Lila's Journey

Copyright 1998, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, etc. belong to Renaissance Pictures, Universal, etc. I'm borrowing them for a spin around the old imagination, so bear with me.

WARNING: This story may contain scenes that are objectionable to children, conservatives, and prudes. If you fit any of these categories, please leave immediately if not sooner. If you do not fit in any of these categories, then fix a cup of coffee or other beverage and enjoy. (My favorite: anything from Peet's.) And yes, it is explicit in places.

Chapter 1

Lila was still furious with Gabrielle. How dare she claim that Palios had tried to rape her, it was pretty clear that Gabrielle was the aggressor. Poor Palios, so put upon because of his past association with Xena!

"Hey beautiful, want to walk by the river?" Palios asked as he stuck his head in the shed doorway. Lila jumped up from her loom and hugged Palios. "Not so hard!" he laughed, "the lunch crowd has finally thinned and I thought I might get in a few minutes with my favorite girl."

"Sure, let me just finish putting away a few things," Lila replied excitedly. Good thing Mom and Dad are gone to the marketplace in Athens, she thought. They wouldn't like me going off alone with a man, even my fiance. "All ready. Did you bring anything to eat? I'm starving, I didn't stop for lunch today."

"Sure, darling, I remembered your appetite. Let's go," he answered, smiling.

The couple walked down to the favored picnic spot of the younger generation. Lila eagerly devoured her lunch while Palios watched adoringly. Finally, the food was gone and Palios laid down on the quilt, reaching for Lila. She snuggled up to him, drowsing in the sun dappled shade, feeling content with the world. She could feel Palios' heart beating slowly and reassuringly, felt his arm protectively around her. How could Gabrielle say such mean things about him?

Lila woke up with a start as Palios pulled her on top of him, gently kissing her. She was surprised, as he had never taken these liberties before, but eagerly returned the kisses, exploring his lips timidly, then more boldly. He rolled over on top of her, taking charge, gently kissing Lila's neck, her collar bones, licking the hollows around them. Lila had never felt anything like this before, the tingling rush in her belly, the warm dampness between her legs, the dizzy desire welling up within her. She let him unbutton her top, allowed him to kiss and suckle her breasts, felt a hard tug deep in her belly. Her body was crying out for more, more what she expected that only Palios could give her.

Palios sat up for a moment, and removed his shirt. He had a light coat of golden hair sprinkled on his muscular chest, which tickled as he lowered himself back on top of her. Lila gasped at the jolt as their skin connected. She boldly rolled him back over, kissing his chest all over, delighting in how he shivered when she licked and teased his nipples.

Eventually, a small pile of discarded clothes was formed. Palios rolled tack on top, then slowly helped Lila spread her legs. He spent a few minutes gently stroking her wetness, then slowly slid two fingers into her well, in and out. Lila thought she couldn't handle much more pleasure when he suddenly withdrew his fingers and plunged himself into her. Slowly at first, then faster and faster he drove himself into her, until her nerves were screaming. She felt a sudden hot spurt of stickiness inside of her and he shuddered as he pulled out. Her nerves were still humming, but Palios smiled, laying down in front of her. He hovered over her nether curls, then gently worked his tongue over her, bringing her to a place she had never been before. After several minutes of intense pleasure, she suddenly screamed and shuddered hard with convulsions, convulsions of pleasure that rocked her to her very soul.

Much later that night, Palios walked Lila home. They had made love several more times during the day, then were finally satiated beyond caring. Good thing my parents aren't due back until the next week, she thought. They probably would not approve.

Palios started sneaking over every night, making love to Lila. They had to stop when her parents came back, which was a good thing, since Lila thought she had caught some sort of illness. She was sick in the mornings, usually managing to make it to the outhouse before anyone else was awake. After a week of this, she went to see the healer to see what was wrong with her.

The old healer listened to her symptoms, then examined her. Finally, she said, "Lila, you are with child. Perhaps you had better marry the father quickly so as not to have such a large premature baby."

Lila stared, unbelieving. "I'm what?" she asked, stunned.

"Lila, my dear, you are pregnant," the healer repeated as she watched the usual flood of emotions crossing Lila's face, emotions she had seen too many times in her lifetime. Lila started crying and the healer took pity on her and rocked her until the storm was passed. It helped, but the problem remained.

"Thank you, I guess. I'd better go see Palios now." Lila left the healer's home very slowly, unsure of how to approach Palios with the news. On the one hand, it meant that she was definitely fertile, but on the other hand, who wanted to have a baby immediately?

"You're pregnant?" Palios whispered. "Oh, gods, I never thought that this would happen, I'm so sorry. Okay, let's get married soon, like tomorrow. I just got a raise at work, so we'll tell your parents that I feel like moving up the timetable. Oh, gods, why did this happen now?" he babbled.

"Settle down, Palios, it's not the end of the world. We'll just have a premature baby, that's all. Most of the planning for the wedding is done already, we'll just get married sooner. We can wait a few days, we don't have to marry tomorrow, you know, that would sound too suspicious." Lila finally got him to sit down on the picnic quilt, to stop pacing. "Besides, it will give me time to finish my dress."

"If you say so, love." Palios buried his face in Lila's shoulder, then started kissing her arm. "Gods, you make me crazy with desire," he said huskily. "We'll have a bunch of kids if we keep this up. Just how many children do we want?"

"As many as the gods see fit to give us," Lila answered absently as she worked her top loose to give him better access. Palios impatiently pushed her down and started sucking hard on her breasts, as if overwhelmed by the need for her. He didn't wait to undress her completely, just flipped up her skirt and untied his trousers, immediately sinking into her wet well, pumping harder than ever before. Lila was almost scared by his fierceness, but also enjoyed it. Her climax was almost immediate, followed closely by his climax. They sank back to the ground, hugging each other tightly, sudden tears mingling.

A week later, crowd waited expectantly inside the temple. Lila was there, dressed in her new gown, flanked by her best friends. Her parents were there, some of her relatives were there, but the groom was missing. Finally, the innkeeper walked in and announced, "Palios is gone, and he took all of his belongings." Lila fainted at the news and the implications, and was carried off to the healer's home.

The healer had just taken her new gown off when the cramps hit. She shooed everyone out of the house, then attended her patient with the best of her ability. But, several hours later, she gently told her, "You lost your baby, Lila, but it may be for the best." Lila wept as the healer went to talk to Horace and Hecuba in the waiting room."She has been overcome," she told them, not mentioning the miscarriage, "and I'd like to keep her here for a while, make sure her fainting spells will not repeat. Do you mind if I keep her here for a few days, so I can observe her?"

Horace asked, "You mean we can't take our daughter home?"

The old healer looked at him, pitying him, but did not want to reveal Lila's true illness. Instead, she said, "Sometimes young women get too excited, and don't eat right before their wedding. This, combined with the shock of his disappearance, has caused fainting spells. I just want to make sure she will regain her strength before she goes home."

Hecuba looked at her husband, then back at the healer, suspecting the real cause, but not wanting to mention it in front of him. "If you think this is best, we will leave Lila here for a few days. Come, husband, we need to go home."

The healer locked eyes with the mother for a moment, and a sad understanding crossed. "I will send for you when Lila is ready to come home," she promised. "For now, you need to go home and take care of yourselves.

The couple left, shock still permeating their carriage, for different reasons. Horace wondered how he could have misjudged the young man so badly. Hadn't Gabrielle and Xena tried to warn them about Palios? But Lila said he was so gentle, so sweet. He wrapped his arm around his wife as they slowly walked to their empty home.

When Lila finally woke up several days later, she saw a small bag packed next to her bed. Lila looked around the room, not recognizing where she was at first, then remembered, along with the shame. Just then the healer came back in the room and spoke. "My dear, you will be ready to leave tonight. Shall I call your parents?"

"No, don't call them," Lila answered impulsively. "I want to leave Poteidaia for good."

The other woman smiled gently, pointing to the bag. "I thought so. You are like your sister, Gabrielle, only your wanderlust came a bit early. I have two sets of clothes, some food, some money, and a letter of introduction. I have seen your weaving, you do fine work, Lila. How would you like to go to work for my cousin in Corinth? She is a widow and employs several young women as weavers, and she would let you live in her spare room."

Lila took stock of her future for a moment, it looked rather dim otherwise. "I will accept."

The healer smiled as she helped Lila sit up. "Good. You know Alexander, the peddler? I will ask him to take you to my friend's home. And don't worry, he is completely devoted to his wife."

Lila blushed. "How did you know that I was concerned?" she asked.

The older woman chuckled. "I'm not that old that I don't remember. Now, clean up and come to supper; after supper, you can change into a new outfit, one that you won't be recognized in here." The healer left the room. Lila found the new outfit hanging on a peg behind the door, a soft dress of blue and green with yellow trim. She quickly changed washed and changed clothes, eager to start her new life.

The next few days went by quickly. Lila was hustled into Alexander's wagon during the night and spent the next few days riding with him toward Corinth. He was as kind and thoughtful as promised, never prying into the reason that Lila was travelling alone to an unknown city. She appreciated his kindness and tried to tip him when he brought her to the house, but he demurred, saying that the healer had paid him well.

Lila stood before the door of the strange house in the strange city, almost losing her nerve before knocking. She had barely knocked before the door opened, revealing a smiling older woman who said, "You must be Lila, my cousin sent a letter ahead of you and described you very well. Come in, my dear, let me show you your room. I'm Ruth, the mistress of this house. I understand that you can weave beautifully, which is good, I just lost a girl to marriage. Here, let me take your bag."

Lila followed the woman to a clean, well furnished room. It had a window with curtains and shutters, a large chest for clothes, a sizable bed, a wash stand with a bowl and pitcher, and a small table with two chairs. Ruth spoke as Lila set her bag down. "Feel free to clean up, you have fresh water in the pitcher. Supper is in an hour, so you might wish to take a nap. I'll call you when it is on the table. My nephew, Marcus, will join us for supper." Lila merely nodded, unable to speak. Ruth left the room and Lila took her advice, cleaning up and napping.

Lila settled into the routine fairly easily. The cloth was similar to what she was used to weaving, but the loom was nicer. The one thing that did interest her was that Ruth insisted that Lila not work one day a week. "It is the Sabbath, and it is written that not ever the resident aliens should work on the Sabbath."

"You have a whole day that you do nothing then?" Lila asked, surprised.

Marcus limped in as Lila was asking the question. He answered shyly, "Yes, it was written in the laws that Moses gave us during the exile from Egypt. Don't you have any regular worship? I know that you Greeks have a number of gods and goddesses."

"Of course I do, but it's not really on a weekly basis, more like when the seasons change. Is is true that the Hebrews worship only one god?" Lila asked, curiously.

Marcus sat carefully at the table before answering. "Yes, it is true, we worship the one Lord God." Before Lila could ask anything else, Ruth announced that supper was ready. Marcus struggled up, motioning for Lila to go before him.

After supper, Ruth asked Lila if she would like to sit on the roof for a bit to watch the stars. "The stars should be beautiful tonight, the day has been so clear," she explained. "Marcus may join us if his leg feels up to it." Lila agreed, so the two women climbed the back stairs to the rooftop, where Ruth pointed out a group of chairs with little tables nearby. "Please, have a seat."

Lila sat down on one of the wicker chairs, finding it very comfortable, just the right angle to watch the stars. "The stars are beautiful," she exclaimed softly. "My sister and I used to sneak out sometimes to watch them, but we never had a place like this to watch them from."

Ruth smiled at the young brunette. "When I was a little girl, my cousin Sarah and I used to sneak up on my father's roof and watch the stars. Our fathers are brothers, you see, and we all lived in a common house, a large house. I miss Sarah, she was so much fun to be with, just like a sister. I had no sisters, just brothers. You mentioned a sister, do you have any other sisters or brothers?"

Lila hesitated, remembering how she had been so cruel to Gabrielle the last time she saw her. She twisted her bracelet around her wrist several times, remembering that Gabrielle giving it to her for her birthday. It was just a plain silver bracelet, twisted like a rope, but she had worn it every day since her twelfth birthday. Lila brought herself back to the present and answered, "I have one older sister, Gabrielle, but we are not talking. We had a terrible quarrel the last time she was home and I rejected her, told her that I no longer had a sister."

Ruth looked at Lila for a long moment, seeing the pain in her face. "This upset you, Lila, why did you quarrel?"

The young woman sighed heavily. "I thought she was trying to steal my fiance, but in truth, I think he was trying to steal my sister. I was also angry that she had married without the family at her wedding, even though I should have felt sorry for her because her husband was murdered the next day."

Ruth nodded. "So, you were jealous and found a reason to push your sister away."

"Something like that," Lila said quietly.

Ruth looked at the sky for a few minutes, searching for patterns in the stars. She finally said softly, "Maybe someday you will find it in your heart to ask Gabrielle's forgiveness. Just don't wait until it is too late like I did with my brother Benjamin."

"What happened to your brother?"

Ruth turned to face Lila. "Benjamin was my older brother, my only brother. He ran away from home and sailed to Britannia and married a woman there. They had a son, but then she died of a fever and Benjamin brought him home. By that time, I had married Jesse, but we seemed to be unable to have children. Benjamin swore he would never marry again, that he could never find such a love again. I pleaded with him to marry, to give his son a mother, but he refused. He also was not taking his son to temple, saying that there were many more gods than just our 'local, overbearing, swaggering, baby-killing, so-called Lord God of the Israelites', as he put it. I finally told him that he could never set foot in my house again until he repented. God must have heard me and set out my punishment; my brother died the next day in an accident, his cart was run over by a run away chariot, and this accident crippled his son's leg."

"How awful." Lila said, horrified.

"Yes, Lila, it was awful. Jesse insisted that we must take my brother's son and raise him as our own. So we did. I see Benjamin in Marcus every day and it is a torture and a pleasure both. Marcus assures me that his father has forgiven me, but sometimes I doubt it. Strangely enough, Marcus has become a leader in the temple, though he came to it late. I go, but sometimes I wonder why I should worship such a vengeful god," Ruth concluded sadly.

"Because He is kind and just." Both women turned around to see Marcus limping toward them. "Aunt Ruth, the Lord provided me with two mothers, the one I was born to and you. How could any man be luckier? I also had two fathers, the father who sired me and my Uncle Jesse, may he rest in peace." He sat heavily in one of the chairs, then turned to face the women. "Lila, how do you like our view of the stars?"

Lila smiled shyly at him. "They are beautiful, Marcus, I was just telling Ruth earlier that my sister and I used to sneak out to watch the stars when we were small."

"So, you have a sister?" he asked politely.

Lila wished she had not spoken, but she answered simply, "Yes. Gabrielle does not live at home."

Marcus smiled gently, hearing unspoken words with the answer. "I take it that you are not on the best terms with Gabrielle. No matter, I'm sure that God will bring you back together in due time, as he did Joseph and his brothers." Noting her puzzled look, he explained, "I forget that you do not know our history. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who wanted his beautiful coat."

Marcus stopped for a moment, waiting to see if Lila was interested in the story. When she asked why Joseph was sold into slavery, Marcus smiled and continued, spinning out the story of Joseph and his brothers, how he became governor of Egypt and eventually reunited with his brothers. "He wept on their necks, kissed them all, and eventually brought his entire family into Egypt.

"You mean that he took them back even after they were so cruel to him?" Lila asked.

"Yes, he did. Of course, it must have been hard for him. But, enough stories for tonight, it is getting late and I must be at the temple in the morning. I probably shouldn't be talking to you so late, but we do have a chaperone," Marcus said, pointing to the sleeping Ruth. He put a finger to his lips, then limped over to his sleeping aunt and touched her shoulder. "Aunt Ruth, bed time."

She jerked up with a start. "I wasn't asleep!" she cried out. Noticing the amused looks on the faces of Lila and Marcus, she sheepishly said, "I guess I was dozing a bit. Okay, we should all go to bed. Come on, Marcus, help me down the stairs."

The days stretched into weeks, the weeks started piling up into months. Lila enjoyed her work, loved seeing the colors coming together in patterns, knowing that someone would have beautiful clothes to wear. She was also learning to love Ruth as a second mother, a mother who did not laugh at her dreams. She still missed Gabrielle, but found that she rarely thought about Palios at all. When she mentioned this to Ruth one night, Ruth said that it must not have been true love then. Ruth and Lila would go up to the roof and talk several nights a week, usually joined by Marcus for a least a little while.

Lila was also becoming quite fond of Marcus, in some ways he reminded her of Gabrielle. They both had reddish blonde hair, green eyes, and told terrific stories. Marcus, however, was not impulsive like Gabrielle, he could make plans and stick with them, and was very dependable. She asked Ruth one night why Marcus was so fair where Ruth was so dark and she simply said, "Benjamin said that his wife had red hair and green eyes. He does rather stick out in our community."

That night, Marcus was reciting some of the psalms of David. Lila enjoyed the poetry, even if it was about a foreign god. But she was puzzled when he recited,

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

"Marcus, haven't prisoners done something wicked? If so, why does your god set them free, but also promise to bring them ruin?" Lila asked, trying to reconcile the images.

Marcus answered, "Well, he sets the good prisoners free. The truly wicked are punished swiftly and surely. He also takes care of orphans and widows, I can personally attest to that."

Lila was still puzzled. "The man who caused you to be an orphan, was he brought to ruin?"

"Lila, his horse ran away with him, that's all. The Lord has taken care of him, and I forgive him," Marcus explained.

Lila mused, "I don't understand, but I do like the idea that strangers are looked after. I suppose I could count as a stranger."

Marcus smiled at the beautiful brunette. "Yes, strangers are looked after, but you are no stranger now, Lila, may I be bold enough to say that you seem one of our family now?" he said boldly.

"One of your family? Like a cousin or something?" Lila asked, seeking clarification.

He suddenly flushed, stumbling for an answer, "Yes, a cousin or something. Forgive me if I overstep any boundaries, I am not used to talking to any women other than my aunt."

"Why not?" Lila asked, confused.

Marcus waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, rituals, laws, etc. None of the other women who weave will even look at me."

Lila looked at him, confused. "Why not? You are fairly handsome and you are a wonderful story teller."

Marcus looked at his crippled leg, then back at Lila. "Most women see my leg and don't see the rest of me. They also know my family history and think I am unclean." He struggled up and said abruptly, "Good night," then limped down the stairs. Lila looked after him, wondering whether or not to go and apologize, but Ruth stopped her with a look.

"Ruth, what did I say?" Lila asked, confused and upset.

Ruth chuckled. "My dear, I think Marcus is taken with you. You actually pay attention to him, talk with him, treat him like a man." She shook her head, then continued more seriously, "We go to temple, but we are both snubbed for many reasons. I am a widow, Marcus is a cripple and half Gentile. My cousin Sarah dared to worship the mate of God, whom most men deny. Sarah also loved another woman, Rebecka, who wisely ran away after Sarah was killed by her male relatives for loving Rebecka."

"I had no idea, Ruth. This is the cousin you were so close to?" Lila asked.

"Yes, child. Sarah had been engaged to an older man in the community, against her wishes. Women do not have any real rights here, but Sarah and Rebecka tried to take rights for themselves. I can remember Sarah confiding in me, telling me about her love for Rebecka. She was so happy, you see, so I was happy for her, even though we are taught that this is wrong." Ruth stopped to take a sip of water, then continued. "This affair caused a blot on my family. Poor Marcus tries to be the most law abiding Hebrew ever to atone for our family past, but I'm afraid that he will never be truly accepted. Now, dear Lila, you know the shadow on my family. Will you still consent to stay with us?"

Lila hung her head in shame. "Yes, for I have a blot on my soul as well. Not only did I quarrel with my sister, but I had relations with my fiance and was pregnant. I miscarried and was sent here. If Marcus knew my secret, would he still be so kind to me, talk to me?"

Ruth looked Lila speculatively. "He is a decent man in his heart of hearts. I suspect that he would, even though his beloved scripture would tell him a different story. Let's go in, I'm starting to get chilled."

"I'll be down in a minute." Ruth nodded and started down the stairs. Lila watched the stars for a bit longer, then whispered, "Gabrielle, I wish I hadn't been so mean to you. I promise, if I ever find you again, I will fall on my knees and beg your forgiveness."

Chapter 2

Marcus sat looking at the stars, hoping that Lila would come up to the roof tonight. He doubted it, not many people would be crazy enough to be star gazing in this weather, somewhat cold and windy. But, he had dreams, though he was sure that they would never come true. After all, why would a beautiful Greek girl pay much attention to a crippled half-Hebrew, half-Gaelic boy? Even as he hoped that Lila might return his growing affection toward her, he dreaded it as well, for he would have to come to terms with their religious differences. Lila, of course, could not go to temple with him, but she didn't seem to follow any god at the moment. Would he be able to convince her to see that the God of Jacob was the one true God? As he mused, he heard the door opening and tried to spring to his feet.

"No, Marcus, don't stand up for me, please sit back down." Lila said as she walked over to him.

"Where is Aunt Ruth?" Marcus asked.

Lila answered, "She went to sleep early tonight, I think she is coming down with a fever or something."

Marcus looked around, trying to see if anyone could possibly spot them in the darkness. "You know that I am not supposed to sit with you alone. We are both unmarried."

Lila pulled her chair closer to his and said softly, "It doesn't really matter. I was engaged once, Marcus."

He looked at her, noting how the moonlight kissed her face, how dark her eyes were, how beautiful she was. He sighed, saying, "I know. Aunt Ruth told me before you came that you were escaping a bad engagement. I don't care about that, I just..."

"Just what?" she prompted

He gulped, but proclaimed boldly, "I just care about you, Lila. You are so good and kind to me, you listen to me, you ask intelligent questions, your work is superb. You have bloomed into a beautiful woman from the child who came here half a year ago." He stopped, blushing.

"You mean that? You care about me? You think I am intelligent?" Lila burbled.

Marcus nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. Oh, Lila, most women despise me, look at my Gaelic features and my crippled leg and dismiss me. You make me feel like a human, like you really care." He paused, then tentatively reached out his hand near hers. "I've never felt like this before, yearning to know someone better."

Lila was stunned. She never suspected the depth of Marcus' feelings towards her, but more, she was surprised at the feelings that were surfacing in herself. She closed the gap between their hands, squeezing his hand in hers, feeling its strong warmth. "Marcus, I never dared think that any man would look my way, especially after my broken engagement." She took a deep breath, then continued. "Before you declare your feelings any further, I must be honest with you." She let go of his hand and stood up, pacing around the roof, trying to gather the words to tell her tale. Finally, she started with, "I fell hard for Palios, which now I realize was mere infatuation. Being somewhat innocent, I allowed him to take liberties with me."

"Go on," Marcus encouraged her.

Lila stopped pacing, standing in front of him. "To make a long story short, I discovered that I was carrying his child. When I found out, he insisted on moving the wedding date up. I dared not tell my parents, but on the day of the wedding, Palios had left town, never to be found again." She took a deep breath. "I didn't feel like I could face my parents and my town again, so the healer sent me here, saying that Ruth would take care of me. Now that you know the whole truth, you probably will not wish to be seen with me again and I would understand." Lila watched his face carefully, watching for rejection.

Instead of rejection, Marcus took both of her hands in his, saying, "My dear friend Lila, I could never think less of you. You were taken advantage of by Palios, but even that horrible episode has be for the best, it showed you what his true character was like. Imagine if you had actually married him, he might have turned out to be an adulterer or worse. This does not change my feelings for you, dare I actually say it, my love for you?"

"I have heard a declaration of love before, Marcus. I know you to be a true and good man, but please forgive me if I am hesitant to believe you," Lila explained, yet hoping it was true.

His face darkened. "It's my leg, or my Gaelic heritage, isn't it?"

She knelt before him, hastily saying, "No, a thousand times no, Marcus! By the gods, I don't care who your parents were, I don't care if you have no legs! I do care for you, but I don't want to rush anything. You understand, don't you?" He signed and nodded slowly. Lila gently kissed one hand, then the other, then said, "Marcus, before you commit yourself to me, you should understand that your friends may not like you falling for a Greek woman, a tainted Greek woman at that."

"That does not matter to me, Lila. I just know that I have fallen in love with you and can't live without you," Marcus declared.

Lila gently squeezed his hands, replying, "I can't say that I love you--yet. I may in time, please be patient. You are so sweet to me, but I have to be sure of my own heart."

"I understand." He watched her stand up to leave, then asked softly, "Will you keep watching the stars with me?"

She turned and smiled at him, answering, "Yes, Marcus, I will continue to watch the stars with you." She turned to the stairway and left the roof. Marcus waited until she was gone, then lifted his hands and sniffed delicately. He could smell the fragrance of his aunt's flower water that she made for the women to bathe in, its delicate scent lingering. He knew that a woman who had been to bed with a man before was not supposed to be marriage material, but he was confident that no one else would find out. He watched the stars a until he was too cold to stay out any longer, then slowly limped toward the stairs.

Ruth noticed the looks that Marcus and Lila had started exchanging when they thought no one was looking. She had considered the possibility that the two might fall in love, but had not really considered it seriously until now. Lila, she decided, would probably be more sensible, so she chose to talk to Marcus. She knocked on his door and waited for him to open it. "Aunt Ruth, what are you doing here?" he asked.

She pushed her way into his room, plopping down on his chair. "I wanted to talk with you, Marcus. Let me be blunt, have you fallen in love with Lila?"

Marcus answered slowly, "Yes, I have. But, she told me to be sure before I really declare my love for her."

"Sensible woman. You are aware that she will have to convert to be your wife and that she may not want to do that," Ruth said, half warning, half hopefully.

He nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, I have considered that, Aunt Ruth. I haven't asked Lila how she feels about converting yet. How would you feel about having her in the family?"

His aunt smiled. "I must admit that I would not mind a bit. I have also grown to love her, Lila is a talented, sweet woman. I must also ask, do you know of her past?"

Marcus hastened to assure her. "If you mean do I know about Palios and why she came here, yes. Lila herself told me what happened, she is an honest woman, Aunt Ruth. When the time comes, I'm sure that we can cross all hurdles."

Ruth looked at her nephew fondly. "Ah, Marcus, I fear you are head over heels with Lila. Just promise me that you will not do anything rash."

"I won't, Aunt Ruth, you can trust me," Marcus proclaimed stoutly, love shining in his eyes.

Ruth turned and left the room, thinking that Marcus still didn't know what could go wrong. Never mind, he would just have to face everything himself.

Several days later, Ruth heard a man calling, "Hello, anyone home?" She sprang up and found Alexander the peddler standing there. She smiled, saying, "Come in, my friend! How is Poteidaia these days?"

"Busy, Ruth! By the way, is Lila here? I have news of her sister, Gabrielle, that she might like to hear." He turned slightly as he heard steps. "Oh, hello Marcus, how are the markets today?"

"Fine, Alexander, we have sold more cloth since Lila came than ever before. Ah, here she comes now," Marcus said proudly.

Lila entered the room. "Alexander?"

"Yes, Lila. You look terrific! Oh, I have news of your sister," the peddler said happily.

Lila sat down. "What news?"

Alexander sat down and beamed. "Gabrielle married several weeks ago, I knew that you would want to know."

Lila sat, stunned, trying to absorb the news. Who would Gabrielle marry so fast? Perdicas had been dead less than a year, she reckoned. "Who did she marry?"

"Gabrielle and Xena were married by the Amazon high priestess in Amphipolis, Xena's home town, where I was on business. Did you know that Gabrielle gave up her title as Queen of the Amazons to marry Xena? It's all very romantic, I'd say. They are going to continue to roam, but I dare say that they will be going to Amphipolis more often now." Alexander shook his head, smiling at the memory of the wedding. "Of course, Xena's mother, Cyrene, stood up for her, but the big surprise was Ephiny standing up for Gabrielle."

"Wait, who's Ephiny?" asked Lila, head spinning with the new names.

Alexander chuckled. "Oh, I forgot you've been gone so long. Ephiny has been Gabrielle's regent, ruling the Amazons in her name. When Gabrielle gave up the crown, she retained her claim as an Amazon princess, but gave the title of queen to Ephiny. If she had not given up the title, she and Xena would have had to marry in the Amazon village, where none of their friends could have attended. They didn't like that idea."

"How did my parents take the news?" Lila asked cautiously.

"Mad as wet hens, I'd say. Gabrielle hasn't been home since you saw her last, so the word came by way of Joxer, who was in town on business. You know how much they disliked Xena in the first place. Well, they were furious! Now, I fear that Gabrielle will never be allowed in to Potadeia again, not that she has expressed any desire to come back home." Alexander stopped for a breathe, then asked, "Lila, your parents were frantic when you disappeared. Should I send them any message?"

Lila looked first at Ruth, then at Marcus. "Just tell them that I am alive and well. Don't tell them where I am."

"Will do. Well, I'd love to sit and jaw a while, but I have errands to run. I'd like to buy some cloth from you tomorrow, if I may," he said.

"Yes, please so. See you tomorrow Alexander." After the door shut, Ruth turned to face Lila. "So, your sister has remarried."

Lila dropped her face in her hands, moaning, "She married Xena! By the gods, why did she marry that warlord? I guess she has completely cut off the ties with our family now." She lifted her head. "May I be excused? I don't feel well."

"Sure, dear, take the rest of the day off if you like." Ruth watched Lila leave the room, then turned to Marcus. "Well, it seems like Gabrielle has dealt Lila quite a blow. I had heard rumors that Xena had taken a new lover, but I did not know that it was Gabrielle."

Marcus looked at his aunt. "Do you think that this will ruin my chances for marrying Lila?"

She looked at him for a long moment before answering, "Those scriptures you are so fond of prohibit men lying together, but I've never read anything about women. But, just between you and me and the fence post, I think that whenever love is true, that it should not be stopped just because of family, religion, or sex. In fact, this is probably premature, but I would give my blessings if you and Lila decided to get married. Just don't go off and ask her any time soon, I think that the news of her sister has really hurt her."

"Okay, Aunt Ruth, I promise," Marcus said.

Several days later, Marcus found Lila on the roof top, staring at the stars. He didn't expect to find her there, she had been either at her loom or in her room since Alexander had given the news. Ruth was not in sight, so Marcus debated as to whether or not to stay or leave when Lila sighted him and motioned him over. He limped over and sat down in the chair next to her. "Hello Lila."

"Hello Marcus, what brings you here?" Lila asked as she scooted her chair close to his.

"I just wanted to look at the stars. If I'm bothering you, I can leave," he replie anxiously.

Lila shook her head slowly. "No, you are not bothering me. I was just wondering if Gabrielle can see the same stars that I can. Gods, I can't believe that she would actually marry Xena!" She then smiled ironically. "Of course, I'm not sure if I'm more upset that she's married twice and I've never been married, or if it is because I don't like Xena, despite her claim to repentance. Ah, well, I guess it doesn't matter, I'll probably never see her again."

Marcus considered his options, then decided to go with the bold option. He scoot his chair even closer and carefully draped an arm along the back of Lila's chair. He knew that he shouldn't touch a woman, but she had already held his hands several times. She leaned back against his arm, causing him a brief moment of delight and panic, but the panic soon faded. They sat in silence for a while, then Marcus finally said, "I guess we'd better go in now, it's getting rather late."

"I guess so. Thank you for listening, Marcus." Lila didn't move, though. She laughed quietly, "I guess I should go in now. Ah, the strange things that happen." She turned to face him and tentatively reached out a hand and carefully stroked his beard. "You are so dear to me, Marcus. Gabrielle always talked to me, told me stories, but I don't think she stopped to listen to me very often. No one really listened to me, I was always overshadowed by my big sister. Now, she is upstaging me again, and I wasn't even there for it." She dropped her hand and stood up. "We had really better get in now."

Marcus struggled to stand up and follow Lila to the door. His mind was swirling with unsaid thoughts that he wished he had said. He suddenly felt the now or never impulse--"Lila!"

She stopped and turned back around. "Yes?"

He limped over to her and took her hands in his. "Lila, I know that this is the worst possible time, but would you think about marrying me? I love you with all my heart, you are unlike any woman I've ever met, so kind, so smart, so beautiful. I think I started loving you when you first set foot in this house, I loved you even more when you admitted your past so bravely. Can you possibly love me back?"

She stepped closer to him and answered, "Marcus, I will consider your offer."

He felt crushed, she was too gentle. "Maybe we should pretend that I never asked..."

Lila put a finger to his lips and said softly, "Marcus, don't say that. No matter what my answer, I am flattered that you think so much of me to ask me to marry you. Just give me some time, please." She kissed his cheek, then turned around and left.

Do I love him? Lila wondered the next day. The question pounded through her brain all day and all night. He was so kind, so gentle, but she needed to know that he loved her for herself, not just for her looks or charm. But, she had to admit, no other man or boy had taken the time to teach me so much. He reads me poetry from his sacred scrolls and explains them to me. He tells me of many brave men and women who stood up for their faith. Yet, she wondered, do I love him enough to spend a lifetime with him? Or am I just looking for companionship?

Lila thought about it as she set up the loom, as she started stringing the thread, as she contemplated the pattern for the cloth. Palios made me excited, but I never thought of discussing anything with him. Marcus tells wonderful stories, much like Gabrielle. I look forward to our talks every night, look forward to spending time with him. I listen for his footsteps, watch for that slow smile, feel good when he dares to wrap his arm around me. Do I love him enough?

Nearly a week went by before Lila brought up the subject of the marriage proposal. They were sitting under the stars, Lila pointing out constellations and the Greek names for them. "It's interesting how different people can see the same stars, yet see different shapes, or call them different names."

"True," Marcus said, "and I've heard that some cultures keep detailed records of the movements of the stars."

Lila nodded, laying her head on his shoulder, seeking comfort in his familiar warmth. She finally spoke again. "Marcus, I have considered your proposal and have decided that I will marry you. I have come to realize that I look forward to seeing you every day, that my evening is not complete without seeing you, hearing you tell me stories, or just talking. When would you like to get married?"

Marcus smiled happily. "As soon as possible, Lila." He whooped with joy, struggling to his feet, hauling her up with him. "As soon as possible, my beloved," he said, daring to kiss her.

Lila finally reluctantly broke off the kiss, dropping her forehead against his chest. "We'd better be careful," she said, "I know how easy it is to get carried away."

"Yes," he gasped, struggling to calm down, "I want you, Lila, but I am willing to wait for you. It will be so much sweeter to wait for you than to take you now."

"Even though you know I have been with a man?" she asked, disclosing her one fear.

Marcus stroked her face with a gentle hand, meeting her eyes with love shining in his countenance. "I don't care about that, Lila, it is your past. You don't care that I have a crippled leg, and I don't care about your past. I love you for who you are now, and who you will be in the future. God will bless us, I am sure.

"I sure sure they will," she replied. She kissed him again briefly, then reluctantly added, "I suppose we'd better go downstairs and tell your aunt about our engagement."

She held out her hand and he took it.

"Hey Marcus, what's new around your place?" asked Rueben, one of the market merchants.

Marcus smiled. "Rueben, I'm going to get married to Lila."

"What? She's Greek, Marcus, what are you thinking? Will she convert?" Rueben warned.

"I'm not asking her to convert. God will work in her heart better if he is not forced," Marcus replied.

Rueben shook his head. "You're making a mistake, mark my words. The priests won't consent to this marriage."

Marcus looked at his friend curiously, asking, "Why not?"

Rueben looked at him, dumbfounded. "You know the scripture better than all of us, you just can't up and marry some foreign woman. Is she clean? Is she pure? Do you know her parents?" Rueben looked around at the gathering crowd. "Oh, but I forgot, you are part foreign yourself. Maybe you are not truly a good Hebrew, are you circumcised?"

Marcus flushed but held his ground. "Yes, I am, you know that. Lila is clean, her heart is pure. My father was Hebrew, you know."

Another friend, Abram called out, "And your mother was a pagan. So will you return to pagan ways?"

"No, I will still go to temple," Marcus said steadily.

"So what? Are you willing to take a chance with her? Your babies will be only a quarter pure, you know," Abram persisted.

"Maybe Lila is better than all Hebrew women, she can see me as a man, not as just poor Marcus the cripple!" Marcus shouted to the crowd. He stormed back home, still trembling with rage.

He shoved the door open and slammed it shut, causing Ruth to look up from her account books and call, "Marcus? Is that you?"

"Yes, it is," he snarled as he limped into his aunt's room, throwing himself into a chair. "All I did was say that I was going to marry Lila and my so-called friends started questioning my judgment and character. Aunt Ruth, why would they do such a thing?"

Ruth considered her nephew for a long moment, the asked softly, "What exactly did your friends say?"

Marcus sighed. "They asked if she would convert to our religion. When I said that it was Lila's decision, they lambasted me! Reuben, my dearest friend, led the attack. It's just not fair, Aunt Ruth, just not fair!" He picked at his robe for a moment, then looked up and asked, "Should I demand that Lila convert?"

"No, I don't think you should, Marcus." Ruth replied.

Marcus buried his face in his hands for a long moment, the looked up. "If they connect Lila with Gabrielle and Xena, she'll never be accepted as my wife. Reuben was already reminding me of my Gentile blood. He'd have a field day with a sister-in-law who married a woman, an ex-warlord at that. I must talk to Lila about this."

"Good idea," Ruth agreed. As she watched her nephew limp off to the common living area, she sat wondering what would happen. Marcus was so proud of his study of the Torah, but it seemed that the Torah would now fail him. "God, if you really exist," she prayed silently, "please help this young couple see the way to happiness."

Marcus changed his mind about talking to Lila immediately, opting to wait until that evening when they would meet on the rooftop to watch the stars. When she arrived, he quietly told her what had transpired in the marketplace, then asked, "Would you ever convert, so we can be married by the priest of the temple?"

Lila considered the question carefully. She looked at her beloved for a long moment before finally answering, "Marcus, I respect your devotion to your god, but I just can't accept a single god. You keep telling me how gentle and loving he is, but your scripture tells of your god asking your people to slaughter those who stand in their way, to steal their women, to take over lands in his name. I can't say that my gods are any better, look at how Zeus is so unfaithful to Hera! No, I'd rather keep my gods, but I won't demand that you worship them instead of your god."

Marcus wondered why it was that when he finally found the one woman that he wanted to spend his life with, roadblocks were put in his way. He stared at the stars for several minutes, then looked back at Lila's face. "Lila, my dear sweet woman, how can you still accept me? I'm crippled and come from a different background. I don't worship your gods, yet you still sit with me, night after night, and say that you will marry me."

She reached for his hand, clasping it between hers as she answered, "Marcus, you are the first man to treat me with respect. Even though I don't believe in your god, you have shared your sacred scriptures with me, respecting me as an equal. I love you, dear man, and I do want to marry you, but I just can't bring myself to believe as you do."

He kissed her hands gently, then let go. "Lila, I respect your decision. If this means that we can't get married by the priest, we'll get married by a Greek priest, maybe at the temple of Apollo. God will bless our marriage, I am sure of that, even if his priest won't bless it."

Lila slowly smiled at her beloved. "Then, should we set a date?"

Marcus smiled for the first time in the evening. "You really mean that? Even with the potential problems?"

"Yes, Marcus, I do." Lila answered as she leaned forward. "I really do," she murmured as she kissed him hard on the lips, letting her hands wander up and down his back. He felt bold enough to hold her close, kissing her with all of the passion he felt, feeling himself rising, wanting nothing more than to consumate their love, But they pulled apart at the same time, faces flushed with passion, but better sense prevailing. "Good night, darling," Lila whispered before she walked to the stairs.

"Good night, beloved," he answered, floating to the skies.

Chapter 3

Marcus went back to the marketplace the next day, buoyed by the thought of setting his wedding date quickly. He noticed that his friends avoided him, but he didn't let it bother him. He still had plenty of customers, including many Greeks who came to the Hebrew quarter specifically for their cloth. One of the Greeks, a man named Oras, looked over the offerings, waiting until the shop was empty before asking casually, "Did I hear correctly that you are to be married?"

Marcus smiled, answering, "Yes, to a beautiful woman named Lila. In fact, you are holding some of the cloth that she wove in your hands, good sir."

Orcas stroked the cloth in his hands, evaluating the high quality of both the thread and the weave. "I see, young sir. Lila, that sounds like a Greek name, not a Hebrew name. Does she have some Greek in her ancestry, perchance?"

"To tell you the truth, Oras, she is Greek, from a Greek village." Marcus said, surprised at the line of questioning.

Oras carefully refolded the piece, laying it on the sales counter. "I think your fellow Hebrews are not thrilled about you marrying a Greek girl, one who will not convert. Is this true?"

Marcus looked at the older gentleman, puzzled. "Why do you ask?" he repeated.

Oras counted out his money, then answered, "Oh, just to make sure that you are fully aware of what you are doing. Also, to tell you that if you need a new store to sell your goods from, that you can come to me, for I have a newly empty stall. You might think about moving as well, for your friends don't seem to be very, shall we say, supportive of your upcoming marriage?"

"Thank you for your concern, Oras, but I'm sure we'll be fine." Marcus answered.

Oras smiled as he gathered his purchase. "You're welcome, young Marcus. Just remember, I have friends who can help." He left the shop, leaving Marcus to ponder his words.

Reuben was saying, "So, King Solomon loved many foreign women, who turned his heart away from the Lord God, causing the Lord to tear his kingdom out of the hand of his son. Thus saith the Lord. What does this mean? We should not stoop to take foreign women in our midst, they will not convert and will lead us into temptation to worship evil gods. Right Marcus?"

Suddenly, all the years of being different, being crippled, being whispered about overflowed in Marcus' heart. He looked up at Reuben, who was reading the scripture for the Sabbath and said in a quiet, yet dangerous voice, "King Solomon had over seven hundred wives and concubines, Reuben. He was king, military ruler, and priest to our people, not a simple shopkeeper. But, as David prayed in the Psalms,

'Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.

'For the insolent have risen against me,
the ruthless seek my life
they do not set God before them.'/p>

"I dare say that you are insolent and ruthless, rising before me, taunting me because I dare to love a woman who does not agree with you. I do not love the Lord any less than before, Reuben. But, I cannot stand to be with men who are so petty and cruel." Marcus stood up and limped out of the temple, not noticing the gasps of horror from the congregation.

By nightfall, the story was all over the Hebrew quarter, that Marcus dared to insult Reuben, who was practically a priest. Rumors swirled quickly, with a new one added to it: the woman he wanted to marry had been engaged before. Certainly she was impure for real! What man could have held back from such a bewitching woman? Lila came to the supper table, unaware of what had happened. She saw Ruth's angry face, Marcus' bewildered face, and the frightened face of the slave girl. "What happened?" she asked as she sat at the table.

Marcus sat up and said unsteadily, "I told the men at the men at the services today that God was still on my side, and practically accused them of being my enemies." Ruth snorted. Before she could say anything, the door burst open and men carrying torches poured in. "Where is she? where is the witch?" they screamed. Lila stared at them and one of the men grabbed her. Marcus stood up and shouted, "Leave her alone!"

"God won't like this, your father was already punished!" cried out the man who was holding Lila.

Fury swelled in Marcus' heart as he strode over to the man who was holding Lila and grabbed him by the neck of his robe. "Let go of her," he said in a deadly voice. The man dropped Lila, surprised by Marcus' strength and daring. "Now," Marcus continued in the same deadly voice, "apologize to the lady." The man said nothing and Marcus shook him like a rag doll. "Apologize, or I will condemn your soul to the lowest bowels of hell," he hissed.

"I'm sorry, miss." the man choked out.

Marcus dropped him on the floor. "Now, the rest of you, leave my house!" They started to turn when Rueben grabbed Lila and declared, "You can't marry her if someone defiles her first!" He tried to tear her dress, but Lila had other ideas. She bit his hand as hard as she could and when he let go, yowling, she grabbed the nearest chair and bashed him over the head. He sank like a stone in water, out cold. Marcus stared, amazed. "God, you are amazing!" he burst out.

The crowd was quiet now. Lila surveyed them and said, "Go home, the show is over. I will still marry this man, he has shown more courage in defying you than you have in pretending to uphold your laws. May your wives turn as jealous as Hera, and just as mean." She waited, then screamed, "Leave!"

After the men fled, Lila turned back to Marcus. "Marcus, that was amazing. You stood up against everything you had believe in, just for me. You know I am impure, why did you lie to them?"

He shrugged. "Because in my heart, you are pure and I love you."

Lila stepped closer. "Then, for you, I am pure. Marcus, I love you, you showed rare courage tonight." Heedless of the fact that Ruth was still in the room, Lila took Marcus in her arms and kissed him soundly. She whispered, "There's more where that came from." He blushed and hid his face in her shoulder, then looked up, his eyes adoring her.

The wedding was held in the Greek part of the city. Marcus formally renounced his place in the temple and Ruth quickly sold the house and the lands her husband had left to her, giving the money to Marcus and Lila as their wedding present. Marcus found a better house and land, buying in the heart of the best of Greek neighborhoods. The three of them decided to wait until the actual wedding to move into the house, so they stayed in a hotel until the wedding.

The wedding was small, but lively. Lila made friends quickly among her own people, and in a month, had enough friends to fill the temple. It was beautiful, Lila and Marcus swore to love and honor each other until death parted them. Ruth cried and had to kiss both of them after their vows. They feasted from supper until late in the night, then the newlyweds were ushered into their house for the first time. Ruth departed back to the hotel, a group of young men in her wake.

"Well," said Marcus nervously as he approached the bed, "this is the moment we've been waiting for."

Lila smiled as she stepped up to her husband. "Do you have any experience?"

He blushed as he admitted, "None. I believed everything about being pure. I guess you will have to teach me, another new idea for me."

Lila kissed her husband, gently at first, then more deeply. Marcus never knew that he could feel anything like this, or that the mere brush of fingertips across his chest could arouse such feelings. She slowly unwound his toga, then dropped her own dress. Marcus stared at her beauty, entranced. She looked at his body, noting that he was actually well muscled, and that the crippled leg was actually not badly scarred. She pushed him in the bed, saying, "Marcus, prepare yourself."

A short time later, "Oh Gods!"

The heavens smiled.

The End

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