DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Perdicus, and other characters from the show Xena Warrior Princess belong to Renaissance Pictures and those who now hold the rights to the show.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story begins the morning after Gabrielle leaves Poteidaia in the episode, "Sins of the Past." It is very much Perdicus' story; so if you really despise Perdicus, don't even bother reading this. Though Perdicus' story, it is his perceptions of Xena and Gabrielle, their relationship, and his feelings about it. And everything happens prior to Seasons 3.
The sex. There are a couple of paragraphs of boy/girl action, but I make up for it with many pages of explicit scenes of physical intimacy between two women.
There is reference/dialogue from actual episodes from the show.
DEDICATION: To my Xenite friend, Carol Johnston whom I miss terribly. It's been a year and I hope you can hear my daily thoughts to you. To my other buddy, Jay who is always an inspiration and brings such meaning to my life.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
What Perdicus Knew
By Portia Richardson
It was the morning after the big ruckus in town and everyone had gotten a late start. Adrian and Dysis had spent the dawn of the new morning in each other's embrace. Adrian was so relieved that his wife had been saved from that slave trader, Hector that he vowed to tell and show her more often how much he loved her. He began keeping his promise the previous evening, taking her to bed immediately after the rescue and only leaving their bedroom to fill mugs of wine many candlemarks later.
Now, Adrian and his eldest son, Lander were out on their land taking care of the oat fields and harvesting chickpeas to dry and later take to the village mill. The other male children in the family would join Adrian and Lander after their breakfast.
Breakfast was an unusually large production. Dysis was in a wonderful mood, humming and singing so lark-like as she served her sons and daughter. Perdicus sat at the head of the table since his father and older brother weren't there and quickly ate his breakfast of four eggs and an entire loaf of his mother's honey-flavored bread.
"Slow down, Perdicus. The oats will still be there."
He sighed as he pushed back from the table. "Ah, mom, that was great."
"Are you actually full?"
"I could probably eat some more, but I want to go over to Gabrielle's and catch her before she starts her chores."
"It's far too early to call on her, son. Soon you'll be married and can see her all you want, but give the girl some rest. You saw her yesterday."
"Only for a while. I don't know what I would have done if she had been kidnapped by that that man! And you, too, and sister."
His sister, Chloe looked at him and said, "Like you care. It's all about Gabrielle." She whined her comments obnoxiously.
"Shut up." Perdicus smirked.
"You shut up."
"No, you shut up."
Dysis placed her hands akimbo and stared at two of her children. "I want both of you to hush. Now. Look at your brotherso behaved." Farris intently dissected his egg, trying to separate the yolk from the whites. "Farris, stop playing with your food."
The young boy looked up at his mother before returning to his morning meal surgery.
"Do you need me to help clean up?" A hopeful look adorned his face. He really wanted to leave.
Just as she was answering, a loud knock was heard at the door and the entire family turned to stare as Herodotus pushed the door open and ran into the main room, gripping Lila's shoulder tightly.
"Have you seen Gabrielle?" Herodotus asked frantically.
"Gabrielle, no. I was just coming over to see her." He paused looking at Herodotus, then Lila. "She's missing? Do you think she's been kidnapped again?" Perdicus had leapt from his chair and crossed the room.
"Yes, yes apparently." Herodotus frowned. "Kidnapped."
"Uh-uh," Lila chimed in, but Herodotus moved his hand from her shoulder to her ear and gave it a rough twist. "Owww."
"Gabrielle's been kidnapped sort of," he whispered the last part.
Perdicus gazed curiously at his future father-in-law. "What do you mean?"
Before her father could hurt her, Lila decided to quickly tell her story. With fiery precision she told Perdicus and his family all that she knew. "In the middle of the night last night I woke up to hear her trying to sneak away. When I sat up I asked her what she was doing and she said that she was going to join up with Xena and "
"Join with Xena? That she-warrior who helped us get those slave traders away from the women? That's ridiculous." But even as he said it, Perdicus had a sick feeling in his stomach and he knew it had nothing to do with breakfast.
"Yeah, she was following Xena to wherever she was going."
"Wh-when did she leave?" Perdicus asked bewilderedly.
"Candlemarks ago. For some reason, Lila thought it was a better idea to get her beauty sleep instead of trying to protect her sister. She didn't tell us until breakfast time when Gabrielle didn't take her place at the table." Herodotus glared at Lila. He planned on beating some sense into her later. She was far too immature for her age, so self-involved, so unwilling to look at the larger picture. A child much younger would have known to alert parents that their sister was about to do something very foolish. "We've just learned about it. After we checked their room and saw that her treasured belongings were missing, we came over here. I was hoping that maybe she was here or that the two of you had perhaps gone off together. If this is true if she is trying to follow that warrior, I don't know what will happen."
Perdicus nodded numbly. Gabrielle had been gone before the sunrise. She had probably passed the outskirts of several villages unless she ran into a warlord or slave trader along the way. If that had happened, she could be on her way to a port to be sold almost anywhere. He had heard that slave traders did business with merchants in Gaul, Britannia, and North Africa. Or worse, those Amazons could have captured her. She could be dead already. The thought of this made Perdicus' head spin and he reached for a nearby table to control his equilibrium. "We've got to find her," he said weakly. "We're to be married."
"Exactly. I mean, who knows what's going on or what that woman has done to her. Xena is a killer. They call that bitch the Destroyer of Nations. But she could be a rapist, too. She could have her way with Gabrielle. Gabrielle's a virgin."
"Do you seriously think " Perdicus couldn't even finish the thought. His precious Gabrielle was truly in jeopardy in so many ways.
"Of course, that's what I think. That's why I'm here. Hecuba is putting together a pack for you. I've brought a horse, but you might want to stay close to the ground to follow her tracks. You do know how to track, don't you?"
"Yes, a little bit."
"Good. Now, you can make a great deal of headway while the sun is still up. Find my daughter."
"Shouldn't we put together a party to hunt for her?" Perdicus believed that the more people who knew the better the chance of locating her.
"I'd rather not have the town know about this. It's something that should stay between our two families." Herodotus tilted his head up to look at Dysis. "Don't you agree?"
"Yes, of course. This is a private matter."
"Frankly, Perdicus, it doesn't speak well for you that my daughter has run off with some crazed warrior when she's to marry you."
Lila had been silent, but her youthful heart forced her to speak. "Maybe she doesn't want to marry. Maybe she doesn't love you, Perdicus."
"What?" both Herodotus and Perdicus shouted.
Lila stared at the dirt floor. She had already said too much and even she realized it. Gabrielle had shared her true feelings with her in sisterly secrecy. Lila shook her head, angry with herself for having divulged so much. "Nothin'. Never mind."
Perdicus' eye twitched and what little self-assurance he possessed seemed to float from his body as his shoulders slumped forward.
"Well, are you ready, boy?"
"Yes, yes. Umm, when do we leave?"
"We? I've got a house and farm to tend, I can't go traipsing across the land looking for your betrothed."
"But she's your daughter and you've just said she's in danger."
"It's time for you to be a man, Perdicus. Go do the right thing and bring your future wife home." Again, Herodotus glanced at Dysis. "I trust you will tell Adrian about Perdicus' journey and explain its import on the marital arrangement and the merging of our farms."
Dysis nodded. She didn't like Herodotus and wondered if his last comment was simply a request to pass on information or a threat regarding the future. If her family didn't need the resources that Hecuba and Herodotus possessed, they would never have agreed to the marriage. Gabrielle was a lovely and kind-hearted girl, but with the wife came the family and Herodotus, if nothing else was not her mug of tea.
Perdicus waved lightly at his sister, brother and mother, and followed Gabrielle's father and sister out of the house.
Perdicus figured that Gabrielle had to have made good time. No one knew Poteidaia and the land around it as well as she did. From when she was old enough to walk, she would wander off, lost in her head, living some imaginary adventure, and he and his older brother or Gabrielle's parents would find her in a field or cave or sitting in a tree. She had dozens of places she'd go off to for solitude and to make up stories. One thing Perdicus knew was that Gabrielle would be very far from home before things started to look unfamiliar. He also knew that she was smart and would have hitched a ride from a local or figured out a way to get a horse if catching up with the warrior was her goal. If only he knew which way the warrior had been headed.
When he left Poteidaia, he immediately headed southwest, but it soon became apparent that Gabrielle had not ventured that way. He turned around and simply headed west from the village center, but again, he was wrong. He rode northeast all day, only jumping from his horse when he thought he saw a new track or temporarily lost the ones he had been following. He was sure that he was on the right track as he followed smallish footprints down the main road outside of Poteidaia. Most of the tracks he had seen were definitely men's, but these tracks were more delicate looking and fresher. Soon, he was off the large road used for wagons and carts, and had moved to some small paths that ran parallel to the road. Perhaps there had been trouble and Gabrielle had decided that some cover would protect her.
He moved hastily, yet stealthily through the brush and trees. He had ridden for candlemarks before he heard the sound of others on the path and he swiftly took cover. The idea of running into bandits or marauders before he could find his betroth not only frightened him, but it kept him worried and edgy. Gabrielle would need him. He couldn't give up out of fear or surrender defeat.
The first night he camped not too far from a village he'd never visited. He was still in Thrace, but he had never been this far northeast. The village, according to his rudimentary map was called Amphipolis. He thanked the gods that Gabrielle had taught him how to read maps a few seasons ago. In the morning, he would speak to locals and find out if either warrior or young girl had come through.
His small fire didn't warm him and he was terribly lonely. He knew his father and Herodotus would have called him a coward and child, but he couldn't help it. He cried. He cried for himself and for his lost girlfriend. His fears got the best of him as he sobbed when he thought about Gabrielle being raped or beaten. After long moments, he scrubbed his face with his fist and vowed aloud, "I'll find you, Gabrielle. Don't worry."
He had slept late. His night had been fitful and filled with terrifying dreams of harlots and warriors battling it out in a field where they bloodied and murdered in the hopes of winning their prize, Gabrielle. Having been shaded from the sun by the large oak trees in the forest he missed the sunrise. As he stared up at the sky, trying to get his bearings and determine the time, he frowned that the sun seemed to be directly overhead. Six candlemarks I've wasted. Six. I was already practically a full day behind them, now this. Okay, I'll get to this village and see what they know. Maybe she spent the night there. As soon as he thought about that, he wondered if she had spent the night alone or willingly or unwillingly in the company of another man. He grimaced at the very idea of it. As he fed the horse an apple and some oats, he considered his plan. What if Gabrielle really doesn't want to come home? She left. Can I force her to return with me? Of course, I can. She's my betrothed. She has to obey. But when did Gabrielle ever obey? He thought about their last conversation. All he had said was 'c'mon Gabrielle,' but his future wife practically ignored him. In front of his friends and other village men, she had told him what she was going to do. 'I'm going to stay here and talk to Xena.' That was no way for a girl to talk to her soon-to-be mate. It's not that she didn't respect him, but she was so strong-willed. Perdicus liked that about her, but he also hated it. What if she says that again? I'm going to stay with Xena? Boy, I don't know what I'd do.
He had mounted the mare and as soon as they began he heard the animal wheezing. Perdicus loved animals and he refused to push the older horse. He slowed their pace. Perdicus had decided that once they arrived in the village of Amphipolis, he'd have an animal healer look at the horse. In the meantime, he'd be as gentle as possible.
"Would you rather I got off your back? Too tired?"
The horse whinnied and Perdicus dismounted.
The horse whinnied again and seemed to nod her head. The horse and the man walked on.
The first thing Perdicus did in Amphipolis was ask for the nearest animal healer. At the hut, Perdicus greeted the woman politely.
"My horse. I don't know what's wrong, but she's wheezing and seems to be in a lot of discomfort. I've traveled kind of far in the last day or so and she's not used to it, "he explained. "She's all lathered right now and we've only been walking in this cool breeze for three or four candlemarks. I don't know I don't know what's wrong with her."
The healer walked silently around the animal and then, once facing her opened the horse's mouth and checked her teeth. The healer looked at each tooth and gum. After that, she examined the horse's eyes, her nostrils, rubbed her hands up and down her fore and hindquarters. Finally, she turned to Perdicus and solemnly stated that the horse was quite ill.
"I need to put her down? But I need her. I've traveled a ways to find my betrothed. She went missing from our village, Poteidaia and I have to find her, take her home."
"Poteidaia? I think Cyrene told me that the young girl with her daughter was from Poteidaia."
"Is this Cyrene Is Cyrene's daughter named Xena?"
"Oh, you've heard of her. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself, but she's not that cruel warlord she once was."
"I know, she saved our women from enslavement by this trader."
"Sounds like Draco. He was here, too, but he walked away empty handed."
"He didn't kidnap anyone?"
"No, Xena stopped him. Thanks to the girl."
"The girl with Xena? Where's she?"
"She and Xena left town already. Don't know where they're headed. You might check at the Inn, that's where Cyrene lives and works."
Perdicus was excited. He might catch them if he was only a few candlemarks away. "My horse?"
"Sorry, friend, but this horse isn't budging. If you tried, you wouldn't get her too far out of town. Let me give her some herbs so she can go peacefully."
"But I need to move fast. Where might I purchase another horse?"
"Ask around. Ask at the Inn."
Perdicus spoke softly to the old mare, then pushed several dinars into the healer's hand, and walked away quickly, never looking back. That horse had belonged to Lila. She had cried for a horse of her own when Gabrielle first got Timpani. Gabrielle's pony was slight, but feisty. This horse was tall and loyal, but hadn't the power in her old bones to keep up a good trot.
As he headed for the Inn, he wondered where this journey would reach its end. He hoped that Gabrielle would come to her senses and walk away with him. As he played in his mind the romantic scenes of the next time he'd see his betrothed, he reached the Inn, entered through the door, and looked around. Spotting a bar wench, he asked, "Is there a Cyrene here?"
The wench pointed at the older woman behind the bar drying mugs.
"Thank you." He straightened. This is a warlord's mother. I hope she doesn't kill me.
"Excuse me," he said as he cleared his throat. "I was wondering if you might be so kind as to tell me where your daughter, Xena and her traveling companion are headed."
"Are you a bounty hunter?"
"No m'am. My name's Perdicus. The girl your daughter is with is my betrothed."
"I'd like to catch up with them to ask of their plans; when they might be returning to Poteidaia, our home."
Cyrene was a mother, friend, neighbor, and a great bartender. All of these things made for a good listener and she had a feeling that Perdicus' story might be a doozey. She handed him a cup of tea and came around to the front. "On the house. Go ahead and quench your thirst and tell me how your betrothed has ended up traveling with my daughter and being her supporter."
Perdicus loved talking about Gabrielle. He was so in love with her and he knew that in time Gabrielle would learn to be more expressive with him.
By the time Perdicus finished, Cyrene had a clear picture of Gabrielle in her mind. Everything the young man said seemed to be much the same as the image she had of her from their brief meetingthe girl was open, fair, just, kind, and quite the talker. What surprised Cyrene was Perdicus telling her that Xena and Gabrielle had met not even two nights ago. Gabrielle seemed like a good friend to Xena, but more unpredictably, she didn't seem afraid of her warrior daughter. Either Gabrielle was extremely naïve or Xena had really changed, or both.
Perdicus explained that he needed to purchase a horse to continue his journey and asked if Cyrene might know of someone looking to sell a fast, strong, and reliable horse for not too many dinars.
After purchasing a new horse, Perdicus returned to the inn to gather his things. He stared out at the sky again. Apollo's chariot had begun its descent and it was too late for Perdicus to follow. He bit the inside of his lip and cursed his stupidity. He wasted time telling a stranger how Gabrielle would make the perfect wife for him. He'd be lucky if they'd ever marry at this point.
With a friendly arm tossed around the man's shoulders, Cyrene lightly pulled his body into hers. "You'll stay here tonight. And it's on the house. You're a young man who needs to save his money for his new life and wife. I'll put you up in Xena's old room. How's that sound?"
"I thank you, m'am. I'll leave bright and early tomorrow. I want to thank you for your hospitality and conversation. You've eased my burden somewhat. I think Gabrielle's at least safe with Xena."
"That she is, son. That she is."
Perdicus didn't know why he was taken aback, but he was when he saw a basket of food at the foot of his bed. Cyrene had packed breads, fruits, nuts, and cheese for his trip along with a note wishing him well and asking him to pass a message on to her daughter.
He secured the basket on the horse's saddle and began heading east. That's where his betrothed and Xena had continued. Spotting their tracks, he followed their path out of Amphipolis.
Just before nightfall, he came to a small campsite. There were no warm embers and it looked to be a day old. Woodland creatures had not yet scavenged all the scraps of cooked meat that had dried on a roasting stick. He could tell that two people had slept at the site--one on one side of the fire, the other directly across. The grass still lay flat where they had slept.
Perdicus stayed a day or two behind Xena and Gabrielle for half a moon. No matter how fast he pushed the new horse, she never got into a groove to give her all. The horse he had purchased in Amphipolis he named Perga, a combination of both his name and his beloved's and she was as stubborn as Gabrielle. Perga would tear out quickly when the mood struck her, but other animals, sweet smelling flowers, and every piece of fruit that lay on the road easily distracted her. When she wanted to stop and take in her surroundings, all Perdicus could do was wait for her to finish.
At each town and village, he heard remarkable stories of his future wife & Xena. He sat slack-jawed when he learned that Gabrielle had met and befriended Pandora; Gabrielle had brought the Titans to life and those old gods thought of her as a goddess. She is a goddess to me, too, Perdicus thought. Already she had had more adventures than they had experienced in their entire lives. No wonder she left. He was angry with her for leaving, but admired the duo who crossed the land coming to the aid of those who couldn't help themselves.
Day after day, Perdicus would arrive at Xena and Gabrielle's last campsite long after they'd gone. As each day passed, he observed something new and different about these sites. The changes were small, but significant. The first change was their sleeping arrangements. They didn't seem to be sleeping directly opposite each other any longer. Each site showed proof that they were becoming comfortable with each other and their nighttime positionings were moving them closer and closer to the other. Perhaps, he thought, Xena found it more secure to have Gabrielle a bit closer. Second, he detected a certain tidiness at the site that hadn't been there before. He couldn't explain it, but there was a sense that things were being tended to. Thin roasting sticks were found at those first sitesthe only form of cookware as far as he could discern. Now, there were indentations where a frying pan had sat near the fire. There was evidence of torches having been lit around the circumference of the fire. Maybe Xena and Gabrielle had talked through the night or Gabrielle had weaved a funny tale for the warrior's ears. During the first days of his search for his betrothed, he had guessed that the two women sat in darkness at night except for the small fire. Next, he noticed that the warrior's horse was no longer right at the area, but a few paces away on her own. When he walked the cold campsite, he saw evidence of long raven hair mixed with long blonde ones on a log. The two women had both sat on the log brushing their hair out after bathing.
Perdicus had never been so far from home and he knew he would have to turn back soon. There was no way of getting word to his family and they were undoubtedly worried about him. Deciding to give it one more day, Perdicus rode harder than ever. He rode so long and hard that he didn't know when to stop. It was Perga who made that decision, coming to a halt just as the sleeping man atop her started slipping off the saddle. He jerked awake and slowly made his way off the horse to look for shelter for the night. Having spent so many days on the road, Perdicus had learned the best way to hunt for Xena and Gabrielle's site, the site he always claimed for his evening breaks. He climbed the tallest tree and scanned the land.
Sure that he'd see only a clearing where a campsite had recently been, Perdicus gasped in surprise and relief when he actually saw two bodies sleeping at a site. He narrowed his eyes and focused on the two travelers. A blonde head was turned away from the fire, facing into the forest. He saw Gabrielle's beautiful face and smiled softly. Gabrielle? I have found you, he said to himself. There wasn't much open space between Gabrielle and the other body, but it was respectable. Another person could probably sleep between them, Perdicus thought. He sat in the tree and watched quietly. The things he had noticed about the campsite were truethere was a frying pan, two mugs, a couple of plates, and a wineskin. Xena's armor and weapons lay beside her, opposite Gabrielle. Gabrielle's boots were at the foot of the thin bedroll where she slept and Xena' boots mimicked that position on her own bedroll. It was a homey site and he figured that it was Gabrielle's influence that had brought that about. He saw doused torches sticking out from the ground near where they slept. Everything about the site looked like home except the roof was a black sky filled with a million twinkling stars, the floor was natural earth covered in leaves, moss, and twigs, instead of the bare dirt floors of their homes in Poteidaia. There were no chairs made by carpenters, but they could sit on fallen logs, a lucky gift from Zeus' thunderbolts, no doubt.
As he sat there, he thought that he could watch Gabrielle all night. She looked radiant and peaceful. Right then, at that moment, Perdicus had never been more in lovehis betrothed was adventurous yet she could make a home from nothing. He watched intently, leaning his back against the trunk of the tree while sitting on a thick branch. Morpheus easily entered his mind and he drifted to sleep with happy feelings about his upcoming reunion with his future wife in the morning.
Perdicus had been sleeping no more than a candlemark when he was jerked awake again. His head flew back and bumped the tree trunk. Rubbing his hand on his head and feeling for a bump, he peered down into the campsite. Unfortunately, he was too far away to hear what was being said, but he heard Xena screaming and saw her thrashing about under her bedroll. In an instant, Gabrielle was awake, crawling over to Xena. Perdicus had wonderful vision and hearing, but he was still too far to catch words and see expressions on their faces. It was his mind's eye and mind's ears that picked up on all that he was missing. Gabrielle wasn't panicked, just concerned. He saw Xena sit up and blindly reach out for her hooped weapon, but Gabrielle reached out to her, pulling the Destroyer of Nations into an embrace, cradling her head in her innocent arms. Perdicus couldn't look away. Gabrielle showed no fear at all. Even when Xena pushed her away, his betrothed only inched in closer, never surrendering her hold on the warrior. He watched as Gabrielle rocked Xena like a mother would her child and he saw the ex-warlord settle in, take comfort in Gabrielle's soft reassurances, and weep softly until she had calmed completely. Slowly, Gabrielle and Xena lowered themselves onto the bedroll and Gabrielle continued to hold her and he watched in awe as his future wife placed peck after peck of soothing kisses on the top of the warrior's head. After a while, Gabrielle stretched out her arm and pulled her own bedroll toward her and flung it over the two of them to sleep.
Perdicus was mystified by what he had seen. He sat in the tree most of the night and wondered over it. The night turned pleasantly into dawn and Perdicus pulled his teeth cleaning stick out of his waistband and counted the notches on it. He had been following them for seventeen sunrises and sunsets. In such a short time, Gabrielle was comfortable with this dark, older woman. Perdicus used his pocketknife to make the first part of the next notch. As he flossed, he watched as the campsite below began to awaken.
Xena took control of the morning. Dressed only in a soft looking shift, Xena picked up the waterskin and shook it, smiling to find that there was still plenty of water within. The warrior poured the contents into two mugs, felt for a warm spot on the fire and placed the mugs on top of it. Next, she walked over to her weapons and opened the saddlebag that rested beside them. She pulled out a pouch and reached her fingers in to retrieve a few pinches of tea. After dropping the tea into the mugs, she brushed off her hands and went back to her weapons. Perdicus watched the warrior leave the center of the site and move to an area not far from her horse. He sat amazed as he watched her stretch her lean body, bending at the knee and lunging forward, turning her torso left, then right, and bouncing lightly on the balls of her feet. Gabrielle, notorious in Poteidaia for arriving late for anything that took place in the early morning, remained tucked away under the bedroll.
As soon as Xena completed her warm up, she twirled her sword in her hand and began her weapons' drill for the day. She fought an invisible foe as if she were under attack from all sides, feinting left, squatting while waving the sword from that position; she leapt at least twelve paces straight up and somersaulted back to the ground; she ran her opponent through from behind and from the front. Perdicus grinned as he saw her beckon the enemy with a wave of her hand. Xena used her sword in her left hand and retrieved her chakram from her waist loop with her right. She sent the chakram sailing through the air, hitting several trees, and a boulder before returning to her. Too bad Gabrielle's missing all of this. When Perdicus turned, expecting to see his betrothed sound asleep, he quirked an eyebrow as he watched her, watching Xena. Gabrielle was on her back, reclining on her elbows as she took in the warrior's every move. Perdicus could almost see the green of her eyes as they widened with each leap and intricate dance Xena made. Gabrielle's betrothed didn't know where to look--Xena's drills were fascinating, but the hero-worship on Gabrielle's face was something he'd never seen before.
When Xena finished her morning workout, she returned to the campsite, barely glancing over at Gabrielle who was now on her side, eyes closed, pretending to be asleep. Oh, Gabrielle, you lazy bones. Perdicus chuckled to himself. Xena grabbed a larger pouch from the saddlebag and walked to a nearby brook, removed her shift, and slid into the water before Perdicus got a good look.
Each morning Perdicus had discovered that he could bathe and clean off yesterday's road dust because he was staying at one of Xena's chosen campsites and she always found a place to camp that was near fresh water be it river or brook.
This was the first time he had been so close to the travelers and he thought that now was a good time to prepare for the day's journey. If he got lucky, Gabrielle and Xena would stay in a village or town and he could speak to Gabrielle without it sounding threatening and demanding. It's possible that she'd believe that I just wandered into the town just as they had and I was traveling elsewhere, he thought as he began his descent from the tree. He spent some time thinking of these new scenarios and when he looked up from his ponderances, he was still high enough in the tree to see the campsite and to watch Xena exiting the brook. He turned to look at Gabrielle and saw her making a mad dash from the bushes back to the blanket. She positioned herself so she could take full advantage of the sight of Xena returning from her morning's bath while maintaining the pretense of sleep. The warrior stood tall and proud in her nakedness and from what Perdicus could see, she had every right to feel pride. She was stunning, magnificent, and captivating. Gods, I sound like one of Gabrielle's talky characters. But Xena was all of those things. He tore his eyes away to look in Gabrielle's direction. Although he couldn't make out her expression or see her eyes, he knew that she was wide awake and could just tell that her eyes bore into the warrior. He watched as the rhythm of her breathing changed to deep, laborious breaths that she tried to regulate it. When Xena moved across the site, Gabrielle turned restlessly in her bedroll as if a noise had disturbed her dream. Now, she was looking directly at Xena who squatted to take the floating herbs out of the mugs. Perdicus thought he saw Gabrielle swallow hard. When Xena stood, she was holding a mug and sipping casually from the morning's first cup. She glanced down at Gabrielle and smiled just before tossing a handful of dirt in Gabrielle's face.
"Wake up. We're not going to get out of here until nightfall as slow as you are."
Gabrielle spurted and spit out the dirt as she sat up, making a show of yawning and blinking her eyes as she stared openly at Xena's nudity. Her waking up performance was such that Xena didn't question the stares, thinking it was just the way the girl arose in the morninga look of confusion at morning and delight at another day. "I was having the best dream. Do you want me to tell you about it?"
"Oh, c'mon, Xena. It's filled with symbolism and strange ideas. Maybe you can tell me what it means."
"Gabrielle, a dream is a dream is a dream. They have no meaning."
"Oh, but you're wrong," Gabrielle said as she stood and shook out her bedroll. She was wearing a pale pink shift that was too large for her. Perdicus guessed that it was Xena's and then thought, Nah. Xena in pink? Can't see it. Must belong to Gab's mom.
"Humph," Xena grunted.
"Morpheus helps us to work out our problems through dreams and things that we're feeling and don't know how to say when we're awake can come out in dreams." She paused and stared at her new friend. " and things that are difficult for us and trouble us come back to us over and over in dreams."
Xena gulped down the remaining tea, not wanting to think about another nightmare-filled evening. She wished for a way to keep her sleeping thoughts locked behind a heavy wooden portal, never to be exposed, but this was the price she had to pay for the things she had done. "Let's get a move on, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle knelt and rolled Xena's bedroll, still glancing up surreptitiously at the warrior. It was evident to Perdicus that there was more than hero-worship in her eyes now. Gabrielle had never looked at him like that. How he wished it so, but not once was there even a hint of passion or desire in her eyes. He might have been mistaken, but he didn't think sothere was more than a hint in her eyes.
Gabrielle stood and walked over to Xena and touched her lightly on the elbow. The touch was chaste and something she would have done to practically anyone at anytime, but for Perdicus, the touch seemed intimate. Why he felt this way he didn't know. "Do I have time for a quick bath?" she asked.
The warrior nodded and Gabrielle grabbed Xena's discarded pouch and headed through the trees. Perdicus, being a man of integrity who had a great respect for his betrothed turned his focus to Xena when Gabrielle bent and pulled the hem of her shift to remove it. While Gabrielle bathed, Xena placed her hands directly on the ash of last night's fire. Most of it was out and the spot where she had warmed the tea, she covered with the dry soil that she scooped up from the ground. The torches that had gone out candlemarks ago were broken into small sticks and left on the ground. She reached into Gabrielle's bag and pulled out an eighth of a round of cheese and using her breast dagger, sliced off several chunks for the two of them. She grabbed her shift from the ground and shook out the broken leaves and bits of dust and hung it over a low tree branch. It was at this moment that Gabrielle ended her bath and pulled herself out of the brook. Much to Perdicus' joy and horror, she remained nude as she walked back to the site. He felt something stir inside his loose fitting pants and closed his eyes blocking the temptation from his view. It was odd that he could admire Xena's body and find it spectacular, but it was Gabrielle's virginal innocence that aroused him beyond belief. When she pulled herself out of the water, he had seen her breasts and they were larger than he had imagined. Even though the nipples weren't erect, the pink areolas had excited him. He was surprised to see the reddish-blonde triangle of hair at the apex of her legs. It's not that he didn't know she wasn't a child, but they had grown up together and she never really let him close enough to feel how she had developed. Shaking his head, he tried to get the image of those luscious, creamy breasts out of his head, but as soon as he thought about trying not to think about them, they were the only things on his mind. He sighed deeply at the thought of one day holding them tenderly in his hands, feeling their warmth and finding comfort there. He imagined tasting them for the first time and how Gabrielle would find equal pleasure in that touch. Perdicus wasn't particularly experienced, but he did know that women and men liked how breasts made them feel. He sucked his lips into his mouth and clamped down hard. When he opened his eyes again, Gabrielle stood before Xena combing out her hair as they spoke. Now, it wasn't Gabrielle who garnered his attention, but the warrior. Whatever Perdicus was feeling as he sat in the tree, Xena was feeling too. It was revealed on her face as her eyes narrowed and she appraised Gabrielle's naked body. Though both women acted as if it were natural and uneventful for them to stand naked together, he could sense the sexual tension from his perch. He saw Gabrielle's skin flush and glow a soft pink in the morning light under Xena's scrutiny. A seductive smile crossed his betroth's lips briefly, then an embarrassed grin, while Xena continued her long gaze. Perdicus' head throbbed as he looked on. How dare she look at my fiancée that way? How dare she think she can just have her? And what is Gabrielle thinking, looking at her like that? She's just asking for trouble. Gabrielle is playing with fire. He wasn't going to wait for the next village, he was going to get out of that tree and go over there and take Gabrielle home.
He pulled himself from his sitting position and hung from a branch above as he regained his balance. Xena suddenly looked up in the trees in his direction and he could have sworn that she looked directly into his eyes, but then, she turned back to Gabrielle and smiled. Whatever lust she had experienced seemed to have dissipated. She had looked like she was ready to devour Gabrielle, but instead of moving toward her, Xena moved away, grabbing the pouch from her.
Xena opened the pouch and pulled out what looked like cinnamon bark and rubbed it between her hands, crushing it and letting it fall onto her shift. She patted the fabric spreading the fragrance all over the cloth. Gabrielle had hung her shift and Xena performed the same task. When she was finished, she lightly touched Gabrielle's shoulder and her new traveling companion nodded.
Their slow and lazy morning picked up suddenly. Gabrielle slipped on her underthings and the familiar blue top and jacket her mother had made her ages ago. She tied her skirt, then walked over to Xena to help her with her armor. Again, Perdicus felt like he was not just eavesdropping, but intruding on a very intimate scene. Gabrielle seemed so relaxed in this setting, with this person who was no more than a stranger. This isn't the first time she's helped her with that, he thought. It was at this revelation that Perdicus had a self-revelation as wellhe wasn't fearful or worried, he wasn't angry with Gabrielle, he wasn't terrified of the warrior. No, he was jealous. Jealousy pulsated in every vein; such a powerful emotion he had never experienced. No boy in Poteidaia had ever made him feel threatened, but this woman, this she-warrior did. If he thought he could win by pummeling her, he would have been at that campsite in a heartbeat and done just that. But he had no intention of adding insult to injury and having Gabrielle look on as he got the tar beaten out of him by a woman. He'd go to the next village. Gabrielle would listen to reason.
With each step, Perdicus fumed. Land, land, and more land, but not a hut, not a yurt, not a hovel to speak of, just a vast emptiness of land.
Candlemarks later, the valley turned to forest and just as Perdicus was entering, probably a half a candlemark behind that Hydra, his new name for Xena and his betrothed, he heard strange cooing in the trees. He paused and closed his eyes trying to determine what kind of birds he heard. He was very familiar with birds and their calls having had a small aviary as a boy. The calls sounded similar to doves, but not quite. He quieted his heart and listened more intently. When he opened his eyes again, it was with the knowledge of where he was. He backtracked to the beginning of the forest and looked for a sign.
"ENTERING AMAZON COUNTRYNO TRESPASSING.
MEN--DO NOT ENTER!
CENTAURS--YOU'RE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE RIVER--GO!"
"Damnit!" Perdicus said just above a whisper. "Damnit!" Gabrielle and Xena were on Amazon land. The only village for miles and it's gotta be an Amazon village. Great.. Perdicus and Perga headed back through the valley. Once they were in the clearing, he mounted the horse and guided her to the south where he thought he'd find water and perhaps some berries. What food Cyrene had packed him was long gone and catching rabbits in the clearing had been impossible. (Anyway, Perdicus preferred fish to meat. Even on his parents' farm he had bonded with the animals and couldn't bear to sit down and have a meal of them). He would just fish for dinner if he found a pond or brook or river. There has to be a river around here. That sign told the Centaurs to go back to the other side of the river. He sniffed the air and knew he was on the right track.
He crossed the river and tied Perga near some tall grasses that she munched on while Perdicus waded naked in the water hoping to catch a slow moving fish swimming past. He spent the day, slamming his arm into the water to grab a fish and missing repeatedly. The fact that this was a frustrating task and so far had offered no return didn't bother him. He became obsessed with this task and continued plunging and coming up empty in the frigid water.
Unexpectedly, a hush fell over the area. Perga's whinny was cut off mysteriously and Perdicus stood stock-still in the water, staring across toward Amazon land, but saw no one. When he turned back to look at Perga on Centaur land, he faced about two dozen spears all aimed at his throat.
Perdicus walked to the edge of the river and gingerly climbed out. "Hi guys. I was just fishing in the river here and well, they're just not biting today."
The Centaurs stared down at him believing him an interloper and liar.
"Ummm I'm not Centaur."
The leader of the group, Ganecles grunted as he looked Perdicus up and down, lifting an eyebrow when his eyes passed over the young man's shriveled private parts. "That's obvious."
Perdicus looked down and then with chagrin said with a lilt to his voice as if asking a question, "The water's cold?"
"What are you doing on Centaur land, boy?"
I was on the other side of the river. I had been following two women
"Amazons? Have you lost your mind? If they had caught you, by the time they'd finished with you, you would have been body parts for the vultures."
"No " Perdicus stared up at the other Centaurs and then turned to the leader. "Can I put my clothes back on?"
Ganecles nodded and the other Centaurs put away their spears. Perdicus explained why he was on their land as he quickly dressed. "So, that's my story. I'll be on my way. I can wait for them to come out on the other side at their borders."
"What makes you think they'll be coming out? Many women who are not born to the Amazons and enter the village never return to outside life. They like being around other women. It's a community that works for them."
"Oh, Gabrielle will come out. We're betrothed," Perdicus stated.
"How did your girlfriend end up with this warrior?"
Perdicus had never felt so dejected and he told the truth with such a pained look that all of the Centaurs empathized with him. "She ran away. She left me without so much as a word." He plopped onto a large, slimy river rock and placed his face in his hands as he cried. "I don't know what to do. I I think the warrior might be my competition at this point. I'm "
Ganecles gave him a hard, appraising look. "Get up. You'll get her attention if she sees you crying like that, but you won't win her back. C'mon. Get your horse. You look like you could use a real meal and some rest."
A man and Centaur, both scouts came pounding into the Great Hall of the Centaur village. There, they explained that the Amazon Terreis had been killed and that the Amazons had taken Phantes, a loyal and royal Centaur as prisoner. Immediately, the village became chaotic. Phantes was the son of the Centaur leader, Tyldus. He had to be saved or they would all die trying. Centaurs and men ran quickly for weapons while the elders in the village gathered to discuss strategy, negotiation, and possible war. Perdicus had been seated in the Great Hall with some of the Elders when the news hit and now he had been cast aside as Centaur business was conducted. More scouts and spies were sent out to obtain more information.
Perdicus roamed the village hoping to lend a hand and listening for any news about Gabrielle. He certainly didn't want them to go to war with his fiancée in there. He came upon a group of boys, men, and Centaurs practicing war games.
One boy pointed his sword at another. "You die now, Amazon."
"Hey, why do I have to be the Amazon?" his partner protested.
"Cause I said it first."
The second boy shrugged and went along with the game. A young Centaur looked on, watching the technique of the others. He turned to Perdicus and said, "Can you handle a sword?"
"Not really. I'm not a fighter, I'm a farmer."
"I've farmed myself. The name's Damen and you are?"
"Perdicus of Poteidaia. I just got here from the "
"Oh, right. You were hunting Amazons or some such."
"No, not really. I was "
"I was kidding, Perdicus. C'mon, guy. Pick up a sword. I'll show you how to be a man and use it. We might need it sooner than we think."
Perdicus bent to grab one of the several swords lying in the dust on the ground. All heads turned when another scout returned shouting his report at the top of his lungs. "The murdered Amazon was an Amazon Princess. Those warriors are out for blood. They're going to kill Phantes."
Perdicus' face was etched with concern, but when he turned to look at Damen, the Centaur smiled like he had just finished a big helping of canary. "Another Centaur has been sentenced to death." Perdicus said angrily.
"Phantes is smart and charming. Oh, he talks a good game, but he's no killer. I have faith in the right thing happening. We want to hunt on Amazon land, but we have no interest in killing them. Phantes especially doesn't. He's always been attracted to wild women. The gods will look after him."
"Hmmm. I've been praying to all of the gods for over a moon and still my betrothed isn't with me."
"Gee, Perdicus, don't you think the gods have better things to do than get your woman back for you? You have to do some of your own work, ya know."
"Yeah, that's why I've traveled so far from home. But you'd think at least Aphrodite would have heard my plea."
"Who's to say she didn't hear it? You think you're the only one who's lost his love? Aphrodite keeps busy, I'm sure. Plus I hear she loves to party. You're on your own, guy."
As soon as one scout left, another one appeared with more information. "There's a new Amazon Princess. It's a young one, too, and cute. Blonde, green-eyes, nice body, kind of a baby face "
Damen shouted over the village, "Are you matchmaking for us or scouting, stupid."
The scout smirked at Damen and continued, "Her name is Princess Gabrielle and she's the one who will kill Phantes according to Amazon law."
At the mention of Gabrielle's name, Perdicus sank to the ground. "Gabrielle," he whispered. "No."
"I take it Gabrielle is your betrothed," Damen said as he nodded his head in understanding. "It gets more and more interesting around here, I tell ya."
The Centaurs continued preparing for battle all through the night. Tyldus, their leader was sending parchment after parchment to the Amazons hoping to bypass a war that neither wanted. The Amazon queen, Melosa, rejected each one.
Earlier in the day, Tyldus had met with his one-time enemy, Xena who assured him that this was not Phantes time to die, that another killer was in their midst and it wasn't a Centaur. She would prove it. He was counting on it.
The spy runners for the Centaurs were fast and evidently stealth because they were able to penetrate the Amazon compound and come back with detailed intelligence about what was going on in their enemy's territory.
"The warrior, Xena has proof of Phantes innocence, but the Queen refuses to hear it. She says our brother must die tomorrow when Apollo's chariot is at its highest in the sky. The new Princess has challenged Melosa to a fight to the death for control of the Amazons."
Perdicus had been listening, but he shouted above the din, "No! Gabrielle's not a fighter. She'll surely get killed. No, we have to stop this." Something had to be done before Noon tomorrow.
The spy ignored Perdicus' outburst and continued, "The Princess has chosen a Champion to fight on her behalf. The Champion is Xena, the Warrior Princess."
"Champion?" Perdicus didn't understand the titles being lobbed about.
But Damen was there to help him out. "Champion is usually the stronger person who fights or performs duties on behalf of the leader if the leader chooses not to participate. The Champion generally speaking gets the dirty work, but they are loyal to their Sovereign. Oh, and you know what else, guy? The Champion is usually the Consort, too."
"I think this Xena is probably getting a lot more action from your woman than you ever did."
Perdicus' anger spilled over and he pushed the Centaur has hard as he could trying to knock him flat, but Damen barely budged. "Shut up. Stop it. That's a lie."
Damen looked down at him. "And when Princess Gabrielle named Xena as her Champion, she was letting it be known that the warrior was hers. I'm not saying it's true, just that it's usually the case. You've got your Champion, an ex-warlord at that. Something's gotta be in it for her to do all the grunt work. What do you think Xena's getting out of helping Princess Betrothed?"
Perdicus refused to answer.
"A little lovin' is my guess."
As one by one and two by two the Centaurs left the village to cross the river onto Amazon soil, Perdicus' raged inside. He felt like a big nothing. He hadn't the personality or whatever it was that Gabrielle needed to keep her in his life; he wasn't a warrior or fighter and couldn't help the Centaurs; and even if he had wanted to try, they wouldn't allow it. This was a fight for the Centaurs and the men who lived seasons round on the land. He never felt more impotent. Gabrielle really was lost to him. He knew that she had been different from other girls, knew that her interests lay outside of Poteidaia and that she dreamed of adventure, but he hadn't guessed this was what she really wanted. He was forced from his thoughts when another runner entered the village.
"The Champion and the Queen fought. The Champion defeated the Queen or should I say former Queen. There is a new queen. Princess Gabrielle is now Queen Gabrielle of the Amazons and she has declared there will be no war between her people and the Centaurs."
The Centaurs and men cheered and shouted, but were silenced by another runner who bellowed in a deep bass, "Tyldus and our Centaur brothers, along with our neighbors and friends, the Amazons " Whispering was heard throughout the village center as Centaurs tried to wrap their minds around their old enemies as new friends. "Tyldus and our Centaur brothers, along with our neighbors and friends, the Amazons fought together today," his voice boomed. "Bringing peace and an alliance to a land that had not known either. We fought bravely, proudly and were victorious against Krykus, the warlord and mastermind behind the murder of the Amazon and the framing of our brother Phantes. Phantes is a free Centaur again."
Damen asked, "What about the Queen?"
"Gabrielle or Melosa?"
"Queen Melosa has returned to her place at the helm of the Amazon nation. Princess Gabrielle has agreed to serve as Princess, but has decided to continue her journey with Xena."
Perdicus frowned and walked off.
Much later, Damen sought Perdicus and found him sitting beside the river drinking from a jug of wine. ''Do you think you'll be able to drink your problems away?''
"I've found, my good man that the drink will only help you forget your problems temporarily. When you sober up, the problem'll be waiting for you, but you might have added other problems to it."
"Don't care. Doesn't matter."
"Sure it does, Perdicus. I like you. You're a decent guy with a good heart. I envy that since Tyldus and everyone else have told me that mine is a tad cold. But you know wherever I walk is like the desert sands."
"Cold heart, warm hooves." Damen laughed at his own joke. "Seriously, Perdicus. Sitting here drinking and staring out at Amazon land is not going to make her come here. She doesn't know you're here and even if she did, it might only be guilt that makes her come to you. You wouldn't want that, would you?"
"No, I'd want her to come to me and with me because she loves me."
Damen gently nudged a rock from the ground with his hoof as he went on, "She wouldn't have gone in the first place if she truly loved you and she certainly wouldn't have left you without saying goodbye if she didn't want to be free of you and her obligations. You might not want to hear it, guy, but I'm just being honest. I am known as a forthright Centaur, a straight-shooter, if you will. I'm not gonna hold back to spare you. This is how I see it."
"You're right. I know that." Perdicus took another swallow of the wine and sighed. "It's time for me to go home."
"Now, you don't have to do that. You've got choices. You've seen some of the world now. Why go back to your little village?"
"Because it's my home. With or without Gabrielle, it's my home."
Perdicus stood and patted the Centaur on the shoulder. "You're a good man, Damen."
"That's Centaur to you, guy."
Perdicus nodded. "You're a good Centaur. A wise Centaur." He smiled at him and said, "A wise ass Centaur." The Poteidaian handed him the jug and walked over to Perga. "Thank you."
"Gods speed to you, guy. Oh, yeah. I brought you some food for your journey. Could you get it off my back?"
Perdicus shook his head disbelieving. It seemed that Damen knew Perdicus' plans before Perdicus had known. "A good Centaur, you are."
He pulled the bag from his friend and returned to Perga where he stowed the food in his saddlebag, and mounted the horse. He smiled briefly and guided the reins so that the horse was heading toward home.
Moons had passed. No one had heard from Gabrielle, though there were rumors about her. Visitors to Poteidaia had spoken of a young blonde companion to the fierce warrior Xena. Whenever Gabrielle's name was mentioned, a dark cloud hovered over Herodotus and he shot daggers at Perdicus. Things hadn't gone well for the man when his eldest daughter fled the town. There had been no merger of land and property, Herodotus and Hecuba's childrearing skills were called into question, and it seemed that Lila's free-spiritedness made her guilty by association. It would be a miracle from the gods if any eligible man in the village would want anything to do with her.
But if things were shaky for Herodotus and his family, they were much more unstable for Perdicus. He was the laughingstock of Poteidaia. He had actually heard children singing a song about 'old man Perdy who lost his lovey.' His so-called friends whispered about him and not even behind his back. Whenever one of his friends did something foolish, the others would chide him with, 'what are you doing, pulling a Perdicus?' or 'Are you a man or a Perdicus?'
It was as if his heart was being pulled out bit-by-bit, left hanging in a tree for Zeus to set aflame with thunderbolts, then that crisped, blackened, and shrunken heart would be handed back to Perdicus to use though it served no real purpose. He had lost love, lost his way, lost his manhood, lost it all and for what reason? There didn't seem to be one. There were days when he simply stayed in bed and his parents, Adrian and Dysis allowed it. They figured that it would just take time. Perdicus had been in love with Gabrielle since he was three years old. He wouldn't get over her in just a season.
Why couldn't she love me? Why can't I have her? Why won't she come home?
Aphrodite rolled her eyes as she listened to that mumbled nighttime chant of his again. Every night just as he'd fall asleep, he'd ask the same questions.
"Dude, you wanna know? It is so time to move on, so here's why."
Perdicus drifted off and moments later, he was lost in Morpheus and Aphrodite's realm.
Xena sat on a hard boulder, her bedroll used as padding against the cold granite. She held her sword in her hand, braced on her bent knee and swiped it repeatedly with her whetstone, sharpening it for the next day of fights with bandits. Xena still wore her full armor and boots. Gabrielle was on her own bedroll. Her light blue cover up was off, but she wore her peasant top and rust colored skirt. She wore no boots. Gabrielle lay on her stomach, head resting on a hand, a quill dangled from between her lips as she considered what she was writing.
"Did I tell you the story about of Hero and Leander?
"Hero and Leander lived on opposite sides of the water, but they fell in love anyway. Each night Hero would hang a torch to light Leander's way to her. Leander would swim to her, but one day the torch went out and he lost his way and drowned. He died "
"You told me this one, Gabrielle."
"So Hero was so upset that he had drowned that she flung herself into the water and drowned, too. Just so she could be with him."
"Well, I'm adding a few bits here and there. It needs to be more expressive. I've got to show the longing, the desperate need that both have for each other. I just don't know how to say it."
"That's because you're young. You need experience to write about those things."
Gabrielle nodded slightly thinking about that. "But I feel I mean I've felt that." She turned so that she was on her back. "I know about romantic love and a heart beating faster whenever the other person is near and knowing you can't live without that person. I know those feelings Xena."
"Do you now?"
Gabrielle sat up. "Yes, absolutely. The longing to kiss, hold "
"There's more to longing than that Gabrielle. There's this overpowering craving to consume the person. Why there have been times in my life when consequences didn't matter. For example, when I met...."
"I'm not a child, Xena. I hear you and I know what you're saying. To not just kiss, but to give myself completely, to let her know that she's all that matters, to give her unfathomable pleasure, for her to please me in a way I've only dreamed of, to taste all of her..." Gabrielle paused, realizing for the first time what she had revealed. Her eyes widened and she clamped both hands over her mouth. Gabrielle wracked her brain for a convincing lie to explain her private thoughts. But when she gave the warrior a sidelong glance, she saw that Xena had placed her sword and whetstone on the ground.
'Xena? Let me explain.'' Had she just ruined everything? Gabrielle was finally on good footing with her sullen companion. Lately, Xena hadn't been trying to ditch her when she had the opportunities. She had accepted her on the road with her and now Gabrielle realized that she had probably jeopardized all the gains she had made. Anyone could see the hero-worship she had for her, but admitting to longing for a woman? Xena would never go for it. At least Xena didn't know that she was the object of Gabrielle's dark and lustful thoughts.
Xena tilted her head and measured the words of Gabrielle's confession. They made her curious. "Come 'ere, Gabrielle. Help me with my armor."
Gabrielle stood and slowly moved toward the warrior. She wondered if Xena was going to hurt her or scorn her in such a way that she'd have to suffer embarrassment until reaching the next town to make a quick escape.
"C'mon. Help me out here."
Gabrielle stood just off to the side of the warrior and raised shaking hands to undo the clasp of her breastplate. Xena maneuvered her leg against the outside of Gabrielle's and used her strong thigh muscles to push her companion between her legs. "That's better," Xena whispered.
Gabrielle stared at Xena in confusion. She had no idea what the woman had planned for her and uncertainty caused her hands to quiver in the worst way. The task became more unnerving because Xena's eyes pierced Gabrielle's and the warrior said nothing. First one clasp, then the other was unfastened and Gabrielle lifted the breastplate from Xena's chest. She moved to place it on the ground, but Xena's hand grabbed Gabrielle's wrist. "Just let it drop."
It slipped from Gabrielle's hands making a loud clanking noise as it landed on the ground. Xena pulled Gabrielle to her and kicked the breastplate aside. "My leathers." Xena paused before adding. "Please."
Gabrielle was beginning to understand what was happening and her pulse began to race. She slowly slid the first of the two straps down her shoulder, then reached around and quickly accomplished the task of removing the second one. Xena stood for only a moment to shimmy out of her leather battle dress and then returned to her spot on the rock. When she pulled Gabrielle closer, Gabrielle inhaled Xena's earthy scent that was mixed with cinnamon. Xena took hold of Gabrielle's wrist again and guided her young, inexperienced hand to her shift-covered breast. The warrior's eyes never left her companion's until Gabrielle's eyes closed when her hand surrounded Xena's full breast.
"Oh, gods," Gabrielle said weakly.
Xena grabbed Gabrielle's other wrist and moved that hand to the warrior's other breast.
"Oh, dear gods," Gabrielle repeated.
Xena's head lolled back and her eyes closed as she guided Gabrielle's hands over her breasts. When she looked up at Gabrielle, she saw a look of intense pleasure, fear, and anticipation. Slowly, she slid her own hands away allowing Gabrielle to experiment as she pulled her down for a deep and prolonged kiss. Gabrielle's tongue moved urgently in Xena's mouth, trying to fulfill so many of her desires. Xena moaned throatily and muttered, "Oh, yes," through the kiss.
"Our first kiss," Gabrielle whispered, barely relinquishing her hold on Xena's lips, tongue, and mouth. Her hands never stopped massaging Xena's breasts. She loved how the nipples seemed to grow harder and harder as she tortured them with tiny circles of her palm through the thin material of her shift. But the kisses overwhelmed her and she had other plans for her mouth. She pulled away only to lower her head and press her mouth against the cloth of her shift that covered Xena's breast. The beginnings of her fantasy were almost complete as she listened to Xena groan under her touch. "Oh, yeah."
Finally, Gabrielle needed to feel flesh against her teeth and pulled the shift to the side to expose Xena's left breast. She marveled at it like it was the first time she had seen it. She glanced at Xena for only a moment before she lowered her head and gently licked around the heavy roundness, learning its size and heft. Slowly, she began to suck on Xena's nipple and she heard the warrior groan above her and felt Xena's fingers in her hair as the warrior pulled her even closer. Gabrielle reached inside Xena's shift and managed to pull the cloth down and expose Xena's other breast. She massaged and squeezed it while continuing her mouth explorations on the other side.
Xena was surprised when Gabrielle's hand stopped its ministrations, but then the warrior heard the sound of Gabrielle pulling her top out of the waistband of her skirt. Once the blue peasant top was hanging freely, Gabrielle grabbed Xena's hand and roughly shoved it under her top. Xena could feel Gabrielle's heart pounding as her hand covered her breast and knew that her heart matched Gabrielle's rapid beat and that her groans corresponded with Gabrielle's. The young woman's labored breath caused her chest to heave as she arched into Xena's touch. Gabrielle repositioned herself so that she could focus on Xena's right breast. She kissed and sucked it as if she were worshipping it. "Oh, Xena. Yes."
"You're very good at this, Gabrielle. So good," Xena spoke softly while her thumb and forefinger pinched Gabrielle's erect nipple.
Gabrielle pulled away again and returned to Xena's hot mouth. She kissed her deeply, panting into her mouth as the warrior moaned into Gabrielle's. Gabrielle liked what Xena was doing to her, so she began doing the same to Xena. Xena groaned loudly when her nipple was pinched long and hard and that groan was caught and swallowed by Gabrielle's eager mouth.
She looked into Xena's eyes as she pushed back. "By the gods, this is what I've..." Gabrielle started, but when Xena used the apex between two of her fingers to send jolts of shock to Gabrielle's nipple and elsewhere, she could say no more. She just went back to kissing her.
"This is what's been missing. All this time, this is the longing, Xena. This is it," Gabrielle muttered between their lips.
Xena opened her eyes and focused on the green eyes that stared back at her filled with desire and love.
Love, Xena thought. She abruptly pushed away from Gabrielle, her hands exiting from underneath her top. "Hold it." But Gabrielle pressed forward reaching out with her hands to embrace Xena's face between them and possess her as she kissed her again. Xena grasped her wrists again, but this time instead of guiding her to her body, she simply held them away from her. "Hold it."
"What? What is it?"
"We've gotta stop this."
"Oh, please Xena." Gabrielle shook her head decidedly. "I want to be with you." She wiggled out of Xena's strong hold and stared at her. "Am I doing something wrong? I thought "
"It's not that, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle linked her fingers between Xena's and stared down at the warrior. "Then what is it?" Her eyes were hooded, her skin a beautiful pink hue, her breathing irregular, and the last thing she wanted to do was talk, but she wanted to know Xena's thoughts.
Xena pulled her shift up and repositioned her breasts while clearing her throat. "Gabrielle, this isn't a good idea."
"Don't you want me? I I thought " Gabrielle took a seat next to Xena on the boulder and waited for the warrior to tell her why they weren't now laying on her bedroll in each other's arms. She noticed that tiny beads of sweat had broken out on Xena's forehead and that she was also having trouble breathing.
"Gabrielle, how do you feel about me?"
"Huh? I " Gabrielle didn't know what to say. If she said too much she'd lose Xena for sure, but maybe this was a side to Xena she knew nothing of. Maybe Xena wanted her to tell her how much she loved her. Something told her not to risk those words, though.
"What are your feelings?"
"You're my best friend. I've never had a friend like you. I I feel so much when I'm with you. I've never been happier or more fulfilled or more alive."
"You were going to marry that boy at home. Perdicus? Didn't you have those feelings for him?"
Gabrielle's head pulled back. This was surprising. Could Xena want a promise that she wouldn't leave her like she had done Perdicus. "Oh, Xena. It's not the same, not at all. Not even a teeny, tiny bit. I liked Perdicus, but ours was practically an arranged marriage."
"He seemed to care for and love you."
"Yes, he did, but I didn't feel the same. I didn't love him. I wasn't ready to be married."
"That's my point."
Gabrielle was stunned, but carried on. "And that's my point. I didn't feel for him what I feel for you."
"No, Gabrielle. You didn't marry him or give yourself to him because you knew your feelings weren't as strong, that you didn't or wouldn't be able to love him the way he loved you."
Now she was beginning to understand. Gabrielle nodded softly. Xena rubbed her hand up Gabrielle's forearm. "Gabrielle, long ago I had forsaken love. I didn't think anyone could or would love me and I refused to let myself discover love. This heart wasn't meant for it. I've lived like that for a long time."
"But you've been with "
"Mostly, when I took them to bed or I allowed them to take me to bed it was because I needed something that they had. Iolaus comes to mind."
"But what about Hercules?"
"Did you love him?"
"No, but I care deeply for him."
"And me? Do you care for me?" Gabrielle brushed the hair away from Xena's eyes to get a closer look at her. It was an easy, gentle gesture that came so naturally to her. As she ran her fingers through her hair, Gabrielle wondered why she'd ask such a question. The answer was obvious. Xena liked her, but not nearly as much as she had liked the demi-god.
"Yes. Gabrielle, I know you're not blind. I'm sure you've seen the way I look at you." Xena waited for Gabrielle to respond, while tenderly pulling the smaller hand from her hair.
"Yeah, I guess. I thought so. Sometimes." She placed her hands on her knees so as not to reach out to the warrior again.
"I care for you. I'm attracted to you, but I just don't possess those feelings of love that you talk about." Xena shrugged at her own misfortune and what she knew made her tremendously pathetic. "I can't."
"You might. I think you have a high capacity for love if you'd just open up to it."
"Anything's possible, but now I'm sorry. I know you wouldn't give yourself lightly and because of that, I won't take what you offer."
"But but Xena." Gabrielle felt like she was on the verge of tears and tried hard to control her shaky voice.
"Gabrielle, you were noble enough to leave Perdicus so as not to hurt him. Let me try not to hurt you, all right? I don't deserve someone like you. I have a past that if you really understood, you'd run away from me so fast it would take the dust moons to settle."
"That's not true. Through thick and thin, Xena. Surely, you've seen that I can be loyal?"
"Gabrielle, your being loyal to me is not enough. You wanting me is not enough. Me desiring you can't be enough. You deserve someone who'll love you. I don't know if that will ever happen between us. I'm sorry."
Gabrielle lowered her eyes and stared at the hands that now rested lightly atop her knees. Those hands had so recently caressed Xena's breasts and had experienced something she now realized she had dreamed of all of her lifeloving a woman. But those same hands mocked her. She had known this touch. Could she carry on without it now? Out of the corners of her eyes, she gazed at Xena's hands, toohands that had made her feel new and awake for the first time. Would she forever only have the memory of those hands on her body and never encounter the pleasure she had derived from them? Gabrielle shook her head. "All right. I'm sorry, too, Xena." Hopelessly optimistic, she added, "But maybe things will change. Maybe we'll both change enough. We can try."
Xena nodded, but there was no reassurance in the gesture.
After long moments, Xena stood and looked down at the dejected woman. "Gabrielle?"
"Hmm?" Gabrielle said distractedly.
"You're probably feeling a lot of things right now including Well, I guess we kind of left each other in quite a state What I'm saying is is Umm, I'm going to take a walk around the perimeter, make sure everything's safe, go fill our waterskins. You stay here. I think we both need some time to pull ourselves together, again."
Gabrielle looked up with an expression of pure confusion. "What?"
"Uh Gabrielle, you're probably very aroused and Do you know how to relieve that pressure? Do you know how to pleasure yourself?"
Gabrielle laughed with a dismissive sniff. "Yeah, Xena. Go ahead and take your walk."
Xena picked up her sword and walked past the fire. Gabrielle called out, "Take your time." Then she muttered quietly, "I'm going to need it."
That next morning, Perdicus woke slowly. A bit disoriented, he rubbed his eyes and yawned as he sat up. He sighed, recalling the dream and said to himself and the gods, If that was real, a vision of the truth, show me a sign. Instantly, Perdicus heard the unmistakable sound of a loud roaring thunder that ended in a deafening clap. He looked out of his window at the bright sunlight and blue skies. "Okay, okay. I see now." He knew that the gods had come to him in the night. His dream was real and he had to accept it.
There had been signs up at the local taverns and on road posts encouraging village boys to sign up and join with armies. Perdicus had never paid much mind to those signs, but today, he stopped and read the Greek characters carefully. "Be a Man. Fight for Your Beliefs." Be a man, Perdicus thought. How many times have I heard that? From father, Herodotus, the Centaur Damen, and I've said it to myself so many times. Are you a man or are you Perdicus? was the taunt of the season. Be a man.
Perdicus of Poteidaia entered his family's home for what he was sure would be the last time and packed his belongings.
The world was smaller than he'd realized. Of all the people to see in the middle of a war zone, he had not expected his former betrothed, Gabrielle with Xena. So, they were still traveling together and surely an intimate couple by now. Perdicus was surprised to see Gabrielle, but the pain he had felt for so long was gone. He didn't feel anger, either and that was something he had carried around a long, long time. There was admiration for Xena not feelings of competition and after his many moons of mercenary work, he saw her as simply a warrior and not the she-warrior he had demonized.
Gabrielle was still beautiful and her easy smile and happy personality had not disappeared after this time on the road seeing who knows what. Their friendship had survived his whirlpool of emotions at her departure. He still liked her a lot and Gabrielle seemed to feel the same--too bad he was caught up with the responsibilities of war to really sit with Gabrielle and enjoy her company. She was the sunshine in his gloomy existence. Everything seemed brighter with her near. But Gabrielle knew Perdicus too well and even though he claimed to be over her, to have moved on, to finally understand his purpose in life, she saw through him. Whenever they could spare a moment alone, Gabrielle questioned him about his reasons for signing up with the Trojans to fight in Troy, so far from home, so far from the farm. Each time Perdicus gave the same answershe was where he wanted to be, he wanted to be part of the bigger picture of loveto witness a fight in the name of love. Perdicus calmly explained that Gabrielle need not worry after him. His words were heard, but not believed and Gabrielle felt terribly guilty. She had driven him to this when she ran from home and their upcoming wedding in the middle of the night. Thinking about it now, she became conscious of what life must have been like for him. Leaving him behind to face her family and the village must have been unbearable. Of course he needed this escape. Because he knew her and loved her, Perdicus saw the guilt in her eyes and pleaded with her to believe him. He was a fine soldier and in his element for the first time just like she was with Xena. He wouldn't dare tell her how he had trailed her like a love-sick puppy, how he had begged the gods to intervene, how he was a joke back in Poteidaia. Fighting this war was a good thing for him, it was just what he wanted.
One thing Perdicus noticed was that Xena was completely focused on Helen and her dilemma. Gabrielle seemed to be less than an afterthought and he wondered how his friend dealt with that. What he saw was that Gabrielle didn't seem to mind. She was enjoying his company and not mentioning the warrior or the mission at all. He saw love reflected in Gabrielle's eyes when she looked at him and hoped that at long last she appreciated the mistake she had made just before dawn that morning in Poteidaia. Even though he hadn't done much in life, he was making up for it. Perhaps she saw that they could have adventures together, that he could be tough and strong, something she obviously admired. The two of them were clicking together the way he used to dream they would. Gabrielle wanted to be with him. She had been wrong to leave him.
In the enclosed city of Troy, Gabrielle and Perdicus shared their innermost thoughts and a tender kiss. The war was escalating and the time they were spending together might very well be their last. Again, Gabrielle apologized for her lack of judgment back in Poteidaia, but Perdicus, who really was a man now, owned his part in the way things had turned out. He knew he had pushed Gabrielle forward, proposing and making a show of their upcoming nuptials before her mind was ready for it. He knew he was at fault, too for allowing her to walk over him the way she did, but that was all water under the bridge. He saw her love and when she kissed him and explained that she couldn't be more honest than that, he knew it was true. Perdicus' heart thudded in his chest and he knew the Fates were on his side, after all. The Fates brought Gabrielle to him and gave them a chance to talk and find love again.
When the fighting was over and the Trojans had defeated the Greeks, Gabrielle and Perdicus talked. His first thoughts had been that they would return to Poteidaia together, that they would continue with the lives they had planned, but Gabrielle suggested that he join with them on the road. That certainly wasn't something he would consider. When he saw the way Gabrielle gazed at Xena, he knew that at most he'd only share her love. He'd never fully possess it. The warm, fluid eyes were fixed on Xena's every move. Gabrielle's love for the warrior would have been perceptible to a man without sight. Sure, Gabrielle loved him, but the intensity was missing. Beneath her sweet feelings for him, all he saw in her eyes was guilt. She felt guilty for having dumped him, guilty for in some way encouraging him to pick up a sword, guilty for his pain. He didn't want her that way, so he pulled back, told her he had other plans, wished her well in life and on her travels. Misplaced hope was put away, dreams for their future together were hidden again. Life would go on without Gabrielle. He was going to make that happen.
Perdicus traveled throughout Greece fighting in armies for causes he believed in. There were a few other men in his group of traveling soldiers and he knew that many had the same storyjilted by a girlfriend or wife or boyfriend in some cases. Everyone was using war as a flight from their past.
Perdicus sat with two of his friends at the bar in a tavern. The army he rode with had been on the outskirts of this town fighting off a group of Barbarians for three days. The Barbarians insisted on taking the night off from fighting and often drank with the army they fought during the day. The former boy from Poteidaia noticed the Barbarians who seemed to be having a wonderfully drunken time with the bar wench.
"Hey, Perdicus. You see somethin' you like?"
"Sitting next to the Barbarians, those five women over there. And it looks like two of them are just your type."
Perdicus turned on his stool. "What'd you mean?"
"Shiny green eyes, shiny blonde hair. Sexy smiles. Gonna make a play for one of 'em?"
"Why wouldn't I?" Perdicus had made himself over. He was a ladies' man and a guy's guy. By all outward appearances, he exuded confidence. The young soldier stood and unconsciously pulled down and straightened the protective chest guard of his uniform as he made his way to the table of women.
His two friends shook their heads and turned to face the bartender.
The first friend said, "He's still got it bad."
"He does okay. I should be as lucky as Perdicus. Girls fall all over him."
"Yeah, but in his eyes, the right one never did. He hasn't met one woman he'd like to spend more than a night with."
"Yeah, well either have you."
"I know that, but my case is different. I don't want to. Perdicus won't let himself."
"Whatever that means," the second soldier said shaking his head.
Meanwhile, warlords, bandits, conniving children, and Xena's past were testing Xena and Gabrielle. Twice, Gabrielle had parted ways with the warrior in the hopes that Xena might come to her senses. She had decided she wanted to be a real traveling bard and thought she might need training. She was accepted to the Academy of Performing Bards in Athens, but all that she learned was that her life's purpose was not to be cooped up in a lecture hall. She was meant to do so much more and that more was on the road with Xena. She had missed her companion terribly, but she hadn't missed the nightly anxiety of watching Xena struggle with her feelings and always choosing to push away from her. When she returned from the Academy, she anticipated that absence would make the heart grow fonder and Xena would take that next step, but she didn't.
Dysis, Perdicus' mother sent word to him that Gabrielle had been in Poteidaia, but hadn't stayed long. She made a point of telling him in the lengthy parchment that Gabrielle had arrived alone in Poteidaia and seemed out of sorts. She explained how Gabrielle believed in this former warlord, Meleager and how the two of them had saved the village from invaders. Dysis didn't have the heart to tell him that Gabrielle didn't see her parents and that his former betrothed hadn't even asked about him.
When Gabrielle returned to Xena, it was evident that Xena felt closer to her and that the days apart had been difficult ones for the stoic warrior. Still, Xena only allowed Gabrielle to see so much. Night after night, Gabrielle replayed that evening so many moons ago by that time. With just a moment's thought, she could call up the deepness of Xena's voice when she had said to her, 'you're very good at this, Gabrielle. So good." Alone around the campfire, Gabrielle would whisper those words to herself, imitating the warrior's groan as she fought off, then surrendered to her finger's skill against her clitoris.
Xena knew she needed to say or do something, but she didn't know how. Too much time had gone by for her to casually mention that her desire was still strong and that she greatly wanted to feel the young woman's hands on her again. Xena walked to the water to fill the skins each night, then she'd lean against a stump or log, spread her legs, and push the straps of her leathers away from her center. She never bothered to remove her breeches, she'd just slip her fingers inside and stroke herself until she felt the shuddering magic of her orgasm start to rip through her. In her mind, she could hear Gabrielle's sigh and her softly saying, "Oh, Xena. Yes."
One night, not too long after those horrible events in the Thessalian temple, Xena took her nightly stroll to the brook near their campsite. She sat thinking for once instead of simply satisfying her physical need. Her mind wandered back to the scene where everyone had given up on Gabrielle and told her to let the girl go peacefully to the other side. Xena wouldn't do it. She couldn't. She had pleaded with Gabrielle not to die, not to leave her, and Gabrielle showed them. She came back. She came back to be with her. It was then that she truly comprehended her situation. She didn't just like Gabrielle's company on the road, but she needed her companionship. Moreover, she didn't want just a best friend, she wanted Gabrielle as her lover. After over ten winters of forsaking love, she could scarcely understand the feelings she had. In her soul, she knew what she feltthat this was love, not the lust she gave in to occasionally, but love. However, she didn't know how to express it without sounding silly and without making herself vulnerable and open for heartache. She wanted to burst with these feelings, but she was a warrior and a warrior did not skip and sing songs of love. How should she behave? What should she say to Gabrielle? She realized that she'd been at the shore for over a candlemark and slowly made her way back to the site. Gabrielle was asleep and she found herself staring down at the young woman and thinking, this is love.
The next night Xena sat underneath a waterfall and bathed. As she brought herself pleasure, she thought of how it would feel to have Gabrielle touch her and how Gabrielle had reacted to her touch. Again, she heard Gabrielle's alluring voice call to her in her thoughts, softly saying, "Oh, Xena. Yes," and Xena answered immediately and aloud, "I love you, Gabrielle," just as she exploded.
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