Apollo sat near his seer-pool, looking down at the games being played in his honour. Every four years, the greatest bards and athletes of the Hellenes would gather in Delphi and compete in feats of strength, speed and cunning. They were similar to the great games in Olympia, held in Zeus' honour, but with a twist. Apollo held bards in high regard, moreso even than the athletes that dominated the games. Thus, included in the games was the bardic competition, a challenge of wit and whimsy that attracted the best storytellers in the land.
Apollo watched with great interest as the runners lined up for the stadium race, a tradition which Hercules had started in his youth. This year promised to be a close match, with the young Temeculus and the veteran Diomedes. Temeculus was from a family of supurb athletes, his father having won the first of the stadium races at Delphi, and his uncle being a champion at discuss. Diomedes, on the other hand, was the victor of the last game's race, and was still in fantastic shape.
A shout from the official called the men to their positions. An anticipatory silence echoes throughout the crowd as they awaited the start of the race.
They erupted as it began. The competitors soon fell out of their starting positions until only two ran neck-and-neck. Neither was able to pull away, and thus both crossed at what appeared to be the same time.
A hushed susurrus filled the grounds as the officials deliberated.
"Temeculus!" the main official yelled, causing the crowd to cheer in celebration.
Frantic movement began in one section of the crowd and soon the cheering slowly began to trickle to a halt, being replaced by sheer rage.
"A woman!" Apollo hissed. "What is she doing there?"
All but one began screaming for her death. Temeculus' disbelief rung through the hatred and anger. "Mother?"
"She is your mother, boy?" an official asked.
"I am." The woman replied. "And now I can die happy after seeing my husband's legacy carried on by my son."
The officials looked at each other, unsure of what to do. It was against the sacred rules put down by Apollo himself for a woman to be present at the games. On the other hand, she came from a family of superior athletes. That she had a hand in the making of Temeculus meant that it would be a shame to end her life.
"We shall consult the Oracle. She shall speak with Apollo and he will determine her fate." The main official said.
"What's up sunshine?" Aphrodite appeared at Apollo's side. "Why all the drama?"
"A woman witnessed the games!" Apollo sneered.
"Oh. That all?" Aphrodite asked, walking away from the pool and taking a seat on one of Apollo's lounges.
"That all? A woman has no place there!"
"Aw, is lil' Apollo afraid of being shown up by a woman? That's cute."
"I shall not yield to your taunting, Aphrodite. Don't you have some womanly duties to attend to?" He replied, keeping his eyes on the games below. He needed to be ready for when his oracle tried to contact him.
"Oh, I attend to my duties to women just fine. Unlike some people around here."
"Say what you will, it shall not change the fact that females could not hold their own in the games."
Aphrodite stood up and positioned herself opposite Apollo. "Would you like to make a bet?" She smiled.
Apollo sighed. "Why bother? The warrior woman is not fit to compete. Even if she were, I still doubt her heritage enough to call foul play."
"Then what are you afraid of?"
"I do not fear, Aphrodite. I am merely trying to prevent you from making a fool of yourself and your intended victim."
"Aw, how sweet. What if we bet a temple each?"
"It is done. Bring your champion in one month's time. She shall compete against my chosen."
"Catch ya in a month then. Ciao, Sunshine." Aphrodite disappeared in a flash.
Apollo sat, deep in thought after she left. He knew his half-sister was up to no good, but he couldn't figure it out.
Gabrielle, as had become her habit of late, awoke as Apollo's chariot began its journey. She disentangled herself from her sleeping partner, causing her to growl at the missing warmth. Gabrielle smiled and kissed Xena's cheek before grabbing her sai and walking off into the surrounding forest.
She didn't go too far – just far enough that her morning training wouldn't disturb Xena's rest. She also remained close enough so that she could come to Xena's aid if need be. Xena wouldn't admit it, but she couldn't handle things as well in her present state. Nor should she, really. Who knows what damage their child could suffer with Xena's extravagant fighting style. And what would happen were she to get hit? Xena was a remarkable fighter, but she wasn't infalliable. This was why Gabrielle had taken on more and more of a combat role of late. She needed to protect their child, as much from their enemies as from Xena herself. She wasn't strong enough. She was never good enough. The early morning training sessions helped, but she began to wonder if she'd ever become that warrior she'd foolishly dreamt of being as a teenager.
She began her normal stretching routine, limbering up before executing a series of drills that got more and more complex as time went on. She found peace in the movements. They cleared her mind, much like the meditation Eli had taught her. She had mused, at one point, of the sinister serenity she felt. The art of love and war were alike in far too many ways.
She flung a sai at a nearby tree, causing the resulting thud to resonate through out the forest.
"Remind me never to get on your bad side."
Gabrielle broke into a grin. "Aphrodite!" she said as she embraced the goddess.
"So how's life, sweet pea?" Aphrodite asked once they separated.
Gabrielle bit her lip, contemplating just how to answer.
Aphrodite placed her hands on her hips and nodded. "That bad, huh?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "No. Not bad. Just… different. A lot has changed lately. Xena and I… well, we're struggling with our role reversal. I feel like I'm wearing hand-me-downs three sizes too large."
"Looks like they're just right to me. I'm digging the new threads, by the way. It shows all your assets off nicely."
Gabrielle couldn't help but grin as she swatted the goddess with the back of her hand. "Aphrodite!"
"What? If you've got it, flaunt it, I say. And boy have you got it."
"You know my body is reserved for Xena."
"Speaking of the warrior babe, how's she coping with the pregnancy?"
"She keeps on trying to fight. I'm trying to prevent her from needing to do that. I'm afraid I'm not the best warrior though."
"Not much of a warrior? Girl, you need to look in a mirror."
"I have, and I've realised it isn't enough."
"Tell you what. I'll prove to you that you can kick ass."
"And how are you going to do that? This isn't going to involve magic, right?"
"Duh! By entering you into the Delphi games!"
"Aphrodite, women aren't allowed to watch, let alone compete. And you're not turning me into a man."
"Turning you into a man would be such a waste." She stood there, pretending to contemplate. "Hmm. Maybe I could make a deal with Sunshine."
"You mean, Apollo? I think I'll pass, thank you."
"What if I said I had already made a deal?"
"Then you can thank him for the offer, and inform him that I am regretfully unavailable to compete."
"Ok, ok. What if I made a bet with Apollo that I could find a woman to beat his champion."
"I can give you a list of good Amazons."
"But it has to be you, Gabby! You're strong and smart and you've got the bard thing! I'd lose without you."
"What did you bet?"
"My temple in Thessaly."
"Maybe you should go and say goodbye to it."
"Please Gabrielle? For me?" Aphrodite begged.
Gabrielle's heart melted at Aphrodite's pleading voice. "I'm sorry. I need to focus on Xena and our child. They come first. Always."
"What if I offer you this?" A shimmer of sparks flew as an object materialised in her hand.
Gabrielle's eyes went wide and she gulped. "Delphi, you say?"