See part 1 for disclaimer
There is violence, and some sex, and a loving relationship between two consenting adults...oh yeah and they're the same gender. If any of this bothers you, or is illegal where you are, or you're not 18 yet then please delete this now and find something else to read. Angst Warning: Some pretty intense emotions here so I was told a tissue alert was in order.
Dedication: For Niki, my inspiration, and the keeper of my soul, my angel. If not for her belief in me this story wouldn't exist. Thanks chere!
Also, a big thanks to my beta, Diva, you're the best, babe, but you already knew that.
For The Keeper of My Soul--Always: 19
By: Alex P.
The party rested for three days to allow everyone to recuperate. Nikippa took charge and set up camp so that the freed prisoners and their rescuers were in the center of the camp so they could rest completely; even their meals were brought to them.
The Queen and her injured Champion were set up in one of the stone walled sheds and a tent was put up for a roof. At Gabrielle's request, Aentia and her scouts took over duties as the Queen's personal guard, an honor the one-time outcasts took very seriously.
Only the healers and the two Amazons that had shared the Queen's experience (Rapa and Mallika) were allowed free access to the Queen's quarters. Not even the Regent was let through without Gabrielle's explicit permission.
Nikippa was asked to handle the normal daily tasks that came with a large party of Amazon warriors. All Gabrielle's attention was focused on her still unconscious soulmate. The only time the bard had left Xena's bedside was when the healer and Rapa convinced her to let them remove the arrow still stuck in her thigh.
As soon as the operation was done and the wound was bandaged, the worried little bard was right back at her lover's bedside holding the calloused hand and gently stroking Xena's raven hair.
The healers were worried. They'd done everything they knew how both physically and magically and still the Queen's Champion lay unconscious.
Every once in a while Xena would shout out in a strange language and struggle violently with her covers, but as soon as Gabrielle could wrap her arms around her beloved and whisper soothingly in her ear, Xena calmed and went back to a peaceful slumber.
It was the strange language that worried the healers. They'd heard of cases where a patient used strange languages accompanied by violent seizures, and most didn't survive. The only chance was if a shaman was able to evict the stray spirit.
A disturbing fact was that for the most part, those few that survived the
spiritual cleansing were never the same again. Whatever course they chose, the Champion's health wasn't going to improve here, and their only chances were back at their home, where they had a more varied selection of herbs and other curative powders to try to heal the famous warrior.
Finally having no other choice, the Regent was forced to approach Gabrielle about returning to the Nation and home.
"My Queen," the scout said as she knelt just inside of the entrance to the royal shelter.
"What is it, Tessa?" Gabrielle asked wincing a little at the use of her title. "And get up we're alone."
"The Regent wishes a word with you, your Highness," the Amazon asked rising to her feet. "Do you wish to see her?"
Gabrielle thought for a heartbeat, then told the scout/royal guard to show her friend in. The guard exited and quickly returned with the woman requesting the audience.
"Your Highness," Nikippa said formally and bowed, knowing how the formalities got on her friend's nerves. "I am happy that my Queen is able to
find the time to see her humble ser..."
"Oh knock it off, Niki." Gabrielle's irritated voice said from the shadows near the bed. "Just tell me what the problem is. You know she had a pretty rough night last night."
The Regent could see Gabrielle's small hand gently brush some stray strands of hair from Xena's forehead. The tenderness and concern were apparent in that gesture.
"So the healers told me," Nikippa answered keeping her voice quiet so as not to disturb her friend. "Gabrielle, it's time for all of us to leave this place and return home. The healers feel they have a better chance of curing your beloved champion there."
The Regent was ready for anger, shouting, or any of a number of answers to her comment, except the one she got.
Gabrielle moved her face out of
the shadows and locked eyes with her friend and Regent. All Nikippa could see in those red rimmed green eyes was sadness, weariness, and defeat. Tears flowed unabated, leaving visible trails on her blotchy cheeks.
"I suppose you're right, Niki, it's long past time to go home," Gabrielle's
soft voice barely audible. "I leave it in your capable hands to get us *all* home reasonably safely. Do you have the means to transport the wounded, and what to you intend to do about the outsider women?"
"All that has been taken care of Gabrielle," the Regent reassured her Queen. "We only await your command and we will break camp and be on our way home."
"You have been such a blessing to me, Niki," Gabrielle sobbed the weight of her troubles was beginning to take their toll on the small blonde bard. "When Ephiny died and Poni disappeared I thought I would lose the Nation but you stepped in and helped me keep everything together. I would be lost without you my friend I just want you to know that. I wouldn't want something to happen and have not told you that."
The defeat in Gabrielle' voice made the regent shudder at the thought that the little bard might do something desperate while in this deep depression she was in.
"Just hang on, Gabrielle," Nikippa said softly patting the Queen's hand as it rested on Xena's. "You'll see, things will get better once you're home with us. The Nation that owes you so much will not let you down now.
Listen to me Gabrielle, the Amazon Nation will not let you down, I've told you before you are the heart and soul of the Nation, just as Xena is our strength and courage. Between the two, you represent all that is good in our people. That is why Artemis made you her chosen, and that is why we will not fail you now. Just give us the chance."
"Alright, Niki, we will see," the tired and nearly broken woman whispered.
"But know this, I will do whatever I have to to have my Xena with me, or for me to be with her. Do not stand in my way or I swear you will be sorry."
She sat back in the chair, her face once again hidden by the shadows. As Nikippa turned to leave, she shuddered as her Queen's words echoed through her mind. She was headed for the door when she heard that voice again.
"We're going home, Xena," the distraught bard whispered. "You have to return to me soon, my love, either that or I will join you on the pyre. Come back to me, my love, and save me again."
The Regent could hear the
sadness and grief in her Queen's voice and she sent a silent prayer to Artemis to grant the Queen's request, for the sake of the Nation.
Early the next morning, with everything packed and ready, Rapa pulled a small two wheeled cart in front of the Queen's shelter. The tall, thin warrior and three other scouts entered the shelter. They came right back out carefully carrying the makeshift bed that held the unconscious form of the Warrior Princess. They carefully placed the bed in the back of the cart. The entire party was silent out of respect for the Queen and her wounded mate.
Mallika helped her Queen into the cart, then quickly joined the two royals so she could care for them both during the trip home. Rapa went around and jumped into the driver's seat and took up the reins.
As the royal wagon pulled out of the fortress, it was immediately surrounded by Aentia and her scouts, still guarding their Queen and her Champion.
After the cart had left the crumbling fortress and was headed down the trail that led toward the borders of the Amazon lands, the group saw Xena's warhorse Argo come charging from the woods to join the column, taking up her place following the cart.
Xena had turned the big horse loose just before the battle when it became obvious that the huge loyal animal would be safer outside the walls, and as Xena would have expected the horse had returned to her mistress and would follow the cart until she was needed or Xena was removed from it.
Everyone was glad to see the big animal return unharmed knowing how much the loyal steed meant to the Champion. What really surprised them was what came out of the woods with Argo.
"Gabrielle, you have got to see this." Mallika exclaimed when she looked out the rear of the cart to see what all the talking and cheering was about. "I'm serious. You won't believe it if you don't see it for yourself."
Gabrielle moved slowly to the back of the cart, her curiosity aroused by all the hubbub going on outside. When she looked to where everyone was pointing her vision blurred as tears of joy and wonder filled her eyes.
There trotting along with Xena's big powerful golden warhorse, was Gabrielle's scruffy looking little mountain horse, Ate, that she had released back at Ciros when the marauders were about to attack.
The little horse trotted right up alongside Argo and took her place beside the warrior's horse like someone had told her where to go.
"Ate, you found me," Gabrielle yelled as she leapt from the wagon. Ignoring the pain from her wounds, the bard ran to her little companion and gave the little horse an impressive hug. "How did you find me, girl? You are the best. Oh, you're hurt. Tessa find me the stable master, my royal mount has been wounded."
The dark-skinned scout kicked her mount and galloped off to fetch the stablemaster, who was riding toward the front of the column. The blood that caked the little horses made her wounds look more serious than they were; most were just scrapes and minor cuts. There was one arrow lodged in her flank, but the stablemaster was able to remove it without having to perform major surgery.
With all her wounds cared for, Ate gladly accepted the extra measure of grain Gabrielle offered her. Once Gabrielle was sure that both horses were well cared for, she returned to her love's side and the two loyal mounts were allowed to follow the column at their own pace. Both horses stayed near their mistresses refusing to be separated from them any more than necessary.
As things settled down to a routine in the column and it made it's way toward Amazon lands, Xena was fighting a battle of her own on a higher plain.
Xena found herself wandering through a dark foggy forest. There was not a single sound, not even leaves blowing in the cool breeze she felt made a sound. She was holding her sword in one hand and her chakram in the other. It took her a little while of exploring, but the warrior finally realized she wasn't on the Earthly realm and normal rules didn't apply here.
"Alright, what's going on here and which one of you useless 'Gods' are responsible?" Xena shouted into the darkness "Come on I haven't got all day."
Xena heard laughter coming from a short distance ahead of her, so she cautiously made her way toward the sounds.
<>Someone's having a good time.<> the warrior thought as she stalked through the forest. <>let's just see how much fun they have when I join the party.<>
With a loud battle cry the Warrior Princess leapt over the remaining under brush and found herself surrounded by the enemy...sort of.