Chapter 7

Disclaimer: nope still don't own them, wish I did though

After we finished our late lunch, I made the plates and goblets disappear, and we mounted our horses and rode together, enjoying the peace and ease of just riding together. After several hours' worth of riding, Xena broke the peaceful silence by asking, "Aer can I renegotiate part of my punishment?" She had a pleading look on her face.

It must be big, if she is willing to plead and beg. I thought, knowing that I could count on one hand the number of times she had ever begged for anything. "That depends on what it is, Princess. You already have me spending every night with you. Which might I add, was really not part of my plan." I said with a mock grumble.

"I have one request, on the first day of spring, could you take me to our garden, so I can get one of the black roses you created for me to always remember Lyceus, and place some in his tomb? I know I have no right to ask this, but I was telling Ly about them while I visited him today, only to realize that I didn't have any, and really wishing that I had remembered to take one before we… left."

As she finished stating her request, I understood. Her brother had been killed on the first day of spring, and we always spent that day in the garden I had created for her to remember him , with a special black rose that I had named the Lycean Rose in his honor. "I'm sorry, Sweet, but I can't do that. A banishment means no returning for the allotted time; however, I will send you one of his roses every year on that date to place by his coffin, and I will send a several right now. To tell you the truth, I thought you were going to ask about our other tradition of spending solstice night by the lake, while my cousin Diana graces us with her beautiful full moon." Solstice night by the lake was where we had first confessed our love to each other, and where I had proposed to her, and every year on that night we stood by the lake and watched my cousin Diana show off her splendid beauty.

"I wanted to but thought I might have a better chance with the garden. Especially given my recent actions and didn't feel it was right to remind you of how deeply I hurt you by momentarily disregarding the vow I made to you in front of the fates and the other gods." She said softly. "I still wish I knew what I had ben thinking when I did that. All I know was that the second his hands started roaming over me, I realized what a mistake I was making, and all I could think was how could I be doing this to you, to the one person who had stood by me through everything, and no matter how awful my actions were, or how many people I killed, that you were always there to comfort me, and chase away the demons and horrors of what I'd witnessed and done on the battlefield. Gods Ares, I truly don't deserve…"

"Xena?! Did you say 'Ares'? So you do know the gods!" a breathless, annoying voice came out of nowhere, announcing the strawberry blonde wannabe bard my princess had rescued back in Potedeia.

"What in Tartarus is she doing here?! I really don't want anything to do with her, Aer! I swear if she starts following me, it will not end well." Xena said in a tone of voice I knew all too well. It was one that she took with anyone in her former army who dared contradict her, and never bode well for them, often being the last thing one of her soldiers heard before either she or I ended their miserable life.

Halting our horses, we looked at each other, rolled our eyes, and turned to face the intruder, only to be joined by my ditsy blonde sister. Could this really get any worse? Now we have to deal with two dumb blondes! I snarled through our bond. Oh joy. What could Dite possibly want, this time? I am not going to one of her sleepovers or participating in one of her fashion shows, not after what happened the last time I went to one of those! I couldn't help the smirk appearing on my face at the memories that surfaced thanks to my wife's reply. It isn't funny, Aer! That was absolutely humiliating! And in front of my entire army no less! Xena bit back. I dunno about that Xe. I thought the outfit was very flattering…and I do recall that you didn't lose a single soldier that day, and obliterated your opponent

You would! The only reason we won, was because they were so shocked at my appearance in that outfit, as you called it. Now shall we see what these two blondes want? Xena said with a very sarcastic roll of her eyes.

"Studmuffin, Warrior Babe! Like why are the barriers up around your home in Macedonia? And the priests and priestesses reassigned to temples located elsewhere in Greece?! And Warrior Babe what are these rumors I'm hearing about you having cheated on the Studmuffin here, and with our half-brother?!" My overly dramatic sister wailed, while the irritating wannabe bard stopped in her tracks at the appearance of another member of my family.

"The barriers are up around the Fortress because my wife and I are taking a leave of absence from there, for personal reasons. As far as her cheating on me with Jercules goes, that is no one's business but hers and mine. Now was there anything really important that you needed, DIte" I spat out in a tone that brooked no arguments, and very clearly said not to test my very thin patience when it came to personal matters.

"Unfortunately, there was. Daddy is demanding your presence for some meeting or other the two of you were supposed to have today. I told him I would save him a trip, since I wanted to see my favorite sister-in-law." My sister said with a grin looking towards Xe, then she seemed to notice the other interloper. "Oh who is this? A new friend, Xe? I'm Aphrodite, Goddess of Love." Dite said walking to the strawberry blonde.

Curtseying, the girl gaped for a moment before finding her voice. "I'm Gabrielle. Are you really the goddess of love? And is he really Ares, the God of War? And did he say the Warrior Princess was his wife! By the gods! You are more beautiful than the stories give you credit for!"

Rolling my eyes, I turned to my Princess, and said, "I'm sorry, Princess. I really must attend this meeting. Why don't you, Argo, and Enyalius take a break in this clearing, let the horses enjoy the grass, and then we will continue our ride. Hopefully without any more interruptions or interlopers." I gave her a quick kiss on the lips before patting my stallion, telling him to behave and mind his mistress, before disappearing to go talk to Zeus about some plan that Strife and Discord had screwed up and put his beloved Hercules in danger, yet again.

With a bell like giggle, Aphrodite told the wannabe bard, "Nice to meet you Gabrielle! Of course, I'm the Goddess of Love! And that was indeed the Studmuffin God of War! Who else would be allowed to get that close to the Warrior Princess? Where have you been the past ten years? Haven't you heard the stories of the raven-haired warrioress who tamed the wild soul of the Lord of Bloody Battles and Terror, and who was the favorite mortal of all the Olympians? Have you been living under a rock, is that why you are so clueless to who this mortal really is?" Aphrodite said, turning to see Xena dismounting Argo and leading the two horses off the path and to the grass in the clearing. After taking their bridals off, the Princess of War patted both horses and told them to enjoy the grass.

Walking back to her sister-in-law, she turned to Gabrielle and asked. "What are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay in your village and get married, and not to follow me."

"Well, I figured if I want to be a bard, what better way to do that than to follow the best warrior in the Greek world, and chronicle her adventures? Besides there's an academy for people wanting to become bards in Athens, and I figured I could follow, and eventually I'd get to Athens and then I could enroll, and they could help me hone my craft and improve upon the tales of your adventures…. What? What is so funny?" Gabrielle asked as she saw the goddess and warrioress burst into laughter.

"You do know that the academy only accepts male students, don't you? Only with Thena's blessing can a female enter. And that hasn't happened in, what one hundred years?" Xena said.

"Actually, there is that new bard…. What'e her name? Safron? Sapo, Sappho! That's it! Not even her friend Erinna was able to get Thena's blessing, and she's said to equally good." Aphrodite corrected Xena. "but before that it had been two hundred years since a female bard was granted entrance to the Academy."

A dejected expression appeared on Gabrielle's face, at this piece of news, before lighting up with an idea. "You said that Xena here is a favorite of the Gods, right? What if she talked to Athena, and put in a good word for me? Do you think she might givem her blessing to get in then?"

Xena and Aphrodite both burst into laughter, before Xena ansered, "boy you really are clueless! That is not how being a favorite of the Gods works! If I so much as attempted to call Thena for something so mundane, she'd laugh and tell me it was ridiculous, before forbidding Ares from ever healing my injuries again!"

"Ok, so how about I join you on your journey, and chronicle it. That way everyone knows the story of how the Chosen of War redeemed herself, and I can only improve my skills! After all as the saying goes, practice makes perfect!" Gabrielle suggested.

"That's a great idea, little one! It's a win-win, Xe! The world gets the correct story of your redemption and you can quash those nasty rumors, about you and Hercules…" Dite said with a smile, she really liked the wannabe bard.

"Not for me it isn't! Dite you know I don't like companions! I am a commander or a lone wolf! Also Ares will never agree to her joining me during my deeds. You know he said it was supposed to be only me who went up against those warlords! How am I supposed to confront them if I have to worry about some village girl who doesn't know the first thing about defending herself?! You know what kind of people these guys are, she will end up dead before the week is out!" Xena snarled leading the ditzy goddess out of Gabrielle's earshot.

Meanwhile, up on Olympus I was having my own argument with Zeus. "So let me get this straight. Knowing about the protection order on Hercules, your wife still tried to have him killed? Only to have her plan backfire because of the strong friendship between my son and his best friend Iolaus? And then the army that you gave her betrayed her because she saved the life of one baby, and made her walk The Gauntlet, a ritual you started, and up until now no mortal has survived? And then teamed up with Hercules to defeat the leader of said army who you brought back from the dead, gave Graegus, who ended up once again killing him, and got Graegus destroyed in the process. This last bit because your wife cheated on you with your brother," Zeus said

"Half-brother" I interrupted in a snarl, earning a glare from my father.

"After he managed to make her see that there was a life outside of leading your army. And not only have you allowed her to remain among the living, but you are still having contact with her and sending her after more of your warlords who have gone rogue? I must say I am surprised, Ares. I was under the impression no one was allowed that close to your wife, and allowed to live, and if she ever betrayed you that her life was forfeit." Zeus said from his throne in the Olympian meeting room.

I was seated in my usual style with one leg swung over the side of my own throne and getting more and more frustrated the longer this "meeting" went on. Zeus knew damn well that the only reason his beloved half-breed of a son was still living and not with his wife and kids in Hades' realm was because of the protection order he had on Jercules. It also didn't help that I could feel Xena's annoyance and anger through our bond, which only heightened my own annoyance.

"Zeus, you know damn well the only reason your precious half=breed of a son is because of that protection order you have on him! As far as my wife's punishment, that is up to me to decide, as her lord, husband, and chosen God. I will also punish her for disobeying your protection order on your mongrel half-breed son. You are not to go near her or dispense any punishment, am I understood old man? If there is nothing else, I need to get back to overseeing her punishment." I spat as I started to enter the ether to see what was annoying my princess, only to be stopped in my tracks by Zeus's thunderous voice.

"You forget yourself Ares! I am the King of the Gods of Olympus and your father! You will address me with respect! If I feel the need to step in and add my own punishment since it was my rule that she disobeyed."

Turning to once again face the ruler of Olympus, I replied "On the contrary, you seem to have forgotten one of your own rules, Dad. No god can harm another's Chosen, and since Xena is my sole Chosen, unlike you and the other gods, you can't harm her." With that last thought, I left my throne, and went to rejoin my wife, and finally figure out what was annoying her to the point that I could feel the anger rolling off her even before I left the ether.