Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em. Boo hoo.   Spoilers: None, really. Set some undisclosed time after “Hooves and Harlots.”  Rating: PG
A/N: Special thanks to zigpal, CrazyE, and Lilly for the beta.

by rebelrsr

“It’s so hard to meet the right woman.” Ephiny’s lament jarred Gabrielle out of her intense examination of the grape in her hand.

She turned green eyes to her friend. “Eph, in case you haven’t noticed, you’re surrounded by women.” Just in case Ephiny
had forgotten, Gabrielle used her grape like a pointer. “In this room alone, you have Aello, Clete, Doris, and Kydoime.”

Ephiny wasn’t impressed. “I’ve known them since we picked up a bow for the first time.” She sighed and stood, pacing in front of Gabrielle’s pile of cushions. “It’s time for something…some
one new, my Queen. We need a better way to discover our soul mates.”

“What did you have in mind?” Gabrielle tilted her head and popped the fruit into her mouth. “A tournament? That might bring in women from other tribes. And I know how much you love a woman with big,” she paused, tongue in cheek, “shoulders.”

A blonde eyebrow rose. “That hurts, my Queen. Truly, I may never recover from your mockery of my predicament.”

Reaching for more grapes, Gabrielle grinned. “So that’s a ‘no’ to the tournament?”

“Gabrielle!” For such a fierce warrior, Ephiny looked like any temperamental five-year old when she stamped her foot.

Gabrielle tried to stifle her smile. “I’m sorry, my friend. What did you have in mind?”

“That’s just it, my Queen,” Ephiny admitted. Her pacing slowed. “I can run the Nation in your absence, but put me to work finding a solution to our dating dilemma, and I am hopeless.”

“What about this?” Tapping her lips thoughtfully, Gabrielle offered the first solution to pop into her mind. “What if we started a scroll… a list of women looking for their soul mates?” As she talked, the idea began to take shape. “Not a list,” Gabrielle amended. “Short descriptions of themselves and what they are looking for in their dream woman.”

Ephiny didn’t share her enthusiasm. She merely looked confused.

“Like this.” Hopping up and waving her hands, Gabrielle announced in a firm voice, “Short blonde seeks tall brunette.  Blue eyes preferred.   Sexy look a plus.”

She wasn’t expecting the laughter that echoed through the room.

Clete was nearly bent double.

“What?” Gabrielle demanded. “What’s so funny?”

“I’m s-sorry...” Clete gasped out between chuckles. “You don’t need to write about your dream woman, my Queen. You simply need to hit her over the head with your staff.”

Face burning with a deep blush, Gabrielle dropped back to the floor. “I wasn’t talking about me,” she mumbled. “I was speaking hypothetically.”

A grunt interrupted her embarrassed explanation just before Clete crashed to the floor.

“Hypothetically speaking,” Xena said in a deadly voice, holding Clete’s own spear against the downed warrior’s throat, “if I was an assassin, you’d be dead, Gabrielle. When did guarding the queen become funny?”

Glancing quickly at Clete, Gabrielle saw the terror and shame on the young woman’s face. The need to protect Clete warred with a need to know just how much of the conversation Xena had heard.

“Xena!” Gabrielle’s voice cracked on the name. Clearing her throat, she tried again. “What are you doing here, Xena?” That was better. She sounded more like herself. Calm, under control. As long as her friend didn’t see her pulse pounding in her neck or notice the sweat slicking her palms, she was OK.

“What does it look like, Gabrielle?” Xena never glanced away from Clete.

Picking up another grape, Gabrielle lobbed it across the room. The ripe fruit thunked against Xena’s bare right shoulder. “It looks like you’re in a mood. Let Clete up, Xena.”

“Gabrielle…” Xena growled.

A lecture was coming. Probably the one on personal safety and taking life more seriously. It was far too beautiful a day for that. Besides, Gabrielle told herself, she had a new Women Seeking Women scroll to think about.

“Come on, Xena.” She pulled out all the stops. Gazing imploringly in Xena’s direction, Gabrielle pasted on her most helpless expression. “I need your help with something.”

Xena scowled in her direction.

Without a scintilla of shame, Gabrielle fluttered her lashes slightly and leaned forward just enough that her tunic dipped to reveal her cleavage.

Blue eyes followed the falling line of fabric before skittering away.

“Please,” Gabrielle finished softly.

Clete’s spear clanged to the stone floor, and Xena strode swiftly across the room. “What is it this time, Gabrielle?”

Figuring her friend expected a big battle in their future, Gabrielle rushed to explain, “We’re planning a tournament, Xena.” She’d save the addition to the news scrolls for herself. “Ephiny needs our help finding a date. I thought inviting Amazons from other tribes would be a good idea.”

The long stride checked and then slowed. “It’s not a bad thought,” Xena commented.

“Really?” Eyes wide, Gabrielle looked from Xena to an equally stunned Ephiny. “I mean, yes, it is a good idea.” Sounding surprised usually got her an amused smirk from Xena, and Gabrielle tried to avoid those. “Do you think we could get everything organized in the next couple of days? It might get a bigger draw if we held it during Artemis’ birthday celebration.”

“You’re the Queen of the Amazon Nation, Gabrielle.” There was that amused smirk. “Warriors don’t need a lot of convincing to take part in a tournament. You could put up a placard a candlemark before the event and you’d have enough women to fill two arenas.”

Xena had a point. Her subjects did have a liking for steel and hot, sandy practice fields. “OK then.” Gabrielle was a bard, not a warrior (despite the staff residing next to her cushions). She’d leave the battle planning to her top fighters. Voice taking a commanding note, she announced, “Eph, you and Xena set everything up. Use whoever and whatever you need to make it work.”

Both of the other women started to protest.

Raising an eyebrow in a stately gesture, Gabrielle waited.

A low mumble and the sound of shuffling feet were her only answers.

“That’s what I thought.” Nearly humming in happiness, Gabrielle waved a dismissive hand at the sullen pair. “Go on. If you try to work in here, you’ll only get in a fight and break things. I’ve had to replace the table and that map stand three times in the last week. Work someplace safer – like the armory.”

Ephiny, good subject that she was, only sighed in exasperation before clumping out of the room. Xena was a harder sell. “Gabrielle, I’m not…”

“Thanks for helping Ephiny, Xena,” Gabrielle jumped in quickly. “She was really depressed earlier, and I think planning the tournament and having something constructive to do will really make a difference.”

It had been the right thing to say. Despite their sometimes antagonistic relationship, Xena liked Ephiny. “You’re welcome,” Xena responded softly. With a small smile, she commented, “I think you’re getting the hang of being Queen, bard. The little girl I saved from slavers would never have been able to get one, let alone two, warriors to hop to her bidding.” She spun on one booted heel and strode after Ephiny.

As soon as Xena was gone, all of Gabrielle’s relaxation disappeared. She had work to do. Climbing to her feet, she got the ball rolling. “Clete, send a runner to Prothoe
. I need to speak with her about the next edition of the Amazon Chronicler.”

“Yes, my Queen.” Clete ducked out into the hallway.

“Now what?” she asked herself. “Do I write the first ad? Let the Nation know their Queen is looking, too?” Gabrielle shuddered. That was a very bad idea. She’d already been plagued with offers and gifts and some very vulgar suggestions. Such an open declaration would only encourage more of the same.

Wandering around the room, Gabrielle automatically picked up a scrap of parchment and a quill. Tapping the feather against her lips, she began to write.

My fellow Amazons,

It has been brought to my attention that many of you seek the love and companionship of the perfect mate

Gabrielle paused. Was that too blunt? Mate…it sounded almost animalistic. She started to cross that part out. The quill tip hovered over the offending word. No. It stayed. Women or not, even Gabrielle had no illusions about her Amazons’ needs for something more active than a walk in the forest or flower picking. Mate was a good word for some of what she’d heard floating through the hallways at night.

Starting today, there will be a new section added to our daily news scroll. A place for you to write out a brief description of yourself and the qualities you would most like to see in the woman of your dreams. Check with any of the bards at the Chronicler’s office for assistance.

There. That would work. Tossing the parchment onto the low table at the back of the room, Gabrielle resumed her pacing. Now she simply needed to write her ad. After all, Clete’s suggestion might have been made in jest; it did, however, have merit. Xena was so dense! She looked – Gabrielle knew the warrior princess liked what she saw – but she never touched or talked, no matter how hard she flirted or hinted.

And Gabrielle knew that taking the initiative was not the way to go. Even after all their journeys, Xena still saw her as that babbling girl from Potodeia.

“Queen Gabrielle?” A rough voice interrupted her musings. “You wished to see me, my Queen?”

Shelving her internal strategy session for another time, Gabrielle refocused on the world around her. “Prothoe, yes. Ephiny gave me a wonderful idea for the Chronicler.”

Prothoe’s grey eyes widened at that. “She did?”

Grinning, Gabrielle admitted. “Well, let’s just say she said something that got me thinking about a new addition to your scroll.”

“Thank you, my Queen, for relieving my mind. For the barest of moments, I imagined a new column of battle recollections. I could see the words and the descriptions of blood lust, battle cries, and the screams of the wounded and dying in the next issue.” Prothoe shuddered dramatically. “Had that been the case, I would have immediately requested you choose my successor.”

Gabrielle goggled at the other woman for a second. “You thought…” Her giggles were not in keeping with the dignity and reputation of an Amazon Queen.

They did, however, earn hastily hidden smiles from her subjects.

“No, Prothoe, Eph is not going to put quill to parchment.” Gabrielle did her own shudder. “She and Xena are planning a tournament for Artemis’ birthing day celebration.” Gesturing for the other woman to join her on the cushions, Gabrielle continued, “I have another project in mind.”


By the time Prothoe left, the candles burned low and Gabrielle’s speech had become punctuated with yawns. She glanced around the room before wandering over to the desk in the far corner. Scrolls, quills, ink bottles, and a pile of parchment pieces littered the surface.

Doing an internal check, she decided she could wait at least a few more candlemarks for bed. “Aello, I’m just going to sit here and do some work before bed. You can clear the room now.” Unless a problem popped up, she wouldn’t be entertaining anymore. Soft footfalls and the creak of leather preceded the soft thump of the closing door. “Alone at last,” Gabrielle muttered to herself. “Who knew I’d miss the quiet of my parents’ farm?”

She picked up a freshly sharpened quill and peered at a scrap of parchment. It was time. Xena wasn’t going to make the first move. Gabrielle had to do it, and the new Personal Ads (as Prothoe had named them) offered a perfect chance.

The scratch of the quill on the rough writing surface didn’t bring the usual peace and contentment. Frowning, Gabrielle stared at what she’d written.

Wanted: someone who likes to travel, listen to music, dance, and beat off the occasional drunken mercenary

“Goddess, what am I doing? That describes nearly every single Amazon over the age of five.” Crumpling up the offending parchment, Gabrielle tossed it at the fireplace. “I’m going to have to do better than that,” she told herself firmly. This was Xena, after all. The Warrior Princess wouldn’t respond to just any pathetic plea. The quill flew across a new piece of parchment.

Another scrap lofted into the flames.

More scratching sounded in the room.

“Ahhh! What is
wrong with me?” Gabrielle threw her writing materials down and stomped back and forth across her office. “I can write epic tales in hours. Create pretty poems in minutes. One tiny little anonymous description of Xena…”

She stopped abruptly.

“I’ve got it!” With a nearly crazed laugh, Gabrielle raced across the room and retrieved the quill and parchment. This time, there was no new fuel for the fire. Holding her finished add aloft, Gabrielle whispered a soft entreaty, “Just let Xena read it. She’ll have to respond once she reads the ad.”

Gabrielle folded the parchment into a neat packet and sealed it with warm wax. Her hand hovered near the Royal Seal before dropping back to the desk. No Seal. Gabrielle would send this as a simple Amazon woman and not the Queen. Scribbling
Amazon Chronicler on the back of the sealed letter, she tossed it into the pile of outgoing dispatches.


“What is wrong with you, Gabrielle?” Xena demanded. “You’re bouncing around as if fire ants invaded your tunic.”

Immediately ceasing her excited hopping, Gabrielle denied, “I am not.”

A dark eyebrow tilted over amused blue eyes. “Really?”

“Really. I…I had cramp in my calf. That’s all.” As her face heated, Gabrielle vowed to learn how to stop blushing. It was undignified for a queen to be that transparent. “It’s much better now. See?” Gabrielle walked a few steps in a stately stroll. “No more bouncing needed.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Xena was still amused. “If it happens again – that cramp – let me know. Massaging is far better for that than rapid hopping.”

Gritting her teeth at the comment, Gabrielle lifted her lips in a forced smile. “I’ll remember that. Thank you.” Her slow and measured steps now resembled stomps as they continued through the busy main marketplace. Ignoring the many women vying for her attention and dinars, Gabrielle maintained a course for the Chronicler’s news stand.

A crowd of women blocked her path.

Gabrielle tapped her foot impatiently. The group was so intent on the new Chronicler, however, that no one noticed their queen behind them. Wandering closer, Gabrielle went up on her toes and peered over the broad shoulders in front of her. That didn’t work. All she got was an eyeful of tunics stretched tightly over muscles or the backs of many heads.

A shrill whistle sliced through the air.

“Good morning, ladies,” Xena announced calmly when the crowd spun in her direction. “Queen Gabrielle would like to take a look at this morning’s news scroll.”

A path magically appeared amidst the gathered Amazons.

Face burning, Gabrielle pasted on a small smile and grabbed Xena by the arm. “Thank you,” she said with as much regal dignity as she could muster. She paced down the narrow opening, dragging her friend behind her.

The scroll stretched the length of the Chronicler’s office.

Gabrielle pretended interest in the articles on trade talks with the nearby centaur villages and scanned the expose on the embezzlement charges against Greece’s chief moneylender. Finally, she decided she’d devoted enough time to subterfuge. Skipping the entire Sports and Hunting Section, Gabrielle planted herself in front of the new Personal Ads. “Have you heard about this, Xena?” she asked, hoping her voice sounded casual.

“Heard what?” Xena sounded distracted.

Glancing at the woman next to her, Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Xena was engrossed in a description of yesterday’s sparring matches. “About this new Personal Ad section to the scroll. It’s a place women can...well, send in a description of their perfect mate. The Chronicler puts it in the next scroll so everyone can read it, and then women can reply.”

Xena’s chuckle wasn’t the response Gabrielle wanted. “It sounds like the slave auctions, Gabrielle. Are your warriors that desperate?” She stepped closer and peered over Gabrielle’s shoulder. “I mean, look at this one. ‘Single retired bowman, loves hunting, fishing, and riding, only a few battle scars.’ Is she looking for a date? Or is she auctioning herself off to the highest bidder?”

“That’s not a really good example,” Gabrielle declared. She scanned the few ads Prothoe had included in this scroll. “You know most of the warriors aren’t poets. They write what they know – and what they want. What about this one?” One shaking finger pointed to the ad she’d written.

Silence fell between them as Xena leaned closer to read. Her breath brushed Gabrielle’s ear, and the younger woman shivered at the warm (and unintentional) caress.

“It’s better, I guess. If you’re looking for someone who can’t get to the point,” Xena said as she straightened up. “At least the first one was only three lines long. This one is…” she paused to count, “almost ten. If the woman writes like she talks, her date would never get a word in all night long.”

Shoulders slumping, Gabrielle turned from the scroll and trudged back through the crowds. “It was a little long.” Maybe the ads hadn’t been such a good idea after all.

“Gabrielle, are you alright?” Xena took her arm and pulled her to the side of the path. “You’ve been acting strange all morning and you shivered a minute ago. Are you coming down with something?” A callused palm pressed into Gabrielle’s forehead.

“I’m fine,” Gabrielle told Xena. “Really. I’m fine,” she repeated when the blue eyes peering into her own green ones didn’t seem convinced. “I didn’t sleep very well last night, that’s all.” That, at least, wasn’t a lie. She’d tossed and turned and worried about that horrible ad all night long. With good reason, apparently. Moving out from beneath Xena’s palm, Gabrielle plodded away from the Chronicler’s office and toward the large outdoor arena. “Didn’t you say you needed to check on something for the tournament?”

The question had been a mistake. One dark eyebrow rose. “Yes, I did.” The second eyebrow joined the first in perfect twin arcs. “Since when were you interested in planning ‘war games,’ as you call them, Gabrielle?”

Since she’d lost her mind. With a brilliant smile, Gabrielle answered, “It’s important to my warriors, Xena. I want to make sure everything is set. After all, not only are we inviting all those women here, we’re making it part of Artemis’ celebration.” Her smile grew a little wry. “Did you want to explain to an angry Goddess why her big party was a disaster?” That didn’t sound right. Xena wasn’t known for her respect for the gods. “How about explaining it to one very irritated former bard-turned Amazon Queen?”

That was better. Xena’s eyebrows dove and met between her eyes. “Good point. Maybe we should get Ephiny and go over all the plans.”

Doing an internal happy dance, Gabrielle congratulated herself on successfully distracting Xena. “Well, if you need to do that…” She pretended to think. “Why don’t the two of you handle that, and I’ll make sure all of the rest of the arrangements are set? You know, places for the women to sleep, the banquets, the prizes…” She trailed off as Xena trotted off. “Maybe Clete was right. I should just hit her over the head.” With a grimace, Gabrielle contemplated another option. “Better yet, I should hit
myself over the head.”


Trying not to shift in the terribly uncomfortable throne, Gabrielle smiled and waved to the women packing the arena’s stands. There wasn’t an empty seat anywhere. In fact, Gabrielle scowled as she scanned the crowds, there were even Amazons standing on the stairs and in the aisles. What if a torch fell and started a fire? They’d never get everyone out safely.

Before she could think of a solution, Xena’s booming voice silenced the raucous shouts and whistles from the spectators. “Sisters, welcome to the first annual Birthday Bash.”

Chuckles broke out at the name.

“Exactly. I’m sure Artemis will enjoy your dedication to her and to the warrior’s arts. We have forty women here to show off their skills and try and impress their Goddess and their Queen. Each warrior will fight a randomly selected opponent. The winner will advance to the next round.” She paused and Gabrielle saw a fierce smile cross her face. “The loser…Well, she gets to find a nice, caring woman to comfort her.”

Now the crowd roared, and a few voices rose over the din. “I’ll volunteer for that!”

“Me, too!”

Gabrielle stood and the voices died abruptly as all eyes turned her way. “Sisters, please remember that our tournament honors Artemis. While each of the contestants may strive for first place today, each of them deserves your support and your respect.”

She could almost hear the silent grumbles of protest.

Refraining from rolling her eyes at the palpable air of impatience from the crowd, Gabrielle announced, “Let the games begin.” She returned to her seat and watched as the arena quickly filled with pairs of women.

The Amazons in the ring were some of the best in the Nation. Gabrielle watched appreciatively until Clete’s voice interrupted her. “My Queen, let me be the first to congratulate you on your wonderful plan.”

“Which one was that?” Gabrielle replied. “I mean, I have so many of them I lose track.”

The young bodyguard grinned. “The personal ads, my Queen.”

Gabrielle didn’t count that among her best or brightest ideas. “Thank you,” she said anyway. “I haven’t had a chance to speak with Prothoe. Were there many women who placed ads?”

“So many that they published a special edition with nothing
but the ads, my Queen.” Toxaris joined the conversation. “In fact,” she bounced excitedly, “I have a date right after the tournament.”

A sudden and very uncomfortable silence fell, and all of the guards seemed intent on the action in the arena.

“Ladies, I was your age once, too.” Not that Gabrielle was much older than many of them now. “I recognize those looks. Tell me what terrible secret you’re trying to hide.”

None of them moved.

Intrigued by their behavior, Gabrielle sat forward. “Don’t make me have to torture it out of you,” she threatened softly. “I’ve been working on my interrogation techniques. Do you really want to sit through the
entire Chronicles of the Amazon Nation? If I remember, there are at least fifteen scrolls devoted to the peace treaty of Queen Antrande.

For a second, she thought she might have to carry out the threat.

“I…I overheard Xena and Ephiny talking, my Queen.” Clete shifted nervously. “Xena answered one of the ads; she has a date tonight, too.”

The warm summer day turned wintry cold. Gabrielle shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. “A date,” she repeated numbly. A date with someone not her. Blindly reaching for the goblet on the low table next to her, Gabrielle took a long drink of wine. “She didn’t say anything about that this morning.”

Again, no one responded to her comment.

Clutching the smooth cup tightly, Gabrielle knew she couldn’t stay there. She needed a few minutes…maybe a candlemark or two, to get herself together. She stood up abruptly. “I’ll be in the Pavilion,” she announced. “Don’t come with me. It’s a short walk, and I’ll be surrounded by Amazons.” Gabrielle strode swiftly from the covered box.

Her departure caused a flurry of activity. Her bodyguards scrambled in her wake regardless of her wishes. Ephiny, sweat-stained and flushed from her bout, tried to wave her down.

Gabrielle ignored it all. Barely holding back tears, she dodged women and threaded her way through the crowd with a single purpose in mind – privacy. Her control shattered the second she raced through the silk curtains serving as the door to the large, lavishly appointed tent that served as her palace during the celebration. Sinking to the carpeted floor, she covered her face with her hands and sobbed.

“Gabrielle?” Of course, it had to be Xena.

Swallowing another choking breath and wiping desperately at her eyes, Gabrielle stood and staggered to the far side of the tent. “Yes, Xena?” Her voice wavered and broke on the name. Not wanting to have to look at her friend, she sifted through a pile of dispatches on her desk.

Soft footfalls announced Xena moving closer. “Is something wrong?” Her concerned voice started a new river of tears.

“No.” The denial came out shaky and choked. “I’m fine.” A tear dropped onto the folded parchment in her hand, smearing the ink. “I just needed to get caught up on the paperwork. Being queen…there’s a lot of paperwork to do,” she babbled. It hurt to breathe and her throat and chest ached from trying to keep her voice even and normal sounding.

“Good.” Xena’s large hand landed lightly on Gabrielle’s shoulder. “I got worried when you almost sprinted out of the viewing box.” Her callused thumb stroked over Gabrielle’s neck, kneading the tight muscles. “If anything…or anyone hurt you, you know I’m here for you.”

The ache in her chest sharpening to a stabbing pain, Gabrielle could only nod shortly. “I know.” She managed a rough whisper. “But I’m fine; I promise.” It was a lie, but Gabrielle intended it to be the truth. She simply had to find a way to convince her heart that Xena was better off with someone else.

Xena leaned into her back and plucked the now-mangled scraps of parchment from Gabrielle’s hands. “This one looks important, Gabrielle. Why don’t you start with this one?” She slid a finger under the wax seal, breaking it open. The parchment crackled as Xena unfolded it.

“Xena…” She didn’t want to read the letter. Gabrielle wanted to be alone.

“Read it,” Xena commanded softly, and the parchment settled in front of Gabrielle’s eyes. “Please.”

With an impatient sigh, Gabrielle read the flowing script in a monotone, “Wanted, a woman who enjoys travel, cool nights in front of a blazing campfire, and writing incredible tales of adventure and love.” Her eyes skittered ahead as her heart beat faster. When she resumed reading out loud, her voice was choked with new tears. “Must be willing to help one recovering warlord find redemption.”

The paper dropped from Xena’s fingers as she moved to grip Gabrielle’s chin and pull her around. “Sounds risky, Gabrielle. I’m sure you could find someone much better for you here, surrounded by your Amazons.” The usual confidence was noticeably absent from Xena’s voice.

“Safer, maybe, Xena.” Gabrielle blinked back tears and gave in to the wide grin trembling on her lips. “Not better.”

The fingers on her chin tightened, and Xena’s head lowered slowly…very, very slowly until her lips hovered above Gabrielle’s. “Are you sure, Gabrielle?” Xena asked again.

Gabrielle realized she had to say the words. Xena needed to hear them. “Yes, I’m sure, Xena.” She leaned forward and closed the tiny gap until their lips met.