DISCLAIMER: The characters taken from Xena:WP are subject to copyright, no infringement intended.
This story alludes to love between two women (NOT graphically) so if that upsets you, don't read it.
Comments to Rab@xgrd.freeserve.co.uk
ASTARTE IN YOUR LIFE
"Do you see that?" Gabrielle pointed to a rough carving on the trunk of a tree. "Iolaus loves Sara"
The warrior arched her eyebrows and smiled "So what? Jealous?!"
"No!!" the blonde bard sounded outraged, "we have passed this tree before, we are walking in circles, Xena"
"Or perhaps Iolaus has declared his love on many trees" Xena gave an alternative explanation.
The raven-haired warrior mounted her horse.
"I will ride on, try to find *something* in this forsaken place. Just you take things easy, be careful"
"I can take care of myself! How many times must I remind you?"
Gabrielle looked peeved.
"I wasn't worried about you, I was more concerned that you would beat up some unsuspecting bear with your staff" The warrior smiled.
The bard laughed, until the words sank in .
"Bear?! You don't think there are bears XENA!!"
The warrior grinned cheekily and spurred Argo into a gallop.
Gabrielle looked around warily. It had already seemed a forbidding place, dense forest interspersed with small clearings, an array of tracks that criss-crossed, hanging fog. Sometimes eerily silent, then a flurry of sounds. Birds in flight, rabbits scurrying, .bears .. ?
"I know what to do" the bard spoke aloud in a voice that was supposed to sound reassuring.
Argo went from brisk gallop to halt within a few strides, she had read Xena's thoughts. The warrior was sent catapulting forward, did a triple somersault then landed square on her feet, sword drawn. She looked around, feeling panicked.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!!!" she yelled. Her friend was nowhere to be seen, woe-betide anyone who had harmed her.
"Ahem" there was a coughing sound, Xena looked up to see the bard
standing half way up a tree. They both looked sheepish as the warrior re-sheathed her sword.
"What in Hades name?!" asked the warrior.
"Enjoying the view..?" Gabrielle said weakly.
As the blonde slowly descended, Xena adopted a serious face.
"Well, did you perhaps see about 20 heavily armed, elite soldiers of the
palace guard? Headed by Gadranius himself?"
"Not really" Gabrielle lowered her eyes, "I was protecting myself from bears" she admitted.
It did not help the bard's embarrassment when her friend burst out laughing.
"I was only kidding about the bears, Gabrielle" she put a hand on the bard's shoulder. "And by the way, bears are excellent tree-climbers."
The warrior guided both her horse and Gabrielle away from the track and steered them through a circuitous route around the trees.
"There is an old temple up ahead, abandoned by the look of it, but still, Gadranius will not enter it" she explained.
"Who is this man? I've rarely seen you look so uptight" asked the blonde.
"Just an old rival" was all the taller woman would reveal.
Gabrielle was surprised when Xena even led Argo inside the temple,
she had a bad feeling about things.
"Ah! The God of rats and spiders!" said the warrior as she forced her way through thick cobwebs, dispersed scurrying rodents.
"Goddess" the bard corrected "this is dedicated to a Goddess"
Xena shrugged "how can you tell? There are no statues, icons"
she walked up to the main altar, where a bowl of fruit remained.
It was so old and wizened that it resembled blue crystal.
"Don't touch that!" the bard warned, "it is there for a good reason".
"Hey! You are the one who will eat *anything*" laughed the tall beauty
"besides, I *know* it is there for a reason. Some poor fool trying to gain favour with a mainly disinterested deity"
"No!" Gabrielle was surprisingly adamant "just leave it"
Xena walked away, looked around the somewhat small place of worship. She noticed that her friend was already reading dusty scrolls.
"So, to which Goddess do we owe the thanks of sanctuary?"
Gabrielle seemed reluctant to look up, she was reading intently.
"It's a Phoenician temple" was all she offered.
Xena sat down, staring outside to keep watch for Gadranius and his troops. The last few days had been traumatic, she really did not need this further complication right now. Only two nights ago, she had crossed the line, or they both had, and extended their relationship to beyond mere friendship. Was that a mistake?
The warrior winced inwardly as she recalled the kiss, the rush of passion, the outpouring of pent-up lust.
And then, the pulling apart. She had felt awkward, uncomfortable.
Gabrielle was as a paragon to her, it began to feel like a violation of her innocence. She, Xena, had pushed too far. Guilt, even shame took control of her mind. A young, precious woman, her only true friend.
Carnal thoughts seemed somehow contrary to feelings of pure love.
Sweet Gabrielle, had married Perdicus, suffered the agony of his murder. She had vowed to never love again. So how could she love Xena, another woman? It would be like a corruption to her.
Yet, Xena knew she loved Gabrielle utterly, it was the most complete feeling she had *ever* known. And she would be lost, *nothing* without her. Gadranius was a dangerous foe, he only hired skilled warriors.
Xena could try to fight them all, perhaps succeed, but what if just one of them got through to her friend? It didn't bare thinking about.
Gabrielle had never felt more like crying in her life. It was not just these scrolls, which she could understand with only a little difficulty. A voracious appetite for reading in early years had served her well, she had a good command of many languages and dialects. If only her warrior could read Phoenician, she would see how absolutely appropriate it was for them to be in this temple, at this time. Almost fate ..
That recent wonderful night, they had had such a good day, had wine, and eaten well, and finally, after so much longing, the embrace.
And she had ruined it. The feelings, sensations, engendered by Xena's lips, caresses, had been the elixir of happiness that Gabrielle had sought from almost their first meeting. Love requited. Yet her friend, her very reason to live, had pulled back. Desisted.
She clearly had not experienced the same bliss. Why should she? An experienced woman with a pathetic novice. How could a scrawny peasant girl from Potidaea satisfy the mighty warrior princess?
It was stupid to ever have considered the possibility. Thank the Gods, their friendship seemed still present, but forever changed ..
"Xena" the deep voice reverberated against the stone walls. "Seeking safety in a temple? I am flattered you remember me" The man appeared at the doorway, though he took care not to cross the threshold. He was tall, broad of shoulder and undoubtedly handsome. Xena stood up, drew her sword.
Gadranius raised his hand.
"Relax, warrior. You know I will never enter a temple in aggression"
"You won't enter this one at all" Xena replied "if you want to live"
The man smiled. "We have time, you cannot stay in there for ever.
This is the only way in or out. And I, with my soldiers, will be waiting"
Gabrielle came forward "what do you want?"
The face of Gadranius lit up.
"Goodness! What beauty! I am stricken! Come outside sweet vision, I will marry you this very day" he sounded sincere.
"Get back! Gabrielle" Xena scowled.
Her face darkened further when she saw her friend smile, blush like a teenager in response to his words.
It seemed to confirm what she already feared, Gabrielle was strongly attracted to men, she could *never* love a woman in the way Xena desired that she love her.
"Back off! Gadranius!" the warrior warned "or I will kill you right now"
The man smiled benignly, blew a kiss to the bard, then walked away.
"He sure is handsome, and charming" said Gabrielle "what is it with you two, were you lovers?"
"Zeus No!!" Xena spat out the words, "he is a snake, a rat, a cold-blooded killer of women and children"
"That's hard to believe" the bard said softly.
Xena lowered her head, tears were forming in her eyes. Perhaps she should just go out, attack them, and be killed. Leave Gabrielle to Gadranius, he probably wouldn't harm the bard, it was only Xena herself he had vowed to kill. Maybe he could give her the kind of love that the bard obviously needed. The warrior had lost hope, the zest for life. No Gabrielle, no life. It was that simple.
The younger woman had returned to the back of the temple, to her scrolls.
Darkness was falling, Xena decided to lay out her bedroll. She was confident that Gadranius would not enter the sacred building. May as well sleep and think again in the morning. Perhaps with a clearer mind.
The warrior awakened with dread chills running up and down the length of her spine. Voices could clearly be heard, just outside the temple entrance. But this was no sneak attack, one voice was plainly that of Gabrielle. Xena seemed mute, paralysed, as she listened .
"No, I cannot leave her now, wait until the morning" it was unmistakably the bard's sweet tones.
"I mean it Gabrielle, I will marry you" said a deep male voice that could only be Gadranius.
Xena managed to move enough to see them standing, she with her arms on his waist, he holding her gently by the shoulders.
"She is an abomination you know. Xena beds women, she will violate you, Gabrielle"
"I know. She tried to seduce me but two nights ago, it turned my stomach, made me feel ill"
"Then leave her now, be with a man, a real man who knows how to love, how to pleasure a woman"
"It is my desire, believe me. Just wait 'til first light"
"It cannot come too soon"
Watching and listening, Xena's soul was crumbling away, it was as if Tartarus had come to visit her on earth. But the torture was not yet complete.
"A kiss my love" It was Gabrielle's imploring voice "a kiss to show me the truth of your desires"
The warrior condemned herself to observe Gabrielle tilt up her head, then open wide her mouth to lock in an impassioned embrace.
Xena all but collapsed in a heap of despair, desolation.
She sensed the bard returning, gently walking to the back of the temple.
A candle was lit, and Gabrielle began to scribble hurriedly on a parchment. Her face was total smile.
Xena did not believe such heartbreak was possible, yet it was happening to her in agonising intensity. Determined to stifle the sound of her wailing, she buried her face in the bedroll, and wept the tears of the damned.
Any sleep had been brief and no comfort. If anything, the void in her heart had grown larger. Xena looked across to see her precious bard still writing, looking more beautiful than ever before.
"You're writing a note!? Couldn't even say goodbye to my face?!"
The warrior had not intended to sound so bitter, but her very being was corroded. Acid, not blood, now coursed her veins.
Gabrielle smiled. "I am translating a scroll, I wanted you to read it"
The smile merely darkened Xena's soul further.
The bard began to read aloud.
"True love is NEVER wrong. No man, no God, no power can ever destroy it, though many try"
"Please stop!" Xena interrupted, "I cannot bare it. Just go, go to Gadranius, go anywhere. Find the love you seek, please just leave me alone" it was a sob-ridden entreaty.
Gabrielle ran up to the warrior and flung her arms around her, then guided her to sit down by her side. "Don't speak, just listen"
The warrior was temporarily beyond speech.
"This temple is Phoenician, a shrine to Astarte, their Goddess of love"
As she spoke, the bard took Xena's hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
"Astarte is a benevolent Goddess, particularly fond of those whose love is attacked or condemned. Astarte believes in true, eternal love."
The bard wiped a tear from her own cheek, before continuing
"do you know what kyyg is?"
The warrior seemed surprised by this change in direction.
"Kyyg? It's a plant that all animals can eat, but to humans it is poison, deadly poison. It was eradicated years ago" she answered.
The bard stood and lifted the bowl from the altar, pointed to the blue crystal-type fruit. "This is kyyg"
Xena simply shrugged.
"It is explained in the scrolls. It was left here by Astarte for lovers who could not face life because of persecution. They take it together, a suicide pact, so they die in each other's arms. Astarte then looks after them on the other side, if their love is true"
"And I need to know this why?" asked the warrior.
"One such forbidden love, in Phoenicia anyway, is that between two women. The love I feel for you. I considered taking it myself.
After you rejected me the other night, then we happened here, I felt it was the work of fate" the bard said gently.
"I didn't reject you, Gabrielle" Xena cried.
"I know, I know my love" soothed Gabrielle. "I got the idea from the writings, maybe from Astarte herself. I knew that Gadranius was troubling you, so I decided to sort it out for myself. Show you I am worthy of your love"
"But you are! It is I who am too dark, too corrupted for you"
Xena was by now quite baffled, her head spinning.
Gabrielle resumed her explanation.
"That man's words to me were like profanities, but it gave me the solution. I crunched the kyyg up in my mouth, it turns to a juice on your tongue. Then, I had to kiss him. So I kissed him wildly, the way you did to me, before you pulled away that night. I smeared the whole of the inside of his mouth with the kyyg juice. I hated it, yet enjoyed it too, for all the time I knew that the poison will seep through into his system, by morning he will be dead"
There was a look of triumph on the bard's face. "I thought I gave a pretty good performance, if I say so myself"
Xena was horrified.
"But you will die too!!. Sweet Gabrielle what have you done?"
The bard grinned more broadly. "But you forget, Xena, I have something Gadranius does not have"
"True love, YOU, Astarte on my side" she beamed.
Xena wailed "you cannot trust the Gods!"
"Oh! And this, the anti-dote to kyyg" Gabrielle produced a small bottle of deep red liquid "those scrolls are very thorough. They even tell you where the anti-dote is hidden should the lovers change their minds!"
She was grinning from ear to ear and beyond.
"Gabrielle, what about Gadranius? I mean the scum deserves to die, but your code. Have you really killed him?" the warrior asked.
"No" she said softly, "I cannot take a life. I diluted the kygg.
But he will be incapacitated, feeling *very* sick, his bowels and bladder will be uncontrollable for days!"
"I love you all the more for that" said Xena sincerely.
The two women fell into a rib-crushing hug.
"I love you with all my heart, Gabrielle. I did not mean to reject you, I was afraid of what my passions, my lusts would make me do"
The bard laughed aloud.
"Don't you see that is what I want? I want your passions and lusts too overwhelm you. I have those feelings too you know!"
They kissed, deeply.
"Hey, you're not trying to kill *me* with your kisses!" laughed the warrior.
"The anti-dote should have removed any poison, though I plan to kill you with my lovemaking, if you will only give me the chance!" said the bard as they fell to the bedroll in a now frantic embrace.
The morning arrived without either women being troubled by sleep.
"Gadranius will be 'out of commision', but what about his men?" asked Gabrielle.
"Ha!" snorted the warrior "with you by my side, I will take on the lot of them, if they are still there. My guess is that with Gadranius so ill, they will have all just gone"
As they walked from the temple into the morning light, Xena hesitated.
She turned back to the building "Hey, Astarte! Thank you"
The bard gave her a playful nudge.
"You don't respect the Gods!" she said "or believe in their work"
"Maybe" replied the warrior, "but she sounds like the kind of God that I could easily grow to like"