DISCLAIMERS: I just borrowed the characters of Xena and Gabrielle. They belong to Renaissance/MCA/Universal, and are used without permission. Bacchus has always belonged to himself and he owns the Bacchae, heart and soul. No copyright infringement is intended. The rest of the tale is mine with all copyrights thereto.
Subtext/Love Disclaimer: Yep. They are in love with each other. But it's all implied.

Story Note: This is a "what if" story... What if Gabrielle had decided to stay with the amazons back in Hooves & Harlots? And doesn't take anything of the other 5 seasons into account. Solan is still alive but Gabrielle has not met him, Xena is very much alive and in love with her Bard-Queen.

"The Message"
by MerryAngel

The messenger ran up to the tall warrior, whose blue eyes blazed through the girl, putting a chill in the young one's belly. She blushed before handing the warrior the missive. "Thanks," came the rumble from the gorgeous warrior. Her voice could make even a straight woman melt and had on several occasions. The warrior was never wanting for a sexual partner. But they all seemed so bland next to the one woman she ever wanted and could not have. Xena opened the parchment to read the note from the amazon queen. Instead what she found was the "Amazon Gazette" the tribal parchment that went out across amazon territory every week. She started reading about the new amazon queen and the rules that stated she get joined or forfeit her rule over the southern territory. The northern queen had been trying to take over for several years but with Melosa joined and widowed, it was safe for her to stave off the rule and the northern queen.

It had been ten years since Xena had seen Gabrielle. She wondered why the girl had not found a partner among her Amazon sisters. The truth was Xena herself had not really moved on, either. Sure she had had several whores and one-night stands but no one to stay with her through it all.

She looked back at the parchment. It was the "Amazon Gazette" with several ads but one in particular caught her eye. It read: "Lost Soulmate" - Short blonde seeks tall brunette. Blue eyes preferred. Sexy look a plus.

Xena looked up to find the young amazon gone. The girl had done her job and given Xena the message.

In the Amazon Queen's Hut, Gabrielle sat listening to the many women outside lining up to be her consort. She didn't know why she put the ad in the amazon's weekly parchment but she did. Surely she didn't think that Xena would read it, since it only goes to the amazon territories (north, south, east and west). So, now she had all these amazons vying for her attention and the only one who could ever have her heart was far away. 'And probably married to Hercules,' Gabrielle's mind chimed in. She loved being an amazon but wished every day that Xena had chosen to stay with her. She thought about going in search of her warrior but always chided herself for being a silly girl with a big crush. She was feeling melonchaly today and didn't want to go out there and start picking through the many hopefuls.

Amazons lined up for miles with the parchment ad in their hands. Ephiny looked out over the landscape and shook her head. "Solari, did Chandra get back yet?" Ephiny asked, hoping that her little bit of meddling wouldn't incure the wrath of her queen. She had sent Chandra on a mission to find Xena quickly and give her the parchment. It was her idea to put the ad in the parchment in the first place and she wanted to make sure that Queen Gabrielle had her rightful consort. She knew whom Gabrielle would pick.

Solari shook her head, "Not yet, my regent." The amazon bowed before her lover and deputy queen. In Gabrielle's abscence, she had named Ephiny the ruler of Amazonia - the Southern Territory. On occasion the young queen would venture to Amphipolis to see Cyrene or to Poteidaia to see her family. Lila had married Perdicus and they had two children, Zaran and Larielle. They were their aunt's pride and joy and loved to see her when she came to their home town.

Solari and Ephiny had been best friends and soon became lovers as they continued to share in the duties of teaching a young amazon princess the finer art of staff and chobo fighting. Both soon had to fight together to take on their princess who learned faster than any amazon they had ever taught. After a really hard battle on the practice field, their battle lust had gotten the better of them but neither ever regretted it.

Gabrielle was happy for her friends and mentors. They were a great team and deserved the happiness each could give the other. Now if only she could find her one true soul mate and love of her life. She tried with some of the local amazons but she just couldn't get Xena out of her mind. Gabrielle had just admitted to herself that she loved Xena and was in love with her when she received the rite of cast from Terries. And wanting to learn what it meant to be an amazon she had told Xena that she wanted to stay. The warrior told her that it was a good idea and that she would visit her when she was in the area. But little did the blonde know that Xena, trying to keep her feelings for the young woman from ever coming to the surface, avoided the area for the last ten years. Tears began to slip from the forest-green eyes of the pretty Queen. She thought that with time away from Xena her love for the warrior would fade and go away much like the warrior had. But it didn't. It grew stronger. She could feel when the woman was in trouble but never really knew that it was real. She would have a dream of one near fatal happenstance after another, every time the warrior would triumph but still the blonde thought it was just a dream.

Chandra came trotting in to the camp from the west and smiled at her regent. "Mission accomplished, Regent Ephiny."

"Did she see it all?" Ephiny asked, it had been her idea to highlight the ad because she wanted to make sure that Xena understood what she needed to do.

"Yes, I watched from a distance. She is on her way now. I had to take the shorter route through the mountains to get here before her," the girl beamed. "She should be here in a day or two."

"Good. Go get some rest, Chandra. You deserve it," the regent smiled back at the young runner, who took off for her own hut at the back of the camp.

Xena sat looking at the papyrus in her hands. 'Could it really be?' her mind wondered. She had left Gabrielle with the amazons to protect the young woman and had stayed away to protect her own heart. She had started falling for this young slip of a girl from the first time their eyes met across a battle against Draco's men. Gabrielle had a fire about her that intrigued the warrior, but she knew that if the girl stayed with her, she would become a target for every warlord in the known world. So, when the girl had expressed an interest in staying with the amazons and learning their ways, it was the sign Xena had been waiting for.

So, why was she sending for the warrior now, ten years later? Xena had to know...

She got up from the bar and paid her tab as she headed out to her horse and possibly a whole new life.

The scouts had reported to Ephiny that a rider was inbound. She had to some how get the line of amazon hopefuls out of the way. She devised a competition to eliminate any weak warriors from the queen's list. She had to have someone who could equal her in a battle and not bring her down with inept sword-play. So all the potentials were sent to the practice field to start the sword-fighting. The ones who couldn't even fight with a sword were eliminated immediately. Gabrielle needed a true partner and Ephiny had decided that to make it fair, Xena would be the final test. The one person who got through all the others in this competition had to pass one more test... fight the great Warrior Princess in a battle to the near death. There were going to have to be rules but she'd make them up as she went. The only thing that mattered was that Xena was coming to finally claim her soul mate and love of her life.

"Solari, I want you to intercept Xena before she gets to the queen. Make up some rule about amazon cleansing or something to stall her," Ephiny said to her lover.

"What am I supposed to say Eph?" the amazon warrior whined. She did not want to be the one to try and stop Xena from getting to her love.

"I told you. Make up something that states she must be cleansed before she sees the queen," Ephiny sighed in exasperation. "Warriors," she mumbled under her breath.

Gabrielle meanwhile had noticed that the area was quiet for once. She peeked out her hut door to see the courtyard empty of the amazons. She smiled, knowing that it was probably Ephiny or Eponin who had sent them on their way to save her sanity. She was starting to regret listening to Ephiny about the ad. It was senseless. She knew who she really wanted and since that woman hadn't even tried to see her in ten years, it was likely she didn't want to see her ever again. But she just couldn't move on. Xena was the one who held her heart and always would.

On the practice field, amazons of all shapes and sizes were fighting it out for the queen's heart. Xena was lead to the field, after being "cleansed". Her armour gleamed in the afternoon sun. She looked around for her love but Gabrielle was nowhere to be seen. "Solari, where is Gabrielle?" the warrior impatiently asked.

"Xena, Gabrielle is in the queen's hut where she will remain until it is time to start the competition," Solari explained with the patience of a warrior trainer.

Ephiny, seeing her lover and the Warrior Princess on the practice field, exited to Gabrielle's hut. Knocking once, she entered at the grunt of ascension. "My Queen, you prospective suitors are ready for you to start the competition."

"Ephiny, I'm not sure I want a consort. Why can't I just rule without one?" Gabrielle complained. "And what's with the formal 'My Queen', anyway?"

"You know the rules, Gabrielle. You've read them and we've been over them time and time again. You have to have a consort to keep balance within the nations. We both tried to find a way out of this for you but Talmus, the northern queen is insisting," Ephiny explained as she went over to her friend and ruler. She put her arms around the smaller Gabrielle and pulled her into the back room. "I'm going to have Eponin and Solari come and attend to you. Then you will come out to the practice field and preside over the ceremonial sparring matches." Gabrielle looked at Ephiny with a confused expression. Ephiny went on,"We thought a match between all the suitors would be the best way to weed out the undesirables. It's only right that the strongest amazon should be at your side, right?"

Gabrielle shrugged but allowed Ephiny to lead her to her bed chamber. "Rest for a bit and Eponin and Solari will be here in a bit to help you dress." Ephiny turned to leave but immediately turned back. "Gabrielle, where the queen's mask. It is tradition." The regent turned and left the hut at Gabrielle's nod of ascent.

Ephiny made her way out to the field where all the amazons and Xena were warming up. "Attention, Sisters. In the tradition of animity, each of you who will be fighting for the queen's hand and heart must wear a mask. They are just small coverlets to hide you identity from the queen, who will also be masked. And it is so that she will not know who you are and will not play favorites. You are all wearing the traditional suitor leathers so it will be as if you are all alike."

The amazon suitors looked around at each other and took their masks which were handed out by the amazon children who had just begun their training. All the southern amazons, young and old, as well as quite a few from the other territories, would be here for this momentous occasion. A raised platform was erected for the queen to watch the matches, which would take place on that field, many simultaneously until it came down to the final four suitors. This battle was the largest in Amazon herstory. Gabrielle was well loved by all who knew her.

All eyes turned towards the platform as a procession approached with the queen in the center of her honor guard. Gabrielle looked out at the sea of masked faces, hoping to find one in particular but they all looked the same so she couldn't find her. It was a good thing she wore the full mask or else the suitors would have seen a crestfallen expression. But Gabrielle's body language gave nothing away. She stood at the front of the platform, raised her hand and in a flourish, gave the signal to start the battles.

They watched for hours as one by one the combatants dwindled. It was a long afternoon of parries, thrusts and counter attacks, flips, leg sweeps and any other way a warrior could defeat her opponent. Gabrielle sat on her throne and snuck sips of ale and food under her mask. She didn't know why she had to keep the mask on, everyone fighting for her hand knew what she looked like. She wished she knew what they looked like. Even though only the area around their eyes, nose and upper face were masked off, it was a good way to even the playing field. She had to cheer for all of them in hopes that the winner would be at least someone she knew well. She thought about how it would be after the joining. She tried to have sex with a few of the amazons but just couldn't put her whole heart into the effort of making love to any of them. She could only do that with one woman and that woman wasn't there.

Xena fought Amber in the next match. Amber was bigger and taller than the Warrior Princess but Xena had years of experience fighting thugs who were larger than herself. So, Amber was defeated in a matter of minutes. It was finally down to two. Xena and an amazon from one of the outland nations, Tarmock. She and Gabrielle had met a couple of times and each time the encounters were not very successful. Tarmock wanted the power and prestige of being the queen's consort, but she also wanted to finally make that 'stuck up queenie' hers. That was the mantra that kept the young amazon winning her matches. It was revenge time and she had power lust in her eyes.

"It is now sun down!" Ephiny called to the group. "None may fight after sundown. The final match will wait until tomorrow." Ephiny signaled to Eponin and Solari to escort the two combatants to their private huts. The two guards knew that their new assignment was to watch over their charges and not let them approach the queen.

Gabrielle winced. She did not want to go through another day of not knowing who was going to win this match but it could not be helped. Queen Melosa had made the rule after one more in a long line of her warriors were killed in what was supposed to be "friendly-Ceremonial" battle. She had stated in the by-laws that there would be no more unnecessary killings for non-war situations. She knew that in war there were no rules but that she did not need to lose warriors in friendly combat, so the rule was made.

Gabrielle was escorted back to her hut and helped out of her ceremonial robes. 'One more day, Xena," Gabrielle thought as she stood looking out the window of her room at the stars. 'One more day and I will lose you forever. I wish you had shown up. You could wipe the camp with these Amazons. Well, at least the Xena I remember could. I wonder what you are doing right now. Are you and Hercules happy together? Did you go back to Hercules? Or did you continue the good fight.' Gabrielle had not heard one word about Xena since the last time she had seen her ten years ago. 'If you did have children they are probably Zaran or Larielle's age by now.'

Xena had reluctantly gone with Solari to her assigned hut. She had question the guard about Gabrielle and how she was holding up these past few years and why she had never chosen a consort before. Solari explained that while Gabrielle did find companionship of a sort with her sisters, there was only one who could hold her heart. Xena paced her hut for the next few hours trying to figure a way to get to Gabrielle. She had to tell her of her love for her and that her entreaty to get the warrior's attention was not in vain. She looked toward the door where she knew her amazon guard stood...

Gabrielle turned toward her bed sensing that she was not alone. She reached for her chobos on her nightstand.

"Don't be alarmed, Gabrielle," the voice came to her familiar and very welcomed.

"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered, knowing the woman would hear her.

The warrior stepped into the moon light, her body revealing in the amazon leathers. The sword at her back brought beloved memories back to the queen. Gabrielle stifled a sob and ran into the waiting woman's arms, for the most welcomed hug she had ever felt in her life. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry I didn't come back..." the warrior started.

"Why didn't you? I loved you. I still do. What happened to you?" Gabrielle asked rapidly.

"I didn't want to admit my own feelings toward you. I was sure I wasn't what you needed," Xena pulled back from the embrace to look at the queen in the moonlight. "You've become a strong and competent woman. Though I couldn't see your face today, I still melted just from the majestic feel of you."

The tears spilling down Gabrielle's face revealed a scar in the moonlight. It was a slight cut on her cheek. Xena traced the tears path. "You have a beautiful face, as well," the warrior said.

"Even with the scar?" Gabrielle asked, smiling up at the one who held her soul.

"This makes you more beautiful in my eyes," Xena stated as she traced the thin, short line down the fair cheek.

"Oh, Xena," Gabrielle said as she threw herself into the warrior's embrace again. "I've missed you so much." The Amazon queen leaned up and for the first time in ten years allowed her lips to caress the softest lips she had ever tasted. The passion swelled, lips parted, souls intertwined.

"No, Gabrielle, we can't," Xena, pulling from the sensual kiss, said as she felt her body responding to the long treasured touch. "It will happen. I am one of your contestants. Now that I know you feel the same way I do. There is nothing that will stop me from winning tomorrow's match."

"Except me!" a quiet, angry voice called from behind them.

Xena spun toward the voice, placing Gabrielle behind her protectively. Gabrielle's eyes widened as she recognized the woman as Tarmock, the one amazon she refused to date because she had overheard the girlish boasting some years ago about bedding the queen, when they had never even dated. She didn't like the woman's attitude and didn't want her even in her hut much less her bed.

Xena pulled her sword as Tarmock came at them in a threatening manner. More amazons entered the queen's hut as they heard Tarmock's scream of outrage. She and Xena were sword-fighting in the queen's bed chamber. Ephiny, Solari and Eponin entered and pulled the two combatants away from each other. Eponin took Tarmock and Ephiny and Solari pulled Xena to another corner of the room. "Okay, what's going on here?" Ephiny demanded.

"The queen was playing favorites," Tarmock accused.

"No, she wasn't. I came to Gabrielle. I wanted her to know that I love her. It's been ten years since I had last seen her and I wanted to make sure she was all right," Xena confessed.

"Okay," Ephiny said, calmly. "Both of you will go back to your own huts and sleep on it. Tomorrow as planned we will finish this competition and the winner will become consort to the queen. I will have no more sneaking out." She looked at both women before saying,"Is that understood?"

Xena nodded but Tarmock broke free from Eponin and raced toward Xena. The only thing that kept her from touching the warrior as a Chobo to the forearm. The loud crack made everyone realize that there would be no competition in the morning. Tarmock screeched in pain and was escorted to the infirmary. "You bitch! You did that on purpose! You're afraid I will defeat your friend."

Gabrielle looked at Xena apologetically, knowing the warrior was anxious to prove her worth in the competition. Solari escorted Xena back to her hut uneventfully.

Gabrielle turned to Ephiny. "I'm sorry, Eph. I couldn't let her hurt Xena. You and Solari still had a hold of her and she couldn't defend herself. I reacted."

"It's all right, Gabrielle. I'll go check on Tarmock. She may still be able to fight. You didn't get her sword hand. Maybe we can even up the fight, have Xena tie down her weak arm," Ephiny tried to suggest. "I will see you tomorrow. Try to get some rest."

As the sun came over the mountain-top, Gabrielle's eyes slowly fluttered open. "Xena," she whispered as she sat up to get ready for the day. This would be the day that would decide her future. She believed Xena would prevail even if Tarmock hadn't been injured by her hand. She now had her answer, though. Xena loved her as much as she loved the warrior and the warrior had not sought out Hercules which means that for the last ten years she could have had her warrior by her side and... "No, Gabrielle, no regrets," the amazon queen scolded herself.

Ephiny and Gabrielle met at the communal food hut. She got her cereal and sat at the lead table. She wanted a report on the situation but knew it would have to wait. "Morning, Eph," Gabrielle greeted.

"Gabrielle, good morning," Ephiny stated as she took her seat next to her queen. They talked about non-consequential things all through the morning meal. Xena entered the meal hut with her escort, walked by Gabrielle and gave the queen a wink. Gabrielle smiled and blushed. "Gabrielle?" Ephiny asked as she noticed the flushed tone to her friend's skin. Both women, finished with their meal, exited the hut, heading for the council chamber.

"Gabrielle, it does not look good. Tarmock's arm is broken. She wants us to wait until her arm heals for the final match," Ephiny reported.

"Ephiny, we can't! Talmus will be here in a few days and will want to challenge me on the ruling," Gabrielle countered.

"Fear not my brave queen," a disembodied voice called before Artemis appeared in the room.

"Artemis, I am honored to have you in my humble council chamber," Gabrielle said as she went to one knee and bowed her head.

The Amazons' patron stepped to her chosen and bid her to rise. "Gabrielle, you honor me. Thank you." As Artemis put her hand on Gabrielle's head, the smaller woman rose, looking her patron in the eyes. "I will make things right. Your true champion will be decided today."

Ephiny escorted the goddess to the healing hut as Gabrielle went to find Xena. She found her in the practice field keeping twenty warriors at bay. Gabrielle stared in awe that was her friend and soul mate. Xena countered each parry, thrust and sweep, some times taking on the whole group at once. Xena's concentration couldn't keep her from noticing her queen. She waved the warriors off. "My queen," Xena bowed her head as she stepped to Gabrielle's side. "How is Tarmock doing?"

"That's what I came to talk to you about, Xena. The fight will take place this afternoon. Artemis is here to heal Tarmock so that the competition can be finished. We thought of postponing it but Talmus is on her way here. If I do not have at least a wedding in the planning stage before she gets here, she could challenge me and take my right to rule away."

Xena listened as she cleaned her sword with a soft cloth. She nodded her agreement where necessary but was content to let Gabrielle do the talking. She knew what she would have to do to win and those plans were already flying through her thoughts.

The crowd had gathered for the final match in the fight for the position of Consort to one of the most loved Amazon Queens in the nation's herstory. Xena paced the arena blocked out by rope and sticks. No one may enter the ring except the two combatants. Gabrielle took her place on the platform. The masks worn by everyone the previous day was forgotten since everyone knew who the final two were. Gabrielle was glad of the rule since she really wanted to see this match without any distractions... And because the queen's mask was very hot and heavy to wear.

Tarmock paced in the opposite direction as Xena. This time it was a weaponless match. Artemis in her infinite wisdom had made the ruling in front of all the amazons gathered and soon after vanished for Mt. Olympus. Gabrielle was grateful for this. She knew that if she had made the ruling, someone would have balked at it. Now it was out of her hands. Tarmock threw the first punch which Xena blocked. Then there was a fast flurry of arm swings and leg sweeps that Gabrielle had a hard time keeping up with. But as the match wound to a close, Tarmock made a "fatal" error and misjudged Xena's next move. The amazon found herself on the ground pinned by the warrior princess. "Submit," Xena yelled. The fight was over and everyone including Tarmock knew it.

All she had to do was say that she submitted the match to Xena and that would be it. But she had other plans and they didn't include playing fair. Tarmock glared at Xena as she reached behind her and grabbed some dirt and threw in Xena's face. The Warrior Princess fell back but was on her feet before Tarmock could pin her down. While Xena cleared her eyes by shaking her head and blinking quite a bit, Tarmock got a good punch to Xena's cheek. It would have cracked her nose if she hadn't moved back a bit just before the punch connected.

Xena kicked Tarmock in the crotch and while it didn't hurt as much as it would a man, it did have it's desired effect. Tarmock bent over and with a final kick, Xena sent Tarmock flying over the ropes and out of the fighting ring. The other amazons cheered as Xena claimed victory and won the queen's heart.

As the match was over, Gabrielle was finally allowed to run to Xena's side. It was a struggle for Ephiny to keep her queen on the platform when Tarmock had thrown the dirt. But now Gabrielle could go to her warrior without forfeitting the match. She lead Xena to the healing hut all the while making sure her soon-to-be consort was all right.

Over the next couple of days, several things happened, Ephiny was assigned to prepare the joining ceremony, Tarmock was returned to her own territory with the broken arm back in place. Artemis had only healed the bones temporarily so that she and Xena could finish their match. And Talmus entered the camp and declared her right to claim the territory. But since Gabrielle's ceremony was already in the planning stages and about to be completed with a definite suitable consort, Talmus's plans were thwarted. The joining ceremony was conducted by Artemis herself therefore eliminating any question as to the amazon's patron's wishes.

Weeks later, Xena lay on her back with Gabrielle cuddled against her side, both women were naked under the sleeping furs. "Just think, Xena, all this started because I put an ad in the Amazon Gazette."

Xena pulled Gabrielle closer to her and squeezed her tightly. "Yeah," Xena sighed as she kissed the top of her Bard-Queen's head and looked at the framed ad on the wall opposite their bed.

It read: "Lost Soulmate" - Short blonde seeks tall brunette. Blue eyes preferred. Sexy look a plus.

The End... "or the beginning... end, begin, it's all the same... big change."