Robin kissed James and pushed him up. "Youíll be great."
"Thanks," he said, returning the kiss, "I love you."
"Youíd better." The threat was balanced by her smile.
He worked his way the stage and once there stamped for attention. He looked out onto the incredible scene, a group that only Xena and Gabrielle could have gathered together.
"Friends and Sisters, Ladies and Gentlemen, Kings, Queens and Princes, and to all and any Gods and Goddesses nearby" and he bowed. "On behalf of my friend Hercules," A still pale Demi-God gestured in acknowledgment, "it is the tradition where I come from for the...the...(Ďwhat the hell am I?í, he thought,í the maid of honour?í) "...for there to be speeches and toasts at this point..." there came a muffled groan from the Amazons and others, led he suspected by Autolycus. "So how about if we drop the speech part and move right to the toast?"
A spontaneous cheer broke out.
"OK, but youíre going to have to sing it."
There was a slight grumble.
He raised his guitar. "There should be a song sheet near you, but if there isnít, donít worry. All you have to do is repeat the last two lines of each of the verses after me and then raise your cups and salute our favorite lovers." Servers were scurrying around to fill each table with ales, mead and wine. Joxer moved into his position at the far end where the rocks would work as a sound board and began to strum. James took a cup and called out "Hereís to the Couple", saluted the couple in the throne with his ale, gulped it down, and began to play.
Hereís to the couple, so valiantly wed
And hereís to the years that for them lie ahead
We wish them good fortune, good health and the best
He paused and the crowd repeated:
WE WISH THEM GOOD FORTUNE, GOOD HEALTH AND THE BEST!
Strong children, good neighbors and all the rest...
Raising their drinking vessels, the crowd responded:
STRONG CHILDREN, GOOD NEIGHBOURS, AND ALL THE REST!
With a pause for cat calls and swallowing, he continued,
Hereís hoping they never do part, and that
all of their quarrels be patched Ďere they start
Let love be the teacher and make all the rules...
With no hesitation the refrained was sung out.
LET LOVE BE THE TEACHER AND MAKE ALL THE RULES!
Let love be the doc-tor and cure the fools
Laughter broke out and he caught a glance of a blushing Gabrielle as the crowd drank again and sang:
LET LOVE BE THE DOCTOR AND CURE THE FOOLS!
They venture now out on lifeís stormy seas
May they hold to their course be it North, South, or East
May they hold to their course though the canvas may blow
And reach their goal, the goal of us all
For them and their children, a world at peace
FOR THEM AND THEIR CHILDREN A WORLD AT PEACE!
All joined in now with enthusiasm.
HEREíS TO THE COUPLE SO VALIANTLY WED
AND HEREíS TO THE YEARS THAT FOR THEM LIE AHEAD
WE WISH THEM GOOD FORTUNE GOOD HEALTH AND THE BEST
WE WISH THEM GOOD FORTUNE, GOOD HEALTH AND THE BEST
FOR THEM AND THEIR CHILDREN, A WORLD AT PEACE!
James held up his hand to indicate the end, and the last line was sung dragging out each note.
FOR THEM AND THEIR CHILDREN, A WORLD........AT......PEACE!
Congratulating themselves, the guests applauded and cheers shook the woods as James made his way back to the couple. A crying and happy Gabrielle nearly socked him in the face with Xenaís attached hand in her eagerness to embrace the traveler. Amid the apologies he managed "I think this is your cue, "and he pointed to the chaos around them.
But then Robin spoke.
"First, I have a special present for my Queen." James looked at her with disquiet.
He objected "But, this is the distraction, I timed it just right, they have to go...now..."
Unfortunately for James, Gabrielle, had seen the look in Robinís eye. "James, I love you truly, but..."
She directed her attention back to Robin.
Robin had decided how to do this. "How long has James been visiting you, in his time line?"
"About three years," spoke the Queen.
"So his daughter was born about ten years before he met you guys, right?"
"Right...?" James stood by, not sure how or if he could stop what he knew was coming.
Robin continued. "Have you ever noticed he always refers to Ďhis daughterí ,
Gabrielle eyes began to glow. "And whenever we asked him for her name, he always manages to change the subject...?"
Robin continued. "I saw some of his mail when I was at his apartment for a guitar lesson. It had his full name, his middle name. She has the feminine version of it. Now that I know him better, I donít think he would name his daughter after himself. Iím willing to bet that itís a traditional family name. Probably goes way back..."
Jamesí head had sunk lower and lower with each word.
Gabrielle turned to James, and with iron in her smile, asked sweetly "What is your daughterís name?"
James mumbled something.
"Didnít hear you, James."
"Gabrielle. Her name is Gabrielle."
The Queen raised her free hand in the air and pumped it, shouting "Yes!"
Without a second of hesitation, she jumped out of the chair, unfortunately forgetting that she was attached to a rather large object, creating a sort of bungie effect for a moment. Giving a fierce tug, she began to pull an unwilling Warrior Princess along with her towards the stage.
James smacked his forehead with his palm. "Oh Gods, not another pronouncement."
Xenaís eyes were slitted as she thought of how close she had been to being alone with her new wife, and she glared angrily at Robin and James as she was dragged off, mouthing several well thought out threats, directed mainly at Robin.
Gabrielle finally got to the stage, with Xena sprawled unhappily at her feet, and called out. "I have an announcement."
The crowd, miraculously fell silent.
"Many of you know that James, Robin, my Consort and I have a bond. And although the explanation for that should have been obvious to anyone..." She looked directly at a sulking James,..."It is only just now I have received another...proof, of that connection. And since by extension it would seem that Robin of Montreal has a blood tie with my Consort,... I would like to formally welcome her to my family." Applause. "And though not in the line of succession", she gestured to her royal scribe," I now confer upon her the designation Amazon Princess. This to be a hereditary title to be passed to her heirs and descendants. May they always be welcomed to our lands."
As the Amazons as a group stood and welcomed their new princess, Robin was frozen in shock. ĎWhat do you do, when a dream you couldnít have imagined, comes true?í she thought.
James was grumbling. "Sure, reward the snitch."
"James GABRIEL, the Traveler," Gabrielle started ominously, at least it sounded that way to James. "Has also been revealed to be of my blood, and though he has asked to be removed from consideration as a member of this tribe..." There was some shocked reaction to this, but Gabrielle waved it off, "He might be able to choose membership, but he cannot choose his family. As such, though there may be no rank of Amazon Prince, I designate his daughter a member of our tribe, in training, and as her father and my kin, I command that he be accorded all rights as a member of the royal family, also to be transferred to his daughterís heirs and descendants. Amazons, welcome them both to our Nation!"
James looked about in terror as dozens upon dozens of drunken Amazons rushed forward to hug them both while shrieking war cries. The last thing that James saw was Gabrielle being hoisted into Xenaís arms as she waggled her fingers in an ironic good-bye, Xena doing the same with her eyebrows indicating her idea of what a real distraction looked like, before the crowd engulfed them, including a curious Cyrene, and an angry Lila.
A few candlemarks later, two riders reached the outskirts of the Amazon territory. A relaxed but giddy Gabrielle felt her soulmates muscles finally unbend as they passed the boundary.
"Hey, glad to be out?"
"Oh, Yeah." Realizing how that might be interpreted, Xena backtracked. "I mean, weíre going back, and I..."
"Itís OK, love. Iím glad too." She chuckled into her warriorís back.
"Gabrielle.... we havenít really talked this out yet. Youíre their Queen, I think a great Queen, and they need you. Now thereís a child...it changes everything."
"Sure, itís going to change things. Doesnít have to end anything. Not if itís important to us." Gabrielle took her loverís hand. "You see up ahead? Thatís what I where I want to be. I donít know if there are bandits, or another village threatened by the bad guys, or a waterfall in a valley filled with daisies...but it will be you and me together finding out, thatís all that matters. Thatís where I want to be. Where weíre supposed to be, and I know that as well as I know anything in this world."
Xenaís throat caught. "I love you." she said huskily.
They rode in silence for a while, both enjoying the peace and their own company for a change, when a rock face came into view. Xena quickly hopped off, turning to assist the bard. Dismounting slowly, Gabrielle slid down the length of her warriorís body, slowly smiling up at her as her feet finally touched the ground. Xena held her like that for a moment before moving to remove the saddlebags and giving Argo a signal that she was to find shelter. Gabrielle gave the war-horse a hug, and they moved towards the hidden cave entrance.
Carefully stepping on only the bedrock as they approached, Xena stopped suddenly, giving a whistle of astonishment. Gabrielle shook her head.
"Well, the student certainly learned from the master. Or else he didnít mean this cave?"
Xena gave an appreciative grin. "Nice job, isnít it? I bet those stones over there are to mask the cart tracks, but heís placed them all in the right position, with the moss facing the same way, then he swept the area and used the same surface dirt, let it fall into natural patterns..."
"If I didnít know what to look for... well, I guess no oneís ever going to find us are they?"
"That apparently is the idea."
Gabrielle smiled, "Look. He even put the lichens back here, and these cobwebs look like theyíve been here for years."
"Heís a fast learner. Takes after someone I know."
They entered the cave carefully, Xena first as always, cautious that there might be unexpected visitors, when both of them caught a panoply of new scents.
Gabrielle sniffed appreciatively. "Someoneís been busy. If it werenít for the line of Gurdsbane, the whole forest would be in here, I think. What are you looking for?"
"I was thinking he may have left a note."
"Why? Instructions?" Gabrielle smirked. "He probably guessed we could figure most of it out by ourselves."
But Xena had spotted the parchment on the ledge. "Ha!"
"What does it say?"
Xena read and started to laugh. "It says Ď I was going to leave a note, but I decided you guys could figure most of it out by yourselves.í"
Gabrielle crinkled her nose. "Thatís almost scary."
"Almost? Of course Iím thinking of poor Robin."
Xena chuckled and was about to reach for her flint to light one of the torches that lined the narrow entrance when her eyes adjusted and she realized there was already light coming from the adjoining cavern. Taking the bardís hand she led them towards it.
Hundred of candles lit the high ceilinged cavern; their steady glow lighting the furs laid about the floor, reflected and multiplied by the cunningly placed mirrors behind them, making the cavern seem to stretch off forever. The light from the natural spring behind them was iridescent. Both partners found that they were holding their breath as they took in the scene. Xena looked up to confirm that any debris had been removed from the natural chimney above them, and dropped their saddle bags where their bedrolls had been laid out in their standard camp arrangement near a ready made fire. Gabrielle moved to the table where dozens of pots were arranged; the source of the scents that had drawn her in.
"Look, he bought some of those pots from Salmoneous, the ones he said you could keep and cook in the same pot. We just hang them over the candles, and the mealís ready. Now that, is genius...."
"You would say that." Xena pouted. "Are we going to talk about your family all night? Because if youíre going to be thinking about either of them, for any of the next while..."
She was about to respond when she saw that their personal items from the Queenís hut had also been brought. She felt a spark of consternation that her journal had been moved , but shrugged it off knowing James would have respected its intimacy. She opened it and withdrew a scroll which she shyly presented to her warrior.
"I know we said that we wouldnít exchange any more gifts, but..."
Xena smiled and took a similar sheet from her bracers, and shamefaced, they exchanged them.
Both were poems, both reflected their different ways of expressing themselves, but both began with the same words:
"Xena, I..." She began, but she was silenced by a kiss that took every conscious thought away. She looked up in a daze at her lover, reveling in the peace and desire she found there. Shaking her head, she reached over to the table and grabbed a snack and said "Bathe or eat first?"
"Whichever you choose it will have to be second." Xena added deferentially. "My Queen."
"Hmmm, Your Queen, huh? Then how come youíre making all the decisions again?"
"Only the ones involving life and security."
"And this does?"
"Hmmm. Say that again. Right...there..."
"Oh, yes... How long are we going to stay here...?"
"Well Iíd say thereís enough food here to feed an army for about a week. But since itís you, maybe two, three days...."
"You are going to regret that..."
"Right now, I canít regret anything. Not a moment..."
A week of events and partying had finally caught up with the Amazons, for after only a few candlemarks after the royal couple had escaped, they and their guests had all drifted off to their various quarters, and Robin found herself helping to clean up. She was jumping up to extinguish one of the torches when she fell back and was caught by a pair of very strong arms. She turned to see who it was.
"Hercules, thank you. How are you?" she added.
"Getting there," he grimaced. "Getting there. I noticed the Centaurs are all up and about. I feel a little embarrassed..."
She looked him in the eye. "Theyíve had at least a dozen hours more than you to get over something in their food. You drank it straight, remember? To save Solariís life?"
"Thank you," he said and gave her a slow smile and then began to help her with the clean up. As they worked, he caught her looking at him every so often, until amused he said "What?"
"I was just thinking, that this was hardly the Augean stables, and I realized who you were again, and what youíve done..." and her voice became quieter, " and some of the other things youíre supposed to have done..."
"And," he said as he threw more chair stumps to where the wood would be stacked, "you were thinking , they couldnít be true, what a nice guy, right?"
Hercules sat down in front of her, capturing her attention. "Do you think that someone like Xena, would have listened to just another Ďnice guy" all those years ago?" She shook her head.
He grew serious and looked her in the eyes. "When youíre young, and you have certain talents, you can abuse them,...and it can be dangerous."
"Youíre telling me this, why?"
"Robin, I saw you disarm a well trained Amazon warrior, after only practicing with a sword for a week. Why do you think Iím telling you this?"
Robin was silent.
"Are you and James going to work together? Follow in their footsteps?"
"Umm, weíve been talking about it, yeah."
"Good." He stood up, and put out his hand. " Then welcome to the fraternity. Thereís never enough heroes in the world."
Robin blushed, too embarrassed to take his hand. "Iím, weíre not heroes, Hercules..."
He gravely took her hand, "maybe not yet, but you can be. I think itís planned for you." And he smiled. "Iím still not sure if itís a curse or a gift, but itís there for you if you have the courage."
James choose that moment to interrupt with a small wheeled cart.
"This is the best I could find, but it shouldnít shake too much...Oh, I see you got some skilled help." He left the cart and was about to ask about the demi-gods health, but something in his eyes told him that he had had enough of that question. Hercules cleared his throat.
"Iím always happy to help, but I WAS hoping to talk to both of you." James moved to Robin and even though angry at him for the interruption, she took his hand.
"I would like to thank you..."
James saw where this was going, and knew how hard this was for his friend, so he interrupted.
"It wasnít your time. The Fates would have just brought someone else if I hadnít been there."
The gentle giant smiled, "that may be, but I donít like owing ...things, so... If you still need a ride, I think I can cash in one of my sisterís favours. But it will have to before Iolaus and I leave tomorrow. It could be right now, if you want."
For all of Robinís bravado the night before, despite all their plans for ensuring that she would remember, both lovers were struck with a sudden wave of fear, no terror, that this could be their last moment together. Turning to look at James, Robin blurted out, "No, we need another night..."
Hercules looked down at her, pretending to be skeptical. " I really donít know if I could explain that to the Goddess of Love, but Iíll try."
"No, I need..." James shook his head. "Could it be in the morning, a few moments after we both wake up?"
As the demi-god got up and walked over to resume the clean-up, he said "Iím sure that it will be OK" and the two frightened lovers wondered if he was right.
"What my love?"
"Weíve been ripped off! Half that neat disgusting stuff from the drawer is gone!"
"Uhh, well I sort of decided that it was essential, uh camping gear."
"Camping?.... ooohh! What about the timeline?"
"I washed off all the labels?"
"So, how will they know what it is?"
"Finding out could be part of the whole camping experience."
"Hopefully enjoyable too..."
"I was thinking that."
"But James, if youíve been thinking about either of them, at any time in the last while..."
Robin awoke slowly. Every nerve in her body enjoying the luxuriousness of her stretch. She snuggled against the body beside her, feeling the warmth of their connection. ĎCould get used to thisí, she thought, and then the thought struck her, Ďhell, how will I live without it?í
She opened her eyes to find Jamesí centred on hers, seeing her panic mirrored in them. James leaned to kiss her but she evaded his lips and instead grasped his body with all her strength, as if she was defying the Gods to separate them. Both were thinking the identical thoughts, Ďplease, dear God, Aphrodite, Artemis, Lord Jesus, donít take this away from me...í
And then it was all gone.
James opened his eyes to find himself in the silence of his own bedroom. He had one last breath of her scent, their scent, in his nostrils, and then it too disappeared. He could see the light from his bathroom, and hear the dulled rumble of traffic outside his window. A sense of catastrophic absence, of loss tore through his soul, and he began to hyperventilate .Each time he began to control his breathing, his throat would catch, and it would begin again. He sat on the edge of his bed like a child after a nightmare, rocking slightly back and forth, holding his cupped hands pressed to his diaphragm. He listened to his daughterís breathing in the next room, and knew what he needed to calm himself. He went to her bedroom door and watched her for a moment, her mouth slightly open, surrounded by her cats. One of the catís eyes opened and caught the reflected light from the doorway, and he knew if he stayed for a moment longer she would wake.
He went back to his room and stared at the telephone on his nightstand.
ĎIf she canít find the number where she thought it was, sheíll look it up. Anyways, I could just call directory Assistance for her number.í He continued to stare at the phone. He looked at the clock. 3:45 A.M. ĎI donít have to talk to her, I could just call, and when she answers....she will say... God, why hasnít she called?í His mind was blank. All the alternatives were just too frightening. He couldnít even pace, he could only stare at the phone, thinking of the night before. Their confidence, their plans...Her face, her hands, her eyes and smile... He was reaching for the phone for the second time, when it exploded with sound. He grabbed it and put the receiver to his ear so quickly it struck his head.
A warm voice complained "Whose dumb ass idea was it to transport right after we got up?"
Trying to control his emotion, James croaked, " If it was the last time, I wanted...I needed to wake up with you, just once more time."
He could feel the tear welling up as he tried to clear his throat.
"Then, I better haul my ass over there before the sun comes up, right?"
"Yup. That would...work. Iíd like to see that ass, and ...you. Here. Soon as possible."
"Youíre not crying are you, James?"
"Why would you think that?"
"Because, I am. Crying for happy. So itíll be faster if I take a cab, OK?"
"Sounds like a plan." And there was a click. There was a moment of anxiety at this separation, but his eyes caught sight of a picture lying discarded on his coffee table. It was of an ancient clay pot, depicting the killing of a panther. By a single Amazon. And even in the photo he could clearly see that the hair was short and black. And the eyes were green.
I have an idea for a sequel, if anyone out there is interested....
My thanks again to all those mentioned in the disclaimer. To Teresa L. Crittenden, Linda, thenorm and the rest who gave me suggestions and encouragement, itís been a long haul, and my first completed novel is finished only because of your help and support.
Kamouraskan December 1999