Raising Melosa Series by T. Novan

Raising Melosa

Raising Melosa is the series dealing with Xena and Gabrielle as they settle down with the Amazon Nation with Gabrielle as Queen and Xena her Consort. Melosa is their daughter.

RAISING MELOSA 
by T. Novan

 

 

 

~Wrapped~

Sitting on the floor, next to the bed with my head resting on my hand. I watch them sleep, both of them. My wife and our newborn baby daughter. I can feel the smile that plays on the edge of my lips as I gently brush back a few strands of hair from Gabrielle’s forehead. She doesn’t even stir at my touch. She’s simply too exhausted. There’s a look of total contentment of her face that I have never seen before. Even in her sleep she looks so happy.

Cradled securely in the crook of her arm is our daughter, less than two candle marks old. Her dark hair peeks out from under the blanket and her hand jerks involuntarily as she is held closely to her mother. I reach over and stroke her little hand, curled tightly into a tiny fist. I can’t help but let out a quiet laugh. My big, rough hand reaching for this little one and then when we make contact her hand opens and wraps tightly around my finger. For a moment her blue eyes open and she looks at me.

Silent tears begin to fall from my eyes as I realize I have just lost my heart to another. This small innocent creature has captured my heart and soul just as her mother before her. I will give my life for them if need be but now I hope it doesn’t come to that. I want the rest of my life with my family. I want to watch her grow and become the fine young princess she is destined to be.

I look back up at Gabrielle, my partner, my lover, my wife, and my queen. She still sleeps. I know she’s tired and I don’t begrudge her, her rest. I just miss her. I miss her even when she sleeps. I look at her beautiful face and I remember the night our child was conceived….

Gabrielle left for the temple today. Her yearly purification ritual. I know it’s necessary I just hate being away from her for three days. She always so happy and content afterward. It’s good for her, so it’s good for me, for us.

I manage to do without her just fine during the day. I spent my time on the practice field training the young warrior’s. Ephiny tells me that secretly they hate this time of the year. Apparently I’m a little tougher on them than normal.

Nighttime however, brings an altogether different set of circumstances. I’ve become so accustomed to being with her I find it very hard to sleep without her. I spend my nights wandering the village. Most of the time I end up outside the temple, setting on the steps. One year Solari actually found me asleep on the steps the next morning. She’s never quite let me live it down. Now I always make sure I leave before I think I might actually sleep.

As I walk through the village tonight, the Priestess comes to me and tells me that my presence is required in the temple. My first thought is that something has happened to Gabrielle. My throat constricts and there are no words. The Priestess must see the fear in my eyes. She assures me that all is well as she escorts me to the doors of the temple. She smiles at me, opens one of the doors and I step inside. The door closes behind me.

As I look to the front of the temple, the only light is from two candles on either side of the altar. I move forward and finally see Gabrielle on the large bed that is always placed here for her during the ritual. She smiles at me and motions for me to come to her. I kneel next to the bed and take her hand.

“I’ve spoken to Artemis Xena. I have told her of my greatest desire. To have a child.” She says softly as I stroke her hand. My heart stops for a moment. She wants the one thing I can not give her. I always knew this day would come and I wondered how I would react. I want to make her happy so I realize I’ll do anything to see it happen.

“What do we have to do?” I ask hoping my voice doesn’t betray me.

“Make love to me Xena. It’s part of the ritual.” She leans over and kisses me with passion I have never before felt from her.

Our lovemaking that night was more passionate than it had ever been. We both seemed possessed. At one point we both found our crests at the same time, and I swear to this day we became one with each other. I could hear her in my mind, feel her in my body and her heart was beating with my own, our souls merged. So after we both fell into an exhausted sleep. The bard right where she belonged tucked into the crook of my arm.

Later I awoke. I’m not sure why. I knew Gabrielle was gone from the bed. I started to get up when I realized that she was at the altar talking with someone. My urge to protect my love brought me further up, and then I realized she was speaking with Artemis. The Goddess smiled at Gabrielle and placed a hand on her queen’s stomach.

“A fine baby girl shall be born to you and the warrior. Tonight I have seen her love for you and your love for her. A purer love has never existed between two mortals. Your child is a precious gift. A part of you both. Now return to your warrior, she is concerned for you.”

I watched in stunned silence as Artemis disappeared and her words sunk in. Fine baby girl…part of us both… Gabrielle returned to the bed and slid in, wrapping her arms around me as we lay back down. Neither of us spoke. We just lay there together with the moonlight streaming into the temple from the windows above us. I had never felt so calm and at peace in my life then I did at that moment…

A little gurgle brings me back from my memories and I return my gaze to my daughter who is becoming fussier by the moment. “What’s the matter little one?” I ask softly trying not to disturb Gabrielle.

“She’s probably hungry.”

I look up. The bard smiles at me as she adjusts to her side and begins to feed our daughter for the first time. I feel the breath leave my body and I try to find words. I can’t. Tears begin to form in my eyes. This is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. It’s almost enough to vanquish all of the horrible things my eyes have seen. I rub my eyes before the tears spill from them and then I reach out and push a stray lock of hair back behind my wife’s ear.

“She’s beautiful Xena.” Gabrielle whispers as she looks down and caresses the small cheek, tears slip from her own eyes. I don’t need to ask why. I already know.

“Yes, yes she is. So tell me what are we going to name her?”

Without looking up “If it’s alright with you I’d like to name her Melosa.”

“Melosa it is then.”

I sit back for a moment and look at them both, my wife and my daughter, the two most important people in my life. There’s no doubt now, they’ve got me right where they want me, I’m wrapped.

———————————————————————————

~In A Queen’s Eyes~

The treaty negotiations had gone well and I’m home two days earlier than anticipated. We arrive in the very early morning hours,even before the sun has started to break across the horizon. It’s my fault that we are arriving at this time of the day. I just wanted to come home. I needed to come home. My guards were very good about the whole trip and didn’t fuss about traveling all night to get me home.

As we enter the village everyone is still asleep except for Ephiny who is there to greet me. Why I don’t know. It’s obvious that she has been pulled out of a sound sleep. She’s still rubbing her eyes and yawning. I slide of my horse and go to her. She smiles a tired little smile.

“You didn’t have to get up Eph. We’ve traveled all night and I’m going to go straight to bed.”

“I figured as much. I just thought I should be here. I’ll be going back to bed too.” She yawned again.

As we walk toward my hut I can’t help but yawn. It’s contagious you know. “Is everything okay here?”

“Everything is fine. All though I know one warrior who will be glad you’re back. There’s a certain little princess who’s been giving her fits.”

I smile as Eph makes reference to Xena and Melosa. Xena decided to stay behind and care for our daughter, who is just about two months old now. I missed them terribly and I know that they were the driving force behind my desire to come home. “I’m sure Xena’s ready for a break.”

“Oh I don’t think so.” Eph said as we continued across the village. “We haven’t been able to pry that baby out of her arms for even one moment while you were gone. The other nursing mothers offered to look after her at different times just to give Xena a break and she refused every offer. I just know she’ll be glad you’re home.”

As we approached my hut I sighed. “That’ll make two of us. Goodnight Eph, or good morning or whatever you say when you really don’t have a clue.”

“You are tired.” She said with a snicker.

I put my hand on the door handle and started to agree, but all I could do was yawn and nod.

“Go to bed. I’ll see you later.”

“Tomorrow maybe.” I said with another yawn. I opened the door to the hut very carefully trying not to wake the two sleeping occupants.

Although it really wasn’t cold outside there was a small fire in the fire place. I had to smile. Xena refused to take any chances when it came to Melosa. The fire was there for her benefit, to keep her warm. We discovered early on with our daughter, that she hated to be covered and would kick blankets off immediately. Xena fought that battle for almost two weeks before finally giving up and just lighting the fire every night.

I crossed the room to look in the cradle. I wasn’t surprised to find it empty. If I didn’t have Melosa and she wasn’t in her cradle there was only one other place she would be. As I made my way over to the bed, I nodded and smiled as I looked at them. Xena was asleep in the middle of the bed, flat on her back. Right in the middle of Xena was Melosa, laying on her stomach, also sound asleep. Xena had one hand splayed out across her little back to hold her in place. They both had very content smiles on their faces.

Having lived with Xena as long as I have I know she’s not comfortable on her back. She prefers to sleep on her side. Her left side to be precise. It keeps her sword arm free should she need to get to her weapon quickly. Even when she sleeps it’s always close. Tonight is no different I notice, the sword is standing at the ready next to the bed. I know what I have to do now and I don’t enjoy the thought. Even before I get too close to the bed I say her name.

“Xena…”

“Hmmm…” A truly sleepy reply. Melosa must have kept her up half the might. Normally just the mere sound of my voice would wake her from a deep sleep.

“Xena.” I say it again softly as I step closer to the bed.

“Hmmm…”

“Xena I’m going to take the baby now.” I say softly as I reach down for our daughter. I see Xena’s hand constrict ever so slightly holding the baby closer. “It’s okay sweetheart. Let me have her.” She shifts slightly and her hand slowly moves away form our little girl. It’s safe for me to take her now, so I reach down and pick her up.

Xena fusses a little. Melosa fusses a little, but it looks as if they will both continue to sleep. I cradle my daughter in my arms and move back to a chair by the fire. I sit with her and just hold her close to me. Gods I’ve missed her. I look over at my warrior. I’ve missed her too. Suddenly I feel someone looking at me. I look back at Melosa. She is awake now and staring at me. Almost on cue she starts fussing. I smile. I know what she wants. I undo my tunic and bring her to my breast. Hopefully she will go back to sleep after she eats. As I watch her I remember the night she was born. I remember waking up and finding Xena on the floor next to us, just watching us. My brave, proud warrior cried that night.

“Welcome home.” Her voice creeps out of the darkness across the room.

“Hiya’ warrior.” I say quietly with smile.

I hear her get out of bed and come across the room to join us. She’s yawning and stretching. Too much time on her back last night I would guess. She pulls a fur from in front of the fire and sits on the floor at my feet and lays her head in my lap. I stroke her hair with my free hand. “Miss me?”

“You have no idea.” She says as she readjust her head slightly. “Melosa missed her momma and she let me know it every night.”

“How could she possibly miss me when she had you carrying her around every minute of every day?”

She looked up at me with a little smile.

“Un-huh I know, I was already told.”

“Eph has a big mouth.” She yawned again and put her head back down in my lap. “Besides milk from a warmed goats bladder is no replacement for the real thing.”

“Xena you’re spoiling her. If you hold her all the time…”

She cuts me off. We’ve had this discussion before. “She’s my daughter I’ll spoil her if I want too.”

“Excuse me warrior I seem to remember having a little something to do with this.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” She teases me.

I can’t help but chuckle. I’ve seen so many changes in Xena over the last few seasons. She has become so content with our life here. I didn’t know if she would be able to, but she has. She would still go from time to time where she was needed. I went with her most of the time, until I became pregnant with Melosa and then she refused to let me go anymore. After I became pregnant her trips became fewer and fewer and she hasn’t left the village in the two months since Melosa was born. Like I said, no chances where our daughter is concerned.

Melosa is finished with her early morning meal. I put her up to my shoulder and begin rubbing her back.

Xena looks up and reaches for her. “Let me have her. You get ready for bed. You must be exhausted.”

I hand her down to Xena because I know it won’t do any good to argue with her. She takes her and puts her up to her shoulder and gently begins rubbing her back and humming to her. I watch them as I move across the room and pour water into a wash basin to freshen up just a bit. What I really want is a hot bath, but that will have to wait until later. I wash up and change into a sleeping shift. As I start back towards them, the command is clear.

“Go to bed. I’ll be there as soon as our daughter is done spitting up on me.”

I can’t help but chuckle as I return to bed and lay down. Gods it feels so good to be home and in my own bed. Our bed. I sigh contentedly as I watch them. Xena finally stands and walks softly to the cradle. Giving our daughter a soft kiss on the head, she gently lowers her into the cradle and puts a blanket over her. She knows it won’t do any good, but she does it anyway.

She returns to our side of the room and changes her shift and slides into bed next to me. Immediately we are in each others arms. I curl up in front over her and she wraps a strong arm around my waist. I feel her relax and I know she is asleep again. The last vison I see is the flutter of a blanket being kicked off by a little foot.

Gods it’s good to be home…

———————————————————–

~Another Day In The Life~

I half walk, half limp back to our quarters. As I approach the new building I stop and take it in. This building is more than our quarters, it is our home. The home we have made here, together. The home I had just finished building for us not more than a week ago. The home where we would raise our family. With Melosa growing bigger each day, the one room hut we had been in before had just gotten too cramped. This new four room home provides us with the space that we need. I heard from Ephiny that our new residence is the envy of the village. By amazon standards it’s huge and the two fire places I built into it are by all means extravagant. The things I was afraid Gabrielle would never have if she stayed with me don’t seem so out of reach for us anymore. I smile as I continue to half walk, half limp back.

It had been a long hard day. I was up at dawn and out on the training grounds with Solari and Epinon training the younger warriors. For some reason towards the end of the training session they all decided it would be fun to gang up on me. They’re a tough little bunch, I’ll give ’em that. Of course my two allies stood off to the side laughing hysterically as thirty young amazons wrestled me to the ground. I made a mental note to about exactly what my revenge would be. It wasn’t going to be pretty.

Later in the day Argo had gone into labor with her first foal. I’ve been at the stables for the rest of the day. She delivered a fine young foal that looks exactly like her. That was where I got the limp. Argo kicked me while delivering. She didn’t mean too, I just got in the way.

I step up on the porch and open the door. As I go inside and close the door behind me, I find a new reason to smile. Gabrielle is laying on the floor in front of the fire place with Melosa. Our daughter, true to her defiant little nature is sitting up and reaching for a toy that Gabrielle has in her hand. As I enter and walk towards them Gabrielle turns her head to me.

“Stop right there warrior.” She commands as she sits up and hands the toy to Melosa. Our daughter giggles madly as she brings the toy to her mouth and begins chewing on it. She seems to be watching this exchange between her mothers with great interest.

“What!?” I ask as I stop dead in my tracks. “I just wanted to come give my two favorite girls a kiss.”

“Not until you’ve had a bath. You’ve got every kind of dirt know to man and the Gods on that body.”

“But…” I start to protest.

“Ba,ba,ba,ba…” Melosa offers in my defense with another giggle.

“Go take a bath. It’s ready.” Gabrielle says as she points towards our sleeping chamber.

I turn, defeated by my little queen and head for the bath that had been drawn for me. To get to the bathing chamber I have to go through our sleeping chamber. I find fresh clothes and a towel laid out on the bed for me. “Thank you!” I call into the other room.

“You’re welcome.” Comes the reply from the other room.

I pick up the fresh clothing and head into the bathing chamber. True to her word there was a steaming bath ready for me. I strip off my dirty clothes and toss them in a corner. I slip into the bath and every muscle begins to relax. “Ohhh Gods this feels good.” I didn’t even realize I had spoken aloud until I heard the snicker behind me. I turn to see my wife and daughter. It was the wife that snickered. The daughter was far too busy chewing on that toy. Gabrielle, with Melosa in her arms comes over and sits on the edge of the tub.

“How’s Argo?” She asks as she gets comfortable.

“She fine and we have a beautiful little foal now. She looks exactly like Argo. After I get cleaned up we’ll go down so you can see them.”

“Okay. I hear you had a rough day on the training grounds.” She says with a smile as I begin washing.

I just look at her out of the corner of my eye, ignoring the comment and continue bathing. Suddenly there’s a splash. Melosa’s toy has found it’s way into my bath. My six month old daughter giggles furiously as I pull the dripping toy out of the water. This is her version of ‘I drop it, you pick it up’. It’s become a favorite of hers lately.

“Oh you think that’s funny do ya’?” I ask her as she squirms in her mother’s arms. Reaching up I tickle her tummy sending her into another fit.

“Ba,ba,ba,ba…” She says as she turns and buries her head into Gabrielle’s shoulder, now finding it to be the perfect chew toy. I have to agree with her.

“Her teeth are really starting to bother her.” Gabrielle says as she pulls back and offers her hand to the baby.

“Did you put that lineament on her gums that I mixed up last night?” I ask as I reach for Melosa and put my own finger in her mouth and feel the hard little gums with teeth that are trying to get through.

“Yeah it seemed to help for a little while, but it wore off very quickly.”

“I’ll mix some more later, make it a little stronger. It won’t be much longer now will it?” I continue to massage her gums with my finger.

“No I don’t think so. Has the water cooled enough that you can give her a bath too?”

“Yeah it’s fine.” I reach up and take her. I hold her as Gabrielle undresses her. I love this part. She looks into my eyes as her fists go to her mouth and she starts to shiver even before she touches the water. She knows what’s going to happen. Slowly I lower her into the water. She kicks as her feet hit the water. She sucks in a lung full of air as her eyes grow wide and the shivering increases.

I bend my knees up and let her stand on my stomach with her back against my legs. The shivering has stopped. Now the splashing begins. It’s hard to bath her as she squirms around, but I have to admit I’ve gotten pretty good at it. She reaches out and grabs my chin. I tuck my head and capture her hand in my mouth, giving it little kisses that sends her into another fit of giggles.

Gabrielle lays a towel by the fire place to warm it for the little princess. Then she just sits back and watches us play. I don’t even have to turn around to see the smile on her face, I can feel it.

“You know I have to admit Xena. The design of this house is very clever. I love the way you managed to design it so that one fire place could heat three different rooms.”

“Thank you.” I reply before blowing bubbles on Melosa’s stomach. This is always a mistake and I know it. Every time I do this she manages to grab two handfuls of my hair. Gabrielle always has to get me out of it.

“All right you two. That’s enough.” She says as she brings the towel and extracts our daughter from the top of my head and our bath. She wraps the baby in the towel and takes her to the nursery. I finish bathing and quickly wash my hair as the waters begin to cool.

Cleaned and properly dressed, I am now allowed to get close to my wife. As I pull her into my arms I whisper in her ear. “Better?”

“Much.” She says as she returns my embrace. “You smell better too.”

“Are you saying that after training your warrior’s all morning, then being pounced on by them and delivering a new foal I smelled bad?”

“Warrior you were ripe.” She says with a laugh.

I look over her shoulder at Melosa who is reaching forward for another toy that is in front of her, just slightly out of her reach. I turned Gabrielle in my arms and continue to hold her as we watch our beautiful little girl.

“She’s going to be the spitting image of you.” Gabrielle says with a content sigh. “She’s already got your personality. Defiant and stubborn to the ends of the Earth.”

“This is a bad thing?” I ask as I move to Melosa. She looks up and reaches for me. I’m more than happy to scoop her up in my arms and hold her tightly against me.

“Only when I’m trying to get her to eat. She hates vegetables.”

“Yeah well so do I.” I say as I put my arm around my wife and guide her out of the nursery. “Let’s go visit Argo.”

As we walk through the village I am amazed at the looks we still get. We’ve been here for almost five seasons now. You would think that these women would have found something new to be fascinated with by now. Ephiny say it’s because they never thought I would be happy here. Why wouldn’t I be? I have everything I need right here in my arms. Gabrielle wrapped in one and the other wrapped around Melosa.

I’m every bit the proud warrior I always was I’ve just learned that there are far more important things in life. So I just return their smiles with a nod of my head and a little smile of my own.

At the stables Argo proudly shows off her new baby. The foal is strong and was standing just a few moments after its birth. As we approach the stall I hand Melosa to Gabrielle and enter the stall. I give Argo a good scratch on the nose. “Isn’t motherhood great girl?” She nods her head and lowers it to look at her baby. I guide the foal over so Gabrielle can have a better look at her. “So what do you think my love?”

“Xena she’s beautiful. She really is. Good job Argo.”

My mare whickers her agreement and gives me a nudge. “What?” I ask her. She nudges me again and her lips begin searching the pocket of my tunic. “Oh you think I’ve got something for you huh?” She nudges me again. I reach into my pocket and give her a carrot.

“Well at least someone in the family like vegetables.” Gabrielle giggles. “What are you going to name her?”

“Oh I don’t know. I’ll have to get to know her personality first. I just hope she’s as smart as her mother.”

Argo nods her head as she continues to munch her carrot. I give the foal one last scratch on the neck and leave the stall. Melosa reaches for me again and I take her back into my arms.

“I tried to tell you that you were spoiling her by holding her so much.” Gabrielle says as we make the transfer.

“And I’ve always told you that I’ll spoil her if I want too. Isn’t that right princess?” I say as I give her a quick kiss on the cheek. Gabrielle just shakes her head as we leave the stables.

We move through the village to the hut where the communal meals are served. As Queen, Gabrielle may take her meals where ever she chooses, but we tend to eat with everyone else. It gives us a chance to catch up on village business and gossip. It also is good for Melosa. She loves the interaction of the people as she is happily passed from person to person. As we enter I see my two allies from this morning. Epinon isn’t quite sure of herself with children yet, so here’s my chance. I walk over and lean forward, Melosa knows this means she’s going to someone else and she reaches out.

“Here you go Ep. Watch her while Gabrielle and I get our food.”

Epinon reaches out and takes the baby under the arms and holds her at arms length. “What in the name of Artemis am I suppose to do with this?”

“Careful warrior. That’s your princess you’re talking about.” I tease as I walk away.

“Xena, c’mon don’t do this to me…” I hear her plead as I walk over to Gabrielle.

“You enjoyed that didn’t you?” She whispers as we get our food.

“Un-huh. Teach her to let her warrior’s ambush me.” I chuckle as I look back over my shoulder and watch as Ep tries to get someone else to take Melosa.

“No way! The queen’s consort told you to watch her.” Says Solari as she winks at me.

“Aw c’mon guys. Somebody help me out here…” Her pleas are fruitless. I chuckle again.

Once we’re seated, I go retrieve Melosa from the sweating warrior.

After the evening meal, we return to our home. Gabrielle puts Melosa down for the evening as I make sure the fire place will burn through the night. We can’t keep a blanket on that child. I go to her cradle and watch her as she finds a peaceful sleep. I never tire of watching her. I lean over and give her a kiss on the forehead. Then I feel Gabrielle’s gentle tug on my hand.

“C’mon warrior let her sleep.”

We return to the main room of our home and I build the fire up there as well. Gabrielle opens a cabinet across the room and retrieves a decanter of wine and two cups. I settle down in front of the fire and wait for her. She joins me and settles down between my legs and leans back against me. She pours two glasses of wine and hands one to me.

“Tell me a story my bard.” I ask as I sip my wine.

“There once was a fierce warrior…”

“Ummm…”

“Who gave herself to the beat of a tiny heart…”

———————————————————-

~A Visit To Mother’s~

I awoke in a strange room, in a strange bed. I smiled. The body laying next to me was all too familiar. Xena still slept. We had arrived in Amphipolis late last night and we were both exhausted. We knew traveling for the first time with Melosa would be an experience. It was. Xena learned a few interesting lessons about riding with a squirming baby in her arms. Melosa was finally relegated to the back pack that Xena had made for her to ride in. This hadn’t made her happy and she spent most of the trip kicking me in the back to show her protest.

Cyrene was still up when we arrived and took great delight in meeting her granddaughter for the first time. We watched as she held the baby close to her and cried a grandmother’s tears of joy. I even saw a single tear slide down the cheek of my warrior as she smiled and watched them. “I’ve finally made her happy.” She whispered in my ear.

We spent another two candle marks eating and talking as Cyrene continued to play with the baby. Xena was actually falling asleep sitting up, her face resting in her hand. I knew it was time to put my warrior and my daughter to bed. Cyrene was content to let me take the warrior, but her granddaughter was another story.

“I’ll keep the baby with me. You take Xena to your room and get some rest.” She said as they played on the floor.

“But…” I started to protest.

“Gabrielle, this child is more than eight months old now and we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Besides I’m sure you two could use some quiet time together. Now go on.”

I knew it wouldn’t do any good to argue any further. This is where my daughter got her stubborn streak. I walked over to my warrior and whispered her name. “Xena…”

“Hmmm…”

“Wake up.”

“I’m not asleep.” She said, her eyes still closed.

“Un-huh sure, come on.” I said as help her out of the chair and upstairs to our room. Once we were both undressed and in bed it didn’t take long for either of us to fall fast asleep.

Morning was upon us once again. I curled up next to Xena and began kissing her shoulder. We hadn’t even bothered with shifts last night. There was no point. So now here I was, next the very warm body of my wife and getting warmer with every moment that I continued to lay there. I knew I should get up. I knew I should go downstairs and help Cyrene open the tavern and see to Melosa, but it had been so long since Xena and I had been alone together without our daughter to worry about…

Xena stirred as my kisses moved from her shoulder to her neck. “Hmmm…” She growled as she smiled, her eyes still closed. I turned her head gently to mine and kissed her softly on the lips. It didn’t take long for that soft gently kiss to turn into several little passionate kisses.

“Feeling a little frisky this morning bard?” Xena asked, her lips never leaving mine. She turned and pulled me into her arms, pressing our bodies together.

“No. Feeling down right horny warrior.” I answered, my lips never leaving hers. Our bodies began to melt together.

We made love. Glorious, magnificent, passionate love. It had been months since we had shared each other like this. It came close to the night in Artemis’ temple when we were blessed with Melosa. Almost, but not quite. As I lay spent in my warrior’s strong arms I could only sigh as my heartbeat and breathing began to return to normal.

“Happy?” She asked with that teasing edge to her voice.

“Quite. Thank you.” I sighed as I snuggled closer.

“No, thank you. That was quite the wake up call.” She kissed me on the forehead and hugged me closer.

“We really should get up you know.” I said as I traced my finger along her side.

“Yeah we probably should…” She said as she turned and kissed me.

So much for getting up…

When we finally did make it downstairs, Cyrene was just getting ready to serve the mid day meal. She gave us the infamous, ‘I know what you’ve been doing, so don’t even make excuses’ look. We could only smile. Xena began cleaning the tables, I moved behind the bar. I found Melosa playing peacefully at her grandmother’s feet. She looked up and reached for me. I took a step back and knelt down on the floor with her.

“You want me. You come here.” I held my hands out to her. She watched me for a moment then rocked forward and crawled to me. I scooped her up and gave her a long hard hug and a kiss. “What a good girl.”

She giggled and squirmed. Then she noticed Xena and really began to wiggle. There was no bond stronger in the world than the bond between these two.

I walked around the bar and put her down. She wasted no time in crawling over to the warrior and pulling herself up on the leg of Xena’s trousers. She stood there, holding on for dear life, looking up at the woman who worshipped the ground she crawled on. Xena smiled and looked at me as she bent over and picked the baby up. I just rolled my eyes and shook my head as I went back behind the bar. This had been a battle I finally had to give up. I just realized that there was no way the warrior was ever going to deny this child anything.

We talked about it. She told me late one night, through many, many tears, that she felt like Melosa was her second chance to be the parent she had failed to be with Solan. I held her so close to me that night as she wept for the son she lost and the daughter we now had. She told me of her fears. Fears that she would fail Melosa the way she had failed Solan. I tried to console her, but I knew I couldn’t do it. Only a healthy, happy Melosa could do that. Melosa was never happier than when she was wrapped tightly in the arms of a certain warrior. Not that I could blame her, I found most of my happiness there as well.

I watched them as Cyrene and I prepared the bar. Xena was so careful with her. Sometimes it looked as if Xena thought the child was a dream and would simply disappear from her arms if she were to rough with her. I knew Xena. I knew she was capable of great tenderness. Not everyone could see that side of her. Not every wanted to see that side of her, but to watch her with our daughter, you couldn’t miss it.

“We’re going to need another cask of port.” Cyrene’s words brought me out of my daze. “Xena would you mind?”

“Not at all mother.” Xena crossed the room and placed Melosa on the bar in front of me. As the warrior headed for the door that led to the store room Melosa’s eyes never left her. When she disappeared through the door, our daughter looked as if she were going to cry. She began shaking all over, she looked at me and back to the door again. Her bottom lip began to stick out and quiver. Tears began to form in her little eyes.

“Aw little one it’s okay,” I picked her up and held her close, kissing her on the head. “She’ll be right back.” My words did little to comfort our baby as she continued to watch that door. I could feel the tears and the sobs rack her little body, but she never made a sound. She threw her little head against my shoulder and hugged me tightly, watching the door. I made sure that we stayed where we were so she could watch the door.

When Xena reappeared, the tears stopped as quickly as the began. The warrior brought the cask of wine behind the bar and put it where her mother indicated. She looked up and saw the relieved look on both our faces.

“What’s wrong?” She asked as she stepped closer and stroked Melosa’s head, the concern evident in her voice.

“I’m not sure. She seemed to get very upset when you left the room.” I continued to rub her little back. She was resting with her head against my shoulder, but her blue eyes never left the warrior. “Maybe she’s tired. I think it’s nap time.”

“Do you want me to put her down for her nap?”

“No I’ll do it. You’re mother needs you down here.” It was a good plan until I tried to walk away. Xena just came to me and took her.

“I’ll do it. You can help mother.” With that she headed upstairs. I watched them go, wondering what had gotten into Melosa.

“Don’t let it worry you child. All babies go through this stage.” Cyrene said quietly.

I turned and smiled. “She’s never behaved like that before.” I glanced back to the stairs.

I felt Cyrene’s hand on my shoulder. “She’s just learning to adjust to the fact that the people she loves leave her. When she realizes that they come back, she’ll be fine. She was just scared. She’ll learn and everything will be okay.”

I turned to the woman that I now considered to be my mother and smiled. She gave me a gentle hug and we went back to work.

“You never did tell me why you arrived so late last night.” She said as I wiped down the bar.

I sighed. “We left Poteidaia, um, shall we say on the spur of the moment yesterday morning and Xena didn’t want to stop and sleep outside with Melosa.”

“Things didn’t go well at home for you?”

“My parents were so awful to Xena.” I stopped for a moment as the tears threaten to roll down my cheeks. I wiped them away and continued. “She tried to be good natured about it and just ignore them, but they just took every opportunity to hurt her. They barely paid any attention to Melosa. That upset Xena more than anything. She told them that they could hate her as much as they wanted, but that Melosa was their grandchild and they should be ashamed of the way they were treating her.”

I paused to collect my thoughts. I could see the hurt flood across Cyrene’s face. I tried to smile, but it just wouldn’t happen. I took a deep breath and continued.

“We were all in the kitchen, I was holding Melosa, my father just seemed to snap. He called me the most horrible names.” I closed my eyes as I remembered. “Then he began saying awful things about Melosa. Then he raised his hand as if he were going to strike me. That was it. Xena was done being nice. She captured his hand as he swung forward. With a stillness in her voice I’ve never heard before she told me to collect our things and that we were leaving.

It scared me half to death. I was sure she was going to kill him. She told him the only thing that saved his life, was the fact that he was Melosa’s grandfather and she wouldn’t have his blood on her hands. She didn’t do anything except hold his hand in mid air while I slipped out past them. She basically held them captive in the kitchen while I gathered our things and then we left. I don’t imagine we will be going back anytime soon.” I finished with a chuckle, trying to lighten the mood.

Cyrene gave me a little smile and put her hands on my shoulders. “Gabrielle I know that I can never replace your parents in your heart and I wouldn’t want to try. I just want you to know how much I love you. How grateful I am for the things that you have given me. You brought Xena back into my life. You have blessed me with the most beautiful granddaughter. You are a part of my heart, my family. You are my daughter and you will always have a home here.”

I fell into her and hugged her. It felt so good to have a home. She just held me there. I let a few tears escape, not for what I had lost, but for what had been given to me. My home, my family.

After the mid day meal had been served and we cleaned up I went in search of my wife and daughter. Our room was empty. I didn’t know where to begin looking for the, but I knew they wouldn’t be far away. Cyrene and I decided to take a walk and look for them. We found them by the pond. Melosa was taking her afternoon nap under a blanket Xena had rigged as a tent and Xena was lying near the edge of the pond taking in some sun. She had changed into a shift and was strecthed out lazily on a blanket with her arm covering her eyes. I felt the need to be bad. I drew a bucket of water from the well as we approached and started to sneak up on her.

“Don’t do it Gabrielle.” She said as I made my approach and drew back the bucket. She craned her neck to look back at me. “You know you should be ashamed of yourself amazon. You’re as noisey as a heard of…”

Her snide little comment was cut short by the yelp and splashing of water. “Mother!” Xena turned her head the other direction to find Cyrene almost doubled over with laughter. The older woman gathered herself rather quickly as her daughter drew herself up and charged her. Xena was soaked. Cyrene dropped her bucket and began backing away holding her hands out in front of her.

“Now daughter don’t do anything you might reget later.” She said as she laughed and continued to back away.

“Oh I won’t regret it.” Xena said as she stalked her mother.

I knew I had to do something to get mother out of this situation, after all I had gotten her into it. I did the only thing I could think of. I threw the other bucket of water on Xena and ran like Hades himself were hot on my trail. I wasn’t far off. I didn’t take her long to catch me. The more I struggled the more intent she became. She threw me over her shoulder and headed for the pond.

“Xena! Don’t do it!” I yelped as I struggled with her. This only resulted on a swift and firm swat to my backside.

“Oh hold still.” She replied dryly as she continued forward to the waters edge.

“Xena! Stop! Put me down!” When it became clear that being demanding wasn’t going to work I opted for pity. “That water’s really cold. Please don’t do this.” I begged, it wasn’t woking either. I knew I was going to get a cold bath.

She swung me off her shoulders and into her arms and began to swing me back. I knew I was going in, but by the Gods I wasn’t going alone. Just as I felt her release me, I grapped around her neck and pulled her with me. We both landed in the cold water of the pond with a huge splash. As we both resurfaced we turned to the delighted squeals of Melosa. She sat up proudly with her grandmother, clapping and giggling at the display before her.

She lurched forward and began crawling towards us. We pulled ourselves out of the water and met her on the bank. Xena and I fell to the ground with the baby between us. She took great delight in touching our cold wet clothes, shivering slightly as she did. The smile on her face was priceless. My cold bath had been worth it in the end if it lit up that little face like that.

However, there was a warrior who would have to pay later…

————————————————————————

~The Heart Of The Warrior~

Even when I got up that morning I knew something was not right in my world. I could feel it. I looked over at Gabrielle who still slumbered peacefully. Then I quietly entered the nursery. I looked down at Melosa who also still slept. Still something was not right.

I dressed as quickly and as quietly as possible and left our home. I headed for the stables to check on Argo and the foal. They were both fine as well. I fed them and gave them both good brushing as my mind tried to pin down exactly what I was feeling. I promised Argo a ride later and left the stables.

As I made my way across the village, I shook my head to clear my vision. Everything seemed kind of fuzzy and out of focus. Then it hit me. The crushing pain in my chest. My arm began to tingle. I rubbed it to try ease some of the feeling back into it. I looked up and saw Ephiny coming towards me a at run. I remember reaching out for her. Then everything went black.

When I opened my eyes. I didn’t see the things I expected to see. I expected to see the worried brow of my wife sitting next to me wondering what silly thing I had been doing to cause this little episode. Instead I was laying on the cold hard floor of a darkened cavern. The pain, dizziness and tingling had passed. I got to my feet and looked around. Then I heard the heavy footfalls…

I caught her before she hit the ground, just barely. I lowered her gently to the ground and began looking for signs of life. Shallow breathing and a ragged pulse told me she was still alive. Several others had gathered around us. I looked up and saw Solari. “Get the Queen.” I said as calmly as I could. “Take someone with you to stay with the princess.” Solari grabbed the first available body and they ran full speed for the Queen’s quarters. I pulled my friend into my arms and held her there. “Don’t you dare die, Xena. Don’t you dare.” I told her hoping she could hear me. “Someone go get the healer. Go get Adrin!” I yelled, I was beginning to lose it.

Within moments Gabrielle was pushing her way through the crowd. She dropped to her knees and took Xena from me. “What happened?” She asked me without ever looking at me. She just stared into the face of her soul mate, her consort.

“I don’t know. I was walking across the compound when I saw her. She didn’t look right. Then she just collapsed.” I said trying to make sense. I wondered if I was.

Adrin made her way to the consort and knelt down. She checked for a pulse then instructed four of our warrior’s to carefully take her to her hut. Gabrielle wanted to protest, but Adrin made it perfectly clear that to treat Xena she would have to be taken to the healer’s own quarters. “All of my medicines are there Your Majesty. I’m doing what is best for your consort.” She turned and went back to her quarter’s.

I put my arm around Gabrielle and pulled her up off the ground. Her hand covered her mouth as silent tears fell from her eyes. We walked to Adrin’s hut and stood in the door watching as the healer worked over Xena. “It’s her heart I think.” I heard Adrin say to one of her apprentices. I felt Gabrielle falter and shake her head no.

He stood there before me. Not the one I was expecting to see, but a God none the less. “Xena.” He said softly.

“Hades. Where am I?” I growled at him.

“In between.” He said as her pulled his gloves off. With a wave of his hand there were suddenly two chairs facing each other with an elaborate table between them. The table was laden with food and wine. He motioned for me to have a seat.

I drew a deep, disgusted breath and sat down across from him. “I’m assuming you mean in between Tartarus and Elysia.” I said as he took his seat.

“Yes Xena that’s exactly what I mean.” He poured to cups of wine and handed one to me. I sat it down on the table without drinking from it. I wanted answers, not a meal.

“Why? Why now?” I began to shake just a little.

“There are some things that you need to know Xena and there are some things I want to know.” He said as he sipped his wine.

“Such as?”

“Tell me what you know about your father Xena.”

“Hades what kind of a sick joke is this. You more than anyone should know what happened to Atrius. That worthless piece of trash you call a nephew got him killed when I was a child.”

“Your mother,” He paused,a slight smile crossed his face. “Cyrene…she…”

“Yes damn you she did and you know it!” I yelled as I started to get out of the chair.

He raised his hand and motioned for me to sit back down. I sat back down and gripped the arms of the chair…

Gabrielle sat by her bedside, refusing to move. I watched her from my spot in the corner. I sat there quietly allowing them their privacy, but there was no way in Tartarus I was going to leave my two best friends. I watched her as she rocked back and forth ever so slightly. Her hand gently brushed back Xena’s hair from her face. She was trying not to cry. She did everything in her power to keep from it. Her hand would tremble as it moved from Xena’s face to her own lips and back again. Tears would slip down her cheeks and her hand would dash back up to wipe them away before returning to Xena. She would lean over from time to time and kiss her forehead and speak to her. I couldn’t hear her. I didn’t want to. Whatever she was saying to her lover were their words, for them and them alone.

A soft rapping distracted me from my vigil and I stood up and moved to the door. Solari stood in the door with Melosa in her arms. “She’s really fussy.” Said as quietly as possible.

“Bring her in.” Gabrielle called to us. “If Xena passes…she’d…want…” Tears flowed freely now as our queen reached out and took her daughter.

Melosa quieted down immediately as she looked at her mother’s tear stained face. She didn’t know what was wrong, but she definitely knew something was not right. She looked from Gabrielle to Xena and back again. She was about to cry when Gabrielle smile at her. “It’s okay sweetheart. It’s going to be okay. I promise.” She bought Melosa into a tight hug and held her as she looked to Xena. “We need you my love. Come back to us.”

“Xena there’s something I want to know. Do you regret what happened between you and Solan?”

“You know I do. If I had it to do over…” He cut me off with a wave of his hand.

“I’ve been watching you these last few months Xena. I believe you. I’ve watched you with your daughter.”

“And this is my reward! To be ripped from her life before she’ll even be able to remember what I looked like! To leave Gabrielle alone to raise her by herself! Seems that because of the Gods I’ve failed both of my children!”

“No Xena you haven’t failed either of them, but I failed mine…”

Melosa slept in my arms as Gabrielle continued her vigil. I looked down at this child of theirs. She was every ounce of Xena. From her dark hair to her blue eyes. Gabrielle had shared with me, her secret wish as she fell asleep in the temple that night. That their child would look like her warrior, Artemis had blessed my queen twice on that evening. I wondered what God was so cruel as to be putting them through this now. Xena had proven herself to be a wonderful parent. She and Gabrielle worshiped this child and provided her with everything a child could want or need. They knew she was a precious gift and they treated her as such. There was no doubt in my mind that she would grow to be a great queen just as her mother before her.

“Eph bring her over her and lay her on the bed with Xena.” Gabrielle said softly.

“Are you sure?” I asked as I got up and crossed the room.

“Yes. Maybe if Xena can sense Melosa it will bring her back to us.” She brushed Xena’s hair back again.

I knelt next to the bed and placed the child next to the warrior. Gabrielle reached across Xena and raised the warrior’s limp arm. “There in the crook of her arm, with her head on her shoulder.”

I did as I was told. Gabrielle placed Xena’s arm around the sleeping baby. “Can you feel her Xena? It’s her heart beating with yours. She needs you so much. Come back to her.” She whispered as she held Xena’s hand firmly in place over their daughter’s little form.

I sat there numb and dumfounded. Taking in everything I had just been told. “All this time!” I raged at him. “All these years! You let me go through all these tortures! You could have stopped all of this! All the hurt, all the pain!” I paced the cavern now. He stood and approached me. “Stay away form me! You soulless bastard! How could you do this!? How could you allow these thing to come to pass in my life!”

“That’s why I brought you here,” He paused and looked at his boots. “To apologize to you my daughter.”

“Don’t call me that!” I spat it out with more hatred than I even thought possible. “You let Ares torture me, taunt me. He nearly cost me everything. While I fought to hold everything together in the mortal realm, he worked his evil here and nearly destroyed the Olympian Gods…”

“Who do you think sent Gabrielle back to you? After that day you came to me on the battle field, I came back here and found out where she was. Your uncle and I sent her home to you.”

“My uncle?” I was so enraged I couldn’t think clearly.

“Zeus.” He offered.

“Oh by the Gods that was the last thing I needed to be reminded of.” I continued to pace.

“Xena please. I want to make it up to you”

“Oh yeah I can tell.” I said sarcastically. “That’s why you ripped me away from my family. From Gabrielle and Melosa!”

“You have family here too, you know. Lyceus and Solan…”

Gabrielle finally ate a small meal and slept, but only with the promise that I would see to it that someone watched over Xena at all times. A order I was more than glad to carry out personally. While Gabrielle slept in the next room, Melosa continued to sleep next to Xena. It killed me to see Xena’s limp arm around the baby. I knew full well that if she realized her daughter was there, that arm would be wrapped firmly and protectively around the little body. I just bowed my head and offered a silent prayer to Artemis.

Less than a candle mark later Melosa began to stir. She opened her eyes and just looked at me. I smiled at her. She made no effort to move at first. She just lay perfectly still. She looked into the face of her mother and then started to crawl up Xena’s side and simply lay on top of her. I had seen them this way so many times I knew it was natural for Melosa to want to be there. My concern however was for my friend and her ragged attempts at breathing. I was afraid that Melosa’s extra weight would make it more difficult.

I tried to move her but she started to fuss and I realized that it would only make the situation worse. I rubbed her back as I had seen Xena do when they would lay like this near the lake or under a tree. She seemed to relax and calm down, but her eyes never left me. She looked so sad. Did she know Xena was ill? She lifted her head to look again at her mother. She reached out and put her hand to Xena’s lips. A tear slipped down my cheek. I knew what she wanted, she wanted a kiss. Xena always kissed her hand when she would put it to her lips. It was a game they had played since she was a very small. Melosa was just over ten months old now. Soon she would be taking her first steps and speaking her first words. I did so hope that my friend would be here to experience them. Melosa looked back at me and then back to Xena. Again she tried to coax her mother to kiss her hand. My heart broke as I watched her. There would be no kisses for her today.

“You want me to stay here?” I asked him in disbelief. “Now that my life has finally come together?”

He lowered his head and shook it slowly, “It’s not that I want you to stay…”

“I want to go back! I want to be with Melosa and Gabrielle!”

“Xena, you collapsed this morning. By all rights you will be mine in a few hours. If you can’t accept it and continue to fight it I’ll have no choice but to send you to Tartarus. If you calm down and accept what has happened to you I’ll send you to Elysia to be with Solan and Lyceus.”

“You owe me! Damnit Hades you owe me! Don’t do this to me…please! Please let me go back to them.”

“I can’t.” He said as he threw himself into his chair. “I promised…” He said softly.

“Promised? Promised who!? Ares!? Zeus!?”

“No. My promise wasn’t to a God Xena.”

“Who then!” I stormed over to his chair and stood face to face with him. “Who did you promise!?”

“MY GRANDSON! YOUR SON! SOLAN! Solan wants you to stay with him. He wants to know his mother.”

I staggered backward and stared at him. Only one word escaped my throat. “Solan…”

I watched as Melosa’s little brows came together as she tried to figure out why Xena wouldn’t respond to her touch. She looked over at me again and began softly crying. She reached back for Xena again as her body began to shudder from the sobs. I stood and gathered her up in my arms. As I did realized something my heart didn’t want to admit. I went quickly outside with the baby and handed her to Solari who sat watch at the door. Adrin had been talking to her and I motioned her inside. I simply pointed to Xena and the healer went to her. She checked for a pulse. Then she laid her ear to the warrior’s chest. She looked up and bit her lips as she held her hand under Xena’s nose for a moment. She swallowed hard and looked at me, shaking her head.

I felt myself falter backwards into my chair. I covered my mouth with my hand as I watched Adrin pull the blanket over Xena’s face. “I’ll go tell the Queen.” She said softly.

“No! I’ll tell her.” I said as I choked back all of the emotions that threatened to tear me apart. I stood and walked into the next room. I waited in the doorway for a moment hoping that if I didn’t wake her and tell her, it wouldn’t be true. I looked back at the covered form of my friend, I lowered my head and closed my eyes. “Sweet Artemis please give my Queen the strength to carry on.” I prayed aloud, softly before continuing to Gabrielle’s bedside.

I knelt and place a gentle hand on her arm. “Gabrielle.” I said softly, trying not to let my voice shake. She opened her eyes and looked at me. She must have seen it in my eyes. She bolted upright and ran into the next room. I heard her agonizing cries and my heart shattered again.

When I returned to the room , she was sitting in the middle of the bed with the warrior cradled in her arms. She rocked her back and forth and was talking to her.

“No.” She said defiantly. “No. I won’t let her go. It’s not true. Not again.” She continued to hold Xena’s body and deny her love was gone.

I walked over and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “My Queen it’s over. Let her go.”

She pulled away from me and turned to look at me with pure rage. “No! She’s not…I won’t let her…”

I knew it was sheer grief that filled and enraged my friend. I looked to Adrin who had already begun mixing the sedatives that we would need to calm our queen. She coated the end of a small dart and handed it to me indicating that I should deliver it into her neck. I reached down and quickly delivered a jab to her neck. She spun as her hand moved to her neck.

“Ephiny what have you…” She didn’t get anymore than that out before she started to falter. She held tighter to the warrior’s body and she too was overcome by the darkness…

————————————————————–

~Reunion~

I carried my queen from the healer’s hut to her own home. The sedative had worked quickly and she had collapsed over the body of her consort. I could feel the tears running down my cheeks as I walked across the village, but I didn’t care. The next few days would be some of the hardest ever faced by my village.

I had put Solari in charge of the preparations of the mourning period and the funeral. I knew that she would be able to handle everything and that would leave me free to tend to Gabrielle. I sent Princess Melosa with Tillus, on of the teachers. She had a small one about Melosa’s age and I hope the princess would be content there for a couple of days.

As I entered my queen’s quarters I found Epinon. She was gathering Xena’s armor and weapons. “To prepare her.” Was all she said to me softly as she left the house. I took Gabrielle to her sleeping chambers and put her to bed. Then I pulled up a chair, sat down and cried.

I wasn’t really crying for the loss of a dear friend. I was crying for my queen. I knew the bond these two shared with each other was so strong I was afraid that the loss of Xena would eventually cost us our queen as well. I drew a deep, determined breath and wiped my eyes. “Oh damn! Enough of this. I have to be strong here.” I said aloud as I stood and walked across the room to look out the window.

Xena had designed this house so that the entire village could be seen from their sleeping chambers. I smiled as I remembered the one thing she hadn’t counted on. The fact that almost everything that went on in here could be heard by the entire village. Needless to say there was not one person the village who doubted a warrior’s love for our queen or queen’s love for the warrior. Sometimes it was just down right embarrassing. Why the very night before Xena…

Suddenly I felt very ashamed of myself. It would never happen again…Gabrielle was alone now. I looked back at her, still sleeping. I knew if she survived this, she would never take another consort. I doubted that she would ever entertain another lover, even casually.

I turned back to the window and saw Solari and three others carry the litter with Xena’s covered form across the village to Artemis’ temple. I noticed there was not a dry eye in the village as they made their somber journey. News traveled quickly and there was not one person in the village who did not know of Xena’s death. A runner had also already been dispatched to the centaur village, to inform them as well. Xena had been the catalyst for peace with the centaurs. Both villages owed her a great debt and she was sure that Tyldus would want to pay his respects.

I decided it was safe to leave Gabrielle for the moment. I wanted to go to the temple and make sure that everything was coming along all right. I ordered the guard at the door to inform me immediately should she awake while I was gone. I walked across the village trying to force a smile across my lips. So many people came forward to send their best wishes to our queen. Gabrielle had touched every one of us on a personal level and there was not one among us who wanted to see her suffer the way we all knew she would suffer now.

In the temple the priestess was preparing Xena’s body. It had been bathed and now she and Solari were dressing her in her leathers and her armor. Another younger amazon sat in front of the altar polishing Xena’s sword. She would stop occasionally to wipe a stay tear off her face. I knew her immediately, her name was Delaius, she was about sixteen seasons old and she had kind of become a tag along for the warrior. Xena was patient with the girl and helped her train. I could just see the grin of embarrassment on Xena’s face when we would tease her about the young girl’s horrible case of hero worship.

I walked up to the altar and looked at my friend. She did at least look peaceful. That was some comfort. As I brushed the hair back from her face I couched down and rested my arms and head on the altar. “I just want you know that we will all do our best to look after Gabrielle and Melosa. They’ll be safe and loved here.” I leaned over and gave her a kiss one the forehead and stood up. I headed back to the queen’s quarters.

Artemis stormed into the cavern. Hades turned and held up his hand even before she had a chance to speak. “What’s done is done. There’s nothing I can do now. All the choice’s are Xena’s now.”

“Have you completely lost your mind!” The Goddess yelled at her uncle.

He rolled his eyes and sat in his oversized throne. Resting his head on his fist he was prepared to sit and listen to his niece rant.

“How could you do this? Do you have any idea how many of us worked to give them the life they wanted? The life that Xena finally deserved.”

The God of the Underworld sighed as Artemis continued to pace and rant. “How could you!?”

“Artemis, Solan wanted to be with his mother. The boy missed her.”

“So this is your answer? What about Gabrielle and Melosa?”

“Gabrielle is a strong woman and Melosa is so young she won’t even remember Xena.”

“Xena will remember her. And as for Gabrielle, she may be strong, but you have taken the other half of her soul. How long do you think she’ll survive without it? Then Melosa will be left without either mother. You have basically made that child an orphan.”

“Solan is my grandson…”

“MELOSA IS YOUR GRANDDAUGHTER!” Artemis yelled at him. “I gave them Melosa you fool. She’s just as much Xena’s as she is Gabrielle’s! You only have to look at her to see that. Gabrielle asked me to make the baby look like Xena, but I had nothing to do with it. It was all Xena and Gabrielle.”

“She is? I didn’t know. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I would have, had you not just taken it upon yourself to do this utterly foolish thing. I want you to hear something.” Suddenly the cavern was filled with a multitude of voices. Some were calm, some trembled, some where filled with tears and agony, but they all prayed for the same thing. Xena and Gabrielle. “I have been listening to this since you took her yesterday. Hundreds of voices every moment of the day. They haven’t stopped since Xena was carried into the healer’s hut after collapsing. It took me this long to find out who was responsible. I must admit I was shocked to find out it was you.”

“I had no idea…” He mumbled as he listened to the voices fade away

“Apparently not, but the question is what are we going to do about it?”

I watched from the window of the queen’s quarters as the temple filled to capacity. Even Tyldus had arrived early in the day with four centaur honor guards. I knew there would not be a seat available by the time the ceremony was due to start. I looked back at Gabrielle. She was sitting on her bed brushing Melosa’s hair. She tried to smile and be cheerful for her daughter, but she was failing miserably.

“Do you want me to do that?” I asked walking over to the bed and placed my hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. I could feel her tense; I with drew my hand. “I’m sorry My Queen…”

“Eph don’t be sorry for being my friend. I’m sorry. It’s just that here in this room…to be touched…” Her voice trailed off. She took a deep breath and sighed. Then she turned Melosa around and gave her a hug. “Well my little princess, it’s about time for us to go say goodbye to momma.” Her voice cracked with the word momma. She stood with Melosa in her arms and just hugged her daughter for all they were both worth. The pain on Gabrielle’s face was unmistakable.

She handed me Melosa as she finished putting on her royal attire, her armbands and necklace. She had decided to leave her mask behind. She said she didn’t want anything to separate her from Xena this last time. After this official ceremony, Gabrielle will never see Xena again. Her body will remain in the temple for two more nights and then it will be prepared for the funeral pyre, but this will be the last time Gabrielle will see her.

She turned back and reclaimed Melosa. The baby was fascinated by her mother’s necklace and found great delight in playing with it as we left the house and walked across the village. As we approached the doors of the temple two of the centaur honor guards were at their place outside. They bowed their heads as Gabrielle passed by. Two amazon guards pulled the doors to the temple open. I walked three paces directly behind Gabrielle. Melosa rested her chin on Gabrielle’s shoulder and smiled back at me. I smiled at her. It was the first time I had smiled in two days.

There was not a sound to be heard in the temple as we walked down the center isle. All eyes were on the queen. The queen’s eyes were on her consort. My mind wandered back to the day that they had been joined in this same temple. Xena stood at the altar in a deep blue robe and headband, her sword and chakram lying in a ceremonial cloth on the altar. Gabrielle walked to her, dressed in a robe of deep green; again I walked three paces behind her. On that day they only saw each other.

Xena had been dressed and prepared for this ceremony. Her armor had been polished and the hilt of her sword was clasped in her hands, resting on her stomach the blade pointing down her legs. Her chakram had been looped over the blade of the sword and rested near the hilt.

As we drew near the altar Gabrielle handed Melosa to me as she walked around the so that the entire room could see her face. She tried not to cry, but she failed and no one thought any less of her. She smiled as she leaned over and kissed Xena goodbye, very tenderly. She brushed the hair from her forehead.

“I love you. I miss you.” She said softly. She stood and turned to me and took Melosa. She knelt down and held the baby close to Xena’s face. I looked out into the assembly. Here is where our most stoic members began to show their emotions, watching this little one spend her last moments with her mother.

Melosa rested her head on Xena’s shoulder. The baby fingered her mother’s armor and the lifted her little hand to Xena’s mouth again. I saw it. Gabrielle saw it. Melosa squealed with delight. Xena kissed her hand.

“Mmmmm.” The groan came from the warrior. I stepped forward. Gabrielle kissed Melosa and handed her to me as she leaned forward over Xena.

“Xena? Oh Gods Xena.” She caressed her face as she spoke. Xena’s eyes opened slowly and she smiled.

I ordered the temple cleared. It didn’t take long. Soon we were the only ones left. I put Melosa down on the floor and took Xena’s weapons as Gabrielle helped her sit up. She looked tired and extremely disoriented. “This is becoming a habit with you.” I teased as I held on to her while she got her balance. She gave me a very weak smile. Then she turned to face Gabrielle who held onto her from the other side. She tried to speak, but no words were to be heard.

“Don’t say a word, my love.” Gabrielle planted little kisses all over her face. “Oh Gods I thought I had lost you for good!”

Xena coughed and cleared her throat as she sat on the edge of the altar. Melosa crawled around to the front and pulled herself up on her mother’s boots. Xena reached down and picked her daughter up. She held her close and kissed her cheek. She pressed her cheek to Melosa’s and held it, tears fell from her eyes as she kissed her daughter and then her wife. They held each other in a tight hug; it looked as if they were afraid to let go of each other. I couldn’t blame them.

The bright light that flashed in the temple only lasted for a very brief moment, but it was enough to make all feel like we had been blinded. Very soon we had company; Artemis stood with Hades and a boy. Xena stood up wobbled a bit and handed Melosa to Gabrielle as they approached the trio that had just arrived.

“Gabrielle,” Artemis spoke softly to the queen. “We have returned your warrior to you, but there are conditions.”

“Anything.” Gabrielle said as she wrapped her arm around Xena’s waist.

Artemis approached and placed her hand on the side of Gabrielle’s face. “First you must forgive yourself.” She turned and guided Gabrielle to the boy.

“Solan…” Gabrielle’s voice trailed off as she hugged him with one arm while holding Melosa in the other.

“It wasn’t your fault.” He said as he returned her hug. “I’ve missed you both so much.”

“We’ve missed you too Solan. We think of you everyday.” She told him.

Hades drew a deep breath. “I have my conditions as well. Xena you know what I told you.”

Xena still unable to speak nodded her head.

“As for you Gabrielle. Are you ready to add to your family?” Hades asked.

She looked back at Xena who nodded her head at Solan. She looked at the God of the Underworld and gave him a smile that very nearly melted his heart. “Yes. Yes.” She said as she hugged Solan again. Melosa who was caught in the middle began to squirm. Gabrielle giggled a bit as she tried to adjust and make room for both of the children. “Solan this is your sister, Melosa.”

He smiled at the baby and took her hand. “I know I’ve been watching her. She looks like mother.”

“Yes she does. She’s beautiful isn’t she?” Gabrielle offered the baby to Solan who took her and gave her a little hug.

“Yes she is.” He said with a smile.

Xena cleared her throat to get Hades attention and then she pointed at her neck.

“Just a moment I’m not finished and I don’t want you interfering.” He said. She just shook her head and gave a heavy sigh. Gabrielle smiled when she realized Xena’s silence wasn’t self-imposed.

“Gabrielle. I’m leaving Solan with you and Xena. Now you must be a mother to him as well. Are you ready for this?”

“Yes. Thank you for this second chance.” She said as she stroked Solan’s hair and gave him a kiss on the forehead.

“Xena also has something that she must tell you. This is a condition I have set for her.”

Gabrielle looked to Xena who just rolled her eyes. “Hades Xena will do whatever you ask. I’m sure of it.” Xena nodded and pointed at her throat again.

Hades waved his hand and Xena sucked in a deep breath and began coughing again. “Gee thanks.” She croaked out over the coughs.

I turned to a side table and found a pitcher of water. I poured a glass and walked over to the group and handed it to my friend. She smiled and took it from me. She drank deeply and handed the glass back to me. “Thanks Eph. You always have been my best friend.” She smiled at me. I was so damned glad to see that smile.

As suddenly as they appeared Artemis and Hades were gone, leaving us to collect our thoughts. Xena wrapped her arms around Solan and gave him a hug. Then she pulled Gabrielle into the embrace and they stood like that for several moments. I decided it was time to leave this family alone. I slipped out of the temple quietly.

Outside I found a huge crowd. I just waded through them and retreated to my own hut. I didn’t feel like answering any questions right now, I was just too exhausted.

I held onto Xena for dear life. The tears just came I couldn’t stop them. She had been returned to me. Not only had I gotten her back, but Solan had been returned to us as well. Our family was complete and we had been given a second chance. I didn’t want this moment to end. I felt Xena give us another hug and she pulled back. She took Melosa from Solan and gave him a kiss on the forehead. She kissed Melosa on the cheek and then she turned to me.

She placed a hand on my cheek. I kissed her palm. She leaned in and kissed me. It was the sweetest feeling in the world. “We have a lot to talk about.” She said softly. “A lot of decisions to be made now.”

“I know. Just as long as we make them together.” I said as I caressed her cheek.

Xena gathered her weapons and we made our way out of the temple. The entire village was still waiting for us. As the doors opened and we stepped out into the bright sunlight the cheers of the crowd where overwhelming. We stood there, the four of us amazed at the response of my people.

As we made our way home I received many hugs. They chose to pat Xena on the back. Probably a wise decision considering all she had been through. Once inside our home, Xena collapsed into a chair and put Melosa of the floor at her feet. Solan took a seat on the floor near the fireplace. I made tea and gave them both a cup of the warm liquid. Xena sipped it and let the warmth of it over take her. Solan sniffed it and looked at me.

“It’s okay. It’s just tea.” I said as I ran my hands through his hair.

“Solan you’re going to have a lot to get used to again.” Xena said. “Thirst and hunger are going to become familiar to you again. Don’t be afraid to ask for anything you might want or need, okay?”

“Yes mother.” He said before sipping his tea. Two sweeter words had never been spoken.

Melosa pulled herself up to stand between Xena’s legs. She stood there for a moment staring at Solan who sat a few feet away from her. She smiled and giggled and pushed off Xena’s legs. She took her first steps at that very moment, into the arms of her bother.

“Xena she’s walking.” I said as I knelt down by my warrior. I felt her hand in my hair as she leaned forward.

“I see.” She said her voice full of emotion.

Solan hugged his sister and turned her around. He held out his hands, Melosa gripped his fingers and stood on her very wobbly legs. She smiled at us and walked back to me. As I pulled her into my arms I heard Xena whisper, “I didn’t miss her first steps…”

“She saved them for you mother.” Solan said with a proud smile.

That evening we put our children to bed. Suddenly our new home was too small again. We decided that for the time being Solan would share a room with Melosa. I put the baby down as Xena tucked Solan in.

“But mother I’m not tired.” He protested to her.

“Well regardless young man it’s time for bed. Gabrielle and I have a lot to talk about.”

“Mother what should I call Gabrielle?” He asked as he snuggled down under the covers.

“Well I guess that will be between you and Gabrielle. You can talk to her about it tomorrow.”

“Yes ma’am.” He yawned. He was more tired than he wanted to admit.

I walked over and knelt by his bedside and gave him a kiss on the forehead. “You may call me whatever you like Solan.” I said as I brushed the hair back from his face.

“I’ll think about it tonight.” He said as he drifted off to sleep.

“You do that.” I said as I kissed him again.

Xena checked on Melosa. She kissed her and put a cover on her, knowing full well it wouldn’t stay there. She checked the fire and we left the room.

Once the children were settled and asleep we made love on the floor in front of the fireplace. It felt as if we had been separated for months. We simply consumed each other. I felt it happen again, just like in the temple. We became one with each other. Our minds, bodies and souls merged together as we loved each other.

Afterwards, curled up together in front of the fireplace we sipped spiced wine. Xena stared into the flames of the fire. I massaged her shoulders and whispered in her ear. “So what are you suppose to tell me?”

She turned and looked at me. “It’s about my father…”

—————————————————————–

~By The Shore~

I lay on the beach relaxing, basking in the sun. One hand resting on my stomach and the other tucked behind my head. I smiled as I listened to the noises around me. Below me near the water’s edge Gabrielle played with the children. Solan’s laughter cut through the gentle sea breeze as he ran from his mother and his sister. Melosa squealed with delight at her brother’s antics. Gabrielle’s own soft laughter brought another smile to my face.

Above me I could hear the amazons moving about in the camp. Things had changed for us and I tried to accept most of them gracefully, but the royal amazon guard was the one thing I could do without. The counsel decreed now that the royal family had grown, and was about to grow again, a royal guard would travel with us whenever we left the village. This vacation to the ocean was a test trip. So far it hadn’t been too bad. The guards did most of the work and were always vigilant in their protection of the Gabrielle and the children. The only thing that really annoyed me was how much gear we were required to travel with now. I opened my eyes and tilted my head back to look at the camp. Three tents fluttered in the gentle breeze. The amazons were preparing camp for evening, building a fire and gathering the wood. I sighed and closed my eyes again.

I sensed someone approaching and opened one eye. Melosa stood over me with two handfuls of sand, offering them out to me. “For me?” I chuckled as I sat up.

“Yes.” Melosa said triumphantly.

I extended my hand and the baby placed her gift there very gently. Carefully I placed the little pile of sand above the blanket that I had been laying on. I brushed the remaining sand away and pulled the baby into my arms, giving her several little kisses on the face. “Thank you my princess.”

“Momma.” Melosa giggled as she pointed to Gabrielle and Solan playing in the surf.

“Yup that’s momma. Who is that with her?”

“Solan. Bro…” Melosa said as she buried her head in my shoulder.

“Solan, your brother. Very good Melosa. You’re sleepy aren’t you?” The baby shook her head furiously against my shoulder, but I knew better. “Tell you what. I’m sleepy. You want to help me take a nap?”

Melosa nodded her head as she yawned. I stood with her in my arms and walked towards the shore. Gabrielle watched us approach and came out of the surf as Solan threw his body into another wave.

“She’s s-l-e-e-p-y.” I said as I pointed to Melosa. “We’re going to take a nap. Don’t stay in the sun to long Gabrielle.”

The bard moved to us and kissed me on the cheek. I took the opportunity to lay my hand on the bard’s swelling midsection. I felt the baby kick and I smiled. “Moving around today huh?” I said as I kissed the bard and put my arm around her shoulder.

“Oh yeah absolutely any baby that belongs to you is bound to be hyperactive.”

I couldn’t help but notice the bard looked tired. “Ri why don’t you come lay down with us? Please?” I was concerned and she knew it. Gabrielle knew better than to argue when she heard that tone.

“Okay. I could use a rest.”

“Solan!” I called to my son.

He was about the run headlong into the surf again skidded to a stop and turned to face me. “Yes mother.”

“Come on son, we’re going back to camp.”

Solan turned and ran to us. He wrapped his arm around Gabrielle and we walked the short distance back to the camp. Solan went with the amazon guards and struck up a light conversation. These five guards had actually come to look upon our son as a little brother. Although the youngest of our guards, Alana seemed to have more than a passing interest in him. They were only two or three seasons apart in age and I could see the looks they exchanged when they didn’t think anyone else was looking. They also took it upon themselves to train him. He treated his amazon guardians with the greatest respect and took all of their lessons to heart.

I guided Gabrielle into our tent. I placed Melosa on the pallet and turned to Gabrielle. “Are you feeling all right?” I asked as I checked for fever.

“Xena I’m fine. I guess I really didn’t know how tired I was. I’ll lay down with Melosa and we’ll both take a nap.”

“Are you sure you’re all right? You looked flushed.”

“Yes my love I’m fine, really. Why don’t you take Solan for a ride? Melosa and I will be okay.”

I drew a deep breath and relented to my wife. As they settled in for their nap I sat on the edge of the pallet. I watched as the bard tucked Melosa in next to her. The baby curled up next to the bard and put her hand on Gabrielle’s stomach. “Baby.” She said.

“Un-huh baby.” Gabrielle replied as she gave Melosa a kiss on the head.

I placed her hand on her forehead again. In return I was given a playful slap. “Xe would you stop it? I’m fine.”

“I worry about you.” I placed my hand on the bard’s midsection. “Both of you.”

She caught my hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. “We’re both fine. I promise.”

I nodded my head and leaned over to kiss her. “I just want to make sure…”

“I know Xe, I know.” She said softly. “This pregnancy has already passed the last one. I’m sure we’re out of the woods.” She brushed her lips against my cheek and whispered in my ear. “We’re not going to lose this baby.” I could feel her hand on the back of my neck gently massaging away my fear.

I swallowed hard as those memories flooded back to me. Not long after my return from the Underworld we found out that Gabrielle was pregnant again. After doing some checking with my ‘father’ (that was still hard to get use to) we discovered that I had another skill. Part of my Godly powers as it were, if Gabrielle and I desired a child then we had the power to make it happen without any help. All that was required was that we both desired it.

Little did we know that we both desired it. The last pregnancy was a complete, but welcomed surprise. Then Gabrielle got a fever. Less than two months into the pregnancy her body couldn’t take the strain and she lost the baby. The fever raged for another two weeks. She didn’t even know of our loss until after it had broken. She was almost inconsolable, it broke my heart as she cried for our baby and begged me to forgive her. Gods how could she blame herself? I remember holding her all night and reassuring her that everything would be all right and that we would try again if she wanted.

When she was well and strong enough she made it very clear that she wanted another child. I was grateful that stamina and perseverance were also among my many skills. I smiled as I reveled in the memory of her determination.

She kissed my cheek again and whispered. “Go. Take Solan for that ride you promised him.”

I pulled back and looked at them both. Melosa was already asleep tucked protectively in the crook of Gabrielle’s arm. The bard was well on her way. I caressed her cheek and stood up. “We won’t be gone long.”

“Take your time.” She said as she yawned and snuggled down next to Melosa. They were both asleep before I left the tent.

Outside Solan was being given a lesson with a fighting staff. I sat down next to the fire and watched as he worked with his trainer and battled with the staff. I was proud of him for choosing a non lethal method of defense, just as Gabrielle had. Sometimes I had to remind myself that he wasn’t her son. They were so much alike. They loved each other just as much as any mother and child could. He was very proud of her and took great pleasure in the fact that he was an Amazon Prince of sorts. He knew there couldn’t be many of those roaming the world. The counsel had even bestowed that titled upon him in an official ceremony.

After Solan was returned to us we wondered how we could keep our family together and remain with the nation. Tyldus actually provided the answer when the centaurs and the amazons allowed us to build a new home on the land between the two villages. That way we were close to the amazons and Gabrielle could continue as queen, yet we didn’t have to give Solan up. It was perfect.

Solan and I built the new house together. I was very impressed by the young man that he was becoming. He told me that his grandfather and his uncle had taught him many things during the time that he was with them. I couldn’t fault them for that. They had taught him well. His amazon instructor was teaching him well too. She had just knocked him on his butt. I grinned as I watched her help him to his feet.

“I’m sorry Your Highness.” She said as she dusted him off.

“It’s okay. My fault I didn’t see that coming. Can we try it again?” He bent over and picked up his staff.

“Of course Your Highness.” She stepped back and allowed him to resume his stance.

“Move your feet a little further apart.” I called to him.

He smiled at me and took up another stance. They began sparring again. This time he took her down with a very nice sweep of the feet. I smiled. That’s my boy.

The Captain of the Guard, a young amazon named Regan came over and stood before me. “Good afternoon Your Highness.” This was a title I was not happy with at all, but they all just seemed so damned insistent no matter how many times Gabrielle and I told them…amazons…what can you do?

“Good afternoon Regan. How goes it today? Please have a seat.”

She sat down next to me and placed another log on the fire. “It ‘goes’ fine Your Highness. How is Her Majesty today?”

“She’s fine. She and the princess are taking a nap.” I poured two cups of tea and handed one to her. “Regan you seemed concerned about something.”

“Eleni, our scout tells me that there is a band of raiders headed this direction. About thirty men.”

“They’ll probably stay on the main road and pass us by without over knowing we’re here. Even if they don’t we can handle them.”

“Oh of that I have no doubt. I just hate the prospect of the Queen and the children being caught in the middle of a fight. Especially now.” She looked at me and gave me a weak knowing smile. I gave her a pat on the shoulder and nodded.

“I know. Thank you.”

When we lost the baby the entire village mourned for us. Even though it had been several months and Gabrielle was again expecting, at times we held our collective breaths. There was always an underlying fear that something would go wrong.

“I’m going to put Aemila, Celia and Alana on watch at the roads edge tonight. If those raiders even look like they’re thinking about coming here I want to know about it in plenty of time.” Regan said as she sipped her tea.

“I’ll take a watch tonight as well.”

“Oh no Your Highness that’s not necessary.” Regan began to protest I cut off her words with a wave of my hand.

“My family, my job too.”

“Yes Your Highness. At least take the camp watch so that you may be close.”

“Agreed.

After Solan was finished with his lesson we went for a ride. He had been presented with his own horse as a gift from the centaurs. He was becoming a fine horseman and I took great pride in the fact that he would be the one to ride Argo’s foal when the time came. He already worked with her and she was just as smart as her mother, so her training was coming along quite nicely. I was very proud of my son and so glad to have him back.

“Mother?”

“Huh?” I answered, somewhat distracted.

“Is everything all right?”

“Yes Solan everything’s fine I was just thinking.”

“You’re worried about mom and the baby aren’t you?”

I reigned Argo and turned to him as he stopped next to me. “You’re to bright for your own good, you know that.” I said with a smile.

“I have many skills.” He said with a grin.

“Oh brother.” I rolled my eyes and just shook my head as he laughed at me.

“I’m sure everything will be fine mother. I’ve never seen her so relaxed and happy. She loves it here.”

“She does doesn’t she?”

“She says that the ocean make her feel strong and alive. Have you decided what you’re going to name the new baby?”

“No. We didn’t name Melosa until she had been born. I would imagine it’ll be the same way with this baby too.”

“You should name him Kai.”

“Kai? Why do you say that and what makes you think it’s going to be a boy?”

“It means ocean. Since mom is so happy here she should have a reminder of our trip,” He paused and smiled. “And I have a feeling.”

“You’re a very smart young man.”

“Like I said…” He grinned at me again.

“Yeah, well don’t say it again. People will think you’re bragging. And what if it’s a girl?”

“Well then we’ll find something else, but I tell you mother as sure as grandfather sent me back. This baby is going to be a boy.”

“Solan are you having visions?”

“Not vision exactly, but feelings, very strong feelings. When I touch mom I can feel the baby. He is strong and healthy. I’m going to have a little brother.” He said very proudly.

“You know as the oldest you already have a lot of responsibility here. Solan if anything should ever happen to me…”

“Mother please don’t say that.”

“Solan we need to discuss this. If anything should ever happen to me you have a responsibility to your sister and the baby.”

“And to mom. Just because I wasn’t born to the two of you like Melosa and Kai,” I smiled, he had already named that baby. “Doesn’t mean I love her any less. She is my mother too.”

“I know that…”

He cut me off as she smiled at me. “Besides grandfather would never think of taking you again. Mom would go down there and kick his butt. He’s got a temper, but he’s nothing compared to an amazon queen in a huff.”

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as he turned his horse around and we headed back to camp. Yup, he was definitely my son in his arrogance and pride, but he was all Gabrielle’s when it came to words. I admired him for that, just as I did in Gabrielle. He could sit for hours and listen to her, as she talked about things that bored me silly. She taught him the finer points of negotiations and I taught him strategy. There was no doubt in my mind that our son was destined for great things.

When we arrived back at camp Solan and Alana took the horses to brush them down and I suspect spend a little time together. I just smiled as I walked back to our tent. I peeked inside; Gabrielle was awake with Melosa still curled up asleep next to her.

“How was your ride?” She asked as she patted the bed.

“Enlightening.” I crossed and sat down next to her.

“How so?”

“I think our son may be gifted with prophecy.”

“What?” She sat up, the surprise clear in her voice.

“He is bound and determined that the baby is a boy and that we should name him Kai. He says he can feel it.”

She ran her hand over her stomach and smiled. “Well what do you know?”

“I also know that our son has developed a huge infatuation with a certain guard.”

“Alana?”

“Un-huh.”

“Well you’d have to be blind to miss that. She feels the same way you know.”

“I know. It’s just that we’ve only had him for such a short time. I didn’t expect to have to deal with these things so soon.”

“Xena it’s been almost six months. He’s adjusted very well to being back. He’s young, strong and handsome. He’s got more than one admirer in the village you know.”

“He’s does? When did all this happen?”

“Oh I don’t know, maybe when the two of you were building the house and I would walk down to see you and have to scatter every young woman from the age of eight to eighteen who was hidden in the forest watching him work. You really should have made him keep his shirt on.”

“Well I’ll be…”

“Un-huh, a grandmother if things keep up at this rate.” Gabrielle giggled.

“Bite your tongue.”

She extracted herself form Melosa, who curled up under the blanket and continued to sleep. Just like her mother. I smiled as I brushed her hair back from her face. My world, my life. How did I get here? It didn’t seem all that long ago that I was desperately fighting for redemption. Now I had everything, my wife and my children. Thank the Gods for Gabrielle. She made it all possible.

I turned to watch her as she changed into a loose fitting robe. Her body once again, was adjusting to being pregnant. I sighed, Gods she was so beautiful. After she was dressed we left Melosa sleeping and stepped out into camp. I settled her down near the fire and made her a cup of tea.

“I swear Xe I’m not going to break.” She said as she took the tea.

“Not if I have anything to say about it.” I said as I settled in behind her and wrapped my arms around her.

She lay back against me and sighed. We sat there just relaxing and enjoying. She nudged me and pointed as Solan and Alana came out of the forest holding hands. I groaned. She chuckled.

After the evening meal we sat around the fire as Gabrielle told one of her wonderful stories. Regan paced in and out of camp. She hated it when we didn’t send the guards out right away and she always paced until they were on duty. I watched Solan and Alana; they sat so close to each other light couldn’t get between them. They held Melosa and entertained her quietly as Gabrielle continued. I could see my son with a family of his own. Gabrielle grinned at me as she watched me watching them. She was enjoying this far too much.

It wasn’t long before everybody was where they were supposed to be. Solan had decided to turn in early so he put his sister down in their tent. Regan and Eleni opted to get a couple of candle marks of rest before they took watch. Alana, Aemila and Celia dutifully headed off for their turn on duty. Gabrielle and I settled down in front of the fire. She settled back into me as I stretched out and put my arms around her. As my hands came to rest on her stomach I felt the baby give a good strong kick.

“Hmmm…” It was a happy contented little sigh that I just couldn’t stop.

She placed her hands over mine. “See we’re fine.” She looked back at me and gave me a soft kiss. “But we love you for being so concerned.”

“Well I’m happy to be of service.” I replied as she settled back down against me and sipped her tea.

“When are we going to head home?”

“Are you ready to go?”

“No not at all, but I figured you were getting twitchy.”

“Twitchy? Me? I don’t get twitchy.”

“Un-huh sure. Now tell me another one warrior.”

“Well in any case I’m fine and I won’t mind spending a few more days.”

“Good because I love it here. It’s so relaxing. I haven’t felt this good since before…” She trailed off. I kissed the top of her head and gave her a hug. “I think I’m ready for bed myself. How ’bout it gorgeous? Care to join me?”

“I’ll be there in a bit. I told Regan I was going to take camp watch tonight.”

“Why what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Eleni saw a group of raiders on the main road today and we decided a spare pair of eyes wouldn’t be a bad thing. Come on I’ll tuck you in.”

“Are you sure? I could stay up with you.”

“Oh no. You are going to bed. Even if I have to carry you there myself.”

She got up and brushed herself off. “I’m going. I’m going. No need to threaten me.”

“My dear that was not a threat it was a promise.”

Back in our tent she settled into bed and I leaned over to kiss her good night. “I love you bard. Sleep well.”

“I love you warrior. Be careful.”

“Always.”

Outside once again I stretched and took in a lung full of fresh air. It had been several days since I actually had taken a watch and I could feel my blood starting to pump all ready. I began a perimeter check, taking my time and enjoying the walk more than any thing. Then it happened. Damn! I turned and headed back for camp at a full run. The calls from the edge of the forest told me that we were about to have company.

As I made it into camp Regan and Eleni were already coming at me. Gabrielle was just getting ready to leave our tent. Solan exited his tent, pulling on his boots. He fastened up his shirt and grabbed his staff. He was at my side before I realized it.

“Solan take your mother to your tent with your sister and keep them there!” I commanded him without thinking about it and he obeyed just as effortlessly. I saw him move Gabrielle to his tent and watched as they disappeared inside.

I turned to the sound of horses approaching fast. I drew my sword as I counted horses in my head. I could hear at least a dozen. Well the odds were good. I headed for the edge of the clearing when another sound caught my attention. Damn, damn, damn! Riders coming from the side, down the coast. Knowing that the others could deal with the ones coming directly for us I turned and headed for the beach.

Four riders were headed for me. I grinned as I twirled my sword. I had to decide if I wanted to play or just get it over with. With the riders headed for camp I decided to get it over with. I could feel every muscle in my body respond to the commands it received form my brain.

Taking the first two out proved to be very little challenge. I almost felt disappointed. The third proved to be a little more of a task. I actually had to unseat him before I could get to him. The problem there being I still had one on horseback. Together they proved to be quite the task. The one on foot actually managed to get in a good swing and slice my left arm. My bracer caught most of it, but I still felt the sting and I knew I was cut. Okay I had enough of him. He actually looked surprised when I kicked him from the blade of my sword. The fourth, still on horseback decided now was a good time to leave and he retreated back up the coast. That would be what a chakram is for. It was gone from my hand before I even realized I had taken it from my waist. I caught it as I watched him tumble form his horse and lay unmoving in the sand.

I turned and headed back for camp. Damn again! A couple of them had gotten through. I could see Solan and Gabrielle in camp, back to back with their staffs. I could hear the guards coming. We were all headed in the right direction now if Gabrielle and Solan could just hold them for a few more…

NO! My mind screamed as I watched her fall. One of the raiders caught Gabrielle across the side of the head with what appeared to be the flat of his sword. I don’t remember moving the rest of the way into the camp. I did remember the cracking sound that rang in my ears as I pulled him from his horse and broke his neck. Solan unseated the other man with his staff and I could feel his chest crush beneath my boot.

I took a deep breath as my mind began to register other sensations. I could here the guards taking down the rest of the riders at the edge of the forest. I could hear Solan coughing as he caught his breath. Melosa was crying I her tent. Gabrielle was in my arms. I don’t remember picking her up, but there she was. Unconscious and bleeding from a gash in her temple.

“Solan see to your sister!” I called to him as I automatically headed for our tent.

Inside, I laid her gently on the bed and retrieved my bag. My hands worked automatically to stop the flow of blood from her head. My eyes scanned her to look for other injuries. As soon as I knew I had the head wound under control I began checking for other injuries. Then my heart stopped. Blood. Blood on her legs seeping through her gown. I ripped it open. I knew I had to get that bleeding stopped or we were going to lose another child.

Regan entered the tent I didn’t even give her time to speak. “Stay with her I need to get something.”

I left the tent and went into the woods for the things I would need to help my wife and save our baby. Hunting in the dark wasn’t the easiest task, but I got lucky and found what I needed pretty quickly. As I returned to camp Solan was coming from his tent.

“How’s mom?” He asked as he looked at the bodies of the raiders.

“I don’t know yet. You’re sister…”

“Right back to sleep. Can I help?”

“No I have to see to this. Make yourself some tea and rest.” I continued back into the tent.

She was starting to come around and she knew something was wrong too. “Xe…please…” She cried.

I knelt down next to the bed and took her hand and ran my fingers through her hair. “Ri you’ve got to relax. Come on sweetheart. Just relax everything will be fine, but I need you to relax.” I tried to keep the fear from my voice as I whispered to her.

“The baby…please…” She squeezed my hand and stared into my eyes. The plea I saw there was stronger than any her voice could carry.

“Just relax Ri. Just relax…” I whispered again.

———————————————————-

~Confession~

“Just relax Ri. Just relax…” I heard her whisper.

The pain was fierce, not as bad as with Melosa, but close. It felt searing hot white, through my stomach and into my legs, making them feel weak and useless. My back ached and I hated Xena more at this moment than I ever had before. Sure it was easy for her to tell me to relax. She wasn’t the one in labor. As the contraction eased I nodded. Xe was behind me supporting me; Adrin our healer was checking the position of the baby.

“It won’t be much longer now Your Majesty. Your labor is progressing well.”

“Can’t be soon enough for me…” I growled. I didn’t mean to, it just sort of happened. I felt Xe’s chuckle against my back. “Oh I’ll get you later.” I growled at her as I gripped her hand and twisted as another contraction started.

“Don’t push Your Majesty. We have some time yet. You’re not quite ready.”

“Oh I’m ready. I’m more than ready! The baby’s ready too.”

The warrior chuckled again. Oh boy was she gonna pay later. I took a deep breath as the contraction passed and I relaxed into Xena. She put her arms around me and I felt her kiss the top of my head. “I love you.” She whispered.

“Gods Xe I love you too.” Another contraction. I know I had to be leaving bruises on Xena’s forearms from gripping them to keep from pushing. I felt her tighten her hold on me.

“Just relax.” She whispered again.

“Oh you relax!” It just slipped out. This time it was Adrin who laughed. “I’m glad you two find this so funny.”

“Okay Your Majesty. Let’s see about having this baby.” Adrin said with a grin.

“Oh yes let’s.” Even I heard the sarcasm in my voice there was no way they could have missed it.

“I want you to give a good strong push with the next contraction.”

“No problem. Trust me.” I could feel another one coming on. Xena straightened up a little to be more help now. I reached back and caressed the side of her face.

She placed a soft kiss on the palm of my hand. “Ready?” She asked softly.

“Un-huh…” I groaned and began to push. I could feel Xe helping me by gently pushing me forward. “Oh Gods…” I could feel the baby start to move. I gripped her arms harder as I tensed into the pain and then relaxed as it passed.

“Good Your Majesty, very good.”

“Oh I’m so glad you’re pleased.” Again I felt that annoying tremor of laughter coming from my supposed soul mate. “This is all your fault you know!” I growled at her as I drew a deep breath. I felt a cool cloth on my face. She was wiping the perspiration from my forehead. How she could be so kind to me at a moment in my life when I simply wanted to choke her. As I was about to formulate my revenge, another contraction, once again she was helping me through the pain. Whispering in my ear, telling me she loved me and everything would be all right.

“I can see the head Your Majesty. Easy now…”

This one passed too. I fell back and once again was safe in her arms. “I’m getting tired…” I managed to say as she stroked my arms.

“I know love, I know. It won’t be much longer.”

“I can’t Xe…I can’t…” I shook my head against her chest.

“Oh yes you can. Come on.”

The pain came again, harder now. “Oh Gods Xe!” I realized I must have screamed this. I felt her tremble as she tried to comfort me with the strength of her arms and her gentle words. The pain was just so intense now. I felt as if I would die before the baby came.

She pushed me forward to help me. “Come on sweetheart. It’s okay, come on.”

“That’s it Your Majesty. Keep it up. The head is out.” I barely heard her as I once again slipped into Xena’s arms. “One more push should do it.”

“I can’t…” I whimpered.

“Yes you can Ri. Come on one more. That’s all…one more.”

I nodded silently as another pain took hold and we leaned into it. “There we go.” Adrin said. “The shoulders are out, that’s it.”

I felt the baby pass and I fell back into Xena. She wrapped me up in her arms and kissed the top of my head. “You did it.” She whispered.

“Congratulations Your Majesty a fine baby boy.”

As Adrin cleaned the baby I heard him cry for the first time. I felt the tears begin to stream down my face. She wrapped him up and laid him in my arms. I could feel Xe lay her chin on my shoulder to get a look at our son. “Solan was right.” I said as I pulled the blanket back from his face so she could see him better.

“So he was. Well what are we going to name him?”

“Well Solan wants us to name him Kai.”

“Kai it is.” She was running her thumb over the top of his little head. “I should move so you can rest…”

“No stay. Just stay and hold us.” Her arms held us both, so safe and sound.

“Your Majesty I need one more little push so I can finish here and be out of your way.” She smiled at us as I nodded.

Very soon we were alone. Just the three of us. I unwrapped our son and took inventory. Xena chuckled again. “What?” I asked as I ran my finger over a tiny little foot.

“You. Counting everything. Is he all there?”

“Yup he’s a finished product.” I continued to examine him. He hadn’t opened his eyes yet and he seemed to be concentrating very hard. His little brows were furrowed together. “I wonder what he’s thinking about.”

“He’s probably wondering what in Tartarus just happed to him. He’s got your hair.” She brushed the top of his head with her fingertips. “He’s going to look like you.”

“It’s only fair. Melosa is the spitting image of you.”

There was a light knock on the door. It opened slowly, Ephiny, Solan and Melosa in that order poked their heads in. They looked like they were stacked on top of each other.

“Can we come in?” Eph asked softly.

“Yes come in and see my son.” The warrior said proudly.

“Your son? Excuse me there. I seem to remember being slightly involved in all of this.” I teased as they came over to the bed.

“Yeah, but you said it was all my fault.” She teased back.

“Yeah…um…I’m sorry about all that.”

“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” She hugged me.

Solan sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled Melosa onto his lap. “The baby!” Melosa squealed and clapped her hands.

I lifted him so they could get a better look. “Was I right?” Solan inquired as he looked at the baby.

“Yes, yes you were. This is Kai. Your brother.” I patted his arm and gave it a squeeze. He smiled at me.

His smile always melted my heart. We were so lucky to have him back with us and I loved him so much.

Melosa looked at the baby and down at my stomach and back to the baby again. She was obviously confused. She leaned over and touched my stomach. “Baby?”

“Here’s the baby sweetie.” I moved the blanket back hoping to give her a better view.

“He’s adorable Gabrielle.” Eph said as she leaned over for a better look.

“Yeah we think so. I guess we’ll keep him.”

“Well I don’t want to intrude. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay before I went back. You know there’s going to be a party right?” Eph asked this as she raised an eyebrow at Xe who merely groaned. I felt her drop back a bit and heard her head thump against the wall. I giggled. Amazon parties always managed to get a reaction from her. “You bet. Just as soon as our Queen and the new little prince are ready for a public appearance.”

“Great.” She mumbled from behind me.

Eph winked at me and gave a little wave good bye. She had accomplished her mission here. To see the new baby and torture my warrior. She would sleep well tonight and I knew it.

Melosa squirmed out of her brother’s arm and got a little closer to the baby. He fascinated her. It was the next thing that took me quite by surprise. Mothers tend to feel this surprise when their children say something they never would expect. This was my exact reaction when the word “Damn.” tumbled from my daughter’s mouth as she looked at her brother.

“Oh I wonder where she picked that up…hmmm?” I accused the warrior.

“Um…” Xena said quietly as she cleared her throat.

“Un-huh. Fix this and fast warrior.”

“Ah yeah.” She said as she gently extracted herself from behind me and scooped Melosa up into her arms. “Sweetie we need to talk…” She said as she carried our daughter out of the room.

Solan leaned over for a better look at Kai. “Do you want to hold him?”

“Uh…no…I’d better not. I don’t know how.”

“No time like the present to learn. Bend your arm in front of you.” I laid the baby in his arm and brought his other arm under for more support. “There you go. See it’s easy.”

“Yeah I guess it is.” He watched his baby brother who flailed a little fist out from under the blanket. “I’m glad you’re both all right.” He said quietly. I could tell something was wrong.

“Solan? Honey what’s wrong?”

He looked at me with tears in his eyes. “I knew and I didn’t say anything.”

“What? Sweetheart what are you talking about?”

“When we were at the ocean and the raiders came. I knew. I knew you were going to get hurt…” He began crying now. “I was afraid. I was afraid to say anything. I had never felt anything like it before and it scared me. If I had just said something…”

I put my hand on his face and wiped away his tears. “Shh…it’s okay. We’re both fine.”

“I should have told you. Told mother. It’s my fault you nearly lost Kai too…”

“No. No Solan it’s not your fault. Kai and I are both fine.”

“Mother’s going to be mad at me when she finds out. She may even send me away…”

“No, no…” I sat up and pulled him into my arms. “No she’s not. She’d never send you away. We love you Solan. What happened is not your fault. It was an accident. That’s all just an accident. Do you understand?”

He nodded his head against my shoulder as his tears subsided. Kai chose that moment to get quite vocal about his apparent discomfort in between us. At least it caused Solan to smile and laugh a little. I leaned back at wiped Solan’s face. “Do you want me to tell her?”

“No. I have to do it. I just wanted to tell you first and apologize.”

“There’s nothing to apologize for. Solan you’ve been given a very special gift. I know it’s frightening sometimes, but you have to learn to deal with it. And you must always tell when you have a feeling or a vision. No matter how much it frightens you. Okay?”

“I promise. I’ll never hide anything again.” He looked down at his brother and then gave him a soft kiss on the head before handing him back to me. “I should go talk to mother.”

I nodded as I lay back with Kai. I was very proud of my eldest son. I watched him leave the room, closing the door behind him as he went. I looked down to Kai. “You’re one lucky little guy. You’ve got quite a big brother there. You’re going to learn a lot from him.”

I had no idea how long she had been sitting there, watching us. I had shifted to my side to feed Kai and dozed off. When I opened my eyes, she was there sitting on the floor next to the bed. Memories of the night Melosa was born came flooding into my mind. She smiled at me as she fingered our son’s little hand.

“Did you talk to Solan?” I asked quietly.

“Mm-Hmm.” She continued to play with Kai’s hand, staring at his little fingers.

“How did it go?”

“I nearly blew it. My first reaction was anger.” She said as she sighed and looked to me

“Oh Xe you didn’t…”

“No I didn’t, but I nearly did. I just remembered what you taught me about taking a deep breath first when dealing with the amazons. It works with the kids too.” She grinned at me.

“So what happened?”

“We talked about it. He promised to tell us everything from now on and I promised to try and find him a teacher. Someone who can help him understand and develop his gift.”

“Sounds like you did a fine job. Why so solemn?”

“Not solemn Ri, just reflective.” She continued to rub Kai’s hand, his little fingers wrapped around her finger. She smiled. ” I’ve been here watching you sleep. Watching Kai sleep.” She paused and took a deep breath. “So much has happened to us Ri. Gods, the things that have happened to us, we’ve come so close to destroying each other. To being destroyed by men and Gods. How did we get here? My whole life I’ve known how I’ve gotten from one point to another. I’ve always been so totally focused on the how, why and when of my life, but now it doesn’t seem as important anymore. All I want is to grow old with you and watch our children grow. Am I losing my focus?”

“No my love. It’s just changed. You’re finally done paying. Do you realize that’s it’s been almost ten seasons since we met? That it’s been almost six since everything that nearly cost us each other? Melosa is nearly two and that Solan has been back with us for over a year now. We found each other, we loved each other, we nearly lost each other, but we came back together again. We came back because we can’t live without each other. We share one soul Xe. We belong together.”

“Always there to believe in us aren’t ya’?”

“You better believe it. Do you remember telling me once that people in our line of work didn’t live to be old and gray?”

“Um-Hmm” She stroked Kai’s cheek and looked up at me, waiting.

I reached out and caressed her cheek. “We’re gonna make it.”

“You know, I think we just might after all.”

“As long as we’re together. We’ve proven that.”

—————————————————————

~A Mother’s Love~

I knew what I was walking into when I kissed my wife and children good-bye. I knew she would help me because just like my wife she always did what was right. I wouldn’t be able to hold her bitterness towards me against her, after all; I had robbed her of her sight. I had my men hold her down while personally poured the sumac oil in her eyes. Then I had her tied to a pole in my tent as I watched the oil take her vision. Through it all she never said a word.

I knocked on the door of the little farmhouse. An older man answered the door. “Xena. She’s expecting you.”

I tried to smile at Tomar, but couldn’t quite manage it. He was the village healer and the one who took charge of her when I left her here so many years ago. “How is she?”

“Same as always.” He said as he closed the door after allowing me entrance.

“She knows why I’m here then?”

“Of course.” He led me to the back of the house. We stopped out side the door of a room. “She’s already had me pack her things and saddle her horse, but you had better talk to her to make sure it’s what you really want.”

“I have to do this. My son needs her.” I said quietly as I knocked lightly on the door.

“Come in Xena.” Her voice rang out from the other side.

I took a deep breath and opened the door. She stood in the center of the room, looking exactly as she had so many years before. She was just about a half a head shorter than me. Short dark hair, dressed entirely in black from head to toe, including her trademark black gloves. She smiled at me and took a step forward. “You knocked. You’ve gained manners. Must be the little queen that has trained you so well.”

I hung my head and drew another deep breath before I spoke. “You’re willing to help my son?”

“You know I am. If you doubted it you wouldn’t have come. You do know there’s a price?”

“I suspected as much.”

“Are you willing to pay it?”

“Yes.” I said softly as I stepped forward. She removed her gloves and placed her hands over my eyes.

I settled myself into the saddle and leaned over to speak to my trusty Argo. “Take me home girl.”

Argo started for home. She fell in behind me on her own horse. I wondered what demons this darkness would hold for me. It was just as before, when I had gotten sumac in my eyes. Only this time there would be no antidote, just as there hadn’t been one for her.

“Ah Xena it really is a beautiful day. Thank you. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually seen the sun.”

“Just remember our deal.” I said as Argo continued on. I just let the reigns hang loose in my hand she didn’t need me to guide her.

“Right. Tragic accident. What shall it be Your Highness? Saving a cartload of Hestian Virgins and orphans from going over a cliff?

“Very funny. I’m sure we can come up with something before we get home.” I growled. I was not in the mood for her humor.

“Okay, but we really must come up with something that it worthy of your new found honor.”

“My ‘new found honor’ as you call it isn’t that new.”

“Oh I know. Trust me you have been the subject of many nights of contemplation. I know a lot about you Warrior Princess. From the things you’ve done since you left me, to what you do with your little queen in the supposed privacy of your bedchamber. She’s can be quite the little fury between the sheets can’t she?”

I reigned Argo and turned towards her voice. “Enough! You may say and do to me what you will. I deserve it, but you leave Gabrielle out of it. Do you understand me?” I could feel the rage building inside me. ” She is my wife and the mother of my children and Queen of the Amazons and I won’t have you disrespecting her. She has done nothing to deserve your wrath. Blind or not if you continue in this manner I will defend my wife, even if that means losing my life.”

“All right, all right. Calm down. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

I turned around and nudged Argo who started down the road once again. My mind reeled as I realized I was never going to see my wife and children again. I would be with them but I would never see them grow. Melosa was still so small, almost two years and Kai was still a baby, just two months old now. I would have to remember them this way forever. Solan. His grandfather had helped him grow into the fine young man he was destined to be. He had even gifted him by allowing his body to catch up with his mind in years. Solan was almost twelve when he was taken and now he was nearly a grown man of almost seventeen. A fine young man who had aged five years in just one. He really did need her help now more than ever. I just hoped I would be able to live with my own choices.

We made the camp the first night. She made camp, I stumbled around until I was so frustrated I couldn’t think straight. She finally sat me down and prepared everything. It was about a candle mark later when I heard her sit down across from me.

“Frustrating isn’t it?” She asked. I heard put more wood on the fire.

“Yes. I had a brief experience like this a few years ago, but I was so focused on getting to Gabrielle that I didn’t have time to think about…”

“I know. I told you Xena I know just about everything. I saw you. I saw you fighting to get her out of that box before it was consumed by the flames and I saw the look on her face when she realized you couldn’t see. It was heart breaking. She looked as if her world had just shattered. I’m sure I’ll see that look again in a few days.”

“You’re enjoying this aren’t you?”

“Yes, yes I am Xena. I spent more than ten years of my life robbed of my sight because of you. Because of your petty fears, if you didn’t understand something you destroyed it. You used your power to wreak havoc and instill fear and to destroy.”

“You never feared me did you?” She placed a warm cup in my hands. I bought it up and sniffed the contents, tea.

“No I never feared you. Would you be surprised to learn that I let you do those things to me all those years ago because I knew it would bring us here, I knew that your son would need my help. While I may detest you I have a responsibility to him. Your son is part of my own destiny, a very important part.”

I resisted the urge to question her. I knew she wouldn’t tell me anyhow. She never would. That was one of the reasons I blinded her so many years ago. She would never answer my questions. She would just sit there and watch me. I just sipped my tea and continued to listen to her.

“So how does it feel to be amazon royalty?”

“I’m not royalty. My wife and children are.” I said quietly. As a vision of Ri, Melosa, Kai and Solan danced before the blackness and swirled in my mind’s eye, I smiled.

“Ah, but being married to the queen has its perks doesn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“How many other families in the village have male children? Seems it’s good to be the queen and the queen’s consort.”

“We don’t live in the village. We were prepared to leave when Solan was returned to us, but the counsel wouldn’t hear of it. Gabrielle’s leadership means a lot to her people.”

“Yes she will lead them into great things. The amazon nation will never be forgotten because of your wife.”

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

“And just what is so damned funny?”

“I’m not a great prophet and I could have told you that.” I continued to chuckle as I finished my tea. I just loved it when someone underestimated my knowledge of my wife’s importance.

We were almost home when I knew it was time for the inevitable. “Are you ready?” I asked as I carefully dismounted Argo.

“Oh I’ve been looking forward to this for two days.”

“Yeah I’ll just bet you have.” I heard her dismount and I could feel her drawing near.

“Just hold still. You won’t feel a thing.”

“Somehow I…” The sound of my own ribs crunching drowned out the rest of my words as I felt myself flying backwards and the last sensation I had was hitting the ground, then nothing.

“Xe? Come on honey, wake up.” I heard her soft soothing voice. I felt the warmth and comfort I knew was our bed. I sighed when I realized I was home. I felt a damp cloth being run over my forehead. Which was attached to my throbbing head.

“Bandits…” I started.

“I know. Theran told use everything. Gods I’m glad your safe.”

I reached out and tried to find her.

“Xe what’s wrong?”

“I can’t see Ri.” I heard her gasp as she took both of my hands and brought them to her lips and kissed them. Her lips were so soft against my rough skin. She placed her face between them and let me run my hands over her. I wiped the tears away with my thumbs. “It’s going to be okay.” I whispered as I pulled her down and kissed her.

She slowly pulled back from my kiss and I felt her hands on my face, gently caressing around my eyes. “Maybe it’s just the head wound.” I heard the hope in her voice.

“Maybe…” I said softly. “Ri where are the kids. I really want to…” I knew what I had started to say, but stopped short not wanting to upset her.

“They’re outside with Theran. Solan really seems to like her.” She was trying to hide her frustration from me.

“Good. She’ll teach him well. Bring them in. Please.”

“Of course.” She leaned over and kissed me again before leaving.

I tried to sit up and take inventory of my injuries. I could tell I had at least three cracked and one broken rib and a gash in my temple that was now bandaged. “Won’t feel a thing.” I muttered as I pulled myself up against the headboard of the bed.

Soon the door opened and I heard her. I smiled as the sound of the little feet running across the floor came so clearly to my ears. “Momma!” Melosa exclaimed as she climbed up onto the bed and into my arms. Oh, it hurt like Tartarus, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I hugged her as she placed little kisses all over my face and wrapped her arms around my neck. “Missed you.” She said as she buried her head in my neck.

“I missed you too Princess.” I just held her there, close to me for a moment. “Have you been good?”

“Yes.” She giggled as she wiggled down and settled next to me in the crook of my arm.

“Are you sure?” I teased as I ran my hands through her hair feeling it’s silky texture. It might be the color of mine, but it has the same feel as Ri’s.

“Yes.”

“Well then Princess find my saddlebags there’s a present in there for you.”

I could feel her jerk up and start moving around the bed. I knew my saddlebags would be draped over the post at the foot of the bed. She bounded to the foot of the bed and began digging through the bags. I felt Gabrielle sit down next to me. She took my arm and bent it, laying Kai in my arms. I felt the tears rush forward, but I pushed them back by clenching my jaw. It remained clenched until I felt Ri caress my face. I smiled and nodded my head. I gently ran my hand over my son’s face. He was sleeping. I could tell just because he was so still. When he was awake now he wiggled like a fish. Even in his sleep he found one of my fingers and wrapped his hand around it. I brought him up and inhaled the soft sweet scent that babies always have and kissed him on the forehead. “Love you my son.” I whispered to him. I settled back against the headboard and continued to cradle Kai in my arms.

“Mommy look!” Melosa exclaimed. She must be showing her new toy to Ri. I could feel her climb back up the bed and into Ri’s arms. She continued to giggle.

“What is it sweetheart? What did Momma bring you?”

“Soft bear.”

“Did you thank her?”

“Thank you Momma.”

“You’re welcome sweetheart. Only the best for my princess.” I extended my hand and Ri guided it to Melosa’s face so I could caress her cheek. “Why don’t you take your bear outside and show it to Solan. I’ll bet he’d like to see it.”

“Okay.” I heard her hit the floor and go running from the room, yelling for her brother as she did.

I handed Kai back to Ri who left the bed. She returned very quickly and lay down next to me resting her head on my shoulder and gently placing an arm across my stomach. I put my arm around her and gave her a light squeeze.

“Xe what if your sight doesn’t come back?”

“I’ll manage.” I sighed. I hated deceiving her, but all the Gods on Olympus wouldn’t be able to help me if she ever discovered the truth.

“No we’ll manage.” She said as she kissed my jaw.

“Right.” I tried to brighten for her sake. “So how goes it in the village? Have I missed anything exciting?”

“Well Eph is really ticked at you for taking your trip and missing the party for Kai.”

“Oh that party wasn’t for Kai. That was an excuse.”

“Since when do amazons need an excuse?” She chuckled.

“Good point.”

“Anyhow she says you can make it up to her when they have his naming festival. It’ll be in a couple of weeks.”

“Wonderful.”

“I signed a new treaty with the village at the northern boarder that’s going to give us lots of extra grain for winter storage.”

“Great. What do they get?”

“Just a couple of extra patrols around the village.”

“Nicely done Your Majesty.” I kissed the top of her head.

“Thank you.”

There was a knock on the door. I heard it open. Gabrielle lifted her head. ” Solan come in.” I said very much to the surprise if my wife.

“How did you…”

“I have ma..”

“ny skills…” We finished together and she sat up. She continued, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…well I know you two want to talk so I’ll take Kai to his room and fix you something to eat. You’re going to need it if you want those ribs to heal up properly.”

“Gabrielle you don’t have to…” I started.

She whispered in my ear. “Yes I do. Trust me.” She gave me a quick kiss and was gone.

I drew a deep breath and patted the edge of the bed. Solan sat down and took my hand. “Oh boy this can’t be good.” I teased him. “You never hold my hand.”

“Mother. Theran told us of your accident. How are you feeling?”

“Well I’m having a little trouble focusing on anything at the moment…” I joked. He chuckled, that was good. “What do you think of Theran?”

“She’s incredible Mother. She’s already taught me to block out things I don’t want to hear.”

I nodded. “Good I’m glad to hear it. She’ll teach you everything you need to know and then some I’m sure.”

“Yeah I’m sure. Have you ever heard her story about the Hestian Virgin, the monkey and the…”

“Solan!” I could actually feel myself blushing. Oh Gods. I’m going to have to have a talk with that woman. “Yeah I’ve heard that story. Don’t tell that one in front of your mom.”

“Oh I won’t. Well anyhow, there’s something I need to ask you.”

“Go ahead.”

“Alana and I…umm…” He stammered and got up.

I could hear him pacing back and forth at the foot of the bed. My son was in love, bad from the sound of it. “Go on. Out with it.”

“Well I’m thinking of asking for her mothers’ permission to court her.”

“Oh you are huh?”

“Yes if it’s all right with you. I’ve already asked mom, she says it’s all right with her if it’s all right with you.”

“Solan you’re very nearly a grown man you don’t need my permission to court if that’s what you want.”

“Yes I do. It’s important to me that you be proud of me.”

“Solan I’ve always been proud of you. Always. I know that you’ll do everything right with Alana. You do realize that there’s a chance her mother will say no. There are members of the village that don’t particularly care for your mom being queen. I don’t know if her mothers feel that way, but if they do they may say no.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem. They seem to like me.”

“Then go ahead.” I wasn’t prepared for the rush and then the hug. He nearly knocked me out of bed and I think I can now count two cracked, two broken.

“Thank you!”

“You’re welcome. Could you do me a favor and send Theran in here.”

“Sure.” He left and within moment I heard Theran enter.

“Didn’t anyone ever teach you to knock?” I asked as she crossed the room. I could almost see the smile on her face fade.

“Umm yeah. Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay. Well Solan seems to think you’re wonderful.”

“He says the same about you.”

“Thanks. Do me a favor.”

“What?”

“Teach my son everything he needs to know, but don’t teach him any more dirty jokes.”

“He told me one first!”

“That’s besides the point. And what did you do to me?”

“Just a little jolt delivered to the chest. You’ll be up and around in no time. You wanted convincing. You should have seen her when I brought you back here draped over your horse. She was…was…beside herself.”

“She loves me.”

“I know.” She said softly. “You know it’s funny I didn’t want to believe it, but it’s true. Someone loves you in spite of what you are.”

“Were.” Her voice cut in from behind Theran. “Xena’s changed.” I could hear the ice in her voice. She was in ‘defend’ Xena mode. I hoped that Theran had brains enough to back down.

“Of course Your Majesty. I meant no disrespect. It’s just that Xena and I haven’t seen each other in a long time and I’m not quite adjusted to the changes.” She lied.

“Theran I know Xena believes that you are the only one who can teach Solan how to use his abilities, but in order for you to remain here and work with our family you’re going to have to believe in Xena as much as I do. As much as her children do. If you can’t then we may have to make other arrangements.”

“I shall do my best Your Majesty.”

With that I heard her leave. Ri continued to my side and sat a tray on my lap. “What was that all about?” I asked as she placed my hand on a warm mug.

“I won’t have you insulted in your own home.” I heard her voice crack. “In our home.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too warrior. Now I want you to eat.”

I smiled and considered the tray on my lap. “Mmm let’s me guess. Stew, bread, a little cheese and tea.”

“What kind of stew?”

“Venison. With just a touch of that black pepper I like.”

“You see more without your eyes than most people ever will with theirs.” She said softly as she put the spoon in my hand.

“Ri are you okay?”

She drew a deep ragged breath. “Yeah, yeah I’ll be fine. I guess I’m just kind of tired. You had me so scared again. I really wish you wouldn’t let people bring you home draped over Argo’s back. Bad warrior!”

“Listen why don’t we have the nanny spend the night here and after I eat we’ll both settle down for the evening. I still have a splitting headache and I could use the rest.”

“Un-huh.” She sounded skeptical.

“You doubt my word wife?” I couldn’t help but grin. She hated it when I did that.

“Okay. I’ll see if Terin can stay. I’ll be right back. Can you manage here?”

” Is the venison dead?”

“Yeah…” I could almost hear the smile on her face when I asked this question.

“I think I can handle it.” I slowly moved my hand over the tray to get a feel for where everything was. She gave my hand a squeeze and left our room.

Silently I wondered what time of day it really was. My guess was late in the day. I could feel the sun on my face coming in through the window. I knew that it came in this window late in the day just before sunset. Yeah this could be good. Just resting tonight. Holding her close to me…hmmm…yes this could be good indeed, very good. Realizing where my thoughts were headed I put a stop to it and got down to the task of eating.

I had finished and even managed to set the tray aside on the floor by the time she returned. “So is Terin going to stay?”

“Yeah she said she’d be happy to.” I heard my son gurgle and she joined me on the bed. “I’m going to feed him before I settle in. Terin said she’d manage with his feeding later.”

“Let me help.” I couldn’t resist. Feeding times were always special for us. I would hold Ri in my arms as she would feed the babies and I would just sit and take it all in. Now I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. My heart lurched at the thought. I found the shoulder knot in her tunic and carefully untied it. As I lowered it, she placed my hand on the back of Kai’s head as she guided him to her breast. I put my other arm around her and pulled her to my shoulder. I couldn’t see them, but I could feel them. The warmth of her body against mine, the bobbing of Kai’s head as he ate. Quite the appetite my son has. “Where’s Melosa?”

“Showing that new toy to anyone who will stand still long enough to look at it.”

“I love it when I bring something back for her. Her little face always just…” I stopped again. Damn this is going to be harder than I thought.

“It did this time too Xe.” She said softly.

I dropped my head back and closed my eyes. Gods this was going to be hard, but it was for Solan. I knew full well that without Theran’s help he would be in real trouble. The voices had started to become a real problem. He couldn’t shut out the thoughts of others. He had started getting headaches that would incapacitate him for days. I had tried everything I knew to help him and hadn’t succeeded the way I wanted. It was then that I knew who would be able to help him. She really was his only hope. Their powers were very much alike.

Ri finished feeding Kai and I took him and put him over my shoulder gently rubbing his back in small circles. She got up and moved to the chest at the foot of the bed, I could hear the lid creaking. Funny, that never bothered me before, but now it just seemed so loud. I continued to rub Kai’s back. “Come on I know it’s in there.” I encouraged him and was promptly rewarded, with more than I hoped. “Ah Ri dig me out a clean one too will you?”

“Get you did he?”

“Umm yeah.”

I heard her snicker and made a mental note to get her later when my ribs were healed. Laugh at me bard. She took him from me and I struggled around to get changed. My busted ribs made the job harder than it had to be and by the time I was done I could feel the sweat breaking out on my forehead. Ri had taken Kai back to his room and when she returned I was sitting up panting through the pain.

“Are you all right!?” Fear. There was fear in her voice as she came across the room and knelt at my side.

“I’m fine just a little too much movement there. Come to bed.”

She slipped in next to me and helped me lay down. We carefully adjusted until it was just right and she was lying in my arms. “Hey I almost forgot I brought something back for you too.”

“Yes yourself. Everything else can wait until tomorrow.” She said as she settled in and drifted off to sleep.

I held her close and took in the feel of her and her scent. They both calmed my nerves and my fears as I too drifted off to sleep.

———————————————————

~Revelations~

I watch her from my desk. It’s the middle of the night and I can’t sleep. Even after the wonderful love that my warrior and I made I still just can’t seem to find sleep. She has her arms wrapped firmly around the pillow I put there when I got up. She’ll hold onto it until I return. It’s a trick I had to start using with her after Melosa was born and I had to get up for feedings. Most nights Xena had just returned from patrol duties and was barely able to get into bed, but the second I tried to get up she would get fussier than the baby. I had to find something to keep her happy, the pillow seemed to do the trick and I’ve been using it since.

I look down at the decree in front of me. I can’t believe this day has come. It’s been six months since the accident that took Xena’s sight. The counsel has decreed that I must choose a new champion. I’ve prayed to every last God that I thought would help us, but they haven’t answered me. My warrior is blind, for good it would seem. I don’t understand why Artemis and Hades have forsaken us like this. Another petty game to be played with our lives I suspect.

Xena is adapting very well, but she does get frustrated and angry when she finds a simple task difficult. She’s very good about trying not to let it show, but I know it troubles her. I also know that tomorrow when she has to step aside as my champion it will be a huge blow to her. She has assured me repeatedly that she understands and knows it is for the best, but I can still see in those eyes that can’t see me.

I return to our bed and slide into it, removing my pillow gently. I am once again in her arms. She mumbles something to me without waking as I settle in and run my fingertips over the arm that wraps protectively around my waist, just as it has always done. I bring her hand to my lips and kiss it softly, “No one will ever make me feel as safe as you do my love.”

Morning is upon us far too quickly. I open my eyes and stretch. The bed is empty. I’m not surprised. She still beats me out of bed every morning. I can hear various voices in the outer rooms. The children, Xe, Solari and that damned Theran. Oh Gods there is just something about that woman I don’t like. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t help it. She’s very good with Solan and has taught him so much and she’s also very good to Melosa and Kai. Very polite to everyone and always willing to lend a hand, but as there are Gods on Olympus there’s something dangerous about that woman and she directs that at Xe. All of her little barbs and sarcastic remarks have just about worn through. I take a deep breath and shove it down. Xe says she’s needed here so be it, but I swear it’s not going to be much longer before I break my staff over her head.

I get dressed and join my family in the outer room. Solari is helping Xe into her armor and struggling with that side buckle that’s always been a problem. Theran smiles at me and says something to Solan. They make a quick exit outside. Good choice. Melosa and Kai are playing on the floor. Now Kai is torturing his sister with ‘I drop it, you pick it up’, just like Melosa did with Xe at that age. Melosa seems to handle it better.

I move to Solari and Xena. “Here let me do that.” Solari steps back with a smile as I take the buckle and slide it into place. Years of practice coming in handy here.

Xena wraps her arms around me and kisses my forehead. “Thank you my love. No has ever been able to get that buckle but you.”

“Oh you did all right before I came along.” I say with a smile as I give her a soft kiss on the chin.

“Yeah, but I’d be lost without you now.” She says as she lets go of me. “You should eat. We have to be in counsel chambers in about a candle mark.”

I move to the table and sit down and pour myself some tea. “Another of your many skills warrior, being able to tell time without being able to see the candle?” I ask as I break of a piece of bread.

“Naw, nothing that exciting. Solari told me.” She says with a wide grin.

Solari just looks at me and shrugs. She picks up Xena’s chakram and sword from the table. She places the chakram in Xena’s hand and she fastens it to her side. Solari hands her the sword. She fingers it for a moment. “Umm Sol, undo my sheath will ya’?”

I watch as Solari removes the sheath from Xena’s back and hands it to her. Xe hesitates for just a moment and then feeling for the opening with one hand she slides the sword in and hands it back to Solari. “I won’t be needing it anymore.”

Those words cut me to the quick and I can feel my mouth water as my stomach lurches. I want to cry. Solari looks to me. I just close my eyes. It hurts so much.

“Sol there’s a leather cloth in that chest against the wall get it and wrap the sword in it will you?”

“Sure Xena.” Solari does as she is asked as Xe moves and kneels before me, taking my hands into hers.

“And you just stop this right now.” She says softly as she kisses my hands and reaches up to wipe away an errant tear. “You know it’s for the best. You need a champion that can protect you properly. I just can’t do that any more.”

“I can’t help it Xe…” She places her fingers over my lips to stop the flow of words.

“It’s best for the nation and it’s best for you. Now promise me, no more tears over this.”

I could only nod. She raised up and kissed me. “I love you wife.”

“I love you too.”

I took my seat at the head of the table and the counsel was convened. We spent about a half a candle mark dealing with village business. The issue of my champion was last on the agenda. I just wanted it all to be over so that it would be behind us. Xena, Solari and Epinon sat at the other end of the chamber and waited patiently as we conducted the business at hand. Even as we dealt with the other business I felt myself distracted and looking at my warrior. She never seemed braver to me than she did at this moment. Only on the day that we were joined did she look more regal, than she did today. Her armor and leathers were polished to a high shine, this was to be her last official function as my champion and she was going to make me proud.

Finally she was called forth. She stood, tall and proud and walked purposely forward into the center of the chamber. Epinon and Solari walked three paces behind her. Without a word being spoken to her she knew exactly where to stop. She smiled and knelt before me. “My Queen.” She said as she bowed her head.

It was hard for me to address her with the lump in my throat. I looked to Ephiny, who gave me a soft smile and a gentle squeeze to my hand. “It’s okay. ” She said quietly, giving me the strength to do what was necessary.

“Xena please rise.” I said with a shake in my voice I just knew those damned ears of hers had pick up because of the arched eyebrow that greeted me when she rose to face me. “You understand why you have been called before the counsel?”

“Yes my Queen. Due to the injury that has left me sightless we must choose another champion to protect you.”

“And you understand why?”

“Of course my Queen. You need a strong champion to defend you and the throne. I am no longer capable.”

“Do…” I cleared my throat. “Do you have a recommendation?”

“I do my Queen. I would like to recommend the warrior Epinon. She has served well as my second and I believe she would serve you well as champion.”

“Very well. Does anyone on the counsel wish to be heard on this matter or is Xena’s recommendation enough?”

Murmurs ran through the members of the counsel, but it was agreed that Xena’s recommendation was best. Xena stepped back and Epinon stepped forward and knelt before me.

“Epinon, Xena has recommended you to replace her as my champion. Do you wish this position?”

“Your Majesty I would be honored to serve as your champion. I could however, never replace Xena. I only hope to serve you half as well.”

“So be it. Epinon please rise and take your position as my champion.”

As Epinon got to her feet, Xena raised her hand. “If it please Your Majesty there is one last thing I would like to do.”

“Of course Xena.” I said to her the confusion evident in my voice.

I watched as Solari handed Xena the leather cloth. The lump rose in my throat again. Xena stepped forward to Epinon. “Ep you’ve always been one of my best friends. Now you are protecting our queen and my wife. Please take this and use it for that purpose. It always served me well and I hope that it will serve you well too.”

I saw Epinon’s hands shaking as she took the cloth and un-wrapped Xena’s sheath and sword. “Xena I…I…can’t take this.” She said softly.

“Please Ep take it. This way I’ll still feel like part of me is there.” Xena’s voice quivered just a bit as she closed Ep’s hands around the sword.

“I’m honored my friend. Thank you.”

“No. Thank you. Don’t let any harm come to her.”

“I’ll die first.” They clasped forearms and Epinon turned and took her place behind me as my champion.

Just as we were about to call the counsel complete, a young warrior came running into the counsel chamber. “Your Majesty! Xena! Come quickly it’s Princess Melosa!”

Chairs were tossed backward as everyone in the room rose at that announcement. Ep and I ran to Xena. “Go!” She yelled at me. “I’ll be right there, but I’ll only slow you down! Go Ri! Go find out what’s wrong!” There was a helpless panic in her voice I couldn’t miss as she pushed me towards the door. I left the chamber, leaving Xena with Solari who assured me that they would be there as soon as possible.

The time it took to get back to the house seemed like an eternity in Tartarus. When I arrived I found several of our warrior’s gathered around a well that had been started as a water supply for the house. “Oh Gods no!” I screamed as I continued forward. Solan caught me in his arms and held me back.

“Mom don’t!” He wrapped his arms around me and held tight.

“Solan let me go!” I struggled, but he held firm.

“No! Let them work to get her out! Please mom, don’t go over there.”

I stopped struggling and collapsed into his chest. “Solan is she…” I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t bring myself to ask the question.

“No mom, she’s not dead. She’s caught at the bottom. They’re working to get her out now.”

I looked up to see our nanny Terin approaching with Kai in her arms. As she drew closer he reached out for me and I took him and held him close. “How did this happen?!” I demanded of the young woman.

“Forgive me Your Majesty. I only turned my back for a moment…”

“I don’t want to hear anymore. You are dismissed! Go back to the village.”

“Please Your Majesty don’t make me…”

“Go Terin before I say something I’ll regret!”

With tears in her eyes she bowed and backed away. “Yes Your Majesty. Please forgive me.”

I turned when I heard the pounding of hooves behind me. Xena dismounted from behind Solari even before the horse stopped, she stumbled slightly as she made her way forward. Solan caught her. “What’s wrong?” Her voice was panicked and I could see eyes straining to view past the blackness that surrounded her.

“Melosa has fallen down the well Xe.” My voice broke as her arms went around me. She felt Kai there and stroked his head.

“Solan what’s going on?” She asked her voice just as shaken as mine.

“We have several warrior’s working to get her out.”

From near the well we heard someone say that the sides of the well were unstable and were close to collapsing. “Oh Gods Xe we’re going to lose another child!” I buried my head in her chest and let the tears fall. I just couldn’t hold them back anymore.

“No we’re not sweetheart. No we’re not!” She gave me a long hug. “It’s going to be okay.” She gave me a kiss on the forehead and took a deep breath. “Theran!” She called out.

I watched as she approached. “Yes Xena?”

“Is it my daughter’s fate to die in that well?”

“Xena I can’t answer that question.”

Xe let go of me and grabbed Theran by the front of her shirt and lifted her off the ground. “Yes you can damnit!” She yelled. “I know you know the answer now tell me! Is my daughter going to die today!? I swear if you don’t answer me I’ll break you in half right now!”

I saw Theran remove her gloves. Something I had never seen her do in the six months since she had been here. She smiled at Xena and grabbed her wrists. Xena growled. I knew that growl. It was the one that came with great pain. I watched as they fought for control. Xena tried to hold on as Theran let a blue light emanate from her hands into the body of my wife. Xena finally relented and dropped Theran. Theran gave her a disgusted look and retrieved her gloves. Xena crumpled to her knees. I knelt by her side.

“Try that again Xena and I’ll kill you.” She said as she slipped her gloves back on. “Solan come with me let’s get your sister out of that well.” I rubbed Xena’s back as she gasped for air.

Solan looked between his mother and the well. “Mother?”

“So…So…lan…go!” Xena gasped as she pointed to the well.

He turned and walked to the well with her. “All right everyone, give us some room.” Theran commanded as they reached the well. They looked to me and I nodded. The warrior’s backed off.

“Solan concentrate on your sister. Close your eyes and think of nothing but her. Can you see her?”

“Yes.”

“Picture yourself wrapping your arms around her and lifting her out of the well.”

“Okay.” He seemed to falter a bit. Theran removed her gloves again and sent a stream of golden energy into him.

“Keep thinking of her Solan. Keep seeing yourself lifting her from the well.”

“I’ve got her.”

“I know you do. Now keep lifting. Bringing her closer to the top.”

I could see the top of Melosa’s head at the top of the well. She seemed to simply float out and glide into her brother’s arms. Theran stopped the stream and put her gloves back on. Solan collapsed with his sister safely in his arms.

“She’s out.” I could only whisper it to Xena. My voice was lost to the sight I had just witnessed. Xena took Kai and settled back with him.

“Go get her.” She said to me.

I crossed over and knelt down next to Solan who was lying with his eyes closed, breathing hard. I brushed the hair back from his face. “Solan are you all right?”

“Yes Mom I’m fine I just feel so drained. Is Melosa okay?”

I checked her over, she was scared and crying softly into her brother’s chest but short of a few cuts and bruises she seemed fine. “Yes I think so. Let me have her.” I lifted her into my arms and looked at her dirty little face and placed kisses all over it as I held her close. “I’ve got you sweetheart. You’re safe now.”

“Scared.” She cried as her body trembled into mine. “Very scared. Dark.”

“I know but it’s okay now. You’re safe.”

Theran came over and helped Solan up and rubbed his back. “You did good my boy. Very good.”

“I feel sick.” He said as she led him away.

“I know go with it. It’s your body adjusting to doing something that it wasn’t quite ready to do.” I watched her comfort Solan as he threw up. She was gently rubbing him back and talking him through it.

I moved to Xena and Kai. Xena reached out for Melosa. “Is she okay?”

“She seems to be, but I want Adrin to look at her to make sure.”

“I’ve already sent for her.” Ephiny said. Eph reached down and took Kai from Xena as Epinon and Solari help my warrior to her feet. Her knees buckled as she tried to stand.

“What did she do to you my love?” I asked ask our friends picked her up and simply carried her into our home.

“Not sure.” She mumbled, as she lost consciousness.

They carefully laid her in our bed. Eph put Kai down in his room and came to help me care for both my warrior and my daughter. I sent Ep and Sol outside with orders than no one except for Adrin and Solan should be allowed to enter. Eph gave me a wet cloth and I began to wash Melosa who still clung to me trembling. “It’s okay sweetheart, you’re safe.”

“Dark.” She cried into my shoulder as I continued to clean her up.

“I know, but it’s okay now. Mommy’s got you.” I washed her face and stripped her clothes off to look for more injuries. I didn’t see anything that looked too bad. She had a small cut on her forehead. That seemed to be the worst of it really. I took a deep breath and thanked the Gods.

Adrin entered the room and I turned Melosa over to her and turned my attention to Xena. She was simply unconscious. Eph and I got her undressed and put her in bed. As we slipped the covers over her Eph caught my hand. “What happened out there?” She paused. “Between them.”

“I have no idea, but I’m going to find out right now. Stay here will you?”

“Sure.”

I went outside. Theran and Solan were sitting on the porch. Ep and Sol stood guard at the door. I put my hand on Theran’s shoulder. “We need to talk.” I stepped down and Ep started to follow, but I shook my head and she stepped back.

“Yes Your Majesty.” She patted Solan on the back and followed me to the side of the house where I watched as various warriors cover up the well that nearly claimed my daughter. I turned to her and drew a deep calming breath before speaking.

“What did you do to Xena?”

“I defended myself.”

“Against a blind woman?”

“She’s still very dangerous and she was concerned for your child. She was like a mother wolf protecting a pup.”

“Would you expect any less? She seemed to think you knew Melosa’s fate. She wanted answers. You see we’ve already lost…” I trailed off. Even after all this time it still hurt.

“I know about your baby Your Majesty and I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Did Xena tell you?”

“No she didn’t. I know. I know more than any one person should ever know.”

“Then she was right. You did know if…”

“Gabrielle,” Her sudden familiarity shocked me, but I let it pass. I wanted to hear whatever she was going to tell me. Maybe now I would get some answers. “Melosa was suppose to die today.”

I felt myself falter and she caught me. I watched her hands waiting for some kind of a light. She smiled at me “It’s okay I can’t hurt you. I have to remove my gloves to utilize that particular gift.” She wrapped my arm around hers and we began walking. I don’t know why, but I needed to talk with her, so I went with her. “I want you to know that I would never hurt you or your children.” She continued as we walked through the field behind the house.

“But Xena is a different story right? You’d kill her if you had the chance wouldn’t you?”

“Gabrielle,” She stopped and looked at me. For the first time I noticed her eyes were black, where my eyes were green and Xe’s blue. This woman simply had black eyes. “I can will Xena’s death. If I wanted her dead I would only have to think about it and it would happen. So the answer there would be no. I don’t want her dead.”

“How long have you known her?”

“All her life. From the day she was born. We met personally about a year or so before she decided to reform.”

“Did you have anything to do with that?”

“No I was just another victim. She blinded me with sumac oil after taking me prisoner.”

“But you can see.”

“Yes I used my powers to regain my sight.”

Suddenly it hit my like one of Zeus’ lightening bolts. “You did this! You took her sight!” I yelled at her as I pulled away from her.

“Yes. It was the price she had to pay for…”

I knew the moment I did it; it was a huge mistake. I lashed out and slapped her hard across the face. She cleared her throat and just shook her head slightly. “How could you!? How could you do this to her? We would have paid you anything to help Solan.”

“I have no interest in money.”

“No just in destroying Xena. Slowly but surely this is destroying her, you must know that too.”

“It isn’t. It is making her stronger. You just won’t know that for sometime to come.”

“I don’t want to know that! I want her back the way she was. I want her whole and complete.”

“Why? Do you love her less now?”

“No of course not…”

“Is she any less the woman you profess to love so much?”

“No…”

“Is she any less a mother to your children? Any less the wonderful lover you’ve always had? Last night she seemed to be in top form.”

Now she was getting personal. How much did she know anyhow? It seemed that no part of our life was private from this woman.

She removed her gloves and very gently brushed the tips of her fingertips across my cheek. I felt a calming, tingling sensation and she smiled and said. “Then trust me.”

I pulled back from her touch and turned for the house. “I don’t see where I have any choice. My son and apparently my wife need you right now.” I walked away, leaving her laughing at me in the distance.

When I got home. Ep still stood guard at the door. She smiled and pushed it open for me, pulling it closed as I entered. Eph and Adrin were at the table drinking tea. I sat down and was hand a cup almost immediately.

“Your Majesty are you all right?” The healer inquired as I took the cup from her.

“I’ve had a very stressful day. How’s Melosa?”

“She fine. She’s a very lucky little girl.”

“Yes, yes she is.” Theran’s word rang in my ears. “How’s Xena?”

“They are both fine Your Majesty. They are sleeping very soundly in your chambers.”

“I need to check on them. Excuse me.” I went to our room and sat on the bed. Xena stirred and opened her eyes. She clutched Melosa close to her, protecting her. She was still waking and she knew she had Melosa with her. She wasn’t focused enough to know it was me. “Hiya warrior.” I said as I brushed the hair from her forehead.

“Ri.” She smiled and relaxed. “Is she really okay?” Her hand gently brushed through our daughter’s hair.

“She’s fine. A few cuts and bruises, but fine. She’s getting more and more like you everyday it would seem. Now she’s scaring me half way to Tartarus too.”

“Well we’ll just have to remind her that she’s a princess and heir to the throne and that she has to behave.” She grinned at me.

“Yes she is isn’t she?” I asked quietly.

Xe took my hand. “What? What is it my love?”

“She’s my only heir. If something happens to her…”

“Ri she’s okay.”

“She…she…” I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold back the tears. “She was suppose to die today Xe. Solan and Theran got her out.”

“How do you know this?”

“Theran told me.”

“Why did she tell you that?”

“I’m not sure. I’m not sure why she told me half the things she did.” She drew a deep breath and waited for me. “Yes she told me what price you paid for her help.”

“I’m sorry I lied.” She said softly. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

“I know, I know it’s okay. Don’t worry about it. You did what any mother would do. We would have given our lives for Melosa’s today if it would have made a difference.”

“If I could rest assured that all my children would grow up healthy and happy I would…” I placed my finger to her lips.

“Don’t say that. I don’t trust Theran enough not to take you up on it.”

————————————————-

~The Gift~

I stood there with my hands on my hips listening to him struggle with her. “If you would relax so would she.” I heard her snort at him in agreement. I chuckled. “Solan just relax and she’ll take the saddle much better.”

“But she keeps backing away from it.” He said, the frustration clear in his voice.

“Well you wouldn’t like it very much if someone tried to put something on you that you hadn’t worn before either.” I held my hands out and he put the saddle in them. “Hold her bridle.” I took a couple steps forward, shifting the saddle to one hand and holding the other out in front of me to make contact with the animal. “Shh it’s okay.” I whispered to the horse as I made contact with her neck and began stroking it. “He just doesn’t understand you does he girl?”

I continued to talk to the animal and stroke her as I gently placed the saddle on her back for the first time. I could feel her muscles twitch as she adjusted to the feel of the new object. This was Argo’s first baby, now two seasons old and ready to be broken, but she had just enough of her mother in her to make her a challenge. “It’s okay girl.” I whispered to her as I felt my way under and brought the strap up and fastened it into place. “See that wasn’t too bad now was it? No it wasn’t. There’s a good girl.” I stroked and scratched her neck and turned to Solan. “Now take her and just walk her around for a bit. Let her get used to the weight.”

I felt the loss of the animal under my hands as I listened to them walk off. She was snorting her displeasure at the saddle and walked much harder than she needed to. Then my attention was drawn to the hands and arms that slipped around my waist. I smiled. “Uh…I think you should know, I’m a married woman.” I said without turning around.

“Is she the jealous type or does she share?” She asked softly as my hands closed around her arms and I leaned back into her.

“Well to tell you the truth she’s the jealous type.”

“Then I guess we had better not let her catch us huh.”

“Probably not.”

“So tell me tall, dark and gorgeous, do you know somewhere we can go where your extremely jealous wife won’t find us?”

“Well actually I do. I just happen to have the little hide away not far from here where I entertain all my mistresses.”

“Oh you do huh? And exactly how many mistresses do you have?”

“Dozens.” I couldn’t contain my grin any longer waiting for her response to that one.

“Oh tell me more.” She purred in my ear as she nipped at my neck.

“Well you know that those of us who are without sight have to compensate for it by using our other senses. Touch, taste…you get the idea. I’m very popular.”

“I’ll just bet you are. So tell me about your wife. What’s she like?”

Baiting me are you my little bard? Okay two can play at that game. “Well I love her so very much, but she’s a very busy woman. She’s Queen of the amazons you know.”

“Really? So you’re married to the Queen.”

“Oh yeah. If you gotta marry an amazon marry the head amazon.”

“That sounds like good advice.”

“It’s made me pretty happy these last few seasons.”

“Glad to hear it. So why all the mistresses then if your wife makes you so happy?”

“Well it’s like I said she’s a very busy woman…”

“I can’t imagine she’d ever be so busy that she would leave your needs unattended.”

“You know come to think of it, she never has. So maybe this isn’t a very good idea.” I turned and ran my hands gently over her smiling face.

“Good answer warrior.” She leaned up and kissed me. A kiss I felt clear to the bottom of my boots. My arms wrapped firmly around her and I dove deeper into the kiss. When we finally parted we were both breathless.

“Hello wife.” I said with a smile. “I thought you were going to be tied up all day with village business and wedding plans.”

“What and leave you to entertain all these mistresses you speak of. Don’t think so. I decided I’d rather be tied up with you.”

“Hmm that could be fun too.” I said with a grin.

That earned me a gentle slap to the shoulder. “You are truly bad.” She said as she rested her head against my shoulder. I took in the scent of her hair. Freshly washed this morning it still smelled of lavender and roses.

“Gods Gabrielle I love you so much.”

I could feel her shift and place her hand on my cheek. “What brought that on?”

“Do I need a reason?” I leaned in and took another kiss from my sweet wife.

“Oh get a room you two.” Theran’s sarcastic voice cut into our reality. I felt Ri shudder in my arms as we gave up the kiss.

“Is there any particular reason you decided to interrupt a royal liaison?” I asked as I turned towards the sound of her voice.

“Nope. I’m just walking along minding my own business when I happen upon you two standing here trying to devour each other.”

“Theran you have never minded your own business. You’ve made it’s your life’s work to mind mine.”

“Yes and one day you’ll thank me for it.”

I felt my wife go taut and hold back some extremely pithy comment. She was learning not to let Theran get the best of her at every turn and I was glad. There had been more than a few moments between them when I was sure the Gods on Olympus had begun to quake from the tension.

“So are you two ready for the big day?” She asked, the tone in her voice making it quite clear she wasn’t going to leave us alone.

“Well as the parents of the groom we’re about as ready as we can be I guess. I would imagine Alana’s mothers are far more enthralled in wedding preparations…”

This is where the wife decided to get involved in the conversation. “I’m sure they’d be delighted to fill you in if you went over there.” She said, the tone in her own voice unmistakable.

“Thanks just the same, but Solan and I have a lesson in a few moments.” Theran had given this round to my wife. I heard her trudge after Solan and his mare.

“Well done my love.” I said as I kissed her on the forehead.

“Thank you. Now about that hide away of yours…”

We walked back from our afternoon together hand in hand. We were two very happy people at this moment and I hoped nothing had gone wrong in the mean time to ruin it for us.

It had been awhile since we had been able to relax enough to make love like that. After Melosa’s accident, Ri had mentioned having another baby and was nearly devastated when she was told that she shouldn’t. Adrin felt that after the first miscarriage and then almost losing Kai we shouldn’t take anymore chances. Ri didn’t mean too, but she shut herself out from me for sometime and I had spent to better part of the last half season trying to reassure her and get her to relax. She once again thought that somehow all of this was her fault.

As we approached the house I heard a familiar laugh and squeezed Gabrielle’s hand. “Hercules is here.”

“That means mother is here then.” I could feel her restraining herself from taking off into a run for the house.

“Go ahead.”

“Are you sure?”

“Go ahead. I can manage. Go on before I change my mind.” I gave her a swat on the backside and sent her on her way. Without her to guide me I slowed my pace a bit and continued after her allowing my hearing to guide me. I had always been grateful for my sensitive hearing before, but never more than now when I realized just how much I had actually learn to see by listening to the things around me. Epinon had even gone so far as to nickname me ‘Bat’ one night at a party and it stuck. Now she and Solari both always got a good giggle when we would go out hunting together. I just bit my lip and kept my mouth shut, I’d get them one of these days. I just had to be patient. Thank the Gods Ri had taught me how to be patient, because it was gonna be good.

The approach was slow and deliberate. Trying not to startle me would be my guess. I smiled. “Hello Hercules.” I held out my hand and he took it. Drawing me to his side and wrapping my hand around his arm.

“How you doing?” He asked quietly as we walked toward the house.

“Oh we’re doing okay. Its taken time, but we’re going to be fine.” I gave his hand a squeeze to reassure him.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been around more often.”

“Hey you’re a busy guy. We understand. I’m glad you could make it for the wedding and thank you for bringing mother. I could have sent amazon guards to get her, but I think she prefers traveling with you. You’re much better looking.”

“Well it was my pleasure. Your mom is a delight. She reminds me a lot of my mom.”

“Well at least the Gods have good taste in women.”

“So it would seem. By the way how are you dealing with that…cousin.” I heard the smirk so I elbowed him in the ribs. He coughed as he sucked in a lung of fresh air. “Pretty well I guess.” He gasped as he took in more air.

“Yeah not bad.” I said dryly.

“I can’t believe how big Melosa and Kai are now.”

“Melosa’s nearly three and Kai is just past his first season. They grow up so damned fast.”

“And now Solan’s getting married. Guess this means you’ll be a grandmother soon.”

“Why does everybody keep saying that? Do I look like I’m ready to be a grandmother?”

“No, but that’s just the way it happens. I’ll make sure I make a special trip back to see you bouncing your first grandchild on your knee.” He teased.

“Do you want another poke in the ribs?”

“Umm…if I have a choice I’d have to go with no.”

“Then shut up.”

We walked the rest of the way to the house with the big man chuckling all the way. He went on my list just after Ep and Sol. As we entered to house Melosa came running to me and I scooped her up in my arms. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and then licked my lips. “Mmm Princess you taste like raspberries. What did grandma bring for us?”

“None for you.” My little girl teased me as she tweaked my nose. “Nana said. None for you.”

“Oh she did, did she? Well I’ll bet if I tickle you, you’ll give me some.”

“Nope. None for you. Nana said.” She began to squirm and giggle as I gave her a light tickle.

“None for me huh?”

“AHH…” She giggled and squirmed harder as I tickled more.

“Gonna give me some now princess?” More tickling.

“NO…” A squeal escaped the child I’m sure her grand father heard in the Underworld. That was when I felt someone put something to my lips. I took it into my mouth, my mother’s raspberry pastries. As I savored the treat Melosa was rescued by her grandmother.

“Hello mother.” I said with a kiss as soon as I swallowed.

She laid her hand on my cheek and stroked it with her thumb. “Hello daughter. How are you?”

“I’m fine mother. We’re all doing very well.” I kissed the palm of her hand and smiled as I leaned into it for a moment. “So if I tickle you can I have another one of those?”

“Tell you what, if you don’t tickle me you can have another one.”

“That’s fair.”

Herc took my arm to help me to the table. Carefully I removed his hand and whispered. “I can do it.” I grinned and said for anyone who cared to listen. “It’s not so bad now that I’ve managed to get Ri to quit moving the furniture.” The response told me that we had a house full. I made my way to the table and Ri gave me tea and a plate. After almost a season of this we had gotten down a routine and I knew where everything would be. “Thank you sweetheart.”

“You’re welcome.” She leaned in and whispered in my ear, “I’ll get you for the furniture remark later.”

“Promise?”

“You betcha.”

“I can’t wait.”

Besides my family, my mother and Hercules, Ephiny and Ep were there. Solan and Alana were off in a corner making wedding plans. Theran was in front of the fire playing with Kai and someone was on my couch sound asleep. The incessant snoring gave him away, Autolycus. He was one of my best friends, but the man could snore loud enough to shake the columns in Athens.

“Herc could you wake sleeping beauty there and take him to the spare room. He’s giving me a headache.” Before long I heard a groggy Auto being led into the spare room.

I felt two little hands on my leg as my son pulled himself up and began patting my lap. This was a clear ‘hold me’ command from the young prince. “Come’re you.” I brought him into my lap and gave him small piece of the sweet pastry. He was going to be sticky before it was over. I was going to be sticky before it was over, but he was happy as he gummed the treat into submission.

“So is everybody ready for the wedding?” My mother asked as Kai and I battled for the piece of pastry I was trying to eat.

“Well I think Xena’s more nervous than she’s willing to admit.” Ep said with a chuckle.

“If you make one crack about my future as a grandmother so help me I’ll throw you in the lake.” I warned my wife’s champion with a low growl.

“Take it from me daughter there’s nothing wrong with being a grandmother.”

“I never said there was. Besides, you realize the day I become a grandmother is the day you become a great grandmother.”

“Oh yeah. I never thought of that. Makes me sound as old a Hera doesn’t it? Well no difference. My children and my grandchildren are a gift and the Gods can gift me as many times as they would like.”

“Oh you’re just too easy to get along with mother. Has anyone heard from Joxer and Meg?”

“They won’t be able to make it sweetheart.” Mother offered. “Meg’s expecting you know and it’s close to her time.”

I had a hard time picturing Joxer as a father, but he and Meg had waited along time for this baby and after all that Ri and I had been through with our bunch I could certainly understand not wanting to risk it by traveling. It was then that I heard the soft involuntary gasp from Gabrielle. I offered her my hand and she took it, running her thumb over mine.

“Okay you two what’s wrong?” There was no escaping the issue with my mother.

“Well mother umm…Ri and I won’t be having anymore children. Adrin doesn’t think we should risk Ri’s health and I agree with her.”

There was a long silence, a deafening silence. I hated it when it was like this.

“Well then we’ll just have to hope Solan makes you a grandmother soon won’t we?”

“Boy you guys just aren’t going to let this one go are you?”

The days to the wedding passed quickly. Too quickly for Solan I think. The morning of, I found him out in the barn with his mare. So much like me in my early days with Ri. I always found solace with Argo when I was nervous or things weren’t going well.

“Nervous?” I asked as I made my way to him and leaned on the gate of the stall.

“Oh yeah.”

“Would you believe me if I said everything was going to be fine?”

“I know that. I just can’t help it. What if I mess up the vows?”

I chuckled. Boy did this bring back memories. “You won’t.”

“How do you know?”

“I was afraid of the same thing when I married your mom and I got through it okay. You will too.”

“Am I doing the right thing?”

“Do you love her?”

“Yes.”

“Can you imagine your life being complete without her?”

“No.”

“Then you’re doing the right thing. I’m happy for you son. I wasted years with your mom because I was too unsure of what to say to her.” I paused and added quietly. “Because I was scared.”

“You scared? You’ve never been scared of anything in your life.”

“Only of your mom.” He laughed and we left the barn, my arm wrapped firmly around my son’s waist. “Be good to her son and make her happy.”

“I will. I hope we can be as happy as you and mom are.”

I awoke the next morning and found that Hephaetus had moved into my head and was pounding out something with sharp and exact blows and that Poseidon had taken up residence in my stomach. I’m not sure what died in my mouth. Very slowly I felt around the bed. Ri was gone. Well it had finally happened. Not only was I hung over to the point of wishing that my ‘father’ would come claim me, but I had just lost a long standing bet with my wife. Having no desire to consider the consequences of this at the moment I pulled a pillow over my head and waited to die.

I heard the door open…oh how it opened. Had it always been that loud? Since when did Ri wear heavy boots? Now that she was seated next to me on the bed why did she insist on making it rock like that? The pillow lifted from my face and for the first time in nearly a season I was glad I couldn’t see. I’m sure that it would only have made it worse.

“Good morning love.” She said, with so much sweetness I could almost taste it. “How you feelin’ this morning?” Why was she yelling?

“Ugh.”

“Hmm-hmm. Thought as much. Here this should help.”

She placed the cup in my hand and I knew immediately it was my hangover remedy. All I had to do now was get upright enough to drink it.

“So it would seem that being half God doesn’t keep you from having a really, really bad hang over does it?”

Oh the tone of that question told me I must have said some positively stupid things last night.

“Ugh.”

“Here let me help you so we can get that potion of yours into you.” She said as she helped me sit up just enough that I could bring the cup to my lips and sip.

The first taste was always the worst and I knew I always made a terrible face. This time was no different except the wife chose to be uncharacteristically unsympathetic to my plight. She was even laughing just a little under her breath.

“Want some thing to eat?” Her mouth was close to my ear as she whispered these unkind words.

I could only moan my displeasure at that idea. Gods why was she being so cruel this morning? After a couple more mouthfuls of the drink I finally found my tongue. Turns out it had curled up somewhere in the back of my throat.

“You’re mean.” I said softly, not wanting to rattle my brain anymore than need be.

“I’m not being any meaner today than you were last night.”

“Oh what did I do?”

“You mean you don’t remember?”

“Umm no.”

“So you’re claiming ignorance?”

“Total and complete.”

“So you don’t remember throwing me over your shoulder and announcing to anyone who cared to listen that you were going to bring me home and make love to me until I passed out.”

“Did I?”

“Well you brought me home and made love to me until you passed out.”

“Oh Gods. I’m sorry.”

“Oh I didn’t say you had anything to be sorry for.” She purred as she stroked my cheek. “It was just kind of embarrassing that’s all.”

“The announcement or the love making?”

“The announcement…the other was actually quite nice.”

“Thanks.” I paused as I remembered something Ri had said at the party last night. “Did Hades really show up?”

“Yes he did.”

“Why?”

“He wanted to wish his grandson well. Is there something wrong with that?”

“No except that I seem to remember him scaring the Tartarus out of everyone when he arrived.”

“Well that’s true. That’s when you really started drinking.”

“What exactly did I drink?”

“Everything.”

“I was afraid of that. Oh Ri I’m sorry. Is Solan mad at me?”

“Oh no. He and Alana had left long before you got really hammered.”

“Good. Please don’t say hammered, it just makes the pounding worse.”

“So I guess you’re going to lose that bet with Hercules and Autolycus huh?”

“What bet?” Somehow I could tell it just wasn’t going to be my day.

“You bet them that you would be up and ready to spar with both of them before mid morning.”

“Oh Gods.” I pulled the pillow back over my head.

“So should I just go pay them now?”

“No. I’ll do it. I just need to finish this.” I said giving the cup a slight shake.

There was a knock at our door. “Come in.” Ri called. I listened. Great Theran, just what I needed this morning.

“How you feeling Xena!” She called, much louder than needed, but hey this was Theran.

I brought my head out from under the pillow and tried to stare her into submission. It didn’t work very well these days, but I had to give it a shot.

“That good huh?” Her laughter was as cruel as the sweetness in my wife’s voice. “Well anyhow I brought you a gift.” She came over and sat on the other side of the bed.

Ri started to get up but Theran reached across my body to stop her. “No stay.” There was movement and I flinched as I felt a hand cover my eyes. “Close them Xena.” I did as Theran said. Her hands remained over my face for a moment and then I felt my head being turned. “Open them.”

“Ri…” It was all I could say as her beautiful face came into focus for the first time in almost a season.

———————————————————–

~Departure~

“Please Xe, just for a few moments. I want to talk to her before she leaves.”

She looked down at me, arms crossed firmly against her chest and sighed. “You know I’ll never understand you. You’ve waited so patiently for nearly two seasons for her to leave and now that she’s going you want to talk with her.”

“Un-huh.” I picked at the blanket and cast my eyes down hoping that the pitiful puppy dog face would get me what I wanted. “You’ve said yourself I’m not allowed to get up and I want to talk with her before she goes.”

“You should be resting.”

“And I will I promise, after. Please?”

She groused all the way out of the room. Theran came into the room slowly and approached the bed.

“Have a seat.” I said as I patted the bed.

She took a seat and looked at me with eyes that could no longer see. “Yes Your Majesty?”

“I’ve figured you out you know.”

She smiled. “You have?”

“Un-huh. I know your purpose for being mixed up in Xena’s life, but what I can’t figure out is exactly how Solan fits into the whole thing.”

“Care to enlighten me about how you think I fit into Xena’s life? If you’re right I’ll explain Solan.”

I drew a deep breath and smiled. “You’re Xena’s judge. You decide if she goes to Tartarus or the Fields.”

She cocked her head in a slight nod and smiled. “Very good. When did you figure it out?”

“At Solan’s wedding. When Hades showed up. You two were inseparable. Discussing Xena no doubt.”

“No doubt.”

“Hades can’t judge his own daughter. He had to get someone else to do it. That would be you. Now about Solan…”

“It’s quite simple. Solan has powers, which his mother should have had. However, seeing where she was headed we stripped her of most of them very quickly. She would have been completely unstoppable with those powers. Even your love wouldn’t have been enough. She would have destroyed everything and recreated it in her evil image. So when he was returned, Solan was given those powers. He will some day take his grandfather’s place as Lord of the Underworld.”

“I see.” I swallowed hard with that and decided to press my luck. “Have you decided Xena’s fate?”

“You know I can’t tell you that.”

I sighed. “Is there anything you can tell me?”

“I can tell you that you took a very great chance. Don’t do it again.”

“I won’t. I can’t. You and Xena have seen to that.” I said quietly as I looked over at my twin daughters, lying in their cradle. “Is that why you gave Xena back her sight? Did you know that she would have to take them the same way she took Xenan?”

“Partly. She had also earned it. She is a changed person. Gabrielle, nothing that we have discussed should leave this room. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now Your Majesty, if you will allow me, I shall take my leave of your family.”

“Of course. Theran?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you. For everything, I mean that.”

“I know. You’re welcome Gabrielle.”

She stood and walked out of my room. Out of our lives and some small part of me was actually going to miss her. I rolled onto my side and let my hand drop into the cradle of our daughters. Just a few days old, they were beautiful and they were perfect. I did so want a house full of children and now we had it.

I felt guilty for what I had done to Xena at Solan’s reception, but it was the only way if I wanted more children. Xena’s resolve had just been so strong against it. Getting her good and drunk was the only way I could get her to drop her guard. Oh she had been so mad when she found out what I had done. She even threatened to take up residence in another sleeping chamber. Instead she had Theran remove that particular skill.

Now that they were here and I was recovering all right she seemed to be relaxing. She just sat with me for two days after they were born. Holding my hand and watching them. She never spoke a word. She loved them and she couldn’t deny it. She would sit and stroke their little heads just as she had done with Melosa and Kai. She loved our new additions with every ounce of her soul, no matter what I had done and no matter how mad she had been at me for taking the risk.

The door opened and I rolled over to find her standing there with a tray. “Hungry?” She asked as she came into the room.

“Always.” I said as I slowly sat up. The stitches were pulling a little. I refused to show any discomfort, she’d just rub my nose in it. She gave me that look that said, ‘I know it hurts. Why don’t you just admit it?’ I just wrinkled my nose at her and she smiled and placed the tray very gently across my lap. She sat down on the edge of the bed and took her mug of tea from the tray.

“You know we have to come up with another name?” She said as she sipped her tea.

“Do you have something in mind?” I took a bite of warm nut bread.

“I don’t know Ri. Since they’re twins, something that sounds good with Kessa I guess.

“Xe?”

“Hmm?”

“You still really awfully mad at me?”

She sighed. “For wanting more children, no. For doing it, just a little. For doing it the way you did, yes.”

I lowered my eyes as I felt a tear slip down my cheek. She reached over and wiped it away, then she leaned over and kissed my forehead. “But everyday that you get stronger, it gets weaker. I was just afraid of losing you Ri. How would I manage without you? We’ve worked so hard to make a home and a family, without you it wouldn’t be…complete. Without you I wouldn’t be complete. Two halves of one soul remember?”

“I know.” I watched as she slipped off the bed and down on to the floor next to the cradle to gently stroke our heads of our daughters. “They’re beautiful aren’t they?” I asked as I moved the tray so I could lie down. I took her hand and kissed it.

“They take after you, of course they’re beautiful.” She stroked my cheek and looked so deeply into my eyes I was sure she could see to my very soul. If she could, she would see herself and our children. They were my reason for living. “So about that name. How about Rosa?”

“Kessa and Rosa. I like them. Sounds good with their sister and brother too.”

“It’s quite a brood we’ve got going here Ri. Five children, we are going to be two very busy women for a long time to come.”

“Just the way I wanted it warrior. I just can’t wait until I’m back on my feet.” I sat back up and reached for the warm bread.

“Yeah you and me both. With Solan off on his own now, all of the chores have fallen back to me and chasing Kai around now that he has gotten control of those little legs of his. He may look like you, but he’s got my long legs. And Melosa is just a hand full on her own. She has a wicked sense of timing for one so young.”

“She is so much like you.” I chuckled as I popped a piece of bread into my mouth.

“Un-huh.” She replied dryly as she smiled at me. “That’s reminds me I have a something I want you to do for me.”

“What? Like four children aren’t enough?” I grinned.

“Oh har har. The last two we’re your idea remember? No, I’ve got Marin coming over later she’s going to do a sketch of you for me.”

“Xena I’m a disaster. You can’t do this to me right now.”

“Right now is the perfect time. You’re a captive subject. You have no choice but to submit.”

“Hey I’m still the queen here remember?”

“Only over in the village. Here I give the orders.”

“Oh you do huh?” I arched my eyebrow.

“On this particular subject yes. Now wife, be good and let her do her work when she gets here.”

“But…”

She raised her hand and gave me that tight-lipped little smile of hers. “No arguments Ri. You’re going to do this for me. You owe me, remember.” She nodded toward the cradle. I smiled and agreed.

I liked Marin and she was good company. She was a very talented artist and was very patient with me while I had to tend to Kessa and Rosa. Xena had left us to our own devices because she had to keep and eye on Melosa and Kai. Occasionally from somewhere in the distance I could hear my exasperated warrior calling out to one or the other which was then generally followed by the hysterical giggles from the child in question. I could almost picture her scooping up the little troublemaker and tossing them over her shoulder to carry them back where she wanted them.

It was true, that since Kai had started walking he and Melosa had seemed to devise a game, which they liked to play that involved running in opposite directions to see which one of them Xena would chase first. I think they did it only to makes her do those incredible acrobatics. Which seemed to be required in order to catch them both and haul them back to the house, one under each arm screaming and laughing with every step, knowing full well that they were just going to do it again as soon as she turned her back. Sometimes she turned her back on purpose.

From the front room I could hear her announcing naptime had arrived. Probably more for her own peace of mind rather than the exhaustion of the children. However, this was the one thing they knew to accept and not fuss about. The door opened and our two eldest came romping into the room. Xena stood leaning against the doorframe, looking tired but very content. Melosa very gently climbed up onto the bed and kissed me on the cheek. She held her brother at bay with her foot until she was ready to turn and help him up. “Careful,” She told him as she helped him into the bed. “Mommy’s sore.” She held onto his shirt to make sure his approach was to her liking. I could barely contain the laughter as I watched her protect me from her younger brother’s enthusiasm. So much like Xe.

“Have you two been good today?” I asked as I looked to my warrior while wrapping my arms tightly around my son.

“Yes.” Melosa answered firmly.

“Un-huh.” Xe offered as she rolled her eyes.

“Not giving Momma any trouble?” I asked with a smile.

“None.” She answered again throwing a little look of her own at Xe. She hadn’t learned to arch her eyebrow yet, but she sure could draw them together in the center of her face as she squinted at the warrior with her own determination.

“You little fibber.” Xena muttered from the door as she pushed off with her shoulder and made her way into the room.

Just as she was nearing the bed, Melosa’s arms stretched out, palms up and she said, “Stop!” Xe stopped dead in her tracks and lifted an eyebrow at our oldest. “Mommy’s sore.”

Well that was the final straw. I was lost to the laughter and so was Marin who had been watching the whole exchange from across the room without a word.

“Well then,” Xena said as she reached over and grabbed Melosa by the ankles. “It’s a good thing that I’m not going to do this to her.” She hoisted Melosa upside down and held her there by her ankles. “Now give Mommy a kiss so you can go take your nap you little fibber.”

Between the giggles and the squeals Melosa managed to give me a somewhat sloppy kiss on the cheek. She stopped wiggling long enough to look me in the eye and whisper, “Help.” I could only laugh and wipe the tears from my eyes.

My daughter was just too bright for her own good. Just slightly over four seasons old now she was just beginning to show the depth of her intelligence. She seemed to have a natural talent for many things, including languages. She was not only speaking very well for her age, but she had even managed to pick up some of the language from Chin that Xena had taught her. She was also as agile as Xena and that showed as she curled her torso and grabbed Xe’s arm and pulled herself almost upright, kissing Xena on the nose one her way up.

“Eeewww…” Xena teased as she wiped the tip of her nose and threw Melosa over her shoulder. “Kai give Mommy a kiss so you can go take your nap.”

Kai leaned up and gave me a kiss and turned around to reach out for Xena. She scooped him up and he turned around and waved at me. “Night Mommy.” He said as he leaned against Xena’s shoulder. He really was tired and ready for his nap. Melosa on the other hand was still squirming furiously against Xe’s shoulder.

“Hold still you little fibber.” Xena gave her a soft smack on the backside.

“Am not.” She argued.

“Are too.” Xena said as she turned to leave the room.

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

The argument continued into the next room. I’m not sure who exactly won that one considering that the warrior had been reduced to arguing in two words sentences.

“Is it like that around here all the time?” Marin asked as she wiped the tears from her eyes and began sketching again.

“Pretty much. Melosa is cut from the same cloth as Xena. It’s going to be a real battle of wills when she gets older.”

“Seems like it’s getting there now.”

“Yeah, but Melosa’s still small enough that Xena still has the upper hand. I don’t know what she’s going to do as she gets bigger.”

“You have my sympathy Your Majesty.” She said with a grin.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way and neither would Xena. She just likes to grouch around a lot.”

“I heard that!” Came a reply from the other room.

“Good! Because you know it’s true!” I called back.

She reappeared in the doorway. “Yeah I guess it is.” She had her medical kit in her hands and I knew what was coming.

“Oh do you have to do that right now?”

“Yup.” She sat down next to me and opened my robe just enough to look at the stitches.

“Well how does it look?”

“It’s okay.” She said as she applied some salve to the cut.

“Is there going to be a big scar?”

She cocked that damned brow at me again. “A little late to worry about that don’tcha think?”

“Well I was just curious. Do you mind? I just wondered if it was going to show that’s all.”

“Depends on what you’re wearing, yeah you’re going to have a small scar. The one scar that you should be proud of.” She gave me a smile as she covered the cut with a bandage. “It’s still bleeding just a little. I want you to lay down and rest now. You’ve had far more activity today than you should have.”

“What? I haven’t done anything.”

“Don’t argue with me.” She said firmly and she closed up her kit and reached across and placed it on the chest near the wall. She turned and placed her arms under me and lowered me down into the bed, giving me a long soft kiss as she did. “Rest.” She moved back and brushed the hair back from my face. “I love you wife.” She whispered.

“I love you too.” I could feel my eyes falling shut. How did she do that? How did she know?

“I have many skills.” Was the last thing I heard before falling into a deep slumber.

————————————————————-

~Time Enough At Last~

Gabrielle sat on the steps of the porch, holding onto Kai for dear life and Rosa and Kessa played together in the pen I had constructed for them. Melosa on the other hand stood with her arms crossed and tapped her foot impatiently as I walked across the yard with the pony in tow behind me.

“Ready Princess?” I ask as I tied the reigns to the post on the porch and knelt down to my daughter who at the moment looked really perturbed at me.

“Silly question.” She said as she did a pretty fair imitation of raising her eyebrow.

“Okay that’s fair. I guess I’ve kept you waiting long enough. Come on.” I lifted her up and settled her in the saddle. I adjusted the stirrups and placed her feet in them. “When you ride, make sure your foot never goes in further than this.”

She looked at her feet and I showed her the proper position of her foot. “Why?” It was a fair question.

“Because if it does you could get tangled and not be able to get off. You could end up getting drug by your horse if you fall off.”

“That,” She paused as she considered her foot. “Would be bad.” She finished, as she looked me square in the eye.

“Yes it would.” I chuckled.

“Umm…Xe…could I talk to you?” Gabrielle cleared her throat a little as she called me over.

“Don’t move.” I patted Melosa on the knee and went to Gabrielle and knelt in front of her. “Yes my love.”

“Do you really need to do this now? I mean,” She threw a nervous glance at our eldest perched on top of her pony. “Couldn’t we put this off until she’s say… twenty?”

“No dear. I told you all the children were going to learn to ride and this is the perfect age. Besides she’ll be starting her lessons and her training soon too. She won’t have as much time for me.”

My wife laid a gentle hand on my cheek. “She’ll always have time for you warrior. Besides she’s not quite five yet. There’s plenty of time.”

“Not when it comes to our kids Ri. What if Theran hadn’t given me my sight back? I wouldn’t be able to do this at all.”

She sighed and nodded. I kissed the palm of her hand and turned back to my daughter who watched us with her arms crossed against her chest.

“Finished?” She asked as I stood and returned to her. Ri was right she acted more and more like me everyday. Gods help us. Two of me running around in the world and one of us had a really bad attitude.

“Watch it young lady. I can’t still turn you over me knee.”

She dropped her head. “Yes ma’am.” She lifted her head and looked at me. “I’m sorry.”

“Apologize to your mother.”

She turned to Gabrielle and dropped her head again. She could always look me in the eye and apologize without blinking, but when she had to look at Gabrielle she never failed to tear up. She drew a ragged little breath and looked up. “I’m…I’m…sorry Momma.” She sniffed, waiting for Gabrielle to respond.

Gabrielle nodded and gave her a smile. “It’s okay. I know you’re excited about riding today. Just mind your manners.”

“Yes ma’am.” She said as a single tear slipped down her cheek. I leaned over and brushed it away with my thumb. She turned and smiled at me.

“Ready to ride Princess?” I untied the reigns and placed them in her hands. I still had full control over the animal with the rope lead attached to the bridle.

“Yes ma’am.” She said with renewed excitement as she held the reigns in her own hands for the first time. I put a little slack in the reigns before the pony revolted. She watched everything I did and I knew that she would only have to be shown a couple of times before she would naturally start performing these tasks of her own accord.

“Not too tight on the reigns Melosa. If you pull too hard you’ll hurt him. You have to be gentle, but firm with him okay?”

“Gentle, but firm…” She repeated as she concentrated on the position of her hands.

I looked over at Ri, who now also had a smile on her face. Kai had wiggled loose and was headed for us.

Melosa wasn’t having any of that. “Kai no.” She said very firmly. It stopped him in his tracks and he stood there staring at his sister. “You could get hurt. Stay back. You’re not old enough yet.”

Kai looked to me and I picked him up and gave him a hug. “She’s right buddy. You’re a little too small yet. For riding anyhow, nothing says you can’t pet him.”

I held Kai close to the pony and let him scratch the and pat it on the neck. “Horse?” He asked as he looked to me.

“Pony.” I told him.

“Pony.” He repeated.

“Very good. Pony.”

“Pony.”

“My pony.” Melosa added.

Oh this had the potential to get ugly. It was time to get my girl riding before she started a war with her brother over her pony. I handed Kai back to Ri and Melosa and I started off into the yard. Gradually I let the lead out as I walked the animal in circles around the yard. I watched Melosa very carefully. Some people are born to ride, some aren’t. It would seem that Melosa had taken after me with this as well. She seated well and seemed to have a natural balance. I was almost as excited as she was. My little girl was going to be a natural on a horse.

I awoke early in the morning. Not that I was surprised by that fact. What did surprise me was that I seemed to be sharing my bed with an octopus. I’m pretty sure it was her roaming hands that had woken me.

“Umm…good morning Ri.”

“Un-huh.” She began kissing my shoulder and had soon moved to my neck. I started to put my arms around her only to have them pinned at my sides as she crawled on top of me and kissed the hollow of my throat. “Don’t touch.” She growled.

Within moments she had us both as bare as the day we were born. She remained on top of and sat up looking at me as her hands continued roaming over my body.

“Ri…” My words were cut off by her kiss. Long, loving and passionate. I was finally allowed to wrap my arms around her. I could feel her need. Mine was growing just as rapidly as she sucked and nipped at my neck. “Ri…honey…” I ran my hands up and down her back regretting the next words I was going to say. “We…can’t…”

“Why?” She moaned in my ear. “It’s been so long…”

The covers had been pushed to just below my waist. As I made my last stroke down her back I took them in hand and waited. “I know honey…but…” Oh Gods this felt so good. “We’re…about…to…” I quickly pulled the covers over us as the door to our room opened. “Have company.”

She collapsed into me and ducked under the covers as Melosa came over to the bed and rested her arms and head on the mattress, staring at me with a grin that was half mine, half Ri’s and completely mischievous.

I hadn’t brought the covers over us because we were unclothed. Being amazon, Melosa had always been around naked women. I had done it because I knew being ‘caught’ would embarrass Ri. I was right. I could feel her shaking with silent giggles as I looked over at Melosa.

“Watcha’ doin’?” She asked.

“Just waking up. What did I tell you about knocking first?”

She looked back at the door and then back to me. “I’m sorry. Is Momma under there?”

“Yes she is.” I got a poke in the ribs.

“Why is she all covered up?”

“I’m not sure at this point.” Another poke in the ribs as Ri brought her head out from under the covers and rested it on my shoulder to face Melosa.

“Good morning Momma.” This was a truly evil child.

“Good morning sweetie. Do you need something?”

“No.”

I chuckled silently as I heard Ri sigh. “Then why have you disturbed us?” Ri’s voice was firm.

“Umm…Aunt Ephiny is here. She says she needs you.”

A deep breath and then a frustrated little moan from my wife. “Tell her I’ll be right out.”

“Yes ma’am.” She leaned up and kissed Ri on the cheek and then kissed me on the nose.

“Eeewww…” I said as she winked at me and ran from the room, pulling the door shut behind her.

“She’s coming Aunt Eph.” I heard her say as the door closed.

She sat up as I started to say something incredibly crass. “Not a damn word warrior.” She growled. I grinned. “Oh this had better be important.” She grumbled as she got out of bed and got dressed. She turned and looked at me. “Aren’t you going to get up?”

“Mel said Eph needed to see you not me.”

“Oh no. If I have to get up so do you.”

“Why?”

“Because if you don’t I’ll send in six of my best warrior’s to drag you out of that bed.”

“Better send more than six.” I said as I stretched out and placed my hands behind my head.

“Yeah well I’ll just bet Ep and Solari would just love the opportunity to tell stories about…”

“I’m up. I’m up.” I said as I got out of bed and grabbed a tunic and a pair of trousers from the chest at the foot of the bed. As I finished dressing she wrapped her arms around my waist.

“Can we finish this conversation later?” She purred.

“Of course my love.”

She pulled my head down for one last kiss. It began growing in intensity. I had to break away before Eph was completely forgotten. She managed to give my bottom lip a light nip before grumbling something about strangling the Regent and stalking out the door.

Melosa and I were in the barn tending to our horses when Ri came in. She stood leaning against the wall of the stall where the pony was kept. She watched as Melosa brushed the pony. She looked over at me as I brushed Argo and as our eyes met she just shook her head and smiled.

“Melosa?” I said never taking my eyes off Ri.

“Yes ma’am.”

“I think he’s had enough for today. Why don’t you go back to the house and get cleaned up.”

“Yes ma’am.” Melosa put all her things away and gave Ri a kiss on the way out. Ri watched from the door until Melosa made it to the house. Then she pulled the door shut and turned to face me.

I could see it in her face. I decided to play with her just a little and I began tossing fresh straw in Argo’s stall. “Yes dear? Something I can do for you?”

I felt her arm around my waist and then we fell into the pile of straw. “You do know the penalty for denying the Queen, warrior?”

“But Your Majesty I’ve denied you nothing…”

“You talk to much.” She brought her lips to mine hard enough to bruise. She pulled my tunic from my trousers. I was half undressed when Solari’s voice cut through the air.

“Xena? Where are you?”

Ri rolled away from me with a loud groan. I managed to get myself dressed and sitting up in the straw as the door to the barn opened. Solari came in as I stood and crossed the distance between us. I had no desire for her to hear the frustrated whimpers of her Queen.

“Are you ready? She asked as she glanced over my shoulder.

“Ready? Ready for what?”

“The training session for the first season warrior’s.”

“Oh gee Sol I forgot. Let me go change, I’ll meet you on the training field.”

“Okay.” Sol paused and turned away pulling me with her. “Is she okay?”

“She’s fine.”

“Oh yeah I’m great.” Ri growled as she got up and stalked out past us.

“Are you…”

“She’s fine. We’re just having a little trouble finding time for each other right now.”

“Hey if you don’t want to…”

“No, no it’s part of my duties. I’ll be there in a little bit.”

Training went much longer than we expected. By the time I got back to the house the sun was going down and my family was sitting down for the evening meal. I stopped on the porch and took my boots off. They were caked in mud and I didn’t want to endure the wrath of ‘Cook’ and Karra, the two amazons who kept our house running smoothly when Ri and I were busy. They were both older women chosen to serve as nannies for the children. In addition they preformed other duties for us to keep everything in order.

I opened the door taking once last glance over my shoulder at the storm rolling in. It was going to be ugly. Karra met me and took my boots, handing me a pair of heavy wool covers for my bare feet.

“Everyone else is waiting for you. Now get washed up and get in there to your family.”

“Yes ma’am.” I grinned. I loved Karra. She reminded me a lot of my own mother and was not the least bit shy about throwing her considerable weight around.

I joined my family at the table. I took a deep breath as the tired in my body finally started to settle in. Another tough little bunch of warrior’s, Ri should be proud. ‘Cook’ brought my meal out and poured my tea as I looked around the table. Melosa picked at her vegetables as usual, trying to figure some way to get rid of them without actually eating them. Kai was just getting the hang of a spoon and he had more food on his face than he did in his mouth. Ri has Kessa in her arms and was feeding her soft food. I started to get up to get Rosa, but Ri just motioned for me to sit back down.

“She’s already been fed and is in bed Xe. She running a little fever.” I started to get up again. “Sit down and eat. She’s fine. I think it’s her teeth more that anything. She going to have problems with them just like Melosa did.”

“Did what?” Melosa perked up at the mention of her name.

“You had tough little gums. Your teeth were afraid to come through.” I said as I reached over and took a carrot off her plate holding it out to her.

She looked at me, looked at the carrot and then looked back at me. “You first.” She said as she crossed her arms.

I took the carrot and popped it in my mouth. She relented and began eating the carrots on her plate.

“So how was training?” Ri asked as she spooned more food into Kessa.

“It was good. A small group, that always helps. They’re going to be just fine.”

“Glad to hear it. So do you have any plans for tomorrow?”

“Umm…well yeah.” I didn’t even want to look at her. “Ep and I have to go over to the centaur village and pick up those supplies we traded the grain for.” I finally looked up she just gave me a knowing nod and continued to feed the baby.

“Can I go?” Melosa was out of her chair and had her arms wrapped around me. “Please?”

“Well I don’t care if it’s okay with your momma.”

“Please Momma. Can I go?” She asked as she ran to the other end of the table.

“Get down there and finish every last bite of your dinner and you may go.” Ri said with a smile as she caressed Melosa’s cheek.

“Yes ma’am.” Mel returned to her seat and began eating so fast I was afraid she would choke.

“Hey we’re not going ’til morning. You can slow down. Take your time.”

“Yes ma’am.” She replied her mouth so full I could barely understand her.

With the evening meal complete. We settled into our routine. I sharpened weapons and cleaned my armor as Ri told the children a story. The advantages to have a bard for a mother. I don’t think Mel had ever heard the same story twice. I turned my sword over in my hands. It was nice to have it back. Ep had taken really good care of it, but now it was back where it truly belonged. Almost as soon as my vision had been returned Ep had made it quite clear that she wanted me to take back my position as Ri’s champion. She said she just didn’t feel right holding on to it when I was perfectly capable. Truth be told, I was glad to accept.

I looked up. Kai was sound asleep in his mother’s arms and Melosa was very close to asleep with her head resting on Ri’s leg. Ri continued with her story, even though she knew most of her audience was asleep. I saw in her face a contentment that I never would have believed possible, but there it was. This woman was truly and utterly happy. She cradled Kai to her as she stroked Melosa’s hair and quietly finished the story.

I put my sword away and stood to get Melosa. As I picked her up I could tell she was really out. She was dead weight and such a big girl now. This was not the baby my wife held in her arms so long ago as I watched them from my spot on the floor. I hefted her into my shoulder and took her to her room. I tucked her into bed and gave her a soft kiss on the forehead. I checked her sisters and then quietly left the room, closing the door behind me.

Ri was coming back in from putting Kai down for the night. As she wrapped her arms around me and we made our way back to the fireplace the storm began to rage outside.

We settled onto the floor in front of the fire, with wine and the storm, the mood had never been more perfect.

Perfect that was until one of the babies woke up. I sighed and went into the room. Rosa was sitting up reaching out for me. My guess would have been that between going to bed early, not feeling well and the storm. She had taken just about all she could stand. I tried to get her back down, but she just held onto me and I finally gave it up and carried her back out into the main room. When I sat down next to Ri, Rosa reached for her immediately. Ri took her and cradled her close whispering comforting words to her. We ended up in bed with her between us. She finally settled down and went to sleep cradled in the crook of Ri’s arm. I watched them in the candlelight as Ri drifted off. I could only smile knowing my poor wife was suffering and all I could do was try to find the time.

Ep and Melosa were off doing some trading with the centaurs while Tyldus and I loaded the wagon.

“How are things for you my friend?” He asked as he passed me a crate.

“Over all things are great, but if Ri and I don’t get some time alone soon, she’s just going to explode.”

“Hmm…that could be interesting. I’ll watch for it.” He said with a chuckle as he handed me another crate. “I should be able to see the roof come off your house from here.”

“You know if you can’t offer a constructive idea don’t say anything at all.”

“Actually I can. Come with me.”

On the trip home Ep drove the wagon with Melosa riding next to her and I rode. We were coming close to Solan’s house and I needed to see my son for a few moments.

“Ep can you take Mel home and tell Ri I stopped to see Solan and that I’ll be home as soon as possible.”

“Sure.”

“Mother can I go to Solan’s?”

“Not this trip sweetie. Next time. Be good for Aunt Ep.”

“Yes ma’am.” She said with a defeated little tone.

“Well don’t act so disappointed.” Ep said to Mel as they headed back toward the house. “Or I won’t tell you what’s in that bag by your feet…”

After seeing Solan I headed home. I felt good and hoped I would be able keep my little secret from Ri until morning. As I made my way from the stables she met me half way.

“How’s Solan?” She wrapped her arm around me as we continued to the house.

“Oh he’s fine. I stopped to see how the corral was coming. Tyldus is going to have a few horses for him soon and I wanted to make sure he had everything ready.”

“And does he?”

“Of course he does he’s our son.”

The next morning I was up early and had Argo saddled and ready to go. When I got back to the house I filled ‘Cook’ and Karra in on my plans. They agreed and took complete charge of the house. If all had gone well, Ep would have told Ephiny the night before. Since I hadn’t heard from her I took it as a good sign.

I went into our room and sat down on the edge of the bed. She still slept and I hated to wake her, but it would be worth it. “Ri, honey wake up.”

“Noooo.” She pulled the blankets over her head.

“Sweetheart I have a surprise for you, but you have to get up.”

“Surprise?”

“Un-huh.”

I leaned down and pulled her up behind me. All our good-byes were said. Solan had agreed to come over and take care of the more demanding chores. Now all we had to do was just ride away. I could feel her looking back at the children as we rode away from our family for the first time since Melosa had been born. I caressed her arms. “They’ll be fine.” I said as I tightened my hold on her.

“I know.” She settled in behind me. “Now are you going to tell me where we’re going?”

“Nope.” I heard her growl. I just smiled.

As we approached our destination I reigned Argo and helped her down. I dismounted and took her hands into mine. “You trust me right?” I asked as I pulled out a blindfold.

“After all these season? You still have to ask?” She turned her back to me and allowed me to put the blindfold on.

I guided her to our destination and pulled the cover back. Tyldus had been good to his word. The cave had everything we would need, from firewood to food supplies. In the back of the cave a warm spring ran into a pool. A bed of thick furs had been made near the fire pit and everything was perfect. I lit a torch and let the cover fall back into place.

“Xe come on now…”

“Patience my love patience.” I took her to the bed and sat her down. She ran her hands over the soft furs and smiled. I started a fire and then turned and knelt between her legs. I took the blind fold off and let her get a look at our temporary home.

“When did you do all this?” She said as she wrapped her arms around me.

“Actually I had some help.

She took my face in her hands and gave me a soft kiss. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I held her in my arms the next morning, stroking her back and enjoying the sensation that ran through the both of us. This place had been perfect and just what we needed. She began stirring and nuzzled into my shoulder with a long content sigh. “Happy my love?” I asked as I place a soft kiss on her forehead.

“Oh yeah, so very, very happy. This was wonderful Xe. Thank you.”

“Anything for you my love.”

“You know what this reminds me of?”

“What?”

“Being on the road. Making love whenever and wherever we wanted. No responsibilities to anyone but ourselves.”

“Seems like a lifetime ago doesn’t it?”

“It does. You know what?” She looked into my eyes as she caressed my face.

“What?”

“I’m ready to go home.”

“Argo’s already saddled.” I smiled at her and gave her a light kiss.

—————————————————-

~Explanations~

I sat in counsel chambers staring out the window. While these women sat here and talked of war and tactics my warrior and my friends were actually out there doing it. A warlord threatened our western boarders some six moons ago. We had tried everything possible to reason with him. He was bound and determined he would decimate the amazons and sell us off as slaves to the highest bidder.

The decision was finally made to go to war with him to protect the nation. This had been our first real conflict with anyone since we had come to stay at the village. The first time I had to watch her ride away for the protection of the amazons. She told me one night that peace couldn’t last forever and that we should be grateful for the time that we had been given.

Xena had ridden out with the first troops and I hadn’t seen her since. She would send word as often as possible, mostly with the returning wounded troops, but it had been almost three weeks now and I hadn’t heard from her. Ephiny remained in the village with me for the most part, but occasionally she would ride out to check on the troops. I think she did it more often than not to try and find word of Xena for me. Her last two trips had been unsuccessful and I was really beginning to worry.

Before leaving, Xena had moved us back to the village. She told me she would feel better knowing we were there instead at the house with just a handful of guards. I didn’t want to leave our home, but I knew she was right. We moved back into the house she had built after Melosa was born. Just walking through the door brought back so many memories. Some so good and others that would have my heart breaking again if I dwelled on them too long, especially now that my wife was so far from home.

Both Melosa and Kai had celebrated birthdays while Xena was gone and Kessa and Rosa would be doing the same soon. I hoped that she would be home in time for the first season celebration of the twins. The children, Melosa especially missed her so very much. From time to time I would find Melosa off on her own looking out a window with a sad look on her face, but when I asked her about it she would always take a deep breath and deny anything was wrong. So much like Xe.

“Your Majesty…” The voice brought me back. I turned to the counsel member to my left. “If there is nothing else I believe we can adjourn for today.”

“Umm…yes that’s fine I have nothing else. You may adjourn us.”

The meeting was brought to and end and the counsel filed out. I turned back to the window…

She was dressed in her full armor. Prepared to leave. I stood there fighting the urge to beg her to stay. I knew it wouldn’t do any good. She was to lead the troops with Ep and Sol as her captains. She turned to me. Rosa was in my arms fussy and crying. She came to me and whispered, “Help me out of my armor.” For just a moment I thought she had changed her mind. I handed her the baby and she cradled her carefully until she was out of her armor and then she took her to our room and lay down on the bed with her. She rubbed Rosa’s stomach and hummed a soft lullaby until the baby couldn’t fight the sleep that was settling in.

I watched the bittersweet smiled that played on her lips as she watched the baby rub her eyes to fight sleep.

She watched every movement Rosa made. I knew what she was doing. She was committing them to her memory as if they would me the last thing she would ever see one of her children do. I watched as her jaw clenched and unclenched as she fought hard for the control of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her.

Rosa’s hands continued to rub her eyes as she fought to stay awake, but slowly every so slowly they stopped and fell away from her little face. Xena ran her hand gently over her head and kissed her on the forehead. Her lips lingered there for just a moment. I knew that kiss. That was a good-bye kiss.

“I love you my little Princess. Remember me.” She whispered as she got up from the bed and placed a blanket over the baby.

She turned back to me and we went back into the main room. She cleared her throat and turned to face me. “Help me into my armor My Queen?”

“It would be my honor My Warrior.” I slid the breast plate into place and she gathered me up in her arms and just held me there as she closed her eyes and rubbed her cheek against the top of my head and inhaled deeply. “You promise me…” I said softly.

“I promise.” She said as she leaned in and gave me a gentle kiss.

She lifted my face with her hand gently under my chin until our eyes met. “And now your promise to me wife.”

I nodded weakly. “I…I…promise.”

She kissed me again and then she turned on her heals and walked toward the door. She stopped and without looking back. “I love you Gabrielle.”

“I love you Xena.”

She never looked back, knowing that when we made our promises our eyes were dry, but when we said our ‘I love you’ they weren’t. We refused to have those as our last visions of each other. Our promises were complete. Her promise to return and my promise to go on living if she didn’t. That was all that mattered to her.

Solan had volunteered to serve as well, but Xena quelled those plans the moment she found out that Alana was pregnant. Instead he stayed behind and served as an assistant to Adrin with the treatment of the returning wounded. She told him that if she didn’t return he would have two families to care for and made him promise that if all were lost he would do his best to help get everyone to safety before the village fell. I remember watching them say good-bye. They started with a traditional warrior parting of clasping forearms, however it ended in a hug that neither wanted to relinquish.

I left the counsel room and headed for the house. Melosa sat on the steps. Her first Amazon staff in her hands. She sat there with her head down tapping the ground with the end of the staff. I sat down next to her and slipped my arm around her shoulder.

“What’s up?” I gave her a little squeeze.

“I miss her.” She said softly.

“So do I honey.”

“How long will she be gone?”

“I don’t know. I do know that she’ll be home just as soon as she can.”

“Is it wrong for me to be mad at her?”

I drew a deep breath and considered the question. “No. No it’s not wrong, but do you understand why she went?”

“I think so. She wanted to fight the warlord.”

“No honey it was much more than that. Much more.”

“That’s not what Reena said during lessons today.”

“What did she say?”

“She…she…she said that the only reason Mother went is because that’s all she knows. How to fight and kill.” Her voice cracked and the tears began to run slowly down her cheeks.

“You know that’s not true.”

“I tried to tell her that, but all the other kids…” She just stopped and dropped her head into my lap and began crying.

I rubbed her back and swallowed all the words of wisdom that had been poised on the tip of my tongue. Xe and I were afraid this day would come. Some people just wouldn’t let the past die no matter how many times we thought it was behind us. I just sat there comforting my daughter as best I could and reassuring her that everything would be all right. We would talk later, now it was just time for her to cry.

Kai came out of the house happily munching on an apple until he saw his sister. He came over and put his hand on her shoulder and looked at me.

“Mel’s sad?” He asked as he tried to see her face.

“Yes she is honey.”

“Why?”

“She misses your Mother.”

“Me too.” He said with a slight quiver of his lip. I expected him to start crying too, but he looked back to his sister and patted her shoulder. “It’s okay. Want some apple?” He offered her the fruit. She looked up at him and shook her head. “It’s really good apple. Make you feel better. Please Mel.”

I smiled at his compassion for his sister. She sat up and wiped her eyes and took a bite of his apple. She smiled and then gave him a hug. “Thanks.” She said as she swallowed the apple.

“Welcome. Feel better?”

“Yeah I feel better.”

“Told ya.” He grinned at her as her took another bite. “Can we see your pony?”

Melosa looked to me. I wiped the remaining tears from her face. “Go ahead.”

With that they were both off to the stables. Melosa even decided to stop and wait up for her brother this time.

Solan came out of Adrin’s temporary infirmary and made his way over to me. He smiled as he took a seat on the steps next to me. He nudged me with his shoulder. “Guess who sent a message home?”

“What? Oh Solan what did she say?” I asked as I squeezed his hand.

“That she is well and hopes to be home very soon.” He extracted his hand from my grip and put his arm around me. Now it was my turn to cry. He just put his arms around me and let me cry into his shoulder. It was the first relief I had felt in weeks. “Yeah this was my reaction too.” He admitted quietly. “Things are going well. They have apparently finally beaten back Ergard’s men.”

“What of Ergard?”

“He’s dead.”

“Did she…” I couldn’t ask it.

“Yes.” He said quietly as he gave me another hug. “Apparently she did. She met him in combat a few days ago as I understand it.”

I knew Xena. She would have given him a chance to surrender. If he had refused she would have been left with only one option and the protection of the village was at stake. It would have been too dangerous to allow him to live otherwise. He would have been back.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of children fighting. Solan and I took off across the village to the stables to find Melosa squared of against Reena. Melosa had Kai behind her and was holding her staff in a defensive pose.

“Leave him alone!” Melosa yelled at the other girl.

I started forward, but Solan stopped me. “No Mom let’s see how this plays out. If we have to we’ll stop them before they hurt each other. This had to happen. It’s been building between them for a long time.”

“He doesn’t belong here!” Reena shouted back. She banged her own staff into the ground to accent her point.

Amazon children began training with staffs around the age of five. Mostly just to prepare then for much more difficult weapons later, but they also knew they were not toys and they weren’t to be taken or treated lightly. It was rare for a fight to come to blows with staffs between young ones. The thought of losing training privileges was enough to keep it from happening, most of the time. I was beginning to wonder as I watched Melosa twist her staff in her hands. I could see Xena’s tempter flaring here, but she took a deep breath before speaking.

“Yes he does. He’s my brother.” Melosa relaxed a little. Kai peeked over her shoulder and stuck his tongue out at Reena.

“You little brat!” Reena shouted at Kai and charged. Melosa took another deep breath, put her arm out and brushed Kai further back and side stepped. Reena went charging by them and stumbled forward into the dirt.

Solan and I stepped forward. It was time to break this up. Solan took charge of his siblings and I helped Reena up.

“Reena I think you should go home now.” I said softly as I brushed her off. The look the child gave me told me that she came from a family that was not one of my biggest supporters. Still she was amazon and she would follow my suggestion only because I was queen. She pulled away from me and started towards her home.

I turned to my own children. They stood one on either side of Solan, who was trying to contain his grin. They had their heads down and where waiting.

“Melosa.”

She took and deep breath and looked at me. “Yes Momma.”

“Thank you for defending your brother.”

“I had too.”

“I know and you did it very well. I’m very proud of you.”

She smiled at me and took Solan’s hand. Kai on the other hand knew he was in trouble and already had tears falling down his cheeks.

“Kai.”

He looked up at me. “Yes ma’am?”

“What you did was not only rude, but it was dangerous. Reena is much bigger than you are; she could have hurt you. Now go back to the house and stay there the rest of the day.”

“Yes Momma.”

“I’ll take him.” Solan said as he picked his brother up and walked away.

Melosa stepped forward and took my hand. “Can we take a walk?” She asked as she leaned into my legs and gave me a hug.

“Sure. Where do you want to go?”

“Can we go to the river? We haven’t been there since Mother left.”

We walked down to the river hand in hand. I could tell it was time for that talk. I had hoped Melosa would be a little older, but if it had to happen now then so be it. I let her choose where we would stop. She picked the big tree that she and Xena always sat under during their many trips to the river. She sat down and faced me, crossing her legs and resting her head on her fists as I settled back against the tree.

“Have something on your mind honey?” I brushed her hair from her forehead. She needed a haircut.

“Why did Reena say those mean things about Mother?”

“Well sweetheart, a very long time ago, your mother was a different person. She was a warlord.”

“You mean like the man she went to fight?”

“Yes.”

“She hurt people? She really killed people?”

I looked her in the eye. “Yes.” I said softly.

“Then Reena was right.” I could see Melosa’s image of Xena crumbling before my very eyes as tears welled up in her eyes. She wrapped her arms around herself and began shaking.

I pulled her onto my lap and wrapped my arms around her to comfort her. “No little one Reena wasn’t right. Your Mother is person that you know. That Xena, the one from so long ago doesn’t exist anymore and never did for you. Your Mother is the person that you love, the person that you’ve been missing.”

“But she did do all those things. All those bad things.”

“Yes. Yes she did a very long time ago. Now she only fights to protect our home and us. Melosa you’re always going to hear stories of your Mother. Some will be good and some will be bad. What’s important is what you choose to believe. You have to weigh the stories against the woman that you know and love. Theses people who say these things don’t know her like we do. They don’t see her playing on the floor with you and your brother and sisters. They don’t see her making you eat your vegetables…”

She chuckled. “I could live without that part.”

I hugged her close and kissed the top of her head. “I bet you could, but she only does that because she loves you.”

“I know. When is she coming home? I miss her.”

“I don’t know honey but let’s pray to Artemis that it is soon. Now dear don’t you have lessons you should be attending? Math I believe.”

“Uggg.” She said as she buried her head in my shoulder.

For the first time in as many weeks sleep came easy to me. I settled into bed knowing at this very moment she could be on her way home. I watched the stars from our sleeping chamber window. “It’s a bear.” I said softly as I drifted off to sleep.

It was a glorious dream. I was wrapped tightly in her arms as we slept curled up around each other. I could feel her heart beating with mine, feel her breath on my neck. I could feel a soft breeze coming in through the window blowing across the bed, but I was warm and safe in my warrior’s arms. This dream was so wonderful as I felt myself awaking I didn’t want it to end. I tried to put myself back to sleep so that I wouldn’t lose the wonderful sensations. I rolled over and opened my eyes. This was no dream. She was home and here in our bed with me.

“Xena!” I yelped as I bolted upright in bed and jumped on top of her leaning over and kissing my warrior awake.

I felt her arms wrap around me as she kissed me back through the smile on her face. “Good morning.” She said as I sat up and looked down at her. Tears slipped down my cheeks as I caressed her face and leaned in and kissed her again.

“Oh Gods I’m so glad you’re home!”

“Me too.” She sighed as she held me close.

I sat back up and gave her a slap on the shoulder. “You rat! Why didn’t you wake me?”

“You looked so peaceful. I didn’t want to disturb you. Besides I was exhausted and grumpy. I figured that a few hours of sleep would be good.”

“You,” I said between little kisses all over her face. “Are…still…a…rat.”

There is no way to describe the joy in my heart as I fell into her arms and shared kisses that wouldn’t end. It was in the middle of one of those kisses that someone knocked on the door. I sat up and smiled and covered Xena’s mouth. I motioned for her to be quiet and made her get out of bed. I put her behind the door and then I reached over and opened it. Melosa stood there, rubbing her eyes. Still about half asleep she just walked over to my bed and crawled in. This had become a ritual for us in Xena’s absence. She would come sleep with me for about another candle mark or so until it was time to get up. I motioned for Xe to stay in the corner for a moment. She smiled at me and nodded.

I went back to the bed and lay down with Melosa. She curled up next to me and started to fall back to sleep. “I miss her.” She mumbled as she snuggled into me.

Xe had moved quietly over to the bed and knelt down next to the side of the bed. “Miss who Princess?”

Her eyes flew open and she bolted upright. “Mother!” She jumped up and threw her arms around Xe’s neck knocking them both backward onto the floor. They were both laughing and crying at the same time as Melosa showered her mother with kisses and hugs. “I’ve missed you!”

“And I’ve missed you, but I’m home now.” Xe picked them both up off the floor. She tossed Melosa down on the bed and climbed in with us. She pulled us both close and the three of us just lay there together for another half a candle mark. We were all content just to be together.

I stood on the porch watching. I don’t know why I continued to torture myself like this. Every time Xe put Melosa on that damn pony my heart wanted to stop. We had been home only a few days and I just wanted her to relax and rest her leg. She had received a pretty nasty wound in her thigh and I knew she needed to rest the leg.

She, however, didn’t see it my way and told me that during her time away from home it was the thoughts of getting back into the routine at home that made it all bearable for her. She said she had never felt anything like it before. Even after the worst of the battles, thoughts of Melosa on her pony, Kai running away so she would chase him and the twins giggling as she tickled their stomachs would bring her comfort that she had never known before.

So now there they were out in the yard. Melosa handled the pony on her own now, no lead rope giving Xe control. Melosa followed her instructions as she called them out.

“Slow him up a little.” Xe called to her.

Then it happened. Something spooked the pony and he jerked sideways sending Melosa to the ground. I started off the porch as Xena limped over to her. Before either of us made it, she picked herself up and slapped the ground. “Son of a Bacchae!” She yelled as she got up and brushed the dirt off her pants.

I stood next to Xe and crossed my arms, looking over to my wife who just cleared her throat nervously. “Where do you suppose she picked that up? Hmmm…” I asked as Xe fidgeted nervously with a sly grin on her face.

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know. I’ve been away for awhile you know.”

“Fix this and fast, very fast warrior.”

“Um yeah…” She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek before heading over to Melosa. “Sweetheart we need to talk.”

————————————————-

~Framed~

I picked up the stringer of fish and held it out to Melosa who just looked at it and wrinkled her nose. “What am I suppose to do with that?” She asked.

“Tie it to the back of your saddle.”

“Oh no. I’m not riding home with smelly old fish tied to the back of my new saddle.”

“Might I remind you young lady that I made that saddle for you and I put that ring back there for just such an occasion.”

“Oh I knew there had to be a catch.” She said as she took the fish and held them at arm’s length as she made her way to her pony.

Ep and Solari managed to contain their giggles as they looked back and forth at each other as I picked up my gear. “So long and thanks for all the fish, well my friends it’s been a wonderful day.”

“Oh yeah for you!” Sol growled. “You caught every fish in the river.”

“You can’t catch a fish without being willing to get wet.”

“I refuse to believe that punching them in the face is a better method than using a pole and a line.” Sol continued.

“Yeah well I’m taking home dinner for my family tonight. How are you doing? Hmmm?”

“Yeah why don’t you just go home to your family there…Grandma.” Ep said as I was walking past her.

Funny, I don’t remember my arm thrusting out and pushing her into the river, but apparently it did. The next thing I heard was a splash and a few rather nasty comments about my heritage as I made my way over to Argo and stowed my gear.

“Damn it Xena that water is cold!” She yelled as she drug herself back up on the bank.

I mounted Argo and turned her around to see my friend removing her top to wring it out. “Next time think before you speak there Ep. You never know who’s gonna be behind you.”

Melosa giggled as she climbed up on her pony and we headed back to the house. “That really was mean.” She said as we rode home.

“Yeah well. I’m sure she’ll get over it.”

“I doubt it. I’ll bet she’s gonna get you back.”

“She can try.” I chuckled.

“I’m sure she will.”

As Melosa and I headed for the house from the barn I noticed Solan’s wagon parked at the side of the house. I grinned at Melosa who just smiled at me and rolled her eyes. “He hopeless.” She said as we continued on.

“No he’s a new father and he’s just a little scared. I was the same way with you. It took me three days before I would even hold you. I was afraid I’d hurt you.”

She smiled and me and took my hand. She carried the stringer of fish in the other hand. “You know these things really stink. How can ‘Cook’ make them taste so good?”

“She’s very talented.”

“Yes she is.”

“Make sure you take those through the side door. Your mother will have both our hides if you take them through the house.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She took the fish around to the side of the house and I went in the front door. As I went in I could hear Solan talking with Ri. Our granddaughter was being quite verbal at the moment, but began to quiet as I went in.

“I can’t get her to eat. She won’t sleep. I don’t know what to do.” He said as he passed the baby to Ri.

“You did the best thing you could right there.” I said as I shut the door behind me.

“Oh Mom hi.” He said as he dropped into a chair at the table.

Ri managed to get the baby to stop fussing as I crossed over to her. Without a word she pointed to the bathing chamber. I dropped my head and went to take a bath. She had a long-standing rule about getting close to me after I had been out all day. I remember a time when she wanted to be near me no matter what condition I was in. The domestic life was not necessarily all it was cracked up to be.

I settled into a hot tub of water and closed my eyes. The door opened and I turned my head to find Melosa coming through the door. “Thanks.” She growled as she started to get undressed.

“Whaaat??”

“Because of your old smelly fish I have to have a bath too.” She said as she tested the water.

“You ever think you might need a bath because YOU STINK.” I said as I put my face close to hers and rested my forehead on hers.

“I only STINK because of YOUR fish.” She replied.

“Get in the tub.” I leaned back against the tub to give her room.

“It’s too hot.”

“It is not.”

“Is too.”

“Is not.”

“Melosa get in the tub!” This was the voice of our Queen giving her command through the door.

“Yes ma’am.” She called back as she eased into her side of the tub. “It’s still too hot.” She whispered at me.

“Is not.” I whispered back.

“Don’t make me come in there you two!”

“Yes ma’am.” We called in unison.

Freshly bathed and dressed Melosa and I were allowed to rejoin society on the whole. I poured a cup of wine and settled at the table with Solan as Gabrielle managed to get the baby to take a bladder of warmed milk. Poor Solan looked exhausted. “Son why don’t you go into Kai’s room and go to bed. We’ll take care of her for you.” I said as I patted his arm.

“Like you two don’t have your hands full already.” He said with a yawn.

“Exactly. What’s one more?” Ri said as she cradled the baby. “Your mom and Melosa can help me. Go get some sleep.”

He drew a deep breath and nodded. “Maybe I should. I swear if Alana doesn’t get home from hunting soon I’m going to go insane.” He said as he got up and headed off to his bother’s room. A few moments later Kai came out clutching his soft bear with a terrified look on his face. He kept looking back at the door and back at Ri.

“What’s the matter honey?” Ri asked as he climbed up on my lap.

“Solan say you told him to nap.”

“I did.” Ri answered.

“But he’s big.” Kai looked to me with wide eyes.

“Yes, but she’s the Queen.” I said.

“More importantly I’m the Momma.” Ri said with a grin. “I’ll always be able to make you take a nap.”

He looked at me again. “It’s true.” I said as I kissed him on the forehead. “She has that power.”

“Does she make you?”

“She makes me go to bed all the time.” I winked at Ri.

“Xena! I swear by the Gods. It’s no wonder Melosa has a mouth like a Roman soldier.”

“What are you gonna do? Make me take a nap?” I teased as I wiggled my eyebrows at her.

“Yeah in a room completely separate from mine if you don’t behave. What has gotten into you today?”

“She pushed Aunt Ep in the river today too.” Melosa ratted me out from her spot in front of the fire where she had been such a nice quiet child until that very moment.

“Xe why did you push Ep in the river?” She finished feeding the baby and began rubbing her back.

“She called me a dirty name in front of Melosa.”

“Not until after you pushed her in…” Mel piped up.

“Would you be quiet.” I called over my shoulder to my daughter who was now giggling uncontrollably on the floor. “Go over there and annoy your sister.” I put Kai down and gave him a swat on his backside. I got up and went to Ri and the baby. “Let me have her.”

“Why so you can teach her to be rotten too?”

“Yup.” I said as I took my granddaughter in my arms. “Hello beautiful.”

“So what did Ep call you?”

“She used the ‘g’ word.”

“Ohhh. I see. Because one of my best warrior’s stated the obvious you pushed her in the river?”

“Umm-hmm and I’ll do it again.” I put the baby over my shoulder and continued to rub her back as I walked back and forth with her. “Come on I know it’s in there.” She gave me a little burp and I brought her back into a cradling position.

She was three moons old now and absolutely beautiful. Solan and Alana had named her after Gabrielle. Alana insisted that her first daughter should be named after the Queen of the Amazons. Ri pretended to be embarrassed, but she loved the fact that our first grandchild was named for her. Truth be told it made me pretty happy too.

“ACCKK…” The cry brought me out of my thoughts and focus from the baby. I looked over and found Mel had her brother pinned to the floor and was menacing over him.

“Take it back!” She warned him.

“Nope.” He giggled. “It’s true.”

“It is not! Take it back!”

Ri moved to them and merely stood over them with her arms crossed. Mel looked up and smiled that great big ‘Oh boy I’m in trouble now’ smile. Kai just giggled harder.

“Let him up.” Ri said very calmly.

“Yes ma’am.” She begrudgingly as she rolled off her brother. Kai sat up and turned around to face Ri.

“And you young man why were you teasing your sister?”

“Mommy told me too.”

Ri looked back at me. My mouth moved, but nothing came out. She turned back to Kai. “Leave your sister alone.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She turned on me. I skirted around her and headed for the nursery. “I’m going to put the baby down.”

“You do that. Without waking the other two if you don’t mind and then you come right back out here.”

“Yes ma’am.” I said quietly.

As we settled down for the evening meal Solan looked a little more rested. Little Gabrielle slept peacefully in the cradle next to her father as he ate. Kessa tried her best to squirm away from me as I fed her, while Rosa sat like a perfect little princess on Ri’s lap and ate her meal as it was fed to her. Kai and Mel battled silently as they always did, back and forth across the table mostly with looks and little gestures they had made up between them. I wasn’t sure what some of them meant, but I had a pretty good idea and Ri wouldn’t be happy if she ever figured them out.

I looked at each one of them. Just watched them. My family. MY family. I never saw myself with children after losing Solan the first time. Now we had five and our first grandchild. Sometimes it all happens so fast you just have to stop and really look at them and take them in to make sure it’s all real. A very contented little sigh left my lips as Kessa fed me a piece of her fish.

“Hey you. You’re suppose to eat that.” I chuckled as I picked off a small piece of fish and offered it to her.

She refused with a shaking of her head. “No.” She said defiantly. Then came the face. Okay we were gonna have to go a different route with this tonight. I looked over to Mel who had a little smirk on her face.

“You want to try?” I asked offering her, her sister.

“Sure.” She took the baby who settled right down and began eating for her sister.

“I don’t believe this.” I mumbled.

With the evening meal over and all the children tucked in and sound asleep we finally had time for some adult conversation in the house. Solan and I sat and talked quietly at the table while Ri finished up a few pieces of village business she had set aside until now.

“I brought it with me.” He whispered and winked.

“Good. Where is it?”

“It’s out in the wagon. The frame came out beautifully.”

“I hoped it would. I wish I could have given it to her when it was done.”

“She’s going to love it. Besides you were a little preoccupied with that whole war thing.” He grinned.

“You’re as bad as your mother.”

“Do you want me to go get it?”

“Yeah.”

Solan looked over my shoulder at Ri who still didn’t seem to be paying any attention to us and he slipped out the front door.

“So what are you two up to?” She asked. I turned around. She sat up and turned to me. “So?”

“What makes you think we’re up to something?”

“I’m reading warrior, not deaf. When you two start whispering, you’re up to something.”

“Come here.” She stood up and I met her half way across the room.

I wrapped my arms around her and turned her towards the fireplace standing behind her with my arms around her waist. “I thought the mantle needed a little something.”

She cocked her head and considered the stone fireplace before her. The mantle had always had little things on it and Ri constantly kept fresh flowers on it. “What’s wrong with the mantle?”

“It’s missing…something.” I said with a soft kiss to her neck.

“And I suppose you think you know what that is? I swear Xe if you bought some old shield or something that you think I’m going to let you hang over the fireplace…”

Her words were cut off as Solan came back in the door carrying the covered item. It was easily the width of his extended arms and a little more that half my body length. It could be a shield I mused silently. Romans had wide, long shields.

“Okay where do you want it?”

“Can you get it up on the mantle?”

“If you come over here and help me.” He grumbled.

“Okay, okay. Ri close your eyes and keep them closed.”

“Xena…”

“Do you want to know what it is or not?”

She closed her eyes and I went over to Solan. We removed the cover and placed it up on the mantle. Solan winked at me and went quietly to the room he was currently sharing with his brother and daughter. I went back to Ri and put my arms back around her. “Can I look now?” She asked as she tipped her head back and smiled, her eyes still closed.

“Promise to give it a chance and not be mad?”

“It is an old shield or something isn’t it?”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Okay you can look.”

She turned her head and I felt her legs go weak as she gasped just a little. It was the reaction I had hoped for. “Xe it’s beautiful! Absolutely beautiful! When…?” She walked over to the fireplace to examine the portrait of our family that I had meant to be a gift to her almost a season and a half ago after Kessa and Rosa were born. Of course between the time that it took for it to be started and completed, I was called away. When I returned I started on the frame which was grueling to do because it had the pattern of my armor on the side rails and Gabrielle’s royal seal and pattern on the top and bottom rails. The frame alone had taken almost a half season.

The portrait was of Ri and I and the children. Solan was too busy building his home for Alana to be sketched for it, but we had talked about it and he wasn’t upset. He actually thought that it was a sweet and wonderful portrait the way that it was. Marin however had gotten another job when he saw it after Gabrielle was born. He had her do Alana and baby.

Marin was truly a magnificent artist. She had managed to sketch us all at different time in different places yet put us all together in a family portrait. She had place Ri in a chair, her legs stretched out and her body turned slightly to the right. She was holding Kessa and Rosa. Kessa was sound asleep and Rosa was looking adorable as ever. Melosa stood next to her mother’s chair looking to Ri and the girls. Marin had even managed to capture the fact that Mel stood on the side of her feet at the age. As for me, she has placed Kai in my arms, standing to Ri’s left in profile. It was a wonderful portrait. I was so very pleased with it and I hoped Ri would be as well.

I stepped forward and placed my hands on her shoulders. “Do you like it?” It came out barely a whisper.

She turned around, tears in her eyes and caressed my cheek. “Of course I do. It’s beautiful. It’s a memory in a frame Xe. It’s wonderful.” She gave me a soft kiss with trembling lips and turned back around to look at the portrait again. I pulled her into my arms and held her as she fingered the bottom of the frame. “This must have taken weeks.”

“Well I had hoped to give it to you a long time ago, but a war got in my way.”

“I’m glad you waited. I’m glad you got to give it to me.”

“So am I.”

She lay on top of me as I stroked my fingertips up and down her back. She lifted her head and looked into my eyes. “How is it after all these seasons you still managed to surprise me?”

“Surprise you? Ri we’ve done this a thousand times. I figured there were very few surprises left.”

“Not this.” She gave me a playful slap on the arm as she rolled next to me and pulled the sheet up over us and propped herself up on her elbow, her head resting on her hand as her other hand gently rubbed my stomach. “The portrait.”

“Oh. Well I just thought we should have something in the house that was a part of all of us.”

“You know I think you’re becoming just a little bit of a romantic.”

“Shh…don’t let that get out.”

“You’re secret is safe with me.”

“I knew it would be.” I took her in my arms and kissed her as we began making love again.

——————————————————————–

~The Party~

I went into our bedchamber and looked at the lump under the blankets. She was completely covered, even her head. I sighed and sat the tray on the desk. Then I took a seat on the bed.

“You gonna get up today?” I asked the lump.

“No.” It growled back.

“Xe this is ridiculous. It’s your birthday and all of our friends will be here for the party tonight…”

“I know, that’s why I’m staying in bed.”

“Come on Xe…” I tried to pull the blankets back, but she held them firmly in place. “Okay you leave me no choice. I told you I’d send in my best warriors.” I said as I stood and crossed the room laying my hand on the handle.

“Make sure you send six of your best.”

“Oh I only need four.” I pulled the door open and turned loose my four best warriors. Melosa was more than happy to lead the charge. She was the first one to jump on the lump in the middle of the bed, doing a pretty fair imitation of Xe’s battle cry as she did. Kai was hot on her heals and in the center of the bed with her tugging on the blankets as the lump groaned and tried her best to stay covered up. I guided Kessa and Rosa over and let them stand along the edge of the bed and get their two dinars worth in too.

“NOT FAIR!” The lump yelled.

“All’s fair in love and war, warrior. You should know that.” I said from my position o the floor with Kessa and Rosa. Who were both having a ball trying to pry the blankets away.

Melosa threw herself to the lump’s top and said, “And we LOVE you.”

“Do not!” The lump growled.

“Do too.” Mel giggled as she pulled the blanket down from Xe’s head.

“Whose side are you on here anyway?” Xe asked as she turned to face Melosa. “You little traitor.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

Mel leaned in and kissed Xe on the nose.

“Eeewww…” She said as she pulled the blanket back up over her head. “I’m gonna die!”

“Are not!” Mel yelled a little indignantly.

“Am too.” The lump gave a muffled reply.

Kai had it figured out and he crawled to the bottom of the bed and flung the covers from said lump’s feet.

“Hey! No damn fair!” She yelled as she curled up and tried to recover her feet.

“Watch your language warrior.” I warned with a laugh.

“Aww come on Ri call them off!”

“You promise to get up and be an active member of this family today?”

“Yeah, yeah I promise.”

“Okay. All right you guys give it up. She’s going to be good and get up now.”

Kai and Mel dutifully climbed of the bed and plopped down on the floor next to me and waited just in case their services were required again. Xena kicked the blankets back over her feet, but she uncovered her head. “It’s my birthday. Shouldn’t I be allowed to do what I want?”

“Would you like a little cheese with that whine?” I asked with a grin.

“Oh har har. Come on Ri. Be nice. How often do I stay in bed?”

“How often do you turn f…”

“DO NOT SAY THAT WORD!” She growled as she pulled the blanket back over her head.

“Okay, okay I’m sorry I won’t say it and we’ll declare all references to your age off limits today. Will that make you feel better?”

“Much.” She said as she brought the blanket back down.

I grinned at her. My big, bad warrior was having a mid-life crisis. This had to be one for the scrolls. That secret set I kept to record these very rare moments in her life. I didn’t have many of them, but the stories in them were good ones. The first time we kissed, the first time we made love, the day she proposed. All very note worthy, but things I would be killed for if she knew they existed. The mere thought of this story being added just made me love her more. I took a deep breath and cleared my throat.

“All right everyone out.” I looked Xe directly in the eye. “She’s going to eat and then she’s going to get up. Right?”

“Right.” She mumbled.

Melosa took charge of her brother and sisters and took them from the room leaving us alone. I stood and went to the tray. “Now sit up and eat this before it gets as old as you are.”

“ALL RIGHT THAT DOES IT! I’M STAYING IN BED!”

“Xe I was only joking I’m sorry. Come on sweetheart…”

“No more jokes?”

“No more jokes I promise. Come on.”

She sat up and I placed the tray on her lap. She looked at me like the food was poisoned. I sat down and took a bite of the eggs. “They’re fine. See. I’m not trying to do you in.”

“You don’t have too, my own body is doing it. Do you know what I found yesterday?” She said as she sipped her tea.

“What?”

“A gray hair.”

“That’s nothing to be upset about you’ve had those for a long time.”

She rolled her eyes and let her head drop against the wall. “Oh Gods!” She groaned.

“Hey I think it sexy.” I said as I brushed her hair back taking in the sight of the very few gray hair that were starting to streak my warrior’s hair. There was a time in our lives when I never thought I would live to see the day.

“Right. Sexy. Sure. Face it Ri I am getting old.” She said, seeming almost sad.

I took her face between my hands and made her look at me. “Yeah ain’t it great?”

“Great? You call getting old great. You have a warped sense of great.”

“You go out there and tell those kids it isn’t great. You go out there and tell your oldest daughter who worships the ground you walk on or your youngest son who watches every move you make, that it’s not great.”

She smiled at me. “You always know the right thing to say don’t you?”

“Not always, but with you mostly yes.”

As evening settled in on us our friends and family began arriving. I immediately took Epinon and Solari aside and told them to behave. They gave me their word that they would be good. I knew full well that it was only good for as long as they were sober, but I figured by that time Xe wouldn’t be in any condition to care either.

Ephiny and I sat on the porch with Kessa and Rosa watching as the yard became a festival ground. Hercules and Iolus helped various amazons set up tables and light torches. Salmoneus helped ‘Cook’ and Karra prepare the food. Autolycus chased Kai around the yard trying to keep him out of everyone’s way. Kai however just managed to keep the thief running in circles and thereby keeping them both in the way. Off in the distance I watched Xe with Melosa perched on her shoulders, walking with Cyrene.

The creaking of Solan’s wagon was such a normal sound now I didn’t even really pay any attention to it any more. The one thing I did pay attention to was the wailing of my granddaughter. Eph took Rosa and played with her as well as I made my way around the house to find my son and daughter, with my granddaughter climbing out of the wagon.

“Did you torture her all the way here?” I asked as I stepped forward and took her from Alana.

“I swear to you mother she was quiet until we got here.” Alana protested. ” I think she just does that to make you think we’re mistreating her.”

“They are aren’t they sweetheart?” I said as I cradled my granddaughter. ” Yes you just tell grandma all about it. Come on.” I took they baby and left Solan and Alana to unload their things. As I took my seat next to Eph the baby began to quiet down; she sat in my lap sucking her thumb, mesmerized by the goings on in the yard. Kessa and Rosa suddenly found an interest in trying to play with their niece.

This was interesting to say the least. Xe and I still very much in our prime, no matter how Xe was feeling today, our youngest two being just shy of two seasons old and now our first granddaughter was just shy of her first birthday. I smiled at the baby and gave her a kiss on her little head.

“So how is Xena doing tonight?” Eph asked as the kids played back and forth between us.

“Oh she’s gonna be okay. She just likes to complain a lot. She’ll be fine once the party is over and this day is done. She’s always hated her birthday and generally we keep them quiet, but when Cyrene spilled the beans about this one I just couldn’t resist a party. Mainly because it’s the first time I’ve actually known which birthday we were suppose to ignore today.”

“This is probably the one that you should have ignored.” She said with a chuckle as she gave me a nudge.

“Yeah well I’ve never been very good at ignoring the things I should.” I smiled at her and nudged back.

Melosa came tearing through the yard and bounded up the steps skidding to a halt long enough to give me a kiss on the cheek. “Momma wants her sword. Can you get it so I can take it to her? She says it’s in the cabinet in your room.”

“Gods Gabrielle she gonna through herself on her sword.” Eph teased as I handed little Gabrielle to Melosa.

“Somehow I doubt it.” I replied as I went inside. I returned to the porch and handed the sword and scabbard to Melosa retrieving the baby as I did. The blade was heavy and almost as long as she was tall, but she cradled it in her arms and managed it very well. “Be careful and walk back to her with it. If I find out you tried to run with it I’ll turn you over my knee.”

“Yes ma’am.” She very carefully walked away with the sword.

It wasn’t long before the sound of metal clashing against metal could be heard ringing through the air. I cocked my head and listened. I knew the tone of her blade. “She’s sparring with two people. My guess would be…Ep.” I listened for a moment longer. “And Hercules I think.”

“Let’s go see shall we?” Eph asked as she scooped the twins up.

We walked to the clearing at the side of the house. All of our family and friends stood in a circle watching. Sure enough in the middle of the circle the three of them sparred back and forth. Herc and Ep against Xena, I watched her twirl her sword as she moved in a circle try to keep them both in sight. Eph handed Kessa to Autolycus.

“Aw Zeus’ bolts. What am I suppose to do with her?” He asked as he looked down at Kai who was wrapped firmly around his leg.

“If you give her a hug she’ll hug you back.” I said to him with a grin.

He looked at Kessa and smiled and brought her up for a little hug. She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him back and gave him a kiss on the cheek. For just a moment I thought I saw the thief blush. Then Kessa became far to interested in his mustache.

“Owww…” He grimaced as she grabbed at his mustache. Cyrene came over and relieved the thief of the baby.

“Come on sweetheart. Come to grandma. Uncle Auto has had enough.”

“Thanks Cyrene. I owe you.” He said as he trudged of towards the casks of wine with Kai still wrapped around his leg.

“My son is going to grow up the be a thief I just know it.” I mumbled as I watched them together. Other than Xena and I there was no one in the world that Kai loved as much as he seemed to love Autolycus. Every time he came to visit we practically had to peel the boy off of him. Autolycus never complained and he would actually spend most of his time carrying Kai around on some part of his body.

I turned back to the sparring match. Of course Xena and Hercules were evenly matched and Ep was almost as good as Xena, together they might actually stand a chance of defeating her. I looked down at my granddaughter who had some how managed to fall asleep even with all the noise around her.

By the time I had put the baby down and changed into a long robe for the party I could hear that it had already started. I stepped back out on the porch and looked out into the yard. Tyldus had arrived with a few of the men from the centaur village. Melosa sat perched on his back as he and Xena discussed something or the other. Autolycus and Iolus where sitting on a long bench, drinking and drawing something in the dirt with sticks. Salmoneus and Cyrene where at a table with a group of amazons eating and laughing. All in all it looked like everyone was having a good time.

I stepped out into the yard and joined the party. Hercules came over and handed me a cup of wine. “Everyone’s having a great time Gabrielle. Thanks for inviting us.”

“Thanks for coming. We haven’t had a chance to get everyone together like this in a long time. I couldn’t think of a better reason.”

“Neither can I. Is she really f…”

“Don’t say it!” I warned him. “If she hears you it’ll take me another three candle marks to get her back out of bed.” I realized that didn’t come out quite right and I could feel myself blush. “I didn’t say that right.” I grinned.

“It’s okay I know what you meant…I think. So she’s not happy about it huh?”

“Well she never expected to make it. I think it’s shock to her system more than anything.”

“You two are very lucky.”

“You don’t need to tell me that. I look out in this yard and I see everything I ever really wanted. It’s amazing that sometimes people never know what they need until they have it. In all the years we were on the road, all the things we went through I never thought this was possible. Now that I have it I wouldn’t want anything else. I don’t need anything else.”

“No regrets?”

“Not if changing even the smallest thing would keep me from this.”

He put his arm around me and gave me a gentle hug. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks.”

Her voice cut in from behind us. “Hey buddy that’s my wife you’ve got your arm around.”

He turned us to face her, never taking his arm from my shoulder. “Yeah and what are you going to do about it.” He teased.

“Want your butt kicked again do ya’?” She said grinning as she approached and stood toe to toe, nose to nose with him.

“You and what army?”

“I don’t need an army for you.”

“No I guess you probably don’t.” He conceded and removed his arm, taking my hand and placing it in Xe’s he gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. “Congratulations my friend.”

He smiled at me, winked and left us alone.

She pulled me into her arms. “You know what?”

“What?”

“This is great.” She smiled that broad smile I loved so very much. This was definitely one for those scrolls.

—————————————————–

~In The Dog House~ 2/16/99

I was cold, wet, hungry and tired. The storm had blown up unexpectedly and I hadn’t really been prepared. I had brought a cloak with me only because Ri had insisted and then packed it without my knowledge. Thank the Gods for Gabrielle. I had been riding in a driving rain for the last two candle marks, but all I knew was that I had to make it home tonight. I wanted to sleep in my own bed damn it!

I had been way for a moon, treaty negotiations on the southern boarder. It was a simple matter really. You don’t attack us and I won’t have to kill you. Once that was settled things went pretty quickly.

I pulled my cloak tighter around my neck as I made for the house after making sure poor Argo was put away. I promised her a good brushing in the morning as I left the barn. I hated to admit it but it was time to retire my faithful mare. Well she’d enjoy getting fat and lazy out in the back pasture after everything I had put her through.

The squirming under my cloak serve to remind me of the newest arrival to our family, he was cold, wet, hungry and tired too. I put my hand on the handle and pushed on the door. Locked. I felt defeated and just dropped my head against the door and stood there. I should have known it was going to be locked. It was the middle of the night for Zeus’ sake and I was already three days late.

I walked around to the side of the house and checked the window to our bedchamber. I didn’t want to wake the whole house if I didn’t have to. It was latched shut against the storm. I took my boot dagger out and slid it in the crack and flipped the latch. This could be a challenge, getting in the window without hurting my new little friend. I was going to have to hoist us both up. I tucked him this way and that and realized it wasn’t going to work. I decided as cramped as he might be for a few moments it would be worth it and I stuck him in a pouch on my waist. He protested, but at this point he didn’t seem to care either.

I pushed the shutters open slightly and pulled myself up and half way in. The solid connection of the staff against my back brought me the rest of the way into the room as I slid onto the floor. “Ri don’t!” I yelled as I looked up and saw her preparing to take another swing.

“Xena! Have you lost your mind?!” She yelled as she dropped her staff and stepped over me to re-latch the shutter. She knelt down and helped me to my feet. “What in the world were you thinking I could have killed you?”

“I didn’t want to wake the kids.” I said as I got to my feet and tried to twist the knot out of my back, just so expertly put there by my wife.

She quickly lit a lamp and turned to me. “Gods Xe you’re soaked.” She said as she took my cloak and tossed it into a corner. She began stripping me of my clothes without another word.

“I missed you.” I chuckled.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I missed you too.” She said without missing a beat as she pulled me over to the fire and continued to remove my clothing. “You’ll catch cold if we don’t get you out of these wet clothes.” She did take the time to stop and give me a kiss at least. She tugged on my belt and I remembered.

“Wait!” I got in the pouch and took him out and held him up by the scruff of the neck. “What do you think?” I asked as I showed her the tiny all black puppy.

She looked as the puppy and back at me. “A dog? Xena you brought home a dog?” My wet clothes seemed to be forgotten as she stared at him.

“It’s a puppy. For Kai.”

“It’s a dog.”

I cradled him close to me and scratched him behind the ear and was reward with a little sneeze. “He’s cold, wet and hungry too.” I said with a grin.

“What am I gonna do with you?” She narrowed in on the puppy. “Both of you.”

“Well you could help us get warm, dry and not so hungry.”

“Tell you what warrior. You handle the warm and dry part and I’ll go take care of the hungry part.”

“Oh that’s the best offer we’ve had all day.”

“Yeah I’ll just bet it is.” She said as she gave me a kiss. She got a little puppy kiss on the cheek. “A dog.” She mumbled as she left the room.

When she returned we were both lying by the fire, I was in a warm dry robe and the pup was laid out on his back enjoying the scratching to his belly. She brought the tray over and settled onto the floor with us. The pup twisted around, sat up and started sniffing the air. “Yeah it smells good doesn’t it boy?” I said as I took a little piece of meat and gave it to him. He lay down with it and chewed on it. I took a piece of the meat and popped it in my mouth. “Hmmm, I love you wife.” I said as I savored the venison.

“Does it have a name?” She asked as she eyed the pup.

“Not yet. I told you he’s for Kai.” I poured a cup of wine and handed it to Ri and then poured one for myself.

“Sure it is.” She sipped her wine and settled back against me. “Xena why did you bring a dog home?”

“Well sweetheart. I stopped by a small village on the way home today and I just found him sitting there in the middle of the road. People were rushing past him and he came real close to getting trampled by a couple of horses…”

“So what you’re trying to tell me is he’s not very smart either.”

“He was just too scared to move. Ri he was gonna die.” I said softly. “I couldn’t just leave him there.”

She sighed and looked up at me and shook her head. “Alright, but I swear the first sign of trouble and you’re both out. Got it.”

“I hear you. You just wait ’til Kai sees him. It’ll all be worth it.

“If you say so.” She looked up and caressed my cheek. “I really have missed you. You’re late. I was getting worried.”

“I know.” I kissed her. ” I’m sorry. Those people in Darenth can just be the most stubborn, pig headed bunch I have ever met in my life.”

“Why do you think we sent you? How did you finally settle it?”

“I threatened them.”

“Xe! The purpose was to keep us out of a war.”

“Oh they wouldn’t dare. Not now anyway.” I chuckled as I took another piece of meat and gave the pup a little more as well. ” How are the kids?”

“They’re fine. Mel’s still having trouble with Reena. We had to break up another fight between them.”

“What is it with those two?”

“They just really don’t like each other. Tyldus said that Kai could start lessons over in the village if we’d like. Kessa had a cold while you were gone which she proceeded to give to the entire family.”

“Oh I’m glad I missed that.”

“Yeah I just bet you are. I had all four of them down at the same time. If it hadn’t been for ‘Cook’ and Karra I don’t know what I would have done.”

“Is everyone okay now?”

“Yeah, but ‘Cook’ has it now so we’re cooking for ourselves for the time being.”

“We’ll manage.” I could feel my body starting to relax and my eyelids were getting heavy. “Ri I’m…”

“Yeah I know.” I felt her get up and help me to my feet.

The next sensation was the soft warmth of our bed and the blankets being pulled up around me. I heard her moving around the room and then she slipped into bed next to me. I pulled her close.

“Thank you!” He yelled as he pounced on top of me, waking me out of a very sound sleep.

I opened a bleary eye to find my son sitting on top of me with the puppy clutched to his chest. The pup squirmed up and began licking every part of Kai’s face he could find. My son began to tumble backward and I had to sit up quickly and catch them both before they fell off the bed. “You’re welcome.” I said as I eased them to the floor and them ran my hands through my hair and across my face in an effort to get more awake. I sat there in the bed for a moment trying to clear the cobwebs and get focused.

Ri came in with my morning tea and handed me the mug as she sat on the bed and sipped from her own mug. “Sleep well?” She asked with a grin.

“Yeah what there was of it was good.” I sipped my tea.

“The back pasture’s flooded.”

“Great.” I mumbled. “I’m not surprised. That was some storm.” I rubbed my eyes with the palm of my hand trying to get the sleep out of them.

Kai giggled as his puppy nipped at his chin. “Stop it.” He commanded through the giggles. The pup listened about as well as my son. I looked to Ri and grinned, lifting my eyebrow.

“Okay you were right he needed a pup.” She whispered at me. “But I mean it warrior. The first time I have any problems with him I’m throwing you all out. You can go live in the barn with Argo.”

“Ohhh Argo.” I groaned.

“What about Argo?”

“It was so late and I was so tired I didn’t brush her out or anything. I just took her tack off and put her in a stall. She’s probably not speaking to me.”

“Yes she is. I went out this morning and took care of her. I gave a bag of sweet oats and she has all but forgiven you.”

“Thank you. I’ve decided to retire her. I’m going over to Solan’s later to see what he has in stock.”

“Can I go?” Kai asked as he squirmed around to his knees on the floor beside the bed.

“I don’t care, but you know who has final say. You may want to suck up to her.” I said as I tilted my head towards his mother.

“Mother?”

“And what are you going to do with the puppy while you’re gone?”

“Oh yeah…” The realization came to him.

“Oh yeah. If you can figure out what you’re going to do with him while your gone…”

“We could take him with us.”

“Yeah.” My wife turned on me. “You could take him with you.”

“Alright you can both go.” I said as I got out of bed and towered over my wife “Happy?”

“Perfectly.” She smiled at me.

I leaned on the corral fence and watched as he brought the horse over. Kai and his pup played off in the distance, but well within the range of my hearing.

“So what do you think?” Solan said as I went in to inspect the horse.

“Good looking animal.”

“Should be he’s Argo’s grandson.” He said with a smile. “Hey if you can do it why not Argo?”

“Where is my granddaughter anyhow?”

“Alana took her to the village today to see her other grandmother’s. She does have others you know.”

“No really?” I asked with mock indignation. “How much?” I patted the horse.

“Mother this is Argo’s grandson if you want him take him.”

“No now Solan this is your business. This is how you take care of your family. How much?”

“Well I was asking two hundred dinars for him.”

“Two hundred dinars?! For a horse?”

“Not just any horse…”

“Argo’s grandson.” We said in unison.

“Maybe I should send your mother over here to talk you down.”

“I’d end up paying you to take him. Not much profit there.” He chuckled. “One fifty.”

“Sold. I’m assuming he’s as well trained as his grandmother.”

“No horse is as well trained as his grandmother, but he’s got the basics and he’s got potential.”

Kai held onto the pup for dear life as I held onto him and we headed for home with Argo’s grandson in tow behind us. Argo kept looking back and talking to him. I think she was giving him tips on how to handle me.

“You know riding with a puppy isn’t easy.” He said as his little companion tried to squirm free from his grasp.

“Yeah well you should be me trying to hold on to the both of you.”

“We have faith in you Mom.” He giggled.

“You know you’re getting more and more like your sister everyday.”

“I am not.” He said defiantly. “She’s a pain.”

“Oh she is huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay if you say so.”

“I do.”

I took his words seriously because I could feel his body tense as he spoke them. We had a bad case of sibling rivalry headed our way. I couldn’t really blame him. He was the only boy in a house full of females, his mother was Queen of the Amazons and his sisters were all Princesses of the nation. I reminded myself that my son and I should spend a little more time alone together and starting classes over in the centaur village would probably be best for him as well he needed other boys and men to interact with. No wonder he enjoyed it when Autolycus visited.

“I love you Kai.”

“I love you too Mom.”

“XENA!!!” I cringed when I heard that come from the house.

I looked at my new horse. “That can’t be good for any of us.” I said to him as I put him in his stall next to his grandmother. I closed him in and started for the house. “Wish me luck.” I said to them as I closed the bard door.

I went directly to the house, but didn’t have long to wait to find out what the problem was. Standing on the porch, one muddy son, one muddy puppy and one pissed off wife. I couldn’t help but laugh, which didn’t get me any points with the wife.

“Think it’s funny do you?” She said as she crossed her arms.

“I can see a certain amount of humor here, yes.” I said as I continued on toward the porch.

“I’m glad you’re amused warrior. Take these two mud balls with feet and get them cleaned up. They just brought most of it into the house.”

“Well for Zeus’ sake Ri what do you expect after that storm last night?” I said with another laugh as I turned around and let Kai climb aboard for a trip to the well. I turned back around and retrieved the pup.

“That’s one.” Ri warned as we headed for the well.

“What’s that mean Mom? That’s one…” Kai asked as I piggy backed him to the well.

“Umm I’m not sure, but it can’t be good.

By the time we got around to the evening meal she had calmed down considerably. It probably didn’t hurt that I stayed busy out in the back pasture trying to figure out a new irrigation system and Kai chose to play in his room with the puppy. Mel was spending a few days in the village with her staff instructors in preparation for her first ceremonial sparring match. She had quite a bit of time before the match, but she was determined to train for it. The twins were still small enough that together, Ri and Karra could handle them with no problem.

I sat at my place at the end of the table and waited for her to say something, anything. She was calmer, but she still wasn’t happy. Apparently Kai and the yet to be named puppy had managed to track half the mud in Greece into the house. I just decided it was best to eat and wait for her. That was when I noticed it out of the corner of my eye. Oh the boy didn’t do what I thought. I watched him and then I sat back and looked under the table, un-huh, one puppy eating a spoonful of vegetables. Oh this had disaster written ALL over it.

“Kai.” I said softly. He looked to me and I shook my head. He sighed. Ri looked at me, looked at Kai and then looked under the table. My head dropped.

She looked at me, held up two fingers and mouthed, “That’s two.” I nodded. Then I got up and retrieved the puppy. Even Kai knew better than to protest. I put the puppy in our room and closed the door. I hoped he would go in, lay down by the fire and go to sleep.

Retaking my seat at the table I looked to my wife. She smiled her approval and I felt the tension in the air ease a bit. At least we’d get through this meal in one piece. It was after dinner that things went horribly wrong for my son and I. Ri and I had put the twins to bed and Kai and I played on the floor while Ri prepared to finish village business.

“Now where did I put that treaty?” She mumbled aloud as she ruffled the parchment on her desk. She got up and moved to our room and pushed the door open.

I can’t describe the noises I heard next and since I’ve been in such hot water lately for my language I won’t bother to repeat anything that came out of Ri’s mouth at that moment. I scrambled to my feet and skidded to a halt behind her in the doorway. One wouldn’t think that such a small puppy could do so much damage, but it was probably the shredded parchments that really sent her over the edge. They were in little pieces all over the room. I just KNEW this was three. It was probably four, five and six too.

I looked back at Kai who now had the pup that had escaped to room the second Ri had opened to the door. I turned back to my wife. I had never actually seen that shade of red before and that vein in the center of her forehead was QUITE visible at the moment. Now was a good time to duck and run. I wondered, as I scooped up the boy and the dog, if Tyldus would be able to see the roof come off the house.

“What?” Kai asked as we made for the front door.

“Your mother needs some space. We’re giving it to her.”

We ended up in the barn. One warrior, one son, one dog and two horses. Argo was laughing at me I just knew it. I looked over to her. She nodded her head and blew her lips at me. “Oh thanks pal.” I said as I sat down in the straw. Kai came over and sat down between my legs with the pup.

“So how long are we going to stay out here?” He asked as he played with the dog I was now considering making into stew.

“Until it’s safe.” I said remembering back on a time when I had paid the price for more than a week for just using one little corner of a scroll. “Could be awhile.”

“So what do we do?”

“Well we may as well get comfortable I said as began unlacing my boots. The blankets that came hurling through the barn window were the key. I got up and retrieved the blankets and made a bed for my son and I. “She’s going to forgive us eventually, but for the night my boy, we are in the doghouse.”

———————————————————-

~The Contest~

Melosa stood in the middle of the hut fidgeting as the seamstress put the hem in her first set of leathers. I remember watching Xe do the exact same thing many seasons ago. Only then it was her robes for our joining. The fidget was however the same.

“Your Highness would you please hold still?” The aged seamstress asked in a soft tone.

“I’m sorry ma’am.” Melosa said as she looked at me with eyes that begged to be released from this torture.

“Not much longer sweetheart.” I said trying to reassure her. “You have to have these for the ceremony.”

“I know. I’d just rather be riding.”

“And I know that you’re going to do that later today…if you’re good now.”

She took a deep breath and straightened up. I knew that would work. Being denied a chance to ride was like denying the child air. I smiled as she got that same look on her face that resigned her to her fate. At least with this one I didn’t have to use please.

Once Mel decided to hold still the seamstress finished with very little effort. My daughter stood before me looking very much like the Princess she really was. “Well?” She said with that same cocky smirk and her hands in her hips. I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“You’re beautiful Melosa.”

“The mask is next Your Majesty.” The seamstress said softly.

“Mask? Nobody said anything about a mask.” Mel seemed almost terrified.

“Yes sweetheart your mask. It’s part of your ceremony. Artemis has called you her Little Lioness. You will wear the lions mask.”

“Grrreat…” She mumbled as the mask was revealed to her. She took it and looked at it. “I have to wear this huh?”

“Yes.” I said firmly.

“Wouldn’t want to offend Artemis.” She mumbled.

“Melosa! You will NOT speak of our protector and patron Goddess in that manner. Do you understand?”

“Yes Mother, I’m sorry. Forgive me.”

“When we finish here you will go to the temple and make and offering of apology to Artemis.”

“Yes Mother.” She dropped her head. “I am sorry.”

“Make sure you tell that to Artemis.”

“Yes Mother.”

I stood outside the temple and sent Melosa in. Gods forgive me but she had Xena’s attitude about them as well. Melosa however couldn’t afford to be so impertinent. She was after all, my heir and would one day lead the nation. Artemis was also the reason that we had Melosa in the first place. It was later that we had learned of Xena’s relationship to Hades’ that allowed her brother and sisters to be born. Melosa owed her very life to Artemis.

Xe walked across the square, returning from training, with a smile on her face until she saw the look on mine. Her smile faded as she sheathed her sword and took her place next to me.

“Ri what’s wrong?”

“It’s Mel.”

“What? What’s wrong with Mel? Where is she?” Xena was starting to be concerned for our daughter looking around for her. I caught her by the arm and returned her attention to me.

“She’s in the temple offering a prayer of apology to Artemis. Xena you’ve got to help me out here. It’s important that she show at least Artemis the respect she deserves. Considering your own ties it wouldn’t hurt if she showed the same respect to her grandfather as well. She may need them as allies someday when we’re no longer here.”

“Well I don’t have a problem with that. As long as she also has a healthy understanding that mostly she’s going to be on her own and that she can’t count on them to intervene. I mean Hades’ let us suffer through some horrible things before he revealed himself. Maybe you should bring her with you for the next purification ritual. Let her see what it means to be queen.”

“Good idea. Thanks you love.” I leaned up and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She rarely accepted more while we were in the village. “So how is everything coming for the contest?”

“Not bad. We’ll be ready for you Your Majesty.” She said with a slight grin and a bow.

“Are you going to participate this year?”

“No. I think I’m done with that now that Mel will be doing it. I’ll just stand behind you Your Majesty in my position as your Champion and watch my daughter kick their butts.”

“You do realize oh mighty Champion, that this is her first year and she could lose?”

“I know.” She admitted hesitantly.

“Are you prepared for that?” I asked quietly.

“As prepared as I can be.” At least she was being honest with herself and me.

I knew that if Melosa lost her first match Xena would try to take it in stride. I also knew her pride would be hurt. What I couldn’t figure out if it would be her mother’s pride or her warrior’s pride or maybe a mix of both.

Melosa came out of the temple and straight to me, it didn’t happen very often that she’d pass the warrior up without a word. She wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug. “I love you Mother. I am sorry.”

“All is forgiven little one. You’ve done what you had to do. Let’s forget it now okay?”

“Okay.” She turned to Xe and smiled. “And just what have YOU been doing while I was being measured, poked and prodded all morning.” She said as she wrapped her arms around Xena for a hug.

Xe picked her up and gave her a hug. “Staying away so I wouldn’t get measured, poked and prodded all morning.” She said with a chuckle.

“Thanks a lot pal. Did you know there’s a mask?” She asked as we walked towards home. She was still held firmly in Xe’s strong arms.

“Yup I sure did.” Xe answered.

“You coulda warned me you know?” She said as she leaned her forehead against Xena’s.

“Well that wouldn’t have been any fun. What did Artemis choose for you Your Highness?”

“A Lioness.” Mel said throwing her head back and giving a little roar just to get her point across.

“Oh good choice.” Another chuckle from my warrior as she slipped her hand into mine and we continued our walk home.

The days to the festival passed quickly. Kai and his puppy were sent to Solan’s for the week. I had to admit that while the little rascal had come into our lives as a complete surprise and had been trouble when he first got here I had grown rather fond of him. Watching how he followed Kai everywhere he had earned a place in my heart. I was going to miss them both terribly.

We moved back over to the village for the week. As Queen I was expected to be there all week. I’m sure we made quite the picture this year. Mel was nearly eight seasons old and Kessa and Rosa were almost three. I’m sure the five of us moving back in for the week was more than some people were ready to face.

Mel was finally going to take her place with me on the dais as a true Princess of the nation. Her titles of Princess and Your Highness, which had been most ceremonial, would now become just as real and as permanent as my title of Queen and Your Majesty. Our family had finally come full circle with the nation. It was after all Melosa who was Queen when I became a Princess. Normally I didn’t go for all the pomp and circumstance that went with my position in the nation, but this week I was proud. I also noticed that a certain warrior was walking around the village with a little grin too.

As she said she would be Xena took her position to my left standing behind me as my Champion, not seated to my left as my consort when Melosa’s first turn at staff combat came around. I think that was for my benefit as well as hers I knew she was tense about this and I don’t think she wanted me to see her reaction.

Melosa took her place in front of me. She looked at me through her mask and bowed. I drew a deep breath and tried not to beam too much. Very motherly, but not very Queen like and here I was the Queen first, a mother second. Her opponent was an another young girl about the same height and weight. Her name was Trina and I knew from Xe that for one so young she was quite good with the staff. Trina bowed to me and I gave the signal.

Mel removed her mask and handed it to her instructor. She looked so relieved just to be out of it, I did kind of feel sorry for her now. To be the only child her aged forced into a mask simply because of her rank.

Without further signals the match began. I felt myself gripping the arms of my chair as Mel came close to being defeated in the very beginning. Soon however she found her pace and her stride and she was giving Trina a run for her dinars, matching her stroke for stroke. At one point she looked up, past me over my shoulder. She gave that little warrior smirk and then executed a beautiful sweep of Trina’s feet. She planted her staff firmly against the girl’s throat and the command was calm and clear, “Submit!”

“Yes Your Highness I submit. The match is yours.”

Mel removed her staff and helped Tina to her feet offering a small bow as she did. “Well played Trina.”

“Yes Your Highness. Well played.”

They both turned and bowed to me. Mel then took her mask and her staff and left the field to go speak with her instructor. I turned and looked at my Champion who allowed herself a self satisfied little smirk that only someone who has known her as long as I have would even be able to see. She shifted her blue eyes to me and I smiled at her. A proud moment shared between two very proud mothers.

Mel’s match was the last of the day. After that it was on with the evening feast and party. She would move to the next round, but that wouldn’t be until the next day. After giving the feast the proper blessing and starting the festivities with a toast my Champion and I went to find our daughter. She was sitting on the porch of the house looking all for the world as if she had lost her best friend. Xena knelt and took her hands in her own. I took a seat next to her.

“What’s wrong Mel.” Xe asked obviously concerned.

“I have to spar with Reena tomorrow.”

“Afraid of getting beaten?” I asked as I rubbed her back.

“Yeah.” Her head drooped a little further.

“Little one as long as you do your best you’re never beaten.” Xena said as she pulled Mel into her arms.

“I don’t want to disappoint you.” Her comment was directed at Xe, but she turned to me. “Either of you.”

Xena stood and sat down on the porch next to me, still holding Mel. “You’ve never been or will you ever be a disappointment to us. Just do your best tomorrow Princess.”

Xe kissed her on the top of the head and I rubbed her arm. She nodded her head and relaxed into Xe. Before long she was sound asleep.

After putting Mel down and checking on Kessa and Rosa Xena and I changed into more comfortable clothes and returned to the party. For the first time ever Xena enjoyed a party. Mainly because of the slaps on the back she was receiving over Melosa’s victory. She sat down at a long table and I joined her there, offering her a cup of wine.

“She’s going to lose tomorrow. You know that.” She said softly.

“What makes you say that?”

“She too unsure of herself. The doubts that she has will be her defeat. I wish there was something I could do to help her.”

“She has to do this on her own.” I said as I rubbed Xe’s arm.

“Yeah I know.”

“There are just going to be things that even we can’t help her with.” I said as I rested my head on her shoulder. She kissed me on the forehead allowing her lips to linger there for just a moment. “You okay?” I asked after I heard her sigh.

“Yeah I’ll be fine.”

I watched from a distance as Xena knelt down and spoke with Melosa just before her next match. I took my place on the dais and waited. Xena came over and sat down to my left and took my hand. I turned and questioned her silently.

“Mel asked me too.” She said quietly. I gave her hand a squeeze and turned my attention back to the field.

Soon the contest had begun, Mel and Reena squared off against each other. I could actually feel Xe’s hand twitching nervously under my own. We watched as Mel defended herself from blow after blow. Reena was driving her backward and she couldn’t get her footing. She fell backward, but managed to roll away before Reena could demand submission. She remained on the ground and bought her staff under Reena and knocked her to the ground as well. She rolled right and quickly moved on top of the girl and pinned her to the ground with her staff across her shoulders.

“Submit!” Melosa demanded she used her legs and knees to pin the other girl’s arms making escape almost impossible. “Submit!” Melosa demanded a second time.

“The match is yours.” Reena conceded, refusing to use Melosa’s title. Mel looked to me and I gave a slight nod. Mel got up and offered her hand to the girl who refused and got up on her own. Mel turned to me for the final departing gesture.

“Mel watch out!” Xena yelled as she jumped to her feet.

Before I had realized it, Reena was about to deliver a blow to Mel’s back. Xena vaulted from the dais and grabbed the end of the staff and pulled it from Reena’s hands.

Mel spun around and looked at her opponent. “I won. Why couldn’t you leave it at that?”

“And lose to the likes of you? Never.”

“You lost Reena.” Xe said calmly. “Go to your instructor.”

“Are you ever going to tell her the truth?” Reena accused Xena.

“I have all the truth I need Reena.” Mel said.

“Really? We all know the Queen is your birth mother but, why don’t you ask them about your father?” Reena took her staff from Xena and walked away.

Xena looked to me, then back to Mel. The crowd that had built for the match slowly and quietly dissipated. Ephiny left the dais to go find Reena’s mothers. I went quietly to my wife and daughter. We had never considered this. That someone might do this to her. Suddenly I didn’t have any answers for my little girl who looked back and forth between us.

“What did she mean? What about my father?” Mel asked as I knelt down next to her.

“Well honey let’s go back to the house and talk about this.” I pushed her hair back from her face.

“No! Let’s talk about it here, now.”

Xe knelt down and caressed her face. “Mel you were a gift.”

“What’s that mean ‘a gift’?” He voice cracked as tears formed in her eyes.

“You were giving to us by the Gods Mel. Artemis gave you to us.” Xe continued.

“I’m a freak. I don’t have a father. That’s what she meant, right?”

“No Mel. You’re not. She was just trying to hurt you.” I said softly.

“You…you gave birth to me.” She said to me softly. Then she turned to Xe, “But that means you’re nothing to me.” Her face twitched as the tears fell freely. Xena was speechless. “Nothing!” She yelled as she turned and ran from us.

I looked to Xena who had tears forming in her own eyes. She seemed rooted to the spot. I caressed her face and then turned to follow Mel.

————————————————

~If You Love Something~

I watched her run through the crowd, but for some reason I just couldn’t follow her. I felt Ri’s hand on my face, I saw her disappear after Mel. I felt as if my heart had been torn from my chest. Her words rang in my ears, that I was nothing to her.

I gathered my thoughts and followed Ri into the crowd. I saw Solari as I made my way into the crowd. “Sol!” I called her over. “Have you seen Ri or Mel?”

“Yeah they went into the house a few moments ago.”

I sprinted to the house, stopping just outside the front door as I heard Mel crying on the other side. I laid my hand on the door and rested my forehead against it. I wanted to go in, but I didn’t want to hurt her anymore at the moment. I turned and leaned against the door, I felt myself sliding down it but I couldn’t stop my body from collapsing to the porch. I drew my knees to my chest and laid my arms across them and rested my head back against the door. I listened as my little girl continued to cry. I could also hear Ri trying to comfort her.

I looked up. Ephiny was slowly coming up the steps. “Everything okay?” She asked softly as she knelt down in front of me and took my hand.

“Gods Eph I hope so.”

“What happened?”

“Reena decided to fill Mel in on her heritage. She told Mel she didn’t have a father. Mel put it all together and said that if it was true then I was nothing to her.” I dropped my head.

“Xena that’s not true! We all know how and why Melosa was born! Once you explain that to her…”

“I hope she can understand it.”

“She’s a bright little girl. I’m sure she’ll be fine, once she understands.”

“She’s everything to me Eph!” My mouth watered and my stomach flipped, I felt sick at the thought of losing Mel. “She’s my…baby. I love all my kids Eph, but Mel is…” My voice cracked and the tears started. I felt her wrap her arms around me and I allowed myself to be held by my friend. “I can’t lose her, I just can’t.”

“Why don’t you go in?”

“I don’t want to make it worse.”

“I don’t think you will. Come on.” She stood up and helped me to my feet. I took a deep breath and wiped my eyes.

She slowly opened the door and stuck her head in. I waited behind her. She slipped in and closed the door and then returned a moment later. “Go on in.”

I nodded and thanked her. Then I slowly went inside and stood against the door, watching Ri cradle Mel in her arms in front of the fireplace. Ri motioned for me to come over. I swear by Zeus my legs have never felt shakier. The only thing in my life that could bring me to my knees were my children and if I had lost Mel that’s where I would be. I crossed the room slowly. I could see that Mel was still awake, I had thought for a moment that maybe she was asleep because she was lying so still in Ri’s arms. I knelt down in front of them and looked to Ri.

“I told her everything Xe. I explained about our night in the temple. About her brother and sisters, her grandfather, everything.” She said softly.

I nodded, but remained silent, hoping that Mel would say something to me. My mouth watered as I waited and my stomach turned into knots. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any more, I reached out and touched Mel on the arm and she flinched. I withdrew my hand and the tears began to form in my eyes. “Mel I love you. From the moment you were born you captured my heart. There isn’t anything in this world I wouldn’t do for you, nothing I wouldn’t give you. You are a part of me too.”

I paused and drew a deep breath; she turned her head and looked at me. “Then go away. Leave me alone.” She buried her face back into Ri’s shoulder and began crying again.

“Mel…” Ri started to chastise her, but I stopped her with a hand to her shoulder and a shake of my head. The child had been told so much. She needed time to adjust. Time to take it all in and as much as it hurt she didn’t want my help.

I got to my feet and left them there in front of the fire. I stepped back out on the porch and rested my forehead against a beam near the steps. “She just needs time.” I heard the words and looked around to see who had said them. I realized I had. An effort to comfort myself I would suspect.

I looked over at the village. The night’s festivities continued on even without Ri being present. Some part of me wanted to take my family and leave. If they could manage a party while our lives shattered, they could certainly manage the day to day prospects of survival without us. Almost immediately I realized what a knee jerk reaction that had been and I forced it down. Ri’s presence as Queen was important here and we all knew it.

The door opened and closed and her arms slipped around me. “Xe it’s going to be okay.” She said softly.

“She hates me.”

“No she doesn’t. She just doesn’t understand it all now. She will, you’re just going to have to give her time.”

“Things may never be the same between us again.” I nearly choked on these words; it hurt too much to admit.

She turned me around and caressed my face. “You’re right they won’t, but they may be better. When Mel comes to terms with the fact that she is truly a little bit of both of us, it will draw you closer together.”

“Gods Ri how could we be any closer than we were?”

“Are warrior are. I won’t have you acting as if this is a defeat. We knew that one-day we would have to discuss this with the children. We had hoped to do it when they were older. It didn’t happen the way we wanted so let’s deal with it now and get on with our lives.”

I took a deep breath and drew my hand through my hair. “You’re right. Everything will be fine. It’s just going to take time.” I drew her close to me and held her there. She wrapped her arms around my waist and gave me a gentle kiss on my throat.

“Everything will be fine. You’ll see.” She said as she rested her head on my shoulder.

The morning meal was a quiet affair. Mel said very little. I said even less. Ri watched us waiting for one of us to make the first move. She finally caught my eye and gave me ‘the look’.

“Mel do you want to go for a ride with me this morning?” I asked quietly.

“No thank you.”

“Well if you change your mind I’ll be down at the stables for awhile.” I said as I got up. I couldn’t take this. She had never refused an offer to go riding with me.

I spent a solid candle mark brushing down my new horse. He was young and strong and didn’t have a care in the world. I remember being that way once. Of course at that time in my life none of this would have ever seemed possible. I was lost in thought when Ephiny came charging into the barn.

“XENA! Come now! Right now!”

I dropped the brush and followed her from the barn back to the village square. An old watchtower had collapsed and there were amazons all over it clearing debris. I jumped into the middle and began clearing away the wood. “What happened?” I asked as Ephiny and I continued to clear the wood away.

“A strong wind whipped through the village. Xena there are two people caught under here, Reena…and Gabrielle. She saw the tower coming down and that Reena wouldn’t be able to get out of the way in time. She was trying to save her.”

Her words registered with me, and my hands began moving even faster. “RI! GODS RI HOLD ON! I’M COMING BABY! HOLD ON! PLEASE HOLD ON!”

I finally saw her under a large part of wall and lifted it off of her. She was lying curled protectively around Reena who was crying. Very gently I knelt down and moved Ri just enough to get Reena free. I lifted her up and found myself staring into the eyes of her mother. Without a word I handed the child to her mother and returned my attention to my injured wife. Blood poured from several wounds on her body. The most noticeable a head wound. My heart stopped when I saw the piece of wood that had embedded itself in her skull. Several amazons started to reach for her.

“DON’T” I commanded. “Don’t touch her! Not yet, it’s not safe. If we do this wrong we’ll kill her right here.” I ran my hands through my hair and tried to figure the best way to do this. “Okay I need a litter and some cloth.”

Within a matter of moments I had what I needed. I rolled a large piece of cloth into a long roll and gently wrapped it around her neck to hold it into place. Then I tied it off with another piece of cloth. She moaned as we slowly shifted her body and lifted her over to the litter. “It’s okay baby I’ve got you. Hold on sweetheart.” I talked to her through the whole process even though I doubted that she could hear me.

Very gently I gave the signal for the litter to be lifted. I held her hand and talked to her as she was carried to the healers hut. Halfway there I heard her. Oh Gods! “Somebody stop her! Don’t let Mel come over here.”

Eph left and caught Mel just before she reached us. I hated to do that, but she didn’t need to see Ri in this condition. I looked back and watched as Eph struggled to hang on to Mel. Mel’s eyes were fixed on the litter. I was grateful when we got Ri inside to healer’s hut. They put her down very gently and I began taking inventory of her injuries. They were serious, but the one that really scared me was the head wound. I stopped the flow of blood by packing more cloth around the wood. I knew it would have to be carefully removed if it could be removed at all, but I couldn’t let myself think about that now.

I looked around and saw Ep was busy clearing the hut. Gods it was good to have friends who knew what I needed even before I did. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Adrin was tending to the wounds that Reena had received. The girl was awake and crying so I took that as a good sign. I grabbed a stack of cloth from a shelf with a needle and some twine and shove it into Ep’s hands. “Start closing the worst of those gashes. I’ve got to see to this head wound.”

Ep did as I asked. I knelt down next to Ri’s head and carefully un-wrapped the head wound. Suddenly my light was blocked. I looked up. Reena’s mother stood there looking down at us. “Move! By the Gods woman…get out of my light. I’m trying to save my wife’s life.”

“I just wanted to say…”

“SAY IT LATER! Right now move before I MOVE YOU!”

The woman backed away giving me the light I needed to examine the wound. There was a piece of wood embedded in the side of her head, close to her forehead, about the size of my little finger. What I didn’t know was how far in it went. I raised my hand to examine it further when I realized I was shaking too hard. I could make it worse by touching it. I clenched my hands opened and closed several times trying to get the shaking under control. I felt a hand on my shoulder. “WHAT!” I turned to find Adrin.

“Your Highness let me. You shouldn’t attempt this. You’re too emotional. If you want her to have a chance let me work. Go to your daughter. She’s outside, she needs you.”

I looked back at my hands, trembling and covered in her blood, dropping my head and nodding I got up and let Adrin take over. I washed up quickly and went outside. Eph held Mel and rocked her. I went over and took her from Eph.

“Is she dead?” Mel asked through her tears.

“No little one she’s not?”

“Is she gonna die?”

“I don’t know Mel. It’s serious. She might.” I had decided last night as I spent a sleepless night that I would never hide anything from my children again. No matter how bad it might be.

Mel pushed herself out of my arms and stood before me, rage built into her features. “Where were you?! Why weren’t you here?! You’re suppose to be the great protector!” She took off for the house.

I got to my feet. “Mel WAIT!” I called after her but she continued for the house.

Eph came over and turned me back to Adrin’s hut. “I’ll go after Mel you stay with Gabrielle.”

My entire world was being torn in half. My daughter hated me and my wife could very well be lying in the healer’s hut dying. I drew a deep breath and headed for Adrin’s hut. As I pulled the door open Reena’s mother came out with Reena in her arms.

“I wanted to say before…thank you.” She said softly.

“It’s not me you should thank. It’s your Queen. You might want to go to the temple and pray to Artemis that you have the chance.” I continued past her and into the hut.

I knelt down and took Ri’s hand into my own, bringing it to my lips I kissed it softly and then just held it there against my lips. I watched Adrin work. She had healed me from all my bumps and bruises and delivered two of my children and assisted me when I brought our twins into the world. I knew her to be a good and competent woman. If Ri stood any chance at all Adrin would see that she got it.

“Xena I need to speak with you. Let’s go outside.” She said softly as she replaced the bandages around Ri’s wound.

I leaned up and gave my wife a soft kiss on the lips. “Hold on my love. One soul. Remember that. We’re two halves of the whole. I need you.”

I followed Adrin outside. “I’m going to try and remove the wood.” She said softly.

“Okay.”

“She could die.”

“If you don’t try, she will die. I trust you. I always have you know that.”

“Thank you. I want you to go home and wait. I’ll send word as soon as we know something one way or the other.”

“I need a few moments with her.”

“Of course.” She swept her hand toward the hut and I went back in.

I settled down next to her and took her hand. I needed to find the right words. I looked at her and remembered everyday we had been together since that very first day. Chewing on the inside of my mouth trying desperately to find my voice to tell her how I felt I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you.” I whispered. “I’ve always loved you. I want you to come back to us. I need you. The children need you. I want you to try real hard to get back to us Ri, but if you can’t. I want you to go on. Go to the Fields and be happy.” My voice gave way and the tears started to flow when I realized I was giving her permission to die.

“I promise to take good care of myself and the kids. We’ll make you proud and there won’t be a day when you won’t hear us thinking of you and our love for you. When it’s my time I promise to come to you and then nothing will ever separate us again. Try to come back to us my love, we won’t be complete without you.” I kissed her again and stood. Giving her hand a final squeeze I placed is gently at her side and left the hut.

—————————————————

~The Depth Of Love~

I sat next to our bed and watched her. It had been a week since she had been hurt and she hadn’t opened her eyes yet, but she was alive and I thanked the Gods everyday for that. Her head was bandaged, as were the other wounds she had received when the tower collapsed. I made sure they were treated and changed everyday I didn’t want to take a chance on infection setting in.

I took her hand and kissed it. “It’s a beautiful day. You really should open your eyes and take a look for yourself. You know me, I just can’t do it justice with words.” I kept a light tone to my voice. It was important now. “Time to work those beautiful legs of yours.” I laid her hand to rest and pulled the blankets back.

I sat on the edge of the bed and massaged her legs and then carefully began manipulating them to work the muscles. “Kessa and Rosa seemed to have gone on a strike over eating potatoes at the moment. Neither one of them will touch them. We just can’t figure it out. No matter how ‘Cook’ prepares them they refuse to eat them.”

I paused and took the other leg in hand and worked in the same fashion. “Mel is doing very well with her studies. She’s talking to me again, sort of. It’s very stilted, but it’s something. We miss you sweetheart. It’s kind of hard for us to work through this with out you. We’re so damn much alike. I know, I know watch my language.”

The door opened and Mel brought in a tray with three bowls of soup. “I thought we could eat with her today.” She said as she sat the tray down on the desk.

“I’m sure she’d like that.” I pulled a chair up for Mel and sat her down next to her mother and we settled into having our meal. I gave Mel her bowl and I took one and prepared to try and get some soup down Ri. It wasn’t easy, but it was something. “How were studies today? I was just telling your mom how well you’re doing.”

“They were okay.” She said between bites. “I still don’t get philosophy.”

I chuckled. “You’re not supposed to that’s the point.”

“It’s silly to waste time on something like that.”

“Well one of these days it may come in handy.”

“Yeah just like math.” She giggled. I hadn’t heard her giggle in over a week. I smiled at her and for just a brief second she smiled back at me before she found her soup more interesting. “How’s she doing?”

“She’s holding her own. That’s good. It’s about the best we can hope for right now.” I paused and stirred the soup. “You know it’s okay to laugh in here. I think it’s good for her to hear us.” I said without looking up as I got a little more of the soup down Ri’s throat.

“Do you think she can?”

“I like to think she can.”

“You really love her huh? I mean, really, really love her.”

“There was a time in my life when I would have followed her to the other side immediately, even if it meant falling on my own sword to do it, but that changed the day you were born. Now my promise to her is to stay behind with you and your brothers and sisters until it’s my time to join her. That’s how much I love her.” I heard my voice shake. “That’s how much I love all of you.” I took a cloth and carefully wiped Ri’s face as I sat the bowl aside. “You know what your mom needs?”

“What?”

“She needs some sunshine. Why don’t you go get my chair ready?”

She perked up. “Okay.” She sat her bowl to the side and ran from the room. I uncovered Ri and very gently picked her up in my arms cradling her head against my chest.

“Let’s take you out into the fresh air sweetheart.” I carried her out to the porch. Mel had moved my chair into the sun and I sat down and cradled Ri in my arms. Mel brought out a blanket and we covered her up to keep her warm. I held her and kissed her on the forehead. “See I told you it was a beautiful day.” Mel sat on the steps and watched me. I smiled down at her as I rested my cheek against Ri’s forehead, humming to her softly.

“Mom?”

I smiled. It was the first time in a week she had called me that. She had simply avoided calling me anything. “Yes Mel.”

“What if she’s like this for a long time?”

“Well then we’ll take it one day at a time and we’ll get through it together. All of us.”

We sat in the sun for a while taking in some fresh air. Just as we were about to go in Kai and Auto (yes he named the puppy after Autolycus, but we called him Auto), came charging around the house at full speed making more noise than a boy and a dog should be allowed.

“Hey quiet down you two!” Mel ordered.

“Says who?” Kai challenged. I just smiled and waited to see if I was going to have to get in on this.

“I do.” Mel said as she stood up and walked out into the yard to meet her brother and the puppy that ran circles around them both yapping and carrying on. “Mom has Momma out here for some air and the last thing she needs is you making a bunch of noise.”

Kai looked up to the porch and noticed us for the first time. “I’m sorry Mom.” He said as he climbed the steps and drew close to us. “Can I give her a kiss?”

“Of course you can. She’d love that.” I ran my fingers through his hair. He leaned over and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.

“I love you Momma. Wait ’til you see how big Auto has gotten. He’s really smart too.” He talked to her just as I told them they should, just as if she could hear every word. The puppy slowly climbed the steps and crept forward to us. He raised his nose and sniffed before getting any closer. Soon he was at Kai’s side sitting down with his tail thumping on the porch. Kai took Ri’s hand and placed it on the pup’s head. Auto lifted his head and managed to give her hand a little lick. “He misses you too Momma. We all do.”

I gave Kai a scratch on the head. “I’m gonna take Momma inside now okay?”

“‘Kay. Can I get the door?”

“That’d be a great help. Mel will you take the blanket?”

“Sure.” She came and collected the blanket, holding the chair still as I rose to my feet with our precious bundle.

Ironic, the woman who had given birth to my children, who had loved them and cradled them now herself was not more than a babe in my arms, while the children had become assistant caretakers for her. Back in our room I found the bed linens had been changed and was freshly turned down. Karra no doubt. She and ‘Cook’ had become a great source of comfort and strength in these past few days. I placed her in bed and covered her up, giving her a kiss as I did. “I’ll be back soon sweetheart.”

I stood up and stretched. It was a good stretch, but it reminded me that I needed to get some exercise too. I gathered the dishes and the tray and my sword from the cabinet and left the room closing the door behind me. I took the dishes to the kitchen, where I found cook and Karra sitting at the table peeling potatoes. I smiled. “You’re not going to give up are you Cook?”

“No ma’am I’m gonna find a way to get those babies to eat these things if it kills me.”

“Yeah well they’ve got Ri’s stubborn streak in them so it may take while.” I said with a chuckle as I snatched a piece of potato and popped it in my mouth. “I’m going out to do a few drills. Check on her in a bit will you?”

“Of course we will child.” Karra said as she took to clearing the dishes I brought in. “You didn’t eat your food.”

“I wasn’t very hungry.”

“You’ve got to keep your strength up too you know.” She said as she put the scraps in a bowl for Auto.

“I promise to have a big serving of the evening meal. I like potatoes.” I gave her a kiss on the forehead and went out the side door.

I walked down a well-worn path toward the river. How many times had Ri and I walked this path arm in arm, taking evening walks, picnics with the children, just taking the time to get away and be together for a few moments.

I stopped at the spot we had decided was our favorite and began a series of sword drills. It felt good to allow my mind and body the release of the guilt, frustration and the anger I felt. I could almost feel the energy tearing through my body into my hands as it seemed to discharge through my blade. After what seemed like forever I gave a final yell and plunged the sword straight into the ground and sank to me knees, crying.

I allowed myself this burst of emotion. I knew holding it back would only serve to hurt the ones I loved later. I was alone now and this could only help. I got it under control and fell back. Sitting there in the meadow, leaning back on my hands I realized that I must have spent the last two candle marks drilling. I needed to get home. I pulled my sword out, (which was no easy task I had buried it to the hilt, talk about frustrated) wiped it off and headed back to the house.

As I approached the house I heard the familiar creaking of Solan’s wagon and took to a sprint. I arrived in the front of the house just as he pulled up. He waved and smiled as he got out and took little Gabrielle from Alana. “Hello Mother.” He said as he merely switched the sword for the baby without any further comment. Alana climbed out of the wagon and just stood there smiling at me as I gave my granddaughter a kiss.

“Whaaat?” I inquired of them with a grin.

“Nothing.” My daughter grinned back as she just simply went into the house.

I turned to Solan. “Tell me.”

“Well Alana and I have been discussing a few things and I’m going to go to Amphipolis and get Grandma. She wrote me right before Mom got hurt and said that she’s thinking of closing the tavern. We decided to see if she wants to come here and stay with us.”

“She wrote you and not me? Wonder why?”

“Well actually she did, but I kept it because of everything that was going on. I’ve got here if you want it.”

“That’d be nice thank you very much.” I said as I snatched the parchment from his hand. “Your Daddy is a brat you know that?” I said to my granddaughter who giggled madly at me as she reached for the parchment in my hand.

I handed her to Solan and unfolded the letter from my mother.

My Dear Daughters,

Well it seems that the time has finally come for me to make a decision and taking just a little of your strength, I have done it. I’ve decided to close the inn. I need to relax and enjoy my life a bit now. With all these beautiful grandchildren and my first great grandchild I want to spend some time with all of you.

Please send word when you get this and we will see where we should go with this.

Love Mother.

“Hmm…well it would seem that you’ve decided this without my help.” I said to him as we walked into the house.

“Well we thought now might be a good time to see if Grandma wanted to come stay with Alana and I. We have plenty of room and she’d be close to you. I’m leaving in the morning and I wanted to come see Mom before I left.”

I nodded my understanding and took him to our room. “Hey Grandma.” I said softly as I knelt next to the bed. “Look who’s here to see you.” I took the baby from Solan and held her close to Ri.

“Nanna.” She said as she leaned over and kissed her grandmother. “Nanna.” I smiled as I ran my fingers through her blonde hair. Gods how could a child that was not directly related to my wife in any way look so much like her. I picked the baby up and took my place in my chair with her as Solan took a seat next to Ri on the bed and took her hand.

“Hi Mom. I’m gonna go get Grandma. You’d better get up or she’ll kick your butt when she gets back here.” He kissed her hand. “Your granddaughter misses your stories. Every time Lan or I try to tell her a story she just keeps saying ‘Like Nanna, like Nanna’. You gotta come back and tell this child a story.”

Little Gabrielle rocked forward and reached for her father. He took her and gave Ri a kiss before standing up. Alana came in quietly and sat on the other side of the bed. “How’s she doing?”

“Well I guess she’s doing okay.” I said as I got up and latched the window closed to keep the afternoon breeze from blowing directly onto the bed. “I’m hoping she’ll come around in a day or two.”

“Is there anything I can do? I could take Kessa and Rosa for a few days if you’d like. With Solan being gone…”

“No that’s okay. We’ve got everything under control here. I like having all the children here with her. I’m hoping that one of them may be able to reach her. Thanks for the offer though. Speaking of my son the traveler, if you need anything while he’s gone…”

“I’ll manage.” She said with a wave of her and a smile. “It’s not as if you don’t have enough to worry about.”

“Lan honey can you take the baby and give us a moment?” Solan handed the baby to his wife and she left the room, closing the door behind her.

Solan turned to me and put his hands on my shoulders. “I want you to know that if I could…” There were tears in his eyes.

“I know, I know.” I hugged my son and whispered again. “I know.”

“I hate it that I can’t interfere. That I’m so damn powerless with all of this.”

“It’s okay. Your Mom’s a fighter she’ll be back soon.”

“I’m just so sorry…”

“Don’t be sorry over something you can’t do anything about son. She wouldn’t want that and neither do I. Just let her know you love her. That’s the most important thing.”

He broke our embrace and wiped his eyes, nodding as he did. “Well she’ll have no choice about getting up once Grandma gets here.” He said trying to lighten the mood once again.

“Probably not. Listen, why don’t you and Lan spend the day and stay for the evening meal. I’m not sure what the main course is, but I know for a fact we’re having potatoes of some kind.”

“Sounds good.” He smiled and gave me a pat on the shoulder before leaving the room.

I took a deep breath and realized I was a little more than ripe, from drilling in the afternoon sun. “Hey beautiful how ’bout a bath. That’ll make us both feel better.”

I asked Solan to fill the tub with water as I prepared Ri for a bath. It meant being very careful of her wounds and taking extra precautions, but she had always so enjoyed a bath that I wasn’t about to start denying them to her now.

I leaned her back against me in the tub and bathed her very gently. Careful not to open and of her stitches and taking the time to really examine her and make sure everything was healing properly. I had un-wrapped her head so I could wash her hair and was pleased to see that the spot where the wood had been removed from seemed to be healing very nicely. “Ah it’s barely going to scar sweetheart.” I told her as I washed her hair. “I envy you my little bard. After all the things we’ve been through you’ve barely a mark to show for it, I on the other hand am a walking example of what happens when to get too close the business end of a sword.” After we were both bathed I just held her there awhile, relaxing and allowing us a few moments of peace and quiet together.

Before re-wrapping her head wound I wanted to make sure her hair was brushed the way she like it. True I didn’t have the patience to give it a hundred strokes of each side like she did, but I did a pretty good job. To me it looked just as good after fifty as it did after a hundred. How many nights had I lain stretched out on the bed watching her sit at her table preparing for bed? It was always the same routine; first she would rub a cream on her hands that she insisted I make for her. She said it kept them soft for me. Couldn’t argue there, it seemed to work pretty well. Then the hair, hundred stokes of the brush on each side. I never heard her counting, but I couldn’t help do it once in awhile while watching her. She never missed a stroke.

She was dressed in a fresh sleeping gown and safely back in bed. I had just finished tying up my own robe when Mel came in and sat down at Ri’s table and took the bush and began brushing her own hair. “Cook said that the evening meal will be ready soon and that you should be prepared to eat…a lot.” She said as she stared at her reflection in the polished metal.

“Well she wasn’t real happy with me earlier.” I said as I picked up a few items that had just been tossed around the room over the last couple of days. I looked up at Mel who seemed totally mesmerized by her reflection. “Honey is there something wrong?” She looked at me and then back to her reflection and then back to me. “Mel…”

She took one long last look and then ran across the room and threw herself in my arm crying. “I’m sorry!”

I wrapped her in my arms and cradled her. “Shhh…sweetheart it’s okay. Sorry for what?”

“Look…” She pointed at the metal plate. We were both reflected there, both of us with our dark hair and blue eyes. In a household of blonde hair and green eyes, my little girl had finally made the connection. “I really am a part of you aren’t I?”

“Oh little one you are more than a part of me. You are one of the things that makes me complete.”

“Then Artemis really did take a part of you…”

“Yes little one she really did.”

“I’m sorry Momma. I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. I know it was hard to understand, but I sure am glad you do now. I’ve missed you Princess.” I said as I hugged her close to me.

“I’ve missed you too.” She said as she gave me a kiss for the first time in more than a week. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world, to have my little girl back.

In the evening after everyone else had eaten and all the children were tucked in. I returned to our room with more broth. I sat down and prepared to feed her. “You know they hate my stories. They always look so damn bored. No one can weave a tale like you do my love.” I gave her the first spoonful of broth.

“Kessa and Rosa still aren’t eating potatoes. ‘Cook’ tired something she called ‘smashing’ them. They were good, but they sure as Tartarus didn’t look like potatoes when she got done with them. Personally I think she was just taking out her frustrations on poor helpless vegetables.” A little more of the broth went down her throat.

“Mel and I made up today, but you probably know that already don’t you? You were probably eavesdropping on every word we said. I know how nosey you are.” I wiped a drop of broth away before continuing.

“I suppose I should tell you now before you find out later, Auto chewed up your favorite pair of foot coverings today. What is that? Number seventy-two or some where around there? We’ve kind of lost track since you aren’t here to keep count for us. Kai thought for sure that he and Auto were headed for the barn. I let Kai stay in the house, but Auto was relegated to the back porch.”

I turned to reach for the cloth I had dropped, when I turned back to her I nearly dropped the bowl. She had opened her eyes. With shaky hands I sat the bowl down and took her hand. “Ri? Honey…can you hear me?”

Her eyes focused on me, but she didn’t say anything.

“Hi beautiful. Welcome back. It’s good to see you.” I felt the tears slip down my cheeks as my voice cracked. She continued to stare at me looking very confused. “Just rest darling. Thank the Gods you’re back.”

Her face contorted, as she seemed to be trying to form words. She closed her eyes and I could tell she was trying to reach for a lost word. There was some amnesia with this head wound. I guess that was to be expected. “Easy sweetheart. Don’t strain yourself. There’s plenty of time.”

“A…dog…” I had never heard two sweeter words in my life than those two as I nodded my head and bit down on my bottom lip and the smile that played there as the tears fell freely from my eyes.

“Yup a dog.” I said as I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.

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~You’re Still The One~

When I first saw you, I saw love and the first time you touched me, I felt love and after all this time you’re still the one I love.
Looks we made it. Look how far we’ve come my baby. We might have took the long way. We knew we’d get there someday.
They said, I bet they’ll never make it, but just look at us holdin’ on. We’re still together, still going strong.

You’re still the one I run to. The one that I belong to. You’re still the one I want for life. You’re still the one that I love. The only one I dream of. You’re still the one I kiss goodnight.

Ain’t nothing better, we beat the odds together. I’m glad we didn’t listen. Look at what we would be missin’. They said, I bet they’ll never make it, but just look at us holdin’ on. We’re still together, still going strong.

You’re still the one I run to. The one that I belong to. You’re still the one I want for life. You’re still the one that I love. The only one I dream of. You’re still the one I kiss goodnight. You’re still the one.

You’re still the one I run to. The one that I belong to. You’re still the one I want for life. You’re still the one that I love. The only one I dream of. You’re still the one I kiss goodnight.

I’m so glad we made it. Look how far we’ve come my baby.

~Shania Twain-Mercury Nashville~

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I watched her as she tried to focus on me. She looked so lost and confused. I had to assume that the amnesia was total…although the mention of the dog kept some hope alive in my heart.

“Gabrielle…” I said softly. Her eyes darted back to me. “That’s your name…Gabrielle.”

She remained silent, but the look in her eyes made it clear she wanted more information. “My name is Xena.” I said softly as I held her hand in mine giving it a light squeeze. Every nerve ending in my body shocked my skin as I realized she didn’t know who I was. After almost fifteen seasons together she had no idea. No memories of us or our life together seemed to remain.

She lifted her hand and placed it on my face as the tips of her fingers grazed gently along my jaw as she fought to form words. “Xe…Xe…na…Xena.”

“Yes that’s right I’m Xena.” I smiled. Maybe something was going to come back. “But you need to rest. You had an accident. You were hurt. So don’t worry about anything right now but getting your strength back.”

She turned her head slowly and looked around the room. She seemed to be searching for something, what I wouldn’t be able to guess. Maybe just something that she would recognize in her own mind. She looked back to me. “Xena.” She said one last time before giving over to sleep. I’m relieved when I realize it’s sleep and not the horrible unconsciousness that has kept her from us for the last week. I tucked her hand gently under the covers and realize it’s going to be a long hard road back.

Getting into bed, I laid there and watch her sleep. Easy deep breaths and I know that she’ll be okay. No matter how much of her memory comes back, or doesn’t come back at least she’ll be okay. For the first time in a week I allowed myself to sleep without fear that she’d slip away from me in the night.

When my eyes opened with the morning light I was surprised to find her sitting on the edge of the bed. I lifted myself up on an elbow and reached out with a tentative hand, touching her slowly. She turned her head and looked at me. “Xena.” She said softly.

“You shouldn’t be up Gabrielle. You need to rest. Lay back down.”

I got up and moved to her side of the bed and cautiously laid her back down. She didn’t resist me as I covered her. “I promise we’ll go out later, but for now you rest. It’s too early to be up anyhow. You’ve never been up this early.” I grinned at her and she smiled back at me. I hoped it was genuine, but somehow I got a feeling it was reflex more than anything. “Rest, just rest.”

“Xena…”

It almost seemed a question so I sat down on the edge of the bed and ran my fingers gently across her brow. “Yes sweetheart?”

Her eyes just looked at me, blank. No recognition. She just seemed to have locked onto the one word. My name. Funny how after all these seasons the sound of her saying my name could tear at my heart this way. “Well since you seem do be awake how about I get you something to eat?” She continued to stare at me. “Stay in bed I’ll be right back.”

I left our room and headed to the kitchen. Cook and Karra sat at the table having their morning tea. “You’re up early.” Karra said as I poured two cups of tea.

“Gabrielle’s awake.” I said softly. My voice betrayed what should have been a happy announcement.

Karra stood and put her hand on my back. “What’s wrong?”

“She doesn’t remember.” My voice cracked. “Anything.” I shook it off and got two bowls down from the cabinet and moved to the cooking hearth were the morning oatmeal was cooking I got two bowls. I took Ri’s back to the counter and thinned it with a touch of tea and added a little honey. She hated oatmeal and would only eat it if it were sweet. “I’m going to try to get her to eat something a little more substantial.”

“Do you need any help?” Karra offered her voice soft with concern.

“No I’ll be fine. Listen; do me a favor don’t say anything to the children just yet. I need time to think.”

“Of course not.” She reassured me with a little smile.

I nodded my thanks and took a tray of food back to our room. Gabrielle watched me as sat the tray down and turned to her. “Here let’s get you to sit up a bit.” I helped her sit up in bed and retrieved a bowl of the cereal. She made no effort to reach for it. I stirred it and debated on the best way to handle this. “Okay tell you what we’re going to do. I’ll show you how to deal with this and when you’re ready you can take over.” I took a bite of her cereal trying to show her it was food and that it was safe to eat. Then I offered her a bite. She never took her eyes off me as she accepted the food into her mouth. She tasted it and swallowed and smiled at me.

I smiled back, this smile was genuine she was enjoying the oatmeal. I fed her this first meal and then helped her drink her tea. I was just grateful to finally get some real food into her. After she ate she fell back to sleep. I laid her back into the bed and sighed as I watched her. For someone who had always had all the answers in the past I certainly felt lost right now. I leaned over and kissed my beloved wife on the forehead. “I love you bard.”

I heard the rest of the house begin to stir and I knew the children would be headed for us in just a few moments. I decided to head them off this morning. Taking my tea I left our room. As I stepped out and closed the door behind me Mel, who was still rubbing the sleep from her eyes ran right into me.

She looked up and grinned at me. “Well, whaddya’ know, a wall.” She said as she pushed on my legs. I didn’t move. I could only stand there and laugh silently for a moment. “Who put this here?” She said giving me another little shove. I sipped my tea, never moving a muscle. “It wasn’t here yesterday.”

“You are just too smart for your own good you know that?” I asked as I handed her my tea so she could take a drink and get more awake.

“Yeah they tell me I’m a lot like someone else around here. Maybe you’ve seen her. Tall, blue eyes…” She sipped my tea. “Lousy sense of humor.” She handed my tea back and I bent over and picked her up by the waist. She wrapped her legs around my waist and our foreheads met we were eye to eye.

“Who says I have a lousy sense of humor?” I grinned.

“Anyone who has spent more than one full day with you.” She said as she kissed the tip of my nose.

“Oh is that so?” I threw her over my shoulder and walked away from the door to our room.

“Hey I wanted to go in there.” She squeaked at me as we went the common room and I tossed her down on the couch.

“Yeah I know sweetheart, but we need to talk first okay?” I said as I sat down next to her and leaned back patting my lap for her to join me. She crawled up on my lap, just as Kai came out of his room. He came straight for us and climbed up on the couch and threw himself down on it, planning on going back to sleep I’m sure. He was more like Ri everyday. “Hey buddy sit up here for a moment I need to talk to you and your sister.”

He grumbled but complied. I handed him my tea and it occurred to me that I never got to start or finish my own tea anymore when he handed the mug back empty.

“Is something wrong with Momma?” I could hear the fear creeping into Mel’s voice.

“No sweetheart your Momma is fine. As a matter of fact she opened her eyes this morning.”

“That’s great!” Mel yelped as she started to climb down, but I held onto her.

“Hey hang on, we’re not done here yet.” She resettled into my lap. “You’re Momma opened her eyes and that’s a really good sign that she’s going to be okay…but she has a bad head wound and there are other problems.”

“What kind of problems?” Mel asked as she rested her chin on my shoulder and looked to our bedchamber door.

“Momma doesn’t remember anything.” I said quietly.

“She doesn’t know us?” Kai asked as he took up a position with his arms and head resting on the back of the couch, also staring at the door.

“No buddy she doesn’t.” I reached out and scratched his head.

He turned his head, laying it on his arms and looked at me with tears in his eyes. “She doesn’t love us anymore?”

“Sure she does. She just doesn’t know it yet. So we’re all going to have to work together to remind her okay.” He nodded, but the tears fell as he did and I wiped them away with my thumb. “It’s going to be okay, but it’s going to take time.”

“How long?” Mel asked. I could feel her tears soaking into my robe.

“I don’t know honey. I just don’t know. But for the next couple of days I’m gonna need to spend some time with Momma alone.”

“Why?” Mel asked shooting straight up on my lap and wiping her eyes. “You just said that we would all…”

“And we will,” I cut her off and pulled her back to me. “But first I want to tell her about you so that when you guys see each other again maybe she’ll remember something.”

“Well then go in there and tell her now.” Mel said as she sat back up and stared at me.

Why the Gods chose to bless me with a child so much like myself I’ll never know. My mother said it was revenge for all the things I put her through as a child.

“I will Mel, but it’s not that simple. You’re just gonna have to trust me on this okay?”

She looked back at the door and nodded. “Good now I need you to do my a big favor.”

“What?” She asked as she turned back to me.

“It’s a big favor and a big responsibility. Can you handle it?”

“Sure.”

“Okay I need you to get dressed while I saddle your pony. Then I want you to ride over to the village and get Aunt Eph for me. Can you do that?”

“By myself?”

“All by yourself.”

“Yeah I can do that.” She absolutely beamed at me. This was her first trip over to the village on her own. I had always walked her over or we had ridden over together. She had never been allowed to go by herself before, but she was the only one who could do it right now.

“What can I do?” Kai asked wanting to get in on it.

“Good question. I need you to go to your room and pack a couple of days worth of clothes okay? I’m going to have you go help your Aunt Alana. With your brother away she needs some extra help over at the house. Can you do that?”

“Sure!” I’m glad he was so young. It was easy to trick him. I knew I had to make him feel just as significant in all this. It was the only thing I could think of at the moment, but it seemed to work. I knew Alana would understand and do everything she could to make him feel important while he was there.

He took of for his room and Mel turned to me. “Please tell me you don’t think I’m that stupid too.”

“Honey he’s not stupid. He’s little and I needed to make him feel big. He can’t stay here right now, but I needed to give him something to do. Now go get dressed.” I sent her on her way with a little swat to her backside.

I returned to our room. Ri still slept. I dressed quickly and went to the barn and saddled Mel’s pony. Checking all his tack twice, just to make sure I took him back to the house. Mel met me on the porch.

“You sure you can handle this?” I asked as she came down the steps.

She stopped and looked up at me. “If you didn’t think I could, would you have asked me?” She smiled as she grabbed the saddle horn and put her foot in the stirrup pulling herself up into the saddle.

“No I guess I wouldn’t have.” I had to agree with her logic. “Slow and easy okay?” I asked as I lowered my head for a kiss.

“Okay. Slow and easy.” She gave me a kiss and when I stood back up she nudged her pony forward. A great deal of my pride went with my daughter as she rode off. She was quite a kid.

I went back inside through the side door. ‘Cook’ and Karra had Kessa and Rosa in the kitchen feeding them their oatmeal. I gave each of my daughter’s hugs and kisses and spent a few moment getting fed their oatmeal for my efforts. They were learning to do this for themselves, but apparently decided I need a little food this morning too. My stomach rumbled its agreement. I remembered that indeed I hadn’t eaten this morning when I took care of Ri. I decided now was a good time to explain my plan to my friends so I got a bowl of the cereal and sat down.

‘Cook’ and Karra prepared the children to travel. They would take Kai to Alana and then return to the village and keep Kessa and Rosa there for a few days. I had decided to allow Mel to remain with me. I knew that trying to get her to leave would only end up in an argument that neither one of us needed right now. With her lessons and her studies she would be gone most of the day anyhow. So it would be alright. I would have enough time alone with Ri.

Returning to our room I found her awake once again and trying to sit up. “Hey, hey what did I tell you?” I said as I took a seat next to her.

She got a very determined look on her face and fought for the right word. She closed her eyes and then opened them again. “Rest.” She finally said with a smile.

“Yes rest.” I couldn’t possibly explain the joy I found in that second word. She had some short term memories if she could remember my telling her that. This was a very good sign. “Gabrielle do you understand anything I’m saying to you?” I had to see if she could acknowledge that question in any way.

She looked at me and gave me a very determined sigh, running her hands over the blankets and the bed. “Rest.”

She did understand. I sighed and felt a huge weight fall from my shoulders. If she could retain information and understand what it meant, helping her get her memories back might be easier than I thought. This was the woman I had fallen in love with, stubborn and defiant to the very end. I smiled. Now all I had to do was figure out exactly how to communicate with her.

—————————————————

~Every Moment~

“Gabrielle?” I said softly to get her attention, it had wondered away from me while I contemplated my next course of action. She turned her head back to me. “Does anything here look familiar to you?” She just cocked her head at my question. I sighed. “Do you want to get up?”

She looked as if she was considering this question. “Up.” She said slowly as she started to sit up.

“Okay, okay wait just a moment.” I stilled any further movement from her. “Let me help you. You were hurt in an accident.” I said as I help her sit on the edge of the bed. “You may think you’re ready for this, but I’ll bet five dinars your body isn’t.”

“Dinars?” She asked as she gripped my arm. I could see pain flashing across her face and I could hear it reflected in her words.

“Never mind. It’s not important. Does this hurt? Hurt?” I repeated the word as I waved my hand over her body, trying to make her understand.

She looked at me utterly defeated. “Rest.” She said breathlessly as she slid back toward the bed. I helped her lay back down.

“Gabrielle what your feeling is called pain and it hurts. You have to tell me when you feel this way.” I could only hope that the meaning of my words were actually getting through to her.

“Rest.”

I nodded as I covered her back up. “Yes rest.” I sat on the edge of the bed and just watched her watching me. I ran a thumb over her eyebrows and smoothed them out.

She reached out and traced my jaw line. “Xena…rest.”

I captured her hand and gave it a kiss. “No I’m fine.” Somehow, from somewhere she still managed to find that, ‘I know you’re lying to me Warrior’ look she had always given me when she knew I had pushed myself too long and too hard and wasn’t willing to admit it. “Really I’m fine.” I don’t know why I felt the need to reassure her, but I did. Habit maybe. I swear I heard her ‘harrumph’ at me just like always.

“Gabrielle. I don’t know what you understand and what you don’t. I don’t know what you remember. I hope you know that I love you and I’m going to do what ever it takes to make you well.”

“Tea.”

“Tea? You want some tea? Okay I’ll be right back. Stay put.”

I couldn’t help but smile as I prepared her tea. She understood some things well enough to ask for them. This wasn’t going to be easy, but then again I learned along time ago that nothing worth having ever was.

As I started for our room there was a knock at the door. I detoured to answer it. Ephiny stood there, eyebrows raised, with a silly little smile. “I hear there’s some good news.” She said as she came in. I looked past her waiting for Mel. “I made her stay for her lessons.” She said without even asking. “I hope that was alright.”

“Yeah it was a good idea Eph thanks.”

“She’s not very happy with me I’m afraid.”

“She’ll get over it.”

“So tell me.” Eph said as we went back into the kitchen so I could make her some tea.

“Well she’s awake, but I don’t know what she understands or what she remembers. She seems to understand or at least be able to put things together rather quickly and she just asked for a cup of tea or at least I think she did.”

“Can I see her?” Eph asked as she took her tea.

“Sure you can, but I gotta warn you Eph. It’s not the Gabrielle you know in that room.”

“I know.”

“Okay. Do me a favor. Let’s not get into the village or anything yet. First things first, the kids come first. I don’t care if she remembers me or anything else, but I hope against hope that I can help her remember the kids.”

“No problem. I understand completely.”

We made went back into the room and I peeked in first to make sure she was still awake. “Hey you have company.” I said as Eph and I entered. I sat down next to her and Eph took a seat on the other side of the bed. I offered her the tea. She reached a tentative hand and tried to grasp the mug. She held it, but it was shaky so I just gave her a little assist. At least I was right, she did want tea. “Gabrielle this is Ephiny. She came over to she how you’re doing.”

She glanced over to Eph. It was painful for me to watch the two friends watch each other. I could see all the things Eph wanted to say and I could see Ri struggling to recall her friend. Ri reached out and took Eph’s hand.

“Hey you.” Eph said as cheerfully as she could. “I thought I’d come in and see how you were doing. Looks like you’re okay.” She smiled “I know if I had someone that good looking taking care of my every whim, I’d be okay too.” She said with a slight nod of her head in my direction.

Ri turned back to me and smiled. It became clearer to me that she did indeed understand a lot of what was being said. Thank the Gods. She turned back to Eph and raised a shaky hand to point at me. “Xena…rest.”

By the Gods she ratted me out to the Regent. Eph looked at me and bit down on her lip to keep from laughing. “You think so huh?” Eph turned back to Gabrielle. “Well I tell you what. Why don’t I spend some time with you today and we’ll make her get a little rest. Is that good?”

Gabrielle closed her eyes and struggled with the word. “Good.”

“But…” I protested only to have Eph wave her hand at me and motion me outside. I got to my feet and followed her out of the room.

“Before you start complaining,” Eph began before she even gave me a chance to talk. “The first thing I noticed is how tired you looked. Gabrielle can see that too. Now you don’t want to upset her do you?”

“No of course not but…”

“Good, so I’ll tell you what,” She took my hand and led me to the couch. “You just lay down here for say a candle mark and get a little rest. I’ll stay with Gabrielle.”

She gave me a shove and I hit the couch. I sat there looking up at her in total disbelief. At that point she grabbed my feet and turned me until I was lying down, then she stood over me. “Humor us.” She said finally.

“Okay, okay.” I said as I stretched and re-adjust to be a little more comfortable. “But I won’t sleep so if you need me come get me.”

“Absolutely.” She smiled as she turned and walked away.

I opened my eyes. Gods I had dozed off. How long had I been asleep? Long enough for someone to throw a blanket over me. I tossed it to the side and got to my feet, stretching and trying to get a handle on how late it was. I headed for our room. I entered to find Eph sitting at Gabrielle’s desk reading over some parchments. Gabrielle was sound asleep.

“Well hello sleepyhead.” Eph grinned as she turned to me.

“How long?” I asked as I went to the bed to check Ri.

“Just a couple of candle marks. She fell asleep right after you did.”

“I’m sorry.” I ran my fingers through her hair that wasn’t covered by the bandage. She looked more restful now than she had since the accident.

“Don’t be. You both needed the rest. I’m glad I could help.”

“You want a decent cup of tea now?”

“Sure. That’d be great.”

We returned to the kitchen and I made fresh tea. Eph leaned against the counter and watched me with her arms crossed. “Whaat?!” I asked as I poured the tea.

“So how are you doing during all of this?” She accepted the mug.

“It doesn’t matter how I’m doing. What matters is how Gabrielle’s doing.” I sipped my tea and raised my eyebrow at her.

“That’s not true and you know it. You’ve been awfully stressed for the past couple of weeks. First the trouble with Mel and then all this. It can’t be easy on you my friend.”

“Well to tell you the truth there is some part of me that would just love to go pick a nice bar fight.”

“I figured as much. You must be under a great deal of pressure Xena. Don’t get me wrong. I know you and I know that you’re taking excellent care of your family, just like you always have, but this has got to be taking it’s toll on you too. If there’s anything we can do to help…”

“I know Eph thanks. I guess I’m feeling a little guilty because she got hurt to begin with. I was out in the stables sulking for the love of Zeus.”

“You were not sulking you were thinking about your daughter. And you had no way of knowing that this was going to happen. What are you suppose to do? You can’t be everywhere. Haven’t you learned that yet?”

I sighed. I hated it when other people were right.

“Look I just want you to know that we’re all here for you, the both of you. So if you need anything just let us know.”

“I will thanks. So how goes everything over in the village?”

“Well everyone is worried of course, but there’s nothing pressing at the moment. Xena do you think she’s ever going to be able to return to her duties as Queen?”

“I don’t Eph. It’s too early to think about that anyhow. She needs time to get better. You can handle it until then right?”

“Sure. I handled it while she followed you around the known world. I think I can hold it together for a few more weeks.” She grinned.

“I’m going to fix up something to eat and see if I can get her to eat something. You want to stick around?”

“No I’m going to get back. I’ll fill everyone in. If you need anything you can send your little messenger. I’ve got to tell you, she was so proud that you sent her by herself.”

“I knew she could handle it.” I smiled at the thought of my little messenger.

After Eph left I took in a light meal and we ate together. She was getting better control over her muscles and that encouraged me, but I still fed her to make sure she got the food I thought she should have.

“Feel better now that you got to tell on me and make me take a nap?” I teased as she sipped from a cup of milk.

“Yes.” She said as I took the cup away and brushed her mouth gently with a cloth.

“Listen Gabrielle there are some things you need to know. Very soon you’re going to have another little visitor. Her name is Melosa. She’s our daughter.” I watched her trying to gage her reaction. She was processing the information and trying to recall something, anything. “It’s okay if you don’t remember her. She understands, but she wants to see you. Is that okay with you?”

“Daughter.”

“Yeah…umm…well basically she’s a little me.” She smiled at the joke, I didn’t know if she remembered or if the image made her smile, but it didn’t matter. “So it’s okay if she comes to see you?”

“It’s…okay.”

“Then in a few days we’ll introduce you to the rest of the family.”

“Rest?”

“Yeah you and I have quite the little brood Gabrielle. We have a total of five children, a daughter by marriage and a granddaughter.” She cocked her head to the side just a little slight smile played on her lips. I heard the front door open and close. “Speaking of which. I think number one daughter may be home now. I’ll be right back.”

I left our room. Outside I found Mel storming around the room walking in little circles. I recognized this as her attempt to get her temper under control.

“What’s wrong Mel?” I asked as I pulled the door shut.

“How long do I have to take her crap before I’m allowed to knock her silly without getting in trouble for it?!” She almost yelled, her blue eyes blazing at me. Oh I knew that look, I had seen it in my reflection many times.

“Who?”

“Who do you think?!” She threw her arms up into the air and continued to walk around in circles.

“Reena? Good Gods! I’m going to have to go over there and have a talk with those people.”

She stopped walking in circles and came up and grabbed me by the tunic. “That’s a great idea! We’ll go together…you take the big ones and I’ll take the little one and we’ll pummel them senseless.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the thought. Tempting, very tempting, but then we’d have to answer to Ri once she was better. “Tell you what why don’t we try talking to them first?”

“Because they don’t listen! They just can’t seem to grasp the fact that they’re really starting to piss me…”

“MEL!” I stopped her right there.

She stopped and clamped her hands over her mouth. “I’m sorry.” She said as she removed her hands. “I didn’t mean it.”

“Yeah you did, but it’s okay. I understand, but we just can’t go storming over there…”

“Sure we can. You storm very well. I’ve seen you do it!” She grabbed my tunic again and tried to shake me. “PUUULEEAAZZEEEE?”

I actually had tears in my eyes as I tried to choke back the humor I was finding in this situation. Instead I put my hands on her shoulders to calm her down. “I have a better idea.”

“Does it in any way involve the slow torture of those idiots?”

“No.”

“Then it’s really not a better idea Mom.”

“How ’bout you go in and see your Mother? She’s awake.” I said this with a soft smile hoping to get her to calm down.

See looked up at me a little unsure. “Does she want to see me?”

“Sure she does. Do you want to see her?”

“More than anything.”

“Then let’s go.”

We entered our room. Mel approached the bed very slowly, very carefully. “Momma?” She said softly.

Ri opened her eyes and smiled at our daughter. She raised both of her arms and invited Mel in for a hug. Mel climbed onto the bed and very gently lowered herself down next to Ri as she wrapped her arms around her and rested her cheek on Mel’s head. Mel’s eyes closed, Ri’s eyes closed and very soon they were asleep in each other’s arms.

————————————————

~New Beginnings~

Alana came through the front door with Kai and the baby and one puppy at her heals. Kai ran and threw himself into my arms. I hugged my son as Auto got in on the action and offered me a wet, sloppy dog kiss right up and down my arm. “Well that’s got to be one of the most disgusting things I’ve every felt.” I said as I wiped my arm off on Kai’s tunic. Kai giggled and gave me another hug. “I’ve missed you buddy.”

“I’ve missed you too, but I’ve been trying to do good over at Solan’s.”

“Have you been good?”

He looked back at Alana, who sat at the table, with little Gabrielle standing between her legs. “He’s been very good and a very big boy. He’s been a big help.”

She confirmed it for him and he turned back to me. “Just like you told me.” He said proudly.

“I knew you would. Did you come over to visit Momma today?”

He nodded his head. He bit his lip. “Is she gonna be okay?”

“Buddy I think she’s gonna be just great. Especially after she sees you. You ready?”

He nodded again. I took him in to our room. Gabrielle was sitting up in a chair near the window. She turned when we came in and she smiled at Kai. “Come…here…son.” She said to him as she extended her hand. He went over and found himself enfolded in her arms in a tight hug, which he returned. She kissed the top of his head and they began to get to know each other again.

I sat down at the table by the fire and just watched her with him. Over the past week she had regained a lot of her strength. We had gotten rid of a lot of the wrappings and reduced most of them to bandages. Her speech pattern had improved a great deal and conversation had started to become easier. She admitted she didn’t remember much, but that she wanted to, because it felt right to be here with us. She knew she belonged here.

She told me that she didn’t remember me. I remember clenching my jaw with the pain of her words to the point that it actually began hurting. I had to take a deep breath when she said those words to me. I thought I would be able to handle her not remembering me. I told myself it wouldn’t matter as long as she remembered the kids or at least could be taught to remember them. I was wrong, I was hurt too, but I had to let that pain go and hope that someday she would either remember me or grow to love me again. For right now though our children were more important.

She spent about a half a candle mark with Kai. He was delighted to have his mother back in his life. He tried to be a big guy and not show his excitement, but he couldn’t hide it no matter how hard he tried. Ri ran her fingers through his hair and stroked his cheek as she smiled softly and listened to him go on about his time over at Solan’s.

“Hey buddy. It’s time for Momma to rest now ‘kay?” I got up and crossed the room, sitting on the bed so he was between us.

“Okay.” He gave her a kiss and left the room.

She turned to me and smiled. “He’s…ador…able…”

“Yeah that’s our boy.” I smiled back.

“Please…bring…them…home. I want…I want…them here.”

“Okay we’ll get everyone moved back in tomorrow.”

“Good.”

“Do you want two more visitors or are you tired?”

“Who?”

“Alana and little Gabrielle.”

“Yes please.”

I brought them in and settled once again in my chair across the room. Alana held onto the baby and held a brief conversation with Gabrielle and helped her with the baby. My heart that hurt so much at my own loss flourished as I watched her with our granddaughter. Alana said her good-byes and gave me a quick hug before leaving. She took Kai and promised to have him returned to us by mid day tomorrow.

I watched her for a moment. I could tell she was worn out. Helping her back to bed I sat down next to her and watched as she put all this together.

“There’s some…thing…missing…” She said softly.

“Missing?”

“You…say ‘our’…children…”

“Well…umm…you know you gave birth to them, but we’re raising them together…so ‘our’ children.”

She seemed to accept that. As my mouth watered and my throat closed, I had to concentrate hard on breathing. I didn’t want to give her any indication that I was upset.

“How long…have we…known each other?”

I cleared my throat. “A…” I had to stop and try again. “A long time.”

She nodded as her eyes closed. “It’s very…kind …of you…to take…care of us.”

“Well…it’s the…least I could do.” Brushed my hand through her hair as she fell into a deep sleep. I gave her a soft kiss on the forehead. ” Sleep well my love.” I got to my feet and moved on very shaky legs to the cabinet where my gear was kept. I took all my gear and got dressed. Leather, armor, sword…I needed to get it out.

Sliding my sword into the scabbard I went into the kitchen. “Karra, I’m going over to the village for a bit. Will you check Ri in a while?”

“Of course. Are you alright?”

“No.”

I decided a run would be good to start. I had to get rid of this anger and this pain. Once in the village I headed for the training grounds. There were several warriors still there. Ep saw me and approached me with a smile.

“Six of your best Ep. I need six of your best.”

“Promise not to hurt them?”

“I promise to try not to.” I said as I drew my sword.

I took my place on the field and six warriors surrounded me. I waited for one of them to move, when it didn’t happen I motioned for them to advance. They did. I sparred with the first six until they were so tired Ep was replacing them two at a time as I wore them down. The sound and the feel of my blade striking metal helped my body rid itself of the fear, frustration and anger I felt at the loss of my wife.

She doesn’t remember me!

CLANG!

She doesn’t love me!

CLANG!

She might never love me again!

I felt the mistake in my movements. I felt the blade slice my arm. It was nothing more than a nick. I continued to do battle. I had to rid myself of these feelings. It was Ephiny’s voice that stopped me.

“XENA! STOP! STOP!”

Slowly I stopped. I let my blade drop. I looked around I had fought more than two dozen amazon warriors to exhaustion. I looked at my arm, dark red blood poured from a wound on the bicep. I focused on Ephiny. “She doesn’t know me Eph. She doesn’t remember us.” My voice shook.

“Let’s get that arm looked at.” She guided me into the village. As we walked by the blacksmiths I heard a conversation that I suddenly felt the need to be a part of. I stepped inside with Eph hot on my heels. Inside was the life bond mate of Reena’s mother. She turned and looked at me as I made my way over to her.

“What did you say?” I growled as I got closer to her.

She smirked at me and stepped forward. “I said that the little blonde bitch finally got what she deserved!”

I grabbed her by the throat and hefted her from her feet holding her against the wall. Her hands went to my wrist as she struggled for air and tried to free herself. “Listen to me you bitch! You and your family have very nearly cost me everything I hold dear. I nearly lost my daughter and now I have probably lost my wife! I should kill you right here and the only thing that is stopping me is the fact that if I ever get my wife back she’d never forgive me for taking your miserable life. But understand this…I am at the end of my rope…I have taken about all I can take and if you continue in this manner I will come back here and I will break your worthless neck with my bare hands! You might also want to know that if your daughter causes my daughter any further, irritation, aggravation, annoyance, frustration, or pain of any kind I will personally allow her to kick your daughter’s ass from here to Athens and back! Do we understand each other?!”

She gave what I took to be a nod. I let her go and she crumpled to the floor. I turned to Eph and looked into her eyes. She just gave me a slight nod and we left the smithy’s. Once we were outside she drew up next to me. “Thank you for not killing her, she one of our best archers.”

“Gabrielle never would have forgiven me.” I said as I continued to Adrin’s hut.

It took two dozen stitches to close up my arm. I walked back to my home. Feeling relieved, tired and just a tad bit ashamed of myself, but not enough that I really wanted to dwell on it. Finally I just smiled. Life was good. Gabrielle was alive and that’s all that mattered. Eventually she would remember me too.

Mel was on the floor next to the fire reading when I got home. She scrambled to her feet and came at me as I bent at the knees and pulled her into a tight hug. She hugged me and then drew back fingering the bandage on my arm. “You’re hurt. How did you get hurt?”

“Aw it’s nothing. Just a scratch really. I was sparring. How was your day?” I gave her a kiss and moved to the couch where I sat down leaning forward.

Mel climbed up on the couch and fussed around until she freed my scabbard and sword. She pulled it away and handed it to me. Then she started on the buckles of my armor. “Well it was pretty much a waste.”

“Lemme guess philosophy?”

“Riiight.” She said as she tugged on that stubborn buckle. She finally got it with a tug that sent her tumbling backward. My arm shot out and grabbed her before she fell of the couch. I waited just a moment allowing her to dangle there. “Anytime.” She said dryly as she hung there at the end of my arm her own arms hanging limply backward from her body. I hoisted her back up and she finished undoing my armor. I lifted it off and laid it on the floor next to my sword. I then leaned back.

“I should go check your Mother.” I sighed as tired started to settle in.

“She’s sleeping. She woke up and Karra and I gave her something to eat. She went back to sleep. Besides you smell bad and you need a bath.”

I turned my head and opened a weary eye at my daughter. “Are you saying I STINK!”

“You betcha.” She said as she leaned in and gave me a kiss. “But at least you don’t smell like fish. Want me to have Karra get you a bath?” Then she slid to the floor and helped me out of my boots.

“No I can do it. Would you bring me a mug of tea though?”

“Sure.”

I gathered my gear and went into our room and quietly put my armor and sword in the cabinet. I stripped out of the leather and took notice that they would need to be cleaned of the blood from my arm. I put them on the table and retrieved my robe. I slipped it on, checked Ri, gave her a kiss and then went into the bathing chamber. I filled the tub, as I was dumping the last bucket in Mel brought my tea. I slid into the tub and she settled down next to it with her hand dangling in the water, her head resting on her arm on the side of the tub.

“You okay kiddo?” I asked as I sipped my tea.

“Yeah, yeah I’m good and you?”

“Well I feel a lot better now. Nice hot bath, nice hot cup of tea…”

“Beating up half of Aunt Ep’s warrior’s and then holding Reena’s mom up by the throat…” She giggled.

“How did you know about that?”

“I have many skills.” She grinned at me. I grabbed her and drug her into the tub. “AACCKK!” She yelped as she went into the water. She spit and sputtered as she surfaced. I pinned her against the side of the tub with my foot in her chest.

“Now how did you find out about that?”

“I was still in the village. I had just finished up my studies. I was on my way back here when I saw Aunt Ep and Aunt Solari…they were talking about it.”

“Did they know you were there?”

“No. Hey aren’t you the one who taught me to listen to everything around me?”

“Hmmm…yeah I guess maybe I am.” I splashed her with a handful of water.

She used both her hands and splashed me back. “Did you really say I could kick her…”

“Mel…” I warned.

“Did you?”

“Yeah I guess I did.” I sighed and sipped my tea.

“Did you by any chance mean it?” She asked.

“Well I did at the time.”

“But now that you’ve had time to think about it…”

“Now that I’ve had time to think about it…I still pretty much feel the same way. I just hope that you’ll use you’re better judgement and not let that part of you that is me get to you. Use that part of you that’s her.” I said as I nodded my head toward the room where her mother lay. “You’re going to take her place some day. You should show these people your more like her than me.”

“Doesn’t sound like as much fun, but I’ll try.” She pushed her hair out of her face and looked down at my foot. “Umm…you think maybe you could either let me out or let me go ahead and get a bath since I’m here already.”

“Yeah your choice.” I said as I moved my foot.

She stripped her clothes off and dropped them to the floor with a thud. She looked over the edge of the tub at her wet clothes.

“What were you reading when I came in?” I sipped my tea.

“Some of Momma’s old scrolls.”

I sat straight up in the tub and grabbed my daughter. Mel you’re a genius!” I said as I climbed out of the tub after giving her a hug and a kiss.

I threw on my robe and headed for the common room, behind me I heard her “I could have told you that. All you had to do was ask.”

I opened the doors to a large cabinet. There they were dozens and dozens of them. The bard’s scrolls. By the Gods I had never been so happy to see a scroll in all my life. I stood there just staring at them when Mel came out of the bathing room with a towel wrapped around her shoulders. I looked down at her she was shivering a little, I picked her up and held her close to me.

“Mel do you know how Momma has theses arranged?”

“Sure the ones on the top self are the first ones she ever wrote and the newer ones are on the bottom shelves.”

I reached out and took what appeared to be the first scroll. I adjusted Mel who held firmly to my neck and unrolled the scroll. I knew there was no way to hide the smile on my face. Here it was Lila, Draco, Mother’s tavern everything. The very first time we met.

“Umm Mom?”

“Yeah.”

“Does it bother you at all that were standing here dripping all over the floor?”

“Not at all, Princess, not at all. Do you know what these are?” I asked her as I waved the scroll at her.

“Yeah it’s a scroll.” She said it as if I had lost my mind.

“It’s more than that Mel. These are your Mom’s memories.”

“Huh?”

“Mel we just have to let your Mom read these. Maybe, just maybe it will help her regain her memory or at least understand everything.”

“You know that’s not a half bad idea. No wonder I thought of it.”

I looked at her and grinned. “You know you’re too obnoxious sometimes.”

“Yeah well I learned from the best.” She leaned in and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

I wrapped my arms around her and held her close to me. “I love you Mel.”

“Love you too.” She said as she flicked my ear with her fingers. “But I’m freezing to death here. Let me go get dressed.”

“Aww it’s not that cold you little wimp.” I put the scroll away and closed the doors to the cabinet, still holding onto her.

“Who you calling a wimp?”

“You! You little wimp.”

“I can take you.” She challenged as she narrowed her gaze and laid her forehead against mine.

“You know little Miss Attitude you just might be able to at that. In twenty seasons or so, until then forget it. Now however it’s bedtime so go get dressed for bed.”

“Yes ma’am.” I put her down and she went to her room.

I headed into the kitchen for something to eat. Karra sat there waiting for me. “Feel better?”

“Much. Thanks for staying. By the way can you bring Kessa and Rosa home tomorrow? Ri wants all the children home.”

“Absolutely. It’s good that she’s feeling well enough to have them home.”

“I think she understands that she needs them. I’m glad she wants…us…them home.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not right now, maybe later.”

“Well you know me, I’m not one to keep opinions to myself so I’ll just say this before I go. Don’t you think for one moment that she has forgotten you. You two have a bond so strong the Gods themselves haven’t been able to break it. Not only will she remember you, but also this will strengthen the bond between you. I’ve sat back for the last week or so, and watched the former Destroyer of Nations lay a touch so gentle, it wouldn’t be felt by anyone other than her true love. For that woman it is so strong it has brought her back to you…to all of us. She came back for you.”

With that she gathered her things and left without another word. I just stood there shaking my head. Thanks the Gods for our friends.

The next day I let Mel stay home from her lessons. First, I figured a day or so away from Reena wouldn’t hurt. Second, I had a plan. After the morning meal, Ri sat in her chair as she had for the last several days. She looked out the window as I straightened our room.

“Xena?”

“Yes?”

“Can…we go out…today? For a walk.”

“Sure, I think a short walk will do you good.”

I went to her and helped her stand and take those first few tentative steps. She looked to me and smiled as we made our way into the common room. She held my arm as she took shaky step after shaky step, but I could feel her getting stronger. The looked around the room appearing to be pleased with what she saw.

She stopped and stared at the portrait. “How…long…ago?”

“I gave it to you almost two seasons ago.”

“It’s beauti…ful.”

“That’s what you said then too.” I smiled at the memory of holding her in my arms the night I gave her the portrait. My arms began to ache at their emptiness. I shook it off and helped her out to the porch. I sat her down in the chair.

“Mel!” I called the number one daughter, knowing she’d be close at hand.

It didn’t take long for her to show up. She came around the corner with her pony trailing behind her. He was bare back with only his harness on. He followed her around the same way Auto followed Kai. She gave me a smile and approached Ri giving her a kiss. She turned back to me. “You rang?” She said as she crossed her arms.

“Would you go in and get a blanket please?”

“Sure.” She disappeared into he house only to return a few moments later with the blanket and a scroll tucked under her arm. She handed me the blanket and took a seat on the steps.

I tossed it over Ri’s lap, kneeling down to tuck it around her legs she placed her hand on my head and ran her fingers through my hair. I cleared my throat to shake the sensation of her innocent touch that flooded my own memories. “So Mel what are you up to?”

“Well I was working with him. I taught him a new trick today.”

“What?” I asked as I took a seat on the porch between the chair and the steps. Ri still had her hand in my hair and I didn’t want to give up that contact.

Mel gave a little whistle and her pony nodded his head and then knelt down on his front knees. She whistled again and he got up.

“Not bad.” I said.

“Very…good.” Ri said as the pony took a hand signal from Mel and went out into the yard to graze. “I don’t’…like to…ride. Do I?” Ri asked.

I couldn’t contain the grin that spread across my face as we looked at each other. “No. No you don’t, but you will when you have to.” A memory, a real memory.

“”Mel?” Ri asked over the top of my head with a slight nod to our daughter.

“Yes Momma.”

“What is …that?” It was about the scroll. I knew she was still a snoop at heart and I could make that work for me.

“One of your old scrolls.”

“My…scrolls?” She looked at me with some confusion.

“Yeah you are quite the bard.” I said in a re-assuring manner.

“Me?”

“Un-huh. Your scrolls are even archived in the Athens academy. It’s quite the honor.”

“May I…see that?”

Ah my plan was working. I just loved it went a plan came together. I got to my feet and wandered out into the yard toward the pony. I took him by the halter and made some excuse about taking him to the corral. Mel pulled a chair up and handed Ri the scroll. I could see them talking about it but I couldn’t hear them as I turned to walk away. I smiled.

————————————————

~Among The Memories~

When I returned to the house Ri was ready to go back inside, but far to tired to walk. I picked her up and carried her back to our room and prepared to put her to bed. Mel followed silently behind us, scroll in hand. By the time I reached the bed she was already asleep in my arms. I sat down in the chair and just held her there. I needed this contact with her. Mel sat down across from me.

“How did it go?” I whispered.

“Well we’ve got one big snag.” My daughter replied as she laid the scroll aside and leaned back on her arms. “She doesn’t remember to how to read.”

“I expected as much.” I said softly as I brushed my lips across her forehead.

“Well you coulda warned me.”

“Sorry.”

“So now what?’

“We teach her to read. Mel we’re going to have to teach her a lot of things.”

“It’s never going to be like it was is it?”

“Probably not sweetheart.”

“She doesn’t remember you.” Mel said, as she lowered her eyes and gave a little kick of her foot.

“I know.” I said softly. “That’s why I’m hoping to get her to read the scrolls. I’m hoping she’ll remember me.”

“Why don’t you just tell her. You told her about all of us. She hasn’t had any problems with that?”

“Well little one, it’s kind of different with us. I don’t want to scare her. You’re her children…”

“Yeah well we’re your children too.” She cut me off starting to let her temper flair a little. “I like having both my moms around. If you don’t tell her the truth then it’s hard telling what could happen.”

“Listen to me. No matter what happens between us Mel we will always be here for you. I’ll never leave you. It nearly killed me when you didn’t understand how you were born and you didn’t want me in your life. But the truth is there are some decisions that your mom will have to be allowed to make on her own when she’s well enough and whether or not to accept me is one of those decisions.”

“It’s not fair.”

“No it’s not Princess.”

“Can’t Grandfather help?”

“No. We have to do this on our own Mel. You can’t count on the Gods to help you, even when you’re related to them. You have to be able to do things for yourself. You’re going to learn a lot by helping your mom get her memories back with those scrolls. Every word in them is true.”

“Awe c’mon. I’ve already read some of those stories. You’re trying to tell me that you guys actually did those things?”

“Absolutely. We got ourselves into some real messes when we were younger.” I heard myself laugh softly at the thought. I kissed my wife on the forehead. “I’m going to make you remember henbane laced nut bread. I swear I am.” I whispered. My eyes closed to hold back the tears that wanted to fall.

I heard the front door open and close and I knew the family had descended. I gave her a last kiss and stood up. Mel helped me put her to bed and I laid the covers over her. “Well, let’s go get your brother and sisters resettled huh kiddo.” I said as I turned to Mel.

“Oh if we must. I’ve kind of enjoyed being the only child.”

“Yeah I’ll just bet you have.” I ran my hands through her hair and tousled it just a little. “But reality calls Princess.”

“Yeah well reality stinks.”

I looked back at the form of my sleeping wife. “Yeah it sure does.”

As I closed the door behind me, Kessa and Rosa broke free of Karra and came at me a fast as their little legs could carry them. I dropped to my knees and scooped them up in my arms.

“Momma!” They each squealed as they planted kisses on either cheek.

I stood up and returned the kisses. “Well hello my little Princesses. Did you miss me?”

“Miss you.” They said basically together as they hugged me around the neck.

I glanced over at Karra who had a wide grin on her face. “Were they any trouble?” I asked as I lowered them back to the floor. They wrapped themselves around my legs.

“They’re twins and they’re three seasons old. We had our moments, but for the most part they were fine.” She said as she put their things off to the side and came over to capture Rosa from my leg. “You were just a little harpy weren’t you Your Highness?” She asked with a laugh as she took Rosa’s hand. The baby giggled and went with Karra.

As was her sister’s nature Kessa followed. They were twins, bonded together in a very unusual way I imagined. They seemed so close. Almost as if they could read each other’s thoughts.

Just as Alana came through the door I heard Ri call my name. “I’ll be right back.” I said to my daughter as I turned to go back into our room. Mel started to follow I shook my head, she paused and nodded, staying behind.

Went I went in she was trying to get up. She was upset. I sat down and stroked her arms to bring her attention to me. “Ri? Come on look at me.” She turned her head and focused on me.

“Dreams…so many…dreams.” She said as she shook.

“Dreams may be good love.” I said as I moved and settled into the bed and pulled her into my arms. She seemed to relax and settled into my arms with her head resting on my shoulder. I wondered if the feeling of this brought anything back to her. “Tell me about them Ri. Tell me about your dreams.”

“You…you…”

“What about me Ri?”

“You couldn’t…see…I…was…in a box. You got…me out.”

Ah she had dreamt of our dealings with Palaemon and King Solas. Well not the one I would have chosen for her, but it was a start. “Yes…yes I got you out.”

“You…” She mumbled as she fell back to sleep there safe and sound in my arms. I made no move to get up. She seemed so content now and slept soundly. I didn’t want to disturb her.

I closed my eyes and kissed the top of her head. “It’s a start wife.” When I didn’t return there was a soft knock on the door and Alana stuck her head in.

“Everything okay?”

“Umm yeah. Bad dream I think. Come on in.”

She came over and took the chair next to the bed. “Maybe bad dreams are good. That didn’t come out right. You know what I meant.”

“Yeah I know. At this point any memory is a good one. I just hope that if she has to start having them she has a few of the good ones as well. I hate to think that all the memories that are going to come back are going to be bad ones.”

“Not possible. There are far more good memories caught in there than bad ones.” She paused, then smiled. “I got a message from Solan today. Seems they’re going to be a few days longer than thought. Apparently your mother has a lot of things to either dispose of or pack up.”

I had to chuckle, Ri grumbled a bit but continued to sleep. “Yeah that would be my mother the pack rat.”

“Well Solan says there are three large crates there with your name on them too. Which your mother insists be brought back to you.”

“Good Gods what has that woman managed to drag up that could possibly have belonged to me?”

“He didn’t say.”

“Terrific. I can hardly wait.”

“Oh I can just hear the excitement oozing in your voice.” She grinned as she stood. “I’m going to go back out and help Karra get everyone settled. I think you should just relax and stay here. You both look pretty comfortable at the moment.”

I let my eyes drop down to the bard who was now firmly snuggled up next to me. Just like the old days. “Yeah we’re both pretty happy right now I think. Thanks. I’ll be out in a bit.”

“Take your time.” She gave me a reassuring smile with a wink and left us there together.

The door opened a moment later and Mel poked her head in. “Can I talk to you for just a moment?” She asked before coming in. I motioned for her to come in. She came in and sat on the edge of the bed. “Well you look cozy.”

“I am thanks.” I grinned. “Whatcha need?”

“Well I’m thinking…”

“I knew I smelled smoke.”

“Oh har, har. You think we could be serious here for a moment?” She was obviously in a mood to be serious. I tried not to smile.

“Sorry. What were you thinking?”

“I think the scrolls might be a little hard for her at first. So I want to go over the village and get some of the scrolls that the younger kids use during studies. Easier stuff. Can I ride over and get some?”

“Sure. You want me to saddle you up?”

“No you stay there. Alana said she’d do it.”

“Be back in time for the evening meal and stay away from Reena.”

“I’ll stay away from her, but if she finds me…”

“Melosa…behave.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Hey, just so you know this is a good idea. You’re quite the teacher there kiddo.”

“Yeah well I got lucky in this deal. I got your looks and her brains.” She wiggled her eyebrows at me.

“Yeah and who does that smart mouth belong to?”

“Oh that’s all you too.” She said as she skittered off the bed and made for the door. “I love you. I’ll be back later.”

“Love you too brat. Be careful.”

“Always.”

Ri continued to sleep most of the day. I stayed with her until my own restless body just wouldn’t allow it any longer. I slipped out of bed and headed out into the common room where my two youngest and my granddaughter where playing. Karra and Alana were preparing vegetables for the evening meal. I went over and snatched a carrot only to get my hand slapped for the effort. “Please?” I asked Karra with a wide grin and was rewarded with the carrot in question. “Where is my son?”

“Outside with that puppy.” Karra growled.

“Oh boy what did they do now?’ I couldn’t contain my amusement as I looked outside to find my son and his dog looking totally dejected on the front porch.

“That dog got in the chicken coop and startled all the hens. We probably won’t have eggs for two days.”

“Okay I’ll go take care of it.” I went out and dropped down next to him. “What’s up buddy?”

“We’re in it again.” He mumbled as he stroked the dog’s head. Auto’s tail thumped the porch.

“What?”

“The dog house. Am I gonna have to sleep in the barn again?”

“Only if you want to.” I grinned. “You know I’ve been thinking about this.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah and I think that he needs to be trained. I think you and I should train him so he’ll behave himself.”

“What kind of things can we teach him?”

“Oh well what do you want to teach him?”

“I want to teach him to stay out of trouble.”

I laughed out loud, fell back on the porch and continued to laugh. My son crawled up on top of me and looked down at me. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing buddy. Sometimes things just seem so simple and it’s nice to hear it once in awhile. You just gave Mom here a badly needed laugh.”

“That’s good then.” He gave me a hug and I settled my arms around him.

“I love you buddy.”

“Love you too Mom.”

After the evening meal was served and the smaller children were tucked in for the night. Mel sat down with Ri near the fire and they began working on her reading skills. Mel was very proud of the fact that I was simply sitting back and letting her handle this. I sharpened and polished weapons. I watched them and listened as they actually giggled while looking over the scrolls. She seemed so innocent again.

As much as I wanted her to remember everything some part of me wished that she didn’t have to. So much had passed between us. I didn’t plan on hiding anything from her. She would learn the good and the bad because it was all of that which had brought us here and made us who and what we were. I just wished I didn’t have to cause her all that pain again. That might push her away from me.

“Damn!” I growled as I nicked my hand on my sword. They both looked up at the same time as I wrapped my hand. “Mel could you get me a bandage?”

“Sure.” She scrambled to her feet and went off to find me a clean bandage.

Ri got to her feet and slowly made her way to me and knelt down. “Let…me see.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Let…me see.” This was a firm command as she took my hand and began to unwrap it. Mel brought a clean bandage. I was amazed when Ri just took over. “Mel…water…please.”

“Su…sure…” She looked at me wide eyed as she went to get water. When she returned, Ri proceeded to clean, dress and wrap the wound. “How did you know to do that?” Mel asked as her mother finished taking care of my wound.

She studied my hand and the bandage and then looked to me. “You…taught me.”

“Yeah I did…a long time ago.”

“Okay…then.” She said as she started removing the bandage on my arm. “More…cloth…please.”

Mel looked to me for permission. “She’s going to need my medical kit for this one Mel. It’s in our room in the trunk.”

“Okay.” Mel retrieved the kit and brought it in and sat it down for her mother.

I watched in shear amazement as she un-wrapped my upper arm. She looked at me with a soft smile and proceeded to clean, reapply salve and rewrap the wound I had received while sparring. “Want…to tell…me how?” She said as she pointed at my arm.

“I was sparring over in the village.”

“Village?”

“Later. You just had a very important memory Ri. You did the dressing all on your own because you remembered how to do it. This is good…very good.” I said as I caressed her cheek with my knuckles.

Our eyes met and I could see something coming back to life in there.

———————————————–

~Sweet Rediscoveries~

After the automatic memory of dressing a wound came back, Mel and I found that teaching Gabrielle how to read along with math skills and other things came quite easy. She was thrilled to be learning and her memories came in small flashes. As she was reading the scrolls, she said that she didn’t actually ‘remember’ the stories, but that something felt familiar about them. I knew it would only be a matter of time.

I explained to her about the village and her position as Queen. She was a little more than shocked at that information, but took it in stride. She decided that she wanted to see the village and see how things worked. Ephiny took it from there. While I returned to some of my duties training warriors Ephiny would take Gabrielle around and reintroduce her to the village. They attended council meetings and Gabrielle watched the Regent conduct village business.

I met them for the mid day meal. They were already seated and eating when I got there. I got my food and sat down with them. Gabrielle smiled at me and took a bite of her food as she pointed her fork at me. “You…need a bath. As Mel would say, YOU STINK!” She wrinkled her nose at me and smirked.

“Yeah I probably do. It’s hard training your warriors. They like to beat on me.” I grinned as I began eating. Ri and I hadn’t taken ‘our’ relationship any further than it had been since the accident, but the familiar banter was coming back and that made me very happy and seemed to please her.

“There’s a joining festival tomorrow.” She said and seemed very intent on my reaction to the announcement. I dropped my head and groaned. “Hey you were right.” Ri said to Eph who snickered. “Tell me Xena why do you hate amazon parties?” She nudged me. “As I understand it, this festival is very important, because so many couples are joined.”

“I don’t hate them exactly. I’m just not much of a people person Gabrielle. Festivals and parties make me…twitchy.”

“So I take it you’re not coming over tomorrow?” She sipped her juice and looked at me over the top of her mug.

“Are you?” I inquired as I continued to eat.

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Then I’m coming too.”

Eph snickered again and I reached around Ri and smacked the back of her head.

“Hey! What did I do?” Eph asked with a grin.

“You are a troublemaker.” I said. She snickered again.

Gabrielle held onto my arm as we walked around the village. The party was in full swing and she seemed a little hesitant. I patted her arm and leaned over and whispered in her ear. “Ri, if you want to leave you just tell me okay?”

“Okay.”

“We don’t have to stay. If you want to go now we can.”

“No. I want to stay.”

“Alright.”

Eph had made sure that the council understood that Ri was not ready to take on any responsibility for this festival and that we were only coming because she wanted to see some of the activity in the village. As we walked past the dancers she watched them with a smile. They still paid her tribute as Queen bowing as we walked by. She was embarrassed by the attention and buried her blushing face in my shoulder. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and chuckled a little.

“Why do they do that?” She asked as she clutched my arm.

“You’re still their Queen. It’s a sign of respect to you.”

“I’m walking next to you and they’re showing me respect. What are they…crazy?”

I laughed out loud. “No my darling. You are their Queen. I am merely your consort.” I couldn’t believe I let that word out of my mouth. Dumb, dumb warrior!

“My what?” She stopped and turned to look at me. “You’re my what? She pulled on my arm and made me turn to face her.

I swallowed hard. I hadn’t planned for this to come up so soon. “Your consort.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m…well…umm…” We sat down at a long table with a group of friendly, well known trouble making amazons at the other end, but it afforded us the privacy I felt we needed for this conversation.

“Is it a bad thing, to be my consort? Do you not wish it?”

“No, no it’s a good thing. A very good thing.” I cleared my throat and tried to recompose myself. “And yes I wish it very much.”

“Well then what is it?” I noticed the Ep, Sol and Eph had managed to slide themselves a little further down the table toward us. They tried to make it look innocent. They failed.

“Well we… we’re life bonded. Joined…umm… married. Consort is a title that goes with being married to the Queen.”

“Married? Like those couples earlier?”

“Yes just like that. Only because you are Queen, we had our own ceremony. We didn’t have to share it with anyone.”

“How long now…have we been married?” Her features seemed to soften once again and she ran her fingertips down my cheek as she asked me this question.

“Almost ten seasons.” I took a cup of wine from the hand of the closest amazon and drained it, before handing it back to her. I certainly hadn’t expected this conversation to come up tonight. I glanced back when I noticed the amazon whose wine I had just snitched was Ep. I groaned inwardly. I didn’t need her aggravating this situation. She turned and flashed me a toothy grin as she handed me another cup of wine.

“Thanks, but don’t you have someplace else you can be?” I growled at her.

“Nah, I got all night. Besides this conversation is just too interesting…” She said out of the side of her mouth.

“You should be ashamed of yourself eavesdropping on your Queen and her consort.”

“I should be, but I’m not. I want to see where this goes.”

“Umm I can tell you where you’re gonna go if you don’t go away…” I said very slowly.

“Into the lake?”

“With a large rock tied to your ankles.”

Ep turned her back to me and engaged the other two in a conversation. I turned my full attention back to Gabrielle. She was busy now watching the other newly joined couples. I just propped my elbow on the table, rested my head in my hand and waited.

“Xena?”

“Hmmm.”

“If we’re married why haven’t you done that?”

“What?”

“That.” She said as she pointed at a couple across the clearing.

I looked over to find a young couple engaged in a rather long and enthusiastic display of affection. “Well Gabrielle there’s a time and a place for everything and this isn’t the time or the place.”

“Of course it is.”

“Not for us.” I said quietly, but firmly.

“Why not for us? You say that being my consort is a good thing. You say that we are married. Then why haven’t you…”

“Gabrielle darling there’s more to it than that.” I said as I took her hand and turned her head to make her look into my eyes.

“Like what?”

“Love, Gabrielle there should be love.”

“Love?”

“Yes.”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes. With all my heart.”

“Then why?”

“Because I’m not sure you love me anymore.” I hated to admit it, but since the accident of course things were different. She had no way of remembering our love. She had no way of remembering what it meant to be in love. We still shared the same bed, but it was like it was before we were married. It was mostly for the comfort of it. I had shared my bed with her for so long I couldn’t imagine sleeping without her being close to me. She had never questioned our sleeping arrangements and had even started to cuddle up next to me again. Then in the middle of the night I would hold her in my arms until it was time for her to wake then I would release her and allow her to awake unrestrained. I was content with that.

“I loved you before the accident didn’t I?”

“Yes.”

“Then why wouldn’t I love you now?”

“Well some things are bound to change Gabrielle.”

“Could that be one of those things?”

“It could be yes.” My voice cracked as I thought about the possibility of her actually loving someone else.

“It could be that I am now in love with someone else?”

“Well…not…necess…” Before I could finish my sentence Gabrielle got up and moved past me. I turned and watched as she tapped Ep on the shoulder. When Ep turned around Gabrielle grabbed Ep’s head in her hands and laid on one of the most passionate kisses I had ever seen. I could see Ep trying to squirm out of the kiss as Sol and Eph sat stunned and watched the entire display.

Gabrielle completed her kiss. I glared at Ep who threw her hands up in defense. “I didn’t…I…I…please don’t kill me.” She stammered as she scrambled to her feet and climbed over the table. I stood up and considered going over the table when I felt my own head captured and being pulled down.

Our eyes met. Hers closed. Our lips met. My eyes closed and my arms wrapped around her. I was afraid I would overwhelm her with emotions I had been holding back for so many weeks now. She didn’t seem to want or need me to hold back. She’s the one who demanded and I’m the one who gave in. I pulled her closer to me as the kiss between us deepened and the passion ignited once again.

I could feel her body in tune with mine as if nothing had ever happened. We melted into each other with a kiss that seemed to go on forever. My hands slid over her slender form. It felt so good to touch her again I couldn’t help myself. I heard her moan into our kiss and I knew I had to stop before it got completely out of hand right here in front of the entire village. I drew back breathless and opened my eyes.

She smiled her eyes remained closed. She wrapped her arms around my waist and laid her head on my shoulder. “No contest. You’re much better at that. And from the way I feel after, I’m pretty sure I’m still in love with you.”

“Oh well gee thanks a lot.” Ep growled as she stalked away. I thought Sol and Eph were going to fall off the bench from the laughter that erupted.

I leaned over and whispered in her ear. “Maybe we should retire to the Queen’s chambers and continue this exploration in feeling in private Your Majesty.”

“Maybe we should.” She looked at me and drew a soft seductive hand to my cheek, letting her fingertips trace the outline of my jaw. “Can we use the house here?”

“I’d like to see them try and stop us.” I growled as I wrapped my arm around her and we moved across the village square.

Once inside the house, I took a deep breath and realized I had to get this under control. This was my wife, but she had been hurt and not all that long ago. I also needed to remember that she had no memory of my touch or our lovemaking. I took several deep breaths as my mind took control of my body.

“Don’t do that.” She whispered as she moved her body into mine.

“What?”

“Hold back. You have been doing that everyday. You’ve been holding back from me. Not tonight, not anymore.” She kissed me again. I felt her hands slip under my tunic. Her touch felt like fire on my skin. Gods here we were. It was going to be just like the first time. It was a first time. That thought shocked me for a moment. How many people were fortunate enough to have a first time with the person they loved twice?

“Gabrielle, if you need or want me to stop I want you to tell me. I love you so much and the God on Olympus know I want you, but if you’re not ready…”

My words were cut off with another kiss from her. She was remembering how to release all my triggers. I was amazed when her hand traveled to the back of my neck and she found that pressure spot on my neck near my ear. My legs went weak when she hit that one. It had always been one of her favorites because it did make me so weak.

I gently untied the knot at the shoulder of her gown and it slipped to the floor. My hands touched her bare skin. This was the touch I had missed giving her, missed having her accept from me. I needed to make love to my wife like I needed air to breathe and these past several weeks had been hard, but under no circumstance was I going to push her into something she wasn’t ready for. If she had decided right now to stop I would. I’d have to go take a swim in the deepest, coldest body of water I could find, but I’d stop.

I lowered my lips to her neck and kissed her softly and gently. “Ohh Gabrielle I’ve missed you so much.” I could hear my own breath picking up as I continued my exploration of her neck. She let her head drop to the side to give me more room.

“Tell me Xe.” She moaned into my shoulder. “Tell me how much you’ve missed me.”

I picked her up in my arms and carried her to the bedchamber. “Let me show you.” I said as I lay her down on the bed.

Several candle marks later she looked at me as she gently tried to blow hair from her forehead. I reached out and brushed it back. She lay there on top of me and smiled down at me. I waited for her to say something.

“I’ve come to a decision.” She finally said as she rested her head on my shoulder.

“And that would be…”

“We should do this…a lot.” I chuckled and wrapped my arms around her and allowed myself to trace the outline of her back with my thumbs. She lifted her head and looked at me again. “Was it…like before?”

“Umm…well no.”

“Bad?”

“NO! Just different.” I reassured her.

“How?”

“Well for one thing biting down on my shoulder in an effort to be quiet is new.”

“Well I…didn’t want anyone to…hear.” She blushed again. As she reached up and touched the red mark on my shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright sweetheart don’t worry about me I’m tough I can take it. As for people hearing, it wouldn’t be the first time Gabrielle.” I chuckled as I kissed the top of her head and held her close.

“What?” Her head raised and she looked into my eyes. “What does that mean?”

“Well this is an amazon village. It’s not as if anyone is surprised by anything they hear…or see and up until now you’ve never been…quiet and of course there was that kiss you bestowed on Ep last night…in front of the entire village. Hard to believe that the woman who kissed her Captain of the Guard like that would be shy now and with her own consort.”

See looked at me for a long moment. “Oh Gods!” The realization of what she had done hit her and she blushed again. “I should apologize to Ep.” She said as she just let her head drop and buried her face in my shoulder. I laughed silently at this now very shy woman who lay in my arms. This was indeed an interesting change.

“No, I think for the sake of Ep’s ego it might be better to let it go.” I said as I kissed her forehead.

She shifted and moved down onto the bed next to me and wrapped herself firmly around me. “So tell me about our first time.” She said softly as she traced my collarbone with her fingertips.”

“My love every time with you is like the first time.”

———————————————

~The Good Life~

As I came into the kitchen from the side door I could hear them.

“I swear Mom she says every word is true.” Mel giggled.

“Oh she had better hope this one isn’t.” I heard a familiar growl creeping into my wife’s voice as I moved silently around the kitchen.

“Why in the world would there be three of you?” Mel asked.

“What I want to know is why they were naked…” I gave myself away when I dropped the bowl I had in my hand. “Xena? Is that you? Could you come here please?”

“Actually sweetheart I was just on my way back out.” I called hoping to make a quick escape over to the village and grab a bite there.

“Oh no warrior. I have a question about this scroll.” Her voice was softer now and I knew she was standing behind me on the other side of the room. Slowly I turned…

“Yes?” I grinned.

“Care to explain this one to me?” She said as she advanced. I began backing away moving around the room backward.

“Well you see Aphrodite enchanted this scroll…”

“Yeah that much I got…” She said as she followed me around the room and I continued to back up.

“And I had asked you to keep me out of your story just once.”

“Un-huh that part was pretty clear too…” I was still moving but so was she. Now where had I put that door?

“And you see well…you accidentally took away the powers of a couple of our favorite Gods…”

“Un-huh…keep talking.”

“Well then Joxer got a hold of the enchanted scroll…” Ah the door, turn and run right into the number one daughter. “Umm Mel could you move?”

“Somehow I don’t think so.” She said with a big grin. Okay move number one daughter. I picked Mel up by both arms and turned and placed her in the doorway between a rapidly advancing Gabrielle and me. “I’ll get you later you little traitor. Now Ri honey…”

“Don’t you honey me Warrior…”

I noticed Mel had no problem moving for her. “Gee thanks a lot pal…”

“Anytime.” Mel said as she leaned against the doorframe and watched.

“You know perfectly good and well what I’m talking about Xena…”

“Care to refresh my memory…” That stopped her long enough for me to get a little distance between us.

“Oh thaaat’s funny.” She said as she took up a stand at the other end of our dining table, which I had strategically placed, between us. “I’m talking about the part when you got a hold of the scroll…”

“Could we talk about this later?” I nodded toward Mel who was still watching with a huge grin on her face.

“Oh no it’s okay I already read it.” Mel offered. “I pointed it out actually.”

“You’re not helping me here!”

“Hey you’re the one who chose to bring back the three naked Gabrielle’s.” Mel said with a smirk. “Didn’t you stop and consider that someday that just might come back and bite you on the…”

“MEL!” Ri and I both yelled in unison.

“Sorry.” She said as she threw up her hands and disappeared into the kitchen.

My gaze returned to Ri, who stood at the other end of the table. I grinned. “Honey it really wasn’t as bad as the scroll made it sound. I just wanted to see if it would work. Nothing happened I swear.

I swatted the scroll away as it flew toward my head. “You are in so much trouble Warrior you have no idea…”

“Aww come on Gabrielle it was a joke I swear. You actually thought it was pretty funny…then. We had a good laugh, really we did.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Okay, but I have questions about some other things.” She said as she picked up another scroll.

“Alright that’s fair.” I said as a carefully approached her, still not quite trusting her. I slowly moved in behind her and wrapped my arms around her and lay my head on her shoulder. “Tell you what. Why don’t we pack everyone up and go down to the lake and spend a couple of days. Just you, the kids and me. Hmmm?”

“I’d like that. Will you answer my questions?”

“Of course I will my love. All your questions.” I gave her a gentle hug.

She turned in my arms and looked into my eyes. “Xena why me?”

“Okay I don’t understand that one. Why you what?”

“Why me? You could have had anyone. Anyone you wanted, why me?”

I caressed her cheek with my fingertips. “Because you believed in me. Because you loved me. You loved me no matter what and you never lost faith in me or us. You once said that we were two halves of one soul Ri and I believe that.” I kissed her forehead. You are the other half of my soul I would die without you.” I rested my cheek against her and closed my eyes. “I would die without you.” I whispered again.

“Oh enough with the mushy stuff.” Mel giggled as she came back into the room. “It’s embarrassing for a kid to see that stuff.

I released Ri and turned. “YOU! You little traitor…” I gave her a little growl and advanced on her. She looked at me, gulped and ran for it. I heard the back door slam and I turned and went out the front. I ran around the side of the house and caught her in my arms as she came around the corner.

“ACCCCKKKK…” She yelped as I hoisted her over my shoulder and started walking. I heard Kai and Auto come around the corner. “KAI HELP!!!” She begged as she squirmed.

“Mom!” Kai yelled I could hear him running to catch up. I stopped and turned and waited patiently for him even as Mel tried to squirm free.

“Yes?” I asked as he caught up to us.

“Whatcha doing?” He asked as we began walking again.

“Teaching your sister a lesson in loyalty.”

“Hey I was being perfectly loyal.” Mel argued.

“Whatcha going to do to her?” Kai questioned as he peered up at me.

“What do you think we should do to the little traitor?”

“Kai if you answer that I swear I’ll get you back…” Mel threatened from her spot on my shoulder.

“Go ahead Kai you’re my lieutenant here. What should we do with the traitor in our midst?”

“Toss her in the lake.” He said with a wide grin.

“The lake it is.” I said and we picked up the pace a bit. Auto barked and jumped along beside us as we continued.

“You know if you loved me…if you really loved me you wouldn’t do this to me.” Mel continued to argue with me as we drew closer to the lake.

“Oh, but I do love you my little pain in the butt and that’s why I’m doing this.”

“Sorry I just can’t seem to make the connection.” She said as she finally just slumped in defeat.

“Call it a lesson in philosophy. It doesn’t make any sense, but has to happen anyhow.” I said as we got to the waters edge. I brought her off my shoulder and hoisted her into my arms. “Any last words traitor?” I grinned.

“Nah go ahead and get it over with.” She said dryly as she went limp in my arms.

I took three good swings and tossed her straight toward the lake. Just as she had been taught to do, she turned and executed a perfect headlong drive and entered the water with very little splash.

“You know,” Kai said as he stared at the ripples. “She kinda took the fun out of that.”

“Yeah she did, didn’t she?” We stood watching and waiting.

Waiting. She wasn’t surfacing. Oh Gods what had I done! “Kai stay here!” I dove into the water and began looking for her. Feeling around and not finding her. I surfaced and drew in a lunge full of air. “MEL! DAMN IT MEL ANSWER ME!” I turned and went back under and continued to feel around for her until my lungs ached for need of air.

When I broke the surface again I felt her arms grab me around the neck. “Gotcha!” She laughed.

I grabbed her and brought her around to face me. I don’t know whether to kiss her or kill her. “Mel are you trying to kill me? Don’t ever do that again!” I pulled her into a tight hug.

“Well you asked for it you know?” She said as she leaned back and rested her forehead on mine. “Tossing me in just called for it. You shoulda seen it coming Warrior Princess. I’m learning a few things reading those old scrolls too you know.”

“Gods I’m never gonna survive this.” I growled as I climbed out of the lake with Mel in my arms. Kai stood there looking positively disgusted with me. “Whaaaat?” I asked of him as I put Mel down.

“Well General that didn’t go quite as planned did it?” Kai asked as I dropped to the ground next to him.

“Oh don’t you start too.” I said as I pulled him into a nice wet hug.

He giggled and squirmed. Auto apparently thought I was hurting him and decided to attack my trouser leg. Growling and tugging I had a dog firmly attached to my leg. A wet giggling son in my arms and out of the corner of my eye I saw Mel advancing. Very soon I was covered in children. It was the beginning of a furious tickle fight. Ahh, the good life, laughing squirming kids, growling dog.

I tried to recapture my breath, when I looked up and saw Ri coming toward us. She was carrying Rosa and Kessa walked along side her.

“Is this a private party or is anyone invited?” She said as she sat down next to me and turned the baby loose. I picked Kai and Mel off of me and sat up. Auto stopped growling, but held firm to my trouser leg and stared at me.

“Um Kai. Want to make him let go?” I asked my son as I stared at his dog.

“Auto…give.” Kai commanded. They dog let go and trotted over and sat down next to Kai. “Good boy.” My son praised the dog with a loving rub to the head. His training was coming along very well and he was staying out of trouble now, for the most part.

” So Ri do you want to camp out for a couple of days or do you want to go back to the house at night?” I asked as I tried to get close to her.

“Oh no your soaked.” She said as she pushed me back. “How did you get wet?” She arched her eyebrow at me and then looked to Mel.

We pointed at each other. “It’s her fault.” We said together, each of us quick to lay the blame on the other.

“Tell me again why I put up with you two on a regular basis?” She said with a grin.

“I don’t know why we keep her.” Mel said pointing at me. “But you let me stay cause I’m so cute.””

“We let you stay cause no one in their right mind would put up with you.” I said as I gave her a little shove with my foot.

“”Like mother like daughter.” Ri said quietly with an evil little chuckle.

“Hey she’s yours too you know.”

“Yeah we need to talk about that too.” She said softly.

I took her hand. “Ri there’s still so much to talk about, but we’ve got the rest of our lives. Thanks the Gods we’ve got the rest of our lives.

“Momma wet.” Kessa giggled as she pushed on my back and slapped her hands against my wet clothing.

I reached back and grabbed her and pulled her into my arms and gave her little kisses. “Yeah I am and now so are you Princess.” She continued to giggle as I tickled her tummy. It didn’t take long, once again I was covered in giggling children.

We played there on the bank of the lake for what seemed like forever. It was a wonderful feeling. We had a long way to go yet, but life was finally getting back to normal for us.

———————————————————–

~Longing And Belonging~

I lay here watching her. It’s early and I know she’ll be waking soon, she always does. Apparently she always has, although I don’t remember it. I don’t remember much really. I have flashes, but nothing solid, nothing long term.

I want to remember her. I want to remember our life together. She seems so dedicated to the children and me. I do love her, I know I do. I discovered that a few days ago, but somehow it doesn’t seem to be enough. Enough for me I mean, she seems very happy.

She tells me she was terrified she was going to lose me. She says that we have spent almost half of my life together. She has me read these scrolls. They tell of great adventures and travels I can only imagine now. It’s as if I am now a traveler at an inn listening to one of my own stories. I have no memories, only the words from the scrolls.

She stirs slightly, her face twitches. I see the lines that have formed around her eyes. Her mother tells me they are laugh lines and that I put them there. I brush back her dark hair and see that it is slowly going gray. Her mother says the children put those there. She is so strong and beautiful now she must have been truly magnificent when we first met.

The scrolls tell of a fierce warrior. A woman capable of cutting a man in half with a look, a word or a sword all with equal skill. Of battles fought for the greater good and of her own redemption. As I look at her now I wonder if she has forgiven herself for whatever darkness it was that consumed her so. She has promised to tell me everything anytime I ask, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet.

They also tell of a tender caregiver. I read one the other night as she lay sleeping next to me about a time when Melosa was just a baby and she had a fever. Apparently Xena refused to leave the child’s side. Sleeping very little and eating even less. She stayed with her day and night for almost a week until the fever finally broke. As I watch them now I can believe every word of that one. You can see the connection between them, it’s almost something you can reach out and touch.

Of course I have never seen her as anything but firm and fair with all of our children. They know how far they can push her before she loses her temper very rarely do they take it that far.

She has nightmares. I realized what they were a few days ago, when her anguished cries woke me from a sound sleep. I wonder what they’re about. I know that a soft touch and a quiet word from me seems to ease them and she’ll sleep through them. I am more than happy to ease her pain as she has eased mine. We must share something so very, very special. I don’t remember it, but I feel it none the less.

She stirs again, shifting closer to me, draping her arm over my waist. Her touch seems so absolutely natural to me. I know I belong here with her, with our children. I look at her hand. It’s rough from years of holding a sword and hard work. I’ve seen her wield her sword during her drills. She controls the blade and her body with grace and precision, she most certainly must be a deadly opponent in combat. I’ve also watched her as these hands repaired a fence of our corral, so strong and capable.

Yet they can be so gentle. Lifting our son from the ground and tending to a scraped knee or elbow. Holding one of the twins close to her at night as they fall asleep in her arms. Touching me. Loving me. Gods how gentle they are then. They make my own body scream with passion and desire. These hands are as amazing as the person they are attached to.

“Hmmm…” She stretches against me and pulls me close as she begins to stir. I curl up next to her. “You’re awake early.” She says softly. “Trouble sleeping?”

“No just awake.” I say as I snuggle in close to her. Her arms wrap around me, Gods I feel so safe here.

“Kids’ll be up soon.” She says smoothly in my ear. I smile. I may not remember, but I’m already learning her seductive tone.

“Yes they will. Don’t you think we should get up and get the fire going?” I tease her.

“I think maybe you’ve got a fire going of your own right here wife.” She growls playfully as she nuzzles my neck.

We’re both up long before any of the children. With a silly little grin on my face I get the water for the tea as Xena builds the morning fire. As I walk back and give her the water our eyes meet and our smiles widen. “Oh just stop.” I can feel the blush spread across my face.

“You’re so cute when you’re embarrassed.” She says as she puts the water on.

“And you just love doing it to me.” Oh I realize the double meaning of that as soon as it’s out of my mouth and the blush deepens. “Not one word Xena, not one damn word.”

“Watch your language.” She says with a very self-satisfied little smirk. As she prepares to fix breakfast. “You know it’s too bad that you don’t remember how to do this because you were always better at than I was.”

“What’s that?” I ask as I hand her the spices she prepares the meat with.

“Cooking.” A sleepy little voice offers. I turn and see Melosa emerging from her tent. She’s rubbing her eyes and yawning. “She could write a scroll on a hundred and one ways to ruin water.” Mel comes over and places herself in my lap. I hold her close to me. “What she does to food shouldn’t be allowed.” Mel mumbles as she snuggles down into my arms.

Xena has already gotten a blanket from our tent and drapes it over Mel who is dozing in my arms now.

“Thank you.” I whisper.

“Well when she’s right, she right.” Xena chuckles as she returns to breakfast. “I miss those dumplings.”

“Dumplings?” I ask as my lips brush Mel’s forehead in a soft kiss.

“Yeah you use to make these little dumplings with this red filling. Ohhh they were good. You use to bribe me with them when you wanted something.”

“Oh really? What kind of things were these little dumplings good for?”

“ANYTHING!” She said with a big grin.

“That good?”

“Well there’s only one thing better and I’ve already had that this morning.” She wiggled those damn eyebrows at me. I found myself wondering how she did that. They seemed to work independently of each other. I just shook my head. ” Whaaat?” She asked in that ever so sweet voice of hers,

“Nothing. I have no comment for you because if I say anything you’ll just turn it around on me and make me blush again and I think I’ve done quite enough blushing for you this morning.”

“Why YES you have and I thank you for it.” She turned the meat and added the eggs.

She still managed to turn it around. Oh she’s so lucky I have Mel in my lap. The sound of another child rising floats to my ears. It’s one of the twins. Rosa I think. She tends to be fussy in the mornings. I hand Mel to Xena who re-wraps her and makes her comfortable on the ground next to the fire. I head into the tent that the girls have been sharing. Rosa is sitting up and rubbing her eyes. She reaches for me. “Momma.” I wrap her in a blanket and take her into my arms. She clings to me. “Momma I awake.”

“Only about half little one.” I tell her as I move outside and settle down with her in my arms. She continues to rub her eyes as she fights falling back to sleep. This is so bittersweet for me. These children, these loving, bright, beautiful children, my children, our children. These children that I carried in my body, gave birth to, fed at my breast, the children I don’t remember. Gods they love me so unconditionally and trust me with their very lives.

I don’t remember any of them as babies. I don’t remember holding them for the first time or feeding them for the first time. Or hearing their first cries after they were born. I don’t remember first words or first steps. I only know them as they are right now. Mel, so much like Xena, oh there is no doubt in my mind about her. She is a walking, talking copy of the original and far too bright for her own good. She’s going to be a handful for us as she gets older. Kai, he’s so sweet and he absolutely worships the ground Xena walks on. Rosa, the sweet bundle in my arms, seems to be my baby. She always wants to be close to me and constantly demands my attention, which I am more than happy to give so freely to her. Her sister Kessa, much quieter, but a happy child and very independent. I hope I am half the mother to them now that I was then. Xena is so good with all of them she just amazes me. No matter how tired she is, no matter what kind of day she has had, she always has time for them. She can take them separately or as a group, but she never fails to find time for them.

Rosa is asleep again. She’s clutching my tunic and looks so peaceful. I love them so much. Xena gives me a gentle nudge and hands me a cup of tea as she takes the baby and lays her out next to Mel, making sure they’re both covered. Then she fixes a plate of food and slides in behind me and wraps me in her arms.

“Whaddya’ say I hold you for awhile huh?” She says as she slips the plate into my hands.

“This is nice.” I settle back into her and begin eating my meal. I offer her a bite over my shoulder, which she accepts. “Hey this isn’t too bad.” I offer as I try the eggs.

“Nah it’s hard to mess up eggs.” She laughs lightly as she swallows. “But don’t rush to judgement you still haven’t tried the pork.”

Deciding there was no time like the present I try the meat on the plate. It’s not good. As a matter of fact it’s really bad. It’s everything I can do to swallow it. I feel her chuckle as she hands me my tea and I take a deep drink.

“That bad huh?” She said with a laugh.

“Umm…well it’s not good.” I feel bad about saying it, but it is the truth.

“Then don’t eat it.”

“Oh I can’t believe you let me put that in my mouth.”

“Come on it’s not that bad.”

“Yeah, yeah it is. I need to learn to cook again.” I laughed softly as I took another drink of my tea.

Just as I was about to be subjected to some rather terse comment from my warrior I looked up to see the rest of the family walking over the ridge to join us. Solan, Alana, Little Gabrielle and of course Cyrene, who had now taken up residence with Solan and Alana. I gave Xena a little nudge and pointed at them walking toward us.

“We thought we’d come see how you we’re surviving life in the wilds.” Solan laughed as he put the baby down.

She was wide-awake and wasted no time in running to us. She practically threw herself into my arms. “Nanna.” She snuggled into me and gave me a fierce hug. My granddaughter, Gods so much was missing, yet I was so blessed by the Gods to be here with them. They knew me and they loved me, no questions no concerns. I held her close to me and gave her little kisses, which made her giggle.

“Well apparently we’d be a lot better off if I wasn’t cooking.” Xena said as she got up to help Cyrene. Mother Cyrene was still perfectly capable woman, but for some reason Xena was finding it difficult not to be a tad over protective of her mother. Cyrene would humor her for all of about a quarter of a candle mark before letting her have it.

Cyrene sat down and accepted a hot cup of tea from Xena and then leaned over to take a bite of the eggs still left in the pan. It was clear from the expression on her face she was not impressed.

She picked the pan up and handed it to Xena. “Get rid of that. You are not feeding that to my grandchildren and don’t throw it in the lake. You’ll kill the fish.”

“Oh hardy har, har…” Xena mumbled as she walked a distance away and tossed the food in some weeds. She washed the pan and returned to us. At which point Cyrene took it upon herself to begin preparing something more edible for the group.

Solan for his part was trying without great success to hide his amusement at what was transpiring between his mother and grandmother. He tried to hide his laughter behind his fist as he pretended to cough…a lot. Alana just sat there with her head down and a huge smile on her face, trying not to catch the warrior’s attention.

“All right laughing boy come with me. Xena said as she grabbed our son and drug him into a field and tossed him one of the practice staffs she had brought with us so she and Mel could spar. Mel of course had her own smaller staff which she used, but Xena had brought two, explaining that I was quite handy with a staff and if I felt like giving it a try I should.

I watched as she used her foot to kick the other staff into her hand and take up a stance against him. Soon they were engaged in what looked like extremely fierce staff fighting, but you could tell they were both holding back. This was practice, not a fight and they were both perfectly capable of hurting the other if they didn’t control their actions very carefully.

“Nanna…” An irritated little tug on my tunic brought me back to the face of my granddaughter. “Nanna…Ri.”

“Yes sweetheart.” I brushed back her hair from her face.

“Tea…” I held my mug so she could have a drink of the warm tea. She took her drink and smiled at me as she fell into me and lay her head on my shoulder watching her father and her grandmother. “Daddy…”

“Yup that’s your Daddy. Who’s that with him?

“Nanna…Eea.” Little Gabrielle had some problems with that ‘z’ sound. I smiled because I knew Xena hated the Eea thing. She said it made her feel like a fish or an eel or something slimy.

“Xxeena.” I tell her putting the emphasis on the ‘z’ sound.

“NO!” Little Ri argued with me shaking her head.

“Okay have it your way. She’ll get use to it.”

Kai stumbled from his tent with Auto on his heels. With the puppy up and offering wet sloppy kisses to anyone who would hold still it wasn’t long until our little camp was alive and full of the sounds of happy children. All except for Mel who threatened to make a dog-skin rug as she trudged toward the lake for a swim. Solan and Xena sparred for almost a full candle mark before Solan made a mistake and Xena dropped him to the ground. He lay there for a moment and then allowed her to help him up.

“What’s the matter old man, can’t take it?” She teased him as they came back to us.

“You’re going to be a hundred seasons old and still thumping my backside.”

“You better believe it.” She told him as she slapped him on the back. Somehow I didn’t doubt his words about his mother.

As they came back, Little Gabrielle clamored over to Xena and reached out. “Up!” She demanded.

“Oh well okaayy…if you say so.” Xena laughed as she picked the baby up. “Boy you get more and more like Nanna Ri all the time.”

“And exactly what is that suppose to mean?” I asked with a smile.

“Do you really want to know, right here in front of everybody?” She asked with a smirk as she shifted the baby in her arms.

I thought about it for just a moment before I realized what she was referring to. “No.” I said quickly. “That’s quite alright. Don’t worry about it.”

“Ummm-hmmm. Somehow I figured that would be your answer.”

Auto started barking and jumping at something in the weeds then digging furiously he began growling and continued to dig. Xena handed the baby down to me and went to see what all the commotion was about. “Oh for Zeus’ sake it wasn’t that bad!” She growled as the dog proceeded to bury the food she had dumped into the weeds.

We simply couldn’t help ourselves as the tears streamed down the cheeks of every person around the fire. The great Warrior Princess stood there with her hands on her hips. Glaring back and forth between her family who was laughing hysterically at her and the black dog who gave two final backward kicks at the food he had just buried deep into the ground so it wouldn’t be a threat to anyone else in the future.

If I had to belong anywhere this is where I wanted to be.

————————————————–

~The Challenge~

“Xena! I really want to talk to you about this.” Gabrielle said to me as I saddled the pony.

“Okay Ri let’s talk about it.”

“I really don’t want you to do this. Please?”

I looked at her. There were tears in her eyes threatening to fall. “Ri, honey Kai will be fine. We have to find out if he’s going to be able to ride.” I cinched the strap and tucked it away.

“Please don’t put him on this pony. I can’t explain it Xena I’m just asking you not to do it. It just worries me that’s all.”

I drew a deep breath as I snapped the lead into place on the halter. “Gabrielle I taught Melosa to ride and I’m going to teach Kai to ride. You’re letting your own fears get in the way here Ri. You were nervous when Mel first learned to ride too, but you got through it and she’s one of the best now. Kai has been waiting a long time for his chance. He’s been good and he’s been very patient. Waiting for you to get well so I would have time to teach him.”

“I just don’t want him to get hurt.”

“Neither do I.” I took her in my arms and gave her a hug. She wrapped her arms around me and laid her head on my shoulder. “If I didn’t think he was ready I wouldn’t be doing this. If I thought he was going to get hurt there is no way in the known world that I would put him on this animal’s back. I’ll make you a deal. You watch me work with him this morning and if you’re still uncomfortable with it when we’re done I’ll wait until another time okay?”

“Okay. Even if I can’t explain why?”

“Even if you can’t explain why.”

She studied me for a moment and then nodded her agreement. I gave her a kiss in the top of her head and we left he barn.

Mel was already outside and perched on top her pony. Looking down at her baby brother who waited patiently.

“So today’s the big day huh shrimp?” She said from her perch above him.

“Mel don’t tease your brother.” Ri said as she leaned against the barn door watching every move I made with Kai.

“Gee and I thought that was his purpose in the world. So I would have someone to torture.” Kai retaliated by sticking his tongue out at his big sister. True siblings, a lot like Lyceus and me. Mother has noticed it too and had commented on it since her arrival.

“No that seems to be my lot in life.” I mumbled as I checked the tack on the pony once again.

“Aww you love it and you know it.” Mel said as she drew up next to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

“Yeah I guess in my own weird way I do.” I grinned at her and kissed her on the forehead. I turned back to Kai. “Okay buddy we’re all set here. You ready?”

Kai stood next to Ri and just kind of stared at me. “Umm…Mom would you be mad if I said I didn’t want to.”

I looked over at him and could tell he was really nervous. Then I looked to Ri who put her hands up and made her innocence in this matter quite clear. I handed Mel the lead for her brother’s pony. “No matter what he decides here Mel, not one word. Understand?” I whispered to her looking her directly in the eye.

“Yes ma’am.” She said quite seriously with a nod and a concerned glance for her brother.

I walked over and knelt down in front of him. “What’s up buddy? I thought you wanted to learn. You said you did.”

“I just changed my mind. Are you mad?” He bit his lip and dropped his head. “Are you disappointed? I will if you want me to.”

“Hey buddy c’mere.” I drew him into a hug and kissed him. “No it’s okay that you changed your mind. I’m not mad and I would never be disappointed in you. I’m not going to make you do something you don’t want to do.”

“Thank you.” He said quietly, almost defeated.

“Hey is there something else?”

“No ma’am.” He hugged me and I could tell he was really doing his best not to cry. “May I go?”

“Sure buddy, sure.” I let him go and he began walking back toward the house. Auto wasn’t even running and jumping next to the boy, the dog also walked as if he too had lost his best friend. I straightened up and watched him. “I wonder what that was all about. Yesterday he was so excited about this. Mel did you say something to him?”

“I swear to you on Grandfather’s helmet that I said nothing.” She said as she put one hand over his her heart and raised the other one in the air.

“Well I’ll be…” I was just at a total loss. I felt Ri put her hand on my arm.

“I think I know what’s wrong. Come on.” She took my hand and we followed Kai to the house.

We found him in his room lying on his bed with Auto. The dog had his head on Kai’s stomach as he got his ears scratched. When we entered Kai quickly wiped away tears that were falling from his eyes. Ri gave me a signal to stay there by the door and she went over and sat down on the bed. I leaned back against the wall and watched without a word.

“Kai can we talk?”

“Sure.”

“Well sit up here and talk with me.” She coaxed him into sitting up next to her. “Want to tell me what changed your mind about learning to ride?”

He shrugged. “I just did that’s all.”

“Did you maybe hear me and Mom talking in the barn? Maybe just maybe?”

“Maybe.” He whispered.

I nodded. Now it made sense. I continued to watch them.

“So you decided not to learn because I didn’t want you to.” She began stroking his hair he nodded his head.

“You’ve been so sick…and…well…I didn’t want to make you worry. You might get sick again…” He was trying so hard not to cry but a few tears formed in his little eyes.

“Oh sweetheart…” She pulled him into her arms and hugged him close to her. “What made you think that I’d get sick again?”

“Well when you were sick. I heard Karra tell Cook that Mom was sick from worry about you…”

I sighed. Now it all made sense.

“And you thought if she could get sick from worrying about me, I would get sick from worrying about you. Is that it?” She kissed the top of his head and continued to hold him.

“Yes ma’am. I don’t want to make you sick. I really don’t. It was just awful around here when you were sick. Mom was so sad and lonely and we missed you so much. I don’t want it to be like that again.”

“Well what if I said it’s okay for you to learn to ride and that I promise not to worry. If I don’t worry I can’t get sick now can I?”

“No ma’am.” He seemed to brighten a little. He looked up at her and slumped a little. “Are you sure? I really don’t want…”

“I want you to go with Mom now and have a good ride. I promise not to worry.”

“Really?” He brightened again.

“Really, now go on.” She put him down on the floor and gave him a little swat sending him in my direction.

He ran to me and looked up. “I’m sorry I fibbed to you Mom.”

“It’s okay buddy. Your heart was definitely in the right place with that one. Go ahead and go out and wait for me. I’ll be right out.”

He and Auto bounded out the door. I watched them go and then turned back to Ri who was still sitting on the bed. I went over and knelt down in front of her. Now she was crying. “Hey what’s wrong?” I wiped the tears from her cheeks.

“Do you have any idea how frustrating this is for me? To know that he loves me so much that he would give up something he really wanted so I wouldn’t get sick again. Damn it Xena I want my memories back.”

I pulled her into my arms. “In time sweetheart in time.”

“We don’t know that. What if I never get them back?”

“Then we’ll make new memories. You just did. A very special one.”

She nodded and wiped her eyes. “I did didn’t I?”

“You sure did. You handle that very well. I was lost with that one.”

She smiled at me. “You? Lost? I find that hard to believe.”

“Hey occasionally I need the help of my partner and you always know when to come to my rescue. You just did…partner.” I gave her a wink and a little nudge. She smiled and sighed.

“You’d better get to the boy before he thinks you don’t want to teach him to ride. By the way…” She said as I got to my feet.

“Yeeess…”

“I still plan to worry.” She whispered.

“I know.” I whispered back. “You’re his mother that’s your job.” I grinned and left the room.

Outside Mel held firm to Kai’s pony and I could hear the argument brewing.

“Not until Mom gets here. She’ll have my backside and I don’t plan on getting punished because you’re an impatient little sh…” Mel looked up and saw me on the porch. “Oh hi.” She grinned.

“What’s going on?” I asked as I moved to them.

“He wanted to try and climb up on his own.” Mel said as she glared at her brother.

“Okay Kai lesson number one.” I said as I stood over him with my hands on my hips. “Until I say differently you don’t do anything with this pony unless I’m with you. Understand?”

“Yes ma’am.” He said quietly.

“Your sister has been riding a lot longer and she has more experience than you. Being allowed to take her pony out by herself is a privilege she has earned by obeying my rules.”

“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry.”

“As long as we understand each other here.”

“We do.”

“Okay then.” I picked him up and put him in the saddle. “Mel?”

“Yes oh Warrior Mom…” She snickered

I turned and arched my eyebrow ‘Warrior Mom’? That was a new one. “What’s lesson number one when riding?”

“Foot placement in the stirrup.” She said, still looking and giggling at me.

“Right.” I said as I place his feet where they belonged. “You’ve just been waiting to use that one haven’t you?” I asked Mel.

“You bet. Almost a week now.”

“The stress of the wait must have been killing you.”

“It hasn’t been easy.” She snickered again as she nudged her pony and took off toward the lake.

I just shook my head. “Boy Greece is in big trouble when she hits maturity.” I mumbled, as I looked Kai over to make sure he was seated properly.

“I’d be worried about the rest of the world too.” Kai said as he played with the reins he held loosely in his hands.

After his lesson I gave Kai his brushes and turned him loose on the rest of his responsibility to his pony. He had done a fine job and he was going to learn well too.

I was out at the well washing the sweat of the day off my arms and neck when Ephiny rode in.

“XENA!” She yelled as she dismounted the horse before it even stopped. She ran over and stopped before me panting. I gave her a drink from the bucket as she tried to catch her breath.

“Eph what’s wrong?” I supported her by one arm as she drank from the ladle.

“There’s been a challenge for the throne!” She managed to say as she drew her arm across her mouth.

The three of us sat at the table. I sipped my tea as I listened to Eph explain that Amati, Reena’s bond mother had issued a challenge for Gabrielle’s throne. “That bitch! I should have killed her when I had the chance.” I slammed my cup down, got up and began pacing around the room.

“Xena what does this mean?” Gabrielle’s eyes followed me as I paced back and forth.

“It means Gabrielle, that Amati wants to fight you for the right to rule the Amazons. She’s trying to take your throne.”

“What can we do?” Gabrielle asked as she stood and crossed to me.

“I’m your champion Ri, I’ll defend the throne. I’ll fight Amati.”

“Fight her?” She looked at me with a concerned brow. “Do you have to fight her?”

“Yes I do.”

“Xena tell her the rest.” Eph said.

“The rest?”

“A fight for the throne is combat to the death Gabrielle. To win I’ll have to kill her.”

“”Xena you can’t be serious?” She grabbed my arm and held fast. “Then if she wins…” Her voice failed her.

“She’ll kill me.”

“Then let her have the throne…” She started.

I put two fingers over her lips to quiet her. “Gabrielle it’s not that simple. I have to defend the throne. You don’t want people like that to rule the Amazons.”

“I don’t want you killed Warrior. Gods Xena what would I do without you? If you get killed not only have I lost my throne, but then the children and I are at their mercy.”

“Gabrielle I have to do this. If something happens to me Eph, Ep and Sol will make sure you’re safe.”

“Xena please there must be another way.” She gripped my forearms.

“Gabrielle there really isn’t another choice. The throne must be defended. Xena is your champion…” Eph said quietly.” The council has decreed a combat must take place.”

Her eyes locked with mine as she searched for answers. “When?” The question was for Eph not me, our eyes never wavered from each other.

“Three days.”

“Then tell the council the Queen and her champion will be there.”

“Gabrielle they don’t expect you to come…” Eph said taking a step forward.

I watched as Gabrielle wheeled around and met her Regent face to face. “And what kind of a leader would I be Eph? What kind of a Queen sends her champion and doesn’t come herself? What kind of a Queen and a wife would I be? If I don’t come, I may as well hand the throne to Amati.” She turned around and caught my eyes again. “Inform the council that the Queen is returning to the throne.”

“Yes Your Majesty.” Ephiny smiled and left us to consider what the next three days would hold for us.

Gabrielle wrapped her arms around me. “Tell me you can beat her Xena, please tell me. I don’t remember.” She began crying as her head rested on my shoulder.

I held her, caressed her and reassured her.

The village was crowded but quiet. All of the women knew this was a deadly serious confrontation and that a life would be lost tonight. Gabrielle attired in her leathers and her ceremonial jewelry never looked lovelier than she did tonight. I sat in my robe. Still having time before the challenge I wanted to be rested and packing the weight of my leather and armor around longer than necessary wasn’t the way to do it.

I sat in a chair in front of a fire in our house in the village. Sipping from a cup of diluted sweet wine, I stared at the flames. Gabrielle knelt in front of me I reached out and caressed her beautiful face. “I love you.” I said softly.

“I love you too.” She kissed the palm of my hand and held it to her cheek. “Xena do you have to kill her?”

“Yes.”

“I wish it didn’t have to be that way. Even after all that’s been said and done it would be awful for the children and I to lose you. I can only imagine what Reena and her mother must be going through right now.”

“Some people just never learn Gabrielle. Amati thought that she would take advantage of the situation and take your throne from you.”

“Surely she knew you would defend it?”

“There’s always someone who thinks they can beat me. Maybe someday someone will, but it won’t be today and it won’t be Amati.” I sipped my wine.

Gabrielle rose to her knees and leaned in to kiss me. Her lips felt like rose petals, soft and sweet. The kiss was filled with love and passion, I felt my body fill with her love and energy. “I expect you to bring me back here and make love to me tonight.” She whispered in my ear after her sweet lips left mine.

“Count on it.” I said softly as I inhaled the lavender of her hair.

“It’s about time for you to get dressed.” She brushed her knuckles down my cheek. I captured her hand and laid soft kisses on each of her fingers. My eyes closed savoring the softness of her skin.

“I know. I need to stretch first.” I got to my feet and helped her up and stole one last quick kiss before beginning a stretching routine that would make it easier to move. As I flexed and moved to loosen my muscles I watched her lay all of my gear out exactly the way I liked to have it. I hadn’t asked her to do it she was just doing it. She didn’t realize it, but she was having a memory. I smiled and reminded myself to point that out to her later.

I dressed in my leathers and put on my boots and grieves I adjusted them for comfort. The left one was giving me a fit and I just couldn’t get it. She knelt down again and made the adjustment for me, which made it much more tolerable. She looked up at me with a little grin, “Better?”

“Much. Thank you.”

Next my upper arm bands and bracers. Gabrielle placed these for me as I turned my head from side to side, shoulder to shoulder and rolled it in small circles to loosen the muscles in my neck, stretching them. Concentrating on being relaxed as possible. I believed this woman wanted me dead more than she actually wanted the throne and I knew that she wouldn’t be beyond cheating to see it through. It was the factor of the unknown that made it important to be focused.

My eyes were closed as I began breathing exercises. I felt the plates of my armor being slipped over my head. Ri was only one person in the world I had ever trusted enough to approach me while I had my eyes closed. I felt all the buckles being slipped into place, she even got the difficult one. One final deep breath and I exhaled and opened my eyes.

She stood before me. “I love you Warrior.”

I stepped closer to her. “I love you Bard.”

I offered her my hand. “My Queen?”

She took it. “My Champion.”

We left the house and headed to the village square, her hand rested gently on top of mine as I held my arm out. This was a traditional approach for Queen and Champion. I escorted Gabrielle to the dais and held the back of her throne while she took her seat. I stood behind her and waited. I closed my eyes again and let pictures of my children fill my mind. I smiled and then I wiped them away and saw nothing.

I opened my eyes and watched as the crowed gathered. They were quiet and respectful. Only slight murmurs could be heard. Then the murmurs became louder as I saw her approach. Melosa came through the crowd, staff in hand and came up on the dais. She looked at me and smiled and then went to Gabrielle. I noticed she too was dressed in her full leathers showing her as a Princess of the Amazon Nation.

“It is my right.” I heard her say to Gabrielle. “I want to be here Mother. Please don’t send me away. I have to be here.”

Gabrielle nodded her consent and Melosa took a position on the right side of her mother, standing behind her as I was. She glanced to me and reached her hand behind the throne. I took it and we stood there holding hands while we watched, eyes forward and waited.

Amati was already playing with me. Taking her time about arriving in the arena. I scanned the crowd and found Reena and her mother, Jiara standing to the side. Jiara looked perfectly miserable. Our eyes met and she mouthed, “I’m sorry”. I gave her a nod. It was all I could do to acknowledge her. I looked to Reena who glared at me. I felt sorry for a child with so much hate in her heart at such a young age. I noticed as her gaze shifted to Mel and her glare became a smirk.

Amati finally made her entrance. She was nervous and I could let that work for me. She stepped forward and addressed the gathered crowd.

“Sisters hear me! I, Amati, a true Amazon, of the Amazon Nation hereby challenge Queen Gabrielle for the right to the throne of the Amazon Nation. The council has decreed this to be a fair challenge. Gabrielle do you accept the challenge?” She turned to the dais as Gabrielle rose from her throne. I gave Mel’s hand one final squeeze and let go.

“Amati you have made a fair challenge and I accept. Of course my Champion, Xena of Amphipolis will defend the throne in my stead.”

“Of course.”

I walked down and took my position in front of My Queen. Looking to her and waiting for her signal. “As the challenged it is my right to choose weapons. Swords.” Gabrielle continued. Ep brought forth my sword and handed it to me. Gabrielle gave me the signal and I turned to face Amati.

She had chosen her blade and hefted its weight. She was and archer and not accustomed to fighting with a blade, another thing I had on my side.

“Let the challenge,” There was a brief pause from Gabrielle. “Begin.”

Amati wasted no time in making the first movement, this was good too. I could use that against her as well. I blocked her first swing, which was sloppy and uncontrolled. I kicked her in the midsection and doubled her. She recovered quickly and took another swing, this time she managed to catch me just above the bracer on my right arm. Lucky shot, but a damn painful and one that made me mad.

I advanced on her driving her back. She finally managed to turn and get behind me. I turned and she backhanded me. Well, that’ll wake you up too. Moving forward she brought her blade down. I blocked the swing and threw her backward. Diving forward I continued driving until the blade broke on her sword. She fell backward and hit the ground hard. It was time for the deathblow. I wanted to at least make it quick for her mate and her daughter.

I brought my sword up and twirled in once to get the proper grip for a blow that would be quick and relatively painless. The stinging of the sand in my eyes…I should have known. I lost the grip on my blade and heard it hit the ground. I tried to blink the sand away as I groped for my sword. The last thing I wanted to do was wipe my eyes that would only irritate them more.

I felt the dagger blade plunge into my right shoulder. Damn she really doesn’t know when to quit. I simply lunged my left arm forward and caught her by the throat. I couldn’t give her another chance. As my hand tightened around her throat she continued to fight. Delivering punches and kicks designed to make me release her, they only served to hasten her death as I crushed her windpipe. Not the way I wanted to do it, but she gave me little choice.

As her body began to slump and the life drained from it, blind and wounded I dropped to my knees taking her with me I felt the life draining from her, but I couldn’t bring myself to release her. It was a death grip and my own pain made me hold it.

I heard the trigger I could hear the arrow, but I couldn’t see it and I most certainly couldn’t catch it. She had a compatriot somewhere in the crowd. Then I heard the sound of the bolt hitting wood. I blinked away a little more sand and made out the slight figure of Mel standing just to my right, her staff at the level of my heart and the arrow that protruded from it. I shook my head again, but continued to collapse to the ground. Tears finally began to form in my eyes washing away the sand. I fell to my side, my hand still around Amati’s throat.

I watched as Mel dropped her staff and charged across the square. She pulled Reena from her hidden position under a table and tugged the crossbow from her hands and held it up for the crowd to see. She tossed it aside and drew Reena close to her.

“I!” She yelled as she backhanded the other girl. “Have had…” She pushed her away and delivered a round house kick. “Enough of…” Reena fell to her hands and knees, but wouldn’t go down. “Of YOU!” Mel finished as she brought her hands up into one fist and brought them down on Reena’s back and dropped her.

As my eyes began to drop shut from the pain and the loss of blood I saw Ep grab Mel around the waist and pull her off the other girl. The darkness then came for me.

I opened my eyes. Morning light streamed into the room. My eyes hurt. I could feel the scratches left from the sand. They would heal, but I’d be uncomfortable for a few days. My shoulder ached and my arm was in a sling. I knew there were other wounds, but they were minor.

The next thing I felt was the warmth of my wife who slept next to me, her arm firmly around my waist and her head on my shoulder. I felt a third person in the room I glanced down. Mel was asleep in a chair, her head resting on her arms on the bed, her hand on my leg. She opened her eyes and we looked at each other for several long moments.

She finally sat up and moved closer to my head. “Hey pal.” She said as she gave me a kiss on the forehead.

“Hey pal.” My parched throat made speaking difficult. She knew and she brought a cup of water to my lips and helped me drink. I few sips and I felt much better. “Thanks.”

“Aww it’s just a little water.” She grinned. “I would have done it for anyone.”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“I know.” She said softly.

———————————————————

~Aftermath~

I watched in horror as Xena sank to her knees. Amati’s body jerked in response to the death grip my champion held at her throat. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and we all watched as her body started to go limp. My champion had won, but not before being wounded. I remembered…I remembered, Xena being wounded before and I knew it only made her fight harder. I know it was an awful feeling, but I was glad Amati’s end had come quickly. For the sake of my warrior I was glad.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement and before I realized what had happened Mel had moved from her spot beside me. I was sure she was going to go to Xena and that couldn’t be allowed. Xena in her condition now might mistake Mel for an enemy and hurt her.

” Mel no!” I yelled to her, but she kept moving forward with the same precision I had seen in Xena so many times before. She was focused on something and there was a purpose to her movements. I was as shocked and amazed as anyone else in the crowd when Mel caught that cross bow bolt with her staff and then moved to reveal Reena as the person who had just tried to assassinate Xena. I watched as Mel took her anger and frustration out I motioned for Ep to break them up. I sent Ephiny to Jiara. I moved to Xena. Somehow knowing a cautious approach was required. “Xena.” I said as I moved in behind her. She lay on her side and just as I touched her on her shoulder her head fell forward.

With my heart in my throat fearing that I had lost my warrior as well. I slipped my arms around her and tried to pull her into my lap, but the muscles in her arm were so tense they had it locked straight out in front of her. Still in her grasp, the lifeless body of Amati. I moved and tried to free her hand to no avail. I didn’t have the strength to pry her fingers free. Solari came over and knelt down next to me and we worked together to try and free the body from the grasp of my warrior.

Adrin came and started tending to the shoulder wound as we continued to try. There was a tap on my shoulder, I turned to face Ep.

“You Majesty…The Princess…” She didn’t even have to finish, I looked to Sol who nodded and I went with Ep.

She led me to the side of a hut where Mel was laying on her side with her knees drawn to her chest and her arms wrapped around them. She was crying softly and shaking. I could see that she had also been sick. “Ep bring me a couple of blankets.” I got down and pulled my daughter into my arms and held her as she trembled and cried. Ep returned a very short time later with blankets and she covered Mel with them.

“Melosa can you hear me? It’s Momma.” I wanted to cry, but knew now wasn’t the time. “It’s alright sweetheart Momma has got you now.” Seeing my child so fully devastated was heart wrenching. I knew there was only one other person in the village who was having a harder time tonight than me. That was Jiara.

Mel continued to shake, but her crying lessened and finally stopped. She whimpered occasionally, her eyes closed and her body trembled. I sat there and just held her, rocking her and whispering to her. Finally the trembling ceased and she simply fell asleep in my arms. I don’t know how, but I recognized this as a form of battle shock. All young warrior’s experienced it after their first fight. I had hoped my daughter would never have to have such an experience or at least would have been much older first. I continued to cradle her there in the grass and hummed to her as Ep stood guard over us a few paces away.

Finally and with some effort I got to my feet as I continued to hold Mel. As I did I had to wonder how it was Xena could hoist this child over her shoulder like a sack of grain. I couldn’t help but smile at the vision of them rough housing together and Mel ending up over Xena’s shoulder. I carried Mel to Adrin’s hut and found an empty pallet and placed her on it. As I tucked the blankets around her Adrin came in.

“Is the Princess all right Your Majesty? Shall I tend to her for you?”

“I think she’s fine for the moment. She’s sleeping. Is Xena all right?” I ran my hand through Mel’s dark hair and continued to look at her as I spoke to Adrin.

“She’ll be fine Your Majesty. She has a shoulder wound that will make her cranky for a few weeks, but other than that…the biggest problem we’re having is her left land.”

“Her left hand? What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s wrapped so tightly around Amati’s throat we can’t get it loose.” She was retrieving a few of her herbs and powders. “I’m going to try some herbs that should relax her enough to make her let go.”

One of the healer’s assistants came in and we left her with Mel while I went to see if I could help with Xena. Adrin thought that if I talked to her she might release her hand. The herbs were administered. I cradled Xena as best I could, considering the situation. A group of my best guards had formed a ring around us blocking us from the view of the rest of the village. It was a gruesome scene to be sure. There was blood all over the place, and two bodies locked in mortal combat, one alive, but unconscious and the other given up to Artemis.

“Xena.” I whispered in her ear. “It’s all right now. You can let go. You’ve won.” I brushed her hair back. “I need a cloth.” Someone handed me a cloth and I began cleaning small drops of blood from her face. “Come on Xena let go of her. She can’t hurt us anymore. You’ve done your job my Champion, rest now.”

It took almost two candle marks before they managed to get her loose. Even after that it took me another half a mark to massage her arm into a relaxed position at her side. Finally I had her relaxed enough that they could move her without hurting her further.

I stood in the healer’s hut and watched at Adrin stitched up Xena’s shoulder. I looked between the two pallets. My wife and my daughter had both been drawn into something that I could only wonder about. My own weakness right now made me doubt if anything could be worth this. Xena lay wounded and Gods only knew exactly how this would effect Mel. I stepped forward between them and kissed each one on the forehead. “I love you both so much and I’m so sorry this had to happen to you.”

I looked over and Adrin gave me a bittersweet little smile. “Maybe you should visit the temple Your Majesty. A little silent contemplation with Artemis might be what you need.”

“Oh I’m going to the temple alright, but I don’t plan to be silent about it.” I gave them each another kiss and left the hut. As I crossed the square I saw the amazons clearing away the signs of the fight and preparing the funeral pyre for Amati. It would be done quickly and quietly with little ceremony. I made a note to myself to make sure I was there at least in the distance.

I entered the temple and walked to the altar. The priestess came forward and offered me wine, which I took then I asked to be left alone and dismissed her. I took a deep breath and tried to collect my thoughts. “Artemis, why have you left me to suffer like this? My memories left in ashes, my life is in ruin. My warrior lies wounded, my daughter is…and yet you do nothing to help me. Or even to help them. Am I not your chosen? How can you call yourself the protector of the Amazons? Xena has done more to protect the Amazons than you have. You have allowed us to be attacked and she has gone to fight our wars. My own people turn on me and she protects me while you do nothing. My daughter witnessed her mother nearly killed tonight and ended up in the fight herself to protect our champion and still you did nothing to help her. She’s just a child. What kind of a guardian doesn’t protect the innocence of a child? Even now you won’t face me! Xena is right. Unless they are here to interfere the Gods don’t care. Unless you can play with us we don’t interest you.” I poured the wine out on the floor of the temple and returned to the side of my warrior and my daughter. They needed me more than this sorry excuse for a Goddess.

Adrin finished tending to Xena and checked on Mel. I sat between them not wanting to be away from either of them.

“Your Majesty you should rest as well. There is plenty of room on Xena’s pallet and I know having you close would make her feel better.”

“I want to make sure Mel is okay too.” I ran my fingers through Mel’s hair as I looked into the face of my baby. She was my first born and even though I didn’t remember the specifics, I knew that she held a special place in my heart because of that. I watched her face muscles twitch as she slept and I knew she was headed for a nightmare. “She’s going to have a rough time of this.”

“She’s very young to have done what she did. You should be proud of her.”

“Oh I am so very proud of her, but I know that this isn’t going to be easy for her to handle either.”

“Well she most certainly has the two best qualified parents in the world to help her get through it.”

“I certainly hope so. Seems we’re all she’s got.” I continued to watch her and just as I thought, the nightmare began. She started tossing and turning and crying in her sleep. “Mel…honey come on wake up.” I took her into my arms and cradled her as she woke up. She looked at me with watery blue eyes and began crying as she clung to me. “Shhh little one it’s okay.” I rocked her gently. “It’s okay.”

Xena mumbled in her sleep and opened her eyes very briefly. She was still under the effects of the herb given to relax her. She reached out her hand and laid it on Mel’s leg and was then asleep again. Mel was also asleep again. I knew where she needed to be. I placed her on the pallet next to Xena with her head on her shoulder and placed Xena’s arm around her. Automatically they curled up with each other and continued to sleep. I watched them and before I realized it I too was dropping off.

I don’t know when or how I ended up next to Xena, but when I woke up Mel was sitting up with Adrin and they were having a morning meal. Mel seemed quieter than normal, but she was talking with the aging healer. Seemed to me that must be a good sign. I stretched against Xena and at up.

“Good morning Momma.” Mel said as I stood and stretched again as the warrior took up most of the pallet.

I crossed over and gave her a kiss. “Good morning honey. How you doing?”

“I’m okay I guess.” She said with a slight smile.

“You want to talk about it?” I asked as Adrin handed me a cup of tea and vacated her seat for me, leaving Mel and I to talk. I nodded my thanks to her and returned my attention to Mel.

“Do we have to?” She asked as she stared into the bottom of her cup.

“No not if you don’t want to.”

“Not right now. It makes me sick to think about it.”

“Okay, but you know that we’re here when you’re ready?”

“Yeah I know. Will I ever not feel sick?”

“Eventually it will ease. You may always feel a little sick when you think about it.”

“I only did what I had to do…” A single tear fell down her cheek.

I reached out and wiped the tear away. “I know honey, I know.”

“I’m not even sure how I did it. It just happened and then I…” She just stopped and sipped her tea and shook her head.

I decided to leave her to her thoughts and went to check on Xena. She looked pale, must be from loss of blood. I could see that her bandages had been changed recently. “I must have been tired to sleep through that.” I said as I ran my hand over the cloth.

“Oh yeah especially with all the complaining she was doing at Adrin the whole time.” Mel grinned. “Adrin gave her more sleeping herbs just to calm her down and keep her in bed a few more hours. She wanted to get up.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“The hard part was getting her to take them. Adrin threatened to tie her good arm down and hold her nose.”

“Oh that would have been interesting. I’m guessing she finally took them.”

“I…took the…damn things…” She mumbled as she started to come round. “Stop talking…about me like…I’m not here…”

“Well, well my grumpy warrior wakes.” I planted a soft kiss on her forehead.

“Umm-hmm…” She licked her lips.

I knew those herbs of Adrin’s were potent stuff that really dried your mouth out. Mel brought me a cup of water and I gave her a few sips. “Better?”

“Umm-hmm…” She opened her eyes and gave me a weak smile. “Some kid we’ve got…”

“She sure is…and she needs you now more than ever so you’ve got to get better.”

“I’m fine…and I want to go home.”

She started to get up but I just put her back. “Not yet. Give it some time. You lost a lot of blood.”

“I didn’t lose it. I know right where it is.” She grinned.

“Oh brother. What am I going to do with you?”

She cocked her eyebrow at me. I knew what that meant, but with Mel standing right there, now was not the time to comment.

She turned her attention to Mel and tried to reach her hand out, but it fell short. The herbs still had a little hold on her. Mel knelt down next to her and took her hand. “How you feeling pal?” Mel asked as she kissed Xena’s hand.

“Did you get a description of the cart that ran me over…” She grinned at our daughter.

“You know I missed it…” Mel grinned back. “But somebody said it was a really big one…”

“Well… at least… it was… a really big one.” Xena’s eyes began to close again and she was soon snoring very softly.

Mel looked at me. “Doesn’t that keep you awake at night?”

“No. As long as I hear it I know she’s there and she safe. Somehow I can’t seem to sleep without it.”

“Hmm. It would drive me nuts.”

“One of these days there will be someone in your life who does something that normally would make you crazy, but because you love them…well you learn to live with it.”

“I can’t imagine.”

“No I guess right now you can’t. ” I smiled at her. “Trust me on this one.”

“Do you remember falling in love with her?” Mel looked at me and suddenly her expression changed. “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked that.”

“It’s okay. No, I don’t remember the first time I fell in love with her, but I remember the night that I realized I did love her. So that’s kind of it for me right now. What’s important is that I know I love her. Just like I know I love you and your brothers and sisters. I don’t have to remember I just have to know in my heart and I do.”

Evening found us at home and settled in by the fire. Xena relaxed and enjoyed a couple extra cups of wine after the evening meal, “for healing purposes” she assured me with a grin. She and Kai played with the twins and the puppy while Mel and I continued to sift through old scrolls. I would look up occasionally to see her holding off a child who wanted to get just a little closer to that wounded arm than she liked. I had to wonder about this woman who one minute could choke the life out of a person and the next be so gentle with the children that played with her. She was becoming more of a mystery to me everyday that my memories didn’t return.

A knock on the door brought her to her feet as the children giggled and squealed as she pushed them off her. She crossed the room. From my position at the table I couldn’t see who was at the door, but from the sound of her voice she was surprised as well.

“What are you doing here?’

I heard him clear his throat, “I came to help…”

—————————————————————-

~The Guest~

I’m not sure if it was the effects of the herbs that hadn’t worn of completely or the fact I was wrapped up with the kids is the reason I didn’t feel him arrive. Maybe because he never made my skin crawl the way the others did. Or maybe it was because he was my father, I stood there looking at Hades as he pulled his gloves off.

“May I come in?” He asked as he tucked them in his helmet.

“Yes of course. I’m sorry.” I stepped back and allowed him into our home.

As he came in Ri stood and joined me ‘Hades’ I heard her say under her breath as she laid her hand on my back. The children gathered near the couch. Mel and Kai did a very good job of taking their sisters in hand and keeping them quiet as they stared at the tall, dark man who had just come into the house. They knew who their grandfather was, but they had never laid eyes on him until this moment.

He smiled at Ri. “Hello Gabrielle. It’s good to see you again. I haven’t seen you since Solan got married. Do you remember that?”

Oh so this was his game. “You know she doesn’t Hades. If you’re here to…” I was beginning to get angry and he could see it.

“Xena calm down. I’m not here to upset anyone. I’m here to help Gabrielle.”

“Help me?” Ri stepped forward and drew him to the table offering him a place at our dining table. “Help me how?”

“Well that in part is up to you my dear.” He said, as he sat his helmet on the table and undid the clasp of his cloak and allowed it to fall from his shoulders to the back of his chair.

As I closed the door, I turned to Mel and motioned for her to take her brother and sisters into her room and occupy them there.

“Xena actually could they stay? I’d like to meet them and spend a little time with them. We can talk after they go to bed.”

I was amazed. He was taking an interest in his grandchildren. This was not something I expected. “Well yes of course you can…I mean they can.” He was here acting like this was a social visit, something he did all the time.

He actually chuckled at me. “It’s okay Xena I know this is a surprise to you. I don’t blame you for being a little thrown.”

“A little thrown? Hades my barn burning down would throw me a little. You showing up unannounced on my door step is a something entirely different.” I crossed the room to the children and sat with them. I took Kessa into the crook of my arm and sat her on the couch next to me. Rosa climbed up on my lap and rested her head on my good shoulder. Kai looked up at me as Mel slid off the couch and started across the room toward him.

“Ah, you must be Melosa.” He said as he extended his hand to her. Ri poured tea for all of us and even placed a mug in front of him. He smiled and nodded his thanks to her as Mel took his hand. “It’s okay I won’t hurt you.”

“You’re my grandfather?” She asked as she drew closer to him.

“Yes. I’m very proud of you Melosa. You acted with great bravery last night. You saved your Mother’s life.”

Mel just shrugged.

“She’s not quite up to talking about it yet.” Ri said softly as she took a seat at the table close to Mel and ran her hand through our daughter’s hair.

“Ah I see. Well in good time.” He said as he patted her hand. “You’re doing well with your lessons and your training?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good.”

I sat there on the couch and watched as he talked to all the children. He took great delight in Kai and the twins. Kai seemed so shy with him it was almost funny to watch this mammoth man interact with his small grandson. Kessa and Rosa adored him. He had lots of shiny things on his armor, which required inspection. Pulling and tugging at the buckles. There was something humanizing about this. Watching the God of the Underworld covered in grandchildren and loving every moment of it.

I looked to my wife who sat at the table with a smile on her face as she too watched Hades with the children. I caught her eye and motioned for her to join me on the couch. She brought her tea and curled up next to me in the crook of my arm. I rested my chin on the top of her head as we watched him with the children.

“It’s amazing Xe.” She whispered.

“Yeah it is, but I don’t know there’s just something about it. I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“He looks…happy. You know that Perpesphone isn’t with him right now and he always gets depressed when she gone. Maybe that’s why he’s here.”

“No he said he was here to help you.”

“I wonder what he meant by that.”

“I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough, but let him enjoy the kids a bit longer.”

“Absolutely.”

“Besides,” I whispered in her ear with a light laugh. “I needed a break.”

She turned in my arms and gave me a soft kiss. “I’ll bet you did. They we’re giving you a real work out tonight.”

“The best.” I hugged her close. My arm ached and my head even hurt a little bit but it was almost a delicious pain. I hadn’t had a fight in a while and I had gotten hurt. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did and I won’t try to excuse it away. I will simply enjoy the pain as a reminder not to let it happen again. I must have been lost in thought because it was the feel of Ri’s hand gently squeezing my thigh that brought me back.

“Tired?” She asked softly.

“No I’m okay, just thinking.”

Kai tugged on Hades hand and pulled him down to whisper something to him. Hades in turn looked at me and grinned as his grandson continued to whisper in his ear. “Well,” He said as he sat back up in his chair. “I guess that would be up to your mothers now wouldn’t it?”

Kai turned around and gave us a big smile as he practically bounced across the room. He had lost a tooth the day before and really looked pretty silly. I couldn’t help, but laugh a little as he came to the back of the couch and made his request known.

“Of course he can if he wants.” Ri told him.

Kai wanted Hades to spend the night. He wanted his grandfather to stay with him in his room. “Welcome aboard.” I grinned at Hades as I gave Kai a pat on the head. “I’ve got to warn you. Mornings can be a little hectic around here.”

“Couldn’t be any worse than what I go through on a daily basis.” He said.

“Wanna bet?” I said as I got to my feet and announced it was bedtime for anyone under the age of thirty.

“Whew I just made it.” Ri teased from her spot on the couch as she got up the fetch the twins from Hades.

“Oh yeah how can you be so sure?” I grinned as I tossed Kai over my good shoulder.

“There are some things you just don’t forget Warrior.” She said as she poked me in the chest. I knew full well she didn’t have a clue, but she played along and seemed to have a good time with it.

Hades got to his feet and took Kai from me. “May I?” He asked as he held the boy.

“Of course. His room is the one in the middle there.” I pointed at the door and turned to help Ri with Kessa and Rosa. I started to take her when I noticed Mel at the table, tracing small circles with her finger across the grain of the wood. “Ri can you…” I pointed at Mel.

“Yeah.” She said softly as she took the girls to their room.

I joined Mel at the table. Sitting next to her I gave her room and still tried to be close to her. “What’s up pal?”

“I don’t want to go to bed.” She said softly.

“Bad dreams?”

“Umm-hmm…” She picked at the table.

“Well I’ll tell you what, your mom and I need to talk with you grandfather, but if you’re real quiet and promise to try and sleep I’ll let you stay on the couch. We’ll make you a bed there. Okay?”

She nodded her head and we went to get her blanket and pillow from her room. I sent her back out to the outer room and help Ri get the twins down.

“What’s going on?” She asked as she tucked Kessa in.

“Bad dreams. She’s scared Ri. I’m going to let her drift off on the couch and then I’ll bring her in here.” I put Rosa down and covered her up. She curled up in her blanket and tossed it over her head. A quick game of peek-a-boo, with her and she was content to settle down and go to sleep. I gave them both a kiss and watched as Ri did the same. I grabbed a sleeping gown for Mel and left the room.

She was putting her blanket and pillow on the couch when I came back in. I offered her my hand and led her to our room. I sat down on the bed and began helping her undress for bed. “It’s okay you know?” I said as I unfastened her tunic.

“What?”

“To be afraid.”

“Have you ever been afraid?”

“Oh yeah lots.”

“When?”

“The day you were born.”

“Why did that scare you?”

“Because I knew someday this day would come and I was afraid I either wouldn’t be able to help you through it or I wouldn’t be here to help you through it.”

She lifted her arms and I slipped her gown over her head. After it settled on her shoulders she wrapped her arms around me. “I love you.”

I stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head. “I love you too.”

“Thanks pal.” She said as she pushed off my legs. “I think you’re doing a pretty decent job of the whole thing.” She grinned at me.

“Glad to hear it. Finish getting ready and come on out okay.”

“Okay. Mom?”

“Hmm?”

“Will they go away? The dreams I mean.”

“Yeah…yeah they will. It may take time, but they’ll go away.”

I kissed her again and joined Ri and Hades in to outer room.

“Is she okay?” They asked almost in unison.

“For now. We’ll get her through it.”

I took a seat at the table with them and could tell that Ri was ready to find out exactly why Hades had come. He waited a few moments until he had said goodnight to Mel and tucked her safely onto the couch. She was thrilled that her grandfather took the time to tuck her in and even popped up over the back to give us a big smile. Then he returned to us.

Ri nervously took my hand and gave it a little squeeze. I ran my thumb over her hand to reassure her than everything would be all right.

“First I have a confession to make.” He said as he settled down at the end of the table with us. He turned and caressed Gabrielle’s cheek. “That accident that took your memory was my fault and I am so sorry that you were hurt.”

“How?” She asked as he withdrew his hand.

“The ‘wind’ that knocked that tower over was not a wind at all. It was an escaped soul. One of my worst from Tartarus’ lower level. It never should have happened, but it did and you got hurt and I’m am so sorry.”

“Why didn’t you come sooner?” I asked, remembering that Mel was in the room and that loosing my temper with him now wouldn’t be good for her.

“I had to recapture the monster Xena, before it could do further harm. Now that it has been done I’ve come to try and make thing right again.”

He took his time and explained that there were two ways for Ri to recover her memories. He could take her to Olympus and show her, her past. He also pointed out that with this method he really wasn’t giving her back her memories he was only showing her what had happened to her in her life time. None of the ‘feelings’ associated with memories would be returned.

The second choice he gave her was for Dionysus to come and return her memories to her. Our life together had been such a mixture of light and dark, pleasure and pain, love and hate, that only Dionysus could restore all of her memories in the proper order with the proper emotion attached to them.

“Of course he has conditions. First the children mustn’t be here and Xena you have to stay.”

“There’s no way I would leave.” I said quietly. “As for the children we can make arrangements for them. Ri which do you want to do?”

“I’m not sure.” She looked to Hades. “Can we have the night to consider it?”

“Of course. I’m not going anywhere tonight.” He said with a grin as he got up and headed into Kai’s room.

We checked on Mel, who was sound asleep on the couch. I started to move her to her room when Ri stopped me. “Leave her. She’s okay. Let’s go to bed.”

We lay there together, her head resting on my good shoulder. My hand brushed thoughtlessly through her hair as we talked. “Scared?” I asked.

“A little. I mean I want them back, but I expected to get them back bit by bit not all at once, you know.”

“Yeah.” I kissed her forehead. “I wish there was more I could do.”

“Just stay with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“So does your shoulder hurt a lot?” She asked as she ran her hand over my stomach. I recognized this signal.

“Oh it’s not too bad.”

“Really?”

“Really.” I answered as I brought her lips to mine.

A knocking in the very early hours of the morning did nothing for the start of the day. The news that followed really set the tone for what was to come.

“What do you mean Kai has your helmet!” I practically yelled at him as I tied off my robe. I remembered at the last moment that Mel was asleep just a short distance away.

“I got up early to exercise my team. Kai woke and asked if he could go. I said yes. While I was getting dressed he found my helmet and put it on.”

“So what you’re trying to tell me is we have an invisible five year old boy running around here somewhere.”

“That pretty much sums it up.” He grinned as he rocked on his heals just a little.

“Hades this is not funny.”

From behind me I heard my wife toss in her two dinars through the yawns. “Oh I don’t know I can see a certain amount of humor here. Come on Xena you know Kai. He’s not the trouble type. He’s probably standing right next to you trying not to giggle.”

With that she went into the kitchen. I couldn’t help it I had to sweep the area next to me with my hands to see if she was right. “I swear Hades I’m going to have Hephaestus make a damn chain for that thing and I’m going to lock it to your wrist.” I growled at him. “Lemme go get dressed.”

I came back into the room with my boots in my hand expecting this to be a long drawn out search. I sat down at the table when I heard the click of dog type toenails coming into the room. “Auto find Kai.” Gabrielle smirked at me as she sipped her tea from her spot leaning in the doorway of the kitchen.

I pulled on my boots as I watched the dog wander around the room. He finally pounced right on top of a sleeping Mel who woke with one of the loudest yells I have ever heard in my life.

“GET OFF ME YOU STUPID DOG!!” She shoved him to the floor and I watched as he settled right by the couch.

“All right Kai you’re found give the helmet back to you grandfather and whatever you had planned for your sister can just be forgotten.”

I heard the little murmur as he took the helmet off and reappeared.

“Bring it here.” He crossed the room and handed me the helmet. “Apologize to your grandfather and your sister.”

“Yes ma’am.” He took his sorry little backside, which he now knew was about to be in my hand and leaned over the back of the couch. “I’m sorry Mel really I am. I was just having a little fun.” She just growled a “S’All right.” and rolled over and pulled the blankets back over her head. Then he turned and stood before his grandfather. Looking up at the man who towered over him. He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry grandpa.” Then he came over and stood before me. “I’m sorry Momma.”

“Umm-hmm…” I stood up and pointed to the front door.

He dropped his head and went to the door. Auto followed and as they headed out I heard him talking to the dog. “Traitor…”

I handed Hades his helmet. “This is the second time we’ve had to get this back for you…”

“Xena what are you going to do?” Hades asked as he took the helmet. “The boy was just playing.”

“He took something that didn’t belong to him Hades and he’s going to be punished.”

I took a deep breath and looked to Ri. I didn’t have to do this very often, but when I did I was serious. Mel and Kai had both gotten their share of swats over the seasons. She knew I hated to do it, but also knew it had to be done and she nodded to me. I turned and left the house.

When we came back in after a long talk and what turned out to be a far more painful experience for me that my son I sat him down with his sisters for their morning meal and I went into our sleeping chamber and pulled my boot off. A small piece of broken tack from a bridle had punctured my boot and my foot. Ri came in and saw that I was bleeding all over the floor.

“What did you do?” She asked as she gathered up my kit and started tending to the cut in my foot.”

“Stepped in something I shouldn’t have.” I grinned as she pulled the piece from my foot.

“Thanks so much for that mental image. Oh this couldn’t have felt good.” She held up the piece for me to look at as she continued to clean the wound and dress it.

“I need new boots.”

“I guess you do.”

“Ri have you decided?” I asked as I put my finger through the hole in my boot.

“Dionysus…”

————————————————-

~The Soul Of The Bard~

With Amazon guards placed all around the house for our protection the ritual was about to begin. They had been given their orders. They were not allowed to enter for any reason until the Queen and only the Queen called for them. No one was to get into the house. Anyone who attempted to do so was to be executed without hesitation.

I was surrounded by darkness. Trying not to feel the fear that wanted to creep into my heart. In my mind I knew I was safe and sound in our home, with Xena at my side. This darkness was a darkness I had never known. Blacker than the darkest night, quieter that most vigilant assassin. Then, his voice came it was soft.

“You are Gabrielle. Daughter of Herodotus and Hecuba.”

The darkness began to fade. I saw them, a young man and woman. She was in bed holding a newborn baby. He knelt at her side and looked down at the child. My parents, the child was me. They looked so young, so happy.

“Gabrielle. Sister of Lila.”

The scene shifted. I was three. Held in my father’s arms as we went to see my newborn baby sister.

I watched her from my position in the chair, the only piece of furniture that we had been allowed to leave in common room of our home. Everything had to be removed for Gabrielle’s safety. While Dionysus guided her through her memories she would be free to move around, but she wouldn’t know it. Hades had made the room as safe as possible for her before he left, covering the floors and walls in soft tapestries. A stuffed mattress had been provided as bedding for us in the floor near the fireplace.

I was told that she would interact with me while she regained her memories, but wouldn’t remember these interactions until Dionysus had left her. Until then it was my job to keep her safe. I wasn’t permitted to touch her or speak to her unless she instigated it and as soon as she stopped I must as well. I could touch her if for some reason she tried to hurt herself, for her own safety I was allowed to restrain her. I suspected there was more to it than that, but that I would have to wait and see.

She sat in front of the fireplace staring into the flames. She had a smile on her face and whatever memories were being returned to her were obviously sweet ones.

Lila and I playing together as our mother did chores around our home. I could feel the texture of the clothing, the sensation of the toys in my hands. I could ‘feel’ again. The memories of my childhood come to me flowing like a river. It felt wonderful to know again to understand, to remember. I watched as Lila and I grew up. How my parents aged to became the people I loved.

“Gabrielle. Betrothed to Perdicus.”

Ah, Perdicus. He was such a contrast of character as I remembered him. You could tell that lying just below the surface was a good man trying to get out, but life in our little village had made him the same as everyone else, dull.

As I remembered Poteidaia I also began to remember just how badly I didn’t want to stay there. All the nights of lying awake under the stars watching them travel across the sky and wishing for a way out before I was doomed to the life of being a farmer’s wife. Married to a man that I loved far more like a brother than a husband. I couldn’t allow myself to believe that Perdicus and Poteidaia where my destiny. There had to be more, there just had to be.

I watched as she shifted uneasily and began rocking back and forth just a little. There was some distress evident in her actions and her body language, but she remained seated in front of the fire and staring into the flames.

Quietly I got up and move to the mattress and stretched out. I didn’t touch her or speak to her I just want to be close to her, in case she needed me. Suddenly it became quite clear that what she was feeling was fear. Oh by the Gods how I wanted to reach out and bring into my arms, to hold her, to comfort her, to make her feel safe.

He came first thing in the morning after all the men had left for the fields. He took the advantage and captured women and children using them against the men to make the men submit in order to save their families.

Draco intended to make us slaves. I for one wasn’t willing to go without a fight. I was scared to death, but it was better than being a slave. Then it happened…she stepped from the bushes…

“Gabrielle. Friend to Xena: Warrior Princess.”

I watched as once again her expression changed and I heard her speak for the first time.

“You have to take me with you…” She mumbled as she stared into the flames.

I smiled. This was a sweet memory for me too. It was the day that I laid eyes on the young woman who would first be my friend and then my confidant, then she would become my lover and then finally become my wife and the mother of my children. This was the day the two halves of one soul found each other.

“It is time for her to rest Xena.” I could hear his voice, but he never showed himself. “Take her to your bed and allow her to rest and sleep.”

“May I hold her while she sleeps?” I asked quietly as I approached her and helped her to her feet. She looked at me, but her eyes were blank.

“Yes.”

I moved to her and helped her into bed. It had been a long and tiring day. I was exhausted and I could tell by the feeling of her body that she too was worn out. She settled quickly against me as I wrapped my arms around her. She was content here and I was happy to finally be able to hold her. Not being able to touch her was something I wasn’t accustomed to especially when I thought she needed me. I kissed the top of her head and pulled her as close to me as I could get her. Nothing would harm her tonight.

Morning came quickly. His voice woke me and he informed me it was time for them to begin again and that I should move away from her. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and a soft light one on her lips. “I love you Gabrielle. I’m here if you need me.” I didn’t want to let her go, but I wanted this to be over.

So many visions, so many adventures. Life and death struggles over good and evil. Some with outside forces, some with ourselves, Morpheus wanted me as his bride, Xena had rescued me. She only wanted to protect me. She fought to keep my blood innocence intact…

Pandora and the box…

Marcus, Xena loves Marcus…

She fights it everyday, the darkness that consumes her. I can see in her beautiful blue eyes as she tells me to leave her there in that stinking dungeon…I should have listened to her, should have done as she asked she never would have struck me…

I hear her cry out and I look up in time to see her recoil and she whispers my name. What have I done to hurt her? Where is she in the memory scape? Is this the first time I’ve hurt her in her memories or the hundredth and when she is finished with this will she still find it in her heart to forgive me?

I ran my hand over my face and realized I was sweating. A fever, I had a fever. I couldn’t afford to get sick right now, Gabrielle needed me.

Titans, Prometheus, Celesta…we certainly had our hands full there. We managed to get through it all.

“Gabrielle, Amazon Princess.”

My heart sank as I felt Terreis breath her last. Right of Caste. Amazon Princess, oh Xena got quite a chuckle out of that until she realized they were serious. Then she took it with the seriousness that was intended and that’s when she became my champion.

“My champion…” She murmured as I watched her.

I had waited until she seemed somewhat settled and I had gone to get a cool rag for my head. Her words caught my attention. I waited to see if she was calling to me or just speaking aloud. Some part of my fevered brain wanted her to be calling to me so I could be close to her. I was sweating buckets.

Helen of Troy…the wooden horse…Perdicus…

“Gabrielle, bard.”

Leaving Xena to go the Academy was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I missed her horribly for the first few days I was there. The excitement of being there and just being able to compete was the only thing that helped me get through it. I wanted to make her proud of me. I was never happier than I was the day I went back to her.

Petracles. He played us both…and lost.

Oh poor Diana…poor Diana my foot. Now that I think about it, that was of the hardest things I ever had to do with absolutely no warning. Thank you very much, Warrior Princess. Oh I’ll get you for that I swear I will.

It must have been hard for her…to lose Marcus a second time…

Autolycus…ah Autolycus thank you. Seeing Xena in the harem girl get up almost pays for the Diana thing. Wow you know…I hadn’t noticed before…I mean I think I had noticed before, but I really noticed this time…that body…hmm.

Home… Poteidaia …Meleager…Xena…Home…

I cocked my head as I watched her and I couldn’t help but smile. Somebody was remembering talking rocks and henbane laced nut bread. As I ran the cloth over my neck and face I remembered that lovely cool lake and the young beauty I had started falling in love with and exactly where she had to put her hands to get that fish I had trapped for her.

How things had changed for me then. I knew it was the nut bread, but I also knew she wouldn’t say anything she didn’t believe or didn’t feel. I had begun to fall in love with her before that, but that strengthened it because it kept alive my hope that maybe someday she might love me too. Not to mention she was just so damned cute.

“Xena…I’m sorry…I had to do it.” She said. “I hope I didn’t hurt you…with the pitch fork I mean.” She said quietly.

I remember this conversation. This was one of the first times we had shared the warmth of one bedroll. It was after Ares had tried to impersonate Atrius. As we lay in bed that night she rubbed the knot out of my back and applied salve to the bruise she had put across my back. It was worth it for the rubdown I got after.

Xena was dead. How angry could one person be? Gods how could they take her from me like that…but the villagers still need…someone…

Callisto…

Toris…Cortese. More of the things that make Xena’s past so hard for her to deal with. I suspect more of the reasons that I pull her from sweat soaked nightmares and try to ease her back to sleep…

Ephiny…Xenan…waking in Xena’s strong arms her tear stained face the first thing I see and her soft words the first thing I hear when I come back…

Solan…

“Gabrielle, wife and widow of Perdicus.”

As I watched her move through the memory scape I watched her face. I saw everything from joy to fear to anger. I felt so sorry for her to have to go through all of this again. I watched as she screamed for Perdicus…I knew what she was remembering. She was remembering another of my greatest failures…to her…the happiness she could have had with him.

My fever had gone up again and the throbbing in my leg told me that my foot was infected. That damn cut I had gotten in the barn. No time to be concerned about that…

Xena trapped in Callitso’s body…oh by the Gods how that hurt. To look at my best friend, my home and to see my worst enemy. To know that I actually sat up one night and watched her sleep and thought of killing her. Knowing I could do it. I was the only one who could get close enough to her in her sleep to do it. I had to sit there and remind myself that this was my Xena. My Xena…

What kind of a monster bans solstice…

Still one of my best scrolls, Xena adamantly refused to let me title it What a Drag…

I had taken her there…she was dead. The one person I truly loved dead. Oh Gods why hadn’t I seen it before. Why did she have to die before I knew it? Before, I realized that I had lost the other half of my soul. Maybe it was being married to Perdicus and realizing that I never grieved for him that way I grieve for Xena now. I never hurt for him the way I hurt now.

“Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons.”

“Gabrielle, Xena’s lover.”

I have her back and I swear by the Gods, nothing is every going to go unspoken between us again. That is how I am in her arms now. Sharing her bed for the first time as her lover. Understanding for the first time, the true power and passion of my warrior lover. Understanding that this is where my destiny is I want nothing more in this life than to be with this woman. To know that she feels the same about me, that we love each other. She sleeps and I’m watching her, still amazed that she chose me.

Velasca…Callisto…

Minya…frying pan…flying parchment…whips…thinking about that now that was a lousy trade…

Well whatever it is, it’s funny. I’m glad to hear her laughing and to see her smiling. I do so love that smile. I think it was her smile that first caught my eye. When she was younger the simplest things would make her smile, a flower, a sunset, watching me struggle with that buckle on my armor, helping me with that buckle on my armor.

“What’s wrong with you eyes…” She says softly. I realize she must be referring to our run in with Palaemon.

The fear I felt on that one I couldn’t even put into words. I finally had this beautiful woman in my life and I thought I might never be able to see her again. Vidalus certainly saved the day for us then.

“Time for her to rest warrior.” I barely heard him.

I started to stand and faltered catching myself on the chair I brought myself upright and limped over to her. Taking her gently around the shoulders, I laid her down on the bed and covered her. I knew I needed to eat, so I went into the kitchen to see what I could scare up.

My foot hurt like Tartarus I knew I was getting worse and I wondered how much longer this was going to take. I found a few ‘field rations’ as Ri and I use to call them when we were on the road. Nothing fancy bread, cheese, a little wine. Not fancy, but filling. Then again I didn’t expect to keep much down at the moment the fever was going to make that impossible, but I had to try.

It didn’t take long. After I got cleaned up I took some herbs to settle my stomach and I treated my foot. I sat back down in the chair. I felt too bad to lay down. I was restless from the fever and I didn’t want to disturb her. I drifted in and out all night long.

Her screams awoke me. I jumped to my feet without thinking and collapsed, the fever and the infection had strong hold on me, but by the Gods she needed me. She was calling to me. Begging me to help her. I pulled myself over to her and wrapped her up in my arms.

“Gabrielle, mother of Hope.”

Dahok…Hope…I failed her…Xena failed us…failed me…

Chin…Lao Ma…Ming T”ien…I betrayed her…I failed Xena…

Cleopatra…

Leah…Meg…

That damn scroll…I did feel sorry for Aphrodite though…

Hope…oh Gods Hope…my daughter…Solan…she killed Solan…how could this happpen…

Just when I thought I had her calmed down she started to fight me. I hadn’t the strength to fight her or to restrain her. She pounded on me and screamed at me.

“I hate you!” She pounded my chest. I knew what she was remembering. It all made sense to me now. The infection and the fever were no doubt part of the plan. I’m sure this was part of the plan to allow her some of the revenge she deserved for the horrible things I did to her before we went to Illusia. I should have paid for that a long time ago.

I couldn’t hold myself up any longer under her onslaught. I fell to the mattress and waited for it to end.

The next sensation was her, stroking my hair and telling me that she loved me. I was as tired and as sore as I felt after the Persian’s. That had to be what she was remembering now. I know it was. I remember her words to me after that battle, the words that helped us both recover.

Tara…not my favorite person when I first met her, what an obnoxious child. How dare she try to come between Xena and I…

I remember her holding me as we left Gaul behind…

How could I have been so jealous of a woman I had never met…

She really did expect me to punch that fish in the face…

That horrible ship…I gotta stay off ships…

Ares…Hope…Dahok…not this time…never again…even if I have to die…

Hades…Zeus…guiding me back. Zeus wrapped me in a cloak and delivered me to a hospice. He was disguised as an old man. Told them he thought I was from Poteidaia and when I was well enough to travel I should be sent back there. He left dinars for my care and my journey.

Walking through the wood toward home…I needed to get home…

Oh how many things can go horribly wrong for two people? Xena and I reunited for less than a week. No Argo…that damn swamp…the never ending rash…Xena’s little friends… the Scythian Army…and if I ever find that damn rabbit…

Caesar…Pompy…

Tara…Autolycus…talk about your over the top minister types…

I won’t lose her…no matter our problems…we’re trying too hard for her to rot in some prison…

“Gabrielle, Finder of her own Way. Gabrielle, Protector of her Warrior’s Way.”

I rolled over and opened my eyes. I know that pose, it’s the Lotus position…India…just before we came home to the amazons.

My fever had been raging for two days I’m beginning to lose track of time. I had to get up. Had to clear my senses. She needed me. I forced myself to my feet and back into my chair. I had to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Nothing was ever easy for us and this wasn’t any different. Tartarus I felt like I had been run over by a chariot, several chariots, several times.

The night she proposed…Oh she had never been more beautiful or more powerful in my eyes.

Xena couldn’t take her eyes off the Amazon Queen. She drank in every lovely feature and with every moment that passed, fell more in love with her. The warrior wanted so badly to be up there, with her seated to her left on the dais. The seat reserved for the Queen’s Consort. Instead, she had to sit among the rest of the Queen’s warriors. Not that the company was bad but…

The darkness that had consumed her was now becoming a distant memory. Gabrielle had been the spark and had grown to become the light. She was amazed at the woman the girl from Poteidaia had become. She smiled when she reflected back on how annoyed she was when Gabrielle had first ‘attached’ herself to her. How her feelings had changed. She was lost in those thoughts when she heard her name called from behind her. She turned to find Talera motioning for her. It was time. Taking a quick look around to make sure she wouldn’t be missed, she slipped off into the trees.

Gabrielle had been speaking with Ephiny and hadn’t noticed the warrior leave the festival. She looked over at the empty seat to her left and longed for her love to be seated there. The consort’s chair was a prized possession among Amazon women. The collective gasp that ran through the crowd sent a shock through the Queen and brought her back to reality. Before her very eyes was a vision she had dared only to dream of.

Xena entered the village astride Argo, both of them in regal attire. Argo’s mane and tail had been braided. Her coat (the visible parts) had been brushed into a glow. Her regular tack replaced by light war armor. Her back covered with an emerald green cover with golden threads. The saddle had been shined until you could see the reflection of the torchlight in it.

The warrior sat atop the proud mare, her own, dark mane, pulled back and braided. A vibrant band of emerald green and gold on her forehead. She wore a white, long sleeved waistcoat with the most intricate golden designs Gabrielle had ever seen. White gloves and gauntlets covered her hands and forearms. White trousers and black boots that went to her knees completed the attire. Her sword and Chakram held such a polish that light danced off of them.

Behind her, also on horseback, in full Amazon regalia were Adrin and Talera.

Further back were several young amazons on foot all of them in full attire, bearing gifts. As Xena reigned Argo, the mare whinnied and began a prance towards the dais that almost made it look as if she were dancing.

Ephiny leaned over and whispered, “If this is what I think it is, just sit there and be quiet.”

“How can I?”

“You must.”

Xena reigned Argo again. She stopped and knelt down, her right leg stretched straight out, the left tucked up under her. She bowed her head. Xena made no effort to dismount, but the trusty mare remained steadfast. Only when the murmurs had died down and the only sounds to be heard was the crackling of the fires and the creatures of the night did Xena leave the mare’s back. The horse stood, nodded her head up and down and then began backing away from her mistress.

Gabrielle had become so accustomed to seeing Xena in trousers as of late that she couldn’t possibly imagine her in anything else. She had tears in her eyes. This was positively the most beautiful thing she had ever witnessed. The warrior flashed a quick grin and then dropped to one knee, bowing her head.

“Regent Ephiny of the Amazons. I am Xena of Amphipolis and I have come to offer myself as consort and protector of Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons.”

Ephiny did not speak or move. She was going to enjoy making the warrior wait.

She stroked her chin in mock contemplation. Drew a deep breath, held it, exhaled. Contemplated some more. It was the hard kick to her shin from under the table that told her it was time to move on.

“My Queen,” Ephiny began, shooting her a ‘look’, “This warrior wishes to be considered as a prospect for consort. Do you wish to hear her out?”

“Oh yes…” Gabrielle stammered, her regal resolve gone.

“Xena of Amphipolis, rise.”

Xena stood, strong and proud.

“What do you offer our Queen and our Nation?”

Xena began by offering game animals that she had taken down in the last few days. The animals had been dressed and prepared for storage. There were also several sacks of grain for the fall planting. She knew that there had not been enough seed collected for the fall so she had gone into the closest village and purchased what she could.

As she spoke of each gift, members of her party would bring them forth and lay them at the front of the stage. They would then bow to the Queen (who didn’t see them because she couldn’t take her eyes off the warrior) and back away.

“I also offer that which was grown by my own hand.” Several fruit and vegetable plants were brought forth.

A young woman came forth carrying an ornate goblet. She was being very careful not to spill any of the liquid. She handed the goblet to Xena, which was almost a mistake because the proud warrior’s hands were actually shaking.

Xena raised the cup towards Gabrielle. “I offer water from the River Styx.”

A gasp went through the crowd. Xena smiled. A royal guard came forth and took the cup from her, winked and then took it and placed it on the table before the Queen.

“Finally, I offer the pureness of my heart and soul. The gentleness of my love and touch and the service of my warrior abilities and my sword.”

She unsheathed her sword and laid it on the ground. The ultimate act of surrender.

Gabrielle wanted to run to her and simply accept her as her consort but she knew it would never be allowed. Why had the warrior chosen to propose here? If she had waited until they were on the road again…damn her suddenly ‘proper’ manners.

“Amazon sisters hear me!” Cried Ephiny. “This warrior thinks herself worthy of our Queen. Are there any challenges?”

As planned, a young Amazon that Xena had been training, stood and offered a challenge. This of course was all designed just for show and everyone in the crowd knew it. Everyone except for Kallia, an amazon warrior about Xena’s age very evenly matched in fighting ability.

Kallia stood and stated proudly, “I challenge this warrior for the right to be the Queen’s consort!”

That was not the voice Xena was expecting and she whirled around to see who had decided to put a twist in her plans. Xena turned to Lestia, the young warrior who was going to ‘challenge’ her. She motioned for her to take her seat. Then she turned very slowly and cast her coldest warrior gaze upon Kallia. ‘So you want what is mine’, she thought as she used her foot to kick her sword up into her hand, never releasing Kallia from her stare. As Xena twirled the sword in her right hand, she unfastened her jacket with her left. She continued to hold the gaze.

Tossing the sword into the air, she calmly removed her gloves, scabbard and jacket. Handing them off she caught the sword and once again began twirling it. The white silk shirt she was wearing showed every ripple of every muscle as she prepared for battle. She drew a deep breath and smiled, motioning for Kallia to come forward.

As Kallia came forward Xena turned her back on the warrior and faced the dais. She planted the tip of her sword in the dirt, rested her right hand on the hilt and her left on her hip. She smiled at Gabrielle, did the ‘eyebrow thing’ as Gabrielle called it and then winked at her. Kallia came forth and stood shoulder to shoulder with Xena. Xena looked over at her, bored and annoyed.

“My Queen, I am Kallia of the Amazons. I believe I am better suited to be your consort than this…interloper.”

Gabrielle looked at Xena. Oh, she knew that look. There was nothing she could say that would stop the fight now. Ephiny looked to Gabrielle who just shrugged and sighed.

“You are both agreeable to this combat?” Ephiny asked.

“Yes Regent.” Kallia announced proudly.

Eph looked at Xena. “If she insists.” Xena said dryly, with a bow.

“Then so be it. Sisters hear me! We have a challenge for the hand of our Queen. The winner will be chosen as consort and champion to Queen Gabrielle.

The women gathered didn’t really know how to react. Normally a challenge of this nature would have brought a roar of cheers through the crowd, but in this case it was more a reaction of shock and surprise. Shock that Kallia would be so bold and surprise that Xena hadn’t already killed her.

Kallia drew her sword. She and Xena squared off. Well, Kallia squared off. Xena faced her opponent, sword down.

“Kallia this is a ridiculous fight that you can not win. Stop now and it will be forgotten.”

“Prepare to fight warrior or I’ll kill you where you stand.” Growled the amazon.

“Don’t make me do this Kallia I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You have hurt her in the past. I won’t let you hurt her in the future.”

“Yes Kallia I admit it. I have hurt her, but we have put that behind us. Allow us our future, together.”

Kallia drew her sword back and then chopped down at Xena’s head with an angry roar. Xena raised her own sword and blocked the blow with relative ease. Soon the two were engaged in heavy swordplay. For the first time the clanging of metal against metal actually hurt Gabrielle’s ears. She flinched with every blow.

Kallia got in a good blow that opened a wound on Xena’s left leg. Blood began to soak through the material. Xena looked down briefly to verify what she had felt. A new passion overcame the warrior princess and the Amazon was no match. It was over very soon after that. Kallia lay on the ground, the point of Xena’s sword against her throat.

“Surrender Kallia, it’s over.” Xena said hoping to spare the amazon’s life.

“Kill me Xena, that’s what you do best.”

Xena pushed on the blade. “If I were my old self you’d already be dead. It never would have gotten this far. It is because of my love for your Queen and all that she has given me that you still breathe. Now surrender and end this.”

Kallia shook her head yes and Xena removed the blade from her throat. She then offered Kallia her hand in getting up. Kallia accepted it and Xena pulled her to her feet. Kallia turned and walked away. Xena turned and faced Gabrielle. Suddenly, she turned and caught the knife that had been hurled at her back by a departing Kallia.

“Guards,” Ephiny barked. “Arrest her. The charge is attempted murder of the Queen’s intended consort.”

Guards rushed forward and took the woman away. Xena turned back to Gabrielle and Ephiny.

“Xena you have proven yourself to be a true warrior. Worthy of being consort to the Amazon Queen.”

Xena walked up the stairs of the stage to the table. She stopped and held both of her hands out to Gabrielle. The bard smiled and placed her hands in Xena’s.

Xena pulled her up. Kissed both of her hands at the same time and then pulled her into her arms and kissed her. A slow lingering kiss that made Ephiny wonder if they were ever going to come up for air. When their lips finally parted their eyes did not. They continued to gaze at each other as the cheers and roar of approval spread through the crowd.

Suddenly Gabrielle remembered the warrior’s injured leg. She turned to see Adrin coming up the steps of the stage. Gabrielle smiled at Xena. “Now we take care of you, My Consort.”

“I’m not your consort yet. Should another champion challenge me before the bonding…”

Adrin pulled Xena into the Consort’s chair and began tending to the leg “After that display? I do hope your kidding.” She said applying pressure to the wound.

“I thought it pretty impressive too.” The warrior said with a smirk. “But it didn’t seem to affect Kallia all that much.”

“Yeah well Kallia always has been a few feathers short of a headdress.” Adrin said as she tended the wound.

Xena and Gabrielle laughed at the analogy. It wasn’t nice, but it was true.

“Gabrielle, wife of Xena.”

Our first anniversary…

Ephiny gave me that silly lopsided grin of hers as she handed me the box. “Here you go all safe and sound just like you left it.”

“Thank you for keeping it for me. I know if I had left in the hut she would have found it. She can just be so nosey sometimes.”

“Gabrielle it’s a warrior thing. We hate surprises.”

“Thing isn’t a surprise it’s an anniversary present.”

“Yeah I know and she’ll love it, but the nosey part is just a warrior thing. So what do you two have planned for tonight?” She asked me with a wink and a nudge.

“To be honest I’m not sure. Poor Xena’s been working so hard lately I don’t know what to do for her. She pulled a double tour of sentry duty last night. She’s still asleep.”

“This late into the morning?”

“Well like I said she’s been working hard. She only got in a couple of candle marks ago. She practically fell into bed fully clothed. I had to undress her and tuck her in.”

“Awww isn’t that sweet. Newlyweds. You guys are just to cute.”

“Cute is not a word I would use to describe Xena.”

“Really? What word would you use?” I could feel a blush creep over my entire body.

Eph cocked her head to one side and crossed her arms. “Well?”

“Umm…well…I don’t think that’s any of your business.” I teased.

“See. Cute.” She teased back.

“Oh just stop it!”

“So tell me all about it.” She said as she took a seat on her bed and patted it for me to sit next to her.

I sat down and grinned at her. “Tell you what?”

“Come on spill it.” She urged me.

“Why Ephiny I don’t know what your talking about.”

“Yes you do. What’s it like actually being married to her? Come on it’s got to be different from just traveling with her.”

“Sure it is. We’re settled here now.” I wasn’t biting.

“Ohh you are the most frustrating person I’ve ever met!” She growled.

“You know,” I said as I stood up. “Xena says the same thing. Especially when she’s not getting exactly what she wants when she wants it.” I said with a grin as I walked out. I heard the pillow hit the door just behind me.

I went back to our hut. I could hear her moving around in the bathing chamber. I stashed the box and went into find her soaking in a hot tub. I went over and sat down behind her and began massaging her shoulders.

“Mmmm that’s niiicccee…” She said softly as she took my hand and gave it a little kiss.

“Tired?”

“Exhausted. You know you’ve got a lot of land here Your Majesty. Pulling two tours around it can wear out even me.”

“Oh gee and I had so hoped to do that myself later.” I said as I kissed her neck.

“Oh sweetheart we’ve got to find sometime for each other, but it’s not going to be tonight. I’ve got to go back out. Ep’s still short two guards.”

“WHAT! But…but…tonight’s…” I stopped when she turned to look at me. I could see by the blank look on her face she had forgotten today was our anniversary.

“Tonight’s what Gabrielle?”

“Nothing.” I said quietly. “Umm nothing don’t worry about it. Are we at least going to get to manage a meal together before you leave again?”

“Well not now, but I’ll tell you what, I’ll make sure I make it back for the evening meal tonight okay?”

“Sure. That’d be great.” Now I could work with this. If I could just managed to get a nice quiet romantic dinner for two here in the hut. “What do you mean no?” I questioned the cook.

“I’m sorry Your Majesty. Had you given me some warning I might have been able to help you, but on such short notice…”

“I don’t furkin’ believe this!” I growled as I left the hut.

Ephiny met me as I stormed across the village. “So how goes your anniversary Gabrielle?”

“Oh you don’t even want to know. Xena has forgotten and she’s back out on patrol…I can’t even get a meal brought to my hut for us tonight.”

“Well if she’s out on patrol it’s probably likely she won’t make it back for the evening meal anyhow.”

I moved in toe to toe and nose to nose with my Regent. “Ephiny if you don’t want to watch your Queen combust into flames my Consort HAD better make it home for the evening meal! Now if you know the proper strings to pull around here to see that it happens you had better start pulling!”

Some anniversary this was turning out to be. I was sitting in council chambers going over old scrolls and treaties, while my wife who had completely forgotten about this day pulled another tour of sentry duty and even though she promised to make it back for the evening meal, that hadn’t happened either. I just couldn’t face the prospect of going back to our hut and spending another evening alone. It was just better to work.

Ephiny came in and slowly approached me. “I’m sorry Gabrielle I tried I really did, the scout just couldn’t find her.”

“I know Eph. Hey they’ll be other anniversaries right?”

“Sure lots of them. Listen why don’t you and I grab a wine skin and just relax tonight. I mean I know I’m no Xena…but at least you won’t be alone.”

“You know, why the Tartarus not. Let’s go.” I sat the scrolls aside and we headed out.

“Why don’t you go ahead and go back to your hut and I’ll go get the wine and meet you there?” Eph said as we walked across the village. I nodded and head for the darkened hut. As I entered the hut I reprimanded myself for not leaving a small candle burning. I always hated stumbling around in the dark. A strong arm around my waist and a hand over my mouth cause that momentary panic reflex. The warm soft lips on my neck however caused something entirely different and the smooth silky voice in my ear released me from my panic.

“Thought I forgot didn’t you?” She whispered with a chuckle, she still hadn’t removed her hand from my mouth, I nodded. “I didn’t.” She said as she gave my neck a long lingering kiss that made my knees weak and my breath short.

She turned me in her arms and brought me into one of the most passionate kisses of our lives. When she released me I felt weak in a way I never had before, I couldn’t find my voice.

“Ah my bard is speechless. I like it.” She kissed me again and swept me into her arms. Continuing the kiss she carried me into out bedchamber. I opened my eyes from the kiss and found that the room was lit in soft candlelight. A full meal was laid out on a blanket on the floor. The bed was covered in flower petals. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

“Thought I was all work didn’t you?” She asked as she put me down and encircled me with her arms. “Didn’t think I knew how to play did you?”

“You are so bad. How long have you been plotting this?”

“Are you being nosey little bard?”

I turned in her arms. “And you had help didn’t you? Everyone was in on this.”

“From Ephiny to the cook.” She chuckled.

“Oh they are in soooooo much trouble.”

“Oh nooooooo they’re not. They have the word of your consort that they wouldn’t get into trouble for helping me.” She ran her hands up and down my arms slowly and raised that eyebrow. “And you wouldn’t want to make your consort look bad now would you?” She purred as she backed me up toward our bed.

“No of course not. I wouldn’t dream of it.” I said as I felt the back of my legs hit the edge of the bed. She smiled and wrapped her arm around my waist and lowered me back. Oh it was going to be a good anniversary after all.

My head dropped again. It was getting harder to stay awake. Harder to breath, harder to see clearly. “By the Gods Gabrielle I love you…”

“Gabrielle, mother to Solan. Mother of Melosa. Mother of Kai. Mother of Rosa and Kessa. Gabrielle…woman of the world…”

He left me and I opened my eyes. I drew a deep and excited breath as all of my memories settled into place. Oh it felt so good to remember everything. My whole life returned to me finally. The fire was dying and the room was darkened. Xena should be here. I built the fire back up and looked around the room. She was slumped in the chair her eyes closed.

“Xena! Oh Xena it so wonderful…” I moved to her and put my hands on the sides of her face. She was on fire. My joy quickly turned to concern for my wife. “Xena! Xena answer me!” She didn’t respond. “Guards!”

Three amazon guards came busting through the door with weapons drawn. I gathered blankets from the bed in front of the fireplace.

“Take her to the lake. Be gentle with her she’s very ill.” I knew that the only way to get this fever down was to cool her entire body and the best way to do that was to submerge her in the lake.

As other guards came into the house they were given orders about what to collect and bring to us at the lake. One guard was sent to the village to notify Ephiny that the ritual was over and that Xena was ill and in need of the healer.

The guards placed her on a makeshift littler and carefully carried her to the lake. I went into the water first and had the guards slowly bring Xena in. I knew that moving her into the water too quickly could make it worse.

As I slowly bathed Xena in the cooling water I talked to her. “Oh no you don’t Warrior! You don’t spend weeks taking care of me and holding this family together and then get sick on me when I’m healed and can finally remember everything and don’t you think about leaving me. I’ll follow you I swear I will and I’ll make eternity miserable for you. Come on Xena fight this. It’s a fever…just a fever…fight…”

I issued orders to the guards to build a fire and prepare a bed for her. Then slowly we removed her from the lake and I stripped her clothes from her and wrapped her in blankets.

“Where the Tartarus is Ephiny and Adrin!”

“They’re not coming.” Her voice was a shock to me. I turned to find Artemis. “Leave us.” She commanded the guards. They looked to me and I nodded, they quickly dispersed and I turned to Artemis. “Gabrielle, my chosen.” She continued. I started to speak, but she held up her hand. “I understand your frustration and your anger at me. I’m here to tell you that I had not forsaken you, as you had believed. Hades asked me not to get involved. He wanted to make things right for you. Now, to prove my love for you and that I would never forsake you…” She knelt by Xena’s side and laid her hands on my Warrior’s body. “She is healed of all wounds, all illness. She will sleep thought the night, by morning she will be fine.” She stood and turned to me and opened her arms. I stepped forward and accepted her embrace. “You are my chosen one Gabrielle I will never let you doubt that again. Now rest and enjoy this beautiful night with your warrior.”

She was gone as quickly as she had come. I checked Xena and found that indeed her wounds from the challenge had healed, the cut on her foot was gone, as was the fever. She stirred a bit, but didn’t wake. I banked the fire so it would burn through the night and stripped out of my cold, wet clothes and climbed under the covers with Xe. She wrapped her arms around me and I was home again.

———————————————-

~Tapestry~

As the sun began to rise, waking up next to the lake on a bedroll with my naked wife draped all over my own naked body wasn’t exactly something that I expected. Not that I was complaining I wasn’t. It was a perfectly wonderful way to start my day. If things had gone as I thought then it was going to be a great day anyhow.

This was my wife, the woman I had been married to for almost ten seasons. Her body thrown over mine to the point where if I tried to move it would garner me grumpy protests. This was a glorious feeling. I barely remembered everything that happened last night, but I didn’t care. I had my Gabrielle back. It had been a long time since she had slept like this, like her old self. I took a deep breath and ran my hands over her back to try and wake her. “Ri?”

“Ummm…” She snuggled closer.

“Good morning my love.” I kissed her forehead.

“It certainly is Warrior.” She sighed as she kissed my neck. “Xe I remember everything, everything.” She lifted her head and stared at me for a long moment then she proceeded to kiss me.

Oh what a kiss. That was all it took. By mid morning we found ourselves suitably satisfied for the moment and we dressed and headed back to the house. Stopping long enough to exchange soft kisses and tender touches.

“It was hard on you…” She said softly as we walked arm and arm back to the house.

“Yes. Of course it was Ri, but you were alive and with us and that’s all that mattered to me. I didn’t care if you ever got them back.”

” I know. You always love me don’t you? No matter what happens.”

“No matter what happens as long as we are together. So my sweet what’s your first order of business?”

“Oh I already took care of my first order of business.” She grinned at me. “Now I want to see the kids.”

“They’re over at Solan and Alana’s. Man talk about a house full. Eight people in that house at the same time really fills it up. I think I’m going to see if he wants to add a room. He was looking perfectly perplexed when I left. He doesn’t have a clue what to do with five kids. He can barely handle little Ri. He’s lucky to have Alana and Mother there with him.” I chuckled at my son’s inexperience at parenthood.

“Well I can say this now and mean it…I seem to remember a time when you weren’t so sure either…”

“Whaaat?”

“Oh shall I refresh your memory…”

“No my dear I remember everything very plainly thank you very much.”

I sat there quietly watching her. She was so small. My shaky hand dipped into the cradle and I ran my finger up and down her little arm. ” I love you Melosa.” I said very softly. The last thing I wanted to do was wake her. I watched as her expression change and I found myself wondering what she was dreaming about of even if she did dream right now. I was so engrossed in watching the baby I didn’t even hear Ri enter the room. It was only when she was right behind me that I turned around.

“Hiya’ Warrior.” She said softly as she sat down on the floor next to me and leaned on my crossed legs.

I draped my arm over her waist and pulled her close to me. “Hi yourself. Thank you Ri.” I said softly as I rested my chin on the top of her head and continued to watch our daughter.

“For what?”

“For her, for you, for everything you have made possible.”

“We did this together Xe. Everything we have is because we believe in and love each other.”

“Maybe so, but it all starts with you. You gave me back the ability to love and be loved.”

“Nah it was always there. You had just put it away.” She said with a smile and a nudge. “I just found it.”

“I’m glad you did.” I kissed the top of her head.

“Are you ever going to hold her?” She asked as she watched me caress the baby’s arm.

“Sure I am. When I won’t hurt her.”

“You won’t hurt her now.”

“She’s so small. She’s much smaller than Solan was. She looks so fragile.” She reached into the cradle and tenderly supporting our tiny little girl in her hands she bought her up and offered her to me. I actually felt my heart stop and my throat constrict as I started to move back from them.

“Xe take her. You’re not going to hurt her.”

I took a deep breath and leaned forward, rubbing my hands together to warm them up. I slowly reached out and placed my hands under her, replacing Ri’s very slowly. I looked at Ri and saw and absolute pure expression of love as I brought our little girl into the crook of my arm and cradled her close to me. She brought her hands to her face, palms together and placed them against her lips. She smiled as tears formed in her eyes.

“What?” I asked her as the baby curled a tiny hand around my little finger and drew it close to her.

“Beautiful. This is absolutely beautiful.”

I leaned in and with our baby girl comfortably resting in the crook of my arm between us I placed a soft and gentle kiss on her lips. “I love you Ri.”

“I love you Warrior.”

“Three days. It took you three days before you held her for the first time.” She nudged me playfully.

“I know. I know.”

“Big tough warrior, befuddled by little tiny baby…”

“Hey anything that’s smaller than and weighs less than my sword…”

She stopped and grabbed me and kissed me again. When she was finished thoroughly checking every tooth on my head she pulled back and caressed my face. “I love you.”

“I love you too. My you are in a good mood this morning.”

“And why shouldn’t I be? I woke up in your arms, remembering everything and then we made love. Now I get to see the kids. My life has finally come back together. I didn’t realize how much I missed until I didn’t have it anymore. I can’t explain how wonderful this all is. It’s kind of like being reborn.”

“Well I’m glad you’re pleased.” I grinned at her.

“You have no idea Warrior. You have no idea.”

As we climbed the steps to the house I tossed the blankets into a corner they would need to be shaken out and washed, but that could wait until later. We entered the house, I was amazed to find that everything had been put back into its proper place. The only thing that remained were two tapestries. One a soft green with gold threads that told basically my life story and another of blue with gold threads that told Gabrielle’s. They were long and narrow until they came to the part where we met then they came together and formed one. It hung majestically to the right of the fireplace. I noticed a note pinned to it and took it down as Ri ran her hand over the material.

“It’s a gift from Hades and Artemis. The note says, ‘So you may always remember’.”

“Xena it’s beautiful.”

“Ri it tells…everything…should we leave it up? I mean the kids…I don’t know if…”

“Xe,” She took my hands in her and kissed them. “If there is one thing I’ve learned through all of this it’s that we wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the things that happened to us and the choices that we made. We have our family because this is who we are.” She said as she placed my hand on the tapestry with her hand covering it. “We have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing to regret.”

“You are a truly amazing woman.” I said with all sincerity as I leaned in and kissed her.

“Yeah well I had to be to put up with you all these seasons.” She teased me after the kiss.

“Oh is that so…” I began advancing on her. “Put up with me huh…” If my bard wanted to play I could play.

She grinned and began backing away from me. “Yeah put up with you. All your growling and grousing around…bleeding all over everything…paying more attention to your horse than to me…”

“My horse doesn’t talk as much as you do.” I continued walking toward her.

“Yeah, but your horse doesn’t cook for you.” She was headed for the front door. ” And very rarely did your horse ever keep you warm on a cold winter night…”

She turned and broke for the front door. She made it out and the chase was on. I followed her and saw her break to the right at the bottom of the steps I went to the side of the porch and vaulted over the rail expecting to cut her off. When my feet hit the ground I heard her laugh behind me and I turned around.

“What’s the matter Warrior getting old?”

“Old! I show you old bard!” I got a good sprint and executed a very nice jump and a flip that put me down right in front of her as she skidded to a halt. “Did you just call me old?” I asked as I put my hands on my hips.

“No I asked if you were getting old. There’s a big difference.” She said as she looked for an escape.

“The implication was there…” I grabbed her around the waist and hoisted her into my arms. Then as she wrapped her arms around my neck I kissed her. “Now madam I’m sure if you’re interested you could trade me in. Find yourself some young warrior who can keep up with you. Some young warrior who could just wear you out at every turn.”

“Nah I think I’ll keep you. I’ve got you broken in. I don’t want to have to go through all that again. You warrior types are hard to train.”

“Boy you just don’t know when to quit do you?”

“Well if you didn’t keep setting yourself up like that. You make it so easy…”

“No my dear being easy would be your specialty.” I began laughing as she struggled to get out of my arms, putting forth all the mock indignation she could muster through her own laughter.

“Well I never…” She said as she continued to try and get a way

“Oh yes you have. Everything at least once. I remember your motto when you were younger…wasn’t it something to the effect of “I’m tri-sexual…” She clamped her hand over my mouth.

“I never said that about me. I told people that about you.” She giggled and nuzzled my neck. I headed back to the house. “Hey where are we going?”

“We’re going to go try a few things.”

By late afternoon we were on our way to Solan’s. Gabrielle settled in behind me in the saddle resting her head on my back. This was something I had become accustomed to many years ago while we were on the road. I didn’t realized how much I missed it until this moment. “What’s the matter bard this old warrior wear you out?”

“Oh yeah…just like always.” She purred. I felt her arms tighten around me. “And I wouldn’t trade you for all the dinars in Greece.”

“Glad to hear it.” I rubbed her arm and nudge the horse again to pick up the pace a bit.

The ride to Solan’s was a short one. I helped her down and before my feet hit the ground there were children coming from all directions. I watched as Mel and Kai ran to Ri and practically knocked her off her feet hugging her. She took them both in her arms and knelt down kissing them and giving them firm, long hugs. Kessa and Rosa came through the front door with Solan hot on their heels trying to catch them. I scooped Kessa up as Rosa ran to Ri. That was the weight that toppled them over.

They were laughing, they were crying but they were all happy. Kessa squirmed trying to get out of my arms to be with her Momma.

“Hey remember me?” I said as I playfully poked her in the ribs. She turned and looked at me, drawing her little brows together in disgust. Her little green eyes sparkled in the sunlight “Give me a kiss and I’ll put you down.” She grinned at me and hugged me around the neck and gave me a kiss. She tasted faintly of raspberries. My mother must have been baking again.

“Love you Momma.” Kessa said to me as she hugged me again.

“I love you too, now go see your other Momma.” I put her down and she joined her brother and sisters in their assault on their Momma. Gods how they needed this woman in their lives. Me, they could probably learn to do without, but never Ri. She would always be their guiding light. Just like she had been mine. I joined Solan on the porch as we watched her with the kids.

“She’s okay?” He asked quietly.

“She’s better than okay. She hasn’t been this happy in seasons.”

“It worked then?”

“Yeah it sure did.” Suddenly I felt a tug on my trousers leg. I looked down to find my granddaughter.

“Up!” She demanded as she held out her arms to me.

“Yes ma’am.” I chuckled as I reached over for her.

“Nanna…” She wrapped her arms around my neck and gave me a really long, intense little hug.

“What’s with her?”

“I swear Mom I don’t know she has been crying for you for three days. We’ve all been half out of our minds. Nothing we could do would calm her down. She even cried for you in her sleep.”

“That’s odd.” I turned my attention back to Little Ri who was still firmly attached to my neck and I could feel her shivering a little. I could tell she was crying quietly. “Hey little one I’m here now it’s okay. I’ve got you.” I whispered to her and stroked her back. She pulled back and looked at me she had tears in her little eyes and running down her little cheeks. She put her hands on my face and just stared at me. I kissed her hands and tried not the break whatever spell she seemed to be under.

“Nanna sick…” She said softly.

“Not anymore little one. I’m okay. See. I’m fine.” I didn’t know how she knew I had been sick and I most certainly didn’t know how to convince her I was fine now.

“She’s been saying that for three days too. She’s bound and determined that you’ve been sick.”

“I was. I was horribly sick with a fever for two days, but how did she know that?”

His eyes widened as he shook his head and reached for Little Ri. She shook her head and reattached her self to me. “No!” She said as her arms tightened around my neck. She wasn’t about to be separated from me.

“Leave her. She’s fine.” I hugged her and stepped off the porch to join the rest of my family in the yard. I sat down with the baby and soon I also found myself covered in kids.

Mel was the first. She just came up and leaned on my back and kissed me on the cheek. “Hey pal. How ya’ doing?” She asked with a grin.

“Not bad and you?”

“Eh…same old…same old…you know.” She said so very seriously. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Yeah life’s rough that way…”

“Sure is. You know what I need?”

“What? Do tell.”

“I need a good sparring match. You up to it?” She nudged me.

“What taking you on? Runt I’m ready for you anytime. We’ll do it later okay?”

“Okay.” She draped herself over my back as we watched Ri. “It’s great to have her back.”

“It sure is.”

“I missed her.” She whispered in my ear.

“So did I.”

“I know.” She kissed me on the cheek again and leaned in real close to my ear. “The light is back in your eyes too.”

———————————————

~Judgement Day~

I looked at them. Each on of them waited patiently for my answer. “It is my opinion that the council should handle this matter. I shouldn’t have a vote here. It would seem that I have a serious conflict of interest. It was my daughter that was directly involved in the incident. Xena was acting as the Queen’s champion. If it were merely a matter of ruling on that…”

“Your Majesty. We understand your hesitancy in this matter, but the problem is you have the deciding vote.” Council member Brenna was quick to point out. “You have to cast your vote.”

“I could abstain from the vote.”

“It’s never been done before Your Majesty.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” I mumbled as I considered the table before me. “Let’s break for the mid-day meal and come back to this issue afterward.”

“As you wish Your Majesty.”

I stood and left the council chamber. Outside Mel waited for me on the steps. I sat down next to her. “What’s up kiddo?”

“Decide anything?”

“Un-huh. Decided to have my mid-day meal. Want to join me so we can talk about this?”

“Sure.”

She slipped her and into mine as we walked across the square to the hut where the meal was being served. One of the perks of being Queen is the ability to always find a seat, as a matter of fact three seats were reserved in the hut, mine, Xena’s and Mel’s. When Kessa and Rosa were old enough to start joining us in the village on a regular basis seats would be saved for them as well. The hut was crowded, but we made our way through with relative ease and got our food and took our seats. Mel stared at her food and just sort of picked at it.

“Okay I know that brooding warrior look. I’ve seen it on your mother’s face too many times. What’s wrong?”

“She’s going to get away with it isn’t she?”

“Mel she’s a child.”

“Yeah a child who can handle a cross bow like a seasoned warrior. A child who nearly killed my mother.” She growled.

I exhaled the breath I had been holding. “I know. It’s difficult.”

“What’s difficult? She tried to assassinate the Queen’s champion. That is a capital offense Mother.”

“For an adult.”

“Nowhere in the scrolls does it say anything about age.”

“You read the scrolls?”

“Oh yeah I wanted to make sure there weren’t any loopholes for the little Bacchae to slip through.”

“Mel be nice.”

“I am being nice. I’m being the perfectly little Princess and I’m letting you handle it. When what I want to do is…”

“Mel that’s enough.” I could tell she was about to go Xena on me.

Speaking of my consort, she arrived just in the nick of time. She came through the doors with Sol and Ep. They were coming off the training field. Xena as per usual had been out there actually mixing it up with the warrior’s she trained and she looked the part. Dripping with sweat that streaked her face, back and bare arms. She was wiping the perspiration from her eyes as she continued talking to Ep while they stood and waited for their food. I could tell by the look on her face she wasn’t in a particularly good mood either. Great, just great I was going to have one on each side of me. I already had a headache and it wasn’t getting any better.

Xena crossed over and sat down next to me. She reached out and took my hand and gave a loving silent squeeze. I knew this as her “Please just don’t talk to me” signal. It was a signal we had worked out many, many seasons ago when I tended to be a little less that in tune with my partner’s moods. She took her hand back and began eating her meal in silence.

Mel started to say something to Xena and I shook my head. She knew immediately not to disturb her Mother if I told her not too. So here I sat between them both of them eating in silence and both of them furious over something. I knew what Mel’s problem was. I wasn’t sure what Xena’s problem was, but the energy flowing around me was enough to make everyone else in the hut notice that the royal family was being a little less than sociable today. Normally, Mel and Xena would playfully banter back and forth and carry on to the point that I would have to stop them so I could eat in peace. Today however the tension around us was so thick you could cut it with a dagger.

Xena finished her meal in complete silence never uttering a word. When she was finished she kissed me on the cheek and said simply. “I love you.” Then she stood and went to Mel and knelt down and gave her a hug and said, “We’ll talk later. I promise.” With that, she stood and left to return to the training grounds.

“Mother?” Mel asked as she watched Xena walk away.

“Yes?”

“Is it really bad thing that I’m so much like her?”

My heart skipped a beat. “Of course not you should be proud of who you are. Why?”

“I’ve heard the stories. I’ve read the stories. I’ve heard the two of you talk about her dark side. Does that mean I have her dark side too. Is that why I want Reena’s head on a stick?”

“Well, little one I have to tell you I don’t care too much for that visual image, but no that’s not why you’re so upset over this. You’re upset over this because what happened was just plain wrong and you want justice. There’s nothing wrong with wanting that.”

“Then why can’t I have it?”

“Because unfortunately justice is a complicated issue. Especially here, yes what she did was wrong. I agree, but the fact remains that she’s not much older than you and it’s difficult to judge a child and a child’s actions the same way you judge an adult for doing the same thing.”

“You know what would happen to an adult for doing the same thing”

I thought back to the night Xena had proposed to me. The night that Kallia had indeed tried the same thing. She had been executed for trying to kill Xena. How could I let them execute a child?

“Well? You know…” Mel said impatiently.

“Yes Mel I know an adult found guilty of the same crime would be…executed.” I turned to my daughter and looked her in the eye. “Melosa I want you to understand…” Yes I wanted her to understand. “Come with me.”

We left the hut and returned to council chambers together. I returned to my chair, but I didn’t sit down I pulled it out and had Mel sit instead. Then I turned to the council.

“It seems that the issue here has become a complicated one. We have talked about it and we have decided nothing. So now a council debate will be held to determine our options and then a vote will be held.”

The members of the council all looked to me as I paced back and forth, they nodded their heads in agreement and murmurs ran deep.

“Then a vote will be cast from all viable options and the throne will have a vote as well. I am, for the moment, for the duration of this debate and for the vote on this one issue, placing Princess Melosa on the throne.” A gasp ran through the room. I held up my hand and the room quieted. “This issue is over the future of a child of this village. A child who committed a very adult crime, the scrolls state that anyone charged with a crime of this nature should be judge by their peers. We most certainly are not the child’s peers and since it would be impractical to ask children to judge her I am giving my vote to my rightful heir. She will remain here. She will listen to the entire debate,” I said looking down at Mel, who understood immediately I was serious and nodded her agreement. “And then you may cast your vote. Princess Melosa will cast the deciding vote in the event of a tie. The decision will be final.” I drew a deep breath and looked down at Mel. “This is important Melosa. Do what your Mother and I would do, use your head here…not the power of the position. Do what you believe is…right.”

I turned and left the council chambers, hoping against hope that I made the right decision. There were no easy answers here. No matter how it ended or what happened someone was going to get upset and someone would be hurt. I sat down on the steps and considered what I had just done. Had I just sealed Reena’s fate by placing it in Melosa’s hands? My daughter was questioning her own abilities. Was this the time to try and help her understand that she didn’t posses Xena’s dark side because she wanted justice? I rubbed my temples my own headache had just increased tenfold.

Three candle marks passed and I continued to wait. Xena came off the training grounds again. At least she had a smile on her face this time. What ever had been bothering her at the mid day meal didn’t seem to be concerning her now. She came over and sat down next to me and gave me a soft kiss on the cheek.

“Taking a break?”

“No.”

“Finished?”

“No.”

“Ri what going on?”

“Xena Mel is casting my vote on this issue.”

“Mel! Ri have you lost your senses? She’s only a little girl.”

“Oh thank you for your support tall, dark and silent.” I was on my feet now trying desperately not to yell and draw attention to us. “You were a big help to me today when Mel was asking me if she had any of your dark side because she wanted justice. No you stalked in, brooded through the entire meal without a single damn word and then left.” I was so angry I was shaking. “You have refused to take any opinion in this issue saying it was for the throne to decide. Well, damn it she’s my heir and the heir to the throne and the throne is deciding.”

“She’s also my daughter and I don’t think she should have been put in that position.” Xena growled at me. “You can’t ask her to make a decision like that at her age.”

“Why not? She made the decision to save your life.”

“That’s different, that was a reflex. A reflex to her training.”

“Need I remind you Warrior. That she’s also in training to take the throne. To rule as Queen, she’s not a warrior.”

Xena got to her feet. “Something suddenly wrong with being a warrior?” I could see the hurt in her eyes. “Isn’t that good enough for our daughter? It’s okay that she looks like me just as long as she doesn’t act like me. Is that it Gabrielle?”

She turned and left me standing there shaking and to damn mad to say anything. I watched her walk away and for the first time in a very long time I was to have her walking away from me. I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. The doors to the council chamber opened and the members of the council came out in pairs they seemed at ease and happy with whatever had been decided.

Brenna stopped and placed her hand on my shoulder, whispering in my ear. “You should be very proud Your Majesty. She did very well.” She smiled at me and left me to wait for Mel.

Mel was last out. She turned and closed the council chamber doors and then slowly walked down the steps. “I had two choices and the vote was tied.” She said softly.

“And?”

“They’ll be escorted from the village to the nearest town in three days time.”

I didn’t even bother to ask what the second option was and she didn’t tell me.

————————————————————–

~Heir To The Throne~

Kai rode his pony slowly next to me as we walked toward the lake. “You okay?”

“Yeah buddy I’m fine.” I lied.

“You’re being awful quiet. You mad?

I thought about my disagreement with Ri in the village. “No I’m not mad.”

“Then…umm I need something.”

“What? Whaddya need buddy?”

“A dinar.”

I stopped and smiled. My son was hitting me up for money. “Mind if I ask why you need a dinar?”

“Well it’s not for me really. It’s really for Mel.” He reined his pony and looked at me with a silly little grin that was all Ri. He even wrinkled his nose the same way.

“Okay I’ll bite. Why does Mel need a dinar?”

“No I need the dinar, but it’s for Mel.”

“Kai why don’t you just tell what you need to money for.”

“Well you know Mel’s birthday is a few days away?”

“Un-huh…”

“And it’s some big thing for her as far as taking over for Momma…”

“Yes it’s her Rite of Passage to the Throne.” I sighed as my thoughts returned to that little spat that Ri and I had earlier in the day

“Well I wanted to get something good for her and my friend Galen over in the centaur village, his father makes tack and he made Mel a new bridle for her pony. I’ve been saving for half a season I swear I have, but I still don’t have enough to…”

I smiled at my son and caressed his face. “‘I’ll take care of it. Mel will have her new bridle. We’ll go get it tomorrow okay?”

“Thank you Momma.” He grinned at me and nodded. “You think Mel’s gonna like it?”

“I think she’ll love it.”

We got to the lake and I helped him off his pony, then I spent the next candle mark teaching him how to skip stones across the water. He had seen me do it once and wasn’t going to be happy until he could do it too. By the time we we’re ready to head back he had gotten pretty good at it. I was never going to get another peaceful day fishing again I just knew it.

Returning to the barn, I made sure Kai was caring for his pony before I started back to the house. I knew Mel and Ri would be back from the village by now and I wasn’t looking forward to this. Ri and had rarely disagreed over the children and I’m not sure why we had this time. I knew Mel’s position. She was Ri’s heir she’d take the throne one-day. She wasn’t a warrior she was a future Queen and I was damn proud of that fact. I didn’t know what had come over me in the village.

Truth was I didn’t really want any of my children to follow the warrior path. It’s a hard life, dangerous and dirty most of the time, with very little glory. I took the steps up to the house two at a time and went in. Ri was sitting at her desk reading a parchment. She glanced up at me and then turned back to the scroll.

“Mel’s birthday is in three days…” I started tentatively.

“I know.” She never looked back at me. “We’ll have to celebrate in the village.”

“I know, her Rite of Passage to the Throne. I’m guessing big party?” I grinned hoping to lighten the mood.

“Un-huh. You should be there for the Rites, but you don’t have to stay for the party if you don’t want to.” She had a very cold edge in her voice.

“Aw Tartarus Ri, it’s Mel’s birthday, of course I’ll be there.” She wasn’t going to make this easy. “Look about today…”

“Let’s just not talk about it. I think you made yourself quiet clear.”

“We’ve both had a hard day okay. I don’t think we should take what happened over in the village too seriously. I know Mel’s place is at your side. I know she’s going to take the throne. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

She looked at me, the hardness of her face softened. She got up and crossed to me wrapping her arms around my waist. “Thank you.”

“As it should be My Queen, the Princess should follow.” I kissed the top of her head and wrapped my arms around her holding her close.

“Xe why were you so upset today?” She looked into my eyes and caressed my face.

“I have a class of new trainees that want to question and challenge my knowledge and authority. Today they played a game called ‘how far can we push her before she kills us’.”

This brought a quiet laugh from my wife. I hugged her closer to me and then I leaned in for a light kiss. It was returned in kind and all was forgiven.

“So did you?” She asked as she moved away from me and poured us each a cup of wine as I sat down and began removing my boots.

“Did I what?”

“Kill anyone?”

“Yup had to kill three of them just to prove a point.” I joked as I took the wine she offered me and took a deep drink. “They all had it coming.” I sat the cup down and continued removing my boots. It occurred to me that my children weren’t the only ones around here who were aging. I felt the muscles tighten in my lower back as I leaned to undo the laces. A soft groan escaped before I even realized it.

“Your back?” She began rubbing it even before I said anything. She seemed to know exactly where that one troublesome muscle was and she was the only one who could work it loose.

“Ohh..well..yess…ohh…” I couldn’t help it, it just felt so good when it finally worked free.

“Well that sounded positively orgasmic darling.” She smiled as she sipped her wine.

“It was close.” I laughed as I sat back. “So about Mel’s birthday. What’s the plan?”

“Well there’s a lot of ritual things that have to be taken care of.” She said as she took a seat next to me and curled up against my legs. “We have to go to the temple first thing in the morning and she has to spend most of the day in silent contemplation.”

“Ha! Our daughter in silent contemplation, oh yeah that’s gonna go over big. If she’s feeling like you, she’ll spend the day talking to herself and if she feeling like me she’ll sit and contemplate thirty-five different ways to disable someone with a staff.”

“There are thirty-seven different ways to disable someone with a staff.” Ri corrected me with a wink.

“Forty.” Mel said as she cut through the room. We hadn’t even heard her come in. “There are forty different ways to disable someone with a staff.” She slung her arms over the back of the couch and just kind of hung there staring at us.

“Well dear if you know forty different ways to disable someone with a staff I’m not going to argue with you.” I chuckled as I ran my hand through her hair.

“There are actually forty-one, but that last one is a real pain in the butt to execute.”

She continued to hang off the back of the couch. She didn’t seem quite herself. She had a very tiring day as well. She seemed extremely tense, but at the same time drained. I got up and went over the to wine and poured about a half a glass and then cut that it with water. I took the cup over and handed it to her. She just looked at me. “Really?”

“Yup. Hey in three days time your going to be named the official heir to the Amazon throne. A little diluted wine isn’t gonna hurt you. We’re just not going t make a habit out of it.” I settled back down next to Ri and Mel took a seat on the floor in front of us.

She sniffed the cup and took her first tentative sip of wine.

She made a face, wrinkled her nose and sat the cup down. She smiled at us. “Can we talk now?”

“Sure,” I looked to Ri and shrugged. “What’s on your mind?”

“Everything really and I don’t know where to start. I’m kind of confused.”

“Well sweetheart,” Ri said as she stroked a hand through Mel’s hair. “Start from the beginning and we’ll go from there.”

“After today I have to admit I’m scared.” She dropped her head. “I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I be a leader.”

I smiled, but quickly covered my mouth with my hand. I wasn’t smiling because my daughter was uncomfortable or because she was questioning her abilities. I was smiling because she was intelligent enough to ask herself these questions and smart enough to be concerned. It was actually a very proud smile, but I still didn’t want her to see it for fear that she would misinterpret it. I looked to Ri who drew a deep breath when she realized I was leaving this one with her.

“Mel the Rite of Passage simply means that on top of your other lessons and training you will begin to join me for the official functions and begin your training to take over.”

“But doesn’t it also mean that if something should happen to you I have to take the throne with the Regent as my guide? Aunt Eph would help me, but it still means I would be ruling the Amazons.”

“Yes it does.”

“I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Well you know I’m not planning on going anywhere for quite sometime.”

“You also didn’t plan of having a tower fall on you either and that happened.”

I couldn’t help but snort a quick chuckle when she came off with that one. It just got me dirty looks from both of them. I waved my hand in apology and they continued their conversation.

“You’re right Mel. We never know from day to day what will happen and that accident of a perfect example of that fact. That’s why your training begins now. So you will be ready.”

She nodded her head. The nod didn’t seem like she was happy with that answer but she was willing to let it go.

“Mel you know if something were to happen to your Mother I would be here for you too. I mean I’m not of the royal line but I’m no slouch in the leadership arena, I have had some experience you know.” I teased with a smile and a wink to my eldest.

“I know that and I’m sure if something happens and I have to take over, you will have to help me more than you will ever know.”

“Somehow I doubt it.” I took her chin in my hand and titled it up to look into her blue eyes that mirrored my own. “Melosa that fact that you have the good sense to question yourself shows the fact that you are going to be a fine leader. Just like your Mother, you will be a Queen that won’t soon be forgotten.”

She chewed the inside of her mouth for a moment and then smiled. “Well if self doubt is the sign of a great Queen build the statue now cause I got a cartload of it.”

I hated formal royal functions for this very reason. I tugged on the sleeves of this damn robe. It was always the most uncomfortable piece of clothing I owned. I was grateful for the fact that I very rarely had to wear it. It was tight in the shoulders and hard to move in. Gabrielle watched me from across the room as I fidgeted with the sleeves and tried to get comfortable. She was already dressed in her own robes and as always looked magnificent.

“You know I’d be much more comfortable in my leathers and armor.” I hinted.

“No.” She wasn’t taking the hint. As a matter of fact she was ignoring it completely as she opened the cabinet and retrieved my circlet. She took a soft cloth and polished it before bringing it to me.

I ducked down slightly and let her settle it on my head. I took the opportunity to steal a kiss. She took that as an opportunity to wrap her arms around my neck and deepen the kiss. I wrapped my arms around her and lost myself in the kiss. We finally broke away and stood there staring at each other breathless. “Well that was nice.”

“Yes it was.” She agreed.

“It’s been awhile hasn’t it?” I raised a leering eyebrow.

“Yes it has.”

“Maybe we should try to get away early tonight.”

“Yes we should.” She smiled at me. “But right now we should get out there with the rest of the family and go spring Mel from the temple before she tears it apart with her bare hands.”

We left our bedchamber, in the outer room our entire family waited for us. Solan and Kai wore robes that matched my own blue one, Kessa and Rosa wore robes that matched Ri and Mel’s, and they were the next in line for the throne. Then of course there was little Ri who was adorable in her own little green robes. Should something happen to her aunts the throne would fall to her as Ri’s granddaughter.

Ri certainly had her share of heirs. The throne should remain with our line for quite sometime. Alana wore her formal leathers and my mother wore a beautiful blue and green dress that complimented the entire family. The only member of my family that was missing was Toris, but we hadn’t seen or heard from him in nearly two seasons. I wasn’t surprised when we couldn’t find him to tell him about the ceremony.

I clasped my hands together and interlaced my fingers and then twisted my hands to give my knuckles a good crack as I surveyed my family again with the pride that I felt. It was indeed a sweet picture before my eyes. I knew I had a silly grin on my face and no one was going to take it away from me tonight. I scooped Kai up in one arm and wrapped the other arm around Ri’s waist. “Shall we?”

As we left the house, Kai whispered in my ear. “The robe itches.”

“I know.” I whispered back.

I got a swift poke in the ribs from the Queen. “Don’t encourage him.”

We arrived in the village and preparations were just being completed for the party that would take place after Mel actually took her seat next to Ri for the first time. There were now four chairs on the dais. Ri’s ornate throne, to her left my consorts chair and now to her right a smaller version of her throne that had been crafted for Mel and then to Mel’s right, Eph’s place as Regent.

The rest of the royal family was seated at a heavily guarded table to the left of the dais. I noticed there were a few more guards than normal out for this function and I motioned for Ep. She came over quickly and I took her by the arm and turned her away from my family before consulting her. “Are we expecting trouble tonight?”

“No, but with everything that has happened in the last few weeks I just wanted to make sure. Do you have any idea how rare it is to have the entire royal family in one place at the same time? Eph is just having kittens.” She chuckled.

“We could have left Mel home you know.” I grinned.

“Some how I doubt that the Rite of Passage would go very smoothly without the Guest of Honor.”

“Hmm could be some truth there I suppose.” I smiled and patted her on the back as I turned back to my family.

I offered Ri my arm and we began our ascent to the dais. I stood while Ri took her place and then I took mine, right next to her. Ephiny took her seat after us. I looked to my left and gave Kai a wink as he pulled on the collar of his robe and made a choking motion with his hands at his throat. I chuckled and shook my head before returning my attention to the village square.

The doors or the temple were opened and Mel exited. She was dressed in her robes and came forward toward the dais. She stopped right in front of us and took a deep breath. “I am Melosa.” She started, looking Ri right in the eyes for the encouragement to get through her declaration. ” Eldest daughter of Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons and her consort Xena of Amphipolis.”

I smiled. I hadn’t expected that little declaration, but I was proud that she had done it.

She gave me a quick smile and continued. “I have come to claim my right of succession to the throne. This is my Rite of Passage. I am of age and I wish to take my place at you side Your Majesty.” She lowered her eyes and waited.

I glanced over to Gabrielle, her face full of emotion as she too drew a deep breath before beginning. She stood and addressed our daughter. “Melosa you have proven yourself already to be a true Princess of the Amazon Nation. You have shown yourself in combat and you are a capable decision-maker. Come and take your place at my side as Heir to the Throne.”

Mel turned slowly and walked toward the dais, climbing the stairs carefully, she was more nervous than she looked. Eph and I both stood as Mel climbed the stairs. We remained standing until she and Gabrielle took their seats and then we returned to our own chairs.

With the hard part over now it was up to Mel to begin the celebration, which she was more than happy to do so the attention would be taken from her. It didn’t take long for the party to start and we all relaxed considerably.

It also didn’t take Kai long to take off his robe. The little rat had put on trousers and a tunic on under his robe. I looked over at Solan who was stripping off his robe as well he too had worn something under his ‘formals’ as he called them. My son’s didn’t know it but they were in big trouble later. The little rats.

As was expected Mel moved out into the crowd to socialize. Which she did very well, oh boy did she get that from Ri. She certainly didn’t inherit that trait from me. I smiled as I watched her perform her duties and actually seem to enjoy them. A tug on my arm and I turned to Ri. “Yessss…” I drew it out as I leaned over and grinned at her.

“Two candle marks…you…me…house.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder indicating our old house here in the village. Then she stood, gave me a soft kiss and wandered off into the crowd to be with Melosa.

———————————————————

~Duty Calls~

She pulls me into her arms. My body relaxing as the last wave of pleasure sweeps through my body. “Hmm…that was sooo nice.”

“Happy anniversary wife.” Xena purrs as she pulls me close to her and runs her hands up and down my back.

“Happy anniversary Xe.” I caress her face and give her a soft kiss. Ten seasons. Ten seasons we have been joined. It doesn’t seem possible.

“So you know Your Majesty, we really should get out of bed now. We have a treaty to negotiate today.”

I groan. “Why today? Oh they had to show up three days early. We should make them wait until tomorrow.”

“Oh that would be bad form Your Majesty.” She nuzzles my neck.

“Then behave. Or we’ll never make it.” I give her a little shove.

“As you wish Your Majesty.”

“Oh wish they’d take a long walk off a short dock.”

Xena laughs at me as she rolls over and sits up. She hands me my robe and slips into her own. “This is a very important treaty Gabrielle. Hopefully we’ll get through the negotiations quickly and we can get back to the far more important issues.” She looks at me and wiggles her eyebrows with that leering little smirk.

“Ohhh if you insist Warrior.” I sit up and put my robe on. “I’d much rather negotiate your surrender.”

“No negotiations required Ri. I surrendered to you ten seasons ago and I’ve never regretted it.” She caresses my cheek and gives me a soft kiss. “Now however I have to go put on my warrior face and scare the Tartarus out of our guests to make your job easier.”

“If they could see what you were doing a quarter of a candle mark ago there’s no way they’d buy the warrior bit.” I tease as I get up and dodge her as she lunges for me.

“Oh you think so huh?” Xena gets up and pulls me into her arms. “You don’t think I could intimidate them while…” Her lips move to my neck, my knees go weak as she supports us both.

I straighten up in her embrace and put my hands on her shoulders. “Umm no and don’t even think about trying. Just put on your warrior face and let’s get this thing done. Then we can get back to…other things.” I push away from her again.

She shoots me another mischievous grin and moves to the cabinet that holds her gear. She tosses her leathers to the bed and I find myself staring down at them. She doesn’t wear them that often any more and some part of me misses them. I make a mental note that she is going to need to keep them on tonight. I smile and head for a bath.

Just as I finish filling the tub and slide in, she comes in and strips off her robe. Without a word she gets into the tub and pulls me into her arms.

“Xena…behave or we’re going to be late…”

“Let ’em wait…”

We enter the council chambers. Luckily we are only half a candle mark late. Xena is in full warrior mode now. Her demeanor is protective, almost on the verge of threatening. I take my seat at the head of the council table as she takes up her position behind me. I look at our visitors. Delegates from a small village on the southern border. I had managed to sign treaties with all of the surrounding villages expect for this one.

The village elders feel like they had a little something they can hold over my head because the main road onto amazon land runs right through their own village. As a result they had seen fit to refuse any attempts at negotiating a treaty with us. These six men had been sent to us to go another round as it were. This treaty is important because I don’t want to commit amazons to the task of building another road around the village. I hope that we will be able to settle this once and for all.

Gregon, the leader if this delegation doesn’t like Xena either. This certainly doesn’t help matters. He seems to be patronizing to me on purpose and I believe a lot of that is to see if he can get a rise out of her. She always maintains her composure even when he is being the most obnoxious human being (I use the term loosely) in the world.

After three candle marks of battling back and forth with these men I decide to call a break. I’m getting a Tartarus of a headache and I know Xena has to be getting tired. She has been standing behind me the entire time without moving a muscle. I can tell Gregon is being difficult just because he thinks he can.

As the council adjourns several of our members come to me and tell me they were ready to commit amazons to building a road around the village just because this man is being such an ass. I have to laugh as we walk outside into the bright sunlight. Xena comes out a couple of steps behind me. I turn to say something to her when Sol comes up and takes her by the arm and they wander off to the side of the group that has exited the building.

Melosa cuts through the crowd and comes up to me. She stands there patiently and waits for me to finish my conversation. As I continue to talk I hold out my hand and pull her to me, placing my arm around her shoulder and holding her close. She wraps an arm around my waist and waits quietly. Gregon comes through the crowd and stands there grinning at me. All conversation dies down and our ‘guest’ continues to stand there. I draw a deep breath and wait. Then it becomes quite clear what exactly is going through his mind by the leer on his face.

“Melosa?”

“Yes Mother?” She looks up at me as she shades the sun from her eyes with her hand.

“Plan Beta.” I smile down at her with a wink. She slips away from me without another word. “Yes Gregon can I help you?”

“You know Your Majesty. I’m sure that if you and I had some ‘private’ time to talk, we could ‘negotiate’ a very nice treaty.” He leers, looking me up and down.

My stomach literally turns over when he makes his disgusting little suggestion. This man is truly slime. Then he makes the fatal mistake. He actually puts his hand on me. Stroking my arm with his hand to emphasize his suggestion. I hear the bones breaking before he feels it I would imagine. I look over and see Xena she has his hand in her own and continues to squeeze. Gregon drops to his knees as he yells in agony over the broken hand.

“You bitch!” He manages to keep on being stupid even as Xena continues to hold onto him.

“That’s my wife you just touched!” Xena twists the broken hand. “I have had it with you Gregon. I’ll build the damn road myself just for the pleasure of kicking your ass.” She twists his injured hand again. “First you come here and make a fool of yourself and then you use even more bad judgement and touch my wife. Just not your day huh slick?”

“Give me half a chance Xena and you’ll be sorry you did this.” He growls at her.

“Oh puullleezeee.” She rolls her eyes and lets go of his hand and motions to him. “Come on slick give it your best shot.”

The crowd backs up as Gregon gets to his feet and calls for his men. He cradles his broken hand. Ep and Sol rush forward, but Xena motions them back. Normally I would have stopped this a long time ago, but I have had just about enough too and today is our anniversary, I have to let her have some fun.

“What’s matter Gregon? Can’t handle one woman by yourself?” She taunts him as his men encircle them both.

I stand there watching the whole display realizing for the first time how stupid these men really are. They are on Amazon land, in the main village. Picking a fight with the Queen’s champion, while surrounded by two hundred fifty of the fiercest amazon warriors. If they do manage to get through Xena they’ll never get off the land alive. They won’t even manage to get out of this ring alive.

“Get her you fools!” Gregon yells at his men.

Melosa slides her hand into mine. “Oh that was just stupid.” She just shakes her head.

“Un-huh. I should stop this before they get hurt.”

“Mom will be furious if you do. You should have seen the look on her face when I gave her the code word. Oh she was hot.”

Gregon’s men rush her and she proceeds to beat them senseless. She sends the first man half way across the square with a kick to the chest.

“Oh he’s gonna feel that in the morning.” Mel snickers as we watch him land with a thud.

The sound of the second man’s nose breaking rings out and the entire crowd groans with him. Mel just shakes her head again. “That’s gonna leave a bruise…”

“Be nice…”

“I could go get him a cold compress.”

“You’d better not. You’ll get sent to your room. She’s actually working up a sweat here.”

The third man makes the mistake of charging her with a knife. After capturing his arm and breaking it she takes the knife and drives it through his foot.

“Oh I hope that doesn’t get infected.” Mel continues with her caustic little comments.

Four and five are taken down at the same time when she simply knocks their heads together and they slip to the ground.

“Not enough herbs in the world that are gonna help that headache.” Mel looks up at me. “You think they learned their lesson?”

I chew on the inside of my mouth for a moment and wait to see. None of the men get up and Gregon just stares at Xena as she towers over him. “Your turn.” She purrs at him as she draws him up by the shirt.

“Xena that’s enough.”

She turns around and looks at me. I see the silent plea in her eyes. I shake my head no. She growls and lets him go, but not before delivering an elbow to his jaw that snaps it as he falls to the ground. I drop my head and shake it. She walks way from him. Several amazon guards begin collecting the men and prepare to escort them off our land.

She walks back over to me. I look at her and raise my eyebrows.

“Hey is it my fault if he fell into my elbow?”

Mel giggles. I give her a look too. She rocks back and forth on her heals. She and Xena exchange looks.

“Guess this means the treaty talks are off huh? Mel smirks as she takes Xena’s hand.

“Well since Gregon won’t be doing any talking for a long time to come. I’d have to say yes, the talks are probably off. Xena wipes the sweat from her forehead with her free hand.

“So you wanna go fishing?”

“All right would you two behave please?” I swear, sometimes together these two could almost be too much. Xena grins at me as she squeezes Mel’s hand. This is their signal that they are about to drive me insane and they need to be good.

As I prepare for the party I can’t help but feel a little guilty about the fact that the treaty negotiations had fallen apart. I sigh heavily as I sit at my table in our sleeping chambers. Xe comes out of the bathing chamber tugging on the sleeves of her robes. She finally had them altered so they would fit better in the shoulders. She knew I’d want her to wear them tonight so getting them altered was a matter of necessity really. She comes up behind me and nuzzles my neck.

“Hmm you smell good.” She looks up and stares at me through my reflection in the polished metal. “What’s wrong Ri?”

“Oh I guess I’m feeling a little guilty about today.”

“Don’t. Ri we tried everything to be reasonable. Gregon was just here to annoy and irritate us. He got what he deserved. Besides tonight is the tenth anniversary of our joining. You’re not allowed to feel guilty about anything.” She pauses and grins at me. “Except for maybe taking me out of circulation and denying other women a chance…”

“Oh just stop right there Warrior. Aren’t we just full of ourselves?”

“Hey it just so happens that I have a couple of young ladies over in the village who think I’m still worth a look or two.”

“Do tell…” I rest my chin on my fist waiting to hear this.

“Nothing to tell really it just seems that a couple of your younger warriors have just a little bit of a crush on your consort.”

“Un-huh. And I’ll bet you just love it don’t you?”

“Well I have to admit it is flattering. I mean come on Ri I’m not twenty-five anymore.”

“No you’re not. Thank the Gods.”

“Hey what’s that suppose to mean?”

I stand and put my arms around her. “It just means my love, that I wouldn’t trade these last fifteen seasons for all the dinars in Greece. I love you Xena. I’m proud that you chose me to be your wife and I’m so proud of everything that we have accomplished together, our home and our beautiful family. It’s a good life we have here Xe and I’m extremely happy that I still have you to share it with.”

“Yeah I guess I’ve given you a scare or two over the seasons haven’t I?”

“Just one or two.” I smile up at my warrior as I caress her face. Our eyes meet and the love is there as always. “As for your little admirers in over in the village Warrior. You tell them they are more than welcome to look, but they had better not touch.”

“Yes Your Majesty.” She leans in and kisses me and gives me her heart and soul once again.

Before leaving our home to go over to the village for the celebration in honor of our ten seasons together, Xena retrieves the box from the cabinet in the common room. She has never failed to bring it with us on every anniversary since our first one when I gave it to her. I have to smile at this gesture. It’s a small one but it means so much to me and she knows it. She never forgets.

We walk hand and hand slowly over to the village. The party has actually already started and even our children are there ahead of us. After so many seasons of celebrating this day with us everyone knows that we’re always going to be late. They come to accept it and even expect it. However upon our arrival the party really seems to kick into high gear and we spend the evening celebrating our good fortune with our friends and family.

Once again most of our friends have gathered for the celebration. Hercules and Iolaus are here as well as Autolycus (who keeps getting his face slapped, he’s never going to learn). Salmoneus arrived with Joxer and Meg and their daughter.

Our own children come to us as soon as we arrive and I have to smile as Xena is positively covered in little bodies. They adore her almost as much as she adores them. After many loving hugs and kisses from both of us they are off to play with their friends and enjoy the party as well. We are truly fortunate to have these bright and beautiful children.

Solan and Alana join us for a few moments. Soon we will be blessed with another grandchild. I take little Ri into my arms and give her a hug. She was our first grandchild and will always hold a special place in my heart. She wraps her arms around me and we enjoy a long hug, then as per usual she wants to squirm free and go to Xena. So I put her down and watch her go tug on her grandmother’s robes. She too adores the warrior and they are almost as inseparable as Mel and Xe when they are together. Xena bends over and picks the baby up without missing a beat in her conversation with Solan and Alana. I watch them with a very satisfied little smile on my face.

After we have said hello to as many people as possible Xena does something a bit unexpected, she takes me into the center of the village and begins to dance with me. It’s a slow and soft melody that is playing and she wraps her arms around me and we begin moving with the music.

“Happy?” A smile plays on the edge of her lips.

“So very happy.”

“Good. I never want you to be unhappy.”

“I never will as long as I’m right here.” I lean into her and her arms tighten around me as we continue to dance. I close my eyes and it’s just the two of us here in my private little world.

As usual we finally take our seats on the dais. The party quiets as Xena stands and reaches for the box. She opens it with almost ritual reverence. She removes the solid silver goblet and places it in front of me. She then closes the box and sets it off to the side, taking a bottle of wine she fills the cup. Turning and smiling at me she offers me her hand and I stand with her.

The goblet is actually two cups that I had crafted right after we were joined. They fit together in perfect unison forming a heart shape when combined. One of the cups has Xena’s name engraved on it and the other has mine. She takes the one with her name and hands it to me. Then she picks up the other one and holds it up in toast.

“Gabrielle, my Queen, my beautiful wife of ten seasons. You have given me more than I ever thought possible. We are of one heart, one soul. I adore you and I love you.”

She lifts her cup just a little and then drinks from it. I smile and sip from mine as she pulls me into a warm hug and then kisses me. She makes a toast to me every year and always ends it with a declaration of her love for me. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes. My stoic warrior is really a very romantic woman, although I’ve been sworn to secrecy about that fact.

We settled back down into out chairs and enjoy the meal that is served in our honor. I simply love watching her. Even as she leans over and speaks with Ep about some thing or the other I simply can’t take my eyes off her. Ep has apparently said something that amuses her she breaks into a soft laugh and smiles as they continue to talk. I draw a deep breath and place a gentle hand on her arm.

She turns and smiles at me. “Yes my love?”

“It’s time for us to go Warrior.” I grin at her, my meaning is perfectly clear.

As we walk across the village to our quarters here I simply smile. We always spend the night here on this night. The children are well cared for by Solan and Alana who allow us this time just for each other by keeping them for the night. Sol tries to stop Xena for a moment, but my warrior knows better.

She grins as she looks to Sol, “I’ll talk to you in the morning. Right now, duty calls.”

——————————————————————–

~Going Home~

I sank the post into the ground pausing long enough to wipe the sweat from my forehead and the sides of my face. I took a deep breath and prepared to return to the task of repairing the corral. Kai’s pony had gotten caught in and unexpected thunderstorm, so he proceeded to kick a large hole in the enclosure. The pony escaped unharmed, the fence however didn’t fare quite as well.

“Why does it always have to be so damn hot when I have to do something like this?”

I thought I was talking to myself until I heard the snicker. “All right Princess show yourself!”

The rope dropped and then Melosa followed, lowering herself out of the trees that ringed the corral and stood before me. “Why hello there tall, dark and sweaty.”

“Un-huh. So how long have you been up there watching me struggle with this post?”

“Oh about half a candle mark. I wondered when you were gonna notice me. Either I’m getting better or…”

“Or what?” I cocked my head waiting for her reply.

“Umm…nothing.”

“Good choice. Let’s just say you’re getting better shall we.”

“Let’s. Here I brought you some cold tea.”

She handed me a skin that she had filled with tea from the cellar. Keeping things cool in the darkness of the cellar had been Ri’s idea and on a day like this I had to admit, one of the best she had ever come up with. I took a long drink and rested against the post. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

As I took another drink of the tea I turned to see Ri coming across the field. She had something in her hand and she didn’t look happy. As she approached I felt the hairs on the back on my neck stand up. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

“Ah Mel. Back up into the trees. I think your Mom and I need to be alone.”

She took a look in the direction of her mother and nodded. “See you later.” With that she was gone.

Ri watched her and tried to give a smile, but it just wouldn’t come. She stopped and looked at me, she twisted the parchment she held in her hand. “Xena…. I need to go back to Poteidaia.”

“What wrong Ri?” I moved to her and slowly stroked her arms.

Tears formed in her eyes as she looked to me. “My father…he’s dying Xe…” The tears flowed freely now and I enfolded her into my arms and let her cry. I kissed the top of her head and just let her get it out. “I know that he’s never…but he’s still my father.”

“I know sweetheart…I know. We’ll go back, all of us. He may want the chance to see his grandchildren.”

I felt her nod against my chest as she just held onto me and cried.

We were quite the entourage. The entire royal family and a dozen Amazon guards. With three wagons and most of the guards mounted on horseback riding at various intervals around the caravan, we got more than our share of looks from other travelers as we made the trip to Poteidaia. Ri rode in a wagon with Kai and the twins while Mel and I rode on horseback. Mel had graduated from her pony to a small bay that Solan had trained for her. She was very proud of the fact that I had allowed her to bring her own horse on the trip. She rode next to me as we led the caravan.

“Mom?”

“Yeah.”

“If these people don’t like you why are you going?”

“Because your mother needs me.”

She hesitated for a moment and then continued. “They don’t like us much either do they? I mean us…you know the grandkids.”

My heart sank. I didn’t know how to answer her. Ri and I hadn’t been back to Poteidaia since Mel was eight months old. Ri’s parents had never ever seen Kai and the twins. “Honey I don’t know what to say. They just didn’t understand.”

“Do you think they will now?”

“I don’t know. Your mom and I wanted to give your grandfather the chance to see you, but if you don’t want to…”

“No I want to…I guess I’m just a little afraid.”

“I’m sure everything will be okay.”

“I hope so.”

We arrived three days later. The guards and I stayed out in the yard with the kids while Ri went in first. I began roaming around looking for a suitable place to make our camp. Mel stayed with her bother and sisters near the house in case Ri wanted them. I found a nice spot in a field over looking a lake. As I headed back I came across a man a few years younger than me, sitting near the lake, pitching rocks into the water. He looked up at me and smiled.

“Xena right?”

“Yeah and you are…”

He stood and dusted off his hands, extending his right one to me. “Calnos, I’m Lila’s husband.” I smiled and took his hand. “Long trip?”

“Yeah three days. I’m glad we made it in time though.”

“Aw he’s a stubborn old mule…” He shook his head as he considered his boots. “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Lemme guess. You’re not one of his favorite people either?”

“Not really but I’m higher on his list that you are.” He grinned at me.

“Well he’s never forgiven me for marrying his daughter.”

“Oh I know. Your name isn’t even allowed to be spoken in his house. For what it’s worth…Lila and I don’t agree with him. We know that you and Gabrielle are happy and have a good life with the amazons.”

“Thank you. It’s a shame he’s had to miss so much time with Ri and his grandchildren.”

“Yes it is. So how many children are there now?”

“Well counting my son Solan…five and two grandchildren.”

“Grandchildren? You and Gabrielle have grandchildren?”

“Yup a granddaughter and a grandson. Gabrielle and Dante.”

“You don’t seem old enough to be a grandmother.”

I had to laugh. “It’s a long story, just rest assured that I am indeed a grandmother.”

We walked back toward the house. Calnos stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the guards.

“It’s okay they won’t hurt you unless I tell them too.” I patted him on the back and then gave the guards their orders for setting up the camp near the lake. We continued on to the house. The kids were no where to be seen. They must have been called inside with their mother. As we approached the porch I stopped at the bottom of the step. Calnos moved to the door and turned around to face me.

“You coming in?”

“Umm no I’ll wait out here. I’ll bet since you’re not allowed to speak my name in his home my presence wouldn’t be appreciated.”

He nodded and went inside. I sat down on the steps and waited. The door opened and she came out and sat down next to me. Lila. I glanced over at her. “I’m sorry Lila. I’m sorry your father is ill.”

She interlaced her fingers and wrapped her hands over her knee. She never looked at me. “He’s an old man. He’s lived a long life…”

“Still I’m sorry.”

“Thank you. Gabrielle looks wonderful. Life with you suites her Xena and the children are positively adorable.”

“Thank you. We’re very proud of them.”

“Mother is thrilled that they’re here. Thank you for bringing them.”

“We thought maybe your father would want the chance to see them…”

She nodded and then finally turned to me. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For making my sister so happy.”

“We have made each other happy Lila.”

As evening settled in I sat by the fire at our campsite. Gabrielle came down from the house and took a seat next to me. “Mother wants to keep the children with her. She says she doesn’t like the idea of them sleeping outdoors in tents.” She chuckled softly. “She almost didn’t believe me when I told her they enjoyed it.”

“Well there may be more to it than that Ri. She may just want her grandchildren close to her. This is the first time she’s ever really spent anytime with them. Remember how mother was with Mel the first time we went to see her. And Mel was just a baby then. Can you imagine having three grandchildren that you’ve never seen before and one you haven’t seen since she was a baby?”

“No. No I can’t. I’d die if I couldn’t see Gabrielle and Dante whenever I wanted.”

“Did your father want to see them?”

“Yes they’ve spent most of the day with him actually.”

“Good.”

“Xe I’m sorry that they still treat you so badly.” She leaned into me and I slid my arm around her. I felt her fighting the tears.

“Hey none of that. As long as they treat you and the kids well, they can treat me anyway they like.”

“It’s not right. You’re a part of my life…you are my life. Why can’t they accept that?”

“Gabrielle,” I turned to face her and looked her in the eye. “Let it go. It doesn’t matter. Just be here for your father right now…and I’ll be here for you. That my love is all that matters.”

She gave me a weak smile and just fell into my shoulder and let me hold her. I kissed the top of her head and rocked her gently back and forth. Very soon the exhaustion over took her and I picked her up in my arms and carried her to our tent. As I lay her down in our bed I hoped that I could be what she needed me to be right now. I covered her and started to leave. I felt her hand grip my arm.

“Stay with me…hold me…” She whispered still half asleep.

I got into bed and pulled her into my arms. She nestled down into me and soon she fell into a deep sleep. I am what she needs.

We were awoken in the morning by the calls of our children. They all came running into the tent piling on top of us, laughing and giggling. We got them settled down and the six of us spent about a half a candle mark enjoying the feeling of being together.

“Grandma sent us down to tell you that the morning meal is ready.” Mel finally said as she pounced on top of me and sat with her knees ‘pinning’ my arms. “And she said YOU should come too.” She leaned in and kissed me on the nose.

“Yech…” I tossed her to the foot of the bed and sat up stretching. I turned and looked over to Ri who had Rosa and Kessa curled up in each arm. “Well it seems that the ban has been lifted.”

“Sounds like it.” Ri smiled.

I held to door open as Ri and the kids went in ahead of me. Slowly I entered the house. Memories of my last visit came flooding back. I almost killed him then. He had raised his hand as if he were going to hit Ri while she had Mel in her arms. It was all I could do to keep form breaking his neck that morning. Instead we left here and we never came back.

I smiled at Lila and Calnos as they pulled Kessa and Rosa into their laps. Hecuba had Kai wrapped firmly around her waist as she handed him slices of fruit from a platter on the counter. Mel and Ri took their seats at the table. I just stood in the doorway waiting for Hecuba to tell me what to do.

Kai took his fruit and went to the table to join the rest of the family. Hecuba looked to me and crossed the room slowly. She put her hands on my forearms. “Xena thank you for bringing Gabrielle and the children to see us. To allow him to have this time with them.”

“I’m sorry we’ve been away for so long Hecuba and I’m sorry it took this to bring us back here.”

“So am I. I hope that things can change between us Xena. I want to know my grandchildren.”

“I’m sure we can see to that.” I grinned at her. “But they’re a rotten little bunch. You may regret it.”

She wrapped herself around me in a hug. “Never.”

After the morning meal I headed back outside to spar and work off that huge meal I had just been forced to eat. Mothers were apparently the same everywhere. As one of the guards and I got into a good sparing match Gabrielle came out of the house. “Xena!” She called to me from the porch. As I turned to her she motioned for me to join her. I handed my sword to the guard and moved to her at a fast sprint.

“What is it Ri?”

“He wants to see you.”

“Me?”

“Yes he just asked for you. Please Xena please go see him. I know he doesn’t deserve it but…”

“Of course.” I kissed her on the forehead and we went back inside. She led me to her father’s room and I went in. I closed the door behind me and moved slowly to his bed. I knelt down and looked at him. I could tell he did have much time left. He opened his eyes and stared at me.

“Xena…”

“Herodotus.”

“She loves you.”

I nodded. “Yes and I love her. I always have.”

“I hated you…because I thought you would get…her killed.” He coughed a few times and then recaptured his breath. “I was wrong. You gave her a life, a good life. Beautiful children and a home. I’m sorry for being…a…foolish old man.”

“Not a foolish old man Herodotus, a father. A concerned father. No one can fault you for that. I’m just sorry you missed so much time with them.”

He reached out and took my hand. “So am I. Don’t make the…same mistake Xena. Your own children will…do things that you’re not going to like. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t shut them out.”

“I promise you…I won’t.” I gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

He gave me a weak smile. “That Mel…she’s a real handful isn’t she?”

I smiled and nodded. “She can be, but she’s actually a very good girl.”

He gave a soft laugh. “She looks like you.”

“Yeah.”

“She a beautiful girl. So much like both her mothers.”

We spent a few more moments together talking of the children and Gabrielle and letting old wounds heal. Finally I could tell it was time for his children and his wife to be with him. I left the room and sent them in. Calnos and I sat in the main room with the children and waited. A candle mark later Lila and Ri came out, with tears streaming down their faces they came to us and we wrapped them in our arms. Calnos and I looked at each other as we comforted our wives at the loss of their father.

As we prepared for the funeral. I watched Ri fidget around our tent as she dressed and got ready. “What’s wrong love?”

“Xe will you do something for me?”

“Anything.”

“Will you sing for him?” She turned to me with tears in her eyes. “I know he doesn’t deserve it after the way he treated you but…”

I took her into my arms. “I would be honored to sing for him.”

As the sun settled, and Herodotus was put to rest, with my wife’s hand in mine I sang for him.

———————————————————

~The Green Eyed Monster~

I watch as she dismounts her horse and makes her way across the village. I look back at Xe and she just stands there with a knowing little grin on her face. I hate that little smirk.

She stops before me and bows her head. “Queen Gabrielle. Thank you for having us and thank you for hosting this competition.”

“Queen Saleena. It is my pleasure to have your warrior’s here and for our tribe to host them.”

“We look forward to the competition.” She looks past me to Xena and smiles. Oh here she goes. I’m going to choke her this season. “Xena. You’re looking well.”

“Thank you Your Majesty. My Queen takes very good care of me.” I feel her put her hands on my shoulders. I straighten and smile as I feel her massaging them ever so slightly.

“I’ll just bet she does.” Saleena’s comment is filled with innuendo.

I hate this woman. Every time she comes here she makes a play for Xena. Of course I trust Xe completely. I know she would never stray from me. It just makes me crazy that this woman is so blatant in her flirting with my wife. Of course my loving consort thinks it’s funny and uses it to tease me at every given opportunity.

“Well,” Xena steps forward, turning to me with a little grin before turning back, offering her arm to Saleena. “Allow me to show you to your quarters Your Majesty?”

“Oh I would be delighted Xena.”

She takes my consorts arm and they head across the square. “Oh Xe you are going to pay for that later.” I grumble as I watch them walk away.

The rest of Saleena’s party is shown to various quarters through out the village as I go to council chambers to finish some village business. I sit there barely able to concentrate Eph comes in, she too has a big grin on her face.

“So are we going to have to put extra guards around Queen Saleena this season?” She takes a seat next to me and nudges me with her elbow.

“Only if she doesn’t keep her hands to herself.”

“You know it’s funny to see you like this.”

“Oh gee thanks Eph. It’s nice to know you like it when your queen squirms.”

“I didn’t say I liked it, it’s just funny. I don’t know why you’re so worried. Xena would throw herself on her sword before she would do anything to hurt you.”

“I know Eph I really do…but Saleena’s younger than I am and well she is very attractive and…”

“All right just stop right there. You and Xena have been married for more than ten seasons now. You’ve been together for more than fifteen. You have five children and two grandchildren. She adores you…almost to the point of it being disgusting sometimes. Do you know how many women in this village envy you?”

I just sigh as I nod my head. “Yeah I know but you know when there is a younger woman practically throwing herself at Xe…”

“Oh and you think this is the first younger woman to do this? By the Gods Gabrielle Xena could have almost any woman in this village with just a wave of her hand, especially the younger ones.

“And this is suppose to make me feel better how?”

“The point is. She loves you and she would never betray you.”

I nodded. My heart knew this was true, but some part of my mind was still worried.

Xena enters the council chambers sometime later and slowly crosses the room. She still has that annoying little grin on her face as she kneels down in next to me.

“So are you proud of yourself consort.” I ask without looking at her.

“Ah come on Ri I was only being polite.” She puts her hand on my thigh and runs her hand over it lightly.

“Oh yeah sure.” I turn to her and capture that roaming hand in mine. “And did our little visitor make you any offers?”

“Nothing I couldn’t refuse my dear.” She leans in and kisses me. “Do you need to finish this today?” She waves her hand at the parchments lying in front of me.

“Well it’s nothing I couldn’t put aside for the right incentive.”

“I think I can find the right incentive if you would just come with me.” She grins and arches her eyebrow.

I stretch and slowly begin waking up. I smile as I feel her behind me with her arm draped over my waist. I can tell by listening to her breath that she is still sleeping. I roll over and just watch. Over the seasons this had become a favorite past time of mine. I remember a time in our life when she never slept this heavily. When any little shift from me or the slightest noise would wake her. Now however she sleeps, peacefully and soundly. I can’t resist I reach out and touch her face. Caressing it gently, allowing my thumb to run over the small lines that have etched themselves around her eyes. She stirs slightly, without really waking she turns her head to kiss the palm of my hand. With a soft murmur she is once again asleep. Gods I love her so.

I run my hand lightly over the scar on her shoulder. It’s the one she received when she was defending the throne. I trace it and move to another little scar on her arm. I wonder as I look at them, how many of the scars on her body were received while defending me. I kiss the one on her shoulder and she holds me closer. I know I had better get up before we end up otherwise engaged again.

So now it’s time to wake my sleeping warrior. We have to get back to the village before everyone starts wondering what happened to us. We don’t normally sneak off in this middle off the day like this, but that incentive was just so nice. “Xena…” I whisper in her ear.

“Hmm…”

“Come on sweetheart we have to get up.”

“No…stay here…”

I chuckle softly and kiss her ear, whispering as I do. “No come on we have to get up now.”

She tightens her hold on me and growls. “No…” She smiles, at least I know she’s awake now even if she won’t open her eyes.

“Aw come on now Xe. We have to be good. We do have guests to consider.”

“Let them find their own entertainment.” She lowers her head to my neck and kisses me gently, nipping lightly at the pulse point.

I laugh as I push away from her. I know that if I don’t get out of this bed now I never will. She grabs for me and misses falling into the bed with a thud. “Now Ri do you really want me to believe that you would rather go keep Saleena company than stay here and keep me company?”

“You know that’s not true warrior. However just by sneaking off in the middle of the day we’re bound to get a few raised eyebrows as it is…”

“Let ’em…”

As evening settles in we prepare for the welcoming feast. Xena is seated as always to my left. Tonight however Eph has given her place to my right to the visiting Queen Saleena. Xena reaches over and takes my hand, bringing it to her lips and giving it a soft kiss. I turn to her and smile. She grins at me and nods to Saleena. I turn my head slowly and watch as the visiting queen just stares at Xena’s hand over mine.

Melosa comes up o the dais and wraps he arms around Xe’s neck fist giving her a loving hug and a kiss. “Hey where were you this morning? You were suppose to spar with me.”

“Umm well your mom and I got a little side tracked…sorry. I’ll make it up to you tomorrow.” Xe wraps her arm around Mel and gives her a hug.

“I’m holding you to that. So no sneaking off…” She grins at Xe as she moves to me and gives me a hug. “Good evening Mother.”

“Good evening Mel, are you having a good time?”

“Well to be honest no. I’d rather be down at the lake with my friends but if I have to be here I will.”

The one thing I could always count on with Mel was honesty. This child never was one for beating around the bush. “Well I’ll tell you what. Let me introduce you to our guest and then you may go to the lake.”

“Deal.” Mel perked up immediately and moved to the other side of my chair.

“Your Majesty my I introduce my oldest daughter, Princess Melosa. Melosa this is Queen Saleena.”

Melosa bowed slightly and lowered her head. “Your Majesty it is an honor.”

“The pleasure is mine Your Highness.” Saleena smiled at Mel and reached out to brush her hair back. “You are the spitting image of Xena aren’t you?’

“So they tell me.” She flashes a little grin at Saleena who just smiles back.

“Well it was nice meeting you Melosa. Please don’t let me keep you from your friends.”

“Thank you Your Majesty.”

Mel turns back to me and raises her eyebrow. She has even managed to master that little trick. “Go on. Have fun.”

“Thank you.” She gives me a hug and starts to leave but not before stopping to torture Xe just a little more. “And you…you just be on the sparring grounds tomorrow morning.” She grins.

“Yes ma’am.” Xe grins back and gives her a hug and a swat to her backside sending her on her way.

Ep comes to the table and leans in to speak with Xena. She nods her head and then turns to me. “I’ll be back in a little while darling I have to go to the competition field.” She gives me a tender kiss on the cheek then gets up and leaves with Ep. I notice out of the corner if my eye that Saleena is watching her go. Oh yeah I’m gonna have to choke her.

“So tell me Gabrielle…is it true?”

“Is what true?”

“That Xena is half Goddess and that all of your children belong to the both of you.”

“Yes it’s true. Xena is Hades daughter and our children are a part of us both.”

“Very interesting. So what’s it like being joined with a demi-God?”

“I don’t see her that way. Xena doesn’t see herself that way.”

“You’ve had children with the woman how could you not?”

“Our children were a blessing to us. Doesn’t matter how they were born.”

“You have four children correct?’

“Five. Solan, Melosa, Kai, Kessa and Rosa.”

“Solan?”

“Yes he’s our oldest son. Actually he’s Xena’s son but…it’s a long story.” I smile at her hoping she’ll take the hint. The last thing I want to do is explain all of this to a woman I can just barely stand.

“Well in any case you’re lucky to have Xena at your side.”

“I know that. I’ve know that for many seasons now.”

“I’d give my right arm for someone like her…”

“I’m sure if your patient…you will find someone, but someone like Xena? You would have to find the other half of your soul to have what Xena and I have. It’s very rare and very special.”

“So it would seem.” She sipped her wine and just gave me a little smile.

As Eph and I walk across the village to council chambers from the sparring ground I accent each step with a sharp thump of my staff.

“All right give. What’s the problem?”

I just shake my head and try to keep walking only to have my friend grab me by the arm.

“Don’t tell me you’re still worried about Xena and Saleena? Oh come on Gabrielle. This is silly…”

Just as I’m about to answer her I turn her around and point over her shoulder. “Now tell me I’m being silly…”

Saleena has Xena all but cornered. She is making her intentions know in quite the tactile manner. I can see Xena is trying to get away from her but her attempts are being blocked. I start across the square, the warrior notices me coming and gives me a very grateful smile as she waves. I know she is trying to get out of the situation diplomatically without starting an incident. My feelings at this point however had just thrown diplomacy out the window. I’m going to have to hurt this woman. Had she just kept her hands to herself…

“Saleena…” I feel the grip on my staff tighten as I approach her.

She turns to me with a coy little smile, “Gabrielle…I was just…”

“Yeah I know what you were just. Now get away from my wife…” I can feel my temper flaring. I know I’m twisting it in my hands. Suddenly I feel someone grab the staff and in my current state I’m not sure who it is. My reaction is to hold on to it, but the grip is strong and it is pulled from my hands and then there is a sickening crack

She lays on the bed unconscious, the knot on the side of her head now bruising and turning an ugly shade of red, purple and blue. As I run a cloth over her face I wipe the tears from my cheek. Knowing I’m responsible for her current state doesn’t help matters at all.

“Xe can you hear me?”

“Ummm…”

“That’s it sweetheart wake up.”

“Ummm…What happened?” Her eyes open slowly and she tries to focus on me.

“Well you had a little accident. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“I was in the square…Saleena was there…she sort of had me cornered. You came out and…” She looked at me with a sudden realization. She tries to sit up but the pain in her head forces her back down. “You did this…” Her hand goes to her head and she tenderly touches the bruise, grimacing as she does.

Technically darling you did it to yourself when you pulled my staff out of my hands. It just flew back and you smacked yourself with it.”

“I thought you were going to go off on Saleena. So I tried to get it away from you and then you hit me…”

“I didn’t hit you, it was an accident. I’m sorry though, I don’t know what came over me…I saw her…she hand her hands on you and I just…just…”

“Lost it?”

I smile and laugh a little as I run my fingers through her hair. “Yeah…yeah I lost it.”

“You know it’s flattering that you can still be jealous after all these years Ri but you know it’s not really necessary to beat me.” She grinned at me. “I know I belong to you I’m not going anywhere.”

I laugh a little more as I wipe the tears from my cheeks. “I love you.” I lean over and give her a soft kiss.

“I love you too.”

The door to the sleeping chamber opened and Mel stuck her head in. “Hi how’s it going?” She whispered.

“It’s okay. Come on in.” I motioned her into the room. She comes over and sits down on the edge of the bed and takes Xe’s hand.

“Welcome back tall, dark and unconscious.”

“Ohh no…” Xe groans with a smile, knowing Mel is never going to let her live this down.

“You know it’s true what they say…” Our daughter grins at Xe as she gives her hand a little squeeze.

“Go ahead get it over with.” Xe knows what’s coming and she just lays back and waits. She’s got a smile on her face even as she closes her eyes again.

“The bigger they are the harder they fall.”

“Ever heard the one that goes ‘ The smaller they are the easier they are to toss in the lake ‘?” Xe opens one eye at our oldest.

“Umm no can’t say as I have. Besides I’d like to see you try.”

“You just wait you little troublemaker.”

“Who me?”

“Yes you.”

“You know I was thinking maybe you go back to staff training. One of the first things they teach you is how to duck. Something you seem to have forgotten.” Mel giggles just a little as Xe turns to me. “I’d be happy to teach you. It’s easy, just bend at the knees.”

“What God did I offend to end up with her?”

I just smile and shake my head as they banter back and forth. I’ve never seen two people so much a like in my life. There is no doubt in my mind that Xena will never be forgotten as long as Mel has a breath in her body. They are truly devoted to each other.

“Actually if I remember right this is your mother’s curse.” I say with a grin as I run the cloth over her face. “Didn’t she say something about you having children that acted just like you?”

“I never acted like that?” Xe glances to Mel.

“Oh sure you didn’t.” Mel retorts. “I’ve talked to Grandma. I know more than you think.” She giggles again.

Xe turns back to me. “Remind me to speak with my mother tomorrow.”

“You know,” Mel piped up as she stood up next to the bed. “It occurs to me that this was just another feeble attempt to get out of sparring with me.”

“I do seem to be having a little problem making it for that lately don’t I?”

“Just a little. Doesn’t look like you’re going to be in any shape to try for the next few days either.”

“Ah I’m fine. It’s just a little bump on the head.”

“Nah actually it’s a great big old bump on the head.” Mel bends slightly to get a good look at the knot on Xena’s temple. “Looks like it really hurts too. Nice bruise, lovely shade of purple…”

“Mel?” Xena says quite seriously as our daughter stands with a hand resting on the headboard of the bed.

“Yes…”

“Go climb a tree…”

Mel leans over and places a very gently kiss on Xe’s forehead. “Well I still love you even if you are accident prone.” She grins and whispers. “See you later. Get some rest.” She comes around the bed and gives me a hug. “You need anything before I go?”

“No we’re okay. Is Eph handling everything?”

“Yup everything’s just fine. The competition is going off without any problems and last time I checked we were kicking their…”

“Mel…” I warn her.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah I know. Go climb a tree…” She grins and leaves the room.

I watch her go and turn back to Xena. “So much like you.”

“Yeah the Amazon nation could be in real trouble in a few years.” My warrior says with a grin.

—————————————————–

~The Hunt~

I finished loading our gear onto the horses and adjusted Mel’s saddle on last time. I looked up and smiled as Ri stood on the porch with Mel and brushed her hand through her hair.

“You listen to every word she says Mel. It’s important when you’re on the road.”

“Yes ma’am I know.” Mel was trying to be patient she really was, but Ri was over doing the overprotective mother bit. I just bit my lip and continued to feign interest in our gear.

“Xena?”

“Yes dear?” I smiled just a little.

“It’s getting colder at night do you have enough blankets?”

“Yes dear.”

“You packed your cloaks…”

“Yes dear.”

“All right warrior there’s no reason to be rotten about this. It’s my job to worry about you.”

“Ri we’ll be fine.”

“How long will you be gone.”

“A week at the most. We’ll be back and under foot before you know it.”

She came off the porch and I took her in my arms. “Just be careful.”

“You know we will. We’ll be back with at least two nice deer for winter storage.”

“Two huh?”

“You betcha’ I’m expecting Mel to take one down with the new bow of hers.”

“I’m sure she’ll try just to please you, but remember Xe this is her first hunt.”

“I know, but I have faith.” I grinned at her. Leaning in I gave her a kiss. “Make room in the cellar for the meat while we’re gone okay.”

“No problem. Are you sure you have everything?”

“Ri I’m sure. Relax.”

She nodded and hugged me before turning to Mel and hugging her. “Have a good time.”

“We will.” Mel replied as she mounted her horse.

I mounted my horse and waited patiently as Ri ran her hands over my gear one last time and did a quick visual check. “Happy?” I grinned as I leaned over and looked at her.

“Yeah I guess so. I love you.”

“Love you too. We’ll be back in a week.” I kissed her and then Mel and I rode away from the house.

“Is she gonna be okay?” Mel twisted around and waved one last time at her mother who continued to watch us from the porch of the house.

“Yeah she’ll be fine. She’s just worried about you.”

“You think I’m ready right?”

“If I didn’t you wouldn’t be with me.”

We rode north until evening started to settle in and I found a nice spot for our camp. “Ready to stop and set up camp?”

“You have no idea. I think I’m about to become a permanent part of my saddle.”

“Feeling a little sore there kiddo?”

“Ummm just a little.”

“Okay well then let’s get settled in.” I dismounted and watched as Mel climbed slowly off her horse. She stretched and rubbed her backside, grimacing just a little as she did. “Believe it or not you do get over that.” I pulled my gear off my horse and tossed it to the ground.

“Oh I hope so or it’s gonna be a long week.” She began taking her own gear off her horse.

I had to give this kid credit. She always did her job. Even being sore and uncomfortable she continued to do the things she had to do, unloading her gear and taking care or her horse.

“What are we going to do with them.” She waved her hand at our mounts.

“Take off their tack…bush them down and turn them loose.”

“Just turn them loose? Won’t they wander off?”

“Nope. They’ll find a spot to graze and they’ll stay close.”

“Okay if you say so.” She pulled her saddle off her horse. She was more tired than she would admit as the saddle came down she stumble backward. I dashed over and caught her before she hit the ground. She looked up at me and grinned. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” I took her saddle from her and put it with mine. “Listen I can take care of the horses. Why don’t you unpack our gear.”

She nodded her head and smiled a little, she knew what I was doing, but she was too tired to argue with me. I finished tending to the horses and set them loose. When I returned to camp I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did she have our gear unpacked, but she had camp set up, including a nice fire. I smiled as I approached her, she was sound asleep on her bedroll. I knelt down and brushed her hair back as I pulled a blanket over her.

I watched her sleep as I settled in and made a meal of trail rations. Leaning back against a tree I took a deep breath. It was good to be out again. No matter how happy I was with Ri and the kids back at the village some part of me missed this. Being out in the open. I could feel some of the old urges returning. Another deep breath as I took in the cool clean air I began to relax.

As I watched Mel sleep, my mind wondered back to the very early days on the road with Ri. She would do the same thing. Work herself to exhaustion and then just collapse into her bedroll, but she never complained. She was so young then, so excited about being away from home and traveling around with me. To be honest I had some doubt about her sanity at first. What young girl in her right mind wanted to traipse around with a half crazed ex warlord? Now as I watch our daughter sleep I thank the Gods she did.

I pulled my bedroll over next to Mel and climbed in. Pulling Mel close to me to keep her warm I relaxed and close my eyes listening the to sounds around me. A few small animals were playing in some fallen trees. An owl watched us from the trees over head. There was not danger here, we were safe.

I awoke in the morning to the sound of something sizzling on the fire. A deep breath told me it was fresh trout. I opened my eyes to find Mel hunched over the frying pan tending to the fish. I pushed up and leaned on my elbow as I watched her.

“Good morning sleepyhead.” She grinned at me as she poked the fish.

“How long have you been up?”

“Couple of candle marks. I guess I kind of gave out early last night huh?”

“You deserved it. You worked hard.” She poured two cups of tea and brought one to me. “So did your mom give you a few pointers about setting up camp?” I sipped my tea. It was good.

“Un-huh. I spent a solid week with her explaining to me how you liked things. She gave me her fish recipe too. You ready to try it?”

“Absolutely.” I sat up and ran my fingers through my hair as I watched her serve up our breakfast. “Did you catch these?” I took the plate and sniffed the fish.

“Yeah there’s a little stream right over the hill. It’s so full of fish they practically jumped into the pan.”

“Regardless I’m impressed.” I tasted the fish. “Hey this is really good.”

Thanks.” She settled back against the tree I used the night before and began eating her fish. “So when are we going to start tracking?”

“Well actually if you’re up to it I’d like to put another day of travel under our belt before we start hunting.”

“Sure. What ever you think is best. So this is what’s it’s like huh?”

“What?”

“Being on the road.”

“Well this is the gist of it yeah.”

“It kind of invigorating isn’t it?”

“Yeah it is. There’s nothing like being free.”

“Do you regret giving it up?” The tone in her voice was nervous and sounded a little sad. I looked up quickly to see her staring into her plate. “I mean are you sorry you settled down?”

“No. Never. I love your mother and I love you and your brothers and sisters. You have given me more happiness than I ever could have found on the road.”

“Really?” She smiled at me.

“Really.”

We headed further north. I was proud of Mel she was paying close attention, listening to everything I said and seemed to take it all the heart.

“Mom?”

“Hmmm?”

“Can I ask you a question…just between you and me.”

“Yes.”

“What would happen if I don’t take the throne?”

I looked at her. She had her head down studying her reins. “Well Kessa and Rosa would be next in line for it. Mel what are you thinking?”

“Nothing really. I’m just not sure I want it.”

“You’ve got a lot of time before you have to make a decision like that.”

“Well not really. I mean I had to start my training when I was seven and Kessa and Rosa will be turning seven soon. Shouldn’t they start training too? And I just don’t know what to say to Mom. I’m afraid she’s really going to be upset.”

“Do you want me to talk to her?”

“Will you just be with me when I do it?”

“Sure I will.”

It was true. Ri wasn’t going to be happy about this. I was glad we were going to have a week before we were going to have to deal with it.

As we stopped for the day I could smell the rain moving in and the energy running through my body told me it was probably going to be a nice thunderstorm.

“We should try to find some shelter.” I looked around for anything that might do.

“Why?”

“Take a good whiff. What do you smell?”

She sniffed the air. “Horses and sweat. You need a bath.”

I cocked an eyebrow. “Try again.”

After another attempt she smiled at me. “Rain?”

“Yup a good one too. We need to find good study shelter.”

“How about that cave we passed about a quarter of a candle mark ago? We could back track and stay there tonight.”

“I didn’t see a cave.”

“Well it was pretty covered up I just happened to notice as we rode by.”

“Then lead on.”

We turned our horses around and Mel took the lead. Just as she said there was a cave. It was over grown with vines and a couple of small trees, nothing that I couldn’t make short work of with my sword. I cleared the opening and peered in. It was small and uninhabited. I would do for the night. At least we’d be dry and warm.

“It’s too small for the horses too. I need to get them sheltered. Can you take our gear?”

“You bet.” She hauled our gear down and took the first bundle into the cave as I led the horses away.

As I brushed down her horse she came over with her bow and quiver in her hands. “Hey want to let me try and catch our evening meal?”

“Sure.” I dropped the brush into the bag and tucked it away with the tack. “What are you thinking of going after?”

“Any elephants in the area?”

I laughed out loud. “No I don’t think so. What to try for something a little smaller? A rabbit maybe.”

“If you insist.”

“I do.”

We went in search of our evening meal. Huddled together in a thick of weeds we found a nice fat rabbit just waiting to be stew. “You sure you want to do this?”

She readied an arrow in her bow and nodded her head. “Yup. I came to learn to hunt.”

“Okay. Well then take your time and line up the shot. Try to make it clean. Don’t let it suffer if you can help it.”

“Got a back up plan in case I miss or mess up the shot?”

I pulled my chakram free and held it up. “You bet. We’re going to have rabbit stew tonight one way or the other. Ready?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay take a deep breath and line up the shot.”

She nodded again and did as I instructed. She looked down the shaft, released the breath and the arrow at the same time. It was a good clean shot. The rabbit fell over immediately. We moved out of our cover and over the rabbit. She looked down at it.

“So that’s it huh?”

“That’s it. You did a good job.”

“Thanks. So mom tells me that you always dressed them for cooking. Can I still hold you to that?”

“Not quite ready to do it?”

“No not just yet.”

“No problem. I got it.” I leaned over and picked up the rabbit and held it down to my side as we walked back to camp. “Your mom didn’t by any chance give you her rabbit stew recipe did she?”

When I awoke the next morning I knew our hunting would be delayed a little longer. The rain poured down and it looked like it was going to last all day. The wind was strong and I knew we weren’t moving. Mel was still sleeping. It occurred to me as I slipped out from under my eldest child who was using me as a pillow that she had a lot of Ri in her too. For all her playing and arrogance she really was a very sensitive emotional child. It was a good mix.

I readied the fire and put on the tea. Digging around in my pack I found what I knew would be there. The small sack with the dumplings in them. Ri never sent me hunting without them. She had make an extra big serving this time because she knew I’d be sharing with Mel. Normally these where an item for the evening meal but I had discovered during my hunting trips that with a good hot cup of tea they made a great morning meal as well.

Mel stirred and lifted her head looking over at me, her dark hair falling over her face. “It’s morning isn’t it?”

“Yeah it sure is.”

“You know it comes far too early in the day.”

“Well don’t worry about it too much. We’re staying put today. It’s raining too hard for us to do anything constructive.”

“Won’t that put us behind schedule? If we’re late getting home Mom will have the entire amazon nation out looking for us.”

I smiled knowing she was right. “No we’ll be okay. We’ve got time.”

“Okay. Any chance of getting some of that tea?” I handed her a cup as she sat up and looked out the mouth of the cave. “So what do you do when you’re stuck in a cave?”

“Well generally I repair my gear, clean my armor and sharpen my sword.”

“Oh well our gear is new, your armor is clean and your sword could cut through a rock. So now what?”

“If your mom were here she’d tell us a story.”

“Look around mom, no bard in the room.”

“Hmmm then I’m not sure. We could start by having some of these dumplings.”

“You got dumplings?” She sat up and peered in my direction. “You’re holding out on me.”

“No I’m not if I were…”

A loud rumble of thunder and a flash of lightening cut my comment short. I heard the horses protesting and I moved to the mouth of the cave. Looking out I could see a tree was about to come down and trap them in the area I had put them.

“Damn!”

“What’s wrong?” Mel was at my side.

“I’ve got to get the horses. You stay put.”

“I can help.”

“No Mel stay put I’ll be right back.” I returned to our sleeping area and got my cloak. I threw it over my shoulders and headed out into the storm. I got the horses free and turned them loose. As I started back for the cave a strong wind blew in and the tree that had been split cracked further sending crashing down on top of me. I knew right away I was pinned, my arms were free but I couldn’t budge the tree. I lay back on the ground and cursed every God I could think of.

Mel was at my side, kneeling down at my head. “Mom are you all right?”

“My legs are pinned Mel. We’ve got to move the tree.”

“Okay just hold still.” She shouted over the storm. She moved away from me and returned to the cave. A few moments later she returned with a rope and looped it around the tree. “I’m going to see if I can get the horses to pull it off.”

“Be careful Mel they’re spooked and you could get hurt.”

“You got a better idea? I’m all for it.” She looked at me as the rain poured down on us both.

“No…no I guess I don’t. Just be careful.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah you get trapped under a tree and you tell me to be careful. We really need to talk about your thought process…” She mumbled as she climbed over the tree and headed for the horses.

A few moments later I felt the tree sliding away. I pulled myself up and away as it slid further from my body. “Mel I’m loose.” I yelled for her, hoping she could here me. She returned to me and knelt down.

“Can you walk?”

“Yeah I think so.” I got up and tried to put weight on my leg. Pain shot up my right leg and I faltered just a bit.

She put her arms around me. “Lean on me. Come on let’s go.”

She helped me back to the cave and down next to the fire. I took off my cloak and tossed it away. I unlaced my boot and Mel very gently pulled it off as she leaned down to look at my leg. “Get out of those wet clothes. We can take care of this in a moment.”

“Mom it looks broken…”

“Mel get changed and then we’ll deal with it.”

“Yes ma’am.”

As she changed her clothes I took a look at my leg. It was definitely broken. “Damn.” I muttered under my breath. The break was a bad one and the bone poked through the skin. “Mel we need to pack this to keep it from bleeding until we can get home and I can get it set.”

“Won’t leaving it like that for the trip home be dangerous?”

“Yeah but do we have a choice?”

“I could try to set it. You’ll have to tell me what to do.”

“Mel you can’t…”

“Yes I can. Tell me what to do.” She moved back to me and tossed my medical kit down by my leg as she knelt and rubbed her hands together. “What do I have to do?”

“Okay.” I took a deep breath and leaned back on my hands. “Grab my ankle and pull as hard as you can until you feel it go into place.”

“How will I know?”

“You’ll know.”

She looked at me and I nodded. Gripping my leg she gave it a good yank. I felt the bone move but it wasn’t set yet. I gritted my teeth, “Again Mel.” She gave another yank and it set into place. I fell back and tried to catch my breath.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah…I’m okay.”

“Now what?”

“The wound…need to pack the wound until I can stitch it.”

“Okay.” I heard her open my bag and start digging through it. Soon I felt her packing the wound and wrapping my leg. “We need to splint it now? Right?”

I just nodded. The pain was really starting to settle in. She moved over to the fire pit and chose two large pieces of kindling. Returning to me she carefully put the splint in place. I couldn’t help but groan.

“Sorry…I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Sokay…” I could feel myself slipping away.

I tried to be easy while splinting her leg but my heart was pounding in my ears so hard it made it difficult to think. I heard her groan and looked up. “Oh no Mom come on stay with me here…” I moved up to her face and tried to wake her. “I can’t do this with out you! Wake up…Please wake up…” I felt the tears start to fall from my eyes and I wiped them away. “Okay Mel you can do this…her leg is set and all taken care of…now what? You’ve got to get her home.”

I looked out at the raging storm. “Not today. Okay keep the fire going. Keep her warm and dry. Dry…” I reached out and touched her clothes, she was soaked. “Okay dry clothes…” I moved to her pack and got her spare clothes. Returning to her it dawned on me just what kind of a task I’m about to under take. I hope she can hear me enough to be a little help in this endeavor. Wet leather can’t be easy to get off. “All right Mom come on scared kid here. You got to help me out a little…”

After much struggling and very little help I managed to get her into warm dry clothes. She’s close enough to the fire but I get a blanket and cover her anyhow. “Shock…she may go into shock Mel…keep her warm…” I put another blanket on her and put a pillow under her head. “Hey Mom…you really do need to wake up now…” She doesn’t respond to me. I turn to the fire and put a couple more logs on.

“Hey Grandpa…now would be a good time to make an appearance…” The fire cracked as I put the wood on. I turned and I watched her. “Nothing comes easy to us does it Mom? Okay Melosa get it together…what’s next? I told myself. Food how much food do we have?” I gathered up all the food that we had in our packs. Three or fours days worth, that’s good and there’s plenty of water too.

She moaned softly and I returned to her. “Mom?” She opened her eyes and smiled at me.

“Sorry…”

“Hey it’s not your fault.”

“We need to…get home…”

“I know but we can’t go anywhere in this storm.”

“When the storm…stops…you go and get help.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“Yes…”

“No.”

She gripped my arm and looked at me with her best glare. “Mel…listen to me…”

I glared back. “No you listen to me. I’m not leaving you. You can send me to my room when we get home but until then it looks like I’m in charge. Live with it!” I pulled my arm loose and moved back to the fire as she fell back to sleep. I wrapped my arms around my legs and waited.

As evening settled she got fussier. I checked her and found she was running a fever. “Okay…fever…got to cool her down.” Taking a few rags from our gear I got them wet with the cold rainwater and placed them on her face and neck. “Mom do you have any idea how scared I am? I’m trying not to be…but it’s so hard. This was just supposed to be an easy hunting trip. Now look at us…”

I tried to stay awake. I failed. When I woke in the morning the rain had stopped. I looked at her. Her skin was damp from the sweat of the fever. I knelt down and took her hand. “I promise to get you home.” I leaned over and gave her a kiss on the forehead. Her fever was really high. “Oh Gods…infection…” I unwrapped her leg and found that the wound had become infected. “Dumb Mel, very dumb…you didn’t clean it first…”

I knew what I had to do. I didn’t want to but if I didn’t she would only get worse and we were still two days from home. I took a dagger from our supplies and lay it in the fire. When I was sure it was hot enough I used it to reopen the wound. After it was open I cleaned it and re-wrapped it. I remembered watching her do this to my pony when she got cut on a rock. It worked for my pony. I hoped it would work for her. “Gods Mom I’m so sorry I messed up the first time…”

I knew I had to find our horses. I hoped they hadn’t been scared away in the storm. Outside the ground was muddy and it made walking difficult. I stopped and whistled. When our horses came trotting though some bushes I never felt more relieved in my life. I actually put my arms around my mare’s neck and cried. “Good girl…thanks for sticking around. We’ve got to get Mom home.”

I began packing our gear up. I saddled my horse and then went back inside and knelt down next to her. “I’m gonna get you home…but I can’t saddle your horse…your saddle is too heavy…we’re going to have to leave it here. I’m really sorry. I feel like such a failure…first your leg and now this…”

“Okay Mel now your gonna need a litter…” I picked up her sword and left the cave.

When I got what I needed my arms ached and I was so tired I thought I would collapse. Her sword was heavier than I thought and after a candle mark of hacking down two small trees for a litter they almost refused to move. I rested for a bit and then fashioned what I hoped would be a littler strong enough to hold her. I drug it inside and laid it down next to her.

“Mom…come on Mom you’ve got to help me here.” She opened her eyes. “I’ve got a litter. Help me slide you on.” I lifted her shoulders. I could feel her trying to help me. It took several moments but I finally had her settled on the litter. I covered her back up and then began to think about how to get her from the cave to the horse.

I wrapped a rope around the end of the litter and then took the other end and wrapped it around the horn of my saddle. I give my mare a gently push on her neck and she walked forward, hauling the littler to the mouth of the cave. After that the rest was easy. I tied the litter to her horse and mounted my own and we headed south…toward home.

It occurred to me as we rode slowly toward home that it took us two days to get here when we were both healthy. The trip home was bound to take more time. I stayed on the road that we had traveled to get here, hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone. All I needed now was someone to give me a hard time. We were moving slowly, but we were moving. I just wanted to be home, I wanted to get Mom home.

I stopped and checked her. She opened her eyes and reached out for me. “Mel…where are we?”

“On our way home.” I wiped her face again. “Does it hurt bad?”

“I’ve felt better.”

“I’m sorry.”

She took my hand and kissed it. “Thank you Mel. You’re doing very well.”

“I’m doing the best I can…”

“You’re amazing Mel.”

“Well I learned from the best. We’d better get started again. We haven’t gotten very far.”

“I need some water.”

“Sure hang on.” I got a water skin and helped her take a drink. “I’m going to leave this with you.” I capped the skin and tucked it in next to her. “You okay?” She nodded her head. “Is there anything in your bag I can give you for the pain?”

“No. I don’t want anything that will put me out more than I have to be.”

“I’m thinking it’s going to take three or four days to get us home.”

She nodded. “Probably. You know if you’d leave me…”

“No! Stop saying that…I can’t leave you.” I could hear my voice straining and feel the tears stinging my eyes.

“All right…all right…don’t cry…” Her head fell back and she lost consciousness again.

I mounted my horse and our journey home began again. When I stopped for the night I didn’t set up a real camp. I just made a small fire, ate a few trail rations and then curled up next to my mother and fell asleep.

The next day the road had started to dry out and that made traveling easier. We made good time and I was beginning to recognize some of the landmarks of the area. This made me feel a little better. I knew we where getting close to amazon territory. If I were lucky we would run into a patrol that could help me get her the rest of the way home.

I had hoped for amazons. I got two men on foot who didn’t look like they’d be interested in helping me get her home. I tried not to make eye contact, hoping they would just let me pass without incident. I should have known better.

“Well what do we have here?” The first man said as he nudged the other in the ribs. “A little amazon.” He looked past me to the litter. “And a big amazon.”

“Nice horse.” The second man said to me as he moved forward.

I drew my staff slowly from the ring on my saddle and held it low and to my side. “Thanks. Now if you don’t mind…”

“But we do mind.” The first man approached from the other side. “Little amazon like you would bring a good price in the slave market…”

“Nah…I’m kinda mouthy and my mom says I have a really bad attitude…” I took my right foot out of the stirrup and waited as the second man moved even closer to my left side.

“Well a slavers whip would fix all those problems I’m sure of it…” The first man said as they both moved quickly forward trying to capture my horse’s bridle.

I stood in the left stirrup and brought my right leg around making a solid connection to the second man’s face with my foot. He stumbled back slightly giving me the room I needed to dismount completely. As my feet hit the ground I gave my mare a hard slap on the rump and she charged forward knocking the first man back slightly.

I knew I couldn’t do much damage or hold them off for long but I was going to give it my best shot. I readied the staff and stepped back. The man I had kicked in the face shook his head and looked up at me. I had managed to bust his lip and nose. I could only hope the nose was broken.

The fist man charged me and I side stepped him and he crashed into the ground past me. If I could at least wear them down a little. The second man came at me, slower with more reserve. He wasn’t happy about his busted face and his anger was working for him. I had to take that advantage away from him and shift it to work for me. “You know a couple of cold rags will keep that from swelling…”

“Oh cute, very cute little amazon. When I get a hold of you I’m gonna…

“Gonna what!”

I heard her voice behind me. Turning I saw her standing slightly bent, keeping the weight off her leg, holding her sword in her hand.

“Come on boys pick on the big amazon!” She moved forward slightly dragging the injured leg. She still managed a grin that made my heart stop as she twirled her sword in her hand.

The first man drew himself up and pulled a dagger from his belt and charged her. The second man lunged for me. I took swing with my staff and made contact with his knee. He dropped to one knee, holding the one I had just damaged. I heard something whiz by my head and suddenly there was a dagger sticking out of his chest. He looked at me as he fell forward and collapsed on the ground in front of me. I turned to find the first man lying at her feet, his throat cut.

She looked at me and dropped her sword as I moved to her and wrapped my arms around her.

“Mel are you okay?” She hugged me close and ran her hands through my hair

“I’m okay…scared witless, but I’m okay.”

I felt her kiss the top of my head. “Let’s get home.”

I nodded and released my hug. I whistled and my mare returned to us. “Let get you settled back down…”

“No I think I can ride. It’ll be faster.”

“You shouldn’t…”

“Yeah well I’ve always been big on doing things I shouldn’t. Help me get this litter untied.”

After a few moments the litter was undone and our gear was resettled. “I’m sorry I had to leave your saddle…,” I said softly as she pulled herself onto her horses bareback.

“Mel it’s just a saddle. It can be replaced.”

I nodded as I mounted my own horse and we headed for home. I looked back at the area in the road. We had moved the bodies and the litter off to the side but there were still two large red stains in the dirt. “Can I make a suggestion?”

“Absolutely…”

“I vote we don’t tell mom about this until later.”

“Much later.” She chuckled at me as we rode down the road.

At camp that night I managed to get her to take something for the pain after we ate and she slept a little. I could tell by watching her that she was never completely asleep. Our little encounter had really set her nerves. Finally I settled down to sleep, knowing we should be home the next day.

“Hey could you be a little rougher with that needle.” I growled at Adrin as she stitched up my leg.

“Yes and if you don’t be quite I’ll prove it.” She mumbled back at me with a grin.

I felt Ri’s hand tighten over mine and I turned to her. The worry etched on her face was unmistakable. “I swear I’m never letting you two out of my sight again.”

“Hey we did all right. Mel’s got a good survival instinct. She took good care of me.”

“She did a wonderful job getting you back here.”

“Yes she did…even after I told her to leave me…” I grinned at her. “She sounded a lot like you when she told me no.”

“There you’re done.” Adrin cut the thread and wiped her hands on a cloth. “Let me wrap this back up and re-splint it. You know you’re going to have to stay off this for several weeks.”

“I know.” I grumbled as I lay back in bed.

“I’m glad I don’t have to put up with you.” The healer chuckled as she continued to tend to my leg.

Mel entered the room slowly, making her way to the bed. She settled down on the other side of me and took my other hand. “I got you a present.”

“Got me a present? Why?”

“You’ll see.”

She gave a quick whistle and Solan came in with a new saddle. He smiled as he brought it to the foot of the bed and sat it down. “You need to get up and around so you can break this in.”

I nodded my head as I turned to Mel. “Thank you.”

“Well it was the least I could do…” She grinned at me.

———————————————————–

~Following Her Heart~

“Gabrielle if I don’t get out of this room I’m going to lose my mind!” She growled as she picked at the blanket on the bed.

“Xena you have to let the leg heal. It’s only been a week. Adrin says eight weeks will be the minimum time for this to heal.” I handed her a cup of tea and sat down on the bed next to her.

“I simply can not stay in bed for eight weeks Ri. I’m bored silly as it is.”

“Yes I know. Trust me I know. You’ve been telling me this for the last two days.”

“Well then you’ve only gotten half the story because I’ve been bored for the last four.” She grinned and sipped her tea. “We’ve got to figure out something…anything. If I could just get to the couch, that would be something.”

“Oh no warrior. I know better than that. Once you get to the couch then you’ll want to get to the porch. Then once you’re there I’ll never be able to stop you…”

“Oh I’m sure you could catch me of you put your mind to it. I’m not moving all that quickly these days.” She waved her hand at her splinted leg. “As a matter of fact I’m not moving much at all.” She tipped her head back, looking at the ceiling. “Do you know how many cracks there are in this ceiling Ri? Two hundred and forty-seven. Two hundred and forty-seven cracks and I know where they all are and how big they are.

“Xena…”

She tilted her head back up and looked at me. “And the mattress is getting lumpy. We need to re-stuff it

“Xena…”

“In the mornings it’s too cold in here…”

“Xena…”

“In the afternoon it’s too hot…”

“Xe…”

“None of my friends come see me…”

“Xena they’ve been by everyday…”

“I’m bored Ri.”

I captured her head in my hands and made her look at me. “Xena stop. Just stop. I’ll find a way to get you out to the couch okay?”

“Thank you.” The relief in her voice sang volumes. “Then I can count the cracks on the ceiling out there…”

“Oh you’re just not gonna be happy are you? Are you going to be this way for the next eight weeks?”

“No and yes.” She grinned again and gave me a kiss. “Just help me out to the couch.”

Helping her get up and then holding her weight on my shoulders so she wouldn’t have to put it on her broken leg I helped her from our sleeping chamber to the main room of the house. She settled down on the couch and brought her leg up to rest it. “Damn thing!” She growled as I returned to our room for the pillows to make her more comfortable.

“We need to re-stuff these too.” She grinned at me as she tucked a pillow behind her back.

“Yeah well if they didn’t have a warrior using them as a back rest they wouldn’t need re-stuffed.” I put a light blanket over her legs. “Are you hungry?” I brush back a strand of hair from her forehead.

“I could eat. Hey where are the kids?”

“Everyone, thank the Gods, are at lessons.”

“You’re sounding a bit stressed there wife…” She grinned as she adjusted to get more comfortable.

“Could be because your children are driving me crazy.”

“My children? When did they become my children? What happened to our children?”

“When they all started acting like you. I love you darling, I really do but five of you is just a little much.” She just grinned at me and adjusted again. I knew she was uncomfortable and probably in a great deal of pain but she would never admit it. “Let me get us something to eat. I’ll be right back.”

When I returned to the main room. Solan had arrived and he was helping Xena stand up. He handed her two long poles with padded forks near her underarms and grips for her hands about half way down.

“Hi Mom.” My son grinned at me as my warrior got a feel for the walking sticks.

“Oh terrific you made her mobile.” I teased as I sat the bowls of stew on the table and watched as Xena carefully made her first tentative steps holding the weight off the injured leg.

“Ohh I like this.” Xena gave me a bright smile as she moved to me. “This is good. Our son is a brilliant young man.”

“Our son just likes to find new and exciting ways for you to get into trouble. You know you’re not suppose to be up.”

“Come on Ri I’m not putting any weight on the leg and now I can get around by myself.”

I sighed when I realized just shouldn’t argue with her. “All right I know it won’t do me any good to tell you what a bad idea this is…”

“You’re right it won’t.” She gave me a soft kiss and turned back to Solan. “Thank you very much. This was truly inspired my boy.”

“Well to be honest.” He grinned at me again. “I really made them for you Mom.”

“Me?” I was a little confused now.

“Yeah I figured at this point she was driving you completely crazy.” He sat down at the table as Xe mad her way over and took a seat next to him. “So I thought if I could make it possible for her to be a little more independent it would be less work for you.”

I nodded and just sighed. “Thank you. I’m sure that it will help.”

Xena gave me her best ‘I told you so” look and took one of the bowls of stew. She sniffed it and then took the other one. She was looking for the black pepper I always spiced her food with. Satisfied that the second bowl held her stew she settled down to eat. She winked at me as she blew on the stew before taking the first bite.

“Solan are you hungry?”

“No Mom actually I’ve got to be getting back over to the house I have a mare that is due to deliver any moment.”

“Umm speaking of that,” Xena swallowed and waved her spoon at Solan as he stood up. “Have you found ponies for Kessa and Rosa yet? They’re a solid season behind their brother and sister and I want to get them riding as soon as my leg heals.”

“I’m going on a horse drive in two weeks and I’ll be getting them then. I was going to ask you. If it’s all right I’d like to take Kai with me. I think he’d really enjoy it.”

“No!” The word was out of my mouth before I even realized it. Solan and Xena both turned to me apparently shocked by the outburst.

“Ri what in the name of…”

“I’m sorry. I’m still a little shaken by your hunting trip.” I shook my head and cleared my throat. “Of course you can take Kai if you want Solan.”

He moved to me and wrapped his arms around me. “I promise everything will be okay. We’ll only be gone three days. I’ll take good care of him.”

“I know you will. I’m sorry…” I hugged my son, knowing I trusted him to take his brother on the drive. Xena’s failed hunting trip with Mel just had me a little on edge. I had a feeling I still hadn’t gotten the whole story from either one of them.

“It’s okay. I understand, but this will be good for him.”

“I agree. I’ll make sure he’s ready.”

“Thanks. Well I had better get back.” He gave me a little kiss on the forehead and released me. Returning to his mother he did the same and then headed out the front door.

I sat down at the table and stirred a spoon through the stew, suddenly not very hungry. “I just made a complete fool of myself didn’t I?” I asked her without looking up.

“No.” I felt her take my hand. I looked up into those beautiful blue eyes. “You acted just like a mother. Solan understood. Actually we wouldn’t have expected less from you.”

I just shook my head. “Hey there’s something more to this. What’s wrong?”

“Xe what aren’t you telling me about the hunting trip?”

She drew a deep breath and licked her lips. “Mel wants to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“Honey I promised her I’d let her talk to you. Why don’t you talk to her after she comes home?”

I looked at her. She wasn’t going to betray Mel’s trust on this one. I just nodded. “Okay I will.”

Mel sat at the table looking at me and then looking down at the table. Xena reached out and took her hand and gave it a little squeeze. “It’s okay. Go ahead.” She assured our daughter. She looked up at me again and drew a deep breath before sighing and nodding.

“Mom I love you and I don’t know how to say this because I know that it’s going to hurt you and I don’t want to do that.” She sighed again.

“It’s okay Mel. Whatever it is we’ll work it out together.”

“I know that you expect me to take the throne when I’m old enough. But the truth is…” she paused and looked at me. “I don’t want it. I think that you should give it to Kessa and Rosa.”

I hadn’t known what to expect but this was the last thing I expected. I remained quiet and tried not to let all the emotions I was feeling show on my face. I looked to Xena who pursed her lips together and waited for me to say something. All I could do was nod my head and sigh.

“Are you all right?” Mel stood and approached the side of my chair.

I turned to her and wrapped my arm around her waist and gave her a little hug. “Of course I am sweetie.” I kept my voice even and smooth as lied to my daughter. The truth of the matter was I felt as if my heart had just been torn from my chest. I gave her a smile and another hug. “Why don’t you go get ready for bed.”

She kissed me and gave me a long loving hug. “I love you Momma. I’m sorry if I hurt you.” Her voice cracked just a bit as she gave up the hug and turned for her room.

I watched her go and close the door behind her. I turned to Xena. “You knew?” My voice quivered. She nodded slowly. “You could have warned me Xena.”

“Mel wanted to handle it.”

“Do you have any idea how much that hurt? You should have warned me.”

“Ri I…”

“No don’t say anything. I really have no desire to hear any excuse.” I got up from the table and went to the door. “Just give me a few moments will you? Don’t follow me. I need time to think.”

“Gabrielle please…” She began to get out of the chair reaching for her walking sticks.

I turned to her and raised a hand. “Damn it Xena I mean it! Just let me go.” I watched as she eased herself back into the chair. “Thank you.”

I left the house and walked out into the cool air of the evening. I walked slowly to the lake trying to let my mind wrap itself around what Melosa had said to me. She didn’t want the throne. She had no desire to succeed me. I felt the tears running down my cheeks as the hurt just took over. I stopped by the lake and wiped my cheeks.

“Gabrielle…” Her voice was soft in my ear. I turned to find Artemis standing behind me. She opened her arms and I stepped into her embrace. “She is so much like Xena.”

I just nodded. I knew it was true.

“You have to know that this is Mel’s own choice. She was not influenced in anyway by your warrior.”

I sighed when I realized that somewhere in the back of my mind I had started to blame Xena for Mel’s decision.

“I always thought she would follow me.” I said as Artemis continued to hold me.

“Yes and your parent’s always assumed that you would marry a young man from your village and be a farmer’s wife.” She turned me in her arms and looked down at me. “Can you deny your own child the chances you wouldn’t deny yourself? Think of why you have Melosa. She was born to you and the warrior you chose to follow even after your parents had your future planned for you.”

“You’re right of course. It just hurt so much when I heard her say it.”

“I know it did, but you have to let her know you understand. She’s very upset. She’s afraid that she has really hurt you, that you will love her less now. You need to return to your home and go to your daughter.”

I nodded and stepped back as she disappeared, her voice lingered briefly. “And don’t be too hard on your warrior. She was only keeping a promise to your daughter. It is her code. It was her honor that bound her to her promise to Melosa.”

I headed back to the house and entered slowly. Xena sat at the table with her forehead resting against her fingertips. She looked to me but didn’t say anything. I moved to her and wrapped my arms around her shoulders. Kissing her on the neck. “I’m sorry.”

“No Ri I’m sorry. I was just keeping my promise to Mel…”

“I know. It’s okay. I need to go see her. I’ll be back.” I kissed her again and headed for Mel’s room.

I entered slowly. Kessa and Rosa were sound asleep in their beds. Mel was sitting up against the wall in her bed, her head buried against her knees. I could tell she was crying softly. I crossed and sat down and pulled her into my arms.

“I’m so sorry Momma I’m so sorry.” She cried into my arms. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Shhh…it’s okay. It’s okay.” I stroked her hair as I rocked her gently. “I love you Mel. Nothing with ever change that. All I ever want you to do is follow your heart. I was just reminded that I followed mine and because of it I was blessed with you and your brothers and sisters. How could I deny you the same chance to be happy? No matter what you do with your life I’ll always love you and I’ll always be here for you.”

I felt her exhale with great relief as she nodded against me. “Thank you.”

“So my little one do you know what it is that you want to do?”

“No. I just know that I’m not the leader these people need. If I tried I would only fail. That would be worse than not trying at all. You’re a great queen. I would never be able to do you justice. I’d hate to fail you in that way.”

“You could never fail me Mel. I’m glad you’re following your heart. I’ll support you in any way I can when you decide what it is you want to do. Now my little one it’s time to sleep.” I tucked her in and pulled the blanket up over her. “Don’t ever forget that I love you.” I kissed her and quietly left her room.

In the main room Xena had moved to the couch. I sat down next to her and took her hand.

“Ri I really am…”

“Don’t apologize again. I understand, I really do. I was just a little shocked that’s all. I’m okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. She has to do the same thing we did. She has to follow her heart. I think she’s going to follow you.” I smiled at her and squeezed her hand.

“Did she say that?”

“No, but I can tell. She has your warrior’s heart. Just promise that when she asks you will train her well Xena. Make her as good as you are.”

“If and when she asks…I promise.”

She pulled me into her arms and we just sat there watching the fire together, preparing ourselves mentally for what would need to be done to prepare our oldest daughter for the path that she would choose.

——————————————————-

~The Asking~

I lay awake in the bed, holding the bard in my arms. She is still asleep, snuggled close to me. Her breath tickles my neck as she takes the long deep breaths that signal to me that she is so very sound asleep. I smiled as I held her close to me taking a deep relaxing breath and finding myself content to just remain here and hold her. There is no need to get up. Nothing pressing here that requires my attention.

A knock on the door of our room I lift my head, calling as quietly as possible so I won’t disturb Ri. “Come in.”

Mel entered and I signaled for her to be quiet pointing to her mother. She nodded her understanding and approached my side of the bed and knelt down.

“What’s up runt?” I grinned at my eldest daughter.

“Sappho wants to take us down to the beach for a swim is it all right?”

“Un-huh. Just be good. Tell Kai that you two are to keep an eye on your sisters.”

“Great thanks.”

“We’ll be down later.”

“Ah rest, relax, enjoy…” She grinned at me and gave me a kiss before pushing off the side of the bed and making her retreat from the room.

I pulled Ri close to me again and relaxed into her. She stirred and murmured into my neck. “Is she gone?” She mumbled as she kissed me.

“Umm-hmm. Why do you ask?”

“I suggest we take her advice…and enjoy.”

“I think I could go for that.”

“Glad to hear it Warrior.” She nipped at my neck as her hands traveled elsewhere.

As we walked toward the beach hand in hand, the laughter of our children guided us. This vacation was just what we needed. When we received Sappho’s invitation to come for a visit it was just too good to pass up. The last time Ri and I had been here was for a short but blissful honeymoon after our joining. Her duties as queen made trips from the village difficult at first. Then our children came along at regular intervals and traveling with them when they were younger was just something that we didn’t consider.

Now with Mel almost eleven seasons, Kai at nine and the girls at seven it was much easier to get away. The only major problems with the trip thus far had been the fact that Ri still suffered from seasickness and she didn’t enjoy the trip at all. We had been on solid land for two days now and she was a much happier woman. From my estimation as I looked at her, a very happy woman. I couldn’t help but grin as I thought about waking up next to her this morning.

I returned my gaze down the beach and watched as Kai threw himself headlong into the surf. My thoughts then traveled back to when Ri was pregnant for him, a trip to the ocean nearly cost us our son. A second child would have been lost to us then. I shook my head to clear it of these old memories. They weren’t important now. My beautiful wife and our children were all that mattered in this paradise. They were all that were important to me it didn’t matter where we were.

As we approached, our friend she smiled and met us. “Ah Xena, Gabrielle. You have delightful children. They are precious.”

“Well they’re on their best behavior at the moment.” Gabrielle grinned as she took Sappho’s hand and they began to walk away together. “You should live with them full time…”

I wandered over to Kessa and Rosa and settled down in the sand next to them as they build up pile after pile. “Having fun?”

“Yes ma’am.” Kessa smiled at me as she piled more sand into place.

“We like it here.” Rosa said as she leaned on my back and slung her arms over my shoulders. We had long ago become accustomed to the fact that Rosa spoke for herself and her sister. Kessa very rarely spoke and only said that which was required. Ri and I told ourselves that she would grow out of it but she seemed perfectly content to let her sister speak for her.

“You do huh?” I kissed her hand.

“Un-huh. We think we should stay here.”

I chuckled as I craned my neck to look at my daughter. “What about the amazons. They need your mother and one day they will need you too?”

“Well we could just stay until they do.”

“Don’t think so. How ’bout a couple of weeks?”

“Well if that’s all we can get…we’ll take it.”

“Glad to hear it.” I heard Mel call to me. I turned my head to find her at the edge of a group of trees. “Be right back.”

Joining Mel at the edge of the trees I saw what had caught her attention. A hawk chick had fallen from a tree. It had a broken wing and was flailing around in the high grass.

It’s hurt…” Mel said quietly as she leaned over closer to the bird.

“Don’t get too close. You’re right it’s hurt and in turn it could be dangerous. Why don’t you go over to your sisters I’ll be over…”

“What are you gonna do?”

“Well Mel it’s not fair to let it suffer…”

“Oh no. I’m not going to let you do it. We didn’t break your neck when you broke your leg.”

“Now that’s different and you know it. It’s hurt Mel and it’s mother won’t have anything to do with it.”

“No. Let’s try to help it…”

“Mel be reasonable…”

“I’m too much like you to be reasonable. Come on you know I’m right. We have to at least try.” She stripped off her outer tunic and dropped it over the chick scooping it up. “Please?”

Going against my better judgment I agreed to help her. We headed back to the guest house together and tended to our little patient. Two candle marks later we have a loud, hungry hawk chick with a splinted broken wing.

“Umm Mel?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s hungry you know.”

“I’m considering that problem.”

“They’re meat eaters…you’re going to have to chew up some worms or something.” I grinned and wiggled my eyebrows at her.

“Well eeewww…” She gave me a little shove. “We have to figure something else out.”

“Well,” I ran my hands through my hair as I watched the chick crane it’s neck at my daughter demanding food. “We could see if we can get it to eat some small fish. Bundle it up and let’s go down to the tide pool.”

As we walked down to the beach it became very clear that the little orphan had adopted my daughter as it’s mother and I was now caught up in its survival too. I wonder as we walk toward the water how I got myself into these things. I stepped into a tidal pool and began looking for small fish. As I stood there bent over preparing to try and snatch some nourishment for the bird Ri came over wearing a very silly grin.

“What are you doing?” She hadn’t noticed the bird yet.

I looked up and just pointed at Mel. “Ask your daughter.”

“Mel?”

“She’s catching a fish for my bird.”

“Your bird?”

Mel pulled back the tunic and showed the chick to her mother. “We found it in the tall grass. It fell out of it’s nest.”

“We didn’t find anything. You found it and roped me into helping you.” I defended myself even as I continued to look for fish.

“Nobody put a crossbow to your head you know.”

“Oh sure…” I mumbled as I snatched up a couple of small fish. I waded out of the water and gave them to Mel. “Here you go.”

“Now what?” She asked as she watched them wiggle around in her hand.

“Well now you’ve got to get it to eat them.” Ri offered as she reached for the fish. She very gently offered the fish to the little bird. Stroking it’s throat with her finger as she did. The chick wasn’t doing to bad a job taking in the food being offered. She managed to get both fish down it’s throat and turned to me with a smile. “Nothing to it.”

I watched as the bird folded itself up for a nice nap. Curling it’s little body into the tunic and close to Mel. “Well kiddo you’ve managed to take on some serious responsibility there. I would suggest that you start figuring out what you’re going to do with it now.”

She pursed her lips and nodded. “Yup. Any suggestions?” She grinned at me. I could tell she was expecting me to bail her out of this one.

“Nope. You found it. It’s yours.” I looked to Ri who just smiled and winked at me. She knew what I was doing.

She sighed. “Yeah okay. I’m going up to the house and look for something to put it in.”

“Well that would be a step in the right direction.”

She grinned and rolled her eyes. “Thanks. You’re a big help…”

“My pleasure…anytime.” I laughed aloud as she turned and walked away.

Ri slipped her hand into mine and gave it a little tug. “That was almost mean.”

“Nope she needs to learn that if she wants the responsibility then she is indeed going to take it. I’m not going to be around to bail her out for the rest of her life.”

“Hey just keep those sentiments to yourself warrior. Don’t you know we expect you to be around forever?” She smiled at me as she placed a gentle hand on my cheek followed by a soft kiss to my lips.

“Well since I’ve got you taking such good care of me. I guess you’re stuck with me.”

“Yeah I knew the dangers of feeding you that first time. My mother tried to tell me that if you feed a stray it’ll stick around forever.”

“A stray? Seems to me you were the stray my little bard. Weren’t you the one that followed me?”

She waved her hand at me. “Ah details, details. It’s been what? Fifteen seasons now…”

I growled just a little as I arched my brow and gave her a “hurt” look. “Seventeen.”

“Who can remember the little details.” She grinned at me as she back up slowly.

“Hmm I get it.” I walked toward her matching her grin and her own slow pace. “You want to play huh?”

“Did I say that?” She smiled wider as she continued to back up.

“The implication is there.” I lurched after her and caught her around the waist hoisting her into my arms.

“Put me down brat!”

“Nope not gonna do it.” I leaned in and captured her lips for a kiss. She wrapped her arms around my neck, returning the kiss as the sea breeze caressed both our bodies. We broke the kiss and our eyes locked. Funny, after so many seasons I still could get lost in her eyes. “Still want me to put you down?”

“No actually I’m quite comfortable right here thanks, always have been.” She tightened her arms around my neck.

“Yeah but you know what this means don’t you…” I started for the waters edge.

“Oh don’t you dare!” Funny for someone who was so comfortable just a moment ago she was squirming now. “Xe stop! I swear if you do this I will retaliate.”

I chuckled silently as I walked into the water. “Oh I’m sooo scared.” I entered up to my knees and drew her back. “Ri let go of my neck.”

“Nope. I’m not going into that water Xe.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Are.”

“Aren’t.”

“Oh yes you are.” I simply threw us both into the water. She let go as we went under. As I surfaced I got a face full of water.

“You are such a rat.” She laughed as she splashed me again.

I drew my hand back under the water and sent a handful her direction. That did it. We ended up in a splashing fight that didn’t appear to have an ending coming anytime soon.

“What are you two doing?” Sappho called to us from the shore laughing as she approached.

“I’m about to drown a warrior.” Gabrielle called back as she eyed me.

“Oh just try it.” I snickered at her as I splashed her again.

“Has it completely slipped by you two that you are fully dressed?” Sappho sat down on the beach as she continued to watch us.

“And your point would be what?” I asked never taking my eyes off Ri as she began to circle me looking for an opening.

“No point. If you like to swim with your clothes on, who am I to criticize? You people from the mainland always have had strange habits.” She just shook her head. “Just so you know the mid day meal will be ready in about a half a candle mark.”

“Plenty of time to drown you and then go have a nice meal.” Gabrielle growled as she lunged for me, wrapping her arm around my waist and throwing me back into the water.

When we surfaced we came up together locked in another kiss, wrapped in each other’s arms.

“Oh yeah that’s effective.” Sappho laughed again as she stood up and brushed the sand from her gown.

We broke the kiss and turned for the shore. Walking hand and hand out of the water we just grinned at our friend.

“You two are a little strange. You do know that don’t you?”

“Oh yeah,” Ri began. “We have a strange and unique relationship. She’s strange and I’m unique.”

“Oh you’re just begging for another bath bard.”

We dined with the children, Sappho and her most current flame, a cute but very young woman named Talia. I just bit back a grin as I considered the fact that Sappho was my age and this woman was half that.

“Jealous?” Ri whispered in my ear as she sipped her wine.

“No. A woman that age would kill me.” I gave my wife a lopsided little grin as she poked me in the ribs.

“I was that age once.”

“Yeah and once or twice you nearly killed me.”

“Yeah but what a way to go.”

“True it’d take ’em a week to get the smile off my face.” I sipped my wine as Ri wound her hand into mine and our fingers interlaced.

“Mother?” Kai came to Ri’s side and placed his hand on her arm.

“Yes sweetheart?

“After we finish eating would you take me to the library?”

“I’d love to.” She smiled at him.

My son, he was so much like Ri. While Mel and I enjoyed getting out into the fresh air and chasing each other through the trees, Ri and Kai would spend candle marks reading and writing. He seemed to have the same natural talent that the bard did. I knew what he was going to do with his life. He would follow her path.

After our meal was finished, Ri took Kai and the twins to the library and Mel and I went to check on the chick. I wasn’t surprised to find he was hungry again. I was surprised to find that Mel had already taken care of the problem. She had a pot half full of water with small fish ready for it.

“See I’m working it all out.” She grinned as she grabbed fish and gave it to the chick.

“So you are. Well done Mel.”

“Thanks. So you’re going to let me keep it right?” She gave it another fish.

“Mel it’s still a wild animal. You should release it when it’s old enough.”

She dropped her head and nodded as she watched the chick. “I guess. It would be best for it huh?”

“Un-huh. It’s hard to tame a wild thing.”

“Oh I don’t know Mom did a pretty good job with you.” She giggled.

“Oh you’re toooo funny.” I gave her a light playful slap to the back of the head.

“Umm I have a question for you?”

“Yeah go ahead.”

“When we get home…can I start training with a blade?”

I sighed as I sat back in my chair and thought about it. “Mel why would you want to do that?”

“I’m not going to be queen. So I may as well be a warrior.” She turned and looked at me. “Right?”

“Mel take a good look at me.” I rolled up the sleeve of my tunic and showed her my arm. “Look at the scars. Is this the kind of life you want?”

“Mother you and I both know it’s what I want. Why are you so hesitant?”

“It’s a hard life Mel. I wanted better for you than living from hand to mouth. Never knowing where the next challenge is coming from…”

“You know I’ve thought of all that. You did okay.”

“Only because of your Mom. She saved me Mel.”

“You know you don’t give yourself enough credit. I’ve read the scrolls. I’ve seen the tapestry. You did just as much saving as she did.”

I just shook my head. “That’s besides the point.”

“Mother I’m still a Princess in the nation. If you won’t train me I can find someone who will.”

“Melosa are you threatening me? Do try to remember who you’re talking to. You may be a princess but I am your mother and quite capable of tanning your backside.”

“I’m sorry that didn’t come out right.”

“I would agree with you there. Care to try again?”

“What I mean is…I know what I want and I want you to help me, but if you don’t want to I’m sure I could find another trainer.”

I remembered a promise I made to Ri a few months ago and I sighed. “All right Mel when we get home.”

She stood and wrapped me in a warm hug. “Thank you. I love you.”

“I love you too runt.”

I lay in bed that night unable to sleep. I must have tossed just one too many times. Ri finally reached out and put her hand on my arm.

“What’s wrong?”

“Mel asked today.”

She sighed and curled up in the crook of my arm and traced a little pattern on my shoulder. “We knew she would.”

“I know.” I sighed again.

“If she is bound and determined to chose this path you are the best teacher she could have.”

“She just doesn’t understand.”

“No, but you can make her understand. And you are the only one who can truly prepare her for this life.”

“I hope so.”

“I have faith warrior. You will probably even find that you’re actually going to enjoy this. She has a fire Xena, your passion, your pride. Now all you have to do is teach her your many skills.” She laughed softly as she put her hand in mine. “Gods two of you running around.”

I chuckled at the thought. “Well I guess this means I’ll have to retire.”

“Oh sure like that would ever happen.”

I hugged her close and kissed the top of her head. “I love you.”

—————————————————————-

~Like Mother, Like Daughter~

She knocked my blade from my hand. This was the fourth time we tried this drill and for some reason I just couldn’t get it. I picked up my sword and drew a deep and disgusted breath.

“Mel let’s take a break. You’re tired and you’re frustrated. You won’t learn anything under those conditions.”

I nodded and sheathed my sword. She was right I was tired but the was no way I was going to admit it. I would rather die first. She was a tough teacher and I had to be a tough student.

I pulled my glove from my belt and slipped it on my hand. As I lifted it into the air and whistled, Rilex moved from his perch in a near by tree and landed on my hand. “Hey boy.” I fished a small piece of smoked venison from a pouch at my hip and fed it to him. I looked at my mother who just grinned as she wiped down her sword.

After his wing had healed we trained him to hunt and tried to set him free, but he just kept coming back. Mother finally decided that it would be okay for me to keep him as long as it was on his terms. We were both content with that and he was never far from me.

“You two make quite the team.” She slid her sword into her sheath and tossed me the cloth.

I caught the cloth and gave my gloved hand a gentle lift sending Rilex back to the tree. “Yeah well it’s kind of neat having him come to me like that.”

She laughed at what seemed to be a private joke and then added, “Yeah well that’s what happens when you feed a stray.”

We sat down in the tall grass near the lake and I took out my sword and began running the oiled cloth over it. She just smiled as she watched me. You did really well today runt.” She leaned back on her hands and stared out at the lake.

“Thanks. I don’t know why I can’t get that one block.”

“Because it’s a difficult maneuver. I didn’t get it the first two hundred times I tried it.”

“Two hundred times?! Oh please tell me your kidding.”

“Nope. ‘Friad not. It was at least two hundred times before I got it. Mel some things will come easier than others and you’re going to have to learn to be patient as well. There’s more to being a warrior than swinging a sword.”

“So I’m finding out.”

“Want to quit?” She turned to me and raised her brow.

“Nope.” I raised mine back and grinned at her. “I can be patient.” I finished running the cloth over my blade and then handed it to her for inspection.

“Umm…we’ll see…” She looked at every spot on the blade and handed it back. “Do it again.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so.”

I huffed a disgusted little breath and took the cloth to my blade again. I saw the grin on her face as she lay completely back in the grass and put her hands behind her head. “You ready for the party tonight?”

“As ready as I can be for any party.”

“I would think after all these season you’d be used to them by now.”

“You’d think so. This one isn’t too bad. At least we get to relax and don’t have a lot of formal things to go through.”

“Hey that’s one advantage to giving up the throne…I get to goof off now.”

“Keep it up and I’ll make you do sword drills tonight instead.”

“Aww you wouldn’t?” I turned to her and she once again cocked a brow at me. “Yeah I guess you would.” I decided to shut up and just polish my sword.

At harvest festival, I watched them together, my mothers. I had found lately that I enjoyed watching them. They never ceased to amaze me. They worked in perfect unison in everything they did. I smiled, expect for maybe straightening out the blanket that covered their legs as they sat by the fire. As per usual Mom sat between Mother’s legs and leaned back into her. The were both had silly smiles on their faces as the battled the blanket trying to get it straightened out so that it would cover them.

Mother finally got it the way she wanted it and drew Mom into her arms wrapping her up and holding her close. I watched as she placed a very soft and gentle kiss on her temple. From where I was standing I couldn’t hear them but I didn’t have too. I knew what Mother was saying. She was telling Mom that she loved her.

I smiled as Mom said something that apparently Mother found funny, she tossed her head back laughing and nodding her head in agreement and pulling her closer. They had always said they shared one soul and as I watched them now I truly believed it. I wondered what would happen to one if something happened to the other. It actually scared me to think about it. The answer as quite clear as I watched Mom caress Mother’s forearms…the one left behind would simply die of a broken heart.

“Whatcha doing?” My brother asked as he sat down next to me.

“Just watching them.” I pointed to our mothers.

“Why? You see them all the time.”

“Look at them Kai. Just look at them.”

He looked over and then sighed. “Yeah what about ’em?”

I just shook my head. “Never mind. You just don’t get it yet.”

“Get what?”

“Can’t you see how much they love each other? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“What about Solan and Alana? They love each other too.”

“Sure they do they love each other a lot, but they don’t love like those two do.”

“Okay.” He jumped down from the table. “You’re right I don’t get it.”

“You will one of these days.” I paused as I watched them share a kiss. “Hopefully one day we all will.” I wondered what it must feel like to be with your true soulmate.

I remembered when Mom got hurt and lay unconscious for so many days. Mother never left her side for more than a candle mark at a time. Nearly every moment of every day was spent talking to her and trying to bring her back to us. I was too young to understand it then, but I do now.

I looked to other couples who also sat around the fire. Yes they loved each other but none of them had the glow around them that my mothers did. Mother pointed into the night sky. She was laughing and shaking her head disagreeing with whatever Mom had just said. My guess would be that they were still having the famous ladle verses bear argument.

It was one that had been going on for almost twenty seasons and I guessed that as long as there were stars in the sky it would continue. I was with Mom on this one. It was a bear, but there was no way I was going to admit that to Mother, if she said ladle then it was a ladle. Disagreeing with her would only cost me extra candle marks of sword drills.

As the party began to wind down I found Kai and we rounded up Rosa and Kessa and began walking back to the house. I turned and watched as my mothers headed for our old house in the village. They would spend the night here just as they did most of the time after a festival.

I smile again. I wasn’t stupid. A little embarrassed by the thought, but not stupid. I knew why they stayed here. I was happy for them. I really hoped that I would find a love like that someday, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath.

Rilex took flight back to the trees after getting his morning meal from my hand. I removed my glove and tossed it to the ground and drew my sword. She was late, so I began a series of drills. I suspected she would be very late. Then she would come into the meadow wearing a very silly grin on her face. That was always a tell-tale sign. But I wasn’t going to mention that either.

As I took a meditative position with my sword, I cleared my mind just as she had taught me and allowed myself to become one with my blade. We began moving together just as she had instructed, my eyes closed, feeling instead of seeing. I quickly threw the blade back over my head and blocked the blow I knew was about the come. “No fair!” I turned to her and she grinned.

“Why not? You don’t think all your attacks are going to come from the front do you?” She lowered her sword and leaned on the hilt as the tip stuck in the ground.

“I wasn’t ready for that.”

“Yes you were. If you weren’t I woulda’ split you in half. It was a good block Mel you should be proud.”

I nodded and sighed. Another lesson learned the hard way. It seemed to be the only way with her. “Thanks.”

“Okay now on to other things. We’re not going to do sword drills today. There’s something else I want to start you on. Come on.”

We walked back to the house. She had put up a high bar in the front yard. “Umm what are we going to do with that?”

“Well I could use it to teach you to hang upside down like a bat.”

“Oh I’m sure that would come in handy…”

“You never know.” She grinned at me as she moved behind me and unhooked my scabbard from my back.

“You aren’t really going to make me hang upside down from that thing are you?”

“Nah I’m going to make you flip over it.”

“You know now that I think about it hanging upside down sounds like a good idea.”

“Maybe later. Right now I want you to go over there and get to know your new enemy.”

I walked over to the high bar and examined it. I tugged on the bar to make sure it was secure, just in case she did decide to make me hang upside down on it. She laid our swords on the porch of the house and joined me in the front yard.

“Okay runt here’s what you’re going to do. You are going to back up and take a good healthy running start and then you’re going to flip over the bar.”

“Oh sure I am.”

“Here I’ll show you first.”

She moved back and ran toward it picking up incredible speed before launching from the ground and flipping over the bar in a perfectly executed somersault landing on her feet and turning to me with a wide grin raising her arms as she did. “See nothing to it.”

“You always manage to make things look easier than they really are.”

“Just remember to start on your right foot.”

She pushed the door open with her foot as I held onto her neck. She cradled me in her arms and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It hurt. It hurt a lot, but I just felt so stupid.

“Ri!” She called as she placed me on the couch. “We’re going to need some cold compresses in here!”

She went to her room as Mom came out of the kitchen. She looked at me shaking her head and biting her lip. I think she was trying to keep from laughing. “Lemme guess you started on your left foot.” She stated as she sat down and began unlacing my boot.

“Un-huh. How’d you know?”

“I made the same mistake once.” She pulled my boot off and tossed it to the floor. “Oh your lucky. Your Mother cut me out of my boot after I did it. Yours are going to survive.”

She looked up at Mother who came out of her room with her kit and two pillows. She put one under my head and the other under my foot.

“I’ll get the compresses.” Mom said as she gave up her spot next to me and allowed Mother to sit down.

“Mel I have to make sure it’s not broken. It may hurt a bit.”

“Too late. It already hurts a lot.” She chuckled as she took my ankle in her hands and began pressing on it. “You know this isn’t funny.” I grimaced as she moved my ankle around in little circles.

“I know. It’s only mildly amusing.” She grinned again as she took a length of cloth from her kit and began wrapping my foot. “Must be something in your Mom’s bloodline.”

“I heard that Warrior.” Mom came into the room with a hand full of cloth and a bowl of water. She dipped the cloth in the water, wrung it out and handed it to Mother, who placed it on my swollen foot.

“Well how else can you explain it?” She smiled at Mom. “I think you two just have clumsy muscles.”

“Not everyone is as perfect as you are.” It was a playfully sarcastic comment delivered with a smile and an arched brow of her own.

“Oh I know. It’s a shame isn’t it?” Mother replied with a smile as she finished laying the cold cloth on my ankle.

“Oh brother.” Mom rolled her eyes. “You know I don’t know how you get your head through the door some days.” She just shook her head and moved to her desk and took a seat. “I should write a law banning egos like yours.”

“Yeah but then you’d have to throw me in jail.” Mother winked at me as she stood up and crossed to Mom. She leaned over and kissed her on the neck, then whispered something in her ear. Whatever it was earned her a playful slap.

“Would you just stop.” Mom smiled and tried to go back to work. I’ve got a lot to do before the next council session.”

“Okay, okay…we’ll discuss this later.” The smile was returned with a wiggling of her eyebrows. I need to learn how to do that.

“So now what?” I asked as I looked at my busted foot.

“Now you take care of your sword. Never waste an opportunity to sharpen it.” She went outside and returned with our blades. She handed mine down to me then retrieved two whetstones from a box on the mantle. She tossed one to me and I unsheathed my sword.

I was proud of this weapon. Mom had the village smithy make it for me. It was an exact copy of Mother’s. The scabbard was even crafted to be a copy. There was no doubt when looking at this weapon where my family line ran. Mother sat down in the chair across from me and began working her own blade.

“Mother?”

“Hmm?”

“I was just wondering…umm…Solan is going to give me a new horse. From Argo’s line.”

She looked at me with a little surprise in her eyes. “Really?”

I nodded. I knew speaking of Argo was hard for Mother. Her faithful mare had finally passed away a few weeks ago and she still wasn’t quite over it. Even thought the horse had been retired for many years they had still shared a unique bond. “Yeah and I was wondering if maybe…umm…well I was wondering if I might have Argo’s old saddle for her.”

She smiled and nodded. “Argo would love that. Of course you may have the saddle. What color is your new horse?”

“Well actually she looks just like Argo. She’s beautiful. I’m really looking forward to getting her.”

She nodded again and sighed. “I remember that feeling.” She looked up at me and smiled. “Enjoy it and commit it to memory.”

“And whatever you do.” Mom added as she returned to us and sat down at Mother’s feet, resting her arm on Mother leg, looking up and grinning. “Don’t turn her loose near any swamps. It’ll take you weeks to get cleaned up.”

“Oh are you gonna start on that again?” Mother brushed back a few stray hairs from Mom’s face. “Should I tell her about the killer bunny? I notice that story is missing from your scrolls.”

“No, no that’s okay thanks.” She got up and turned for the kitchen. “Tea?”

“Yes please.” We both said together.

After she had left the room I whispered,” Killer bunny?”

“I’ll tell you later.” She whispered back.

“Don’t you dare.” She called from the kitchen.

She grinned at me and shrugged a bit as she continued with her sword. She looked up and waved a hand at me. “Get to work or you’ll find another candle mark of drills when you’re back on your feet.”

I took the stone to my blade as I watched her. I loved them both so much, but I wanted to make her proud of me. I hoped that I could be half the person she is. Strong, proud and brave. I smiled as I considered it. It was a good choice I had made. This is truly what I was meant to do.

————————————————————–

~The Road to Athens~

“Am I attending as your champion or your consort?” I looked into the cabinet that contained all of my clothing as I considered what to pack.

“Hmmm well since this is a treaty signing perhaps my consort would be best.” She wrapped her arms around my waist, laying her head on my back. “Let’s not try to start a war shall we.”

“Yes Your Majesty.” I grinned as I turned around in her arms, wrapping my own around her. “I’m very proud of you Ri. This treaty is an amazing piece of work.”

“Eh it’s nothing really.” She looked up at me with a silly little grin waiting to be praised some more.

“Oh well okay.” I broke our embrace and turned back to my cabinet and leaned on the door, grinning as I did. “If you say so. I just thought that signing a treaty with the formal government protecting all amazon land might be a big deal, but hey if you say it’s not who am I to argue.” I listened as she huffed at me just a little and then I tightened the muscles in my back waiting for the slap I knew I was about to receive.

“You’re just plain mean.” Then came the slap against my shoulder. “You’re supposed to tell me how wonderful I am.”

I turned to her and cocked my brow. “Really? Hmm didn’t see that in my job description. I’m going to have to read it again.”

“It’s in the fine print. Right there with love, honor, cherish, protect…you know all that mushy stuff.

I nodded my head. “Mmm okay I got ya’. I’m here to stroke your ego.”

“Among other things.” She raised her eyebrows and leered in a very suggestive manner.

“I swear Ri the older you get the dirtier your mind gets.” I just shook my head.

“Didn’t hear you complaining last night Warrior.” She smirked as she turned away to continue her own packing.

“Didn’t have a chance,” I grinned as I reached in and removed my formal robes from the cabinet. “You kept putting your tongue in my mouth.”

“Oh is that right?” She grabbed me from behind and pulled me back from my cabinet toward the bed. Her momentum wasn’t bad and we collapsed onto the bed. My bard quickly moved and straddled my hips, leaning over me grinning, holding my wrists above my head. “So now you were saying?”

“Who me? The innocent warrior?”

“Oh yeah right, innocent warrior my foot. You want to register a complaint?”

“Nooo…not me. You must have me confused with someone else.”

“Must be my other tall, dark and ornery warrior.”

“When did you start sleeping with Solari?”

“Well we’ve never actually ‘slept’ together.” She teased me. “I always have to get her out of here before you get home.”

“Good idea. Wouldn’t make me happy to find her sleeping on my side of the bed.” I grinned at her feigning complete disinterest in her declaration.

“You are so bad!” She leaned in and kissed me. Quite thoroughly.

“Hmm…nice…” I raised my eyes to meet hers.

“No complaints?”

“Not a one.” I moved my arms and wrapped them around her pulling her close to me.

“Glad to hear it Warrior.” She mumbled into my neck as she gave me soft kisses.

“You know we really should finish packing.” I ran my hands up and down her back.

“Yeah I guess we should.” She mumbled again, her lips still firmly planted on my neck. “But this is just so much fun.”

I felt her attach herself a little more firmly. “Gabrielle stop it! If you leave a mark Mel will never let me live it down.” I have no idea what she said as she refused to give up her spot. “Ri behave.”

“No.” She laughed as she gave me a good nip I knew was going to leave a mark.

“I’m warning you bard.” I brought my hands up to her sides, positing them over all the tickle spots.

She drew her head up and looked into my eyes. “You wouldn’t?”

I cocked a brow.

“Okay, okay you win.” She looked at my neck. “Oh it’s not that noticeable.” She laughed as she rolled off.

I got up from the bed and went to her dressing table and looking in the mirror. “Oh brother.” I ran my hand over the bright red spot on my neck. “I should wear a scarf to Athens.”

“It’s the middle of summer. Do you know how silly you would look?” She folded my robe and put them in the trunk.

“No sillier than I do now. I swear Ri one word out of Mel and I’ll get you for this.”

She rolled her eyes at me as she smoothed out the robe in the top of the trunk. I wandered over and considered the chest of clothing. “Do you have enough clothes? We’re only going to be there a week and we agreed to pack light remember? If you keep this up I’ll need to pack my own trunk.”

“Oh very funny. Yes I know that we are only going to be there a week but we are going to have a variety of things that we need to do therefor, I’ll need to be prepared.”

I nodded and sighed. “I’ll get my trunk.”

I hated mornings when we were expected to leave on a trip. There were always a million last minute things to do which always resulted in mass confusion for everyone. Ri and I spent more time bumping into each other than actually getting anything done. I never had this much trouble when I commanded an army of hundreds of men, but just turn four kids loose and all Tartarus breaks loose.

“No Kai you can not take Auto…” I heard Ri tell him in a slightly strangled voice from our room. “He’s going to stay with Solan.

“Mel’s taking Rilex…” My son countered taking his life into his own hands

“Rilex is bird. He can fly.” She tried to reason with him.

“Aw Mom…”

“Tell you what if the dog grows wings in the next quarter of a candle mark you can take him. Now go get ready…”

My son moped out of our room and went into his own room to collect his things. I just shook my head as I headed outside to see if the guards had arrived. Ep was leaning against a wagon grinning from ear to ear. “Sounds a little busy in there.”

“Oh yeah. Why don’t you make yourself useful and come help me load the trunks?”

“Trunks? I thought we were traveling light?”

“No we’re traveling with your Queen.”

“I heard that…” She yelled from inside.

Ep snickered as she climbed the steps to the porch.

“Not one damn word Ep.” I growled as we went back inside.

Two candle marks late, with three wagons of gear, four kids, twelve amazon guards and one bird we were finally on the road. I rode in the lead, just seeking a little peace and quiet for a few moments. I heard her coming up behind me on her horse and I knew my quiet time was over. I turned as Mel pulled her horse up next to me.

“So,” She grinned at me. “How’d you get that bruise on your neck?”

I dropped my head and just shook it slowly. I knew it…I just knew it. I looked at her and smiled. “Your Mom had a Bacchae flashback.”

“Oh that sucks…”

“Not this time.” I grinned at her.

She laughed and whistled for Rilex who landed very smoothly on the back of her saddle. She put her arm behind her and he climbed up it until he was perched on her shoulder.

“Well now that’s a neat trick.” I watched as the bird sat contentedly on her shoulder.

“Yeah we’ve been working on it for awhile.”

“Does he respond to all your whistles?”

“Most of them. We’re still working on a couple I think are going to be very useful in the future.”

“Such as?”

“Attack commands. I figure his break should be good for something other than eating.”

“Good idea. Those talons could do the job too.”

“Don’t I know it. He missed the glove the other day and I thought he was going to take my arm off.”

“Are you okay? Why didn’t you say something?”

“Oh I’m fine. He was mostly tangled in my tunic, but that’s another command we need to work on.”

“Which one?’

“Let go of my arm you stupid bird.”

I sighed in relief as everyone settled in for the night. Camp was set up. The kids were in bed. The guards were out on patrol. I was a happy warrior, settled near the fire sharpening my sword. I smiled as Ri came out of our tent and settled down next to me.

“I miss this sometimes you know.” She leaned over and rested her head on my shoulder.

“I know. I do too.”

“If we could start all over again would you change anything?”

“Yup.”

She sat up looking at me as if I had just grown another head. “What? What would you change?”

“I wouldn’t waste so much time telling you how I feel.” I leaned over and kissed her.

She pulled back from my kiss slowly. “Hmm…that’s nice, but you do realize if you change even one little thing it could alter what we have now?”

“Yeah we’d probably have six kids.” I laid my sword aside and wrapped my arm around her shoulder placing a kiss on her head. “I love you bard. I wouldn’t change anything that could keep us apart or keep us from what we have now. I’m just becoming a content old warrior. I never thought it would happen. I expected to be dead long ago. You saved me and gave me everything I ever really wanted. Why would anyone want to rule the world when they could have this instead.”

She moved closer to me and we slid off the log and settled on the ground next to the fire. She lay with her head in my lap as I continued running my fingers through her hair. “You really are a hopeless romantic you know that?” She grinned at me as she took my other hand and our fingers intertwined.

“Shh…I’ve got a reputation to protect.”

“I’ll protect your reputation warrior. You just relax and enjoy…and keep up the mushy romantic stuff.”

“Only for you my bard, only for you.”

When we finally arrived in Athens I never thought I’d be so glad to see it again. I actually caught myself longing for a soft bed and a warm bath. The children were very excited and began rambling off a list of places they wanted to see. Kai of course asked to see the library. Kessa and Rosa wanted to find the market. They were becoming more and more like Ri everyday. I turned to Mel as we rode the last length to the palace.

“What about you runt? What do you want to see while we’re here?” I wasn’t expecting the answer I got and my heart literally stopped.

“The Temple of Ares.”

—————————————————————

~Ares Revenge~

All I knew was that suddenly the caravan came to a halt. I heard horses protesting, Rilex took to the air from the front of the procession with a resounding squawk and there were loud voices everywhere. It sounded as if we were under attack. Whatever the problem was it was coming from the front where Mel and Xena were riding.

I grabbed my staff as I climbed down from the wagon and headed for the front. As I made my way with the guards, I couldn’t believe what my eyes where showing me. Xena was dismounted. She grabbed Mel by the shoulders of her tunic and pulled her from her horse, giving her a solid shake. She was obviously angry and Mel was getting the business end of it.

“No!” She shouted as I drew closer. “No! You can’t go there!”

“Xena stop it!” I yelled as I approached them.

She dropped Mel and staggered back from our daughter. As I drew closer I could feel the fury radiating from her very soul. She stepped forward again, Mel coward away from her. I stepped between them and pressed my staff across Xena’s shoulders moving her back.

“Stop it Xena! Stop it! What in the name of Tartarus do you think you’re doing?” I was prepared to go around with my consort to protect my child. I had never seen her act this way with one of the children before. I was beginning to wonder if she had just snapped. Using the leverage of my staff I pushed her back again. “Stop Xena!”

Epinon rushed forward with five other guards and surrounded us. Xena blinked at me a couple of times, then looked to the guards. “Back off!” She growled with a wave of her hand. “This is a family matter.” She turned back to me. I saw rage in her eyes like I had never seen before.

She advanced and I pushed her back again. “Xena enough! Stop this before I have them take you down!” I looked to Ep who just gave a slight nod of her head. “What is wrong with you?”

“Ask her!” She waved at Mel who was now standing as close to me as possible without actually holding on. “Ask her where it is she wants to go.” She made another angry gesture at Mel. “Go on ask her!” Xena was so furious she was breathing hard and shaking. I hadn’t seen her this upset in a long time. I almost didn’t want to take my eyes off her long enough to speak with Mel. Ep stepped forward and began to reach for Xe, who turned quickly and moved slightly to keep herself out of her grasp. “I swear Ep if you touch me I’ll break your arm!” She glared at our friend, who raised both hands, palms up and took a step back.

“Xena by the Gods calm down! Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.”

“Your daughter wants to go to his temple!”

I turned to look at Mel. She stood quietly with tears running down her cheeks. “Mel is that true?” She didn’t speak, she just nodded. I drew a deep breath and cleared my throat. “Go back to wagon with your brother and sisters. We’ll talk about this later.”

I watched her walk slowly back to the wagon, wiping the tears from her cheeks as she did. I returned my gaze to my consort who was also watching Mel walk away from us. “Xena come with me.” I said softly as I walked away from the group. I heard her boots crunching on the soft earth as she followed me to the side of the road.

I drew another deep breath and held it for just a moment before turning around to face her. As I did I notice she looked drawn, tears were now forming in her owns eyes and she was fighting hard to control her emotions. “Ri I’m sorry…I just…”

“I raised my hand to stop her words. “Xena I’m not the one you need to apologize to. Mel needs that, but it can wait until you’re calmer. I only have one thing to say to you and I want you to hear me out before you say anything.”

She nodded her head and bit her bottom lip just slightly.

“You know I have never intervened with the disciplining of the children and we have always had an understanding that we wouldn’t allow them to work us against each other. However, what I just saw was not discipline. It was bordering on abuse and if I ever see you do that again I will take action against you to prevent it.”

“Ri I…”

“Do we understand each other Xena?”

“Gabrielle I would never hurt Mel.”

“Do we understand each other?”

“Of course…”

I nodded and walked away without another word. Returning to the wagon I took Mel aside. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine…just scared. What happened?”

“You found your Mother’s one sore spot. Mel you should have known better.” I began unfastening her tunic. “Why would you say that to her?” I dropped her tunic from her shoulders to check for bruising. Luckily for Xena there wasn’t any.

“I don’t know.” She shrugged away from me and pulled her tunic back up. “I’m fine Mom she didn’t hurt me. I deserved it.”

“No Mel. No you didn’t.” I pulled her into my arms and kissed the top of her head. “Never under any circumstances do you deserve that.”

“Is she really mad?”

I looked back to Xena who was remounting her horse. Ep took the reins of Mel’s horse and began walking back to the wagon. Xena sat very stiff in the saddle and I could see her testing the air around her.

“She’s upset Mel. You really shook her up with that.” I looked down at my daughter and lifted her head. “Why would you say that to her? You know what he put her through. What he put us through.”

“I had a dream about the temple last night. I just wanted to see it and see if that’s what it really looked like.”

“You dreamt of the temple?’

She nodded and then pulled herself closer to me. “I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

“I know little one. I know.” I wrapped my arms around her and just held her close to me. “Everything will be all right. I promise.”

Epinon brought Mel’s horse back to her. She climbed back up into the saddle and gave a soft whistle bringing Rilex back to her. I looked to Xena who was looking as if she would attack the next living thing she came in contact with. “Mel you ride back here.”

“Yes ma’am.”

I walked back to the front and approached my consort. As I did I noticed that the muscles in her neck and back were twitching. I had only seen her like this before a battle. I moved to her slowly, she turned her head to me, in her eyes I saw a mixture of pain, frustration and anger all mixed with soft tears.

“I would never hurt her.” She whispered.

“I know.” I extended my hand. She took it and pulled me up behind her. “Something’s not right Xe. She said she dreamt of the temple last night.”

“I know Ri. I can feel him. He’s close. He’s here to mess with my family. I won’t let him Ri. I won’t let him.”

I rubbed her shoulder as she nudged her horse into motion. “I know love, I know. Let’s get to the palace, get settled and we’ll figure out what’s going on.”

She drew a deep breath and let it out very slowly. “Why Mel?”

“Because she’s your daughter and she’s following your path. My guess would be it’s also just to get a rise out of you.”

“Oh he’s got my attention all right and he going to regret it.”

As we settled into our quarters Xena began removing her armor as she sat down in a chair.

“I’m going to check on the children.”

“Umm Ri, could you send Mel in here and give us a few moments?”

“Absolutely Warrior.” I went into the room that adjoined ours to find the children putting their things away. “Mel your Mom want to see you.”

She nodded and moved to the door hesitating. I wrapped my arms around her, reassuring her that everything would be all right. I closed the door behind her and crossed the room to Kai, Kessa and Rosa who all just stared at me.

“Why is Mom mad at Mel?” Kai placed his bag on his bed.

“She’s not mad at Mel. They had a…misunderstanding. They’re talking about it now.”

“Sure looked like mad to me.” Rosa said as she climbed up on the bed next to me.

“Well your Mom was more scared than anything and sometimes that’s just the way grownups act when they’re scared.”

“Not me.” Kessa offered as she too jumped up on the bed. “I hide.”

“That’s always a good choice too.” I laughed as I kissed the top of her head. “But most adults don’t do that and your Mom has never done that. I don’t think she knows how to hide.”

“Ah it’d be hard for her to hide anyhow.” Kai removed his clothes from his bag and put them on the bed. “Hard to hide a body that big.”

“So very true.” I laughed again as I stood up. “All right everyone. Let get your things put away.”

Mel came back in a little later and began putting her things away as well. “Everything okay?” I ran my fingers through her long dark hair.

“Everything is great. All worked out.” She smiled at me. “I told her about the dream and she said she’d take care of it.” I gave Mel a hug as my mind screamed at me to get back to Xena.

In our room I found her putting her armor back on. “Xena what…”

“I’m going to his temple. He’s not going to get away with this Ri.” She adjusted her breastplate and began fastening the buckles.

“Xena I know you’re mad and upset but this isn’t the way to do it.”

“What do you suggest Ri? Should I just wait for him to show up and try to take Mel?”

“No Xena of course not. That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“I don’t know what else to do. He’s obviously taking advantage of the fact that we’re off amazon land and no longer under the protection of Artemis. That must be how he got into Mel’s dreams last night.”

I nodded my agreement to that statement and walked to the window to try and give it a little more thought. “Xena maybe we should try Athena. We are after all in her city and she is Artemis’ sister. The Goddess of the hunt and warrior’s should certainly be able to protect Mel.”

“Tell you what Ri. You go talk to Athena and I’ll go kick Ares’ ass just for the fun of it.”

I turned around and crossed my arms. “You know getting sarcastic about this isn’t going to help the situation.”

She ran her fingers through her hair and sighed heavily. “I’m sorry Gabrielle. I’m just so damn mad. I thought he would have learned by now just to leave us alone.”

“Xena Mel is old enough now to interest him. You’ve been working with her and her skills are going to be just as impressive as yours…”

“Why not when she’s older and away from our influence?”

“Because children are more easily swayed. All he did was make her dream of his temple and she wanted to see it.” I crossed the room to my consort, placing a palm on her cheek. “Xena, darling, let’s take time and figure a way out of this. If you try to take him on by yourself you could get hurt or worse.”

“Gabrielle I have never back down from Ares’ in my life.”

“I know that and I’m not asking you to back down now. I’m asking you to consider finding some help.”

“Help from who?”

“Well what about Hades? This is his granddaughter that Ares is causing trouble for.”

“Yeah and I’m his daughter and he never lifted a finger to help me.”

“I know, but he has a deep love for his grandchildren. You’ve seen it. Will you at least try him before you go deal with Ares?”

She nodded slowly, turning her head to place a kiss on the palm of my hand. “Yes my love I will at the very least speak with Hades about this first.”

“Thank you Warrior.”

She ducked down and kissed me. Our kiss was cut short by two things. The door from the adjoining room opened and the children came pouring in demanding to be fed. Xena just rolled her eyes and mouthed, “Just like you.” which earned her a playful slap on the arm and the second was a loud pounding on the door.

Xena smiled and rubbed her arm as she crossed the room and opened the door to reveal a Greek Army captain with four soldiers behind him. He looked past Xena to me and gave a weak smile.

“Your Majesty I’m sorry for this interruption.” He came into the room without being invited and the hairs on my arms stood up.

“Captain I’m not do to meet with the Governor until the morning. What is going on here?”

“Well your Majesty…” He turned to Xena. “Xena of Amphipolis?””

“Yes.” She crossed her arms and raised a dark brow.

“You’re under arrest…”

“WHAT!” I stepped forward as he motioned the four soldiers into the room. Two of them had their swords drawn and the other two held heavy chains. “What is going on here?!”

“Your Majesty I have my orders.” He handed me a scroll. I unrolled it and carefully took in every word.

“War crimes?! Captain has the Governor lost his mind? I’m here to sign a formal treaty and you come arrest my consort for war crimes.”

“Yes Your Majesty those are my orders. Guards!” He motioned the men with the chains forward.

“Wait!” Xena took a deep breath and stared at the captain. “I’ll go with you, but don’t do that…here.” She gave a slight nod to our children who now stood speechless by our bed.

“I’m sorry Xena I have my orders.” The Captain replied as he once again motioned his guards.

“Please…don’t do this in front of them. Let me walk out of here with some dignity in their eyes.” She whispered once again trying to convince the young captain.

“Cooperate here Xena and you won’t have any problems.”

The two soldiers moved to her slowly watching her for any sign that she would fight them. I thanked the Gods that she hadn’t yet put her weapons back on. I turned to the children, moving to them. “Go back to your room. I’ll be in…”

“NO!” Mel yelled as she dashed past me to stand in front of Xena, staring down the guard. “You can’t! You have no right!”

“Look little one…” The Captain started.

“Don’t call me that! I am Melosa! A Princess in the Amazon nation and you will address me as Your Highness.

The Captain lifted his brows and turned to me. I drew a deep breath and raised a brow of my own. He turned back to Melosa.

“Your Highness.” He grinned a little. “I have my orders.”

“You and your orders can go straight to Tartarus for all I care. You’re not taking my Mother.”

Xena placed her hands on Mel’s shoulders and turned her around as she bent to talk to her. “Mel. Thank you for defending me, but you’re only going to make it worse. I’ll go with them and then you and your Mom can come spring me, okay?”

“You’re just giving up?”

I saw Xena draw a deep, involuntary breath at Mel’s words. “No Mel. I’m just trying to make it easier on your brother and sisters.” She glanced to us, seeing how upset the children were becoming. “Look at them Mel. We have to be strong for them. I promise you everything will be okay.”

“But…”

“Mel have I ever broken a promise to you?”

“No.”

“I don’t intend to start now. Everything will be okay.” She kissed Mel on the forehead and stood to face the captain. “I’m ready.”

Mel took a step back and watched as the guards placed heavy chains at her Mother’s neck and wrists, locking them in place. My own mind wandered back to a spring day in the forest many, many years ago. Silent tears rolled down Mel’s cheeks as Xena stood there quiet and determined as the locks were tested and the chains given a final tug to assure their security.

Kai turned his back, unable to watch his mother being chained, Kessa buried her head in my skirt and wrapped her arms around my waist. Rosa sat on the bed, her head down, tears falling to the floor.

Xena turned to me as a lead was snapped to the collar around her neck. “I love you Ri.”

I held my own tears. “I love you too Warrior. I’ll have this settled before the evening meal.”

She smiled and nodded at me, then she knelt down to Mel. “Be strong Princess.”

Mel wrapped her arms around Xena’s neck. The pain in Xena’s eyes flared like a wildfire when she realized she couldn’t hug Mel back.

One of the guards put his hand on Mel’s shoulder and she tore away from Xena to face him. “Touch me again and I’ll make you wish you had never been born!” She growled, sounding more like Xena than I had ever heard her before.

I moved Kessa with Rosa on the bed and crossed the room. I put my hand on Mel’s shoulder and with a nod of my head sent her to her brother and sisters. Then I moved to my consort and laid a hand on her cheek. “I love you and I’ll get this straightened out as soon as I can.” I leaned up and kissed her.

Then that same guard made his second mistake. He touched me. I turned to him and smiled. “You do realize that right down the hall from here there are twelve amazon warriors and all it would take for them to come in here is one loud word from me. Now if you don’t want them in here, allow us a few moments.” The young guard backed off. I returned my gaze to Xena. “Be good and don’t give them any trouble.” I smiled and winked at her.

“Not even a little?” She grinned at me.

“Not even a little. Promise me.”

“I promise.”

“Good.”

I backed up from her until I was once again with the children. She smiled at us and then was escorted from our room. I looked at the four most devastated faces in the world and sat down on the bed gathering them all close as the door closed and we were left alone.

—————————————————–

~A Conversation with Ares~

A small window allowed light to enter the cell. I looked around rubbing my wrists as the door slammed behind me. I’ve been in worse. At least I’m alone and it’s fairly clean. No rats. Thank the Gods there are no rats. Well if you’ve got to get arrested, get arrested in Athens.

I lay down on the cot and placed my hands behind my head, crossing my legs at the ankles. “Well bard it’s all up to you.”

I could hear the city moving around outside. How in Tartarus do these things happen to us? A simple trip to sign a treaty turned into this. Here I am lying in a cell…unable to protect my family. I sat up quickly and moved to the window. A short distance away I could see his temple. He was standing on the steps looking over at me laughing. I gripped the bars as he continued to throw his head back and laugh. Then he simply disappeared.

“It was all a set up. To get me out of the way.” I turned and moved to the door. “Guard! Guard!”

One of the guards that had come to the palace to arrest me came to the front of the cell standing some distance from the door. “What do you what?”

“I need to get a message to the Queen!”

“Well that won’t be possible until the magistrate sees you in two days.”

“Two days? You’ve got to be kidding. I need to see my wife and I need to see her now.”

“There’s nothing I can do.” He turned and walked away.

I began pacing the cell. “Think Xena, think.” I stopped in the middle of the room and lifted my head toward the ceiling and closed my eyes. “Hades! Hades I need to see you and I need to see you now!” I shouted at the very top of my lungs. When I lowered my head and opened my eyes I wasn’t surprised to find myself alone. “Thanks a lot…dad.” I growled as I continued to pace.

“You want out Xena?” His voice filtered into the cell.

“Ares! You bastard! Show yourself.”

“Umm no.” His disembodied voice laughed at me. “It’s a real shame isn’t it Xena? Here you sit in a lonely cell, while your precious wife and children are out there all alone and unprotected.”

“Damn it Ares what do you want?”

“Melosa. Oh she has great potential Xena.”

“NEVER! Do you hear me Ares you will never get to Melosa.”

“Oh I don’t know about that. She’s got quite the temper that one. You should see her right now. She’s absolutely furious. So much like you. Storming around trying to think of painful deaths for the men who came and took you this morning. Her anger and her hatred are refreshing.”

“You used me against her!”

“Well not really. I just did the one thing I knew would get her attention. Brilliant don’t you think?”

“Sick is more like it.”

“Oh Xena I’m hurt. Can’t you at least give me a little credit for a truly unique idea? Don’t you remember what you learned in Illusia?”

I heard the voice in my head, the words that had been ripped into our souls so long ago.

It begins very small
Seems like nothing much at all
Just a germ, just a speck, just a grain
But the seed has been sown
And before you know it’s grown
It has spread through your life like a stain
And its power will strangle your love and joy
And its hunger consumes for it lives to destroy
Hate is the star; it becomes who you are
Not the hated, but the hater
Has a torment that’s greater
It will eat you alive, consume you and spit you out
Hate’s gonna win that there’s no doubt about
Hate doesn’t care who you are – Hate is the star
Learning hate is an art, even people who are smart
Can be caught, can be crushed, can be creamed
Hate has swallowed you whole
Did you think you’re in control
Hate you thought, hate you spoke
Hate you dreamed
All your hate gave me substance
Your lives are undone
It’s your eve of destruction, your hatred has won

“Oh and Xena let me tell you she is just so full of it right now. She almost can’t control herself. I’m gonna have to help her with that.”

“Stay away from her! Damn you!”

“You know I wasn’t sure about her. I wasn’t sure she had it in her until today. She’s got some of the irritating little blonde in her too.”

“She’s got a lot of Gabrielle in her and that’s why you’ll never be able to get to her.”

“Nah…she’s a lot more like you. Regardless of what you and the queen want to believe Xena, she does have a touch of your dark side in her and I’ll be able to use that to my advantage. So you think if I go to her and offer her a way to get you out she’ll take me up on it?”

“Damn it Ares leave her alone. What do I have to do to make you leave her alone?”

The form slowly took shape in front of me. He smiled at me as he crossed his arms. “Are you offering me something in trade Xena?”

I swallowed hard. “What do you want Ares? Me? Will you leave Mel alone if I agree to join you?”

“Hmm you know I might have taken you up on that a few seasons ago Xena, but look at you.” He walked around me looking me up and down. “It’s true you’re still beautiful and I know very dangerous, but really Xena you’re past your prime my dear. You’re what? Nearly forty-five. There’s actually gray in your hair.” I jerked my head away from his hand as he traced the streaks of gray at my temples. “Besides I know you. You’re a tricky one you are. You’ll agree to join me and then when I’m least expecting it…” He brought his fist into his palm. “WHAMMO!”

I could barely hide the smile. It was true I couldn’t very well stand there and deny it. Gabrielle and I had defeated him more times than I cared to remember, generally by using his own tactics against him.

“But I’ve really got you this time don’t I Xena? You’d do anything to keep me away from Melosa wouldn’t you?

“Yes.”

“Weak. This whole thing has made you weak. Being married, having children…turned you into a ‘run-of-the-mill’ mortal…”

“I made that decision of my own accord so that I might be able to live a normal life with Gabrielle.”

“Oh yes,” He scowled and rolled his eyes. “Gabrielle. You know if there were a bane to my existence, it would have to be Gabrielle.”

“My life with her has been good for me.”

“Not from where I’m standing. You were suppose to rule the world Xena, but noooo you had go off and get married. You know I could almost live with that. You still stayed on the road and there was still hope. Then, oh then, she decided she wanted children and you agreed to that too. Settled down with the amazons and started changing diapers. No life for a warrior.”

“That’s your opinion.”

“Yes it is. My opinion and Melosa’s as well. You know that she’s not planning on staying in the stuffy little village. She wants to travel and see the world Xena. She wants to experience life, taste adventure. Just like you…” He hissed the last three words and I felt my stomach churn with his hidden meaning.

“Ares don’t…leave her alone…”

“And now my dear Xena I have a pupil to recruit.” He disappeared in a blinding flash.

“ARES!”

I turned when I heard the door to my cell open. Gabrielle stepped in with two amazon guards behind her. The guards carried a few of my personal items. They sat them on the bed and left quietly as I enfolded my wife in my arms. We stood like that for a long moment, neither of us speaking. We just held each other.

“Gabrielle, this is Ares’ doing. He has arranged all of this to keep me out of the way while he tries to get to Mel.”

“I know. I’m working on getting you out of here. It’s going to take sometime though. Ares’ influence runs deep and I’m having trouble convincing certain people they’ve been tricked.”

“Don’t worry about me Ri. You’ve got to get back to Mel…”

She placed her fingers over my lips. “Shh…Mel is safe.” She grinned at me. “Stashed in the last place Ares would think to look for her.”

“Ah wife you’re being devious…” I smiled at her as she nodded.

“Un-huh. We’ve got Mel…”

“Nope don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. As long as you say she’s safe that’s all that matters to me.”

“She’s safe. Now I’m concerned about getting you out of here. I’ve dispatched two of the guards for home to inform Eph that we might be delayed getting back.”

I sighed and nodded my agreement. “Hey how did you get in here? They told me I couldn’t see you for two days.”

“Yeah well you’re their prisoner. I’m still a Queen…”

“Pulling rank huh?”

“You betcha. I brought you some things too. I thought you might want to change out of your leathers.”

“Speaking of which, they took my armor…”

“I’ve already reclaimed it. Ep took it back to the palace.”

“Thanks.” I moved away from her and began stripping out of my leathers. “How are the kids?”

She sat on the edge of the cot, handing me my shirt. “Scared. Confused. Mel’s madder than Tartarus. Kai is really confused. Kessa and Rosa are afraid you’re not coming home. It really hurt them to watch you being led out of there like that.”

“I know. If I ever get the chance I’m gonna give that captain something to remember me by.” I slipped into loose fitting trousers and tucked in my shirt.”

Ri folded my leathers and set them to the side. “I’ll take them back with me. What about your boots?”

“Oh I’m keeping those. Ri when you see Mel try to get her to calm down. Ares is going to use her anger against her.”

“Have you seen Ares?”

“Umm-hmm. He didn’t waste any time in showing up to irritate me.”

Her head dropped and she stared at the floor. “We were right weren’t we? He wants Mel doesn’t he?”

I sat down next to her and pulled her into my arms, kissing the top of her head. “Yes, yes he does.”

“I won’t let him Xena. I swear I’ll die before I’ll let that bastard have our daughter.”

“Gabrielle listen to me. I’ll handle Ares.” I pulled back and tilted her chin to make her look at me. “You just take care of the children. If that means you have to leave me here and go back to the village to do it…”

“Xena!”

“Don’t argue with me Gabrielle. We may have to split up to do this…”

“No. I won’t leave you here and I’m not going to let Ares win this time either.”

“Of course he’s not going to win. We’ve always beaten him before. We’ll beat him this time too.”

She nodded and rested her head on my shoulder. “Well at least you won’t be alone here.” She sighed after a few moments of silence.

“What?”

“More of my pulling rank. I told them that since you are my consort they have technically arrested a member of the amazon royal family and I made them agree to let me post one of our own guards outside the cell door. I didn’t want you here alone.” She smiled at me. “And since they won’t let me stay…I figured it was the next best thing.”

“Ooo you can be cagey when you want to, can’t you?”

“You know it. Actually I’m hoping to use the whole diplomatic immunity thing against them. I’m having the records brought from the village that show you were made a part of the tribe before we got married. If it works they will have no choice but to release you and drop the charges.”

“Clever, but if Ares is influencing the Governor and his advisors…”

She waved her hand at me. “Oh I’ve already thought of that and I brought in some help…”

“Do I want to know?”

“Probably not. As a matter of fact this whole thing just might work out better if you don’t know.”

“You have a plan don’t you?”

“Umm-hmm.”

———————————————-

~Behind Every Good Warrior…~

I rolled over reaching out for her. Once again I found the bed empty. I sighed as I ran my hand over the pillow where Xena’s head should be resting. “Miss you love.” I sat up, running my fingers through my hair trying to wake up when the door adjoining my room opened.

Kai peered in at me. “You up?”

“Almost. Come on in.”

He slowly walked over, taking a seat next to me on the bed. “I miss them.”

“I do too.” I wrapped my arm around my son’s shoulder and kissed his forehead.

“Who would have thought I’d ever miss Mel?”

“Ah well you never know who you might miss until they’re not around anymore.

“I even miss her stupid bird.”

I held him close. “Everything will be okay Kai. We’ll make everything okay.”

“How much longer is Mom going to be in jail? It’s been almost a week.”

“I know. I have to wait for the records from the village.”

“Can I see her today?”

“Kai you don’t want to go there.”

“Yes I do. I miss her and I want to see her. Please?”

I nodded and relented to my son. “All right…all right…for a few moments.”

Kai took a deep breath and stared at the heavy door that separated him from his mother.

“Are you sure?” I stoked my hands through his hair.

He swallowed hard and nodded.

Ep smiled at me as she stepped aside and allowed the jailer to unlock the door. Xena turned from her position by the window and opened her arms to our son. His hesitation was over as he ran into her arms and found himself engulfed in a hug. I paused outside the door turning to Ep. She smiled again. “How’s she doing?”

“Not too bad considering. Do have any idea how many dirty jokes she knows?”

“Yeah I’ve heard a few.”

“Well I’ve heard more than a few.” Ep grinned at me. “Some of them are really…um…interesting.”

“I’m sure. Have you had any problems?”

“Well we had a little altercation with the night jailer. He tried to tell me I couldn’t talk to her. I convinced him otherwise.” She flexed her hand in and out of a fist a few times.

“Ep, try not to beat up the jailers.”

“He was being a horse’s ass. He deserved it.”

“Just be careful. I don’t want to have to try and get the entire amazon nation out of jail.”

“Yes Your Majesty.” She smirked and gave me a halfhearted bow.

“Oh stop!” I turned and went into the cell. Xena looked at me as she continued to hug Kai close.

“Hiya Warrior. Hear you’ve been telling dirty jokes to your guard.”

“Just trying to see if I can make an amazon blush.”

“And?”

“Yeah Ep has two or three shades of red I’ve never really seen before.”

I moved to her and wrapped my arm around her, enclosing both my warrior and my son in a hug. “Proud of yourself aren’t you?” I kissed her jaw.

“Pretty much yeah.” She stepped back and looked down at Kai. “And how are you doing?”

“I miss you.”

“Miss you too buddy. Listen when your Mom gets me out of here and we get home whaddya say we go fishing.”

“Sounds great.” He smiled at her and then began looking around the cell. “Kinda nasty isn’t it?”

“Well son that’s why they call it jail. You’re not suppose to enjoy it.”

“I guess.” He sat down on the bed, running his hand over the quilt. “Hmmm got your favorite blanket I see.” He smiled at her.

“Yup, you’re mom takes good care of me.” She turned to me and pulled me into her arms. “Speaking of which.” She ducked her head down and kissed me. A kiss I most certainly wasn’t expecting, but which I enjoyed immensely. She drew back and smiled. “Miss you.”

“Well yeah, I guess so.”

“Any word from Eph?”

“Not yet but it shouldn’t be too much longer…another day or two.”

“I hope she gets here before they decide to start a trial.”

“Oh I’ve managed to put a halt to that for the time being too. Told them you had to wait on your amazon counsel to arrive.”

“I knew there was a reason I married you. Not only are you beautiful, but you’ve got a brain too.”

“Thanks for the confidence.”

“My life is in your hands Ri. I know you’re going to do everything possible.” She turned to Kai. “Pay attention here buddy she’s going to teach you how to out maneuver an entire government.” She knelt down next to the bed, laying her hand on his leg. “I think you should go now. Let Aunt Ep take you back to the palace, okay?”

He nodded as she wrapped his arms around her neck. “I love you Mom.”

“Ah I love you too buddy. I’ll be home soon. I promise.”

I called for Ep and asked her to take Kai back to the palace with his sisters and to stay with them until I got back. She took him and as the door slammed shut again I turned to my consort. “Now how are you really?”

“I’m okay Ri.” She sat down on the bed took my hands looking up at me. “You know me and jail… been there, done that. How are you doing?”

“Things are a little tense. The Governor is being a pain in my backside. The moron apparently thinks I still intend to sign a treaty.”

“Remember Ri he’s under Ares’ influence. He just may not be able to grasp why you don’t want to sign the treaty. Be careful.”

“Oh I am. I have two dozen guards that keep me safe at every turn.”

“I’m glad someone is.” She dropped her head and stared at the floor. Oh, me and my big mouth.

“Oh Xena I didn’t mean it like that.” I knelt down and lifted her head. “I’m sorry love, that didn’t come out right.”

“It’s okay Ri. No harm to be had in the truth.”

“Okay just stop this. What’s happening here is way out of your control…”

“I could have fought it.”

“Umm-hmm and gotten yourself killed. In case you haven’t noticed darling we’re out numbered about a thousand to one here. This time warrior we have to do it diplomatically.”

“Well love you know what a diplomat is don’t you?”

“What?”

“Someone who can tell you to go to Tartarus and make you look forward to the trip. You’re just the person for that job.”

“Your confidence in me is truly inspiring.”

I sat at the table with the children. They all picked at their meals and were far too quiet. I never thought there would be a day when I was wishing for the loud chatter of my children.

“Kessa where did Marta take you today?”

“We went to the market.”

“Did you have a good time?”

“Would have had a better time if you and Mom had taken us.”

“I know honey and I promise you just as soon as we get her home…”

“She’s not coming home.” Rosa said, so softly I barely heard her. I got up and moved to my daughter who was quietly crying.

“Of course she’s coming home sweetheart.”

She shook her head and looked to me. “I heard two men talking in the market today. They said that as soon as she was found guilty she would get hung. They’re gonna kill her.”

“No…no…they’re not. We’re going to bring her home and everything with be fine.” I hugged her close to try and reassure her. “Everything will be fine. As soon as Aunt Eph gets here we’re going to get her out.” She nodded and gave me a hug. I held her for a long moment. “It’s going to be all right.” I whispered again. More for myself than her I think.

The pounding on my door in the very early hours of the morning did nothing for my frame of mind until I managed to get myself up and open the door to find a grinning Ephiny. Without a word I just threw my arms around her. She dropped the bag she had been holding and returned my embrace.

“Can’t let you two go anywhere.” She whispered in my ear with a soft laugh.

I realized now that I was crying for the first time since this whole thing started. It just felt so good to know that help had arrived. At least help that I trusted completely.

“Hey, hey.” She backed me into the room and closed the door. “It’s going to be all right.”

I was so nice to hear someone besides myself say that.

“We’re here to spring your consort Your Majesty.” She pulled back and smiled at me as she wiped my tears away.

“We?”

“Come with me.” She retrieved her bag and then she led me to the window and pushed the shutters open. I shook my head as my eyes took in the sight before me. Amazon troops as far as the eye could see.

“Ephiny…”

“Between all the tribes, the centaurs and most of the villages surrounding our land we have a force of about three thousand out there. If your plan doesn’t work, I have one of my own and it doesn’t include a whole lot of talking.”

I turned to her and smiled. “Eph…I’m not saying it won’t come to that and the Gods know I’ll do whatever I have to do to get Xena home, but we have to be careful here. Ares is involved and he would just be thrilled if he got a war started from all of this.”

She pulled the shutters closed and smiled. “Well we’ll try it your way first.” She handed me the bag. “Here are the records you requested.”

“Thanks, I hope this does the trick.”

“Well I brought just about everything I could find relating to Xena. I’m sure that what you need is in there.”

“Good. Now all I have to do is get past Ares’ influence and convince the idiot Governor to let her go.”

“What is Ares up to anyhow? All your note said was that Xena had been arrested, you needed the records and that you would be late getting back.”

“He’s after Mel.”

“Mel? Is he out of his mind? Xena will kill him…well she’ll try anyhow.”

“Exactly. That’s why he had her arrested. He just wasn’t counting on one thing.”

“What’s that?’

“Both of Mel’s mothers have claws.”

The garden was beautiful and it was nice to be out in the sun for a few moments. I had been spending most of my time between the palace and the jail. There were a couple of trips to see Mel but I knew she was safe and it was just best not to lead Ares to her so I left her in the capable hands of her guardians.

The Governor smiled as Eph and I approached. “Your Majesty. Good morning.”

“Good morning Governor. Here are the records I sent for.” I handed him the scrolls. “As you can see they plainly state that Xena is not only a member of the amazon nation, but my consort and champion and as such she is to be granted diplomatic immunity.”

He read the scrolls slowly and sighed as he re-rolled them. “Your Majesty. The crimes of which Xena has been charged, happened long before she became a member of your nation or before you were married.”

“Exactly…almost twenty-five seasons or more. This is completely ridiculous.”

“There is no time limit on cold blooded murder Your Majesty.”

I stiffened as I approached him. “Look,” I growled. “These charges are a complete crock and you and I both know it. Now I want her released and I want the charges dropped…or I may have to resort to other measures.”

“Other measures?”

I raised my hand, three dozen amazon warriors stepped out of various places they had been concealed through out the garden. The Governor looked round and swallowed nervously. “Now you can sign her release…or I can take it up with your…successor.”

———————————————————-

~It Seemed Like a Good Idea~

It was a truly beautiful place. Athena and Artemis were doing their best to keep me happy and occupied, but I missed my mothers and I wanted to go home. Even Mount Olympus could be a really miserable place when you missed the people you loved most.

I knew I should be impressed with the fact that I was staying in the palace of the Gods, but I just couldn’t do it. I had everything I wanted simply by wishing for it, everything that is except the one thing I really wanted…to go home.

Athena had been helping me with Rilex’s training and Artemis gave me a lot of lesson’s in hunting and tracking but I really just wanted to go back to Athens and be with Mom. I stood staring out the window of my room when the door opened. I turned around to find Athena with Aphrodite.

“Melosa I wanted to come and tell you that your Mom has managed to get your Mother released from jail.”

“Great! Now I can go back.”

“Not just yet Melosa. We still have Ares to deal with. Artemis and I are going to join your Mothers to put that plan into action. While we’re gone you will be staying with Aphrodite.”

I sighed and nodded. “Yes ma’am. Will you give them a message for me?”

“Of course.”

“Tell them I love them and I miss them and I can’t wait to get home.”

“I’m sure they know that Melosa, but I’ll tell them.”

“Thanks.”

Athena gave me a gentle hug before turning to Aphrodite. “Just keep an eye on her and don’t do anything silly.”

“Like really Sis…when was the last time I did something silly?”

“Dite I don’t have time to go down the list. Just stay with her and stay out of trouble. Whatever you do, avoid Ares at all costs.”

“All right, chill. Little cousin and I will be fine.” She placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder as she smiled at Athena. “Now go give that brother of ours something to remember.”

Athena smiled a weak smile and left the room.

“So Mel, like what’s new?” She placed her hand on her hip and cocked her head as she smiled at me.

“Oh I don’t know. Ares is after me. My Mother has been locked up in an Athenian jail for a week. My Mom has been handling everything by herself and I’m hiding out on Mount Olympus instead of helping out. All in all not one of my better weeks.”

“Oh major bummer. Well, now that I’m here let’s try to find something fun to do.” She paused for a moment and seemed to be thinking, really, really hard. “How old are you?”

“Almost twelve.”

“Old enough. Come on little warrior babe, let’s go.”

She took me by the hand, suddenly we were in a…a…well I’m not too sure where we ended up. Lots of people…music…wine…the strangest lights I have ever seen. “Umm Aphrodite where are we?”

“Just a favorite little hangout of mine. Thought it was time to introduce you to the more ‘interesting’ side of life.”

“I live a pretty interesting life already thanks.”

“Yeah but this is the really interesting side of life. You know the thing I do best. Love.”

I looked around. There were all kinds of couples, engaged in all kinds of activities. “I don’t know if this is love or not but it’s intriguing.”

We took seats at a table in the corner, which gave us a clear view of the entire room. “It’s about time you learned about the birds and the bees.” She laughed as she motioned with her hand at the occupants of the room

“I know about the birds and the bees Aphrodite. You learn from a very young age when you’re raised in an amazon village.” I grinned at her and wiggled my eyebrows. “You learn about all kinds of things in an amazon village.” I laughed as she waved at someone.

“Yeah I suppose that’s true, but you have to admit you don’t see too many of these running around in an amazon village.” She indicated the man on his way over to our table.

The tall man in short trousers and no shirt came to the table carrying a tray. He looked a little like Uncle Herc only not quiet as well built. “Dite babe…how ya’ doing?” He looked down at me and grinned before turning back to my cousin. “Little young to be in here don’t you think?”

“Nah she’s a cool little amazon. Besides she’s my cousin.”

“Amazon? Cousin? Wow Dite your family really does gets around doesn’t it?”

“Second cousin actually, Beefcake,” I said as I looked at him. “Now why don’t you get us something to drink?”

Aphrodite began laughing out loud as she nodded and waved him away. “I’ll have wine, bring little miss some juice.”

He looked down at me and scowled. “You sure she wouldn’t like some ale instead.”

“No juice is good.” I drummed my fingers on the table. “Apple if you got it.” I quirked my brow at him.

He looked to Aphrodite who just shrugged as he moved away.

“Men.” I growled.

“Oh yeah waaaay too much time with the amazons.” She giggled as she turned to me. “They’re really not that bad once you get them trained.”

“Too much trouble. If I’m going to spend the time training something I’m gonna make sure it can be useful to me later on down the line.”

“Oooo you are soooo much like your Mother.”

“Yes I am and I’m very proud of that fact.”

“No reason you shouldn’t be babe…she’s a very with it woman. Both your Mothers are. Took me forever to get them together.” She rolled her eyes as she waved her hand. “Please tell me you don’t have a full blown warrior mentality. I don’t think I could handle that twice in one lifetime.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh that warrior Mother of yours…geeze…took me forever to get through her thick head so she could see that your Mom loved her.”

Beefcake brought our drinks over and sat them on the table. “Need anything else Dite? Food? Ambrosia?” He looked at me. “A muzzle?”

“Oh yeah keep it up muscles.” I stood up. “I’ve had a really bad week…”

Aphrodite put her hand on my shoulder. “Chill babe…don’t hurt the cute waiter.” She looked up at Beefcake. “Umm not nice to tease the little amazon. She’s got her Mother’s temper.”

“Oh yeah and who would that be?”

“Ever hear of Xena, genius?” I sat down and sipped my juice.

“Xena is your Mother?” He swallowed hard.

“Un-huh.” I smiled behind my cup as the blood drained from his face. I could see how this could be fun a few seasons from now.

Beefcake made a hasty retreat. I looked around the room watching all the people, dancing and ‘getting to know’ each other. “And I thought the amazons were bad.”

“Oh-oh you do have that warrior mentality. She’s teaching you to be all stoic isn’t she?”

“Warrior’s are suppose to be stoic. It’s in the contract.” I grinned.

“Yeah okay but you can be warm and loving too you know.”

“Mother is perfectly warm and loving. Just not in public.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a little PDA babe.”

“PDA?”

“Public display of affection.”

“Oh okay. If you say so, I’d just rather live by her rules if you don’t mind. I think it will increase my life expectancy.”

“Can’t argue with that. Besides I guess you’ve got some time before we really have to start thinking about getting you hooked up with someone.”

“Aphrodite do you think I’ll find my soulmate?”

“You mean like your Moms?”

“Umm-hmm.”

“I don’t know kiddo. It doesn’t happen very often. It’s really rare that two souls find the other half.”

“I was afraid of that.” I sighed as I finished my juice.

“Is that what you want? To find your true soulmate?”

“Yeah. I watch them you know…and it’s almost…magical.”

“It is magic. The most beautiful kind of magic.” She sipped her wine as she made eye contact with another hunky man across the room. “But you know there’s nothing wrong with just having a little fun while you’re looking.”

“Hmm I guess.” I looked around the room again and tried to picture myself a few seasons from now. “Nope don’t foresee any fun in my future.”

“That is because no one here holds your attention. One of these days you’re going to run into someone who makes your heart beat double time and then you’ll want to have some fun.”

“If you say so.”

“Oh you gotta trust me on this one. I am the Goddess of Love you know?”

“That would explain the flimsy outfit. Don’t you get cold?”

“Nah, never have the chance. There’s always someone around willing to keep me warm.”

“Yeah I guess there would be.”

Beefcake came over and sat a couple of more cups down in front of us. “From that gentleman over there.”

We both looked up at the same time as we followed Beefcake’s finger to the tall dark man in the black leather armor.

“Oh this is like sooo very bad.” Aphrodite said as he raised his glass and his eyebrow with a smirk.

“Oh lemme guess…Ares?” I dropped my head. “Oh yeah this is the perfect ending to a perfect week.”

——————————————————————–

~Warriors Will Be Warriors~

I shrugged as my armor settled into place. Ri ran her fingers down my sides as she fastened the last buckle into place.

“I don’t like this.” She whispered. “Too much can go wrong.”

“Sweetheart we have to do this. It’s the only way to stop him.” I pulled her into my arms. “I’ll be fine.”

“You’d better. You know I’m not fond of using you as bait.”

“Yeah, well I’m the only thing that will make Ares bite.”

“Just as long as he doesn’t bite hard or deep.” She ran her hands over my shoulders. “I just got you back and I don’t intend to be separated from you again.”

“Don’t worry about it Ri I don’t intend to go anywhere but home with you.”

“Is that a promise?”

“It is.” I brought her into a warm kiss. Which was nearly cut short by the arrival of my father and aunts.

“Ahem.” Hades cleared his throat. I just waved my hand at him as I continued to kiss my wife. “Xena?”

I broke the kiss but continued to gaze into Gabrielle’s eyes. “I love you.”

“Love you too Warrior.”

“Okay, you come down with Athena and Artemis. That will give Hades and I enough time to get his attention.”

“Be careful.”

“Always.” I brought her hand up and kissed it softly. “You too bard.”

“Right behind you partner.”

I turned to Hades as he extended his hand. I took two steps forward. Taking his hand I turned to Gabrielle as he wrapped me in his cloak, I watched her disappear from my sight.

A moment later I was standing in the middle of Ares’ temple. I couldn’t see Hades, but I knew he was near. I drew my sword and stepped toward the altar. “Ares show yourself.” I started by decapitating a statue. “That’s one you worthless snake!”

“Ah ah ah Xena I wouldn’t if I were you.” I heard him snicker.

I turned to his voice. He stood by his throne with his hand wrapped firmly around Mel’s throat. I looked into my daughter’s eyes. She gave me a strong smile in return.

“It’s gonna be all right sweetheart. Let her go Ares.”

“Aww isn’t that sweet. Such a touching reunion between mother and daughter.” He jerked his hand as he pulled Mel with him I heard her whimper. As he stood by his throne he bent and whispered in her ear. “Ever wondered what it would be like to watch your mother die?” Mel said nothing. She tried to pull loose but her held her fast. “Now, now…wouldn’t want to upset Cousin Ares now would you?”

“Oh bite me.” Mel hissed as she struggled.

“See Xena, just like you.”

I heard the doors to the temple open and I recognized her steps immediately. “Mel!”

She started to move past me, but I grabbed her arm. “Ri no don’t.”

“That’s right Gabrielle don’t. You don’t want me to hurt her now do you?”

“No please…”

“Well now Xena I have to admit that I do like the way wifey asks so very nicely. Whereas you just stand there and get all demanding.”

“Ares…” I stepped forward. “Let her go. She’s just a girl.”

“Un-huh a girl with lethal combat skills. You’ve taught her well Xena.”

“Oh yeah she looks real combative Ares. Can’t you see she’s scared.” Oh I just knew she was gonna make me pay for that later by the look on her face. She wasn’t scared, she was mad.

“Mother just kick his ass and let’s get out of here.” She sniped as she tried to pull his hand from her throat.

“Hold still.” He growled at her as her raised his hand to Ri. “Or I roast Mom.”

“No!” Mel yelled as she struggled harder.

Ares released a blue bolt of energy at Ri. I turned and leapt past her as the bolt crashed into me. I felt myself hit the floor. That hurt and I could smell a combination of burning leather and singed hair. As I got to my feet I saw Mel pull back and deliver a hard elbow to his ribs. He flinched just enough that she pulled free. She dropped and rolled away from him.

He looked back and forth between Ri and I trying to decide his next move. Before he could make it, Hades, Athena and Artemis surrounded him on three sides. Ri and I approached from the front. He looked around him, knowing he was in BIG trouble. “Now hold on here guys…” He backed up with his palms up in surrender.

“Oh, oh Ares,” I couldn’t help but smirk. ” Boy this really looks like a jam.” I sheathed my sword as I approached. “What was it you said in my cell…just when you least expect it.” I mimicked the fist into the palm of my hand action. “WHAMMO!” Then I drew back my fist and hit him. “That was for having me arrested.” I drew back and hit him again. “That is for trying to get to my daughter.” He staggered backward. Again I drew back. I felt a hand on my arm.

“Let me.” Ri said softly as she stepped forward and clocked him with her staff sending him crashing into his throne. “That,” She hissed at him as she leaned over him. “Is for touching my daughter. Do it again and I’ll tear you apart.” She straightened up and turned to me. “Think they can handle him from here?” She gestured around to our little group.

“Oh yeah I think they’ve got him.” I held one hand out to her and the other to Mel. They each took my hands at the same time. “Let’s get out of here.”

“What is going on here?” Ares growled as he sat up in his chair.

“You see nephew.” Hades stepped forward. “You first mistake was messing with my granddaughter….”

“Your second,” Artemis moved to him. “Was trying to interfere with the family of my chosen….”

“Your third,” Athena stepped into the fray. “Was trying to corrupt the one who will be my chosen….”

I could hear him pleading with them as we left his temple. When we hit the steps outside I pulled my wife and daughter into a hug. I just closed my eyes and held them close. “Time to go home.” I whispered as I gave them each a kiss on the top of the head.

I had to feel sorry for Eph as she paced around our room. She really had wanted a little fight and was disappointed when Gabrielle had sent the troops back to their villages.

“You know I never get to have any fun anymore.” She pouted as she sank into a chair. “You people are just too good at these sneaky little ‘distract the God so other Gods can handle him’ game.”

“Sorry to put a damper in your plans Eph.” I grinned as I folded my robes and placed them in the trunk.

“No you’re not.” She got up and moved across the room to me. She backed me up poking me in the chest as she ranted. “You enjoy out smarting Ares, makes you feel superior.”

I chuckled as I continued to back away from my friend. “Yeah I’m sorry you’re right I do. He’s only got the one nerve and I do enjoy getting on it.”

“I knew it!” She threw her hands up into the air and grinned at me.

“Listen why don’t you and I sneak off and go down to the tavern. Gabrielle is going to be tied up the rest of the day with that treaty so we should be able to get away with it. Besides,” I grinned. “I’m buying.”

“Oh you bet your sweet sword you are.”

As we entered the tavern it looked like we would have a great deal of trouble finding a table so we decided to stand at the bar. I ordered us a couple of drinks and just as I was about to take my first sip I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to find the Captain that had arrested me.

“So you managed to beat it huh?” He sneered at me.

“I didn’t beat anything. The charges were dropped for lack of evidence.”

“Lack of evidence a centaur’s ass. Those charges were dropped because that little amazon queen bullied the Governor into dropping them.”

“Look, I already don’t like you.” I paused and turned to face him. Standing up to my full height I was a good head and a half taller than he was, but he was so drunk he didn’t take the hint. “You humiliated me in front of my children. Now you’re going to stand here and make it worse by insulting my wife?”

“Your wife?” He laughed as he teetered back just a bit. “That’s rich. How in the name of the Gods do you get that? The only thing that’s for sure in this life is that your relationship in not natural. You both should be horsewh…”

I drew a deep breath and held it for just a moment. Before he could finish that sentence, I hit him. In a matter of moments Eph had that fight she wanted. Most of the patrons recognized a soldier’s fight and stayed out of it, but a few of the captain’s compatriots decided to join in.

Eph and I managed to take them down with very little effort. If this was the best Athens had to offer, the city, just like Ares, was in BIG trouble. I looked around the tavern to see the half dozen men picking themselves up off the floor. As I ran my tongue over my lip I tasted it, bringing my hand up I brushed the blood from my lip as I turned to Eph. “Oh that eye’s gonna bruise up real nice.” I grinned. “Nice shiner Eph.”

“Thanks.” She grinned back at me. “Not bad for a little work out. What in the Tartarus just happened?”

“He insulted my wife.” I pointed at the Captain who was now slung over the bar.

Eph grabbed him by the hair of the head and brought his face up. “Dumb, very dumb.” She told the unconscious man before letting his head thump back down to the bar. She shook her hand as she examined her knuckles. “You know I might just have broken a finger.”

“Getting old Amazon?” I picked a rag up off the bar and pressed it to my lip.

“Watch it.” She warned with a grin. “Besides you’re what, two season older than I am?”

“Yeah but I didn’t break anything.”

“No but you bleed real nice.”

“Thanks.” I tossed the rag down on the bar along with several dinars. “That’s for the damage.” I grinned at the bar keep as I picked up my drink and took my first sip. Eph looked past me and pointed. I turned around to see a half dozen guards coming through the door.

“You know,” She smirked from the other side of the bars. “I shouldn’t be doing this. If Mom finds, out I’m grounded for life.”

I stood up from the cot where Eph and I had been sitting waiting patiently for our bail money to arrive. “Mel if you don’t get me out of here, I’ll ground you for life.”

“Now how do you suppose you’d do that from here?” She tapped the bars with her staff.

“Trust me runt. I’d find a way.”

She laughed as the jailer unlocked the door to let us out. “Yeah I guess you would. A bar fight huh? Very original.”

“Thanks a lot.” The jailer handed our weapons back to us. “Where’s your Mom?”

“Still in meetings.”

“Good maybe by the time she gets back tonight I’ll have cooked up a really good excuse for this.”

“You could tell her the truth.” Eph grinned. “You were defending her honor.”

“How sweet.” Mel snickered again as she followed us out of the jail.

“Yeah well the first time you get arrested for the same thing don’t send me a pigeon for bail.” I teased as I stepped out onto the street.

She just shook her head as she looked at the three of us. “I swear. I’ll be so glad to get you back to the village. Maybe, just maybe you can stay out of trouble.”

“Ri….”

“Don’t say anything warrior. How do you think I felt? Just as I’m about to sign the treaty a messenger comes in and tells me that our daughter had to go down to the jail to bail you two out for brawling in a tavern.”

I looked over at Eph who just gave me a guilty little smile.

“Oh so you think it’s funny huh? Come on you guys. You could at least pretend to be ashamed of yourselves.”

“We can do that.” I grinned at her. “You know Eph you should be ashamed of yourself.”

“So I’ve been told.” She chuckled. “You should be more ashamed than me, you started it.”

“Oh I am. I’m really feeling bad about it.” I laughed.

“Oh I give up!” Ri threw her hands in the air and walked out onto the balcony. Eph and I tried to control our laughter. I looked over at Mel who was actually looking a little guilty. “Relax. You know your Mom, she’s not as mad as she thinks she is.”

“I hope not. I’d like to see the outside of my room again before my twenties get here.”

“Don’t worry about it runt. I’ll take care of it.”

“Unt-huh.” She stood up. “If you don’t mind I’ll handle it myself. There’s no guarantee you won’t be doing extra guard duty when we get back.” She followed her Mom out to the balcony.

I settled back against the headboard of the bed as I watched her get ready. “I love you, you know.”

She sighed as she sat at the vanity brushing her hair. “I know. I love you too.” She put her brush down and turned to me. “Did you really start that fight because he insulted me?”

“Umm-hmm.” I ran my hand over the blankets, pulling them back as she crossed the room and climbed into bed next to me.

“I should be furious with you.”

“Does this mean your not?”

“How can I be? After nearly twenty season your still defending my honor in bar fights.” She curled up next to me draping her arm across my waist.

“My love I’ll defend your honor for the rest of my days.”

“I know. That’s what I get for marrying a warrior.” She laughed as she curled up in my arms.

As the caravan left the palace grounds Mel pulled up next to me on her horse. “Can I ride up here with you?”

“Wouldn’t want it any other way runt.”

“Good. So you in trouble?”

“Nah. You?”

“Yeah just a little. I’m grounded for a week and I have to give the trainees three extra staff lessons a week for a month.”

“Ouch. I’ll help you with the staff lessons. I’ll take two weeks of them. After all it’s my fault you got into trouble.”

“Nah that’s okay I don’t mind. I’ll do it. At least it’ll get me out of my room.” She grinned. “Hey look at that.” She pointed over at Ares’ temple.

I leaned forward on my horse to get a good look at the sign on the door.

“What’s it say?”

“Closed for repairs….”

———————————————————

~Coming Of Age~

The music was loud and very fast. I could only sit back and smile as I watched Mel and her friends celebrate another of her birthdays. A very important one this one, her twelve season. By Amazon custom Mel was no longer a child. She was now a member of the tribe and would be expected to perform the duties associated with that position.

I smiled as I watched, all too aware that my baby was no longer a baby. She was currently standing several paces back from Xe in the center of the square. I just shook my head knowing what was coming. I wasn’t disappointed. She gave her version of that famous battle cry and started off at a full run. Xe laced her fingers together holding her hands below her waist , Mel jumped, placing her foot in the cup of her mother’s hands as Xe pushed up, sending Mel flying backward through the air. She did a double flip, ending in a half twist, landing perfectly on her feet. She smiled, Xe smiled. I just shook my head again. They did so enjoy trying to scare me half out of my mind.

It doesn’t matter to me that my daughter is now considered and adult in the eyes of our tribe and our nation. She is still my first born and my baby. I sipped my wine as Xe made her way over to the table taking her seat next to me. “Having fun?” I slipped my hand into hers.

“Actually I am.” She reached over and took my cup draining it before handing it back.

Looking into my now empty cup I just sighed. “I’m glad.”

“Ri what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Unt-huh. Don’t even try it. Come on what’s wrong?”

“She’s grown up.”

“Well now that depends on how you look at it.”

“Oh it does huh?”

“Yeah. Sure as far as the amazons go she’s an adult, but as far as you’re concerned she’s still a little girl.” She leaned over placing her forehead to mine. “And my love there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re her mother. She is of your body. She’s always going to be a little girl in your eyes. No matter how big she gets.” She kissed my forehead and brushed a tear from my cheek with her thumb. “Hard to watch them grow up isn’t it?”

I nodded and smiled as I watched Mel with her friends. Even at her young age she was tall and strong, just like Xe. She had the same intensity, the same passion for life. I wondered why I had been blessed with two such magnificent people in my life. I looked to my soulmate and I knew why I had been given such a wonderful gift. Mel was Xena’s heir she would carry on the nobility, the honor and the beauty that was my consort.

I reached out and ran my fingers through Xena’s hair. They gray was becoming more pronounced and it only served to make her look even more dignified. “I love you.” I whispered.

She turned to me with a smile. “And I love you.” She took my hand as she brought her chair closer to mine. “Ri come on now this is suppose to be a happy time.” She placed her arm around my shoulder drawing me close to her.

“I am happy Xe. I’m so very happy.”

“So happy you’re sad, right?”

“Yeah sort of.” I gave her a little smile as she hugged me close to her. I continued to watch Mel, I was proud of the young woman our daughter was becoming.

Xena sat quietly at the table picking through her meal as I took a deep breath and tried to take in what had just been said. Kai, Kessa and Rosa sat there deciding it was best to be quiet too.

“It’s really what I should do.” Mel looked at me as she leaned in on the table.

“Why do you feel it’s necessary to move to the village?”

“Because all of the other senior students live in the barracks there. I should too.”

“Mel you’re position doesn’t require….”

“My position is making my life miserable Mom. If I hadn’t given up the throne it might be different, but since I did, I’m just like everyone else now.”

“You’re still a princess of the nation.”

“I know, but in title only and because of that I need to go be with everyone else. They think I’m using the princess thing to get special treatment. If I want to convince them otherwise then I need to be just like them.”

“So you think moving into the barracks will solve that problem?” Finally my silent consort speaks!

Mel looked down at the table to Xe who was now lounging back in her chair, staring at our oldest. “Yeah I think it will help a lot. Maybe they’ll see I’m not so different. If I’m doing all the same duties they are….”

“Mel, your birthright and your parentage make you different.” Xe continued as she sipped her tea.

“Only because we’ve let it.” She sighed as she picked through her meal. “I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m really not. I just thought that it would be easier. I mean I’m going to have to perform village patrols now and help with the training of the younger girls….”

Xena held up her hand to silence Mel. “We’ll think about it.”

“Really?”

I took Mel’s hand, giving it a squeeze. “Yes, we will at least consider it.”

“Thank you.”

I sat in front of the fire watching the flames dance back and forth. I felt a nudge to my shoulder as the wine cup was handed down to me. “Thanks.”

“Welcome.” Xe took her place next to me. She sipped her wine as she too stared into the flames.

“Should we let her?”

“Well, she does have a very valid argument.”

“I know, don’t you just hate that?” I chuckled as I drew my legs up, curling them under my body and leaning against Xe.

She put her arm around me as she sighed. “Yeah I sure do.”

“You know we really don’t have a choice.”

“Sure we do. We could tell her no.”

“And by doing that we are making her different. All the other girls her age are living in the barracks now.”

“I know.”

“You know I hate these conversations when we know we really don’t have a choice in the matter.”

“Me too.”

“Then I guess we’re gonna help her move out huh?”

“Guess so.”

“Ah, I see this disturbs my stoic warrior than she’s willing to admit huh?” She just tilted her head slightly as she gave me her ‘look’ out of the corner of her eye. “Yup bugs you just as much as it bugs me.” I smiled as I laid my head on her shoulder. She just growled a little, as we continued to stare into the flames.

She looked around her room as she considered what to take with her. “Can I leave some of my things here?”

“Nope you’re moving out, it all goes.” Xe chuckled from the doorway. We turned to see her smiling.

I turned back to Mel and shook my head. “Of course you can leave some of your things here.”

“Good I’d rather not take my formal robes over there. It would kind of be like a reminder you know.”

I heard Xena groan. I turned back to the spot where she had been standing just to catch a glimpse of her moving way from the door.

“Is she mad at me?”

“No she’s not mad. She trying to accept all of this gracefully.”

“That’s not what gracefully sounds like.”

“It is for her.” I sat down on her bed, giving it a pat. She sat down next to me. “Did I ever tell you about the night you were born?”

“No.”

I rolled over as Xena slipped into bed. Opening my eyes just a little I could see the sun starting to come up. It had been another long night on patrol for my warrior. I heard her groan just a little as she settles in, wrapping her arm around my very swollen belly. She rubbed her hand over my stomach as the baby moved around, seemingly to say good morning to her mother.

“Tired?”

“Umm-hmm. Very tired.” She mumbled as she gave me a soft kiss before falling into a deep sleep.

I tried to go back to sleep, but the movement of the baby and the light cramps made it impossible. I lay there for a few moments then slipped out of bed, careful not the wake Xe. Not that it really would have been possible. I looked down into the exhausted face of my warrior as she rolled over, curling into the blankets.

I dressed quietly, leaving our hut. I rubbed my lower back as I made my way to the food hut. Ephiny met me at the door a grinned at me. “Oh is someone a little….”

“Just don’t say it Eph. I need some tea.” I continue rubbing my back as we went in.

“Gabrielle are you feeling alright?”

“I’m just having little cramps and my back is killing me.”

Eph counted on her fingers then grinned at me.

“What?”

“You’re in labor.”

“Don’t you think I’d know if I were in labor?”

“Not necessarily. Sometimes it starts slowly and you can’t really tell. Let’s go see Adrin.”

We walked to the healers hut. Eph pulled the door open and waved me in still wearing a silly little grin on her face.

The healer stood at her counter looking over her medicines. She smiled as Eph closed the door. “Good morning Your Majesty. What can I do for you this morning?”

“The Queen is in labor….” Eph announced before I had a chance to say anything.

“Yes the Regent seems to think I could be in labor.”

“Well now let me see.” She placed her hands on my stomach moving them slowly around pressing at very points. “Your Majesty please lay down.” Eph helped me to the pallet. The healer smiled as she began a more complete examination. “Well we knew there was a good reason that your chose Ephiny as your Regent. She’s right Your Majesty. You are in labor. The very early stages, but labor none the less.”

“Told ya’.” Eph smirked.

“You have a long way to go yet. My guess would be your daughter will arrive sometime tonight.”

I felt a multitude of emotions. A great sense of relief coupled with a slight anxiety and just a touch of fear.

“Do you want me to get Xena?” Eph asked as she held my hand.

“No…no let her sleep. There’s no reason to wake her if I have some time yet. You might want to find a replacement for her patrols over the next few days.”

“No problem there. I’ll make sure we do that, even if I have to do it myself.”

“Thanks Eph.” I looked to Adrin. “So now what?”

“So now we wait Your Majesty. Your daughter will arrive when she is good and ready and not one moment before. In the meantime I suggest you just rest and relax as much as possible.”

I nodded, not sure exactly how I was suppose to do that. The cramps seemed to be getting worse.

“Gabrielle why don’t you go back to your hut and rest?” Eph said as she helped me sit up.

“No I don’t think I’ll be able to stay still and I don’t want to disturb Xe. She was so tired when she got home this morning.”

“Well then be prepared to spend the day with me because I don’t intend to incur the wrath of your consort because you’re in labor and being stubborn.”

I smiled and nodded. “Let’s go get that tea.”

I sat down in the chair as Eph approached the bed. “Make sure you say her name before you get too close.”

She cocked a brow at me as she turns to the bed. “Why?”

“Because if you don’t she may throw a punch. I learned that the hard way.”

“Xena….”

“Hmm….”

“Xena it’s Eph. You need to get up now.”

“No….”

“Come on Xena get up. We need to get the bed ready for Gabrielle.”

“Why?” She mumbled as she pulled a pillow over her head.

“Because your daughter is going to arrive soon and it would be nice if your wife had a place to give birth.” Eph grinned and jumped back as Xena came up out of the bed as if she had been set on fire.

I couldn’t help but laugh as she looked around the room as she threw on a robe. She seemed totally disoriented as she ran her hands through her hair. “Gabrielle?’

“Over here….” I waved at her. She crossed the room, kneeling at my side and placing her hand on my stomach.

“It’s time?”

“Oh yeah. I actually went into labor earlier today….”

“Why didn’t you wake me?”

“Why? There was nothing you could do and I have a feeling we’re in for a long night. I’ve been with Eph all day, but Adrin thinks it’s time to get ready. The contractions are getting worse, coming closer together now.”

Eph had already changed the sheets on the bed and prepared it for what was about to come. Xena picked me up in her arms, carrying me to the bed and kissing me as she did. “I love you Gabrielle.” They helped me undress and get into bed. Xena pulled the sheet up as she moved her hands to my stomach for an examination of her own. “Oh yeah anytime now.” I had never seen her smile the way she smiled now. I knew there was no way anyone would be able to get the grin off her face.

“Why don’t you get dressed and go get some food. You’re going to need your strength tonight warrior.”

“No I don’t want to leave you.” She ran her fingers through my hair, stroking it gently over and over again.

Eph grinned down at us. “I’ll go get you some food.” She winked at me as she nodded to Xena and left the hut. She had made a bet with me about how Xena would react to the announcement that our daughter was about to arrive. I maintained that Xena would be calm and her usual relaxed self. Eph said she’d be overprotective and nervous. Eph won.

Xena dressed quickly then pulled a chair up to the bed. She took my hand as I gasped with the first really strong pain. “Oh this isn’t going to be fun.” I grinned as I tried to force myself to relax.

“Well probably not, but I’m right here for you. Do you want me to deliver her or would you prefer Adrin do it?”

“Oh I want you right where you are, so I guess Adrin will be doing it.” I panted through the pain as she caressed my hand.

“Okay I’m right here. Not going anywhere. Not moving a muscle.” I laughed as she really did begin to show how nervous she really was. “What? What’s so funny?”

“You. You’d think you had never been around a woman giving birth before.”

“It’s different this time. I wasn’t in love with any of them and it wasn’t my child coming into the world. Whole different set of emotions at play here.” She leaned in and kissed me.

I sat up slightly with a pain. I felt the tears spring to my eyes. I tried to force them back. Biting my lip I drew deep, long breaths as the pain passed.

“Hey it’s okay to cry. I know it hurts.”

“Don’t want to cry. This is a good pain not a crying pain.”

“Honey this is a fierce pain. Its okay to cry.”

“Did you?”

“What?”

“Cry. When Solan was born?”

“Oh yeah. So you see if I can do it, you can do it.” She smiled at me.

I fell back into the bed as she gave her first shrill cry. I smiled as I looked to Xena who was watching Adrin cleaned our daughter and wrapped her up. The warrior was absolutely beaming.

“Xena….” I reached out for her hand. She turned and smiled down at me.

“Oh Gabrielle she is so beautiful.”

“Her hair. What color is her hair?”

“Dark. Why?

I sighed and nodded. “Thank you Artemis.”

Adrin tried to hand the baby to Xena who put her hands up and shook her head. The healer cocked her head just a bit, then handed our daughter down to me. I cradled her in my arms. The tears came now. She was so beautiful, so perfect. I noticed she seemed awfully small. “Is she okay? She seems so tiny.”

“Yes Your Majesty she is just perfect, very healthy and from the sound of that first yell, she has lungs like your consort.” She grinned at Xena.

The warrior knelt down next to the bed, reaching a shaky hand over she moved the blanket back. “By the Gods Gabrielle she is beautiful.”

“We did good huh?” I smiled at her as she continued to watch the baby.

“Well I’m not sure how much I really had to do with it, but you did great.”

“Oh Xena you only have to look at her. She is a part of you. Look at that dark hair. She is a part of us both. Just like Artemis promised.”

“Gabrielle it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. She’s my daughter and I love her. I’ll always love her. I’ll always be here for her. She is our future and I intend to see to it that she has a good one.”

“So Mel you see, she just wants to make sure that you’re doing the right thing. She wants you to be happy.”

Mel laughed softly as she looked to the door. “Well I’ll be. She really said all that?”

“Every word. You had her heart from the first breath you drew that night. She loves you so very much. You two are bonded in more ways than you will ever be able to imagine. She gave you her heart. You have it now and you always will.”

She looked to the door. “Excuse me.”

“Of course.”

I watched her leave the room. I gave her a moment then followed. As I reached the door, I watched them. They had their arms wrapped around each other in a long loving hug. Xena kissed the top of Mel’s head then rested her cheek there as she turned to face me. I smiled as I saw the single tear run down my consort’s face.

————————————————

~Don’t Touch the Amazon~

I stretched as I stepped out onto the porch. The sun was just coming up bathing everything on a brilliant orange light. It was cool and I took in a lung full of fresh air as I started down the steps for the barn.

I heard her but kept walking without turning around. I slowed my pace waiting for it. At the last moment I turned to one side quickly as she fell passed me hitting the ground with a heavy thud. I turned around, watching as she lay there motionless, face down in the dirt.

“I hate you.” She mumbled as she turned her head, continuing to lie on the ground.

“No you don’t. Are you hurt?”

“Just my pride.”

I chuckled, holding out my hand and pulling Mel to her feet. She dusted herself off as she looked at me.

“One of these days I’m gonna get you. You do know that, right?” She rolled her arm in small circles at the shoulder as we walked toward the barn.

“Not until you learn not to step so far out on the branch. I heard it creak with your weight. You didn’t wait long enough.”

“Great now you tell me.”

I took my horse from the stall and tossed a blanket on her back.

“Where you going?”

“I’m taking Kai into Malous. He needs some new gear, boots and such. The cobbler that makes them moved there from the centaur village a few months ago.”

“Do you think little brother would mind if I went with you? There’s a weapons smith there I’d like to talk to.”

“A weapons smith? Why do you need to see a weapons smith?”

“I’ve got an idea for a weapon and I want to see if he can make it.”

“Hmm. Well you’ll have to ask Kai. He should be here shortly. He’s packing up a few things.”

“So,” She handed me my bridle. “How are things going here?”

“Homesick?”

“Even if I am I’ll never admit it.” She grinned at me. “It’s different you know? I’m not accustomed to sharing everything I do with fifteen other people.”

I chuckled as I put my saddle on the horse and cinched the strap.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking back to a lifetime ago.”

She paused as she looked at her boots. “When you were a warlord?”

I swallowed hard as I looked at my daughter. “Yeah. Just thinking about when I had an army. Talk about sharing everything.”

“Yeah I guess you would huh?”

“Umm it was the only way with that many men.”

“How many?”

I sighed and looked into her eyes. “Too many….” I let the subject drop and thank the Gods so did Mel.

I led my horse from the barn as Kai and a young Centaur friend of his came around the house. I liked Bailus, he was a couple of seasons older than Kai, but he was good to the boy and they had a strong friendship. I think part of it was due to the fact that Bailus was smaller than other centaurs his age. He had been ill as a baby and it seemed to effect his growth. Kai looked past all that and the two were almost inseparable.

“Hey are you guys gonna get ready to leave today or what!” I called as they continued toward me.

“I’m ready Xena.” Bailus said as he swished his tail, smacking Kai in the back of the head.

“Hey watch it pony boy.” Kai gave his friend a smack on the hindquarters.

“All right you two knock it off. Kai get your horse saddled and let’s get on the road.”

“Yes ma’am.”

As Kai headed for the barn Mel slung an arm around his neck and walked with him. “Little brother dear I have a favor to ask….”

Mel whistled for her horse. The mare came out of a small grove of trees nodding her head furiously as she approached my daughter. I smiled as I watched them. My heart ached as I missed Argo. As I watched Mel mount her horse I felt as if I were looking into the past. By the Gods it was an eerie feeling to watch someone who looked so much like me get on a horse that looked so much like Argo. That fact that Mel had my old saddle only served to enhance the feeling. When I retired Argo I had retired that saddle too, but when Mel asked me for it I couldn’t deny her. Now Argo’s great granddaughter wore the saddle that had always served my mare and I so well.

“So are we all ready now?”

My three companions all agreed that we were ready to go. Then I just dropped my head as I heard her.

“Xe….” Gabrielle called from the porch.

I nudged my horse and rode to the house. “Yes dear?” I reined my horse at the porch so I was right next to her.

“I need a few things.” She waved a list at me.

I just dropped my head and took the note. “You know I hate to shop.”

“You’ll live. If you have to let Kai do it, he’s pretty good at bartering.”

“Well he’s your son. It must be in the blood.” I tucked the list into the pouch at my waist.

“Is Mel going with you?”

“Un-huh.”

“Why?”

“Something about a new weapon and talking to the weapons smith in Malous.”

“A new weapon huh?”

I looked into her face and she let her head drop a little. “Yes Ri a new weapon. She is after all a warrior.”

“Trainee.”

“Okay now you’re splitting hairs. Doesn’t’ matter. She needs to decide what weapon she wants to use and get proficient with it.”

“I know.” She sighed as she leaned over to me, wrapping her arms around my neck. “Be good and be careful. When will you be back?”

“Late tonight or tomorrow morning. Depends on how well the kids travel. I don’t want to wear them out.”

“Okay I’ll leave the door unlocked.”

“If you do that love, please put a guard outside. The raiders that the centaurs have been having problems with are making me a little nervous. They’ve gotten close to the house a couple of times now.”

“I promise.”

I gave her a soft kiss good-bye. “See you later.”

“Ah Xena?”

“Yeah.”

“Make sure you get that last item on the list by yourself will you.” She gave me a totally mischievous grin as she turned and headed into the house.

I took the list out and gave it a quick look. I wondered if the kids could see the blush as I rode over to them tucking it safely back in my pouch. “Okay troops are we ready?”

“Absolutely.” Kai took the lead as he and Bailus began down the road.

Mel rode next to me, lazily allowing the reins to hang in her hands.

“So tell me about this new weapon you want.”

“Umm I’d rather wait and see if it can be done first. For all I know it’s a really stupid idea.”

“Somehow I doubt that. You have a very sharp mind when it comes to weapons.”

“Oh har har very funny.”

“I didn’t mean it that way.” I just shook my head. “You know sometimes you are so much like your Mom.”

“I personally prefer to think that I’m a really good mix of you both. You know I got your good looks and strength of body and I got her strength of mind and soul.”

“Somehow I think I’ve just been insulted.”

“Not at all. But come on you’ve got to admit that when it comes to talking she can run circles around you.”

“This is true. I can’t argue with you there.”

“And you were the one who taught me to try and talk my way out of a bad situation first.”

“Yes, yes I did.”

“And if that doesn’t work then I can kick some….”

“Mel.”

“Sorry.” She grinned at me. Then she nudged her horse forward to join her brother and Bailus.

Malous was only about three candle marks away by horseback. We arrived relatively early in the day. I took Kai to get his boots while Mel and Bailus went to find the weapons smith.

“Well now young man, you’ve just about out grown these haven’t you?” The cobbler smiled at Kai as he inspected his old boots.

“Yes sir. My Mom says I’m growing like a weed.”

The old man laughed as he removed a pair of boots from a shelf. “Tis true. A young man like yourself will grow up too quick for your Mothers I think.” He handed Kai the new boots. “Here you go try these.”

Kai sat down to try the new boots. The cobbler turned to me with a smile. “How have you been Xena?”

“Pretty good and you?”

“Well it’s taking time to get settled here you know…my grandson isn’t very happy here. He misses his friends.

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

He shook his head just a bit. “I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake taking him away from the centaur village. When his father died I thought that taking him away from there would be best but now I’m not so sure.”

“Isn’t he making new friends here?”

“Yes but not the type I’m happy with. He’s hanging around with a group of young tuffs and I don’t like it, but the more I get on him about it the more he seems to fight me.” He glanced over at Kai, who was now standing up in his boots wiggling his feet. “I wish he was more like your boy. He’s always so well mannered and polite.”

“Oh he has his moments. Besides your grandson has been through a lot. First he lost his mother then his father….”

“I know but I’m afraid these new friends of his are going to get him hurt.”

“If there is anything I can do….”

“Thank you Xena I appreciate it, but I’ll just have to find a way to handle the boy myself.”

Kai brought the new boots over and placed them on the counter. “Well a trip to the barn always works for me.” He grinned at me.

“Have to go there often do you Kai?” The cobbler asked as he picked up the boots.

“Oh no. I learned a long time ago that the barn was much better for the horses than me. I try to stay out of trouble.”

“Good for you. How do these fit?”

“They fit fine sir.”

“You want to wear them home?”

“No sir I’m gonna wear the old ones out completely first. Boots are expensive, gotta get everything out of them you can.”

I laughed as I rubbed his head. “Yup just like your Mom. Kai if you want to wear your new boots go ahead.”

“No ma’am my old one are fine for riding home in.”

“Okay have it your way.” As Kai went to put his boots back on the old man wrapped up his new ones. “How much?”

“Twenty dinars.”

I heard Kai grumble a little. He wanted to argue the price, but he knew better. I removed the money from my pouch with a little grin and paid the cobbler.

As Kai gathered up the package that held his new boots, the door to the shop opened with a loud bang. Mel stood in the doorway holding a boy about her age. She had one of his arms twisted up behind his back and her other hand was wrapped tightly in his hair. “Does this belong to you?” She growled as she shoved him through the door. The boy stumbled to the floor landing with a crash at my feet.

“Mel what’s going on here?” I bent over and helped the boy to his feet. It looked as if he had been given a sound thrashing.

“First, he decided to give Bailus a hard time and then he decided to touch me, without my permission.”

I shook my head as I gave the boy a quick examination. His lip was busted, his nose was bleeding and he had a really bad black eye coming on. “Son do you have any idea how dangerous it is to touch an amazon without her permission?”

“I do now.” He lifted his hand to his busted lip. “She should be locked up she’s a menace.”

“No she’s an amazon princess.”

“Yeah,” Mel growled as she stepped forward. “We’re the worst kind.”

I put my hand out to halt her advance. “Mel it’s over.”

“He’s still on his feet….”

“Mel enough.” I turned to the cobbler. “I’m sorry.”

He held up his hand as he shook his head. “It’s not the first time and I imagine it won’t be the last. Come on Latkus, let’s go back and get you cleaned up.”

“He should be okay. It’s just a few cuts and bruises. Would you like me to….”

“No Xena I’ll do it. I’ve gotten pretty good at tending to all his bumps and bruises.” He smiled at me. “Please don’t worry about this. There is no doubt in my mind that the boy deserved whatever he got.”

I watched as the old man took his grandson to the back room. I turned to Mel. “Was it really necessary?’

“Mother first he hit Bailus with a rock. We asked him to leave us alone. Then he came over and grabbed my arm.” She held up her forearm for my inspection. There was a handprint and it was going to bruise a bit.

“Okay. I just wanted to make sure you didn’t….”

“No I didn’t over react. If I had he’d be dead.”

I sighed as we headed out of the shop. Bailus was waiting outside for us. I noticed a small cut above his eye. It was bleeding, sending a trickle of blood down the side of his face. I moved to my horse and removed a cloth from my saddlebags. “Bailus?”

“Yes Xena.”

“Come here son let me look at that cut.”

“It’s okay Xena really.”

“No now let me look at it.” He reluctantly made his way over so I could tend to his head. “Well you’re not going to need stitches.” I cleaned the wound and brought the flow of blood to a stop. “You okay otherwise?”

“Yeah I’m fine. What’s with Latkus? He never acted like that when he lived in the village.”

“His grandfather says he’s not having a good time of it here.”

“You know, Mel is amazing. She just dropped him. Before I even really knew what was going on.”

“Yeah well she thought she needed to.”

“If she hadn’t it would have been much worse. There was another group of boys watching, but when Mel took Latkus to the ground they scattered like leave in the wind.”

I laughed as I put the cloth away. “Well now that we’ve had some excitement for the day we should head to the market. Ri’s got some things she wants me to get.” I reached in for the list. Tearing the bottom off of it I gave the rest to Kai. “You three go get the things on that list and I’ll meet you in a candle mark in the square.” I handed them enough money to do the shopping on the list and a little extra just because I know how kids are. “Stay out of trouble okay?” I looked to Mel. She grinned.

I tucked the package away in my saddlebag as I heard them approach. I turned and shook my head. Somehow Bailus had been relegated to pack centaur. He had the packages tied neatly in a bundle on his back. “Okay guys that’s not even funny.” I approached and started to remove the load.

“No Xena really it’s okay I don’t mind. What’s the since in having a strong back and four legs if you can’t put them to good use. Besides it’s not that heavy.”

“Bailus….”

“No really….”

“Alright but if you change your mind….”

“You’ll be the first to know.” He grinned at me. “Xena?”

“Hmm?”

“Thank you for letting me come with you today. You’re about the only person my father trusts enough to let me leave the village with.”

“You’re welcome Bailus. I hope he still feels the same way when he sees that cut on your head.”

“Hey accidents happen. It’s not like it’s the first time someone has pitched a rock at one of my kind.”

The kids decided they wanted to go ahead and try for home instead of stopping for the night. It was late when we got back. Mel decided to stay at the house rather than ride back over to the village. Bailus and Kai decided to camp out since it was such a warm night. After the horses had been tended to Mel and I headed for the house. I settled my saddlebags over my shoulder as we walked up the path from the barn.

“Hey what did the smith say about this new weapon of yours?”

“He’s not sure he can do it.”

“Too bad.”

“I’ll find someone yet.”

“I’m sure you will.”

As we approached the house I could see two amazon guards on the porch. They were of the Queen’s Royal Guard variety and took their duties very seriously. They started to question me, until one of them got a glimpse of my face in the torchlight.

She gave me a sheepish grin. “I’m sorry Your Highness.”

“Quite alright. I’m glad to know you’re doing your job. You can go back to the village if you like. I’ll lock up.”

“Yes Your Highness.”

Mel went straight to her room and I would imagine was sound asleep as soon as she hit the bed. I entered our room Ri had left a small lamp burning for me so I wouldn’t crash around in the dark. I placed my bags over the post of the bed, then sat down and began removing my boots. I smiled as she moved up behind me, wrapping her arms around my waist.

She gave my ear a little nip. “Tired?”

“Not too bad. You?”

“Unt-huh…took a nap.”

“Oh really?” I continued unlacing my boots.

“Yup. So did you have any luck?”

“Un-huh. In my bag.”

“Oh good….” She positively purred as she reached for my saddlebags.

———————————————————

~These Dreams~

Taking a deep breath I knew immediately something wasn’t right. I rolled over and realized I was lying on the ground in a bedroll. I opened my eyes to find Xena leaning over a fire fixing tea and cooking fish. She looked to me and smiled.

“Good morning sleepyhead.”

I sat up quickly trying to get my bearings. I ran my hand through my hair. It was cut short. Looking to my hands I found the mendhi. “Oh Gods….”

“Gabrielle are you all right?”

I looked to her again. Her hair was dark. Her eyes so clear, all the age gone from her face. “Xena….”

She got up, moved across the fire and settled down next to me, putting her arm around me. “Hey you okay?” She placed a hand to my forehead. “You don’t feel warm? Are you sick?”

“It’s all gone….”

“Gabrielle what’s all gone?”

“The house….”

“House?”

“The children….”

“Children? Gabrielle what’s going on?”

I couldn’t speak. I wrapped my arms around her neck and simply cried.

“Shhh…hey it’s okay.” I could feel her holding me, stroking my hair. Comforting me. “Come on Gabrielle tell me what’s wrong?”

“I’m, I’m not sure. I had,” I looked into her eyes. She looked so confused. “I must have had a dream.”

“You, my dear, are not allowed to have bad dreams.” She smiled and tapped the tip of my nose with her finger.

“Oh Xena it wasn’t a bad dream. It was wonderful…we…we had….” I buried my head back in her shoulder. “We had a home and children. Gods Xena we had the most beautiful children.”

She pulled back and smiled at me. “Children? You and I had children? How many?”

“Five.”

“Hmm we were ah… busy weren’t we?” Her grin grew wider. “So tell me. How did we manage to have so many children?”

“I don’t even know where to start.” I got up and moved to the edge of the hill, staring out into the meadow below us. I wrapped my arms around myself as I watched Argo graze contentedly.

“The beginning is always a good place.” She moved behind me stroking my arms with her hands. “Come on Gabrielle this really has you upset. Tell me.”

“We went back to the amazons and settled there.”

“We did?”

“Yeah…settled and umm well we got married.”

“Well so far so good.” She chuckled.

I put my hands over hers, leaning back into her. “It was good, so very good. Artemis gave us a child Xena. We named her Melosa. A beautiful little girl that looked just like you.”

“Oh that poor child.”

“Oh no Xena,” I turned to face her. “She was so perfect. So much like you. Then you well you died….”

“That’s bad.”

“Yes it was. Hades and Artemis sent you back. They sent Solan back too.” I saw the pain cross her face. “Our family was complete Xena. They helped make it complete. In time you also came to accept Hades as your father.”

“Hades as my father? Oh Honey we gotta keep you away from spicy food before bedtime.”

“No it was okay. That’s how our other children came into the world. It was because of your special ‘gift’ that allowed us to have our other children, another son and twin daughters, Kai, Kessa and Rosa.” I felt the tears begin to slip down my cheeks as I thought of that life. That life that seemed so perfect. That life that was gone with this sunrise.

She wrapped her arms around me. “I’m sorry it was a dream Gabrielle.”

I finished packing up our gear as Xena saddled Argo. My heart felt so heavy. I felt as if I had lost everything that was important to me. Gods how could a dream seem so real? I massaged my forehead as I tried to force the visions of my children…the children from my mind. They didn’t exist. They never had. How could I be so upset by something that had never happened?

“Hey,” I looked up to see her holding her hand out to me. “You going to be okay?”

“Sure. I just have to get used to the fact that the next twenty or so seasons aren’t what I thought they were going to be.” I took her hand and she pulled me to my feet. “That everything I apparently came to love doesn’t really exist.”

“Gee thanks.”

“That’s not what I meant. You know I love you. By the Gods Xena it just seemed so real. They were just so wonderful. It was…perfect. We had a home and a family. You were so content. Mel was good for you. You two were so much alike. You adored her and she worshipped you.”

“You keep this up and I’m going to start missing her.” She drew me in for a hug. “We’d better get going.”

“Yeah sure.” I sighed as I handed her our bedroll.

“So how long had we been living this life?” She asked as she took the bedroll and attached it to the saddle.

“We had been married for almost fifteen seasons. Mel was almost thirteen, Kai was eleven, Kessa and Rosa were close to nine. Gabrielle was eight and Dante’ was four.”

“Who were Gabrielle and Dante’?”

“Our grandchildren.” I smiled at the memory.

She turned to me. “Grandchildren?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I wiped a tear away. “Grandchildren, just as beautiful as our children.”

“I take it Solan was the father?”

“Yeah he was married to an amazon warrior named Alana. They lived just over the ridge from us.”

“It was very vivid wasn’t it?” She mounted Argo, then held her hand out to me.

“Yes it was. I’ll walk if that’s okay.”

“Of course.” She smiled at me. “Gabrielle it was just a dream.”

I nodded. “I know.” I swallowed hard as we began moving down the road. “I know.” I whispered as I fought the tears and felt the loss.

“Gabrielle? Hey Gabrielle….” Her voice brought me back.

“Yes?”

“You’re awfully quiet. That dream still bugging you? We’ve been traveling for nearly three candle marks and you haven’t said a word.”

“I can’t help it. You just don’t understand how real it was. I feel like I’ve lost an important part of my life.”

She reined Argo, sliding out of the saddle she took my hand. “It that what you want Gabrielle? Do you want to go home to the Amazons and settle down? You know a dream is a wish your heart makes.”

“Xena it would be wonderful to do that, but it would never be like it was in my dream. Those children…those bright and beautiful children could never….”

She pressed her finger to my lips. “You don’t know that Gabrielle. Maybe that dream is what we’re supposed to do.”

“You think so?”

“Why not? Maybe it was a vision….”

I couldn’t help but groan. I didn’t mean to roll my eyes.

“Yeah, yeah I know but this could be it. This could be the one. Let’s go home to the amazons. We can be there in two days.” I nodded and smiled as she wrapped her arms around me, kissing my forehead. “S