Disclaimer: Xena:Warrior Princess is a trademark of Renaissance Pictures. Story mine, main characters not. Women (three), sex, bondage and peach wine.
© June 1997 Charmer
They came upon the woodland clearing unexpectedly.
For most of the morning the warrior and the bard followed the narrow stream's awkward course, often forced many yards from its tricky bank by treacherous footing and dense hawthorn. Sunlight barely found its way to the forest floor, and where the water's channel held back the roots of larger trees, hardy undergrowth chiselled a rare and difficult path towards a hidden destination.
Xena knew this stream to be a tributary that fed a larger river some miles ahead. Once there, they would find a better path for their journey; perhaps even the materials to fashion a raft for floating down the calmer waters... if Argo would agree to it.
The warrior's war-horse was unhappy with this cramped trail, though Xena led the mare with the utmost care. Gabrielle walked a few yards in front to scout the least unlikely route, using her staff to test the ground through uncertain foliage, and for balance when she perched on a rock or root to peer ahead. She was temporarily lost to the warrior's eyes when her eager voice drifted back through the trees.
'Xena! I think I've found our place for lunch!'
The warrior pursed her lips, but found herself relieved. The going had not been easy, and the horse was starting to protest. Xena wasn't hungry yet, but Gabrielle probably was, and Argo would not be far behind. With encouraging words she pulled the mare forward by her bridle, skirting the edge of an impenetrable thicket on the right while cautiously avoiding the slippery bank on her left. They picked their way over stones and under branches, and abruptly emerged into sunlight.
Gabrielle had already darted out into the open. The bright bard spun about and favoured her friend with lively eyes. 'Picnic?'
Xena smiled. 'Don't we ever?'
Gabrielle gave a little sideways jerk of her head. 'No. We don't.'
'Gabrielle, we usually eat outside.'
'That's not the same,' the bard argued. 'We eat outside because we don't usually have an "inside".'
Xena led Argo away from the confining trees and began to unsaddle her.
'Care to explain the difference?' she challenged mildly.
Gabrielle leant on her staff, preparing her case. 'A picnic is all about choice,' she gestured freely with her other hand. 'If you choose to eat outside... you know, choose a time, choose a nice spot, choose what you're going to eat... that's a picnic.'
Xena gave her a sideways glance. 'Uh-huh. Whereas we usually...?' she prompted the bard with an arched eyebrow.
'Whereas you usually let us wander off the road for a few minutes, grab a piece of cheese, take a piss, and carry on walking.'
Xena laughed, and pulled a few briers from Argo's coat. 'I take it you're not talking about our long evenings by the fire, when I hunt you something tasty, and we cook it in delicious herbs, and you scoff most of it and fall asleep in my arms for an hour before waking up to-'
'Oh no,' Gabrielle cut her off with a dismissive wave, and began to wander to and fro, 'I'm talking about the middle of the day, you know, like now, when we could have a relaxing break, and just enjoy the sunshine.'
Xena nodded, and sent Argo off towards a small patch of grass near the water's edge.
'Ok,' she said, 'let's have a picnic.'
Gabrielle stopped her pacing and grinned. 'Cool.'
A quick glance around told Xena what had created this sudden clearing in the dense woods that surrounded them. A huge oak had fallen, quite recently, and left a wide open expanse in the thick canopy above. Grass and moss were already flourishing in the new forest glade, and a few sprigs had taken root here and there, racing to be the next great tree to claim the oak's ancient throne.
With sunlight to dry its banks and bleach its stones the stream proved more approachable. A pleasant easing of the terrain widened the bed near the middle of the clearing, forming a clear pool which, though too small to swim in, would be adequate for bathing. Xena unhooked their waterskins from the saddle and began to fill them from the faster flow which bubbled into the shallows, pausing to take a long drink herself. She glanced over at Argo, and satisfied herself that the mare had found her own watering space further downstream. Once they were full she sealed the skins and stood up, turning back to her companion.
'So what have you chosen for our picnic?'
Gabrielle didn't look up from where she knelt on the unfolded blanket. She was delving into their bag of supplies, a small frown creasing her young features. 'Hmm... cheese?'
'Oh right, cheese. That's a departure, for a start.'
Gabrielle scowled at the dark warrior's teasing. 'Well, I didn't have much time to plan this picnic.'
'I understand. I'll go with whatever you decide.'
'It's good cheese,' Gabrielle observed, 'it's the rest of that smoked stuff we bought at the summer solstice.'
'We still have some of that?' Xena almost grimaced. 'Are you sure it's ok?'
'It's fine, Xena. It's smoked.'
'We've also got olive oil...'
'That's not much good on its own,' Xena dropped the waterskins and hovered beside her, hands perched on her hips.
'Some grapes, two apples... that's good, I won't have to fight you for one.'
'Any wine left?'
'Hang on...' Gabrielle burrowed deeper into the bag, almost losing her head inside its leather confines. 'Nope, sorry. Oh, but look!' she brandished a parsnip.
Xena regarded the large pale root, then gave the bard a wicked look.
'Gabrielle, what are you suggesting?'
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and stood up. 'I'll go give it a scrub.'
Xena stroked her chin as the bard headed towards the stream. 'If you want to eat that we'll have to make a fire to cook it,' she called after her.
Xena paused, then shrugged. 'Ok.'
The warrior selected a clear patch of earth away from any foliage and quickly coned some dry twigs in the centre. She struck sparks from her flint and coaxed a flame, breathing a rapid glow into the fragile wood, then added some larger pieces as the smoke curled upwards. As the little blaze took hold she glanced about. They would only need a small fire, and a few sticks from the far edge of the clearing would provide enough fuel to boil some water and sizzle Gabrielle's sliced vegetable.
Since it seemed they might be spending more than a few minutes in this peaceful glade, Xena decided to get comfortable. She removed her scabbard from her back and unbuckled her metal armour, placing them neatly on the edge of the blanket. Then she wandered towards the far side of the clearing, detouring around the huge root section of the fallen oak along her way. She breathed in the strong tang of dead wood and fresh life, pausing to peer into the great hollow which the massive tree had torn through the ground. Plants and fungi thrived amidst the decaying wood, and countless creatures on tiny legs scuttled about from shade to shade.
Xena stiffened suddenly. Her back straightened and her eyes thinned as her senses scoured the quiet surroundings, homing in on the smallest sound, the vaguest scent that might be slightly out of place. Her ears registered once again, and she moved her head, pinpointing the direction of the noise that had caught her attention.
Silently she retreated to the blanket, drew her sword from its scabbard, and moved towards the trees.
The warrior circled in the dim undergrowth, steadily closing the distance between herself and her quarry. She chose her steps carefully so that her boots made no sound in the thick forest litter. Now ahead of her, the subject of her attention was almost as silent, but not quite. As rare strands of sunlight broke through the dense branches, Xena caught the merest hint of pale hair moving up ahead. Human hair.
The warrior smiled to herself and advanced along a wide curve. Before long she was behind the figure which still crept cautiously through the trees. Xena could see that the person was not tall, probably female, and carried a quiver on her back. Getting closer now as the figure edged in the direction of their camp, Xena frowned at the bow in the stalker's hands, and the arrow which was notched ready for flight.
Still quite a distance from the glade, the unknown archer slowed and came to a halt. She positioned herself quietly and extended her left arm gripping the bow, drawing back the string with her right and leaning into the pliant yew. Xena could hear gentle splashing sounds further ahead, which indicated that Gabrielle was taking an impromptu bath. Meanwhile the archer took steady, careful aim between the trees.
'Shoot and die.'
The archer didn't appear to react. Being rock still in the first place, her abrupt freezing as Xena's blade made cold contact with her throat produced no visible effects from behind. However the fact that she did not release the arrow was all Xena needed to know that she had made her point. A moment later the warrior felt a tremor travel along her sword as her prisoner swallowed against the blade.
'Ok, can I opt for neither?' came the cautious response.
'Perhaps. If you lower that bow.'
The fair woman slowly complied, loosening the string as she let the arrow's tip descend towards the ground. Xena noted that she kept it notched in place. She pressed the edge of her sword a little harder against the archer's neck.
'Drop it,' she ordered.
After a brief hesitation the woman let the bow and arrow fall at her feet.
'Put your hands out to the sides and turn round.'
With an audible sigh the woman extended her arms, palms empty and open, and turned about to face her assailant.
Grey eyes flickered as they met the warrior's blue and took in her bearing. Xena found herself looking down at a woman about her own age. Her features were delicate, framed by hair so fine and fair that it seemed to have been spun from silk. She was dressed in a jerkin, leggings and boots of matching suede. The matt colours blended well with their surroundings. Xena judged that she would have made a rather slight amazon, nevertheless she looked every inch the hunter. A perfect assassin for this type of terrain.
'Yes?' the woman prompted.
Xena smirked. At least she was direct.
'What are you doing?'
The fair woman looked almost annoyed.
'I can see that. Who sent you?'
The woman frowned. 'The queen?' It was closer to a question than an answer.
Xena lifted her sword slightly, forcing the hunter's chin higher.
'And did she send you just for me or for both of us?' she asked coldly.
The grey eyes flashed some confusion, and a little anger. 'What?'
Xena grew impatient. Bravery was all very commendable, but she'd had enough.
'Who are you hunting?' she demanded.
The woman stared up at her, arms still wide, and spoke through gritted teeth. 'Boar.'
'Yeah, wild boar. Pig. Heard of it? Goes oink a lot.'
The warrior opened her mouth, then closed it again. She furrowed her brow. 'You're not shooting at Gabrielle?'
'Who the fuck's Gabrielle? For that matter, who the fuck are you?'
Xena's eyes widened, then narrowed again, angrily. 'So where's your boar then, little hunter?' she asked dangerously, hardly convinced.
'Killian,' the woman responded icily. 'My name is Killian. And my boar is back there...' she jerked behind her with her thumb.
Xena glanced over the woman's shoulder, but she couldn't see much. She didn't want to take her eyes off her captive for too long. She smiled unpleasantly. 'Show me.'
Killian turned and stepped carefully over her discarded bow, moving in the general direction of the glade. Xena followed with her sword at the back of the woman's neck. Moments later she saw what the hunter had been pointing to. Lying at the edge of a thicket, still breathing, was a dark wild boar with an arrow in its side.
'I knew I hadn't killed it with the first shot,' Killian said over her shoulder, stopping a few yards from the large animal, 'but I wasn't sure how mobile it was, so I was creeping up with a second arrow just in case.'
Xena hesitated. She regarded the creature lying in the dirt, then glanced at Killian's back again. After long moments she finally lowered her sword.
Killian reacted to the blade leaving her skin and edged away slowly, taking care to put some distance between herself and both the warrior and the boar. She studied Xena's face. 'Can I go back for my weapon? I want to put an end to that animal's suffering.'
Xena nodded, and Killian hurried back the way they had come. Xena looked at the boar, and advanced silently. Keeping her sword ready, she dropped down beside the creature and jabbed it hard with two fingers at the back of the neck. An instant later the animal's laboured breathing stilled.
Killian returned with her bow and took in the situation with surprise. 'You did it?'
'Save your arrows,' Xena replied curtly, standing up.
The hunter looked impressed. 'I wouldn't have dared to get that close... not without being sure it couldn't charge up and gore me.'
Xena spared the beast's sharp tusks a casual glance. 'I have a sword.'
'I know. I felt it.'
The warrior took a deep breath and looked the hunter in the eye. 'Not as intimately as you might have felt it. Killian, I'm sorry. I thought you were an assassin.'
The hunter returned her arrow to its quiver. 'Then perhaps I should thank you for not killing me on sight.'
Xena almost smiled. 'No, I was to blame.' She took another deep breath. 'My name is Xena.'
The hunter reacted, just a little.
'You've heard of me,' Xena added solemnly.
Killian twitched her eyebrows. 'You travel with a bard.'
The warrior broke into a genuine smile. 'Yes...'
'Well let me assure you, Xena, I hunt boars, not warriors and bards. At least not this kind of hunting...' she waved her bow before Xena's eyes as she crouched down beside the dead animal.
Xena wasn't quite sure what to make of that last comment. She shrugged to herself, and gave Killian the once over with appraising eyes. The hunter was perhaps an inch taller than Gabrielle, but more slender. Xena didn't think she would be able to carry much of the boar home by herself.
'What will you do with it?' she asked.
Killian understood what she meant. She balanced easily on the balls of her feet. 'Hmm, it's bigger than the ones I usually go for. I'll butcher it here for the best parts, and take as much as I can carry.' She glanced around, resigning herself to the waste. 'At least the scavengers will get a good meal.'
Xena pondered this for a few seconds, then carefully laid her sword on the ground.
'Tell you what, Killian. In return for a share of those best parts, I'll give you a hand.'
The hunter met her gaze. She returned a small smile. 'Fine.'
Killian was clearly a practised butcher, but it soon became obvious that Xena's greater strength gave her more than an edge. As the warrior proceeded to chop and slice the boar into manageable chunks, Killian put away her hunter's knife and took up the task of preparing fresh leaves and twine for wrapping the lean joints. The boar provided enough fine pieces for both of them, and before long they had filled Killian's bag and Xena's arms with as much as they could carry.
Killian settled her bow across her back and the bag over her shoulder. 'Gods, I feel like I'm carrying half a pig.'
'Not far off,' Xena replied, balancing her last package and trying not to drop her sword. She briefly considered coming back for more, but realised that Argo was unhappy enough journeying through this restrictive terrain, and an extra burden was not a good idea.
'You and the bard going to eat all that yourself?'
'We'll give some away... but you don't know Gabrielle's appetite...'
Xena thought she caught the suggestion of a smirk on the hunter's lips.
'Well I need one more thing to add to this weight,' Killian grunted, 'there's a stream over there, and I need to fill my skin.'
With that the hunter set off towards the glade. Xena followed quickly and soon emerged behind her into the familiar clearing. Killian slowed when she saw the horse and the gear spread out on the ground.
'Ah,' she acknowledged Xena's smirk with a comprehending smile, 'now it figures. So where is she?'
Xena unloaded her burdens near the blanket and straightened again. She looked about, searching.
'Well she was scrubbing a parsnip...'
'Is that a euphemism for something interesting?'
'Not that I know of.'
Killian dropped the heavy bag and unhooked a waterskin from her smaller pack. 'I'll go fill.'
The hunter headed straight towards the pool. Xena concluded that Killian must already know of this clearing. It made sense, assuming she hunted these woods regularly. The warrior watched the fair woman's easy gait, and frowned when Killian came to a premature halt, a few yards from the shallows. Suddenly concerned, Xena hurried forward to see what had caused her to stop.
Drawing alongside, the warrior soon realised what had caught Killian's attention. Down by the water's edge, on a flat dry rock, Gabrielle was lying elegantly on her back. Her head was cushioned on her arms, her eyes were closed, and she was utterly naked.
Xena glanced at Killian. The hunter was simply gazing, her grey eyes wide with admiration and a soft smile playing on her lips.
The warrior cleared her throat. 'Gabrielle, we have company.'
Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked towards them, squinting a little in the bright sunlight. It took her a few moments, but she suddenly realised the situation and sat up abruptly.
'Oh!' she began scrabbling about for her clothes.
Killian's smile broke into a much wider grin. Gabrielle had spread all her clothes out on another rock. She had taken the opportunity to wash them and had left them in the sun to dry. The first thing the bard grabbed was her brown skirt, which clung damply to her skin as she knelt and wrapped it feverishly around her hips. When she reached for the thick green shirt beside it, Killian quickly held up her hands.
'Please! Don't go to any trouble on my account. Let it dry.'
Gabrielle deliberated, then decided to take the stranger's advice. More than a little relieved, the bard spread out the heavy, sodden garment again to dry. As Killian approached the pool with her water skin and crouched to fill it, Gabrielle passed her to join Xena.
The warrior smirked at the embarrassed bard. 'Don't worry, Gabrielle. I doubt you've got anything she hasn't. So tell me, are we relaxed yet?'
Gabrielle gave her a dagger-like look. 'Do you have a spare tunic?'
'Not one that's clean.'
'Is it wearable?'
A slow twinkle crept into Xena's blue eyes. The two women wandered back towards their gear. 'No. Why, are you cold?'
'Of course I'm not cold.'
'Then stay as you are.'
Gabrielle looked up at her companion quizzically.
Xena put her hand on the damp curve of the bard's skirt and gave her firm behind a gentle squeeze. 'I like you like this...' she murmured.
The warrior raised her other hand and wet the tip of her finger with her tongue. She lowered it to Gabrielle's breast and lightly circled the nipple. The pink flesh puckered instantly.
'Hmm. Very much.'
'What have you been doing? You nearly let the fire go out.'
'Getting you your picnic. Killian over there shot some fresh pork.'
'Who's Killian?' Gabrielle began, then quickly registered the important part of Xena's explanation. 'Pork? We have pork?'
Xena smiled at her love's excitement. 'Go look by the blanket.'
Within minutes Gabrielle had dug out her pan, sliced up some thin strips of meat to fry with the parsnip, and invited Killian to stay for lunch. Xena studied the clearly pleased hunter, who in turn watched the semi-naked bard with undisguised, lingering glances. Once or twice the grey eyes found her own, and Killian smiled warmly at the warrior.
While the food was cooking the hunter went to wash thoroughly in the stream. She re-appeared in her soft dark suede, the front of her jerkin unlaced and hanging open.
Xena eyed her thoughtfully. 'I half expected you to return naked,' she murmured.
Killian smiled coyly - but not too coyly. 'Really?' They were speaking quietly, out of Gabrielle's earshot.
'You're not exactly subtle.'
'That makes two of us then.'
Xena pondered this response for a few moments. 'You weren't afraid of me,' she said eventually, stating a simple fact.
Killian glanced up at the warrior as she tightened the lace on her boot. 'There didn't seem to be much point. You had a sword at my throat. I couldn't escape you. I certainly couldn't kill you. Fear was irrelevant.'
'That's an odd way of looking at it.'
The hunter cocked her head. 'Fear has its uses. It makes you run faster, fight harder.'
'It can also make people freeze.'
'That can be useful too. Movement can attract attention... and it can be provocative. Back there for instance...' she nodded towards the trees, 'if I had moved at the wrong moment, you might have given me a wound to complain about.'
Xena sat down on a rock near the blanket and said nothing. Killian studied her.
'I wasn't afraid because I knew you wouldn't kill me,' she admitted. 'You could've done that while my back was turned. And after I turned round and saw you, well...' she smirked slightly, and began tying her other boot.
'Well what?' Xena prompted.
Killian gave her a flirtatious smile. 'Then I was a bit taken with you.'
A smile crept on Xena's lips which was almost as coy as Killian's. The hunter stood and pulled a silky jade cloth from inside her jerkin. Xena couldn't help watching as Killian dabbed the moisture from her face and throat, before looping the cloth loosely around her neck. The warrior's eyes travelled over the hunter's lithe, gently curved frame. She found herself appreciating the woman. There was something very attractive about her daring looks and dry, casual wit.
Eventually Xena followed Killian's gaze across to where Gabrielle was busy tending the fire. The bard was deep in concentration, measuring some herbs into the smoky pan. She brushed back some stray locks of red-blonde hair which escaped over her eyes.
'Your bard is beautiful,' Killian said softly.
Xena looked at her. 'My bard?'
'She is your's, isn't she?'
'I didn't buy her, if that's what you mean.'
'That's not what I mean. That's not the warrior princess I've heard about recently.'
Xena relaxed. The slightly haunted look which had been evident on her face since she first ventured into the trees finally faded. Killian noticed the faint but telling change, and closed the distance between them. She used one gentle fingertip to caress Xena's cheek. Surprised by the courageous move, the warrior didn't flinch back, but looked up to meet the hunter's cautious scrutiny. She found the fair woman's eyes upon her, unexpectedly dark and penetrating. Xena's pulse quickened when she caught the unspoken question in the steady gaze. She flashed back a dazzling blue look of her own, and broke into a wide smile.
A light wind sprang up in the clearing and blew the smoke from the fire back towards the blanket.
'Hades,' Gabrielle cursed, drawing back with the hot pan and blinking away the smuts.
'Let's try over there,' Xena suggested as the ready meal was divided between them. She chose one of the lower forks of the fallen oak to sit on, placing the bag containing the cheese and fruit on the dry soil behind it in the shade. As the three women sat down on the large limb, Xena's boots just rested on the ground. To her left Killian's toes dangled half an inch clear, and on her right Gabrielle's feet didn't come close.
'A pity we have no wine,' Gabrielle remarked.
'Oh!' Killian laid aside her dish quickly and stood up, 'I forgot, I have wine.'
Xena and Gabrielle watched expectantly as Killian crossed to retrieve her small pack and pulled out a second skin. The hunter unsealed it and handed it to Gabrielle. 'Should be half full. Might as well get rid of the extra weight,' she added as she waited in front of the bard.
Gabrielle took a sip. 'Peaches!'
'Yes... peach wine. It's a bit sweet but...'
'Oh no, it's lovely!' Gabrielle took another long sip before passing the skin to Xena. The warrior took a mouthful, swilled it about a bit, swallowed.
'A bit sweet,' she confirmed.
'You're so picky.'
Xena smirked gently and handed the wine back to Killian, who didn't hesitate in passing it on to Gabrielle again.
'Do you have anything else in that magic pack of yours?' the bard quipped. 'Nutbread? Honey-cakes? Glazed quail's eggs?'
'My my, Xena,' Killian murmured, 'how do you keep this one satisfied?'
Xena's eyebrows danced. A drop of wine escaped from between Gabrielle's lips and fell to her bare breast. As the amber-pink liquid trickled down towards her nipple, Killian reached out and caught it with her fingertip.
The hunter licked the droplet from her finger. 'Hmm. Better.'
Gabrielle blinked, glanced up at Killian, and then at Xena. The warrior smiled back.
Killian returned to her seat on Xena's other side and found her dish again.
'This is tasty, Gabrielle,' she complemented.
'Thanks. I've had a bit of a crash course. It was either that or let Xena poison me.'
Xena growled deep in her throat.
'Of course it's worth it just to hear her purr...' Gabrielle added, giving Xena a teasing grin, '...just like a kitten.'
Xena's eyes narrowed.
'Sounds more like a panther,' Killian observed.
'Nah. Pussy cat.'
Xena managed to swallow a piece of parsnip without choking, but it was a close thing. Killian leaned in close and whispered in the warrior's ear.
'So the bard's in command, is she? She hasn't had a taste of the warlord...'
They ate well and conversed happily. Gabrielle and Killian did most of the talking, discussing general topics of some interest but little importance, and slipping in several little jokes at Xena's expense. As they finished their first course, Gabrielle asked the hunter where she lived.
'A village about nine miles west of here. It's a small community.'
'That's quite a trek through the forest. Will you manage with so much to carry?'
Killian nodded around her last mouthful. 'Yes, there's plenty of daylight this time of year. And it's not thick forest all the way. The last mile is quite easy.'
Gabrielle thought about this for a moment. 'But that bag's so heavy...'
Killian shrugged. 'Well, perhaps a little more than I usually try to take back.'
'Why don't you let us help you?' the bard suggested brightly.
Xena glanced at Gabrielle, frowning slightly.
'We're not in a hurry,' Gabrielle continued, noticing the frown.
'No thanks, I'll be fine,' Killian smiled back.
Gabrielle persisted. 'It wouldn't be any trouble. With all of us sharing the load it would be much easier. We could go with you to your village, and stay there the night if it gets too late to move on.'
'Gabrielle,' Xena said gently, 'Killian might not want us to accompany her back to her village.'
Now it was both Gabrielle's and Killian's turn to frown.
'Why not?' the bard asked.
Xena suddenly looked uncomfortable. She shrugged, and didn't say anything.
'Why not?' Killian repeated, just as puzzled.
Xena looked at her in surprise. She hesitated. 'Well, you know... you might not want us attracting the attention...'
Killian's frown deepened in confusion. Then abruptly, the light of comprehension dawned across her fine features.
'By Artemis, Xena! You are the most suspicious person I've ever met!'
Xena stared at her.
'Huh?' Gabrielle hadn't caught on.
Killian rolled her eyes at the warrior. 'Hades, woman! You really think I'm a poacher?'
Now Xena looked quite embarrassed. 'I just...'
'Incredible! First you accuse me of being an assassin and stick your sword halfway in my gullet...'
'Xena!' Gabrielle started in shock. 'You didn't?'
'And now you just assume I'm a thief! Mind telling me why?'
The warrior swallowed awkwardly. 'These woods belong to the local castle.'
'That's right. The queen doesn't hunt for sport, so she pays me to keep the boar numbers down. The fresh meat goes to my village. Any questions?'
Xena's expression hardened as the hunter's tone grew sarcastic.
'Xena, did you attack Killian?' Gabrielle demanded.
'Hardly,' the warrior shot back, now getting it from both sides.
Killian snorted and rolled her eyes. Gabrielle glanced across Xena's rigid form to the hunter, who, despite her humour, looked a little offended. 'Gods, Xena,' Gabrielle chided, 'you could be a bit more charitable.'
Xena's jaw clenched as she held back an impatient retort. She tossed her empty dish on the ground and twisted round. 'Want any of that dubious cheese?' she muttered.
The bard smirked at her friend's abrupt change of subject. She watched as Xena bent over the tree limb and reached down for the bag on the far side. It was quite a stretch. The warrior's leather-clad rear presented itself between the hunter and bard, and suddenly Gabrielle's expression grew mischievous.
Her eyes flicked up at Killian, then back to Xena's behind. The hunter's gaze followed, then jumped back up to Gabrielle's, grey eyes narrowing. The bard looked up at her again, and suddenly grinned. She made a biting gesture with her jaw.
Killian's eyes widened. She visibly shrank, shaking her head in mock terror. Gabrielle nodded rapidly, and twisted on the oak to face Xena's body. Killian bit her lower lip and grinned.
With one swift movement, Gabrielle tugged Xena's leather skirt up, bent down, and sank her teeth into Xena's backside.
An instant later, after the kind of futile hesitation which only the most brave and most foolish of mortals know, Killian's mouth landed on the other cheek.
Xena swore in surprise and indignation. She lost her grip on the bag and jerked upwards off the oak. A further violent shake loosened Killian's unsure grip, and the hunter fell to the ground with a helpless laugh, but Gabrielle hung on.
Before Xena could straighten the bard swung herself round so that she could wrap her arms around Xena's waist. Her muscled legs found purchase round Xena's neck, so that by the time the warrior got to her feet Gabrielle was hanging upside down on her back, hands locked on her midriff, calves all but blocking her vision, jaw clamped firmly on her buttock.
'Gabrielle!' Xena hissed, staggering as she tried to dislodge the supple body clinging to her back. It wasn't easy. Gabrielle held on like a leech, and Xena was hard pressed to throw her off without risking her any damage. Eventually she managed to peel away an arm and a leg, and Gabrielle tumbled, laughing, to the grass.
Xena grabbed her and hauled her up, smiling dangerously. Then she turned and, to Killian's surprise, hoisted the hunter to her feet too.
'Right,' the affronted warrior threatened, 'whose idea was that?'
Gabrielle chuckled, and her green eyes glittered. 'Killian's!'
Killian's dropping jaw was all Xena needed to confirm her already very strong suspicions. She released the hunter's arm and turned her full attention on the bard, treating her to a look of pure relish. 'So, Gabrielle, you're a butt-biter and a fibber...'
Gabrielle shrieked as Xena scooped her up and sat back down on the fallen oak. She swept the bard face down across her thighs. 'Time to teach you a little lesson, I think.'
When she realised what was happening Gabrielle struggled for all she was worth. As much as she had clung to the warrior before, the young woman now squirmed on her lover's lap like a frantic eel. Xena scrambled to hold the slippery bard, but as soon as she got a grip and raised a hand ready to chastise her captive, Gabrielle writhed free with a fierce chuckle and forced Xena to reload her again. Xena seized Gabrielle's arms and gripped them in the small of her back, but she found she couldn't pin her down with just one hand without the risk of injuring her.
Killian appeared at her side with a short length of cord. She raised an enquiring eyebrow at the warrior.
Xena paused and watched the hunter bind the bard's wrists securely.
'Hey!' Gabrielle protested, twisting her neck to see, 'whose side are you on?'
Killian stepped back and winked at Xena. 'You just tried to frame me,' she told the bard. Xena flashed the hunter a grin, reaffirmed her grip, and slapped Gabrielle once on the rump.
Xena laughed as she let the struggling woman squirm off her lap. As soon as Gabrielle was on her feet Killian took her by the arm and guided her away from the oak. Chuckling quietly she slipped the silky cloth from her own neck, folded it and quickly tied it over Gabrielle's eyes. Then she held the bard by the shoulders and spun her round and round, until Gabrielle was dizzy and nearly falling over. Finally she steadied her, kissed her quickly on the lips, and went back to sit beside Xena.
'She's lovely,' the hunter breathed.
Xena glanced at Killian, then looked back across to where Gabrielle stood disoriented in the clearing. The bard shifted her bare feet uncertainly on the mossy ground, not quite sure what was happening. She pulled briefly at the cords on her wrists.
'Xena?' Gabrielle said tentatively.
Xena smiled appreciatively. Gabrielle was indeed lovely. Especially lovely in her helplessness, the warrior realised. The wrap skirt was draped loosely across the bard's hips, it's hem falling high on her trim thighs. With her arms locked behind her back, Gabrielle's toned torso was elegantly displayed, her beautiful breasts firm and inviting. As her honey-coloured hair fell about her shoulders it caught the sun like copper and gold. Above all, the young woman's breathing came a little short, causing her chest to rise and fall in a manner which both delighted and excited the warrior.
'Killian?' the bard said.
Killian turned and smiled broadly at Xena, but didn't respond to Gabrielle's enquiry. Xena grinned back.
Gabrielle's brow furrowed over her blindfold. 'Will one of you say something?'
The two women remained teasingly silent, drinking in the delicious sight that hovered in front of them. Gabrielle shook her head, trying to dislodge the cloth tied over her eyes. Xena inhaled sharply as the bard's exposed breasts bounced deliciously with the sudden movements.
'Incredible...' the warrior whispered her thoughts.
'Indeed. How much did you pay for her?'
Xena looked at Killian in surprise, and lifted an eyebrow. The hunter merely smiled and raised her own eyebrows in return, awaiting the warrior's response. Xena's eyes sparkled suddenly.
'Everything,' she said. 'A warlord's entire fortune.'
Gabrielle stopped shaking her head and listened to their exchange. 'What?' she interjected.
'A bit insolent, though,' Killian observed, encouraging the warrior's participation with a quirky smile.
Xena glanced up at the bound bard. 'Hmm,' she agreed. 'Feisty Poteidaian. Untrained.'
'Ah. I expect you have to discipline her.'
Xena shrugged. 'As you've seen, the occasional tap.'
'You mean you don't whip her?'
Gabrielle stiffened. 'Xena?'
'I haven't so far,' Xena mused with a lazy smile, 'but if she continues to forget her manners...'
'Xena!' Gabrielle repeated sharply.
The warrior's tone grew a little dangerous. 'If, for example, she forgets herself in front of a guest...'
Gabrielle opened her mouth, then closed it again, perplexed.
Killian waited. When Xena didn't continue, she grinned slowly and stood up. With graceful steps the fair hunter moved to Gabrielle's side. She placed a gentle arm around the bound woman's waist, causing Gabrielle to start slightly, and spoke softly into her ear.
'Is that the way it is, Gabrielle?' she brushed the delicate ear with her lips. 'Do you sometimes forget to show your mistress the respect she deserves?'
Gabrielle gasped. Xena watched, intrigued, as a dainty flush developed on the bard's chest and began to creep up her throat. Killian edged behind her captive and caught her hips, pulling the young woman's naked back against her half-open jerkin. She whispered across Gabrielle's smooth cheek, her tone somehow both gentle and commanding.
'Answer me, Gabrielle. We don't want to have to punish you for reticence as well as insolence.'
Gabrielle trembled. Her lips parted, but no sound came out. Killian frowned.
'Well? Do you?'
Xena's mouth dried. That was the last thing she had expected.
Killian's expression softened. She released her hold on the bard's hips and began stroking her imprisoned arms with feather-light fingers.
'I thought so. No doubt your mischievous nature gets you into trouble. Am I right?'
'Yes,' the bard admitted quietly.
'And your mistress has been too lenient with you?'
'Yes,' almost a whisper.
Killian glanced over at Xena, who was mesmerised. The hunter smiled knowingly, and stepped round to Gabrielle's left side. She lifted the back of the bard's skirt, and gave her a sharp slap on the behind.
Gabrielle jumped, taken by surprise.
'Do you like that?' Killian asked kindly.
Gabrielle wet her lips. 'No.'
Killian smacked her again. 'Yes, you like it,' she countered.
The hunter gave her another swat, harder. Gabrielle flinched, but she didn't try to move away.
'You can admit that you like it,' Killian reassured her. When the bard didn't reply, she followed it up with another slap. 'You're allowed to like it, Gabrielle,' the hunter added softly.
Gabrielle trembled again, and passed a pink tongue across her lips. When Killian delivered another stinging spank to her backside she whimpered, but again held her position.
'Do you like it, Gabrielle?' the hunter repeated in final, haunting tones.
Xena swallowed hard. Warmth rose to the surface of her skin as she watched Killian gently re-adjust the bard's clothing and step away from her.
'Good girl, Gabrielle,' the hunter said. 'Now go to your mistress.'
Gabrielle was breathing fast. Finding herself alone again, she twisted about uncertainly. 'I don't know where she is,' she said in a timorous voice.
Killian regarded her steadily. 'Go to your mistress, Gabrielle,' she insisted coolly.
Gabrielle had lost her bearings again. She took a few uneven steps, at a tangent, then stopped. 'Please... tell me where she is.'
Killian raised an eyebrow at Xena. 'You must ask her yourself,' she told the confused bard.
Gabrielle held still for a moment. 'Where are you?' she called nervously.
'... Mistress,' Killian added sternly.
Gabrielle took a deep breath, centring herself. 'Where are you, mistress?'
'I'm here, Gabrielle,' Xena announced, feeling a twinge of pleasure deep in her belly when her blindfolded lover instinctively turned towards her voice.
Her direction assured, Gabrielle took a few cautious paces. As she neared the warrior Killian spoke again.
'Kneel there, Gabrielle. At your mistress' feet.'
The bard halted and obeyed, lowering herself to the grass carefully to keep her balance. By now the charming flush had travelled all the way up to her cheeks. Xena looked down at the bound and blindfolded woman, and felt her strong legs turn to liquid.
Killian observed the warrior's hands grasp at the fallen oak for stability, her nails digging hard into the bark. She smirked at Xena and climbed behind her, leaning in close to whisper so that Gabrielle wouldn't hear her words.
'Time we ate the rest of that picnic, I think.'
Xena inhaled deeply and nodded, regaining some composure. She put out her hand to accept the bag which Killian lifted from the ground, settling it securely on the tree trunk beside her. Reaching inside, she found the bunch of grapes. She waited a moment, calming herself.
'Gabrielle,' Xena said smoothly, 'come closer.'
The bard shuffled forward on her knees, until Xena's firm hand on her shoulder told her to stop, and she rested back on her heels. Xena steadied her booted feet on either side of her young friend. She picked a grape, and pressed it to Gabrielle's lips, causing the woman to start momentarily before she realised what it was and accepted it into her mouth.
Gabrielle chewed obediently, and swallowed. After a few moments she worked her jaw again.
'Xena, there are pips in these grapes. Can I spit them out?'
The warrior's hands stilled.
'What did you call me?'
Gabrielle froze at the strange edge to her companion's voice. Killian backed away into the trees, grinning, as Xena favoured the kneeling redhead with watchful eyes.
Gabrielle tried to look up at the warrior apologetically, but the blindfold made that difficult.
Xena leant forward, her breath warm against the bard's skin, her tone low but compelling. 'I didn't ask you for an apology, Gabrielle. I asked you what you called me.'
Gabrielle swallowed, which solved the issue of the pips, but nothing else. A tremor travelled down her finely muscled abdomen.
'Xena,' she confessed.
The warrior leant back again. 'I'll deal with that later. From now on I suggest you remember to address me correctly.' When Gabrielle didn't respond, she added, 'Do you understand?'
'Good. You may spit them out. But be careful of your aim.'
Xena proceeded to feed Gabrielle the grapes. As she delivered each little piece of fruit she allowed her fingers to linger on the bard's lips, caressing the sensitive skin. Eventually she stopped feeding her and simply pushed one finger gently into Gabrielle's mouth. She slowly traced the inside of the soft warmth she found there, enjoying the damp, velvet texture. Gabrielle sucked cautiously on the finger, flicking her tongue against the tip, until Xena abruptly withdrew and caught the bard's chin in her hand.
'Come here,' the warrior commanded.
Gabrielle knelt up and Xena drew her closer to capture her lips with her own mouth. Xena kissed her deeply, tasting the grapes' sweetness and the bard's own delicious flavour with her probing tongue. Gabrielle pulled instinctively on her bonds, anxious to embrace the warrior, to touch the strong body which she couldn't see. Xena noticed the futile movements, and shuddered with increasing desire. She grabbed the woman by the arms and pulled her up onto her lap, facing her.
Gabrielle drew in a surprised breath at the contact, and Xena felt the unusual heat of the bard's rear on her bare legs. She grinned at the telling sensation. Putting both hands on Gabrielle's back to hold her in place, she slowly spread her own thighs, easing the pressure on Gabrielle's flushed skin and forcing the young woman's knees wide. Gabrielle sighed, then whimpered at this fresh exposure of her vulnerability.
At that moment Killian appeared again, stepping up close behind Gabrielle and resting her forearms lightly on the bard's naked shoulders.
'May I?' she asked Xena, her eyes twinkling.
'Be my guest.'
Killian's hands descended to Gabrielle's breasts. She held the twin mounds in her palms, gently taking their weight, while her thumbs rubbed the already hardened nipples to rose-bud rigidity. Gabrielle arched into her ministrations, leaning back against the hunter's chest. Meanwhile Xena retrieved her hands from Gabrielle's back and began a lazy exploration of the bard's firm thighs.
'Remember, Gabrielle,' Killian breathed against Gabrielle's ear, 'your mistress is responsible for your pleasure as well as for your conduct.'
Gabrielle moaned, and Xena felt the young woman's legs tighten against her own, pushing inwards with heightened desire. With swift movements Xena untied the laces of the bard's skirt and tugged the garment aside.
Gabrielle was now nude, save for the pale cords on her wrists and the jade cloth over her eyes. Xena watched as a warm breeze blew across Gabrielle's midriff, teasing the fine blonde down that covered her lightly tanned skin. Looking further down, the warrior noticed that the tops of Gabrielle's inner thighs glistened with moisture. Quickly she put her thumb between the bard's most intimate folds, and pushed inside.
Gabrielle cried out. Her head fell back against Killian's shoulder, and she struggled for air. Xena felt Gabrielle's muscles tighten around her thumb, enclosing her in a silky warmth which made the warrior's vision shimmer. Xena held still for long, wonderful moments, relishing the helpless capture, then gradually began to move her thumb around inside the bard. After a while she stretched her other arm underneath and began to stroke the tingling skin of Gabrielle's behind.
Gabrielle groaned loudly as the two women caressed her. Their expert hands wandered exquisitely over her sensitised body, causing her pulse to pound and her limbs to shudder. Totally dependent on Killian for her balance, the bard began struggling with her bonds in earnest, trying to regain some control over what was happening to her.
'No,' Killian whispered, 'don't fight it.'
Gabrielle gave a sob and twisted against them, helpless in her building arousal.
'Stop that,' Killian chided.
'Please,' the bard implored, 'don't make me wait...'
The hunter let out a crystal laugh. 'Let go, Gabrielle,' she encouraged.
Still stroking the bard's breasts, Killian eased the woman's trembling body forward towards Xena. The warrior's lips met the bard's and stifled her pleas with soft kisses. Gabrielle squirmed on Xena's tormenting hands, and desperately searched her unseen lover's mouth for more contact. Using Gabrielle's inability to see to her advantage, Xena teased the bard by repeatedly drawing away, then catching her unawares with quick kisses to her cheeks and nose.
'Xena...' Gabrielle begged.
Xena withdrew her hands and clamped down hard on the bard's legs.
Gabrielle gasped. 'I'm sorry,' she blurted. 'I'm sorry, mistress...'
'Gabrielle,' Killian admonished over her shoulder, 'that's twice.'
'I forgot,' the bard whispered, lowering her head meekly. 'Forgive me...'
Killian sighed patiently. 'I'm sure your mistress will forgive you, but it will still have to be corrected. So you must choose, Gabrielle. Which will you take first... punishment or pleasure?'
Xena glanced up at Killian over Gabrielle's head, narrowing her eyes a little, but the hunter returned a reassuring smile as she continued to fondle the bard's erect nipples.
Gabrielle struggled with her emotions. 'I... I don't know... what is my punishment?'
Killian couldn't help grinning and folding the delightful woman in a warm embrace. She kissed the golden hair and shook her head helplessly, unable to speak for fear of giggling.
Xena took the initiative. 'You will know that sooner or later, Gabrielle, depending on your choice.'
The young woman paused a few moments longer, then answered carefully.
'I would like to finish with pleasure, mistress.'
'A wise choice.'
Xena carefully pushed Gabrielle from her lap, forcing her to stand up. Killian moved aside and picked up something from the ground, handing it to the warrior. Looking down at the unexpected gift, Xena realised what Killian had been doing while she was feeding Gabrielle the grapes. From a light, flexible piece of yew the hunter had fashioned an elegant switch.
Xena's surprised gaze danced back up to Killian's. The fair woman acknowledged her concern with a meaningful look, and gestured silently towards the bound woman, indicating with a sweep of her hand that Xena should remove the bard's blindfold. Xena frowned, and Killian gestured again, patiently. She pointed to her own eyes, then to the switch in Xena's hand, and to Gabrielle once more.
Comprehending, Xena nodded, and placed the switch beside her on the tree trunk.
'Killian,' she said politely, 'will you untie her for me?'
The hunter moved behind the bard and released her wrists. At the warrior's signal Killian guided Gabrielle back a couple of paces, giving Xena some room. Xena composed herself on the fallen oak, smoothing her leathers. She picked up the switch and held it prominently over her crossed knee.
'Killian, please remove my slave's blindfold.'
Gabrielle's already shaky knees weakened noticeably in response to Xena's words. Killian had to steady the bard as she gently untied the cloth and pulled it from her eyes. Wisely, she remained close at Gabrielle's back, ready to catch her if necessary.
Gabrielle gasped at the sight of the dark warrior waiting calmly with the switch. Cool blue eyes pinned her to the spot, and questioned almost imperceptibly. Gabrielle focused briefly on the switch, blinked up at Xena, then lowered her eyes passively. When she raised them again, the small trace of doubt had vanished from Xena's face, to be replaced by command and an intense, smouldering desire.
Wordlessly, Xena tapped the fallen tree to her left with the end of her switch. Gabrielle approached obediently, and Xena took her by the arm and guided her forward across the oak trunk, until she lay face down over its rough, broad curve. Killian vaulted to the far side and knelt in front of Gabrielle, capturing her hands firmly in her own. She kissed Gabrielle once on the forehead as Xena rose and positioned herself behind the prostrate bard.
Then Xena struck Gabrielle with the switch.
The supple yew danced once over the bard's smooth curves. Gabrielle jerked in response to the keen impact, and closed her eyes as the sensation built across her flesh. Within seconds the switch flicked against her prone body again, stinging her rear. She drew in a sharp breath and winced. On the third stroke she exhaled with a little cry, and opened her eyes, finding Killian's steady gaze.
Xena paused. She observed the fine red lines emerging on the bard's flawless skin, and spontaneously traced one with her fingertip. Gabrielle uttered a soft sound beneath her touch, and tugged impulsively against Killian's grasp.
'What is it, Gabrielle?' the hunter asked mildly.
Gabrielle's eyes, already dark with arousal, moistened at the quiet concern. She wriggled as Xena continued to caress her. 'I want my mistress to... finish,' she ventured.
'Then ask her.'
Gabrielle lowered her chin against the wood for a moment, then raised her head again. She spoke clearly, so that Xena would not mistake her words. 'Please, mistress, finish my punishment.'
Gabrielle's submissive request sent a spasm through Xena's loins which made standing briefly questionable. She let the tip of the switch trail a slow, tingling path down Gabrielle's thigh, feeling a fierce rush of warmth to her core when the young woman squirmed helplessly before her. With a feral curl on her lip, Xena wet her finger on her tongue and toyed with another delicate welt.
'Please...' the tormented bard begged.
The warrior withdrew her lingering hand and took a moment to steady herself. Swiftly she delivered three more sharp flicks of the switch, letting the final one fall harder so that Gabrielle would know it was the last.
The bard yelped, then sighed and went limp. Killian lifted Gabrielle's flushed face and began to kiss her tenderly on the mouth.
'Brave little bard,' she smiled against the yielding lips.
Between them Xena and Killian eased Gabrielle up off the oak. The warrior dropped the switch and gathered her into her arms, lifting so that the bard's legs could wrap around her strong waist. Gabrielle looped her arms around Xena's shoulders and clung on tightly, while Xena smothered her throat with rapid kisses. She crossed to their blanket and sank to her knees, where she cradled the bard against her lap, and continued to trace kisses over every part of the exquisite body that she could reach.
Killian dropped to her knees behind Xena and began to favour the warrior's neck with kisses of her own. Slowly, Xena reclined against the blanket, manoeuvring Gabrielle so that she lay face down and sideways across her hips. Killian gathered up a section of the blanket and furnished Xena with a convenient pillow, then moved to Gabrielle's other side and settled herself over Xena's legs, facing her. Between them, warrior and hunter made sure they had access to every inch of the bard's perfect, compact form.
Two pairs of hands began to roam over Gabrielle's prone, highly receptive body. The young woman's head rested against her outstretched arms, her face hidden but her breathing audible. An opposite set of fingers and thumbs found her nipples and began to squeeze, bringing them once more to inexorable hardness. More fingers fluttered across her back and sides, making her shiver uncontrollably, but not from cold. Gradually the experienced hands moved down towards the bard's centre, and she eased against them.
Xena's right hand tickled Gabrielle's left thigh, while Killian's left hand paid equal attention to her right. Gabrielle whimpered with pleasure, and pushed her hips back, trying to get deeper contact from her two attentive companions. The women's eyes met across her arching back, and they exchanged full smiles. Their free hands found the bard's breasts again and resumed their teasing, while their lower caresses gradually moved to her inner folds.
Gently probing fingers found Gabrielle's natural fluids and slid easily across her flesh. The bard moaned loudly when one slipped inside her and another grazed the nerves above. As the touches intensified, Gabrielle's toes curled fiercely into the grass beyond the blanket, while her legs started to tremble and her breath grew rapid. The practised hands leaned into her rocking hips, following her cadence, until the strokes extracted powerful, climactic shudders, and a lengthy cry of release. Gabrielle shook once, then once again, and finally relaxed into her own shallow gasps.
Killian moved and lay down next to Xena. The warrior turned her head to face the hunter, and they exchanged a tender kiss.
'Lovely,' Killian reaffirmed.
'Yes she is.'
'Aphrodite favours you, Xena.'
'Both of you.'
They rested for a short while, then Killian sat up. She leaned over Gabrielle and studied her. The bard lay quite still across Xena's hips, her breathing even and gentle.
Killian straightened, and looked at the warrior.
'She's asleep,' she whispered, fascinated.
Xena gave the hunter a languid smile. 'It happens.'
This story is the first in a loose trilogy, and is continued in "A Taste of the Warlord"
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