DISCLAIMER: Xena Warrior Princess and its characters are the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

A Winter's Tale
By Lesley Mitchell


The wind howled past the narrow opening in the cliff, depositing yet more snow as it raced through the valley, but beyond the initially narrow passageway, a large cave system was revealed, surprisingly well lit by several pitch soaked torches and warmed by a roaring fire spitting sparks upwards towards the natural chimney and the fierce draw of the cold, dark night, outside.

In one nook, the sound of contented munching mingled with the warm, rich smell of somewhat damp horses, while, beyond the fire, in another nook, the scent became sharper and more chemical, where a mineral spring splashed onto the rocks, before collecting in a deep, steaming pool below.

Beside the fire, a comfortable mount of well used, but well cared for pelts covered the floor, carefully out of range of the occasional sparks, and here lay...

"Whatcha doing, Gabrielle?"

A solidly compact blonde, jumped at the rich, low voice in her ear, and swatted vaguely at the source and was utterly unsurprised to find the owner no longer there.

"Xena, can't I even have half an hour's peace to update my scrolls?"

"But, Gabrielle," whined the tall, dark haired, leather and bronze clad beauty, who now stood in front of her friend. "You've been there all afternoon!"

"What?! No," said the bard, stretching out the cramps in her shoulders, "it can't have been that long."

"Gabrielle. While you have sat with that scroll, I have mucked out and groomed the horses, cleaned and mended all the tack, for both horses, sharpened my sword, got rid of all the dings in the chakram, taken a bath until my head swan from the fumes and my fingers and toes went wrinkly..."

"Enough, enough. I get it. Bored Warrior Princess equals cranky Warrior Princess!" She paused, in mock thought. "So, half a day, huh? And you've been doing all that work?" The bard's stomach growled, loudly. "It must be time for dinner."

The Warrior Princess stood in the middle of the open space of the cave. The glow from the night's fire accentuated the tan of her skin against the white of her light undershift, while a gust of air stirred the mane of ebony black hair. Even undressed and unarmed, Xena radiated menace.

Minutes passed. The woman's stillness seemed to amplify the smallest sounds in the cave. The horses moving in their straw, the splash of the spring, the crackle of the burning logs shifting. The breathing of her partner.

Suddenly, everything shifted. The woman sprang into movement, her powerful body leaping and spinning, punching and kicking, somersaulting and...


The other human heart in the room beat a little faster than even the display of acrobatics had caused.

"Gabrielle, stop writing about me under the covers."

The scratch of quill against parchment ceased, and a tousled blonde head appeared.

"How could you tell?!"

"At first, I could just hear you watching me. Then I heard your quill."

The bard sighed. "One day, Xena, you're going to have to teach me how you do that."

"One day," Xena agreed. "But first, hurry up and get dressed, I want to show you something," she said, striding away to the pile of leather and bronze that comprised her own garments. "Wrap up warm... we're going outside."

Gabrielle hurried to collect her warm clothes from around the cavern. It had been snowing hard for several hours before they had found a place to stop, and they had both been cold, wet and rather miserable. The natural warmth of the spring heated the cavern to some extent, and with the addition of a good fire, they had been able to change into their spare dry clothes without risking frostbite.

By the time she was dressed, however, Xena had already gone.

The bard walked towards the the outside world, admiring the natural beauty of the passageway into the cavern and the way it had kept the worst of the weather from them. The narrow entrance had been barely big enough to allow the horses to pass through, but the double bend in the passage prevented all but the most dedicated blasts of wind from disturbing the central cave.

She climbed through the drift of snow that had penetrated the mouth of the passage, following in the footsteps of the warrior, and emerged blinking into the bright light of a clear winter's morning.

"What kept you?"

"Oh, Xena, it's beautiful."

The dark, wet, muddy pass of two nights previously, had been almost magically transformed, by a thick layer of snow. The empty branches of the slumbering trees had been coated white and bore icicle fruit that blinked and glittered like precious stones.

Turning to offer an embrace of thanks to her companion, Gabrielle was, this time, surprised to find Xena gone.

The snowball that whistled past her ear and smacked into the rock wall with a solid thud behind her, a moment later, was the only warning she would get, and after all these years, all the warning she needed of the coming game.

Diving to her right and rolling, she barely managed to avoid being hit by the second chilly missile. Hurriedly, she grabbed two handfuls of snow, all the while attempting to attempted to determine where the playful warrior had hidden herself.

A flash of movement behind an evergreen bush on the edge of the tree line, was followed by three more well placed snowballs, which shattered against the blonde's cover and showered her in powdery snow. Taking a brief moment to provide herself with sufficient ammunition and determine where she could find better cover, Gabrielle prepared to fight back.

At the next sign of movement, the pink cheeked bard smiled ferally as she launched a pre-emptive strike. The battle was joined!

"Hey, I think I can feel my feet again. Finally."

"You know, you could have given up."

"Given up? I don't think so! Anyway, I got you. Fair and square."

"Yes, that you did."

They were sat in the natural hot tub provided by the mineral spring. Gabrielle rested her head on her warrior's chest, while Xena's arm was slung casually around her bard's shoulder.

The warrior dropped a brief kiss into the bard's damp, tousled blonde hair, and muttered, "Yes, love. You got me, fair and square."

The End

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