An Awakening - Part 3

Amazon Bonding
Part 1

by Hunter Ash

Disclaimers: once again, let us recite the bard classic statement: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, etc etc etc. I wish I did (some seasons would have been different, thanks!), I would also have enough money to be sued for. This story is written for entertainment purposes, not for money, and no copyright infringement is intended. Don't bother suing, haven't got much, not even my sanity.

Subtext/Alt Sex: yup. This story contains a loving and sexual relationship between consenting adults of the same gender. If this is illegal in your state or country, please leave - either the story or the region you live in or change your laws. If you are under 18 or 21 years (depending on who thinks you're an adult), leave and come back when you're "legal".

Violence: hmmm, very little. Probably even less than your usual TV episode.

Storyline: This is the third story in my Awakening set. As I said before, I didn't intend on writing sequels but it worked out that way and who knows where these will end up. I hope that each story stands on it's own but you might want to read "A Visit Home, An Awakening," and "Discovery, An Awakening II" before this one.

Feedback: Definitely! wait a minute, do I beg? Yup, for feedback and behind closed doors. LOL Let me know what you think.

The knock on the door caused the warrior to yelp aloud and Solan to grin. Cyrene placed a comforting arm on her daughter's arm and smiled at the expression on Xena's face.

"It's okay, Xena." Cyrene said softly. "You'll be fine."

"Mom," Xena nervously pulled on her tunic hem. "I'm nervous." the warrior admitted.

"You're scared," Cyrene corrected.

"Okay, I'm scared." Xena admitted softly. "Why? This is the best day of my life."

Cyrene laughed again. "It's all right and expected. You're taking a very big step."

The knock sounded again and Cyrene quickly hugged her daughter and then went to the door. She motioned for Solan to join her as they opened it.

"Hercules, as Kumbada to my daughter Xena, you are welcome here and I entrust her into your hands." Cyrene said formally.

"As if I need protecting," the warrior mumbled.

Xena turned and was pleased to see her Kumbada standing in the doorway with a stunned expression on his face. The warrior felt herself blushing.

"Xena, you.... you look beautiful." he finally stammered.

"Thank you," she replied. "You look great."

He did, too. In formal blue dyed leather, he was the perfect picture of a Greek God and Xena almost lost her breath. The grey leather of his trousers fit nicely and the gold wrist bands set off his brown hair well, she thought. A small circlet of gold shined across his tanned forehead. He beamed at her and extended his arm for her. With a moment's hesitation the warrior took it and they walked out of the dressing hut.

The drumming and singing stopped for a moment as the couple was caught in the rays of the setting sun. Then a cheer rose up from the dancers and singers and they surrounded the couple, each wanting to hug the warrior in congratulations and good wishes before the trek to the sacred grove. After a moment the drummers and singers gathered round the couple and her escorts of Mother Cyrene and son Solan and together the small band began to move through the village, drums and chanting setting the pace.

Solan leaned over to Cyrene. "I don't know much about a traditional Greek wedding," he admitted. "We have things a little simpler with the Centaurs and Amazons. What's a Kumbada?"

Cyrene smiled and took his arm as they walked behind the couple. "The Kumbada is usually the best friend of the groom, but in this case there'll be two Kumbadas. The rituals and ceremonies will be a combination of the traditional and the Amazon, to help satisfy the outside families like me and Hecuba. The Kumbadas will escort the couple to the sacred grove for the bonding ceremony and ensure that things flow smoothly. It's a very important role. Usually, later in the marriage, the Kumbada acts as godfather to any children." Cyrene hesitated a moment, "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure, anything."

"You know about Amazon customs, right?"

"A lot, since the treaty the Centaurs and Amazons have been studying each other's ways. My father says that it's important, we'll probably have to become stronger allies in the future. Both groups aren't the most popular in the outside world."

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend?" Cyrene smiled.

"Right. What's the question?"

"Why is there an armed escort for Hercules, he is an honored guest of the wedding couple."

"Well, you may also notice that I have a shadow." he grinned and pointed to a smaller Amazon female that was never far from the young teenager. "Any male on Amazon territory is escorted by an armed Amazon. No matter who it is."

"Oh," Cyrene nodded. It had been an interesting week for her and Gabrielle's family. Not the least was Xena trying to explain Solan to her and then insisting that Solan not know the truth yet. Cyrene had argued with her daughter about that one. Cyrene felt that Solan should know his mother, especially since she had changed so much and he was obviously very fond of her. Xena had countered that it was difficult enough that Gabrielle was often used against her, she didn't' want Solan becoming a target that she couldn't protect. It was hard for Cyrene to interact with the boy without letting him know that she was his grandmother. She was becoming quite fond of him and proud of the young man he was going to become.

As they approached another hut a cheer went up from the drummers and singers surrounding that hut and the two groups merged. Xena stopped and Hercules continued to the door of the hut and knocked.

The door was opened by Hecuba and Lila, Gabrielle's mother and sister.

They looked great, Xena thought. Both were dressed in traditional white linen, trimmed in green and gold. Lila had a crown of flowers and Hecuba had a crown of orange blossoms. Both wore gold bracelets and necklaces of feathers and beads. Xena looked over at her mother and thought once again that she looked just as radiant in her white linen trimmed in blue.

Hercules addressed the mother and daughter, "It is the wish of Xena of Amphipolis, to wed your daughter, Gabrielle of Potedaia. She pledges to care for her, provide for her and, most importantly, to love her. Do you accept this?"

Cyrene leaned over to whisper to Solan. "Traditionally the Kumbada bargains with the bride's family, settling the dowry and lands exchanged and all that."

"We do with open hearts." Hecuba and Lila answered.

Iolaus, dressed the same as Hercules but his leathers were dyed green, stepped forward from behind Gabrielle's family and approached Cyrene and Solan. His blue eyes dancing with delight.

"It is the wish of Gabrielle of Potedaia to wed your daughter, Xena of Amphipolis. She pledges to care for her, provide for her and, most importantly, to love her. Do you accept this?"

"We do with open hearts." Cyrene knew that Solan also agreed, even if he didn't know it was his Mom getting married. He was overjoyed to be included as a member of the family of Xena and was beaming.

The two families then approached each other and exchanged hugs, tears and laughter. Iolaus and Hercules then exchanged the wedding bracelets that Xena and Gabrielle would use. Passing them back and forth between each other three times.

Solan looked puzzled and looked to Cyrene.

"We're not sure why they rings or bracelets are exchanged three times. Tradition." she whispered.

Then Iolaus went back into the hut and after a moment emerged with Gabrielle holding his arm. The crowd went silent and both Hercules and Xena lost their breath in reality.

The bard was breathtaking. Xena couldn't think of any other words. The sight of her love brought tears of joy to her eyes and she quickly wiped them away and noticed that Gabrielle's eyes were also bright with tears of joy.

The Amazon Queen was dressed in a white sleeveless leather tunic that was trimmed in gold and green, a green to match her eyes. A white wrap around skirt was also trimmed in green and fur. At her wrists were matching green leather bracers and gold bands decorated her upper arms. Around the bard's neck was a strand of blue-green feathers and beads. To complete her outfit a ceremonial sword hung at her side.

The surrounding Amazons broke into a cheer and went to their knees and bowed their heads at the sight of their Queen. Hercules and Iolaus also went to a bended knee, as did Solan. Xena and Cyrene bowed their heads as Gabrielle approached the tall warrior. The little bard lifted Xena's chin up to look her lover in the eyes.

"You are so beautiful." she whispered. "I love you."

"You take my breath away, little one." Xena whispered back. "I love you too."

Gabrielle took a place beside the warrior and everyone rose. Hercules and Iolaus went to a tray being held by an Amazon and carried two goblets to the couple. Each woman took a goblet and drank half the wine. Then, with grins, they each dropped a coin into the goblets and returned them to their Kumbada's.

"Wine, the sweetness of life and the coin represents that they each pledge to care for each other." Cyrene whispered to Solan.

Everyone cheered and the drummers began drumming again. Both families fell into behind the couple and the Kumbadas began to lead them towards the sacred grove of the Amazons.

Along the way the couple's hands sought each other and interlaced together. In their other hands they carried sprigs of ivy to symbolize the eternity of their love. Along the way the members of the tribe lined the path and tossed blossoms and grain at the wedding party.

As they neared the grove the party passed through an archway of ivy and holly and through the smoke of two smudge pots on either side of the archway.

Solan leaned over to Cyrene. "We pass through the smoke of sacred herbs to cleanse the body. Xena and Gabrielle have already gone through three days of purification. A day of sweating in the sweat hut, a day of fasting, and a day of meditation."

"Is it true that they couldn't see each other during that time?" Cyrene whispered.

"Yup, also heard rumors that Xena tried but Ephiny caught her." Solan giggled.

"I believe that of my daughter," Cyrene grinned back and she could see Xena's face begin blushing and remembered her daughter's uncanny hearing abilities and that she had heard the conversation. Cyrene bit her lip to keep from laughing at her daughter's discomfort.

As they reached the edge of the trees everyone stopped and the drummers and singers went silent. An Amazon, the shaman stepped forward, sword in hand.

Cyrene started to lean over to Solan but he put up a hand to stop her question and then moved forward to join Hercules and Iolaus as they approached the priestess. Cyrene moved closer to her daughter, curious.

The three males knelt on both knees before the priestess and lifted their heads. The priestess, not speaking, placed the point of the blade against their throats and then moved to the next male after a moment. She abruptly handed the sword to an attendant Amazon and took a bowl from the attendant. She approached Solan first and dipped her finger into the liquid and smeared a streak across his forehead and moved to repeat the gesture to Hercules and Iolaus.

Another bowl was handed to the priestess and she smeared the cheeks of the males with this liquid.

"Xena?" Cyrene whispered.

"Males aren't allowed into the Sacred Grove without being purified." Xena whispered as Gabrielle was whispering to her family by her side. "First with the smoke, then blood and finally spring water."

The priestess nodded to the males and stepped back and into the shadows. The three rose without a word and resumed their places in the group. Instantly the drumming and singing began again.

"It's rare for a male to be granted the privilege." Solan whispered, awe in his voice as he leaned next to Cyrene's ear.

"Xena loves you very much." Cyrene commented and watched the young man stand even taller.

The drummers and singers in front parted to the side of the path and joined the tribe members waiting in the grove as the wedding party approached the altar and Ephiny. Xena grinned as she heard Solan behind her, "Wow!"

The warrior had to agree with the assessment. Standing on the stone platform that held the altar, the Regent Amazon looked amazing. She was in full royal outfit, complete with mask and shining leathers. In her hand she held a sword. Two attendants stood off to the sides of the altar with notched arrows in ready bows, symbolizing Artemis, their patron goddess. All the tribe members were in their very best clothing and ceremonial masks.

Xena glanced over and found Hecuba and Lila's eyes wide at the sight of the fierce and almost fabled warrior women. Not many outsiders had seen an Amazon ritual before, especially a private bonding ceremony.

Two of the Amazon warriors approached the wedding party and guided the family members off to either side, Solan included.

Hercules and Iolaus approached the altar and knelt on one knee before Ephiny. They placed the wedding bracelets on the altar and waited.

Ephiny motioned for the two warriors to rise. Hercules and Iolaus moved slowly and lifted the crowns off the altar.

"The crowns represent that a wedding is a royal occasion, no matter the status of the couple. Xena and Gabrielle choose silver and gold, representing the Moon and Sun." Cyrene whispered to Solan.

Hercules and Iolaus walked around the altar platform three times with the crowns, holding them high for everyone to see. Solan looked to Cyrene for an explanation but she merely shrugged, much like her daughter would. "No one knows why three times."

After the third circuit the two Kumbadas faced Xena and Gabrielle who moved forward and placed their ivy twigs on the altar and then knelt together before the altar.

Hercules leaned over and placed the silver crown on Gabrielle's head with a kiss on the top of her head and Iolaus did the same. Then after a moment they switched the crowns and then switched again. After the third crowning the two Kumbadas moved aside and faced the altar with the wedding couple.

"Tribe members! Family and friends of the couple!" Ephiny's voice carried to the far ends of the grove. "Tonight we honor two friends, two loved ones, and one of our tribe in a bonding ceremony. They have committed to each other and have faced trials together. Tonight is a ritual of something that already exists. Tonight we honor the love between Xena and Gabrielle."

Ephiny stepped around to the front of the altar and held the point of the sword at Xena's throat. Even though Cyrene knew it must be part of the ritual, still she felt her heart skip a beat at the threat to her child.

"Do you enter freely into this bonding, warrior?" Ephiny demanded, her face hidden behind the mask.

"I enter freely of my own will and desire." Xena answered strongly.

Ephiny removed the sword and placed it at Gabrielle's throat. "Do you enter freely into this bonding, bard and Queen?"

"I enter freely of my own will and desire." Gabrielle answered in a strong voice as well.

Xena smiled to herself. It had taken some explaining to Hecuba and Lila about the Queen part. Like the situation with Solan, Gabrielle didn't let too many people know that she was the Queen of the Amazons, it could lead to problems with her family. They were still in shock over the exact nature of their daughter being an Amazon. They had known that she had become a member of the Amazon tribe before, the Queen part was still a shock.

Ephiny handed the sword to an attendant and then pulled out a dagger. With a quick stroke she had cut a lock of the young woman's hair from behind the girl's neck and then quickly cut a lock of the warrior's hair.

The Regent moved behind the altar and held the hair for all to see and then mingled the locks together in her palm. "I offer this hair of the marriage couple to Artemis as sacrifice and ask that she bless this union of Gabrielle and Xena."

Xena and Gabrielle both threw their hands up and Ephiny jumped backwards as a sudden burst of light filled the altar area. Everyone went to their knees when they realized that Artemis was standing behind the altar next to Ephiny. Then with more bursts of light several new figures joined the ceremony. Xena wasn't sure whether to curse or welcome them as she took sight of them in.

Apollo, Cupid, Aphrodite, Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Persephone and Hades.

"I'm not surprised Ares isn't here," Gabrielle whispered to her lover and Xena nodded.

The gods and goddesses took up places on either side of the area, along with the families.

"Because of the good these two have done for world and the gods, we all offer our blessings to this union and encourage their love. Know this and let all witness our proclamation, their love is destined to span all eternity and beyond this reality. The love between Gabrielle and Xena is rare and it is a soul mate bonding. I call for a blood joining if they are willing to accept their fate." Artemis announced.

Everyone was obviously stunned by the presence of the gods and the announcement from Artemis but Ephiny quickly recovered.

"As you wish, my Goddess." the Regent stood and faced the wedding couple. "Do you accept this, Xena and Gabrielle?" she asked simply.

The two women looked at each other, each sinking deep into the other's eyes. Both reached out at the same moment to caress the other's cheek. Together, still holding hands, they stood up and faced Artemis and Ephiny.

"We do," they answered.

"Friends and family," Ephiny faced everyone. "The gods have blessed this union and have called for a blood bonding. This is a rare binding of soul mates, by binding their blood together in front of the gods they are binding their souls together. It is the ultimate commitment anyone can make, god or mortal. From this point, no matter what happens between them, their souls will be joined."

Xena and Gabrielle each squeezed their hands tighter, reaffirming their decision with each other.

The shaman priestess stepped out of the shadows and approached the couple slowly. Wordlessly, she peered out from under her ceremonial headdress, her hazel eyes piercing into blue and green ones. She drew a dagger from her belt and Gabrielle and Xena extended the hands they had been holding together, palms up.

The priestess glanced back at Artemis who nodded approval and then she glanced to all the gods, on both sides and they also nodded approval. With quick and deft strokes she sliced open the palms of both women's hands and let the wounds bleed into a bowl handed to her by an attendant. Then she joined the hands together again and wrapped a leather thong around their wrists, binding them together.

The priestess then turned and handed the bowl up to Ephiny behind the altar. The Regent knelt before the goddess who extended her hand over the bowl in blessing. Ephiny then stood and poured several drops of blood into the wine goblet on the altar. Raising it high in invocation and then walked around the altar to the couple.

"Your vows, warrior." Ephiny instructed.

Xena turned to Gabrielle and took a deep breath, her eyes beginning to fill with tears of joy again. "You saved my life, my heart and my soul. They are all yours, my love. I pledge to be yours for eternity."

"Your vows, my Queen." Ephiny instructed.

"You gave me life and opened my heart and soul. They are all yours, my love. I pledge to be yours for eternity." Gabrielle said, a tear escaping her eyes.

Ephiny handed Xena the goblet. "With this wine and blood you pledge your soul and blood to each other. You will be joined beyond this life."

Xena drank half the wine readily and handed the goblet to Gabrielle. "With this wine and blood you pledge your soul and blood to each other. You will be joined beyond this life." Ephiny repeated and smiled behind her mask as Gabrielle easily drank the rest of the wine/blood mixture.

Ephiny took the goblet back to the altar and faced everyone. She held up the bonding bracelets, interwoven strands of gold and silver. "These are the bonding bracelets chosen by Gabrielle and Xena, they symbolize their commitment to each other."

Hercules and Iolaus both approached the altar and took the bracelets from Ephiny, each handing Xena and Gabrielle a bracelet. Artemis pointed her finger and the leather thong fell into pieces at their feet. The two women placed a bracelet on the other's wrist.

"You are bound before your family, your tribe and before the Gods. May you never regret this decision." Artemis announced.

"Speak total truth, Daughter," Zeus spoke up and both Gabrielle and Xena turned to him with a surprised look. "You were destined to be together whether we agreed or not. We are pleased, though and you have our blessing."

With that Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Persephone and Hades were gone. Aphrodite, Cupid and Artemis looking pleased.

"Gabrielle, you are my Chosen and an Amazon and have my special blessing. Because of your binding to her, you have my blessing as well, Xena." Ephiny was left staring at the space where Artemis had been.

"We're glad you finally worked out, girls. Catch you later." Both Aphrodite and Cupid were gone.

Xena breathed a sigh of relief and Gabrielle elbowed her in the ribs.

"Behave," the bard hissed with a smile.

"With that many gods around, I'm just surprised nothing went wrong." Xena smiled back.

"Friends, family and tribe, I proclaim this part of the bonding ceremony over. The families, Kumbadas and escort will accompany the couple to the wedding hut on the far side of this grove. Beginning in the morning we will begin the reception of the delegates from surrounding cities and nations to honor our Queen, followed by a dinner tomorrow night. Then we'll send them all on their way and hold a week long festival here among ourselves and our honored guest and family members." Ephiny announced. With the announcement over she let out an Amazon celebration cry that was picked up by all the members of the tribe as well as the visiting Amazons from other tribes. Even Solan joined in the shouting.

Still holding hands the two women followed their Amazon warrior escort and their Kumbadas with their families following behind. As they approached the hut the escort broke off to take up positions on either side of the hut door. Hercules and Iolaus stopped and turned to face the two women. With wide grins they each kissed Xena and Gabrielle and hugged them.

"Thank you for choosing us as your Kumbadas," Hercules said.

"I wouldn't think of anyone else." Xena smiled.

Hecuba and Lila joined Gabrielle by her side. They were then hugged by the bard tightly. "I love you both," the little Amazon said simply.

"We love you too, Gabrielle and couldn't be happier." Hecuba smiled and hugged her daughter again.

Cyrene and Solan also came forward to hug and kiss Xena. The warrior wiped a tear of joy from her mother's face. "I love you, Mom."

"I love you too and I couldn't be more proud of your match."

Xena looked down at the teenager and then hugged him tightly. "I love you too, squirt."

"Yeah," he said simply.

Then the families took turns hugging their new daughter-in-laws. Finally, everyone moved aside and the escort opened the door for the couple to enter the hut.

Holding hands once again they crossed the threshold.

Once inside the shut door the warrior gathered the smaller woman into her arms for a long and lingering kiss. When they finally broke away both were short of breath and their knees were trembling.

"It's been a long three days, my warrior." Gabrielle complained, beginning to kiss Xena on the neck.

"Yes, it has." Xena agreed, pulling the bard closer to her by lifting Gabrielle up into another kiss.

The bard took advantage of the wrap around skirt and wrapped her legs around her warrior's hips and quickly bit down on Xena's neck. The warrior growled and fell back against the wall of the hut. She couldn't tell who was moaning more, herself or the bard.

The two Amazon guards outside the hut tactfully ignored the thump and the moans that were increasing in volume inside the hut. All the Amazons had been very aware of the sexual energy between the two women during their stay in the village before the wedding. Ephiny complaining to her own mate that she hadn't gotten a solid night's sleep since the two women had arrived.

Hercules and Iolaus moved into the tree line a short distance from the hut. They sat down and leaned against a tree.

"They were beautiful," Iolaus commented softly, pulling out his sword and laying it across his lap.

"Yes, very beautiful." Hercules agreed.

"Herc," Iolaus began slowly. "Do you ever regret letting Xena go?"

"No. I love her and she loves me but we're not in love with each other. She is a remarkable woman, though, and stunning." Hercules commented, almost wistfully. "How about you?"

"No, that was just lust." the smaller man grinned.

Hercules lightly shoved his friend and they settled in for a long night. Xena and Gabrielle might not be a traditional Greek wedding couple but Hercules and Iolaus were prepared to complete their roles, including protecting the wedding couple on their bonding night. Besides, Hercules was worried. Where in Tartarus was his half-brother?

Hercules and Iolaus found themselves on their feet and running before their minds had caught up with their instincts a few minutes later. They blinked as they ran, taking in the sight of the God of War sitting on his tailbone in front of the wedding hut. He was sitting on the door that someone had just thrown him through.

Before the two male warriors reached the small yard Ares had stood up only to find himself pierced several times in the chest by arrows from the Amazon guards. He snarled and broke the arrows off.

Everyone stopped when Xena bounded out of the hut, broken ceremonial sword in her hand. Hercules and Iolaus started running towards the fight again, ignoring the fact that the warrior woman was dressed only in her wrap around skirt and missing her tunic.

"Sword!" the warrior hissed and one of the Amazon guards quickly drew her sword and handed it to the Warrior Princess.

Hercules and Iolaus ran in between Xena and Ares. "Let us handle this, Xena. Amazons, see to your Queen," Hercules instructed.

"All right, enough of the games!" Ares snarled. "Either way you want it, Xena. I was just going to take the irritating little wench for a couple of days. Her absence would be enough to start some minor wars between the delegates, but since you object so strongly - I'll settle for your death or hers, either way works for me right now!"

With a flash of his hands both Hercules and Iolaus went flying backwards into the walls of the hut.

Ares and Xena met in the center of the yard, swords clashing, sending sparks flying between them. Hercules shook his head and looked up at the fighters and shook his head again. The sword strikes were moving faster than he could even follow. He stood up and helped Iolaus up.

"Protect Gabrielle, whatever you do, don't let him near her."

"You got it." Iolaus disappeared into the hut.

"No!" Hercules screamed as Ares reached behind his back and pulled out a dagger. Before Xena could counter the sword and dagger the God of War had sliced her sword arm and followed through with a sword strike that knocked the sword from her weakened hand.

A sword point at the warrior's throat stopped Hercules.

"Xena, it doesn't have to be this way." Ares said. "Come back to me, leave the wench here and everyone lives."

"I'd rather be dead." Xena answered calmly.

"Ares, you do this and I'll track you to the ends of the universe and find a way to kill you myself." Hercules warned.

"Oh shut up, brother." he turned his eyes back to his former Warlord. "You married her?" he demanded.

"Worse than that, Ares. We are blood bonded." Xena held up her hand to show him the bandage.

Ares' face turned extremely red with rage and he raised his sword with a scream and Hercules began moving again.

"Don't you dare hurt my mother!"

Xena looked up in time to see Solan launch himself from the nearest tree and land on the God of War's back. Ares screamed with rage and when he turned Xena saw a dagger embedded in the back of his neck. If he had been human his spinal cord would have been severed.

With a scream the God backhanded the young teen, sending him flying across the yard and into a nearby tree where he sank unconscious. Hercules grabbed Xena from launching herself at Ares.

"See to Solan, I'll take care of him."

As the warrior knelt beside her son, the God of War found himself grabbed by the ankles and lifted over the head of Hercules. With a yell of rage, Hercules slammed Ares right into a tree. Without releasing his hold, Hercules swung Ares over his head and into another tree.

By now a large number of Amazon warriors broke into the clearing, armed to the teeth and ready for battle. With another yell, Hercules rammed Ares to the ground. The God of War lay in the dust stunned.

"You leave Xena and Gabrielle alone or I will keep ramming your head into things until you can't even remember your own name!" Hercules threatened.

Before Ares could respond Hercules had grabbed him by the ankles again and began swinging him around and around until he had built up quite a bit of speed and then released the War God, sending him flying over the tree tops with a yell.

The large demi-god quickly ran over to where the Amazons and Xena were gathered around the young teen. Solan opened his eyes with a groan and found himself in the arms of the Warrior Princess.

"Hey, you're crying." he whispered.

"Are you okay?" she answered.

"I think so, that kinda hurt." he admitted. Ephiny and Xena helped the young man stand up and then steadied him as he swayed on his feet. Xena quickly ran her hand over the young man's body and looked in his eyes. Satisfied she stepped back and looked at him.

"Xena!" Everyone turned to see Gabrielle standing in doorway of the hut, flanked by the two Amazon warriors and Iolaus. With a smile she ran into her mate's arms.

Ephiny frowned and approached the two, lifting Gabrielle's face from her mate's chest. All the Amazons muttered or growled when they saw the black eye and the trickle of blood from their Queen's lips.

"I'm all right," she reassured them. "Ares wouldn't take 'no' for an answer." the Queen looked over at Solan. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, a little bruised, I think." he shrugged, instantly reminding the young bard of the boy's mother, Xena.

Iolaus stepped forward and handed the warrior her tunic. She grinned at his blush.

"I thought you might like this back."

The warrior stepped out of Gabrielle's arms and slipped the tunic over her head. "Ephiny send word to our families that we're fine, I'm sure they heard the commotion. Let's have the healer take a look at Solan and Gabrielle too."

"I'm fine," both the teenager and bard said at the same time.

"For me?" blue eyes pleaded with both of them and they finally nodded. "Go on, I'll be there in a moment."

Together her son and mate began walking with the Amazons towards the healer's hut.

Xena placed a hand on Hercules' arm. "Thank you, my friend."

"Any time," he grinned. "Go see to your mate."

With a grin the warrior was off at a trot to the healer's hut. Then she stopped dead at the door before entering. Solan had called her 'Mom.'

"Oh gods," she muttered and then took a deep breath and entered the hut, walking slowly past the armed guards at the door.

Part 2

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