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She dreamed a memory -- a peaceful memory in which her body felt
light and warm, suspended languorously in the fragrant water of the bath
in Lao Ma's palace. It was not that first day she was remembering -- not
that terrifying space of time when she had hidden from Ming Tzu, her
heart pounding and lungs bursting, in this same bath. No, it was a day
or so later, early evening, and Xena lounged alone in the soothing water
amid the glow of candlelight. But she paid scant attention to her
surroundings, her mind being occupied instead with thoughts of what she
had witnessed that afternoon. She had seen Lao Ma shatter a vase without
touching it -- using only the power of her mind. It had been an amazing
performance, done apparently without effort, yet when Xena herself had
tried it, concentrating all her willpower on the task, nothing at all
had happened. In fact, Lao Ma had laughed at her.
The warrior sighed and moved a few steps forward through the water,
then let herself sink down so that she was totally submerged. She stayed
under for a few moments, breathing out slowly through her nose. Then,
drifting back to the surface, she emerged face-first, her dark hair
swirling around her. The whole world was driven by a will, Lao Ma had
told her, but in order to transcend the world's limitations, it was
necessary to conquer one's own will. Xena didn't understand it. She
didn't understand how she could stop willing or why doing so would give
her the kind of power Lao Ma had. The concept seemed radically opposed
to everything she had lived and believed up until now.
Moving to the edge of the bath, she sat on an underwater ledge with
only her head and shoulders out of the water. Soft tendrils of hair
floated in front of her and reaching out, she wrapped one loosely around
her fingers. Then, hearing the sound of a door, she looked up to see Lao
Ma crossing the room. Her bare feet whispered softly across the smooth
stone floor until she came to a stop near the bath. She was wearing only
a simple blue robe, and her unbound hair cascaded down over her
"May I join you," Lao Ma asked with a quiet smile, "or
would you rather be alone to do some thinking?"
"No, get in," Xena said, gesturing awkwardly.
Slipping out of her robe, Lao Ma let the garment fall to the floor,
then stepped to the edge of the bath and sat down. It was the first time
Xena had seen the other woman unclothed, and she found herself strangely
moved by the sight -- the golden skin of her breasts and stomach, the
dark triangle of hair below. But realizing that she was staring, Xena
quickly looked down, watching the water lap gently at her own breasts as
Lao Ma entered it.
"The water feels nice, doesn't it?" Lao Ma said after a
moment. "It's warm and soft, yet strong enough to bear our weight.
Do you know what Ming Tzu said to me that day while you were hiding
Xena shook her head.
"He said I was a strange woman -- that I was soft and hard at
the same time. I told him I was like water, which can be very soft, and
yet hard as a raging flood. I think it's a good image, don't you?"
"Yes. It fits you," said Xena.
Lao Ma smiled and then ducked herself under the water. When she came
up, glistening droplets of water clung to her eyelashes and slid down
the smooth almond skin of her face. Looking at her, Xena felt a distinct
sense of pleasure, and this time she did not avert her eyes. Far from
appearing to mind the warrior's interest, Lao Ma returned her gaze
frankly. Then, after a few moments, she seated herself on the stone
ledge near Xena.
The warrior shifted her position self-consciously and began to play
with a floating lotus petal. Even after spending several days in the
palace, she still had no idea what to say to this mysterious woman to
whom she felt so strangely attracted. She could not understand why Lao
Ma had befriended her nor what she would demand in exchange for having
saved her life. And the fact that she was so distinctly clueless made
Xena very nervous.
After a short time, Lao Ma broke the silence. "Does the water
make your legs feel better?" she asked.
Xena looked at her. "Yeah, it does," she said.
"Do they hurt all the time, or only when you walk?"
"Mostly when I stand or walk, but sometimes they ache in the
night and I can't sleep."
"What happened to them?"
"They were broken."
"Both of them at once?"
"How did it happen?"
Xena turned her attention to the lotus petal, plucking it out of the
water and then tearing it slowly in half. "I was crucified,"
"Crucified? By whom?"
"By the Romans," Xena said in a flat, bitter tone of voice.
"By a man I thought cared for me. He ordered my legs to be
Lao Ma did not respond, and after a moment, Xena looked up to see her
reaction. The depth of sympathy in the other woman's dark eyes surprised
her and she quickly turned her gaze back to the lotus petal. "So
you see," she added, "there's a good reason why I'm so full of
hate and anger."
"Yes, of course there is," Lao Ma said, laying a hand on
the warrior's arm. "You've known a great deal of suffering, for one
so young. But Xena," she continued, "hate and anger are
emotions that can only lead to death -- if not to physical death, then
to death of the spirit. That is what I was trying to tell you
earlier." She rose and moved to stand in front of the warrior.
"Let me see your legs," she said.
Xena hesitated, then lifted one of her legs to the surface of the
water. Lao Ma supported it with one hand while running the fingers of
her other hand carefully along the shinbone. "Is this where the
break was?" she asked after a moment.
Glancing at the spot indicated by the other woman, Xena nodded. Lao
Ma probed the site with gentle fingers for a short time and then made a
similar examination of the other leg. When she had finished, she sat
down again beside Xena.
"It's puzzling," she said. "The bones appear to have
been set well and to have healed strong and straight. All I can figure
out is that a great deal of anger was trapped inside the bones when they
healed, and that's what is causing you the pain. We will have to find a
way to release that anger."
Xena stared at her. She had never heard such a strange diagnosis.
Anger trapped inside her bones? It sounded preposterous.
Rising again, Lao Ma made her way to the other side of the bath and
picked up a sponge and dish of soap. Turning back to Xena, she said,
"Would you like me to wash your back?"
"You don't have to. I can do it myself."
"Yes, of course you can do it yourself," Lao Ma said,
"but I would like to do it for you, if you'll let me."
"All right," Xena said, a bit uncertainly. Standing up, she
turned her back toward the other woman and pulled her hair out of the
way. The soapy sponge began to make gentle circles across her shoulders
and back. "Is this part of that thing about serving someone you
hate?" she asked.
The movement of the sponge stopped. "Xena, I don't hate
you," Lao Ma said quietly. "Did you think that I do?"
"I tried to kill you. You have every right to hate me."
"Well, that's a right I choose not to exercise." The sponge
began to move again.
"I still don't understand why you did it," Xena said.
"I don't understand why you saved my life."
"That's because the types of motivation you understand best are
anger, greed, and fear. But there are other reasons why people act the
way they do."
Xena considered this for a few moments as Lao Ma squeezed water over
her shoulders to rinse them and then began to soap her lower back.
"What did you mean by saying I was capable of greatness?"
Xena asked. "Were you talking about achieving power?"
"No, at least not the kind of brute power you're thinking
The warrior was silent as Lao Ma began to move the soapy sponge over
her arms. "The man I told you about," she said, with an edge
of bitter sarcasm, "the man who had me crucified -- he believed he
was destined for greatness." She stopped as she felt rage rising
like a red flood within her, choking off her words.
"Yes, and what about this man?" asked Lao Ma.
Xena took a deep breath and let it out again, fighting to push the
rage back down. "He said that greatness meant doing what other men
thought was impossible. Is that what you think greatness is?" she
asked, turning to face the other woman.
"I think that's one possible definition," Lao Ma said
slowly, "but mostly I think you need to find your own path -- a
path that is not dictated by anger and hate. There is so much that is
good in you, Xena," Lao Ma went on, moving closer and putting her
hands on the warrior's shoulders. "When you have learned to let go
of the bad, the good can come out."
"I don't know how to let go!" Xena said, roughly shrugging
Lao Ma's hands away. "You have no idea how much bad there is in me.
You can't possibly understand me that well. And I can't understand you,
either. I can't understand your way of thinking, and I don't know what
you want from me!" Then, turning abruptly, she moved across the
bath and stood leaning stiffly against the side, her back to Lao Ma.
There were several long moments of silence and then the gentle
slushing of the water as Lao Ma came to stand behind her. "Forgive
me, Xena," she said softly. "I've been expecting you to learn
in just a few days what I've spent many years learning." She moved
closer and laid her hand on the warrior's back. "It's just that I
see so much potential in you and I want so many things for you. That's
why I'm pushing you to learn everything at once. I forget that we have
plenty of time. We'll take things slower from now on, and you will soon
come to understand. I really believe you will."
The warrior let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding and
turned to face the other woman. Was it true what Lao Ma was saying?
Would she understand, eventually? The calmness of her teacher's gaze
reassured her and without expecting to, Xena smiled.
Lao Ma smiled in return. Then, reaching out to touch Xena's cheek for
a moment, she let her fingers trail lightly down over the warrior's
chest and one breast. "You're a beautiful woman, Xena," she
And quick as a shooting star, a thought flashed through Xena's mind.
Maybe this was it. Maybe she had finally found the key to understanding
this strange woman. Sex. Maybe it was sex Lao Ma wanted. What else could
this intimate gesture mean? Well, sex was a game Xena definitely knew
how to play. She had played it often enough with men. How different
could it be with a woman? Returning Lao Ma's steady gaze, Xena let her
smile widen seductively. "You're very beautiful, too," she
"You do me great honor," Lao Ma responded, her eyes
carefully searching the warrior's face, "but my looks are really
very ordinary. You, though, with those blue eyes and high cheekbones --
you have quite an exotic sort of beauty."
"Exotic? Me?" Xena asked in surprise. "You're the one
Lao Ma laughed. "Maybe I would be in your land of Greece,"
she said, "but here I look much like everyone else." For a
moment, there was silence, then Lao Ma asked, "Have you ever made
"Well, of course," Xena said, laughing. "I'm not a
child, you know."
"I'm not talking about simply having sex," Lao Ma returned.
"Anyone can do that."
Xena frowned. "What's the difference?" she asked.
"The sexual act doesn't necessarily have anything to do with
love," Lao Ma said. "It may end up being political or even
warlike. It can be a way to conquer and control someone. But when you
make love to another person, it is a pure, unselfish act. You do it
because you wish to honor the other person with the gift of pleasure. It
is a way of serving someone you care about."
Xena stared at her, unable either to look away or to think of a
"Just now, when I touched your breast," Lao Ma went on,
"I'm guessing that you thought I desired you sexually and that my
desire would offer you a way to control me, at least to some extent. Am
I right? Did you think something like that?"
The warrior nodded mutely.
Lao Ma smiled. "I do have a desire, Xena," she said
quietly, "but it's not the kind of desire you're imagining. My
desire is to give you a gift from my heart -- the gift of pleasure. Can
you do me the honor of accepting my gift?"
Xena swallowed hard. "I-- I guess so," she stammered.
"Thank you," Lao Ma said with a smile. "We will begin
soon. But first we need to finish your bath. Come back over here."
She turned and waded across the bath.
Xena followed her slowly. Damn this woman, she thought. She was so
full of surprises and bizarre twists of thought. There was just no way
to guess what she would do next.
Dipping her hands into the soft soap, Lao Ma turned to meet Xena.
"Pull your hair out of the way," she said. Then she ran her
hands over the warrior's shoulders, reaching around to massage the back
of her neck. "Xena, your muscles are as tight as a bowstring,"
she said softly. "Are you afraid?"
"No!" Xena said quickly. "I just�I don't know. I
"You just feel what?"
"I don't know. Confused, I guess."
"Stop trying so hard to figure everything out," Lao Ma
said. "You can't make understanding come by sheer force of will,
any more than you can break a bottle using your will. When it's time for
understanding to come, it will come. Until then, just relax. There's
nothing to be afraid of."
The voice of her teacher was soothing, and Xena could feel the warmth
of the small hands on her shoulders and neck, skillfully releasing the
tension. She closed her eyes and began to relax, as Lao Ma scooped
handfuls of sweet-smelling water over her shoulders. Then she heard the
other woman lathering her hands again and soon felt gentle fingers
caressing her breasts, lifting them, and sensuously massaging the
nipples. With a slight gasp, she opened her eyes. Lao Ma was watching
her, and for a moment Xena thought she might drown in the depths of
those dark eyes. She reached out to touch Lao Ma's face and was
surprised to find that her hand was trembling. In fact, her whole body
was trembling with what she now recognized as desire. How had it
happened? She had never desired a woman before. Lao Ma must be some kind
of enchantress. There was no other way to explain it.
She pulled Lao Ma toward her, suddenly wanting nothing more than to
feel the softness of the other woman's lips against her own. But Lao Ma
resisted. "No, Xena," she said, easing herself free from the
warrior's hold, "not like this. It's not about conquest -- try to
remember that. Do you want me to wash your hair?"
Xena stared at her without answering.
Lao Ma dipped her hand in the soap again. "Bend down," she
said, then lathered the warrior's thick, black hair and gently massaged
the scalp. "Now rinse," she instructed, and Xena ducked under
As she came back up, she stumbled a little, and felt the other
woman's hand steadying her. Xena wiped the water away from her eyes and
cautiously opened them. Lao Ma smiled at her. "Go dry off,"
she said. "I'll be out in a few minutes. There's a big pile of soft
furs over there," she added, nodding toward the spot. "I've
told the servants not to disturb us."
Xena climbed the steps in the corner of the bath, then wrapped
herself in a thick linen towel and stood watching Lao Ma bathe herself.
This whole thing had been planned, she now realized. It had been planned
as carefully as she had once planned her own seduction of Caesar. The
bath had been prepared, the pile of furs laid out nearby, the servants
ordered away. If that didn't mean Lao Ma wanted to have sex with her,
then just what did it mean? Making love. A gift of pleasure. Why
couldn't the woman just call things by their rightful names?
Sighing, Xena carefully toweled her hair and body until her skin
glowed rosy. She kept an eye on Lao Ma meanwhile, and the warrior soon
discovered that there was a wetness between her legs which she could not
seem to dry. When she had finished with the towel, she hobbled over to
the furs and sat down. Lao Ma climbed out of the water, her body
streaming and glistening golden in the candlelight. Xena's breath caught
in her throat and she became aware that her heart was thudding in her
chest. Something told her this was going to be very different from any
sex she had ever had before. She wasn't even sure how two women went
about doing this kind of thing, but Lao Ma clearly knew. Xena would have
a good teacher.
Kneeling in front of her, Lao Ma smiled softly. "Are you sure
you want to do this?" she asked. "You don't have to, you
"I want to," Xena said, her voice barely more than a
Lao Ma leaned forward and took Xena's face between her hands. Then,
pulling the warrior toward her, she kissed her tenderly. Xena felt a
warm current of excitement spreading through her, and she returned the
kiss with growing passion, her fingers intertwining in Lao Ma's dark
"Teach me," Xena murmured in the other woman's ear when the
kiss ended. "Show me what to do."
Lao Ma pulled back a little to look at her. "Your job is to do
nothing -- just accept my gift and enjoy it."
"That sounds easy enough."
"Yes, it sounds easy, but it means you must trust me completely
and let go of your desire to be in control. That could be very
difficult, even frightening for you."
Xena looked at her without speaking.
Lao Ma smiled and cupped the warrior's breast in one hand, then bent
to gently suck the nipple. Xena felt a delicious shiver of anticipation
deep in her gut. "Lie down," Lao Ma said after a few moments.
"Let me make love to you."
Xena stretched out on her back and Lao Ma began to work her magic.
With skillful fingers and soft lips, she soon brought forth a response
from parts of Xena's body, which the warrior had never even thought of
as sensitive. Gradually, the sweet sensation of arousal grew within her,
but with it came the fear Lao Ma had predicted -- a stark, cold terror
which crept in each time Xena felt herself losing control.
And when the fear came, Lao Ma would wait, stroking Xena's face and
talking softly to her. "It's all right," she murmured.
"There's nothing to be afraid of. Just trust me enough to surrender
your will. Nothing will harm you if you let go. Just allow yourself to
feel the pleasure."
Then the terror would fade and the beautiful sensations Lao Ma was
creating in her body would return, lifting Xena to even higher levels of
ecstasy than before. Moaning and trembling beneath the other's woman's
touch, she began to lose all sense of time and place, surrendering
herself at last to the wonder of the crescendo building within her.
Again and again, Lao Ma brought her close to the edge and then drew her
back. And finally, when Xena thought she could endure no more, she began
to beg for release. "Please, Lao Ma!" she panted.
"Please!" And with a fond smile, her beautiful tormentor slid
down between the warrior's legs, and used her lips and tongue bring
about the climax -- a glorious explosion of sensation unlike any Xena
had never known before.
* * * * *
She woke with a soft moan, as the orgasm surged through her body.
Reaching between her legs, she kept the sweetness of it alive as long as
possible, then lay basking in its afterglow. The child within her moved
and kicked against her ribcage. Xena patted her belly and absently
wondered how an orgasm felt from inside the womb. Then, easing herself
onto her side, she saw that Calandra was curled up fast asleep on the
other side of the fire. Xena sighed and closed her eyes, wanting to
recapture the beauty of her dream. She floated back again in time,
remembering how she had lain with Lao Ma's arms around her as the
tingling glow of her climax had gradually faded.
"Do you want to do it again?" Lao Ma had asked.
"No. I mean yes, but this time I want to make love to you,"
she had replied. Then, when Lao Ma looked at her a bit quizzically, Xena
had added, "I want to give you the gift of pleasure. Will you do me
the honor of accepting my gift?"
Lao Ma had laughed softly, with a sound like music. "Yes,"
she said, brushing back the hair from Xena's face, "I will do you
that honor -- as long as you remember that you are giving a gift and not
making a conquest."
"I'll try to remember," Xena said, "but you may have
to help me."
Then, carefully and a little hesitantly, she had made love to the
woman who had saved her life and become her teacher. Lao Ma coached and
encouraged her, chiding the warrior a few times when she became too
aggressive. And Xena marveled at the other woman's responsiveness and at
how good it made her feel to give joy to someone she had come to care so
much about. "I think I could really get into this serving
stuff," she said afterwards, with a sly grin.
But Lao Ma did not share her amusement. "We'll see how you feel
tomorrow, after you have served Ming Tzu," she said.
Xena scowled. "I still don't see the point in serving that old
pig," she grumbled. "I'd rather just serve you."
"You will learn much more by serving Ming Tzu than you ever
could serving me," Lao Ma said quietly.
But the serving of Ming Tzu had not gone well. He had sat at Lao Ma's
table, blithely spewing insults until Xena's rage had reached the
boiling point. Only the look in Lao Ma's eyes and the most stringent
exercise of will had kept Xena from slitting the bastard's throat then
and there. Lao Ma claimed that Xena had learned something from the
experience, but Xena was not so sure.
The evening had held other lessons, though. Xena had learned how, in
a land where women had no power, Lao Ma had come to rule her husband's
kingdom. Lao Ma spoke of it as her "gift" to a brutal tyrant,
and had shown Xena the book of wisdom she was writing in Lao Tzu's name.
But most important, and most surprising of all, Xena had learned that
Ming T'ien, the boy she had kidnapped and corrupted, was Lao Ma's son.
Later on, the two women had lain on the cool silk sheets of Lao Ma's
bed and talked through the long, dark hours of the night. Lao Ma had
told a little of her childhood -- how she had grown up the daughter of
her father's fourth wife. And how an uncle, her mother's childless
brother, had taken an interest in teaching her to read and write, to use
pressure points, and to understand how the will which drives the world
can sometimes be transcended.
Because of her low rank in the family, there had been no thought of
finding Lao Ma a husband. Instead, her father had sold her as a
courtesan into the court of Ming Tzu. There she had found favor with
Ming himself, and had borne him the son that neither of his wives had
been able to give him. Overjoyed, Ming had acknowledged the boy and
proclaimed him his heir, but having done so, he had sold the boy's
mother to the tyrant Lao Tzu. Hoping for an heir of his own, Lao had
made her his wife number two. No conception had taken place, however,
and when wife number one died, Lao Ma had begun using the secret of
pressure points to disable her husband and rule benevolently in his
Xena opened her eyes, brought back to the present by the start of a
contraction. She stared into the fire, welcoming the returning pain as
it moved through her body. When it was over, she pushed herself to a
sitting position. She laid her hands on her swollen belly, feeling the
slight movement of the child within. "It's all right," she
whispered. "It's safe to come out now."
Struggling to her feet, she wrapped her cloak around her and walked
to the opening of the cavern. The sky was glowing a pure light blue,
except in the east, where vivid orange streaks proclaimed the imminent
arrival of the sun. The air was chilly and crisp, and the rocks felt
cold and damp beneath her bare feet. She had loved Lao Ma -- at least,
she had loved her as much as her fear of betrayal would let her love
anyone. But Lao Ma had not betrayed her. She had betrayed Lao Ma
instead. Xena had allowed her rage to shatter the trust that Lao Ma had
placed in her. The thought of it slashed like a knife through her heart,
but even so, she wasn't certain that she could have acted in any other
way. The evil within her was clearly too strong to be conquered -- even
by Lao Ma's love.
Another contraction came -- this one much stronger. Closing her eyes,
Xena leaned against the stone that hid the doorway. When the pain was
gone, she looked at the sky once more and saw the first rays of the sun
glinting through the winter trees. This was the day her child would be
born -- a day which promised to be clear and bright. If she were a
person who believed in signs, she would surely see this as a good one.
Hearing a noise behind her, she turned and saw Calandra.
"Did you get any sleep?" Calandra asked.
"Yeah, a little."
"So I noticed," Xena commented.
"The pains have started again, haven't they?"
"See? I told you they would," the girl said. Then she
added, "Come inside. You'll catch your death of cold out here
Xena turned and followed her back into the cave. Then, as another
contraction gripped her, she gave a small cry and put her hand on
Calandra's shoulder for support. "They're closer together
now," she gasped.
"That's good," Calandra said. "Let's check and see how
far along you are."
The opening was at four fingers, and within half an hour it had
reached five. After that, Xena measured time only by the pain -- wave
after wave of pain that seemed determined to rip her body apart.
"You can scream all you want to," Calandra said.
"There's no one around to hear you."
So Xena screamed and moaned and paced the cavern, frantically seeking
some kind of relief or escape. But after a time, the contractions grew
too strong, and she could no longer walk. She had already taken off her
cloak, and now she took off the tunic, too. Sweating with the effort of
enduring the pain, she no longer cared a fig about modesty.
She sat on a boulder while Calandra massaged her shoulders, urging
her to relax.
"Why should I relax?" she asked irritably. "Shouldn't
I be trying to push the baby out?"
"No, don't push yet," Calandra said. "I'll tell you
when it's time. For now, you need to try to relax. It will help make the
pain easier to bear."
So Xena tried to relax, but the pains just kept coming, each one
seeming worse than the one before. Finally, grabbing Calandra's arm, she
said urgently, "If I die, you must go to my army and tell them to
come get my body."
"You're not going to die," Calandra assured her. "I
know it hurts, but everything's going well. You're a big, strong woman
with wide hips, and the baby's in the right position. Everything will be
Xena nodded, hoping desperately that the girl knew what she was
talking about. A few minutes later, she grabbed the midwife's arm again.
"I think I feel it moving down!" she panted.
"You need to squat down," Calandra said, "right here
is fine. You can hold onto me, if you like." And then when Xena had
eased herself into position, the girl did a quick check. "I can see
the head -- it won't be long now!" she said excitedly.
"Should I push?"
"Yes, go ahead and push."
And so, wanting only for her ordeal to be over, Xena gritted her
teeth and bore down hard.
"That's it," Calandra encouraged her. "The head's
coming out! Keep pushing!" Then, a few moments later, she said,
"Okay, now stop pushing. The baby has to turn so that the shoulders
can come out. They'll come out one at a time."
Breathing hard and perspiring heavily, Xena crouched there, clutching
the girl's shoulders for support.
"All right, push again!" called Calandra, and Xena obeyed,
screaming out in pain, even while she knew the pain was almost over at
last. And then, peering down between her legs, she saw the baby slide
out into Calandra's waiting hands.
"It's a boy!" the girl exclaimed, as the infant let out a
"A boy," Xena murmured, realizing that she had never really
considered which sex the child would be.
"Yes! A strong, healthy boy, from the sound of that cry!"
Calandra said as she quickly wiped his nose and eyes clean and then
counted his fingers and toes. "Sit down and I'll let you hold
"Aren't you going to cut the cord?" Xena asked as she
carefully lowered herself into a sitting position and leaned back
against a rock.
"In a minute," Calandra said. "We'll wait until the
blood stops pulsing through it." Then she handed the crying child
to Xena. "Be careful to support his head," she warned.
"He's so little," the warrior said, taking the baby
awkwardly in her arms. "And red. And why does he keep crying like
"You'd be red, too, if you'd just been squeezed through such a
tiny opening," Calandra said. "See if you can get him to
nurse. Nursing helps the afterbirth come out."
Nurse? Xena had never pictured herself nursing this child, and she
wasn't really sure how to go about it. Hesitantly, she moved the baby
close to her breast and pushed the nipple into his mouth. To her
surprise, his crying stopped abruptly as his lips closed around the
nipple. Then, after a few hesitant tries, he began to suck rhythmically
and with apparent success.
"He's doing it!" Xena said in amazement.
Calandra knelt at her side. "Yeah, looks like he's a
natural," she said with a grin. Then she began tying off the
umbilical cord. "Xena," she said, looking at the warrior,
"don't kill this child. Please. If you don't want to keep him, then
let me find a home for him. I know of a couple of families in the
village who would be more than happy to have a fine, healthy boy like
this. No one will need to know whose son he is. Just tell me you won't
Xena looked at the child and then at Calandra. "I won't kill
him," she said quietly.
"Thank you," Calandra said with relief. And then she cut
Xena returned her gaze to the baby. So this was what had been growing
inside her all these months -- not the monster she had imagined, but
this tiny little person with such perfectly formed fingers and toes. And
the sensation of his mouth drawing nourishment from her breast -- it was
a unique sensation, and it felt sensuous in a way that she could never
have imagined. She smiled a tired smile and then gasped slightly as she
felt a new contraction.
"It's the afterbirth," Calandra said. "Don't worry.
This will be much easier than delivering the baby was."
The girl was right, and within a few minutes, it was over.
"Well, that's it," Calandra said cheerfully. You're all done
with contractions. How do you feel?"
"Yeah, I'm sure you are. You had a long labor."
"What time is it?" Xena asked, glancing at the patch of
light that marked the opening to the cave.
"I don't know. Midday, I guess. Do you want something to
"No, I want to sleep."
"Okay. I'll just get you cleaned up and then you can go to
sleep." She brought a pot of warm water over from the fire, dipped
a cloth into it, and began to gently cleanse between the warrior's legs.
"This looks good," she said. "There was hardly any
tearing. Sometimes we have to sew people up afterwards." When she
finished, she folded a clean, dry piece of linen to make a thick pad and
then fashioned a belt to hold it in place.
The baby was no longer nursing, Xena noted. In fact, he seemed to be
mostly asleep. She wondered if he felt as tired as she did.
"Here, let me take him and I'll clean him up, too,"
Calandra said. "You go ahead and lie down."
Xena moved to her bedroll and eased herself down, stretching out on
her back. She closed her eyes and was only half aware when Calandra
brought the sleepy baby and laid him in the soft hollow between her
breasts. And by the time the girl got a blanket spread over them, Xena
was sound asleep.
Continue to Part 4
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