Grape by Della Street

The real story behind the myth . . . .

Another juicy grape was poised before her lips. She opened her mouth and took in the fruit, lightly catching the ends of the fingers that held it between her lips.

Someone cleared his throat. "Uh, Xena, could we talk to you?"

She stared at the three men standing before her. Warm summer breeze, music filtering through the air, lover seated on her lap feeding one appetite and whetting another, and they wanted to talk to her. They had to be kidding.

"Some other time, fellas." She turned her attention back to Gabrielle's tunic. Or, more accurately, to the swell of skin beneath it. The garment had been loosened such that it afforded Xena a clear view of round white flesh. Her field of vision stopped tantalizingly short of its culmination, but a surreptitious hand inside a few minutes earlier had assured her that Gabrielle's body was alert, ready for her attentions when the tension finally overcame them. Xena's palm moved on Gabrielle's thigh, almost imperceptible to an observer but instantly perceived by her aroused lover.

She readied herself for another grape.

"Uh . . . Xena?"

The warrior's expression, not the friendliest before, was now overtly menacing. The spokesman instinctively took a step backward.

"I'm busy."

"Yes, uh, we can see that." Quaking hands squeezed the cloth hat that had covered the man's balding head a few minutes earlier.

"Then I'd suggest you go away."

He swallowed nervously, but did not move. He had some backbone, she had to admit. But if she had to stand up in order to convince them to leave her alone, he was also going to have some broken bones.

"We can't. I mean, it's important."

The petite blonde woman on Xena's lap whispered something in her ear, and the Warrior Princess leveled her gaze at the intruders. "All right. What do you want?"

She had acceded to Gabrielle's request that she hear them out, but she hadn't agreed to make it easy for them. Or for Gabrielle. Her hand began to move slowly up the younger woman's thigh.

"What do you want?" she repeated. The first man pulled his eyes back to hers, while his two colleagues continued to gape at the exploring hand.

"Don't," came the soft murmur in her ear. But it was one of Gabrielle's 'we shouldn't, but I want to' protests that only served to fuel Xena's determination. Any moment now, propriety would yield to desire . . . . The corners of her mouth turned up slightly as Gabrielle lay her head against her shoulder.

"We . . . ." The town's representative cleared his throat. "We have a problem."

Cool blue eyes regarded him with indifference. Fingers stirred on the younger woman's thigh again, accompanied by a faint whimper, and their petitioner's face began to take on a reddish tint. The hand was only a few inches from the bottom of the brown skirt now, and he desperately hoped to get through his speech before it . . . . He pulled himself together, and launched into the oration he had rehearsed before approaching the warrior.

"There are but three ways into this valley," he began. "You and your friend came over the mountain. Travelers also come to us from the south, over the pocked road." He gestured toward the southern edge of the town. "But we have had no one from the north for several months now. We have sent half a dozen of our own men to find if the road is blocked, but none have returned."

Gabrielle shifted on her lap. Damn. They had caught her attention. "Do you have any idea what's happened to them?" the bard asked.

"None. We have had no word." He turned back to Xena. "We're afraid to send any more men. We're not really trained to fight . . . ." His next words, like a warrior, hung as clearly as if he had spoken them aloud.

Xena appraised the townsmen coolly, sensing her companion looking at her. She knew what she would see if she turned her head, but couldn't resist looking into those green eyes anyway. As she expected, they were bright with excitement at another opportunity to right the world's wrongs. After a moment, she turned back to the agitated delegation.

"Where's your home?" The speaker pointed to a house a short distance down the main road. "Find the last person in town you know of who came through the north road," Xena ordered. "I'll be by in the morning." She paused for effect. "Right now I have to get my hands on this woman."

Gabrielle froze, her face warm with embarrassment. Xena smirked as the men disappeared as though fleeing from a ghost.

"You shouldn't do things like that," Gabrielle chided.

"Like what?"

"Saying that. And your hand."

"Why not?"

"People will think you don't have any manners."

Xena looked at her.

"Well, all right, but do you want them to think you're a reprobate?"

"Hey, you're the one who said these people are a little uptight. They're lucky I didn't rip your clothes off and take you right here."

Gabrielle shook her head, exasperated, and looked up again. She met Xena's eyes, her own widening at what she saw. "You wouldn't." She backed away slowly. "Xena . . . ."

She took off running toward the inn. Xena gave her a few seconds, then started after her.

* * *

The disheveled bard stepped into their room, followed by the cause of her disarray. "Well, that's one barn wall that'll never be the same," she observed wryly. Xena smiled, and followed her friend around the side of the bed. Watching Gabrielle stuff leftover grapes into a saddlebag, Xena sat on the bed facing her and leaned back on her hands.

Gabrielle turned around and stood still, recognizing the pose. Xena wanted a show. She wanted to see all the things she had fondled through cloth behind the innkeeper's barn. Gabrielle began to reach for the tie on her tunic, then stopped, feeling a bit mischievous.

A fleeting look of confusion crossed over the warrior's face. Another moment passed, and Xena's expression hardened. "Take off your clothes, Gabrielle."


The ice blue of Xena's eyes deepened as she took in her lover's playful expression. She rose and drew herself up to her full six feet. "I said, take off your clothes."

"And I said no."

The Warrior Princess stared at her, then slowly began advancing toward her willing victim, footsteps noiseless on the wooden floor. Gabrielle's heart raced, and for an instant she experienced a spark of fear, even though Xena had never hurt her and never would. Xena smiled.

* * *

Rumpled cloth landed on her face. Gabrielle tossed the tunic aside and opened her eyes. "You're so romantic," she said dryly.

"Time to get up. Unless you want to stay here while I--"

"I'm up. I'm up." The bard examined the garment in her hands. "Where's the rest of it?"

"You'll have to look for it. I saw that under the table. Your boots are over there." Xena gestured toward the window. "And there." Her thumb pointed to the other wall.

Gabrielle dragged herself out of bed and gathered her clothing from its assorted locations. After several minutes of searching, she threw up her hands. "Have you seen my skirt?"


"You had it last," Gabrielle reminded her. "What'd you do with it?"

"Got it out of the way."

Gabrielle sighed. "Well, it's got to be here somewhere." She peered under the bed again. "You know, if someone hadn't gotten a little carried away with herself last night, we wouldn't have clothing thrown all over the place," she remarked.

"You can't help your passionate nature, Gabrielle."

"My--?" She pursed her lips. "Yeah, right."

Xena smiled and walked to the window, looking out at the day. Nice weather for-- her eyes were drawn to a discolored patch on the ground below. Uh oh. She paused, then turned to her frustrated companion. "I'm going downstairs for a minute. I'll be right back."

"Oh, no, you don't," Gabrielle replied. "You're not going anywhere until we find my clothes."

"Well, actually . . . ." Fiery eyes narrowed suspiciously at Xena as the love of her life stalked over to her. A blonde head poked out of the window and looked down, then slowly drew back inside. Gabrielle turned and stared at the sheepish face a few inches above hers.

"I'm going!" Xena hastened to the door.

Amused eyes watched as the Warrior Princess checked casually to make sure no one was looking, then strolled over and picked up the errant apparel, folding the skirt inconspicuously. By the gods, she's magnificent, Gabrielle thought, eyeing the incredible body as Xena strode back toward the building. She grinned. It had been a great night.

* * *

The road seemed to narrow in direct proportion to the elevation of the cliff, Gabrielle noted unhappily. She glanced apprehensively over the edge, staying close to her leather-clad escort, nearly bumping into her when they suddenly came to a halt. Voices -- three, no, two men -- echoed from around the bend.

Xena reached back with a hand and pressed her against the rock wall, raising a finger to her lips. Gabrielle nodded, and the warrior stepped quietly around the corner. My protector, Gabrielle thought with a smile. After an appropriate period of time had elapsed without the sound of metal or fists, she tiptoed after Xena.

Two male figures were in the road directly ahead of them. The first was about Xena's height, with shoulder-length brown hair and fairly impressive biceps. He was dwarfed, however, by the other form, an immense man seated on a boulder in the road with a large water basin at his feet.

The giant's eyes shifted to take Xena and Gabrielle into his gaze, drawing the smaller man's attention to the new arrivals. He sauntered over to them with his palms out. "You'd better stay back, ladies," he said. "There may be some trouble here."

"Looks like you could use some help," Xena offered.

"I don't need any help, thank you, miss."

The two women exchanged glances. Xena shrugged, and tossed her hand toward the large figure blocking the road. "By all means . . . ."

The stranger moved forward, followed a few yards behind by what he thought of as his admiring entourage, Gabrielle suspected. The giant regarded the three of them with disdain. "If you wish to pass, you must pay the toll," he boomed, his voice carrying over the cliff to the water far below.

"What is the toll?" his challenger asked.

"You must wash my feet."

Gabrielle looked at Xena, her eyebrows raised. Not only a giant, but a weird one. She refocused her attention in time to see the stranger kneel and begin to remove the oversized sandals.

Suddenly, a strong arm reached out and caught the giant's ankle, jerking it forward with surprising strength, nearly sending the huge creature over the precipice. The giant thrashed angrily, but finally was able to regain his balance. Enraged, he swung his leg out wildly, until finally the smaller man's grip failed, and he tumbled over the ridge.

Gabrielle screamed and ran to the edge of the cliff, held back a safe distance by strong arms. She wrestled free from Xena's embrace and crept out onto the ledge, searching for signs of their would-be savior's fate. In the depths below she saw--

She closed her eyes and then opened them again, sure she was seeing things. No, it was indeed an enormous turtle, eyes blazing red, its sharp jaws open for an expected treat.

Gabrielle pulled her attention away from the awful creature below and swept her gaze across the cliffside, abruptly stifling an exclamation. Only a dozen feet below them, the man clung to a single flimsy branch, his legs suspended over the abyss. Gabrielle looked back over her shoulder at Xena, who nodded; she had seen him. The two women conferred for a few minutes, and then approached the giant together.

"Halt!" he thundered. "Only one may pass at a time."

Xena smiled seductively. "We're two helpless females. Surely you don't think we are a match for your power."

An arrogant sneer rendered the brute's visage even more unpleasant, a feat Gabrielle had not thought possible. "Of course not. But anyone wishing to pass must pay the toll."

Gabrielle stepped forward. "Yeah, we know. We have to wash your feet. Well, let's get this over with."

Xena smiled soothingly again, an outward calm belying the pounding of her heart at the sight of Gabrielle within reach of those deadly arms and legs. Gabrielle knelt, careful to balance herself as Xena had instructed in case-- She decided not to think about it. "OK," she said. "Now are we talking just a general wash, or an every-toe thing?"

The giant blinked and opened his mouth. Gabrielle launched into a thorough interrogation. "I mean, how much walking do you do on your feet? Are we going to have to find some kind of scrub brush to get them clean? You're not ticklish are you? Because if you are, it'll take longer, you know."

Xena smiled. Gabrielle's chattering had overwhelmed her listener into temporary paralysis, as it could anyone. Her own little Medusa. She slowly edged around the pair, unnoticed.

"And you have got to be kidding about this water," the scolding voice continued. "It's disgusting. When's the last time you changed it? If we wash your feet in this, nobody will be able to tell the difference."

Xena slipped behind the rock, working her way around as quickly as she could. The giant's bemusement could turn to anger at any instant, leaving Gabrielle at his mercy. She needed a few more seconds . . . .

"Quiet, girl! Just do as you are told."

"I haven't been told anything yet, except 'Wash my feet'," Gabrielle retorted. "That's what I'm trying to do. Do you want the job done right, or--" She stopped short.

Xena winced. Gabrielle apparently had just realized that the fiend didn't actually care about his feet at all. He intended to kill everyone who sought to pass, regardless. This foot-washing business was simply designed to make his task easier by having his victims willingly prostrate themselves before him.

The spell was broken, and a repulsive grin distorted the giant's face. He rose and drew back his right leg, aiming it directly at the frightened young woman on her knees before him. A triumphant chuckle emanated from his chest, and he began to swing the limb forward.

Gabrielle snapped out of her trance and rolled to her left. From the corner of her

eye, she saw a dark blur, followed shortly afterward by an angry masculine roar. She spun around and saw the giant hopping up and down on his left leg, trying to dislodge Xena's fingers from their solid grip around its thick ankle.

Xena reached out with her other hand and grabbed the giant's right foot, which was still suspended in midair, and planted her much smaller boot against the sole. Seeing an opportunity to help, Gabrielle jumped to her feet and threw herself hard against the back of the giant's legs. His arms flailed as he began to fall forward, and in the same instant, Xena pulled hard on his ankle and kicked upward with her foot, grunting loudly as she propelled him up and over the precipice.

Her adrenaline and breathing still at maximum, the warrior lay on her back for a while, sufficiently cognizant of her surroundings to appreciate two shapely legs coming into view as Gabrielle approached and stood over her. "Are you all right?"

"Oh, yeah."

Gabrielle peered down into the depths below, turning away as the mutant turtle commenced feasting on its former benefactor. From the cliffside below them, a plaintive cry echoed up. "Uh, hello? Ladies . . . ?"

With a roll of her eyes, Xena rose leisurely to her feet. Uncoiling the length of whip attached at her waist, she stepped over to the edge and tossed the end over. "Here. Grab hold and I'll pull you up."

"You can't lift my weight!"

"How does he think that thing ended up over the cliff?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena shrugged. "If you'd rather, we could go back to the village and get a man to help you," she yelled down. "We can be back here in half a day." She smiled at Gabrielle, who grinned. They peeked back over the edge.

Silence, then Xena felt a tug on the whip as he reluctantly transferred his grip from the branch. Drawing the leather toward her hand over hand, Xena hauled the dense load up the side of the cliff under her lover's admiring gaze. Gabrielle couldn't help but notice the bulge of well-defined muscles on Xena's arms and shoulders as they strained with their burden. The bard's scrutiny shifted to muscular thighs, which flexed alluringly as Xena worked to maintain her balance, and images of a quick detour to their room in the immediate future began to form in her head.

Soon, the traveller's relieved countenance appeared at the edge, and he clawed at the ground, scrambling on hands and knees until he was safely on solid ground. "Well, I guess I should say thanks." He brushed debris from his pant legs, then started on his shirtsleeves.

"You guess?" Gabrielle stared at him, wide-eyed.

"Forget it, Gabrielle."

"But, Xena--"

"Xena?" He straightened. "The Warrior Princess?"

She didn't bother to reply. She had no interest in prolonging the exchange.

"I've heard of you from my cousin," he continued.

"Oh?" Xena replied. "And who's that?"


The two women stared at him. Now that he mentioned it, Gabrielle decided, there was a certain resemblance. They were both amply endowed with brawn, if slightly less so with brains.

"So ," he said, "I never could figure it out from ol' Herc. Are you and he--"

"No," Xena interrupted firmly.

"Oh, really?" He stepped closer to her. "Let me introduce myself. Theseus, traveler and adventurer." He ran his gaze down her body. "And a great admirer of Xena, the Warrior Princess."

Gabrielle thought she would gag. "Excuse me, but she's already spoken for."

Appreciative eyes continued their study of Xena's form. "But he's not here, and I am. At the very least, allow me to escort you back to your village." He reached out a hand to Xena's arm.

Before the Warrior Princess could throw off the unwanted appendage, she heard a resounding whack. "Hands off! Now, you just go your way, and we'll go ours." Gabrielle took the warrior's arm and led her back down the road toward the village.

Xena looked down at the bard's determined face and smiled. Her protector.



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