For Better or Worse

(October 1997)

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Chapter 20 - The Orchid and Egg

For the third night, Xena entered the kitchen to retrieve the bard's dinner. She found Gabrielle's father stirring some soup with Meleager next to him, ready to add salt when the older man requested it. The three exchanged glances and nods as they quietly went about their business in the kitchen.

Xena's curiosity got to her. "I don't suppose you have a poem yet," she asked Meleager, looking up from the tray she was preparing.

Meleager grinned. "I'm all set," he responded cheerfully, surprising the Warrior Princess.

"I could take a look at it if..," she offered nonchalantly, though amazed he had actually finished the poem.

"No...uh.. no need, but thanks," Meleager interrupted her offer. "All I need now is an egg and a flower."

"Orchid," Xena and Gabrielle's father corrected him. Xena noticed the older man grin as he returned his attention to his soup.

Bursting into kitchen, Sarah almost skidded when she abruptly stopped, finding her father, Meleager and Xena staring curiously at her.

"Oh, hi," she attempted a casual greeting as she glanced over her shoulder.

"You know mother's looking for you," her father relayed and sipped a spoonful of soup. He nodded to Meleager, who smiled at Sarah and almost missed his cue to add salt.

"Really?" She relayed innocently, plastering on a smile. Her father nodded and stirred. Meleager just kept to himself and his salt, having found that the safest response.

"So Xena, how is Gabrielle?" Sarah asked.

"Difficult," Xena blurted as she stared down at the tray with two pieces of nutbread. She sighed and added a third piece, hoping THAT would help satisfy the incredibly famished bard's appetite. She somehow knew it wouldn't. Gabrielle's father grinned as he sipped another spoonful of soup.

In the distance, the voice of Sarah's mother could be heard, calling for Sarah.

"That's know...I JUST remembered something I need to do, excuse me," Sarah relayed unconvincingly and dashed out of the kitchen.

Xena's eyebrows raised as she looked at Gabrielle's father, who seemed more preoccupied with the soup than his oddly behaving daughter.

"Needs salt," he responded. Meleager nodded and quietly added another pinch.

"Sarah?" Sarah's mother called as she entered the kitchen. "Oh," she relayed flatly. "Hello Xena." Her unenthusiastic greeting was followed by an excruciatingly polite smile.

Xena nodded quietly.

"Have you seen Sarah?" The older woman asked the three.

Before Xena could open her mouth, the woman continued. "I still have some details I need to go over with her...the wedding is almost here and she STILL hasn't made a decision on the flower arrangements, musicians or her DRESS for Gods' sakes. She's acting like this the wedding is MONTHS away! I really don't think she is taking this seriously enough."

Xena watched as Gabrielle's father stir the soup. "Yes dear," he responded, handing the soup spoon over to Meleager, who diligently started to stir.

"First she was busy with Walsaian business, then it was this Amazon thing, now she says this GALISAR business requires her attention...If she spent even a FRACTION of the time focusing on the wedding that she has devoted to the this Amazon business, she would be DONE by now. Where ever did she get this knack for procrastination, I'll never know...."

"Yes dear..."

"Well, if any of you see her, tell her we MUST get the arrangements finished," she informed them. "They are all important to the are the Traditional items," she added, delivering a warning glare to Meleager, who cleared his throat and continued to stir the soup.

"Have faith dear," her husband responded warmly.

"Yes dear," she sighed. After a peck on the cheek, she left the kitchen.

Xena gave a questioning looked to Gabrielle's father as he got another spoon and took another sample of the soup. He looked up and gave her a familiar, warm smile.

"Even skilled Amazon hunters couldn't get that egg," Xena informed him, causing Meleager to look up with surprise. Meleager the Concerned looked over to the older man.

"I'm not surprised," he grinned.

" will Meleager get the egg if they couldn't?" Xena asked with a raised eyebrow.

Meleager looked at her, then the older man, considering that a good question.

"Just got to know where to look," he explained, intriguing the Warrior Princess. Meleager eyed him, considering that made sense, then shrugged.

"Meleager and I will be going on a hunting trip tomorrow," he relayed, making Meleager smile. "You're welcome to join us," he added, the invitation surprising Xena.

"What about the Orchid?" Xena asked, Meleager looked at the older man hoping that too would be as easy as getting that egg seemed.

"The Red Orchid of Love?" He chuckled warmly.

"Yeah, where do you get that?" Xena asked, finding his behavior odd.

He looked at her curiously for a moment.

"Are you asking for Meleager...or yourself?" He questioned her with formidable words and an unwavering gaze.

"Does it make a difference?" Xena challenged him, her steely gaze meeting his.

He sighed.

"To Gabrielle it does," he answered thoughtfully, surprising the warrior. He returned his attention back to the soup.

Returning to the bedroom with the tray full of nutbread and some dinner, Xena sighed as she gazed upon her bard, who was writing in bed.

"Hey, you said I could WRITE...remember???" Gabrielle blurted defensively, then raised a suggestive eyebrow. "And I'll have you know...I'm feeling much much..."

"Gabrielle...," Xena interrupted gravely, immediately alerting the bard.

"What?" Gabrielle put her quill down. She watched with concern as her warrior quietly placed the tray on the night table and sat on the edge of the bed.

"Your father and Meleager are going hunting tomorrow to ..."

"GO!" Gabrielle suggested enthusiastically. A little too enthusiastically she realized from the surprised look on the warrior's face.

" would give my father a chance to get to know you," Gabrielle explained only part of her enthusiasm. She didn't see the need to mention she wanted a break from her incredibly overprotective warrior, with an incredibly annoying will of iron.

"Yeah...I was kinda thinking that too," Xena relayed. "You sure you'll be..."

"FINE! I'll be fine! Don't worry about go, make sure Meleager gets those items," she enthusiastically encouraged her warrior with a warm smile and pat on the forearm.

Xena's eyes narrowed. "Gabrielle, I don't want you pushing your..."

"I won't," Gabrielle quickly interrupted. Xena's eyebrow raised skeptically. "I PROMISE," Gabrielle blurted then sighed, once again bullied into a promise by the Warrior Princess' eyebrow.

As Xena, Meleager and Gabrielle's father were preparing to depart on their very early morning quest, Xena stood off with Argo, patiently waiting for Sarah and her mother to say goodbye to their loved ones.

Xena looked up at the bard's empty window, reminding herself how adamantly she had insisted that Gabrielle should stay in bed and rest. 'It's foolish to loose sleep just to see me off,' the warrior remembered one of her convincing arguments.

Returning her gaze to the couples, she scratched Argo's neck. She sighed with disappointment that this was one of the rare arguments she actually won. Yet, Gabrielle did need her rest, Xena reminded herself.

With the couples finally done with their good-byes, Xena let out a relieved exhale as she started to mount Argo, anxious to depart.


Everyone turned towards Lila, who ran towards them. "What's wrong?!" Xena asked with concern.

"Nothing, as long as I give you this," Lila responded, displaying a piece of parchment neatly folded into quarters. "She said she'd kill me if I didn't get this to you before you left," Lila blurted as she handed over the note to the warrior. Everyone curiously watched as the Warrior Princess opened up the parchment.

Gabrielle's mother witnessed a dazzling smile light up the stoic warrior's face as she read its short contents. The transformation amazed the older woman, who had never seen the Warrior Princess genuinely smile before.

Xena anxiously looked up from the note to the bard's window, finding it no longer empty. Standing at the window, dressed in a simple green dress, was Gabrielle. The bard slowly lifted her hand and waved goodbye to her warrior, who gently waved back.

Xena reluctantly broke her gaze, returning it to her quiet riding companions. "We should get going," she quickly suggested to them, intending to follow the instructions in the bard's note - Don't be long.

The oldest Poteidaian sighed heavily as she watched the travelers ride off. Sarah and Lila looked at each other and took the opportunity to quietly step back and head back towards the castle.

"Hold it RIGHT there, young ladies," she snapped, interrupting their retreat and making them cringe. Their mother turned towards them. "We've got to get ready for the guests, get the kitchen staff set up and a MILLION other things..."

Xena was surprised when Gabrielle's father started to dismount. "Why are you stopping?" Xena scanned the area.

"There's still time to get to the caves and get in some hunting in before dark," Meleager added, making the older man chuckle softly.

Meleager and Xena looked at each other, both confused by this Poteidaian.

"We won't need to go to the caves," he spoke nonchalantly.

"So we're going to get the orchid today instead?" Meleager asked, wanting to understand.

"We'll get the orchid after we get the a couple days...can't rush these things you know," he slowly laid out a blanket to sit on.

The warriors dismounted and joined the older man sitting on the ground. After a moment of thoughtful silence, the older man finally spoke to the curious warriors.

"Gabrielle is the bard of the family, but I will do my best to explain," he smiled at Xena. "Traditions have their purpose," he spoke wisely. "What I am about to tell you has been passed down from father to son...," he started, then paused. He looked over to Xena, slightly perplexed.

"Do you want me to leave?" Xena asked flatly.

"No Xena," he said softly, with a warm smile. "Hmmm," he thought a moment and continued his lesson on traditions. "...passed down for generations in confidence, which I trust you two will maintain?" He asked.

Meleager nodded quickly, very interested in what this man had to share. Xena eyed the older man suspiciously and slowly nodded in agreement.

Bursting into Gabrielle's room, a panicked Sarah rushed in with Lila closely behind. "It's a DISASTER!" Sarah blurted to Gabrielle, who was writing at the table.

"Mother TOLD you not to wait until the last moment," Lila enjoyed mentioning, drawing a death glare from Sarah.

"What's wrong?" Gabrielle put her quill down on the table, turning towards her sisters.

"My Traditional gown maker is dead!!" Sarah blurted.

"WHAT?!? What that happened?" Gabrielle asked, shocked at the horrible news.

"When Sarah finally got around to making the arrangements, she found out that Rena, the dress maker, died in a freak farming accident a year ago and her daughter, who took over the business, apparently left for a vacation in Athens," Lila spoke flatly.

"I'm doomed!" Sarah blurted as she flopped onto the bed, face down.

"Well, the Traditional gown has been made by other dress makers before...what about the Walsasian dress maker who made the bridesmaid dresses?" Gabrielle asked helpfully.

"I'm doomed...," Sarah muttered into the pillow.

"Mother suggested that, but she left to visit her sick brother in Marapolis," Lila relayed. "Then there's the matter about the kitchen staff...," Lila added with a shrug.

"We'll just have to elope," Sarah rationalized, rolling on her back and staring at the ceiling.

"What about the kitchen staff?" Gabrielle asked with concern.

"You know, this whole thing was to please her...I never really WANTED this Traditional wedding," Sarah blurted with great annoyance to the ceiling.

"They quit...again," Lila added, ignoring her eldest sister.

"So I PROMISED her...I think promises are actually over rated...and WHO made up that STUPID rule that promises are not supposed to be broken??" Sarah asked the ceiling.

"Why?" Gabrielle asked, ignoring her older sister.

"At least Mother should be pleased...she'll get to spend the REST of her life saying I told you so," Sarah muttered.

"They didn't appreciate finding out they would have to cook for 300 people four days before the wedding," Lila relayed with a shrug.

"I'm doomed," Sarah muttered gravely as she rolled over, face first into the pillow.

"Don't panic Sarah, we'll get through this. I've got an idea..." Gabrielle blurted confidently.

Sarah lifted her head, glanced at the bard, rolled her eyes and buried her face back into the pillow.

"I'm doomed..."

Chapter 21 - The Dress

Two days before the wedding, the three hunters finally rode back to Galisar, with Traditional items in hand. Xena wanted to come back sooner, however, Gabrielle's father insisted they stay out or the whole purpose of the Traditional Items would be lost.

For the sake of future generations of Poteidaians, Xena reluctantly agreed to abide by the "Traditions."

When they dismounted and took their horses to the stables, Xena was immediately alarmed when she spotted a half-dozen Amazon horses in the stalls. Xena quickly exited the stables and spotted a familiar Amazon hauling a sack of flower over her shoulder.

"Sustra!?! Why are you here? What's going on?" Xena asked anxiously.

"Been to get to the kitchen...Gabrielle's in Sarah's room," Sustra blurted and left the Warrior Princess without a satisfactory answer.

On the way to Sarah's room, Xena passed Solari, who was carrying a large vase. "She's in there," Solari informed her, motioning to Sarah's room with her head, as she hobbled past. Grimacing guiltily, Xena went to the room and paused at the door as she listened to the lively discussion.

"Why is this train so huge? It will take days to attach the beading...Look, you could make a whole other dress out of this material," Lila blurted holding up only part of it.

Sarah sighed impatiently, tired of standing up and being poked at with pins by Gabrielle. "We could SKIP the beads," Sarah suggested.

"We could, the dress already looks wonder...," Gabrielle added enthusiastically.

"We can't skip the beads! You girls know the beading is Traditional...stand straight dear," her mother casually instructed Sarah, who sighed heavily with her sisters.

"Almost done with the pinning," their mother mentioned, sensing the frustration level in the room rather high. She looked up at her eldest daughter with a warm smile, amazed how much work they had already accomplished on the dress.

"Ow...," Gabrielle blurted, recoiling after she poked herself with a pin.

"Gabrielle, don't you DARE bleed on my dress again!!" Sarah warned.

"I'll try to control my bleeding better this time," Gabrielle snapped back, sucking her bleeding finger.

"Lila dear, please get me more pins," her mother asked.

"Do you know how hard it was to get that last blood stain out?" Sarah blurted.

"I KNOW...I cleaned the sleeve!" Gabrielle snapped. "How people can do this for a living and survive the blood loss is beyond me," Gabrielle muttered, inspecting her finger.

"Trust me Gabrielle, the way you've been poking me, you wouldn't have to worry about your blood loss because you wouldn't have any customers," Sarah retorted, drawing an annoyed look from Gabrielle.

"Perhaps now you girls will better appreciate sewing and THOSE who can sew WELL...I TRIED to teach you girls," their mother relayed with a sigh, then continued to deftly pin the hem.

Xena stood at the door, still debating whether to enter or not.

"XENA!" Gabrielle blurted when she glanced up at the door. Jumping up and almost knocking Sarah over, Gabrielle rushed to embrace her warrior. Surprising her mother and disappointing the warrior, Gabrielle stopped herself. Sarah rolled her eyes with amazement.

"Uh...Did Meleager get everything?" The bard asked awkwardly.

"We wouldn't have come back if he didn't," Xena relayed flatly. Seeing the bard's mouth open to ask her the obvious question of how, Xena continued. "What's going on? I past Sustra and Solari on the way here..."

"Just some last minute wedding problems they are helping with ...we've got everything under control now," Gabrielle spoke confidently.

Finishing up pinning the hem, her mother looked up at the bride-to-be. "Alright dear, we can sew the hem now, then apply the beading...the sooner we start...," the older woman relayed as she looked at the huge train and sighed at the daunting task ahead.

"Stand up straight dear..."

"Queen Sarah, more guests have started to arrive...what do we do with them?" Sustra popped her head in the room and asked.

"Uh...Lila could you greet them and show them to their rooms?" Sarah asked, slipping out of her not yet finished gown. Lila nodded and started to leave.

"And oh,'s not that big a deal but...Eponin said we are out of nuts for the nutbread," Sustra relayed, causing the Poteidaians to glare at her. "We were going to just make the bread without them..."

"NO!" The four Poteidaians blurted in an annoyed unison, startling Amazon by the intensity of their glares.

Sustra looked over to the Warrior Princess.

"You need the nuts," Xena explained helpfully, making the Amazon roll her eyes.

Sarah threw on her robe. "There are PLENTY of nuts in the store room," Sarah blurted, tying her sash. Sustra shook head and shrugged. " will be easier if I just show you," Sarah relayed with an irritated sigh.

"Wait a minute!" The eldest Poteidaian protested. "How am I supposed to finish the hemming AND all this beading if you girls keep running off on me? With only two of us," she eyed Gabrielle and sighed heavily. "We might not finish it in time..."

"Grab a needle," Gabrielle blurted as she grabbed the warrior's hand and pulled her towards the dress.

"Don't tell me SHE can sew," Gabrielle's mother snorted skeptically.

"She's better than I am," Gabrielle snapped.

"I'M better than you are," Lila relayed. "And I stink," she added.

"Just a few little blood stains...and there GOES my reputation," Gabrielle responded with feigned annoyance, amusing her sister and mother.

"I'm going to see to the guests," Lila announced and left with Sustra.

"I'm going to get the damn nuts," Sarah muttered and left in her robe.

Gabrielle's mother eyed the Warrior Princess, who selected a needle from the sewing box. "I didn't realize a warlord would had time to sew," she relayed coldly as she took the dress to the table.

Gabrielle's angry eyes narrowed. Before she could respond, the warrior spoke.

"It came in handy," Xena relayed nonchalantly. "Still does," the warrior added, quickly glancing at the bard's back. She returned her gaze to the older woman, who nodded uneasily as she sat down at the table.

"If you and Gabrielle would start on the beading on the train, I'll finish up the hem and start on the beading on the sleeves," she suggested, surprised to find the warrior nod and sit down, diligently beginning the task.

Gabrielle smiled broadly as she sat down between her warrior and mother and picked up a needle. "Ow!" Gabrielle blurted, managing to stab herself again. "Are you SURE beading is really necessary?" Gabrielle asked, once again sucking on her bloody finger.

After a few hours of sewing, the bard finally stopped stabbing herself. Xena grinned as she eyed her bard, who had fallen asleep. However, as much as Xena enjoyed the slumbering bard being nearby, Gabrielle's head was resting on part of the train that still needed beading.

"I'll be right back," Xena spoke softly as she got up. Effortlessly, Xena picked the bard up in her arms and took her to her bedroom. Though the older Poteidaian knew of Xena's strength, the gentleness with which the Warrior Princess accomplished her task was surprising.

Having tucked her bard in bed, Xena returned and quietly resumed her task with efficient skill. As Xena attached bead after bead on the train, the older woman gazed with appreciation at the warrior's nimble fingers. When she looked up, she found an intense look concentration on Xena's face.

Feeling the stare, the warrior looked up from her work to meet the woman's gaze. They looked at each other a moment before the older woman silently lowered her eyes down to her own work and attached more beads.

Xena sighed and silently continued her task.

"Who taught you?" Gabrielle's mother finally asked, motioning to the sewing.

It wasn't exactly the question the warrior was expecting from the bard's mother.

"My mother," Xena relayed softly. "She always told me a woman needed to have many skills."

"She must be proud," the bard's mother relayed, considering all the skills this Warrior Princess was said to possess.

"I wouldn't say that," Xena said flatly, her eyes on the work at hand as she attached another bead.

A long moment passed before the older woman spoke again.

"Do you want her to be?" The older woman asked another question that surprised the warrior.

Xena paused a moment, still looking at the material in her hands. "A few years ago, I didn't want to hope for something I thought was impossible. Now...," Xena relayed, looking up at the attentive woman. "I want that very much," Xena admitted. Feeling very uncomfortable under the woman's gaze, she looked back down to her work and added another bead to the train.

"What made you change your mind?" The older woman asked, sewing on another bead.

"An extremely stubborn bard who believes in the impossible," Xena answered with a small smile as she threaded her needle.

After silently attaching a few more beads to the dress, the older woman looked up at the warrior.

"Do you know how much she loves you?" The older woman challenged the warrior, who finally received a question she was expecting.

Xena looked into the woman's eyes and silently nodded.

"Good," she blurted firmly and continued her sewing.

"Do you know how much I love HER?" Xena countered, surprising the older woman, who eyed her a long, silent moment.

"Well, there IS one way I would know for sure," the older woman offered cooly, saying no more.

Surprising both the warrior and the bard's mother, the warrior's needle slipped. As the warrior grimaced and sucked on her bleeding finger, a small grin formed on the Poteidaian's face.

Chapter 22 - The Rehearsal

"Finally got one to agree to have a Traditional Wedding, aye?" The priest smiled to Sarah's father, who nodded as he escorted him and Meleager's father and brother to the Grand Hall for the rehearsal.

"Good for you...too many young people are ignoring the traditions," Meleager's father relayed with appreciation.

"Sarah has done well for herself," Meleager's brother, Willis, noted to Sarah's father, appreciating the castle's rich interior. Sarah's father nodded and escorted Meleager's family to the side to watch.

"Guess you are pretty proud to have a daughter of your's become a Queen," Willis added with a smile, noting the fine Athenian marble of the altar.

"I'm proud of all my children," Sarah's father stated simply, making the Priest nod and smile.

Meleager and Xena came in and stood on the side of the altar. As Meleager smiled at his father and brother, Xena looked around the large room and yawned. The work on the wedding dress with Gabrielle's mother was catching up to her. They had worked on the dress through most of the night and just finished up before the rehearsal. If she never saw another bead, it would be too soon.

"What do we do?" Xena asked through another yawn, watching the musicians set up.

"I don't KNOW. I've never BEEN through one of these before," he snapped, then felt a cold gaze burrowing through him.

"Sorry...I'm just nervous," he blurted awkwardly.

"Meleager, this is only a rehearsal...this is a GOOD thing," Xena informed him.

When the musicians were finally set up, Meleager noticed Sarah's mother go over to discuss something with them. Meleager found Sarah's mother a natural when it came to bossing others...which worried him more and more as he found more and more similarities between Sarah and her mother.

Xena watched the woman, impressed she showed no signs of fatigue considering the incredible amount of work she had done to get this wedding back on track.

When the music started to play, Lila came down the center of the aisle with a basket on her arms, looking annoyed as she pretended to spread petals on the path to the altar.

"Lila dear, you're supposed to step WITH the music...step and step and step," her mother blurted out, embarrassing the young woman, who finally got back in step. "Very GOOD dear," her mother encouraged her.

Meleager and Xena grinned with amusement. Lila stopped in front of the warriors, gave them a cold warning glare and moved to other the side of the altar to await her sisters.

Gabrielle came down the aisle with a pitcher in her hands.

"Gabrielle dear, WHY do you have a pitcher in your hands?" Her mother called out to her.

"It's my bouquet," Gabrielle responded with a shrug.

"Just don't throw it..." Lila relayed with feigned concern.

"Lila, the BRIDE throws things not the Matron of Honor," Gabrielle corrected her sister. "However, in your case I could make an exception." Gabrielle called to her sister with a thin smile.

"You can TRY Gabrielle, but I know you throw even worse than you sew," Lila countered with a satisfied grin.

Meleager and Xena looked at each other and returned their patient gazes to the young women.

"That's probably a good thing, FLOWER GIRL, or I'D be tossing those stupid petals," Gabrielle relayed, annoying her sister.

"Girls, Girls! Settle down!" their mother responded, clapping her hands impatiently. "Lets get back to the business at hand...shall we?" Their mother relayed with a glare, and motioned to the musicians to start again.

As the bard passed the warriors, Xena yawned again. Gabrielle stopped and frowned. "Bored already? I hate to tell you...this is the best part," she whispered loudly.

"I'm just tired," Xena admitted through another yawn.

"Too bad. Did I mention I'm feeling much MUCH better?" Gabrielle relayed nonchalantly. Suddenly the Warrior Princess felt more alert for some reason.

Meleager stared at his feet and tried to ignore the two.

"Gabrielle, keep it moving dear," her mother called out, motioning to the musicians to continue playing.

"You know, I'm not sure what to do tonight now that the dress is done," Xena complained. "And you know how easily I get bored," she added with a shrug and sigh as the sympathetic bard nodded thoughtfully.

Meleager rolled his eyes and sighed.

"Well, I'm pretty sure we could probably find something to do...together," a helpful Gabrielle relayed confidently.

"GABRIELLE!!" Her mother barked, making the bard grimace and reluctantly leave her grinning warrior to continue to join her sister on the other side of the altar.

Finally, Sarah appeared at the end of the aisle and was ready for her big entrance. The musicians started to play and Sarah began her march down the aisle, in step with the music...the WRONG music.

"WAIT!" Her mother blurted and rushed over to the musicians to discuss their mistake. Gabrielle handed her pitcher to Lila and joined her mother when she seemed to be taking a long time.

" are supposed to play the Poteidaian Entrance Hymn...the Traditional hymn when the bride comes down the aisle," the woman once again informed the musicians, her polite smile fading quickly.

"Ma'am that is not what we were contracted for...but if you want the Poteidaian Entrance Hymn, we can play the Poteidaian Entrance Hymn," he relayed, making the woman smile broadly. "...but it will cost you 300 more dinars," He added bluntly.

"WHAT!" The woman snapped. Meleager and Xena looked at each other then back at the bard's mother.

"Look Lady, as I see it you're damn LUCKY you got a Poteidaian group on such short notice. Now, if you now want that Entrance Hymn, it will cost you 300 dinars...."

"You are not a musician...You're a THIEF!!!"

"Fine Lady," he blurted as he started to pack up his sheet music with the other musicians. "You can take your Traditional Wedding and sh...."

"Please...Wait a minute...please..." Gabrielle interjected with a friendly smile. "We are all under a lot of pressure here," Gabrielle admitted to the lead musician. "Are you married?" The bard asked, surprising her mother and the musician.

The musician nodded suspiciously. "Well then, you really DO know what kind of pressure a wedding is," Gabrielle relayed wearily. The musician shrugged with a knowing nod. Gabrielle's mother quietly watched her daughter, who sighed dramatically.

"Nothing has gone right. First...the dress maker died..." Gabrielle spoke gravely, shaking her head sadly.

"Oh gods....really?" The lead musician blurted in shock.

Gabrielle's mother was also in shock at this amazing tale of woe her daughter was telling. When the musician looked at her, she just nodded, considering, after all, the dress maker DID die.

"And then, the kitchen staff just upped and QUIT!" Gabrielle blurted with an innocent shrug.

"No food?" He asked, looking at his concerned fellow musicians.

"Oh we have food, but we had to find last minute help...and they didn't even know you needed NUTS in nutbread!" Gabrielle relayed to the amazed musician.

"But you've GOT to have nuts," he repeated incredulously. Gabrielle nodded knowingly.

Watching how her daughter so blatantly manipulated the truth amazed the older woman. She was so proud.

Meleager and Xena eyed each other then back at the musicians considering they were woefully out matched in this encounter.

"Now," Gabrielle sighed wearily. "No Poteidaian Entrance Hymn..." Gabrielle whimpered. "Sarah will be crushed," Gabrielle relayed to her mother who, inspired by her daughter, put her protective arm around Gabrielle.

"I know dear...It's just too bad," the older woman sighed patting her daughter on the shoulder. "But Sarah is strong...She survived the loss of her first husband and only child, and an attempted takeover of her kingdom...she'll survive this," the woman and her daughter took deep breaths.

"It will be easier if we both tell her there will be NO music," Gabrielle's mother relayed, surprising her daughter with that risky position. As they turned to walk towards the impatient and curious bride-to-be, the musicians nervously looked at each other.

"Wait a minute," the lead musician blurted uneasily. "Uh...there's always room to negotiate," he offered. Gabrielle and her mother stopped and looked at each other with satisfied grins.

Finally, hearing music again...the correct music, Sarah started down the aisle. All eyes were on Sarah, except for Xena's. She was busy enjoying Gabrielle's smile.

With then entrances finished, the priest looked down on the small group. "First, I must say I am very pleased you decided to carry on the Tradition," he smiled warmly at the couple. "...and it is not often I get a chance to have a Traditional Wedding outside of Poteidaia," he added. "In fact, I've never...."

"Father...please?" Sarah blurted impatiently.

"Oh yes...sorry," the priest relayed with a cough, then proceeded to run through the steps.

"After the bride arrives, I will lead the welcome prayer. Once the prayer is over the guests will be seated. Then I'll ask for the Traditional items. Who is standing with Meleager?" the priest asked, looking at Meleager and his family curiously.

"Xena," Meleager blurted to the yawning Warrior Princess.


"He asked who was standing with me," Meleager informed her.

"Oh," Xena relayed, looking around at all the eyes uncomfortably on her. "Guess that's me," she looked up at the priest with a polite smile.

"Well...uh...Xena...I will discuss the meaning of each of the Traditional items and then ask that you retrieve each out after I discuss it...the Furry Wegget egg will be first," he relayed as the Warrior Princess' eyes rolled.

"After retrieving the egg from Meleager's father, you'll hand it to me and I'll place it right here," he added, pointing to a spot on the table.

"Then I will discuss the Red Orchid of love...You'll go retrieve the Orchid from Willis," he looked at Xena, who nodded with a sigh. "...give it to me and I'll place next to the egg."

"Then I will ask Meleager to recite his wedding poem to Sarah...then I'll pronounce them man and wife..." The priest smiled at the couple who looked at each other with happy smiles.

A smiling Warrior Princess looked over to her bard. Xena's smile faded when she noticed the sadness in Gabrielle's eyes as the bard watched her sister and Meleager. Witnessing the evaporation of the warrior's smile, the bard's parents looked at each other.

"Now...doesn't that sound easy?" The priest announced happily.

Chapter 23 - The Last Supper

At the dinner table, the diners happily chatted as the food was being served. Xena was content to just quietly watch. On her immediate right, at the end of the table as dictated by Tradition, sat the Poteidaian Matriarch. She was engaged in an animated discussion with her husband and Meleager's father, which Xena found eerily similar to the animated discussion on her left lead by Gabrielle.

Willis and Meleager struggled unsuccessfully to keep up with the sisters in their conversation, the Warrior Princess noted with a grin. As she watched Gabrielle enjoying talking with her sisters, Gabrielle quickly looked at her with a happy smile without missing a beat in the conversation. It was amazing how that smile made her heart beat faster, the warrior mused as she gazed at her bard's profile with great appreciation.

"You were a big help with the dress Xena, thank you," Gabrielle's mother quietly spoke, interrupting Xena's bard gazing. Xena nodded, feeling oddly self-conscious. The woman smiled warmly and returned to chatting with her husband and Meleager's father.

As the women served Meleager and his brother, Gabrielle looked across the table to Sustra and Solari with a grateful smile.

Solari sighed heavily. Sustra winked and smiled happily at Gabrielle, while pouring a curious Willis some wine. As Sustra continued to serve Meleager's family, Gabrielle's mother noticed with amusement how intently Xena was eyeing that winking Amazon.

Leaning across the table towards Sarah, Willis whispered to his future sister-in-law. "Sarah, did you realize your servants look like Amazons?"

"Really?" Sarah relayed innocently, attempting a discrete yet closer look at the help. Gabrielle smiled and sipped her water.

"They ARE Amazons," Xena flatly relayed to Willis, who's mouth dropped.

"Really?" He asked, taking another look. "How on Earth did you get Amazons servants?"

"Their Queen was nice enough to persuade them to fill in for my normal staff," Sarah relayed and looked to Gabrielle, who's eyes rolled as she ate a piece of nutbread. "Rather fortunate for me that Gabrielle is their Queen, wouldn't you say?" Sarah added with an amused grin.

"You're an Amazon Queen??" Willis looked at Gabrielle with amazement and new, appreciative eyes. Gabrielle raised her eyebrow at the comment. "I didn't mean...I is hard to envision one so beautiful...uh...not that Amazons aren't...," Willis blurted out awkwardly.

"Thank you...I think," Gabrielle smiled warmly. Gabrielle's mother sipped her wine, watching with amusement how Xena's eyebrows furrowed.

When the Amazons came back to serve the main course, Sustra came around and served Gabrielle. She placed another large basket of nutbread on the table for her appreciative Queen, who smiled up to her. Sustra leaned in and whispered something in Gabrielle's ear, making the bard laugh heartily.

Apparently something extremely humourous, the Warrior Princess noted with a scowl.

When Sarah and Lila looked to Gabrielle for an explanation, Gabrielle shrugged and chuckled. "I've been reminded of a promise I've made. So tell me attached are you to the name of that road going through the middle of town? What's its name?" Gabrielle asked innocently. Sarah's eyes narrowed.

"Main Street?" Sarah relayed bluntly. "Why? What do you want to name it?" Sarah asked cautiously.

"How about 'Sustra's Way," Gabrielle informed her. "Kinda catchy don't you think?" Gabrielle added with a grin, looking over to the interested Amazon now serving Meleager's father.

Gabrielle's mother refrained from chuckling when she watched the Warrior Princess attack the helpless meat on her plate with her sharp knife.

"That's a great name!" Lila blurted enthusiastically, making Sustra smile.

"If I agree, will you STOP renaming things on me?" Sarah blurted in exasperation. "I don't even know where I live anymore," Sarah muttered, still not ready to admit she liked Galisar better than Walsas.

"Why are you renaming things?" Willis asked, intrigued by this Amazon Queen.

"Don't you like Sustra's Way?" Gabrielle responded.

"Oh, no...I mean...yes, I like it very much. I'm sure any other names YOU come up with will be just as interesting," Willis added with enthusiasm, making Meleager's eyes roll and Gabrielle's sisters grin and shake their heads. "I'm just curious...why," Willis added and gazed upon the bard with a smile.

"It's a long story," Gabrielle answered politely with a wave of her hand to dissuade further interest. Sipping her water, she nonchalantly looked over to Xena, who was boring holes into the table with her intense gaze.

"But I thought bards like to tell long stories...I'd love to hear you tell me one, or two, or..." Willis suggested playfully with a grin which faded when the Warrior Princess' unamused gaze now focused on him. "Or not..." Willis wisely added, nervously clearing his throat.

Sarah and Lila looked upon Willis sadly, having found him a rather pleasant fellow. Meleager sighed, considering he probably should have warned his brother, then grinned.

The Poteidaian Matriarch looked to her husband, who smiled warmly and nodded.

"Well now, now that we are finishing up dinner," the matriarch stood at her table to the relief of the diners, especially Willis.

"I would like to take this time to express my personal thanks to the Amazons for helping us out at the LAST moment," she relayed, eyeing Sarah, who rolled her eyes, expecting her mother to get around to saying 'I told you so.'

Solari nodded and sighed heavily, retreating back into the kitchen to join the other Amazons. Sustra smiled and stayed put, enjoying herself too much to miss anything.

"It was wonderful that Meleager's father and brother were able to join us for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner," she smiled to Meleager's family. Willis smiled weakly as he wiped the sweat from his brow, trying to ignore the continued stare of the Warrior Princess.

"And thank you Father Tehrus for also coming in on such SHORT notice," she relayed, eyeing Sarah again, who sighed. Lila and Gabrielle giggled.

"I am especially pleased tonight that I am able to make another announcement," she smiled warmly down at her daughters, who looked apprehensively at each other. Gabrielle hoped to find a reassuring smile from her sisters but instead found wide eyes and ignorant shrugs.

"As I had done with great pleasure so many years ago for my middle daughter Gabrielle," the Matriarch paused as Lila and Gabrielle turned towards their mother with an queasy feeling in their stomachs.

"I am pleased to once again announce Gabrielle's Xena of Amphipolis," the Matriarch declared happily.

Gabrielle blinked slowly, not sure she heard correctly.

Xena's cold glaring of Willis was interrupted as her gaze shifted to the grinning Poteidaian Matriarch. The diners maintained a nervous silence, except for the sound of silverware dropping on the dinner plates.

Sustra grinned, considering this well worth the trouble of being kitchen help.

"MOTHER!" Gabrielle cried in disbelief as she angrily bolted up from her chair. "You had NO right THEN and you have NO RIGHT NOW! I can't BELIEVE you!!" Gabrielle looked at the still shocked Warrior Princess. Feeling embarrassed, horrified and really really angry, the bard quickly stormed off.

As the initial shock wore off, Xena looked at the woman with narrowing eyes. It was quiet clear to the Warrior Princess where the bard got her devious trait from.

"You'd better go after her Xena, or she might get the idea you don't want to marry her," the bard's mother relayed innocently.

Slowly standing up, she gazed over the stunned group.

"Gods Xena, she's probably made it to AMAZONIA by now!" Lila finally blurted, rolling her eyes.

"What ARE you waiting for?" Sarah questioned indignantly.

"GO for Artemis' sake!!" Sustra yelled at her.

Xena looked at Gabrielle's father. He smiled and nodded.

She returned her gaze to the older woman. "You are a formidable woman Hecuba," Xena admitted cooly to the satisfied Poteidaian Matriarch.

Sarah, Lila and Meleager nodded knowingly.

A slight grin emerged on the warrior's face before leaving to find her bard.

Chapter 24 - Why?

Staring out over her balcony at the garden below, Gabrielle's emotions were in turmoil. How could her mother DO such a thing, she asked herself angrily. She felt like crying but she was just too angry.

"Why do I want to cry?" She silently asked herself, though she knew the answer. It was because her mother knew. She knew how much Gabrielle loved Xena and how much she wanted.... "No!" Gabrielle blurted.

Gabrielle sighed again. She had no RIGHT to want so much. Just like her mother had no right to make that embarrassing announcement, she thought angrily. "GODS", Gabrielle blurted angrily. What WAS her mother trying to prove? She wondered.

Xena loved her and she didn't need a ceremony to prove that to her. Life with Xena was WONDERFUL! Gabrielle considered, then sighed. Wonderful, except in public, when the bard had to restrain herself from those things that came so naturally to her...a casual touch...holding hands...hugging. That was so very hard, she considered as her eyes moistened. But that was the way things were. The bard would have to accept that, and she would, for her warrior.

Her warrior, who she now felt standing near.

"Tell me Xena, will you think any less of me if I kill her?" Gabrielle asked nonchalantly as she stopped her pacing and wiped the tears from her eyes. She still stared out at the garden below, not ready to face her warrior yet.

Xena quietly stepped behind her and slid her arm around the bard's waist, pulling her close. Gabrielle struggled to contain her tears but failed miserably and started to sob, startling the Warrior Princess.

"Gabrielle?" Xena asked with concern.

"I'" Gabrielle blurted between sobs as she turned and buried her face in the Warrior Princess' chest and continued to cry.

"For what?" Xena asked.

"Every...thing!!" Gabrielle cried, her answer muffled by her sobs into warrior's chest.

"You know," Xena uttered softly as she gently stroked the bard's head, which seemed to calm the bard. "I kind of hoped you would be HAPPY to marry me," Xena relayed with a grin.

"That's not funny!" Gabrielle snapped angrily, pulling back.

"I'm not laughing," Xena responded.

"Xena, she is NOT going to force or guilt us into marriage," Gabrielle started to pace again as the Warrior watched. "You shouldn't do something you don't want to do just because you think it will make MY parents happy."

"Will it make you happy?" Xena asked softly.

"Huh?" The bard stopped her pacing. "Xena, I'm not ABOUT to make you do something you don't want to you just to please someone else..."

"Gabrielle, where do you keep getting the idea that I don't want to marry you?" Xena countered with a little frustration.

"Huh??...Xena, you don't want public displays of ..." Gabrielle blurted with annoyance.

"I was wrong about that. I was trying to protect you," Xena admitted. "Now I realize, you're going to get into trouble no matter what I do," Xena responded dryly. Gabrielle stared blankly at her.

"I wasn't being fair to you...or us," Xena offered.

Gabrielle looked up at the starry sky and let out an angry groan.

"Oh I get it...this is just a dream...well, nightmare. Yeah...that WOULD explain a lot," Gabrielle blurted, lifting her hands to cover her tear stained face. "Challenges, dead dress makers, you admitting you're wrong...," she muttered into her hands.

Gabrielle dropped her hands from her face and looked back to the Warrior Princess, who now held out a single red orchid with satisfied grin, which faded when the bard started to chuckle.

"And, OF COURSE! The Red Orchid of Love, yep...definitely a dream," Gabrielle sighed in defeat, rubbing her temples as she left the balcony.

"Gabrielle??" Xena called out in confusion, finding herself alone on the balcony. She looked down at the orchid in her hand then back towards the room with a furrowed brow.

"Gabrielle!" Xena blurted with annoyance as she entered the bedroom.

The bard sat on the end of the bed and started to take her boots off with a sigh.

"Yes Xena," Gabrielle exhaled wearily as she took her second boot off. Xena rolled her eyes, amazed at how bad this was going. She knelt down to face the bard, determined to have her undivided attention.

"Gabrielle, this is NOT a dream, or a nightmare," Xena blurted with exasperation.

"Here," Xena held out the flower forcefully. "Would you take the damn flower?"

A surprised Gabrielle looked down at the flower then into her warrior's intense blue eyes for a long moment. When she finally took the flower from her warrior, a shy smile emerged on the bard's embarrassed face. A relieved smile emerged on Xena's face and they chuckled. After the chuckles subsided, Xena's face grew serious.

"Would you marry me Gabrielle?" Xena asked softly.

"I don't understand," the flustered bard responded.

"It was a 'yes' or 'yes' question Gabrielle," Xena answered with a grin, which disappeared. She realized Gabrielle was going to wait patiently for an answer.

Xena sighed and thought a moment before responding. "We belong together," Xena answered confidently.

"We ARE together," Gabrielle countered softly. Xena's eyebrow raised as she realized with a sigh that, as with everything else, Gabrielle was going to make this difficult.

"Well dear, our eldest is going to be married tomorrow," Sarah's mother relayed, patted her husband's arm as they strolled arm in arm through the garden. She looked up at the stars and smiled.

"Yes dear," her husband relayed with a nod.

"And Gabrielle will be next," she grinned. He looked at his wife.

"Seems so," he smiled.

"You're idea was...inspired dear," she squeezed his arm affectionately.

"It was in the execution dear, masterfully done," he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. She was amazed how, after all these years, his touch could affect her so deeply.

"Now all we have left is Lila," she sighed. "You know, Willis isn't a bad looking fellow,"

He looked at his wife and sighed. "If you say so dear."

"Oh, well, I'm sure there is someone out there for her," she relayed optimistically, smiling.

"Yes dear," he grinned.

Xena broke her kiss from the bard to catch her breath before engaging more discussion, on the bed.

"You know, you promised you weren't going to do this again," Gabrielle relayed as a matter of record as Xena swept her up in her arms.

"I never promised," Xena reminded her of that technicality and laid her bard on the bed. She proceeded to silence her mildly protesting bard with a kiss as she deftly removed her bracers.

"You agreed," the bard relayed, helping the Warrior Princess remove her armor between kisses. "Not to try..." Gabrielle continued as Xena started to crawl into bed.

"...would you PLEASE remove your boots?" Gabrielle blurted with annoyance. Xena sighed with exasperation, quickly took her boots off and rejoined the bard on the bed.

"Where were we?" Xena relayed mischievously, lifting the bard's tunic over her head, flinging it to the floor and recapturing her mouth in one swift motion. Breaking the kiss to take her leathers off, she grinned as Gabrielle dutifully helped.

"You SAID you wouldn't try to manipulate me this way again," Gabrielle reminded her, then smiled when the Warrior Princess tossed her leathers to the floor next to the bard's tunic.

"You think I'm trying to use this..." Xena questioned her bard innocently as she gently traced her fingers over the bard's neck down to her firm breasts. "Or this..." Xena replaced her fingers with a trail of gentle kisses. "To get you to marry me?" She asked, looking up from the inviting flesh.

Gabrielle gasped when Xena began to tease her responsive skin with her warm tongue. "YeEEEsss..."

"You mean 'yes' you think I'm trying to manipulate you or 'yes' you will marry me?" Xena asked innocently as she continued her attention to the erect flesh.

"The maNIPulate part!" Gabrielle blurted stubbornly, as the teasing turned into gentle biting.

"Gabrielle, this is entirely different," Xena spoke in a silky voice as she slowly slid up Gabrielle's body, stopping when she came face to face with her love. Gabrielle shivered from the contact of her warrior's body pressed to her's.

"How??" She quickly challenged before Xena kissed her hungrily. As quickly as her mouth was captured, it was released. The bard ached for much more.

"Before, I tried to manipulate without you knowing," Xena whispered in her ear.

"Say yes," Xena added, looking sincerely in the bard's eyes.

Gabrielle slid her hand behind the warrior's head and tried to pull her warrior back, not quiet done with the last kiss. Xena resisted.

"Say yes," Xena added, quickly brushing her lips against the bard's eager lips.

Gabrielle moaned in frustration. "And it's OK now because I KNOW you're trying to manipulate me???" She questioned.

"Exactly! Completely different," Xena grinned as she traced her fingers over the side of her bard's face.

"Say yes," Xena added, kissing the bard's cheek.

Gabrielle giggled. "That is the most ridiculous argument I have ever heard."

Xena sighed heavily, rolling off her bard and stared at the ceiling.

"You really don't want to get married, do you?" She uttered with irritation.

"Xena, I DON'T want to get married..." Gabrielle spoke as she turned to the warrior and propped herself on her arm. Seeing the hurt on Xena's face at the apparent admission, Gabrielle quickly continued. "...unless I know you really want it too."

"Gabrielle, I do," Xena looked at her with unquestionable conviction which melted the bard's heart. The bard smiled as she traced her fingers over the Warrior's face. Xena smiled and closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation. Gabrielle grinned.

"You sure?" Gabrielle asked, making the warrior open her eyes again. "You're not just doing this for me?"

Xena eyes narrowed, hating compound questions. "Yes, I'm sure and NO, I'm not just doing this for you," Xena spoke firmly. Gabrielle grinned at the warrior's careful response.

"Really?" The bard asked, just to be sure.


"You're really sure?"


"Xena, you know...I REALLY think we need to discuss this further..."

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