did we have kids?”

“Because it annoyed Ares.” I snap her with the cloth again. “Now come on, get up.”

“Oh, all right. But you owe me.”

“I’ll make sure to pay you back when we get to Corinth.”

“You know, Gabrielle, we are not going to be able to make it every time one of the kids has a baby.”

“No, but we can make it this time. This is my last baby having a baby.”

She sighs as she pulls on her boots. “You’re such a mother.”

“So are you.” I tease as I roll up the furs. “And a good one too.”

She looks up and smiles at me. “We raised quite a group, didn’t we?”

“Yes we did, and now they are bringing forth the next generation.”

Xena chuckles and I know it’s directed at me. “What?”

She smiles at me and winks. “I love watching you get excited about grandchildren, Gabrielle. When I think of the life we’ve led, it’s just nice to see that you still get excited about the simple things.”

***

Much later in the day we managed to make it to the edge of Corinth, even though my horse had thrown a shoe. We took the ride a bit slower so she wouldn’t go lame. Xena had spent most of the day cursing over the problem and blaming Ares. I’m not sure why. I think it just made her feel better.

As we drew closer, I dismounted to give the horse a break and to stretch my legs. I was happy to see Corinth. It had been a long time since we had seen the kids and Mel had carefully gathered them all together here so we could see them and the family could be here when Kessa and John’s first baby arrives.

Mel had secured a large house on the west side of the city were we could gather in relative peace. It was difficult for Xena and I to explain our continued presence among the living, considering that we weren’t aging at all.

Xe had even mentioned that we should consider taking new names, just to make things easier. I have a feeling we will be recreating ourselves a lot.

Once we found the house, Xena was quick to tend to the horse and make sure her hoof had not spilt. Before I even made it to the door, little Xena came bolting out and flying into my arms.

“Grandma!”

I caught her and lifted her into my arms. “Hello, Little Xe. My, you are growing like a weed.”

“Mama say I very big!”

“Indeed you are.” My granddaughter was quickly approaching her third birthday and was a true beauty just like her namesake.

Before any further words could be exchanged Brianna came out of the house wiping her hands on a rough-hewn cloth. “Well, hello, Mom. You two made good time.”

“I can do amazing things when I’m motivated.”

“Where’s Mother?”

“Where else?”

She nods. “Tending the horses. It’s in the blood with this family. Well, come on in and see Kess. She’s as big as a house and not moving around too much.”

“Is she all right?”

“She’s fine, but she’s pregnant, cranky and very annoyed at the way John breaths at the moment.”

“Oooo, I remember that feeling well. There were times when I wanted to rip Xe’s lungs out through her nose.”

We walk into the house where I find Kess resting in a large oversized chair and John sort of hiding in the kitchen. Putting Little Xe down, I kneel next to my youngest and take her hand. “How are you sweetheart?”

“Ready to rip the wings off a Harpy. Or kill my husband. One of the two.”

“I hate to break this to you, but it takes two, remember? You have to be there for this to happen.”

“I was an innocent bystander.”

“Right. I suppose he just bumped into you and you got pregnant?”

Bri chuckles. “He’d have to have done it several times for that to happen.”

From the kitchen John offers, “I only did what she told me.”

The door bangs open and Xena and Mel come racing through, they’ve obviously been tormenting each other.

“Stop!” Mel yells as she protects her head from Xe’s playful slaps.

“Make me!” Xe teases back. “Come on shorty, make me.”

“Would you two stop. We have a pregnant woman here.”

“It’s not my fault.” Xena grins and moves to Kess, giving her a kiss on the forehead. “Want me to kill him?”

“Yes, please.”

“Hey! Innocent husband here.” John joins us, giving Kess a mug of spiced juice.

“So where is your brother and his wife?” Xena sits down on the floor and pulls Little Xe into her lap.

“They should be here this evening. They stopped on the way to sell some horses. Kai has been invaluable to Alana since Solan passed. He’s pretty much taken over the farm, and Alana has more time with the Amazons and serving as Rosa’s regent.”

“I’m going to miss Rosa and Alana. I wish they could have come.”

“I know,” Mel sighs. “There’s just too much going on in the nation right now. They can’t afford to leave.”

Kess readjusts in the chair and snickers. “My sister, The Virgin Queen. I should have followed in her foot steps.” She looks at me and grins. “She was really adopted wasn’t she?”

“Kess be nice. Just because you sister has chosen a life of…well…of…

Before I can find the right word, Xena and Mel pipe up at the same time with,” Misery.”

“You two,” Bri offers as she heads for the kitchen, “are seriously oversexed.”

“Oversexed?” Mel looks confused and turns to Xena. “Is that even possible?”

Xe winks at me. “Not as far as I’m concerned.”

***

Settling down to dinner we are pleasantly surprised to find out that Bri has turned into an excellent cook. Of course, I’m just pleased when I don’t have to eat my own cooking.

“Mother,” Mel looks up from her plate, “there’s a sparring competition in a couple days. I was wondering if I could practice with you. I’m planning on entering and I need a good partner to spar with.”

“I’d be happy to, but what about John? You could spar with him.”

John very nearly spits his ale across the table. Then he turns wide eyes on Xena. “Me? I’m a banker, not a fighter. She’d kill me.”

Xena laughs, and the entire table joins her. Even Little Xe, who isn’t sure what she’s laughing at, joins anyhow. “Sure, Mel I’d love a chance to flex my muscles again.”

“Ooo, goodie,” I tease, “I’ll make sure to mix some liniment.”

“Harpy.” Xena shoots me her best faux glare.

“I may be a Harpy, but I’ll be a Harpy that can move tomorrow.” I say it just to torment her. “Now if you were still a God we wouldn’t have to worry about all this. But being a mere immortal has its drawbacks.”

She leans over and whispers in my ear. “If you don’t behave you won’t be able to walk in the morning.”

“Promises, promises.”

Our meal is interrupted by the arrival of Kai, Maya and Drake. Our Grandson is older that Little Xe, but far more reserved and shy. He manages to hide behind his mother’s skirts as they come into the kitchen.

Xe and I are up immediately to greet them. As I start to hug my son I notice he has a black eye and his lip is bruised and busted and there was a huge bruise forming on his jaw. “What happened?”

“We got robbed.” He winces, holding his ribs as I guide him to a seat. “Some bandits jumped us about to hours after we left the horse auction.”

I watch as Xena turns Maya to her and asks if she’s okay. The girl nods then joins Kai, kneeling at his side and caressing his cheek.

“I’m fine,” he tells her. “Really.”

Drake looks at his parents and then starts crying softly, knowing something is wrong. “Hey,” I lean over and wrap him up in my arms. “It’s okay, you’re safe.”

“Papa hurt.”

“He’s okay, Drake. I promise. Your Papa is fine. We’re gonna take good care of him.”

“Grandma, bad men hit Papa.”

“We know, but we’re going to take care of it.”

“Oh, you bet sweet centaur chips we are!” Mel booms as she takes a cold cloth to her brother.

“Mel, relax,” Xena scolds. “We’ll deal with this, but you know getting angry isn’t going to make it any better.”

“No, but I’ll feel better.”

“Mel…”

“Oh, all right. We’ll do it your way.”

“Of course we will.” Xena said as she picked up Drake and gave him a hug and a kiss. “But right now,” She focuses her attention on Drake. “We need to get you Papa settled into bed so he can rest.”

***

I watch as Xena sharpens her sword. There’s that look again, the look that speaks of complete determination. “Can we do this without killing them?”

“I doubt it.”

“Can we at least try?”

She looks up at me, quirking a brow. “They robbed our son.”

“I know. And I’m just as anxious to deal with this as you are, but I know that certain way you sharpen your sword. It means you’re a woman who is planning to cut men in half.”

“Pretty much.”

“But,” I cross the room and stand in front of her, resting my hands on her shoulders. “Wouldn’t humiliating them be better?” I want them to pay for hurting Kai, but I push down my anger knowing that violence should always be a last resort.

She sighs and grins at me. “I’ll make you a deal. If you can figure out how to humiliate them before I kill them, we’ll go with it.”

“That’s fair.” I take her sword from her hand and set it off to the side. “Now let’s go to bed and we’ll worry about this tomorrow.”

***

I made sure Kai ate some warm broth as Xena checked the wrapping on his ribs. “Well, son, they aren’t broken but they are bruised up very nicely. You’re going to be sore for three of four days.”

“Good. Only two or three days to go.” He chuckles as I fuss with the pillows behind his head. He takes my hand and holds it tight. “Mom, I’m fine. Please stop fussing. I have a wife who does enough of that.”

“Yes, and she is putting your son’s breakfast on the table. So I get my old job back.”

He just rolls his eyes and lets me fuss.

Xena moves from the bed and puts her kit away. “So can you give me some idea of what these thieves looked like?”

“Average road thugs, Mom. I don’t know what to tell you.” Then he looks up and smiles. “Wait, there are two things, one of them has bright red hair, a head like a cabbage and doesn’t look like he could find his ass with both hands and a map. And one of the other ones took Maya’s necklace.”

“They’ll probably sell that.” Xena says as she considers the situation.

“Oh, I don’t think so. He put it around his neck and seemed to be very proud of it. I’ll bet good dinars he keeps it.”

“You don’t have any dinars, you got robbed, remember?” Xena teases.

“Har, har.”

“But I will bet that they are headed here for the competition tomorrow,” I offer, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. I notice they’re both looking at me like I’ve just grown another head. “What? I used to do this too you know. My instincts aren’t that bad.”

“Gut feeling?”

“Absolutely. They have a purse full of dinars and a city with a competition where they can show off what they have and possibly win even more. Makes perfect sense to me.” I shrug and pat my son’s leg. “Now we’ll let you rest.”

“Ah, Ri…give me just a minute.” Xena lifts her chin to the door and I know that’s my cue.

***

I’m in the kitchen with Mel when Xena finally comes out of Kai’s room. She walks in and gives me ‘that smile’. It’s the smile that tells me someone must die. “Let’s go. We have some people to find.”

Mel and I follow her out and I grab her by the arm. “What’s up?”

Xena takes a deep breath, lick her lips and lets it out slowly. “Weren’t you even curious how our son managed to get thumped by a band of road thugs?”

“Well…”

“Lemme tell ya. They held Drake at knifepoint and threatened to cut his throat and then kill Maya.”

“They did what?” I can feel my motherly rage starting to flair again. “My grandson?”

“Our grandson.”

“My nephew,” Mel says as she taps her fingers against the hilt of her sword. “Can we kill them now?”

“Yes,” I agree. “Yes, we can kill them now.”

“Let’s go.” Xena growls and heads for the barn.

“I’ll be right there.” Running back to the house I duck inside and grab my staff. Yes, now they must die. Or at least learn that you don’t mess with my children and grandchildren.

Outside Mel and Xena are already mounted and ready to go. I reach up and Xe pulls me up behind her. “You ready?” She pats my leg.

“Oh, yeah. I’m good and mad now.”

***

Arriving in town, Xena and I stable the horse and go looking on foot while Mel continues further into the crowd on horseback. The crowd is thick and moving through them is going too slowly, too slowly for either one of us. I watch as Xena looks up and smiles. “That’s what we need.” She takes my hand. “Come on.”

We get through the crowd to face a tall wall. “Oh, yeah. This is going to be very helpful.” I tease as she takes a step away and fetches a barrel and a long plank. “What are you doing?”

“We’re going into that circus.” She places the plank over the barrel. “Stand on that end.”

“Oh. I got it.” I step onto the plank and look up to the wall, trying to figure the best way to land.

“Ready?”

“As ready as I can be when I’m about to be launched.”

Her battled cry cuts through the air as she runs, then jumps and flips onto the high end of the board. Suddenly, I am air born and headed for the top of the wall. “Bend you knees, bard.” I remind myself just as my feet hit the top of the wall and I make a wobbly landing. “Whoa!” I’m sure I’m going to fall backward when a strong hand lands on my back.

“Easy there. We don’t need squished bard to round out our day.”

“Thanks.” I look down into the crowd. “Great vantage point.”

“I thought so. I do have a good idea occasionally.”

“Once in a while.” I feel her smack me in the butt and nudge me to start walking along the top of the wall.

I spot Mel right away; man, does she look like Xena when she’s mad. She is carefully circling the group from her horse, a small group of men that are too wrapped up in the sparring match to notice the pissed off Amazon Warrior riding around them like they were the catch of the day.

“Xe, I think Mel found them.” I point to where she is in the crowd.

“Uh-huh. Certainly looks like. We should get down there before she kills them herself and deprives me of any fun.”

Walking along the top of the wall we manage to get close enough to jump to the ground not too far away from Mel and the men she is watching. Moving as quickly as possible through the crowd, we move to the edge of the ring where the men are fighting. Mel joins us shortly after and points to a man standing across the ring, cheering one of the men on.

“That’s cabbage head. And the guy in the ring is wearing Maya’s necklace.”

“Shall we break up the party?” Xe grins and removes her sword from the scabbard.

“Love too.” Mel removed her weapon and they stalked forward.

“Give me a minute, will ya?” I point across to cabbage head. “We want to make sure no one misses out.”

They nod and I make my over to the idiot. Taking a place right next to him, I wait for the show to begin. Mel and Xe do twin vaults over the crowd and into the ring, landing quite nicely with idiot number two trapped between the tips of their swords. The man who had been engaging idiot number two steps forward and yells.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Ah, shuddup!” Xena pushes him backward by shoving on his face.

Cabbage head starts to move forward and I stick my staff in his ribs. “Ah, ah, ah, don’t do that. I can break every bone in your body.”

“What?” He turns wide eyes on me.

“Granted, not as satisfying as holding a baby at knife point, but just as effective.”

“You crazy bitch!” He pushes the staff away and starts forward. This gets him cracked in the back of the head.

Leaning over him, I poke the back of his neck with my staff and tell him quietly, “Don’t call me crazy.”

He moans, nods, and then does the politically correct thing by passing out. I look up to see Mel and Xe watching me, holding idiot number two in place with their swords. Xe looks to him and just shakes her head. “He shouldn’t have pissed her off.”

“What is going on here?”

I notice that the crowd has gone very quiet. Some watching with interest ,other’s watching and waiting for the fight to start. I’m not even going to try and figure the odds on this one.

Xe presses her sword into the man’s chest. “All right, pretty stupid boy. Where are your pals?”

“What in the name of Tartarus are you talking about?”

“He doesn’t just act stupid, Mom. He is stupid.”

“Apparently.” Xe drops her sword from the man’s chestand moves close to the man, picking an imaginary piece of dirt from the man’s shirt. “You and your friends, jumped a family on the road yesterday, a man, his wife and their little son. You robbed them, took the woman’s necklace.” She wraps her hand around Maya’s necklace. “This necklace.” The she pulls it loose.

“You can’t prove anything.”

“Yes, I can. You see that woman is my son’s wife and I made her this necklace.” She opened her hand and flipped it over. “Can you read?”

He nods nervously.

“Good. Read the inscription.”

I watch as his eyes drop and he reads the medallion.

“Out loud.” Xena commands and grabs him by the back of the neck with her free hand, shoving him to the ground.

“To Maya, with love, Xena and Gabrielle.” He looks up at Xe and swallows hard. “Oh, shit.”

“Oh, shit, indeed.” Xe nods. “Now were you the one who held my grandson at knife point?”

“No, no, no…I swear.” He raised his hand at cabbage head, who was just starting to come around. “Him…he did it.”

Xe starts to move and I wave her off, moving to him, but take the time to pluck her breast dagger from its normal hiding place. Then I walk over and grab him by the back of his head and place the dagger at his throat. “Well now, how does it feel?”

He looks up at me, sweat is already starting to pour down his forehead.

“Do you think my grandson felt the same way you do now? Was he crying and afraid?”

“Your…grand…grandson?”

“Uh huh…that little boy, whose family you attacked and robbed yesterday. You know when I thought you had robbed my son I was mad, but I figured, he’s a man and he did what was best for his family and I did my best to control myself. Then I found out you held a knife to my grandson’s throat to make my son comply. Now I’m more than mad, I’m angry. Angry as only a mother can be when her children are threatened. Xena wanted to kill you and I sort of had her talked out of it. Now I’m not so sure…”

“Please…”

“Please? You want her to kill you? Sure.” I look up and smile. “Xe, could you come over her for a second?”

“NO! No, I mean please don’t kill me.”

“Oh, I see now.” I let go of his head, but leave my foot on his back as Xe approaches. “He doesn’t want you to kill him.”

She twirls her sword. “Too damn bad.”

His idiot friend manages to pipe up. “Wait!”

Xe slowly turns and takes a deep breath. “Yes? You have something to say?”

“We’ll give the money back.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that. I know you’re giving my son’s money back, even if I have to take it out of your worthless hide.”

“It’s in those saddlebags.” He gestures to the rail where cabbage head had been standing.

Xe winks at me. “I’ll check it out, if he moves, kill him.”

“My pleasure.”

Xe retrieves the bags and nods when she is sure the money is there. “I’ve got it.”

“Okay, you can kill them now.”

Just then two city guards enter the ring. “What’s going on here.”

Idiot number one blurts out, “We robbed her son.”

The first guard crosses his arms. “Is that so?”

Cabbage head nods frantically. “Yes, take us to jail please.”

“We can do that.” The second guard nods and pulls cabbage head out from under my boot. “It will be our pleasure.”

I watch as the two are led away and turn to see Xe standing with a huge smile on her face.

“Well, that was fun.” She grins and sheaths her sword.

“No, it wasn’t,” Mel crumbles. “I didn’t get to hurt anyone.”

“Some days you just can’t win.” Xe soothes as she drapes an arm over Mel’s shoulders.

“Ain’t it the truth.”

***

Back at the house Xe tosses the bag of dinars on Kai’s bed. “There ya go. It’s all there. Any extra, we donated to the orphanage in town.”

“Fantastic. I didn’t think I’d ever see this again. I don’t know what the village would have done without this winter.”

“We took care of it and your friends are now in custody.” I settle on the bed. “And I had fun.”

“I didn’t.” Mel grumbles again.

“I’m sorry, Sis.”

“S’okay.”

“Come on, Mel. I’ll take you out in the yard and give you a proper beating.” Xe winks at me and pulls Mel out of the room.

“You okay?” I ask as I run my hand through Kai’s hair.

“I’m fine. I feel stupid that I let it get this far.”

“You did what you had to do to protect your family. That’s what matters.”

“You’d know, wouldn’t you?”

“You’d better believe it.”

———————————————–

~A Time for Goodbye~

I watch as Xena cradles the baby in her arms. She always looks so happy when she’s holding a baby. And this is the last grandchild that we will see born. Even though we both hate the thought, we know we have to move on and let them live their lives.

We waited until Kess gave birth, so we could meet this addition to our family. Leaving them behind and moving on will be one of the hardest things we have ever had to do. I never expected to be in a position where I would out live my children, but given all the things that Xena and I have endure to this point, I really shouldn’t be surprised.

“What are you going to name him?” Xe asks as Kess takes the baby back to feed him.

“Actually,” John pipes up from his spot on the bed next to his wife and son. “We thought we would name him Lyceus.”

I watch as Xe smiles and nods at their choice. “I’d like that.”

“Lyceus it is then.” Kess runs her hand over the top of her son’s head.

I sigh as I watch them. I remember the first time I nursed her. It seems like yesterday, but it has been long enough that she has grown up and had her first child. I wonder if being immortal makes you loose the precious sense of time.

“He’s beautiful, sweetheart.” I step closer and John gives me his seat next to my daughter.

“I’m glad you were here Mom.”

“Wild horses couldn’t have kept us away.”

Kess looks at me, tears forming in her eyes. “Do you have to leave?”

“Yes, I’m afraid we do. It’s not that we want to go, but it’s necessary. We’re not aging and eventually someone is going to notice. We just have to go on, so that you can go on.”

“I don’t know how we’re going to manage without you.”

I smile and caress her face, “Darling, look at the little one in your arms. You’re managing just fine. It’s time for us to move on.”

She nods and I lean in to kiss her on the cheek. “I’m going to miss you Mom.”

“We’ll always be here in spirit. And I’ve left all my old scrolls in the village library for you. You can share them with your children and your grandchildren. We will always be there.”

I lean over and kiss my grandson and let my hand run over his fine baby hair. “You take care of your Mama, young man. Grow up strong and proud.”

***

Having said good-bye to everyone else, there is only one person left as Ri and I finish tacking up our horses. We turn when we hear her clear her throat. Turning slowly, we both sigh in unison as she stares at her boots.

“Mel?” Ri takes a step forward and holds her hand out. “Come here.”

“I have a theory,” Melosa looks at us and grins. “If I don’t say good-bye, you won’t leave.”

Shaking my head I join them by the door. “Good theory runt, but it won’t work.”

“I was afraid of that.”

“Come ‘er.” I pull her into my arms and hug her for all I’m worth. “I’m gonna miss you runt.”

Very soon I feel Ri’s arms around the both of us and I’m not sure how long we stood like that. But it was long enough for all of us to have tears in our eyes when we stepped back. Reaching up, I wipe a tear from Mel’s cheek.

“You take care of yourself and the family.”

“I will. Will you ever come back?”

“I doubt it.”

“It’s not safe,” Ri runs her fingers through Mel’s hair and tries to offer a little comfort. “It’s not safe for the village or the tribe.”

“You know, I understand that, but it doesn’t make saying good-bye any easier.”

“You’ll be fine.” I reassure her with a wink.

One final hug and we walk back to our horses. Ri mounts her horse at the same time I get on mine and with on last look at the house where our family is gathered, we turn and ride in the opposite direction.

***

I toss another log on the fire and listen to her sigh for the thousandth time since we stopped for the night.

“Ri?”

She looks up at me and sighs yet again. “I’m sorry. I can’t help it.”

Sitting next to her I wrap my arms around her and let her rest her head on my shoulder. “I know. You have to look at it as a chance to start all over again.”

“Oh Gods I don’t want to start all over again. Getting here the first time was hard enough.”

I laugh and hold her closer. “All right then, think of it as a chance to do new and exciting things.”

“There are things we haven’t done?”

“You’re just doing your best to be impossible aren’t you?”

“Am I succeeding?”

“Absolutely.”

“Oh, I know why we did it and I understand why it had to be done, but those are my children.”

I give her a playful elbow.

“Okay, our children.” She laughs and pours two cups of hot cider from the pot on the fire. She hands me on with a wink. “If you insist.”

“Thanks.” I sip the cider and move to the bedroll, where I’m quick to get settled and give it an inviting pat. “Well think of it this way. With us gone, we don’t have to worry about the Gods bothering them just because we’re there.”

“You’re right,” she slips off her boots and climbs in next to me. “We only have to worry about the Gods bothering them because they’re petty and like to pick on mortals.”

“I’m sorry I brought it up. I was trying to find an up side.” I tease, sipping from my cup again.

“I know, and I’m sure I’ll get used to it. It’s just difficult to know we may never see them again.”

“Well, let’s look at this as a fresh start. They’re all grown now Ri. They have their own families and we did a wonderful job of raising them. Now we can relax, and go out into the world again to explore.”

She drinks down her cider and curls up in the crook of my arm. “It can be fun can’t it?”

“Sure it can. All we have to deicide is where we want to go. You name the place and that where we’ll set off for.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere we’ve been before.”

“All right then pick a direction and we’ll just go.”

“You’re going to make this fun even if I don’t want it to be aren’t you?”

“I’m going to try my damnedest.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

***

Xe waits for me as I look around. She wearing that huge grin she gets when I’m making her insane and she doesn’t want to admit it. “Well?” She just can’t stand it anymore and prods a little.

“How about north?”

“North it is.” She picks up the reins to the horse and hands me mine.

“Actually you know,” I look at the sky. “Looks like there could be a storm in the north. How about East?”

“How about you just start walking and I’ll follow you.”

I look at her and smile. “Well, if we really are going to take this as a fresh start I think it’s appropriate.”

“What?”

“That you follow me.”

“Then lead on my love, because I will follow you to the ends of the very earth that we stand on now.”

I look at her and smile. “How poetic.”

“I can be mushy when I want.”

“Will you start writing poetry for me?”

“Not on your immortal life.” She grins and wraps her arm around my waist as we start walking.

I shake my head. “I just knew I was asking too much with that one.”

I take in a deep breath of fresh morning air as we walk through the dew-covered grass and I wonder what changes we will see in the world that we are destined to be with until it ends.

I realize it doesn’t really matter because whatever challenges our life brings, I know we’ll be fine as long as we’re together.

“What are you thinking about?” she gives me a playful hip check.

“I’m thinking what a great story this is going to make.”

 

 

The End

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