Antonia was eating breakfast when their guests emerged from their hut. Both women were tinged pink and smiling from ear to ear so the red head could take an educated guess at what they had been doing just minutes prior. Gabrielle was wearing her own brown hide clothing but Xena, having returned from the dead completely naked, was wearing the Thracian clothing that had been left for her in the hut. It wasn't dissimilar to what the bard wore except made of black with circular metal plated inlayed in to the leather and small black tassels. They had left several sizes of matching black knee high boots for her to try and one pair had obviously fitted. The brunette warrior suited the outfit although considering her height and long legs it left a lot of skin on show.
"Good morning" she greeted the two of them.
There must have been something suggestive in her tone because Xena glanced away and Gabrielle blushed furiously.
"Morning Antonia" the blonde giggled.
Gabrielle looked deliriously happy and so much more animated and alive than she had appeared to be just a couple of days before when they met. Grace's words from the night before played through her mind; 'you brought them back together'. Antonia wasn't sure she had ever been involved with something that had brought someone so much joy.
One of the cooks from the barracks came over and offered the two women something from the two trays he held. On one tray was cuts of different breads and on the other tray was a selection of fruit from the orchard. Xena and Gabrielle both took a chuck of bread each and a rosy red apple before thanking the cook.
"Once you've ate Meda and I would like to show you something" Antonia informed them, motioning them to sit with her hand. She expected them to want to sit down and eat but instead Xena shook her head.
"We can eat on the go" the brunette warrior stated, "I'd like to know more about what we are facing and what we are defending."
The four women; Antonia, Gabrielle, Xena and Meda; made their way through the dense forest to the West of the town. The town leader was yet to tell their guests where they were going but was filling them in about the Warlord and his threat. Xena and Meda walked ahead, discussing the estimated size of Tarbus' army and the types of soldiers he was likely to have recruited. Gabrielle had been walking alongside them for a while but towards the end of the walk she dropped back to walk in step with Antonia.
"Where are we going?" the blonde asked.
Antonia smiled tightly and didn't answer immediately. As Meda was there it was the leaders role to tell the story and not hers. In many ways it was more of Antonia's story to tell and Selene could actually give a first hand account. Still the red head was happier to defer to her leader. Luckily, the blonde had asked her question at a good time as they were emerging from the tree line and into their destination.
"We are here" Antonia stated, gesturing with her head towards the landscape in front of them.
The land was small open bit of grass in front of a large cliff face. It was a ravine with a small white water river flowing through it. There was another large sheer cliff on the land at the other side. There was a thin wood and rope bride that crossed the divide, only wide enough to be crossed in single file. They would not be required to cross the bridge now. Meda merely needed to show their guests the location.
"It's beautiful" Gabrielle declared.
They came to halt near the edge of the cliff, looking out at the wooded land opposite them. Antonia hadn't really thought of the area aesthetically before but after hearing the bards awed tone she considered it again. It was a dramatic landscape with a mixture of lush green's and dangerous rugged grey rocks. The two extremes were indeed rather impressive.
"Yes I suppose it is" the red head agreed.
Xena took a step closer to the edge and glanced down into the ravine and the raging water it held. Her eyes scanned the opposite cliff face and Antonia was sure that the warrior had already spotted the small entrance to the cave their explanation would centre around. Most would miss it but Xena had good eyes and a sharp, observant mind.
"Antonia told you that we guard a relic," Meda began to explain why they had walked to this location. "Across that bridge, in a cave in the opposite cliff face, is hidden one of the powerful objects in this world."
The Thracian leader stepped forward and joined the brunette at the cliff edge. Despite Gabrielle's visible curiosity she remained a step back with Antonia. They could still hear just fine from where they stood.
"At the time of the fall of Mount Olympus Zeus had a mortal lover, an Amazon leader by the name of Lyvia" Meda continued. Antonia's leader paused there, allowing the two women to process each bit of information.
"We knew Lyvia" Xena stated.
Antonia was aware of that, she knew that they had met and she knew that Lyvia had thought with them. It was one of the few stories Antonia remembered the Amazon telling her before she died. Still, it brought the woman's loss to the forefront of the red heads mind again and she took a deep breath to push down her emotions. It had not been fast enough for Gabrielle to miss the flash of pain on her features though.
"Lyvia was your mother?" the bard guessed. "Lyvia was pregnant when she presented me with a flower."
Antonia nodded once in acknowledgement at the blonde. Gabrielle tilted her head and looked at her sympathetically, reaching out to rub the red heads arm with the flat of her hand. It wasn't like when Grace had touched at her. There was no feeling of fire in her nerve endings or awkwardness. It felt like a friendly act of comfort just like it was meant. Behind the bards look of sympathy there was also curiosity which was no surprise considering Meda had just declared her mother to be Zeus' lover.
"He's not my father" the red haired warrior assured the two women.
If he had been then she'd have been a demi god and in a far better position to defend the town. Instead her father was apparently a blacksmith from a local town who had partaken in one of the Amazon mating ceremonies.
Meda cleared her throat to recapture everyone's attention. Antonia was glad of it because Xena and Gabrielle's stares were a little two penetrating for someone who was used to guarding her own feelings and history. When the Thracian leader had their attention she continued with the story.
"When Zeus realised that he was likely to lose he took his lightening bolt to Lyvia and the Amazon elder Selene and asked them to hide it so no one could find it and use it. He wished to grant Lyvia the gift of immortality, linked to the lightening bolt, but Lyvia refused the gift and it was instead forced upon Selene. He told the elder that for as long as the bolt was safe then she would not age but that one day she would give this immortality as a gift to bring another back from the dead. This person would prevent the bolt falling in to the wrong hands for all eternity."
Immortality to some may sound appealing but Antonia knew it had weighed heavily on the town elder. Selene hadn't chosen to be immortal and had to endure many of her friends grow old and die around her during the last twenty eight years. It had become hard for the elder to form strong relationships with those around her and she was spending more and more time in isolation. Now at least the older woman could have a normal life again if they survived the next couple of days.
"Eternity...I'm not immortal now am I?" Xena objected.
In the stories of Xena that had reached them it was said that she had turned down the chance to be immortal from both Ares and the Northern god Odin.
"No" Antonia cut in. "I think it refers to one of two things. We will win and knowledge of the bolt will gradually be lost by the outside world making it safe. Or we will lose and you will be forced to somehow destroy the bolt so it can never fall into the wrong hands."
Now that Selene's life was no longer linked to the lightening bolt Antonia was of the mind that they should just destroy the damn thing anyway. It wouldn't prevent the war with Tarbus as he was unlikely to believe them and even if he did he would probably order the attack in retaliation for them destroying what he wanted. It would however remove the risk of it ever falling into the wrong hands again. That hadn't been the decision of the elders though and in truth they had no idea how to destroy it. She only hoped that is Xena could destroy gods then she could destroy a weapon of the gods too.
"Let's aim for the first option" Meda commented.