by JS Stephens

Copyright 2000, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved
(Xena & Gabrielle, Mythical Babes series - 3)

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Horace, Hecuba, etc. belong to Renaissance Pictures, etc., etc.I am merely borrowing the characters for a spin around my twisted imagination.

"Are you sure? I mean, I really am with child?" Hecuba excitedly asked the healer. "Praise be, Horace will be so pleased, we've been trying for so long..." Hecuba trailed off, tittering nervously, then covered her mouth with a delicate hand, eyes wide with excitement. "How far along am I?"

"I'd say at least six weeks. You did say that this was your second cycle that you had missed?" the healer asked.

Hecuba nodded. "Yes."

"I thought so. You and Horace have been married for several years if I recall correctly," she stated.

"Three years next month, Healer." Hecuba smiled dreamily. "Horace is so good to me, I know that our son will have a terrific future. If he is anything like his father, I'll be the happiest mother in Greece." She glanced out the window, exclaiming, "I didn't realize how late it was, I need to be home to serve Horace his dinner. Thank you, how much do I owe you this time?"

"Nothing, my child, I don't charge for confirming a woman with child. May the blessings of the gods and goddesses be with you," the grandmotherly woman said with a smile.

"And with you." Hecuba impulsively hugged the older woman, then skipped out of the healer's cottage, thrilled with her news. She could hardly wait to get home to tell Horace the good news.

Horace leaned back from the table, wiping his mouth with his napkin. "Hecuba, that was delicious," he said, "it really hits the spot. So, how was your day?"

"Oh, much the same as always," she replied as she started clearing the supper dishes, "but I went to the healer this afternoon."

His ears perked up. "The healer? You don't act sick, Hecuba, just a little puny in the mornings lately." He took another swallow of his drink, then thought about what he had just said. "Wait, why did you go to the healer?" he asked.

"Because I've been sick in the mornings lately," she answered from the kitchen as she stacked the dirty dishes. Puzzled, he walked into the kitchen and turned her around, searching her face. "Did you want to know what she said?" He nodded. "Just that I'm pregnant and we should have our first child in about seven and a half months," Hecuba said nonchalantly.

"You're really pregnant?" Horace replied, voice hoarse with sudden emotion. She nodded, her smile threatening to split her face in half. "Oh, thank the gods, you're finally pregnant!" he shouted, pulling her into his arms and swinging her around. "A son of our own! I can hardly wait!" He buried his face in her neck, torn between laughing and crying for joy. "I just wish that my parents were still alive to see our first child, gods rest their souls."

"I wish they were too, Horace." Hecuba wrapped her arms around her husband's waist, leaning her head against him, sighing happily. "Now, I need to wash up these dishes, you know they won't wash themselves. Could you fetch me some more water from the well?" He nodded, kissed her, then grabbed the buckets on his way out of the door.

Hecuba turned back to the task of scraping out the scraps, which she would give to the dogs in a few minutes. She was already dreaming about their child, a son who would make them proud, a son tall and dark, like Horace. "Well, my dear Hecuba, do you know who you carry?" an amused voice said from behind her.

Hecuba turned around slowly, facing a beautiful blonde woman, who was dressed in gauzy pink robes. "I beg your pardon?" she asked, voice trembling in fear.

The woman smiled. "Don't be scared on my account, missy. Oh, you want to finish the dishes, so totally boring and domesticated." The woman waved her arms vaguely, causing a flash of light, and the dishes were suddenly clean and flying to their spots. "There, clean dishes, put away neatly. Now, sit down with me a moment and pay close attention, 'cause there's a party in Athens I really, really, want to attend." Hecuba followed the directions, after pausing to look around at her suddenly sparklingly clean kitchen.

The woman flounced down in Hecuba's chair and said, "You don't seem to know how I am, do you? I'm so miffed." Exaggerated sigh. "Anyway, I am the great Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, Beauty and all that stuff. Now, you're probably saying to yourself, 'how am I fortunate enough to be in the audience of the great and mighty Aphrodite?'"

The goddess of love looked very pleased with herself as she continued, "I'll tell you, Hecuba, you will bear a great and wonderful child, one who will change the world, one who will one day be the companion of the greatest warrior that Greece has ever seen. Your child will follow both the path of love and the path of the warrior, but at heart will be a bard. Confused? Duh! I see why, these all seem to be contradictory prophesies, you say, but your child will be born under the sign of Gemini, so multiple paths ain't a big deal!" Aphrodite smiled her dazzling smile at the awestruck woman, waiting for the usually gushing of thanks for the prophesy.

Hecuba's mind was whirling with the implications of what the goddess had just told her. Her son, a bard and a warrior? Her heart was clenched with sudden fear, realizing that the only way he could do all these things was to leave home early. Before she could voice her fears, Aphrodite added, "Oh, you will have a second child, one who will stay home for longer, but will bring you wonderful grandchildren. Now, keep these things in your heart, don't even think of discussing them with Horace! or they won't come true. I must run off, dear." The goddess stood up, then leaned over and kissed Hecuba on the cheek. "Toga party, here I come!" Aphrodite vanished in a sudden column of sparkling light, leaving the little house looking very dark and dreary in comparison.

Horace paced the floor, unable to concentrate on anything but the impending birth of his first born child. He knew intellectually that it could take hours, even days, for the child to come into the world, but it didn't help his anxiety level. Hecuba had been in labor for nearly twelve hours now and the healer didn't allow him anywhere near her. He had argued that he had delivered calves, foals, kids and lambs but it didn't matter, the healer simply pointed to the kitchen and he reluctantly obeyed. He knew that he should be out plowing, but he was too keyed up to even consider harnessing the oxen to the plow. It could wait until tomorrow, he convinced himself, right now it was more important to wait for the birth of his son.

A loud squall rent the air, it was all he needed. Horace burst into their bedroom, watching the healer cleaning up the baby. "Congratulations, Horace" she said, "you have a fine baby girl, very healthy." Horace was stunned, a girl? Hecuba had been so sure that she was carrying a son, a boy to carry on his line, a boy to help him with the farm. "Here, hold her while I assist your wife," the healer said as she thrust the child into his unwilling arms. He gingerly took the infant, examining her critically as she screwed up her face and let loose a mighty yell. He nearly dropped her as the healer chuckled under her breath. "Sounds healthy to me," she commented as she took the baby back to hand her to Hecuba.

"Horace? Are you disappointed?" Hecuba asked weakly.

He swallowed and went to kneel by his wife, watching as the baby found a nipple and latched on, sucking fiercely. He had to smile at that, she reminded him of his younger brother, Gabriel. Gabriel had a prodigious appetite that had shown up right out of the womb. "No, dear, I'm not disappointed, she is beautiful," he said softly, reaching out to touch the tiny fingers of his daughter. "Girls can help with farm work just as well as boys."

"What should we name her?"

He thought for a moment, then smiled broadly. "We'll call her Gabrielle, after my little brother," he announced. "Well, I need to go plow, the fields won't wait." He kissed Hecuba lightly, then left the room.

Hecuba watched him leave as their baby sucked as if to drain her completely dry. She was deeply disappointed, certainly a girl couldn't be a brave warrior and bard as Aphrodite had foretold, could she? Goddesses could do brave deeds, but they were not mortal. But, she had to admit that the child was very healthy and adorable. Her eyes seemed to have a glimmer of green, her hair was light, maybe blonde, maybe a hint of strawberry. "Gabrielle," she cooed, trying out the name, "sweet Gabrielle." The infant stopped, looking up at her as if trying to focus on her face, then belched. "We're going to have to work on manners already, I see," Hecuba giggled, patting the baby's back gingerly.

"If that's all, I'll be leaving," the healer interrupted. "One of the healthiest babies I've seen in some time. Oh, did you know that your neighbors Guyri and Leda had a little boy yesterday? Blackest hair I ever saw on a newborn."

"What did they name him?" Hecuba asked.

"Perdicas," the healer answered.

Perdicas struggled with his quill, trying to form the words before him on the slate. He was a farmer, he didn't need to read and write! It didn't help that Gabrielle picked up reading and writing like she was born to be a scribe or bard or priestess. He scowled fiercely as he tried to make the quill trace the letters he saw on the board, but they looked wrong. Finally, he threw down the quill in disgust. It just wasn't fair!

"Hey, I can help you with that," Gabrielle whispered, leaning over and pointing at his scroll.

"How?" he challenged.

Gabrielle picked up his scroll, making sure that the teacher wasn't looking, then took a thin black stick out of her knapsack. She quickly sketched a series of thin lines on the scroll, then pointed to it. "Use these lines to help guide your letters," she explained, "imagine them on the horizon, with the line being the line where the earth and sky meet. Part of the letters will dip below the horizon and part will reach for the sky. Try it."

He sighed heavily, feeling rather put upon, but did as she requested. Much to his embarrassment, the trick worked. Gabrielle helped him determine which parts of the letters went above the line and below the line, then drew back, watching him slowly trace the letters. Why was it that she was always so much smarter than he was in school? Girls should be asking boys for help, not vice versa, he thought grumpily. He had to admit, though, that Gabrielle was a fiercely loyal friend, one who was very handy in school. And that imagination! It did come in handy last week when Theo tried to steal his lunch, Gabrielle had drawn Theo and the rest of his thugs into a fanciful tale, captivating their attention so thoroughly that they didn't notice Perdicas hurriedly eating his lunch.

"Class, time for lunch," the teacher announced, breaking his reverie. Perdicas grabbed his satchel and ran out to his favorite tree, scampering up like a squirrel until he reached the best crook, one that provided a natural seat. Food was something he could understand, he thought as he dug out his bread, cheese, olives and fruit.

"Perdicas, wait for me!" Gabrielle called out as she climbed up the tree, seeking his company.

"Gabrielle, can't you go eat with the other girls?" Perdicas grumbled as she pulled herself up beside him. "You don't see me following after you, interrupting your lunch, do you?" Gabrielle ignored his customary grumbling as she assembled her lunch. Satisfied with the quantity and quality, she started eating rapidly, managing to stuff away nearly twice as much as Perdicas could, and he was a couple of inches taller than she. He finished the last of his meal, nervously watching for Theo and his crowd, it wouldn't do to be seen with a girl too often. Especially not one as, well, how would one describe Gabrielle?

"Gabrielle, you will marry Perdicas and that's final!" Horace thundered at his elder daughter, "where did you get this notion of being a bard?"

"But Daddy, all I've ever wanted to do was to tell stories, to write tales of brave deeds," Gabrielle tried to explain. "I want to apply to the Academy in Athens so I can learn how to be a bard!"

"No." Horace glared at his daughter, then turned to his wife. "Where did we go wrong with her, Hecuba? Perdicas is a perfectly good young man, a fine farmer, a loyal friend. What did we do to deserve such a stubborn daughter?"

Hecuba looked uneasily from daughter to father, wishing that they would stop fighting so much. Why couldn't Gabrielle be more like her little sister, Lila? Lila was the quiet, steady one, the daughter you could count on to help with supper, to help with laundry and other chores, to not stop in the middle of her tasks to write more stories. What was so wrong with Perdicas? Sure, he wasn't as quick in school as Gabrielle was, but why should that matter? He was a pleasant young man, soft spoken with a good head on his shoulders.

Hecuba turned back to her sewing as the rest of the family dispersed. It was at times like these that she remembered Aphrodite's prophesy of her child being a warrior and a bard and companion to a famous warrior. But certainly Aphrodite was wrong, it Gabrielle had been a boy, it would have been true, but a girl? At least Lila was sensible, even though she followed Gabrielle around everywhere, she never got into trouble, or tried to be something she wasn't.

Later that evening, Lila checked to make sure the coast was clear, then motioned for Gabrielle to follow her to the river to sit on their favorite rock, the one shaped like a large bench. They laid down on the stone, content to watch the sun dipping below the horizon, the early evening stars peeking out from the sun's fading rays. Lila snuggled against her big sister, happy to sneak out of the house and watch the stars come out and dance for them. She couldn't remember when she and Gabrielle first started sneaking away, but it was one of their rituals, unfazed by the fights that siblings always indulged in. Gabrielle smiled in the darkness at her, then asked softly, "Want to hear a story?" Lila nodded, rolling on her side so she could see Gabrielle's expressions better.

"In the beginning of time, the Sun stood high in the sky, bringing light and warmth to the earth below. Plants of many kinds, warmed by his rays, grew and flourished, covering the earth with their many colors. But, they grew too much, covering too much of the earth, trapping the animals in their branches and vines. The animals cried out to the Sun, asking for his help. He looked down on the animals and replied, 'How can I help you? Why not just eat the plants?' So, they ate the plants, but the plants still grew and threatened to overtake everything.

"Finally, the animals gathered together, trying to find a spokesman to speak to the sun and settled on the owl. The owl flew up to the Sun and talked for a long time, trying to convince the sun that darkness was needed as well. The Sun finally agreed to leave the sun, to give the animals a chance to flourish."

Lila sat entranced, caught up in her tale. "So what happened then?" she asked.

Gabrielle smiled. "Well, the plants started dying and the animals started eating each other. The plants decided that this would not do, so they sent a dandelion seed up to talk to the Sun, to ask him to come back. The animals overheard and sent the owl to talk to the Sun too."

"Then what, Gabrielle?"

Gabrielle sat up as she continued her tale. "Well, the owl finally proposed a compromise, asking if the Sun could stay in the sky part of the time and leave part of the time. The Sun thought it over, then asked, 'How long should I stay?' The owl and the dandelion seed talked it over, then proposed the following: the Sun could drive his chariot across the sky, and as long as it took him to drive from one side of the sky to the other would be day, then the time it took for him to drive under the earth back to the other side would be night. He agreed, but asked, 'Owl, don't you need light to hunt by?' The owl thought, then said, 'Have Apollo shoot some flaming arrows it the sky, so we can have a little light after you leave.' They all agreed, thus to this day we have periods of light and darkness."

"Oh, Gabrielle, you tell such wonderful stories," Lila said admiringly, "where do you come up with them?"

"I don't know, really, they just come to me," Gabrielle replied, turning to face her sister, "it's as if I were born to tell stories. I love it when we learn about the gods and goddesses in school, but I really like it when we get the occasional traveling bard in town, I love hearing new tales. I'd love to do that, to travel around, picking up new tales, telling them to people." She frowned, laying back down and staring at the stars. "Of course, I'll never get to do anything exciting, Mom and Dad expect me to marry Perdicas in a few years and be a farmer's wife. He's nice, a good friend, but I just can't get excited about him as a husband. I want someone exciting, someone who can thrill me, someone who isn't afraid of adventure. That is not Perdicas," she said disgustedly.

Lila furrowed her brow, unable to come up with any answer for her big sister. Instead, she rolled on her back, watching the stars twinkling in the velvet softness. A chill crept up her spine, a sadness lurked in the darkness, an almost certain knowledge that Gabrielle would never stay in Potadeia. She shivered. Gabrielle sat up, asking, "Are you cold? We should really start back home, I guess." Rather than explain her premonition, Lila got up and followed Gabrielle back along the path, wondering what would happen if Gabrielle did leave.

Gabrielle's protectiveness took over, she could not let her little sister be kidnapped! She fought back against the slavers, yelling encouragement at the rest of the women, determined to get away, to protect Lila. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a tall, dark figure in a red shift, fighting bare-handed and barefooted, knocking the stuffings out of the slavers. She almost forgot to keep fighting as she watched the slavers shifting their focus to the woman. She managed to punch one in the stomach, making him double up and drop in pain and was rewarded by the woman glancing over and flashing a wicked smile in her direction. Chills crawled up and down her spine as she watched the woman manage to drive away the last of the slavers, but not without a cut on the shoulder. Impulsively, she called out, "Let me help!" The woman nodded.

"My name is Xena," she said in a low voice. Gabrielle's jaw dropped in amazement, the Xena, the Warrior Princess, here saving her village? Pulling her wits about her, she led Xena to her house, where she badgered her parents into letting her clean up Xena's wound and to give the warrior food and drink.

Gabrielle felt a powerful tug deep in her soul, an instant attraction for the intense warrior princess. She also recognized a deep darkness, a sorrow, a guilt about the woman and wanted to reach out to help her, to brighten her life. Her mind ramped up to overdrive, working on the perfect way to make the warrior princess take her away from this small village. As she tried to weave the words, Perdicas stuck his head in the room, taking in the scene. "Hey, what are you doing with her?" he asked harshly, "she's Xena, after all!"

Gabrielle shot a withering look across the room. Perdicas, knowing her temper, decided to take his leave before she blew up at him. "Xena, do you see who they want me to marry? He's dull, I'd be a farmer's wife and stuck here forever! Please, take me with you!" she implored the warrior.

Xena shook her head. "No, it is far too dangerous for you to follow me, Gabrielle. You need to stay here with your parents and your fiance." With that, she left the house to go back to the outskirts of town, where she set up a small camp.

After everyone had gone to bed, Gabrielle snuck out of the house and went to find Xena. She was reasonably sure that the warrior would be camped on the edge of town, and was right. She boldly walked into Xena's camp and announced, "I'm going with you, Xena, and please don't say that I'm too young, or too naive, or that it is too dangerous. I'm suffocating here, and I need to explore the world."

Xena looked up with tired eyes, the finally motioned for the young woman to sit. "So, you think you can keep up with me? Go where I go, and listen when I tell you to do something?"

"Yes," Gabrielle said defiantly, "you need me, Xena, you need a bard to tell how you have changed. I will be your personal bard. I will help you in your quest."

The dark-haired woman considered this for several minutes, then finally said, "All right. But I will bring you back if I think you are in too much danger." She raised an eyebrow at Gabrielle's small bundle on her back. "You have your own bedding, clothes?"

"All I own," Gabrielle said, trying to suppress her excitement.

Xena allowed herself a tiny smile. "Then let's get some sleep, I want to get an early start." She yawned and rolled herself into her blankets, assuming that the blonde would follow suit.

"That ungrateful wench!" Horace shouted the next morning, bringing his fist down on the table. "I can't believe that she would do such a thing to us!" He stomped out of the house, muttering about ungrateful children and evil women who bewitched them. Hecuba sat quietly, staring into her bowl, not hearing Lila get up to follow her father.

Hecuba finally stirred herself, picking up the breakfast dishes. She started thinking about a night eighteen years ago, when Aphrodite had prophesied that her child would be a great warrior and bard, and the companion of a great warrior. Could Xena, the evil scourge of Greece, be that great warrior? Would her daughter be a great bard? Gabrielle had been telling stories since she was little, and had written quite a few tales on any scrap of parchment she could obtain. She had defended Perdicas when they were children in school, she defended her little sister from the usual childhood taunts of others. Was it true? But Xena, a great warrior? Sure, the woman's fighting skills were legendary, but how could she be good for her little girl? Maybe, just maybe, if Xena had any good in her, Gabrielle could find it, could nourish it, could help Xena find her path.

She certainly hoped so, for both their sakes.

For all of their sakes.

The End

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