Gabrielle was jolted out of her musings at the sound of Ephiny's voice..."Huh? What was that Ephiny?" she turned her head towards the blonde as they walked.

Ephiny sighed. "I've only called your name three times now Gabrielle..." She chuckled. "Mind elsewhere?"

The bard shook her head. "Yes it was." A pause. "It was on that kiss."

"Really....hmmmm..." replied her captain. "Does that mean I do get another date then?" She quickly crossed her fingers behind her back.

Gabrielle smiled wryly. "So this was a date then Ephiny?"

The blonde gulped audibly. Dropping her eyes, she replied..."Well I was hoping it was." She kicked a stone in the path and sent it skipping twenty feet ahead.

"Well then...." replied the bard as they reached the city gates. "That puts things in a whole different light then..."

Ephiny swallowed again. "Meaning?" she asked as they reached the door to Gabrielle's hut.

Gabrielle scrunched her eyebrows together, as if in deep thought. "Meaning..." she said softly, stepping closer to the captain. "That I can do this..." And she brought her lips to Ephiny's in a soft kiss. After a moment, she broke the contact and stepped back.

Ephiny's eyes were still closed. She chuckled. "Eph...hey..."

The blonde opened her eyes and blinked. "Wow." She blinked again. "Gabrielle, if you kiss me like that all the time we may have a scandal on our hands." She thumbed for Gabrielle to look over her shoulder, and when the bard did, she gasped. The whole courtyard was staring at them!

"Oh my gods!" Gabrielle gasped and turned three shades of crimson. She buried her embarassment in Ephiny's shoulder and began to giggle uncontrollably. After a few moments, she got herself under control, and with a smile she gently kissed the blonde's cheek. "See you later Ephiny..."

"Definitely Gabrielle..." She gave the bard's arm a last squeeze and slowly began walking backwards away from her. "Goodbye for now..." She smiled, turned and strode away. The gathered crowd parted to let her through, and Ephiny heard the whispers begin as soon as she passed by. She chuckled to herself as she reached her own hut. Going inside, she walked over to her armor chest. Pulling out her tracking gear, she slipped out of her best and replaced it with the soft brown leathers she loved so much. "Time to go pay Calliopis a visit methinks..." She slipped her shoulderpiece over her head and fastened it securely. "OK Ephiny, now best you keep your mind on the job at hand!" she said out loud to herself. Chuckling, she left her hut and headed towards the jail, her every thought on a certain strawberry blonde bard...


Ephiny sighed as she strode through the forest on her way to the sight where Terreis was murdered. Her visit with Phantes only served to prove he didn't kill her Princess. Now....she had to find out who did before an innocent person was punished for the crime, and Ephiny would not be able to live with herself if she let that happen. But she needed proof to convince her sisters....

"Well here I am...where to start..." She noticed some dung on the ground and bent down to take a closer look. "Hmmmm...hay sprouts." She scrunched her eyebrows together. Her thoughts were interrupted by a figure moving nearly silently through the forest. She quickly lit into the nearest tree and made herself unnoticeable, waiting for the intruder to make themselves known. They came into view was Xena! "What is that bitch doing here?" she thought. She watched as the Warrior Princess bent down at the same pile of dung she had taken a sample from, then watched her move slowly around the area. scanning the ground. Her foot slipped and it snapped a small twig..."Damn!" She cursed herself.

"I'm not here to play games Ephiny." said Xena. "Come out before you make me hurt you." Xena coiled up and leapt into the same tree Ephiny was in.

"Well it's now or never." thought the blonde as she dropped down onto the same limb Xena was perched upon. Pulling her shortsword, she faced off with the leather-clad warrior in front of her.

"Don't do this Ephiny..." growled Xena menacingly. "We're on the same side..."

Ephiny's eyes narrowed. "Well your reputation makes that a little hard to believe..." She twirled her sword, let out a warcry and charged the brunette.

Xena sighed as she parried two quick slashes and a thrust, let out her own warcry and flipped over the blonde's head, landing neatly behind her. "Ephiny, stop...we have to talk..." She parried another slash, this one to her legs.

"I have nothing to say to you Xena!!" She thrust forward, intending to gut the warrior.

"Then I will have to MAKE you listen!" She parried yet again, twisted the blonde's sword up and out of her hand, flipped over her and landing behind her again gave the woman a swift shove in the derrier with her boot. She watched sadly as Ephiny plummeted out of the tree, trying to grab a branch on the way down. She managed to, but just as quickly as she grabbed hold, it snapped and she fell with a hard jolt facefirst onto the forest floor below.

Turning over slowly, she was trying to get her bearings when a centaur came out of nowhere! He raised his sword in triumph as she tried to scramble away backwards. Just as the centaur was about to slice and dice her, Xena dropped down onto the animal's back and disarmed him. A bit shocked, Eph's hand closed around her crossbow, and quickly arming it, fired it straight at her enemy. She was shocked yet again when Xena caught her bolt out of mid-air...two inches from that bastard's chest even!

Xena jumped off the centaur and ran to Ephiny. "Come on!" she yelled.

Ephiny realized she had better move here and FAST, since the centaur had just found his sword. She took off after Xena, and was swooped into the trees before she knew it, Xena following. They watched as the centaur grunted in exhasperation and galloped off.

As they dropped down out of the trees, Ephiny swallowed her pride. "Thank you." A nod was all she got in return. She decided to tell the warrior what she had found, since she saved her life and all that. "Ummmmm, Xena..."


"I was checking the ground here for clues, and look what I found..." She lead the dark-haired warrior to the pile of manure. "See this?"

"Yes I did..." Xena smiled. "The hoofprints around it show these were horses, not centaurs that ambushed your princess. The weight is clearly on the back hooves, while centaurs carry their weight on their front hooves." She crossed her arms.

"Ummm yes, I suppose yer right. But I was referring to the hay in the manure.....centaurs don't eat hay."

"Very true." stated Xena, a small grin edging the corner of her mouth. She was darn impressed with this small blonde Amazon warrior. "Well, we best be getting back, there isn't much time before the execution..."

"Indeed. Let's go then." said Ephiny.


"But I can't kill him!" Gabrielle had been trying to reason with Melosa for about a quarter candlemark by now. "Please, you have to understand!"

"There is nothing to understand Gabrielle. Terreis's dying breath made you her successor, and her avenger. You cannot dispute Amazon law." Melosa crossed her arms as she lowered herself into a chair at her writing table. She looked intently at this little blonde, who was her heir to the throne. Oh yes, she did understand Gabrielle's situation, but if she did not adhere to the laws, she would be questioned and possibly cast down from her throne. "Gabrielle, if you don't kill him, you will be considered a traitor and you will die right along with him."

"Gods!" gulped Gabrielle. "Isn't that a little harsh? What about instead, kitchen duty for a moon?"

"I'm sorry my Princess, but you have no choice in the matter. You either do it, or you die." She let her look soften for a moment as she rose and walked to stand in front of the bard. "If it makes you feel any better, I do understand, I just can't do anything about it." Sad green eyes looked up into hers, and she felt herself feeling absolutely guilty as Hades. But, she could not back down. "I'm sorry Gabrielle."

The blonde sighed softly. "It's ok. I guess I'll just have to do it then..." She frowned. Turning, she walked out of the Queen's hut to go prepare for the ceremony. It was almost dawn now, and her mind wondered where Xena was. "I hope you're safe..." The thought then crossed her mind that she missed the warrior. What would she do if something dire happened to her friend? "Oh my...Xena come back soon...I'm beginning to worry..." Would she ever see those sparkling blue eyes again? Wait.....sparkling? What made her think of that? She saw the eyes again, and the warm smile that always seemed to be just for her. "I can't leave her and stay here to be princess...I just can't!" She sighed. "They will have to understand...I hope." She reached her hut and went inside to clean up some, her thoughts firmly on a certain Warrior Princess.

The edge of Terreis's sword rested against the flesh over Phantes' heart. Gabrielle's hands and arms were trembling all the way up to her elbows with the strain this was having on her psyche.

"What's going on here?" came a low growl from behind the crowd. Said crowd parted to allow the Warrior Princess passage to the dais.

"We're executing a murderer Xena...I thought you knew that." Stated Melosa in a growl of her own as the raven haired warrior stepped forward.

"Thank the gods...Xena..." said Gabrielle under her breath as she lowered Terreis's sword.

"Phantes isn't the murderer." stated Xena matter-of-factly to the Amazon queen. Reaching into her belt pouch she pulled out a ball of something. "Here is the proof."

Gabrielle reached out and took the proffered mudball and rolled it around in her hand.

"Take a look at that piece of dung from the ambush site..." she gestured at the clod the Bard was now bouncing in her hand. "It has hay in it. Centaurs don't eat hay Melosa."

Gabrielle's eyes widened in shock and she dropped the dungball in record time..."Thank you! Thank you very much!" She shook her hands free of any dung remnants. "Ewwww...ugh!"

Melosa's eyes grew narrow. "That doesn't prove anything Xena, only that a horse was there. Centaurs are smart animals, they wouldn't leave traces of themselves lying around to incriminate them!" She gestured to Gabrielle. "Kill him NOW."

Gabrielle's eyes implored Xena to help her. 'Gods be damned, how does she get herself into these things?' thought the warrior as her mind raced for a way to extract her bard from this situation with as little blood as possible. Her mind latched onto an old scroll she had read while in the company of Cyane and her tribe of northern Amazons. 'That's it!'

Xena straightened and settled her most imposing, arrogant, dangerous and deadly look onto the Queen. "Melosa!" She shouted over the murmuring crowd..."I demand the challenge!"

The Queen's head whipped around like a slingshot. She laughed. "You cannot make the challenge, you are not Amazon royalty!"

Xena's eyes went to the bard, praying Gabrielle would get the hint.

The bard caught the strange look from her friend and glanced a second time to make sure this was what Xena wanted her to do. A subtle nod of the warrior's head gave her the courage to speak up. "She's not, but I am. I demand the challenge!"

"You??? Gabrielle, surely you don't want to fight me to the death!"

"Not really..." replied the bard.

Ephiny's voice cut above the excited throng's noise. "Gabrielle....choose your weapon....or....choose your Champion..." She rolled her eyes in Xena's direction a few times to emphasize her point.

Realization dawned on the bard's face even as she shouted..."Xena! I choose Xena!"

Melosa couldn't help but smile at the lengths this warrior would go to in order to protect her friend's blood innoncence. 'Admirable. A far cry from the Xena I once knew.' "A good choice Gabrielle." Turning to the warrior, "Choose the weapons."

Xena narrowed her eyes. "Chobos."

"Very well." Melosa turned to Epinon. "Get them now."

"Yes my Queen." Eponin bowed before hurrying off.

Gabrielle ran to Xena's side as the Queen prepared for battle. "Where have you been?? I was worried sick! You could have at least sent a messenger..."

"Not now Gabrielle." Xena cut the bard off in mid sentence. "Fight now, talk later. Ephiny!" The Captain appeared next to her. "Anything I need to know about her style?"

"Yes. Watch your knees, she likes low attacks, and most of all her right side is her blind side..."

"Right, thanks." replied the warrior.

Eponin walked up and presented Xena with her set of chobos. She tested their weight and ran through a quick kata with them. Satisfied these would be good enough she turned to face her adversary.

Gabrielle walked beside her as she moved forward into battle. "Remember...her blind side is her YEOOOOW!" howled the bard as she flew back from the warrior. As she walked past Ephiny, she said in a low voice..."If anything happens to me, get Gabrielle out of here." Ephiny shook her head ok and the battle began.

Gabrielle watched in awe as the battle moved onto a tower lookout post, and then back to the ground, each warrior seemingly having the advantage at different times. But then Melosa left her right side open and Xena battered her back with a flurry of kicks and punches to her midsection...finally landing the Queen flat on her back on the ground. The warrior launched herself into the air and landed on Melosa, pinning her shoulders to the ground with her knees. "Don't make this to the death Melosa..." she said, barely out of breath, "I need your help..."

The Queen's eyes softened in acceptance of her situation. She shook her head ok, and Xena stood up, offering her forearm to the former Queen. Melosa took it, and was raised effortlessly to her feet. They looked at each other for a moment, until someone yelled..."All hail the new Queen!" The village collectively bowed to one knee, and Melosa bowed her head. Gabrielle couldn't take her eyes off of Xena. Then she felt eyes on her from behind her. Turning, she saw Ephiny looking at her, and as their eyes met, the bard saw the single tear glistening on her cheek. 'This is not good..." thought the bard, but her thoughts were interrupted by the army of Centaurs now paused at the gates to their village.

Again, Gabrielle watched as Xena expertly avoided confrontation by throwing down her weapons. The Amazons all did the Gabrielle did too! She watched as the warrior disclosed the traitor and somehow managed to forge an alliance with the centaurs to fight their common enemy. She was in awe...Xena was...well...practically radiating power! The bard basked in this, and was swept away by the magnetism Xena emitted when she commanded. Before she knew it, she found herself armed, and cavorting wildly across the countryside in a chariot pulled by two centaur warriors. Ephiny put her hand on the bard's shoulder. "Gabrielle..."

She turned. "Yes Ephiny?"

"I know this isn't the time or place to be discussing this, but...I need to know..." she swallowed hard. "We won't be having a second date will we?" She averted her eyes.

Gabrielle sighed. How to explain this? "I don't think it would be a good idea Eph." she said. "I'm not going to be staying..."

Ephiny let out the breath she had been inadvertently holding. "I thought as much." Her eyes tracked to the tall, dark-haired warrior in the chariot in front of them. "If she ever hurts you Gabrielle, I will kill her."

Gabrielle's eyebrows practically flew off her face. "What???" her mouth went agape for a moment. "You mean Xena???" Ephiny shook her head yes. "Eph! You have got to be kidding!" Ephiny shook her head no. "Come on! She has no interest in me!"

"I see the way you look at her Gabrielle. And I see the way she looks at you, when she doesn't think anyone else is looking." She sighed. "I can see it all over your face are in love with her whether you know it or not." She turned to face her Princess. "And far be it from me to expect you to ever look at me like that. I am happy as long as you are my princess."

Now the bard was stymied. Was she in love with Xena? To be truthful, she wasn't sure at all what love felt like...allbeit she knew it wasn't love with Perdicus. She stole a long look at the figure in the chariot ahead of them. She took in the long, raven hair blowing in the wind, noticed the beautifully chiseled profile...the muscles tensing and rippling with adrenalin. "She's beautiful." said the bard into the wind. Ephiny just shook her head and they rode into battle in silence.


It was a short battle, but then most battles are when the Warrior Princess is involved. She's just that damn good.

Gabrielle looked over her shoulder at Xena when the ceremony was over. "Xena..." she queried.

"Yeeeesss?" replied the warrior in that low tone that made the bard's stomach do flips.

"Does an Amazon Princess beat a Warrior Princess?" She looked again over her shoulder with a goofy grin on her face.

Xena leaned in close..."Do you really wanna find out?" A sly grin crept into her words.

Gabrielle gulped. Damn those blue eyes were just melting her! "Ummm..."

Xena grinned and leaned in even closer. "What's wrong Gabrielle...harpy got your tongue?" She turned the bard around to face her. Xena knew she was flirting with danger here, but her blonde friend had started it after all. She watched as Gabrielle continued to be rendered speechless by her intense gaze. She hadn't intended to let the blonde see how deep her feelings ran, but the moment was here whether she was ready or not. And right now, she couldn't stop it.

Now poor Gabrielle could think of nothing but how close Xena was to her, and her knees gave out from the intensity. Xena reached her arm around the bard's waist and caught her before she could reach the ground, Gabrielle's arms instinctively reaching out to hold on to her rescuer. She looked deeply into those twin pools of blue..."Xena..." she whispered.

Xena's free hand came up to gently brush the blonde's cheek. "Gabrielle..." She closed the distance between them and softly pressed her lips against the bard's. Gabrielle's hands slid up the back of Xena's neck to tangle in her hair, sending gooseflesh up her back. Too soon, they had to come up for air...

"By the Gods Xena..." whispered Gabrielle. "That was incredible."

"Yes it was." she replied as the bard settled her head onto the warrior's shoulder and hugged her.

"Let's not wait another two years to do it again, ok?" said the bard with a slight giggle.

"Ok." replied the warrior. Her eyes took in the horizon, and the setting sun. "We best get a move on if we're going to find a nice secluded place to camp for the evening bard." added Xena with a mishievous glint in her eye.

Gabrielle shook her head in vehement agreement. Grabbing the warrior by the wrist, she began propelling them through the shocked crowd at breakneck speed. "What's the record time for saddling a horse?" she asked as she practically dragged Xena towards the stables.

"I don't know, but I'm sure you're gonna break it..." replied Xena under her breath as the bard dragged her along. She laughed wholeheartedly for the first time in a long time, and decided this was good. It was a very, very good thing.

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