See part 1 for disclaimers.
The Keeper of My Soul--Always 14
Gabrielle went through the entire camp using the excuse of inspecting everyone's accommodations; she was really looking for her wayward warrior.
While she did find several of the women that needed her attentions for their wounded and exhausted bodies, the bard was unable to find the one woman in camp that needed her to heal a wounded soul. The Amazon Queen finally gave up subtly and went to the commander of the guard in search of her lover's whereabouts.
"Alright, Aentia," the frustrated bard growled. "Where is she hiding?"
"Why, your Highness, whatever could you mean?" the commander asked trying
to look innocent, but failing miserably. "Where is who hiding?"
"Don't mess with me, Aentia." Gabrielle snarled, her threat clear in her voice, she would stand for no further non-sense. "Where is MY WIFE?!!"
The older Amazon had seen someone with that look in her eye before, and she
clearly remembered how painful that had turned out. She decided it would be in her best interest to cooperate with her Queen, the tone in her Queen's voice helped her come to that decision.
"My Queen," the commander said falling to her knee and saluting. "Your Champion as fallen back to be with our rear guard to watch for the approach of the enemy."
Gabrielle looked down at her friend and felt her anger dissipate some.
"I'm sorry, Aentia." Gabrielle sighed and held out her hand to help the troop commander up. "It's just...well it's just that all this damnable warrior's pride thing is so infuriating at times I could just...just...Arrrgh!"
"I understand, my Queen," Aentia said and smiled slyly at the young woman.
"My best friend Maia says the same thing about me all the time. There are times when I don't know why she bothers, but I always feel blessed that she does."
Gabrielle sat and quietly thought about what the older Amazon had said. It finally dawned on her what Aentia was telling her. She had been so worried about what Xena would think of her, she'd forgotten to realize that her warrior would be feeling that she'd failed to protect her lover.
To a warrior that would be the ultimate sin, and to one as proud as her Xena, that failure, real or imagined, would be devastating. The seemingly
unflappable woman would be at her most vulnerable, and Gabrielle had made it worse by her seeming guilty behavior.
To her lover, it would
appear that the bard doubted the depth and voracity of her mate's love.
"Oh my sweet goddess," Gabrielle said as the concept unfolded in her mind. "Aentia, what have I done? All this time she was hurting for me and
I was so wrapped up in my own self-pity I never even considered that I wasn't the only one affected by this."
Aentia looked into the dark green eyes of her Queen and clearly saw the pain and guilt harbored there. She felt her heart break at the anguish the young woman was going through and the soul-shriveling agony the Queen's Champion must be struggling with.
"My Queen, you are young," the older more experienced woman said, trying to console her much younger Queen. "I'm not sure if it is my place to say this, your Highness, and I'm very sure there are official advisors you could consult about this, but if you ask me, your beloved only needs to hear that you do not blame her for what happened, and that you need her to get past it. I'm sure that she will be there for you, and willing to work through this entire matter."
"Do you really think so, Aentia?" the Queen asked sounding for all the world like a small child. "I mean I was so selfish and thoughtless, how could Xena possibly forgive me?"
"Right there is your biggest problem, my Queen." the scout said holding up her hand to stop Gabrielle's rant. "When you doubt your mate's ability
to forgive, it is as if you are questioning her love for you. She feels that if you truly believed that she loves you, then you should already know that, as a warrior and your mate, she would never hold anything like
that against you.
But if you feel you have to worry about her acceptance, then you must doubt her love, and if you doubt her love for you, how strong can your love be for her."
Gabrielle was silent as she digested the revelation that Aentia had just given her. It explained so many of her lover's reactions when they had run into trouble. The Amazon smiled at her Queen as the realization of what she'd just been told showed on her young face.
"Trust," Gabrielle blurted out. "All this time I've been preaching to her
about trusting me and then I turn around and show by my actions that I don't trust her."
"Exactly, my Queen," Aentia answered like a teacher finally getting through to a particularly dim-witted child. "Trust that she loves you unconditionally and most of the problems the two of you face will seem small in comparison."
Before Gabrielle could continue her enlightening conversation, the high pitched call of a night-bird pierced the air. They recognised the call as
the signal for an approaching rider that was known as a friend to the Amazons. Both women stood and took up their weapons, just in case the sentry was wrong about the rider's status as friend.
The familiar rhythm of Argo's hoofbeats let Gabrielle know her warrior was fast approaching.
Within seconds of the signal, Xena rode up into the fire light.
"Aentia, we've gotten a lucky break." Xena said, a cruel smile crossed her lips but failed to reach the warrior's hard cold eyes. "Karcax didn't send his entire army. There's maybe two companies of mercenaries coming up behind us. They sent a runner back to the main army informing them of the caravan and it's rear guard being wiped out, but he...ah never made it."
"Your Highness," Xena said with stiff formality. "You shouldn't be out here, you should be inside the fortress."
The tone in her lover's voice hurt the bard badly and she let it show,refusing to hide her feelings from either one of the other women. Xena flinched at the sight of the pain her harsh words had caused Gabrielle, and she was sorry but she had to get her point across. Then again so did Gabrielle.
"I refuse to hide behind walls while you and my Amazons risk themselves," Gabrielle growled, determined to stand her ground. "I would think that you would have a better opinion of me than that."
Xena tried giving her "the look" but it didn't work, Gabrielle just glared right back at her, refusing to back down.
"Fine, have it your way then," the irritated warrior grumbled. "Aentia, I
want to take some of your scouts and lay down some surprises for our friends, and if you'll..."
"No!" Gabrielle spoke out.
"What did you say, your Highness?" Xena growled, turning to glare at the Queen who dared defy her.
"I said, no," Gabrielle said clearly. "What part of that didn't you understand?"
"Look *your highness*," Xena began sarcastically, "I do know a few things
about handling what's coming and if you will allow me to do what is expected of me, I can do what I can to assure less casualties among our people. If that is alright with you."
"And I said, no," Gabrielle answered shortly. "Since you have made it abundantly clear that you no longer wish to have anything to do with either the Amazon nation or myself, then I think it would not be prudent for you to handle our defense. Thank you very much. Aentia, come with me."
With an air of finality, Gabrielle turned and walked away, followed by a shocked troop commander and leaving behind a stunned Xena staring slack-jawed
at the bard's retreating figure.
Aentia hurried to catch up with the fast walking young Queen, her mind whirling at the way the woman had just snubbed the Warrior Princess. Who, by the way, had a reputation for not reacting well to rejection.
"Your Highness," the veteran scout hissed hoping not to be heard questioning the judgement of her Queen by anyone else. "Are you sure you want to treat your champion that way? I mean, I've heard she isn't known for her patience, especially with royals."
Gabrielle stopped, and let her new advisor get ahead of her, so that Xena wouldn't see her lips, and know what she was saying.
"Let me guess," the Queen said smugly. "Right now she's standing there just staring at us like she's lost. Right?"
"Uh huh," was the answer.
"Okay, let me know when she starts storming over here," the bard said with a sly smile.
"Okay, your highness. I don't understand why, but as you wish," the older
scout agreed, confused at her Queen's behavior.
"Look, Aentia," Gabrielle began. "I think you know me well enough to call
me Gabrielle and cut out the 'your Highness' stuff. At least when we're alone."
"Alright, Gabrielle, she's coming," Aentia quipped, amused at the way the
little woman knew her warrior so well. "Oooo, she's mad. I'm glad it's you
"Alright, just follow my lead, K?" Gabrielle whispered and after getting a nod from Aentia, she continued. "Yes, commander, that would be a fine idea. You set up the defensive traps we discussed, and I'll take four of your best archers and ambush the enemy from the tree line. We'll hit-and-run
them, all the way back here. That should slow them down enough for you and the civilians to finish up here. Then it will be a matter of holding them off until help arrives. Is that clear?"
"As you wish, my Queen," Aentia answered loudly, catching on to Gabrielle's game. "It makes me proud to be an Amazon with a Queen such as
"Stop laying it on so thick or she'll catch on!" the bard hissed. She meant to say more but before she could, Xena had reached them, and as Gabrielle had planned, she'd heard every word of her mate's battle plan.
<>How could she say that to me?<> Xena thought, anger and hurt feelings seething in her. <>What did she say...it was *my* choice to leave...oh no, she's the one that wanted to let me out of our vows.<>
The warrior's mind was reeling at the rejection from her bard for the second time in as many days. Then when she overheard the plan Gabrielle had come up with, well it was just too much. It was bad enough over the incident of her capture and beating, but for her wife to insinuate that she wouldn't do her best to defend her and the others and *now* she was going to put herself in danger setting up an ambush. It was more than a self respecting Warrior Princess could take.
"Now you wait just a damn minute," the by now enraged Xena snarled as she grabbed Gabrielle's shoulder and spun the bard around to face her. "I
don't know what in the name of all that's holy you think you're doing, but if you think I'm going to let you put yourself in danger out there, you've got another thing coming. And another thing, what in the name of Hades do you mean *I* don't want anything to do with you and the Amazons? Damn it, Brie, I love you and I'm not about to leave..you...and...our friends...."
Her tirade slowed down and lost steam as she realized what she'd said, and saw the mega smile coming from her bard. It dawned on Xena exactly what had just happened. Once again her lover had out-manuvered her, and had gotten her to declare herself again, in front of a bunch of now giggling Amazon warriors. She could feel the blush rising to her face again.
"Do you really love me, Xena?" the beaming Queen asked through her tears.
"Of course I do, Brie, but I ought to turn you over my knee for that act back there," the now placated warrior said lovingly. "I'm sorry for not being there when you needed me. I pro..."
Her apology was cut off as Gabrielle lay two fingers gently on Xena's lips.
"No, my love," Gabrielle whispered so that only her wife could hear. "No more guilt. You did everything exactly right. I knew you'd come to save me like always. My Champion, my hero, my beloved. I can survive anything because I know that nothing short of death could stop you from coming for
Xena was at a loss for words to reply to her lover's declaration, so instead she went with her strengths and acted. Taking the small Queen in
her arms, Xena pulled her closer and placed her lips on her lover's and began to tenderly kiss her. The kiss grew in ferocity until Gabrielle was sure that Xena was about consume the petite strawberry blonde with her passion.
A small whimper of desire escaped Gabrielle's throat only to be swallowed by the warrior's mouth, causing a low sexy growl to rumble up from Xena's chest. For several heart beats nothing existed in their world except them, only their bodies' need for oxygen and the forgotten Amazon commander clearing her throat brought the lovers back to reality and the problems at hand.
As the two women reluctantly separated, they suddenly realized that the commander wasn't their only audience. Nearly every Amazon there was standing around the couple all smiling and cheering at their reconciliation.
Both women blushed dark red as they turned to face the women, it was then that Gabrielle realized that the Amazons had surrounded them shielding their display of affection from outsider's prying eyes.
Their Queen acknowledged their action with a grateful nod and gave her lover a quick kiss and released her. Xena's beautiful, sky-blue eyes grabbed and held her lover's dark-green ones and held them. Gabrielle's mischievously sparkling eyes were back indicating the return of her indomitable spirit. Xena was ready to shout her joy from every mountain top and townsquare in the known world now that her bard had allowed her back.
Unfortunately time and their enemy wouldn't give them a chance to totally resume their normal relationship right at that moment.
"When this is all over and everyone is safe again, my little bard, we will sit and have a long talk over what occurred," Xena growled softly into Gabrielle's ear causing the small blonde to nearly swoon with pent up desire. "That too, little one, but after this is over."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Gabrielle said loudly, suddenly anxious to get the present crisis handled and get back to their life. "Come on Amazons, let's kick some warlord butt."
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