Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Perdicas, Ming Tien, Lao Ma and Argo are property of MCA/Universal Studios/Renaissance Pictures, etc., etc. I am merely borrowing them and will bring them back none worse for the wear. Any god or goddesses that might appear are in the public realm and therefore are not copyrighted by anyone. The story elements are mine and I do claim ownership of the story elements.
Warning: there will be violence in this story as well as one rape. If you cannot read violence, sexual or otherwise, please pass on this story now. It is brief but necessary to the plot line.
Copyright © 1999 by JS Stephens. All Rights Reserved. Readers may download one copy for perusal offline. Do not fold, spindle or mutilate. Tags (except for metatags) may be removed only by the consumer. Please shake, do not stir. Coffee provided by Peet's of California. Please buckle up and read safely. Thank you and have a safe trip.
Note: This story is loosely based on the alternate universe presented in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episodes of "Armageddon Now, parts 1 & 2". This is the sequel to my story, Armageddon.
Gabrielle barely made it to the bucket in time. She didn't dare tell Xena yet, who knows what the Conqueror would make of her pregnancy. Would she keep Gabrielle alive? Would she kill her? Would she do something to the baby? Gabrielle just wasn't sure, although her relationship with Xena was starting to change from the captor and prisoner roles to two women who were friends, a friendship forged in the bonds of shared grief. Xena had lost her baby, Solon, then her husband, Borias, had killed himself in grief. Xena's only friend, Lao Ma, spoke the truth too often and Xena had her executed and adopted Lao Ma's son, Ming Tien, as her own son and heir. Yet, when Gabrielle had been arrested for speaking out against the Conqueror's atrocities, Xena seemed amused and planned to confuse the people by allowing Gabrielle visits by her husband, Perdicas, then let Perdicas live, unlike she usually did with political prisoners. But, a strange, black leather-clad woman had killed Perdicas and Xena had accused Ming Tien of hiring an assassin and having Perdicas killed in front of the crowds. Xena banished the young man to the border lands "to learn more of the arts of war," as she had put it.
"Hello, dearie," said Cyra, the woman who cooked and cleaned, as she entered the bedroom. She shook her head as she glanced in the bucket. "That's the fifth morning in a row, Gabrielle," she commented, "didn't your husband visit before he was murdered?"
"Yes," Gabrielle said slowly as she started brushing her hair.
Cyra took the bucket out, then came back in with the breakfast tray. "I suspected after the second morning, so I've made a bland breakfast for you. Did you and your husband have any other children?"
"No, I was pregnant once, but I miscarried after a few months," Gabrielle admitted. She set the brush down on the dresser, then asked, "Do you think Xena will be mad?"
"Gods only know what that woman will do or say, but I must admit in the years I've been working for her, the only other prisoner whom she treated this well was Lao Ma. I think she really likes you, Gabrielle," Cyra concluded.
"Well, I'm not planning to say anything until I am sure or until I show," Gabrielle muttered. She started picking at the food as Cyra straightened up the room. It still felt weird to have someone to cook and clean for her, but Xena insisted. Gabrielle was sure that Cyra was supposed to be reporting back to her employer with any useful tidbits of information. Yet, Xena had never indicated that she had gleaned anything from the older woman, so Gabrielle was no longer sure. At least Cyra was kind and easy to talk to, which was important since Xena did not send for Gabrielle every day.
Several hours later, Xena herself appeared at the house, sending all of the guards outside. She flung herself into one of the chairs in the living room, fiddling with her richly brocaded robe as if trying to make a difficult decision. Finally, she straightened up and said flatly, "Gabrielle, be packed and ready to travel in an hour. We are going to your hometown for a visit."
Gabrielle's jaw dropped in amazement, then in horror. "Xena, what have I done to deserve this?"
Xena quirked one black eyebrow at the question. "Deserve? You have challenged me, defied me, argued with me and been honest with me. Lao Ma and Borias were the last two people on this earth to challenge me so and they are dead." She hesitated, then continued, "But you are different, Gabrielle, you challenge me because for some unknown reason, you claim that I can stop being a monster." She licked her lips nervously. "You make me feel human, you touch my emotions, I just want to do something for you."
"Do something for me? Xena, if you really mean that, then stop your scorched earth policy-"
"Enough! Just be glad I am giving you a chance to see your family and friends and that I keep you alive!" Xena spat out. "Now for once in your life, quit talking and do something! I'll be back in an hour to pick you up." She stood up and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind her. Gabrielle lowered her head into her hands, thinking about what might happen.
Gabrielle was grateful that Xena had a very small entourage on the trip, just two guards and Cyra. Cyra had managed to sneak some herbs in Gabrielle's tea to keep her from having morning sickness for which Gabrielle was grateful, since Xena insisted that Gabrielle's cot be placed in her tent. Gabrielle woke up the first morning just in time to catch Xena watching her with an oddly wistful look, one that quickly hardened into detached amusement. It was times like these that convinced Gabrielle that the woman who had wept in her arms over the death of her family still existed and could supplant the monster that the world usually saw. But how could she draw Xena out, get her to balance that gentleness with the strength she needed to rule the land? Was it possible?
Xena kept that hard, arrogant look around her in public during their week-long journey, checking on various towns, asking city managers about the tax collection, talking to the generals of the armies, taking the time to survey the land she ruled. People seemed confused when they saw Xena with Gabrielle tagging along but if anyone dared to question the younger woman being along, Xena would silence them with one of her dangerous looks, daring them to question her decision to keep Gabrielle with her at all times. But, the evening before they arrived in Potedaia, Xena asked Gabrielle to take a walk with her down to the river, alone.
As the guards and Cyra went about setting up camp, Xena and Gabrielle walked slowly by the river. Gabrielle was exhausted by the day's travel but dared not deny the Conqueror her wish, especially since she had said "please". When they were out of sight and earshot of the others, Xena turned and asked, "If you could change the way I rule, what would you do?"
"Yes, like what would you change? I'm sure you have an opinion, you do about everything else," Xena said quietly, not teasing as she sometimes did.
Gabrielle stopped, deep in thought. Finally, she answered, "I would work with the people, see what they needed for a comfortable life. Before you interrupt, if the people feel safe and secure, they will be more likely to follow you out of loyalty and trust rather than out of fear. People can handle fear and starvation only so long before they will rebel and tear down the existing power structure. Let the people have representatives to court, not the puppets you hand pick, but representatives who know how the people really feel. Work with them, not against them."
Xena listened, giving her full attention to her companion. "Work with the people, huh? As in give them a say in their destinies?"
"Yes," Gabrielle answered boldly.
"You might be years ahead of yourself," Xena commented slowly, "but I will take your words under advisement. I'm sorry if I don't treat you as well when we are around other people, but I can't seem to break the cycle. Tell me, if I let you talk to your family and friends alone, will you tell me what they really think? I can't promise I'll do anything about their opinions, but I will listen to you, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle pondered the request for several minutes before replying, "I will give you their opinions, but I must have your promise that you won't have them executed for their opinions, Xena."
Xena stepped closer, smiling faintly. "You have my word, Gabrielle." She reached out as if to touch Gabrielle, but let her hand drop. "Will you also ask me to empty my heart of hate, like Lao Ma did?"
Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle admitted, "Yes, I would like to ask you to empty the hatred from your soul, it poisons you."
"Fair enough. I can't promise to let go of the hatred, but I will try."
Curiously, Gabrielle asked, "Why?"
Xena answered simply, "Because it is you who is asking. Shall we go eat supper?" Without waiting for an answer, Xena turned and started walking back to the camp. Gabrielle stood, stunned by the reply. Why was Xena so concerned what she thought of her? she wondered. She remembered telling Perdicas that maybe the gods had brought her to Xena's attention to bring out the good in Xena, but she never dreamed that Xena might actually start to respond. Xena's voice broke into her thoughts, calling, "come on, Gabrielle!" Gabrielle hurried toward the voice, catching up with the queen. Xena stopped a moment, briefly squeezing Gabrielle's shoulder in a friendly fashion, then continued walking toward camp, Gabrielle struggling to keep pace with her.
"Gabrielle, I don't believe a word you've said about that damned glory hog," Alastair thundered. "You know as well as I do that she arranged to have Perdicas assassinated in front of that crowd, despite what she told you to the contrary."
"Alastair, she was going to let him live to keep her subjects on edge, to confuse us all. But, she too has lost her husband, she too grieves the loss of a child, " Gabrielle replied.
"Sure, Gabrielle, sure. You know, my brother was right, you are naive at times. Don't worry, though, we'll set things right. It's been hard, but I've taken over the running of your farm for you, hiring more hands to keep it going."
Alastair smiled wickedly. "Oh, you are most welcome, and you will thank us more when we arrest Xena for her crimes." He leaned forward, asking, "Just how many guards does she have with her, dear sister-in-law?"
Gabrielle paled, taking in the significance of the question. Before she could answer, Xena stepped into the room, asking, "Are you ready to return to the inn?"
Years later, Gabrielle still wasn't sure how it happened, but the room was suddenly filled with angry villagers. They somehow subdued Xena, tying her in thick ropes, dragging her to the village jail, threatening to torch the building with her inside of it. Gabrielle tried to thread her way through the throng to protect Xena but was held back by her brother-in-law. She struggled against him but was rewarded by a clip on the head, sending her into unconsciousness...
Xena struggled to break her bonds that kept her on the rough cot in the small cell. Finally, she leaned back, panting with the exertion, gathering her thoughts and observations. Her guards should be here soon to let her out of this miserable place, she decided, but she didn't want them to see her tied up like this. How could she get out of these ropes? Before she could answer her own question, the door opened. Alastair and three other men walked in, shutting and locking the door behind them. "Who the hell are you?" she demanded.
"Oh queen, I am Alastair, brother of Perdicas, whom you had murdered."
"Ming Tien arranged that and he is being punished."
"That is what your bards say, Xena, but I seriously doubt that you tell the truth." Alastair walked over to the cot, slipping his knife from its scabbard. "I think a little torture in in order, don't you? After all, you do have your prisoners tortured to get the truth from them, don't you?" For the first time since Solon's death, Xena felt the prickling of fear at the back of her neck. She watched the man, half-hypnotized by his voice and the slow descent of his knife to her legs, wondering what he planned to do to her. "By now, you are probably wondering what I will do to you," he continued smoothly, "I'll just let you find out rather than tell you." He stepped closer and picked up her robe, then slowly sliced the material from her abdomen to her feet, then peeled back the layers of cloth like an onion, finally exposing her crotch. She stared, terror starting to wash over her in waves as she saw Alastair untie his pants, then crawl on the bed with her, carefully positioning his erection to plunge into her. She screamed as he penetrated her, as he painfully pumped in and out, until he was finished. He pulled out, then motioned for the next man to take his position. Xena squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block the pain and the torment as the men all took turns raping her savagely, then blessedly passed out.
Xena woke up in a much softer bed with someone gently bathing her wounds. She relaxed under the ministrations for a moment before opening her eyes, thinking of how Lao Ma would bathe her after they made love, encouraging Xena to relax and be cared for. But, this could not be Lao Ma, she had Lao Ma executed years ago, who would dare touch her body in such an intimate manner? Her blue eyes flew open as she prepared a tongue-lashing but was arrested by the site of Gabrielle gently cleaning the blood from her legs. Her naked legs. Her naked body. It took a moment, but the horrors of the repeated rapes struck her full force and she whimpered softly before she could stop herself. Gabrielle dropped the bloody rag back into the bowl and came to sit by Xena's head, saying, "Xena, how do you feel?"
Xena meant to make a flip remark but found that she could not; Gabrielle's kind green eyes watched her intently with true concern. Xena licked her lips nervously, then finally answered, "Terrible. I hurt all over and my insides feel like I've been ripped open."
"I am sorry for what happened to you, Xena." Gabrielle picked up a fresh rag and continued cleaning Xena's thighs as Xena closed her eyes, focusing on the sensation of the wet rag cleansing her body, summoning the arts that Lao Ma had taught her, arts to allow her to go beyond her physical pain and to aid in healing. She was concentrating so hard that she didn't realize that Gabrielle was speaking again for several minutes. "What? I'm sorry, I was thinking of something else," Xena apologized.
"I said, your guards were killed to keep them from rescuing you, but Cyra managed to hide in my basement." Gabrielle dropped the bloody cloth into the bowl, then continued, "I managed to convince the magistrate to arrest the men who raped you. The townspeople want to rip you from limb to limb, but he told them that you had not done anything wrong here, but were instead wronged." Gabrielle smiled bitterly. "He memorized and delivered that speech flawlessly, Xena, just like I wrote it out for him."
Xena's eyebrows drew together in a puzzled line as she started to sit up. Gabrielle pushed her back on the bed, but Xena asked, "You insisted? You insisted that they be arrested, not me? Why?"
"Because you said you would listen to me, listen to the people you rule. Xena, no matter what you have done in the past, you would have spared Perdicas-"
"But that was just for show-"
Gabrielle put her hand over Xena's mouth. "Hush, let me finish. You promised me that you would try to purge the hatred from your soul and you must have made a start or you would have been yelling for their heads already. Am I right?" Xena nodded reluctantly. "Good. I have agreed to represent you at the trial-"
"-at the trial of your attackers, Xena."
"Wait, how long was I unconscious?"
"A couple of hours. I had to pay a healer three times the going rate to get him to look at you. Oh, I'm sorry about your clothes, they could not be salvaged. Your bleeding has nearly stopped, but you still have a very high fever. I had to leave you uncovered to keep your fever down."
Xena listened obediently, but at the last remark smirked, "Only my lovers get to see my body, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows innocently as she asked, "Are you offering me something?"
Xena found herself blushing as her remark backfired. "No, not really, I was just trying to..." She stopped, unsure how to proceed.
"Xena," Gabrielle said with a smile, "I am not after your bed." She took Xena's hand in hers and continued seriously, "Speaking of beds, you should get some more sleep now." She reached over with her other hand to feel Xena's forehead, then nodded. "Your fever seems to be going down, I think it is time for you to get dressed. I will lend you a nightshirt of Perdicas', then I'll see if any of his clothes will fit you so you will at least have something to wear to the trial."
"When will that be?"
"Next week, when you have completely stopped bleeding," Gabrielle answered. "Now be a good tyrant and get some sleep, I'll come back with your supper later," she said. Gabrielle let go of Xena's hand and left the room, shutting the door softly behind her.
Xena watched her leave, wondering why the simple farmer's wife affected her so powerfully. She remembered once telling Lao Ma that she loved her, but Lao Ma had simply laughed and said, "Xena, you think you love me, but unless you are willing to learn to give love without thought of return or reward, you will not know what true love is. Love is patient, kind, unselfish, holding the other person's welfare in your heart. You still wonder what I can do for you, not the other way around." Xena had her executed fairly soon after that, then had sulked for days because Lao Ma was dead.
The trial was not going well. The magistrate was allowing Xena to be put on trial instead of the four men who had brutally raped her, which made Gabrielle seethe quietly with rage as she sat by an oddly quiet, detached, Xena. Finally, she was allowed to speak.
"Gentlemen of the jury," Gabrielle began calmly, belying the turbulence inside, "you have heard all sorts of accusations against Xena, implying that it was her own fault that she was raped. I am here to remind you that Xena is not on trial, the four accused are on trial. Yes, it hurts me that my own brother-in-law chose to lead these men in falsely arresting and imprisoning Xena. He did what he did, he states, to avenge my husband's death." She took a deep breath, then said, "I tell you now, Xena was not planning to have Perdicas murdered, she intended that he would live."
A gasp arose from the court. There had been rumors that Ming Tien had arranged the assassination, but few believed it, but Gabrielle seemed to believe this terrible woman over her own brother-in-law. "Might I remind you that the laws of our village state that the evidence presented in a trial must be relevant to the issues. Even if Xena had been responsible for my husband's death, it would not be relevant to this trial, but to another trial altogether."
She turned and glanced at Xena, who was watching her with open curiosity. Gabrielle's throat nearly closed in pain as she looked at the woman who was dressed in her husband's clothes, making even simple farm clothes look regal and imposing. She swallowed hard, then turned back to the jury. "You have heard the evidence that was allowed. I was overruled repeatedly when I tried to introduce any evidence, so I will present it now." She glanced back at Xena, asking permission with her eyes. Xena nodded slightly, so Gabrielle continued. "At the risk of sounding crude, I cleaned the blood and semen from Xena's body myself." A murmur went around the courtroom as Gabrielle raised her voice, continuing, "I was married to Perdicas for three years, I never saw that much semen in all my time with him."
Bedlam reigned for several minutes until the magistrate was forced to hammer his gavel on his chair so hard that it shattered. "I will have order here!" he shouted. When the court was finally quiet again, he asked, "Do you have anything else to say?"
Xena stood up and announced simply, "I do, sir. One of you men who claim that you did not rape and humiliate me will be a father in nine months." She waited as the men stared at her, shocked. She smiled dangerously, then added lightly, "I'll be nice enough not to ask for child support." She looked at the magistrate. "You may continue, sir."
He stared at her for a moment, then took himself in hand and announced, "The closing remarks are ended, the jury will now convene for the verdict." He started to bring the gavel down again, then remembered that it was shattered. "Come back in one hour with a decision," he instructed.
Gabrielle turned to Xena and asked, "How do you know?"
Xena replied blithely, "Oh, I count my cycles so that I won't get pregnant, but I'm already missing my next cycle by several days. I can't confirm it, but it made great drama anyway, eh?" Her eyes twinkled merrily for a moment, then she assumed her haughty face again as the jurors came back into the courtroom.
"How do you find?"
"We, the jury, find that the four accused are guilty of rape and sentence them to death immediately."
The place went in an uproar as the villagers tried to surge toward the front of the courtroom. Xena simply stood up and commanded, "Stop." The crowd reacted reflexively to the authority in her voice and bearing. She waited until she had everyone's full attention, then announced, "I am using my prerogative as Queen to change the sentence." She swept the room with her intense blue eyes, then said, "They will stay in jail for sixty days, then will work Gabrielle's farm for the rest of her life. If, however, any one of these sorry asses lay a hand on another woman or man again in anger, he will be executed immediately." She turned to Gabrielle and whispered, "Is that close enough to emptying my heart?" Gabrielle nodded slowly as Xena dismissed the crowd.
Cyra decided to take her leave of the two women when they were halfway back to the palace, explaining that they were near her hometown and she would like to visit her grandchildren. Xena allowed her to go, once again surprising Gabrielle, who commented, "You're taking this changing seriously, aren't you?"
Xena nodded as they prepared their bedrolls for sleep. Xena had decided to leave behind her carriage of state, swapping it for a sturdy cart, food, warm blankets, mattresses, a tent and horses. The night was still warm, so Xena left the door flap open for the time being, watching Gabrielle in the declining light. After Gabrielle slipped between her covers, Xena asked, "Why did you defend me? Why not let the townspeople string me up and let someone else take over?"
Gabrielle rolled on her side to face the Destroyer of Nations, the Conqueror, the Queen of the World. Yet, at this moment, she was just Xena, Travel Companion, Mother-to-be. Gabrielle simply looked at this woman for several long minutes, realizing that when Xena was not trying to be a terror, she was quite beautiful. Finally, she answered, "This will sound funny to you, but I think my mission in life is to turn you from evil, to help you find what is good inside. Obviously, letting you get killed would not do much good for my mission and your death would serve to rip apart the lands you have united, allowing it to disintegrate into many smaller units, each too weak to fight the barbarians alone. Either we stand united under you, or we fall divided without you. But, you must learn to balance compassion with strength; strength you have with abundance, compassion you have slumbering in your heart."
Xena listened, then asked thoughtfully, "Just what do you know of my heart?"
"The way you have treated me, like a friend."
Xena nodded. "Gabrielle, I haven't allowed anyone to get close to me since I had Lao Ma killed, but I was really too young and too much in pain to allow her to really be a friend." Xena ran a hand nervously through her raven hair, then said quietly, "Gabrielle, you showed me kindness when I came storming into the house, after Perdicas had been killed before your eyes. Why?"
"Because you needed it."
"Ah." Xena pondered this for a moment, then asked, "Do you consider me your friend?"
Gabrielle answered honestly, "I really don't know yet, but maybe someday, I will."
"That will have to do. Goodnight, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle suggested that Xena disguise herself as a man during their journey back to the palace so she could hear "what the people are thinking" first hand. Xena balked at first, but Gabrielle stood firm, even when Xena lost her temper and started shouting at her. Finally, Xena gave in and let Gabrielle have her way. "We'll go in as husband and wife to the inn up the road, I've never been there, but Perdicas said it was clean and well run. Many of the younger men in my town are wearing their hair long with a simple leather tie in the back, we'll just tie up your hair the same way," Gabrielle explained as she fitted her words with actions. Xena made a face, but allowed Gabrielle to tie her hair, smudge her face with road dust and add a loose vest to her wardrobe. "There, you look like a young man, or at least a fairly passable fake."
"Why do I put up with you?"
"It is your destiny, oh tyrant."
Xena snorted. "My dear Gabrielle, you are turning out to be the tyrant, I'm just along for the ride." She started to say something else, but changed her mind. "Do we have names?"
"Yes, you are Lyceus and I am Diana, we just got married a few months ago and are on our way to work for my brother Argus in the capital city. Can you remember that?"
"I made more complicated plans for battle, Gabrielle, of course I can remember this." Xena frowned, then asked, "Who are you again? Hey, cut that out, I'm ticklish!" She slapped at Gabrielle's hands, laughing as the smaller woman poked her lightly in the sides, finally grabbing Gabrielle's hands and holding them. "Now, a proper wife wouldn't tickle her husband, would she?"
"I tickled Perdicas, he rather liked it."
"No comment. Let's get in the cart and head into town."
A short time later, they found the inn and managed to bargain for a room, dinner, breakfast and a few buckets of clean water for fifteen dinars. While Xena paid the innkeeper, Gabrielle wandered around the dining room, looking for a free table, then finally found one near the kitchen. She sat down and waited for Xena, glad to be off her feet for a few minutes. She watched until she saw the tall woman striding through the dining room, then waved and called, "Over here, Lyceus!" Xena's eyebrows quirked in amusement as she made her way over to the table, waiter in tow. After they placed their order, another young couple entered, looking around for a place to eat, but all of the tables were taken. Gabrielle took pity on them and waved for them to join her and Xena, ignoring her dining partner's growls.
"Oh, thank you, my wife is pregnant," the man said as he sat opposite of Gabrielle and Xena, "she'll be back in a moment, you know how many trips to the outhouse pregnant women take."
"Yes, indeed," Xena said smoothly as she draped a casual arm around Gabrielle's shoulders, "Diana here is just a few months along and she already has to stop quite often. I'm Lyceus and this is my wife, Diana."
"I'm Rasmus and this is my wife, Thais. Dear, these folks are Lyceus and Diana. Say, is it your first child?"
Gabrielle answered, "Yes, we've only been married for five months, I'm about two months along, or so my mother said. So, what brings you two here?"
Rasmus and Thais looked at each other, then Rasmus answered slowly, "I'm hunting for work, anything, really, I couldn't pay my taxes last month and the tax collector torched our house and sold the land. We've been living with Thais' parents, but they can't afford to keep us forever, so we're going to Potedaia since there are so many farms there."
Xena straightened up and asked quietly, "Who ordered the torching?"
Thais spat out, "It was that bitch, Xena, or so we were told. She told the tax collectors to take in an extra ten percent this year to support her campaign against the Celts in Britannia. He claims that if anyone resisted, he was supposed to burn them out and sell the land."
"Thais, dear, don't you-"
"Rasmus, it's the truth, I swear it to Themis! I would even swear it before Zeus himself! That damned bitch has made our lives miserable, how are we ever going to survive? That was my father's farm and his father's before him, back to the beginning of the township five generations ago. She sits up there so high and mighty, not giving a proper damn about the hardships we are going through, not caring that we may have to give away our baby when I have it, not caring that she has made it nearly impossible to make a decent living. I've heard that she wears silk robes, a different one every day, takes lovers at night and then kills them in the morning, just to drink their blood!"
Gabrielle started to say, "I don't think-" when Xena squeezed her shoulder, warning her with a raised eyebrow. "Thais, I'm sorry to hear that," Xena said quietly, "how much were the taxes?"
Rasmus answered wearily, "Two hundred dinars, Lyceus, we just didn't have that kind of money. But, I'm a hard worker, we'll survive." The waiter came over at that moment to set down the food. Xena looked with surprise at the meager amount on their dinner companions' plates and at the huge amounts on hers and Gabrielle's. Xena excused herself from the table, then came back a few minutes later, the waiter in tow with several more plates of food. "Hey, what's this?" Rasmus asked.
"More dinner," Xena answered. "Eat." She followed her own advice, stubbornly avoiding Gabrielle's eyes.
After dinner, Xena and Gabrielle went up to their room and changed into their nightclothes. Xena crawled wearily in bed, falling asleep almost immediately. Gabrielle stood by the window, watching the moon rising, unsure about crawling in bed with Xena, trying to decide if the chair would be comfortable enough to sleep in. She finally decided to try it, pulling her cloak over her for a cover, dropping into a light sleep. Some time later, she felt herself being lifted and carried to the bed, gently tucked in.
The next morning, Gabrielle woke up and had to rush to the bucket. She was very embarrassed, knowing that Xena had to have heard her, and would know for sure that she really was pregnant. She sat back, wondering what to do when a cup of water was thrust into her hands with the command, "rinse out your mouth, you'll feel better, then let me have the bucket. I'll take it out."
"Thanks," she whispered after complying. She crawled back into bed as Xena took care of the bucket detail, dozing lightly until Xena came back. Xena came over, sitting on the edge of the bed, facing Gabrielle, studying her intently. Gabrielle finally asked irritably, "What, did I sprout a mole or something?"
Xena grinned, eyes dancing with mischief. "No, but even sick, you are very beautiful. You have that glow that some women get when they are pregnant. Oh, I can show you a pressure point to keep you from feeling so sick in the mornings," she said. "Just tap here on your wrist when you feel sick, it will make the feeling go away. A healer showed that to me when I was pregnant with Solon."
Gabrielle tapped her wrist and was pleased when the nausea faded away. "Thank you, Xena." She leaned back against the wall, then asked, "What prompted you to buy them more dinner last night?"
"Oh, I don't know, they looked hungry and gods know that I have the dinars to pay for it. I've also arranged for the innkeeper to give them breakfast and to pack their lunch for them."
"You can be generous."
"Hey, 'wife', don't let it get out, you'd ruin my reputation," Xena mock-snarled. Then she laid back on the bed, staring at the ceiling as Gabrielle got ready to go down to breakfast. "Gabrielle?"
"I just wanted you to know that I never intended for my tax collectors to grab an extra ten percent this year." Xena rolled over on her side, watching Gabrielle winding her braid into a small bun. "Do you believe me?"
Gabrielle came back over and sat next to Xena. "Yes, I do. Now, how did I wind up in bed last night? I was going to sleep in the chair so I wouldn't disturb you."
Xena answered softly, "I heard your teeth chattering with cold, so I carried you to bed." She had a far-away look in her eyes as she added, "just like I used to carry Solon to my bed when he was cold. Borias and I would huddle around him, warm him up. This was while we were still subduing the Land of Chin, just before we struck the agreement with Lao Ma and her army for control of the land. Solon was only two, you see, and was so perfect, but he got cold so easily and the winds whipped mercilessly there. I'd bring him to our bed and Borias would tell him stories, like you did for that group of children we met two days ago. Solon's hair was so blonde, like yours, Borias used to tease him, saying that the wind was so cold that it would blow the color out of his hair. Solon never was sure whether or not to believe him." Xena smiled sadly, then clamed up swiftly. "I'm hungry, let's get some food." She abruptly stood up and started to walk out before she remembered her "role" as husband, then called back, "You ready, my dear?"
Gabrielle walked over to the door to join her. "Yes, dear husband," she said as she took Xena's arm. "I could eat just about anything right now."
Xena smirked, "I was afraid of that. Ow, my ribs are tender!"
Gabrielle fully expected to be sent back to the house she had occupied for the last six months, but Xena asked her to pack up and move in with her in her sumptuous quarters. "But, Xena, people will think-"
"I don't give a damn what they think, I need my best adviser near me at all times," Xena answered. "Besides, we can commiserate on our advancing pregnancies together, isn't that what friends do?" She paused. "Am I your friend yet?"
"I still haven't decided," Gabrielle answered seriously, "but you are making a good effort. Okay, now what?"
Xena paced the length of her office as they waited for her ministers of state. "Well, I intend to recall Ming Tien and officially proclaim him as my heir, start grooming him as my successor. I don't think it would be fair to have him just be the regent for my unborn child, do you?"
Xena stopped, then looked curiously at Gabrielle. "Speaking of children, what am I going to do with this child? I'm far too busy to raise a child and train Ming Tien."
Gabrielle looked stricken. "You don't mean you will-"
"No, I won't abort this one, I've already aborted one several years ago. Nasty experience." She resumed her pacing, then announced, "I have it, you can be my nanny."
"You will already have a child, Gabrielle, and this place has plenty of rooms, I'll just have one made into a nursery."
"Xena, I had thought about returning home after the baby was old enough to travel."
Xena stared at Gabrielle and started to reply but was interrupted by the arrival of her ministers. "We'll talk later," Xena promised as she went to greet the men. Gabrielle noticed that Xena's entire demeanor changed as she started talking to the men, she became more regal, stronger, more authoritative.
Part II of And Baby Makes...