Disclaimers: Yeah, they STILL don't belong to me, and never will. But for some reason Xena and Gabrielle have decided to come play again, so I'm going with it. Thanks very much to the people who actually own them for letting me do so, without suing me. We appreciate it!
4th in the Eternity Series
By T. Novan
Xena shook her head after inspecting a couple of mares. "No, I don't think so, but thanks for letting me look. There's another fellow a couple of streets over. I think I'll go over there."
"He's a crook!" The horse trader shook an angry fist.
"Really?" A dark brow rose as long arms crossed over a now leather-clad chest. "Funny, he said the same thing about you."
"He's a liar, too!" The short man said as he tried to keep pace with the warrior, who was walking away from his stalls and his horse flesh. "I'll throw in a saddle!"
Xena stopped, turning on a dinar, her eyes narrowing at the little bearded man. "You wouldn't have anyone named Salmonious in your family tree, would you?"
"If I say yes, will you buy the horses?"
With a snort, Xena turned again.
The Bard laughed. "Xena, stop torturing the man."
"Yeah, Xena stop torturing the man," the horse trader repeated.
This earned him a slow, painful glare from twin pools of blue ice. "She," the tall woman hissed as she pointed at the blonde across the paddock. "can order me around. You may die for trying it."
With an audible gulp, the little man nodded. "Wh ...what was my ... my last offer on the mares?"
"Thirty and the saddles?"
"Deal." Xena stuck out her hand which, was accepted as soon as the dealer could stop shaking enough to do so.
"Well, I'm not sure I could master your method of bartering, but it works." Gabrielle laughed as they walked away from the stables after having made arrangements to stable their new purchases until they were ready to go.
Xena chuckled, "Old habits die hard."
"Apparently." She gave her partner a playful nudge with her hip. "So, I managed to find the best inn in the city and got us their nicest room for the night."
"Enjoying the fact that we retrieved the box, are you?"
"You know it. For the next couple of days, it's going to be the lap of luxury or nothing."
"I can't argue with that. It's been a tough month or so."
"Yeah, but now we have everything we need, and I must say," she gave her lover an approving look. "I do like the new leathers."
"Why, thank you." Xena bowed with a playful flourish. "I aim to please."
"Yes, you do." Gabrielle agreed with a lecherous grin.
Xena's new armor was similar to what Gabrielle had been used to, except this time it was darker, more black than brown. There wasn't quite as much scrolled copper work either, but the skirt, oh the skirt more than made up for anything else the outfit was lacking. That skirt gave Gabrielle a perfect view from any direction or angle and it was easy to get into, or Xena out of, whichever came first. Her new boots were nice, too.
Gabrielle had opted to keep the trouser look. She decided she liked being warm and dry. However, when they had arrived in the city, her wardrobe had been added to considerably. She also decided more than two changes of clothes were required this time around.
"Xena?" Gabrielle reached out and intertwined their fingers as they meandered down the street toward the inn the Bard had chosen. "Do you even want to travel this time? I mean there is some appeal to settling down, don't you think?"
"Of course, there is, but eternity is a long time to stay in one place. Eventually, people would wonder why we weren't getting older or dying. I'm assuming there would be a torch and pitchfork committee in our future at that juncture."
"Good point," Gabrielle nodded.
"Depends on the point, where it gets stuck, and who is doing the sticking."
"But, obviously, we can stay anywhere we like for as long as we like. Two or three days doesn't have to be the norm anymore." She gestured to the city they were in. "If you like it here, we can stay here for a bit. Few weeks, few months, few years."
Gabrielle stopped their progress and made Xena look at her. "You'd do that for me if I really wanted it, wouldn't you?"
"Of course." She shrugged a shoulder. "I understand you've been wandering for a long time and you might be tired. You might want to stop for a while. I'm okay with that. I just want us to be happy."
"Well, it just so happens I may have a compromise. Come with me."
Xena followed her partner down a side street and around a corner to another shopping area in the city. This area was for merchants with larger items like hay carts, plows and other general use farm equipment. At the end of the street was a vendor that specialized in wagons. Xena could almost bet she knew what that Bard wanted to show her as soon as they approached.
On the end of the first row was a wagon with heavy wooden sides, and a curved wooden roof complete with a pipe stack that indicated there was a stove inside. It had a rear door and shuttered windows on each side. Several compartments on the outside offered storage for everything they could possibly need. A nicely padded bench seat with a heavy footboard and braking system completed the look of the wagon.
"Wait until you see the inside, Xena. You're not going to believe it. It's a cottage. A cottage on wheels."
Gabrielle's enthusiasm was charming. She seemed so much like that naïve young girl the Warrior had met so long ago. Xena smiled and she stepped up behind Gabrielle as she pulled the rear door open.
"Look at that bed!" The bard shouted in Xena's ear, not realizing their faces were only inches apart.
"I see," Xena chuckled as she put her pinky in her ear to temper the ringing. "I can't hear, but I see."
Glancing down, Xena could see a small ladder tucked up under the lip of the wagon. Unhooking and pulling it out, she gestured for Gabrielle to climb inside. "Well, go check it out."
Watching from the door, Xena laughed outright as she watched Gabrielle inspect the interior of the wagon. There were cabinets and drawers that needed to be opened. Storage under and above the bed had to be inspected.
Xena even noticed a small table and chair by one of the windows. A little woodstove sat between the bed and the table. She watched indulgently as Gabrielle ran her hands over a small stone countertop, obviously meant for preparing food.
"You like it?" The Warrior asked.
"I love it! Xena, we could have so much fun in this! Storage for gear and clothes. We could have nice things! And no more sleeping on the ground. Immortal or not, I'm a little old for that."
"Alright," Xena nodded and grinned. "Let's see if he's got a harness for it, too."
The Bard joined her partner back on the ground. "Really?"
"Yeah, really. I see your reasoning. And you'll have a ball buying everything we'll need to finish setting it up."
Xena was not complaining about the arms around her neck, the body pressed to hers or the lips against her own. She wasn't in a mood to complain at all.
It was the sound of someone clearing their throat that made Xena stop what she was doing and look up. Just behind Gabrielle, was an older, tall, beefy man. He stood with his arms crossed and a brow raised.
"Problem?" Xena asked as she released Gabrielle, who turned to face their new friend.
"Depends." The man took a step forward and offered his hand. "Turek, the wagon maker. Interested in the wagon, are you?"
Gabrielle nodded and took his hand. "We are. How much?"
"Well, as is, a hundred dinars."
Gabrielle looked back and Xena who looked down and shrugged.
Then Xena looked up and asked, "What does ‘as is' mean? The wheels going to fall of an hour out of town?"
"No!" The man laughed as he made his way to the wagon. "It's new. Never been used. I built it myself. It's just a basic model. There are things I can do to upgrade it a bit."
Xena's eyes rolled when she heard Gabrielle squeak. She knew that squeak. It meant Gabrielle was very happy, or very close to it. Either way, she was excited. This was going to cost some serious dinars before it was over.
"Okay, Gabrielle," Xena wrapped her arm around her partner's shoulders. "You stay here and get your upgrades. I'm going to head over to the weapons shop and get some supplies I need. Meet you back here in an hour?"
"Great!" Gabrielle palmed Xena's cheek, turning her face for a sweet kiss. "Thank you."
"You bet. Have fun."
True to her word, Xena returned within the hour, a small sack of soft cloths, oil and various grades of sharpening stones, along with a few more small knives. As she approached, she could see them, still standing at the wagon, but now the merchant had a paper and quill in his hands. Xena groaned.
"So, how is it going?" The tall woman asked as she made a lazy approach.
"Great!" Gabrielle enthused. "We're going to add a couple of water barrels on the back, roll out awnings on all the sides, and a ladder to the roof."
"Putting a swimming pond up there?"
"Extra space for cargo if we need it."
"Right, of course, what was I thinking?"
"I have no idea."
"How long will these upgrades take?"
"About a week," the man offered casually. "I'll throw in a special plate for the top of the stove that will let you cook on it too. You know, when the weather is bad."
"This thing come with a harness for a horse?" Xena asked as stepped up inside of the wagon and stored her new purchases in one of the drawers.
"Yeah, you will have everything you need, but the horse."
"Those we have." She looked around the space for the first time. It was actually very nice and immensely comfortable. The fact that she could stand up to her full height was a plus. Her bard had chosen well. She gave the thick straw mattress in the back of the caravan a push, impressed with it. It was a nice big bed and she already had visions of a naked Gabrielle happily spread out on it.
She could also just as easily imagine relaxing on the bed in the evening with the windows open. A small fire in the stove. Gabrielle sitting at the little table working on a scroll as a gentle rain pelted the roof. Yeah, she could imagine those kinds of things, too, and that made her happy.
"So," Gabrielle stepped up inside. "Do you think we can share this space without killing each other?"
"I think we've got that covered." Xena laughed.
"This is going to be very different."
"Yeah, it is." Xena wrapped Gabrielle in her arms with a happy sigh. "But a good different. It will be nice to have a roof over our heads every night and a warm, dry bed."
"I agree. I can't wait until we can move in."
"Well, we've got a week before we can do that. So, let's go get settled in the inn and then tomorrow, we'll start shopping for the ‘house'."
Xena looked at all the crates and bags piled outside the caravan. All of their purchases in the last week had been collected and now it was time to try and put everything away. She looked at the additional work that had been done and she was pleased.
Gabrielle had ordered rain proof tarps attached to the top that could be rolled out when they stopped. The water barrels were of good quality and well-sealed and to her surprise, full of clean, cool water. The ladder to the roof was strong and had been attached with heavy iron spikes. Xena noticed that a small railing had been added on the roof to hold extra supplies or cargo.
"I got the keys." Gabrielle chuckled as she approached from the shop where the merchant did his business.
"To the door and for the shutters." She jingled a small set of keys. "To the locks."
"Right." Xena nodded and clapped her hands together. "So, my darling organized partner, where do we start?"
Gabrielle considered the piles around them and grinned. "At the beginning. Come on, let's start with the bed clothes. You can hand them in and I'll put stuff away."
"Okay." Xena inserted herself in the middle of the pile and muttered, "Bed clothes, bed clothes."
"Under the heavy tarp," The Bard offered as she unlocked the door and pulled down the steps.
Lifting the tarp, Xena immediately identified the box in question. She grinned as she fingered the material. "Silk sheets, Gabrielle?"
"Just one set, for special occasions."
"Like maybe our first night in our new house?"
"Well, that would be a special occasion." The blonde agreed with a chuckle.
It took nearly three hours to get everything unpacked and sorted to be put away. Xena did the smart thing and just handed stuff to Gabrielle as requested and stood back while she organized their space. She knew it would take her weeks to learn where everything was.
"So," Xena took a peek inside to find Gabrielle sitting on the edge of the bed, that was now made with thick pillows, nice blankets and the silk sheets. "Do you want me to go get the horses, or what?"
"Well, it's late. No sense in leaving now. Turek said he didn't care if we stayed here tonight. Said we could even set up if we wanted to work the bugs out and if we had any questions we could ask him tomorrow."
Given they were in a market area, it would be a nice chance to do a dry run in their new place. Once the last of the little shops closed, the only other people around would be a few city guards on patrol and the merchants who lived in the area.
Xena smiled and nodded. "I like that idea."
They decided to go ahead and take the time to unroll two of the covers. Xena found that Turek had made a nice storage space for the poles on the undercarriage. Once she had them loose, it only took a few minutes to get the tarps unfurled. They were made of thick, heavily stitched material that had been waterproofed with a thin pitch type of sealant that was thinner than normal and allowed for the covers to be rolled.
Xena was very pleased with the craftsmanship of this wagon. This had been an absolute stroke of brilliance on Gabrielle's part as far as the Warrior was concerned.
"What are we going to name her?" Gabrielle had made a small fire pit in the ground on the ‘kitchen' side of the caravan where their pots, pans and sundries were stored in the outside compartments.
Xena looked from her spot where she was tying off one of the poles holding the cover over Gabrielle's head. "Her who? Do you have a mouse in your pocket?"
"The wagon, smart aleck."
"The wagon needs a name? Its feelings will get hurt if it doesn't have a name?" Xena was trying her best not to laugh as she retrieved the three-legged cooking stand that would hold the pot for stew.
"Come on, Xena, play along. What are we going to name her?"
"No." The Bard did a double take. "Nargretis? Now you're making things up!" Gabrielle teased as she retrieved the new hanging pot from its storage space and hung on the hook over the fire.
"I thought that was the point. To make up a name so the wagon's feelings wouldn't be hurt. How about," she slid up behind Gabrielle and blew in her ear, "the Love Shack."
"Get me some water." The bard ordered playfully. "Love shack, my butt," she mumbled as she opened a package of lamb chunks and tossed them in the pot.
"That would be the reason, yes." Xena chuckled as she handed Gabrielle a tankard of water. "What else can I do?"
"Peel the potatoes and chop the carrots and onions."
"Oh, I like that." Gabrielle nodded as she added a few herbs to the pot. "Eternity will be a breeze if you're always this agreeable."
"And you think the chances of that actually happening are?" Xena sat down on a small stool and began preparing the vegetables as requested.
"Slim, but I'll take what I can get."
"Hmmm, smells good," Xena peered into the stew pot. "How much longer? I'm hungry."
"Another half hour or so I think. It's chilly tonight. Why don't you light a fire in the stove so it will be warm when we go in?"
Xena drew back and gave Gabrielle a look that was a cross of ornery and affection that only she could manage to pull off. "Oh, that is a WONDERFUL idea! Oh, I'm liking this more and more."
The Bard chuckled to herself as she listened to Xena gathering wood for the little stove. The Warrior was still talking to herself about how having a warm bed every night was more appealing than she had initially thought.
Stepping up into the wagon, Xena smiled with the way Gabrielle had put everything away in a neat and orderly fashion. There was even a little pot of fresh flowers on the table and in such a small space, they made it smell very nice.
As Xena knelt down to get the stove started, she gave consideration to the one thing they were missing in their new house and she knew she would have to sort it out before they left. She was sure that Turek could supply what she needed.
By the time, they had eaten, cleaned up and climbed inside their little abode for the evening, the interior was warm and toasty. A couple of lanterns hanging from heavy hooks in the walls provided more than enough soft yellow light. It was truly bliss to be able to take off their clothes and get comfortable in their nice new bed and then to put out the lanterns and settle down on new, clean sheets, with good quality blankets and pillows.
Xena sighed deeply as she relaxed and opened her arms. Gabrielle fell right into them and curled into her spot.
"Oh, yeah," the blonde moaned happily, placing tiny, tender kisses on the flesh at her lips. "This is nice."
"This, my darling bard, is Elysia."
They simply lay there in the dark. Holding each other, being together, enjoying the feel of each other. They had been settled for about a half hour when a very gentle rain began hitting the roof making the night completely perfect.
They each knew the other was still awake, as gentle fingers continued to caress and explore even if no words were being spoken. Sometimes the most important things were said with no sound at all.
Finally, Xena turned her head and whispered so softly, Gabrielle barely heard it. "I love you."
She wasn't sure why that particular declaration hit her so hard, but it did and tears sprang to Gabrielle's eyes. She knew it was true. She could feel the truth of those words to the very core of her soul, but to hear it from those lips made her happy in ways she hadn't remembered were possible.
"I love you, too."
After another few minutes, Gabrielle lifted her head and asked, "Why didn't you ever ask me to marry you?"
That had not been even close to anything that Xena was expecting. She took a deep breath and gave it honest consideration because Gabrielle didn't deserve any less.
"I wasn't good enough for you." That was the honest answer. The Warrior was proud of being able to give it, even though it hurt to admit.
"Oh, is that all? What makes you think I was good enough for you?" Gabrielle, tempered her words with more tender kisses meant to reassure.
"We're here, together now aren't we?"
"Yes," Gabrielle nodded. "We are. What else does that tell you?"
"That we'll be making a stop at the temple to get married before we leave town?"
"Not with a proposal like that we won't."
Xena laughed and sat up in the bed, folding her legs under her so she was on her knees, she took Gabrielle's hand and asked, "Will you marry me?"
"Do you promise to love only me?" Gabrielle's response was both playful and flirtatious.
"For eternity." Dark brows rose playfully, "or for as long as you want to keep me."
Reaching out, Gabrielle drew her warrior to her, their bodies coming to rest in perfect combination, just as their hearts and souls had done so many years before.
As she threaded her fingers into Xena's long hair, enjoying the silky feel, she smiled into those eyes that had always held her in their spell. "Forever?"
"Sounds good to me," Xena's voice rumbled low and sultry, causing shivers all through Gabrielle's body.
"Gods, the things you do to me," Gabrielle's own voice was thick and husky, causing tremors in Xena's body as well. "I'm fairly certain it may be illegal in six countries."
"Nine, but who's counting?" The Warrior teased as her lips found a warm, soft neck.
"Oh, yeah, that's perfect." Gabrielle was quickly lost in the haze that quickly enveloped her every time Xena touched her with very clear intentions.
The guards strolled down the street. Being later in the evening, it was quiet, the occasional barking of a dog breaking the relative silence of the night.
As they turned the corner an odd noise from the wagon makers lot caught their attention. They moved in slowly, wondering if they were about to catch a thief in the act. They stopped when they discovered that the nice caravan wagon seemed to be occupied.
By the rhythmic squeaking of the springs, very occupied.
"Do you, think we should check it out?" The younger of the two guards asked, gesturing randomly, as they watched the wagon.
The very loud growl, followed by a very satisfied sounding, ‘Ohhh, Xena! Gods, yes!' made the older man shake his head. "No, no I don't think so."
"We're just going to forget that we heard or saw anything?"
"I saw the one called Xena in town today. If you value all your bits in the same place they are now, you will turn and walk away, son."
The younger man considered his options, when he heard a round of laughter from the caravan indicating the occupants were not in any kind of distress, he decided maybe keeping his bits in place was the right thing to do. "Let's go."
Xena made one last check of the harness, happy that it was secure and the horse was properly hitched. Gabrielle sat on the box seat, reins in her hands looking perfectly bored as Xena walked around the horse for about the sixth time.
"I'd say let's get a move on before we grow old and die," Gabrielle teased from her spot. "But I know that's not a valid argument."
"Alright, alright," Xena huffed, moving to her own horse and pulling herself into the saddle. "Forgive me for wanting to make sure it's all rigged right."
"Xena, you harnessed the horse yourself." The bard reminded as they began moving down the road.
Xena just shook her head as she brought her own mount alongside the wagon, near the box. "So, where do you want to go?"
"Don't you think it makes sense to head for the next chest? I think the more of them we can reclaim, the better off we'll be. It's a lot of money to just leave lying around, Xena. We've got one by the coast I think we should get before it gets colder."
"I agree, those sea caves can be a real bitch when the winter winds are up. Makes sense, then we can start working north."
"I like it when a plan comes together," Gabrielle chuckled as she took a sip of water from a small jug she plucked from a holder near her foot.
Xena's brow rose. "Another upgrade?"
"Yeah," The Bard smiled, crinkling her nose in her ‘get out of the dungeon free' way. "Want some?"
"We've been on the road for five minutes. I'm not quite parched yet."
"Just thought it would be nice to have it in a cool crock rather than a warm old skin, that's been sloshed around on a horse's backside all day."
"I like this concept of comfort you've come up with." Xena nodded. "We've roughed it long enough."
"Thank you. I thought so too. I mean we've tried it about every other way, I don't' see why we shouldn't experiment."
"This entire time around is an experiment so why not embrace the theme?" Xena nodded, reasonably confident she was in line with Gabrielle's thinking on this subject.
The bard perked up and smiled, "Does that mean I get to tie you up first next time?"
Xena laughed and teased, "Don't get carried away."
"So," Gabrielle looked sideways as she smiled. "Does this experiment start with a stop at the temple?"
"You're serious about that married thing, aren't you?"
Gabrielle pulled back, reining the horse and stopping their wagon. "Yes. I am."
"Okay," Xena nodded. "I'm all for it, if you're absolutely sure."
"I've only been more sure about one thing."
"And that is?"
"Was," Gabrielle clarified. "I was sure you'd be waiting for me in Hades chamber. Now, I'm sure about this."
"Then let's find a temple." Xena winked.
"What are we going to name her?"
"If you keep this up, I'll leave you here."
"No, you won't. Okay, okay. How about Aphrodite?"
"No, sorry, just can't wrap my head around climbing into Aphrodite every night."
"How about, Oikos?"
The (ancient) Greek word meaning, home, family, or belongings, all of which fit in this case. Gabrielle nodded her approval. "I think so. Oikos is it."
"Glad we settled that." The Warrior snorted her amusement. "Now are the horses going to have their feelings hurt because they don't have names yet?"
"It's going to be a long eternity," Gabrielle mumbled. "Good thing I love her."
"I heard that." Xena looked back and smiled, "And I agree, it is a good thing you love me."
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