An Awakening - Part 3
by Hunter Ash
Disclaimers: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Hercules, etc. etc. etc. If I did subtext probably wouldn't be subtext and some seasons would be different. Oh well, I deal with those changes in my universe, thanks. This story is meant for entertainment purposes only and no copyright infringement is intended. Please don't bother suing, it wouldn't be worth the court costs.
Subtext/Alt Sex: The story is of two consenting adults of the same gender in a loving and sexual relationship. If this is illegal where you live, move or change your laws and leave this story. If this type of story bugs you, skip ahead or leave. Don't bother complaining to me if you don't like Alt. I'm a confirmed romantic and this is romance in my universe.
Violence: not much, actually. A bruised god, attempted murder and a couple of deaths. No more than a typical TV episode.
Story line: this continues in the An Awakening series. I hope that each story stands alone, but you might want to read "A Visit Home, An Awakening," and "Discovery, An Awakening," before reading this.
Everyone was asking what happens in an Amazon bonding, hope this helps answer that. The Queen and her Champion attempt to get through a bonding ritual week, without dying or killing someone.
Xena hated royal functions. It was one thing that she had liked about being a Warlord. She could do away with all the fluff stuff and get right to business when she wanted to. Now, she felt trapped, and she was sure that Gabrielle probably felt the same.
They had been brought in from opposite sides of the yard by armed escorts, knelt before Ephiny at the altar, and had suffered through the speech required of the Regent. Ephiny had spoiled everyone's suspense, by stating that the wedding couple's identity would not be revealed to the outside world. Xena had resisted jumping to her feet instinctively at the rumbling of the crowd. Ephiny had insisted on silence, stating that the protection of their Queen was more important than anything else.
To help relieve the situation, Ephiny had stated that the marriage was a love bonding and not a political one. Knowing that most of the delegates and royalty in the crowd probably wouldn't know a loving relationship if it bit them, she emphasized that this was a wedding and not a political battleground.
Most of the grumbling settled down when it was announced that the wedding couple would not be exchanging lands or political/royal offices. They were told, the Queen's mate, who was already her Chosen Champion, was becoming her Consort. Ephiny explained that this role had privilege, but no political power, in the Amazon nation.
By this point Xena was getting quite tired of kneeling. Her hand reached out and found Gabrielle's hand seeking hers as well. She leaned her head over onto the bard's for a moment in reassurance. She knew Gabrielle couldn't see her attempt to smile because of the mask but trusted that her mate could feel the love pouring from her. The bard squeezed her hand in return.
Xena had been impressed with their ceremonial clothing. The feather and leather masks effectively covered the entire face, even the eyes were difficult to see and the feathers continued over the head and down the back, hiding even the hair.
Xena had been concerned about her height and noticeable black hair. She was easily recognized, especially since a large number of the outsiders had seen her before. She was a little more reassured when she knew that the only thing really noticeable about her was her height. Even her manner of walk wasn't totally unusual among the nation of warrior women.
Ephiny then turned to the couple and raised her hands over their heads. The Shamaness approached and walked around the couple, carrying a bowl of smoldering incense and spread the smoke over them. Then she sprinkled several drops of spring water over them. Then she disappeared back into the trees.
Ephiny motioned the two Kumbadas forward and Hercules stepped next to Xena and Iolaus next to Gabrielle. Together the men reached out and grabbed the crowns off the altar and placed them on the heads of the wedding couple and then exchanged them three times before leaving them. Then the two men helped the women to their feet.
Both Xena and Gabrielle drew their ceremonial swords and handed them to their Kumbadas. Hercules and Iolaus held the swords up to Ephiny and then turned to the crowd and held them aloft.
"These sword represent the power of the warrior and the spirit of our tribe members. Together this couple have expressed the desire to enter into a bonding." Ephiny spoke ritually.
Hercules stepped in front of Xena and knelt before Gabrielle, holding the sword aloft over his head in his hands and bowed his head.
"It is the wish of your Champion, Queen of the Amazons, to be wed to you and become your Consort. She pledges her life, her heart, her soul and her love to you. To symbolize this, she offers you her sword." he spoke loudly.
The Queen leaned forward and took the sword from his hands and held it aloft, over her head.
"The Queen accepts this token of love, this pledge of loyalty, honor and trust." Iolaus spoke and Gabrielle sheathed the sword at her own belt. Hercules stood and moved back beside Xena.
Iolaus stepped in front of Xena and repeated Hercules' movement. "Healer, Shaman and warrior, it is the wish of the Queen of the Amazons to become your mate and to take you as Consort. She pledges her life, her heart, her soul and her love to you. To symbolize this, she offers you her sword." he also spoke loudly.
Xena leaned forward, took the sword from his hands, and held it aloft, over her head.
"The Consort accepts this token of love, this pledge of loyalty, honor and trust." Hercules spoke and Xena sheathed the sword at her own belt. Iolaus stood and moved back beside Gabrielle.
Xena again was impressed with Ephiny's planning. By using the titles of 'healer' and 'shaman' before her traditional one of 'warrior,' the Regent was hoping that it would be more difficult for the outsiders to identify the Warrior Princess. Not many knew her roles in life as healer and shaman.
Xena found herself holding her breath for a moment when Ephiny invoked and sacrificed to the gods, wondering if they were going to make a second appearance. She finally began breathing when it was apparent that they weren't. Gabrielle grabbed and squeezed the warrior's hand again. Xena grinned under the mask, knowing the bard was thinking the same thing. The night before had been exciting enough with a large number of the Gods and Goddesses showing up to personally bless the marriage of the bard and warrior. And then Ares had shown up later to protest the bonding.
Xena reflected that not many of them had slept much.
As Ephiny chanted her prayers Xena found her thoughts drifting to the night before. Ares getting pounded into the trees by Hercules, Solan admitting he knew that Xena was his mother, and then the bliss of her lover's arms. It had been quite a night.
Finally the prayers were over and the couple held up their arms to show their bonding bracelets to the crowd.
"Last night, this couple was joined in a bonding ceremony of the Amazons and were blessed by the gods. Let it be known, that our Queen has taken a Consort."
The Amazons let out a shout of celebration and the other members of the crowd began clapping. Hercules and Iolaus escorted the two women to the wedding table, leading them around it three times and then sat on either side of the couple. Solan had looked to Cyrene for an explanation of the table thing but she merely shrugged.
"Another three thing," he whispered to himself.
For the next candlemark the couple shook hands with each delegate and their party members, accepting their congratulations. Hercules and Iolaus voicing their acceptance.
Finally everyone was allowed to begin eating. Then came the toasting and it seemed to the wedding couple that every single person, especially the delegates, had to get a toast in and didn't want to be outdone by the others.
Both Xena and Gabrielle were actually grateful after awhile for the masks, it hid their boredom, frustration, and finally their weariness.
After the toasting and the meal the wedding party was delighted when the Amazon drummers and singers took up the pace and a large number of Amazons leaped into the center of the yard and began dancing and leaping about. Traditional Greek dances were also included and quite a number of the delegates joined in the celebration. Then the area cleared and the wedding couple stood up, escorted by their Kumbada to the dance area. The drummers took up a beat that was akin to a heartbeat and which both women found very erotic and inticing. The Kumbada bowed and moved away from the couple as they began their courtship dance.
Xena wasn't much for public dancing but she knew her little bard delighted in it. The warrior found this dance different. She wasn't sure if it was wine she had been drinking, the sensual beat or the masks hiding their identities and lending an air of anonymity, but she was enjoying the dance. Gabrielle was obviously enjoying it as well and Xena found herself totally flushed with a heat that began in her loins and quickly traveled throughout her body as the Queen moved in close to her mate, bodies almost touching and then moved away, moving to the beat. Xena almost groaned in response.
Xena found her body responding and matching Gabrielle's moves until they moved as one, each dancing and teasing, drawing the other into the other's space and world. Gabrielle spun around and fell back, letting her lover's arms wrap around her, catching her and protecting her. Their bodies continued moving with the beat and Xena suddenly wished they didn't have the masks on, she wanted to nuzzle Gabrielle's reddish blond hair and nibble at her neck very badly right then. By the way Gabrielle's head arched back into her lover's breasts, the warrior knew the Queen was wishing the same thing. So did everyone else.
Xena resisted the urge to move her hands in either direction over the bard's body but it was a challenge. Then Gabrielle grabbed one of her hands and spun out of the warrior's arms and then back into them, holding her lover close as the drums slowed to a stop. The two women held each other for what seemed an eternity, each looking deep in the other's eyes through the masks.
Cheers, howls and whistles from the Amazons and guests brought the couple back to reality and they bowed to everyone, acknowledging the end of the dance.
The crowd began filling the dance area again as the couple started moving back towards the feast table. Several delegates and Amazons stopping them along the way to congratulate them again and wish them the best. Xena grinned under the mask, somehow Gabrielle hadn't spoken a word yet.
Xena was surprised when Gabrielle, still holding her hand, stopped before they reached the table. Xena turned and suddenly wished she could see the bard's face. The smaller woman was standing near the table and Xena couldn't see Gabrielle's eyes because of the mask. She was about to break her silence when Gabrielle crumbled to the ground.
Brutus, standing very near the couple, started to rush and bend over the fallen woman when a voice stopped him.
"Touch her and die," the taller of the wedding couple threatened.
"Everyone stand still or die where you stand!" a shout went up over the beginning commotion.
Xena, bending next to Gabrielle, looked up and saw Ephiny standing on the feast table, sword in hand. Xena glanced around and saw the area ringed with Amazon archers, each with arrow ready.
"Consort, your Queen to the healer's hut!" Ephiny ordered as Xena gathered the small woman in her arms. She quickly moved through the parting crowd with Hercules and Iolaus following, swords drawn.
Once in the healer's hut Xena quickly tore her mask off and removed Gabrielle's. She hissed when she saw the bard's face.
Gabrielle was covered in sweat but was deadly pale and cool to the touch. Xena's face showed her terror as the healer entered the hut, followed by Ephiny. Together the healer and warrior examined the unconscious Queen while the Regent looked on, a look of concern and fury on her face.
Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open but seemed unfocused. "Xena?"
"I'm here, Gabrielle. Can you tell us what's wrong?"
"I don't know. Everything started spinning and then went black. Everything's fuzzy." Gabrielle closed her eyes again.
"Gabrielle! Stay with me!" Xena begged, rubbing the bard's hand.
Gabrielle opened her eyes again but was having trouble keeping them open.
The healer reached out and touched the warrior and motioned for Ephiny to move closer. She held up the bard's hand so they could both see a slight scratch across the back of the bard's hand, red streaks beginning up the woman's arm.
"Poison." she announced simply.
"What kind? Can you tell?" Xena asked, turning back to find Gabrielle had closed her eyes again.
"No, not yet. Think, both of you, who had contact with her?"
"Oh Tartarus!" Ephiny cursed, "Everyone! They all shook your hands!"
"Ephiny, get back there and have everyone searched, there must be a needle in a glove or something."
"Right. They won't be happy and this might just cause a war but I'm going to find that son of a bacchae!" Ephiny was out the door in a flash. Xena caught a glimpse of Hercules, Iolaus and several Amazon warriors standing outside the hut, weapons drawn.
The warrior wasn't surprised when both families came barging into the hut. Hercules closed the door behind them.
"Xena?" Hecuba pleaded as she knelt beside her daughter.
"We don't know. We think she was poisoned."
"No," the mother whispered, stroking the bard's forehead.
"Mom?" Gabrielle whispered and managed to open her eyes.
"I'm here, so is Lila." Hecuba tried to smile.
"Xena," Gabrielle attempted to sit up but the warrior held her back down.
"I'm here, my love."
"Is the healer here?" Gabrielle whispered, trying to keep her eyes open.
"Yes," the warrior answered.
"It's beginning to hurt. It feels like my veins are on fire, spreading to every muscle. The stomach is starting to hurt too." the bard described. Xena looked to the healer who shook her head.
"I don't know yet. We need to know what they used or if they have the antidote with them."
Xena's eyes narrowed. "Hercules!" she called.
The demi-god opened the door. "Find out if Ephiny has found anything. Poison!"
He was gone without a word.
Xena cried out as Gabrielle's body suddenly arched, pain racking her face. Her fists grabbed the blanket under her and she whimpered with pain, biting down hard on her lip. After a moment it passed and she collapsed back onto the cot.
"Warrior, something that attacks the nerves and muscles. I don't have an antidote here. You're looking for something foreign to this region." the healer told Xena.
"It'll take time for everyone to be searched. Hecuba, stay with her. I'm going to see if I can find some answers." Xena knew she didn't have to instruct the mother to stay by her daughter. Hecuba's jaw took on that familiar stubbornness that Xena knew from her mate and the woman nodded.
"Xena, your mask, your identity." the healer pointed out.
Xena stopped and thought for a moment. "Damn! As Xena I could probably terrify some answers out of someone but that might lead to more danger later."
"The danger is now, Xena." Hecuba said softly.
"Yes," Xena agreed and stepped out of the hut without her mask on and trotted to the reception area. On the way she spotted her double and quickly grabbed the Amazon. "My weapons," she instructed and the woman quickly surrendered them to the tall warrior.
Xena began strapping her sword on as she continued towards the delegates, surrounded by Amazons and being methodically searched by them before being allowed to return to the shade of the trees.
Xena ran up and joined Ephiny who took in Xena's weapons and lack of mask quickly and then nodded in understanding.
Xena jumped up on the feast table and heard several gasps of recognition as the crowd took in her wedding clothes and her identity.
"Most of you know me. For those who haven't seen me before, I'm Xena and I'm really pissed off." Everyone went quiet. "My mate has been poisoned and I want the antidote and I want it now. My mate is also the Queen of the Amazons, so you also have them to deal with. If you give up the antidote or the name of the poison now, you'll have three hours head start before they come after you. If not, then not even the gods will save you from me or them." she said simply and waited.
Both she and Ephiny watched the crowd shift uneasily, each looking at each other but not wanting to meet each other's eyes. Xena's eyes narrowed. "Ephiny, start with the ones who would have the most to gain by a war with the Amazons and work from there. Did anyone leave the area or the territory just after the wedding?"
"I'll find out." Ephiny promised and moved away. Hercules caught up with Xena as she jumped down from the table.
"So far nothing." he said simply.
"How good are they searching?" Xena asked, watching the delegates try to move away from her.
Hercules grinned a grim smile. "Not even a gem smuggler could get past them."
A runner approached the warrior and went to one knee. "Consort, Regent Ephiny says that four members of the Roman party left immediately after the receiving."
"Brutus!" Xena yelled loudly and everyone and everything went quiet. The crowd parted and left the Roman and three of his men standing in the center of the yard.
Brutus raised his chin in defiance as the warrior and Hercules approached. Xena saw Ephiny running from another direction towards them. With a growl she lifted the Roman off his feet.
"What did you use?" she demanded.
"Not my doing, warrior!" he said through gritted teeth.
"Brutus, four of your men are on the run and the Queen is poisoned, what am I supposed to think?" the warrior dropped him and knocked his feet out from under him. His three men started to move forward in a protective stance when they found several Amazon warriors had swords at their throats. The men held still.
"Tell me, damnit!"
"I didn't do it!" he insisted.
"Hercules, bring him! Amazons, hold them!" the Consort instructed and began moving quickly towards the Healer's hut.
Inside the hut Xena found her armor on a chair and Hecuba in a chair next to the bard. The healer was mixing herbs in a mortar bowl. She shook her head discouragingly.
Hercules dragged a reluctant Brutus through the door with Ephiny right behind them. The Roman went pale when he saw the Queen of the Amazons on the cot, thrashing and sweating in pain.
"Gabrielle?" he whispered.
"Yes," Xena answered. "Now what poison did you use?"
"Xena, I swear to all the gods, I had nothing to do with this!" Hercules grabbed him by the collar and lifted the Roman off his feet again. "You know I would never harm Gabrielle!"
"You didn't know it was her when she was poisoned!" Xena shouted back.
"I do now and I still swear that I didn't do it!"
"Who are the men that ran?" Xena demanded.
"They were personally assigned to me by Caesar."
Xena's eyes narrowed and began flashing. "Caesar?"
"Yes, Xena, I swear I didn't know!"
"Put him down, Hercules." the demi-god obeyed, still holding onto the Roman's collar. "Do you have any idea what I am going to do to you if Gabrielle dies?" Xena whispered, coming in close to him.
"Xena, I didn't know and I didn't have a hand in this." he pleaded.
"Which direction would they go?" she demanded.
"Not towards Rome. Caesar said something about Egypt to one of them." Brutus answered.
"If you're lying to me or if you're wrong, I'll turn you over to the Amazons. Gabrielle is their Queen, do you think they'll be gentle with you?" Xena promised.
"Xena, let me ride with you. I can approach them and get the antidote or the name of the poison before you could."
"No, you'll slip away the first chance you get." Xena shook her head and removed her tunic, turning her back to the Roman and grabbing her leather shift. She quickly began putting on her familiar armor.
"No, I swear I won't. I want to save Gabrielle, you know I do."
"You're also a Roman and Rome comes first. Caesar has decided that the Queen of the Amazons would be a better ally if she's dead. You serve Caesar."
"I serve Rome first and I don't agree with this move. Let me help!"
"Xena, we must move!" Ephiny insisted.
"All right, but no weapons."
Xena quickly went over to her mate's side and fought back tears as the bard's body once again arched in unbearable pain. When she collapsed again on the cot the healer shook her head.
"These herbs may slow it down but you must hurry, her body is being torn apart. She's all ready lost all of her stomach contents and she can't take much more of the pain."
"Hecuba, I'll most as fast as I can!" Xena promised, looking in the tear filled eyes of the mother and Lila.
"I know, Xena. I'll pray."
The war party moved quickly through the countryside, spurred on by the enraged and desperate warrior leading them on her beloved Argo. With Amazons and the Warrior Princess tracking them, the Romans were quickly overtaken.
"Let me approach them, Xena. I can order them to turn over the antidote." Brutus pleaded.
"No, how do I know that you won't destroy it?" Xena said flatly, watching the Romans moving up and down a river, looking for a suitable place to pass with their horses. On the rocky cliff overhead Amazons and warrior watched.
"I swear I won't. Something I didn't tell you," Xena looked at him with narrowed eyes. "I thought this would be an easy assignment. One of the soldiers we left behind with the Amazons is my son. If I fail, his life and mine are both forfeit."
"Yes, I swear it by all the Gods."
"All right, you have five minutes. Alcyonia, give him his sword." Xena instructed one of the Amazon warriors.
"Brutus," the Roman turned to look at Xena. "If you fail, I'll personally castrate both of you."
The Roman turned pale but nodded his understanding.
In moments he was riding up to his men. Xena couldn't hear the conversation but she was watching closely. At her signal Amazon archers had taken up positions on the cliff overlooking the Romans, ready to unleash their famed deadly arrows.
Xena watched, chakram in hand as Brutus appeared to argue with the men. The sound of shouting reaching the warrior's ears. Finally one of the men shouted something and drew his sword and the others followed. Brutus pulled his own sword and ran the first soldier through and the other two fell with arrows in their chests and throats. The fourth one dropped his sword and held up his hands in surrender.
Xena ran to Argo and quickly sped down the trail to find Brutus ripping the saddlebags off the Roman horses and spilling the contents onto the ground. Xena leaped off Argo with chakram at hand. The Roman looked up, frowning.
"Bastards wouldn't go back on Caesar's orders. It's got to be here!"
Xena joined in the search as the Amazons and Hercules rode up. Brutus let out a shout and held up a flask. He grinned and handed it to the warrior.
"Hercules, make sure they get back to the village. I'm going to move fast."
"You got it."
Xena was grateful that the border guards and scouts let her fly past without challenge. She had answered the bird and animals calls with her own and didn't slow Argo's flight any. The noises managed to beat her into the village and she found the way clear for her all the way to the healer's hut with armed Amazons lining the road and yard. Ephiny and Iolaus stood at the door with swords drawn. Xena leaped off Argo and dashed through the door as Iolaus held it open.
The healer quickly moved forward and opened the flask, with a satisfied look she began pouring the herb into her mixing bowl. "This is it, warrior. Just pray we're in time. She's very weak, it's been hours."
Xena was very aware of how long it had been and how fast poison could work. Torches were already being lit in the village. She quickly moved to Gabrielle's side across from Hecuba and Lila. Cyrene and Solan kept vigil off to the side.
"She's been unconscious since you left." Hecuba said softly.
"The pain?" Xena asked, tears flowing down her face as she stroked her bard's forehead. The bard's face was drawn and pinched with pain and her muscles continually twitched and spasmed.
"Worse. She finally stopped screaming half a candlemark ago." Lila answered with a sob, burying her head in her mother's shoulder. Cyrene walked up behind her daughter and placed her hands on the warrior's shoulders.
"Screaming?" Xena whispered.
"Yes, the pain has been bad." Cyrene answered softly.
The healer moved around the warrior and with the help of Hecuba, pried the bard's jaws open and forced the unconscious woman to swallow. "We can only wait. The damage may be too much for her."
"No! Gabrielle, listen to me! You fight back! I'm not going to lose you now!" Xena growled through gritted teeth and sat down on the stool next to her lover.
Ephiny entered the hut and took in the scene. "Did she get it?" she asked the healer.
"Yes, we can only wait and see if it was in time. Our Queen is very ill."
"All right. I'm sending the delegates on their way. I'll tell them the son of bacchae have been caught and are dead. I'll send runners out once we know the outcome." Ephiny tried not to choke on the last words and stumbled out of the hut.
After some convincing the healer finally got the two families to go and eat something while Xena watched over her lover. The healer knew better than to insist that Xena leave Gabrielle's side and didn't even try. She helped the warrior keep cool cloths on the Queen's forehead and wrists and helped the warrior hold her mate down when the pain racked her body once more. Xena whimpered, each time the bard was getting weaker and weaker.
Xena felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She turned to the healer. "Can you get me some bread and water, please?"
The healer was surprised but pleased, she hadn't expected the warrior to even think of eating or drinking.
Once the healer was out of the hut Xena stood up and drew her sword.
"Ares!" she hissed.
"I hate how you can do that!" he said as he appeared.
"Come to gloat?" she demanded, sword at his neck. The War God merely ignored the sword.
"No, not at all." he moved the point away and moved closer to his once Chosen. "Look, I'm sorry about last night. I was upset."
"What do you want!?" she demanded again, sheathing her sword.
"You," he answered simply as she turned back to Gabrielle's side.
"What else is new?" she asked in a tired voice. The bard whimpered and gritted her teeth again. Ares watched with disinterest as waves of pain ran through the small woman's body.
"Always, of course. Look, I can heal her."
"The usual deal." Ares shrugged.
"I come back to you like before. Total Warlord." Xena said simply.
"Yup, you bet. What do you say? We can leave her here with the Amazons and go back to how it was."
"Ares," Xena held up her bandaged hand. "We're blood bonded, if I go back to my war ways she'll die and then I'll die."
"Remember, you convinced the Furies that you and I are blood. Come back, all ready! You know I'll win in the end. The fight is in your blood. You can't deny that your blood sings every time you go into battle or a fight. That after a good fight you're so turned on that you can't stand it. Come back." He moved behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders.
Xena shrugged them off. "No, Ares. I don't care if you are my father or not, Gabrielle is my life."
"Does she answer that call of the blood after the fight? Can she understand the fury in your blood? Can she answer it? Only a warrior knows what it feels like." he purred in her ear.
"You'd be surprised," Xena managed to grin. "At what Gabrielle can do, in more ways than one."
"Humph!" Ares snorted and moved to the end of the cot. "If you are my daughter then take your rightful place at my side and become the Goddess of War!" he insisted.
"Isn't that position all ready taken?"
"Athena, who cares. She can go back to her weaving, she's not the warrior you are!" he insisted.
"No, just leave." Xena ran a tired hand over her face.
"Okay, I'll just wait till the irritating little wench is gone, then you'll be back." Ares said smugly.
"Ares," Xena's voice stopped him from disappearing. "Know this, if she crosses over that I'll follow her." Xena's eyes met the War Gods.
"No, you can't do that!" he demanded.
"Yes, I can. She's the other half of my soul and I won't lose her."
"You can't mean that!"
"Yes, I do. Now leave, all ready." Xena turned her eyes back to her lover. Without looking she knew that Ares was gone and she was alone with Gabrielle. Xena finally let herself break down in tears as she felt how rapid and shallow the bard's breathing was. "Gabrielle, I hope you can hear me." she whispered. "Don't leave me, please! I can't live without you!" Xena checked her armor and sighed to herself after feeling the dagger between her breasts.
"Hey," a harsh voice whispered.
Xena looked up, tears of joy beginning to fall instead of terrified ones. Green eyes met blue ones and Xena quickly grabbed the bard's hand and held it.
"Gabrielle!" Xena grabbed a cup and moved behind the bard to help her sit up and take a drink. The smaller woman couldn't even raise her hands to help. "Shhh, little one, drink slowly." Xena instructed.
Gabrielle leaned back into her warrior. "What happened?" she whispered.
The healer walked through the door and took in the sight of her Queen in the arms of her Consort with eyes open and broke into a grin. She quickly put the bread and wine down and ran back outside. Xena smiled when they heard a cheer outside. The healer quickly came back in and with experienced hands, began examining the bard.
After a moment she stepped back and looked at Gabrielle's tired face.
"Well?" the warrior demanded, holding her arms around her lover.
"It'll be a few days before we know if there's permanent damage or not." the healer warned.
"I'll be fine." Gabrielle insisted, her head starting to fall forward.
"It's all right, Consort," the healer reassured her. "She'll sleep a lot for the next few days. It's the body's way of healing."
Suddenly the room was filled with happy relatives, Amazons, and friends, all shedding tears of joy while the bard smiled a very tired smile.
After a few minutes the healer ran all of them out when Gabrielle's head fell forward onto Xena's arms and didn't' raise back up. She motioned for the warrior to lay the bard back down on the cot.
Xena crossed over to the healer's table. "Well?"
"She's very weak. We'll know probably tomorrow if there's muscle damage. It may be a few days before we know if there's problems with her stomach or nervous system." the healer warned.
"She's alive, that's what counts right now."
"Yes, and everyone is waiting outside. Hercules brought in the Roman and the prisoner."
"You'll stay with her for a few minutes?"
"Of course, she's my Queen."
Xena found Brutus and the other three Romans sitting at one of the tables, surrounded by Amazons. Brutus looked tired but pleased when the warrior approached them and sat down opposite of him. Xena knew the assassin was in the prisoner hut.
"I heard she's alive. Thank you!"
"Thank you for your help." the warrior acknowledged. "Ephiny agrees to let you go back to Rome. I don't believe you had anything to do with it or you would have run with the others."
"What will you tell Caesar?" the warrior asked. Xena noticed that he didn't ask about the proposed fate of the other Roman.
"That someone attempted to poison the Queen of the Amazons but they failed and I haven't heard from his men."
"It's dangerous going up against Caesar's wishes," Xena mentioned.
"I know, that's why I prefer to count him as my friend rather than my enemy. It's either let the Amazons kill us for being Roman or tell Caesar the truth and let him kill us, my son included. I don't think I like either of those options. My son and these two will keep quiet because they know what will happen if they don't. A cross is not where I want to end up for me or my son."
"You should probably leave soon. I know it's dark but the Amazons aren't happy with any outsiders right now. It probably wouldn't turn out well if one of your men even looked cross-eyed at one of them." Xena suggested.
"You're right, of course. Will you walk me to our horses?"
Xena was surprised but agreed. Brutus fell into step with her.
"Thank you for giving me the chance to save my son and my men." he said simply.
"It was a way to save Gabrielle."
"I know, but it also saved my son too. Your identity as Consort to the Queen is safe with me, warrior. It was before she was poisoned." Brutus grinned.
Xena's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I recognized you in the ritual and figured the only one who could grab your heart enough for a bonding ceremony like this would be Gabrielle." Brutus shrugged.
"How did you recognize us? Even our hair was covered." Xena was curious.
"Nice bruise on your neck, Xena. Also, I noticed your bandaged hand at breakfast."
"Oh son of a bacchae!" she complained and he laughed as he took his reins and mounted his horse.
"I swear by the gods that no one will know that Gabrielle is the Queen of the Amazons and that you two are bonded."
"Thank you, Brutus. It could be used as political power."
"Yes," he agreed. "but I hate politics and I like Gabrielle and respect you."
"Goodbye, Brutus. I hope we don't have to cross swords in the future."
"So do I, warrior."
When Xena returned to the hut she found Hercules and Iolaus walking out the door. She hugged both of them tightly.
"Thank you both for being here."
"Any time." Iolaus offered and Hercules nodded.
"We're going to get something to eat and some sleep. Things should be quiet tonight. All the delegates have left and Ares hasn't shown up and the Romans are gone." Hercules said.
"Ares did show up." Xena said simply.
"What? What did he want?" Hercules demanded.
"The usual, me." Xena smiled and shrugged. "He offered to save Gabrielle if I would come back to him. He was using the moment because just after I turned him down she woke up. I think he knew she was going to get better and was seizing the moment to try and get to swear I was his again."
"I'll kill him one of these days, Father's wishes or not." Hercules grumbled.
Xena hugged him again. "Thanks, you might have to stand in line for that one."
She moved past him to enter the hut and found Ephiny and both families. She moved into the room and gave Solan a big hug and then her mother. Xena turned to the healer.
"She's sleeping, not unconscious. You need some sleep too."
"I'll stay with her." Xena insisted.
"I figured that, but at least take off the armor and crawl into bed with her and sleep!" the healer said in frustration. Xena grinned a tired smile and Ephiny laughed for the first time in two days.
"She's right, Xena. I'll see to your families. Warriors will watch the hut outside."
Xena quickly hugged everyone and then struggled out of her armor. With a heavy sigh she settled down into the familiar position behind the bard and slipped her arms around Gabrielle.
The warrior was pleased when the bard sighed in her sleep and snuggled into Xena's arms. She was asleep in moments.
Xena knew the recovery would be long and hard for the bard but had no doubt of the bard's inner strength.
Xena also knew that she would be there every step of the way.
Note: I want to thank whoever invented the Internet. In researching ancient Greek wedding traditions, modern traditions and pagan handfasting rituals, my time was cut down from over a week in a library to two days on the net. I also want to thank the thousands of people who put information out there for us to find and use.
Another note: I also want to encourage the use of libraries, they are still essential, even in the day of the internet. Nothing beats a good book in your hands and nothing has fed this bard growing up more than a good story.
Hope you enjoy my stuff. Let me know what you think.
aka dana cooper-kjarr
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