They were about to settle into a makeshift bed when they saw a soft puff of sparks and smelled the familiar scent of roses. Aphrodite stood before them, her hands on her hips, eyes boring into David's with unnatural intensity.
"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded angrily.
"What?" David asked, totally taken aback. "We were about to call it a night and get some sleep?"
"The night before the wedding?" Aphrodite replied. "I don't think so!"
"But?" David started.
"I don't want to hear it!" Aphrodite raised a hand to stop him.
"But," David began again.
"Honey," Aphrodite fixed him with a stern look. "Talk to the hand, cause the ears ain't listening!"
The Goddess took him by the arm and practically yanked him towards the door.
"You don't get to see her the night before the wedding, it's, like, so bad luck!" She got him to the doors and practically shoved him out into the yard. "Besides," She finished with a grin. "We got plans tonight. You know, girl stuff?"
"Girl stuff?" David repeated.
"Yeah," Aphrodite put her hands on her hips, looked him up and down, and smiled. "And frankly, you don't have the right equipment for the club. Sorry." The barn doors began to swing shut.
David caught one just before it closed and leaned inside.
"Just go easy on her, okay?" he requested. "She had a rough day."
"Don't get your undies in a bunch, studly," Aphrodite smiled. "I got nothing wild planned for her." Her smile took on a more mischievous look. "That'll be your job tomorrow."
David nodded and turned away. Then he turned quickly back. "If you get anything, make sure she drinks a lot of fluids, okay? The non alcoholic kind?"
"What are you?" Aphrodite asked. "Her mother, or her fiancée? Go get a drink somewhere!"
The doors slammed shut with authority.
David stood there, staring at them for a few moments before turning to face the darkened yard.
"Yeah, sure," he muttered. Sighing, he went over and retrieved his knapsack, slinging it casually over his shoulder. Some of the beer was still cool in the barrels, left over from the day's construction. He filled a pitcher and, headed off through the grass towards the small pond on the far end of the property.
The table and chairs were still where they had left them, next to the oak tree. He set the pitcher down and set about making a small fire. Once the flames were crackling merrily, he pitched the small tent and sat down next to the flames, rifling through his bag.
Strong pairs of hands massaged all the tension from Gabrielle's strained muscles. The oil let those fingers slide effortlessly across her flesh. She closed her eyes and let a contented sigh escape her lips. On the table next to hers, Aphrodite wore a similar expression on her face.
"Isn't this great?" she asked, looking over at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle sighed again and smiled. The two men massaging her worked effortlessly.
The barn loft had been transformed into something more akin to a day spa. Steam issued from a small brazier and the whole places was covered in roses.
"Still," Aphrodite complained. "It isn't as good as the place I go to. I could take you there?"
"I want to stay right here," Gabrielle replied easily.
Aphrodite shrugged. "Your call. But I think you're missing out."
"I wonder what David's doing?" Gabrielle asked suddenly. Her eyes looked out through the openstorm shutterand across the property, towards the pond. In the distance, she could see the yellow glow of a small fire.
"Probably hanging with the guys and getting drunk," Aphrodite replied. "Don't worry. I'm sure he's fine."
The sounds of the night creatures could be heard singing in the distance. Frogs called and crickets chirped. The perfumed air was heavy with the additional scent of moisture, and a soft mist began to flow across the flat grass.
As she listened, she could hear the sound of someone playing music. It sounded like a lyre, or even a harp, but different somehow. Deeper and richer. The notes had a mournful, almost forlorn tone to them. It mingled so with the other night sounds, that at first, she wasn't sure what she was hearing.
Then another sound drifted up from the direction of the fire. Soft and melancholy, with a slightly metallic tone to it. The notes rose and fell in a long slow cascade of emotion that suddenly pulled at her heart.
"What is that?" she asked. She moved to rise, but Aphrodite held out a hand. "I'll look. You stay right there."
Holding a towel over her, Aphrodite went to the open loft window and peered out towards the pond.
Her keen eyes found David, sitting at ease near the fire, his hands cupped over his mouth, holding something small and silver to his lips. She saw no one else near him, yet the other instrument played, as if it came from the water itself. Frowning, she listened to it and then heard David's instrument answer it.
His eyes wereclosed, as if he were feeling the music as well as hearing it. The soft metallic notes rose and fell sadly.
"What is it?" Gabrielle asked.
Aphrodite laughed softly as she watched him play.
"It's your man," she said.
"Who's with him?" Gabrielle asked.
Aphrodite frowned as she searched for the person playing the second instrument, but she couldn't find anyone else.
"I don't see anyone?"
Frowning, Gabrielle rose and stepped next to the Goddess. She could see the small tent. Like a soft bump on the grass. Next to it, she could make out the shape of her husband, illuminated in the light of the fire, hunched over his hands and playing the strange little device.
The two of them listened to the soft blues for a while.
"I think he's trying to make us feel guilty," Aphrodite said, her brows creasing to a frown.
Gabrielle smiled gently. "No he isn't."
She could feel the soft yearning call of the notes. It bathed the land in a soft, gentle calm. Everything seemed more alive and peaceful. As they watched, several deer moved across the field, near to where David played. They paused, contemplating the figure by the fire and then grazed contentedly. The night sounds molded around his music, adding to it.
Aphrodite's frown melted away as she listened and she smiled.
"It's for you," she said nodding her head. She turned and went back to the table, letting the two acolytes resume their work on her. "Man, you've got that boy hooked!"
Gabrielle watched him and sighed. "Other way around, I think."
"Yeah, well," Aphrodite replied, feeling the fingers work at her neck and shoulders. "I still think he's trying to make us feel guilty."
In that moment, the luxuries that Aphrodite had provided didn't matter. Gabrielle rested her arms on the edge of the window and let her chin fall, her eyes gazing out dreamily at the man she would marry, sitting all alone by the pond, playing soft music to the night.
Aphrodite watched her for a while and sighed. She waived the acolytes away and pointed her finger near the window. In a flash, a large steaming tub of bubbly water materialized.
"Hop in," she said. "At least you can relax while you look at him?"
Gabrielle looked behind her at the tub and smiled. She let herself slide in, feeling the heat melt away the remaining aches in her muscles.
"I still want to know who else is out there." Aphrodite said as she slid in across from her. "That's like, so weird."
"If I know David," Gabrielle sighed, leaning her head back against the edge of the tub. "There's probably a logical explanation for it."
"Like what?" Aphrodite asked.
Gabrielle shrugged. "You'd have to ask him."
They continued to listen and Aphrodite finally smiled in understanding.
David continued playing, his mind drifting to that place of serenity that only the blues could take someone. He let the harmonica sing, answering the guitar on the recording. For the first time in his life, he was at peace.
The small MP3 player and speakers sat next to him, on the ground. The guitar accompaniment was a recorded session that his friend, Dusty, made in the tiny studio that he had set up in the basement of his home. Dusty had made the recording when David had begun learning to play the harmonica several years prior. Since then, they had made a few more. David took them along when he was on trips. He would play the recording, and answer the notes that Dusty played. It was a way for him to practice and still retain the solitude that he sometimes desired.
Every now and then, his eyes drifted up toward the barn, and he saw the silhouette of Gabrielle, leaning against the window, watching him from a distance. He smiled and continued to play until she had vanished from view.
A sound behind him caught his attention and he turned, seeing another figure standing near the tree.
"We were expecting you at the inn, tonight," Lila said as she stepped into view. "When you didn't show up, I figured you might still be at the house?"
"Hi," David smiled. "Come on. Have a seat."
"I didn't want to intrude," Lila said, her eyes searching for a second person.
David smiled and reached down, switching off the MP3 player.
"You aren't," he said. He gestured to the log he was seated on. "Please?"
Lila watched as he moved the small white object out of the way. She frowned.
"What's that?" she asked. "And who was playing the lyre?"
"Guitar, actually," David corrected her. He held up the small device. "And it was coming from this."
Lila nodded, still none the wiser.
"So," she asked. "Why are you out here, all by yourself?"
David looked at the fire for a moment and shrugged. "I just felt like being by myself for a while."
"Not having second thoughts, are you?" Lila asked with a smile.
"No," David replied. "Just going over everything that's happened in the past year, or so."
"Want to talk about it?" Lila folded her hands in her lap and looked at him expectantly.
David shrugged, his eyes fixed on the crackling flames. "Not much to say, I guess. Just the usual pre-wedding angst."
"Why?" Lila pressed gently. "What are you nervous about?"
"Oh, the usual," David replied. "Will I be able to make her happy? Will I give her the kind of life she deserves?" He smiled and looked at his future sister-in-law. "Will she be able to deal with me?"
Lila smiled. "You haven't seen her while you've been doing all this." She gestured towards the newly built wedding pavilion. "She is more alive now than she has been in a long time. When Xena passed away, something inside my sister died as well."
Lila looked at David seriously. "The night she came back from her adventure with you, she was so grim. It was like the light had gone completely out inside her. She didn't care whether she lived or died. When she said she was going away, I knew in my heart that she meant she was going away to die."
David saw remembered pain on Lila's face. Then her expression lightened.
"The next thing I know, you show up at my door." She smiled. "You saved Gabrielle's life, David. Do you understand that? You saved her life."
She laughed quietly. "And watching the two of you these past weeks has been a hoot, I can tell you. There's no question that you two deserve each other."
David grinned. "I'm not sure how I should take that?"
Lila patted him on the knee and stood up. "By the way," she said stepping over to the small table and retrieving a small bundle of cloth. "I've got something for you."
She opened the bundle and drew out a finely woven white tunic, like a poet's shirt.
"Where'd you find that?" David asked.
Lila smiled. "I had a bit of fabric left over from one of my other little projects."
"You made this?" David exclaimed in surprise. "How'd you know my size?"
"You brought clothes with you, remember?" Lila said knowingly. "I just borrowed one of your shirts."
David nodded appreciatively.
"Now, about the rest of your outfit," Lila continued. "Where is your vest?"
"My vest?" David asked. "I thought the two of you were going to find something more local?"
"I was planning to," Lila replied. "But Gabrielle thought you'd look better in your things. Do you have anything nice enough for a wedding?"
"A biker wedding, perhaps," David replied. "Black jeans, my boots, my jacket?"
"The hide jacket that you were wearing beneath the cloak?" Lila asked.
"Yeah," David replied as he rummaged about in his knapsack and drew out a pair of black denim pants that he had yet to wear.
"And those boots?" Lila asked. She pointed at the boots he was wearing. He looked down at them and sighed. They were scuffed and pretty well worn.
"Afraid so," David replied.
Lila thought for a few moments. "Give me those." She instructed.
"Give you my boots?" David asked.
Lila gestured impatiently. "You're staying here for the night, I assume?"
"I was planning on it," David replied.
"Fine." Lila said as she took the boots. "I'll be back in the morning. Now, give me your vest."
David did as instructed.
"Now," Lila continued, smiling. "Get some sleep, young man. You have a big day tomorrow."
She folded the vest neatly and tucked it under her arm.
"Let me ask you something, David?" she said suddenly.
"Do you love her?"
David smiled. "With all my heart."
"Then quit worrying about everything else. You two will be fine." Lila gave him a motherly smile and headed back toward the village.
It wasn't until that moment that David realized he was truly about to be married the following day. Nervous knots formed in his belly as he smiled.
He grabbed the pitcher of beer and took a big drink.
After a few moments, he forced himself to calm down and turned the music on again, bringing the harmonica back to his lips.
The next thing he realized was that the sun was up and shining through his eyelids in a brilliant red. An insistent voice said his name and he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Instantly, David's eyes snapped open and he sat up. Beside him was the empty pitcher from the previous night. His harmonica slid down his chest and fell to the grass.
"Huh? What?" he stammered.
Standing above him with a huge grin on his face, was Beltanus, the inn keeper.
David squinted against the bright morning sun.
"Hey, Bill," he said. "What's up?"
"Obviously, not you," Beltanus grinned. He stood over David, holding a neatly ordered bundle of clothing. "Come on, get up. You've got a wedding to get ready for."
A sudden sense of panic washed over David. "Oh God! Am I late? Did I oversleep or something?"
Beltanus laughed. "No, you have time. Lila sent me here early, just to make sure. Now, get cleaned up and I'll get your clothes ready."
"How much time have we got?" David asked as he stripped out of his clothing.
"A couple of hours yet." Beltanus replied. "No rush. Take your time."
David dove into the pond and washed himself off quickly. Beltanus set the clothes across the table and busied himself making a quick meal over the rekindled fire.
In spite of a sudden loss of appetite, David managed to eat a small breakfast, and then he got himself dressed.
Lila had obviously spent a great amount of time and effort cleaning and oiling his jacket and vest. They gleamed in the morning sun as if they were brand new. Even his boots had been polished to a fine sheen.
When he was ready, his long hair had been pulled back in a straight, well brushed ponytail. He wore black jeans, the white shirt that Lila had sewn for him, his vest and boots, and his leather jacket.
Beltanus walked around him, inspecting the jacket and wiping any excess oil that he found with a cloth.
"Well, you make a fine looking groom, if I may say," he said smiling. David could see the guests beginning to arrive up by the pavilion. He swallowed.
"Nervous?" Beltanus asked, still smiling.
"Yeah, a little," David replied in a stiff voice.
"Why? You've been married before."
"Yeah," David replied. "But I was still a bit tipsy after the bachelor party the night before."
"I'm stone cold sober now!" David exclaimed. "Kind of makes things a bit more intense, you know?"
"Relax," Beltanus said, straightening the front of the jacket. "Just get up there, say your vows, and you'll be fine."
"My vows?" David's eyes went wide in horror. "Oh shit, Bill. I don't know what to say? I didn't even think about it?"
"Then just get up there, look into Gabrielle's eyes, and say whatever comes to mind," Beltanus offered, obviously finding great amusement in David's suffering.
"I'm screwed," David moaned.
"Too late to back out now, my friend," Beltanus taunted mercilessly. "Besides, I've got all that food coming for the feast. It'd be a terrible waste if we didn't use it."
David looked back at his de-facto best man. "You find this all very funny, don't you?"
"Absolutely," Beltanus said, smiling. He gestured towards the pavilion. "Shall we?"
David took a deep breath and began moving towards the gathering guests. Suddenly he stopped and ran back towards the campsite.
"Damn, I almost forgot!" he exclaimed. He rummaged about in the bottom of the knapsack and draw out a battered paperboard box. Inside, he had two cigars remaining. He drew one of the silver cylindersout and began walking back towards the party.
"Gotta have the fat lady," he said with relief. "Could have blown the whole deal right there."
"Fat lady?" Beltanus frowned in confusion.
David held up the cigar. "I got two of these left. One for today, and the other one?" He smiled.
It seemed that the entire village had shown up for the event. In a small village like Poditia, that wasn't uncommon. David likened it to living in a small town back home. Everyone knew everyone else and their business.
He made the rounds and shook hands for a while before someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and caught his breath in surprise.
"Aphrodite?" he gasped in shock.
She stood before him, dressed in a simple, yet elegant dress of Greek fashion. It was a soft rosy pink in color. She smiled in approval.
"You look great!" David exclaimed.
"I know," Aphrodite replied smugly. "But thanks anyway. So, you ready, big boy?"
David felt the impending dread creep up into his chest again. He still hadn't had a chance to think about what he would say when it came time for the vows.
"Me? Ready?" he asked. He was sure his complexion paled slightly. "Sure, all set, I think?"
Aphrodite hooked her arm around his and smiled encouragingly. "You'll do fine. Come on."
The guests all took their seats and David went to stand at the end of the short aisle. Aphrodite took her place on the simple raised platform and folded her hands before her, waiting.
She leaned over closer to David and smiled. "Showtime."
David looked back at her and grimaced. "Is everyone going to have fun at my expense today?"
When he turned back, all his fear and angst seemed to vanish.
Gabrielle stood at the end of the aisle, dressed in a simple, yet beautiful white dress. Soft white flowers adorned her hair and she carried a bouquet of white roses in her hands. David noted the equally white knuckled grip in which she held the flowers.
He smiled and saw her smile nervously in return as she walked towards them.
Behind him, he thought he heard a sniffle.
Then Gabrielle stood facing him, looking up into his dark eyes with a mixture of expectation and nervousness. He smiled.
"Okay, everybody," Aphrodite said in a clear voice. "We're all here today to witness the joining of Gabrielle and David, in marriage." She stopped suddenly and they saw her eyes already misting over. After a deep breath to compose herself, she spoke again.
"If there is anyone lame enough to think these two shouldn't be married, then speak up?"
"Lame enough?" David mouthed to Gabrielle. He saw some of her tension vanish as she smiled.
No one spoke, much to David's relief, not that Aphrodite gave anyone much time.
"Fine," she said. She looked at the two of them. "Take her hand, David."
They clasped hands in front of the Goddess. She wrapped a silken ribbon around their wrists and stepped back a pace.
"If you have anything you want to say to each other, you can do so?" Aphrodite instructed. Her voice was tightening by the moment.
Neither one of them spoke for a long moment. They simply looked into each others eyes.
"Gabby?" Aphrodite asked.
Gabrielle blinked. She took a deep breath and looked up at him.
"I'm a bard," Gabrielle said slowly. "And yet, whenever I look at you, my voice gets stuck. I can't find the words to tell you what you mean to me. I want to spend the rest of my life trying to find those words. I know we'll have our good times and bad times." She stopped suddenly, trying to find the words she wanted to say. "Know that I love you, David, with all my heart. I want to spend the rest of my life finding all the ways to show that to you."
Aphrodite looked as though her eyes were about to burst with tears as she listened. She bit her lip and fought the tide of emotions back down.
Gabrielle also felt the tears in her eyes. She smiled and held back as best she could.
Aphrodite cleared her throat. "Um, David?"
David looked into Gabrielle's eyes and his smile softened.
Suddenly, it was as if his mind ceased to work and his heart took over. When he spoke, it was as if someone else were using his voice. The words came from within his chest, not his head.
"The first time I ever saw you," he began. "I was enchanted. As time went by, and we got to know each other, it became a spell that I couldn't break, and then later, a spell I didn't want to end. When I look at you, Gabrielle, I see you with the same wonder I had the first night we found each other. When you came into my life, I finally knew what it was to be complete. When you were gone, I was nothing but an empty shell. I cannot imagine my life without you in it, and I swear to love you with every last beat of my heart."
A single tear rolled down Gabrielle's cheek.
"Oh, wow," Aphrodite breathed, desperately trying to stifle her reaction. She placed her hands on the ribbon and began to remove it. When she spoke, her voice was tight.
"Let that which is bound, never be broken," The last came out in a quavering voice. She looked at the two of them, lost in each others eyes.
"Oh, hurry up and kiss her, so I can cry," Aphrodite begged, nudging David's shoulder.
As soon as their lips met, applause burst out from one side, and Aphrodite's sobs burst out from the other. They embraced.
"I love you," Gabrielle breathed in his ear.
When they parted and looked at Aphrodite, she was smiling with tears streaming down her face.
"Come here, you guys," she bawled, holding out her arms. The three of them embraced tightly.
"I told you guys I cry at these things," Aphrodite complained.
"You did great," Gabrielle said, crying in her own right.
The feast that followed was grand by local standards. There was no lacking in food or drink. Everyone laughed and socialized. At some point, several people put together an impromptu band and the dancing started.
The wine flowed as long as the laughter and the celebration lasted through the day and long into the night.
As everything finally wound down, David found himself seated on the step at the edge of the pavilion, gazing out at the small dirt path that served as the main road into the village.
When Gabrielle saw him, he had a reflective smile on his face. He gently turned something in his fingers as he thought.
A couple of the last guests bade him farewell. He rose and shook their hands graciously, thanking them for coming, then he resumed his seat.
Gabrielle also said the final goodbyes and walked over to her husband.
"How are you doing?" she asked. She sat down next to him and smiled.
"Well," David said thoughtfully. "We did it."
"Yes we did," Gabrielle agreed.
David laughed quietly. "And may God have mercy on your soul."
Gabrielle jabbed him playfully in the shoulder and looked out, watching as Lila walked up towards the village with Beltanus on her arm, and Gabrielle's bouquet in her other hand.
"Where's Aphrodite?" David asked. "She never said goodbye?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "She said she needed to take care of a few things. I think she was a little embarrassed about crying at the wedding?"
David grinned. "I guess there's only one thing left to do?" He popped the top off the small aluminum cylinder and dropped the cigar and a 'light anywhere' match into his hand. He put the stogie in his mouth and struck the match, touching it to the end of the cigar and puffing contentedly.
He looked over at his wife and smiled with his clenched teeth. His eyebrows bounced a couple of times.
"Can I have a dance?" he asked.
Gabrielle frowned. "But there's no music?"
David set the cigar on the edge of the pavilion and stood up, bowing courteously and extending his hand.
"Who said we needed music?"
Smiling she rose and stepped with him to the center of the pavilion. He held her to him and they swayed under the glowing moon to a song that only the two of them could hear.