Authors note: I asked for opinions on this series and boy did I get Ďem. With over 300 messages in my inbox itís obvious that you folks are still reading this and Iíd like to thank everyone whoís taken the time to reply. Iíll have you know that in the end Eponin got two votes and three votes went to anyone besides Xena and Eponin for Gabbyís hand. Looks like Xena comes up victorious once again - that slick warrior, must be the blue eyes, the leather - some folks just love leather<G>. So sit back, relax and (hopefully) enjoy the latest installment.
See part one, Betrayal for disclaimers. Write the bard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gabrielle made her way to the tavern to catch up with Eponin and August but she stopped mid-stride as Eve burst out from one of the buildings.
"Woooh," Gabrielle chuckled as she steadied Eve by the shoulders before they both fell to the ground in a tangled mess. "Slow down there," the bard teased.
It took a moment but Eve realized it really was Gabrielle in front of her. She proceed to lock Gabrielle in a bear hug that brought a chuckled of delight from the bard.
"I missed you too sweetie," Gabrielle smiled pulling back to see the brunette.
"The battle . . ." Eve commented as she looked around the village square.
"Itís over . . . for now," the bard answered. "How have you been Eve?"
"Good," her daughter grinned. I wonder if mother told her yet. "Have you seen mother?"
"Yes, sheís going to talk to the mayor so we can prepare for the counter strike," Gabrielle replied as she began to move to the tavern, taking Eve along by the arm. "Care to join me in rounding up some village elders and such?"
"Certainly," Eve replied with a growing smile.
Gabrielle looked different from the last time they had meet. Her hair was longer but something else, something more settled appeared over the bardís face. To Eve it seemed she Ďglowedí in a way she hadnít noticed before.
"Youíre looking good," Eve complimented.
"Thanks," Gabrielle answered. "You look as beautiful as your mother," Gabrielle added with a grin. "Speaking of . . . what happened to her wing."
At first Eve was unsure of what Gabrielle meant. Ohhhh her arrrrm! "She broke it."
"She broke it? How?"
"Ares said it was because motherís been too distracted by you," Eve grinned. "But she lost her footing trying to get to the Tree of Fieteus."
Gabrielle studied Eve a moment as they walked, "Sheís immortal now?"
"No, we went there for Ares . . . But he wouldnít eat the fruit once we got there. He thought he could win mother over as a mortal but mother laid down the law," Eve chuckled.
"And what would that Ďlawí be," Gabrielle grinned.
"She belongs to you," Eve answered honestly. "And you alone."
Gabrielleís grin fell and she was stumped for a reply. She wasnít as certain as Xena was in regard to their relationship. And in a way, she wished that she had such convictions.
"I love your mother," Gabrielle began. "I do Eve but-."
"But nothing," Eve stopped her and faced her. "You love her. She loves you. Whatís the problem?"
What IS the problem? Gabrielle considered. It should be easy. You love someone and they love you and you live happily ever after. Isnít that what itís all supposed to be about? Of course thatís not real and sometimes love just isnít enough.
"The past is the problem," Gabrielle answered. "There are a lot of things-."
"That are in the past. Weíve ALL done things in the past we regret and are ashamed of Gabrielle. Believe me I know . . . All Iím saying is that if you do love mother then tell her. Try looking at the future . . .because if the past is all youíre going to use as a judge I think youíre not seeing whatís happening here and now."
Gabrielle scrunched her eyebrows in examination of Eve. "Did she put you up to saying that?" Gabrielle asked.
"No," Eve grinned just as cocky as Xena. "Mother doesnít need anyone to speak for her. Sheís been doing a damn good job of that on her own lately . . . And if you could look beyond the past . . . You might see that yourself. I hope you do because it would be a shame if you missed it."
The two women looked wordless at each other and Gabrielle gave a deep sigh. Can I really do it? Can I look beyond the past? There was an unspoken plea in Eveís eyes that Gabrielle couldnít quite put her finger on. Why is this so important to her?
"No promises," Gabrielle firmly told Eve, who promptly broke into a grin, "She asked to speak to me later and I agreed. I donít know what will come of it but I will try my best to see things differently - not so . . . jaded."
"Thatís all I can ask mo-Gabrielle," Eve said changing her statement at the last minute. "Iíll round up the folks here in the east and send them to the tavern. Howís that?" Eve said hoping to change the topic.
"Okay," Gabrielle nodded. "Iíll see you there. And Eve . . . Itís wonderful to see you again."
Eve gave a bashful smile but still made eye contact. "You too," she replied in a shy voice. "Gotta go," she muttered as she turned away.
She looks a lot like Xena when she blushes.
Gabrielle grinned and stepped up her pace to the tavern. Once inside she saw the people lifting mugs in celebration.
"I wouldnít do that just yet!" Gabrielle voice boomed through the establishment. Everyone stopped to meet her eyes. "Allow me to introduce myself. Iím Gabrielle and your messenger brought me here to help defend the village. You all gave a wonderful front in the first attack . . . but note that I said FIRST attack. You can bet all your farms that this warlord, Siscerus, wonít give up that easily. Heís going to re-group and odds are heís going to return."
The silence that took hold as Gabrielle began her speech slowly crumbled as people nervously talked among themselves about the impending doom.
"Please listen!!" Gabrielle yelled getting the roomís attention again. "Xena is meeting with the mayor and weíre putting plans into motion as I speak but we need you folks sober if itís going to work. So put the mead and wine down and hear us out."
At that point Xena walked inside with the mayor of the town with Eve behind them.
"Iíve spoken with Xena everyone and we have lots of ideas to turn back this army but we all have to work together. Weíve come this far and we can go farther right?!"
A course of cheers went up in approval.
"In a few moments everyone is going to meet in the square and from there weíll put everyone on Ďpostsí - weíll tell you were to go and what youíll be doing . . .Is that understood?"
Everyone voiced their agreement as nods went around the room.
"Okay then, file out and weíll give you the orders once weíve set things up."
Chairs and table screeched along the wood floor as people got up, making their way outside. Instead of heading out, Gabrielle weeded her way through the departing traffic to Eponin and August who were now on their feet as well.
The look on Eponinís face was anything but approving.
"Did you speak to her?" were the first words out of the amazons mouth.
Gabrielle could tell Eponin was trying to be neutral but failing miserably.
"Yes I did. I told her we could talk more later," Gabrielle answered unable to look Eponin in the eyes.
From across the room Xena was taking in the unheard conversation with a great deal of interest. Who is that woman and why does she look so damn familiar? Xena considered. She also looks . . . irritated . . . And she certainly has Gabrielle fidgeting quite a bit. Perhaps I should walk over and . . .
"Xena," the mayor said gently tapping Xenaís shoulder, "The village is getting assembled outside so anytime your ready."
"Of course," Xena nodded, "Weíll be right out."
She watched the mayor give a nod and follow his constituents outside. What the hell? Go over and say hi, she thought with a smirk.
Gabrielle could Ďfeelí Xena behind her before she ever caught sight of her.
"Hi there," Xena said in introduction to the group. "Iím Xena and you are?" the warrior began as she extended her hand to the young woman first.
"Iím . . . Iím . . . pleased to meet you," August stammered. "Iíve read all of Gabrielleís scrolls and Iíve heard the tales about your adventures for years. I canít believe itís really you," the girl gushed. "Boy I can see why Gabrielle was so smitten." Reflexively August put her hand on her mouth for letting the last comment slip out. "Iím sorry," she quickly added offering her hand again for a more Ďformalí introduction. "Iím August. A poet. Gabrielle is helping get me to the Academy in Athens."
"Ahh, I see. Itís a good school," Xena complimented. "Gabrielle was accepted there once before. If youíre half as talented as she is then Iím sure youíll have no trouble fitting right in." Xena held her grin in place as she turned to the Ďtrueí reason for her arrival. "And you are?" she asked Eponin.
"Iím Gabrielleís . . . traveling companion . . . and former subject, Eponin . . . Itís been a few years Xena," the ex-amazon grinned as she saw Xenaís reaction to the term Ďtraveling companioní.
Stay gracious. Stay gracious. Donít take the womanís head off, Xena repeated in her mind as she shook the hand grasping hers. It would be so easy to ground this hand into powder and snap it off at the wrist. Traveling companion huh? Iíll show you traveling when I send you to the moon.
"And just how long have you been traveling with Gabrielle?" Xena asked. Everyone noted the way that Xena said the word Ďtravelingí and it left little to what Xena was trying to refer to with the statement.
Oh my gosh! She thinks Eponin and I are lovers! Gabrielle realized. I would never intentional mislead Xena however if her overactive imagination is playing out scenarios . . .
"About three, perhaps four, months now," Gabrielle answered before Eponin could.
Eponin picked up on what Gabrielle was doing by evading the subtle unspoken question as to the nature of their relationship. She decided to join in.
"Yeah thatís about right," Eponin agreed. "And itís been a wonderful ride. Gabrielle is really great to travel with." Eponin added, making sure to stress the word travel like Xena had done moments earlier.
Why you little . . . ."Well itís good that sheís had support. Not that she needs it but every little bit helps," Xena said instead. "The reason I came over was because the mayor is ready," Xena added. Yeah right, Xena thought to herself.
Yeah, right Gabrielle echoed in her own mind. Youíve come to check up on me and we both know it. "Okay weíll be out in a few minutes. Why donít you see if August can help with the water preparations?" Gabrielle suggested.
"Absolutely," Xena nodded. "Eponin," Xena said offering her forearm. "Nice seeing you again."
Like Hell. Eponin couldnít say the same so she only grinned and gave a friendly nod as she grasped Xenaís arm a little harder than necessary.
As Xena and August made their departure, August asked the warrior, "Can you show me how to use your Chakram?"
"Sorry kiddo," Xena chuckled. "That weapon is mine and mine alone. Only the most skilled warrior could use it. But I might show you a new move with that staff if we have time," Xena offered instead.
Once the duo had left, Gabrielle turned back to Eponin. "Traveling companion?" Gabrielle prodded.
Eponin laughed out loud, "Hey thatís what I am arenít I?"
Gabrielle sighed but she couldnít help but smile as she did. "Youíre bad," she chuckled.
Eponin wiggled her eyebrows but said nothing.
Oh boy. The battle is just beginning, Gabrielle thought . . . with Siscerusí army being the last thing on her mind.
CONTINUED IN PART XVI: CONVERSATIONS