Black Lily

The Offering

The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the sole property and copyright of MCA Universal and they are kind enough to let me borrow them for the purposes of my entertainment only. So don’t do anything stupid with this story. The characters of the Gods and Goddesses are the copyright and possession of the Ancient Greeks, who probably don’t have a lawyer. However, my suggestion is, don’t do anything stupid with them either. 

This story does have scenes of consensual sex taking place between adult females. If you are under the age of consent in your state/town/family or you are offended by this, please, please, don’t read this story. It will only waste your time and annoy the pig. If you are reading this story because you think that sex between women is a great bit of foreplay until *you* come on the scene, get a life. I didn’t make this for you and you are doomed to a life of disappointment and futility. 

This story takes place some three days after “The Furies” and came to me as I sat in a car, watching the moon travel across the sky. I thank Athena and Artemis for consenting to be present in this story and offer it to them as a sacrifice. They know why, probably better than I do.

Positive feedback is greatly welcome at yuricon@gmail.com

The Offering

Chapter 1 

The westering sun painted the sky with neon streaks of orange and pink, as the two women made their way down the road. The smaller woman, on foot, stopped to look off to the southwest. She sighed wearily, then spoke.

“Xena, let’s stop for the night. I think I see something on the top of that hill,” she pointed.

The words came back quickly, hard and bitter. “No. We have to move on.”

The smaller woman moved forward and touched the mounted woman lightly on the leg. The bard glanced up with concern. Her friend’s face was ragged, her eyes hollow and there were livid circles underneath her eyes.

“Why? To where? Xena, we can’t keep running.” She stopped, her voice dropped to nearly a whisper, “You can’t run from yourself forever.”

Xena jerked up, as if she had been hit. Looking startled and a little scared, she took a shallow breath and nodded. Gabrielle pointed again to the hill, pretending not to see her friend’s shattered nerves and they moved slowly off the road towards the low hill.

The light was failing rapidly, so they picked up their pace until they reached the summit and the building Gabrielle had seen. In the dusk, all they could make out was part of a low marble building; atrium, anteroom and inner chamber, all hidden by the shadows. The clearing was small, but clean and dry. The two travelers quickly unloaded their packs and set up a small camp in the open atrium of the temple. *For surely,* thought the bard, *that is what this place is. And old temple, very old, unused, but not wrecked or plundered.*

The warrior set up a fire in a small pit and silently began to pull out supplies for the night. The two women had grown so comfortable together over the years, each moved through their tasks quickly and efficiently. Yet this night the tension was thick enough to cut with a sword.

They sat together to eat, taking what comfort they could from each other’s presence. The warrior, more silent than ever, withdrawing into an inner world of intense silence, made the usually talkative bard self-conscious about her voice. After they had cleaned up the remains of their meal Gabrielle took a deep breath. *This is it,* she vowed, *I’m going to get through to her. If it takes all night…*

Keeping her voice even and low, she began, ” Xena, I don’t know what you are feeling, or how I can help you, but you’ve got to let me… you’ve got to talk about it. When the Furies struck you mad you couldn’t deal with your pain rationally, when you got your sanity back you needed to be strong for your mother. Now you need to heal. Let me be strong for you.” The bard laid her head on the familiar shoulder. She could feel Xena taking deep breaths, calming breaths. The breathing was steady and quiet, but from within the warrior’s chest, Gabrielle felt a shudder, then another. She looked up and to her shock, she saw tears running down her friend’s face. She realized that Xena was crying. Shifting, Gabrielle put her arms around Xena, who was trying not to cry. Huge wracking shudders and gasping breaths were quickly winning over what was left of Xena’s will.

Gabrielle stroked Xena’s hair and muttered, “Go ahead, cry, its the Gods’ gift to us. It helps us heal and be whole.” Xena caved in and cried. Her head on Gabrille’s chest, she cried until the bard thought her heart would break. In between breaths she heard the warrior sobbing about being so weak, so childish, so vulnerable.

When the warrior had worn herself out, Gabrielle lowered Xena’s head onto her lap and stroking her hair, let Xena purge herself of all the pent-up emotions.

“Do you know,” Xena sobbed, “I haven’t cried like this since I was a child.” *And its been so long since you were a child,* Gabrielle thought. *Even when you were young, there wasn’t anyone to protect you.*

“I’m here now.” Gabrielle said, completing her thought out loud. Xena sighed and slowly fell into an uneasy sleep, her head still in the younger woman’s lap.

From within the temple a figure, pale, marble-like in the moonlight reflecting off the temple walls, watched the two women silently. Tears pooled in the figure’s eyes but did not spill onto its cheeks. A long, white neck stiffened as Xena’s anguish overcame her, but no other outward sign of emotion was visible on that carved, still face.

Late that night Xena awoke in a rush, from a nightmare so vivid, she cried out and leapt up to her feet before she was even awake. Gabrielle was awake instantly and tried to draw Xena back down to the blankets. “Do you want to talk about it? ” Gabrielle asked. Xena, sitting heavily on the ground, shook her head back and forth a few times and laid her head back on Gabrielle’s lap. The last sound she heard was Gabrielle quietly singing lullabies from her childhood. The soothing voice remained with her all night long. Xena slept well for the first time in days.

Chapter 2
The next morning, Gabrielle was relieved to see Xena looking visibly better. The bard had woken as the sun broke over the stand of trees around the clearing, but Xena had already been busy. Food for the day had been hunted, the clearing was well set up with supplies and their makeshift shelter in the atrium was cleaned and all debris removed. Firewood was stacked up near the entrance. Xena looked up and smiled at Gabrielle’s sleepy form.

“I’m glad to see you’re up early. We’ve got a lot to do before we go today.”

“On no,” said the bard quickly. “We’re not going anywhere. Not yet.” Seeing Xena’s face darken she went on. “Look, Xena, you’ve just had a bad time of it. Last night was the first night you slept in, well, four days. I’m worried about you and we’re not going another step until I’m sure you’re okay to go on.” Gabrielle kept her eyes
locked on those of the warrior, willing herself to put steel into her voice. They stared at one another a moment, and finally Xena wilted. *Thanks the Gods,* thought Gabrielle. *I don’t know if I would’ve been able to stop her leaving, if she had her heart set on it.*

For her part, Xena returned to the task she had set for herself – repairing and cleaning Argo’s tack. *Gods, she’s strong willed. I don’t think I could leave even if I wanted to. I’m still tired and still, well…, beaten. I need time to get my strength back. Even if I don’t want to admit it.*

The morning passed with such chores as a life on the road imposes. Cleaning, repairing equipment and clothes, foraging and setting up camp. Last night’s hasty preparations for bed were straightened and a more strategic place for their possessions found. After a midday meal, Xena looked at Gabrielle and slyly asked, “Well? Shall we?” and gestured towards the interior of the temple.

Gabrielle laughed. “I didn’t think you’d *ever* ask!” She got up, brushed herself off and automatically reached for her staff, then stopped. “Um, I don’t feel right about it somehow…” and looked over to see Xena already removing her sword and laying it carefully within easy reach of the temple entrance.

Together the two women entered to anteroom of the old temple. Plain, unadorned marble surrounded them. The light from the sun, filtered by trees and reflected by the white walls made an eerie, golden light in the room. since no signs of statuary or decoration existed they decided to move inwards and find out who the temple
belonged to.

“This place is old, very old. It doesn’t seem Greek somehow and yet…” the bard began.

“And yet its very Greek. ” the warrior finished. “Almost as if…as if it was the real thing, before the architects and politicians got their hands on religion. When people needed the Gods and the Gods needed people. When they believed that they could do each other good.” Gabrielle looked at her friend in surprise. Xena blushed. “You’re
rubbing off on me.” she said, in explanation of her eloquence.

The moved into the dark interior. The light was all second-hand, from the anteroom, reflecting again from white marble surfaces. They moved slowly, letting their eyes adjust to the gloom. They could make out a simple altar, still with no inscriptions, and a small niche. No other decoration existed to help identify the deity who’s residence
they were trespassing. Without speaking they retreated to their camp and breathed the warmer air of the atrium. Xena stepped away from Gabrielle and made as if to enter the forest, but the smaller woman laid her hand on Xena’s wrist.

“Wait,” she said, ” We need to make a sacrifice.” In response to Xena’s look, she continued, “Nothing fancy. maybe one rabbit and some herbs or root vegetables. Look, we don’t have a banquet here anyway, we might as well let this God or Goddess know we appreciate the shelter.”

“I can’t argue with that.” Xena said. “But Gabrielle, you know how I feel about the Gods’ interfering…” she choked up and turned away from her friend. Gabrielle put her hand on Xena’s shoulder.

“That’s exactly why we have to leave an offering.” the bard stated. Xena nodded and solemnly gathered up the best of what provisions they had. Once again they entered the old temple. Once again they made their way to the inner sanctum and together, solemnly, they placed their offerings on the altar. The air was tense and still. A
sense of expectation hung around the small room. They both let out a breath at the same time. They smiled and began to turn to the entrance.

“Oh!” It was Gabrielle that spoke. She pointed to the marble altar. Xena whirled and stopped, stunned. The plain face of the altar was now glowing with an engraving. Two spirals, intertwined, inlaid with gold, sent forth a radiant light that lit up the small room. Xena squinted against the light and spoke. “Eyes?”

Gabrielle nodded. “Those are Athena’s eyes. I’ve seen them before, on old coins and very, very old pottery. This must be one of the oldest temples ever dedicated to her.”

Xena looked for another long moment. “Yes, they are the eyes of an owl. And human, too. Well, now we know.”

They stood in silence a few more minutes and the inlaid eyes continued to glow. At some point, neither could say when, they knew it was time to leave, so they turned their backs on the glowing altar and headed out to the clearing. Behind them the eyes on the altar dimmed, almost to invisibility, but did not disappear.

Stepping out of the shadows, a pale figure walked up to the altar. Placing its hands on the food, it spoke a benediction. The offerings , all except the wildflowers that Gabrielle had picked and placed next to the food, disappeared.

Chapter 3

When the two friends stood with their feet planted firmly on the ground they released the breaths that they had been holding. They laughed at themselves “I didn’t even realize I was holding my breath.” Gabrielle laughed. “Hey! I saw a really big rock, just on the edge of the hill. Let’s go get some sun and relax.” she headed out
towards the south end of the clearing. When she reached the woods’ edge she looked back, “I’ll race you!” she shouted and took off onto the small path.

Smiling Xena let her Gabrielle get a good start and then with a few strides, leapt and flipped past Gabrielle, ran up the path and was not even breathing hard when the bard finally arrived at the large rock. “I really hate when you do that!” Gabrielle panted. Xena raised an eyebrow, “Well, okay,” the bard laughed, “I love when you do that.” Xena continued to look at her steadily. For once Gabrielle couldn’t read her expression. “I love that.” she repeated quietly. Her heart pounding, Xena turned brusquely away and pointed.

“Not only a fine flat rock to sun on, but a lovely clear stream. I don’t know about me, but *you* need a bath!” and she pushed Gabrielle towards the water.

“Me? I can smell you before I see….” the rest of the insult was lost as Xena pushed her in and under a small stream that ran westward behind the temple. The bard came up spluttering and used her momentum to splash the warrior. Xena laughed and flipped over Gabrielle’s head, only to be dunked from below, as she pushed the
smaller woman under.

They spent a happy few minutes splashing and swimming and generally washing the grit of travel from their bodies and their clothes. Laying their gear out to dry, the two women laid themselves out on the rock to dry as well. The sun was warm and they felt content, as long as they didn’t talk about anything of consequence. Gabrielle put up with the small talk as long as she could. Finally she rolled over and looked hard at her friend.

“I have to ask you this, Xena. If you don’t want to or can’t answer, that’s okay.” Xena looked aggrieved, but quickly realized that the bard was serious and her expression became veiled.

“I’ll do my best, Gabrielle, but I can’t make any promises.” Seeing the bard’s face soften, she continued, “But I won’t hold anything back from you.” Gabrielle nodded.

“After you renounced Ares and decided to do good….”she paused, looking for the right words, “Why didn’t you turn to Athena? Ares isn’t the only God of War, you must have known that. And everything you do now, using your wits and using strategy – that’s all Athena’s type of war.” she finished in a rush, afraid she’d upset the warrior.

Xena took a few moments before answering. She stared hard past the stream, over the view to the valley below. “That’s a hard question, Gabrielle. I don’t know if I can answer it.” She took a deep breath. “Partly because all my life I’ve never seen the Gods’ interference as a good thing. They always take a price for anything they give you. When I renounced my attachment to Ares, I promised myself I’d never ask for anything else from the Gods. I didn’t…I don’t think I can pay the price.” She swallowed and looked into Gabrielle’s eyes. “And because everyday I think about Ares, what he gave me and what he took from me, I feel dirty. What Goddess, particularly the Goddess of Rhetoric, Strategy, all the higher pursuits of the mind, particularly her – what would she want with a whore like me?” she let the tears that had formed spill over her cheeks. Gabrielle wiped a tear off her cheek. She cupped Xena’s face in her hands and continued to look in her eyes.

“I’m so sorry.” she said. “I had no idea. And now, to find out that Ares’ caused your father to be killed…” Her eyes narrowed. “I wish I was Hercules. I’d go up to Mount Olympus and make them pay.”

“Shush, Gabrielle.” Xena covered one of the bards hands with hers. “You can’t fight the Gods and you can’t deny them. They’re not all bad. What we ask of them is what makes them the way we are.”

Gabrielle closed her eyes. “I never had such a personal relationship with a god. I mean I’m a chosen one of Artemis, but that’s because of the Amazons and I’m not really an Amazon. I call on them, when I’m worried or upset or angry, of course, but I never thought how I never thank them for all the good things that happened to
me. I never thanked them for bringing you into my life.” Her eyes opened and she smiled. Xena was staring, her mouth open, her eyes wide. They held each other a moment, hands linked, while Xena remembered to breath. Gabrielle squeezed Xena’s hand once more and stood up.

“Get your clothes on Warrior Princess, and let’s do something about dinner.” the bard bounced off the rock and headed back to camp without looking back. Xena sat, staring at the powerhouse of emotion she had let into her life when she had allowed the bard to travel with her. *Such a little person, such a lot of wisdom. And so much
feeling, I don’t know if I can control it. Or even if that’s what I should do. I’m way out of my depth here.* And the Warrior Princess did as she was told. She put on her clothes and followed the bard back to camp.

After dinner, Gabrielle sat and wrote down some thoughts while Xena tended to her weapons. While the chakram always seemed magically clean, as Gabrielle knew, the sword and knives had to be wiped and oiled everyday to keep rust away. When it was time for sleep Xena settled down next to the bard. Gabrielle just looked at the great warrior with a small smile on her face.

“Would it help if you laid your head in my lap again?” the bard asked quietly, in a voice that brooked no arguments. Xena meekly, embarrassed and abashed, laid her head in the small lap and allowed herself to be soothed by the familiar voice singing lullabies and the beloved touch stroking her hair.

The moon had almost set when Xena spoke from her nightmare. “Father!” she screamed and sat up. “Ares!” she hissed, her eyes wide open. Gabrielle, shocked, but awake looked around. She saw no one. She reached out to touch Xena, but drew back when she saw the bloodlust in the warrior’s eyes. Not madness, but not sanity either. Xena paced around looking for her enemy and Gabrielle used the few seconds she had to come up with a strategy. *I can’t wake her – I don’t know what it will do to her. I can’t let her stay like this.*

Gabrielle took a breath and began to hum. The tune, simple and sweet had been heard to come from Xena’s mouth when she was unconsciously happy. Once, when the bard pointed it out and asked what the song was, the warrior had quickly changed the subject. As a bard, she was no singing star, but Gabrielle’s voice was
pleasant and the tune seemed to gather strength in the still air of the clearing. Almost as if there was another voice, beneath hers, enriching it and strengthening it. Xena, still lost in her sleep vision said, “Mother?” and stopped pacing. She sat down where she was and began to sing words to the song. Gabrielle could not hear the
words, or maybe they were in a foreign tongue, but tears sprang to her eyes as Xena’s voice lifted and sang of love and sadness and reunion. The young bard walked over to Xena, coaxed her to lay down and then laid down next to the warrior. Gabrielle closed her eyes. Then she jumped and opened them again and looked right into Xena’s face. Xena was kissing her! With a great deal of passion, too! And her hands were doing something not entirely unpleasant to…

Gabrielle stiffened her arm and pushed Xena away. “No.” she said. “No.” she repeated until, Xena opened her eyes and looked at her friend. Xena, awake now, was flushed and hot with embarrassment and something else, too. *Lust?* Gabrielle thought, *for me?* She was not that naive and understood what this emotion could do to people, so she backed away a little from Xena. *After all, this woman was a warlord. Who knows what she…* Shocked at her own thoughts of violence, Gabrielle focused again on the warrior only a pace away. Xena had herself under control once again and was watching Gabrielle from under lowered lids.

They spoke at the same time. they laughed nervously. Gabrielle motioned for Xena to begin.

“I’m not going to apologize for my behavior. I was asleep and having a nightmare, true. But I was not asleep when I kissed you. I can only say that I am sorry for offending you.” Xena shut her mouth like it would never open again. Her lips were thin lines and her skin waxy and pale.

Gabrielle was quiet for a long moment before she answered.

“Your wrong, you know. That isn’t the problem.” The bard waved her hands around her ineffectually. “I’m at a loss for words.” she laughed tightly. And drew another breath. “Xena, its not the thing you did, the, um, kiss. You kissed me once before, remember? I didn’t stop you then.” Xena nodded, and the color began to come back into her face.

“Nightmares, jumpiness, sleepwalking – this isn’t the Xena I know. This is a woman who needs time. Time to heal, time to find herself. When you’ve had that time, when you are you…then kiss me. Then I won’t push you away.” And Gabrielle smiled, because at that last sentence, Xena’s face positively flushed with color, even in the
pale light of the damped down fire and the setting moon.

They laid down once again and slept, close, touching in places, quietly and deeply until the sun was well risen.

In a dark edge of the clearing, right outside the atrium, a quiet, still figure, invisible in the wan silver light of the moon, stood. A brazen helmet and shield lay on the ground by the figure’s feet. The solitary being had watched the entire scene, and she too was flushed. The tension and connection between the two women had her
entranced. Day and night she watched them interact, with no involvement and no movement towards them, her presence unknown. During this last nightmare scene her breathing had become shallow and fast. When the great warrior had kissed the bard, her breathing became panting and her chest lifted and dropped quickly. What
emotions had these two brave women kindled in this heart? She did not know. She did not want to know. When the two mortals slept, she stood and listened to their breathing and tried to understand them. And tried to understand herself.

The pale presence was herself watched. How she would laugh to know that! Yet outside her precinct, in the woods that belonged to another, that presence was herself being watched. And the second watcher knew exactly what she was seeing. Had she not dreamed this very thing? The second watcher had her prey in her
sight and was content to wait. This pale one, with the alabaster skin and the onyx curls would be hers. She could wait.

Chapter 4

The next morning was even fairer and milder than the day before. Xena knew better than to speak of leaving, after the debacle of last night. She was quiet, but no more so than usual and Gabrielle was even more solicitous than normal. They breakfasted shortly and split up to do chores. Xena was on firewood detail and Gabrielle,
having noticed an untended garden on the other side of the temple was going to forage for usable herbs or plants.

The bard headed off to the east of the temple precinct and easily found the ground that had once been tilled and planted with a variety of useful plants. Most of the grains had died out, but the tubers and the herbs had just gone wild and proliferated freely. She’d have a productive morning. She took out of the bags she had brought and got down to work.

Xena scoured the woods north of the temple for wood that had fallen. Everyone knows you don’t cut fresh wood for fires. She smiled. As a child she had been told of dryads, spirits of the tress that could be threatened or cajoled into granting favors. As an adult she learned of seasoning wood to use for burning. Spirits or common
sense, you don’t cut down a tree if you don’t have to, she thought. Most trees seemed to shed enough wood on their own, anyway. And she wasn’t all that pleased by the idea of cutting wood found on temple grounds. Who knows how big the area is. or how vindictive its guardians. This line of thought made her uneasy, so she focused on gathering wood instead.

When midmorning had flown and the sun was high, Xena stopped to rest in the shade of the temple anteroom. She sat with her back to the cool marble and closed her eyes for the moment. Her thoughts whirled around the events of the last few years, making her dizzy. Death, war, revenge turning into pillage, rape and murder. These
scenes changed to respect, friendship and feelings of helping. Then love. Something she hadn’t expected or wanted. She hadn’t really respected or even liked Iolus at first, he’d been so easy to manipulate. By the time she got to understand him, he was gone and she was alone with her ugly thoughts. Her original army of fellow
villagers was gone, and she was left with bandits, thieves and murderers, men she hated and ruled through fear alone. Then Hercules, whom she had feared and who had respected her and seen through her mask and reached out to help her. Then she had left them, ready to shoulder her burden alone, ready to die trying to help, where
she had always been ready to die trying to hurt. And into this chaos a quiet, small center of calm, a life so small, so insignificant it had changed her from a cold, unfeeling warrior to…a woman.

Xena stood up and walked to the atrium. She retrieved her sword and strode into the main sanctum and knelt before the altar. She placed her sword on the altar, closed her eyes and began to pray.

Gabrielle had eaten her lunch, sitting under a tree near the garden. She had collected nearly a whole bag full of root vegetables and several pouches full of herbs and spices. She didn’t mind rabbit, but always preferred rabbit something. Everything tastes better with some flavoring, she thought. She decided to rest, the day was warm and the work hard, so she closed her eyes. She had no sense of time, so when the sound began she was surprised to find the sun had moved quite a bit across the sky. “Almost three hours after noon. Wow, that was some rest, Gabrielle.” she said out loud. And then the hum came, louder, more insistent. She stood up and oriented herself. *Its coming from the temple. Of course it is, its a temple, things happen there.* But her steps were drawn towards the marble structure inexorably.

When she got to the clearing, she looked around for Xena, but didn’t see her. The hum was louder, more like a chant, now and she felt even more compelled to move into the shadow of the inner sanctum. What she saw there made her heart stop. Xena knelt before the alter on one knee, arms at her side, palms facing up in supplication.
Her eyes were closed, but her mouth was open and it was she that was chanting. From her mouth came a strange, compelling rhythm, one that began low and haunting. Gabrielle could swear she heard another voice adding itself, swirling around the strange notes and fading away. The eyes of the altar were invisible. A plain stone marker it looked, but it seemed to be a part of whatever Xena was doing. Her chant echoed around the small room, growing larger with every breath. All at once, Xena’s voice soared into a higher octave, drawing all the energy of her prayer higher and higher until with a sudden whoosh, the sound vanished into the low ceiling and she stopped singing.

Gabrielle gasped with wonder, tears of an inconceivable joy and sadness on her face, as Xena stood slowly and wobbly. The bard brushed the tears away and ran to help Xena up. The warrior turned and gave her friend a weak smile. She turned away from the altar and began to trace her steps back to the atrium.

“Your sword…” Gabrielle breathed. Xena shook her head.

“I won’t be needing it anymore.” she said. her voice was soft, but strong. They started to leave and once more the light in the temple changed. The eyes flamed, golden red this time, angry and raw. The two women stopped. Had Xena’s prayer offended the goddess of this place? That didn’t make any sense, her song had been sincere and beautiful. They stood, leaning on each other, waiting for some judgment. Xena did not try to tell Gabrielle to go. She knew the bard would not leave her side. In truth, she was glad for her company.

To their surprise, the red glow faded to gold and then to green. When the eyes on the altar were a placid blue, Xena’s eyes widened and she stared fixedly at her sword. It began to rise from the surface of the altar and float through the air towards her suddenly outstretched arm. Her sword settled itself snugly in her hand and she felt her arm tense and thrust. Standing away from Gabrielle, she began, automatically, to run through some basic sword exercises. The sword felt light and beeter than that, it felt right, in her hand. She laughed, because it felt good to cut and thrust, parry and turn with this fine weapon in her competent hand.

When she was done, she stood to her full height and smiling widely turned to Gabrielle. The bard was gaping, still looking at the altar. No, looking at what was behind it. No, *who* was behind it. In full armor, with bronze
helmet and shield with the Gorgon’s head, stood Athena. Tall and as pale as ivory, cold as marble, she gleamed in the light from the eyes on her own altar. Xena stood her ground, and met the eyes of the goddess.

“How dare he?” Athena said, cryptically. Xena and Gabrielle looked quizzically at her, but said nothing. “How dare Ares take such a fine mare and break her to the whip, rather than the halter. Typical of him, what he lacks in subtlety he makes up in stupidity.” the Goddess of subtle warfare smiled coldly. “But that’s not the point, is is?” and she looked at Xena and gave her a warm, friendly smile. Xena smiled back tentatively, while Gabrielle smiled a small, private smile. She knew what it cost Xena to be civil to a God, much less to be nice.

“Shall I be formal? ‘Your prayer has been heard and rejected.’ Or shall I tell you why I’m here in person?” Athena continued. Her manner was not at all frivolous, but personable and warm. She stepped around the altar and the stone eyes glowed golden, casting a fiery reflection on her bronze armor. Her black hair, falling in waves and curls underneath her helm, looked like the sea at sunset.

She took one of each of the women’s hands and led them out of the inner sanctum through the anteroom and out into the atrium. The moon was rising, full and copper colored. There was no fire burning in their camp, but sufficient light to see by.

“The story is not long, my daughters. Whenever a child is born, there is a reckoning. Warrior, blacksmith, healer, or bard, each God or Goddess gets his or her due. Except in one situation. If the child in question is a fighter there are two paths. One, what we call “warrior” is to serve the God of War. As you know his philosophy is that the end justifies the means. When the child in question is to become a “hero” or a soldier, they are given to me. Under my tutelage, the child learns that the means should justify the end.” Athena paused. “However, Ares is not content with his portion and constantly seeks to take what is mine. The nature of conflict and the nature of war being so closely bound, it takes a strong mortal to wrest him or her self from that bog.”

She seated the two women in their accustomed place by the fire and nodded for Xena to build one. When the fire was lit and the air in the atrium warmed, she continued.

“You,” she looked at Xena “were meant for me. Ares took you. As I said, its a simple story. Today you offered me a gift. You tried to give up your ability to fight.” Gabrielle could not stop herself from exclaiming. “Peace, bard. I did not accept the gift.” Athena stepped closer.

“Would you like to know why? Of course, I see that you would. Because it is not yours to give.”

The Goddess turned to Gabrielle. “Which of the two of you would you say is the stronger? Xena? You would. And, you would be wrong. You, my dear Gabrielle are by far the stronger of the two. You are the heart the Xena draws on when she is in battle, your are her strength.” She turned once again to Xena. “You cannot give your strength away, because it is not yours. It is hers. To give your strength away. you would have to give her away. You couldn’t do that if you wanted to.” She flashed white teeth is a perfect smile.

“As I said, I tutor heroes and soldiers. You are both and you are neither. Oh, yes, Gabrielle, you are both, as well. You are most definitely a hero – and a fighter, now. You’re very handy with that staff. You know you can handle yourself with it don’t you? And so does Xena.

“But neither of you need my help. You’ve come to this role without me and it would be wrong for me to call you my chosen, or to try and train you. I will say this, though. Xena, had you chosen to dedicate yourself to me, I would have had to refuse you. Ah, you blush. Not because you are tainted, but because you are too good. I have nothing to teach you.” Again she smiled. “And so I gave you the only thing I have to give – peace. Everything else you can gain, you have already in yourselves. No one, God or mortal can give you or take from you anything without your consent.”

Athena sighed deeply and pulled out two small bronze objects she handed one to each woman.

“You have given me something, however. You have made me understand how alone I am. For the days you have spent here, I have never been so, populated, with disconcerting thoughts and feelings. Fighting skills, all the theoretical arts of war take many hours to learn and I spend much of that time correcting and training my students. It leaves so little time for…fun.” She shook her head sadly. “Anyway, I do have these to give you . You’ll find out if they are a gift or a burden. I hope you’ll feel that they are a gift.”

Athena, armor gleaming in the firelight, standing tall and straight, put her arms over their heads.

“Insofar as I have the power to do so, I bless both of you and all your undertakings.”

And she was gone.

The two women sat for a long time in silence. Nothing moved, no sound but the fire. Gabrielle finally looked into her palm and noticed the bronze sigil of the eyes of Athena. She smiled. *What a lovely gift.*

Xena, as in a daze, looked at her own amulet, not comprehending. *What does this mean?* she thought, *I can’t believe she doesn’t want something in return.* Once again she shook her head, trying to clear it. And her gaze lighted on Gabrielle. Her strength, Athena had said. *Much more* was the thought that came unbidden to her
mind. And all the joy she had ever shared with Gabrielle came tumbling in a rush through her mind’s eye. Dizzied with happiness, she looked at her friend only to find her looking back knowingly.

“Yes, I remember that time too.” Gabrielle said, slyly.

“What?” Xena was at a loss, until the image, once again of a day in a town very far away came to her. She looked at Gabrielle, her disbelief apparent on her face.

“Is it possible?” Xena breathed. “Are we sharing thoughts?”

“Feelings” said Gabrielle as she reached for the warrior. “Remember this?” and they remembered yesterday at the rock by the stream together. When they remembered Gabrielle’s words of the night before, the question was answered before it even had to be spoken. Xena took Gabrielle in her arms and they kissed. The feeling was like
nothing either of them could imagine or articulate, for they had, not only their own joy, but their lover’s, as well.

For a long time they sat by the fire and kissed, sharing emotions and sensations, along with small snatches of conversation. Once again, the pale watcher stood at the edge of the clearing, invisible to all eyes – but one being saw her.

Athena never heard the soft hunter’s tread behind her. So intent was she on the two women by the fire, she didn’t hear the small shufflings of the night as she was approached from behind. Until the light breath and the soft voice were at her ear, she knew nothing of her company.

“Alone again, Pallas? On such a beautiful moonlit night? Don’t you know that moonlight was made for sharing?” There was no irony, no sarcasm in the voice. Only sadness and hope. The ivory Goddess turned away from the fire and looked directly into the eyes of the Huntress. Artemis had black eyes, deep and wide. In the light of the evening, they were portals one could fall into and never return. She was clothed in hunter’s garb and her hair was short, almost boyish. Her smile was friendly, shy and her voice soft and lulling.

“Artemis.” She said in greeting. “I was wondering If I’d made a mistake with my gift. But perhaps not.”

The Goddess of the Hunt put her hand lightly on Athena’s shoulder. “A gift of love is never wrong.”

Athena laughed self-deprecatingly. “What do we know of love? A Hunter and a General?”

Artemis’s hand trailed up Athena’s sleeve to her neck. “What may we not know? If you can give love you can take it.” Athena backed away and turned to the women at the fire.

“They teach me of love. I gave them nothing.”

“They teach you that you are lonely.” It was not a question.

“Yes.” They stood in silence.

At the fire Xena gently stripped Gabrielle of her bodice, with much tickling and giggling in between caresses andstrokes. “My beautiful Gabrielle.” Xena sighed and kissed her way down the pale neck, brushing through the
red-gold hair towards the soft flesh between breast and ribs. Gabrielle sighed and ran her fingers through her lover’s dark hair. Interspersed with their groans they could catch glimpses of thoughts of feelings of love, of lust, of pure happiness in each other’s thoughts.

When Xena’s lips covered her nipple Gabrielle thought she would die from happiness. An image of her and her sister, laying in a field, right after harvest, straw in their mouths, talking of the future. Xena said, around her mouth full of breast, “I never had peace like that in my life. It must have been nice.”

Gabrielle laughed and drew Xena’s face up for a kiss. “My turn.” she said.

Undoing the straps at Xena’s shoulders, she folded the soft leather down and kissed, licked and sucked at the edges of her shoulder and breast. Slowly, maddeningly she peeled the top down, revealing Xena’s breast. Even more slowly, as if she was afraid, Gabrielle approached the soft mound.

“Are you okay with this?” Xena asked suddenly. Images of rape and pillage coming unbidden to her mind. Gabrielle shuddered and looked at her warrior.

“I’m fine. I’m just trying to make it last. You know what they say – the whole world goes crazy for it and it only lasts a few minutes. I don’t want that.” and she kissed all around Xena’s aureole, circling in closer and closer, until she took the whole nipple into her mouth. Xena’s moan traveled straight down the bard’s spins and lodged
directly in her center. Cold chills, hot flashes and an intense wetness all flashed through Gabrielle’s senses. She moaned and pushed Xena onto the ground.

Xena spoke into her hair. “Does my moaning make you feel that way?”

“Yes.” came the muffled response.

Xena took on of Gabrielle’s hands and lowered it to her groin. Her legs spread and Gabrielle’s hand pushed Xena’s underclothes aside. Her fingers sank into the soft wetness that was Xena. Both moaned at the same time, loudly. The bard laughed. “What will Athena think of us now?”

Artemis noticed the quickening breathing, the shallow movements underneath the sculpted breastplate. Once again her hand found Athena’s neck and slowly rubbed circles under the helmet edge. The alabaster goddess turned again in recognition. “Artemis, what did you come here to hunt? This is my temple and you are not often a
visitor here.”

The Huntress let her hand slip around to the War Goddess’s chin and jaw. “You.” she said simply.

“I have no artifice. I’m a simple hunter. If you wish wiles and love games, talk to Aphrodite. I followed you here and I mean to have you.” Artemis smiled to take the sting out of her words. “And as you know I’m the best hunter there is. I always get my prey.”

Athena placed her hand over Artemis’s. She stood there for a long moment and sighed.

“I feel well and truly caught. And I’m the Goddess of Strategy. I failed the see the obvious frontal attack. Remind me not to play chess with you.” And she stepped closer and kissed the Huntress. Passionately, hungrily the caressed each other, removing armor and hunting gear with a fever that would’ve shocked Aphrodite had she been there to see it.

They lowered themselves to the earth on the other side of the fire from the mortal couple, now engaged in learning about each other’s pleasures.

Xena pulled Gabrielle on top of her and sat her down at her level of her own pelvis. The bard began to grind her hips back and forth, while Xena reached up and fondled the beautiful, pale breasts above her. Their moans grew louder and more insistent. Xena reached down and entered her lover, using thumb to manipulate her clitoris.
Gabrielle moved faster and harder, rubbing against Xena, driving her wild. They reached climax almost as one and their moans of delight actually made the two Goddesses look up and laugh.

“Can we approach that level of wonder and pleasure? We, who are immortal, we have so much time, I don’t think we know how to use it well.” Athena said, petting the pubis of the lithe figure next to her. Artemis responded by taking Athena’s hand and using it to rub her own vulva.

“Will that do?” Artemis wondered. “Or will I need to do this?” and she lowered herself to that selfsame vulva and taking it into her mouth, proceeded to make it weep with joy.

Gabrielle lay between Xena’s legs, wondering how she got here, from being a farm girl from Potedeia. A Bard, a hero’s friend, a hero, she thought about what Athena had said. She rubbed her cheeks across Xena’s mound and played tantalizingly with her labia. Xena took about as much as she could stand and firmly, but gently, brought
the bard’s face to her center. Gabrielle was a fast learner and soon was using her tongue to stroke the warrior into a frenzy of passion.

Across the clearing, Athena lowered herself to worship, for once, at another God’s altar. With all her skills she had never been this close to another being before, not God, not mortal. She took the thin hips in her arms and swore on her father, that she wouldn’t let this one go soon. Her mouth spoke it insistence with eloquent actions.
As Artemis reached her peak, Xena’s voice rang out with ecstasy and joined the chorus of the Goddesses. The Huntress, the warrior, and the Bard shared a moment of emotion so intense that for a heartbeat, all ceased to exist. Artemis reached out through the bond between warrior and bard and joined their love with hers.

Athena knew immediately what had been done and she smiled complacently. As Artemis crawled down her body, drawing nipples into lips and kissing ribs and hipbones, Xena, unconsciously mirrored their actions. Planted now between Gabrielle’s legs, she set about with exacting thoroughness to repay the bard for her own pleasure. Using the link between them, Athena joined her in her quest and added her own dimension to Xena’s love.

When Huntress and Bard orgasmed, all four were joined in a cry that would’ve been heard very far away, if any but the Huntress’s own moon had been there to hear.

The fire burned down and the four, Goddesses and mortals, were bound together by pleasure.

Gabrielle and Xena lay in each other’s arms and slept. The two Goddesses, in a sacred space within the confines of the clearing, but not of it, continued with their pleasure all night long.

Epilogue
The next morning the sun came up, without any sign of stirring from the two women. When Argo started to make some noise they sleepily opened their eyes. Both smiled as they recalled the night’s activities and smiled again as they could feel each other’s pleasure.

“I could get used to this.” Xena said, as she stretched luxuriously.

“Me too.” agreed Gabrielle. “But, Xena, remember what Athena said. That it might not be a good thing? What do you think she meant by that?”

Xena considered. “I think it means we’ll be able to feel each other’s pain, as well. We’re bound now, Gabrielle. It’ll take some getting used to.” And she hugged the bard close.

“Can I ask you an, um, an embarrassing question?” Gabrielle blurted out quickly.

“What’s ever stopped you before?” Xena laughed as she pulled up her slightly worse-for-wear leathers. “Gabrielle! I’ve worn these through wars and hard travel. You’ve ruined them in one night.”

The bard blushed. “I’ll sew them, I promise. Anyway, when we were, uh, when we were making love last night,” she shyly looked up into the warrior’s happy eyes, “did it feel like there were more than just us here? I mean, did it seem like there was someone else here?”

Xena dug around in the pack for another outfit to wear. ” Yes, it did.” she said seriously. “But I thought it was just our “gift” from Athena. Maybe she’s tuned into it too. Kind of scary if you think about it.” She shrugged, not wanting to consider the implications. She should’ve know Gabrielle would.

“No, I don’t think so. Yes, it would be like a God to do that, but I’ll swear I heard two voices every time we, well you know.”

“Gabrielle, when you blush you look ten years younger. Don’t do it too often or I’ll be accused of kidnapping or worse.”

“Xena, you look ten years younger too. I’m glad we stayed here, I feel, I don’t know, whole, I guess. How do you feel about what happened in Amphipolis? About your father and the Furies.?”

Xena stopped dressing and looked seriously at Gabrielle. “I feel whole, Gabrielle. I feel like I can forgive my family, my mother. I never blamed the Furies, they were just doing their job. Right now, I feel as if I can forgive Ares. He took so much of my life away, but he made me what I am. And he brought me to you. For that, I can
forgive him..” She pulled her second boot on. “And I think that maybe the Gods and people can live together. Maybe not all Gods are selfish. or maybe they’re not selfish all the time.”

Gabrielle helped the warrior up to her feet. “Or maybe,” said the bard, ” you were right and its what we ask that makes the Gods that way.”

They spent the rest of the day cleaning the little temple and packing. When late afternoon arrived they left some food and herbs as offerings on the altar and took the path back to the main road.

As the sun began to dip behind the hill, a gleam of gold reflected off the temple roof and the two travelers looked back and smiled. They both felt gratitude, theirs and each other’s, well up inside their chests. They shouldered their bags, got Argo moving and set off for the next village.

FIN