A Xena: Warrior Princess Fan-Fiction Story

by Missy Ragona


The Cast: Xena, Gabrielle, the Amazons, Lycia (from Hercules and the Amazon Women), the
Pantheon of Greek Gods, the Centaurs, Solon, Joxer, Hercules, Dahak, and introducing Bessa, Lycia's younger sister.

Disclaimer: Y'all know it: They're not mine, they belong to the wonderful, smart, and creative folks
at Universal. This is sort of an alternative Xena story, but there isn't any graphic sex. Sorry ;-). Use
your imaginations, that's probably more interesting than I can write. There is a bit of violence and
some reference to nudity. Forgive any grammatical or contextual errors, I'm relying on the spell
checker and limited access to the first season. Any comments or corrections would be appreciated. I hope you enjoy the story. This is the first I've actually had the nerve to write down.

Time and Setting: The story begins where the third season X:WP cliffhanger, Sacrifice, and the
Hercules fourth season finale, Top God, ended. Beware: spoilers ahead. We begin at the Temple of
Ares, where Gabrielle and Hope fell into the abyss that was to be Dahak's entry into the world.

Author's Note: The song I was listening to as I wrote Gabrielle's wedding was the Prologue in
Loreena McKennitt's album "The Book of Secrets." I recommend its accompaniment as you read.

She turned toward the charred hole, tears streaming down her face. The only evidence that
remained of the battle a moment ago was the rising smoke and the black ash covering the altar. Joxer's weeping and the wounded priestess' painful wheezing went unheard by the shattered warrior. The only sound she heard was the echo of her name, "XENA!"

As the echoes grew quieter, her own screams grew louder and louder. "Ares! Ares! YOU
COWARD! SHOW YOURSELF!" But the Temple of the God of War was empty of its patron. In fact, at that moment, all of his temples were empty as the War God was attempting to hide from the wrath of his betrayed family. The Pantheon of Gods were still in heated debate over Ares' punishment. Choices ranged from oblivion, to joining Sisyphus and his rock, to making the god a mortal. Poseidon so enjoyed tormenting the mortals that he was lobbying strongly for the latter. "Let him fight it out with Hercules and the warrior woman on equal ground," he argued. Debate continued for a millennium, a moment's time to a god.

All this went unnoticed by Xena. The two people most dear to her, Solon and Gabrielle, were gone
thanks to Dahak and Ares. The pain was a hot knife in her heart.

Xena slowly began to look around the temple. The Priest of the Blood and the goddess Callisto lay
dead at her feet. Joxer was kneeling at the edge of the abyss, still weeping, still waiting. He expected Gabrielle to come climbing out of the hole any second now and punch him or tweak his nose. He kept waiting. The sound of the confused mob drifted into the temple. Without Dahak's hold on their minds, they were trying to figure out how they had gotten so far from their villages.

The Warrior Princess went into automatic mode. There were things to do, she would feel later. She
gently drew Joxer away from the edge of the chasm. She got him to help her tie a rope around the
nearest column so she could climb down. They tied four or five ropes together but she never reached the bottom. She ordered the dead bodies tossed into the black abyss and told the people to go home. She knew what she had to do, where she had to go, but first things first.

As the dazed people slowly wandered home, the roar of the flames made them turn to see the
temple of the War God burning, torched by the hand of the Destroyer of Nations. After the fire, Xena scattered the ashes and the stones across the valley. Then she collected Argo and headed for the Amazons.

Ephiny knew something was wrong the minute she saw Xena ride over the crest of the southern
hill. The proud warrior was slumping over her horse, barely hanging on. She could tell that Xena had just come from a terrible battle. When she realized that Gabrielle wasn't following the horse, Ephiny knew just how terrible the battle had been. Her young queen, her friend, her sister, had been one of its victims. And with her went Xena's soul. Ephiny's tears fell for all of them as she called for warriors to help get Xena to the healer's hut.

A few hours later, Xena awoke screaming Gabrielle's name, scaring the novice healer watching
over her. As the girl rose from the floor and righted her chair, Xena thought she was Gabrielle and tried to reach for her. The girl ran out of the hut, claiming to be running to tell Ephiny that Xena was awake. "It wouldn't do to have the Regent think I'm afraid," the young girl thought.

Xena recited her much-rehearsed story of the final battle with Dahak, of Gabrielle's debt to Ares,
and how she repaid it by protecting Xena with her life. No matter how she tried, the story still sounded hollow, like a legal scroll. She knew that the bards would fix that, and Queen Gabrielle would be remembered properly.

The funeral ceremony lasted all the next day. The day began with the stories of Gabrielle's
adventures retold over the breakfast fires, and continued into the midday funeral pyre with an empty
coffin, and then to the queen-making ceremony for Ephiny at sunset. Xena spent the day being led by Ephiny from one hut to another, from one ceremony to the next . . . "Stands here . . . recite this . . . hand her this. . . ." Xena's body responded to Ephiny's directions, but her mind was far away, planning, thinking, calculating . . . deciding.

That night Xena asked Ephiny to wait until the autumn equinox before sending a royal messenger
to Poteideia to tell Gabrielle's family. She needed the time. She also asked Ephiny not to tell the
Amazons about her plan, she didn't want them to be hurt again if her plan failed. The next day, a
candlemark after sunrise, Xena was riding away from the Amazon village with a plan to get her
Gabrielle back.


The flames erupted from the temple windows, fueled by alcohol she had purchased with money
that had been stored away for years. She could finally put to use all the money she'd hidden from
Darphus and every other second-rate lieutenant she had commanded. All the dinars in the world were worthless without Gabrielle. "At least this way the money was going to good use," she laughed as she backed away from the temple. Merchants throughout Greece were getting rich from the sale of alcohol to the warrior princess, and most were wise enough not to ask any questions.

Xena watched the flames eat away at the temple's roof. The twentieth one in the month since she
left the Amazons. She figured she still had enough money to torch a hundred more temples built in
honor of the God of War, whatever it took to get his attention. Ares' priests had deserted the temples and gone into hiding. Most feared that she'd be after them once she was through with the temples. But the lessons she'd learned over the past three years hadn't completely died with Gabrielle. She always warned the priests and even allowed them to pack a few robes, but the books, candles, and sculptures all burned with the building. If she couldn't kill Ares, then she'd destroy every trace of his existence.

"Okay, you got my attention." She had sensed him, or rather smelled him even before he spoke. She could never put her finger on it, but he smelled something like burning cedar. Ten years ago the smell ignited a passion inside her. Now it only served to make her grab her sword. Without warning she began swinging, aiming for his head, his chest, whatever she could see. Instinctively, the War God grabbed his sword and blocked each thrust. But Xena had love and fury on her side and soon he found himself sprawled on the ground with her sword at his throat.

"You can't kill me with that, Xena. I'm still a god."

"Not for long," she hissed, as she pulled the dagger from her boot.

"The hind's blood dagger? Xena, you can't." He tried to back away from the only thing that could
kill him.

"Who's going to stop me? Let's see, in the last year you've had Hercules' wife killed, lied to the
Furies, betrayed your family, and killed Gabrielle. Zeus will give me a parade once you're dead."

"Wait, wait, hold on, what do you think I can do? Do you think I can fix all of this? So much has
happened. People die, stars move, the moon turns. I can't reverse all of that!"

"Fine. It's been real." The fury in her eyes told Ares that she was serious as she prepared to make
one killing thrust into his chest.

"Wait a minute. I've got it." He pleaded as he squirmed away from the dagger. "I'll take you to
Zeus. If he wishes it, he can bring her back."

"Okay, we'll go. But if he refuses, then you die. Get it?" She picked up his sword, but when he
reached for it, she refused. "Oh no. I'm keeping this until we talk to Zeus. If he agrees, then you mightget it back. If he refuses, then I'll offer it to the next God of War." They both smiled when she said this, hers a smile to mask her rage, his a smile to hide his fear. He could never remember a promise that Xena had broken.

Ares and Xena traveled for the next three days toward Mt. Olympus. Without his sword, he was as
mortal as she. During their trip, Ares was coming up with his own plan. "I know that one of the other gods will help me. Poseidon, Hermes, maybe even Aphrodite. She was still ranting about the mystic diamond Xena had fed to a fish and shot into the sky. The gods wouldn't want some mortal forcing her way up Mt. Olympus and using me as ransom for that irritating blond." Meanwhile, Xena was thinking about how glad the other gods would be to get their hands on Ares. Zeus was just glad that Aphrodite was so happy these last three days. She had such a lovely voice when she sang.

If she wasn't trying to get Gabrielle back, Xena would have killed Ares half way up Mt. Olympus.
He whined constantly about having his sword so he could get them there without all the trouble of
climbing. But Xena needed the time to think, time to plan. She just wished that he'd shut up!

When they arrived at the Great Hall of Zeus, Xena expected guards or some ugly beasts to try to
stop them. But the hall was empty, except for the goddess that sat on the throne across the room.

"You're not the greeting I expected," the confused Xena said with just enough respect in her voice.
I thought she was . . . Well, never mind.

"And you're not the raging lunatic I heard so much about," said the Queen of the Gods with a smile.

"Oh, so you've heard of me," Xena said with a sly grin.

"Yes, my son tells me that you're a dangerous woman."

"Well, he's right." Xena recognized the conversation, but she decided not to mention the intrusion.
There was no use pissing off the Queen of the Gods while standing in her living room.

"Speaking of my son . . . How have you been, boy?" She said to the shaking ball of leather and flesh at Xena's feet. "LOOK AT ME WHEN I SPEAK TO YOU, BOY! And stand up! It's time you face judgment for your act of betrayal like the god that you are!" As he stumbled to his feet murmuring something about it not being his fault, Hera's rage overcame her, and she shot a yellow ball of flames at her son. He disappeared with a scream. Xena's normally somber face had such a look of shock on it that the Queen had to laugh. "Oh, he'll be fine. I'm just going to let him burn for a little while. Maybe next time, he'll think before he betrays me again." The Queen of the Gods smiled at Xena, and rose to leave. "Thank you for your help. You can leave the sword by the door. I'll take care of it. We'll get you a ride home and some food for your trip."

"Ah, excuse me. I need to see Zeus. We need to talk about Gabrielle."

"Who? Ah, oh yes. That irrit . . . your friend. There's nothing to talk about. She's gone. She died a
hero. I'm sure one or two of you humans will miss her. Thank you again for bringing my son home."

"Wait a minute! Is that it?! Thanks, now go home. Gabrielle saved your lives. She deserves better
than that. She deserves a chance to live, to love, to be with her friends and her family. You owe her

"We are the GODS. We don't owe anyone anything. Do you understand? We let you have your fun
with Ares' temples. We allowed you to come here unharmed. But we don't OWE you anything."

"Not me, Gabrielle, you owe Gabrielle."

"But you didn't come here for her. You came here for yourself. You want someone to cook for you, to fetch fire wood and clean the fish you enjoy catching. You want someone you can protect and feel strong around. You aren't pleading for Gabrielle's life. You're pleading for your life. Well, there are plenty of those silly little girls in Greece. Go get another one." And with that, the Queen of the Gods walked out of the hall.

Xena was shocked at Hera's heartlessness, although she knew she shouldn't be. Xena just stood
there before the empty throne with Ares' sword in her hand. She threw it on the floor. The feel of it in her hand disgusted her. Then she ran after the Queen.

"Hera! HERA! I'm not through!" Xena yelled as she stormed through the halls following the scent
of cedar and spice. "You've got to bring her back. Not just for me. For her family. For the Amazons. For Iolaus and Joxer. For all the good she's done and will do. And, yes, for me as well."

"For her family. For the Amazons. How noble." Xena's sword was out by the time she turned
around to face the Queen of the Gods. "So you want her to be with her family or with the Amazons.
Fine. Pick." Xena observed that Hera had circled back to the Great Hall to retrieve Ares' sword.

"Whaa . . . what?"

"Pick. You tell me that you didn't come here for you, that her family or the Amazons need her
more. So pick. Which one will it be? I'll restore her life, but not the part she remembers with you.
You've done nothing but put her in harm's way. Shall I send her back to that tiny village and that big, smelly farmer? Or to the Amazons? The choice is yours."

"The Amazons." The choice wasn't hard. They would protect her and care for her. She'd be a good
queen to them and could make her own choices for a bondmate.

"So be it. It's done. Now leave before I have you tossed out of here." And Hera disappeared with
Ares' sword in a flash of amber light.

"So be it. It's done . . . So be it. It's done! ... GABRIELLE! I'm coming! I'M COMING!" The pain, the anger and loneliness she'd been feeling were transformed into joy and anticipation.

Back at the Amazon village, a young woman woke with moonlight streaming in her window and
the dream she'd been having still echoing in her mind. "Gabrielle! I'm coming! I'm coming!" Then she
smiled at the gown shimmering in the moonlight. "Yes," she thought, "In two days, you and I will be
bonded together forever. And the love I've waited for will be here."


It wasn't until Xena reached the Amazon border that she realized something had changed. She
didn't recognize the Amazon border guards, and they only recognized her after she told them her name. They spent the walk to the village whispering behind her about the Warrior Princess and the Destroyer of Nations. She thought the escort was unnecessary but she was too excited to Gabrielle to bother arguing with them. To her surprise, it wasn't Queen Gabrielle that greeted them, but Eponin, the Amazon captain. She invited Xena to join them for dinner and offered her a bed for the night, but asked that she continue her journey in the morning. Xena agreed, knowing that Gabrielle would want to be back on the road with her anyway.

Dinner was to be the bonding feast of the princess and her warrior-mate. Xena couldn't help but
join the excitement of the day. The princess and her mate had been separated since sunset the day
before, each going through the ritual cleansing before the bonding ceremony at sunset tonight. Young girls had been out collecting flowers and greenery all day. Steam erupted from the five caldrons outside the cook's hut. Xena knew that one would be Kara's finest brew, heated to perfection, and deadly to common sense and good judgment. Musicians were readying their instruments for the long night ahead; the drum beating and chanting had already begun. Young women who had recently come of age were preparing their finest gowns and leathers to attract strong and beautiful warriors from the visiting Amazon villages. Despite the Amazon Diaspora, the women still maintained a network of trade and culture, and they'd walk or ride for days to share major events such as this.

As Xena walked through the village, she began to notice that several Amazons were following her.
They were trying hard not to seem obvious. One would join her in the baths, another pair playing
kickball with the young girls near the cooking hut continued to watch Xena as she chatted with Kara. Another warrior continued to follow Xena but she was being a lot less subtle. She'd stare at Xena as if trying to see her heart beating inside her chest. Xena asked a passing girl the warrior's name and found out she was Lycia, Captain of the Queen's Guard and the seamstress' mate. Each time Xena turned to look at Lycia, the warrior would pretend to study her boots or straighten her leathers. Finally, Xena grew tired of their little game, so she walked over to her and began asking if Lycia knew where Ephiny could be found.

"The hunt," the muscular warrior said curtly as she pulled a knife out of her boot and began
sharpening it.

"Do you know when she'll be back?" Xena smiled, trying to be polite.

"When they catch something," answered the scowling warrior without looking up. When Xena
reached for her chakram and made an angry step toward the Amazon, several warriors immediately
circled Xena. Eponin heard the fuss from her hut and went to ask Xena what the problem was.

"No problem," Xena smiled, raising her hands away from her chakram. "I was only asking where I
could find Ephiny. This one has no manners," she added, nodding toward Lycia.

"You must forgive Lycia. Her sister's bonding ceremony is tonight and she's a bit restless,"
explained Eponin.

"I'll speak for myself, Eponin," corrected Lycia. Shaking her knife, the Amazon captain told Xena,
"I've got my eye on you, Warrior Princess. I don't know why you're here, but you'll not make any
trouble tonight. Understand?" Xena only glared at the warrior and gave her a slight nod. Xena turned and stormed over to Kara's hut for another cup of hot brew. "I'll break her neck the next time she comes within arms reach," Xena thought to herself. After Xena had gotten out of hearing range, Eponin grabbed Lycia's shoulders and pushed her into the nearest hut.

"Lycia, are you out of your mind. Xena will slice you in two if you challenge her. She's been a
friend to the Amazons and she may be able to help us. But if you piss her off, she'll stick your head on the highest pole. Xena's probably just come for the bonding ceremony. She did save Gabrielle's life. Let's not start the war any earlier than we have to. Okay?" Lycia only continued to scowl at her co- captain. "Promise me you'll leave her alone until we find out whose side she's on. Okay?"

"Okay." Lycia finally answered. "I've got to go see Bessa. She'll want to know that Gabrielle's herois here." The Amazon captain stormed out of the hut leaving Eponin shaking her head.

"Those two are so alike they could be sisters." Eponin thought to herself. "They'll either be the best
of friends or the worst enemies. I'm glad that Bessa isn't as moody as Lycia. The princess has certainly made the right choice."

Xena waited for the hunters in Kara's hut, chatting and laughing with the flirting redhead. She
enjoyed being forced to sample different dishes prepared for the feast. Kara enjoyed the warrior's
company but was getting tired of the two guards posted outside her hut. If she had any say in it, Xena would stay with her tonight and she didn't think they'd require an audience.

The hunters returned with four deer an hour later, greeted by the cheering crowds and one anxious
Warrior Princess. Xena finally saw Ephiny ride in and went to greet her.

"Ephiny! Hi! Everything's okay now. Gabrielle's okay."

"Of course she's okay, Xena." Ephiny recognized Xena from the report made by the sentry on the
southern border and from the description Gabrielle gave when she first came to them three years ago. Has it been that long already? "The princess has been pampered all day. She hasn't got a care in the world except to get here on time tonight." Ephiny said with a knowing laugh.

"The princess? Oh, yeah, right. I guess she would be the princess since she gave you the Queen's
mask after the battle with Velasca."

"Who? Velasca? Melosa's adopted daughter? She hasn't been seen in more than two years. She left after losing that fight with Melosa. How do you know her? You think I'm the queen?"

"Wait a minute, Ephiny. Velasca was here just last year. She killed Melosa. She and Gabrielle
fought over the ambrosia. She became a god and destroyed the village. Don't you remember?"

"Xena! That's a good one." Ephiny said between laughs. "That's too funny. 'Queen Melosa dead,
I'm the queen and Velasca is a god.' And I can't imagine anyone brave enough to fight over food with Gabrielle." Ephiny was doubled over in laughter, when a masked Amazon joined them to hear the joke. "Xena, tell her. No no, let me." The story took twice as long for Ephiny to tell between laughs and gasps of air.

"That is funny, Xena. Are you sure you're not a bard instead of a warrior? Have you already dipped
into Kara's cauldron? Where'd you come up with that one?" Queen Melosa laughed as she removed her hunting mask. "I hope you're staying for my daughter's bonding ceremony tonight. You'll have to retell your story to her. She'll love that one. She may even add it to her scrolls." And with that, Melosa smiled and patted Xena's back before she headed for the baths. "Ephiny, if you see Lycia, send her to me," the queen called back to them.

Xena spent the next few hours in anticipation and confusion. She decided that Hera must have
placed Gabrielle with the Amazons after Terreis' death. She heard from a warrior on the practice
grounds that Melosa and her daughter defeated Velasca's challenge and sent her running across the
river. She hasn't been back in two years. Xena overheard other women talking about the princess and her bondmate-to-be. Bessa was Lycia's younger sister who had fallen in love with the princess the moment they met. After trying for two years, Bessa won the princess' hand over fifteen other suitors, female and male. She was kind and loving and was a good leathersmith. She had returned a hero in the battle with the Centaurs. She and the princess convinced the Queen to negotiate a treaty with them. And together, the three of them negotiated a trade agreement and a joint-protective treaty with the Centaur leader, Kaliepus. Years from now, when Melosa is too old for the throne, the princess and her bondmate will be great queens of the Amazon nation.

Xena decided she couldn't wait any longer. "Ephiny! Wait a minute, please. Can I talk to you?" She
yelled across the road to the curly-headed warrior. "Ephiny, I've been looking all over, but I can't find Gabrielle. Is she here or isn't she?"

"Sure she's here, Xena. But she's been in the purification hut all day preparing for the ceremony
tonight. It's our custom that each bondmate is cleansed of the old before putting on her new life with
her bondmate."

"Her bondmate? Gabrielle? She's the one getting married tonight? She can't. How? When?" But
before Ephiny could answer her, the watchtower sounded the horn announcing the arrival of another important guest.

"Kaliepus and his ward!" announced the guard. "Ephiny, your husband Phantes arrives as well!"
And Ephiny and Xena joined the crowd to welcome the two Centaur leaders and the young, blond boy who was Kaliepus' adopted son.

As the Centaur delegation entered the village, Xena and Kaliepus met for the first time in twelve
years (or so Kaliepus knew.) His look of anger and distrust was the same look she saw nearly two years ago, in her other life, when she arrived at the Centaur village with Gabrielle. Once again she had to give him a look meant to convince him that she had changed and that she wasn't there to claim her son."My son! He was alive! Of course he would be. Gabrielle never went with me to Britannia, she never met Khrafstar, and Hope was never born." She wondered for a moment about Boadicea, Caesar, and Callisto. Then the boy stepped from behind his Centaur uncle with his father's sword drawn and pointing at Xena.

"Uncle, let me kill her now. I've waited to avenge my father for a long time. I can kill her!" But
Kaliepus grabbed the boy and wrestled Borias' sword from him.

"No, Solon. We will talk later, but we are here for Princess Gabrielle's bonding ceremony. You
wouldn't want to spill blood on your friend's wedding day, now would you?" The Centaur ruffled the boy's hair and sent him to play kickball with the other visiting sons. "And put that sword in Gabrielle's hut!" He yelled after Solon. "You won't need it today." And the boy ran toward the royal hut with a wave, Xena's eyes soaking up the sight of him.

"Xena," Kaliepus said, turning to her, his smile fading. "What brings you back here after so many
years? We all heard about Hercules how Darphus made you walk the gauntlet, but then nothing. Where have you been for the last three years?" Ephiny nodded in agreement. No one knew for certain where the great warrior had been since Gabrielle arrived in the Amazon village. Everyone was curious.

"Kaliepus, can we talk later? I promise. I'll answer all of your questions. But right now I need to
see Gabrielle. Can I see her, Ephiny? Please. Can you take me to her?" Xena voice was filled with

Ephiny nodded and lead her to the purification hut. "Gabrielle will be excited to see you. She's
written an epic about you. She'll be surprised, and glad, that you came to her bonding ceremony."

Xena was so lost in her own thoughts that Ephiny could have been talking to the horses and gotten
more response. "What have I done? Solon alive. Kaliepus and Melosa alive. Could all of their deaths have been prevented if I had only stayed out of it? Is Gabrielle the real hero? What about everyone else? How different is the world now that Gabrielle and I never worked together?" These thoughts ran through Xena's mind as she was led to the hut where Gabrielle had been bathed, brushed, oiled and generally pampered all day.

"Ephiny, how is Xenan?" ask Xena finally as they walked toward the hut.


"Your son. How is that little Centaur of yours?"

"How did you know about him? His name was Tarlus, after his grandfather . . . He was breach,"
she added after a moment. "The doctors prayed and prayed, but when he finally was born, it was too late. How did you know about him?" She asked again. "I wasn't aware you kept up to date on Amazon news. If you're that interested, you really should join us. We could use your skills to help train the new warriors. And I have seen how some are looking at you. You wouldn't be lonely." This last statement made the warrior blush, which only added to her appeal thought Ephiny.

"Thanks. I'll think about it. But I really prefer to keep moving." Xena replied.

"Is that what you've been doing all this time?" Ephiny probed. "Moving from place to place without
a home? Why?"

"Well, I had a home, I thought . . . Then the war and . . . But it's gone now . . . I . . . " They
reached the well-guarded purification hut before Xena could come up with a clear sentence about what had occurred during the last two months.

Xena laughed out loud as she walked into the hut and took a look around. The room was filled with
women hustling to finish adjustments on the wedding gown, combing and braiding Gabrielle's hair
with wildflowers, and massaging scented oils on her legs, arms and breasts. One older woman was
cursing about a lost gauntlet, and another was on her knees looking for a misplaced slipper. And all the time, Gabrielle chatted away about the ceremony, the food, the gown, Orpheus, some cyclops, and her bondmate. When everyone heard the door shut, they all paused to look at the visitors and then went back to work.

"Ephiny!" Gabrielle called. "Come here, you have to see the gown." She swatted away several pairs
of hands from her well-oiled body as she rose to show off the gown hanging on the wall. "It's
absolutely fabulous! Look at these pearls. Melosa traded some peddler a goat for them and Ardella
wove them into the fabric. They even braided a few with the flowers in my hair. She's been in here ten times this last hour, Melosa that is. I don't know who's more excited about my bonding. How's Bessa? Have you seen her yet? I can't wait 'til the feast. I'm so hungry. These torture queens won't bring me anything but bread and a few figs. Oh, I love the mare you gave us. Bessa loves it too. You know she rides better than I do, but the mare is small enough for me to ride. Have you seen the new masks Bessa made? They match except for the color of the feathers. She used feathers the color of the summer sky for mine. She knows it's my favorite color. They're . . . the color of your eyes," she said to Xena, noticing her for the first time. "Xena! It's REALLY you! You're here! Where have you been?"

Xena, in her joy to see Gabrielle alive, gave the blushing princess a huge bear hug. "Gabrielle,
you're okay. I've missed you. How are you?" she asked checking for damage that wasn't there.

"Xena, I'm okay." Gabrielle said gently, waving off the guard that had stepped nearer. The princess
was touched by the sincere concern Xena showed. "After you rescued my village from Draco, I
followed you. But after I got away from that blind-eyed cyclops, I couldn't find you. No one knew
where you were. Finally I wandered into Amazon territory and they rescued me from a mad Centaur. I've been here ever since. What happened to you? Where'd you go?"

"Just traveling around. I've been to China and spent some time in the south." It wasn't completely a
lie, Xena told herself. She didn't really know what she'd been doing the last three years since Hera
changed everything. "I heard about your bonding ceremony. So I came to congratulate you and see how you've been. It looks like the Amazons have taken good care of you," the warrior princess gave an approving nod at Gabrielle's tanned and muscular body.

"Good care of her?" Melosa said as she walked into the hut. "She's taken good care of us. She's
prevented wars, fought well when she had to, and negotiated the peace when it was time. Gabrielle has been a blessing to us and we have you and Artemis to thank for it."

"Me?" asked Xena.

"You rescued her from that warlord and started her on a quest that brought her to us. We owe you
big time," the Amazon queen said as she joined them.

"I think Gabrielle deserves the credit. It's with her courage and love that she's done this, not me."
Xena smiled at the now embarrassed princess. "She is who she was meant to be." Xena excused herself, saying she wanted to change before the ceremony. Gabrielle and Ephiny saw pride and joy in Xena's eyes. Melosa saw the truth.

"Xena," the queen called after her. "Let me walk you to your hut." Xena could tell that Melosa
wanted to talk so she reluctantly allowed the queen to escort her through the village. "Xena, what is it? Why have you come here? Really?"

"I came looking for Gabrielle. I knew she'd be here. I wanted to make sure she was okay. It seems
like she's better than okay, she's great. I'm happy for her. Really."

"Then why are you so sad?"

"I'm not."

"Come on, Xena. I've spent my life reading the faces of women, reading their pain, their joy. You
can't hide your pain from me. What's wrong? Why does Gabrielle's bonding make you so sad?"

"I once had a dream that she and I would travel together, helping and protecting the weak. I guess
it's time to wake up. Anyway, things are better than they were in my dream. Gabrielle is alive and in
love. Kaliepus and Solon are here. Even you. I should be happy that it's all turned out so well."

"Then why aren't you? Why are you still sad?" asked Melosa again.

"Hera was right." She said more to herself than to Melosa. "I did ask Hera to bring her back for me, not just for her family and the Amazons." Then, turning to Melosa, Xena asked if she could meet Bessa.

"Sure, she's in a hut near yours. I'll introduce you." They walked the rest of the way in silence, both
contemplating what Xena had just revealed.

Bessa's hut was almost as wild as Gabrielle's. There were fewer women, but they were just as
active with last minute adjustments. Bessa's outfit of white leather was decorated with feathers that
matched the pale blue of Gabrielle's gown, and was stunning. Beneath the leather stood a dark-haired woman as tan and muscled as Xena, and as tall. The only difference between the two women was that where one was like a stormy night, the other was a star-filled, twilight sky. When Bessa looked up to see the Amazon queen walk in with an important guest, she rose to greet them with a slight bow and a hand shake.

"My queen. I'm honored. Thank you for coming by. I wanted a chance to thank you for everything.
The sword is magnificent, and the shield is the strongest I've ever seen." Bessa said with another bow.

"Well, we can't have you getting hurt right after your bonding, can we? And, my sister, you don't
have to bow to me. We are family. And I expect you and Gabrielle to be greater queens than I have been."

"NONSENSE, my Queen! I'm sorry. Melosa, you are the best queen possible. After Hera killed
Hippolyta, you put our nation back together. You brought peace and security and strength to our valley. No one could have done as well. I only hope to protect all that you have given us."

"Thank you, my sister." Melosa said with a hug. "Now, let me introduce you to . . . "

"Xena," finished the Amazon warrior. "She could be my older sister," the Amazon thought. "I could
be her older sister," Xena mentally agreed.

"Yes. I'm Xena. Have we met?"

"No. No. But Gabrielle talks about you often. She told me about Draco and how you saved her
village. I am indebted to you. You led her to us, to me. Thank you." And once again, the warrior

Xena smiled at the formal gesture. "Thank you, Bessa. I hope you and Gabrielle are very happy
together. You obviously love each other very much. And from what I have heard, you make a great

"It's all Gabrielle's doing. She could tame a hydra." Bessa laughed. "She's certainly tamed me. And
I'm the better for it."

"Yes, Bessa and her sister, Lycia, were fearless warriors before Gabrielle arrived," teased the
queen. "With one smile and a story from our young bard, Bessa's as tame as a kitten now. She'd rather stay home and work on that old chariot than battle the raiders. And if I have any say in it, that's all you'll have to do."

"Yes, my queen, er . . . Melosa. I'm sure everything will be all right with you leading us. But let's
speak of this tomorrow. Today, we have guests and Lycia promised me that she and the drummers had a surprise for me. I'll come see you tomorrow about the raiders."

Melosa let out a laugh. "Everyone in the village knows Gabrielle well enough to know that you
won't be leaving her hut for at least a week."

Even Xena shared in the laughter with them when she thought of her young friend's passion and
energy. It was that moment when she realized she had been looking forward to discovering the passion inside her soulmate. "But now I'll never have the chance," Xena realized. Then the intense warrior grew quiet and excused herself. She left Melosa and Bessa staring after her.

"Do you think Xena really has come to help us against Queen Callisto?" Bessa asked after the door
was closed.

"I don't know," answered the queen. "I'm not sure if I completely trust that she's on our side. I've
heard rumors that they are allies. And the stories coming back from China are horrible. For now, she seems harmless enough. There's something about Gabrielle that drew her here, and I don't know if I need to be concerned or not. Lycia and I will keep watch on her. And don't you worry about Callisto. We'll be ready for her." The queen gave Bessa a quick hug before leaving to check on Gabrielle, again.

Xena was escorted to a seat near the front of the crowd. She would have preferred watching from
the side, but Melosa insisted she sit with the other honored guests. The bonding ceremony was the most beautiful Xena had ever seen. Lycia's surprise for Bessa was extraordinary. She had choreographed Gabrielle's dancing entrance and wrote the drummers' music. Accompanied by an unusual string instrument and drummers placed throughout the village, Lycia and Ephiny sang a magical, ethereal duet. As Gabrielle danced toward the crowd like a feather floating in the breeze, a far-off drummer would begin. As both the princess and the airy song wound their way through the village, everyone nodded approvingly. Xena had no idea that Gabrielle could dance so beautifully or so erotically. Only the observant queen noticed the flush rising in Xena's cheeks.

Bessa and Gabrielle exchanged vows before the Amazon queen. Gabrielle's was in the form of a
poem, Bessa's in the form of a song. Xena enjoyed the deep and gentle voice of the tall warrior, but the words went unheard as Gabrielle's vows continued to play in her mind. "We can overcome any danger. We'll grow stronger side by side. To stand together through any storm we're safe because love is on our side."

"Xena? Xena, do you agree?" asked Eponin as she took a sideways glance at Solari swaying to the
music that filled the night sky.

"Hmmm?" asked Xena as she shook away the memories of Illusia. She found herself in the middle
of a group of Amazon warriors standing over one of Kara's cauldrons.

"Damascus steel is stronger than Phoenician. It makes better swords even if it is more expensive.
What do you think?" asked the Amazon captain again, handing her a cup of Kara's brew.

"Yes. Damascus steel. Good for belts," Xena muttered as she walked away, leaving a crowd of
Amazons discussing the benefits of strong buckles.

Xena went looking for her son among a group of laughing children enjoying some of Kara's sweet
pudding. She asked him if they could talk, and reluctantly he agreed. They moved nearer one of the
cooking fires and repeated a discussion they had in Xena's past. She spoke of her love for Borias and how much Solon's mother had loved him. When the boy mentioned how she and Borias used to sing together, Xena found the courage to sing a favorite lullaby to him. This time, she wasn't going to lose him before she told him how much she loved him.

Melosa listened to them from inside Kara's hut and began to relax. "Perhaps Xena is here to help
us after all." The Amazon Queen went to look for Kaliepus to discuss this new development.

Kaliepus found Solon in the arms of his mother, tears on both their faces. Solon had found his
mother, and Xena had found forgiveness. Kaliepus, although angry at being surprised, understood
Xena's need to know her son. He too forgave the Destroyer of Nations, and another cut to Xena's heart was healed that night.

It was with great sorrow that Xena waved goodbye to the Amazon village the next morning. She
waved to her son, and took with her a promise to visit him before the next turn of the moon. She waved to Ephiny and Phantes, and to the proud Amazon Queen who would lead her nation to greatness. Xena also gave one last look toward the princess' hut. She had hoped to be able to say goodbye, but the newlyweds were still sleeping off Kara's brew and a night of lovemaking.

Xena hadn't really wanted to leave, but she had to visit Hera's Temple. She had to thank her for
bringing back Gabrielle, and making all of the past year a nightmare that only Xena dreamed. This
journey was harder than Xena had anticipated, harder than any other before today. She was leaving
Gabrielle. She was walking away from her soulmate, again. This time it would be for good. As Xena traveled the green countryside, she realized how much she missed Gabrielle's stories and cooking. But mostly she realized how much she missed Gabrielle's companionship. Fishing, riding, making camp at night, playing "name that constellation," holding Gabrielle as she slept, being held by her when the old demons and guilt broke through her inner walls. The loneliness was deafening.

At every turn she expected to see Gabrielle waiting for her, but there was only an occasional
pilgrim or peddler. In one valley she thought she recognized the tracks of a war wagon, but she passed it off for a wealthy merchant's. "There hasn't been a warlord strong enough to fight the Centaurs and Amazons since my army," she thought to herself.

Three days after Gabrielle's bonding ceremony, Xena arrived at the Temple of Hera. She joined the
pilgrims gathered outside until finally a novice allowed her into the sanctuary. She was surprised to
find the temple empty considering all of the people waiting outside. But when the scent of roses and
cinders reached her, she realized that she wasn't alone.

"So why have you come here, Xena? You have what you what you asked for. Do you want more or are you here just to thank me?" asked the Queen of the Gods.

"Yes, Hera. I have come to thank you. You have given Gabrielle back her life, and because of it, the Amazons still have their queen, I still have my son, and Gabrielle is happy and married. She doesn't remember Britannia or China. She doesn't know about Dahak or Hope. Yes. I would like to thank you. It was more than I would have hoped for." The goddess was surprised to see the warrior princess bow her head in thanks.

"Well, changing your life was bound to affect others. Some lived, some died, and the future waits for tomorrow." Xena looked up only see a red flame where Hera had once sat.

"What do you mean, some lived and some died? Who? Who died? HERA, ANSWER ME!" Xena
yelled after the goddess. Laughter was the air's only reply. "Damn!" she thought. "I should never have trusted her!" She was back on the road to the Amazons pushing Argo as hard as she dared. Hera had tricked her. If only she hadn't been so selfish. She should have known that the gods really didn't care about people, especially Hera. "GABRIELLE!" she cried as she urged her beloved horse to go faster. "I'm coming! I'M COMING!"

Xena avoided the border guards on the way back to the Amazon village. She needed to see
Gabrielle and she didn't want to bother with all the pomp and circumstance of a royal audience. She
also made sure not to catch the attention of some scouts that had positioned themselves around the
Amazon valley. Soldiers were on the way and she needed to warn the Amazons.

When she arrived at the edge of the village in the middle of the night, Xena was surprised to see
Gabrielle waiting for her. "I've been staring at these stars all my life," the young prophet said. "Only,
the last few days they seem different somehow. It's as if someone has stirred them in the sky."
Gabrielle looked up at the dark woman. "I've been waiting for you. I knew you'd be back for me. It
feels like the gods are at war with each other. Something about this is wrong. You know, don't you? You know what's happened."

"What do you mean?"

"You did come back for me on the day of my bonding ceremony, but you were surprised to see
Melosa and Solon. The gods have changed something, haven't they?" After a second look into Xena's eyes, she added, "You were very worried about them, Xena, and very relieved to find out that they were okay. Is that what the gods changed? Did Melosa die? . . . . Answer me," she added after seeing the sad look in Xena's eyes.

"Yes, Gabrielle. Velasca killed Melosa nearly two years ago. But that's not why the gods rewrote

"Was it Solon? Melosa overheard you two talking. I'm glad you found your son, Xena. And I know
he's very special but lots of children are lost to war and sickness. Why did the gods change time for

"They didn't, Gabrielle. . . . It was you. You died saving the world from an evil god. I asked Hera
for help. She brought you back to life by rewriting the last three years. I don't know where I've been but all your memories of the time we've spent together are gone. Then I saw how happy you were living here with Bessa, so I figured everything would be okay. Hera made me realize that you and I have touched a lot of lives over the last three years. Now, without our help, some are dead who were alive but some people are alive who shouldn't be. Gabrielle, I'm just happy that you're okay."

"Why would she want to remove you from my life?"

"Because I'm to blame for your death. If we had talked more about our feelings before I went to
China, then you wouldn't have needed Ares' help. You would have known how much I love you and that I'd come back to you. You wouldn't have sacrificed yourself for me. . . . Gabrielle," she said, bending to touch the young woman's face. "I couldn't let Ares and Dahak win. I had to get you back. When Hera agreed to help, I thought it was a gift. Now I'm not so sure."

"Xena, it is a gift. Melosa is alive. Who are the others who used to be dead?" Gabrielle took Xena's
hands and lead her to the log she'd been sitting on.

"Phantes, Kaliepus, and Solon."

"You see, Xena" Gabrielle reassured her.

"I thought it would be okay since so many people who were dead are alive now. When I went to
thank Hera, she said that changing my life was bound to affect others. 'Some lived, some died,' she
said. That's when I realized I had been tricked. She didn't do this for you or me. She's benefitted from this somehow."

"Xena, who's dead that's not supposed to be?"

"I'm not sure. Other than Ephiny's son, I haven't heard of anyone." They spent the next hour
talking about the people that Xena and Gabrielle had helped in their other life. By the time they were through the roll call of people each one knew, Xena was more furious with Hera and herself. "Your parents! Joxer. Ulysses. King Lias and his daughter Diana. Who else! Who else has died because of my selfishness?" yelled the pacing warrior. "I need to make things right, Gabrielle. I need to find Hercules. He's always beaten Hera. Maybe together we can convince her to put things back the way they should be."

"Xena, Hercules is dead. He died rescuing Prometheus; he died when he cut the chains. He saved
the world, Xena."

"It is my fault. I did this! I wanted you back. I couldn't bear life without you. I missed you so much
that I asked Hera for help. Now all the stars have been stirred up, Gabrielle."

"Xena, you can't blame yourself for this. Hera did this, not you!" Gabrielle stood to block Xena.
"Xena, look at me. I'm here now. We'll figure this out. We'll get through this." And the two women

"Gabrielle! Are you all right?" asked her out-of-breath bondmate as the two friends tore themselves
apart. "I heard yelling. . . . Xena? You've come back. Is everything okay?" Bessa lowered her sword, but Xena noticed that she didn't return it to its sheath.

"Yes, Bessa. Everything is fine. Gabrielle and I were just debating about Orpheus." "No use
upsetting anyone else," Xena thought to herself.

"What? Yeah, Bessa," said Gabrielle, playing along. "She thinks Orpheus was a fool to go to
Tartarus to get Eurydice," added the bard. "I think he was in love so much that he couldn't live without her. That he didn't trust her to follow him out of Tartarus makes him tragic, not foolish."

"I'd have to agree with her, Xena. Orpheus couldn't completely trust Eurydice. He couldn't trust
the gods or her enough to know that she was right behind him. When Gabrielle first came here, she
told us this story. I saw that I was a lot like Orpheus. When Hera killed Hippolyta, I was angry. We had been faithful to Hera, and this was how she repaid us. I stopped loving. I stopped trusting. But Gabrielle's love saved me. I realized that completely trusting her love for me would be the only way to save myself. How do you think she picked me over fifteen other suitors?"

"I don't know," answered the Warrior Princess.

"I didn't do it by fighting them or outsmarting them. I didn't buy Gabrielle more jewels and silk
than the others. I just loved her. But, what is more important, I allowed her to love me. I didn't have to be the big, tough warrior with her. I didn't have to control everything, or be in charge all of the time. I just allowed her to love me. If I had to, I'd walk to Tartarus for her," vowed the tall Amazon as she gave a sweet smile to her beloved.

"You see, Xena. Orpheus realized how much he loved Eurydice and was willing to go to Tartarus to get her back. She was following him out of there. She was right behind him. But he didn't believe. He didn't trust her. All he had to do was believe in their love for just a little longer."

Xena looked in shock as Gabrielle unknowingly revealed her mistake. Then she looked in horror as
Gabrielle fell into her arms with an arrow imbedded in her back.

"Gabrielle!" Both warriors yelled in unison. As Xena laid Gabrielle on the ground, she whispered
reassurances, "I've got you. Hold on. I'm here. You're going to be fine."

"Xena, believe." Gabrielle whispered as she passed out.

"Gabrielle!" Xena cried again. "NO! Don't leave me again. Please come back," Xena cried as she
lifted the young princess.

"Xena, hurry!" yelled Bessa as she turned toward the village, her sword in her hand. Fire arrows
were showering the village. Soldiers were pouring into the streets cutting down yelling warriors.
Women and screaming children were running back and forth. "It's Callisto! She's attacking! We've got to find Melosa! You!" she barked at a young warrior. "Take another runner with you. Head west and alert the Centaurs!"

"They're here, ma'am," answered the young Amazon. "At least the ones who made it through
Callisto's blockade to come help us. Most are dead. Phantes and Kaliepus tried to fight them, but there were just too many."

"Solon?" asked Xena carrying Gabrielle's lifeless body. "Where is Solon?"

"The queen's got him, ma'am," answered the girl as she stared at her bleeding princess.

"I've got to find Melosa. Bessa. Where would she be?" asked Xena.

"Not Queen Melosa, ma'am," corrected the young Amazon. "Queen Callisto. I saw her myself
standing on the southern ridge with the boy in chains."

"Callisto? Queen Callisto? What have I done?" Xena asked Gabrielle, but she got no answer. "You,
take care of Gabrielle for me. Then find Ephiny," she ordered the young Amazon. "Tell her to take the children to the caves. Go with her! Bessa, come on. We need to help Melosa." And the two warriors went to join the Amazon queen fighting in the village center.

Xena's chakram discharged four soldiers before she reached the battle. It was easy to tell who the
enemy was. The soldiers were dressed all in black except for the red paint covering their faces. They carried swords, axes, or spears made from the metal of Hephaestus. And as they lashed out at the Amazons they would evoke the names of Callisto or Hera.

Xena and Eponin had moved to the northern edge of the village and were finishing a fight with a
dozen soldiers when they heard the horn. The Amazons were so outnumbered that Melosa called for a surrender at sunrise, hoping that those still alive would be spared. The soldiers howled and grunted as the mostly nude women were dragged to the village center.

Melosa's horn also informed the women guarding the children that they had to get them deeper into
the forest for greater safety. Callisto's soldiers would eventually find the caves, and there was no
telling what the battle-raged soldiers would do to them. Ephiny directed the young Amazon warrior to lead the children into the forests to the north. It would take a valuable time, but there were more places to hide and the Amazons had friends who'd give them supplies. Ephiny half-carried Gabrielle as they followed the children. Every step caused the arrow in Gabrielle's back to shift and scrap bone, but Ephiny was afraid to remove it until they got to a safer hiding place.

"Ephiny, I can't leave them."

"You can't help them right now. If you go in there, you'll just be another trophy for Callisto. Let's
go get some help and get you a healer."

"No, Ephiny. I can't leave them. They need me."

"Bessa and Melosa will be a lot better off if they aren't worrying about you, Gabrielle. Now, put
your arm around my neck," the Amazon said as she helped the princess walk.

"It's not just Bessa and Melosa I'm worried about Ephiny. Xena's in there too. She came back to
help us, but Callisto will have everyone believing she betrayed the Amazons. She blames herself for
my getting hurt. She's got to believe that it isn't her fault. I've got to help her."

"Xena can take care of herself, Gabrielle. We've got to get out of here," Ephiny ordered. She didn't
entirely trust Xena, or Gabrielle's puppy love, to protect them from Queen Callisto.

"NO," Gabrielle winced in pain. "Take me to her, or I'll crawl there myself. She came back to
rescue me. I've got to at least try to do the same for her."

"WHERE IS SHE?" screamed the thin blond warrior as she rode into the village. "I KNOW SHE'S

"Callisto," Xena hissed from her hiding place in the trees on the north edge of the village.

"You have five minutes, Melosa, to bring her to me before I starting killing the rest of you." Queen
Callisto ordered.

"Who, Callisto? Who are you looking for?" Melosa asked.

"Xena. I want Xena." Callisto's voice hissed like honey poured on hot coals.

"Xena? She's not here, Callisto. She left a week ago for Hera's Temple. She said she had to go
thank Hera for a great gift." And Melosa grew dark at the thought of having been betrayed by the
Warrior Princess. Was the Amazon nation Hera's gift to Xena for her rumored conquests in China?

"DON'T LIE TO ME, MELOSA! Hera told me she's here." Callisto dismounted and walked to
stand face to face with Melosa. With an evil grin, Callisto slammed her elbow into Melosa's chest
cracking a few ribs and then smashed into her face. The Amazon Queen fell to the ground with blood pouring from her lip. Callisto grabbed the queen's wavy hair and pulled her to her knees. "Now are you going to tell me, or do I have to beat it out of you?"

"It's the truth, Callisto. She's not here," and the fearless Amazon Queen spit blood onto Callisto's

"You bitch!" Callisto yelled as she kicked Melosa in the head and sent her flying toward the Red
Soldiers. "Tie her up over there. She'll watch as I kill all of her precious dogs." Melosa was tied to a
pole in the middle of the village as the remaining Amazons were lined up in front of Callisto. "Bring
that boy too. If Xena is here, we'll find out soon enough," and the Warrior Princess' son was dragged into the village.

Xena could hardly contain herself when Solon was dragged to Callisto by a tattooed warrior. The
boy had been stripped of his clothes and whipped until the welts on his arms and legs were fire red. It was all that Eponin could do to keep Xena from charging into the crowd and getting herself killed.

"Here is your son, Xena. Flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood. Such a tasty little morsel. Come
and get him." Callisto raised the bloody whip to strike him again.

"CALLISTO!" And the whole crowd turned toward the trees at the edge of the village. Melosa
couldn't tell what came first: the trilling war cry, the hissing of the chakram, or Callisto's piercing
laughter. "I'M HERE CALLISTO!" Xena roared as Callisto caught the chakram.

"Xena." Callisto purred. "How I've missed you. Hera sends her love."

"Damn Hera. Damn you both." Xena barked as she drew her sword and charged Callisto.

"Xena? Is that anyway to talk about your benefactor after all she's given you? She protected you
and cared for you. Is this how you're going to repay her?" Callisto and Xena battled for what seemed like an hour. Each one thrusting and blocking, kicking and jumping. They were equally matched and neither could find any advantage to end the sparring. Then out of the corner of her eye, Xena noticed a filthy soldier reaching to beat her naked son. That was all the distraction Queen Callisto needed. With a kick to the chest and a roundhouse kick to her face, Xena was down on the ground with Callisto's sword at her chest. "I have been waiting for this a long time, Xena. I had to wait these last three years, but I don't have to now. At first I wanted to kill you. Then Hera convinced me that we should work together. You and I could have ruled the world in Hera's name. After these whores are finished there won't be anyone to stand between us and Zeus. We could have destroyed him and made Hera the true Queen of the Gods!"

"What are you talking about Callisto? I would never join you!" It was Hera's resounding laughter
that lifted the veil from Xena's mind. The memories of the last three years flooded in and washed over her other life. Yes, she had been to China and to the south.

Xena had been captured by Callisto's army as she was heading for Amphipolis after leaving
Poteideia. Callisto promised to spare her life if Xena vowed to join her. With both women's minds
touched by Hera's greed and lust for power, the pair had been unstoppable. For the last three years, Xena had been in China leading Callisto's army, destroying any nation that wouldn't surrender.

Something had turned Xena toward home and the rumors came flying back before her. One rumor
was that Xena and Callisto had fought over the destruction of the Amazons, and Xena had come to
warn them. Another was that Xena had hoped to win Melosa's trust and allow Callisto to attack
without being checked. The Amazons standing there that day all believed they had been tricked, and began to crowd around Xena and Callisto until the soldier's shouts and spears pushed them back.

"HERA!" Xena yelled. "This is all your fault! This isn't the way it was supposed to be! I just
wanted you to give Gabrielle back her life!" And Hera's laughter continued to fill the air.

"Xena," came the struggling voice of her love. Xena turned to see Gabrielle being helped to the
crowd by Ephiny.

"Gabrielle! Go back! Ephiny, get her out of here!" Xena yelled in distress.

"No, Xena. I won't go." The Amazon princess turned to her Amazon sister. "Ephiny, it's okay. I can
do it." Gabrielle struggled to walk the rest of the way on her own as Xena rose from the dirt to meet
her. "Xena. This is wrong. This isn't who you are. You don't belong with Callisto. You're a hero, a
champion for good. Remember what you told me. Everything is wrong. Hercules should be alive. In
your world he destroyed Hera after he gave up his godhood. Xena, you know the truth. Believe in the truth. I'm here with you now. Believe in us. Believe in yourself."

"Callisto! Do it now!" And the goddess' laughter that had filled the air was joined by one that was
distinctively masculine. With a fierce scream, Callisto whipped Xena's chakram toward Gabrielle and Xena watched as the young woman's lifeblood poured from her chest.

"NO!" Xena cried. Then she vaulted over Callisto and picked up her sword, lunging for Callisto in
the same movement. "Ares! ARES! Show yourself! I know you're here!" she yelled as the two women fought. "What have you done?!" In a flash of amber light, Ares was standing between Xena and Callisto.

"I should be the King of the Gods by now, Xena. But you had to get in the way and destroy Dahak.
If you had only joined me, none of this would have happened."

"What about Hera? And your temples? And the walk up Mt. Olympus?"

"A little trick my mother and I had planned in case something happened. We were going to rule the
Universe. But when Hercules killed her, we had to go with Plan B. It was fun dressing up as my
mother. Although I don't see how you all manage in those girdles," said the God of War who was still trying to find his swagger. "As for the climb up Mt. Olympus, Apollo is still trying to wash the dye out of his hair. And this is for my temples . . . " and the War God pounded Xena in the face, sending her flying across the road. He jumped at her and grabbed her by the throat.

"Ares! Kill her! NOW!" yelled the Queen of the Gods as she appeared in a flash of red flame.

"Don't try it!" hissed Xena. "I beat you once, I can do it again."

"Stop, Ares. Put her down." And with a flash of white lightning, Zeus joined the wide-eyed crowd.
"Hera, what have you done? These people aren't toys for your pleasure. You can't just toss them
through time and space like pawns."

"Since when, husband? You use them, or at least their women, for your pleasure," she said focusing
on Bessa's sister, the warrior-captain Lycia, among the crowd of battered Amazons.

"I don't use them. I love them, I honor them and they honor me with their devotion," he said,
smiling at the energetic, blue-eyed Amazon warrior who had been Hippolyta's captain. He signaled
Ares to release Xena.

"ENOUGH!" bellowed Xena as she rubbed her neck. "You ALL treat us like dolls to play with and
toss us out when you're bored. Gabrielle saved your lives. I asked for your help to restore hers and you tricked us and used us. FIX THIS, ZEUS!" she ordered the King of the Gods.

"I can't, Xena. I can't undo what another god has done. Unless . . . " he added after a short pause.

"What?" asked the furious Warrior Princess.

"Well, it seems we're at a stalemate. My dear, are you up for a little wager?" he asked, turning to
his wife.

"What do you have in mind?" asked Hera, her green eyes beginning to glow with greed.

"We have disturbed these two women's sword fight. What do you say we let them continue? If
Xena wins, Ares puts things back the way they were."

"And if Callisto wins?" asked his wife.

"If Callisto wins, I will allow you to live another day."

"NO!" yelled Xena. "You've GOT to help Gabrielle!"

"Xena. It's the best I can do. Take it or leave it," replied the King of the Gods.

"Fine," Hera answered for them both. Then she urged Callisto's mind into a fury.

Without hesitation, Callisto screamed her high-pitched battle cry and vaulted toward Xena.
Amazons, soldiers and gods scattered to give them room. For every thrust and swipe, there was a block and a spin. The metal on metal crashed for nearly an hour, but with Hera's touch on Callisto, she hadn't even begun to sweat. Xena's sword slipped in her hand, her body and hair dripped with sweat as they battled in the midday summer sun.

As she circled Callisto, Xena examined her audience. The gods were smug as usual, each thinking
they'd end this day victorious. The Amazons were huddled together, too shocked and beaten to move. Melosa, still tied to the post, was struggling to undo the ropes without being seen. With all eyes on Xena and Callisto, Eponin was quietly circling the village, slitting the throats of Callisto's sentries. Solon lay naked in the dirt, bloody and scarred, but still alive.

When she was finally turned so she could see Gabrielle, the thoughts in her mind went from anger
to the white-heat rage of the Destroyer of Nations. Xena no longer was just fighting Callisto. She was fighting Darphus and Cortese. She was fighting Caesar and Ming T'ien. She was fighting Khrafstar and Dahak and Ares. Xena fought all of those people who had destroyed the innocence inside her and those who had destroyed Gabrielle. She didn't see Callisto's face, she saw the hooded Specter of Hatred that had taunted her in Illusia. Ares smiled as he saw Xena losing herself to the rage and hatred. He knew that Gabrielle was the key to Xena's soul. And now that the brat was gone, he'd have her back soon.

The whisper grew louder and louder. She thought the sun was making her hallucinate, but the
sound continued to grow as they fought. At first it was only a faint whisper in Xena's head. "Believe." Then it grew even louder and she had to look around her again. "Xena. Believe! Believe in us. Believe in me! Believe in yourself!" Gabrielle's voice grew so loud that it began to force out all the evil images running through Xena's mind. "Xena. Believe! Believe in our love. Believe in me! Believe in yourself!" kept repeating in the air around Xena. "BELIEVE! BELIEVE IN OUR LOVE. BELIEVE IN ME! BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!"

"GABRIELLE!" Xena shouted as a wave of energy flooded over her. Xena knocked Callisto's
sword to the right, spun, and buried her sword under Callisto's left arm. The sword pierced the warrior queen's heart and lungs, and she was dead before she fell to the ground.

"No!" yelled the Queen of the Gods, as Xena pulled her sword from Hera's champion. And just
before Zeus' lightning bolt hit her, she shot a ball of fire at her incompetent son. The two disappeared in a burst of red and amber flames, leaving the crowd staring at empty space. Zeus then turned to Xena, whispered something to her and disappeared.

Eponin entered the village with a troop of Centaurs and circled Callisto's remaining soldiers.
Melosa was cut down from the pole and she and Solon were taken to the healer. Callisto's body and her dead soldiers were unceremoniously cremated and the Amazons who had died were honored and memorialized throughout the next week. At Gabrielle's funeral, Xena once again sang the sorrowful dirge for her soulmate and allowed herself the tears she had kept buried since the battle in the Temple of Ares.

Xena stayed with the Amazons for the next few weeks, looking after Melosa and helping to rebuild
the village. She also spent a lot of time talking with Solon, bathing his wounds with an aloe wash, and watching over him as he slept. After a few days, he was able to sit up for a few hours, and she'd carry him out to a shaded clearing where they would talk about Borias and Kaliepus. Xena would retell the adventures she and Gabrielle had lived in her other life, realizing that they sounded like scrolls of fiction and fantasy to the young boy. As he grew stronger, Xena and her son would go for rides or long walks and he would tell her humorous stories of life with the Centaurs. Melosa found them one day, picnicking in a favorite spot, the Warrior Princess choking on an apple after hearing a story about a hungry baby lamb and Phantes.

"Xena, I need to talk to you," she said, pounding the gasping woman's back.

"What's up, Melosa?" Xena asked after she was finally able to breathe.

"I've come to ask you if you'll take Gabrielle's place as my heir. The autumn equinox is in a week
and we wanted to have the ceremony then. Kara says the stars are aligned in a peculiar way and she sees it as a good sign."

"Thank you, Melosa. I know what that means coming from you. But I need to think about it. Can I
give you an answer tomorrow?"

"Sure, Xena. Just remember that you hold an honored place here. And no matter what you decide,
you will always be welcome." After spending a few minutes listening to the boy retell the last story, the Amazon queen left the mother and child to nap in the sun.

That night, a dream filled with mist and shadows and far-off echoes woke Xena. As she looked
around the room, she thought she saw Gabrielle's ghost in the moonlight. But when she rose and went to the blue vision, she realized it was just Gabrielle's gown hanging on a hook. She took it down and cradled it, smelling the sweet oils that had been rubbed on Gabrielle in preparation for her bonding ceremony. The tears fell freely as Xena kneeled on the floor and rocked the blue dress as if it really was her lost soulmate. Xena didn't hear the tapping at the door or the light footsteps of the warrior. And when Bessa wrapped her arms around Xena, the shaking woman crumbled into the crying Amazon. They sat there like that, rocking the moonlight into dawn, until one of Kara's daughters came with a bucket of hot water for Xena's morning bath.

After breakfast Xena spoke with Melosa, Bessa and Solon. She asked the women to look after her
son and asked her son to return to the Centaurs to help them rebuild their village. She knew that
somehow, history had been changed for a few. Melosa would continue to lead the Amazons to
greatness, and Solon would grow to become a strong, wise, and hilarious, leader. She tousled her son's blond hair, smiling at just how much like his father he was becoming. He hugged her, hoping to retain some of the love and wisdom he saw inside of her.

Xena left the Amazon village a few hours later. She wasn't sure if she'd ever see these women or
her son again. The dream she'd had last night made her realize that these last few weeks spent with her son had been a gift from Zeus. She also felt how much she missed Gabrielle and needed her. It was time to go back and try to find her again. The Gabrielle here had given her a hint about how to rescue the Gabrielle there. And Zeus had promised Xena another chance to retrieve Gabrielle from Dahak's world.

Once again Xena climbed the vertical cliffs of Mt. Olympus. And again Xena walked unguarded
into the Great Hall of Zeus. But this time, the King of the Gods met her. He offered her a cup of wine and some fruit. Then he handed her a small leather pouch.

"What's this?" Xena asked curiously.

"Ambrosia." Zeus replied. "You have a choice, Xena. Eat it yourself and remain here with me as a
god or take it with you back to the well at Ares' Temple."

"There's no choice to make, Zeus. What should I do?"

"Climb down until you reach solid ground. Leave the pouch and return to the surface. Do not turn
around. Don't look back, no matter what happens. The ambrosia will give Gabrielle the power to break free from Dahak, but she has been changed. It will take some time for the changes to be undone. When you get back to the surface, Gabrielle will be there with you."

"Zeus, thank you." And the King of the Gods waved his hand to stir the stars once again.


She turned toward the charred hole, tears streaming down her face. The only evidence that
remained of the battle a moment ago was the rising smoke and the black ash covering the altar. Joxer's weeping and the wounded priestess' painful wheezing went unheard by the shattered warrior. The only sound she heard was the echo of her name, "XENA!"

"Ares! Ares! YOU COWARD! SHOW YOURSELF!" The Solon and Gabrielle were gone thanks to Dahak and Ares. The pain was a hot knife in her heart.

Xena slowly began to look around the temple. The Priest of the Blood and the goddess Callisto lay
dead at her feet. Joxer was kneeling at the edge of the chasm, still weeping, still waiting. She gently
drew Joxer away from the edge of the black abyss. She got him to help her tie a rope around the nearest column so she could climb down. They tied four or five ropes together but she still never reached the chasm's floor.

Then a distant voice whispered in her mind, "Believe, Xena. Believe in me. Believe in yourself.
Believe in us." As Xena reached for her chakram to throw at what she thought was Ares, instead she found a small leather pouch with a small piece of yellow ambrosia.

"Joxer, we've got to try again. Come on we need more rope."

"Xena, it's too far. We can't go down there. She's gone."

"No Joxer. We've got to try. We can do it!" So the two friends searched the temple for anything
they could tie into a rope. As Joxer held the rope steady, Xena climbed down a dozen ropes, three
blankets, a few strips of tapestry, and a priest's robe before she finally dropped the six feet to the floor. She wasn't entirely sure why, but she left the pouch in the center of the floor and began climbing back to the surface.

"Xena! You've lost. You won't get her back. I have her. Do you want to see the demon I have made her? Turn around Xena. Look at your love now!"

"No. I won't. You aren't real!"

"I'm not?" Shouted Dahak's demon as he reached up and dug three long claws into her thigh. With
an evil laugh, he said to her, "I'm as real as you are, Xena. And I've got Gabrielle. You think those
puny gods care about her. You think that ambrosia can save her. Turn around Xena. Fight me. If you win, you can have her."

"No. I won't turn around! You can't make me!" She had reached the third blanket. Just a little
more, she told herself, and we'll be out of here.

"I won't let you leave, Xena. You'll have to fight me!"

"No, Dahak. I won't fight you. You've already lost. Gabrielle will climb out of here with me."

"No, she won't," the demon cried, as one of the blankets began to rip.

"Xena!" Joxer shouted from the surface. "Are you okay?"

"Joxer! What can you see?"

"Nothing," the man shouted back to her. "It's too dark down there."

She continued to climb: hand over hand, the twelfth rope! Eleven! Ten! Nine! Eight!

"Xena! I'm here!" Gabrielle shouted up to her. "Xena, I can't make it! I'm going to fall! I need your

"Gabrielle! Hang on Gabrielle! I'm coming!" But Xena stopped before she completely turned
around. "Gabrielle, rest if you need to. Put your feet on the wall and wrap the rope around you like a seat. When you're ready, begin again!"

The evil laughter filled the chamber. "You're good, Xena!" said the demon. "I almost had you!"

"Almost isn't good enough, Dahak. We will defeat you for good! Come on Gabrielle," the warrior
spoke to the otherwise empty shaft. "We're almost there. You can do it. I remember. I believe!" she
shouted as she pulled herself up the ropes: seven, six, five, four, three . . .

"No, Xena! You can't have her. She's mine! I made her what she is today! Gabrielle belongs to

"Gabrielle belongs to herself, Dahak! And she was, is, who she was meant to be: Bard, Amazon
Queen, Best Friend! You should have picked someone else, Dahak. She is too good for you. She's too strong for you! She was never yours!" The second rope! Just a little farther now!

"Xena! Help me! Dahak! No!" screamed Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle. Don't give up! You're almost there! You can do it Gabrielle. One more rope! Come on,
Gabrielle! Joxer! Get ready! We're almost there!"

"Ready, Xena!" And Xena prayed to the gods for one more miracle as she climbed the last length of rope.

As Joxer grabbed her hand, Dahak made one last effort to pull Xena back into the abyss. "I won't
let you leave Xena!" and the demon grabbed her boot. As she struggled to pull it free, the demon dug deeper into her leg and shredded the leather. A deep cut in her bare calf began to sting as the blood trickled down her leg.

"Joxer, get ready!" she ordered. "Gabrielle! I'm at the surface. Give me your hand and pull yourself
over me." Then a warm hand, callused by practice with her staff, slipped into Xena's. "Gabrielle! I've got you. I won't look. Keep going. I'm right here with you."

As Joxer kneeled at the edge of the well, an arm reached over the top, and then the other reached
out for Joxer to help her. "Pull Joxer! Pull!"

"Gabby! You're back!" And the mighty warrior gave his friend a huge bear hug.

"Joxer!" She said as she tweaked his nose. "Let go! We've got to help Xena!"

As Gabrielle pulled her soulmate the rest of the way out of the well, Xena shouted, "Joxer, NOW!"
and with one smash of her sword, the ropes and the demon following Gabrielle fell back into the hole. The three friends didn't waste anytime destroying the temple and scattering the charred stones. If Dahak was coming back, he'd have to find another door.

A few days later, Joxer left the women to visit his father and brother at a prison near the coast.

"Do you want to talk about it?" they asked in unison. Each had been staring at the fire for an hour
now. "You first." They did it again and then laughed. "You first," Xena said to her young friend. "If
you want to."

"Okay." And Gabrielle described the torment she'd been through in Dahak's world. "The air was
like fire, the water like acid. He kept talking the whole time. He'd tell me how you had left me and
wouldn't come back. He showed me what I looked like in his world. A monster." And Gabrielle
shuddered as she remembered how the demon had changed her body. "He'd tell me I was worthless to you but that he'd take care of me. He would make me his queen. Xena, I almost began to believe him," she began to cry. "I lost hope. I couldn't tell how many days it had been but it seemed like forever. And you never came for me." Xena walked around the fire to hold the weeping woman, tears beginning to stream down her own face.

"It's over, Gabrielle. I'm here now. I did come for you even though it took me a while to figure it
out. You're safe now. I've got you." And the two women rocked in each other's arms.

After a while, Gabrielle looked up into Xena's eyes. "Xena, now you tell me. What's been
bothering you? What happened while I was gone?" Xena wasn't sure she could tell it properly, but she described everything that had happened. "I remember the two sisters, Bessa and Lycia. Lycia tried to help Ephiny teach me the ceremonial dance." Gabrielle said with a smile. "I heard that Velasca killed when they tried to protect Melosa. I never had a chance to get to know either of them very well. Xena, you said I kept telling you something to keep you searching for a way to get me back. What did I keep telling you?"

"It wasn't much." Xena was a bad liar.

"Xena, you're a bad liar. What was it?"

"To Believe. Believe in you. Believe in myself. Believe in us. Believe in our love." Had there been
more light, Gabrielle would have seen the Warrior Princess blushing.

"I'm glad you did, Xena. You saved me," and Gabrielle reached to touch Xena's cheek. Xena
looked up to see Gabrielle, bard, Amazon Queen, soulmate, staring into her eyes.

"And you saved me, Gabrielle." And the warrior princess leaned down to kiss her beloved.


The bonding ceremony had turned the Amazon village into a mass of excitement. Kara had been
cooking for days. The hunters had returned with three deer and a half dozen pheasants. Amazons,
Centaurs, Princes and Kings came from all over the countryside to join the celebration. Leathersmiths and seamstresses were overwhelmed with orders for new leathers and gowns. Fletchers had more orders for masks than there were birds in the forest.

Xena's mother and Gabrielle's sister had come to witness the bonding ceremony. Ephiny had
choreographed a processional dance that Gabrielle performed beautifully. Witnesses say that the
Warrior Princess blushed as she saw Queen Gabrielle weaving toward her. The couple sang their vows of love and devotion before Priestess Leah and there wasn't a dry eye in the village. The feast and games lasted for three days, but neither the Queen nor her champion was available to participate.

A gambling pool was started to see how long the newlyweds would remain in the royal hut.
Eponin's amazing bet of five days, 12 hours and 45 minutes was so close to the actual time that some wondered if she and the Warrior Princess had made some kind of deal about the hundred dinars in the pot. Only Gabrielle seemed to notice Xena's new boots as they rode out of the village, together on Argo, the road and the future before them.


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