An Awakening - Part 5

Trial of a Roman, Trial of a Couple

by Hunter Ash

Disclaimers: I don't own Xena, Gabrielle, etc etc etc. This is to help in keeping me somewhat sane and for entertainment. Don't bother suing me, I'm government property and have no money.

Subtext/Alt Sex: there is a loving and sexual relationship between characters of the same sex. Nothing graphic in this one but if this is illegal where you are or bugs you - leave. Come back with changed laws, an open mind or when you're older.

Violence: Description of the results of a major poisoning, one actual poisoning. Kinda light this time around.

Storyline: one of Gabrielle's attempted assassins is put on trial by the Amazons and Gabrielle and Xena discover an unforeseen complication from Xena's recent memory loss.

I would hope this story can stand on it's own but it is part of a series and you might want to read the other parts first:

A Visit Home, An Awakening
An Awakening, Discovery
Amazon Bonding
Trial of a Roman, Trial of a Couple

parts 6-8 to follow soon - 9 is being worked on.

Feedback: Yes, please! I love corresponding and hearing what you all think! (beg)

Xena watched her mate swing the staff over her head in a complicated pattern and bring the weapon down on the foot of one of the warriors, who yelped and dropped her guard. The bard quickly followed up with a kick to the warrior's chest that sent the woman flying backwards. The Amazon Queen started to spin around and jerked to a stop. Instantly, everyone froze and Xena was on her feet and over the small railing that bordered the practice yard.

The two warriors sparring with Gabrielle were by her side and the fallen one was regaining her feet when Xena reached her mate's side. Gabrielle was gritting her teeth, hand at the small of her back. She smiled through her pain at the sight of her soulmate's blue eyes suddenly looking down on her.

"I'm fine, just a twinge," the bard protested before Xena could say a word.

Gabrielle shook off the concerns of the other warriors and reached out to take Xena's arm. "I'm fine, thanks for the practice. Time to quit, I think."

Only Xena noticed that the bard was actually leaning on her arm for support and not just as an excuse to touch her mate. Xena kept a frown from her face as they left the practice yard and headed for their hut. Once inside the door she turned to look closely at Gabrielle and hissed as she saw the intense pain on the Amazon Queen's face.

"I'm okay, just overdid it." Gabrielle said softly, closing her eyes. Xena took the staff from the woman's hands and placed it beside the door. Then she stood in front of the bard again. Gabrielle opened her eyes and Xena wanted to break into tears at the amount of pain she saw there. She reached out her arms and Gabrielle grasped her warrior's forearms and let Xena lead her to the bed they shared, the bard leaning heavily onto the strong arms of her warrior, gritting her teeth in pain.

The bard sighed with relief as she lay down on the bed, taking some of the pressure off her spine and muscles. Xena sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked her lover's forehead, silently cursing.

It had been three weeks since their wedding and Roman assassins had attempted the kill the Amazon Queen. Gabrielle had barely survived the poison and her body still hadn't healed totally. Somehow the bard had lived, but the poison had been so devastating to her body that she was still suffering. And with her, Xena suffered.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and smiled at her mate.

"It's been a rough month, hasn't it?" the bard asked softly, echoing her mate's thoughts. Xena smiled back.

"Yes, it has, little one."

"I didn't intend on overdoing it, I must have twisted wrong," the bard complained.

"I know, Gabrielle. I'll have dinner brought here tonight and get the Healer to make you some of that pain killer tea of hers."

"No, no more drugs, please."

"You're in pain." Xena protested.

"I'll live, warrior mine. Those teas taste horrible and they make me fuzzy. It's the muscle that's pulled, I can feel the difference between the spine injury and the muscles now. I'll be fine as long as I take it easy for a couple of more days," Gabrielle said, holding Xena's hand.

"All right, little one. About tomorrow," Xena began, slowly, to bring up a subject they had been dancing around for a couple of days. One that brought a frown to Gabrielle's face instantly and that infamous stubborn set to her jaw.

"There has to be another way," Gabrielle insisted.

"You've been pouring over those old scrolls looking for a way for four days. The Amazon law is clear, your assassin faces the death penalty," Xena countered.

"You know how I feel about killing. I can't be responsible for his death." Gabrielle's voice grew edged.

"You're not responsible," Xena protested. Her continued argument was cut short when a knock broke their conversation. "Come in!" she yelled and smiled when Regent Ephiny walked in.

The Regent saw Gabrielle on the bed and frowned. "I thought so. One of the warriors thought you were hiding your pain well, but that you had been hurt again."

Gabrielle rolled her eyes in frustration. "I didn't want them to know I had pulled my back again. They already treat me like I'm fragile. If this keeps up they'll never spar with me again!" the bard complained.

Ephiny sat down on the other side of the bed with a smile. "Just give it time. The Healer doesn't even know how you're alive, my Queen. That poison kills full grown cattle in a matter of minutes."

"I know she has the appetite of a full grown cow, but really," Xena was rewarded by her bard with a pillow to her face.

Ephiny grinned at the two women, and then grew serious.

"Gabrielle, your presence is required tomorrow," she said softly.

"I know, Ephiny," Gabrielle began but the Regent held up her hand.

"We've been over and over this, my Queen. The Elders will judge the Roman for his crime. You don't have a say in this. You can speak when they pass sentence on him but I can tell you this, it won't count for much. The law is clear. He attempted to kill an Amazon. He attempted to assassinate the Queen of the Amazons. He attempted to kill a royal member while under a banner of truce in the Amazon Nation, and he left his delegate here to take the blame. On top of all of that, he confessed." Ephiny ranted off the charges facing the one Roman assassin Xena had captured after Gabrielle's poisoning.

"You didn't torture him, did you?" Gabrielle demanded, flinching when she attempted to sit up. She lay back down, with a grimace.

"No, he freely confessed, proud of his mission. His only regret is that you aren't dead and he can't get to a sword or rope to kill himself," Ephiny answered easily.

"Why would he want to kill himself, he's facing death already?" Gabrielle asked.

"Because he failed, he wants to die like a soldier, not a criminal," Xena answered.

"What manner of death is he facing?" Gabrielle asked, the scrolls had been unclear about that point, apparently leaving it up to the Elders to decide.

Ephiny shifted uneasily. "The traditional punishment for murderers is poison," she said softly.

Gabrielle went pale and closed her eyes. "Anything like they used on me?" she whispered.


"I can see why he would want to fall on his sword," the bard muttered.

"It's actually a quick death. Like Ephiny said, we don't know why you lived through it, other than I'm damned happy you did." Gabrielle opened her eyes to smile at her mate in agreement.

"What else?" the bard asked, looking back over to her Regent.

"Hanging, decapitation by sword, execution by arrows."

"Not too bad, I've seen worse." Xena commented and shrugged at her bard's frustrated look. "In Rome he'd be crucified, that is not a nice death." Xena's eyes grew narrow in memory. She remembered Caesar's face as she was hung on a cross and her legs shattered with a hammer. Gabrielle reached out and touched her mate's face gently, bringing her warrior back from the memories. The bard knew about Xena's crucifixion and broken legs. She also knew of Xena's intense hatred for Caesar.

"Any death is too much for me," Gabrielle complained.

"I'm sorry, little one. After this is over I'm taking you somewhere quiet and restful. I owe you a honeymoon." Xena smiled at the bard's suddenly hopeful face.

"Really?" the bard whispered and even Ephiny grinned at the small woman's delight.

"Yup." Xena nodded.

Ephiny frowned again. "My Queen, you have to attend the execution," the Regent whispered.

Gabrielle didn't answer. Ephiny looked up and saw Gabrielle's clenched jaw and Xena's pained eyes. The Regent moved quietly out of the hut.

Both of them were very aware of the bard's reluctance to kill, even when it was Callisto, the murderer of the bard's husband. Gabrielle had been unable to kill the insane woman, even when it meant her death at Callisto's hands.

Xena sat quietly with her mate as Gabrielle struggled with her inner demons. The warrior knew the time would come when the bard would probably kill someone, most likely in self defense or in defense of someone else. The warrior still dreaded that and would almost offer a prayer to the gods that it not happen anytime in the near future. The ex-warlord was terrified of the bard losing her blood innocence and what that could do to a person. The only way Xena kept from falling into the darkness was Gabrielle, and the warrior knew that same darkness could claim anyone, even someone like Gabrielle. It nearly had when her husband Perdicus had been slaughtered in front of her.

Xena didn't know how to help her mate with this one. Falling into darkness and being able to kill was something Xena didn't have a problem with. Although she did have to admit she could no longer kill with ease and without reason, not with Gabrielle's guiding light showing her the difference between the warrior and the Warlord.

Xena sat with the bard, watching the smaller woman thinking, and tossing, and struggling with the inner and outer pain until food was brought to their hut.

The main hall of the Amazon Village was packed to the rafters for the trial. At the far end of the hall a platform had been raised for the judges, the tribal Elders. On the right another platform was for the Amazon Queen's chair and one for her Consort. On the left was the platform for the accused and his speakers.

In the center was a platform for addressing the Elders and the crowd. The rest of the hall was taken up with chairs for the spectators. Among the crowd were representatives from various other Amazon tribes. Also in the crowd were Hercules and Iolaus, as potential witnesses to the Roman's capture.

One missing face was Brutus and Xena was glad. Having anything to do with Rome made her nervous, even if Brutus had helped capture the assassin. The warrior trusted no one much and Romans even less.

At the table of the accused the Roman sat, staring straight forward. His hands and feet chained together and a chain running between that. The Amazons had allowed him to wear his armor and rank of Centurion for the trial and Xena could see that he had been treated well, despite his crime against their Queen. The Amazons were being patient.

One possible outcome of sentence that Ephiny hadn't told Gabrielle was for the Roman to be turned over to the crowd for punishment. Xena secretly hoped it didn't come to that, the Amazons would rip him into pieces for what their Queen had been through. She also knew that it would be a painful death, beginning with an assault below the belt.

Everyone was restless but the room went quiet as the Elders walked through the center and took their places at their table. Xena nodded to Ephiny across the common ground and the Regent disappeared into the Queen's hut. A moment later she emerged with Gabrielle, in full ceremonial dress, including mask and feathers.

Xena, as Consort, put on her mask and waited for her Queen to join her at the door. She offered the Queen her arm and drew her sword in a ritual gesture of protection. Together they walked down the center of the room and Xena lent her arm to her Queen as the smaller woman mounted the platform and stood before her throne. The royal Consort joined her and knelt on one knee, everyone followed. Gabrielle sat down and everyone regained their seats as Xena took her seat slightly to the right and behind Gabrielle.

Ephiny entered and walked to the accused's table, having been given the task to speak for the accused. Byblis, an Amazon scholar like Gabrielle, had been chosen to speak against him to the Elders.

Byblis took the center platform, facing Gabrielle, taking in the Elders and the crowd with her back to the accused table.

"My Queen and royal Consort, tribal Elders, honored Regent, honored guests," she began, removing her ceremonial mask to speak better. "Before you is a man accused of one of the most horrible crimes we can image as Amazons. This Roman, Octavion, a Centurion of the Praetorian Guard, is accused of the attempted murder of our beloved Queen."

The crowd grumbled and shifted in their seats. The Roman raised his chin in defiance. Xena's eyes narrowed in anger.

"By his own admission, one of his accomplices poured a powdered poison into the Queen's wine cup when he shook the Queen's hand. This took place at our Queen's wedding. A public and royal function that acknowledged the Queen's bonding to her Consort the night before."

Again the crowd rumbled, especially the Amazons.

"Our Queen drank some of that wine and fell ill, so ill that she almost died many times in the coming week. By this man's own admission he knew about the plot, he assisted in it, he fled the area with his accomplices and he resisted arrest by his Commanding Officer, Brutus - Proconsul of Rome, and by the Royal Consort."

Byblis paused for a moment.

"The Roman was a guest of our tribe, a delegate of Rome, of Caesar. Our Queen almost died and even now isn't totally recovered. I would like the healer to speak to you of this." Byblis looked to the Elders who nodded their approval.

Out of the crowd, the Healer stepped forward and bowed to the Queen and Consort, the Elders and then faced the accused. She bowed to Ephiny and then, with a glare, turned her back on the Roman.

"Scholar Byblis speaks the truth. Let me describe the effects of the poison that this man and his comrades used. I will speak in simple terms and without feeling. My feelings I will tell you after you have heard what your Queen suffered."

Xena reached out and held Gabrielle's hand as she shifted uneasily on her throne.

"First the powder was introduced into her wine. Our Queen doesn't drink much so she only had a small dose. This poison is deadly and usually kills within an hour. I swear by the gods I don't know how she lived but I give thanks and sacrifice every day that she did. Within minutes she was salivating a lot, then the muscles began to twitch. With her Amazon training our Queen ignored this as exhaustion and danced the courtship dance with her Consort. By the end of the dance our Queen was breathing rapidly, her pulse was racing and she couldn't see any longer because her eyes were dilated. The tremors started getting worse. Her consort quickly took the unconscious Queen to my hut. By this time the tremors were worse and she was slipping into a coma. Violent convulsions seized her body. I induced vomiting with charcoal and tannin tea. By the time Xena, warrior friend of the Amazons, went in search of the assassins with the Roman officer, Brutus, our Queen was in violent convulsions."

Everyone was deathly quiet and Xena was somewhat pleased the Roman had enough sense to drop his head at the description of his handiwork.

"Her breathing stopped several times. I was able to keep her breathing with a technique that our friend, Xena, had shown me last time she and the bard Gabrielle visited."

Xena swallowed with difficulty. She didn't know about Gabrielle's breathing stopping while she was gone. She could tell by the way the Queen was gripping her hand that the bard hadn't known either.

"Her skin turned blue and I fought, along with assistants, to keep the blood circulating throughout our Queen's body and kept forcing air into her lungs."

Xena and Gabrielle knew those "assistants" must have been Ephiny and her mate Solari; Gabrielle's mother Hecuba and little sister Lila, Xena's mother Cyrene and her son Solan.

Gods, they both thought to themselves, they must have been terrified!

The Elders, guests and Amazons thought so too.

"Her muscles kept contracting in unnatural positions and she was in agony, screaming agony. Her body was literally being pulled into pieces by her own muscles. I managed to get enough of a strong sedative tea into her of help calm some of the contractions but not much. Her screams ripped through the village for hours."

Xena was impressed with the descriptive language of the healer, but was just in anguish hearing what Gabrielle had gone through.

"Hours later the warrior woman returned with the prisoner. All the other assassins were killed resisting. The Roman Brutus turned the prisoner over to the Amazon Nation for judgment."

"Did our Queen recover that night?" one of the Elders asked. Xena knew that all the Elders knew the answer to that but they wanted to drag out all the information of just how Gabrielle had suffered.

To put a Roman Centurion of the Praetorian Guard and a delegate from Rome, they would have to show extreme just cause and they intended to do just that.

"No, as I said, she still hasn't recovered. All of us waited the night to see if she would survive. I truly didn't think she would. I knew the poison they used and it's always deadly and very painful. The body rips itself apart from the inside and the muscles constrict the lungs and throat until the victim can't breath and they die. When our Queen regained consciousness it was horrible," the healer's voice choked for a moment. "The merest touch of anything would cause her to scream. Her muscles had so torn at her that her skin was so sensitive even clothing and her own hair could cause pain."

Xena could see Ephiny going pale from that memory and the warrior knew she probably didn't look much better behind her mask either.

"It was hours before she could tolerate touch, light or noise again and even then only in small measures. Her Consort was also in agony during this entire time, watching her beloved suffer like this. It took another four days before the Queen could get through a day without pain medication and constant massage of her muscles from my assistants and her Consort. This required night and day attention. Almost all the village kept a vigil outside the hut for their Queen. The danger finally passed and our Queen is now attempting to recover. It has been most painful for her. The Queen's muscles are weak and damaged and will require months of rebuilding before we know for sure that she can make a complete recovery. Her internal organs might be sensitive to some foods from this point on, we don't know yet. Only the Gods know for sure if her life was cut shorter because of this."

Everyone sat stunned, contemplating what they had heard from the Healer, as she finished.

"Healer," finally one of the Elders spoke. "What the Romans used as a poison, they knew there would be no survival?"

"Yes, it was a combination of an herb from the north called Cowsbane by our Northern sisters." Everyone heard the Northern tribe gasp in recognition. The Northern Amazons looked up at the Queen in amazement. "And they combined it with strychnine. Both are deadly unto themselves. Our Queen shouldn't be alive but she is, thank the gods."

Everyone muttered in agreement.

"Thank you, Healer. Byblis, continue."

"Thank you, Elder. I would like the Consort to speak on this."

Xena was surprised, the scholar hadn't asked her or Gabrielle about this. The warrior could almost feel Gabrielle frowning under her mask. The warrior slowly stood and squeezed the Queen's hand before jumping down from the platform and joining Byblis on the platform in the center of the room. She bowed before her Queen, the Elders and Ephiny.

Just like at the wedding Xena and Gabrielle were hidden by their masks and different clothing and weapons. Most of the delegates had found out that Xena was the royal consort but Gabrielle and Ephiny had insisted that they downplay that part of the events. In case some of the delegates hadn't figured it out, weren't there or whatever, they wanted to keep Gabrielle's identity as Queen as secret as possible. Her habit of traveling with Xena unprotected by a large guard of Amazons was enough to drive Ephiny crazy, everyone agreed they didn't want all of Greece and the outside world knowing that she was also Amazon royalty -a potential hostage. She was already a target just traveling with Xena.

Xena faced Byblis, face hidden by her mask.

"Consort, you were there when your Queen took ill with the poison."

"Yes, I carried her to the Healer's hut," Xena answered simply.

"How long had you been bonded to the Queen?" Byblis asked.

"We were bonded the night before by the Regent and the Gods. Our public bonding had just taken place when she was poisoned," Xena answered.

"Not long." Byblis stated.

"No, not long."

"What did you feel when the Queen took ill?"

Xena frowned and shifted on her feet. "I can't describe it, I'm not a bard or scholar," Xena began. "It was like all of my soul was dying as I watched her screaming and thrashing in pain."

"How long did you stay with the Queen during her recovery?" the scholar asked.

"Almost every minute. Only our Regent Ephiny or my mother could get me to leave her side to eat or get cleaned up." Xena said simply.

"Did you sleep?"

"Not much," Xena admitted. "I would hold her, singing and talking until the pain would pass enough for her to sleep. I would sleep in-between the attacks of pain when the medicine would wear off."

"How long did this go on?"

"Days and nights. It was over a week before anyone slept through the night, including the Queen."

"Has she recovered?" Byblis asked.

"No, she is still in pain. She is working on regaining her muscle strength but it is too slow for our Amazon Queen and she is frustrated. She whimpers at night in pain and she gets up to pace the floor at least twice a night, working out cramping muscles."

Xena saw Gabrielle flinch and smiled under her mask. The bard hadn't realized Xena knew about her pacing at night. The Amazon Queen hadn't wanted to worry the warrior. Gabrielle grinned to herself, as if she could keep something from Xena!

"Will she heal totally?"

"If stubbornness can heal muscles, she will." Ephiny grinned at that comment, then Xena was serious. "I don't know. I'm a warrior and I haven't seen many injuries that caused this type of damage without being permanent. We can only pray she keeps getting stronger."

"Thank you, Consort. Do the Elders have any questions for the Consort?" Byblis asked.

The Elders looked to each other and then shook their heads. Xena quickly took her place by the Queen's side once more, glad to be out of the center of the mess. Gabrielle took her hand and squeezed.

"My Queen and Consort, Honored Elders, I would now turn to Regent Ephiny to address this matter before you."

"Thank you, Byblis." one of the Elders said as the scholar stepped down and resumed her place at the accused table. Ephiny stood up and took her place in the center of the room, carrying her royal mask.

"Regent Ephiny, you are acting Queen when our Queen is away."

"Yes, I am her successor if anything should happen," Ephiny answered.

"You were here when the Queen was poisoned," an Elder stated.

"Yes, Elder. It was just as the Healer and the Consort described it. Our Queen was in such agony that I thought she would die just from the pain."

"You took charge of the prisoner when the Roman Brutus and Xena brought him to our village?" another Elder asked.

"Yes, Elder. I quickly saw that his armor was removed and all hidden weapons found. I then had him chained hand and foot in the center of the prison room. I then kept vigil outside the Healer's Hut until we knew if the Queen would live or not." Ephiny answered.

"And if she hadn't?"

Ephiny lowered her head. "I don't know, Elder." she whispered. "I hope I would be strong enough to hold my hand until the prisoner had been judged but revenge was in my heart as I waited for news of our Queen. If she had died I might have killed him that night."

Gabrielle whimpered and Xena squeezed the bard's hand again.

"We understand Regent and don't fault you for your feelings of love for the Queen. I think every Amazon in this tribe was feeling and thinking the same thing," one of the Elders stated.

"When did you question the Roman?" another Elder asked.

"Three days later when we were sure that our Queen would live. He freely admitted to the plot to kill the Queen with poison. He admitted that he knew it was a fatal combination and dose. He admitted he knew the plan of how to poison the Queen. He admitted that he and his accomplices quickly left the wedding reception in an attempt to escape capture. He freely admitted that his officer, Brutus and the other Romans left behind at the reception were not in on the plot and had been left behind to take the blame if it were discovered who had poisoned the Queen," Ephiny stated.

"Was the prisoner mistreated or tortured for this admission?"

"No, he was given the same food that we served on our tables and plenty of water. He was given the opportunity to bathe himself with bucket, water and soap and given a bucket that was cleaned daily for his personal use."

"Was he given a blanket?"

"No," Ephiny smiled a grim smile at that one.

"Why not?" an Elder asked.

"Because, when he confessed everything he stated that it was fortunate Xena and Brutus had taken him before he could fall on his sword and that he would kill himself like a Roman the first chance he got. I didn't want to find him hanging from the rafters or the bars with his blanket." Ephiny admitted.

"Very well."

"Regent," another Elder spoke. "What do you think his judgment should be?"

Ephiny looked at Gabrielle's eyes behind the mask and hesitated. The Queen could see the pain on her Regent's face.

"I saw one of my best friends almost die a most horrible death. I heard her scream for nights on end and I've seen her suffer with the after affects. I've seen her Consort go nearly mad with worry and grief and I've seen their families run themselves into exhaustion trying to care for the Consort and the Queen." Ephiny lowered her head. "I would wish death for the Roman in whatever manner you deem fit."

"Does the Roman wish to speak on his behalf?"

The Roman, Octavion, stood and bowed to the Queen and Consort and then to the Elders.

"I am Octavion, Centurion in the Praetorian Guard of Rome. I was sent on a mission and I have failed in that mission. My fate is death and I accept that." The Roman sat down again.

Byblis stood and faced the Elders. "There is one thing the Roman didn't admit to, Elders. Who ordered the attack on our Queen? Who ordered her death?"

"Roman," an Elder began and the Roman stood. "Who ordered your plot against our Queen. Your answer might spare your life."

"I cannot state that, even if I knew. I took my orders from the man Brutus killed when capturing us," he answered.

"Isn't it true that you are one of Caesar's guards?" Byblis questioned.

"Yes, that is what the Praetorian Guard is."

"Isn't it true that Brutus stated to the Consort that you were assigned to his delegation by personal orders from Caesar?" Byblis questioned.

"I don't know what Brutus told anyone. I was ordered by Samvius, my officer, to come on this mission and then told after we were on the road what the real mission was. I never met with Caesar and have never spoken with Caesar."

"Damn," Xena muttered under her breath.

Byblis faced the Elders. "Honored Elders, although the circumstances point that this was a plot from the highest ranks of Rome, we have no proof to bring public charges against any other Roman than Octavion." Byblis' face was red with anger and Xena felt the same anger. They had all been hoping for enough proof to at least publicly embarrass Caesar over the incident.

"Consort, what is your feelings on judgment for this man?" an Elder questioned.

Xena stood up and glanced down into Gabrielle's eyes. "I'm sorry, little one. I have to speak the truth," she whispered. Gabrielle's eyes filled with tears but she squeezed her mate's hand in support.

"I would wish death for him in whatever manner you choose." Xena sat down, praying that Gabrielle wouldn't be angry with her. The Queen leaned over to her Consort's ear.

"It's all right, my love. I always want the truth from you."

Xena sighed with relief.

"My Queen, what would be your wish for this man?"

Gabrielle took a deep breath and stood, almost stumbling as her legs refused to hold her upright. Xena was on her feet in a flash and helped steady the Queen.

Gabrielle grinned a frustrated smile under her mask. After a moment she nodded to her Consort that she was all right to stand on her own and Xena sat back down, on alert to spring forward again if the little bard needed her.

"As you can see, I am not fully recovered from the murder attempt. They tell me I may never totally recover my strength. Before this I could walk miles each day with little tiredness, I could swim a river easily and I was dangerous with a staff. Now I can barely walk across the common to the eating hut without pain. I have suffered and continue to suffer because of this man and his obedience to a murderous plot," the Queen hesitated.

"I am bitter. This man and his officers attempted to kill me on my wedding day and take me away from my soulmate." Gabrielle remembered another wedding day and watching Perdicus die, unarmed right next to her. "I know the pain of that loss and what it would have done to my Consort, my love. I don't think this man can understand this but I hope that all of you do, I am against killing in general and have fought against it many times. In the last few days I have come to realize that a line has been crossed in my soul." again the Queen hesitated and Xena frowned beneath her mask.

"I call for this man's death." Xena heard herself gasp at the words from her little bard. "Not because of his attempt to kill me or because of the suffering I've gone through and continue to go through. I call for justice because of the pain he caused my beloved Consort, my blood-bonded mate and for the pain he attempted to cause with my death. I know that if I had died that my consort would have followed me soon and I can't forgive that."

Xena could tell the bard was crying beneath the mask and wished she could grab the Queen in her arms and comfort her. The warrior knew this had to be one of the most wrenching realizations and decisions the young woman had ever faced about herself.

"I also call for his death as justice for the harm he attempted to cause to the Amazon Nation. To him, his act was political and he now accepts the usual political outcome of failure - death. For the good of the Nation, let him face your justice with death."

Everyone was stunned into silence as the Queen resumed her chair, wincing in pain. Only Xena could tell how much pain Gabrielle was in, both physically and mentally. Then the crowd was grumbling in reaction and agreement.

One of the Elders stood and bowed to the Queen and then faced the crowd. "We will retire and discuss this matter. Please await our decision." The Elders filed out of the hall and everyone broke into conversation.

Xena quickly knelt down in front of Gabrielle, taking the bard's hands in hers, seeking the green eyes of her love out through the masks and wasn't surprised to find the woman with tears in those eyes.

It was less than a candlemark when the Elders returned to the hall. The spokeswoman for the Elder Council stood and bowed to the Queen and Consort and then to Regent Ephiny. She faced the crowd.

"My Queen and Consort, Royal Regent and honored guests; the Elder Council of this Amazon Nation has made its determination in the case of the Roman Centurion Octavion of the Praetorian Guard, accused of attempted murder. In that he has confessed to his role, his guilt wasn't a matter of question. What faced us was the question of his punishment."

Xena reached out and held Gabrielle's hand, finding the bard trembling slightly.

"These are the things we considered: that Octavion came to us under a banner of truce and goodwill; that he accepted our hospitality with the knowledge he was going to commit a horrible crime against the Nation; that he freely participated in this crime; that this crime was political in motivation; that he attempted to kill a member of our Nation; that this member was royalty and that royalty was our Queen herself; that he cared nothing for the suffering he inflicted on our Queen; that he cared nothing for the pain he caused her family and our Nation through her suffering; that his only regret was that he failed in killing the Queen." the Elder paused.

"Other things we considered; that the man is a soldier and not the one who gave the orders; that it cannot be determined who gave the order; that this man was following the orders of his superiors and had no personal stake in the attempt."

The Elder turned slightly and faced the Roman. "Roman Octavion, it is the decision of this Elder Council that your crime outweighs any mercy. It is the decision that you shall be put to death tomorrow at sunrise. You will be given parchment to make your will and testament known to your people and any letter you may wish to write to your family. These will be taken to the nearest Roman garrison and official word will be sent to Rome of your fate. Your manner of death will be that of what you attempted for our Queen, by poison."

Gabrielle's hand tightened on her warrior's and her breathing became shallow and rapid.

"We won't use the same poison that you used on our Queen, we will use the traditional Greek method of executing condemned murderers: hemlock. You have until dawn, Octavion."

The Roman stood and bowed to the Elder Council and then to the Queen and Consort and followed his armed escort from the Hall as the crowd grumbled in agreement with his fate.

Gabrielle stood up, trembling, and managed to bow to Ephiny and then the Elder Council, allowing Xena's arm to support her out of the Hall.

"How can I help, Little one?" Xena whispered down to her little bard.

"Get me out of here for awhile, grab Argo while I change, I'll bring clothes for you."

Before Xena could agree or protest the bard was moving towards the Queen's Hut.

The warrior quickly moved toward the stables.

Xena moved Argo through the rocks carefully as Gabrielle gritted her teeth against the pain from riding. The Amazon Queen was pleased to find that her Consort was leading them to the same pool they had visited a short time earlier that season. The same pool where they had shared a vision together that revealed the truth of Gabrielle's parentage and destiny, a destiny she and Xena had been fated to share and mold, either in the darkness of the Warlord or in the light of the warrior and bard.

The warrior helped the pain-wracked bard off Argo and gently carried her to the shade of a tree by the small river. Without a word the warrior sat against a tree and pulled the bard in between her legs and wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. Together they watched the river flow.

After a time the warrior made a small campfire for her and her mate and changed out of her ceremonial clothing into her usual leathers. Wrapping a cloak around them they watched the stars beginning to show in the darkening sky.

"I have to be there in the morning, don't I?" Gabrielle finally broke their silence.

"Yes," Xena agreed.

"Gods, I hate this!"

"I know."

Gabrielle hugged the arms hugging her. "I love you."

"I love you too, Gabrielle."

Just before dawn Xena slowly led Argo back into the village and wasn't surprised to find Ephiny and Solari waiting.

"My Queen, about half a candlemark. We told the delegates that you were in too much pain for the dinner last night." Ephiny said simply.

"Thank you."

Xena reached up and helped her beloved off the horse carefully. The warrior was already dressed in her ceremonial clothing, all she needed to do was put on the mask. Gabrielle leaned up and kissed her mate quickly.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," the bard said and moved slowly towards their hut to get dressed in her ceremonial clothing again.

Xena shrugged when she turned to the Regent and her mate. "She needed some time to think."

"We knew that, so did the Elders. No one thought anything about it. We know what a difficult decision that was for Gabrielle." Ephiny responded with a smile.

"This whole mess hasn't been easy for any of us." Xena complained.

"No, I talked with the Healer, the execution should be quick." Solari informed the warrior.

"Good, after this is over I'm taking Gabrielle away for awhile. Up north to a small cabin Hercules has in the mountains. A month or more together with no one else around will probably do her some good."

"I agree, give her some time to heal and both of you to heal. You've had a rough wedding month, my friend," Ephiny agreed.

Xena quickly put on her mask as delegates began leaving their huts and gathering near the common area. The warrior excused herself from the Regent and mate and made her way around the gathering crowd towards the Queen's Hut and entered with a knock.

Gabrielle sat at the table staring at nothing. She attempted a smile as her mate walked up and hugged the bard from behind.

"It's time, my Queen." Xena said softly. Gabrielle nodded and rose in her lover's arms, reaching for her mask on the table.

"Let's get this over with."

The next half a candlemark was a blur to the Amazon Queen. Formal announcement of the charges, Elder decision and call for the prisoner to be brought forth. The Roman was dressed as before in his official military clothing. He stood as tall as his medium height would allow and easily stood on the platform.

An Amazon, chosen by lots and masked, stepped forward from the Healer with a cup in hand. The Roman raised the cup in salute, to whom no one asked or ventured, and then he drink the entire contents.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and listened to the noises, the reactions of the crowd for the next few minutes. Xena stood behind the sitting bard, holding her Queen closely. The bard concentrated on her breathing and on the warmth of the warrior's arms holding her and finally Xena leaned forward and whispered in her ear.

"It's over, my love."

Gabrielle opened her eyes to see the masked Amazon covering the Roman's body with a blanket as the Healer stepped back.

"The judgment of the Elder Council has been carried out. The Roman Centurion Octavion is dead." the healer announced.

"Come, my Queen, let's pack for our journey." Xena encouraged.

"Yes," Gabrielle agreed quickly.

The next two days were spent with Gabrielle spending time with the visitors from other tribes, Xena sparring with Hercules and Iolaus, and the Amazon Queen catching up on political stuff for the Nation. With rest and no strenuous activity the bard's back began healing once again, pleasing both Gabrielle and Xena to no end.

On the third day the Shaman sought the two bondmates out, finding them watching some of the visiting Amazons sparring with Gabrielle's tribe members and Hercules and Iolaus. The Shaman sat next to the two on a log seat outside of the practice yard.

"Your friends are good." she commented about Hercules and Iolaus.

"Yes, but the Amazons definitely give them a workout." Xena grinned.

"Can I talk to you both?" the Shaman asked simply, watching the Amazons and men practice.

"Of course, Shaman." Gabrielle answered easily.

"I've seen a couple of things in visions and have sensed other things," the Shaman began.

After a moment, Xena spoke. "Shamans, always speaking in riddles." The warrior complained with a smile and was answered with a smile from both Gabrielle and the Shaman.

"And warriors are always impatient," the shaman countered and then frowned. "Xena, when Ares took your memories of Gabrielle from you, how did you get them back?"

Xena's eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. "You know that, Shaman," she answered, "Gabrielle."

The Shaman nodded, it was as if that one word, that name could explain everything about Xena now. About the changes from Warlord to warrior, from darkness to light, from destroyer to lover.

"How did she do that?" the Shaman asked and the bard shifted on the log, uncomfortable being talked about, and not to, but deciding to keep quiet and see where this was heading.

"By reconnecting our blood bond, that brought my memories back." Xena was also frowning.

The Shaman nodded again, watching the Amazons and men practice. "I sense that our Queen will heal almost completely. One of my visions has been of a very fit and trim body with no sign of pain. You will probably have problems with age, my Queen, but all warriors do."

Warriors? Gabrielle thought with her own furrowed brows.

"Thank the gods for that," Xena muttered, missing the word 'warrior' applied to her gentle non-killing bard.,

"I've seen and sensed other things, warrior" the Shaman said simply.

"Such as?" Xena questioned, eyes beginning to narrow.

"Normally I would approach you separately but you are blood bonded to our Queen. You share almost the same soul now and the same future."

"What is it, Shaman?" Xena asked impatiently.

"The Queen hasn't noticed because of her own pain but I've noticed that you haven't been eating much, Xena. Are you getting ill?"

Now both Xena and Gabrielle were frowning, Xena in puzzlement and Gabrielle in concern. "No," the warrior answered. "With all the stress around I haven't been hungry."

"Or did the thought of food make your stomach turn over?" the Shaman asked gently, keeping her eyes on the Amazons and men practicing.

"What are you getting at, Shaman?" Xena demanded and Gabrielle reached out a hand and took the warrior's callused hand in hers.

"When was your last blood time?"

Xena blinked rapidly, looking like she had just taken a blow to the stomach or head. Gabrielle's eyes began to grow very wide. The Shaman kept watching the Amazons and men practice.

"I...., the stress has thrown my timing off." the warrior whispered.

"You were with Ares for a night." The Shaman said simply.

Xena closed her eyes and ran a hand over her face. "I was due two weeks ago." she whispered, turning very pale under her tanned skin.

"Shaman?" Gabrielle whispered.

"I think so, my Queen. Xena, you have a son and you know your own body, are you now with child?" the Shaman asked gently.

Xena tried to control her breathing as a roaring filled her head and darkness attempted to crowd in. She could barely feel Gabrielle's hand holding hers as she fought for control.

"I....," she stammered, opening her blue eyes filled with tears and seeking her beloved's green eyes out in fear.

Gabrielle, seeing the absolute fear and pain there, reached out her other hand and began to caress the warrior's cheek. "I'm here, my love. No matter what," she promised.

Xena moaned deep in her throat and broke away from her lover at a run towards the tree line.

"Xena! Wait!" Gabrielle jumped to her feet and then winced at the sudden pain in the back. "Damnit!"

Hercules, hearing Gabrielle's cry and seeing Xena's flight into the trees, found himself on the ground, having been distracted. With a laugh he held his hands palm up in surrender and let the two Amazon warriors help him to his feet and grasped their forearms in a warrior's handshake. He quickly moved to Gabrielle's side, just in time to catch her as she fell into his arms sobbing.

He looked at the shaman with a puzzled look but she merely shrugged. "She'll have to tell you, son of Zeus," and the Shaman moved off into the shadows.

Gabrielle paced in front of her hut in the pre-dawn hour. Hercules and Iolaus, leaning against the hut wall had finally nodded off to sleep, having talked themselves to death trying to reassure the bard that Xena would be back and would be fine.

Watching from the doorway of their own hut Regent Ephiny and Solari frowned as their Queen paced.

"Can we do anything?" Solari asked finally, putting an arm around her lover's waist.

"No, we don't even know what's wrong. Gabrielle won't tell me until she's talked with Xena and no one has seen the warrior since she disappeared in the trees. It's eerie how that woman can disappear better than an Amazon." Ephiny complained.

"I know, she's the only one who can get past our best scouts without them even being aware she was ever there." Solari agreed.

"I remember the night she came to attack Gabrielle when she lost her memory. I almost didn't see her enter that hut. If she wants to disappear then I don't know if we can find her."

They both saw Gabrielle's head snap up towards the north and she seemed to be waiting, a moment later a scout trotted into view and knelt before the Queen. Ephiny and Solari quickly trotted over to hear the scouts report. Hercules nudged Iolaus awake.

"My Queen," the scout tried regaining her breath.

"Yes, report."

"The warrior Xena has been found. She is by the river where the large rocks and boulders form small pools and mini waterfalls."

Gabrielle frowned. "Was she all right?"

"Physically, yes." The scout answered but wouldn't raise her eyes.

"Finish it," Gabrielle demanded.

"It appears that she has been crying most of the night and she now lies curled up on the rocks." The scout whispered, as if in fear of Gabrielle's reaction. Every Amazon in the village, including the visitors, were aware of the close connection of the Queen and her Consort. For something to drive the warrior away from the village and her Queen, it must be devastating. For something to make the former Warlord, the former Destroyer of Nations to weep through the night, the scout shuddered at the thought.

"Thank you, go and get some food and rest." Gabrielle said distractedly.

"Gabrielle, my Queen," Ephiny began.

"Have Argo saddled, please." Gabrielle began to turn inside her hut when Ephiny placed a hand on the small bard's arm.

"Gabrielle, what is it? How can we help?" she asked, the concern on her face and Solari's grabbed at Gabrielle's heart and she quickly hugged her Regent and friends.

"It will be all right, I just need to talk to her and reassure her about something. Get Argo saddled, I'm going to bring her back."

From the scout's description, Gabrielle had a pretty good idea where Xena had ended up. The same place where she and Xena had shared a vision journey into Gabrielle's past to discover the truth about the bard's conception and parentage. When they learned that Apollo was her father and that they were both fated to be together. If they weren't then the darkness that consumed the Warlord could consume the known world. It was also the place where Xena had taken Gabrielle when the young Amazon Queen was struggling with the coming execution of her Roman assassin.

Gabrielle led Argo carefully around the rocks until she spotted the warrior curled up on the same rock they had laid on before. The warrior seemed to be sleeping but Gabrielle could see the tenseness of Xena's muscles. Letting Argo's reins drop, the bard made sure to make noise as she approached the battle trained warrior.

She stopped just before the boulder. "Xena?" she said softly.

The warrior didn't turn but nodded her head in acknowledgment of her mate. Gabrielle carefully climbed up on the rock and sat behind her mate. She slowly reached out and touched Xena's arm and was pleased when the warrior didn't pull away. The bard began to slowly stroke her warrior's arm and then her forehead and cheek lightly.

Fresh tears fell from behind closed eyelids.

"Xena, talk to me, please." Gabrielle said softly.

"I don't know what to say." Xena whispered. "Ares."

"Yes, he happens to be the contributor to this."

Xena opened her eyes and turned over on her back and looked at the bard. Gabrielle kept from crying out at the sight of the torment on the older woman's face, the pain filling the crystal eyes the bard adored.

"Gabrielle?" Xena whispered.

Gabrielle smiled a reassuring smile and held open her arms and held tight as her warrior melted into them. She began to rock slightly as Xena wept again. Finally this round of tears seemed done and Xena pulled back slightly to look at her mate.

"I knew when I followed you that it wouldn't be an easy road and I accepted that. That decision has been challenged many times, my love, and we've met them each time together. We'll face this together as well. I love you and I will love your child as my own." Gabrielle said, holding Xena's face tenderly.

"With Ares as the father?" New tears ran down the warrior's face and Gabrielle gently brushed them away.

"Ares may have been there but that doesn't mean he's going to be father to any child of ours." Gabrielle growled, bringing a slight smile to Xena.

"You want to have this?"

"My love, nothing could please me more than to have a family with you." Gabrielle smiled and was grateful for the hug she got for those words.

"This is going to be complicated," Xena complained, pulling back and looking deep into Gabrielle's green eyes. She was slightly surprised when Gabrielle laughed.

"When isn't it with us?" The bard giggled, her nose and eyes wrinkling in amusement, something else that the warrior adored about her bard.

"That's true. I'm sorry I freaked last night."

"Don't apologize, this isn't exactly like finding out you're coming down with a cold." Gabrielle smiled.

"Oh gods, what are we going to do?" Xena cried.

"Well, first off, we're going to go back to the village and get something to eat and then I'm going to hold you in my arms until we both fall asleep. Then we'll decide what to do from there." Gabrielle announced simply and stood up, trying not to wince.

Xena's eyes narrowed as she looked up at her bard. "You didn't sleep last night, did you? And you're in pain."

"No, I didn't sleep and yes, I'm in some pain. Don't you dare blame yourself for that!" Gabrielle warned as Xena got to her feet.

"Who knows what's going on?" Xena asked as she helped the bard off the boulder and they began to walk towards Argo.

"The Shaman, Hercules and Iolaus. I used Herc's shoulder for a crying post."

"I've been thinking all night," Xena began, reaching down and helping the smaller woman up on Argo. "It all depended on you, but I'd like to have the child. I made so many mistakes with Solan and I don't know how to fix them, but this feels right. Even if it was Ares."

Gabrielle reached around to hug her mate closely, rubbing her face along Xena's leathers.

"I want the child, too. We don't have to let Ares into our lives just because of this. I'm going to refuse to let this wonderful thing drag you back to him," Gabrielle promised and Xena leaned back slightly into the bard.

"I love you, little one," the warrior said simply.

"I love you, both of you." Gabrielle giggled.

"Since this is going to get complicated really fast, should we tell the others right away?" Xena asked with a frown.

"Before you make it past the three month point?" Gabrielle countered with a question.

It was common for women not to announce pregnancy until after they had carried the child beyond a three month period, they both knew. It was very common to lose a child within that period and women usually wanted to be sure they were past the first season of trouble before making plans for a child.

"The Shaman seems to think I'll carry it," Xena commented.

Gabrielle laughed again. "That's true! I think we should since we have to decide where, when and how and it will probably concern my status with the village."

"Gods, complicated and it hasn't even been a full day." Xena complained.

Gabrielle giggled and held close to her warrior.

Solari dropped her drinking cup and Ephiny thought she would fall off the bench they were sitting at when Gabrielle explained what was going on. The Amazon Queen resisted laughing at their incredulous faces and Xena's dismayed look.

"Ares? For crying out loud!" Ephiny hissed and Xena dropped her head.

"Enough, Ephiny," Gabrielle warned. "You know she wasn't in control of the situation. Now we deal with it. Personally, I'm delighted."

Xena looked up with a grateful half smile for her mate. Hercules leaned over the table and kissed the warrior on the cheek. Iolaus sat next to his friend grinning. Ephiny and Solari shook their heads in amazement at the situation.

"This isn't going to be a typical pregnancy, birth or child." Hercules warned and Xena and Gabrielle nodded in acknowledgment of that fact.

"Hey, Herc," Iolaus punched his friend on the arm. "You're going to be an uncle!"

The demi-god broke into a wide grin. "I couldn't think of a better mom either."

Xena blushed beet red.

"Or Moms," Iolaus corrected, grinning at Gabrielle.

"I agree, it's just a surprise." Ephiny said. "I am happy for both of you but Hercules is right, this will give Ares an open door to your life."

"Not if we can help it," Gabrielle growled and Xena reached an arm around her mate's shoulder and pulled Gabrielle close to her.

"I've seen how he tried to take Evander from his mother," Hercules said, "I can't see him stopping at anything to get hold of a child of yours, Xena."

"I know, when someone comes up with an idea, let us know. I'm tired and I think Gabrielle is too. Come on, my Queen." Xena stood up and helped pull her mate up and into her arms. Blue eyes catching green ones caused time to stop for both women for a moment until Ephiny coughed. Both women blushed and separated.

"You two!" the Regent complained with a laugh.

"You have to get out of Greece and away from Ares' influence." Hercules suggested as they gathered at the dinner hour. Xena frowned.

"But where? Not any of Rome's territories either." Gabrielle said quickly.

"Agreed. I wouldn't suggest the Persians, they aren't too keen on women running around with swords or the Arabian lands." Hercules thought aloud.

"Judea is definitely out, way too much Roman control and your type of relationship is a stoning offense," Iolaus commented.

Gabrielle looked frustrated and Xena agreed with the sentiment.

"What about the Northern Amazons?" Ephiny suggested.

"We can't." Xena said quietly.

"Why not? That might be far enough away from main Greece to get out of Ares' hands and the Romans won't find you there." Solari asked.

"I can't." Xena whispered, dropping her eyes and head.

Everyone became quiet. Gabrielle reached over and grabbed her mate's hand.

"It's okay." she said quietly.

"Xena, you've been forgiven and accepted by the Amazon Nation, they'll take you in," Ephiny encouraged.

"I don't think they can forgive what I did those years ago. Drop it, please Ephiny."

"Okay." Ephiny looked distressed for causing the warrior pain but Gabrielle reached her other hand over to her friend and squeezed the Regent's hand.

Gabrielle once again cursed the past of her mate that just wouldn't stay buried. It seemed that every time they got on track with something and seemed to be moving forward the past would come back to haunt her love.

"Britannia?" Solari suggested.

"Always a trouble spot for Rome, we might be able to blend into one of the tribes." Gabrielle suggested.

"That's a possibility or even further north into Caledonia. Even the Romans can't conquer those clans." Xena grinned.

"Getting accepted by them might be a problem." Hercules said. "When I was up North I heard stuff about the Caledonians, fierce clans and tribes and they are very closed societies. One of their favorite past times is fighting among themselves when not taking on the Vikings and Romans."

"Egypt?" Iolaus ventured.

"We'd stand out there a bit." Xena grinned. "Gabrielle's hair would instantly identify us as Greek or Roman and Rome is getting quite a foothold in Egypt."

"Germania," Hercules stated.

"Would their northern tribes accept us?" Xena asked.

"I believe so. They accepted me easily, they are naturally curious and love a good fight, almost better than drinking and no one does that better!" Hercules grinned. "They are light haired and skinned, no one would notice any of us as outsiders right away. They also don't care about the type of relationship you two have. They don't care as long as the family line is continued."

"So as long as you produce for the tribe, they don't care who else you sleep with?" Gabrielle asked with a grin.

Hercules actually began blushing. "That's about it."

"Well, we got that covered, don't we, my love." Gabrielle grinned at her warrior who also began to blush.

"Just don't get any ideas about those tall, blond warrior men types," Xena growled.

Gabrielle giggled.

"Now, getting you there before Ares finds out what's going on and tries to stop us." Hercules again thought out loud.

"Us?" Xena asked, eyebrows raising.

"If you'll have us, we'd like to help." Iolaus grinned.

"I think we'd be grateful," Gabrielle looked to Xena who nodded.

"There's been trouble on the border north of us, either we sail through the Mediterranean, along the coast, past Britannia and land up north or we go through Roman territory until we're past the Celtic and Samaritan tribes." Hercules proposed.

"Sail?" Gabrielle whispered and Xena grinned at how pale her mate suddenly went.

"Then it's overland through Macedonia, Illyricum, Pannonia, Noricum, Rhaetia and into Germania."

"Gods, this is going to take awhile," Gabrielle moaned.

"And the sooner you get started the faster you'll be out of Ares' reach." Ephiny smiled.

Gabrielle dropped Xena's hand and took both of Ephiny's in hers. "My friend, I want you to assume the rank and title of Queen."

"No, you are the rightful Queen and it will stay that way!" Ephiny argued, attempting to pull out of Gabrielle's hands but the bard held firm. Solari shifted uneasily in her seat.

"No, I'm leaving and we don't know when we'll be back. My first concern will be Xena and the Nation will need a Queen who thinks only of the Nation. Rome is getting more and more powerful and the lands will keep getting smaller and smaller until they force an action. I probably won't be here and the Amazons need a full time leader." Gabrielle urged.

Ephiny's face became pained. "You fought hard when the right of caste was thrust upon you." Ephiny reminded the bard. "You fought against me and Melosa and won that right, don't give it up now."

"I gave that up when I married Xena and you know it," Gabrielle said gently and Ephiny dropped her head.

"My Queen," Ephiny pleaded.

"No, it's the best decision for the Nation and you know it. I'll sign all the papers and turn my staff and mask over to you. I don't want a formal ceremony because I don't want word getting out that Xena and I are leaving for as long as possible." Gabrielle said simply.

"You'll always belong here," Ephiny insisted and Solari nodded firmly.

"Thank you, my friend. We know that and we will be back." Gabrielle promised.

"Hercules, we should start early." Xena suggested.

"As soon as possible. Have any of the gods gotten hold of this yet?" he asked the two lovers.

"Not that we know of." Gabrielle answered.

"Good, let's keep it that way until we're almost out of Greece, if necessary. The fewer who know about this the better, until Xena is safe."

Xena knew Gabrielle was keeping her emotions under control by a thread and wasn't surprised when the little bard turned and threw herself into her warrior's arms when they closed the door to their hut.

Xena moved them to the bed and sat against the wall, holding the bard while she cried.

"It's okay, little one. We can always come back here," Xena kept whispering.

After a short time Gabrielle's tears finally stopped but she still clung to her warrior.

"I'm going to miss them," she whispered.

"I know. I wish we could stay here and build our family," Xena smiled at Gabrielle's surprised face. "Yes, I know that's what you would hope for too. I just can't trust that Ares can't reach us here. He already attacked us here once and has come to me when you were sick."

"Damn him!" Gabrielle growled.

"I'm sure that's at the top of the list for a lot of people and fellow gods." Xena grinned.

"I won't let him harm you or your child!" Gabrielle hissed.

"Our child."

"Our child? Wow."

After a moment Gabrielle began running her fingers over the skin where it met the leather armor. Her face leaned up and began nuzzling the warrior's neck, pulling a moan out of Xena.

"How long can we.......?" Gabrielle whispered.

Xena laughed heartily. "A long time yet, little one," she said as she leaned down and captured the lips of her mate.

A few minutes later Hercules was about to knock on the door when he heard familiar moans coming from inside the Queen's hut and decided that whatever it was he was going to ask would wait until morning. He grinned and headed for the guest hut, his Amazon escort grinning along with him.

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