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«Queen of Hearts By Melissa Good Part 1 The river burbled gently in the sunlight, moving amiably past a patch of moss covered rocks under a spreading ...»

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Queen of Hearts

By Melissa Good

Part 1

The river burbled gently in the sunlight, moving amiably past a patch of moss covered rocks under a

spreading maple tree. Sprawled over the rocks, toes just dabbling in the water, basking in the sun was

a scruffy blond figure in a simple blue tunic that came just over her knees.

A butterfly landed on a stalk nearby, and the figure turned its head and watched it flex its wings, a

gentle smile appearing. “Hello.” Gabrielle greeted the insect. “Isn’t it a great day? Bet you’re glad it’s finally warm enough to come out and fly, huh?” Finally a warm day, after a long, hard winter. Gabrielle was glad beyond words she could go outside without her thick fur cloak and heavy leggings and finally feel fresh air on most of her skin.

The butterfly lifted off the stalk and fluttered over her head, as Gabrielle folded her hands over her stomach and merely watched it, grateful for the peace and quiet and the warm sun drenching her body.

A thump. A scuff.

Gabrielle barely had time to cover her head before a wall of cold river water swamped her, bringing a strong scent of fish, and green, and the sound of a low, mischievous laughter. “Yahhhh!!!” She let out a yell, as the crisp chill shocked her skin.

“Ah heh heh!” A long, powerful body pressed itself up and onto the rocks and over her, dripping icy droplets onto her face as it gazed down at her with pale eyes and a rakish smirk. “What the Hades are ya doin laying here like a log, ya half pint excuse for a muskrat!!” She bellowed.

Gabrielle blew the damp hair from her eyes. She reached up and stroked Xena’s cheek, capturing a handful of sparkling drops. “Waiting for you.” The tense, muscular figure over her went still, before leaning closer, as a smile formed on Xena’s angular face. “You.” She touched noses with Gabrielle. “Are a little cheat.” “Me?” “You.” Xena slid down onto the rock next to her, long legs extending off the edge. “Here I am, doing my damndest to give my kickass a little workout, and what do you do?” She flicked a handful of water at the younger woman, waiting with an arched eyebrow.

Gabrielle blinked as the droplets hit her. “What?” “What what?” “What do I do?” Gabrielle reached over and carefully moved the wet, dark hair out of Xena’s eyes, tracing her eyebrows with a gentle finger. “I’m sure I didn’t do it on purpose.” Xena’s grin became sardonic. “Sure you do.” She glanced around at the pretty day. “You turn me unmercifully into a sopping goop wad. It’s a plot. I know it.” Gabrielle frowned, after a moment. “Sopping goop wad?” She cocked her head to one side. “You’re not goopy.” “Ah. So I see you don’t deny the sopping.” Xena snickered. “So, what were you doing, anyway?” The blond woman drew her legs up under her crossed and picked up a small sack near the rock she was sitting on. “I was out looking for berries.” She explained. “And then I saw this nice spot here, so I sat down and thought about a story I was going to tell later on and I… mpfh.” “Shut up.” Xena pounced over her, flattening her down on the rock and kissing her.

Gabrielle drew in an unsteady breath as Xena lifted her head a moment. She licked her lips. “Okay. So I was really lying here daydreaming about you.” She admitted, with a sheepish grin. “But isn’t it a great day out? Feel that sun!” “Cheat.” Xena leaned forward and kissed her again. “Yeah, it’s a great day. Finally got to ride my damn horse and not have to wrap up like a grandmother.” She tumbled off the other side of the rock and stood, stretching in the sun with a soft popping of joints. “About time!” She shook herself, and the crimson linen tunic draped over her body reluctantly released from her skin to drip onto the ground around her. “That was one long winter.” “It was.” Gabrielle hopped off the rock and followed her through the thick river grass, it’s stalks brushing over her legs and leaving behind a scent of warm, green richness. “But there were good parts, too. Like your birthday.” Xena stopped, and looked over her shoulder with a stern expression. “Did we not talk about this whole ‘you are not to mention my birthday’ thing, Gabrielle?” Gabrielle nodded.

Xena spread both arms out and lifted both of her eyebrows.

“But we had a party.” “So?” Gabrielle caught up with her taller companion and took hold of her hand. “Xena, we can’t pretend we didn’t have a party. Didn’t you have fun?” “That’s not the point!” Xena said. “Damn it, I’m the queen and I said no birthdays!” She announced loudly, scaring a pair of bluebirds in a nearby tree. “Don’cha poop on me, you little..” “If it’s so nice today, how come you’re so grumpy?” Gabrielle asked, altering the subject a little. “Didn’t you like what I made you for breakfast?” She asked the queen. “I thought you did.” “I did.” Xena allowed. “Beats me why I’m grumpy.” She glanced around. “Nice day, cute muskrat, finally got some sun, got to ride my horse… ah. I know what it is.” “What?” Xena exhaled in satisfaction. “I haven’t beaten the crap out of anyone yet today.” She turned her head and looked at Gabrielle. “That’s what the problem is.” She flexed her hands, squeezing one of Gabrielle’s in the process. “I think I want a nice melee. What do you think me against the tower guards?

Me against the outside watch?” “I think you beat them up yesterday.” Gabrielle replied. “Can’t we just walk in the garden? I think some flowers were just blooming in there.” “I’m going to spank you.” “I think there’s those little sour oranges you like, too, in the corner.” The blond woman went on, undeterred. “And I could get my stick out, if you wanted to teach me some more.” She offered. “I wasn’t too bad last seven day, was I?” “Gabrielle.” The queen released her hand and dropped her arm over Gabrielle’s shoulders instead.

“You’re a very lucky muskrat, you know that? You’re very lucky I love you like a maniac.” Gabrielle paused and put both arms around the queen, hugging her. “I know.” She said. “That’s what I was daydreaming about before you got me all wet.” “And then splashed you?” But Xena was smiling, her eyes on her companion.

“Yeah.” The queen laughed softly. “Sour oranges and your damn stick, huh?” She sighed. “All right. Let’s go.

But no picking flowers for me, okay?” “Okay.” Gabrielle released her. “Will you teach me that behind the back thing?” “Maybe.” They walked together through the trees, towards the lofty stone wall that marked the edge of the fortress they called home. A small gate stood open, flaked by four armed men bearing tunics with yellow hawk’s heads prominent on the breast.

They kept their eyes forward as the two dripping wet women approached, bracing their arms in salute as Xena drew even with them. “Majesty.” “No. Scruffy goatherd.” Xena indicated her damp form. “Get your eyes checked.” She walked past the man without a further word, as his eyes widened and followed her. “You should have your head taken off for letting something like that in the palace.” “Hi.” Gabrielle greeted him, as she slipped past in Xena’s wake. “Spring fever. It’ll be okay.” “What would you know about spring fever, you little lambs tail?” Xena’s voice called back. “C’mon.

Might as well dry you off before I get you all wet again.” Gabrielle jogged after the queen, her bare feet scuffing lightly on the stone floor. The stone works of the fortress wall surrounded them for several steps, until they passed through and into the inner courtyard full of activity.

Soldiers, carts, drovers, plowmen, everyone seemed to be moving in the mellow sunlight as the fortress came back to life after the long, dark cold season. Everywhere women were shaking out linens and mucking out corners, voices lifted cheerfully.

It felt nice. Gabrielle smiled, despite how wet she was, and how chilly the still brisk wind was as it blew against her. Winter had held it’s own magics, but she was glad the days were lengthening again at last and the bad weather was fading away into a beautiful spring.

Many things had changed. Gabrielle straightened a little as they walked past the stable hands, and the men all ducked their heads for her. A flu had taken many of the slaves lives, and there were new faces almost everywhere she looked. Fire had destroyed two of the noble’s castles, and they were now living on Xena’s mercy in the fortress, and wolves had rampaged through some of the far holdings, bringing unexpected losses.

Many things were the same, as well. Palace intrigues, the gossips, the odd danger, but the realm had settled down over the long winter and seemed to accept Xena again as its master. The known evil, one of the nobles had muttered, when he’d thought Xena couldn’t hear him.

Lucky for him, Xena had taken it as a compliment. Gabrielle followed the queen through the inner doors and up the grand staircase, to the first level rooms she’d picked all those months ago. “Hey, wait.” “Hey, no.” Xena held the door open for her anyway, then followed her inside, her hands already unfastening her tunic and pulling it off over her head. The warm sunlight pouring in the windows outlined her lean, sinewy body for a brief moment, before she passed through into the shadows near the large bed.

She’d questioned the choice of the place, at first, but over the months of winter she’d come to truly like it, especially since the leaded glass panes allowed the chill weather to permeate the room and brought on a true appreciation of warm baths and snuggling by the fire.

Disgracefully decadent. But she’d found it impossible to say no to Gabrielle’s pampering and by the end of the winter she’d decided being treated like a queen wasn’t really that bad for her.

Not that she’d admitted that to anyone, of course.

She draped the damp fabric over a dress stand in the corner and headed for the bathing room, only to be met by Gabrielle coming in the other direction already carrying a soft, fluffy towel. “Ahhh.” She held up a hand. “Get naked first.” Gabrielle handed her the towel, then obediently removed her own clothing, pausing in surprise when the queen promptly started drying her off beginning with the top of her ruffled head. “Hey. I’m supposed to do that to you.” “Shut up. I’m the queen and I make the rules.” Xena told her. “Besides, which one of us gets sick?” Gabrielle gazed sheepishly up from under pale brows.

“You cheat.” The queen gave her an indulgent look. “Besides, it was my fault, remember? I got you wet.” She dried the blond woman’s ears. “Last thing I need is to have to run around after your sniffles again.” She studied Gabrielle, smiling a little at the clear, honest gaze looking back up at her. “Tell you what.” “What?” Gabrielle’s hands took hold of the bottom of the towel, and she started rubbing Xena’s skin with it. “ “Let’s forget about flowers and kicking ass.” Xena rested her forearms on Gabrielle’s shoulders. “Let’s get into that bathtub, and scare the servants.” She stroked her thumb along the side of Gabrielle’s neck, as the smaller woman moved closer, and their bare skin pressed together. “We can beat people up later.” Gabrielle slid her arms around Xena and nuzzled her skin. “We could practice those wrestling things in the bath.” “Last time we did that, I had bruises on my ass for a week.” Xena reached around her and picked Gabrielle up, feeling her laugh. “You and your bunny hops.” They made their way to the bathing room, amidst chuckles and kisses and the scattered reflection of friendly sunlight that echoed the laughter in bright twinkles and flashes of spring.

** Gabrielle trotted down the steps and into the library, feeling well scrubbed and sated, a twitching grin present on her face as she walked confidently down the rows of scrolls that rose on either side of her.

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