Gabrielle was rather pleased with herself that sunny afternoon. Xena had sent her to a nearby town for provisions, and her famed skill for haggling had served her in good stead. Not only had she managed to get everything on the list that Xena had given her for the dinars she had been provided, but she had enough left over for a few extra sheets of parchment, a fine goose-feather pen nib, and three fresh-baked loaves of nutbread.
The strawberry-blond bard carried her parcel on her back, balanced her staff in her hand, and began to compose a humorous ballad regarding her recent market experiences. " 'I sing of the mistress of negotiation--' nah, 'Of arms and the budget I sing--' no way!" Gabrielle giggled at her imagination. It had been a slow couple of weeks for Xena and herself; no evil warlords rattling their sabers, no disasters sent by the gods to bedevil a village whose only crime was to mispronounce Aphrodite's name, no threats from Ares, no complex plans of Autolycus to disrupt, not even any interruptions by Joxer. A quiet respite from the rigors of heroism. Gabrielle smiled. She needed the rest. And gods know, so did Xena.
She thought back to this strange and wonderful woman whom she called her friend. Her raven-dark hair, her piercing blue eyes, her strong, supple body, her full lush lips that so rarely smiled, but when they did, it warmed the bard's heart to its core. She couldn't imagine how she could have continued with the mundane existence she had known in Poteideia, before she met this strong, confident, yet at the same time troubled, woman. She had seen her at her best, and at her worst. They had saved each others' lives countless times (although Xena was ahead of Gabrielle, the bard thought ruefully), enjoyed each others' company, gotten on each other's nerves, even tried to kill each other one terrible day, but through all the hardships, they had found their way back to each other, time and again.
She didn't know just when it happened, when her abiding friendship for the beautiful warrior grew into a passionate love, but it did. She once tried to run away from that love, going so far as to marry Perdicus, even though she knew that she didn't love him as he loved her. She knew that she couldn't expect Xena to reciprocate her love, but she could still fantasize. She had vowed to take the secret of her love for Xena to the grave, rather than endanger their friendship. In the meantime, she had to content herself with a stolen glance at her full body, the feel of Xena's breasts against her own whenever she gave her a friendly hug, the sound of her voice as they spoke at night.
The sudden scuffle of boots against gravel shook Gabrielle out of her reverie. She stopped in her tracks and furtively looked around. When she heard horses' hooves advancing toward her, she hid behind a nearby tree. Not knowing who was riding today, she didn't want to take the chance that the approaching horse belonged to an enemy. She stood quietly, and listened intently.
A small horse cantered along the road, a single female rider at the reins. Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief; from the brightly colored adornments that fringed her mane, muzzle and saddle, the horse was not a war-beast, but a pampered steed of a well-to-do young woman. She was about to resume her travels, to rendezvous with Xena, when suddenly a trio of cutthroats emerged swiftly from the bushes on either side of the road. Gabrielle ducked back behind the tree, eyes and ears open.
"Greetings, fine lady," the first wolfshead bowed to the rider in mock civility. "It would seem that your steed is over-burdened with your riches. We can't have that, can we, boys?" he motioned to his accomplices.
The three thugs laughed mirthlessly, displaying foul mouths of uneven teeth. One of them pulled a knife out of his belt, and announced, "So we'll be relieving you of your unnecessary burden."
"Leave me be, you unkempt fools," the lady on the horse demanded. At the sound of her voice, Gabrielle took her first look at this woman; a statuesque beauty with long black hair spilling down her shoulders, kept in place only by an ivory comb. Smooth features set in alabaster, but still animated and warm. Her eyes, especially, dark brown jewels that seemed to report more to her than just the appearance of a thing, but the very nature of that thing.
"Unkempt fools?" the first thug shouted, and his cohorts laughed anew at the insult. "I'm just going to have to teach this whore a lesson. Where I come from," he snarled at the woman, brandishing his knife dangerously close to the linen tunic that covered her breast, "a woman knows her place!"
"Yeah," a voice suddenly shouted from behind the thug. "Several rungs above the likes of you!" Without warning, a blond hurricane struck, whacking the hooligan upside the head with her staff. She spun around, and intercepted the two other thieves as they charged her. Their pattern of attack was so predictable, Gabrielle had time to wonder of roadside thugs along the width and breadth of Greece had read the same scroll on how to ambush wayfarers. She held her staff horizontally in front of her, and lunged forward toward the thugs. The staff connected with both, hard enough to knock the wind out of them.
"That's it," the lead ruffian shouted. "I'll do you for that!"
"Hey," Gabrielle announced, leaning on her staff, "I can keep this up as long as you can. But my friend Xena will be coming along this way any minute now--"
"Wait," the leader said, less loudly than before, "did you say 'Xena'?"
"Yeah, Xena," Gabrielle smiled. "Maybe you've heard of her? The Warrior Princess? The Conqueror of Nations?" As she spoke these words, she was greeted by the sight of three fierce thieves losing their resolve, scrambling to their feet and running for parts unknown.
The bard nodded knowingly, marveling at the number of fights Xena had won without even being there or even knowing about them. She'd have to tell her about this one someday soon.
Gabrielle approached the rider, who had dismounted her
horse and brushed off her tunic. "Hello. I'm Gabrielle of Poteideia. Are
Gabrielle's mouth hung slack, and her knees threatened to give way under her. "Sappho?" she breathed, unbelieving. "The Tenth Muse? The poet of Lesbos?"
"Well, that's what the fliers say," Sappho mused, chuckling. "Publicists. Spawned in Tartarus, each and every one of them."
"By the Gods," Gabrielle whispered. She hastily took the poet's hand in her own and shook it vigorously. "It is an honor to meet you. I have loved your work for so long, and if I could write half as well as you, I would die satisfied."
"Believe me, young bard," Sappho smiled, "it's better to live satisfied. And usually easier."
Gabrielle laughed nervously at her idol, then something Sappho said caught her attention. "Wait a minute," she asked, "how did you know I was a bard?"
"Word gets around in the literary community, Gabs," Sappho started walking her horse down the road, and Gabrielle joined her. "I'm headed as far as the Temple of Aphrodite, ten leagues from here. Where are you headed?"
"I'm meeting a friend just two leagues short of the temple," Gabrielle answered excitedly. "Would you mind if I walked with you?"
"I'd be flattered," the poet beamed, her smile warming Gabrielle's soul. As they walked, Sappho continued to explain how she knew of Gabrielle's reputation; "There has been much talk about a bard who travels with the famous Warrior Princess, Xena. When you mentioned her, I put two and two together and guessed that you were that bard. It is a pleasure to meet you, Gabrielle. I have heard some of the stories that you have told about Xena from second-hand sources, and even in that muted form, the tales were incredible."
"Oh, please," Gabrielle blushed to hear such praise from one she admired so much. "I'm nowhere near the wordsmith that you are."
"Now how am I going to make this distinction," Sappho announced, "if I don't have the evidence? Tell me a story. About Xena."
Gabrielle was thunderstruck. The greatest poet living, one blessed by the Muses themselves, asking her to tell a story? She felt butterflies careening around in her stomach, but the chance to speak to her idol might never come again. She rummaged through her pack, pulled out a piece of nutbread and nibbled on it for courage. She then tried to recall an adventure that she and Xena had shared, one that was truly memorable. After a few seconds, she began; "I sing of Xena, the mighty princess forged in the heat of battle. I sing of her trials against the warrior queen Callisto, who cheated Hades himself, to escape the underworld of Tartarus, to return to the mortal world by inhabiting Xena's very body--"
She continued her recitation as they walked on, illustrating the finer points of her tale with subtle hand gestures. Sappho walked on silently as she took in the bard's every word in rapt attention. When Gabrielle had finished, Sappho stood quietly for a second, then brought her hands together in loud and earnest applause.
"Thank you, thank you," Gabrielle said, embarrassed at the acclaim she was enjoying.
"No, my bard, thank you," Sappho laughed happily. "You have a great gift for words. Your descriptions were so well crafted, I could see these people in my minds eye. Don't ever abandon your writing, or else the world would lose a great treasure."
Gabrielle smiled shyly. She was not used to such praise for her tales. She knew that Xena always enjoyed hearing her retell their adventures, or tell the tales of famous people of times past, but she was never so vocal in her praise.
Sappho went to her horse, and rummaged through her saddlebag. She produced a small scroll from the bag, and handed it to Gabrielle. "I wish to give you this gift," she said solemnly, "in gratitude for your defending me from those wolfsheads, and as an appreciation from one poet to another."
Gabrielle accepted the scroll with trembling fingers. "It is a poem I wrote yesterday," Sappho announced. "I was thinking that I would recite it tonight at the Amphitheater in Lydia, but I believe that you would be a more appreciative audience."
"I am honored," Gabrielle enthused, clutching the scroll to her heart. "I shall always treasure this. Thank you."
"The pleasure is all mine," Sappho smiled at the bard. "And soon, it will be all yours." she added cryptically. She mounted her horse, saying, "Xena should be along soon. I have to be going." She waved goodbye to Gabrielle, who waved back. Sappho tugged lightly on her reins, and her horse trotted off down the road.
Gabrielle looked at her new possession, unsure whether she should read the text now, or save it for later. She decided to read it that night, maybe treating Xena to a little culture. She felt deeply moved that the greatest poet of her generation would give her a poem that she had only written yesterday, that no one had ever seen or heard before.
That night, as Xena and Gabrielle sat beside their campfire, Xena ate the last of the fish that they had roasted over the fire, and asked, "Hey, how did you make out at the market?"
"Oh, splendidly," Gabrielle announced. "I
was able to get everything on the list, plus a few other items as well."
"Am I that predictable?" Xena only nodded. Gabrielle then remembered. "Oh, and I had a little adventure on the way back here. I ran into some thugs accosting a woman."
"And how did you fare?"
"The poet? My, quite the celebrity."
"Yeah, she and I got to talking, and she even gave me
this," she produced the scroll from her pack. "An original piece of
poetry from the Tenth Muse herself."
"Oh, yes, well, I'm sure it is."
Xena turned toward her friend, "You haven't read it yet?"
"No, not yet," the bard admitted. "I was kind of saving it for tonight. I thought that you would want to hear it."
Xena shrugged her shoulders. "Sure, why not?"
Gabrielle smirked at Xena's blasť attitude. "Try to contain your enthusiasm," she teased her friend. She carefully unrolled the scroll, and perused it briefly. She smiled at the title of the poem; True Love's Touch. She was puzzled by the inscription at the top of the scroll;
~To the Warrior and follower, may your threads never be cut.
"Odd," she said, half to herself. "She must have scribbled this in just before handing it to me."
"Maybe she knows her audience," Xena suggested. "So, are you going to read it?"
"Oh, yeah," Gabrielle stammered slightly, before shifting into her bard's voice. Sitting by the firelight, she began to read the poem aloud, at first haltingly, trying to find the rhythm and tempo. The dialect of Greek in which the verse was written was slightly strange to her, but after a few lines, she was able to read it normally.
To Xena's ear, the words flowed out of Gabrielle's mouth like honey. Sweet liquid sentences, describing the joining of two women, two soulmates, destined to be together forever. Is that what Sappho meant by her dedication; 'May your threads never be cut'?
Once Gabrielle was finished reading, she looked at Xena, her eyes glazed over. At first Xena thought that her eyes were just teary. Her own eyes weren't exactly dry. "Thank you, Gabrielle," she said, her voice thick with emotion. "That was truly beautiful."
"Yes," Gabrielle whispered, inching closer to the warrior. "Beautiful."
Xena regarded Gabrielle with a concerned look. That poem
seemed to have her worked up about something. It was indeed erotic, but she was
surprised to see Gabrielle so affected. "Is something wrong?"
A tiny portion of Xena's brain realized that the scroll contained not a poem but a spell. A very powerful spell, one that forced Gabrielle to try to seduce Xena. No matter how much Xena had been in love with Gabrielle, and desired to make love to her, she didn't want her like this, not while Gabrielle wasn't in full control of her faculties. So she resisted...for all of three seconds. Then, Gabrielle's fingers swiftly made their way under Xena's breast plate, and tweaked the hardening nipple of her right breast.
All thought of resistance ceased; perhaps it was an aftereffect of the spell, she didn't care. She seized Gabrielle's waist in her powerful arms, and returned the kiss with equal fervor. She opened her lips, and was surprised to feel the bard's tongue pressing its way into her own mouth. Their tongues explored each other's mouths until the need for air forced them apart, however briefly.
Xena gazed at Gabrielle, giddy with the desire and lust that she knew her friend shared. "I've wanted you for so long," she whispered huskily. Gabrielle said nothing, only brought her face closer to the warrior's for another passionate kiss.
Soon, breastplate, tunic and all other clothing were easily divested, and two women began to explore the territories of their love for each other.
A raven-haired beauty stood before the alter of Aphrodite, declaring, "Oh great Aphrodite, Perfection among women, Beauty of the world, Faultless Goddess of love--"
Said goddess appeared in a cloud of luminous smoke. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, tell me something I don't know. So, Saph," the golden haired goddess asked her petitioner. "How'd you make out with Gabs?"
"She received the scroll with thanks, oh Aphrodite," Sappho replied to the goddess, who was twirling a lock of her hair around her forefinger.
The Goddess of Love grinned mischievously. "Oh, goody," she chirped, clapping her hands with glee. "The show should be starting now. We can watch it in my scrying pool." They gathered around a fountain in the temple, and Aphrodite waved her hand over the clear waters.
Their reflections in the water faded, and the image of the proud warrior, naked and unashamed before her equally naked bard, filled the pool. The bard trailed long sensuous kisses along the warrior's shoulders, the nape of her neck, and finally the slope of her breasts, as Xena sucked in a sharp breath in delight at this treatment. "Gotta say, I'm loving the blonde's technique," Aphrodite giggled. "Enjoying the show, Sapphy?"
"Yes, Aphrodite," the poet breathed. "Thank you for making me a part of their joining."
"Hey, that's nothing. You wrote the poem that brought them together, I just gave it the Aphrodite whammy. I've been a bitch to those two in the past, I just figured it was time I do something nice for them. And considering how bad they got it for each other, I said to myself, Self, howsabout we get those two together?"
"But, my Goddess," Sappho asked, "What will happen when they discover that Gabrielle is to carry Xena's baby?"
"Those two?" Aphrodite chuckled, "They'll be great parents. Surely Xena can look after the kid. And if they start to wonder who's the daddy, I'll go down and spell it out for them." She turned toward Sappho, removing the silver pin that fastened her peplos, letting the garment drift to the floor, revealing her splendid nude figure. "You have earned your reward, Sappho."
"Thank you, oh Aphrodite," Sappho breathed, lust coloring her cheeks as she slowly removed her tunic. "I am honored by your reward to me. Very few humans can say that they've enjoyed the favors of the Goddess of Love."
"Hey," Aphrodite winked at Sappho, her desire matching the poet's, "how many gods can say that they've been laid by the Tenth Muse?" The two embodiments of love and passion embraced and began to make love, even as the two figures in the scrying pool continued to love each other.
Sunnydale, California, October 1999
Buffy was exercising when Willow came into their shared dorm room. She had music playing, full blare, and it was all Willow could do to keep from walking back out. "Hey!" She called out, over the blaring of the CD player. "Can I turn this down?"
Buffy, finally noticing Willow standing there, nodded her head as she continued her fighting moves. Willow noticed a package wrapped in brown paper on her bed and walked over to it. "Hey, what's this?" Willow asked.
"Don't know." Buffy grunted. "It came for you today." Sweat was pouring off of the Slayer's face and Willow tried not to notice how beautiful she was. Buffy wiped her face with the towel she kept handy for just an occasion, and went to sit on her bed. "Are you going to open it, or just look at it for the rest of the night?" Buffy asked, impatient to see what it was. Her curiosity had been eating at her all through her work out, and now she couldn't wait for Willow to tear into the package.
Willow spared her best friend an appraising look, then smirked at her. "Dying of curiosity, aren't you?" She asked. She knew her friend so well.
"Will! Would you just open it?!" Buffy asked, exasperated. Though her excited smile took the sting out of her words.
Willow chuckled, then opened the package, finding a dusty old tome inside. "Oh!" Willow gasped, excited. "It's the spell book my friend said he was going to send me." Willow couldn't wait to start shuffling through the pages, looking for interesting spells that she wanted to try.
"That's great, Will." Buffy said, smiling. Now that her curiosity was sated she could get back to her exercising. "Have fun." She murmured, knowing Willow probably wouldn't poke her head out of the book for a couple of hours at least.
"Uh huh." Willow muttered, already lost in reading the spells in the book. Buffy went over the closet door and started doing chin-ups on the frame. 'She gets so excited over those spells.' Buffy thought, shaking her head and chuckling.
Meanwhile, Willow was turning the pages of the book, reading the names of the spells on each one when one of them caught her eye. It was titled, 'True Love's Touch.' and the witch that had written the spell had signed her name underneath the title along with a dedication. 'Sappho', Willow thought to herself. 'Now there's an unusual name.' She vaguely remembered a lesson in a history class she had taken about a poet in Ancient Greece with the name of Sappho, but she didn't remember all that had been said about her. She had been paying too much attention to Xander and Buffy, who had been goofing off that day because they were bored. But it struck her odd that a witch had the same name of the ancient poet, and it filled her with curiosity to see what the spell was about. But first she read the Dedication. Twice.
~To the Warrior and follower, may your threads never be cut.
Willow thought the Dedication was rather odd, and she didn't know what it meant, but it struck her curiosity, so she decided to read the spell to see if she could decipher the meaning behind the words. By the time she finished the page the spell was cast.
Continue to the First Story in the Series