For Better or Worse

By Enginerd
ajpotts@vais.net

This Xena: Warrior Princess story takes place after The Gift of Gab. It is the fifth story in the Xenaverse according to Enginerd. While not absolutely necessary, it is encouraged that you read the previous stories to better understand this Xenaverse and the attempted development of the characters.

Disclaimers:

1. Content: Contains some. This story also contains scenes involving:

A. Love between two women

B. Arguing, mild cursing, fighting, death threats, and other uncomfortable family situations

C. Amazons

2. Length: Long

- Enginerd (October 1997)

CHAPTER 1 - DISTRACTIONS

"Gabrielle..." Xena uttered slowly, her voice dripping with warning
as she stopped her sword exercises in mid-stroke. Her eyes shifted
to meet the source of her distraction, the bard sitting on the side
of the grassy hill.  

"Yes Xena?" Gabrielle responded invitingly, hopeful greens meeting
piercing blues. As the warrior's eyes narrowed, the bard realized
her subtle attempts to change warrior's mind would not be successful
this beautiful day. The disappointed bard sighed as she broke her
unsuccessful gaze and dipped her quill in ink.  

Exhaling loudly, the determined warrior resumed her sword practice. 

So much for a romantic afternoon, the uninspired bard sighed, staring
at the blank parchment. She was not in the mood to write at this
particular moment. And unfortunately, Xena was not in the mood to
change her mind about practicing. 'The warrior and her conditions,'
the bard thought with annoyance.

It was almost a week ago when Gabrielle was introduced to the
warrior's conditions. Conditions like uninterrupted practice time. 
Actually, that condition had not been so bad to live with.
Especially since the warrior had yet to get through her practice
without an interruption, the bard grinned with satisfaction. That
was, until now. The bard frowned, throwing an annoyed glance at the
practicing warrior. 

The warrior and her conditions, the bard sighed again, considering
the first one she was introduced to which she disliked the most. 
Unfortunately, it was the one condition that the warrior was most
adamant about. Sure, Gabrielle understood the reasons it was not
wise for any public display of affection. How could she not? The
morning after their first night together, Xena was determined to go
through each and every reason why it was a bad idea - until the bard
acknowledged each point and agreed with the wisdom of that condition.

Totally unfair, the bard reflected with exasperation, knowing that
she would have agreed to paint her face blue if the Warrior Princess
asked that particular morning.  

Yet, she did agree to accept their 'public' relationship. And
unfortunately, most of the time the past week had been 'in public'
either helping villagers or fighting thugs, the bard sighed. But
they were not in public now, the bard noted with annoyance. "And she
chooses to be stubborn about her sword practice," the bard muttered
under her breath as her eyebrows furrowed. Suddenly inspired, she
scratched the beginnings of a poem on her parchment.

While deftly wielding her sword through the air, Xena stole a glance
at the bard, relieved to find Gabrielle finally focusing on writing.

Xena was determined to practice and not allow herself to be
interrupted by the bard - like every other time she had tried to
practice the past week. She needed to practice.  

Xena stole another glance between strokes and found the bard had
stopped writing and was now staring at her parchment. Deep in
thought, the warrior concluded, noting her look of concentration and
how she gently traced the quill under her chin...over that extremely
sensitive spot, one of many the warrior discovered during their first
incredib.... "NO!" Xena silently ordered her distracting thoughts
away, determined to focus on her sword practice.  

She had to maintain her fighting skills, she quickly reminded herself
as she parried an invisible attack.  She let one of those thugs get
just too damn close to Gabrielle, she remembered bitterly, thrusting
her sword through the invisible attacker's gut and twisting it with a
healthy grunt.  Thankfully, the cut on the bard's forearm was healing
fine and the stitches could come out soon, Xena considered, glancing
over to the bard, who was writing again.  

Practice was necessary for a warrior.  If only her ever-romantic bard
could see that, Xena grunted as she thrust her sword against another
invisible enemy. 

Staring at her small poem, the Gabrielle sighed, unable to find an
appropriate phrase that also rhymed with 'stubbornness.'  Well, that
wasn't exactly true.  She actually did think of a phrase, but thought
better of using it.  Seeking more appropriate words, the temporarily
blocked bard took in a deep breath and looked to the rich blue sky
for inspiration.  

A single billowy cloud sailed across the ocean of air, reminding
Gabrielle of an incredibly huge pillow.  She watched the cloud
continue its slow trek across the sky, granting the sun freedom from
its temporary captivity and allowing its rays to once again burst
forth and gently warm the bard's skin.  A warmth like that her heart
felt whenever near the Warrior Princess, the bard mused.  Closing her
eyes, a contented smile creped over her face as she enjoyed the
warmth she received, from both the sun and the warrior.  

Between a thrust and a block, the warrior caught another glimpse of
the bard.  Xena paused as she watched the relaxed beauty bask in the
sun.  She noted how the sunlight reflected off of the strawberry
blond strands, making them seem to glow.  A grin crossed the
warrior's face as she wondered what thoughts brought that smile to
the bard's face, hoping selfishly... "NO! Not again!"  Xena mentally
scolded herself for being so easily distracted.  She thrust her sword
with renewed determination.  She had to practice!

Hearing the warrior's more energetic grunting and sword-whooshing
through the air, Gabrielle's eyes opened.  Wonderful, she just got
her second wind, the bard silently moaned as her eyes rolled.  At
this rate, she'll be too exhausted for anything except sleep this
evening, the bard concluded, growing more depressed.  'Torturous'
popped into the bard's head.  "Hmmmm," she considered thoughtfully as
she looked down with empathy at the lonely words on her parchment. 

Still without the right words, the bard lifted her eyes from her
incomplete poem.  Well, at least the warrior had good taste in
practice fields, the bard silently admitted as she scanned the area
appreciatively.  The foliage framing the warrior's chosen field was
densely packed with colourful wild flowers bursting from the lush
greenery.  Amazing how perfectly nature's untamed beauty complemented
the untamed beauty of the Warrior Princess, the bard mused.       

However, the warrior's grunts didn't exactly return the compliment to
nature's soothing sounds of rustling leaves and bird song, the bard
noted, softly chuckling at the contrast.  A contrast that was minor
compared to the contrast embodied in the woman practicing before her,
she smiled with great appreciation.  The bard pondered with amazement
how this woman could bark out such harsh, fear-inducing sounds to her
enemies yet privately, to her bard, utter the most tender and loving
sound that Gabrielle had ever heard - when the warrior spoke the
bard's name.  

"GABRIELLE!"  Xena snapped, interrupting the bard's appreciation and
amazement.

"What?!?"  Gabrielle quickly blurted with irritation.

"STOP it!"  The warrior ordered.

"Stop WHAT?!?"  She asked with annoyance.  "Writing?!"  The bard
asked, holding up her quill, not sure what the warrior's problem was.

"Staring!" 

Gabrielle sighed with great exasperation, considering she was being
unfairly blamed for something she wasn't even trying to do.  She was
ONLY looking for the right words to rhyme with stubbornness and so
what if she happen to end up looking at the warrior?  It IS hard to
miss Xena, standing right in front of her, all by herself, in the
middle of an empty field, she considered with annoyance.  It wasn't
like she was TRYING to distract the warrior from her practice...this
time.  She gave THAT up as hopeless, the bard noted with frustration.

Frustration which at some point turned into hope as it slowly dawned
on her that perhaps she gave up too easily.  

"Xena, I've watched you practice thousands of times before, what's
the problem now?"  Gabrielle asked with an innocent shrug.

"Watching and staring are two... different... things."  Xena crisply
responded.

"How...exactly?"  The bard responded with a twinkle in her eye and
challenge in her voice.  Gabrielle smiled, considering if she kept
the warrior talking, the better her chances were to convince her
there were much more enjoyable things they could be doing.

"Gabrielle," Xena spoke with familiar warning, knowing better than to
engage in a discussion with the bard.  

"What!?!"  Gabrielle blurted with exasperation, realizing her chances
just got worse again.  Judging the warrior's annoyance level to be
rather high, she concluded she would be better off in a tactical
retreat.  "Oh ok, ok," she begrudgingly responded to the warrior's
stare.  "I'll let you practice - alone."  Gabrielle sighed heavily.

As the disgruntled bard gathered her things, a light breeze blew her
strawberry blond hair into the her face, further annoying her.  Xena
patiently watched as the bard guided the unwanted hair from her face
with her hands.  Hands that wielded her staff with surprising
strength, yet could sooth the warrior's troubled soul with
her tender touch.  Her touch, the warrior slowly grinned, her
incredible..... "Practice! PRACTICE!"  Xena silently reminding
herself, snapping out of her dangerous musings. 

"I'll find another hill."  Gabrielle muttered as she rolled up her
unfinished poem.  She stared at the rolled up parchment a moment and
the word 'Idiotic' popped into her head, though it didn't rhyme with
stubbornness.  But 'ridiculous' was a definite possibility, the bard
considered as she shoved her poem in her bag.    

"A better hill.  Yeah, a much better hill where I'll be able to
finish my poem with no distracting sword exercises going on around
me."  Gabrielle muttered as she stood. 

"I have to practice,"  Xena stated flatly.  

"I know, I know...practice away."  Gabrielle lifted her hand in
defeat.  "I'll be just over there,"  Gabrielle informed her, pointing
down the trail with her staff.  "In case you ...need...anything," 
Gabrielle added suggestively.  Receiving a brisk nod from Xena, the
disappointed bard sighed and departed, leaving her warrior with her
beloved sword.

Finally able to continue, the Warrior Princess positioned the sword
over her head and exhaled heavily.  I have to practice, Xena reminded
herself as she spun around and sliced the air in an intricate
pattern.

In the Queen's chambers, Gurda and Raiz stood patiently before Ephiny
and her senior Amazons.  All were waiting for Trayla to finish her
review of the old scrolls.  Trayla looked up from the table and
sighed.                                                              

"Queen Ephiny, the claim appears to be legitimate,"  Trayla relayed,
scanning over the scrolls once again, hoping she was wrong.  Eponin
sighed heavily.  

Ephiny quietly watched Gurda.

"As I have said all along your majesty, Amazonia has an official
claim,"  Gurda replied.  Feeling heady at the nearing victory of this
small battle, she refrained from grinning.  "As a citizen of
Amazonia, I demand we get back the land that was once ours,"  Gurda
spoke with an air of confidence and superiority which annoyed Ephiny
and the other Amazons.  

Ephiny's eyebrows raised upon the word 'demand'.  

"I am only thinking of Amazonia, my Queen,"  Gurda quickly added,
with a more humble demeanor, realizing her tone was inappropriate. 
"I am requesting your consideration on this matter, your highness."  
Gurda added with a slight bow of the head.  A slight smile appeared
on her lips.  With the claim confirmed and her request now official,
the throne had no choice but to respond.  Let the games begin, Gurda
considered with amusement and anticipation.        

The senior Amazons looked with concern towards the woman who was
pushing for more territory and finding favor among a growing faction
of Amazons.  "Your highness, we must carefully assess..."  Eponin
spoke aloud what the other senior Amazons thought.

"Carefully assess!?!"  Gurda interrupted with contempt for the overly
cautious court.  "What is there to assess?  The law is clear - the
land is ours!  And according to Amazon law the Queen MUST acknowledge
this claim and..."  Gurda relayed, once again taking on a superior
tone.

"You DARE assume to teach ME about Amazon law?"  Ephiny snapped,
bolting out of her throne, coldly eyeing her opponent.  An opponent
Ephiny considered that one day, she might have to kill. 

"Oh NO your majesty.  Please forgive my words.  Please know, while
ill-spoken, I am only driven by my deep passion for Amazonia."  Gurda
bowed deeply.   

"Your passion is evident Gurda,"  Ephiny responded and sat back down
on the throne.  "I have heard your request and according to Amazon
law I must consider it," the Queen added.  "You may take your leave,"

Ephiny commanded, finally able to take pleasure in being Queen during
this uncomfortable meeting.

Gurda straightened up, struggling to hold her tongue.  "Your
majesty," Gurda responded crisply with a slight bow out of respect
for the position.  A position she intended to obtain.  

After Gurda and Raiz left the Queen and her senior Amazons, Ephiny
finally disclosed her great annoyance.  "Can she really do this?" 
Ephiny blurted her senior Amazons as she rubbed her eyes, leaning
back wearily.  

"I'm afraid so Ephiny,"  Trayla answered.  "You can read as well as I
can your majesty," she motioned to the scrolls, inviting the Queen to
review her findings.  Ephiny moaned knowing she would not find any
words that would make Gurda go away.

"I will just make a declaration that we are not interested in
claiming the land,"  Ephiny stated standing up, eyeing the doorway
where Gurda left.

"By not claiming the land, you open the door to an official challenge
to the throne,"  Eponin informed her with worry, drawing a sharp look
from her Queen.  "Uh....not that she could possibly be victorious..."

Eponin quickly added, making Ephiny sigh.  "But that land will always
be a liability for the throne Ephiny.  Even if...uh, WHEN...you are
victorious,"  Eponin awkwardly counseled.

"I don't suppose any of you have anything to say that could possibly
cheer me up?"  The Queen asked, receiving a bunch of stares from her
Amazons.  "I didn't think so."  Ephiny sighed.  "Send out
messengers."  Ephiny ordered.  "Gabrielle needs to know about this." 
Ephiny added, now rubbing her temples.

After a few uninterrupted drills, Xena's eyes drifted back to the
trail the bard departed on.  The inspiration this beautiful area
provided the bard was not the literary kind that Xena had hoped for. 
She knows I've got to practice, Xena sighed, blocking the attacks of
two invisible warriors.  We've discussed this, the warrior reminded
herself. 

Xena continued her exercises, wielding her sword with less and less
enthusiasm.  Now Gabrielle was annoyed with her for practicing, Xena
sighed as she executed another combination of blocks.  NO!  She's not
going to do this to me again, Xena thought stubbornly, thrusting her
sword at the imaginary opponents.  After a flurry of strokes that
whooshed through the air, Xena let out an aggravated grunt. 

"I can't just drop everything and come running every time she looks
at me like that," Xena thought as she somersaulted, landed and
quickly lifted her sword over her head to block the next imaginary
blow. 

"If I NEED anything," Xena blurted with a short, annoyed laugh.  Her
eyes once again drifted back to the trail.  She forced them back to
her sword.  

"I NEED to practice," the warrior reminded herself.  She thrust the
sword through the air again.

"I NEED to keep my skills honed,"  the warrior added to her list of
reasons for being without her bard, in such a beautiful area.

"I NEED...."   Xena paused, searching for another good reason for
being without her bard in such a secluded ... area.  Her eyes
drifted back to the trail.

"Uggggggh!"  Xena groaned, suddenly finding her needs changing.  

CHAPTER 2 - A Conundrum

Having no trouble finding a suitable area, Gabrielle claimed a spot
on the side of another hill.  Now if only finding words was as easy
as finding this area, she thought, plopping herself and her gear
down.  

Taking a deep breath, she sought inspiration from the scenery before
her.  The flora and fauna was just as beautiful as the flora and
fauna around her warrior's practice field, she observed.  Yet, for
some reason, the scenery was not nearly as breath taking.  Perhaps
the absence of a certain practicing Warrior Princess had something to
do with that, the bard considered.  A certain, STUBBORN Warrior
Princess, who was taking her sweet time getting here, Gabrielle
grumbled.

Inspiration hitting her once again, she quickly unpacked her
parchment and quill.  Promptly writing down the previously elusive
words before the inspiration fled, the poem was finally finished.

There once was a warrior princess

who chose her sword, not her bard to caress

her mind was made up

but was soon out of luck

when the bard taught her true stubbornness

Gabrielle read it over thoughtfully.  "Just perfect, I'm not only
frustrated - I'm writing bad poetry!"  She blurted, shaking her head
with an amused smile which faded when she glanced back to the still
empty trail.  She dipped her quill in ink and captured another wave
of inspiration on fresh parchment.

There once was a woman from Amphipolis ....

As she finished her second poetic attempt, she heard the unmistakable
sound of someone jogging towards her.  A sound that brought a huge
grin to the bard's face.    

"You sure took long enough!"  Gabrielle announced with a relieved
chuckle as she turned towards the jogger.

"Well it took longer than I expected.  My HORSE pulled up lame in the
last town!"  Meleager blurted between gasps for air.  "And how in
Tartarus did you know I was coming?" 

Quickly recovering from disappointment and surprise, the bard bolted
towards him.  "Meleager!"  She called out happily, giving him a big
hug.  "I was actually expecting Xena...but It's wonderful to see
you!"  The bard informed him with a warm smile and another hug.

"I'm glad to see you too Gabrielle," Meleager responded with an
embarrassed laugh.   After the affectionate bard pulled back, he
looked around.   "Where IS Xena?"  

"Practicing...over there,"  Gabrielle pointed to the trail.  "If you
want to talk to her, you might just want to wait a bit.  She's not in
the mood...to be interrupted."  Gabrielle explained flatly.

"Uh, actually I need to talk to you Gabrielle."  Meleager admitted,
his face suddenly grave.  

Panic washed over Gabrielle.  "Why?  What's wrong?!?" Gabrielle
blurted.  "Is Sara all right?  Lila?  Meleager, they're both ok
aren't they?  Why are you here?  What's going on ?!?" 

"Whoa Gabrielle," he responded, holding up his hands to stop her
barrage of questions.  "They're fine.  Well, they're not terribly
happy, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are not
fine...although...."  Meleager muttered.

"MELEAGER!"  The impatient bard snapped.

On her way to let the bard distract her, Xena found herself staring
at a thick patch of wild flowers.  The flowers that Gabrielle made a
point of raving over as they rode through the area.  The warrior
stood contemplating the critical decision at hand.  If she passed
them without picking any, the warrior would miss an opportunity to
show Gabrielle she really did listen to her and could be romantic. 
However, if she picked some for Gabrielle, the bard might think she
was apologizing for something, which Xena had no intention of doing. 
She had to practice.  "We've discussed that", Xena muttered to
herself.

While pondering this floral conundrum, Xena knelt down and inhaled
the wild fragrances.  A grin formed as she remembered of the number
of times the bard had implored her to stop and smell the flowers.  Of
course, the bard was only speaking figuratively, the warrior mused,
and had no idea how much the warrior really enjoyed doing just that. 
If she did,  Xena knew she would be cajoled by the bard to stop at
every patch of flowers they passed.  In all the time she knew
Gabrielle, the bard had never been one for moderation, Xena
considered.  Looking at the trail, a knowing grin slowly emerged.

After Meleager relayed the news from Walsas, Gabrielle silently
stared at him a moment, pondering the situation.  She noted the
slumped posture of the man sitting next to her.  With elbows on his
knees and forehead in his palms, the Walsasian Captain of the Guard
stared at the ground between his feet.  It looked as if he was going
to face the biggest battle in his life and the odds were woefully
against him.  Little did he realize how big a battle and how woeful
the odds, Gabrielle reflected.

"Well...mother DOES tend to get a bit ... overbearing when it comes
to weddings,"  Gabrielle admitted the obvious to Meleager, who's head
started to throb just thinking about his impending marriage to
Gabrielle's sister Sarah.  He rubbed his temples and sighed.  "But
she means well,"  Gabrielle quickly added.

"Uggg," he groaned.  "She doesn't like me Gabrielle," he moaned.  "I
want her to like me.  I really tried to put my best foot forward but
she really has something against warriors...." 

"I know," she agreed with a knowing sigh.  "But once she gets to
know you, how could she NOT like you?  You've charmed all three of
her daughters."  Gabrielle smiled warmly, her attempts to cheer him
up seemed to work.

"Really?  You think she'll grow to like me?"  He asked hopefully.

"Suuure.  Absolutely!"  Gabrielle responded with forced conviction,
putting her arm around him and giving a reassuring squeeze.  "You
know, I really don't understand why Sarah invited her so early before
the wedding...she knows how mother is."  Gabrielle shook her head in
amazement.

"She didn't invite her,"  Meleager revealed uneasily.  "I did."

"WHAT!?!"  Gabrielle blurted, making Meleager cringe.

"I thought ...she never said...I had no...."  Meleager tried to
explain to the amazed bard.  "Well it seemed like a good idea at the
time,"  Meleager finally muttered and shrugged.

"Oh I can imagine just how pleased Sarah and Lila are with you right
now,"  Gabrielle responded.

"Maybe I can just travel with you and Xena for a while, until they
forgive me....how about permanently???"  Meleager suggested, only
half in jest.

"Uh ...No,"  Gabrielle relayed bluntly.  "Nothing personal,"  She
added, patting the distraught man on the back.

"Ah, that plan wouldn't work anyway,"  Meleager sighed returning his
head to his hands to stare at the ground.

"Why not?"  Gabrielle asked, becoming concerned.

"She asked that I quickly bring you back to Walsas to help with the
preparations,"  Meleager relayed the news.  "She was VERY adamant
about the quick part."  

"WHAT!?!  It's over month before your wedding.  I can't believe this.
Thanks a lot!"  Gabrielle punched his arm.  

"Ouch!  It's not MY idea," he added, rubbing his arm, already sore
from Sarah's and Lila's similar expression of gratitude.  

"Ughhh,"  Gabrielle moaned, now her forehead rested in her hands.
    
"Well at least you don't have to go get those damn things for the
ceremony,"  Meleager blurted as if that was consolation.    

Gabrielle looked up at him in silent disbelief, remembering all the
reasons she never wanted a traditional Poteidaian wedding.    

"And what in Hade's name is a Furry Wegget?  How can I get an egg
from one if I don't even know what it is?  But I've GOT to have it
according to your mother," he blurted, throwing his hands up in
frustration.  

"It is considered good luck for the couple if the groom gets one." 
Gabrielle explained unenthusiastically.

"What about a good ol' fashioned lucky horseshoe??  I at least know
what THAT is,"  Meleager blurted.

"Maybe so, but that is not a part of the Poteidaian tradition," 
Gabrielle relayed, then remembered her father's difficulty.  "When my
father was preparing for the wedding, it took him two full weeks to
get the egg once they found the Furry Wegget.  They say it is not
easy to get an egg away from the Furry Wegget intact."  

"Great.  I know absolutely nothing about hunting down a Furry
Wegget...and I have a feeling it wouldn't be wise to try to get
married without one."                  

"Uh, I wouldn't advise it.  Mother is BIG on tradition,"  Gabrielle
added with a sigh.  

"I had no idea Poteidaian weddings were so...complicated."  Meleager
sighed and shook his head.

"Yes... well...there's not a lot to do in a small village.  You know
Meleager, you...WE wouldn't have to go through any of this if you
just invited her at the last minute - like everyone else in the
family does."

"Sarah told me that...just before she stopped talking to me." 
Meleager sighed and rubbed his arm again.  "So...where did your
father go to get the furry egg?"  

"It's NOT a furry egg! It's a Furry Wegget egg,"  Gabrielle blurted
with annoyance to a shrugging Meleager.  She sighed and shook her
head before launching into her father's tale.   "It was spring when
my father...." 

Hearing Gabrielle's voice from the other side of the hill, Xena
guessed she was probably practicing her latest story about Verbinia. 
She took another sniff of the two dozen flowers in her hand and
grinned, considering the ever-romantic bard would be pleased with the
selection. 

Her purposeful stride quickened as she climbed the hill with great
expectations.  Expectations that were immediately dashed when
she reached the top and spotted her bard...sitting next to Meleager
the Mighty.  Seeing the two start to turn towards her, Xena quickly
glanced down at the flowers and abruptly flung the wild bouquet into
the trees.

"Ack!"  Lila blurted when unceremoniously grabbed by her sister and
yanked into the library from the hall.  "Hey!"  Lila blurted with
annoyance, slapping Sarah's hands off her.

"Where is she now?"  The Queen of Walsas interrogated her sister,
apprehensively glancing between the doors and windows.

"In the garden, supervising the gardener.  She's explaining how to
best grow Poteidaian Posies,"  Lila responded, straightening her
crumpled dress with a sigh.  The news temporarily calmed the Queen,
who exhaled with relief.  "You can't keep hiding like this,"  Lila
scolded her, shaking her head.

"I'm busy.  I'm a Queen."  Sarah blurted unconvincingly, her eyes
darting between the doors.

"Oh that will go over big.  'She's too busy for her own mother?" 
Lila mimicked her mother's guilt-inducing voice, causing Sarah to
cringe.

"But she's driving... me...crazy!"  The desperate bride-to-be relayed
as she grabbed Lila by the shoulders.

Once again, Lila broke out of her eldest sister's grip with
annoyance.  "And I'M having a picnic?!?  You know every time you go
off and do your 'busy Queen thing', I'm the one who's stuck,"  Lila
shot back, unsympathetically.

"I am sorry Lila and I do feel bad about that,"  Sarah admitted to
her sister as she started to pace.

"Bad enough to spend more time with her?"  Lila asked skeptically.

Sarah stopped pacing.  "Uh, no," she admitted, then quickly added, 
"But don't worry, you won't have to bear the brunt all by yourself. 
Meleager's bringing reinforcements!"  Sarah smiled broadly.

"Xena,"  Meleager greeted the warrior coming towards them down
the hill.  Xena eyed the unexpected visitor and nodded, then turned
her attention to Gabrielle. 

"Is everything ok?"  She asked the weary looking bard.

"Well...funny you should ask.  You know how you wanted to get some
uninterrupted practice time in?  Well, how does a month grab you?"  
Gabrielle responded glibly.

"A month?"  Xena repeated with some alarm.

"Wait a minute.  Won't Xena be coming with us?"  Meleager asked.

"Where?"  Xena questioned the two.  Now what, she wondered with
annoyance, looking forward to the reprieve they finally found from
the last hectic and frustratingly public week.

"There's really no need..."  Gabrielle responded to Meleager, who
started to worry.

"But who will stand up with me at the ceremony?"  Meleager blurted,
looking between the two women.

"Need for what?"  Xena asked Gabrielle, who rolled her eyes at
Meleager the Whiner.

"Meleager, the ceremony is over a MONTH away.  She can still stand up
with you, assuming she still wants..."  Gabrielle snapped back to the
groom-to-be.

"But who will help me get that DAMN stuff??"  He interrupted the bard
to whine some more.  "You'll help me, right Xena?"  He asked the
Warrior Princess hopefully, putting on his best Meleager the
Desperate look. 

"No need for WHAT?"  Xena asked the bard again, growing very annoyed.

"Meleager, if you really want to get on her good side, I strongly
suggest you avoid calling the wedding items DAMN STUFF,"   Gabrielle
blurted.  "And you really should ask Father for help with the egg," 
Gabrielle added helpfully.

"GABRIELLE!  What are you talking about!"  Xena blurted with
frustration.

Gabrielle shot a glare at Meleager.  "Well, Meleager The Incredibly
THOUGHTFUL invited my mother to Walsas,"  Gabrielle answered with
irritation.

"So?"   Xena asked, relieved it wasn't serious.

"She's determined Sarah and Meleager will have a Traditional
Poteidaian Wedding,"  Gabrielle explained, rolling her eyes. 
Meleager moaned.

"So?"  Xena asked again.

"And I've been summoned to Walsas to help,"  Gabrielle explained
wearily.  Xena looked at Meleager then Gabrielle.

"And you want to go..."  Xena carefully eyed the bard.  "...alone?"
She questioned, not understanding how the bard could so easily accept
a month apart.

The bard immediately saw the almost hidden sadness in those beautiful
eyes.  "Of COURSE not, I just thought..."  Gabrielle quickly tried
erase that sadness.  Instinctively, she reached out for her warrior's
arm only to immediately withdraw it.  She remembered the Warrior
Princess' conditions on public displays of affection.  She HAD made a
promise and intended to keep it.   

"I'll go saddle up Argo,"  Xena said cooly, leaving the bard with her
future brother-in-law.

Meleager put his arm around the bard and squeezed.  "This is great! 
Xena is coming with us!"  Meleager blurted happily.  "I need all the
allies I can get." 

CHAPTER 3 - Damn Things

"I think I'll go stretch my legs,"  Meleager muttered awkwardly,
leaving camp.   Gabrielle smiled at her future brother-in-law,
despite his pleading that Xena come with them.  She really couldn't
blame him, allies were always important to have.  But little did he
realize it wouldn't make a difference with her mother, the bard noted
as her smile faded.  Her smile completely vanished, when she eyed the
silent warrior who sat down against a tree, staring at the fire. 
Xena had barely said a word all day and didn't look too talkative
now, the bard noted.  But she had to try one more time for both their
sakes, Gabrielle considered.  

"Xena, I know you said you would help Meleager but there's really no
need... for...you...."  

Drawing the warrior's unconvinced eyes away from the fire, Gabrielle
realized that line of argument was not going over well and switched
tactics.  "Uh...you know, this would be the perfect time to visit
Amphipolis," Gabrielle suggested enthusiastically as Xena's eyes
returned to the fire.  "I'm sure your mother and brother would love
to...."    

"You don't want me there,"  Xena interrupted in an even tone, finally
breaking her silence.  "Why?"  Her eyes shifted back to the bard for
an answer.

Why.  A fair and simple enough question, Gabrielle considered as she
sighed and looked into the fire.  "Xena, I've been through my cousin
Huestis' Traditional Wedding and...well...let's just say it got
pretty ugly,"  Gabrielle revealed with a weak smile, shaking her head
at the memories.  "I wouldn't even want to put Joxer through that," 
Gabrielle added, with a slight chuckle that lifted Xena's spirit. 
"I can't ask you to endure my family...my mother...for a whole
month,"  Gabrielle added sincerely.  

"You don't have to ask Gabrielle," Xena responded warmly.  "And...
I'm not afraid,"  Xena added with a sly grin that faded when the bard
shift uncomfortably.  "But you are,"  Xena spoke with hurt which she
quickly buried. "You're worried about what she'll think...about us," 
Xena stated with a cold edge in her voice.

"WHAT?!?"  Gabrielle snapped in amazement.  "Xena, if you'll
remember, I'M not the one who's worried about what other's think," 
The bard blurted, surprising the Warrior Princess.

"You know..."  Meleager announced as he entered the camp.  "...the
caves with those Furry Weggets are really not THAT far out of our
way."  Meleager eyed the women hopefully.  Noting with great
discomfort that no one was answering him, he coughed.  The bard sat
staring at the fire with an intense, angry gaze.  The Warrior
Princess' eyes were fixed on the bard.  

Gods, I'd rather be in Walsas right now, he thought to himself. 
Ignore it and it will go away, he considered.  Good plan.  "Ok,
ok...PLEASE help me?"  He asked, sticking to his plan. "Please?"  He
added for good measure.

Xena sighed, removing her gaze from the bard and finally looked at
him.  "What caves and what's a Furry Wegget?"  Xena asked.  

"One of the many wondrous events in store for the lucky couple and
their FORTUNATE family and friends,"  Gabrielle relayed in a grand,
bardly voice.  

"Now I've been thinking..."  Meleager relayed to the bard, who eyed
him.  

"Careful Meleager, you know what happened the last time you did
that,"  Gabrielle cautioned him.

"Hear me out..."  Meleager urged her diplomatically, as he sat down. 
"With your help, we'll get all the damn...uh the items in no
time...the egg, and the orchid and...."

"What orchid?"  Xena interrupted.  

"The Red Orchid of Love,"  Gabrielle informed her with a heavy sigh
as she retrieved her bed roll and plopped on the ground.        

Meleager pulled his sword out and started to sharpen it.  "At least I
know what a damn orchid looks like," he muttered drawing a sharp
stare from the bard.   

"Yes, but do you know where to get the Red Orchid of Love?" 
Gabrielle countered as she unrolled her bedding and sat down.  

"There are orchids by the lake on the way to Walsas, I'm sure I've
seen a red one there," Meleager noted with a shrug.  

"Ah...but if it were only so easy."  Gabrielle sighed.  

Xena watched the two, wondering why they were making such a big deal
out of getting a few things for the wedding.

"And don't even think of asking for my help with the last part." 
Gabrielle warned him.

"But," Meleager blurted with concern.

"I won't, don't ask,"  Gabrielle interrupted, firm in her
convictions. 

"BUT," Meleager blurted again.

"No." 

"But why NOT?"  Meleager was upset, almost panicking.  "I'm not a
bard, how am I supposed to come up with a wedding poem for Sarah?"

Still unclear about many of the things involving this "Traditional"
wedding, the Wegget, the furry egg, the orchid...but the poem was
something Xena finally understood the significance of.  Xena
immediately felt empathy for Meleager and his difficult task.

"The words are supposed to be from YOUR heart Meleager, not mine," 
Gabrielle informed him.  "Don't worry you have time.  Inspiration can
come at the most unexpected times,"  Gabrielle added with a warm
smile, attempting to help ease his concerns.  The smile didn't help.

"Gods, a poem,"  Meleager blurted weakly looking sick.  He turned
towards Xena with his Meleager the Desperate look.

"Don't look at me,"  Xena warned, remembering the last time he used
that desperate look and got her to help him when he was on uncertain
ground with Sarah.  

He practically begged her to help him with his attempts at a romantic
interlude with Sarah at her balcony.  No, he begged, she recalled. 
What transpired could only be summed up as possibly the worst
romantic interlude ever planned or executed.  No, the worst, she
recalled.  Meleager's attempts to woo Sarah were pathetic at best,
even when the Warrior Princess gave him perfectly good lines to use,
which he blew of course.  The only thing Meleager succeeded in that
night was to take them to the wrong balcony and embarrass them in
front of the last person she wanted to learn of her involvement with
the romantic fiasco - Gabrielle.  

Meleager the Desperate ignored the Warrior Princess initial rebuff
and continued to look to her for help.  Xena was going to repeat her
refusal when she heard the bard chuckle.  

"Come on Meleager, you're not THAT desperate,"  Gabrielle relayed
with a smirk, laying down and pulling her covers up.

"What's that supposed to mean?"  Xena responded with irritation.

"Nothing."  Gabrielle muffled a giggle, shifting under her blanket. 

"You don't think I could write a poem?"  Xena asked, annoyed.

Gabrielle sighed.  She sat up and eyed the Proud Princess.  "Xena,
I'm sure if you REALLY wanted to, you could.  But Meleager has to do
this himself.  They should be HIS words...even if they are really
bad,"  Gabrielle explained to the Warrior Princess.  

"HEY!"  Meleager blurted.  "They might not be REALLY bad...just BAD!"

He added defensively.  Oh gods... a poem, he thought to himself.    

Gabrielle sighed heavily at the two warriors, and laid back down. 
"Pleasant dreams my warriors,"  Gabrielle muttered as she shut her
eyes.

As the warrior's settled in for the evening, Meleager noted Xena
rolling out her bedding on the other side of the fire.  Well, it WAS
safer for them if they spread out around the fire in case of an
ambush, he considered.  But for some reason, he didn't think she
wasn't sleeping way over there for safety reasons.  Xena seemed
irritated about something.  When she caught him watching her, she
gave him a cold stare.  Yep, none of my business, he concluded,
smiling awkwardly and laid back on his bedroll with a sigh and shut
his eyes.  

Meleager's nagging thoughts kept him from sleep.  "A poem," he
thought as he rolled over.  "A poem," he thought and sighed.  That
was one task he had thought would be a piece of cake with Gabrielle's
help.  He rolled over to his other side.  Now he didn't have that
piece of cake...not even a lousy crumb.  "A damn poem,"  he thought
again, rolling back to his other side.  He couldn't take it anymore. 
His eyes popped wide open.  Abruptly sitting up, he looked at the
bard.  "Gabrielle?"  He asked tentatively, eyeing the prone form.    
  
"NO!"

"Sarah?  Sarah?"  A woman called out, looking around the Castle
halls.  "Have either of you two seen the Queen?  I thought I saw her
go this way," she asked two soldiers just getting off duty.  The two
looked at each other uneasily.

"Uh...I thought I saw her go to the library," one soldier answered. 

"I just came from there!"  She blurted with annoyance.  "If you
happen to run into the Queen, tell her, her MOTHER is looking for
her," she ordered curtly, emphasizing her rank as mother, which
obviously outranked Queen.  

"We've got to finalize the guest list, dinner menu, travel
arrangements... not to mention decide on which dress maker she wants
for the wedding gown...they'll have to be good with beads.  A second
wedding makes it SO much more... complicated... off-white, yellow,
light blue," she rattled off then noticed their glazed looks.  

"Oh never mind..." she blurted with frustration.  "when you see her,
just tell her we have much to do!"  She added, leaving them to
continue her search.

Hearing her mother get closer, Sarah ducked into the kitchen. 
"Father!"  Sarah blurted with surprise, finding him engrossed in
sampling the cook's soup.  

The surprised cook looked up from the soup towards his unexpected
visitor and received an unmistakable glare of warning.  Deciding his
continued employment important, the cook quickly determined he really
needed to look for more spices and left his soup to busily search the
pantry.

"You know, your mother has been looking for you," he said
nonchalantly,  blowing on the steaming spoon.  

"Uh, really?  I guess I keep missing her,"  Sarah shrugged
innocently, attempting to sound convincing as she watched her father.

"I've been terribly biz...." Her explanation was momentarily
interrupted as she anxiously looked over her shoulder. "...zy.."  

Her father slowly slurped the soup.  His eyebrows furrowed.  "Needs
salt."   

"Sarah?"   Her mother's voice grew louder.

"You know, I just remembered something I need to do.  Tell mother
we'll talk later.  Duty calls,"  Sarah blurted, kissing her father's
cheek, and quickly escaping the kitchen. 

A short moment passed before his wife arrived in the kitchen.  "Hello
dear," he greeted her casually, adding a pinch of salt to the soup
and slowly stirred.  

His wife looked around the kitchen, eyeing the cook who was busily
inspecting his spices.  From the rattling of the jars he touched, she
wondered if he suffered from the tremors.  It is so hard to get good
help these days, she sighed, shaking her head.

"Dear, have you seen Sarah?  I've been having the hardest time
getting her to sit a moment and discuss the wedding.  There are SO
many things to be done.  If she doesn't start now, it will sneak up
on her before she knows it.  She'll regret not making plans sooner,
mark my words," she lectured to her husband who nodded.

"Yes dear.  I know," he said softly, retrieving another spoonful.  

"Honestly, I don't understand why she just doesn't have the wedding
back home.  I've TOLD her it would be so much easier to have a
Traditional Poteidaian Wedding in Poteidaia."  She sighed.  "We
wouldn't have to worry about as many travel arrangements and rooms
for the Poteidaian guests and...." 

"Dear, you can't expect a Queen to leave her own land to get
married," he interjected then sipped his soup.  "It wouldn't be
right," he said softly.  "Needs salt."

"I guess you're right dear, it's just that I've always wanted to see
a daughter of mine married in Poteidaia, where WE got married," she
explained, placing her hand on his shoulder.  

He nodded with warm smile.  "I understand dear." 

"Well, I can't just stand here dear, I've got so much to do!"  She
kissed him on the cheek.

"I know dear," he remarked, slowly adding another pinch of salt to
the soup as his wife left his side.

Passing at a most unfortunate time, Lila stopped dead in her tracks
upon the bone chilling sound that bellowed from the kitchen.

"Lila! I'm so glad I've found you!"

To Be Continue...


Part 2