Disclaimers: This story is for the Academy's 12th Annual Solstice Bard Challenge and is in no way intended to step on any ones' toes. Especially who ever owns the rights to Xena: Warrior Princess.
This isn't one of my better stories, but Aphrodite insisted I write it. Blame her.
In fact my beta reader Mary wanted to remain anonymous. Oops, sorry Mary.
"Ephiny! What in the name of Artemis are you doing?" Eponin poked Solari in her side as the two Amazon's watched their Regent two step across the camp with a small child in her arms. Releasing the giggling little one Ephiny approached her two friends.
"A messenger has just sent word that Xena and Gabrielle are returning to the village. They are going to celebrate the Winter Solstice with us."
Eponin stood cursing the Gods. Great, just when I had a chance to win at the winter games Xena returns. Her happy face turned into a scowl as Ephiny pointed her finger in the weapon masters face. "There will be no busting bongos between you two this time. I will not be responsible for Gabrielle smacking you both over the head."
"Oh come on Eponin, don't be so grumpy." Solari said with a slight grin on her face. "Let's make the younger Amazons go on a field trip to the hunting grounds for winter red berries, twigs and pine cones. We can use them for decorations."
An almost murdering evil grin appeared on Eponin's face as the thoughts of sending the young Amazons out for decorations sent shivers down her spine. "They are going to be so mad at me." Eponin just laughed as she stood up on the Queen's stage.
"Ok, front and center young Amazons." Eponin yelled as she banged on a timpani like a snare drum. "Our Queen and her consort are returning to the village for the Winter Solstice. We are going out on a mission to gather decorations for the village for their homecoming."
A few groans and grumbles could be heard from the listeners with one young Amazon protesting loudly. "We're hunters and warriors, not decorators."
"Listen dopey, let's make our bashful Queen proud of her home coming when she gets here. Ok? Now let's get a move on."
The rest of the afternoon the Amazons went out gathering what they could for decorations. Even the older members went out with them. The sun was shining, making the day warmer. They scattered in all different directions, north, south, east and west, and when everyone returned back to camp they had armfuls of colourful items. Feathers long enough to represent Gabrielle's quill, birds' nests, pine branches and cones. Twigs were also gathered to be woven into a circle, to honour Xena's chakram.
One of the Amazons had come up with the idea of digging up a pine tree and replanting it in the village as a symbol of their Queen's love for this time of year.
Carefully the colourful articles were placed on the tree and the Amazons stood back in delight. "It's our first Winter Solstice Tree." Ephiny remarked and each year from then on a tree would be decorated in Queen Gabrielle's honour.
Early the next morning, Xena and Gabrielle approached the village. Ephiny, Eponin, Solari and the Doc came out to greet them. Hugs and laughter were exchanged as Gabrielle wondered if there was any breakfast left. Xena just smiled at her companion as she watched her hug their Amazon friends. "I thought you said you were sleepy, Gabrielle?"
"I'm that too, but hungry even more." Gabrielle gave Ephiny the look as her Regent and friend started to laugh.
"Some things never change." Ephiny managed to get out through her laughter, and steered her friend and Queen over to the dining tent.
Gabrielle had filled her plate and was looking around for Xena when she spotted the decorated tree in one corner of the village. Curiosity got the better of her and she walked outside while eating her food. She stood in awe of the decorated wonder and then noticed a little wooden plaque that was carved and mounted at the bottom of the tree. It read. Queen Gabrielle: Wisdom, Truth and Love.
Gabrielle knelt down as if in worship for this treasure that had been erected in her honour. Tears ran down her face as she touched the plaque bearing her name. Xena placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "The tree is as beautiful as you are my love."
Xena helped Gabrielle up taking her and their plates back to the table. Together they sat and ate in silence until they were full.
Xena stood up on the Queen's platform and banged the two cymbals there together getting everyone's attention. As the Amazon's gathered around, Queen Gabrielle stood before her tribe members.
"First I would like to say how happy Xena and I are to be back here with you for the Winter Solstice.
"Second I can't believe all the work and talents that have gone into making this a wonderful day for us. Xena and I are deeply touched."
"And third, it's party time!"
The Amazons let out a "whoop" of delight as the musicians took their places with their instruments.
Bass drums, maracas, gongs, tambourines, and triangles all fell into a beat that filled the morning air with music. Kegs of ale and wine were opened and the Amazon women partied late into the afternoon.
But all was not quiet across the river as a band of warlord brothers were plotting a war against the Amazon nation.
Brian, the eldest of the brothers, was their leader. Since the death of their father, by Xena's hand, he and his small army had sworn vengeance on Xena and Gabrielle. He heard the approaching foot steps of his other brothers as he gazed out into the Amazons' forest.
Carl, Mike, Dennis and Al joined their brother on the hillside. "Do you think they know we followed them here?" Asked Carl.
"It doesn't matter whether she knows or not. She'll be dead by nightfall and her pretty blonde as well." Brian spit on the ground and sneered into the sun light. Xena and those Amazon bitches would be no match for his army. He had trained them specially to match Xena's skills, and as for those Amazons, what did they know about fighting.
"We'll make camp here until nightfall. Get some rest little brothers. It's going to be a long night."
Xena hated Amazon parties. They were always too loud for her sensitive hearing and she chose to sit back by their private hut and watch the Amazon's line dance as they twisted and turned their bodies. The glow from the fire pit in the center of the village gave off enough heat to warm Xena's body. A knowing presence was felt by Xena before Gabrielle even approached. "Hi, tall, dark and beautiful, come tango with me before they've had too much to drink and start asking me to dance and you start tossing bodies."
Xena smiled at her lover's remark. "Hey I only did that once and she deserved to be tossed.
"Xena, we were waltzing, you're supposed to dance that close." Gabrielle knew there was no sense in trying to reason with Xena. Be it male or female, the warrior made it quite clear that Gabrielle belonged to her. She didn't mind though, Xena meant everything to her and it was nice to feel that much love.
As the two women were dancing and enjoying the party a look out sentry spotted the smoke coming from the army's campfires. "Looks like we have unwelcome Solstice guests." Quickly she whistled the alert to the next sentry as finally a runner was sent to warn the Queen.
The young Amazon knew better than to interrupt the Queen and her consort while they danced together, so she found the Regent instead. "Ephiny, there are camp fires just outside of the forest hunting grounds. A small army, I wasn't told how many soldiers."
As many drinks as Ephiny had consumed she quickly sobered up and found Eponin. The weapons master was busy with another Amazon and she wasn't teaching her the fine art of archery. "Eponin!" The two women stopped quickly and re-adjusted their leathers as they heard the Regent's voice. "There are camp fires just out side of the forest. A small army. Help me get the party stopped and everyone sobered up quickly."
Ephiny ran over to Xena and Gabrielle. Damn she thought, they look so wonderful together, I hate to do this. Xena looked up to see the look on Ephiny's face and knew it must be trouble with the brothers that had been following them.
"Trouble?" Xena asked.
"Yes campfires and a small army just outside of our hunting grounds." Ephiny replied.
Xena sighed. "Great, let's get this lot sobered up and raise the yellow alert flag.
Within moments the music stopped and Amazons were gathering up their weapons in preparation for the battle.
Gabrielle felt bad as she looked around the village. Her friends and tribe had gone to so much work and effort for her and Xena. Now this had to happen because of them. She just hoped everyone would be coming back to see the tree and that their Solstice would not be ruined.
By nightfall darkness was replaced by torch lights as the brothers and their army headed towards the village. Brian had known for hours when the music had stopped, that Xena knew he was here and why. One of them would not be celebrating the Solstice this year and he was determined it would be her.
The silence of the evening was almost deafening as each and every Amazon laid waiting for the army to attack. The torch lights of the village had been extinguished and everything was dark. An owl call could be heard in the distance as Xena held Gabrielle close beside her. "That was Solari's warning; the army is almost at the camp. Are you ready Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle held Xena close for another moment and then nodded her head. She sighed at the thought of losing any of her friends on this Solstice Eve and wished for a brief moment that blood wouldn't be spilled. As she raised her fingers to her lips to let out the whistle to attack a strange light appeared in the distance and sleigh bells could be heard.
Gabrielle listened to a familiar voice and smiled as she knew her wish was going to be answered. "Move it Dasher, come on Dancer and Prancer, and pick up the pace.
Vixen quit shaking your tail at me, Comet, Cupid and Donner, stop sniffing Blitzen's butt and land dammit."
Aphrodite landed the sleigh pulled by eight reindeer with a thud and looked around. "Hey what happened to the party?" Aphrodite reached down and grabbed a man wearing a red suit with a funny red cap and together they got out of the sleigh and looked around. "Hey Warrior Babe and Sweet Pea, where are you?"
Xena and Gabrielle jumped down from the tree and greeted their friend. "Hi Dite." Gabrielle gave her friend a hug and then poked Xena to do the same.
"We're going to war in a minute here Gabrielle, and you want me to make nice?" Xena sighed but gave Aphrodite a quick hug. "Who's your friend?"
Aphrodite gave the man in the red suit a playful squeeze. "Says his name is Senta Cleese. Cute isn't he?"
Senta stood there and started to laugh with a joyful "ho, ho, ho."
Xena rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Aphrodite we're a bit busy here, maybe some other time."
Aphrodite heard the yelling of the army attacking and the Amazons screaming as they pounced down from the tree tops.
"As if." Aphrodite stood with her hands on her hips and with a wave of her hand Brian, his brothers and the army all found themselves in the ocean holding onto flat pieces of wood. The waves pushed them towards shore, as the brothers got the idea to ride on the wood. They started to have so much fun doing that they forgot about Xena, and spent the rest of their lives riding the surf.
"Hey dude! Watch me hang ten." Brian called out to his brother.
"Sure dude." Dennis called out. "What ever that means, it sounds far out."
"Hey Brian? What about that Xena chick?" Dennis asked as he landed his board on the shore.
"Let her get her own board." Brian gloated. "I'm hitting the surf again."
Back at the Amazon village everyone cheered and chanted Aphrodite's name. Torches were re-lit and the party commenced once more. In celebration Senta Cleese started to pass out little carved toys to the Amazon children that he had made, and the cooks dished up a wonderful feast in Aphrodite's name.
Xena and Gabrielle sat at the head table and looked around at everyone having fun. Both were full from too much roasted foul and Gabrielle found her self a little tipsy after too much mead. "I think we should do this every Winter Solstice, Xena. What do you think?"
Xena sat with her arms around her Queen. "I agree. The food, the gifts, friends and family all together on one day."
Gabrielle stood up with her glass of mead and wobbled back and forth. "Happy Solstice everyone and I think I'm gonna call it a night."
Xena caught Gabrielle and lifted her up into her arms. As she headed for their hut, Xena could hear Senta Cleese explain. "If you're good little Amazons, I'll be back again next year."
Merry Christmas everyone!!