An Awakening - Part 14
by Hunter Ash
Ownership: Repeat after me: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, etc. I'm borrowing them for entertainment purposes, please don't bother to sue me, you wouldn't even get court costs.
Violence: less than a typical TV episode.
Subtext/Alt Sex: the story assumes a loving and sexual relationship between people of the same gender and of the opposite sex. If this offends you or is illegal for you then please leave. Come back when you are older, have an open mind, moved, or changed your laws.
Feedback: always welcome and responded to!
Storyline: Xena, Gabrielle, Solan and Sasha are with the Northern Amazons for the winter when things get complicated.
A Visit Home, An Awakening
Gabrielle's Awakening - from Gabrielle's Point of View
An Awakening, Discovery
Gabrielle's Discovery - Gabrielle's POV
Gabrielle, Amazon Bonding - Gabrielle's POV
Trial of a Roman
Gladiator, Bard, Warrior, Mother
Ides of March
Children of Gods
Even with Ares
Settling with Brutus
The Amazon Shaman moved around the circle of dancers and drummers slowly, chanting and moving to the beat of the drums. Behind her was the Shaman apprentice, Ulrike, carrying the bowls of sacred ingredients.
Xena leaned over and whispered to her son, Solan, describing their surroundings and the actions to the blind teenager.
"Yakut is in traditional Shaman clothes," she whispered as they sat outside the circle. "Leather headdress with beads, feathers, fur and shortened antlers. Her clothing is buckskin, fringed with fur and beads. Her face is streaked with paint, one side is the design of the sacred spiral of life and their Earth Goddess, and the other side is stripes, indicating the claws and their connection to nature."
Solan nodded, quietly swaying with the drumbeat.
"She's carrying a staff with intricate carvings, fur covering, beads, feathers and topped with a large crystal," Xena continued. "Behind her is her apprentice Ulrika carrying wooden bowls of something."
Xena found herself swaying to the intoxicating beat as well.
Yakut moved to the outside of the northern part the circle of dancing and sitting Amazons and raised her arms to the sky in invocation.
"Yakut is invoking the spirits of the Air to join the ritual and protect those here," Xena whispered.
Ulrike moved forward with a bowl of burning incense and waved the smoke about and followed Yakut to the East, then the South, the West and finally back to the North. "Her apprentice offered smoke from incense to the Air Spirits." Xena whispered.
Yakut raised her arms again in invocation and Ulrike poured fresh spring water on the ground. "Now they're invoking the Water Spirits and offering fresh water." Once more the circle was completed.
The Shaman again invoked in a loud and firm voice and Ulrike followed with an offering of honey mead to the earth. "Invoking the Earth spirits and offering mead." Xena explained as the Shaman and apprentice completed another circle.
The final invocation and offering included a ritualistic dance with two torches woven in a complicated pattern and the circle was formed once again. "To the Fire Spirits, with torches."
Yakut moved to the altar to the north of the fire pit and the drumming grew calmer and the chanting grew silent. Otere, the new Amazon Queen, moved forward from the crowd to stand next to the shaman and turned to face her Amazons.
"My Sisters," she began, "Tonight we welcome new members into our tribe and celebrate!"
The Amazons cheered loudly and Xena felt herself grinning and saw Solan was doing likewise.
Yakut raised her arms and head to the sky.
"Taevataat, god of wisdom and life, be with us!
Ukko, God of Thunder; Akko, goddess of life, be with us!
Raunni, goddess of the woods, Paiva of the Sun, Kuu of the Moon, be with us!
The Great Bear Otava, Ilma of the air, Luonnota the sacred mother of Vainamoinen, be with us!
The daughter of the Moon, Kuuta; Daughter of the Sun, Paivatar, be with us!
Aske, god of the moon, Pellervoinen of the fields and plants, be with us now!
Metsola of the forests, Mehilainen, bee of messages; be with us!
Forest family: Tapio the father, Mielikki the mother, Nyrrikki the son, Tuulikki the daughter, be with us!
The water family: Ahti the god, Vellamo his wife, Vetehinen and Tursas the daughters, and the Veden Haltia, the water spirits. Turn your evil away from us and bless us with your good!
Metsola, protect us from Lempo, Paha and Hiisi!
Earth Mother, protect us, bless us and join us!"
Solan leaned closer to his mom. "They invoke male deities too?" he questioned.
"Yes, they see their deities as closer to each other and to the land and the people than the Greeks. You'll notice they don't have a god of Justice or Victory but more along the lines of many nature deities and they don't have as much reluctance in dealing with male spirits." Xena whispered.
"Maybe their male gods don't go around acting like male jerks," Solan suggested with a grin and bit his lip to keep from laughing as Xena lightly shoved him playfully.
The Amazons took up the chant to the deities of the Northerners and the drumbeat increased in speed and loudness. The dancers took up a frenzied dance as Yakut watched and judged the raising of the energy. Xena and Solan could both feel the energy flowing from the circle, their own breath and pulse increasing.
At a signal from Yakut the dancers dropped to their hands and knees, the drummers and chanters stopped cold. It almost felt like a physical blow to the warrior and her son.
After a moment, Otere raised her head and nodded to the shadows outside the circle.
Xena turned and saw a blindfolded and bound figure being led to the circle by two Amazon warriors with drawn swords. The Warrior Princess felt her heart skip a beat as she caught sight of the figure. Xena knew it was part of the ritual of the Northern Amazons for the binding of the initiate but it still made the warrior nervous to see her mate like that.
Gabrielle also looked stunning. The Amazon Queen was dressed in white leathers, designed much like her wedding tunic and the leathers were of soft deerskin and hugged the bard's body nicely and was sleeveless, revealing the warrior bard's well-developed arms. Instead of Gabrielle's usual boots with sais sheathed alongside, tonight she was wearing white deerskin boots without the sais. Xena also knew that the bard wasn't wearing her knife either.
The only adornment on her mate was the twisted metal of gold and silver at her wrist, her bracelet symbolizing her bonding to the warrior. Xena had a matching one on her wrist, usually tucked under her bracer.
Xena frowned slightly when two other warriors approached her and Solan. She stood up, her face questioning.
"We're the escorts for you and the boy when it's over," one explained softly and the warrior nodded and sat back down on the log.
She leaned over to Solan and described how Gabrielle looked and about the two Amazons who had joined them.
"Still say you should be invited too!" Solan hissed quietly.
"No, I'll probably never be invited to join the tribe and you know it," Xena explained. "They've forgiven me for the murders all those years ago but it doesn't erase what I did."
"You and Gabrielle both fought Alti to fix that," Solan insisted.
"Yes, that's why they've forgiven me my crime and are honoring Gabrielle tonight. It's alright, Solan, really," Xena insisted.
"No, I understand it and accept it." Xena said firmly. "I'm very glad that you and Sasha have been formally adopted as Gabrielle's children and are acknowledged by the tribe."
The Amazons led Gabrielle to the edge of the circle where Queen Otere faced them. Xena's pulse quickened as the Queen raised a sword to the base of Gabrielle's throat. Xena could see Gabrielle raise her head slightly, feeling the point of the blade.
"Gabrielle of Greece, you have been invited to join this tribe. You are an Amazon Queen and our Sister, will you join with us?" Otere asked loud enough for everyone to hear.
Xena held her breath. The debate over the last two weeks had been endless concerning her bard's status in the village.
It had only been three weeks since the Greek family had traveled to the colder northern climate to visit the Northern Amazons. There had been two goals in mind for the family of Xena and Gabrielle, to make amends for what Xena had done to the tribe many years ago and for Sasha to be recognized as Gabrielle's adopted daughter and accepted into the tribe. The tribe had readily agreed to the second goal, welcoming Sasha as Gabrielle's adopted daughter and even accepting Xena as the Amazon Queen's Consort.
The difficult part had been the first goal. Many summer seasons before had seen the army of Xena and Borias in the area and Xena intent on conquering everything in sight, including the Amazons. The Warlord met someone even more ambitious than she was, Alti. The evil shaman had shown Xena the power of darkness and used Xena to gain even more by persuading the warrior to slaughter the Amazon Queen and most of the Amazon leaders in a most brutal manner.
Xena and Gabrielle had gone to the Northern Amazons ready to face Xena's past and make amends, whatever that meant. What had shocked the two women was finding out that Alti had captured the souls of the Amazons Xena had killed and held them prisoner in the Land of the Dead, not allowing them to move onto the Isle of the Dead. The evil magician used their never-ending energy to fuel her dark magics.
Xena and Gabrielle joined with the Amazons to defeat Alti, hopefully for once and for all. It had been a difficult fight and difficult choices had been made. The plan had been for Gabrielle to lead several Amazon warriors in the Spirit Realm against Alti and the tortured Spirit Amazons while Xena and the main Amazon warriors fought their way through Alti's physical troops. Xena planned on killing Alti's body while Gabrielle kept the Shaman's spirit occupied in the Spirit Realm.
It had been a good plan until Alti used Gabrielle's dark bacchae influence to surface, turning the bard into a full bacchae in the Spirit Realm. To break the spell, the Queen of the Amazons, Arja, had willingly sacrificed herself to Gabrielle's fangs.
The distraction had been long enough for Xena to fight her way to Alti's tent and slay the evil shaman, but only after fierce fighting and taking several serious sword wounds.
When Xena had regained consciousness she found Gabrielle catatonic from the shock of killing the Northern Amazon Queen. It had taken Xena over two days to bring the bard out of it.
Then the debate had begun, the tribe still wanted to invite Gabrielle in as a full member of the tribe and as royalty. Gabrielle protested she wasn't worthy after killing their Queen, even if Arja had intentionally sacrificed herself. Otere, the new Queen, Yakut, and the Elders had all protested that it hadn't been Gabrielle's fault, that the bard was as much a victim of Alti as Arja was, but Gabrielle had been stubborn.
Finally, the Elders had won the argument by pointing out that Gabrielle had to be accepted into the tribe before Sasha could be accepted. Wanting the status for Sasha, Gabrielle had finally agreed but Xena knew that the bard still didn't think it was right and was still feeling guilty about the death.
Now was the moment of decision for the bard and Xena held her breath and could feel the tension all around her. Every Amazon in the tribe knew how Gabrielle felt about the killing and her acceptance of it.
"I would join with my Sisters of the North," Gabrielle answered firmly.
Xena felt her body relax as she began to breath again. She felt Solan's hand reach out for hers and squeeze it encouragingly.
Yakut moved forward and walked behind the bard and cut her bounds.
"To join us, you must enter this circle that represents the never ending cycle of life, with a pure heart and with love for your tribe. Let there be no doubt of your commitment to this tribe. If there is doubt in your heart or soul, if you look there and find that you could not bring yourself to die for your Sisters, then fall forward on this sword or walk away. You are free to choose." Otere challenged the young woman.
"I would gladly give my life for my Sisters of all the tribes." Gabrielle answered, holding her place.
Otere sheathed her sword and stepped back. Yakut gently guided Gabrielle into the circle and to the altar, still leaving the bard blindfolded.
"Who speaks for this woman?" Otere demanded.
"I do," Yakut stated and stepped forward to stand next to Gabrielle.
"You are recognized as an honored member of this tribe and as its shaman. Do you stand for this woman?" Queen Otere challenged.
"Yes, My Queen, I claim she is worthy to be our sister and challenge any who say otherwise." Yakut answered easily.
Xena could see Gabrielle shift uneasily on her feet and the warrior could see the torment on the bard's face. Xena knew that Gabrielle didn't feel worthy at all, no matter who stood for her.
"Is there a challenge?" Otere asked.
Gabrielle began to reach for her blindfold.
"I stand for Gabrielle as well and claim her worthy!" a voice suddenly called out and everyone went silent.
Xena found herself on her feet as she took in the sight of the warrior standing in the center of the circle. The Amazons that were standing went to their knees, including Otere and Yakut.
Gabrielle's face was one of confusion; she could sense the awesome silence around her.
"Remove your blindfold, Gabrielle, and face the truth," the voice ordered.
The bard slowly removed the blindfold and blinked in the firelight, trying to get her eyes to focus. After a moment, Xena saw her mate's face go pale and Gabrielle went to her knee and bowed her head.
"Queen Arja," she whispered.
"Gabrielle, taking the blame for my death stops tonight. I claim you are worthy to be part of my tribe," the spirit said simply.
"But...." Gabrielle started to protest but the Spirit held up her hand to stop any spoken protests from the bard.
"No, no challenges and no more blame. You are a worthy Amazon and you are a worthy Queen."
Gabrielle and the other Amazons blinked when they realized that Queen Arja was no longer standing in the circle with them.
Yakut and Otere stood slowly and looked at each other and then at Gabrielle. The bard blushed under their stares of wonderment.
After a few stunned moments, Otere shook her head and continued.
"You have already faced spiritual testing, as attested to by our Queen and Shaman and the spirit of our Queen Arja. Are you ready to face the physical test?" Otere questioned the bard.
Xena frowned; Gabrielle hadn't mentioned anything about a physical test.
"I am," Gabrielle answered firmly.
Two Amazon warriors moved from the main body watching the ritual to stand on either side of the bard. From her position to the North of the circle, Xena could see into Gabrielle's eyes very clearly and frowned when she saw concern.
The warrior started to stand, eyes narrowing, when a firm hand came down on her shoulder, restraining her. Before she could react, another hand came down on her other shoulder and a dagger was being held at her throat.
"Listen, Consort, we know that you can take us, just listen. This is Queen Gabrielle's choice, alright?" one of the warriors whispered in her ear.
Xena struggled to maintain control and caught Gabrielle's worried eyes and nodded slightly and watched the bard relax and nod to Otere and Yakut. Xena could feel Solan shift uneasily on the log.
"Solan, Gabrielle is going to go through a difficult part of the ritual and they want to make sure I stay quiet," Xena whispered, trying to explain.
"It's the pain part, isn't it?" he whispered back.
Xena gritted her teeth. "I think so," she whispered back.
"It'll be over quickly, Consort," one of the Amazons whispered only to be answered by a growl from the Warrior Princess.
"What do you know of it, Solan?" Xena whispered as her son reached out and took her hand in his again.
"I'm not sure about the Amazons, the Centaurs have a blood letting part of the ritual to manhood when a boy is officially recognized as a man or a new member is accepted into the tribe. We heard the Amazons had similar rituals," he whispered back.
At a signal from Yakut the chanting and drumming began again and many of the Amazons began dancing around the circle. Otere handed Gabrielle a goblet and Xena watched as her mate drank the entire contents and then leaned back into the music and closed her eyes. It wasn't long before the bard was swaying with the music with the other Amazons, her face taking on that trance look Xena knew well.
Gabrielle was susceptible to the hypnotic energy of music and altered easily to it. Xena also wondered what had been in the drink as she watched Gabrielle's body relax for the first time in weeks.
The bard's eyes didn't even open when Otere moved closer and unlaced Gabrielle's tunic and lifted it off over her head, leaving the initiate bare to the waist.
Xena's felt her pulse begin pounding in her head and her heartbeat quicken. Solan, sensing the change in his mother, squeezed Xena's hand reassuringly.
As Otere moved behind the bard, the two Amazons on either side took Gabrielle's wrists in their hands as the bard went to her knees, her eyes still closed and body still swaying to the music.
The music picked up in beat and energy, tension filling the air and Xena felt her other hand tighten into a fist. The hands on the warrior's shoulders tightened as Otere pulled an object from her belt and held it high for all to see. Xena felt a whimper escape her throat.
"What is it, Mom?" Solan whispered.
"A bear claw," Xena answered, her voice strained.
The Amazons holding Gabrielle's wrist stepped to the side, pulling the bard's arms out to the side and tightened their hold as Otere approached the bard's naked back, already lightly laced with scars from the lashings she had received as a Roman slave and the brand of a Gladiator slave.
"A tribal marking," Solan commented and tightened his grip on Xena's hand.
Otere leaned forward and whispered something in Gabrielle's ear and the warrior saw her mate nod slightly. The Northern Amazon Queen stepped back slightly and lashed out with blinding speed with the claw, racking right across the brand that marred the bard's shoulder from her time as a slave in Rome.
The chanting and music stopped suddenly.
The Amazons holding Xena used both hands each to hold the warrior down as she instinctively tried to jump up. The former Warlord whimpered at the sight of Gabrielle's pain racked face as the bard bit her lower lip to keep from screaming. Sweat pouring off her body and face.
Yakut went behind the bard and caught some of the blood pouring from the four slashes along Gabrielle's shoulder and went to the altar and poured the blood over it.
"Your blood has joined that of your Sister Amazons and you will carry those scars as a sign and reminder of your pact with us." Yakut declared.
Xena could see the Amazons holding Gabrielle relax their hold and she could tell from Gabrielle's eyes the bard was in an altered state from the music, the pain and the drink. The two Amazons helped Gabrielle to her feet, holding her steady.
They slowly led the bard through the crowd of Amazons and out of the circle towards the Shaman's hut.
"They'll tend to the wounds and make her comfortable for the night, she'll have vision dreams tonight, Consort," one of the Amazons holding onto Xena whispered to her. The warrior relaxed and the Amazon warriors removed their hands.
"Time for you and your son to retire to your hut, the Amazons will celebrate inside the sacred circle until dawn," the other Amazon suggested and Xena nodded, pulling Solan to his feet.
The warrior felt drained and frustrated. She wanted to go and comfort Gabrielle but, having been through shaman rituals herself, Xena knew that wasn't the best thing right then.
Xena knew it would be a long night.
Xena knew she wasn't going to get much sleep but also knew that Gabrielle needed the space on this journey. Reluctantly, she let the warriors escort her and Solan back to their hut.
The warrior finally smiled when she saw Sasha curled up on the sleeping furs with one of the older girls sitting nearby, sewing some leather into something, keeping an eye on the youngster.
The girl, Lempi, smiled and went quietly out the door.
"Is Gabrielle alright?" Solan asked softly as he sat down on his sleeping furs and began to remove his boots.
"She will be, I think. It's just hard seeing her hurt," the warrior muttered.
"I know, like when I was hurt," Solan commented. "I knew it almost killed you."
Xena brushed away a tear. There wasn't a day that she didn't curse Brutus and the Roman soldiers who had blinded her beloved son.
"Yes, I would do anything to change that, you know that."
"Yup, just like you'd take all the pain for Gabrielle if you could and we'd do the same for you."
"I love you, squirt."
"Back at you, Mom."
Xena found herself outside her hut with chakram in hand when another scream ripped through the night. The warrior growled and rushed towards the Shaman's hut when two Amazon warriors stepped out of the shadows with their swords drawn, blocking her.
"Xena!" Yakut cried out as she stepped out of the hut. "It's alright, it's only a nightmare. Gabrielle is fine!" the shaman attempted to reassure the warrior as Xena blinked rapidly, trying to think.
"She's alright?" she demanded.
"I give you my word, it's just the dreams." Yakut said simply and Xena lowered the chakram. The two Amazon warriors melted back into the shadows.
"I'm sorry, automatic reaction," Xena mumbled as Yakut walked up to her and began leading the warrior back to the guest hut.
Xena felt a shiver run over her body and looked down, realizing that she was only in her sleeping shift and nothing else, not even boots.
Yakut grinned. "You heard Gabrielle scream and was half way across the common ground before you even realized you had your eyes open," Yakut guessed.
Xena blushed and smiled a small smile herself. "Yeah, that's about it," she agreed.
"I wouldn't have expected less, Xena," Yakut grinned and entered the hut with Xena.
"Mom?" she heard Solan's voice in the semi-darkness. Sasha was still sleeping, fortunately.
"It's me. Sorry about waking you."
"I heard Gabby Mom," he muttered, running a hand through his hair.
"She was having a nightmare, Yakut says that Gabrielle's okay." Xena turned to the shaman and nodded. "I won't interfere or try and see her," Xena promised.
"I know, a natural reaction for a blood bonded couple." The shaman commented as she walked out the door.
Xena tried to settle back down into her sleeping furs, trying to get the sound of Gabrielle's screams out of her mind. The warrior didn't sleep well the rest of the night.
The next morning found Gabrielle waiting for her outside the Shaman's hut. Xena approached her bard slowly and was glad to see Gabrielle's welcoming smile as the bard stood up to meet her mate.
Xena drew the bard into her arms, careful of the wounds across Gabrielle's shoulder and kissed her lightly. Xena drew back slightly to look deep into the bard's green eyes.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"Yes, no.... I don't know. I'm still trying to sort through the dreams and visions," Gabrielle answered, dark circles under her eyes.
"Anything I can do?" Xena asked, her face concerned.
"Maybe later," Gabrielle muttered, eyes suddenly distant and looking troubled.
"How about breakfast?" Xena suggested and got the smile she expected and laughed at her mate. "That always gets you," she teased and delighted when Gabrielle blushed. "I love you, Gabrielle."
"And I love you, my warrior." The bard answered as they began walking towards the food hut.
"Why didn't you tell me about the scarring?" Xena asked as they walked.
"I couldn't. They didn't tell me what the ritual was, just that it involved some pain and I couldn't tell you anything about it," Gabrielle answered with a frown.
"Why not? I wouldn't have stopped you."
"You were allowed to be there outside the tribe because you're my Consort and Champion and Solan because he's our son and blind. No one else has seen the rituals outside of Amazons."
"It was just hard for me seeing you hurt. How are the wounds?"
"Okay, hurts like Tartarus but the salve they put on it has taken most of the pain away," Gabrielle answered as they started into the food hut.
"With your god-given gifts, how will that scar?" Xena asked softly.
"Yakut knows about my rapid healing abilities and will put a light touch of tattoo ink in the healing wounds. It won't be as dark as a tattoo but the slashes will scar."
Xena shook her head, still hating to see the cloth wrapping her bard's wounds.
Gabrielle smiled softly and reached up to stroke Xena's cheek.
"I love you too."
The next few days puzzled the warrior. Xena expected Gabrielle to open up about her visions; instead the bard withdrew into herself. She continued to spend time with the kids and Xena and also time learning the ways of the Northern Amazons but emotionally she seemed withdrawn to the warrior.
The bard was also having bad nightmares again. Even worse than when she had returned from her captivity as a gladiator and slave. Each night Xena would wake up and soothe the dreams away until Gabrielle settled back down to sleep in her arms. The bard was getting less and less sleep and it was beginning to show.
On the fifth night after the ritual, Xena woke up in the dark, reaching for her bard to discover that side of the sleeping furs empty. The warrior frowned and waited several minutes for her mate to return. A quick glance told the warrior that Sasha and Solan were still asleep in their furs and Xena pulled the blankets and furs off and reached for her boots.
Xena found Gabrielle sitting on the same logs Solan and Xena had sat on five nights before, outside the ritual circle. The bard looked even smaller than usual wrapped in her fur cloak and huddled over into herself. The warrior knew that Gabrielle heard her approaching but the bard didn't even look up. Xena sat down slowly.
"What's up, little one," she asked softly.
Gabrielle felt her heart skip a beat at Xena's question and felt herself biting back tears. The bard knew she was exhausted but also scared to face the dreams. She leaned heavily against her mate's shoulder and didn't answer.
"I can't, Xena," she whispered.
"Can't what, my love?" Xena encouraged, leaning her head over onto Gabrielle's.
"I keep seeing the images in my head!"
"Ready to talk about it, little one?"
"I've talked with Yakut about it and I'm just more confused," Gabrielle complained, her voice tense.
"Can you talk to me about it?" Xena questioned softly.
"Yes, no secrets. Can we move to the fire?"
"Of course," Xena stood up and pulled Gabrielle along with her, the warrior wrapping an arm around the bard's shoulders as they headed to the main campfire. Xena knew that several of the guards around the village had spotted them and were giving them privacy.
The couple sat down against a log, the bard leaning into Xena's arms.
"There's so many images, I still can't sort them out," the bard complained, running a hand through her short hair. "The one that is so clear scares me, my love."
"I'm here," Xena said, trying to reassure her mate.
"It's us, there's snow outside and we're lying in a large gray place, rough ground," Gabrielle hesitated. The bard could feel the coldness of the image creeping into her bones and huddled even closer into Xena's arms. "We're not moving and there's blood everywhere. We've been attacked by dogs and killed."
Xena tightened her embrace around the bard. She had been on a few shamanism journeys before and knew how real the images were to the vision traveler.
"You know I don't believe in unchangeable Fate," Xena said softly, gently rocking the bard as she felt Gabrielle begin crying.
"I know, I keep telling myself that. What you and Hercules always say about how we make our own fate."
"What else did you see?" Xena asked softly.
"Some guy in a long cloak and wide hat, wolves, ravens and us with Axel and the Germans. And..."
"Go on, Gabrielle."
"Blood, always, blood." The bard answered softly.
"The cravings back?" the warrior asked with a frown. She was hoping that being away from Greece and the influence of Bacchus would reduce Gabrielle's craving for blood.
Once again Xena softly cursed Bacchus and felt Gabrielle begin crying again. Xena fought back tears herself, knowing this continued to tear at her bard's soul. Especially after killing Arja during the battle with Alti.
"Yes, getting hard to ignore," Gabrielle finally answered.
"Yakut knows about the bacchae influence, have you asked her for advice?"
"Yes, she says that all the visions tell her is that I have to face the darkness to change the outcome of that fate. Yakut didn't know how to do that," the bard answered, her crying finally stopping.
"Have you tried Apollo?" Xena asked softly.
"Yes," Gabrielle had been surprised Xena would suggest it, knowing how the warrior felt about dealing with the gods, but the God of the Sun was her father, after all. "He didn't show. Neither did Artemis."
Xena frowned. She knew that Gabrielle was hurt that Artemis hadn't made an appearance to the bard when the Amazons were killed in Germania, even when the bard had mourned deeply, holding an Amazon grieving ritual and sacrificing at Artemis' temple. Xena was puzzled by the behavior of the goddess and didn't think it was because they found out that Apollo was Gabrielle's father, Apollo and Artemis usually got along fairly well. It was Ares that Artemis kept trying to use for archery practice, Xena thought with a smile.
"Raw meat?" Xena suggested.
"Been there, done that. It's getting to a point where it's not helping," Xena could hear the bitterness in Gabrielle's voice and her heart ached at the sound of it. She held the bard closer in her arms.
Gabrielle shuddered. "I... I haven't yet," she whispered.
"Might help," Xena encouraged. "I could go out with the next hunting party."
Xena drew the bard into her arms as Gabrielle broke down totally, crying and Xena carried her mate back to their hut and sleeping furs. The warrior held the tortured woman until she fell asleep again.
The warrior, however, didn't sleep any more that night. Xena kept remembering the conversation with her mother before the Greek family had traveled north to the Amazons.
"I'm not sure what to tell you, Xena. Rare meat, even drinking animal blood might not be enough at times." Cyrene frowned.
Xena felt a shudder. "You mean she might need human blood?"
"I don't know. You know the Bacchae need blood to survive but it's not just the blood. If it were they would feed on animals." Cyrene noted.
"It's the sexual energy that goes with the blood, the arousal and fear of a Bacchae feeding." Xena whispered.
Xena didn't say anything to Gabrielle when she returned the next evening from the day's hunting, she merely handed the bard a wine flask and held the young woman tightly. The warrior tried to ignore the tears filling Gabrielle's eyes as the bard left the hut, tears filling Xena's eyes as well.
Xena wiped the blood from her hand and left the hut to find Solan and Sasha before dinner to get them cleaned up.
Gabrielle didn't say anything about the animal blood but Xena noticed the bard slept the night through for the first time in days.
Xena could tell that Gabrielle was pleased when the warrior suggested that they stay with the Northern Amazons for the Winter season and travel to see their adopted Germanic family at the first frost thaw in the Spring. She knew Hercules, Iolaus and Ketli, would be visiting Axel and Eddvar about that time as well.
Xena was put to work with the blacksmith, Hillevi; and Gabrielle alternated between learning the Northern Amazon ways and the language and teaching the Northern Amazons the ways of the Southern Amazons so the rituals and traditions would be saved.
Both Gabrielle and Xena knew that special exceptions were being made for the Greek family in letting Solan stay inside the village. Males weren't permitted to stay long in any Amazon village but his position as the adopted son of an Amazon Queen complicated things. So did his being blind. The Amazons couldn't expect him to be welcome in any nearby village nor be able to camp outside Amazon territory in the middle of winter in Siberia.
In the end, he stayed in the village, always with an escort whenever he left the hut. Having been raised with Centaurs and allied with the Amazons, the boy understood and accepted the condition. In turn, the scouts and warriors delighted in teaching the boy fighting moves that he could do even without sight and everyone was amazed with his skill with a bow and throwing knives if he could hear the target.
Sasha and Solan also joined in learning the languages with Gabrielle. Sasha also started learning the basics of being an Amazon, from customs, to playful exercise and storytelling that passed along the history and myths of the tribe. Gabrielle had once told Xena that Sasha was smart and the Amazons were also quick to inform the warrior that she had an exceptional child, bringing a blush to the proud mother.
Xena, naturally, also helped train the warriors and scouts.
The warrior was walking across the common grounds towards the training yard when a familiar laugh caught her attention. Xena grinned and leaned against a tree as she watched Sasha and Gabrielle playing with Solan in the snow. Her mate and daughter would yell out and try to dodge as Solan launched snowballs at them while they tried to get closer to him.
Eventually the "fight" ended up as a wrestling match in the snow with a lot of laughter.
Xena turned and grinned as Otere walked up and joined the warrior watching the Southern Amazon Queen and kids.
"You'll need to get that bunch into the sauna hut by the time they're done," Otere grinned.
"Yup," Xena agreed with a smile.
"I'm glad you decided to stay with us for the winter," the Queen smiled as they watched Gabrielle trying to get a handful of snow down the back of Solan's jacket and Sasha tackling the bard's legs. "I was worried that Gabrielle might not forgive herself enough to stay with us."
"So was I," Xena admitted. "The rest will do us all some good. It's been a rough few years."
"Gabrielle has told me a little bit about it. She doesn't talk a lot about the time she was held by the Romans, is she alright with it?"
Xena lost her smile. "As well as any woman can be with being beaten, raped repeatedly, whipped, and forced into a life she never wanted."
"I'm sorry," Otere whispered.
"It's alright, I guess I still feel guilty for not protecting her," the warrior answered.
"She doesn't blame you," Otere said softly.
"I know and I don't blame her, doesn't help the guilt a lot," Xena smiled a grim smile.
"It will ease, Consort," Otere encouraged.
"Hey!" Xena yelped suddenly as a snowball landed right at the base of her neck, sending cold wet slush down the inside of her leather jacket.
The warrior and Amazon Queen looked over to see Solan grinning from ear to ear, still sitting in the snow and Gabrielle and Sasha trying to look innocent but giggling nonetheless.
Otere decided on a strategic retreat behind the tree while the warrior rushed over to join the wrestling match with her mate and kids before dragging them to the sauna hut to warm up.
Otere watched the interaction of the family and grinned. The Amazon Queen spotted several of the guards grinning as well and was pleased with the Council's decision to forgive Xena her debt to the village after the battle with Alti. They were a welcome addition to the Amazons.
Yakut joined her Queen as Otere watched Xena helping her mate and kids to their feet, brushing at the wet snow sticking to their leathers. Everyone was wet, cold and laughing. The warrior wrapped her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders as Solan picked up Sasha and they headed towards the sauna hut.
"I grew up with stories of the monster Xena." Yakut spoke as she and Queen Otere began to walk towards the training yard. "How my mother was killed brutally, betrayed by Xena. Hearing about the blood rituals and how ruthless she and Alti both were." Yakut pointed at the family entering the sauna hut. "That's not the same Xena."
"No," Otere agreed. "I'll tell you something, though. I'm glad this Xena is on our side, I have a feeling she's as deadly as her former self if anything happened to her family."
"Yes," Yakut agreed.
Later that evening, the family sat in the meeting hall, watching some of the Amazons practicing dance moves and drumming. Several small groups were playing various games consisting of bone toss and dice. Solan was with a small group of the Amazon Scouts arm wrestling and Sasha was with the other children of the village in a play area. Xena and Gabrielle leaned against the wall near one of the fire pits, Gabrielle leaning back against her mate with Xena's arms wrapped snuggly around her.
"Thank you," Gabrielle said, surprising Xena with the comment from nowhere.
"What for, little one?"
"For talking me into staying," the bard answered, echoing Otere's thoughts of earlier.
Xena grinned and hugged Gabrielle in a loving hug.
"My pleasure. I'm glad we stayed too." Xena agreed. "Are you telling a story tonight?"
"No, not tonight. Sasha asked if she could stay with her friend Maiju and her parents for the night and Solan has offered to stay in the small guest hut." Gabrielle informed her mate with a smile.
Xena felt additional warmth spread through her body and leaned down to lightly nuzzle her bard's neck, sending shivers down Gabrielle's spine. Gabrielle sighed and leaned further back into Xena's embrace, leaning up to capture Xena's lips with hers.
Xena leaned back after a long kiss and grinned. "You mean we're alone for the night."
"Yes," Gabrielle confirmed with a grin.
"After that battle today, I'm a little tired, maybe we should turn in early," Xena suggested with an evil grin that caused Gabrielle's heart to skip a beat.
"I agree, that was a ferocious battle today, our leathers are still soaking wet," Gabrielle agreed.
Svetlana grinned and pointed to the couple leaving the main hut to her Queen as they discussed winter supplies. Otere looked up and smiled as well.
"Good, they need some time," Otere muttered.
Deep into the third month with the Amazons, the snow was thick and most of the time was spent inside the huts, working on indoor crafts; repairing weapons, making new ones, sewing new clothing and repairing old, teaching snow skills to the youngsters and the Greeks, and telling stories and histories of the Amazons.
It also meant long hours of darkness with almost no sun at all, something the Greeks weren't accustomed to and the Amazons worked hard at keeping them busy, knowing that the lack of sun and being caught indoors for long periods of time could be deadly on the mind and spirit.
Towards the end of the month Gabrielle began tossing and turning in her sleep, caught up in nightmares again. The bard also noticed her appetite decreasing, which was astounding, as Xena would tease her if she noticed. Gabrielle began trying to avoid sleeping, which was difficult with Xena right by her side. The bard silently cursed the warriors astounding instincts. The warrior always seemed to know when Gabrielle tossed and turned and was awake instantly.
The bard also noticed her hands shaking more and her nerves on edge more and more.
Xena had noticed Gabrielle's lack of sleep and nervousness and suspected what was causing it. What concerned her was that Gabrielle hadn't come to her with it yet.
After a week of the situation building up, Xena was determined to get her bard to talk to her. The warrior waited until she saw Gabrielle talking with Otere outside the main hut and approached them slowly. Unfortunately, Gabrielle was engrossed in whatever she and Otere were talking about and tired; she didn't hear the warrior approach from behind.
When Xena walked up behind the bard and placed a hand on the woman's shoulder she was surprised when Gabrielle yelped and spun on her heel, bringing her fist up in a defensive blow. Only the warrior's years of well-honed experience and instincts kept the bard's fist from connecting with her nose. Her hand caught Gabrielle's wrist and stopped the fist just short of her nose.
Gabrielle's eyes went wide with shock as she slowly lowered her hand.
"Xena! I'm sorry!"
Xena grinned as Otere and the bard tried to calm their breathing. "It's okay, no harm. I should have said something."
"I almost hit you!" Gabrielle protested, falling into Xena's arms, tears welling up in her eyes.
"You almost got me too, quick reflexes!" Xena smiled, holding the bard tight. The warrior looked up and Otere nodded and went back inside the hut, leaving the two alone. "Time to talk, little one," the warrior said softly.
"Okay," Gabrielle agreed, not meeting Xena's eyes.
The warrior led them back to their hut, knowing that Solan was off helping with the cooking and Sasha was learning Amazon history. She stirred up the fire and sat down on the furs. Gabrielle, instead of snuggling in Xena's arms, sat a couple of feet away on the furs next to the fire.
Xena's heart felt heavy as she saw the pain in her mate's eyes.
"The cravings are back and getting strong again," Gabrielle said simply, her hands clenched into fists.
"How can I help, raw meat?" Xena asked, the concern thick in her voice.
"Been doing that all week," Gabrielle said bitterly, turning her eyes away from Xena and staring into the fire. "When do the hunters go out again?"
"Svetlana says in the morning, actually. I'll go with them," Xena said simply.
"Okay," the bard said softly.
Xena reached forward to wipe a tear away from Gabrielle's cheek and gently drew the bard into her arms.
Xena found the wine skin she had used the month before hanging on the door when she got up early before Gabrielle and Solan.
The warrior wiped away a tear of her own as she looked down on her sleeping mate.
Later that day Gabrielle entered the dark hut to grab her new quill from her packs when a noise from the shadows stopped her hand in mid reach.
"Who's there?" she called, eyes narrowing in the semi dark room.
The Amazon Queen's eyebrows rose in surprise and question as Solan and his escort stepped into the light from the smoke hole in the ceiling. Both were blushing furiously. The escort, Reija, was pulling at her tunic to straighten it.
"Oh Hades," the bard muttered, realizing what she had just walked in on and what that could mean on Amazon land. "Reija, would you leave me with my son, please?" she asked calmly. "And light the lamps on your way out."
"Yes, Queen Gabrielle," the girl muttered.
Gabrielle didn't correct the young Amazon teen in her preferred non-use of her title, instead letting the Amazon acknowledge her fear through the use of Gabrielle's title.
The girl quickly lit the lamps and scurried out the door, hiding her face in the hood of her cloak.
Solan shifted on his feet, his head lowered.
Gabrielle sat down on the furs next to the fire.
"Sit down, Solan," she ordered, her voice firm but betraying no emotions.
He sat quickly and waited and Gabrielle made him wait for several moments.
"Want to explain?" she finally asked.
"Not really," he grinned a lopsided grin, reminding the bard of his mother.
"Give!" she ordered.
"I don't know," his face changed to one of distress. "We've gotten close and everything gets confused whenever she's around. It's like I can't think straight, I can't focus, and I hear her voice or scent of her special soap and my heart stops and I can't breath."
"Oh gods, you're in love," the bard muttered, running a hand through her short hair and shrugging off her coat.
"Is this what it feels like?" he asked softly.
"I don't know. You're both young," she frowned.
"How old were you when you met Mom?" he questioned, shifting on the furs.
"Seventeen summers and you're only sixteen winters old, how old is Reija?" she asked.
"Seventeen winters," he muttered.
"Terrific," Gabrielle muttered. "Does she feel the same?"
"Yes, she knew the consequences if we got caught," he muttered.
"Do you know the consequences?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Yes," he answered, dropping his head again.
"Tell me," Gabrielle insisted.
"Blinding, castration, death, banishment, becoming a slave to the Queen, depending on how..." he stammered.
"Depending on how far the violation went," Gabrielle finished for him.
"It was consensual!" he protested.
"I know that, I never suspected otherwise. It could still be serious for both of you. Banishment for her and worse for you." Gabrielle shook her head. "Why didn't you come to me?"
"I don't know," he whispered, suddenly sounding young again. "We thought we could handle it and it wouldn't go anywhere."
"Terrific," the Amazon Queen muttered. "How long have you two been making out?"
Solan began blushing even more. "I... uh..."
"Give!" Gabrielle growled.
"I... uh... this was the fifth time," he finally admitted.
"Oh Hades!" Gabrielle snapped. "This is serious. How far have you two gotten?"
"Mom!" the young teen protested.
"Just kissing!" he protested.
"And?" she demanded.
The boy began blushing an even brighter red. "I've felt under her shirt," he whispered.
"And how far did she get?" Gabrielle asked.
"My shirt off and teasing my... uh..."
"Nipples or lower?"
"Mom!" Solan squeaked. "Nipples."
"Okay, it might help that you're both still virgins," she muttered.
"Quiet, I need to think about what to do with both of you," she ordered.
"Could we just keep quiet?" he asked hopefully.
"No, I'm an Amazon Queen, damn it! I can't just ignore something this major!"
"Ignore what, my love?"
Both son and mate turned to see Xena entering the door. Solan began blushing all over again while Gabrielle turned to look at him and glare.
Xena raised her eyebrows at Gabrielle's obvious anger and her son's distress. She was surprised when the bard got to her feet, taking her coat with her.
"Ask your grown up son," Gabrielle muttered as she brushed past the warrior and out the door. "I need to think."
Xena turned to find Solan's head lowered and the teenager still blushing.
Xena found Gabrielle in the exercise hut, practicing with her sais, going through complicated gladiator fighting moves. The bard had worked up a sweat and had an intense look on her face.
Her jaw tightened when she noticed Xena enter the hut. Gabrielle finished the set of moves and approached her mate.
Xena noted the bard's stubborn jaw and her cat-like walk and knew Gabrielle was still upset. The warrior sat down on one of the benches and waited for her mate to join her.
"Don't ask me to ignore this," Gabrielle stated flatly.
"Oh gods, this is serious, Xena," Gabrielle sat down and leaned on the warrior's shoulder.
"Even more serious than you think," Xena said softly and Gabrielle sat up to look in her mate's eyes. "Reija is willing to leave the tribe for Solan, they were planning on running away to Greece in the Spring."
"By the gods!" Gabrielle whispered in shock. An Amazon willing to leave her tribe and lifetime of training and dedication for a male was almost unheard of. Usually if an Amazon fell in love with a male, he would live near the village and the Amazon would spend time with him but her first loyalty was to the tribe.
Xena nodded, unhappily. This was complicated and probably going to get more complicated very quickly.
"Where's the girl?"
"I don't know, I sent her out of the hut when I caught them."
Xena smiled a small smile. "That must have been interesting!"
Gabrielle lightly punched her warrior on the arm with a smile and then became serious again. "Good thing it was me, any other Amazon might have killed him before thinking or asking questions."
"I know and they were bound to be caught eventually. What do we do?"
"I want to talk to the girl and Solan and then we go to Queen Otere," Gabrielle
said simply. "Meet me back at our hut?" she asked as she stood up.
Xena rose to her feet and lightly kissed her bard's lips. "Yes," she responded.
The warrior watched the bard put her coat on and head for the door, her walk still determined. Xena looked around at the training area and was tempted to whack a couple of the wooden post with her sword as well. She sighed heavily and headed towards their hut.
Gabrielle quickly tracked the young scout down in the main food hall. The young teenager was sitting quietly with her friends at a table. Most everyone glanced up when Gabrielle entered the long hall and nodded in recognition and went back to their games, food, or talking. Reija went pale and her friends surrounding her noticed the look on her face and how quiet she was when the Southern Queen entered.
As Gabrielle walked towards the table everyone sitting went quiet, sensing something out of place and feeling the tension.
"Reija, come with me, please," Gabrielle ordered simply, her face firm. Without waiting for a response she turned on her heel and walked towards the door.
A low hum of interest sprung up around the room as the Amazons began wondering what that intense scene had been about. Gabrielle could imagine the girl blushing and brushing off whispered questions as she rose to follow the bard.
The bard entered the hut and hung up her coat without a word and motioned for the scout to sit on the furs next to the fire pit, Xena and Solan already sitting down. Xena kept quiet, letting Gabrielle take control of the situation. As an Amazon Queen the bard was better equipped to deal with this. She sat down, her face still serious.
Xena had watched the scout enter the hut after her wife and took close notice of the Amazon. She had trained a few times under Xena, the warrior reflected. She knew Reija was a good scout, adequate warrior and excellent cook. The girl was the same height as Solan and looked like she was at the end of most of her growth, Xena thought to herself. The boy would probably end up a few inches taller in a year. Whereas Solan's hair was blond and fine, Reija's was dark and thick, cut short like a lot of the scouts. Her blue eyes were a deep blue and she was cute and would be beautiful, Xena concluded.
Not that Solan could see her beauty. A bad sign, Xena thought, which reduced the possibility that it was lust that could be handled.
"Reija, Solan, you've both had time to think. You both know you should have come to us before it got this far, you also know what the consequences could be. What solution would you come up with?" Gabrielle questioned.
Neither teenager spoke, both Gabrielle and Xena's quick eyes caught Reija's hand reaching out to Solan's.
"Reija, what do you feel for Solan? You knew the risk you were taking," Gabrielle said, her face softening a little.
"I don't want to live without him, it's like he's a light in my life."
"Why didn't you come to us or the Elders? You know they probably would approve a match between the two of you," Gabrielle asked.
"I didn't want an Amazon bonding," Reija answered softly.
Gabrielle and Xena were stunned.
"Have you heard of this?" Xena asked softly.
"Not at her age," Gabrielle answered. There were cases of teenagers deciding they wanted the life outside the village and they were released from the tribe if they could find a family to take them in. Never had an Amazon of Reija's age been willing to leave the life for any reason, even for marriage.
"Solan wants to return to Greece but he would be willing to stay here and live outside the village but that's not what I want. I want a regular marriage with Solan." Reija answered.
Gabrielle looked at her mate and frowned when Xena merely shrugged, indicating she didn't know what to do either.
"Solan?" Gabrielle asked.
"I love her, Mom, and I want to marry her."
"We have to go to the council," Gabrielle looked at her mate and the warrior nodded in agreement.
"Mattita is the Council Elder and has decision in law, she won't agree!" Reija protested, tightening her grip in Solan's hand.
"Why not, if you're not happy in the village and it's a good match, he is the son of an Amazon Queen," Xena asked.
"She's my mother," Reija whispered, a tear running down her cheek.
"Oh gods," Gabrielle muttered. Mattita was one of the most traditionally minded Amazons Gabrielle had ever known. She had voted against Solan staying in the village in the first place, Gabrielle remembered. Mattita was very anti-male and anti-world in general.
"We don't have a choice, little one," Xena said simply.
"I know. Who to go to first and how?" Gabrielle mused while the teenagers shifted uneasily. "Xena, you'll stay with Solan until someone comes to escort the two of you, probably to the Queen's hut." Xena nodded. "I'll take Reija to Yakut."
"Why Yakut?" Xena questioned and was surprised when the bard started blushing.
"So she can swear to the Council that Reija hasn't been touched by Solan beyond the lips," she muttered. Xena joined her mate and teenagers in blushing as well with a muttered curse.
"I won't let him be hurt," Xena warned.
"I know, if it comes to it, we'll leave the village," Gabrielle agreed.
"Gabrielle," Xena started to protest.
"No, Xena, if it comes to it we'll all leave together," Gabrielle cut short the warriors argument that she and Solan would leave and leave Gabrielle and Sasha safe.
Xena grumbled but nodded muttering a curse that her mate knew her so well.
The bard motioned for the young Amazon to follow her and grabbed her coat again.
The arguing went on for two days between the Elders, Queens, and the teenagers.
It was the evening of the second day when Otere finally exited the meeting hut and dashed across the snow to the Southern Queen's hut. Slamming the door against the wind, she took a moment for her eyes to adjust and took in the occupants looking at her, trying to read her expression.
Solan was sitting against the wall with an older Amazon warrior standing beside him, his new escort. Sasha playing at his feet with a wooden horse and soldier. Reija was sitting near the fire pit with Gabrielle, while Xena sat on a stool, sharpening her sword. Otere noticed the warrior was wearing her chakram as well. A quick glance at the other Amazon Queen confirmed her sudden suspicion. Gabrielle had her sais in their boot sheaths and a dagger at her belt.
Otere suddenly wasn't sure if they could take the boy easily from his two moms if it came to that.
"The Council has decided for immediate banishment of them both," she said quietly, trying to keep her face neutral.
"Over my dead body," Xena growled with her eyes narrowing.
"You know that sending them out this time of season would mean their deaths if the nearest village or farmstead didn't take them in!" Gabrielle protested.
"I know," Otere said, her weariness suddenly showing plainly to everyone, even Solan could hear it in her voice. "I've been fighting with the Council for two days, Gabrielle. Mattita has many friends on the Council and a couple of others owe her. It's the decision."
"How can a mother send her child out to die?" Xena demanded.
"Mattita, my mother, gave up on me a long time ago," Reija stated. "We never agreed on contact with outsiders and especially about contact with men. Her plan is to have men as slaves to keep the Amazon tribe alive but nothing more than slaves."
"For work and breeding only?" Gabrielle demanded.
"Yes," Reija nodded. "I disagreed loudly and she disowned me as her daughter."
"Then we'll leave in the morning," Gabrielle stated, her eyes blazing in anger.
"Not you Gabrielle, just Solan and Reija," Otere protested.
"That's my son!" Gabrielle snapped back, "If he leaves, we all leave."
"You can't take Sasha out in this!" Otere frowned.
"Not my choice!" Gabrielle snapped back.
Otere held up her hands to try and calm the moment. "Let me talk to the Council again, we were afraid of this," she muttered, heading back out the door.
"What if they won't let me and Sasha leave?" Gabrielle asked Xena as the warrior continued sharpening her sword, her face with a deep scowl.
"I don't know and I don't want to know," Xena muttered.
"We can't fight the Amazons," Gabrielle muttered.
"I know, love, I know," Xena muttered back.
It was another candle mark before Otere returned. By then Sasha was asleep and Reija lightly dozing. The scout hadn't gotten much sleep over the two days of debating and it was finally catching up with her and she lay with her head in Gabrielle's lap. Xena tried not to grin at the tenderness the bard was showing to the wayward Amazon. She knew Gabrielle couldn't help it, no matter how mad she wanted to be at the two teenagers.
Reija woke up at the chilled wind crashing through the hut when Otere opened and entered the dwelling, leaning against the door to shut it behind her.
"The Council has decided to hold off banishment until the Ice Month."
Gabrielle turned to Xena, "Three moons from now," the warrior answered.
"Until then?" Gabrielle turned back to Otere.
"Until then Solan will have an older escort, as will Reija. They will be allowed to see each other with other Amazons present. Since he is the son of an Amazon Queen, a marriage ritual will be performed in the Ice Month before they leave the village and any daughters they have will be accepted as Amazons." Otere stated.
Xena was still frowning. "The Ice Month is also known as the Moon of Death. There's no game, food is short, and the snow melts and then freezes into ice. Walking through that is like walking through a field of knives, Otere," she growled.
Gabrielle matched her frown and turned to the Northern Queen, her face questioning.
Otere clenched her jaw. "Yes, the odds aren't good for surviving but it's the best I could do."
"All right, enough for now," Gabrielle ordered. "Everyone's alive, no one's fighting and we've reached a compromise we can live with for now."
"Reija, go join your sisters in your hut," Otere ordered and the teenager jumped to her feet. She glanced over towards Solan, confusion on her face. "Don't think about it, just go for now." Otere advised.
"Goodnight, everyone. Queen Gabrielle, Xena, thank you for fighting for us," the girl said softly.
"Of course, you're about to become family," Gabrielle countered with a smile and opened her arms for the youngster and hugged the teen.
Xena smiled at her mate's warmth again. No one could stay mad at Gabrielle or resist her for long. It always amazed Xena that the bard didn't seem to even know she possessed that quality.
"What are the conditions on Solan's escort, does she now live with us?" Gabrielle questioned.
"No, just don't let him out of your sight or assign him an escort if one of you isn't going to be with him."
The escort left the hut with her Northern Queen, leaving the Greek family alone again.
"Get Sasha to bed and you follow, Solan," Xena ordered, putting her sword aside with a sigh.
She looked up to find Gabrielle standing near her. The bard went behind her warrior and began massaging Xena's shoulders. They were all tired after the stress of the two days.
"Mom," Xena looked up to see Solan standing nearby, his head low.
"I'm sorry and thank you," he said, shuffling his feet.
"It's okay and you're welcome. Nobody asks to fall in love, it just hits you."
The young man moved off towards his sleeping furs.
"How bad is the weather in the Ice Month?" Gabrielle whispered, as the young man got ready for bed.
"There's a chance if we can get to a river that's thawing and canoe down to warmer weather. It's a slim chance though and I don't think the Amazons are going to let you and Sasha take that chance." Xena growled.
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked, working on the warrior's muscles.
"You are both Amazon royalty. I don't think they'd let you risk that."
"You think they'd try to hold us against our wills and send the rest of you out?" Gabrielle frowned. She knew Otere wouldn't do that but what about Mattita? The bard could imagine the older Amazon using it as a chance to force Gabrielle into renouncing her tie to the tribe.
"I don't know and I don't know what we'd do if they tried. Like you said, we can't fight Amazons," Xena muttered.
"Let's think about it tomorrow, I'm tired," Gabrielle suggested.
"Yes, keep your weapons close though," Xena advised.
Gabrielle shook her head in disbelief that they might be attacked by the Amazons during the night but kept her sais close at to hand.
The next full moon found Gabrielle with her intense cravings again and no fresh meat. It took three days of hunting for the small band of Amazon scouts to bring down a thin deer. The time it took for the hunt had left Gabrielle plagued by the cravings.
When Xena returned from the hunt she found Gabrielle curled in their sleeping furs, almost in tears from the blood need. The warrior quickly shut the door and dropped the fur coverings against the cold wind and crossed to Gabrielle's side with the wine skin filled with the dark red liquid the bard couldn't seem to live without. Without taking time to take off her coat and fur wrappings, she knelt by the bard and touched Gabrielle's shoulder.
Only years of warrior experience kept the surprise off Xena's face when Gabrielle opened her eyes and Xena saw the green eyes were mostly yellow now with the blood need.
Without a word the bard took the wine skin and turned away from her mate. Fighting back a lump in her throat, Xena turned and began climbing out of her coat and layers of fur. By the time she had finished stripping down to comfortable layers and returned to the fire, Gabrielle had finished off the wine skin's contents and was sitting up.
The bard wouldn't meet her eyes.
Xena sat down next to Gabrielle, resisting taking the woman into her arms immediately. "Where are the kids?" she asked simply.
"With Yakut and Karita. I didn't want them around me right now." Gabrielle whispered.
"Been bad?" Xena's face showed the compassion and pain she was feeling for her wife.
"Yes," Gabrielle admitted. "Thank you."
Xena reached her arm out and drew Gabrielle close to her and felt the bard beginning to relax.
"What happens when you can't find any game?" the bard whispered after a few minutes.
"I've talked with Yakut, they slaughter a couple of sheep next month, she'll make sure we get some of the blood."
"Oh gods, I can't believe this is happening!"
"I know, little one, but we'll get through it."
Xena wasn't surprised when the bard fell asleep in her arms a short time later. She had known that Gabrielle hadn't slept well in a week.
At the beginning of the month of the Ice Moon Xena was surprised to find Gabrielle, Yakut and Otere huddled in the Queen's hut for hours at a time and was beginning to get frustrated when none of them would tell the warrior anything after three days of being secluded away.
She was relieved when Gabrielle asked Xena to join the trio in the Queen's Hut after the evening meal.
As Xena approached the Queen's Hut and entered the door she was surprised to find that there weren't any guards anywhere in sight. She frowned as she took in the numerous scrolls spread across the table of the Queen's hut. Gabrielle got up from a chair and leaned up to kiss her mate. Xena welcomed the bard into her arms and frowned when she looked into Gabrielle's eyes.
"Okay, what's up? None of you have slept for three days," she demanded.
"We need to leave, Xena," Gabrielle said simply.
"The Moon isn't for another two weeks," Xena frowned.
"According to Northern Amazon law, any Amazon can be held against their will during the winter months to prevent them from leaving the village if their lives are in danger," Otere stated.
"It's used to justify locking up those Amazons that occasionally go snow mad from being locked up all winter. We lock them in the prisoner hut and talk with them and work them out of their madness." Otere answered.
"You plan on holding Gabrielle and Sasha against their wills when you force Solan, Reija and I out of the Village?" Xena demanded with her eyes narrowing.
"No, not us, but the Council."
"Not me, Xena, just Sasha," Gabrielle explained further.
"Our daughter? They want to take Sasha from us?"
Yakut winced at the anger flashing through the clear blue eyes dancing over them, demanding answers. Otere couldn't face those eyes either and dropped her head.
"Yes, Mattita wants Sasha out of revenge for Reija leaving," Gabrielle said bitterly.
"We won't let them, they won't fight us," Xena stated in a flat voice.
"Yes, they will. According to Northern Amazon law, you can't challenge the Law Speaker and the Amazons would be forced to take Sasha from you, by force, if necessary," Otere answered.
"I take it since the three of you have been pouring over the scrolls for three days and nights, you aren't in favor of Mattita's plans and that you haven't found a legal way to fight her," Xena deduced and the three of them nodded unhappily.
"We have to get out of here, we don't know when she's going to make her move. She resents Otere being given the right of caste by Arja and resents me as an outsider," Gabrielle explained.
"And she hates me because I know her secret," Xena said grimly.
Three sets of eyebrows rose in question.
"The day of my attack, Mattita was there. When the Amazons chased me to the trees and the killing began, she ran," Xena explained.
Otere's eyes were wide with surprise and Yakut sat down heavily in her chair.
"She says that she was scouting away from the area that day," Otere muttered.
"Cyrene was counting on her to watch her lieutenant's back and Mattita ran, leaving the lieutenant open to my traps."
"Her Lieutenant?" Yakut asked softly.
"Yes, she was caught on one of the tree branches," Xena answered.
"Kaisu, her name was Kaisu," Yakut whispered and Otere quickly moved around the table and wrapped her arms around her friend and shaman.
Xena sank into a chair, realization hitting her. "Your mother, that was your mother?" she whispered.
"Yes, and Mattita betrayed her?" Yakut demanded, eyes flashing brightly with anger.
"Terrific," Gabrielle muttered, running a hand through her short hair. "Can this help us fight her?"
"I don't know," Otere said thoughtfully. "I don't think so. Xena is accepted and forgiven but Mattita's word would probably be taken over hers about anything happening on that day."
"But she's planning on using your support of us as the beginning of a coup, if we point out that she's not worthy of being a Queen then she can't try it," Gabrielle protested.
"She's got a lot of support, it would cause a civil war," Otere countered.
"So the solution is still for us to make a run for it," Gabrielle commented bitterly.
"Yes," Yakut agreed.
"What's the plan then?" Xena asked.
"You're the soldier," Gabrielle muttered, resting her head in her hands, elbows on the table.
"First thing, they'll know something's up, everyone knows you three have been in here non-stop for three days. We need to come up with something to distract them and divert their attention," Xena suggested.
"We'll tell them the truth, that we've been pouring over the scrolls trying to find an answer to keeping Reija from being banished into the winter snow," Otere suggested.
"Good, convince everyone of that, nothing about the plan to keep Sasha," Xena urged.
"Won't Mattita use this against you if we leave?" Gabrielle asked.
"She'll try but nothing's been officially decided about holding you or Sasha here yet," Otere grinned.
"Now, we plan on getting out of here." Xena bent over the map.
Xena had decided to make a run for it from the village using canoes along the river until they hit the coast and then double back onto land and make a run for the lands of the Germans.
The plan had been simple, wait until the next feast night, slip out and make a run for it in the night with several trusted Amazons helping them get out of the Village.
The conspirators had noticed an increase in tension around the village and several of Mattita's trusted Amazons hanging around the Greek family more.
The night of the Solstice celebration found all the Amazons but a handful in the main hall for the celebration of the longest night of the year. Only a few scouts were away from the village in scout huts along the perimeter of the Amazon territory. Since being out in the middle of winter in the Russian north was suicide, the scouts wouldn't be venturing outside their huts during the night and very little during the day either.
Xena was counting on that.
The warrior noticed Mattita watching her and Gabrielle closely and concentrated on the celebration, breaking into a grin when she spotted Gabrielle teaching Sasha and several of the children some of the dance moves of the Southern Amazons to the delight of most of the Amazons as well.
Gabrielle looked over at her mate and grinned, sending a flush over Xena's body. The warrior noticed Mattita's scowl and smiled to herself. Leaving the kids to fend for themselves with their new dance steps, Gabrielle approached Xena slowly, leaning up to kiss the warrior's lips as they sat down on one of the benches lining the walls, Xena drawing the bard into her arms.
It was obvious to everyone who happened to glance at the couple that they would probably be retiring to their sleeping furs early and not to sleep.
Yakut was standing next to Otere as they both also noticed the Greek couple embracing on one of the benches. Yakut grinned at Otere and shrugged, seemingly amused by the obvious devotion and passion of the two. Mattita didn't notice that all four were also taking notice of her scowl and observation of them.
"It's going well," Yakut commented softly to Otere. "Solan's in the guest hut, guarded by one of your guards during the feasting and those two have got me convinced they should leave and find a corner somewhere."
Otere grinned and nodded in agreement as they watched Gabrielle's hands run through Xena's hair as they kissed passionately and both of them caught their breath as the warrior's head moved down and her teeth lightly nipped Gabrielle's neck, causing the bard to toss her head back in arousal.
No one was surprised when Gabrielle stood up quickly and pulled Xena to her feet after her. Several grins and a couple of scowls followed the couple as they headed for the door.
"I'll follow in a few minutes, taking Sasha to the guest hut," Yakut confirmed.
"Right. My guard is already taking Reija to the guest hut. Our Amazons have already been slipping out during the night. The canoes should be packed and ready to go by the time you get to the hut. Xena and Gabrielle will meet you at the canoes."
"Just keep that bitch's attention when I leave with Sasha," Yakut muttered.
Otere nodded and moved off to the food table.
"Xena, what is it?" Gabrielle's voice drifted through the cold night air to the warrior along with the sounds of the river flowing around the canoes.
"Ice blocking the river, we'll see if we can clear a path," Xena called back softly, listening to the sound of the canoe following hers scrap against the ice filling most of the river as Gabrielle, Sasha and Reija slowed to a stop behind Solan and Xena.
"Solan, take the axe," Xena instructed, handing over the axe handle first to the boy's outstretched hand. "Lean out and see if you can whack through it."
The teenager began hacking away at the ice and then stopped suddenly at the sound of a voice coming out of the darkness.
"Mattita!" Reija hissed, leaning over into the canoe, hoping they would blend into the shadows of the ice chunks flowing in the river.
"Quiet, everyone!" Xena growled.
"Gabrielle! We know you're there," the harsh voice called.
"Xena?" the bard called softly.
"Move up here as close as you can, Solan, keep chopping!" Xena ordered.
"Gabrielle, just come back to the village with Sasha, nothing will happen to you!" Mattita called.
"Mum?" Sasha's voice caught the bard's attention from her position in the canoe in between Gabrielle and Reija.
"What, Sasha?" the bard whispered as Reija guided their canoe up just behind Xena and Solan's.
"She's lying," the child whispered from around her fur clothing.
"She wants to hurt you," the child whispered tearfully.
"How do you know that?" Gabrielle's eyebrows furrowed in thought.
"I don't know, I just do."
"Okay, you let me know whenever you know something like that," the bard instructed and noted the child's nodding head. "Mattita, let us go. We're leaving the village like the council wanted."
"Your daughter is too valuable to risk to the snow and ice of the Ice Month," the voice called back, slightly further down the bank.
"You can't expect Xena to leave her mate and child behind? Are you insane?" Gabrielle called as her ears kept notice of Solan's chopping.
"Come back to the village, I'll suspend the banishment until the Spring thaw, Solan and Reija can leave in safety and you, Xena and Sasha can stay in the village." Mattita answered.
"She's moving down the river on the embankment with several warriors on both sides of the river," Xena called softly to the bard.
"I know, probably archers, Sasha says she's lying."
"How does she know that? Never mind, child of gods," the warrior muttered.
"You can't force us to stay in the village past the winter!" Gabrielle shouted back.
The bard felt both canoes move slightly as Xena's canoe moved forward a few feet through the chopped ice and Reija's canoe followed.
"Sasha is special and must stay!" Mattita yelled.
"Why? You don't want me as part of your tribe? Why Sasha?"
"She's the child of gods! I heard you talking to Yakut about her! Whatever her powers turn out to be, they can benefit the tribe!"
"Xena?" Gabrielle hissed into the darkness.
"Damnit! She'll kill us and take Sasha back," Xena answered.
"Almost there, it sounds clear for a good stretch past this point, get ready."
"How could I trust your word?" Gabrielle demanded to the darkness. "How could I trust an Amazon that shows cowardice in a fight and leaves her lieutenant, Yakut's mother, to die?"
Angry silence greeted the bard's accusation.
"Now!" Xena hissed as her canoe began to move through the narrow passage Solan had created with the axe.
"Archers!" Mattita's voice commanded in the dark and fire arrows lit up the sky, revealing the canoes on the iced river.
"No!" Xena screamed, "Solan, down!"
Gabrielle turned and covered Sasha's body with her own as Reija watched Xena begin paddling frantically as arrows came flying out of the dark.
Gabrielle yelped as an arrow embedded itself into the canoe two inches in front of her nose.
"Amazons would kill a Queen and her children?" she demanded to the Amazons in the dark.
"Don't force this, Gabrielle!" Mattita called.
"She's insane!" Reija hissed.
More arrows began raining on them. Reija's eyes widened in fear as she saw Xena trying to lean forward to protect Solan. Both Reija and Gabrielle screamed as they watched the warrior snatch two arrows out of the air before they could land in the boy's back but the next two arrows landed in Xena's back.
The warrior fell forward in the canoe.
"Mom?" Solan called out.
"She's hurt, Solan, keep paddling, get out of there! Let the current take you!" Reija ordered.
"Xena!" Gabrielle called.
Reija paddled their canoe through the narrow passage when another round of arrows came out of the darkness.
Gabrielle yelped as an arrow hit her shoulder. She quickly caught the paddle before it hit the water.
"Damnit!" she cursed, her left arm useless.
"Just let the current take us," Reija ordered.
Gabrielle bit her lip to keep focused on guiding the canoe, thankful when the arrows stopped landing in the canoe and water around them as they began to put some distance between them and the Amazons.
"Solan?" she called out as the shouts of the Amazons died down.
"Mom won't answer me!" he shouted back.
"Keep going! We've got to put some miles between us and the Amazons!" Reija urged.
"She's right, try keeping the canoe pointed straight," Gabrielle yelled.
"How do I know that?" he complained.
"If it feels like you're turning in the water, try and paddle the other way," Reija instructed.
After a few minutes, Gabrielle was leaning heavily to one side and the paddle felt like a weight in her hand. The bard pulled it inside the canoe before she dropped it.
"I think I'm losing a lot of blood, Reija and we need to see about Xena," she said simply as blackness began to overtake her.
Gabrielle moaned and opened her eyes slowly.
"Mom?" she heard Solan's voice asking as his hand touched her face.
"Yes, what happened?" she whispered, looking around.
"You passed out, Reija and I made camp and carried you both up here," he answered.
Gabrielle noticed they were right by the river in a small clearing. Somehow they had found dry ground and Reija had two fires going and they had put the bard and Xena in between them. Xena was lying on the sleeping furs, face down, still unconscious.
"How is she?" Gabrielle asked and then moaned at the flash of pain in her shoulder. She raised the furs and looked at the bandage and tested the shoulder and nearly screamed at the pain.
"She won't wake up. I thought with the god healing thing she would be okay," he said in a rush, his emotions over-riding his words.
"Help me over there," she said simply.
Reija walked over from the other side of the fire and helped Solan gently raise the bard to a sitting position and let her move slowly around until she was next to Xena. They both waited while Gabrielle examined the wounds. The bard looked at Reija and saw that the Amazon knew how serious the wounds were.
"Solan, one of the arrows may have pierced her heart," the bard whispered.
"No, please!" the boy begged.
"We need to find shelter, she needs to recover."
"Mattita will keep on, we can't stay here!" Reija protested.
"She can't be moved much more!" Gabrielle countered, feeling lightheaded.
"There's a trapper cabin a couple of miles down the river, we can make for that and hope the Amazons won't follow," Reija suggested.
"Okay, at first light," Gabrielle muttered, only vaguely realizing darkness was claiming her again.
The bard opened her eyes as she felt herself gently swaying and found herself looking into extremely blue eyes and smiled softly.
"Sasha," she whispered, discovering her throat was dry.
"Mum," the child smiled, holding the bard's hand as the stretcher swayed along.
Gabrielle looked up and found Solan carrying one end and assumed that Reija was carrying the other.
"Xena?" she questioned.
"Already in the cabin. We moved her first." Solan answered.
The next few days were spent with Solan and Reija caring for the two wounded women and one small child. Gabrielle was up and moving about within two days. Xena remained unconscious for those two days and drifted in and out for two more after that.
Together the three adults managed to keep soup and water in the warrior to help maintain her strength and healing herbs in her wounds.
It was frustrating because there wasn't much they could do for the wounds, especially the one that had punctured the heart of the warrior. Gabrielle knew that it was only Xena's demi-god status that had saved her from instant death. The bard still wasn't sure the warrior would make it.
Gabrielle brushed some dark hair off the warrior's forehead and the bard bit her lip.
"I wish you had that dryad bone with you, my love," she whispered, yellow showing in her eyes.
When Xena was finally able to focus she found Sasha sitting next to her, gently holding the warrior's hand and wiping her mother's forehead with a cool cloth.
"Sasha," she whispered and was rewarded with a huge smile from her daughter.
"Mom!" the youngster cried out delightedly.
Solan came into focus as well from across the room as he made his way to her side. He knelt down, feeling her face and smiling when she kissed his fingertips.
The warrior spotted Reija by the fire, a frown held the Amazon's face.
"Where's Gabrielle?" Xena demanded, her voice harsh. She tried to sit up and collapsed back onto the sleeping fur, gasping for breath.
"We don't know," Solan said softly, holding Xena back down on the furs. "You were both wounded and she lost a lot of blood. The arrows that hit you, nicked your heart, Mom."
"We figure it's because of whom your parents are that you're even alive," he said simply.
"Gabrielle?" she whispered as he helped her take a drink of water.
"Like I said, a lot of blood loss but she seemed to be mending. Then it was like she was sick, Mom. She began shaking all the time, couldn't eat, couldn't sleep and then she started cramping, bad stomach cramps."
"She can't get sick," Xena muttered.
"That's what we thought too," Solan agreed, the anguish showing on his face. "Then she wouldn't let any of us near her," the youth hesitated. "Mom, she said it was the blood craving only worse."
"Damnit! Loosing a lot of blood and no animal blood for two months. What happened next?" she muttered.
"Yesterday she wouldn't look at any of us," Reija answered as she walked over and knelt by Solan. "Her eyes were almost totally yellow, Xena."
"Then a little after dark we noticed she was gone. I swear none of us heard her slip out. Reija tried tracking her today but lost her tracks in the rocks. There's some rough rock hills to the east of here."
"She's trying to get away to keep from hurting any of us," the warrior muttered.
"She wouldn't hurt any of us," Solan protested.
"A man dying of thirst would kill his best friend for water," the warrior said flatly.
"What do we do? If she's dangerous I don't want Reija going after her and you can't," Solan demanded.
"I have to go after her, I'm the only one that has a chance to reach her."
"You can't even move, it'll take at least a week before you're out of that bed," Reija protested.
"I've got to try!" Xena insisted and attempted to sit up and fell back gasping again. "Don't you get it, she's gone off to die rather than hurt any of us!"
"Maybe I can help, Xena."
Reija turned with her dagger in her hand and moved in between Solan, Xena, Sasha and the voice coming out of the shadows of the cabin's far north wall.
A figured stepped out into the light and Solan felt Xena relax as he held her arm, keeping the warrior down on the fur bedding. Reija could tell it was a woman in a long dark cloak and deep hood, but could tell little else.
"Relax, young one, I'm not here to hurt you," the elderly voice said as the woman pulled back her hood.
"Hecate," Xena whispered.
"Who's Hecate?" Reija demanded, "and how did she get here?"
"She's one of our dark goddesses and she's my Grandmother," Solan answered.
"I thought Cyrene was Xena's mom," Reija asked.
"She is. It's complicated. Hecate and Cyrene are Xena's mothers and my grandmothers. Mom is the daughter of gods and humans," Solan tried to explain while Hecate stood listening with a smile on her face.
"How can you help, Hecate?" Xena asked her breath ragged.
The older looking woman walked past the defensive Amazon warrior and knelt beside Solan and Sasha next to their warrior mother. The Goddess placed one hand on the warrior's chest and waved the other over Xena's upper body.
Xena's body jerked violently and the warrior's eyes rolled back up in her head for a moment as Hecate's firm hand kept its pressure on the warrior's chest. After a moment Xena opened her eyes and appeared stunned.
Hecate gently removed Solan's hand and Xena sat up with a surprised look on her face.
"Mom's okay!" Sasha squealed delightedly.
"Mom?" Solan asked softly.
"No pain, no wounds," Xena answered, looking to Hecate for the answers.
"Find your mate, Xena." Hecate urged. "Without you she will die."
"How can I help her?" Xena asked in an anguished voice.
"Do you remember my advice to you when you went on your shaman journey?" Hecate asked gently.
"That love always wins over darkness," the warrior answered.
"And that of your mother about the bacchae?"
"Human blood is needed at times," Xena responded.
Solan and Reija sat down next to the furs, listening closely to the Goddess and the daughter of gods.
"And what does Gabrielle always need from you?"
Xena thought a moment and tears filled her eyes as she looked back up at Hecate.
"Love," she stated.
"Yes, go to her. Come with me, daughter, time to save your mate," Hecate ordered and offered her hand to the warrior.
Xena got to her feet easily, her body seemingly unaffected from nearly dying and laying in a coma for several days. She dressed quickly in her thick clothing and grabbed her weapons.
"I'll be back soon with Gabrielle," she told her children and Reija.
"And if you don't?" Reija asked, voicing the question Solan didn't want to ask.
"Then make for the nearest village and then for Greece in the spring. Don't get near Gabrielle if I can't reach her," the warrior advised flatly.
The warrior found herself standing near a small rock cave in a rocky and forlorn mountain ridge. She could smell the smoke of a fire and was encouraged by that sign, it meant the bard was struggling to survive and not giving herself up to the snow just yet.
"Hecate?" the warrior whispered and wasn't surprised when the goddess appeared next to her.
"Why are you helping us? You know how I feel about the gods helping."
The goddess laughed softly. "You'll be surprised very soon, daughter. You're my daughter and I'm fond of you and wish to help. Others will help you along the way because it's necessary to balance things."
"What do you mean?" Xena asked.
"Just like Gabrielle's father intervened in her birth because Ares had messed with your destiny, other gods also make the same choices."
"You're speaking in riddles," Xena complained.
"Yes, I'm sorry. The Northern Gods stepped into your life and probably will again as well as some of the Greek ones."
"Why? What do we have to do with them?" Xena demanded.
"Sasha is destined to play a part in their future and that destiny was interfered with," Hecate explained. "Gabrielle wasn't meant to be separated from you when Sasha was born. That's why the Valkyrie was sent to aid you."
Xena felt a chill run up her spine and her eyes narrowed in thought.
"Someone interfered with Fate? Gabrielle wasn't meant to be a slave?" she asked through clenched teeth.
"Yes," Hecate confirmed.
"Someone set her up to be taken, raped, beaten and forced into fighting?"
"Yes, and to get her away from you," Hecate confirmed.
"Yes, because of that being set in motion, she died on that cross and Apollo had to accept the bacchae side coming out in her to save her life, but deal with that later, focus on saving her life right now."
"Right," Xena agreed, turning her focus back to the cave. "She knows I'm here."
"She can hear your heart, the blood in your veins. Be careful, daughter.
Xena approached the cave slowly, letting her eyes adjust to the dimness of the cave, lit only by a small fire.
"Gabrielle?" Xena called softly, "I know you can hear me."
Receiving no answer, the warrior entered further into the cave and spotted a huddled mass near the fire. Xena moved closer, keeping the fire between her and the figure. The warrior finally moved close enough to get a look at the furs and bit her lip to keep from crying out in pain at the sight of her beloved huddled under a fur cloak.
Gabrielle was curled into a fetal position with her arms wrapped around her drawn up legs and even though the bard's eyes were open, Xena wasn't sure if Gabrielle was seeing her. It almost stopped Xena's heart to see the once-green eyes now totally yellow and red rimmed and the warrior could see both lower and upper canines were pronounced fangs as the bard clenched her teeth in pain.
The bard's body shook and sweat was pouring off her as her muscles jerked. Xena had once seen a soldier who had been addicted to a powerful pain-killing herb after suffering a major injury. When it had become too much for his life, they had locked him in a cell until the drugs were out of his system. Gabrielle looked exactly like he had when he had been going through withdrawals.
"She's dying, daughter," a voice drifted into Xena's mind.
Xena studied her mate for a moment then her jaw tightened and eyes narrowed in decision.
Keeping her eyes on her mate, Xena began removing most of her fur and leather clothing, stripping down to her cotton tunic and trousers. The warrior sat down very slowly next to the bard and studied Gabrielle for a few moments.
"Gabrielle, can you hear me?" Xena asked softly, her voice cracking with emotion.
Xena pulled out her belt dagger and pulled her mate into her arms. The warrior was surprised that the bard didn't even struggle against the contact. Gabrielle's head fell back and she appeared almost comatose.
Xena managed to hold Gabrielle and put the dagger in her left hand. With a quick and efficient movement the warrior sliced her wrist open and held the wound up to her mate's lips.
The warrior was worried she was too late when the Bacchae Gabrielle didn't even seem to notice. Then the bard's eyes closed and her mouth wrapped around the wound. A moment later her hand reached out and held the wrist in place at her mouth.
Xena felt her body shudder as her blood began to flow freely into Gabrielle's mouth. As she became light headed, Xena could almost feel the strength being transferred to her mate as Gabrielle's body shifted and her grip on the warrior's arm became stronger.
Gabrielle shifted and pulled back from the wounded wrist and turned to meet Xena's lips with her own. The warrior could taste her own blood on the bard's lips, metallic and yet enticing. Gabrielle shifted and pushed the warrior over onto her back on the furs and followed, covering Xena's body with her own, her tongue demanding entrance past the warrior's lips.
Xena groaned as electric currents shot through her body as her tongue played back and felt Gabrielle's fangs. The Bacchae Gabrielle growled deep in her throat and pulled back from Xena's lips long enough to pull the warrior's tunic off and ducked her head to capture Xena's nipples in her lips and teeth.
Xena arched her back and then felt Gabrielle stiffen. Opening her eyes, Xena found herself looking into green/yellow/red eyes of her bard.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered.
"It's me, little one," Xena responded and pulled the bard into her arms, laying the young woman next to her. "It's okay."
Gabrielle frowned, lifting Xena's wounded arm up closer to see in the firelight.
"I drank from you, didn't I?"
"Yes, I offered it willing," Xena answered.
"That's supposed to make a difference?" Gabrielle demanded bitterly.
"Yes, damnit!" Xena snapped. She pulled the bard's face up to look at her. "You need blood and sometimes it has to be human. I'm also your first blood and your mate, it should be me and I want it to be me. With the human blood you need the sexual excitement that goes with it, who better than me?"
"Terrific, I can feed on you like a stock animal?!" Gabrielle raised herself up on her elbow, her eyes blazing.
"No, my love," Xena's eyes filled with tears. "This is just another part of our connection. We're already blood bound, this is just another aspect of our love for each other."
"This isn't love!" Gabrielle protested, "It's feeding on you!"
"No, there's more there or the animal blood would be enough. You need more than just the blood, Gabrielle, and you know it." Xena pressed.
"No!" the bard sat up turning her head away to look into the fire. The warrior could see that her mate's eyes were still mostly yellow and the fangs hadn't receded much.
"Yes! We've talked about it enough; we were both so turned on when you bit me in Bacchus' lair that we couldn't stand it. The Bacchae crave that along with the blood. Take that from me, little one."
"So I take not only your blood but use your body as well?" Gabrielle demanded, her eyes flashing even more intensely.
Xena's eyes flashed as well, "Do you remember what Hecate said about the darkness?"
Gabrielle frowned and her eyebrows furrowed in thought. "Love winning out over darkness always."
"That's what you've got to face, Gabrielle. You've got to accept this part of yourself and accept my love for you. Accept my love. You would for me."
The bard continued to frown. "You mean make it an act of love instead of letting the bacchae darkness control it?"
"Yes, exactly!" Xena reached out and gently stroked the bard's jaw line.
Gabrielle reached out and held the warrior's wounded wrist to the light. With a small sigh she gently ran her tongue along the wound and the warrior was stunned to see it close, leaving no trace. The bard shrugged at Xena's expression.
"It's a form of survival, that's why you never saw bite marks on me before I turned last time," she explained. "Xena," the bard hesitated.
"Yes, my love?" Xena asked as she drew Gabrielle into her arms again, holding the smaller woman close.
"That wasn't enough," came a tortured whisper.
"I know, it's okay, I'm here for you."
"You can't take anymore!" the bard protested, pulling back slightly to look Xena in the eyes. "You were wounded and lost a lot of blood too!"
Xena grinned a lopsided grin. "I kinda got some help in that area."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed.
"Hecate showed up and healed me and led me here," Xena explained.
Gabrielle seemed lost in thought until the warrior pulled her face up and captured the bard's lips, her tongue fighting past the lips and fangs to duel with Gabrielle's tongue.
The bard moaned and then growled deep in her chest and pushed Xena back down onto the furs, following once again, covering the warrior with her body as her tongue fought with Xena, the kiss deep and passionate.
Gabrielle suddenly pulled back and her face looked pained. When she opened her eyes there was no trace of green any longer. Xena tried to convey the love she felt for the bard and the desire she was feeling right then.
"It's okay, Gabrielle, take it!" she hissed. "Take me!"
Bacchae Gabrielle growled again and thrust her hand down the front of Xena's woolen trousers and the warrior cried out as the bard's fingers entered her roughly and Gabrielle's teeth pulled at a nipple.
Xena, her body already responding to the subtle magic of the Bacchae feeding, arched her body, trying to meet more of the bard's fingers. The warrior's hands were gripping at the furs under her.
The bard raised her head again. "Xena?" she whispered.
"Yes, do it!" the warrior encouraged.
Gabrielle thrust roughly into her mate again, her thumb finding Xena's swollen clit and her teeth finding the warrior's neck all in the same moment.
Xena cried out with the intensity as her body began shaking. With the feeding minutes before, the warrior's body responded quickly to the bard's attention. As her blood flowed out of her neck Xena became even lighter headed, especially as waves began to build in her body.
The warrior couldn't tell which was sending her higher, the pull of the blood through her mate's fangs or the bard's knowing touch within her body and on her clit. Every time Gabrielle touched her was amazing to the warrior but this was even more intense. It felt like two electric eels were at either end of her body, sending currents back and forth, causing her muscles to jerk, her back to arch and her hips to strain against the bard's hand.
As Xena felt her body growing weaker and the waves building, she felt herself approaching that point that only Gabrielle could get her past. The point of total surrender, the point of allowing her body to collapse into those waves, no control left.
"Don't stop, baby, please!" Xena heard herself beg as her body rocked with Gabrielle's fingers entering and pulling back. The warrior wondered how much blood she had lost and realized she didn't care at that moment; she just wanted it to continue.
The warrior felt herself falling into grayness the waves overtook her and Xena felt a scream pulled from her body as wave after wave hit her.
"Xena?" Gabrielle said softly, gently rocking the warrior in her arms as tears streamed down the bard's face. "Please come back to me!"
"Hey," a voice brought the bard's green eyes open to stare into clear blue ones.
"Oh Gods, Xena, I'm sorry!" Gabrielle cried. "I couldn't stop!"
"I'm okay, little one," Xena smiled. "I probably would have killed you if you had stopped before you did."
Gabrielle felt confusion on top of the guilt. Her body was also absorbing the affects of the blood feeding, her body tingling, muscles twitching with excess energy and senses heightened.
"What?" she demanded.
"My love, I don't think I've ever felt anything like that!" Xena said softly, letting the bard hold her.
"Me either, it was..." Gabrielle felt herself struggling for the words. "Incredible."
"Can you describe it?" Xena asked, settling between the bard's legs as Gabrielle leaned against the wall of the cave. A change of their usual position, Xena reflected.
"I could feel your blood rushing through your body, your heart was pounding so loudly in my ears. The taste changes as you approach orgasm, I don't know how to describe the taste and how it changes, it just does." Gabrielle found herself blushing at the memory. "My own body responded to yours, like it always does."
"How do you feel now?" the warrior asked.
"I know I should be feeling more guilty than I am but I feel so calm for the first time in forever." Gabrielle frowned, assessing her feelings. "Xena, this feels different than when we were in Bacchus' cave. This feels... right?"
"Yes, we're blood mates, Gabrielle. This is just a different aspect of that special bonding. No one will use that against you again." Xena said sleepily.
"Rest, my warrior," Gabrielle said gently, pulling the furs up over them. "We'll go back to the cabin in the morning.
"Yeah," Xena muttered, "we've got to get to Axel's steading."
"Anywhere as long as we're together," Gabrielle whispered as she settled down next to the warrior, curled in Xena's arms.
"Together," the warrior muttered, "Always. I'm going to kill Ares."
"What?" Gabrielle asked but received no answer from her sleeping warrior. 'What in Tartarus does Ares have to do with this?' she wondered and then let sleep overtake her as well.
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