So here it is the last part of the series. Many thanks if you have read this far, and even greater thanks if you have left a review or mailed me. Bards love feedback-it's the only way we know if what we are doing is worthwhile. So please remember to feed a bard. But thank you for sharing this journey, I hope you have enjoyed it.
Xena was still smiling as she walked into her hut, and was met by yells of "Xena."
She stopped immediately and looked around and was delighted to see Lyceus dragging himself towards her.
"Oh Gods," she whispered with tears in her eyes, and crouched down. When Lyceus reached her she scooped him up and covered his face with kisses.
"Your Momma would be so proud," she whispered to him.
"She can see him tomorrow," said Cyrene. She clasped her hands together. "Oh Xena, it's so exciting."
"You are in so much trouble," said Hecuba with a smile. "Once they start moving, you spend your life chasing them."
"Where's Solon?" asked Xena.
"Looking at horses with Herodotus and Iolaus," said Athena.
Xena nodded and put a squirming Lyceus on the floor. He immediately started to crawl.
"It's lovely for Herodotus," said Hecuba. "He loves his girls, but it's different to have boys."
Cyrene gave Xena a sly look as she handed her a mug of tea. "But it's lovely to have both."
"Mother! What are you suggesting?"
"Well maybe it would be nice to have a little girl too."
There was silence and Xena thought of Hope. "Lye's conception was special," she said eventually.
"Was it Tia?" asked Cyrene.
Xena's immortal parent smiled. "Yes the circumstances were unique. But that doesn't mean it can't happen again." She stared at Xena. "You have two beautiful children Xena, maybe you can have more."
Xena looked at Lyceus who was still crawling around the floor happily. "We've been blessed with Lye's birth and Solon returning. Gabrielle has been through so much, it'll be nice to enjoy the children we have for a while."
Cyrene looked slightly upset and Athena patted her arm.
"Talking of Gabrielle how is she?" asked Hecuba.
"Walking," said Xena proudly. She walked over to the bed and fished Lyceus out from under it.
"Ooh that's interesting," said Hecuba.
"Too right," said Xena as she tickled the giggling Lyceus. "I think it was draw between Gabrielle and Lyceus. Not sure how Epinon will sort that one out!"
Gabrielle gritted her teeth and walked the final few steps before sinking into the chair.
Piri looked pensive, and nodded automatically as she wrote in a book.
"Well?" asked Gabrielle
"Knock, knock," came a voice and Aella and Solari's heads appeared from around the screen.
Gabrielle exchanged a look with Piri and then smiled at her friends. "Come in," said the bard.
They both walked in and sat on the bed. Gabrielle was pleased to see that Aella's limp was barely noticeable any more.
"I wanted to thank you properly, for what you did," said Gabrielle. "If it hadn't been for you-"
"You did the work," said Solari with a smile.
Gabrielle gave a weak smile and thought back of the vague, jumbled memories of Perdicus and Solon urging her to return. Talking to Solon she realised it wasn't a dream or hallucination but real events.
"It was a team effort," she said eventually. "I am so pleased you are both recovered." She held out her hand for Solari to take. "Solari-your eyes. How wonderful."
Solari looked abashed. "It's just a relief. I can go back to being a scout and not having Epinon fussing."
They all shared a laugh. "How about you Gab?" asked Aella.
"Getting there," she said wryly. "Slowly."
"The queen is making good progress," said Piri. "In fact you interrupted us."
Both amazons jumped off the bed quickly. "See you soon," said Aella and lent over to kiss Gabrielle and Solari eyed the healer before giving Gabrielle a wave and hurrying out too.
"Subtle," said Gabrielle.
"You need a bit of rest, in between the warrior, your sons and half the village visiting," said Piri.
Gabrielle nodded. "What is it?"
Piri sat down on the bed. "Who says anything is wrong?"
"I know you," said Gabrielle simply.
The healer frowned. "There is nothing wrong, per se. You are healing well. But-"She took Gabrielle's hand. "Gabrielle, I know you wish to travel, but I fear that one more wound, one more injury, and you won't survive."
Gabrielle sighed, and squeezed Piri's hand. "Thank you for your concern. I got injured here, Piri. Not travelling doesn't mean I am immune."
"No, but we have a healing hut right here. If you were in the wilds with Xena and you were injured-Gabrielle I can't guarantee your safety."
Gabrielle gave the healer a warm smile. "I am not asking for that. I could choke to death on lunch today-anything could happen. I just want to live my life."
The healer nodded and heaved a sigh. "I understand," she said eventually.
"Do me one favour," began Gabrielle.
"I won't tell her," said Piri.
Gabrielle smiled in gratitude. "I just want to live my life with my family. I don't want them thinking every blow; every injury could be my last."
"It might not happen," said Piri. "I just felt you should know."
"Thank you," said Gabrielle. "But my life is on the road."
"That's our loss," said Piri.
"We'll be back," said Gabrielle brightly, trying to cheer up her maudlin friend. "We've got a house to finish next to yours. Plus there are festivals and birthdays to return for. You'll be sick of us."
"I doubt that," said Piri rising. "And Gabrielle," the healer gave a warm smile. "Go to your own hut, I've seen enough of you."
"Thank you," mouthed Gabrielle, and prepared to raise herself on her crutches.
Xena sat on a log and watched the fire flicker. There was still light from the setting sun but the large bonfire was now providing most of the light. Although the venue was the same as Joxer and Piri's wedding, it was a very different atmosphere; it was more restrained and less raucous, and Xena knew that their departure was being mourned over the village. Funny, she had never thought of herself as popular within the Amazon village and yet had been touched by the warmth of the farewells.
She stood up and walked to where Epinon and Hercules were chatting.
Epinon nodded as she joined them and said, "Hercules was telling us about what is next for him."
"Well hopefully we'll meet up with you after Potidaea and Amphipolis."
"So Lila is finally getting hitched?" Said Epinon.
"Yep, and we can't possibility miss it," said Xena is a mildly sarcastic tone and rolled her eyes. "And then it's off to see Mother, and then-"she spread both hands wide.
"Be good for the boys," said Hercules.
Epinon sighed. "But not for us."
Xena clapped her on the shoulder with her hand. "We'll be back so much you'll be sick of us." She nodded at Piri and Joxer's house. "We've got a house to build. We'll do it one day." She smiled as Iolaus, Aella and Solon joined them. Aella handed her and Epinon a drink. "As long as we can persuade the master craftsman to help."
Iolaus blushed. "It's not just me, I do have some help."
Hercules smiled proudly. "Everyone knows how talented you are, Iolaus." He rubbed his friend's arm.
"Yeah look at what he has made for me and Lyceus," said Solon and opened a sack and Xena peered inside. "Nice," she said and picked up a carved wooden toy. "Lye will love that."
"He asleep?" asked Aella.
Xena nodded. "Since he has been crawling he just crashes at night." She grinned widely. "He sleeps through, too. Bliss!"
The adults sniggered. Solon frowned and looked around. "Where's Momma?"
Xena looked towards the trees for a long moment before replying. "She's with Eph."
"I'm going to show-"
"Wait Solon," said his mother and grabbed his arm. "Momma and Ephiny, they just need to say goodbye."
"But they can do that tomorrow," said Solon in a slightly whiny voice. "I want to show her these things."
Xena gave a quick smile that faded as quickly as it appeared. She exchanged a knowing look with Aella.
Aella sighed, "Solon, they want to say goodbye in their own time. Not quickly in front of the village."
"Why?" asked Solon with the innocence of youth. Xena smiled at him indulgently and ruffled his hair. She nodded at Hercules and Iolaus and they drifted away.
"Momma and Ephiny are very close, Solon. They have been through a lot together. They love each other very much."
Solon looked thoughtful. "Like sisters?"
Aella chuckled. "Sister Amazons I guess."
"And you don't mind?" Solon asked his mother, again with wide eyed innocence.
Xena looked out towards the trees where Gabrielle and Ephiny were meeting. "Nah. You can love many people at the same time. And Gabrielle has plenty of love to give."
"So has Eph," said Aella, huskily. "Guess we are the lucky ones."
"I always thought so," said Xena. She smiled at Solon, and rolled her eyes. "Come on Son, let's go and listen to Joxer's tale of how he defeated Bacchus, singlehandedly."
The two women sat a mere metre apart but didn't acknowledge each other's presence. Both stared ahead deep into the forest until finally the smaller blonde haired Amazon swallowed and said, "I can't begin to tell you how much I'll miss you, Eph."
Ephiny didn't reply and continued to stare straight ahead. After a minute she finally turned to look at her best friend.
Gabrielle also turned and they looked at each other's face, both of them having teary eyes and swallowing hard to prevent any more outpouring of grief.
"I thought I was ready to say goodbye, but-"Ephiny looked away and wiped the tears that were now freely falling away with her hand.
"Me too," whispered Gabrielle croakily, and shuffled so she was sitting next to Ephiny, their knees bumping together. "It seems so long ago since I wrote you asking for help."
"Gods, yes," said Ephiny with a hic-cough. "So much has happened." She turned to look at her friend and smiled. "Lyceus," she said warmly.
"You found love again," replied Gabrielle.
"We've stabilised the village, defeated slavers, beat witches," said Ephiny more seriously.
There was a pause, and Gabrielle took the Regent's hand. "Thank you for helping me through some dark times. Without you and Xena, I wouldn't have survived."
"Sure you would have," said Ephiny slightly embarrassed. "Stay safe," she said eventually.
"I love you, Eph. Be happy."
"I love you too."
Xena sat astride Argo and looked to her left. Lyceus sat in front of Gabrielle and was so excited he kept on hitting Tympani. However the horse was taking it in good humour, although Xena made sure she still gave her a wide berth.
"So which way now?" said Solon. He sat astride a beautiful grey horse which Xena and Herodotus had helped him choose.
Gabrielle and Xena exchanged a warm look. "It's your Momma's choice; where she goes I go," said Xena.
"Me too," said Solon.
Gabrielle looked from one to the other and smiled. "Second tree to the right and straight on until morning." She nudged Tympani and moved forwards gracefully. Xena gave Solon a nod and they followed the Amazon Queen through the forest.