I can feel my muscles stretching and contracting with every strike, the weight of the ax feels good in my hands, the force of the mechanic cut. Cutting in half the wood, sounds good to my spirit, but even the far away sound of my child playing with other kid is no use to quite my need for a harder strike, for a far less mechanic move, for the intricated dance of my weapons on a fight. Then I remember, it's a tool. This ax in my hands is a tool, not a weapon. I can't shake the feeling of disappoint running from my head to toes after my realization.
I cannot get over myself the feeling of restlessness, is eating me alive. I remember it all too clear, years ago, not even my brother was able to quiet this feeling of dread, this feeling of seeing myself bond to this quite village girl life.
I think of Ares, I think of his presence burning inside me, of the rush of battle. Not the bloodlust - I am over it. No, no. What I crave is the calm before a battle. The companionship of a sword, the satisfaction of well-made plan, and the astonishing look of the defeated realizing they've been out-mastered.
I crave to see Ares face the moment he realizes with a smile in his beautiful face that I had out-mastered him yet again.
Gabrielle never understood why I put up with him. With his meddling's. It was what I needed. He knew it then, he was the only one that could provide it. He always went a little farther than needed, but hey, I am not complaining – much. I always was a masochist at that, and the rush of a challenge always got me flowing.
Three weeks, it's been three weeks since I last saw him. I must be going crazy… I cannot be missing the bastard!
But I am. Things here are too dull for me.
I wonder why I haven't seen him around, it is not like him to disappear for this long. Maybe he's lost interest. I shake my head, refuse profoundly to believe such a stupid idea. Stupid indeed, isn't it? I faintly hear inside my mind.
Solan has adapted very well to Amphipolis, to mother, to the other kids. I tend to forget that this is normalcy for him. Until a moon ago, this was his live. I took that away from him when I took him from the centaur village. I try not to doubt myself on this, he deserves a mother. A family.
I practice drills with my sword every morning. Mornings are my peaceful time. Me, my trusted sword and the clearing facing the temple of war. Funny that.
When I was little I used to come here. Every day. Every spare moment I had. Is peaceful for me. The silver and black of the top of the temple shining to the sun's reflection… always made it look divine. Now I see it breath-taking as I know there is nothing worth worshiping in the inside. But breath-taking it is. A monument. I stop mid jump trusting my sword backwards, a little distracted by my thoughts.
Next morning, I am here again. Leaping into a tree to gain momentum when the rays of sun make me turn my face to the temple top again. This time, I just lower my sword. Pardoning my invisible foe and head quietly to the building before me.
Is quiet, almost peaceful inside, if it wasn't for the skulls and dread-looking weapons everywhere, you could think of it as a silence retreat. There is no one there. Which is not a surprise. The sun is just raising in the horizon, is too early in the morning for those lazy asses that have the nerve to call themselves warriors to be around.
I chuckle to my line of thinking. I sound very much like… him.
Passing the main hall, I go left, where I know to be the throne room is. To my surprise when I get there, I see a priest arranging something on a marble table. I prefer not to be seen by anyone, but while retreating my steps to leave the room, he turns around.
"Offerings are to be made on the outer room" he says in an authoritarian voice.
I look him in the eye, a blanc stare is what I give him. I don't even reply to him, but instead of turning my steps, I go pass his right, to a door which I know it leads to a small garden and a fountain inside the building.
"Lady, that area is off-limits" he continues. I give him a look that clearly says back off if you know what is good for you.
I don't bother with a reply, just continuing my leisure walking.
He - like any other, starts following me. This is why I prefer to come here when there is no one around. I actually liked the interior garden, I remember it being very beautiful. I get annoyed as soon as I see that he is not quitting his quest to be a bother.
"Look lady.." he presses on, this time gripping my arm to stop me. I give him the kind of glare that freezes the hottest summer day.
"Look pal" I reply annoyed. "I'm just going to the garden. So go back to be a good little priest arranging your lord's offerings and leave me alone". I move past him, all my good mood gone through the drain.
He stares after me, but do not presses on. I guess my sword at his neck while delivering my line did the trick.
Once inside the garden, I sit in one of the benches of the farthest corner. A good place to see everything without being seen. I close my eyes at the sound of the fountain. Minutes after, I hear the door opening and closing and opening my eyes I see what has disturb my peace.
The little priest again… Now in front of me with other older priestess behind him.
"Can I help you?" I ask raising my head and fixing a stare on both of them. The priestess, I vaguely recognized.
She takes a long look at me. I secretly love how they pale when they recognize me. Is one of the few things I haven't been able to get out of my system. Not particularly proud of it but… it has always felt strangely satisfactory.
She shakes her head and pulls the priest with her, backing out of the garden. "Sorry we have disturbed you, my lady" and there it is… that terror in her voice… satisfactory indeed.
I sigh profoundly - People do not believe I have changed. I close my eyes enjoying the first rays of sun getting inside from the doom into the garden.
"You fool! That is Xena… the warrior princess…" I chuckle when I heard them whisper.
Tempting as it is having her in my temple, I resist. I will not go to her.
She will call for me.
I hit the hard marble of my throne. I savor the feeling of pride filling her the moment those fools bend themselves backwards in her presence. I reverence in the rush I get whenever she is acknowledged as what she truly is.
Days pass and I am starting to lose patience, she comes and goes from the temple as it was her private home, but stills refuses to call my name. Does she really think I do not know she is there?
Well, I can play pretend too, these escapades of hers will be our little secret…
The tavern is a busy place, helping mother with the provisioning and outer work kept me from killing the lousy frog-breathed fools eyeing me like I was some type of meat piece.
The joy my chest feels every time my boy calls me mother hasn't gone away yet, I suspect it won't go anywhere. Eating supper with him is the highlight of my day, he is so full of wonder. He is telling me about the agora, stories he is being taught.
"… and the maestre Lindus explain to us the different city states in Greece, did you know that each city has their own economic system and laws?"
He doesn't let me reply, he goes over some other topic, I am happy, but I am distracted and quite don't catch his next line "even the same gods… Ares could come…", I choke with my food.
"Solan, lower your voice, don't say his name" comes out my harsh answer, like he has done something wrong. He looks at me and I see in his face he doesn't understand what he has done. I open my mouth to explain, but nothing comes out.
I try again, but he beats me, "Ares said…" there is his name again. "he said that it was fine if I called him by his name". I choke again, my Solan thinks I am upset because he calls the bastard by his name.
"Never mind, finish your food" I tell him at last.
"But Ares said that if I needed anything I could call him" he keeps it on. "He said he was my friend", Solan says unsure.
I am out of words, when in the life of me has that son of a bacchea been speaking to my son at my back. The feeling of wanting to rip out his blacken heart starts being overwhelming.
"Finish your food Solan, and go help grandma to put the lights out". I say while getting up.
I am quickly out of there, passing thought the back fuming, taking my sword from the frame of the door, ready to hack him to pieces.
That is how I find myself in front of his temple. I go inside decisively, but this time, not caring of my boots resonating the marble. Tonight, I want to be heard, I want to be feared.
"Ares" the words fall from my lips like a curse, as soon as I am inside.
A few seconds pass, and then I see him coming out from that blue light trick he likes to use as cheap show off.
I thrust the sword to his neck the instant he is flesh in front of me.
"Wow, hey, princess, to what I own such an honor" He says I soon as he sees my eyes ready to kill him.
He, from his part, as soon as the surprise wore off, he is back walking to the table on his right, pouring wine from a decanter on a cup. "Wine?" he asks taking a second cup and moving back to me with a 'What I did' eyebrow quiver.
My sword position to gut him the moment he comes near and all I see is his smirk. "Um, princess, that arm will eventually get tired, why don't you get more comfortable", as soon as his words are out, I find myself on a couch, his arm around me and his lips nosing my neck – my sword gone.
"I am not here to play Ares!" I say shoving my elbow hard into his chest. Making him breath hard a couples of seconds. My attempt to free myself from his claws all vain.
"I am not the one playing rough here, sweet", the hard bite on my neck the follows, gets me even angrier, but my treacherous pulse also does. His lips inches from my ear gives me shivers and for a second I forget why I am there. "Are you bored already of playing village girl?" he whispers and closing my eyes, I center myself. I remember.
"Kiss this", I say hitting his nose with the back of my head. I finally free myself and I can't stop myself from standing over him delivering a poisonous line. "Do not get near my son, or for all is sacred I will skin you alive".
I turn to leave, but he is well, a god and he is standing on my way the moment I take my second step.
"I don't know what bad side of the hay you slept on" he says taking me by the shoulders, "but I haven't messed with your kid, I swear it", and for all that I hate him, I know I can trust him on that. He releases me and sneak his arms around my lower back, inching his head his lips towards my expose skin. "I could never betray you", I heard the slow murmur; "I can manipulate, play, make your life a living hell, but I would never – ever - do anything to harm Solan, I swear it on Styx princess", he kisses my cheek and I melt for a millisecond.
I disentangle from his intoxicating form, turn around and leave as swiftly as he arrived. Ares, stays there; a small smile playing on his beautiful lips.
Next morning, I need to go to port, catch some provisions and bring back some other items mother needs. I leave early in the morning glad I don't need to be on that damn village in all day.
Is high noon when I get to the only shop at the port. That's when I hear it, Potedia is in danger, under siege by a warlord I haven't heard of.
My mind races, mulling over if I should let it pass. I shake my head ashamed I had even thought about it.
Soon, I am on my way south to Gabrielle's village. My heart pounding. Focusing on the task, I finally see the enemy's camp outskirt from Potedia in quite a favorable position, hill-high.
I wait begin the bushes till dusk, I don't want to be seen and I don't know what is happening. I wait patiently, until I see a mass of cherry blonde hair moving to my left and into the camp. Gabrielle. I haven't thought of her in weeks. I see her, but I don't feel anything.
I sigh. The bard will get herself kill if she continues moving so erratically.